When we learned that moving to France was a reality, B and I frequently discussed where we wanted to travel in Europe. I admitted to him, somewhat sheepishly, that the most important thing to me was not seeing somewhere new, but going back to Florence, Italy. Then again, I'm the kind of person who prefers to re-read beloved books and hang out with favorite characters for a while instead of searching for new ones.
But in a turn of perversion, my biggest fear was also going back to Florence. Why? Well, this:
"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."
- Nelson Mandela
To say that I've altered in the 11 years and 10 days since I left Florence is an understatement. I know the city has changed. I also know I've changed more. From a sheltered 20-year-old college student to a 31-year-old married woman, I have run the gamut of ups and downs; more often than not downs. Despite popular theory, my 20s were not what I would consider my best years (blessedly, my 30s are looking far more promising).
To return to this historical city is an anthropological dig, only in this instance I'm unearthing layers of myself. Layers that thought I would get married at 22, not 30 (and God help me, with the candidates I had in mind back then). Layers that thought I would be a magazine journalist living in New York City, not working as an assistant with the cast of Mean Girls in Greenville, SC (thankfully that's over). And layers and layers of naivete that I'd rather no one see.
But life is just that: layers. Freakishly intertwined ones. Had I gotten married at 22, I would not be in Florence, Italy, right now. I would probably be home with a kid or two. If I was living in New York City, I never would have met B. And my life would be so much the poorer for that. Even if I had it to do over, I could never, ever voluntarily make any choice that would lead to me not marrying that man. I cannot emphasize that enough. Anyone who's made a crochet error knows this: you can't take one thread out without unraveling the whole damn thing. Life is not linear.
But my 20-year-old self didn't know that.
She also didn't know how long it would take her to return to Florence. If she had, I'm not sure she could have taken it. She wanted to go back by graduation at the latest, a scant two years away. Eleven would seem like an eternity. Maybe eleven is an eternity. At age 20, it's more than half your life.
Even now, at 31, it's more than a third of my life. But I'm here. Finally. On terra firma, in Tuscany. Even better, this time I'm with my parents, who so graciously funded my trip here last time (fun fact: they only told me I could study abroad because they thought I would chicken out and not do it. HA).
I know things in the city will have changed. I know things will look different to me than to that starry-eyed optimist on her first jaunt to Europe. But Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, which literally means "a revival of, or a renewed interest in, something."
And I have this hunch that when we climb to the top of the Campanile beside the Duomo and take in the red rooftops, the rolling green hills and the blue sky, the wonder and amazement that this city inspires will strike my parents, too. I will see it with their fresh eyes, and fall in love anew, making new memories with the person I am now. No matter how many times I return, the layers will always fall away to reveal my passion for this place, waiting quietly (if impatiently) to be set free again. And for that, I will always be grateful.
xoxo and ciao from my favorite place in the world,
E (and Mom and Dad)