I pause to look westward over the Arno. The sun has already made most of the day’s journey; it is nearing the horizon. The Duomo and the Campanile seem far away as Emma and I stroll along the Ponte Vecchio, and the peculiar light of almost-sunset highlights the burnished pink and the olive of the edifices. The Duomo is the most beautiful building I have ever seen, I think to myself.
As Mary muses through the Galleria d’Uffizi on a hunt for Caravaggios, Emma and I wander through the streets of Florence without an agenda. There is no Florentine checklist for me; I’ve been here before, I have seen the things that one says you must see, and I don’t need to see them again. Instead, I just want to wander today. Emma does, too.
We spot a hill across the Arno from the Uffizi and the Duomo, and we decide to climb to the top. The route is lovely; we wind through the narrow streets lined on both sides with tall, yellow and cream and burgundy buildings. We are climbing a particularly steep hill when we are forced to pause. Piano music floats out of an open window.
We stop and stand underneath the window, on the side of the cobbled street, halfway up a hill. At first we wonder if it is a recording, because it is beautifully-phrased and technically perfect. Then a wrong note sounds, and the pianist stops and restarts at the beginning of the measure. What I take to be a sonata continues on its merry way through a movement or two, and then a distastefully wrong chord sounds just a bit too loud, and the pianist gives up completely and begins to improvise. And that is lovely, too.
Across the tiny street, an older woman stands on her tiny balcony, shaking out rugs and gathering up dishes. She moves a table or two, and waters the flowers whose tendrils reach toward the ground from their boxes on the balcony railing. She looks harried and tired, as she balances glasses and plates. I wonder if she notices the music floating from the window.
A few buildings downs, a mailman is making his way from door to door, delivering letters. He bends down to slip a few through a slot in a dark red door before moving on to the next. I wonder if he notices the woman on the balcony or the music from the window. And at once, everything seems quiet, even though the pianist has decided to revisit the sonata, even though the world is still bustling with activity and busyness. I wonder if it is quietness in me, or if it is the quietness of the world that I’m noticing. “The world seems quieter after I read poetry,” a student once wrote to me, and I agree, but I don’t exactly know why. Maybe through the discipline of noticing and paying attention, we quiet ourselves and calm the endless noise inside us to just a dull roar, then to a hum where we scarcely notice it anymore, and then the quietness of contentment reigns, where we can finally see things for what they are. Where we can listen for what the world is telling us at every moment, where we can know that we are meant to be here, and that we have a place here, now.
I decide that it is both the quietness in me and the quietness in the world that I’m noticing. And I love it.
Emma smiles at me, and we remain there, underneath the open window, for just a few more moments, watching and listening to life happen. I might remember those moments forever.