October 12, 2015An Irish Interval in My Midlife Gap Year – Part 2: 8 – 12 October 2015
10 June 2015 – Wednesday
It rains while I am on the train to Florence. A pelting rain slanting into the Tuscan landscape of green hills, fields of crops and towns whose names escape me. The station in Florence, Santa Maria Novella, is a huge building from the fascist era – modern and art deco-ish. The main hall is utterly jammed with people through whom I walk my bicycle.
Jerry Lee lives a few kilometres away and I make my way to his piazza and there we meet for the first time in 25 years. He’s the same; I’m the same; we’re completely different and have led whole lives in the interim.
We take my stuff to his place then go out to a laundromat. We talk, as people do, about this and that – we walk around his 500 year old neighbourhood waiting for my clothes to dry. We meet his partner, Davide, at the supermarket where we choose fruit for breakfast. Jerry remembers with certainty that Davide and I met in the mid-1990s at a Steak and Shake in Downstate Illinois but it’s a meeting neither Davide nor I remember.
Home again then out for dinner at a local trattoria – just Jerry Lee and me. He gives me the short version of his past quarter century and I give him mine. We talk and laugh and don’t run out of things to say. We are the last in the restaurant. It’s really quite lovely.
Having spent some time finding my own way around unfamiliar cities it’s nice to just follow Jerry Lee as he leads. We visit a bar and sit with our drinks outside in a cobbled laneway enjoying the cooling night. Laughing and talking; sharing and catching up. It’s nearly 1 am on a Wednesday yet people still bustle about and the gelataria is open and calling. Lavender gelato … ah-mazing.
Jerry Lee leads us on a meandering tour of the central sites of Florence, his Florence –we turn a corner and there is the Duomo. Bold colourful marble brightly lit against the black night sky – it’s breathtaking.
Jerry Lee has studied art history and is full of stories and details. It’s a fantastic way to see his city but now it’s genuinely late and we make our way back to his place where I sleep a weary sleep on the sofa bed.
11 June – Thursday
What a nice, simple, lovely day this was.
Jerry Lee had work to do; I had work to do. We each sat at our computers at his dining room table working and talking much of the day. Intermittently we spoke of our lives, our work, what we were working on now and various subjects of interest.
In late morning we go to Jerry Lee’s printer (he’s a photographer) and then for coffee. In late afternoon we go for groceries and stop for an apertivo with a good buffet in his piazza.
In the evening he cooks us dinner – pasta with Davide’s mum’s sauce. Davide arrives home just in time to eat with us. It turns out he is from the same part of Italy as Madeleine, my Italian teacher, so I was able to understand enough of what he said to impress him.
It may not sound like much but it was a really special day. It is simple and nice and given it’s been a quarter century since we last hung out – that is was comfortable and easy is no small thing.
12 June – Friday
I work more in the morning but finally get out to see the Boboli Gardens at Pitti Palace. Jerry Lee has some photos in a temporary exhibit about women in the fashion industry in the Costume Gallery. Given my lack of interest in fashion this is an exhibition I would have skipped but there are some beautiful and quirky clothes on display and the stories of the women are interesting.
The woman Jerry Lee photographed is Susan Nevelson who, along with coming across as one of those women who are seemingly just simply amazing made her name as a designer of audacious prints for Ken Scott.
She’s in her 90s now and, judging from Jerry Lee’s photographs still quite fabulous. I know she’s told him that life begins at 50 – lots of people say such things but a from a woman in her 90s who is clearly still quite vital and engaged in her passions it carries some extra resonance.
The Boboli gardens are enormous. The weird thing is you enter the palace from a crowded urban area and exit into the gardens which could be in the countryside. The gardens slope uphill from the palace and there are places with views over the city but at the top the view away from the city seems bucolic.
Jerry Lee has to leave town in the evening for a job but Davide is happy to have me stay another night – which was very sweet of him. I see Jerry Lee off at the train station and am really quite sad to do so; we are both sad to say farewell again so soon after having not seen each other in 25 years. I’m determined to get back to Firenze before I leave Europe for Asia next year.
Leaving the station I finally feel like a proper, kind of lost, tourist again – I’d spent the past couple of days letting Jerry Lee lead the way or simply following his directions.
I wander. I find a Tiger shop – my hostellier in Genova had suggested it as a place for notebook saying it was the sort of shop where you always found some little thing that you didn’t know you wanted until you saw it there. I have to say, it was a quite fabulous place full of all manner of knick-knacks: craft stuff, kitchen stuff, some bicycle decorations, party supplies, all manner of things.
I have apertivo at a bar Jerry Lee had suggested and the buffet was an excellent spread – cheese things, and fruit things, chicken wings and stuffed eggs, a bunch of different salads. Dinner sorted for the price of a Sydney cocktail – with the cocktail included of course (10 euro).
Arriving home, Davide is already there and we have a lovely time chatting through the evening. He like deserts, and solitude, and driving; he’s Australia’s perfect tourist (although with a bad case of arachnophobia). We look at my photos from Uluru and the Top End – and I tell him of the beauty, and sounds, and magic of the place.
These few days in this ancient city teeming with summer tourists has lent me a soft domestic space to rest and refresh and I leave with an old friendship renewed and and a new one sprouted.