Slowly becoming more about people than place?!

Truly?? How could this be possible? Finding my way to this place-this Florence, this Italy-it has been a way for me to get away from people. and to simply exist in a place. A beautiful place, a place that I chose with contemplation and deliberation. At that point, it was supposed to be about the place and the art, not about people.

It was, for the most part, that way in my first year in Florence. Last year, it was still primarily about the place, but people seemed to be finding their way into my existence here.

This third year, friends and people (and characters) have just kind of crept into my little self-proclaimed florentine world. I now understand that there is no such thing as a private nor a self-proclaimed world here in Florence, nor in Tuscany, nor in Italy. Perhaps that was the true reason for the initial draw and what I truly needed. I came here in total isolation and have found more friendship, more generosity, more sincerity and more passion for the things that I love than I have ever found or discovered anywhere else on earth.

I came here to be alone, but the wonderful people here will not allow one to be alone.

So, now, as I enter into this new phase of my love and part-time living in Florence, it becomes more and more about the people who I meet here. Every day–it suddenly seems to happen every day. I ponder that perhaps it is because I have finally taken it upon myself to learn and study this beautiful language. I had no idea how beautiful this language was until I began to learn a bit of it. I had studied French extensively as a college student. French is an exquisite language. Italian is a robust language. Exquisite French was enchanting when I was 19 years old. At 52, I shall embrace and study this robust Italian language– and everything else within me that is Italian– with gusto!

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Two Days in Rome

I had not been to Rome in about fifteen years, so when a high school friend, Cindy, let me know that she would be taking a trip to Tuscany and Rome and that it would overlap some of the time that I was to be here, I was open to go spend a few days in Rome at her invitation.

Cindy shares my crazy obsession with Italy, and she has been here many times and has good friends here.  Another high school friend of mine was along with Cindy–Lisa .  Lisa and I actually attended art school together for a year back in 1981. It has been great to spend time with Lisa and Cindy, because between the two of them, they share my two greatest passions.  Cindy is passionate about Italy and Lisa is passionate about art!

We met in the Piazza Navona last Monday afternoon. It was strange and wonderful to see friends that I had not seen since we were all 17 or 18 years old-and in of all places, Rome, Italy.

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Since I had not been to Rome in so very long. I did not remember it in totality. Being me, I remembered the museums more than I did the city itself. I remembered many of the fountains and piazzas. The most famous fountain-and one of the most famous in all the world–the Trevi, was under total renovation and we were unable to view it. The renovation is costing 2.2 million euros. The Italians have so many irreplaceable treasures to restore and care for. Despite their tough economy, they find ways. The Trevi is the fountain that holds the legend that if you throw a coin over your left shoulder with your right hand, you shall return to Italy. Good thing I did that on my first trip to Rome!

I have been so very comfortable in and familiar with Florence and the smaller Tuscan cities on my past two years in Italy, that Rome overwhelmed me.  It is so beautiful, but so grand and “untouchable” to me in comparison to Florence.

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I loved my time in Rome.  I have never been one to be attached to familiarity, but for some reason, that is exactly what I feel in Florence.  Familiarity-and it is good. Rome captivates me, but Florence embraces me.

We did much in a few days in Rome, but of course, not enough.  My favourite event of my two days in Rome was a revisit to the Museo Borghese. The Borghese is one of the most beautiful museums in the world.  It, like most high points in Rome and Florence, requires reservations in high season, and often presents long lines before the opportunity to view the works amongst a crowd.  Those crowds often consist of many tour groups which “take over” the museum and make it difficult for independent travelers to have at least a decent view, and more difficult– a genuine experience of the art.

That is the beauty of traveling off-season,  The weather may not cooperate at times, but there are no lines and the absolute joy and privilege of seeing great works in beautiful surroundings without the buzz and distraction of crowds and of tourist groups is a wonderful experience.

My favourite piece in the Borghese is Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne (1622-1625).

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I am more a fan of Renaissance art than of Baroque, but Bernini was a genius and this piece is impossible not to love and be awed by.

The myth of Apollo and Daphne is this:

Thomas Bullfinch’s famous version of the story:

Daphne was Apollo’s first love. It was not brought about by accident, but by the malice of Cupid. Apollo saw the boy playing with his bow and arrows; and being himself elated with his recent victory over Python, he said to him, “What have you to do with warlike weapons, saucy boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them, Behold the conquest I have won by means of them over the vast serpent who stretched his poisonous body over acres of the plain! Be content with your torch, child, and kindle up your flames, as you call them, where you will, but presume not to meddle with my weapons.” Venus’s boy heard these words, and rejoined, “Your arrows may strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you.” So saying, he took his stand on a rock of Parnassus, and drew from his quiver two arrows of different workmanship, one to excite love, the other to repel it. The former was of gold and ship pointed, the latter blunt and tipped with lead. With the leaden shaft he struck the nymph Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus, and with the golden one Apollo, through the heart. Forthwith the god was seized with love for the maiden, and she abhorred the thought of loving. Her delight was in woodland sports and in the spoils of the chase. Lovers sought her, but she spurned them all, ranging the woods, and taking no thought of Cupid nor of Hymen. Her father often said to her, “Daughter, you owe me a son-in-law; you owe me grandchildren.” She, hating the thought of marriage as a crime, with her beautiful face tinged all over with blushes, threw her arms around her father’s neck, and said, “Dearest father, grant me this favour, that I may always remain unmarried, like Diana.” He consented, but at the same time said, “Your own face will forbid it.”

Apollo loved her, and longed to obtain her; and he who gives oracles to all the world was not wise enough to look into his own fortunes. He saw her hair flung loose over her shoulders, and said, “If so charming, in disorder, what would it be if arranged?” He saw her eyes bright as stars; he saw her lips, and was not satisfied with only seeing them. He admired her hands and arms, naked to the shoulder, and whatever was hidden from view he imagined more beautiful still. He followed her; she fled, swifter than the wind, and delayed not a moment at his entreaties. “Stay,” said he, “daughter of Peneus; I am not a foe. Do not fly me as a lamb flies the wolf, or a dove the hawk. It is for love I pursue you. You make me miserable, for fear you should fall and hurt yourself on these stones, and I should be the cause. Pray run slower, and I will follow slower. I am no clown, no rude peasant. Jupiter is my father, and I am lord of Delphos and Tenedos, and know all things, present and future. I am the god of song and the lyre. My arrows fly true to the mark; but, alas! an arrow more fatal than mine has pierced my heart! I am the god of medicine, and know the virtues of all healing plants. Alas! I suffer a malady that no balm can cure!”

The nymph continued her flight, and left his plea half uttered. And even as she fled she charmed him. The wind blew her garments, and her unbound hair streamed loose behind her. The god grew impatient to find his wooings thrown away, and, sped by Cupid, gained upon her in the race. It was like a hound pursuing a hare, with open jaws ready to seize, while the feebler animal darts forward, slipping from the very grasp. So flew the god and the virgin- he on the wings of love, and she on those of fear. The pursuer is the more rapid, however, and gains upon her, and his panting breath blows upon her hair. Her strength begins to fail, and, ready to sink, she calls upon her father, the river god: “Help me, Peneus! open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger!” Scarcely had she spoken, when a stiffness seized all her limbs; her bosom began to be enclosed in a tender bark; her hair became leaves; her arms became branches; her foot stuck fast in the ground, as a root; her face became a tree-top, retaining nothing of its former self but its beauty, Apollo stood amazed. He touched the stem, and felt the flesh tremble under the new bark. He embraced the branches, and lavished kisses on the wood. The branches shrank from his lips. “Since you cannot be my wife,” said he, “you shall assuredly be my tree. I will wear you for my crown; I will decorate with you my harp and my quiver; and when the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows. And, as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and your leaf know no decay.” The nymph, now changed into a Laurel tree, bowed its head in grateful acknowledgment.

The statue is so delicate and unbelievably fragile looking.  I have been told that the leaves that come forth from Daphne’s fingers actually chime when tapped, like fine china.  And this is marble.

My second favourite piece in the Borghese is Antonio Canova’s Paolina Borghese Bonaparte (!805-1808).

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Paolina is also exquisite.   I show her here from only one angle, but she is beautiful from every angle.  I took this photo in the afternoon light and she glows.  I was blessed to get photos of both her and Apollo and Daphne with no people in the background.  That is a rare gift.

I love both of these pieces and the photos that I was able to get and that I share with you here.

An “Average” Day in Florence!

When I started this blog, my intentions were to attempt to lay out the tale of how I first came to Florence on my own two years ago and then, when I arrived here again this year, to bring the story to the present and post a blog almost daily.

It has been a whirlwind since I arrived here, and I have not done such a good job at that!  Like life, my trip here has taken twists and turns already.  But that is what I expect and wish for.

I may (and most likely will) go back and add some blogs on the past five days in Florence and Rome, but for now, I will just post a bit about this day.  A day that started out seeming very ordinary (at least for one of my precious days here in Florence!)

I met up with a couple of American friends from high school who have been here this week.  We first met up in Rome and then took the train together to Florence.  They took a day trip today and so I was on my own in Florence again today.

Today I had no agenda.  I felt kind of guilty about that.  I told myself a few times “You are in Florence, you should have an agenda”.  Screw that.  I don’t always need an agenda here any longer and that is a wonderful feeling.

The day started out a bit rusty and then became special as most every day here seems to do.  I decided to have lunch at a special place called Olio e Convivium.  On the menu was the pasta with shaved white truffles.  It is like nothing I have ever had before (other than when I have had it here before!)  The truffles are in season now, and the taste is exquisite.  The white truffles are very rare.  They actually grow under the ground like a root.  Dogs are used to sniff them out.  I was told that the dogs that are trained to truffle hunt are very expensive and carefully guarded.

The waiter shaves the truffle so finely that they melt into the al dente pasta . Ahhhhh!!!

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I then rediscovered one of my favorite tiny wine bars in Florence later in the afternoon. The woman who works there is beautiful and so full of that italian vigor. I told her that I was trying to learn Italian.  She was helping me, and then an Asian man walked in and he spoke English as a second language and no Italian, and I was translating a bit.  That was a new experience!

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My next adventure was to meet my American friends in the Piazza Signoria at the “fake David”. We went to an absolutely beautiful church–Chiesa della Badia Fiorentini, and actually attended a vesper service that lasted an hour and a half.  It was a very moving experience. It was also wonderful, because when the priests or nuns spoke, they did so slowly and I was able to pick up many of their italian words.  The service was soothing and spiritual and I think we all left with a feeling of inner calm and peace.

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Next stop was to meet up with a friend at a favorite spot called Viktoria. Drinks, a walk around the Santa Croce neighbourhood, a sandwich at one of the most popular places in Florence–All’ Antico Vinaio, a gelato (some of the best in Florence!), and back to Viktoria.  There we met a gentleman who had an old dog along, gray at the muzzle and even in his paws.  It turns out that Leo had adopted Giovanni from a shelter just recently, even though the dear dog probably only has a few years at best.  Pretty cool thing to do.

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It was finally time to head home and put a cap on a day that started out not looking like much, but turned out to be pretty spectacular.  Just before I arriving at my apartment, I always pass through the Piazza Santa Spirito.  The church of Santa Spirito is where Michelangelo used to hang out and study anatomy. When he was seventeen years old, he was allowed to make anatomical studies on the corpses coming from the convent’s hospital; in exchange, he sculpted a wooden crucifix which was placed over the high altar. The crucifix is breathtakingly beautiful and graceful.

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To put a perfect end to the day, as I passed through the piazza this evening, there was a group of young people hanging out (as they always do at night in the piazza) Three of them were strumming guitars…

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Laura in Firenze. Chapter Three

image Well, here I am again for the third birthday in a row. If there is a reason for which I wish to live to be one hundred years old, it would be so that I could say that I have spent the last fifty birthdays of my life here in Florence.

Something is very different this year though. There are some personal reasons why there is an extra sentiment and appreciation of this trip versus the past two journeys here. That explains some of the strange feeling. And then there is the fact that I know I am going to be here for over five weeks this time. But there is more to it.  The feeling is one of complete familiarity. I have been studying Italian for the past few months and I love the language. As I visit my favorite neighborhood spots again this first night  (just a few as I am only trying to stay up as late as possible to kick jet lag in the ass), I find myself tuning into every word and picking out one in about a hundred, thereby allowing me to give myself a proverbial pat on the back for each word that I pick up.

However, the familiarity began to be felt before I arrived today.  It began a few months ago when this trip began to loom closer on the horizon. I was just going to be here –no anxiety, no real excitement either.  Just a strange sense of “Alright, I am going. I have to be there-no question about it.”

I landed here once again this afternoon.  For the first time ever I was able to greet my cab driver and ask him politely to take me to the address of my apartment in Italian. There was an elderly Ametican couple behind me in the cabbie line.  We had talked a bit on the shuttle ride from the plane to baggage claim. They knew no Italian, however they witnessed my cabbie greeting and conversation and said to me “nice job”! That was my first pat on my back from myself on the language thing today!

As I said, I went to a couple of my local places here this evening. No map needed. Very strange. I just know where I am when I am here in a way that I cannot truly explain. I saw some of my Italian friends at my favorite wine bar and then met up with some American friends who I met here last year. My American friend comes here to study art and has begun to introduce me to the local art history scene that he knows. He is currently working on reproducing Leonardo d Vinci’s “Leda and the Swan”

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This sexy and controversial painting has been lost or destroyed since about 1625 after being painted by Da Vinci in the early years of the 16th century. It had, however, been reproduced before it’s demise.

My friend did not understand why I would write this blog and who would care. I said “Who cares that you are copying “Leda and the Swan”? He paused and then laughed heartily at that. It was a fun first night and I am exhausted!

I knew that I would find my way back…

Just as I knew I would, I did return to my beloved Florence the following year.  I went at about the same time of year (in November) and was able to spend my birthday with my new Florentine friends. No birthday dinner alone that second year in Florence.

Angelo and Manuela took me to a wonderful restaurant on the eve of my birthday last year.  I met them on the steps of Santa Croce so that we could walk to the restaurant together.  I so much wish that I had a photo of the two of them standing on those steps waiting for me. The image is so vivid in my mind that at times I think I do have a photo of it–and then I realize that I do not.  The image is just that clearly imprinted in my mind.

This is Santa Croce-

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I spotted my friends as I crossed the piazza that you see in the photo.  Manuela was holding a small bouquet of gorgeous orchids. My friends just looked so beautiful standing there on the steps of Santa Croce.

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We enjoyed a fabulous meal and it was an evening that I will always treasure.BirthdayDinner13

My trip this time was five nights longer and I was able to learn the city and venture outside of it much more than the first year.

I wandered the streets of Florence endlessly.  I visited so many cathedrals and museums. I started to understand how very much I loved the art of the Renaissance. I had been an art and art history student in college, but once I stumbled into the corporate world, I forgot about those loves.  Florence helped me find them and to honor and nurture my artistic side once again. It took me awhile to find that side of myself again, but I am so much more fulfilled and at peace thanks to the beautiful city that I had found my way to two years ago.

I just today ran into this quote in an on-line publication called The Florentine. It states it so beautifully…

“the beauty and severity with which this city changes you, is evident and radiated through your new being, for you do not choose Florence: she chooses you. And though not as evident and overt as the intricately colored artwork you fashioned, there will be a new breath of life, a new crispness to your existence, a newfound appreciation for a life that is meant to be lived.”

I give thanks for the day that Florence found me.

I was in love…

…with Florence.  I knew in my heart that I would return, so I began to truly relax and soak it in for the remainder of my first solo trip there.

I believe that we all know what it feels like to leave a place in life that you love, knowing that you will never be present in that place again. It may be a home, a favorite restaurant, a certain place among loved ones.  It is a very melancholy feeling.

Then there are other times that you never see a place or person again, but you do not know that you will not.  You are ignorant to the possibility of not having that moment, that place, the person again. When that occurs, we have regrets and memories and sadness, but we never have that feeling of melancholy that we have when we know and are aware that a “never again” moment is occurring.

I had that “never again” feeling at the beginning of my trip to Florence. Going there had been inspired, but I no longer had my career and my five weeks of paid vacation, so traveling to Europe the way I used to did not seem plausible. I probably would never be able to return to Florence.

But then my mind relaxed and absorbed as I wandered the streets of Florence, became mesmerized by the art in its’ museums, and found peace and comfort within its’ cathedrals.

One afternoon, when I was in my wandering state-of-mind, I indulged in a dish that I doubt one would ever find here in the states–pasta with white truffles. This was complete indulgence.  The pasta was served and then the waiter came to shave the white truffles onto the perfect al dente pasta. White truffles are extremely rare and (as of today) go for about $170 an ounce–yes that is correct–an ounce!

When I had partially completed this orgasmic dish, the waiter came to my table again and shaved more white truffle onto my pasta.  I wanted to kiss him!

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I knew that I would return.  The day that I departed was not going to be one of those “never again” moments. Come hell or high water, I was going to find my way back to this place which spoke to my soul.

I had so much yet to learn as to why I felt such a pull from this city. I would find answers to this question on my next trip to Florence a year later…

The Finishing Touch on my 50th…

I left the wonderful Ristorate Oliviero–the restaurant that had been born the same year as I  had been–with a belly full of amazing food and wine.  I headed back in the direction of my apartment, but I had promised the owners at my little wine bar that I would stop in again and let them know how dinner was.

And that is when I met Angelo.  In the two years since that fateful evening, Angelo and his beautiful wife, Manuela, have become much beloved friends.  I have a photo of the three of us last year on my 51st birthday that I will post later.

Angelo was with his friend Roberto that evening and we instantly all hit it off. They were so full of life and so wonderfully Italian.

I indulged in one more glass of that amazing Brunello di Montalcino and I was ready to go home to my apartment!  Angelo and Roberto had other plans though and they wanted me to go our to another bar with them.  I said “no” and walked home to fall into bed, blessedly overlooked by the Madonna which hung in the bedroom.

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She is so beautiful.  In fact, although I am not an overly religious person, I have collected a few Madonnas for my own bedroom since being blessed and protected in my florentine bedroom by this lovely one.  The Madonna to me represents peace, perseverance, grace and undying love.

Angelo and I had exchanged e-mail addresses to keep in contact. We arranged to get together again a few nights later and I was able to meet Manuela as well on that first trip to Florence.

Angelo later e-mailed and expressed that he was concerned as to why I did not want to go on to another bar with Roberto and he that night of my birthday.  Had I been frightened to join them?  I assured him that, no, I was not afraid at all.  I was simply too tired and fairly drunk on that wonderful night of my 50th birthday alone in Florence, Italy!

From that moment on in Florence…

I don’t know how to express what I felt when I opened that menu alone at Ristorante Oliviero in Florence on the eve of my 50th birthday only to see my birth year printed on that very menu.

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I thought, chances of this would be like winning the lottery (if I played it!).  This was my lottery to win though.  This was my sign, my message, my assurance that I was in the right place at the right time and that I was going to find my way out of the lost place in which I had been.

When I arrived at the restaurant, I had absolutely no intention of letting anyone know that is was my birthday, but when I saw that darned menu and almost fell off my chair,  I had to tell someone.  When the host understood what I was saying he grinned from ear-to-ear and welcomed me wholeheartedly.

I enjoyed a wonderful dinner of rabbit leg stuffed with a chestnut and mushroom puree.

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After, dinner I was presented with a beautiful dessert compliments of the restaurant.  A mascarpone stuffed baked pear with chocolate and caramel drizzle and walnut shells filled with walnut gelato.  I am not a big dessert person nor sweet tooth, but are you kidding me?!

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There was even a birthday candle!  I immediately thought of my dear Mother who was  a bit freaked out about me traveling alone to a foreign country, and being alone on my birthday.  I knew that she would be very happy that I had a candle to make a wish upon and blow out on the evening!

The host poured me a glass of moscato (complimentary again).  I sipped it while indulging in my beautiful birthday dessert.  He poured me a second.  I sipped that one.  Then he went to pour me a third and I said “No Grazie, I have to walk back to my apartment!”  He asked “Is is far?”  I said “No.”  He said “OK”, and proceeded to pour me a third–such a precious moment!

Before I left he gave me a copy of the menu as a keepsake of the evening and of my birthday.

Wow.  That was more than I could have hoped for on my birthday evening, but the night was not over yet!

Really?

To rest my eyes once again upon Michelangelo’s breathtakingly beautiful David, residing safely in his relatively new environment in The Accademia was certainly something beyond special on my birthday. I spent over an hour just savoring him from every angle.  The Accademia has benches along the wall of his backside so that one may rest there and “enjoy the view”. I partook in that as well as much lingering while viewing his frontside.

So far, so good in this ringing in of my 50th!

I had assured my friends at the wine bar, Eduardo and Manuelo, that I would stop in for a glass before dinner that evening.

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I did so and I treated myself to a glass of Brunello di Montalcino.  It is my absolute favorite wine.  I often say that the moment that I fell in love with wine was the moment that Brunello first passed my lips. Ironically, that moment occurred in a fabulous Italian restaurant in Chicago many years ago.

Next, off to Ristorante Oliviero for dinner.

I walked across the Arno, found the little street on which the restaurant was located, and walked in.

The host welcomed me, seated me and handed me a menu.  There I was in a foreign country, alone, at a restaurant that I had found by chance.  I did not know why I was there, what had brought me there nor compelled me to be there, but there I found myself. I then opened the menu and nearly fell off my chair.  This is what the menu read.

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Think about it.  What on earth are the chances of being alone in a foreign country at a random restaurant alone on your 50th birthday and seeing YOUR birth year on the menu???

OK-not arguing with anything at that point.  I was meant to be right there at that moment.  Whatever happened after that moment I was simply open to. Fate it was.

Meant to be in that place at that time (chapter one!)…

Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

Eduardo and Manuelo at the wine bar gave me a couple of suggestions for good “non-touristy” restaurants for my dinner on Thursday night.  I wanted to make a reservation and I truly just wanted to have an amazing dinner alone to ring in my birthday.

Eduardo recommended a place called Ristorante Oliviero.  He told me that it was not touristy, that it had excellent food and service, was not overly expensive.  It sounded perfect!

The next day in the midst of my wanderings, I found the place on a tiny side street on the opposite side of the Arno from my apartment–only about a fifteen minute walk. I stopped in and made a reservation.  For some reason, I did not look at the menu.  In retrospect, that is strange because I normally would.  I was just a bit nervous making dinner reservations in Italy for myself and myself alone.  I suppose I just wanted to seem confident and asking to see a menu would not contribute to that allusion!

November 8th, 2012 arrived.  I was 50 years old now. Whew–made it! Something about that number is transformational.  I had so much unexpected change thrust upon me in my life before that 50 year dawn even arrived, that turning 50 for me seemed to have even more significance than if my life had still remained in cushy, crushing corporate America as it had been since I was 22 years old.

November 8th, 2012 was a beautiful day in Florence, Italy.  I always feel blessed when the sun shines on my birthday, and it definitely was that day.  That was a double score since Florence can be quite cloudy and rainy in November.

I hiked up to the Piazza Michelangelo that day.  It was quite a hike, but well worth it.  The Piazza Michelangelo presents to one the classic view of Florence that is perpetually seen on calendars and tourist brochures. The photo on this post is one that I took that day.

I  sipped a lovely glass of wine while I savored this amazing view and then I was ready for my next birthday stop– a long hike to see the real David once again at The Accademia.