A flaneur in Florence

The frivolities in my life are legion, but travel isn’t one of them, despite how trivial a far-flung journey might seem — or ultimately be. (Most trips soar. Some sink.) 

In three weeks I head to Florence, Italy. Though I’ve been there twice, the last visit was in the Paleolithic Age. I wanted something mellow, somewhat familiar, distinctly European, with lots of marble, museums, manicotti, and mustaches on both men and women.

The city is a cornucopia of artistic abundance: Michelangelo’s David; Donatello’s bittier David; the Uffizi, that Renaissance eruption of Botticelli to da Vinci; Ghiberti’s bronze doors; Brunelleschi’s dome; the locals’ luxuriant facial hair.

I was last in Italy in March 2022, ferrying between Rome and Naples, the latter a bracing revelation, rough-hewn and bristling with a singular urban snap. As novelties go — serpentine side streets, graffiti, killer Neapolitan pizza — it sort of kicked Rome’s ass. In July I swanned to beautiful Buenos Aires. In October, magical Madrid.

Florence seemed like a good middle-ground — encrusted in a glorious past but not overly exotic; grand but not overwhelmingly vast. It’s not like going to jostling Taipei, say, or sunbaked Algeria, which I hear is majestic. Yet Forbes did name Florence the most beautiful city in the world in 2010.

No, this would be a week luxuriating in western art, architecture, food, drink, scenery, inhaling the rarefied air of undiluted enchantment. I imagine me a self-styled flaneur, strolling the cobblestones, gilded walking stick in one hand, tipping my top hat to passersby with the other. And then I snap out of it and pinch the bridge of my nose.

Florence is not massive. So I’m making at least one day trip to Central Tuscany, namely Siena and San Gimignano, medieval towns cluttered with Gothic architecture and honeycombed with history. The region is also a wellspring of Chianti, and tippling some of the red elixir from the source is essential.

I have made five restaurant reservations in Florence, from a traditional trattoria to a Michelin-star bistro. I will eat pasta and pizza and exist — and subsist — a bit like Stanley Tucci, without the bald pate and skinny chinos (but with the dashing scarf). I might also employ a larger vocabulary of superlatives than just, “This is so good” when I taste something delicious.

And though Tucci meets up, and hams it up, with lots of local hosts, he makes it appear he is his own man, ambling the streets of Italy, the stylish flaneur (that word again), when really, of course, he’s accompanied by a small battalion of producers and technicians taping him all the way.  

If life were only like that. I travel solo most of the time, by choice. But once in a while it might be nice to have a crew of professional sycophants at your beck and call, filming you, powdering your nose, providing the background about everyone you’re about to meet and everywhere you’re about to go so you appear super smart and amply informed. 

I do what I can. I read books, watch Tucci and Bourdain, comb the net, view movies. In the end, I’m still alone, tramping about the glittering city, whose promise is assured. I think that’s pretty cool. And I think that’s quite enough.  

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