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If you’re ever in Florence …

4 am and music is playing, the wind howls, shaking the windows, the curtains, a window slams in the other room.

The music is coming from outside, wafting in, piano and cello, but the wind abbreviates it’s phrasing, and the window crashes like a cymbal and I am asleep again.

One time in Florence we traded in our car early and found a place near Piazza Carmine where the Brancacci Chapel is, up a flight of stairs in a room overlooking a busy street lined up with parking cones to avoid traffic. The street also has a bakery and a bar and a “farmacia”.

What more did we need?

That and the river so close, we could cross on one bridge and back again on another and take a morning doing this, traversing the Arno at dawn and capturing the rising light on the swift water.

We returned our car days early because it was raining and we wanted to be in a city where we could walk out a door and be in a cafe, drinking espresso and reading a paper and watching the people go by, shopping and talking and living their lives. A rainy day in the country – beautiful, yes, but we already knew it too well.

There is a sense in Florence, even now, of a way of life connected back a thousand years.

From the rose-tinted glasses of the visitor, it appears a simpler life, less constrained by work and more focused on family and food and leisure, time with friends, enjoying the pleasures of being alive, smelling the roses.

There is a church nearby I wandered into one day 24 years ago or so, small and unmemorable as churches go, but for the one corner to the right of the door where there is a chapel once shrouded in shadow, with an electric box to put a coin in, which would allow a brief span of electric light.

I remember pushing my coins into the box and the light turning on abruptly, with a click, and turning to see Jacopo Pontormo’s Deposition of Christ there, Mary in robes of azure and lapis lazuli, her son sinking to the ground, the mourning friend in thin pink robes, the gazes of astonishment of the others as they looked away beyond the limits of the canvas.

Where are they looking?

What do they see?

Then the light turned off.

I put another coin in.

I stood there for too long, my children restless, gone back outside for a gelato on the corner.

Now a foundation has funded the chapel and there is always light on the Pontormo, no need for coins. But still I go and stand there, and ask the same questions.

It is almost 8 am and the day, here, now, dawns.

The music has stopped playing and the wind has died down.

Sun rises over the Santa Lucia’s.

A new day awaits.

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