S.M.N. Santa Maria Novella, the name of the church, the piazza, and the train station, in Florence, Italy.
Not the most beautiful entrance to the city, is it? That's exactly what I thought when I arrived the first time, on a cold and dreary December afternoon in 1995. But just one year later, when the train slowly chugged to a stop and I spotted the sign, I cried. I was back! I was back where I belong.
I envy people who live where they are at their happiest. Most of us, by fate or bad decisions, end up in one place, dreaming of another.
I like to walk the streets of Florence. Maybe I'm just sitting at my desk. I'll pick a starting place; let's say, the little wine shop Spoke and I used to frequent that's off Via delle Belle Donne. It was there that we discovered 1141 and Issasi, sadly no longer available in Dallas.
We would buy bottles for me to enjoy in the hotel. Most days, we'd come back to the room in the afternoon to revive ourselves, and Kevin would pour me some vino in one of those short bar glasses. Perfetta!
Wherever my mind decides to go, I walk slowly, remembering so many things along the route. The gray. The damp. Stone and iron. The beauty. And the light.....
From the wine shop, I may opt to go to the river. I'll take my time and explore, venturing into little alleys like this one, knowing I can't get lost.
I'll hang out at the Arno, taking pictures from each of the bridges.
Then I might cross over to the other side of Florence, known as the Oltrarno, meaning beyond the Arno. The rhythm is different on this side. You feel less like a tourist walking the quaint, artisan streets, discreetly peering into the woodworking and framing studios.
I've convinced myself that our Italian cabinet came from one of these shops.
It's a wood cabinet with double glass doors on each facing side and drawers in the middle section. It's long and narrow. We stock it with pottery, china, and bottles of root beer and champagne. We waited eight weeks for it to arrive which it did---get this---on the very day we normally leave for Italy.
Deciding not to travel that year had been so depressingly sad but when it was delivered and I saw FIRENZE hand-written on the back of the cabinet, I said it must have come to us from one of the Oltrarno shops!
I know it isn't true; more likely mass-produced in some factory off the highway but I'm choosing to stick with this fateful tale.
I'll continue walking up the hill, toward Piazzale Michelangelo. From here you can see the breadth of Florence and it will take your breath away.
I'll soak up the views before I head back across to the historic heart of Florence, meandering along those dark, cobblestone streets, following the light.