THE BLOG
05/12/2014 05:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Stairs!

I am very happy to be back in Florence, which for me is a vibrant, dense and welcoming city. Moving was, once again, very challenging, and it involved a lot of planning and executing and lifting and twisting and lugging (none of which I like to do or are easy).

My apartment is adorable. It is on a pedestrian street and has a lovely small terrace that looks out onto a gorgeous garden and over the rooftops of the San Ambrogio neighborhood. Having said that, there are issues here, as there are everywhere in Italy...

The apartment is a walk-through, and the only windows (and thus, the only sunlight) are at the short narrow end of the rectangle that is the apartment. And since electricity is so expensive and so unreliable, the interior lighting is dim and the electricity in the whole apartment blows out if i have more than one appliance turned on at any given moment. When the electricity blows, I try to find the flashlight and then need to flip the breaker switch (out in the hall) to get things going again, but it is a bit of a pain when that happens. The first time this happened was at night, of course, when lights are on in addition to any appliances (washer, hairdryer, etc.), and I couldn't find the flashlight and had to rely on my iPhone (thanks, Apple, for keeping me connected and safe) to accomplish the task... my, my...

The apartment is on the second floor of an old building, which means that there are two flights of narrow, steep, concrete stairs (with a measly iron railing on only one side) I have to climb and descend. These stairs terrify me, and I am trying hard to overcome my fears and train myself to handle these stairs slowly and with confidence -- I have a ways to go! I was very aware of the recent Boston Marathon Day, and my Florentine stairs seem like my own marathon, challenging and (hopefully) manageable. They are getting easier and my confidence is growing, but I am still going carefully and slowly ("piano, piano" in Italian).

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When I arrived in Florence from Rome, I needed to stay in a hotel until my apartment became available, so I went back to the lovely Hotel Davanzati, where I have stayed before; Alex and June had originally recommended this hotel, and it is a real gem. Run by three generations of men, with a fabulous location, good breakfast and lovely rooms (mine was quiet and huge, with a terrace), the hotel feels homey and welcoming, and I did love being taken care of by the staff.

The day I did move into my apartment, I took a taxi with all my luggage (a year's worth of stuff in all shapes and sizes), and the driver dropped me at the end of my street, since he said, perhaps untruthfully, that he couldn't drive down the pedestrian street (I have since seen taxis do just that). The traffic restrictions are pretty incredible here in Florence, in order to encourage everyone to walk instead of drive. I do know that there are strict times when drivers with resident stickers and taxis can enter the streets and some more limited times when non-resident vehicles can enter. The streets are quite wonderful to walk in, especially when the stones are evenly placed and not wobbly! The sidewalks are usually narrow, so walking in the street is safer and more convenient, usually.

Anyhow, here I was, stuck at the end of a pretty long street, with unmanageable luggage and no ideas. Fortunately, my landlady's husband did get my somewhat frantic text message and came to meet me at the end of the street. Together, carefully, we were able to roll and carry everything to the apartment building.

When we stood outside the front door while he fiddled with the temperamental door key (almost every Italian door key is temperamental and requires some wiggling and some prayer), we realized how neither of us could manage to carry or pull or push my large suitcase up the narrow stairs to the second floor apartment. What to do? So after we huffed and puffed our way up the stairs carrying all the other bags and stuff I seemed to have accumulated (still far too much, in spite of brave attempts to lighten my load), we decided we needed help. So he went downstairs again, equipped with my five euro note, to find a willing suitcase carrier. Moments later, a large, young man with my large, old suitcase on his back, appeared at the top of the stairs without any huffing or puffing... amazing! It was a win-win situation -- I got my suitcase delivered and he got an easy (for him) five euros! It does "take a village" to get anything done, apparently! And the whole scene was pretty funny.

I have found one of my most favorite Italian phrases is "piano, piano," which means "slowly, slowly" and is a great reminder to me and an attitude to aspire to. For me, it means I must attempt to stop, think and then proceed, instead of just jumping in or stepping down or unthinkingly getting myself into any kind of trouble. When I have not proceeded slowly, or when I have tried to multitask and not concentrate on where I am going, then I have mis-stepped, stumbled and even fallen. Fortunately, I have recovered from these misadventures with no lasting damage, but I sure have had some beautiful black and blue marks and purple marks!!! I don't imagine there is any way to fall gracefully, but if there is I haven't found it. I always seem to end up sprawled out without any dignity whatsoever showing; the worst was at Pompeii, when my foot just slipped off the rounded stone curb and I went flying onto my left side. I was fine and opted to continue, limping, with the tour I was on, even though I had fallen at the very beginning of what took a long hour more. It was worth it to see Pompeii, to be in the presence of all of that history, accomplishment and tragedy, and I got a lot of hands offered to me whenever we came to an especially tricky passageway or street. The trouble is that, from my perspective, all of Italy has been an especially tricky passageway or street or hill or stairway; navigation is constantly challenging all of my resources and I am very proud of myself for managing it all, mostly in one piece.

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I will be ready to leave this apartment next week when I am returning to Sicily, which is calling me back. I enjoyed the lovely terrace (after all, it is springtime in Florence -- how lucky am I?), which looks out onto a kind of communal back yard, shared by this building and the building directly next door, complete with other private terraces and gardens. I see my neighbors daily -- there are 18-month-old twin boys who play daily (and sometimes wave to me) with their parents or their cats or each other in their lovely terrace below, and on the bottom floor is a beautiful garden owned and tended by my downstairs neighbor and available for all of us to view without having to pull a weed or water a plant. And then there is the gentleman in the next building who has intelligently rigged up a series of curtains to give himself some privacy on his balcony... life is good!

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