I walk down four flights of stairs, fixing my new paisley scarf bought at the market by school, and out the heavy wooden doors onto Dante Alighieri. Just hours before, the same as on every other night, an accordion player serenaded customers with the melody of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at the restaurant across the street. Heading right, I walk past the sandwich kiosk that has a Filipina serving espresso in the morning, Genoa salami and prosciutto in the afternoon, and cappucino and tripe panini in the evening to regular locals and wandering tourists in search of the Duomo. I turn left into a narrow street, passing small markets, shops, apartments, cafes, and restaurants until I emerge in the open.
Crossing the spacious Piazza della Signoria, I wonder who chose to have blue lighting around the outdoor sculptures at the Uffizi. I wonder when they'll finish renovations on the fountain in front of the Palazzo Vecchio so I can enjoy Neptune minus the ever-present scaffolding. I wonder which unsuspecting tourists will become part of the street musicians' entertaining performance as I zigzag in and out of the crowds.
Once I reach the river, I turn right and continue under the awning that is part of the Vasari Corridor. I see light reflections and water droplets dance on the surface of the Arno and thank Cosimo I de' Medici for having the corridor constructed in the 1500s. The drizzling stops after a few minutes in which I slow down to people watch -- there are always interesting characters in this area. I pass couples walking hand-in-hand, tourists snapping pictures of the shop-lined Ponte Vecchio, and the persistent men trying to make their last sales of the day with leather goods and paintings laid out on tan-colored sheets along the pavement. Coming upon the Ponte Vecchio, I consider taking a detour but remember that it's too late for window-shopping. While the shop windows are full of glittering gold and eye-catching diamonds during the day, they turn into two rows of locked wooden treasure chests at night.
After the Ponte Vecchio, the sidewalk starts to narrow. I continue along the gentle curve of the Arno, passing a slew of shops, restaurants, hotels, residences, churches, old palaces, and galleries all squeezed together on the other on the other side of the cobblestone street. I pass a school with hand painted banners streaming down from the strike a few days ago. At some point, I pass the second bridge. A friend from school lives near here but I keep walking past the third bridge across from another piazza. I could turn right here and end up at Santa Maria Novella -- the church and the train station, two of my first landmarks in the city due to their proximity to my school and to starting every non-Firenze adventure at the train station.
Tonight, however, I have no plans of leaving the city, so I don't turn right nor do I turn at the next piazza. Instead, I rewrap my scarf a little tighter to block out a gust of wind, stuff my hands in my pockets and continue walking along the river. Occasionally, I dodge an oncoming bicyclist with a basket full of groceries, a runner heading home from the park Le Cascine or a couple in the middle of their own fairytale.
I'm both lost in a million thoughts and thinking about nothing when I see it and feel my steps quickening...but just a little. I'm not in a rush. I'm never in a rush when I come here. I push open the little black gate that is unlocked as usual, and I step off the sidewalk onto the sand- and pebble-covered ground. I walk around the small wooden bench that I've never sat on and don't plan to sit on tonight. At the curved end of the semi-circle, I rest my elbows on the wall, look out towards the water and breathe deeply from the long, chilly walk.
I don't know when I "discovered" it. I suppose it doesn't matter when, only that I did. And since then, it's become my spot. Sometimes it's a place to go when I need to walk off all the pasta I consumed for dinner. Usually it's where I go to think. Or to not think. 8 PM or 1 AM. Rain or no rain. Joyful or sorrowful.
I come here simply to be.
To be engulfed with personal silence while still mindful of the whirring sound of the river moving across the constructed "waterfall."
To be mesmerized by the lights of regularly-spaced streetlamps whose reflections dance along the Arno.
To be at ease with self-induced isolation and in touch with the rest of the world moving around me.
To be in the darkness and surrounded by light.
To be in tune with my own being.
To be contemplative.
To be thankful.
And when I'm done being, I take another deep breath, open my eyes and walk back home.