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6:55am on Monday, 31st July, 2006:

One Fewer


As I've mentioned before, Florence (along with York and Seville) is one of my three favourite cities.

Sadly, I have to say: not any more.

I still like Florence, just as much as I like Venice, Rome, San Francisco, Cambridge, Heidelberg, Vienna, Copenhagen, Stockholm and perhaps half a dozen other cities, but it's no longer up there with York and Seville. In short: it doesn't feel magical any more.

It's a combination of things. Where the duomo used to glow, now it just stands; the same thing applies to the city as a whole, as if the place is more jaded than it was 20 years ago. The street sellers uglifying every street and building worth seeing by plonking down their hideous, illegal always the damned same wares in front of you, blocking the pavement and making you walk on the road, every one of which always seems to have some vehicle coming down it even deep into pedestrian-only territory. Rip-off shops and cafés — I paid anything between 50c and 3.50 Euros for a half-litre bottle of water — which are now so numerous that whereas before you could just wander down a back street, find a pleasant-looking trattoria and sit down for a meal, now it takes an age to find a decent place to eat where the prices aren't jacked to the maximum. I desperately wanted to re-acquaint myself with the Florence I knew and loved in my twenties, but I couldn't. The shine has just gone off it.

My wife felt the same way. She's not so bothered by the street traders as me, but for her the tipping point is the lack of flowers. Florentines used to have windowboxes that added real colour to the streets, but now they're gone. Other Italian touristy places we've visited in the past few years — Sorrento, Lake Garda — are festooned with blooms, but Florence no longer seems to make the effort. It looks less loved than it used to, as if its citizens no longer have the same pride in nor affection for it that they used to.

As for why this is, I'm guessing tourism. Florence receives something like 7 million visitors a year, and the numbers have probably taken their toll. I realise this means that, as a tourist, I'm partly to blame for the demise of the city in my own eyes, but it doesn't have to be that way. York has felt the same way to me ever since I was a child; it changes, yes, but its character remains the same. Some time in the past 20 years, Florence changed and its personality altered with it.

My wife thinks we've changed, too, in that we've visited other places and gained a different perspective. What once seemed unique no longer has the same capacity to inspire awe. I'm not convinced: Florence for me wasn't an ideal, remembered through a mist tinted with fondness; it genuinely was great. Now, well, it's just gone downhill.

An evening stroll alongside the Arno, the sun setting on the Ponte Vecchio; that's the Florence I remember. Maybe the occasional stall selling fans, or paste jewellery, or masks, or marquetry boxes, or flowers, or decorative pottery, or linenware — Tuscan, rather than Oxford Street.

I'm glad I came, and I had a really good time here, but the flashes of Florence that was weren't enough to hide the Florence that now is.


Referenced by Do I Watch it?.

Referenced by Places I'd Like to Visit #8.

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).