The city that has changed my life twice

Arrivederci Firenze

Jason Martinez
May 28, 2015

Dante. Il Davide. I Medici. The birthplace of the Renaissance. Most importantly, the city that has twice changed my life. Firenze.

As the sun sets over Florence one week from my master’s graduation, I sit alone on one of the triangles over the Arno on Ponte Santa Trinita, watching a sunset I’ve seen hundreds of times yet one of which I’ll never tire. This won’t be the first goodbye I’ve said to Florence.

I came to Florence almost a decade ago as a fresh-faced undergrad, only my second trip to Europe in my then 20 years. When I arrived that summer, I (unfortunately) embodied the typical American study-abroad student. I spoke little Italian, spent much of my time in this historic city under the influence, travelled in packs yelling loudly, and cared only about taking in the culture on offer when forced by a class.

However, Florence quickly taught me another way to live. A slower way, more relaxed, carefree, less focused on the ends and more on the journey. I traded bacon and eggs for an espresso and a cornetto, a foot-long sub for a panino, a stacked-high burger for a plate of carbonara or pesto, ranch dressing for olive oil and balsamic. My stride on the sidewalk slowed almost to a crawl. There’s very little room for hustle on the streets of Florence. A glass of wine at lunch became commonplace, of course followed by a mid-afternoon caffé.

My first stay in Florence was brief, but eight weeks was more than enough time to realize I’d found a special place, a city and country I was certain I could call home someday. Short as it was, the city left an indelible impression on me. Upon my return to school that fall, I changed my major to Italian and committed to finding a way back.

Five years after I walked across the stage and received my undergraduate diploma from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, I stepped off a plane at Florence airport, took a breath of the muggy, heavy August air and felt like I had returned home. That was almost a year ago. And Florence has once again changed my life.

This time I arrived in Florence with a different mindset, with more purpose. The priority was getting my master’s degree, but the past year has been just as much about immersing myself in Florentine culture, becoming as much of a citizen of Florence as I could.

I know now that cappuccini should really only be drunk in the morning, that after noon or one you switch to buonasera to greet people, and that a glass of prosecco or a negroni before dinner makes it better every time. Piera serves me coffee every day at the bar across the street; Gabriella, Florio and Marco sell me wine at the enoteca under my apartment. My ciao now regularly sounds like shao, the Florentine accent creeping into my Italian speech. I have taken from and given back to Florence. I feel equally Italian and American, split between two mindsets with very little crossover.

As I watch the last ray of sunshine creep over the Tuscan hillside, I reminisce on how I got here. Almost eight years of study, work, frustration, joy, patience, smiles, frowns, blood, sweat and tears led me to be seated in this exact spot on Ponte Santa Trinita. In less than a month, armed with a newly earned master’s degree, I will go back to Washington D.C. to pursue my higher professional goals. I will leave Florence for who knows how long. I won’t say goodbye or ciao, though. Those are too permanent. Florence has given me too much to bid farewell. So arrivederci will do nicely. Because, Florence, I know I’ll see you again.

DISCLAIMER: The Florentine does not advocate the views and actions expressed in this piece.

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