I wake up and stretch, reaching my arms up to my headboard and pointing my toes. I wiggle a little and my back cracks. My purple cotton sheets are particularly soft this morning. I light a coconut incense stick and instead of reading the news like I usually do, I pull out my embroidery kit and silently continue stitching a small succulent pattern I’ve been working on. It feels good to make something with your hands.
I open the front door and step outside. It smells like fall even though there are no trees in sight. I go to the cafe under my house and order a cream brioche. As he reaches I say NO! Chocolate instead please! He seems impatient as he changes the direction of his hand. I sit down to eat it. As I bite in I find it’s not what I thought it was. Chocolate cream instead of Nutella. But who can complain? A small brown and white dog standing with his owner at the bar is looking at me. When I look back, he seems to smile. I reach down and scratch his ears and his whole body wags with joy. Despite the commonness of a dog’s affection, it never ceases to make one feel uncommonly special.
It’s still early. Only 9AM. The streets aren’t as crowded as they will be in just an hour. I have just set out towards the The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Attending a mass in the duomo is on my Florence bucket list despite my lack of catholicism. There are only a few other people on the street, so I can see her quite clearly. An old woman with a shock of curly gray hair and a big blue sweater. She is standing outside of her shop, facing a small glass window box. Holding a tray in her hands, she’s thumbing through the objects on it with great care. I assume it’s jewelry, but as I got closer I realize they’re small, iron figurines. People, trucks, cars, horses, dogs, only as big your pinky finger. She picks them out thoughtfully and smiles lovingly at each one before placing them gently on the white, velvet shelves.
I stroll over to the Mercato Centrale. It’s alive. Filled with movement and vivid color. I walk through the stalls, admiring the fresh seafood, the baked goods, cheese, flowers, dried fruits. Jars of truffle spread and fine aged balsamic vinegar. I buy a lovely mossy green and purple colored artichoke from a woman for 1 euro. I decide I am going to bake it with bread and garlic stuffing for dinner. As I’m about to leave a sign for dried figs catches my eye. I buy four and take the short walk over to Santa Maria Novella church where I sit down on the bench, still drenched with this morning’s rain. I pull out the small bag of figs, my Paulo Coelho book and enjoy both while a man with a violin plays O Sole Mio a few feet away.
I decide to enter the church. I’ve just finished a biographical fiction about Michelangelo where I learned that during his apprenticeship with Domenico Ghirlandaio, he helped paint the massive fresco surrounding the altar. I stand for 20 minutes admiring it.The colors, the detail, reminding myself that a brigade of human hands created something this grand. Anything can seem like a miracle when you remember to acknowledge that little detail. I know that in the book, Michelangelo’s portrayed thoughts and feelings were fiction, projected onto him by Irving Stone… yet I can’t help but feel like I am celebrating the first artistic accomplishment of a friend.
I’m sitting on some steps in yet another piazza. The afternoon sun hits the yellow buildings just so and the entire square glows with a soft, golden light. Without warning I realize my eyes are welling. I wonder how I will ever leave here, knowing full well that I am simultaneously exceptionally ready and will also never be… I see a couple holding hands. The man spins the woman gracefully and then kisses her softly. I write the story of how they met in my head.
I walk into my favorite coffee shop. “Ciao Brynna! Bella maglione.” Hi Brynna! Beautiful sweater. “Grazie, grazie, amico!” I sit down and he brings me an espresso and a couple of almond cantuccini. I dip the hard, sugary cookies into the frothy hot liquid and savor them, letting my thoughts wander. An attempt at mindful meditation. Once I finish he says, “No no, today is on me,” with a sweet and gracious bow.
I’m walking too quickly and in my clumsiness, I fall off the curb. A guy across the street, about my age, saw. I look at him, wide eyed, and we both start laughing. The unexpected sound of each other’s laughter eggs us on. We keep giggling for another few seconds until the both of us wave gingerly and continue on in opposite directions. Connecting with strangers comes quite easily when you learn to laugh at yourself.
I pick up D from school. He doesn’t run and jump into my arms like he usually does. He barely even says hello. We leave the school and begin the trek to his Judo lesson. The walk is filled with complaints. His shoes hurt. His legs are tired. When we reach the studio, with mind-boggling abruptness, his little face contorts and he lets out a blood curdling scream. He doesn’t want to go in! He hates Judo! It’s boring! He wants to go home! I try to sway him. You’re friends are inside! I really want to watch you do your cool moves! The mother of another child comes out and tries to get him in. D tries to kick her. His instructor comes out and gently takes his hand. D calls him ugly. Now D and I are both angry. I tell him, with uncharacteristic impatience, how mad I am at his mean words. We start walking towards his house. We walk in silence, both brooding. Until we go to cross the street, that is, and his tiny little fingers wrap around my thumb instinctively. He doesn’t let go the whole, silent walk home.
The ground is still wet. Small puddles of water stick inside the cracks between the cobblestones, drenching my shotty, old, black leather flats with each step. A woman smiles at me and I return the gesture. I round the corner onto my street and walk quickly towards the door. “Aspetta! Aspetta!” Wait! Someone is calling. The old man who owns the restaurant across the street from my apartment is calling after me. I stop, smiling. We often have small, surface-level conversations. He hurries over with a small, green pear and says, half in Italian, half in English, “Here, from my garden. I brought it for you,” and squeezes my hand gently. We don’t even know each other’s names.
I get home and kick off those wet shoes and throw myself down on my bed. My roommate knocks twice and sticks her head in. “Can I come in?” She takes her regular position, lying flat on my fluffy yellow rug and begins telling me the details of her day then asks me to recount mine. I remind myself to tell her more often how grateful I am for this relationship.
It’s late. I’m laying in bed eating dark chocolate that I sprinkled with salt and watching silly comedies that make me laugh out loud. My mom is sending me photos of my old, gray cat, contentedly sleeping on my dad’s belly with captions like, “We can’t wait for you to be home.” I take out my journal and make a list of all the things I need to do tomorrow. And on the very top, in bold, red letters, I write:
PAY LIFE THE ATTENTION IT DESERVES.