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Venticinque Anni Fa

Edited to add: Uh, whoops. Try Trentacinque Anni Fa. I am OLD.

I’m in Florence for a meeting this week. (I know, I feel bad for me too.) I flew out of Detroit yesterday morning, had a four-hour layover at JFK, and landed in Rome this morning at 7:30. Sped through the airport and hopped on a train to Roma Termini,[1] where I had a coffee and waited a bit over an hour for my train north. Found my way from Santa Maria Novella to my hotel with only minor difficulties presented by my state of delirium. Checked in and was delighted that they had a room ready for me. Collapsed for an hour and a half, and then forced myself up, took a shower, and went out for a walk.


It is a ludicrously gorgeous day, so I decided to wander along the river and see what I ran into.

Here’s the thing: 25 35 years ago, I spent six weeks in Florence as part of a summer study abroad program.[2] And I haven’t been back since. Someone asked me last week if I remembered much about the city, and my answer was no. I mean, I remember clearly how it felt being here. I remember things I did, things I saw, things I ate. But I don’t really remember the city, not enough to get around.

As I walked today, everything felt half familiar. Not that I’d necessarily seen any of these particular places or things before, but they all had the same sense of being in Florence that my memory offered up.

Piazza Santa Trinita
Piazza Santa Trinita. Definitely in Florence.

But I just let my feet guide the way, in through the small streets near the river, soaking up the general Florenceness of it all.

And then I stopped dead in my tracks.

Mercato del Porcellino
Mercato del Porcellino.

I remembered this market.

It was partially the vaulted ceiling. Partially the stalls. Mostly the intensity of the smell of leather.

I stopped and looked around, and several pieces came together. The Uffizi are a couple of blocks that way, and the Duomo is about six or so blocks up there. And if I turn here, I’m about a block away from —

The galleries leading to the Poste Italiane
The galleries leading to the Poste Italiane.

— the post office. Not the most picturesque of landmarks, though the galleries are lovely. But during that summer in Florence, I was in the post office weekly placing a call home. Ooh, it was something to navigate: you signed in at a desk and gave them the number you were calling. You were directed to a booth and your call was connected. You didn’t talk long, because you knew you’d have to pay on your way out — and no kidding, a five minute call was on the order of $20.[3]

Poste Telegrafi Telefoni
Poste Telegrafi Telefoni.

Things have changed a bit, needless to say.

Apple Store!
Just a bit further down: different mail, different telegraph, different telephones. Needless to say, this was not there in 1988.

Walking back through the galleries, I paused to take this picture:

La Grotta Guelfa
La Grotta Guelfa.

I don’t know if that restaurant was there 25 35 years ago, but it felt right. The whole area felt right.

I’d tried a few times before I got here to figure out exactly where I stayed when I was here before, but the pensione is long gone, and my fuzzy memory wouldn’t turn anything up. So I turned the corner and started heading back.

And stopped about twenty steps later.

Davanzati Hotel
Davanzati Hotel.

The profumerie wasn’t at all familiar. And I did not stay in the Davanzati Hotel. But the doorway, and the stairs…

I climbed the two flights, as steep as in memory, to the hotel entrance, and asked the incredibly sweet young man behind the desk if he spoke English. There was no way I could formulate this on the fly with the bits and pieces of my terrible Italian.

“I have a very funny question,” I said. “Twenty-five years ago, was this a pensione?”

He smiled and nodded.

“The Pensione Te-Ti?”

It was. I told him the story of my summer there, and he told me that the hotel, a bit remodeled and renamed, was still under the same management. I told him what a great experience I’d had then. And he told me that I would always be welcome.

It wasn’t until I got a few blocks away that I realized I hadn’t taken any pictures inside. No matter, though. I think I’ll remember.

  1. Crazy moment rolling into Rome, as the train passes through the usual track-side apartment buildings and warehouses, and then all of a sudden there's a clear spot and then a huge chunk of freaking Roman Wall. ↩︎

  2. Okay, really it's 24 34, but 25 35 is so nice and round. ↩︎

  3. In 1988 dollars, no less! ↩︎


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