Firenze and the selfie

Firenze and the selfie

by Janice Nigro

German airports seem to have one answer for weight gain. It is down the stairs and up again, and if the plane is remotely parked, you get to do that all over again. It is as if the architects planned it that way to prepare passengers like me in transit for Italy.

It was late January and I was on my way to Roma via Munich. I left LA on a day when the temperature was over 20°C, and about 12 hours later I was circling over a snow white countryside before landing in Munich airport. It got a little warmer as I headed further south, and I was able to see a spectacular sunset from the plane window as I arrived in Roma rather than the cloud fog that had settled in Northern Europe.

I rushed to collect my bags at Fiumicino, only then to go on to catch two more trains to my first destination, Firenze. I never quite understand the English bastardization of such beautiful city/country names-Florence is not the same as Firenze. Even Roma with the additional single letter syllable sounds many times better than just Rome. Livorno = Leghorn? Greece is the one that always stumps me-Hellas-which is one of the good things that Norwegian taught me.

It was a very full 24 hours of travel. I was grateful when I reached the outside at Santa Maria Novella in Firenze, and taxi cabs were lined up waiting, it seemed, just for me. I always start right then with the taxi driver speaking what Italian I know, and in 15 minutes you can get your groove back (a bit anyway). I had a drama to relay-after all I had been traveling 24 hours (un giorno brutto) so it was easy to be immediately conversational even in another language.

My hotel is more than just a hotel. We have been staying at Torre Guelfa for years. My parents stole a book on boutique hotels in Italy from me many years ago (in fact I never saw it) and found the hotel. It is close to the Ponte Vecchio and the main street, but each room is a different color and decorated with different furniture. Simple yet nothing like a typical hotel.

There was no real reason for us to be in Firenze again. I have lost count how many times I have been, but when we travel to Italia it is part of the itinerary. It is not so much because of what the city itself has to offer any longer but because of the people who have become our friends over the years.

One of the proprietors is in fact married to a woman from the US, and my parents and the couple have become close over the years. This time however we were invited to dinner with the entire family at a local restaurant on the other side of the river Arno managed by a son-in-law. It was the beginning of the impossibility of simply maintaining my weight on this holiday. Antipasto, two types of pasta, and a main course which for me was wild boar with the best polenta. Dinner conversation was spirited; a mix of English and Italian, and I was surprised that although the wife is from the USA, she never spoke much English with her children (English or Italian? no contest perhaps).

Our days were spent as usual, wandering around browsing the shops, which at one time were more characteristic of Firenze than they now are. Still there are Madova gloves and Anna leather goods in Piazza Pitti. In Anna’s, we trade stories for what has happened in the past year, and then I talk about how I want to come and live in Firenze for at least a few months to really learn Italian or perhaps some other useful skill, like cooking. We have to stop in several times over our few days, but we are never ready for the final arrivaderci.

Our favorite chocolate store is still in business (although it is more than just chocolate), and this place is heaven for any chocolate lover. Chocolate surrounds you in unimaginable shapes and is piled to the ceiling. Just as in fashion, chocolates have a season-nuts in the fall and winter, eggs and bunnies in the spring-and something is always new. The same woman has been working there for all the years that I have been going there, and she is a slender woman. I asked her if she still likes chocolate…we both laughed, probably at how ridiculous the question was. Perhaps she is proof of my theory that Southern European woman do not get fat because a little bit is so satisfyingly tasty.

Our first dinner though was not at some big famous restaurant, but a local pizzeria. It is usually crammed with people, but locals and students, not tourists. I feel proud that I manage the scene completely in Italian. And our big prize was waiting long enough for the pizza with radicchio and truffle oil to arrive. Hot freshly made pizza. Pizza is not the same in Firenze as the rest of the world is about the only way to describe it.

But something was different. Ahh, no tourists! It was winter, but this was Firenze-there is no bad season to view the art treasures that the city is so famous for. It was a distinct advantage for us. Even though we had been so many times, we were able to do things that we had not done in years because of the lines of tourists. One day, my brother and I looked at each other as we passed Il Duomo and said, “let’s walk up Il Cupola” because there was no one in line. Literally not a single person. It was the perfect temperature for it, and it might have been our last chance ever. Amazing painting and quite a great fantasy from back then if you look closely. Their own version of special effects.

The next day we were able to run up Il Campanile for yet another view of the city from above (the tickets are good for 24 hours), unhindered by the crowds of the nice weather tourists. The locals had time to speak Italian with us, and we could take photographs of the sunsets from Ponte Vecchio without having to push our way through other tourists.

There is always something new in Firenze. The thing is you don’t expect the latest thing you will be obsessed with in Firenze to be something the annoying street vendors are selling.

I have to give these guys credit; as annoying as they can be, they always seem to come up with some new gizmo to sell to tourists. In some instances, it is even a little innovative. So in some ways I look forward to seeing them. Where exactly their products come from is another good question-annoying street vendor guy’s warehouse or where-because it isn’t exactly legal for them to be out there. I have no clue how many annoying street vendor items they need to sell to survive or where they go at night or how they really live.

This year, I think they actually had a hit. Because of the selfie. That wonder of all magic gizmos, this year, was the selfie stick. Honestly, it is a name you have to stop and wonder a bit about, and yet in the streets of beautiful Firenze over and over the street vendors were rushing to sell us selfie sticks and in diverse colors.

selfie stick copyright small 0220

Clearly the annoying street vendors were popular this year because selfie sticks were everywhere. These could even morph into a tripod. I was dying to buy one myself, but once you engage one of these guys, then you get a thousand of them, and I can only use so many selfie sticks. One to be exact.

The selfie stick is an interesting phenomenon especially in a city like Firenze. Firenze is a beautiful city full of incredible art and structures, and yet, the thing people are most obsessed with is taking pictures of themselves. Ok, admittedly there is a piece of art or a famous structure in the background though, but let’s face it, the most important object in the photo is the person. A picture of me beside the statue of David? Not interested. And in this regard, George Clooney is right-people have stopped living their lives and are just recording them. It could not be truer even on the streets of Firenze.

The selfie stick as its name implies furthermore gives us one less reason to interact with the locals, or just anyone. Who bothers to ask anyone to take a photo? We can just do that on our own.

It is not a toy though really. All you have to do is a Google search with the words selfie, stick, and accident, and the stories will surprise you (or maybe not). It should come with some kind of a warning-dangerous if used while walking, driving a car or cruise ship, flying a plane, like the warning on a hot cup of coffee from McDonald’s.

I left Firenze without a selfie stick (so no selfies included) and for another day of travel just as brutto as the day I took to get there. Initially I thought January in Italy was not a great idea, but without throngs of tourists, there were some peaceful moments surrounded by magnificent art and structures. And well the food is always superb. I am sorry though that I did not go to gli Uffizi to view Botticelli’s paintings once again in their absence, but maybe next January…

©2015 Janice Marie Nigro/


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