An English Girl Living in Florence
Updated: Sep 26, 2018
When I was searching for a subject matter for this site's first blog, it seemed fitting to start with one of the happiest experiences of my life. That is, when I lived in Italy. Italy is a popular, romanticised country and I can promise you that it is one of the few places that lives up to the hype. So, for any of you who are interested in moving there, all I can say is: DO IT. To persuade you, here's my experience of living 'la dolce vita'. And how I wish I could go back...
I taught English in Florence for a year. It was indescribably, dream-fulfilling-ly fabulous. The architecture; the atmosphere; the food. The essence of life is the appreciation of beauty - la bella figura! - and the underlying mentality is that life is short and a vehicle of fun. I've never encountered a mentality quite like it in any other country. Least of all - and I say this as a proud Brit - the UK.
Living in Florence was fantastic for all kinds of reasons: too many to list here. But perhaps the most important reason for me is that Florence is where I met, and fell in love with, my husband. I love our 'how-we-met-story'. When anyone asks, I don't have to mumble the name of some-or-other dating app under my breath in embarrassment (not that there's anything wrong with meeting your other half that way) but instead can offer up the romantic answer: we met teaching English as a Foreign Language at the same school in.... (and, drum roll for the best part) Florence, Italy.
We returned to the UK five years ago. But oh how I've missed life in Italy... Waking up to the chiming campanile bells, followed by a delicious breakfast of a one euro cappuccino and pastry; wandering through the cobbled streets; riding on the back of a moped over rolling Tuscan hills; the gelato; the chianti; the heat that wraps around you like a warm blanket in summer as soon as you step out the door. When I walked to work from our little flat by the Bargello, I would look right and see the great dome of the Duomo's cupola rising in the morning sky and I'd think to myself - could I get luckier than this? Unfortunately that honeymoon period can never last forever. But I'll get onto that in a moment. For now, let's say that life in Italy was just damn good fun.
See, Italians are liberated from our stuffy British reserve. In Italy, there's no barrier of icy manners. A pedestrian will shake their fist at that cheeky motorcyclist, but then be as quick to forgive. And if a man thinks a woman is beautiful, he'll just tell her - but never (at least, nearly never) in a way that's intimidating or creepy. Instead, it is a complement born from that concept I just described: that life is short, so why not tell this stranger before you, whom you most likely will never see again, that you find her enchanting? As they say: se son rose fioriranno. If there are roses, they will bloom....
Now, how did I wind up in Florence? Well, to rewind a bit. The first time I saw Florence I was sixteen. I was only there for a day - but a day was enough to capture my heart. I loved it so much that I returned two years later to do a History of Art and Italian course. Then I went away and continued on other arbitrary paths of life until I fortuitously ended up, aged twenty, with a Trinity cert TESOL behind me, and a job offer to teach English in the city I'd always loved most.
That is how I found myself stumbling into the school (a tad late), and finding my Mr Right already sitting on the sofa, waiting to start our training. But that's a whole other story and this particular piece wasn't meant to be about that. The purpose was to speak about my experience living life in Florence. All too often, I find myself wondering why the hell we came back at all.
So why did we? Well, this is the unfortunate truth. And it applies even if you live in Shangri La. After spending some time in a place, its beauty starts to fade and blend into the mediocrity of the everyday. That was what happened: eight or so months in, I would wake up in the morning and walk to work and, as I looked left at the cupola of Florence's Duomo, rising against the morning sky, it finally ceased to move me. I'm sure many of you can understand. Remember the first time you went anywhere... say, the first time you saw the city of London from the Millennium Bridge at night - another spectacular sight. As the years pass, and as you suffer the hell of rush hour on a daily basis, and you march across the Millennium Bridge after finishing work, that sight ceases to take your breath away. If anything, it inspires something else - something more malignant. That wasn't what happened exactly in Florence. But it was something similar.
The honeymoon period ended. Florence is small. And saturated with tourists. And after so long you just want to scream. It's almost like - well, not quite as bad, but similar to - navigating through Oxford Circus on a Saturday morning when you're in a hurry and swamped by a swarm of complacent tourists that have all day and don't understand the urgency of a Londoner getting from A to B. It's similar-ish to that.
So, while yes, I promised at the beginning of the article that I'd make you want to move to Italy (and I stand by that: it truly was the happiest year of my life) I also want to warn what will happen when the honeymoon period is over. I suppose part of the happiness imparted by any new place is often due to the novelty. But of course nowhere stays new forever. Unless you're one of those fortunate wealthy people perpetually travelling the world, in which case I envy you.
I stand by this: Italy is still my favourite country in the whole world. Apologies United Kingdom, nation of my birth, you also have my heart. But there's a certain something about Italy. For me, it has created a boot-shaped hole that no other country could possible fill. As Beppe Severgnini aptly puts it: people who live in Italy say they want to get out but those who do escape all want to go back.
If you go and live in Italy, you'll probably fall in love with it like did. But when you fall in love with a place, as when you fall in love with a person, the honeymoon period only lasts so long. Eventually, the campanile bells waking you at dawn cease to be romantic and become irritating; eventually, you don't find the lack of bureaucracy quaint anymore, you find it infuriating. And even those 'Ciao Bellas' which gave you so much confidence when you first arrived become tedious. But, deep, deep down, despite all those things, Italy will capture your heart and, once caught, the poor heart can never escape.
My husband and I live in London and almost every day discuss when and how we will move back to Italy. We don't know when but he knows and I know: one day we will.