“The tourist is; the traveler seeks.” Saramago
I have a mosquito bite on my eyelid. I used to come to Florence for months at a time, but I never had a mosquito bite on my eyelid before. The last time I was here was fourteen years ago and I have many priceless photos of my friend Danyelle and me as we were passionately trying to kill the mosquitos that wanted to munch on us. In every photo we’re laughing and smiling. It’s been an eventful fourteen years, but when I look at the photos – I brought them with me – I think I have been perpetually carrying pieces of the city with me.
The apartment where I’m staying now on Via Dell L’Oriuolo is just next to Borgo Pinto where I stayed all those years ago. Of course some things have changed, but mostly Florence is an eternal city. It remains the city whose symbol is the fleur de lis, a red lily on a white background. It remains a city of great history, food, wine, art, music, la bicicletta – (if you’re ever sad saying this word aloud will pull you right out of it) – shopping, gelato, natural beauty, and still, inexplicably, mosquitos.
For my own personal happiness, I’m going to skip over the whole history thing, and mention a few places with food that has also enhanced my own personal happiness. Per me, the numero uno place is La Milkeria for my daily breakfast of un cappuccino e un waffle con due scoops de fior di latte – it means “milk of the flower” – e fragole. (Just look at the photo.)
And for lunch or dinner, there is Cinghiale, Bianco – on the other side of the Arno River. Cinghiale means wild boar and their wild boar ragu on homemade pasta draws in tons of tourists. Everything is buonissimo, but they have a dessert sampler that has tira misu, mascarpone with strawberries, profiteroles, and almond cake. Susie and I wanted to lick the plate.
And speaking of wild boar, everyone has to stop by to pet the nose of il porcellino, the little pig, that is actually a bronze wild boar. You rub the nose for good luck and put a coin in the fountain at the pig’s feet to ensure that you will always return. I have been lucky enough to rub the worn- down snout six different visits now.
I Fratellini is an adorable spot where you can have your food and wine on the street as you watch the world go by. If you can’t eat, talk, and drink at the same time, you can put your glass of wine on the little wooden shelves just there.
The Botticellis at the Uffizi and the David, and all of the other world-famous art – well, again, just like the history, I’m going to leave you to your own devices and move on to the shopping and gelato. (Those of you who know me best shouldn’t be surprised.)
Of course there is Pointe Vecchio – the old bridge – that crosses the Arno and is the beautiful landmark of Florence that is one of the great shopping meccas of the world. But there are beautiful shops throughout the city, and the jewelry, and the leather, and the clothes, and the crafts are world class.
Many years ago I came to Florence with my cousin Andrea, and one morning as we were waking up, she said, “Do you think we’re going to be able to find that gelato place again?” There was concern in her voice and I felt the same way. Seriously, some gelaterias are better than others. But after years of sampling, I always get fior di latte. Until last night that is. I went with my old friend who lives here to a famous gelateria called Badiani, just outside the center of town. He and I had just seen Captain Fantastic at an open air cinema. (Coincidentally I had already seen the movie with Andrea, so I was able to follow it in Italian. And anyway, I can completely understand Viggo Mortensen no matter what language he speaks!) Earlier in the week my old friend and I had watched the annual fireworks from my terrace. I’m not kidding. The whole trip has been absolutely magical and getting gelato on a Tuesday at midnight was just well, the ice cream on the cake.
Gelato doesn’t seem to have a time limit here because the place was packed with young kids of all ages laughing and talking. And then I found out that they didn’t have fior di latte. My world was knocked off its axis. So I tasted a flavor that they invented called “buontalenti” – and I liked it. It’s made with double cream and it reminded me of my old standby. And I asked for a cone with a scoop of buontalenti.
And my friend said, “It doesn’t make sense to take one flavor. Nobody takes just one flavor. I’ve never seen someone take just one flavor.” Can you tell he felt strongly about the matter? So I ordered a cone with three flavors. Ah, dear old friend, I will take your words to heart, regarding gelato, and regarding life.