It is hardly revelatory to say there is something magical about the light in Italy. As the photos accompanying this post prove (and they’re all views of the Arno looking in both directions and taken from one of three bridges: the Ponte Vecchio, the Ponte Santa Trinità, or the Ponte alla Carraia) it is difficult to say what time of day and what light the city looks best in, because it shimmers at every hour:
But despite this round-the-clock loveliness, I find here in Florence, that there is a particular time of day which is far and away my favorite. It’s specific to Florence too, in Rome I prefer a time that is completely opposite. But here, morning, more specifically before 9am, is the absolute best time to be walking around the city.
The light is soft and forgiving, which I am thankful for since my brain is typically not fully awake and my caffè usually hasn’t completely registered yet. But it’s also the perfect time to watch the city cranking into life. I am typically out before 9am on days I’m walking to my language school and I tend to follow the same path everyday. During my walk I get to see the leather-sellers of the Mercato Nuovo wheeling in their stalls and hanging hundreds of bags and wallets and jackets; the loggia of the market transforms from empty arches to a chaotic maze of leather.
It’s also possible, at that hour, to see the shopkeepers throwing water on the sidewalk in front of their shops and sweeping it away. They might even (accidentally?) douse your feet if you’re not moving quickly enough. Delivery trucks wend their way through the streets– this morning I saw a milk truck deliver only three one litre bottles to the clerk of a store– presumably just enough to keep the workers there in coffee for the day. Security gates on stores are only half open, and you can glimpse the feet and legs of store clerks rushing around, presumably preparing displays for the day ahead.
Classic examples of Italian archetypes are also in evidence at that time: little old ladies who are likely either on their way to or from Mass walk slowly down the streets, or impeccably dressed, perfectly coiffed men and women chicly rush to get to work, elegantly zooming by on their motorini, defying all logic as to how they look so perfect despite any number of environmental factors that reduce mere mortals to sweaty disheveled-ness.
It’s the time of day when you can walk across the Ponte Vecchio or through the Piazza della Signoria without having to fight your way through crowds. On occasion you do see a few large tour groups out that early, but rarely, and they tend to be smaller than the groups found later in the morning and afternoon. You hardly see any tourists at all, and the primary language you overhear as you pass by others is Italian rather than the cacophonous polyglot mixture that stretches ones ability to comprehend any language that you hear at most other times of day.
And for whatever reason, when I am walking through the city with purpose in the morning, it is at this time I feel least like a foreigner and the most that I belong. Maybe it’s because I’m witnessing Florence before it’s ready to be seen, when it’s half-naked and without its make-up on. It seems partly exposed and partly vulnerable, words that also describe the beginning experiences of being a foreigner in a new country: partly exposed and partly vulnerable. But before 9am, Florence is comfortable and so am I.