Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Piazzas of Florence

Piazzas of Florence

The Piazzas of Florence, by Lisa McGarry. Wow, a book that refreshingly doesn’t have a subtitle (at least not on my jacket cover). The main title says it all. I had started reading this book just before we left Florence several months ago and then put it down, unable - or really afraid - to pick it up again. Afraid to get sad reading about Florence. But curiosity and interest prevailed and I polished it off this weekend. I’m glad I did as it brought back such good memories and strengthened my resolution to return.

It could be that because we were in Florence for some time that the book holds a special meaning for us, but I suspect its appeal will go further to those who haven’t visited Florence. Reading the book you are living with the artist and author as your proxy to Florence. It’s not a rush of facts and stats. It’s easy going, with memorable snapshots (think watercolors) of the city. For the parts of the city we were familiar with, the author’s description and prose rang true. We also learned about places we didn’t know about in Florence getting a fresh take on the Renaissance city.

The author organizes chapters around that fundamental, Italian town/city space called the piazza. I see so many analogies between the layout of Italian towns and the brain. Towns are strung out across the countryside like nodes or neurons connected together. Similarly, the piazza does the same thing but inside the town. Piazzas connect together people and ideas.

Each chapter begins with a watercolor / collage map by the author that is useful and more interesting than many maps you might buy of the city. It made me want to return immediately and locate every café and shop mentioned. The marbled paper used in the book binding and backs of maps is a nod to the Florentine paper tradition.

The part about Caffé Artigiani did make us wistful. That was our favorite café too and we met the author there one day by chance shortly before we left Florence. While the author often sought the refuge of the back room (for writer-ly reasons), we often stood in the front, crowded bar area, eager to see if a snippet of this or that conversation could be understood, just standing there and soaking it up.

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