Originally written Oct 15

Rusty writes:

Piazza della Repubblica on Sunday morning. There is a nip in the air, but the warmth of the sun feels so good. I scoot my chair further out of the shadow of the umbrella. We are seated at one of the several cafes whose army of tables are in formation on opposing sides of the piazza. Sasi has joined us for breakfast. For me, it’s a cup of hot chocolate and a fruit tart. The chocolate isn’t hot and the glaze on the tart has more flavor than the fruit. But nevermind, the point of being here isn’t the food. It’s the mere fact of being able to afford a 35-euro conversation with friends in this square in this city on this beautiful morning.

In 1984-85, I was a student with the Florida State University program in Firenze. I was so fortunate to be there, as I barely had enough money to pay my school expenses during my time in Tallahassee. Through a fortunate series of events, I lived in Firenze for 8 months, with even enough money to travel from time to time. But since I had a 4-month financial aid package and was determined to live in Italy for 8 months, I had to stretch every Lira to its limit. And sitting at a table in Piazza della Repubblica was a luxury, one that rarely, if ever, crossed my mind. I passed through the piazza many times on my way to the train, the Ponte Vecchio, or the pensione. But I was never tempted by the overpriced coffee and pastries.

One law about Italian dining is that the length of time one spends at the table is determined solely by the occupants. Today in October 2009, I was determined to stretch our breakfast time as long as possible. As I sat back and listened to Sasi and Pepper talk, I looked around the square and cast my mind back 25 years. I imagined a similar sunny October day in 1984, sitting at the same table. At that time, the Italian automobile was king, with the Vespa a close second. The noise of a motor could be heard in every corner of the city at every hour of the day. How could I possibly have enjoyed this beautiful scene with the assault on my ears of hundreds of combustion engines passing by? Would I have smelled the chocolate with the exhaust of 2-stroke engines blowing through the square? How long before my companions and I would have paid our bill and escaped the square?

In the intervening years, the city leaders have slowly removed cars from the city center. With each visit, I would arrive at Piazza della Signoria or walk the Lungarno to the rumor of voices and footsteps, instead of running motors. Gradually, Firenze has become once again a city of pedestrians (and a few horses). I don’t know when traffic was diverted from Piazza della Repubblica, but on this fine morning, only the occasional taxi cruised lazily by. (As a matter of fact, on the Sunday following this visit to the city, the final blow to the car was imposed – the mayor of Firenze prohibited even buses from Piazza del Duomo.)

I realized this morning in Piazza della Repubblica on October 15, 2009 could not have, and should not have happened to me on October 15, 1984, nor in any previous year. Both I and Firenze had to mature and change to make this perfect day.

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