Guess which book I’m reading?
The nightmares provoked by Dante’s depiction of hell aside, Dan Brown’s new book just makes me want to kill myself. My living purgatory is nostalgia, and the fact that I’m disconnected with my present because I so painfully long to relive my past. Are my glory days of being a penniless vagabond over? (I’m still penniless, btdubbs. Three years on.)
I know nearly every place name mentioned in the book (or, as far as I’ve read). How? Because of one night. A full fifteen hours traversing the old city on foot with a good friend and fellow wanderer. I’m going to exclude from my mention the first time I was in Florence (For two and a half days I visited my best friend for her birthday and went to renew my passport at the U.S. Consulate. I returned to Bologna–where I was studying on my year abroad–with 75 mosquito bites. Unsurprisingly I had to go to urgent care that evening and get an emergency antihistamine jab in my ass.)
Here are a selection of photos from the first and only time I’ve ever experienced La Notte Bianca: a sleepless night of culture and magic, usually held at the start of May, when all museums, galleries, and palaces are open to the public; restaurants and shops stay up late with them, and churches turn into photo exhibitions, piazzas turn into dance floors, and bookstores become bars. I haven’t heard if they’ve continued the event in recent years; if it never happens again, I’ll consider myself most fortunate–I already do–to have lived [through] it. I don’t think anyone except Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Michelangelo, Leonardo–you get where I’m going with this?–can aptly express what this city is like when it’s alive. So, I’m not going to bother. Already I feel as though I’m fumbling on my words. Here is my brief narration:
My friend James, at the time a British teaching assistant down in Sicily, came up to visit me for a few days in Bologna. Without knowing how to entertain him in a city whose sights could be enjoyed in a day, nor wanting to just glutton him with food to kill time, I suggested we go to Florence. A classmate of my Ancient Greek Music class (yes, they actually had that as a course at Bologna’s university) had mentioned Florence’s festivities for La Notte Bianca in passing. Not knowing what it was exactly (my Italian still sucked at the time), I thought we’d have a look. He went to Florence first, and after I was finished with classes for the day, I took the train to join him. I remember meeting him on a grassy knoll just outside the station. We checked in his bag in a locker there, took a deep breath, and agreed, “Ok, we’re committed for the next 15 hours” (our intended train was for the following day at 7am).
“When swimming into a dark tunnel, there arrives a point of no return when you no longer have enough breath to double back. Your only choice is to swim forward into the unknown…and pray for an exit.” Ch.25, Inferno (Reminds me of every time I’ve ever pulled an all-nighter in my life)
What we experienced was beyond words. I actually don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll just tell you how it ended: The Palazzo Vecchio was serving breakfast (and a sermon?) in the Salone dei Cinquecento at 6am the following morning, and there we met Remy and Alessandro, two random creeps with whom I fell in love (Does that make me a misogynist? They were following me around the palace…). We then watched the sun rise over the Duomo on our walk back to the station, where we noticed a man peeing against a wall in an alleyway. “Is he peeing? No way. Yes, he’s peeing.”
Florence, I’ll never forget you.
(Disclaimer: Excuse my fat face in the photos – I gained about 20 lbs when I lived in Italy … don’t regret a single one of them!)