January 12, 2023

It All Started With a Song

By Alicia Benedetta Faraoni

Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing at pivotal moments of their life. The first kiss, acing the admission test, receiving unexpected news. I have a vivid memory of when the lockdown began: I was still in bed, waking up surrounded by soft light, listening to the morning birds while halfheartedly skimming through the news on my phone. And suddenly time froze in stunned bewilderment. It was really happening – no one would be leaving home for the foreseeable future.

Italy was the first country to adopt such a stringent measure. We were teased, somewhat made fun of, but then held up as an example of community effort in curbing the virus. Just like everyone else who later embraced similar restrictions, our interactions moved to screens, our homestays brought out the chefs and domestic diy-experts among us, and we all discovered the highs and lows of remote work and schooling.

The cheerful spirit of the Italian people was celebrated for its heartening and good-natured approach to home imprisonment: we played music from balconies, threw impromptu disco parties from rooftops, shared meals through open windows, even invented innumerable flash mobs to keep spirits high and bodies moving. All those culinary experiments and screen-shared chips & Spritz required some imaginative close-quarters fitness routines.

On one of these occasions, I remember checking my watch, throwing the window open and giving it my all singing ‘Azzurro’ by Adriano Celentano at the top of my lungs at noon of a bright and sunny day. That was the day’s programmed lockdown activity and I recall thinking to myself how the chosen song suited the gorgeous blue sky perfectly. People had played all sorts of instruments the week before, and banged on pots and pan lids from open windows one day prior. It was liberating and just plain fun. A warm, cozy feeling filled my heart as I stopped to take in the view of the apricot tree blossoms, listening to far away voices coming up from the valley, the sound of other cooped-up individuals in the distance who were fighting the quarantine queasiness just like me. I was among them, we were in this together, all of us experiencing a shared moment of fellowship and closeness.

And then I saw my neighbor in the field below. She was intently pruning an olive tree branch when she stopped and gave me the coldest look of judgement, silent words of spite that communicated quite clearly how little she thought of me and of all this racket. OK, fine, I may have been singing a little out of tune, but still…

That’s when it hit me: we were not all experiencing this monumental moment in the same way, maybe not everyone was finding an uplifting cure to the negativity this worldwide hiccup was bringing. I believe that is when the first seed was sown: I simply needed to do something, somehow share the positive energy that, at least to some degree, I seemed to possess. ‘For once, you could be the change, Alicia!’ I felt invigorated, and it was not even aperitivo time yet.

A few days later, my husband Lorenzo and I began planning and building a terraced garden in our otherwise wildly vegetated backyard. I ordered organic seeds and we created a pollinator-friendly, multicolored paradise. The feeling of uncapped happiness and joy provided by watching the multitude of insects and bees visiting our garden daily surely set another stepping stone – offering others the opportunity to flourish, and joyfully witnessing their delight and fulfillment made me feel renewed and replenished. Not to mention the fact that I managed to actually plant and grow something from seed.

Still it wasn’t enough. My hands were itching, my heart was exploding – I suppose you would say I was in a frenzy.

Regular online chats with my American family and friends kept me busy and as close as I could possibly be to them until travels were safe again. They often said they missed Italy, commented on how badly they longed for Florence, they simply couldn’t wait to return.  Ah, Florence, my beloved home. The images of its empty streets and squares, devoid of all human presence, kept flashing on my screen: the city appeared so hauntingly beautiful, so clean and immaculate in its silence, and yet so heartbreaking and somber in its loneliness. Lorenzo and I couldn’t take our favorite walk to the Duomo, moseying through the Oltrarno neighborhood while peeking into paper shops and art bottegas. We couldn’t soak in romantic sunsets along the Arno enjoying a relaxing weekend meal. Even our favorite morning espresso break in traditional, off-the-beaten-path bars had suddenly become inaccessible…

It was probably one of the warmest and sunniest springs I’d ever experienced, yet the city was deserted and lacking its familiar cheery atmosphere.

When we were eventually allowed to venture out of our homes, Lorenzo and I immediately rushed downtown: I think we will never forget the feeling we experienced that first time. I’ll be honest - I cried a little. For me, it was overwhelming exultation combined with unutterable melancholy. I was so incredibly excited to finally be able to wander the streets freely again, but the desolate landscape of closed businesses and shuttered shops, many of them surely struggling with the possibility of never opening again, made my heart sink.

ponte vecchio emptiness pandemic florence

And that’s when it happened. Something just bubbled and finally exploded in my chest - my city needed me, eccomi, here I am!

On a wave of unbridled enthusiasm, I shared my thoughts with Lorenzo. My absolute worst fear, I explained, would be to see the family-owned shops, the long-established historic bottegas and artisan trades I had always known be crushed by the economic crisis that walked hand-in-hand with the lockdown and restricted travel. “They are the backbone of my home, they have shaped Florence into the city I love and live in, they are one of the reasons people appreciate our culture and come here!”. Simply put, they ARE Florence, and I just couldn’t let them down.

Once home from that life-changing stroll, I immediately began jotting down my plan in a slightly giddy state of euphoria, while Lorenzo watched me, all the while grinning (yes, he is amazing and unbelievably supportive; no, I’m not sharing him). I listed the strategic elements of my project: I wanted to set up a fair, artisan-centered online platform to showcase and sell one-of-a-kind handmade crafts; to preserve and protect century-old skills by ensuring fast and dependable worldwide delivery and customer-friendly service; and, why not?, to communicate our passion for Italian life by sharing the artisans’ stories and lives.

A wide-eyed dream? Highly likely. But I’ve always been quite the romantic idealist, just ask around. All I needed to make it happen, I added, was a group of equally enthusiastic and sincerely motivated dreamers – more so, a carefully handpicked team of friends and family members who trust it is possible to ‘do well and do good’.

Immensely grateful to each and every one in my team for the remarkable effort and invaluable contribution, I cheer to them, “Evviva, we did it!” None of this would have happened without them. They are an amazing set of people who believed in my crazy idea and helped me turn a very grey moment into something…well, sunny.

And to all the artisans in this project – Thank you! Not just for your exquisite work and for sharing your many incredible stories. But, above all, for your example, your perseverance, your determination to keep your amazing skills alive in a fast world that offers little room for slow work.

Never underestimate the power of a song. Even if you’re singing out of key, just keep singing.

poppies garden tuscany florence
Behind the Scenes Company News Meet the Artisans