“Home is ultimately not about a place to live but about the people with whom you are most fully alive. Home is about love, relationship, community, and belonging, and we are all searching for home.” - E. McManus
There are these little fairy doors in the walls of historic buildings all around the center of Florence. Here in Tuscany, they call them Buchette del Vino and they served as means for food & wine deliveries in order to contain a spread of bubonic plague during the 17th century epidemic. In the face of an unexpected pandemic of our own times only a couple of years ago, the wine windows got re-purposed so that Firenzians could keep drinking through the mandatory lock down, which is just about the most Italian thing I ever heard.
First night back with our chosen family Cori & Morgan, walking through the cobbled streets of Florence, hand in hand and with hearts overflowing. Many years, so many places and variations on doing life since our first meeting during one of the crazy London NYE celebrations. We are literally different people now, and not only physically due to all of our trillions of cells being replaced every seven years. On the journey outside our carefully constructed London comfort zones, I have shed heaps of what I considered to be my identity and some of my hubris. I have witnessed David stepping into his full potential as an independent and shockingly adaptable master navigator through everything life can throw at you, and believe you me, life threw EVERYTHING at us. In their search for authenticity, Coru have literally stripped off societal gender constructs, moved two countries, started a family and built a career in music industry in what is to me the most inspiring real life rags-to-riches fairy tale.
And yet, after years of living with a constant frequency of anxious uncertainty about our path, our direction and future playing on the background like that terrible Country Radio my parents put on whilst gardening, I breathe easy tonight. I imagine this is what it feels like for Americans when they pop in one of their over-prescribed benzodiazepines. Like wrapping your anxious brain in cotton, like removing skates after a long session on ice, like sipping hot chocolate in front of a fire place when the rain storm rages outside, like finally finding a way to change the radio frequency. It's our first time in Florence, but two hours in, a new feeling settles in. The kind of feeling you only get from arriving home after years on the road. Because home is when your heart is, right?
It did not start that well though. Earlier today, parked somewhere in rural Switzerland, we're exchanging deflated looks and hopeless shoulder shrugs, observing plumes of white smoke emanating from our car and polluting the pristine Swiss air. I might have jinxed it again. Just when we drove past an impossibly perfect Lake Lucerne (the Matrix engineers put some serious love into designing this particular part of simulation), I filmed a short message for Corinne enthusiastically announcing we'd be hugging them tightly in about 8 hours. And as if on cue - a burnt smell, smoke, the whole shebang. We're of course profoundly technically gifted, so right now it's a deep dive into Google diagnoses.
'They say it could be oil?', I offer.
'It's not the oil. The oil level is fine.'
'I'm just saying, apparently if there was not enough oil, the engine gets damaged to the point it must be replaced.'
'I'm looking at the oil levels right now and it's not the oil.'
'Ok, looking up Ford Mondeo engine prices. Cool, they cost more than we paid for the car itself.'
I think attempting a DIY car repair together, due to having last €50 in our shared bank account until the end of December - our first month of seasonal work in Val d'Isere - should be up there with visits to Ikea as the biggest threat to romantic relationships.
We ended up taking the risk of ending our lives in car explosion, toes digging into the floor, butt cheeks clenched all the way to Florence. The car did not explode and we'll end up living with this possibility long into the next year. It's literally nine months later now, July 2023, and nothing's been done to the car. We're still waiting to get to a point when we can financially afford for someone to look at the car properly and fix whatever needs fixing. This will probably be a much longer wait still.
During our first day, Morgan took us on a quick compulsory tour around the touristic center. Beautiful reproductions of famous Ancient Greek and Roman statues, fountains, selfie sticks & so many Vespas! I think my favorite is of course Ponte Vecchio bridge. Legend has it, it's the only bridge to survive 2nd World War bombing (I thought Italians were Fascists, so I don't quite get why Florence would be bombed, perhaps after they flipped sides?) thanks to Eva Braun who begged Hitler to spare it. She just liked it. Same as me.
Much to my confusion, Aperol Spritz is still going on strong over here. Personally, after we got stuck at my cousins during a storm in summer 2017, when Aperol Spritz craze arrived to Czech in a everyone everywhere all at once fashion, and we were almost drowned in it, I can't stand the sight of it, but okay, I guess it's a Kintsuki type of scenario, little gold plated cracks making the whole more beautiful.
We climbed up through Giardino delle Rose, stunning rose gardens to catch a stunning sunset view over the city panorama from Piazzale Michelangelo. Walking back by the river, we pass National Central Library. I wish I had time to visit. It took almost 100 years to complete due to both World Wars and flooding so severe, it literally brought people together in efforts to save all the precious damaged books - in a true Italian spirit, ordinary people became self-taught experts in the art of ancient volumes restoration, to the point that even now the rest of Italy sends their valuable damaged books in a need of some professional TLC here for fixing. 140 kilometers worth of spiral bookshelves and only 12 employees to navigate them. Mandatory stops at various ice cream vendors (not for me), aperitivo on one of the many small town squares, cocktails and prosciutto (totally me), an organic flow of life and conversations that never stops.
I know I might be totally giving into my Liz Gilbert fantasy, but having just a two minutes window for life in between 5-months long seasonal work gigs, I take it, I gobble it down and I hope I choke on it too.
I don't remember the exact moment we looked at each other with David - because after so many hours, days and years glued to each others hip, it really just takes a certain look - and we both knew. It could have been that instance in Coru & Morgan's kitchen, after a few drinks at a local bar, when we felt like a live audience to their hilarious slapstick production. I think at this point they were bickering about the afterlife, of all things. Coru's seen a ghost walking through the bedroom wall one of their first nights here, Morgan assumed more skeptical role. 'They too have their own sitcom,' I whispered to David and I felt so connected to these two weirdos.
Or maybe it was that moment when we walked through their street to get some food shopping done, so that we could at least treat them to some nice home-cooked lunch (can we please talk about the Italian fresh produce! MY GOD!), and people shouted their greetings and threw their good vibes at us every step of the way. Coru stopped to introduce us to a waiter in a cafe across the street. He knew us for approximately two minutes before insisting we moved here too, whipped up his phone and showed us a beautiful house on the outskirts of Florence that's available to rent for €600/month. For me, it might have been the coffee we grabbed at another friend's café - two drops in a tiny cup, but DEADLY.
Or that second night visit to a super secret Vanilla Club Speakeasy run by Coru's friend? The rules of getting inside change constantly. For us it required coming up with a good enough cover story at the door - exactly like it would be in Prohibiton Era - speaking in code and offering some worthwhile value to the establishment. It took us a few tries. Once you're let in, it really is like stepping back in time. No light but candle light, no drink menu - instead the bartender talks to you about who you are, what you like and what experience are you looking for - and develops a bespoke cocktail tailored just to you on the spot.
Or perhaps getting lost in Cori's favorite alternative book store. As they were chatting to the owner - another friend, I found a copy of a comics based on a famous Czech sci-fi novel called R.U.R. from 1920. A novel, that BY THE WAY, gave the world's vocabulary a term ROBOT. That's right: robot, sugar cubes, contact lenses and me, the best things to ever come out of Czech Republic. 'Oh yeah, the comics writer from Czech was here last month for a lecture and a book signing, nice girl!' FUCK I missed culture.
Coru wanted to adopt some new mindfulness practice to replace endless scrolling on toxic Instagram, so David found a yarn shop and used our last money to get them some knitting supplies. FUCK I missed being here for our friends.
We stepped out of our London-based safety net, dismantled the scaffolding built around our reality, holding everything together, in order to discover who we are out there in the wild and whether there was another place that felt more like it could become a forever home. In the last few years we've been all around the globe, under circumstances and through synchronicities, maddening and messy developments outside our control, barely allowing for a conscious pause, inhale and informed feel for any given place. The only thing I could tell you is that the forever home will never be in Bulgaria. That one I'm sure of.
I've never been shy in admitting most of my ambitions in life in regards to belonging, home and putting down roots are shaped by my endless devotion to the Gilmore Girls TV shows, but I'd never in million years anticipate finding that ever-elusive Stars Hollow feel in Tuscany, Italy! I mean, these last few years I'm slowly walking towards becoming completely sober, I don't really do carbs, definitely not in the shape of pasta, I actually actively dislike two of the world's most fundamental comfort food items - pizza & ice cream (so much for the Liz Gilbert fantasy), and I'm trying hard to limit one of my biggest vices - processed meat.
Frankly, I'm surprised I did not come up in flames the minute we crossed Italian borders, same way I ALWAYS imagine when stepping into a church.
Out of all the places we got a chance to visit and consider as a Maybe-Home, Italy probably makes the least amount of sense. What with the rise of a far right political movement, the language barrier, the dried up job market, the insane driving practices (I am a high strung, cardiac arrest level car passenger even on an empty countryside road) and the carbs, THE CARBS!
But those are all issues of logic. Matters of family and home, feeling of belonging, have little to do with logic and everything to do with heart. No matter the bonkers turns our journey takes these last few years, life always finds new ways to surprise you. And if these last four years taught us anything, it's swimming with the flow, because when you start pushing against it, you exhaust yourself way too quickly. And the sharks will get you.
So, a new mission crystalised ahead of us completely out of the blue during the 48 hours in Florence. Instead of merely surviving our winter job in Alps in exchange for three weeks of freedom before having to hunt for another seasonal job for summer, we're ready to explore options that feed into the magic we found here in Tuscany. It might never become a forever home, but it feels right. We don't have much right now. Really, just each other and our family...and freedom to go where our heart pulls us, which is not something that's given for free, we exchanged A LOT for the promise of this freedom, and no matter how cheesy it sounds, it feels criminal to not at least try follow its lead.
Every waking moment of these two days in Florence felt absolutely serendipitous, but I think the one that stuck with me was recreating our 2016 polaroid that I completely forgot about since. What a beautiful token to walking our paths unapologetically in our own direction and pace, but also always parallel. I don't even remember who those three from that 2016 polaroid picture are. To be human also means to continuously change and grow (to not be confused with growing UP, that one I resist) and what a profound gift to bare witness to each others journeys, cheer each other on as we sometimes joyously skip, other times wearily crawl along our pathways that drift far apart, at times intersect, only to always meet these new models and makes of each other, and realise again and again that even if everything on the outside is different, the love stays the same.
“Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice. Do more than be fair: be kind. Do more than forgive: forget. Do more than dream: work.” - W. A. Ward