God is in the details. Surrounded by so many enormous, monumental works of religion, art, culture, and architecture, I want to take time to dwell on the small and particular in my days.
I decided that I would eat my main meal midday, and that I would only eat in places I felt comfortable. Because I’m traveling by myself, the comfort level of the cafes were paramount. Did they smile? I also settled on never eating at a place that didn’t offer a changing daily menu written on a chalkboard, with no actual menus. This means the food is generally always fresh, depending on what the market offered in the morning. It also means I don’t have to deal with much choice: one to four pastas and one to three changing main dishes. This is how the Florentines tend to eat, and they eat early, from around 12:30 on. If you don’t order the pasta, you can get a main plate, generally meat and veggies or all veggies, a classic protein/vegetable dish. A good lunch cafe will run out of the most desirable “secondi piatti” and scratch it off the board, so I’ve learned to go early. My main cafe refuses to speak English at all to me, to help me learn Italian.
I walk everywhere, so I can’t speak to public transportation. I wear walking boots, over the ankle, all day. They have saved me many times on the uneven, ancient cobblestones and in the needed traffic dodges. Florence is now fairly traffic free in the middle, but you still need to be on your toes walking down ancient alleys.
I avoided tourist places and found three cafes that I liked. In the evenings, I cook at home in the apartment and read, write or sketch, after a walk in the silky Florentine early evening. So I have not done a food tour. I buy premade cooked veggies and food at the supermarket and heat them up on my little induction stove surface in the apartment. The food cooks but the pan doesn’t get hot. Strange!
Dealing with daily life while not knowing the language let you know that you are a little bit stupid all the time. You’re the outsider. It’s humbling. I think that’s why the classic pilgrimage was to a foreign land through unknown places, languages and customs. The humility, or humiliation in some cases, leads you to pray a lot.
Learning how to do daily life in a strange land leads you into places you normally don’t see. The apartment dwellers take out their own trash and recycling to well-organized, labeled city bins, often blocks away. Apparently you can sometimes leave out neat bags of paper recycling to be picked up, but I have never seen trash left outside on the sidewalk. One night after a football rally in Santa Croce square, where hundreds of people were drinking outside, I saw bottles and cans left on benches, gone by the next morning. Trash doesn’t automatically disappear here. You have to walk it out and dispose of it. Then you wash the sidewalk in front of your apartment. Thousands of years of tiny acts keep it all clean. It’s different.
Florence makes things. It hand sews leather and makes book bindings. It still gilds things and makes silk, then fabric, then handmade dresses from the fabric. It’s a busy place with a frenetic energy, probably the least relaxed place in Italy I’ve ever been. It’s been cosmopolitan for 800 years and it shows. I look in shop windows and people are sewing, gilding, cutting, printmaking. It’s all still happening. The hands of Florence are always moving, often making something beautiful or decorative. Or delicious.