Stuck In Florence

Standing outside the budget Ramada Inn - my pack set firmly against my back - it was hard to believe that we had only left Florence 24 hours before. Maybe travel had made me delirious, or maybe I was starting to feel the beginning effects of the fever that I would battle with before the day was over, but I felt oddly out of place.

Pink and yellow and blue and black were stacked before me, and I was stacked with them, huddled together with the suitcases and waiting for the airport shuttle.

I was in travel mode. Piled into a heap and shoved into a van. Unsure of where I was or where I was going.

I was in Newark, New Jersey. I knew that. But I had become a stranger to this place, watching myself more from a distance than through my own eyes.

I was...

Stuck In Florence

When I listened, between the sounds of honking horns and rushing rubber on pavement, I could still hear Italian heels, clicking against Italian, cobbled pavement. Distant laughter would soon follow, reverberating off the elaborate labyrinth of ancient pathways that made up Roma (Rome) and Firenze (Florence).

Even though two people were standing beside me in the present, arguing about a lost neck pillow or the lack of robes in their hotel room, their voices were distant. I was connected to this other place, and its sounds and experiences were more real to me than the pavement that now rested beneath my feet.

The sun rose over Newark's cityscape, yet I fell deeper into that other place, deeper into the streets of Florence, deeper into a dream.

The Dream

Days before, after navigating the madness of Rome for three days, we had stepped off la Trenitalia de Roma and onto the streets of Florence, Italy.

Immediately, the energy shifted. We had come from the bustling city of Rome, through the picturesque Tuscan countryside, and into another crowded train station. Yet, despite the madness of travel, as soon as we stepped foot onto the sidewalk beyond the train station, the city's living heartbeat created a melody in our ears that caused us to slow down.

If you know me, then you know that I am a very fast walker, but the energy that I felt made me want to take my time, to absorb as much of the magic as I could. Even though my pack was heavy, and even though I was ready to drink a glass of wine and start exploring a place that I had wanted to see my entire life, I felt peace.

We were pilgrims in the holy land, passing structures that up until now were no more than a figment of my imagination.

The Ponte Vecchio, The Medici Palace, The Boboli Gardens... They were places that I had read about in books, and they existed, more beautiful than I could have possibly imagined.

Three Days Later

The day was cold. Colder, they told us, than it had been in Florence in over ten years. Food was the plan; yet, as we walked to find it, the Italian wind blew through our coats and into our bones.

Desperate to escape the wind, Jess and I stumbled through the doors of a small panini shop. Instantly, the small room of locals fell silent, as if we had just barged into their home.

No bigger than a closet, with 3 small tables and 10 small chairs crowded against each other, the panini shop was a warm bastion of light different from the cold outside its walls. Painted by wine bottles stacked from floor to ceiling and filled with Italian locals enjoying furious conversation over bottles of Chianti, the shop was made for afternoons such as these - to hide from the world and be taken to a different place.

"Caio," the kind man behind the counter said as if giving the room permission to resume its furious conversation, but the locals stayed silent. I could almost hear the inaudible questions: Were we English? Americans? Canadians? Spanish? Were we going to be demanding? But, when we answered in Italian, a collective sigh of relief welcomed us. By simply attempting to speak their language, we had become welcome.

It was that simple.

We spent the entire afternoon listening to the music of the Italian language, talking about art, culture, love, and life, and feeling like we belonged. Each time I ordered another glass of wine, I gave it my best Italian attempt; and, each time I ordered, the man behind the counter helped me get to the point.

"Perfecto!" he would exclaim, and he meant it. He was happy when he could help me speak Italian better. He didn't care that I wasn't fluent, because he spoke English, but I remember his face changing toward us when he realized that we were Americans who were willing to use his language.

We were willing to try.

Later that afternoon, as we abandoned all of our former plans in favor of drinking wine, the kind man behind the counter came outside while we were smoking a cigarette and spoke with us, telling us how happy he was that we had spent the afternoon in his shop, wishing us well on our journey through Florence.

Back to the Present

Going to Italy. Moving to Florence. Sitting in a piazza and watching the Italian people live their lives. It has always been my dream. For years, I have told myself that I would one day live in Florence, spending my days walking, drinking wine, and experiencing a culture different from my own - one surrounded by the value of family and love and wine and food and passion.

I knew this about Florence before I had experienced it, building it up in my mind to unreasonable standards, thinking that it had all just become a dream - something that would never be part of my reality.

Now, as I stood in Newark, New Jersey, vaguely listening to a couple argue about neck pillows beside me... As I stood on American pavement waiting for the delirium to fade... As I had returned home after two weeks spent in Italy, all of it felt like a dream - something too good to have existed.

The memories were...

Flashes

The Tuscan countryside was more like a massive ocean than solid earth. Rolling hills were waves in its green sea, dotted with crowns of ruins at their peaks.

Then, I was walking down city streets, passing the gardens of the Corso and the Medici, where the mindset of Nature, knowledge, and leisure helped change the face of the western world.

I looked over to Jessica, but we were no longer walking. We were climbing. The 250 steps of the Palazzo Vecchio stole my breath, and the wind gave me vertigo at the top. All of Florence was laid out in the valley below, rimmed by mountains.

And I could feel the physical presence of greatness at the mouth of The Buontalenti Grotto - a cave held up by giants to protect the secret beauty in its depths...

And I could feel the warm kiss of water and my lover in the outdoor bathtub, laying in each other's arms and listening to the distant song of bells that had rung during the Italian Renaissance.

And just as fast as the memories were created, with a snap of a finger, it was over.

It was...

Our Last Night

The street was silent but for the slow creak of a fan in the window behind us, moving with the wind like the ticking of an ancient clock or the vibration of a rusty joint. We sat in communion with the silence, hoping to absorb one more thing - one more adventure - one more experience that we could take back home with us. But the street did not speak to us.

The trip was over.

It was time to go home.

And we were not ready.

The Green Flash

It is called the green flash in fiction when an unwitting sailor or suicidal captain sail their ship to the edge of the world and is lost forever. Legend has it that men have fallen off the face of the earth, where water becomes sky, night becomes day and time stands still.

We had made it to the airport as I daydreamed, the fever taking hold of me and my flesh starting to ache. We had made it on the airplane, and now we were in the sky.

At 40,000 feet, traveling at 600 miles an hour, sailing back to the place that I call home, I understood how small the world had become. I looked out the window of our plane and watched the sunset refuse to end, catching a glimpse of this mystery. This green flash. This illusion.

The curve of the earth was alive with light. Night and Day had become one, lingering on the horizon, and at that moment, I swear that time stood still.

The Flash sat on the edge of the world, where earth became sky, creating a color spectrum unlike any I had ever seen before. There was no longer a separation between heaven and earth. Time was a thing that living beings had once created, and night and day stuck firmly together.

I was...

In Limbo

Was I on a plane? Was I flying? Or was I sailing? Had the ocean become sky and sky become sea? The light played with my eyes and mind, and I knew that I had sailed off the face of the earth.

Italy flashed again as if I had lived there for years and not weeks. The laughter, the love, the anger, the thought, the madness of it all... I knew that if I wasn't careful, I would get lost in that flash. I knew that if I wasn't careful, I would forever be cursed to live in two places at once.

The end happened fast, too fast, as we flew over the curvature of the earth. I was stuck in limbo. In travel mode. Existing in two places at once.

I was stuck in Florence…

Nathan Standridge is a traveling writer based out of Asheville, NC. He’s been seen trekking through San Franciscan streets at 4 A.M., drinking whiskey during a tornado in the Ozarks, and buying wine after hours in Florence, Italy. His book Change was published in 2016, and he is currently working on a new novel.