Montefegatesi

montefegatesi

We drove to Montefegatesi in the Tuscan hills on a dewy spring morning. A lonely cyclist was struggling up the swirling gradients, and songbirds were in full voice. Meanwhile, in the surrounding woodlands, a forester was cutting down his favourite crop. I wasn’t aware of its existence until today.

Since I can’t survive outside an urban colony, I was astonished by its hilltop isolation – that such a remote place can survive without the phantom economy of tourism. Montefegatesi exists in defiance of the great acceleration. I began to wonder how difficult it must be to obtain the essentials over winter. It takes hours to get anywhere.

I lowered my head as we entered a tiny Catholic chapel together – a bucolic cave that once married souls in black and white. Three rows each for bride and groom. It was a reminder of the smallness of our lives. That we are just passing through. We walked along its medieval slabs as two specks in an ossified landscape, one that doesn’t change as there’s nothing left for us to do. Its over you see.

Carrying satellites in our pockets and with sunshine on our cheeks, we departed into the electric green sea.

Goodbye to Florence

Florence cloudburst

Arriving in a misty haze at Pisa Airport, I took my coach seat and felt a renewed love for nature. With steam rolling off the fields, I remembered being driven around Aberdeenshire as a child, watching herons and buzzards roam in a far harsher playground. Simple moments stirs memories as fresh as the soil. An earthly reminder of who you used to be and what you have become.

Florence marked a departure point for me last year. I gave up everything and nothing to live here last October. It’s an uneasy feeling to leave home without a key. Unsure of who you might meet or anyone at all. It’s a weightless feeling I guess – you are finally free of routine.

Settling into the finest apartment of my adult life, I was astonished by the timeless perfection of its medieval palaces and gardens. Just going to the supermarket and pouring over the sweet variety of fruits, herbs and vegetables became a daily highlight. I can’t cook to save myself but Italian ingredients made it almost fanciful.

Duomo

Walking around Florence city centre is like entering a children’s picture book. You have to adjust to the Duomo’s scale and size for context. Brunelleschi’s snowy mountain dominates the Arno valley for miles – a majestic beacon of engineering that has glittered for over 500 years. The terracotta temple lends a secular prestige to your visit. Humans with no computers designed the Duomo through their wits and determination alone.

Settling into my Oltrarno home, I became fascinated at how Florentines’ still make things with their hands. Unlike the gated walls of their stately homes, the city’s workshops brim with creativity in full transparent glow. From boutique chairs to bird cages, an artist is sweating in paint and sawdust on almost every side street.

I loved the bookbinding and cartographer shops, many of them so expensive they only have to sell one item every three days to survive. Via Tornabuoni is famous for its opulent displays of garments, watches and leather shoes. No one remotely normal can afford to buy anything here, but it’s another tribute to the city’s self-confidence.

Such is Florence’s timelessness, there is a melancholy in returning this year, and everything is the same. It feels like a parallel universe in that respect. I exist in multiple dimensions through my work and metaphysical friendships, and this epilogue feels uncannily familiar. Like I never really left, but the romantic fable has shifted, and I can’t reclaim the optimism of before.

Fiesole villa

I have been focusing more on nature than art this time. I took the number 7 bus to the Fiesole, a scenic hillside village near Florence, and felt like a schoolboy walking amongst the vineyards and forests. Almost like I had stepped into an Italian mirror of my Scottish childhood.

Seduced by November sunshine, I walked for miles to neighbouring Tuscan hamlets with my smartphone operating as a map. It felt glorious for the few hours it lasted. For we travel for romance, we travel for architecture, and we travel to get lost.

Fiesole view

During my daytime crossings over the Arno, I often wondered what lay beyond Fiesole’s green hills. Even more so when I ran along the riverbed at lunchtimes, pushing my body harder and faster than any inner-city slog, where my thighs would tremble like jelly on the final bend home.

Oltrano is no longer my home anymore. I am currently staying in a small townhouse outside the city’s walls in San Frediano, and coming back was never going to be the same. On returning to the same town and place, you remember how little there is to do after sunset, and that Florence does not exist to celebrate art or life itself, but rather, it is a fortress to protect it.

Fiesole walk

Stony-hearted walls

Even when I have no pressing desire to see anything, I always go for a walk along the Arno at lunchtime. Tank up on sunlight and watch the terrible beauty roar down the valley. You can walk for pleasure here. Florence is one of the few towns whose name has an abstract quality and it means ‘taste and fine workmanship’.

Wrapped up in a woollen scarf and a paper thin jacket, I walk past antique workshops and impenetrable doors with iron horse rings. There is an aloofness to this sweeping symphony of stone.The Renaissance facades and Protestant-esque churches are designed to keep people out. Florence feels immaculately defensive to anyone walking on the perimeter of her doors.

As the days grow colder, the visitor numbers thin out and I have a winter countdown of my own. Excited and worried about the year ahead, I walk back along the river, trying to catch a sunbeam with my bare hands once more.

Safe house

One morning a vicious buzzing sensation awoke me from my laptop. It had never gone off before. I mean why would anyone ring my door? Nobody knows that I live here and those who do would call me first. My visitor was a handsome lanky man in a 1920’s prohibition style coat and he immediately addressed me in incomprehensible Italian.

“Non capisco. Non parlo Italiano, mi dispiace signor.”

“Okay, sorry to bother you, what are you doing here? Are you on holiday or is this a safe house?”

Somewhat perplexed by his ‘safe house’ line of questioning, I muttered something about AirBnb and he appeared satisfied with my answer. The door slammed shut. Is that what my invisible neighbours are thinking? That I’m a fugitive on the run. Returning to my desk, I began to think they may have a point.

 

 

 

 

City of Grace

From soaring lust in cocktail bars, to biblical tempests rinsing Ponte Vecchio to tears, I felt an earthquake rumble underneath the Arno. I want something pure and tangible to take place before I leave here. Reading news articles about Italy being smashed back to the Stone Age, I shudder to think what might have happened if the tremors had crept further north.

Going local in Oltrarno, with its mustard hues and pine green shutters, I love spotting antique workshops, cheese bistros and incomprehensible wine libraries full of dark dreamy bottles. I’ve been living on the south side of Florence and wake up to the sound of church bells every morning. I hope to stay here until New Year.

Since I settled in my Airbnb apartment, I’ve developed a huge respect for Tuscan architecture and design. I could spend all day taking pictures of studded Renaissance doors, with their symmetrical beauty and iron grandeur. Unlike in Venice, where even sea peasants are afforded glimpses of diamond chandeliers and fresco ceilings, you’ll gain no such insight in Florence.

From the gated communities in the suburban hills, to the brown medieval palaces in the city centre, Florence’s stony gates are drawn high. There is an overriding sense of secrecy in the medieval courtyards, an intellectual pride that goes back centuries. Like everything else in life, this only makes me want more.

As the autumnal leaves continue to fall along the Arno, visitors keep on arriving and much to my dismay, the December rental prices keep on rising.

Everyone I’ve met here has either been an architect, fashion designer or a florist. Florence is the intellectual and artistic capital of Italy. I didn’t anticipate just how literate and well-educated local people would be. Nobody seems to cares what I do for a living, but they are individually and collectively more interested on why am I here. How long are you staying here?

For that is the big question I am struggling to answer.

Florence sweet exile

 

After a decade of cramped quarters in London, I have travelled over to Italy for one month to ‘work on my novel’. Well not exactly, aside from a few letters and postcards, but you get the idea. On moving to Oltrarno, an artisan district in Florence, I am now adjusting to the concept of space.

I have become so accustomed to living in a box that I feel lost just walking down the corridor. Like I actually have to walk to retrieve my phone if I leave it on the kitchen table. Is this how normal, moderately successful people live? If so, I’m staying in Europe for as long as it remains feasible to do so.

Oddo’s Court

After years of working in sterile British offices, my brief sojourn in Italy has been anything but dull. Like my meeting today in Oddo’s court, where my apartment’s bills and surcharges were finally revealed. It was a naked triumph of greed and entitlement, where as a pawn without a voice, I watched Oddo and his wife deliver their payment demands to my boss.

Surrounded by old money in a Venetian town house, I was summoned upstairs by my elderly masters. Sitting opposite them at their family table, I felt the full weight of powerlessness. They were inadvertently stripping away my salary by making me responsible for their communal property debts.

Earlier in the same street, a damp alleyway full of pot plants behind the Grand Canal, my boss explained I had to go to Oddo’s: ‘I need to stay friends with them, Daniel, do you understand?’ I know this is an unfashionable thing to admit, but I like my boss. He’s funny, entertaining and affable hustler with an eye for a new deal.

Once I realised what they were doing and that I was being charged for more than just an electricity bill. It felt like I was on remand for a crime I did not commit. I felt enraged by Oddo’s shameless greed but I couldn’t let my boss down in front of him.

I am pragmatic, savvy and calculating in these situations. I know how important it is to always pick the right words.

Lanterns by the Sea

Come nightfall I run past Venetian sailing boats, angling my body towards the Lido. I don’t want to run after work, but for vanity reasons alone I persist on doing so. Endless daydreams seep like the waves as I rise and fall down every beautiful crossing. A bridge for each year I am unable to match. All because someone captured my imagination during a particular moment in time.

Elderly couples in minx coats look upon me like I’m a different species. Dumbfounded at this scaling leaping figurine skipping over bridges by the sea. My journey is now complete and I’m walking through St Mark’s Square back towards my apartment with sweat heaving over my chest.

Back home I switch on the heating, shower and prepare something to eat and still don’t feel complete. I keep on eating until I feel uncomfortable. It’s getting late now. I have no idea why I do this. This blocking urge to feel nothing and full simultaneously.

Partly Cloudy

Rialto Bridge Nightfall

I had my photo taken again this morning. My blurry silhouette is probably filling up pixels as I write this story. It happens every day, observing untold love stories walking over Rialto Bridge. Europe’s most famous crossing is forever swelling with tourists wanting their Facebook cover of the Grand Canal.

Every day I cross Rialto on my way to work. I love watching little men scurry off their boats exchanging ropes for boxes; frantically unpacking wine and chocolates. Occasionally an ambulance dashes underneath like a Bond villain under siege. Even the rubbish disposal boat fascinates me as it churns out steam.

Church bells are crashing around me every hour, but I need to make myself eligible again. Make a leap back towards metropolitan life and nurse glittering bruises on even broader shoulders.

I told my new Lolita-esque flatmate that I have a lot of love to give. Isn’t it strange that you travel so far only to daydream about the same thing?

Super selfie love story

Venice Evening

Sometimes I feel unworthy of living in Venice. I don’t pay enough attention to details, especially now the numbers are slowing down. Walking back to the hotel with my headphones on, I feel guilty for not listening to bursts of opera or cutlery exchanging hands. Spotify is a generic experience. Play, pause and repeat over and over again.

Collectively, we are going through the first phase of hyper acceleration. An unprecedented boom of global fertility has ensured everyone wants the same picture of the Grand Canal. Likewise, I’m just a temporary EU migrant passing through the loveliest city in the world. It was an opportunity I couldn’t let pass.

Everyday I see newly married couples snuggle in beautifully crafted gondolas and it’s very much a case of play, pause and repeat. Same posed smile, loving tilt of the head and furrowed brow. I’ve witnessed a thousand honeymoons upload their story underneath a bridge. Seen through a tiny prism of light, it’s a unique private moment, one shared with loved ones and liked by long distance friends.

Only I see the same love story every single day.

Away from the watery parade, I remove my headphones, the plastic grooves gnashing onto my collar bone I enter a chaste world of silence and reflection.

Despite being ardently secular in my politics, I took comfort in this celestial refuge. Photography is banned in Venetian churches and the circus of life takes a deferential pause. With my rucksack weighing on my back, I sat in silence amongst elaborately carved tombs and dead wooden benches.

It’s one of the few places in Venice where you can share a private moment, a world without flashing cameras and streamed playlists. Outside the craziness goes on oblivious, and I have to get back to my hotel; shower, get changed and go online again. My smartphone might vibrate with loving messages.

I guess there is something about human nature that turns everything into a routine.