Pink Balloon on Grey Sky Florence

1330 words

I visited Florence in April 2012. I worked in Krakow during that time, and wanted to spend Easter in Italy. I flew from Krakow to Milan, stayed overnight at a friends' flat, took the train the day after to Florence. I went all by myself.

I'd never been that daring like that before in my life. In Jan 2012, I had my first big failure. So I escaped to Europe. This escape washed me clean. Here nobody knew me. I didnโ€™t have past; didnโ€™t have future. I was present with my life. I was present looking out the train's window as its wheels rolled to carry me from Milan to Florence.

I'd hoped the day before that it would be sunny. It wasn't. The sky was overcast. In the cold breeze, fine raindrops flew alongside yellow leaves. Each leaf was just half the size of your pinky finger. I felt a little disappointed standing in front of Santa Maria Novella train station, holding a small map, which they hand out for free, in my right hand. "Alright! Let's explore!"

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I marked places I wanted to see on the map and began to walk. I wore a high neck shoes, fake yellow leathered, 4cm heels, not a sports shoes - which I later regretted. I dressed in a mid-length skirt that covered my knees and a thin legging - which I also later regretted. But I didn't regret wearing my biker jacket. It was dark olive green, with some feather on its neck. It wrapped tight around my shoulder, arms, chest and belly, kept them warm. My beret hat was colored dark choco, with small flowers on its map. My black camera bag dangled at the right side of my hips. I kept in there a few euroes, paper, pen, and of course, the precious Nikon D90 camera because that Spring I fell in love with photography.

I walked everywhere. Through the city streets, on the long bank of Arno river, in the crowded Ponte Vecchio bridge with its many tourists stepping in and out the doors of its jewelry stores. I watched the many stone sculptures of Roman men and women. Most of their faces showed signs of suffering, anger, hatred. I wondered why. Naked body; their muscles were alive beneath the stone. They are excruciatingly beautiful. I watched the walls covered by ivy. I watched Lavender on the brick windowsills. Florence's bricks have the color of gold, amber, and dark vanila - an Autumn palette right in middle of Spring.

I walked among Florence locals. Italian people like to talk. My mind picked up in the air a few Italian words I knew. "Ciao... si... per favore... grazie..." Italian men like to flirt. They perked their heads outside the window. They stood at the front door, leaning on one side, one hand on their hips, one hand keeping a cigarette. As I passed by, they called out: "Nihao? Konichiwa? Very beautiful..." Well, too bad! None of them said "Xin Chao", I giggled.

I was alone and didn't utter a single word for the whole day. I bought a small ham-and-cheese sandwich for lunch. Early in the afternoon it showered hard. I bought an umbrella, and snuggled under it, kept on walking. At some point I began to feel really bored. My feet is soaking wet and cold. My legs were tired. My eyes saw enough. I sat down in a cafe, ordered a capuchino. I didn't know what to do that tiny empty cafe and, unlike me now, I wasn't comfortable with doing nothing. So I checked map. Unfortunate for me, 15 minutes later the waitress-plus-owner said she would close the cafe for the day. So I dragged myself out to Santa Maria Novella square because it was near the train station, and because I had no money for another cafe. Thank God there were some benches! I sat down to rest my unhappy feet. At least the rain was over...

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Suddenly, I heard someone picking guitar behind my back, turned around, and saw a street artist preparing for his show. He was testing his guitar. He opened a wooden box facing the "audience" - those of us sitting on the benches. Inside the box there are also some CDs. I began to watch him: real curly, fine, messy brown hair, pale skin, squared jaw, high cheekbones, thin lips, big smile. He wore a grey hoodie, black baggy pant, white sneaker. He looked hip and cool. He even had a microphone stand and an amplifier for his guitar. Now he got my attention. He said something to the microphone to greet us. I can't remember what he said now I remember laughing. Then he paused for a moment. He ran his fingers up and down the strings. He closed his eyes. He open this mouth. He let out a song.

I was fixated. I don't even remember what he sang. I don't care. I loved him for the way he sang it: with his whole being. When you see an artist pouring themselves onto their art, you know it. It is as if he burnt and died at the end of a song. And by the beginning of the next, he was reborn. He was good. The words coming out of his mouth were believable. He knew the story of the song. I think he sang love songs because I remember many couples begin to kiss. He paused after each song to listen to our cheers, say thanks, and introduce the next. He grinned big. His eyes beamed. He radiated joy.

He brightened the grey day in Florence. He lifted my mood like a pink ballon on the grey sky. You gotta be rebel to be an artist. You gotta walk to the middle of central square on a dreary day. A part of you is afraid. A part of you knows everything is about to change.

Can I say the truth now that I found Florence extremely boring? Every single person I talked to say that Florence is a fairytale. Yes, it is. But it is too uniformed for me. But being an artist you gotta be the pink balloon in the brown and yellow uniform of the city. "How dare you?" they exclaim. You grin so wide they can see all your teeth. Next thing you do: You fly up the grey sky.

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On my train back to Milan that evening, I sat across a middle-aged man. Hand moving across the page, I was writing fast. I started a blog called seetheworld.me when I moved to Poland. Why? I wanted to share my precious experience; I wanted to inspire other Vietnamese to take internship abroad, blah blah blah. I had plenty of legit reasons. But deep down, I had one that I didn't admit. Because I thought it was lame. I like to write. At the end of each day I feel the itch to write down what I did, how I felt, what happened. As if if I don't, my human experiences will be eaten up and gone. I didn't want my experience with this artist on that day to be gone. I wrote so fast that I ran out of paper. I asked the man who sat opposite to me for some papers. He had none but some scrapped paper he was about to throw away. I took all of them. I wrote on the margin, savaging any empty space.  He must be curious. With his strong Italian accent, he asked:

"What do you do?"

"I'm a writer."

Writer. The word slipped through my tongue. I felt a little ashamed. Whatever, nobody knew me so I could be anything. I am a writer. A writer who had no book, no publication, no reader. But I had a beret hat - my grandfather wore beret hat too; and he wrote beautiful poem about leaves fall in Spring and flowers bloom in Autumn. A writer who had her three fingers clutching a fountain pen moving across scrapped paper on an evening train away from Florence.