I am wandering up Via Cavour. It is 2:30 in the afternoon and the only thing on my mind is where I should go to get something to eat for lunch. It could be said that it is somewhat late to be thinking about lunch but I did get up from my comfortable warm bed at an embarrassingly late hour. Here I keep my room very dark for expressly the purpose of sleeping late.
It has been a typical pleasant January day in Firenze for me. I started by leaving the house quickly and walking up Borgo dei Greci, past all of the leather shops where you would never expect to get a bargain, past the guy selling the ubiquitous large size prints that would be impossible to get home in one piece, past the Piazza di San Firenze and the hotel I stayed in the first time I came here. In the Piazza della Signoria, the tourist groups are already huddled about, listening to guides tell stories of the Medici, Savenorolla and the Renaissance in a dozen different languages while hawkers hover around the edges of the groups with their handfuls of selfie sticks. Turning down via Vacchereccia and onto Via Por Santa Maria, I fumble around in my pocket for a euro in case the old gypsy woman is still on the Ponte Vecchio, but she has already been sent on her way by the police who patrol the bridge. On the other side is Cafè Maioli, where I get my first coffee of the day, every day. I have walked just on a kilometre to earn the ciambella (donut) that I have with it.
I have been coming to this cafè for breakfast for the past 5 years and have developed friendships with the people who work here. They tease me about my terrible Italian end then try very hard to teach me to speak a little better. They know what I like to have and sometimes, if they are not very busy, have it ready when I walk in the door because one of them has seen me walking off the bridge. The friendly greetings that I get every day makes me feel like I actually belong here in Florence, that I am not una straniera.
We usually part with one of my friends asking me “Where are you going today?” to which I usually respond “Oh, I don’t know. Just around.” but today I had plans. “I am going to the Academia” which is how I come to be walking mindlessly along via Cavour at 2:30. There is currently an exhibition of an artist I have not come across previously – Carlo Portelli (1539-1574). He seems to have focused a lot on depicting allegories for Carita – charity. This was a bit of a coincidence in my day because while I am not paying much attention to anything but my thoughts of food, a hand is thrust at me and a voice asked “Can you give me some money to buy some bread. I don’t have a job and I am hungry.”
Italy is a small country, much smaller than Australia yet it seems to have accommodated so many people from some of the most dreadful places on the planet. It is so close to these war-torn and dangerous places. There aren’t enough jobs for the locals let alone the influx of refugees but they just keep coming. The gypsies that are always here. The hawkers trying to make some sort of living for themselves. The Africans who layout sheets on the ground to display their knockoff bags so they can scoop them up quickly and disappear when the law lumbers into view. They are all here and trying to have a decent life just like the people who walk quickly past trying not to make eye contact.
I don’t know who of them are genuine and who are not but Carlo Portelli spoke to me today across 500 years. The man who stopped me was luckier than most because, giving him all of the change that I had in my pocket would have been enough for a panino at least. I didn’t stop to see what he did with the money I gave him but I hope that today I have made a tiny difference in the life of someone whose life will never be as happy or as comfortable as mine.