The first time I lived in Florence, it was in the neighborhood by Santa Croce, on Via Ghibellina before Via Ghibellina was quite what it is these days. I remember carrying my suitcase up two flights of stairs in the dark, because I didn't know about timed light switches for condominio stairwells.
The second time I lived in Florence, it was, for a few days, by the Church of Sant'Ambrogio. Federiga's house always smelled a certain kind of clean. There was something about the combination of Florentine water and whatever laundry detergent everyone used those days. There was the smell of that handsoap everybody had, from Neutro Roberts.
There was the smell of the water.
Later there was Via Mameli with Lynda and Via Mazzini with Rina. Does Campi Bisenzio count?
Everything must count.
Today makes a month that I have lived here, again. I should say we, because it is both of us, all three of us if you include the cat, and you should include the cat, because the cat she is a Tuscan cat, after all.
I should say we but it's different. This is my city more than anyone else's.
Here is where I have been homeless. Here is where I have worked for five euro an hour at an internet café. Here is where I learned the hard way, what you most need to know the congiuntivo for.
Se avessi saputo.
Last week my students read “Roman Hours” by André Aciman (from Susan Cahill's lamentably named The Smiles of Rome). They liked the way Aciman conjures up the souls of the city's palimpsest. The way he makes walking in Rome feel like walking with everyone who has ever loved her:
I like to imagine the ghost of Leopardi, of Henri Beyle (known to the world as Stendhal), of Beatrice Cenci, of Anna Magnani, rising by the deserted corner, each one always willing to stop and greet me, like characters in Dante who have wandered up to the surface and are eager to mingle before ebbing back into the night.
But what if there’s a city in which the souls you keep bumping into and brushing past, the ghosts you keep glimpsing in doorways, across piazzas, around corners, what if they're always and only just versions of you? What if this city is haunted—and by haunted I mean in the sweetest, safest way—by all the selves that you have been here?
Last week I walked into the Church of Sant'Ambrogio for the first time in fourteen years. I don't remember which pew I sat in fourteen years ago. I don't know if there were more people that day. But I felt like I was sitting near myself. I watched time shimmer and I let myself listen to that twenty-six-year-old as she spoke in her head to the universe, saying please. Let me live here.
There's another bit in Aciman’s essay, where he worries about missing Rome, and all the eternal things that enchant him there — the Caravaggios in San Luigi dei Francesi, the rounded colonnade at Santa Maria della Pace, the ham, the rolls, the knife. It's in the paragraph that begins, “What wouldn't I give never to lose Rome.” It ends like this:
Could any of these timeless things really disappear from my life? And where do they go when I'm not there to stare at them? What happens to life when we're not there to live it?
What happens to life when we are?
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[sabato 25 febbraio 2017 ore 23:32:00] [¶]
Also in last week's New Yorker, some thoughts on music, form, and the functions of art in the face of misplaced faith and the strange rage that accompanies regret:
Johannes Brahms continued to explore the early-nineteenth-century musical genres perfected by Beethoven: the symphony, the sonata, and the concerto, forms in which the composer used craftmanship to transform pure emotion into musical structure.
The idea of the album, as a form, has endured, stubbornly. It used to be a pleasurable and efficient delivery method: a dozen or so tracks collected onto one long-playing disk and sold to consumers at a discounted price. But after the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” from 1966, and the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” from 1967, it became a kind of creative imperative, a way of eschewing the ephemerality of the single and establishing pop music as art. Then the technology changed; a preference for customization developed and became embedded in the culture. Younger artists look at the idea of the album sideways, kicking the tires, imagining a less prescribed, more multidimensional future for their high-concept work. Kanye West’s newest project, “The Life of Pablo,” has been revised untold times since its release (a snare drum might be quieted, or a lyric adjusted). It is not expected to exist in physical form—merely as a stream or a download—which would only impede its constant evolution. West has called the album “a living breathing changing creative expression.”
One thing McDonagh learned from O’Brien, I think, is that bizarre situations are more effective when the structure of a work is fairly conventional: you shouldn’t undo the power of sensational content by sensationalizing the form as well.
Here, then, was an opportunity to reclaim and reconfigure his despair. The idea feels deeply human. Who hasn’t winced, looking back on a thing they made—or a place they lived, or a dress they wore, or a type of tea they drank—while enveloped in grief, and hoped for a way to neutralize that history without losing the thing itself?
a waterfall pouring its contents
into a well-worn shuddering mind
Plus more than a little, on the bonds between mothers and daughters. Like this:
The two women spend their days tearing at those bonds, but they wouldn’t know who they were without their mutual hatred and dependence.
And like this.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[mercoledì 08 febbraio 2017 ore 19:04:19] [¶]
In “Quarantine” by Alix Ohlin, from last week's New Yorker, there is this:
“I remember when your father died,” Angela said. Her eyes grew sharper. “You changed so much. I didn't understand at the time, but I do now.”
Even years later, the mention of her father shifted a weight in Bridget’s stomach, tilted her center of gravity. The sadness of his death was still a sinkhole that she could fall into and be swallowed by.
They were holding hands now. Some geese flew overhead in a V-formation, and the trees swayed back and forth, as if they, too, were seeking touch. In one of Angela’s magazines, Bridget had read an article about a scientist who had proved that trees could form a kind of friendship, twining their roots together. Sometimes one tree would curve its branches away from the other’s, so that its friend got enough sun to survive. Angela said nothing, and the trees fell silent, too, as if to make sure that Bridget heard her refusal.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[martedì 07 febbraio 2017 ore 20:02:20] [¶]