Our bella Firenze was recently awarded the #1 spot for Conde Nast Traveler’s readers choice awards as the top rated city in the world. I know, I know–it’s almost as surprising as finding out Elton John is gay. But while the 70,000+ readers who voted for Florence as the world’s best city were busy swooning over the ornate architecture of Brunelleschi’s Duomo and chowing down on overpriced panini at the newly rennovated San Lorenzo market, I couldn’t help but shake my head as I thought to myself, What a load of horseshit.
Now don’t get me wrong–I love Florence just as much as the next wistful American post-graduate who steps off the plane with fantasies about Ferragamo shoes and getting swept away into the Tuscan countryside on a red Vespa by a dark-eyed Italian man. But I’m also a journalist at heart, which means when I smell bullshit I have to stop and check everyone’s shoes to see who tracked the poop indoors–so forgive me, but something smells like crap and I’m pretty sure it’s Florence.
Perhaps it’s the lack of meaningful criteria on the voting scale (of which Conde Nast’s website explains only the bare minimum based on a scale of “excellent” to “poor”) or just the ignorance of thousands of tourists who pass through Florence each day cocooned in the protective bubble of their guided groups, but to me Florence falls woefully short of deserving the title of a top-rated city. I could cite the dizzyingly high unemployment rates that plague the country as a whole, or the rampant corruption & narcissistic values that seem to pervade Italian government or culture as a whole, but to be honest that’s not what bothers me the most. What burns my insides is the perpetuated idea that Florence can survive being placed on an impossibly high pedestal built solely on pretty things and ignorant people.
Allow me to explain what life in this top-rated city really looks like (bearing in mind, of course, that my experience as an expatriate is immensely different than that of my Italian friends). It’s walking into a coffee shop and being undressed by the eyes of several leering men, or being charged an extra euro because the shop owner thinks you’re just another stupid tourist with blonde hair who won’t notice the difference. It’s spending a fun night out with Italian friends that turns into a 2 hour argument because you’re trying to explain why it’s offensive when someone uses the word nigger like it’s no big deal. It’s having a university degree and a desperate desire to work yet getting passed over on a job interview because you don’t play football with the owner’s son. It’s catering to the daily throngs of tourists who believe that paying their entrance fees to the Uffizi gives them the right to act like drunken animals and destroy priceless works of art at 3 am with broken bottles of Peroni and puddles of vomit.
Being a tourist is not an acceptable excuse for being an asshole, just like being Italian is not a reason to shrug your shoulders and say,” E cosí (It’s just the way it is).” If we wipe away the makeup that Michelangelo painted all over our city, it’s easy to see that our beloved Florence is getting older and more grey with each passing year. It’s up to us to help her get back on her feet, because as any aging supermodel will tell you, there’s only so much that plastic surgery can fix. If we can peel back the unrealistic expectations and accept Florence for what it is, only then can we start to address the real issues and hope that one day, when we’re long gone and buried deep in the hills surrounding our city, our love for Firenze will have changed it for the better.