Grace Kim loves to hear stories and learn about different cultures. Her studies in Public Health have taken her to Honduras, India and Panama. She is a child of Los Angeles but has wanderlust in her heart.
Nine years ago I experienced a summer in which every day was a new life begun. In the flushes of my newly-acquired independence, the world brimmed with possibilities. I found myself surrounded by beauty, ambition and wide-eyed wonder. Even now I carry the lessons learned during those halcyon days with you. Probably always will.
It has been a while since I've been back to you, Florence, and I went back as a working adult restricted to a one week vacation. Nostalgia brought me back. It is fitting, though, to have nostalgia in the city that gave birth to the Renaissance, a movement based on looking back to the classical era. As I ambled on your cobblestone streets my thoughts conjured up the ghost of my youth and that shadow often accompanied me. Each day, you woke me up with a hint of a promise. During that summer, my friends and I had moments in churches, buses, museums, the very streets and trains where we figured out a small bit of our lives. The visit back was tinged with longing as I tried to make sense of the present with what I remembered.
Only certain details alter your otherwise eternally serene facade. Graffiti seemed to have quadrupled especially near Santa Maria Novella. There seemed to be more counterfeiters peddling so-called luxury goods. It was with a small but sharp pang that I noticed the disappearance of internet cafes as I knew them. Especially the internet cafe I frequented during those sleepy afternoons after class to see the green-eyed cashier I hopelessly adored.
On that first night back I wandered past the Duomo through Piazza della Repubblica onwards to the Uffizi in direct parallel to what I did back then. On my very first night in Florence as a student, I stayed at a hostel near the train station. Within the hour, you provided me with a friend from Colombia to explore the city with. As the noise of the city ebbed away, we walked along the Arno River towards Ponte Vecchio. The lights from the street lamps flickered across the water like tall candle flames. We passed through the courtyard of the Uffizi, and gazed up at the statues of Renaissance geniuses, housed within their own arches. It was so late at night we were the only ones around. Now, there were a dozen tourists sitting around the Uffizi, in the dim gray light, listening to a solo violinist.
During the quiet, unguarded moments of the city I felt you ask me about the dreams I held when first within your embrace. How could I answer? Many of those dreams have been discarded long since. It was easy to feel confident in daydreams in a place where history walks alongside you, and reminds you of the remarkable heights people can achieve. It was easy to imagine Michelangelo walking the same path, going home from working on David but scowling as he thought about his troublesome brothers. Dante may have passed the same corner musing about politics and Beatrice before his banishment. Meanwhile, the Medici's victories and losses can be traced everywhere. Immortal as they are now, they became relatable as we learned of their flaws, heartaches, triumphs and disappointments. A sense of one's own mortality melds and converges with their immortality so that their exploits are discussed in present tense.
At one late dinner a group of young and invincible-looking university students passed by proudly greeting one of the servers before disappearing into a dark alley. I smiled remembering the nights out with friends when the air was charged with our untested hopes. Maybe one or two from this group will come back to Florence in a decade or so, sit down to a late dinner, and briefly notice some students walking with that particular swagger afforded to the newly independent and think "wow, was I ever so young?" But, no matter. It is a useless question to ponder. Anyway, it is a safe bet university students do not look at their elder of ten years and think "were you like me?" Whatever the rewards of this trip down memory lane are Florence, my beloved city, you oversee it all. For every few months, every year, there is always a new batch of students arriving at the same time former pupils are retracing their steps from years gone by.