Il Fiorentino

picture gallery

After 24 hours in transit we arrived at the Hotel Fiorentino Sunday afternoon. It was the lowest price place I could find on the internet. The guidebook said it was in a high crime neighborhood, the entrance looked seedy, the hotel clerk at first said he couldn’t find our reservation. But after we climbed three narrow flights of stairs and mastered the old lock and key, we gasped. The ceiling was fifteen feet and two corner windows gave out on the vast complex of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Novella and the railroad station. The stone balustraded balcony could have been where Mussolini harangued the crowds. It felt like standing on a rock in the middle of a fast flowing river of buses, cars, and pedestrians.

Despite jetlag and fatigue we were driven by hunger and curiosity to go out. We bought some bad sandwiches for a picnic in the adjoining square in front of the 14th century cathedral façade where a small band played in the warm and surprisingly quiet late afternoon, and then we started wandering toward the center. The city was full of people—mostly goodlooking and stylish Italians—but didn’t feel overcrowded. Some divine gelato made up for the sandwiches, and soon we were in front of the Duomo. We sauntered from piazza to piazza—each of which could be the center of a great city– admired the clothing on sale in shops and stalls, bought a new guide book, and came back to our little palazzo to shower and rest. Then we set out for dinner at the square near the central mercado, mixing with pedestrians, bicyclists, scooters, and people pushing their market stalls through the winding streets. We came out on a large square between the market and the dome of San Lorenzo full of lights, music and buzzing outdoor restaurants on platforms roofed with tents. It was 8:00 p.m.—time to celebrate dinner! The salad of urugula, fresh corn tomatos cucumbers and carrots and mozzarella, with bottles of vinegar and oil on the table was a fine overture. During the two hour meal, we drank a liter of wine, joked with the amiable waiter, and had an animated conversation with two young people from London at the adjoining table. We seemed to have the city in our pocket.

6:00 A.M. Monday September 26.

Still dark out but the noise of streetcleaners is deafening. I got up at 5:00 after an uncomfortable night of sore throat and insomnia. Once I rose from horizontal, took some vitamin C and started processing pictures, I felt better, but still apprehensive about the coming day: will I get sicker? Will we connect with our old friend Brenda who’s invited us to stay at her place outside the city for the next two nights or will we be forced to find a different hotel here in town? Will my digestion return? Such perils provide spice to the pleasures of travel.

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