May 23, 2024

Down Memory Lane

By Sibilla Calzolari
dogs street Florence

I left Florence with my mother when I was three years old. Destiny wanted me to grow up in Germany and live in Berlin for a few decades. Every year I spent several weeks in the cradle of the Renaissance to see my Florentine father and grandparents. I spent most of the time in Novoli, an area with apartment blocks built in the 70es and 80es I am still very attached to, not only because of the interesting Manifattura Tabacchi, an old tobacco factory that has recently been transformed into a cultural center with bars, galleries and shops, but what I loved most was the old city center.

I went to San Lorenzo market to buy fruit and meat hand-in-hand with my Nonna, I adored walks in the Cascine park to the Indiano, a monument built for an Indian prince, and at the age of five I loved the Florentine pavement that was so close to me and looked like Schiacciata–Tuscan Focaccia bread. I always nagged my mother to buy me some when we were in the centre because looking at the streets made me hungry. The old city also had a particular scent I loved. And I wasn’t the only one. When I first read E. M. Forsters’ “A Room with a View” in my teens, the English ladies travelling to Florence mentioned that particular scent! I loved that novel as it was not only romantic, but an insight into the city from an outsiders’ point of view.

About that age my favorite road became Borgo Pinti, and to this day I enjoy walking along this windy small street from the magnificent Four Seasons Hotel where I always peak into the Giardino della Gherardesca, all the way down to – Sbigoli Terrecotte, just before Via dell’Oriuolo, where the bustling old town greets you with a small square and the cutest fruit stall. 

The whole city center was full of shoe makers, orafi – jewelry designers, gilders, shops that only sold buttons... you could look into their bottegas and buy or have items repaired. In Borgo Pinti there was also a small photo lab where I had my first rolls of film developed in 1999. I had shot a story on a Barber in Via Sant’Egidio and applied for a documentary photography postgraduate course in London – and was taken on with those images. Needless to say, neither the photo lab, nor the barber shop still exist.

But Florence has brought me luck even though I always looked at the city I knew so well like a stranger, from the outside.

Once my grandparents had passed away my link to the city was my father and two girlfriends I had, one being my playpen friend Alicia. What a highlight it always was to meet up with her in the city! She showed me the “cool” places. The secret monastery where you can have a coffee in front of the Duomo, the best place for hot chocolate in town, she let me have the most delicious Coccoli, fried pizza dough, or the most ravishing sunset view on the Arno river with Aperitivo... These escapades made me feel at home in a city that always had a touch of melancholy for me, the lost roots.

Let’s skip 30 years in Berlin, a city that was my headquarter, my safe haven for a long time and like the Berliners say: I will always have a suitcase there. But I needed a change. I needed to improve my father tongue, I needed new challenges. And that is how I moved to Florence, with one bag at first, dabbling in a couple of different jobs, suddenly overwhelmed by a worldwide pandemic when Alicia said: I am thinking of something – do you want to join?