Sunday, September 05, 2021

50 years ago ~ notes from Florence ~ September, 1971

Saying goodbye to my Sicilian family at the dock, I got on the boat and returned to Naples. From there I took a train to Florence. I was an art student (mainly photography, but a well-rounded course of classes), and Florence seemed like a good place to visit. The Italian holiday was tapering off, people were returning to their towns and villages, so I did as well. I had two more weeks in Italy before I had to be back at class in Santa Clara.

Looking back now, probably the best thing would have been to stay in Sicily, and dive in deeper. But I didn’t want to take too much advantage of my relatives’ hospitality. And I knew I’d be back. Florence called.

Oddly, seven years later I went back to Florence and spent three weeks there. So, I really did a deeper dive into Florentine life too. But not this time.

This time, 1971, I was alone and walked the town. It was still a bit warm, but the city was coming back to life. Tourism was a big thing there, not like it is now, by any stretch of the imagination. But you could tell it held a draw for people from all around the world.

I remember seeing avocados for sale at a produce stand for an unimaginable price. They were from Israel. Odd, I thought, because avocados, where I came from, grew on trees, and all one had to do was find one and pick them. But $3 for an avocado in Italy in 1971? That was a whole meal. Or a room in a pensione, in those days.

Five years earlier Florence had suffered thought a devastating flood, and the markers from the flood were still in evidence. Lines were noted on buildings where the flood had risen to. Some of the storefronts were still shuttered. It was 1971, we weren’t in the greatest economical period then. Florence was trying to come back, to rebuild.

Wine? Well, even in the little trattorias or mensas that I could afford, there was always a quarter of a liter of wine to go with the meal. But I didn’t think much about it. It accompanied the meal. In fact, it was probably a good habit to develop, not to put wine up on some pedestal and worship it. but to include it in the communal repast. I remember getting into a workers mensa and sitting with stone workers, carpenters and plumbers, eating the same food, drinking the same wine. I was a bit of an odd man out, but no one thought much about it. we ate, some made small conversation, and they got back to work. My work? Walking the streets with my camera.

I don’t know what happened to those photos, some of them have gone misplaced. But I do remember some of them. I have a few, one of a courtyard outside my room. I remember going to the Pitti and the Uffizi, along with the Accademia and the Duomo. The pictures will show up someday, I hope.

In reality I was starting to get a little lonely and restless. I fantasized about going to Zermatt, Switzerland, where I imagined it must be cooler than Florence, this time of the year. But Switzerland, I was told, was more expensive, and I was a student on a budget. So, I stayed a little longer in Florence.

I do remember buying some clothes there, namely three sweaters, a pair of leather bellbottoms and a pair of sandals. I still have the sweater, bought at the San Lorenzo market. They cost 1800 lire each ($3 then) and they are still in good shape. Wool. I also bought a pair of suede bell bottoms. I still have them, though the 30” waist size they came in no longer fit me. I was skinny then.

The sweaters, I can occasionally fit into, but only for nostalgic reasons.

And the sandals? Why always sandals? I bought a pair in Pozzuoli, the cork ones. This time, in Florence, they were of leather, bought at an artisanal shop near the Ponte Vecchio. They were lovely, I still have a pair just like them, that I bought, another time, in Florence. Classic Roman style. Yeah, coming from a family of leather workers, shoes especially, these tapped into my Italian DNA.

What else do I remember? The ice cream. And yes, a fleeting glance from a beautiful young Italian woman. It was just a second or less, as we passed in the street, me with my camera, she with her girlfriends. Better as a memory than whatever fantasy I conjured up about her.

Next week, Positano in 1971. Wow, what a place it was then.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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