Time Machine Please!

Piazzale Michelangelo, Firenze

As I go over my plans for our virtual Italian class next Tuesday, I reflect over the assignment I gave my students.

Una vacanza mai dimenticata. An unforgettable vacation.

I have had a few in my life.  Most of them happened long, long ago, when I still lived in Italy with my parents.  They were travelers, my parents, passionate and inquisitive tourists, and that trait was passed down to me.  In my naïveté, I used to think that I would spend my life traveling the world, visiting all of the continents (minus Antarctica, which holds zero interest for me, not a fan of ice or penguins).  That was not to be, unfortunately, as my life, after the first dramatic and future-changing turn, settled into a more routine pace, leaving me with an unfulfilled taste for adventure.

Last year, however, I can indeed say that I had the most marvelous, relaxing and rewarding vacation of my life.  This time, going back to my native Italy did not feel melancholy, stressful and, yes, even somewhat tedious, as it often does.

Perhaps because I traveled to Northern Italy this time, not to my neck of the woods,  guest of my mother’s relatives in Modena, where I had not gone for decades, and actually met my cousins, my hosts, for the very first time.  My twenty-three- year-old daughter also came with me, my first time traveling with an adult child.  I didn’t know what to expect.  But all of these elements melded to create magic.

The two of us, boarding the train – together with my cousin and her husband – a couple of days after arriving, toward Florence, made my heart beat almost in a frenetic rhythm.  I was exhilarated, barely able to stay in my skin with excitement.  Beautiful, glorious Firenze, a precious, elaborate jewel, warm and ancient; the narrow, cobblestoned streets inviting you to immerse yourself into its medieval past; the breath of history at every step, the always comforting buzz of delighted and enthusiastic tourists, crowding every corner and filling the air with all the languages of the world.

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Summer vacation in a city: nothing like it.  Take all the white sandy beaches in the world, the luxurious cruise ships, the exotic cocktails by the pool…and get them out of my way.  I want a vibrant city to explore, bursting with monuments, dazzling churches, stunning museums showcasing artistic treasures, true masterpieces, not the tiresome, childish, contemporary ‘art’, mono-tone canvases, but real art, created by the most brilliant artists of the Renaissance.

It was a seriously hot day, that time in Florence, which only added to my joy.  Summer is the only season that can make one feel alive, when the sky is turquoise, the clouds are few and just fluffy trimmings, your clothes are light and your hair dances in the breeze.  Walking, walking, spinning around to take photos with my phone, overwhelmed by such magnificence, an ode to the genius of Man who is capable of such accomplishments.

The picturesque river Arno, green and tan, calm and serene, donating that liquid mirror to the fortunate ones who reside in the City of Art, crossed by simple bridges, bridges that have always been there, intrinsic part of Florence, defining the traditional passeggiata.

A simple lunch of bread and prosciutto, packed by my cousin, consumed sitting on a stone bench, in a hidden enclave shaded by trees, resting our tired feet, and drinking from not-so- chilled water bottles.  Looking at maps and discussing our next stop, another piece of Florence to explore, the lovely shops to seek, the straw hats to buy, and the spectacular Mercato del Porcellino, one of my favorite open-air markets.  Hello red leather bag!  Soft and supple as baby skin, handcrafted by local artisans, with that unique aroma of sophisticated luxury that only real leather gifts you.

Leaning over the balustrade of the Piazzale Michelangelo, moved nearly to tears by the splendor of the city below, wondering if I were indeed in such presence, or simply indulging in daydreaming.

Exhausted and emotional, I relaxed on the train seat, lovingly watching my precious daughter doze off, lulled by the motion, tired and content.

An exhausting day in a perfect city: this is a vacation.

Yes, una vacanza mai dimenticata.

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