by Kim Bartenfelder
Tucked away in a sweet valley lies a dome of muses patched together as one unit, plucking brilliance from the minds of those who embrace her inspiring encapsulation. Her name is Florence— the pride of Italy.
For a writer, Florence draws out a renewed sense of creative freedom and experimentalism. As a young writer myself, travelling to Florence from early January to late April of 2019 was about colorizing the drab learning styles I had grown accustomed to. All the while, aching to salvage a vestige of creativity to have it blossom abroad.
To understand Florence, there must be recognition that every part of her is intimate. Her strade hold secrets, her architecture holds bellezza, her storia holds purpose. Without them, she is a city without soul.
From Aeroporto to Centro Della Città towards the hills of Fiesole to the east, Scandicci in the west, and the E35 Autostrada to the south, Florence houses artistry. Spanning generations, she fostered the eloquent language of Dante Alighieri, the creativity and unification of Boticelli’s hand and mind, Michelangelo’s craftsmanship, Galileo Galilei’s wit, and the influence of the merchant, later ruling family, Medici, among countless other notable figures.
Jet-streaming into the twenty-first century, writers coming to Florence experience a similar phenomenon: an enlightenment that if cultivated by her embrace will produce work worthy to be shared.
Coming to Florence was about engaging in histories, languages, and inspirations unlike what I had been accustomed to in the United States. A foreigner at first, I found myself on numerous occasions frantically diving into my shoulder bag for my journal and pen to jot down the unique instances I witnessed. Other times, I wasn’t quick enough and I settled for observation.
Imperative to my creative process was journaling. To some degree, writing is learning and in a city with an abundance of history, the plaques engraved in stone city-wide tell you her story. Ironic, but nonetheless true, many of the plaques praise the exiled literary genius, Dante. Despite many figures, including myself, not acquiring this physical display of homage, we are however assured by Florence that her muses never fail artists, specifically writers, with promise.
"To some degree, writing is learning and in a city with an abundance of history, the plaques engraved in stone city-wide tell you her story..."
And so here are a few journal entries of my own that describe the intimacies of Florence that molded my four month stay:
San Niccolò, Firenze
Along the foothills leading from Piazzale Michelangelo to the district of San Niccolò, a coalescence of sun-faded yellow and beige Tuscan homes lined the narrow, sometimes paved, street. Almost as if straight from an American film of Tuscany, an aged Italian couple peered out at me. Surrounded by red and pink flowers filling the balcony, they both made eye contact with me and offered a faint smile. With pleasure, I returned the gesture. They retreated back into the comforts of their home, the interaction proving to them that the foreigner, me, was worthy of the exchange.
Piazza Di Santa Croce, Firenze.
The Florentines have a special bond with their birds, like family. Unmoved by seemingly dark eyes or the fluttering less than sixty centimeters from their face, they welcome the pigeons and sparrows with chunks of bread, cheese, and nuts. I say chunks because they are very generous. The woman next to me on the steps of the Basilica Di Santa Croce, where Machiavelli and Michelangelo’s bodies are kept, she calls her winged brothers and sisters. They nosedive to her and with the most ungraceful landing, immediately go into combat mode. Beaks clinking against one another like small swords all the while the beat of their unharmonized wings bang against my back. Popularized was how Mary Poppins fed the birds in England. I guess she never made it to Florence because the populace here are mini Mary’s in training.
Borgo Santo Spirito, Firenze
In Oltrarno, the workshops echo of Italian men humming, artists fleshing out the physical essences of a muse’s implantation, writers occupying the open spaces of a palazzo to fill the open space of their minds. I take my unassigned, assigned spot on a wall that connects to Ponte Santa Trinita, just shy of nightfall. Florence’s beauty prevails, 17:33 p.m. The arno looks like a thick ink made from the muddy greens of the sea. Although it shimmers in the suns last light, I think if I dare to reach in there won’t be any hope of pulling it back out. The mountains in the not so far distance resemble smoke of a sun set ablaze, setting, and forming the curvatures I see now.
In the few months that Florence has intricately woven herself into my own work, she has not fully revealed her aura. She is testing to see if I am worthy of her inspiration.
For this though, she is the epitome of what the arts describe. Indeed a pilgrimage to be had by many writers, it’s a worthy cause comparable to the lifetime of deceivingly remarkable literary adventures we too often than not grow comfortable with.