We wake up, have our morning coffee, read the news about a horrific bombing here and another tragic shooting there and then we rush off to work. We drive distractedly, creating checklists in our minds. We curse the slow driver in front of us, convinced that they are the reason we are going to be late (or in my case, the pack of tourists taking up the entire sidewalk.) We finish work just to rush around again, errands and obligations and dinner plans. And then, once it’s good and dark, we sip wine into oblivion (or is that last part just me?)
With the burden of responsibility, it’s easy to become a part of the rat race. The human condition allows us to fall so easily into routine that we simply shift into airplane mode and go through the motions. The main focus becomes getting from point A to point B.
Last week I was racing a little a bit. (Well, as much as a free-lancing flower child ‘races’.) I stayed in my apartment, working all through the morning until I had to go to my afternoon job. I would rush back home in the evenings for Skype meetings and then I’d continue pounding away at my keyboard so that I didn’t miss a deadline. And when I was finally finished for the day, I would go unwind by drinking too much in the same old bars.
On Saturday night, as I sat down to plan my next move after Florence, it struck me that I’ll be leaving in just one month’s time. In one month, I will be out of my beloved city. In one month I won’t live casually amongst some of the world’s most awe inspiring architecture. I won’t be neighbors to museums that house the best of the renaissance. I won’t eat the wonderful food, drink the wonderful wine and hear the wonderful language. I will no longer be a part of the culture I love so dearly or be able to spend time with the people who have made this place my home.
And it struck me that I had just spent a week barely noticing the magnificence of this place. For god’s sake, I had been sending emails everyday as I walked past the duomo. The freaking duomo!
To calm the internal panic rising up in my chest, I decided to plan a day where I would be a tourist in my own city. The idea calmed me. A Florence appreciation day. I had always loved to do that in New York when I needed to slow things down. (A visit to the New York Public Library, The Met or Central Park always did the trick.)
So I woke up the next morning, and lazed around a bit, fully embracing the vacationer vibes. I went down to the cafe on the corner and ordered a chocolate brioche and a caffe latte, which I slipped slowly before I wandered over to the Bargello.
Erected in the 13th century, it’s one of Florence’s oldest buildings. Initially built for public service offices and later transformed into a prison and execution ground, it certainly has its history. I perused for a couple of hours, admiring sculpture, paintings, bronze castings, 16th century armor and weapons, housewares and fabrics. All of it a reminder of the Florentine’s devotion to beauty.
I took my time, appreciating each little detail. Tears welled in my eyes as I looked at the delicate veins Bartolomeo Ammannati had carved on the hand of a marble Moses. I found a seat on a stone bench in the open air courtyard of the palazzo. The sun was beating down and a soft breeze was whirling through. I took out my leather journal and my favorite purple pen and I wrote a few sentences about how truly happy I was. Inspired even. When I was through I strolled back over for one last glance at my favorite sculpture, one that geniusly implied that poetry is just was elemental as earth, water, air or fire, and then I left for my next destination.
I had been in the Galleria degli Uffizi before, but I decided that one afternoon with Botticelli wasn’t enough. So I walked to the back of the long line and settled in. I stood alone, contentedly reading a book by Paulo Coelho as the line inched towards the ticket-booth. Once I had my ticket in hand, I knew just where to go. I walked quickly through the maze-like museum until I reached the room where Botticelli’s masterpieces live. The room was packed with people trying to push their way through for a selfie with Primavera or The Birth of Venus. Before each of my favorite pieces I waited until I got into the perfect position and then I stood, solidly. At first I was shoved and elbowed. But then, as ten minutes had passed, twenty, twenty-five, something happened where people began to notice that I wasn’t snapping a photo and running. I was there to appreciate the exquisite beauty of the floral dresses, of Zephyr’s mesmerizing coloring, of the gold flecks on the leaves and the way the floating flowers almost seemed to flutter. As if my love for them created a magical force around me, people began to give me space where I was free to simply exist in front of these masterpieces and be moved by them.
Once I had gotten my fill, I left the Uffizi, and took a long walk that ended in front of my favorite church. I sat down on the steps, fully aware that the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo and Dante were just at my back, I pulled out a stack of books, and I spent the next three hours reading. I read an enchanting novel, a biographical fiction, a few chapters of Plato. I read until the sun went down. Until I had worked up an appetite. And then I met my friends for a long aperitivo where we sipped prossecco, indulged in some of my favorite Italian specialties and enjoyed each other.
And what’s most important, I appreciated. I appreciated every. single. minute. of that day. I approached it with mindfulness and with gratitude and it left me refreshed, humbled, content.
I’m sure it’s easy to think that it had more to do with Florence than the mindset.
“Who wouldn’t be happy in Florence?”
But people can learn to take anything for granted if they allow themselves to.
And last week, I was taking my time in Florence for granted. I was walking through it distracted, unseeing. But as soon as I focused on being mindful, I became infinitely more grateful. Not just for the beauty of the city and the art within it, but for the great minds that created it. For their genius and their unprecedented forward thinking. For good books and what they were teaching me. For the breeze and the way the sun made my lips tingle. For the way the light hit the buildings of Piazza Santa Croce at dusk and the whole square seemed to glow orange. For the food and the drink and the candid honesty and warmth of my friends. All of the beauty came rushing in when I remembered to let it.
And that can happen anywhere; in the biggest cities or the smallest towns. When I say “be a tourist,” it doesn’t mean you have to run to the closest museum (although it might be kind of cool if you did.) All you have to do is approach your environment with curiosity and a sense of wonder, and suddenly magic appears. The everyday kind of magic that we have begun to take for granted.
It’s there. You just have to slow down enough to catch it.