The first thing I smell when I step outside is piss. Pungent and sharp like vinegar, it soaks the sidewalk next to my front door and my dogs stop to sniff at it when we leave the house in the morning. This too is bella Firenze, trapped between the delivery vans and last night’s pasta on the pavement, trembling in the high heels and the miniskirt she wore the night before and trying desperately to get home.
Every now and then, when I’m chatting with the neighbors or someone I’ve just met, inevitably I hear the phrase “bella Firenze” pop up somewhere in the conversation. Often it is followed up by a litany of complaints about what exactly is wrong with this city, her cup spilling over with tourists and trash in equal portions. Eager to get an Italian perspective on what can be done to save Florence from herself, I ask shopkeepers and businessmen alike what their opinions are on the overabundance of people that flood the city streets.
“Ma guarda, come si fa a vivere in una citta dove le gente urlano per strada e si sporcano tutto? E’ impossibile, e’ un casino. Pero ci portano i soldi che abbiamo bisogno di vivere e lavorare, quindi e’ una bella domanda.”
Look, how can you live in a city where people shout on the street and dirty everything? It’s impossible, it’s a mess. However they bring the money that we need to live and to work, therefore it’s a really good question.
In a city like Florence, you’ll often hear English spoken just as often (if not more) than Italian. Tourist menus litter the piazzas, enticing the out-of-towners with brightly colored tablecloths and crisp white-shirted waiters eager to flash you a bit of that Italian charm for an extra euro or two tip at the end.
So what do we do when it’s just too much to bear? We stay out too late and complain to our coworkers the next day. We close shop doors for an entire month in August and escape to the beach to lick our tired salty wounds after a season of 18 hour days. We bury ourselves in the work while it’s there, because nobody knows better than the Italians what it means to go without.
And sometimes if you’re lucky, bella Firenze will pop her head out from underneath the dusty cobblestones and let you peek underneath her skirt for a second. If you’ve ever come home from a late night out or gotten up early in Florence and walked the empty streets before the city awakens, you’ll know exactly what I mean.