Often Florence can bring on an epic case of claustrophobia. When the Renaissance bankers built their McMansions, they did not widen the medieval streets. Although not many buildings in the historic center are much over ninety feet high (note: come visit soon – the Prime Minister is inviting everyone to add a floor or two to their buildings as one of his recession fixes), Florence often feels much more constricted than New York. This is especially true to one who grew up in New Mexico. Or even to a claustrophobic Florentine who visited the Land of Enchantment for the first time last year.
Wide open geography is not the only reason a visitor feels light and free in New Mexico as opposed to Florence. There is also the comfort and conviviality of Southwestern hospitality. In Florence, both the residents and the tourists must gird themselves every day with armor to deflect the petty incivilities of shopkeepers, waiters, government workers, bank tellers and even people walking or driving the narrow streets.
An Italian in New Mexico
Here is one Florentine native’s story:
Mi chiamo Francesca. Probably others have written stuff like this before. I need to do it, so I can avoid paying Dr. Palma some euro to listen to it. I hope I can.
I was in the U.S. in [December 2008] – New York, Connecticut, New Mexico, and Washington D.C.
This is about kindness. This is about smiling.
In Albuquerque (N.M.) I was having a nice morning in a café called The Flying Star, looking at magazines (for free) and looking at people, and having brunch. Oh what’s better than brunch in the US?
But this is not about food, it’s about kindness and service with a smile.
When you get coffee in the U.S. you usually are entitled to have a free ‘refill’. I went over to the counter to ask for my refill and the nice smiling guy, while pouring fresh coffee in my cup, said to me, “Is the coffee finished in the pitcher over at that stand?” He made me understand that I could have done it myself, but still it was a pleasure for him to do it, for free, and in spite of the line behind me. I apologized. He said “no problem”, he smiled again, I smiled. I went to my table and cried.
Why? Because I had a whole movie of the same scene, had it happened in Florence, my hometown.
Same scene in Florence: “Come? La vole che gli riempia la tazza, oh la un lo vede che c’é una caraffa la’ sul tavolo per riempirsela da soli ? Se la vole il caffe’ la se lo versi! E la ringrazi iddio che la un lo paga! Fosse per me…”
(Tuscan Traveler’s rough translation: “What? You want me to refill your cup, don’t you see that a carafe is on the counter for you to do your own refilling? And you thank god that you are not paying for it! Were it for me …”)
Sometimes a little hospitality is all you need.
The Flying Star is certainly a special haven, not only for Francesca in December, but more recently for me. Last month, I spent a year-long week watching my younger sister die. Each day, I would walk the half-mile along the arroyo, breathing in the crystal clear air, looking up at the distant mountains, making my way to the Flying Star Café for a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade, creamy mac and cheese, and/or a slice of cake with strawberries on top.
For an hour I could hide from the horrible reality in the company of friendly helpful strangers, who had no intent to turn tables, offered both healthy and comfort food (as well as Breakfast All Day), and even had snacks for four-legged friends. The magazine racks and the good people watching are extra pluses for those who needed distraction. I certainly did.
Tuscan Traveler is looking for a Flying Star in Florence.