The best thing about being a tourist is being the tourist and the worst
thing about being a tourist is being the tourist. This strange paradox
of existing in two opposite realms simultaneously is the basis of the
charm that travel has for many people. It is the line that good travelers
walk, the line between the being there and the there; wishing at one time
to have both experiences, that of a native and that of a passer by. It
is the wish to be at one time both the observed and the observer; to be
both obvious and discreet. This wish does come true from time to time.
It happens when a place goes from being a there to being a here. And only
a native to the place can make that happen. A traveler cannot do it alone
no matter how frequently or how long one visits. For to have a place become
a here it must have some mundane qualities, qualities that are made up
of the daily chores of living and only a native could be mundane about
a city such as Firenze, if only slightly. And the wonderful thing about
being a frequent visitor is that sooner or later, and often by the strangest
circumstances, you will make a friend in Firenze who will help make the
city even more yours. For me it happened between the fourth and fifth
visits. I knew that sooner or later I was bound to get lucky and make
a friend who lived in Firenze.
During my next visit I arranged to meet Carlo outside a leather shop on
the Borgo del Greci. He had left a message before my arrival at the hotel
to call when I arrived. I did and we arranged to meet there at about ten
thirty. I stood outside the large iron gates that led into a neat courtyard..
It was raining a little but I did not want to stand inside in fear of
missing Carlo. As I stood there and watched a parade of various individuals
making their way down the street I began to identify with the laborers,
delivery people, couriers and others who had things to do in Firenze.
I was now part of that group. I had things to do, people to meet and places
to go. I had a purpose! There was a reason for being here other than just
At precisely ten thirty Carlo turned the corner and stood in front of
me, hand extended. As we shook hands I felt an immediate connection to
the ground and as we walked up the street toward the Piazza San Croce
and weaved our way through the everyday working foot traffic I felt the
city in a different way. Carlo was trying to figure out what he should
show me without doing the obvious sorts of things. He knew I had seen
all the major sites so there was no point in that and so we just walked
along one street after another with Carlo pointing out interesting and
discreet features of the city that were invisible to the average tourist.
" Look there," he said pointing to an arched walkway over head
that connected two buildings," there is a garden on that connection.
Like a patio."
I could see a top of a tree and some other shrubbery sticking over the
wall and on the far left side was the top of a large table umbrella.
" Are those private residences?" I asked, wondering who could
be fortunate enough to live there.
" Oh yes, and very expensive. But what is interesting is how space
is created and used when there isn't much space. Firenze is very crowded
as you've seen." He looks at his watch. It is eleven thirty."
I'm going to call a friend of mine. He has a wonderful restaurant. We
should eat there for lunch." He reaches into his coat pocket for
his cell phone. Everyone has a cell phone.
We stop on the street as he calls. He is noticeably disappointed when
he can't get him. He looks around. We are a little ways off the Piazza
della Signoria and the tourist traffic on the street is getting thick.
We take a side street.
" This is a good place." he says stepping into the Verrazzano
restaurant. It is not crowded and lunch is very pleasant. We talk of Firenze,
his family, my family, future plans. A normal conversation in a rather
I watch as a family comes in. A mother, father and two young children.
They look tired and hungry. They ask for pizza and I can see the relief
on the father's face when the waiter answers in English.
Carlo treats me to lunch and we are back on the street.
" Are you interested in art," he asks." My friends have
a gallery not far. It is named Spaziotempo and it is famous for its non-representational
shows. Its the best in Firenze."
I am eager to make more friends and what could be better than to be introduced
into the artistic community of Firenze. We walk down this street and
that street. My steps are deliberate only because I am being led. Otherwise
I surely would be lost. Soon we are at the gallery. And after a brief
look around and handshakes with the gallery owners I leave with a catalogue
of the present exhibition and with the understanding that when I am in
Firenze again I should drop by.
We are back on the street and it is now almost two-thirty. We both have
things to do and when we reach the Duomo we say good-bye. It has been
an extraordinary few hours that has changed the city for me.
As I sat on the Duomo's front stairs waiting for my students to return
from Pisa, I leaned back on my elbows and looked out into the piazza at
the parade of participates in this dance of life. Firenze
had become more than just a travel destination to me. It was now a place
where some friends of mine live.