I’m sitting here in my apartment on a Friday night eating strawberries. Strawberries that taste so good, they are bringing me to tears. It’s like I’ve been eating a poor imitation of what strawberries are truly meant to taste like my entire life.
While this is an awesome (albeit damning) revelation in itself, it also serves as a metaphor for nearly everything I’ve experienced here in Italy. I feel in many ways like I’m experiencing so many things, even the most basic of things, for the very first time.
Sometimes I’ll look up at the sky and dramatically rip my sunglasses from my face, straining my eyes in disbelief of how unnervingly blue it is. The clouds here are so white, and so lush, and so low to the ground, you feel like you could absolutely pluck them right from the sky and take a nap on top of them if that’s what you really wanted to do. At sunset the sky turns a most unearthly shade of blue and pink and orange and yellow, made twice as nice by the crystal clear reflection in the Arno, sliced into crude pieces as the cannottieri row down the river with razor precision. Even after the sun sinks into the clouds on the horizon and twilight sets in, the sky stays supernaturally illuminated well past 9pm, as if the sleepy sun is still fizzling into the cool night air that’s risen up from the earth to meet it. And the night sky is so deeply blue, you finally understand why they named a crayon after it – midnight blue.
Walking around, every few blocks, a wave of perfumed air will waft its way right into your path, with a scent so sweet you can almost see it in the air in front of you. Most times you can’t even find the blooms the scent is coming from, try as you might. Flowers of every variety and every color grow out of perfectly manicured gardens and overrun old city walls alike, as if they have no regard for where they live, as long as they’re in this city. In early Spring, wisteria suddenly appears where simple vines once were, and for just a few weeks all you can see anywhere is this magical and majestic purple blossom, spilling over walls and awnings and fences and gates and dangling off of trees, swinging softly in the fragrant breeze.
And the food! The milk is stark white and unbelievably creamy – my daily bowl of cornflakes is one of the highlights of my day. The eggs are small and unbleached with intensely yellow yolks that pack five times the flavor of any egg I’ve ever had. The cheese – the cheese! – is so delectably perfect…soft and tangy stracchino, perfectly plump pillows of burrata, the salty and nearly crunchy bite that an expertly aged parmigiano has. The melt-in-your-mouth sensation of a fresh slice of prosciutto dolce, made ten times sweeter by the smiling salumieri handing it to you.
The fruits and vegetables here – glistening blood red strawberries, so perfectly ripe they look like they’re about to pop; speckled green zucchini capped with flamboyant yellow blossoms bigger than your fist – are so vibrant and so fresh you’d think that they were fake. And they might as well be, perfectly nested on top of each other in their overflowing bins at the markets, a mosaic of color straight from the earth that makes you feel like you’re in another world completely.
I’m no poet, and don’t claim to be any sort of romantic either. But there are so many deeply charming things about this city and country, so much that moves me in such a genuine and profound way. It feels like this is what truly and authentically falling in love should be. Loving something with abandon, loving it for its flaws and its virtues (though mostly for its virtues), and feeling more enlightened and complete as a result of it. Mi sono innamorato di te, Firenze, now and forever.