Since I write in English, I should really refer to the city as Florence, but Firenze is such a phonically beautiful sounding word, far more befitting of the beautiful Italian city. To me “Florence” brings to mind a smoggy Los Angeles suburb of the same name.
I don’t remember from where or from whom I heard that Italy possesses half the art of the world and Firenze has half of the art of Italy. I’ve always been dubious about the validity of this old adage but it still points out how unbelievably rich Firenze is in it’s inventory of art. A walk through the city can expose one to several museums worth of art in just a few blocks, its abundance is numbing; it’s possible to have a cappuccino on the Piazza della Signoria and see Michelangelo’s David and many other formidable sculptures across the on the other side. And if one goes up to the Piazza Michelangelo and looks down on the city, the view, with its overwhelming profile of historical and beautiful architecture, is beyond description. And that’s just the beginning. Just outside of the city there are rolling green hills rich in olive orchards and grape vineyards; this is the home and inspiration for many of those great Tuscan creators of monumental beauty --- and some of the best olive oil and wine in the world.
Only seven kilometers outside of Firenze in a village called Bagno a Ripoli, Melody, my friend, manager and secretary Emily Harris and I were lucky enough to find a house on an active farm where we became a peripheral part of its micro sociology. In September we would get up very early on the special morning chosen by the farmers and in that morning golden Tuscan mist, begin picking the grapes from the acres of vines. Just after noon the farmer’s wife would bring a cart full of wonderful food into the vineyards; it was lunchtime for the grape pickers. There was pasta with rabbit sauce made from the last hunt of the farmers, Salami made from the farms pigs and wine from the previous years harvest. And in November it was time to pick the olives and the same people were there again to help, all dressed a little warmer. What an honor it was to be a small part of that small farm community. We lived there for three years; Melody would study for her schoolwork in the hayloft where the skyline of Firenze was visible.
One morning in the fall we got up, had breakfast and Melody got on her bicycle to go to the American School, which was not far away. The sun was trying to break through the fog, resulting in a golden haze. Watching her disappear on her bicycle into that magical golden mist was one of my most memorable fragments of fatherhood and it also made very clear where some of the inspiration came from for many of the great Tuscan artists; The golden mist was real!
After three years we left Toscana to move to Amsterdam while I was teaching at the Rotterdams Conservatorium. Two years later we returned to Toscana and lived several more years on another farm in the small town of Impruneta, just 20 minutes outside of Firenze. We stayed there until Melody graduated from the American School of Florence and started her studies at the University of Wales at Aberwrystwyth and I moved to Lausanne, Switzerland.
Firenze was not just another location where we lived during the escape from Los Angeles; it was our home, our real home.
Tonight at 23:00 I will get on the “Euronight” again, that same train that I’ve taken hundreds of times, and will wake up in Lausanne where I will stay just long enough to buy enough chocolate from Blondel’s, the secret best chocolate the world, to take back to Tokyo as gifts for all the important people in my life in my new home. What else could one bring as gifts from Switzerland, kuku clocks, and watches? Too difficult to transport, too expensive! Chocolate is the perfect thing.
And the day after tomorrow I will see Melody in London for three days before flying back to Tokyo.
On the “Euronight” between Firenze and Lausanne in the middle of the night, March 18, 2007