Saluti da Firenze

I needed to carry some documents to Florence on Thursday – it was the first time I had been on a train since the beginning of March, before the lockdown.

On the one hand, there is a “new normal” that we’re all growing used to, and life is moving on. On the other hand, there are moments when the eeriness of the difference strikes you suddenly, when you see things in stark contrast to what they used to be. Such as mid-morning on a Thursday in early September, when Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station would have been, pre-COVID, a seething mass of sweaty, rushing, traveling humanity, and instead looks like this:

In the center of Florence, this strange reduction in the number of people is a welcome change. The bustle in the city feels right-sized, in a way it never has before. There are tourists, I would even say many of them, but their number seems like the proper amount in relation to the space and size of the environment. One can move freely, without stepping on toes or being blocked by extended selfie-sticks or getting in the way of some couple’s engagement photo shoot.

At the Loggia dei Lanzi, cordons close off the steps and visitors must wait their turn to have their temperature measured. A limited number of people are allowed to access the space at one time, and the guards keep count, only letting someone in after someone else has left.

On the Ponte Vecchio, as well, the simple freedom of being able to walk across the bridge at one’s own pace, instead of shuffling along within a slowly-moving river of tourists, is an unknown delight to be savored. The goldsmith shopkeepers are forlorn in their doorways, understandably.

The lesser-known treasures of Florence, such as Pontormo’s Deposition in Santa Felicita, are just as unpopulated as they always were before COVID. It’s reassuring to visit them again.

Just as it is reassuring to see work proceeding on the requalificazione dell’Arno, the years-long Arno river embankment project intended to improve the health of the river, increase the public’s access to it, and decrease the risk of major flooding.

Piazza Santa Croce, oddly deserted at lunch hour:

The trains were oddly empty at rush hour, which could mean that many employees are still working from home. .. but it’s still early September, and it’s possible that many have not yet returned to the routines of work and school after the summer holidays.

Trenitalia has done an impressive job of applying a copious amount of confusing signage to the floors, seats, windows, bathrooms, and doors of their trains… signage which everyone seems to be ignoring.