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Florence, Italy…
…Lost and Found in Tuscany

Text by: Kirsten Osmani
photography by: Kevin Parker

“It was pleasant to wake up in Florence, to open the eyes upon a bright bare room, with a floor of red tiles…It was pleasant, too, to fling wide the windows, pinching the fingers in unfamiliar fastenings, to lean out into sunshine with beautiful hills and tree and marble churches opposite, and close below, the Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road…Over such trivialities as these many a valuable hour may slip away, and the traveler who has gone to Italy to study the tactile values of Giotto, or the corruption of the Papacy, may return remembering nothing but the blue sky and the men and women who live under it.”
–E.M. Forster (A Room With a View)
My very favorite portrait of Florence is portrayed distinctly in E.M. Forster’s novel, A Room with a View. Young Lucy Honeychurch finds in Florence a life more expansive than her stiff, English upbringing. She doesn’t just live in Florence — she discovers herself there. It seems to be a place bursting with “selves” just waiting to be snatched up like postcards, which is why so many have ventured from afar to visit this beautiful Tuscan city. Not just for a postcard, but for an identity. In my first and most distinct memory of Florence, I was 11-years-old. We arrived at the Arno River at Dusk, and I tried to imagine that I was a beautiful, young woman, just like the fictional Lucy Honeychurch. I waited for the moment I would find myself, too. My memories of that trip are grainy and gray, much like the only photographs I have of my time there. There was, however, a small moment of clarity. It was at dusk when there was just enough orange light beyond the several bridges to reflect off the Arno and onto my face. The breeze blew a few strands of hair across my face, and I spread my fingers apart as I pressed my palm against the very old, stone ledge. That faint, orange light, the breeze, and the cool, stone ledge sunk into me.
Ten years later, I was there as a young woman. I took a train in from Siena where I was living. I was with a young British woman, a recently made acquaintance, who very much intimidated me and whose accent was sometimes bewildering. But neither of us was exactly Miss Honeychurch.
On this trip, I again hoped to “find myself” in Florence. I couldn’t wait to return, because I was sure something magical was going to happen there. But the beautiful city did not magically transform me. I found that spot by the River Arno, right next to the Uffizzi, just east of the Ponte Vecchio, and tried to relive the impression that was indelibly still a part of me. But all I found were the mouse-haired, American couples wearing Chacos and the bird-droppings on the ledge. It wasn’t the bird-droppings and tourists that were going to transform me. Over time, I discovered Italy, and in the process, I discovered myself.
I learned to throw away the guidebook, slow down, and soak it in, just as my dear friend Miss Honeychurch had to do.
“Tut, tut! Miss Lucy! I hope we shall soon emancipate you from Baedeker. He does but touch the surface of things. As to the true Italy—he does not even dream of it. The true Italy is only to be found by patient observation.”
I hope I don’t misrepresent Florence — there are many beautiful and important places to visit, which everyone should see at least once in their life. At the very least, a visitor should see the David, climb the Duomo, and spend a half day in the Uffizzi Museum, being sure to see the Caravaggios. And because this city is the birthplace of the Renaissance, one should go with some basic appreciation of art, otherwise you will have regrettably missed the soul of Florence. It is then, after you have visited places, that you become familiar with the other ways to commune with this Mecca. It is in the “patient observation” of trivialities, like the blue sky and the sea of red terracotta rooftops. You must forget that you are a tourist. In fact, try very hard not to be one. Try to speak some Italian. Treat the locals, not as theme-park employees, but as colleagues and associates… or as long-lost friends. By all means, try very hard to become lost in order to find yourself.

Journal Entries of Kirsten Hatch Osmani

— Oggi ho camminato a casa. Ho trovato un parco e mi sono persa. Un'anziana, che era appoggiata sul davanzale della finestra dal lato opposto della strada, mi ha detto, “Ciao!” Quando il sole sta tramontando si riesce sempre a vedere le vecchie sui davanzali e qualche volta parlano l'una con l'altra o con le persone nella strada.("Today I walked home. I found a park and I got lost. An older woman leaning out her window on the other side of the street called out to me, “Ciao!” In the evening, there are always elderly women leaning over their window ledges talking with people in the street.")
— It's not boredom. It is stillness. I am in a daydream I came up with years ago. Being in Tuscany is like being underwater, but without any restriction on the number of deep breaths of fresh air that you can take. I am sitting on a balcony with a view overlooking the nearby neighborhood, the next set of hills, and the skyline of the duomo and the torre of the medieval town hall. Beyond is a blue valley rolling into lighter blue, distant hills. In Italy with nothing to do but sit here next to the potted plants and write whatever silly description of it that I can think of. It's quite satisfying. I've spent a lot of time just sitting, and thinking. Sometimes starting out my window, thinking about the softness of the air that comes in without the filter of a screen - or while walking around the city without anywhere to go in a hurry. This has all required much thought.