I’m sitting with my back rested up against the smooth stone of a centuries old building. The sun is shining down through the piazza, peaking out from behind the columned statue in its center. A band has begun to set up right in front of me at the base of the statue. People are passing though the square from every direction, looking on, maybe thinking about stopping. It rained earlier today but you wouldn’t know it by how clear the late afternoon sky is, and how warm the breeze is. The Valentino store has opened in the square, directly across from where I’m seated, but aside from that not much has changed since the last time I found myself in this quaint piazza.
This moment is one of those perfect Florentine moments that makes you completely forget all the questions you might have had the day or minute before. It’s everything – sight, sense, smell; the melody of the banjo duet that’s just started and the murmur of conversational Italian buzzing just below it. The breeze off the Arno blowing my newly shorn hair out of my face as I hunch over my notebook, furiously scribbling. The clinking of bicycle chains and the humming motor of a Vespa. The faint whisper of another song playing in another piazza, not so far away. This moment is everything.
More men have arrived and are starting to set up. They take off their jackets and lay them at the base of the statue, start tuning their instruments. They all wear straw hats save for one, unpacking his tuba from a velvet lined case, his hat rested carefully atop a miniature stool behind him.
Something about this piazza is pure magic – it’s quite large but is home to the sort of nondescript landmarks that garner little attention in a city so full of show-stoppers. There’s a 13th century church which the piazza is named for with a plain stone facade, squeezed hastily between two old palazzos. The Colonna della Giustizia stands in the center of the triangular piazza, nearly forty feet of smooth solid marble, topped with a pink-tinted porphyry statue of Justice. The square is often overlooked, it seems that people rarely take much notice as they head to the high fashion shops of Via Tornabuoni, which traverses the square, or to the Ponte Santa Trinita just steps outside of the piazza.
The men all wear suspenders layered over a button down shirt in varying shades of black, paired with jeans or khakis. The locals for the most part hurriedly pass by, most of them dressed in black or navy puffer jackets and leather boots, despite the 70+ degree weather. Two American students pass by, wearing big sunglasses and sandals. Families push their carriages along the uneven cobblestone as the men continue to tune their instruments.
By now the sun has tucked itself completely behind the castle-topped palazzos surrounding the piazza. People start to gather as the men begin to play – a bluesy, barbershop sort of sound with the satisfying oompa of the tuba and the wail of the trumpet. A young woman riding a cream colored bicycle cuts through the square, ringing her bell seemingly in time with the music. A little girl with a bright turquoise sash wrapped around her blonde hair pulls at her mother’s hands, beckoning her to dance. They stand side by side and hold hands, both of them swaying and smiling. In the same moment, an impeccably dressed little girl on the other side of the piazza, wearing a black tutu and a classic stone colored trench coat, drops a coin into the tip basket, smiling broadly at the dancing trombone-playing toy that’s been set up next to it. A horse-drawn carriage cuts right between me and the band, the horse’s heels on the hard cobblestone punctuating the downbeat, the bells on the carriage adding percussion.
The band takes a short break to have a brief argument with two older Italian women, who seem to be annoyed by the music streaming into their apartment or office building. One of them has a black scotty dog on a leash. The dog looks at me and I smile. The argument ends, and the women hastily take off, like two modern-day streghe.
The band strikes back up, playing a cranked up version of “When You’re Smiling.” The singer is holding the mouthpiece of a megaphone to his face, the megaphone dangling from a long strap slung over his shoulder. The crowd grows larger – some people are dancing, some watching, some taking video on their phones.
I walk up to the band and drop a coin into their basket. I look at them from where I’m standing and snap a photo, the line of them framed perfectly by the sights of the piazza. I smile as I walk away towards the Arno, and the smile is still on my face even after I’ve crossed the bridge and am stepping foot into yet another quaint piazza .