Irene and I followed them into the bar and down the steep steps to the basement. It was empty and the entire room was drenched in a deep blue light that gradually changed to red, then purple, and back to blue . A small, smelly dog wove between our legs, shadowing every move we made. The boys began to play their set, the same one we had heard dozens of times, and the two of us danced with goofy grins and flailing limbs like children who hadn’t yet learned to be self conscious. When they finished we all did our part, dragging the equipment across town to our favorite local bar. We stumbled through the front door roaring drunken hellos. We took our shots and raised our beers and the bartender played Tiny Dancer. All of us clung together, arms draped over shoulders, screaming the words at one another, at the ceiling, at the universe. Irene took my face in her hands and shouted, “It’s all happening,” grasping at her dream of being Penny Lane in Almost Famous. And I suppose in that moment, it was all happening… Or at least it was beginning to.
Becoming a part of the Florence music scene was one of life’s most beautiful accidents. Irene is quite certain that it was fated; that somehow, we always meant to find one another. I think that’s a lovely way of looking at it and so, sometimes I do. Because maybe she’s right. There’s no denying that the entire course of my life has changed because of it.
But whether fate was involved or not, become a part of the scene we did thanks to a man named Derek; local musician, planet Earth’s loveliest man, and now, one of my closest pals. He introduced us to his world and to his friends and together they wove Irene and I into the fabric of their lives. And life with them was rich indeed. Each individual was an artist in their own right. A close knit group of musicians, writers, poets, painters, sculptors, dancers, lovers of life and change-makers all banded together, drinking too much and following the music.
The boys’ tri-weekly set became the soundtrack of our lives, playing in the background of every laugh, every tear, every conversation and every kiss. It was the record we could never grow tired of for the songs told the story of Florence as we knew it. And so we all sat, night after night, watching our friends and feeling the music. We had dinner together before and drinks together after and each others’ backs always.
Our artistically gifted little group of misfits was constantly acquiring new members thanks to Derek. He sniffed out the most genuine and talented people and invited them onto his stage and into our family. And so our community continued to grow in size and in love. The warmth and encouragement that radiated from this group of people was enough to pull the confidence out of anybody. It was even enough to push me into picking up a microphone again; something I hadn’t done in 12 years thanks to a case of debilitating stage fright. These people had given me back my voice in more ways than one.
They created a world that was bold, loving, nurturing, loyal. It was a world I never wanted to be far from and it was the world that lured me back to Florence a second time. I wanted to be amongst the people who followed the music.
And so I marched to the beat of my own drum, off of the graduation stage and all the way back to Italy. I came back to some of my very favorite faces but I was also introduced to some of my very favorite new ones. I slid right back into the music scene. An eternal groupie.
Though I know I won’t stay in Florence forever, a part of me will always exist in the moments I’ve spent as a part of this community. In that Almost Famous night. In the spiritual conversation over a cigarette with a drummer who was only in town for a month. In the afternoon a new friend came by and sat on my bed with his guitar, the two of us drinking wine and singing duets that would never be heard by anyone but us. In the night I sang without a microphone in a piazza and in the balmy days I sat on a cobblestone street watching Derek strum his old guitar in front of the record store. In the moments on this stage and that one, in the living rooms, and kitchens and terraces that still echo with sounds of guitars and harmonies. In everything we created together and every chorus of laughter in a bar we spent too much time in.
All of these moments are permanent because of the ineffaceable things they’ve given me. Like the friend with whom I only spent a week but who I still message weekly. The friend who will dance only with me and the friend who cries with me and who holds all my secrets and talks to me about lollipops and magic. The friend who lets me sleep in her bed after a bad day, the one who always watches me sing with teary eyes despite the countless times shes seen it and the friend I can always count on to get my silly jokes. These moments created the bond I have with my sister and my soul mate, Irene. Born from them are countless friends who’ve taken a piece of my heart home with them to all different corners of the world. These moments have given me a lifelong bonds, lovely love affairs, confidence and the kind of community I had always wanted to be a part of.
I didn’t come to Italy for the music, but I certainly stayed for it.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is…Derek, Irene, Florence family….this one is for you.