Day one meant the inevitable: a walking tour. We, as a group of international students, have collectively gone on hundreds, maybe thousands,… or at least more than we may have liked. In practically every new city, I’ve followed a flag-wielding guide with a thick accent, a bright hat, and a voice that rings either a little too low to hear or too loud to miss.
Florence was no exception.
Day one’s student walking tour hit all the important spots a tourist may need to visit: “the metal boar statue” (not the real name, but hey, I was jetlagged), this church, that church, and a farmacia or two, which, as someone in need of constant mosquito repellent, I appreciated.
I groggily stumbled around the cobblestone streets for the hour and a half wondering 1. When it would end and 2. How my family was doing back home at 3am. The tour started at the Duomo. We toured around, crossed to the other side and back to the Duomo. We walked for a bit and then, like magic, back at the Duomo. And where did we end? Why of course, the Duomo. In an instant, the Duomo had gone from a lofty spectacle to, now, my new best friend. Now, I had a North Star. I knew that no matter how lost I may get in the coming weeks I could always get home if I saw the Duomo.
Unfortunately, while the Duomo is a large landmark in the city of Florence, it isn’t visible from everywhere. This I quickly learned one night after lots of pasta and even more wine.
I was with friends in a cramped, narrow neighborhood southeast of the Duomo. As we left the restaurant, I looked up towards the sky. My eyes were primed and ready to spy the Duomo’s dome and… nothing. I turned 180 degrees. Duomo? Nope. I turned back. Perhaps I’d missed it somehow. Oh Duooomo? Nowhere to be seen. So, now what?
We decided to start walking in some direction. Any direction. The streets were quiet, stagnant almost: a strange atmosphere to experience coming from the familiarity of New York and Madrid. We trekked on.
As we walked, we noticed. We noticed the oddly shaped door that we had passed on the way to the restaurant. Earlier, a friend had said it reminded her of Lord of the Rings. A good sign. So, we kept moving. We walked by a balcony lush with potted plants and hanging flowers. The smell of the greenery hung in the air, just as it had done earlier that night. So, we kept moving. We passed the pushy man who had offered us free limoncello at a below-average tourist-trap of a restaurant. He was still out there. And still offering. So, we definitely kept moving.
Just as Kevin Lynch’s first chapter of “The Image of the City” describes a “hidden animal” suddenly appearing in the jungle brush, we soon discovered the “hidden forms” of the Florentine streets. In the moment they were invisible, brought only to light by our experiences: watching Lord of the Rings with our families, our love for fresh flowers, and our sudden distaste for limoncello. Suddenly, the path home was more clear than it had ever been.
As I turned onto my street, happily thinking about a hot shower and pajamas, something caught my eye. The damn Duomo. She sat proudly at the end of my street. Her dome was lit by spotlights and through the narrow street I could see tourists still roaming around her perimeter. Geometrically sliced by the buildings that sat between us, there she stood in all her glory.
“Thanks for nothing!” I shouted into the dead of night. My friends laughed. I had definitely had too much wine.
Link to Kevin Lynch’s chapter of The Image of the City: http://italianstudies.nd.edu/assets/68866/lynch.pdf