Where else but in Florence could I experience a day filled with such diverse activities as today? In the morning I met Massa and Natascia for a dramatic 80K bike ride to Borgo San Lorenzo. After climbing up to Bvigliano we stopped for a caffè. The church bells echoed through the town as Sunday Mass was emptying out and we watched the local parishoners chatting in front of the pasticerria (bakery) or standing in line at the salumeria (a store that sells salami, prosciutto and other cured meats.) We then continued along hilly roads lined with golden fields of sunflowers, bales of hay and old stone farmhouses. This would be the last time I would see Natascia until September, since almost everyone who doesn't live on the coast is leaving the interior of the country for the month of August. Most of them are going al mare (the ocean) but le montagne (the mountains) are becoming a more popular summer destination among Italians, especially the Dolomites.
On my way back home, I stoped at a small truck selling Sicilain tomatoes, porcini and sunflowers. I loaded my jersey pockets with the pomidori (tomatoes) and then passed by the forno (bread bakery) where you could smell the bread baking from up the street. Then to the lampredotto stand (like a hotdog stand in New York, selling Florentine peasant dishes) where I bought a portion of "bolito misto", (a Tuscan specialty comprising cow by-products mixed in a light salad of onions, olive oil, lemon and parsely) Then stopped at the pizzicheria and bought some just-made buffalo mozzarella. When I got home, I picked some fresh basil from my terrace, and munched out on a great lunch!
After a piccolo riposino (short nap) I did some studying and watched the local news and then took my books and pedaled to Boboli Gardens where I sat in the cool shade under an umbrella of aromatic cypress trees.
Just before sunset I rode my everyday city bike over to the Arno where a full moon was rising above the tower of Piazza Poggi (photo above). I then rode on to Ponte Vecchio and paused for a while to listen to the guitarist who plays every night on the bridge. A cool breeze filled the air. Perfect night. I then passed by Piazzza Signoria to observe my city hall where another guitarist was entertaining the crowds in front of the Ufizzi Palace.
Then, while pedaling towards the Duomo, I heard the Calcio Storico band playing and realized that today is the Festa di Sant'Anna (which means the Feast Day of the Mother of the Virgin Mary). The nuns never taught us about her in Catholic School, which I attended until I was 20 years old. There are so many saints in Italy. There is a saint for everything and everyone. I never even "thunk" of the mother of Mary, but I guess it makes sense that she had to be a saint too, no? So, the entire ecclesiatica and government of Florence was involved very seriously in this annual celebration, all of the traditional Florentine festivities, right down to the colorful 15th century costumes, a parade and a Mass at Orsanmichele. I attended the Mass (mind you, this is all going on at 10 o'clock at night) and was thrilled to see the mayor of Florence (who I absolutely adore.....he is doing great things for this city) addressing the congregation.
In America we believe in the separation of church and state. The longer I live, the more I realize how unique America is in that regard, a real sign of freedom. In America you would never see Mayor Bloomberg giving a speech at Saint Patrick's Cathedral, speaking to the congregation as if they represented all of New York City. Here the Catholic Church IS the state, no matter what they tell you. I feel comfotable with this only because I really love my religion and I really love Italy, and feel very intertwined with the two cultures.
I know this all sounds like a week's worth of activity, but there's more. I took another giro around Piazza Santa Croce, to see the moon now reaching far above the chiesa, much higher in the sky than it was a couple of hours ago. I followed noises in the distance which led me to Florence's outdoor summer movie festival. It was midnight, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show had just begun, dubbed in Italian!! I bought a glass of wine, sat at a table up front and needless to say, I learned many suggestive idiomatic ways to speak Italian.
What a treat of a day. There is nothing much more that I could want. As I rode home, past the jazz band playing at Piazza del Ciompi, I kept on thinking that God must really have wanted me to be here. He delivered me back here after a major illness, and He keeps on reminding me that He wants me here. I am very fortunate and will never take this all for granted.
When I got home I checked my telephone to find an SMS from Dominick, saying that he needs me to guide a bike tour in Lucca on Wednesday.