Unconventional New Year

New Year with Mabel while Florence sleeps

It’s the first of the year and as always a lovely morning in the centre! Mabel woke up in a particularly good mood this morning – maybe she knows it’s a special day or perhaps she’s just happy that we have an extra day off together today. She started playing immediately on the bed this morning – she has that little smile (I know it’s strange to say that a dog smiles but she truly does).  She smiles while she gives me those little puppy bites interspersed with face licks. She’s never unduly bothered about eating first thing but prefers play time and pulling every toy from her box and littering my apartment with them. Mabel (a black French Bulldog) is a surprisingly well behaved puppy for her young 7 months – born on 22nd May 2019.

I swore I’d never have another dog (unless one found me) and that’s exactly what happened – a very generous gift to me. I thought that I had to choose between three little puppies but in reality she chose me – she saw me, came to me and hasn’t left my side since that day last August. We are currently undergoing a difficult time trying to find the right food for her – it’s a constant battle that eventually we will win. I had hoped that ready-made foods would be possible but as you might have guessed already this is not the case. She’s currently enjoying fresh turkey and vegetables all prepared by me at home!

So back to this morning – a cold, fresh and crisp morning in which to explore the quiet of this city on this very special day of the year. I’m wrapped up and finally I’ve convinced Mabel to accept a jacket/sweater too – she’s not happy about it at all but at least she walks with less resistance. Being up so early is thanks to not being out late last evening – No excessive volumes of champagne to keep me sleeping this. New Year’s resolutions are of course to drink less, eat well and exercise more – as are everyone’s. I have no excuses considering I manage  a gym in the centre of Florence (Klab gym in Via dei Conti)! One resolution I truly want to keep to is to read more – Less Netflix and more literature. Let’s see how that goes.

So… we’re off into the centre of the city – making the most of the time when there’s hardly anyone up. Florence is always so busy and it’s such a special moment to walk around all the sights on New Year’s Day when I can feel that I have the city to myself – this year to myself and to Mabel. The clock says exactly 6.31am so there is still more than an hour left until the sun rises.  It will make its appearance punctually 7.48, not a minute before, not a minute after, as we say we English. The icy air is still and silent – nothing moving apart from us few early risers. But silence is total and such silence has a powerful aesthetic value, I recommend it in this noisy world – one which will wake up again in the next few hours.  The silence also gives a peace – the peace of philosophers and anchorites – a time to reflect, ponder and think. This new year marks my 11th year of living in Italy. I recount the most poignant points which have punctuated these past years – losses, gains, fun times, challenging times and of course some sad moments too. But I’m still here in the country and the city that I love – the first place I have ever felt truly at home.

Now my thoughts turn to something even more important – Where can I get a coffee? It’s too early on this particular day to expect anywhere to be open. Florence is still sleeping. There must be somewhere – I remember I used to live behind a baker who opened each morning around 4am to sell piping hot croissants to all the people returning home after “a night on the town”. Sadly it’s no longer there – I passed it the other day and saw it deserted and boarded – a sad sight to see and a sad moment of a wonderful place – such a pity is no longer there especially this morning. I wonder what Mabel would have made of all the smells coming that place?

I am now in front of the cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori. The famous Duomo enjoying the backdrop of a sky coming to its first dawn of the year, its stars being replaced by an emerging clear blue and the soon to be rising sun. It’s cold  – zero degrees – this is a very special moment to study the wonderful marble façade contrasted with the unique Florence skyline – it’s my annual homage to the city. The incredible stained glass windows by Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castagno are all coming to life – the mass will start soon. I’d love to take this opportunity, when there is no waiting line, to enter the Duomo and see what I think is the most beautiful inlaid marble floor in the world. But with Mabel I can’t enter – her sweet little face looks at me as it to say “I’m sorry” – but it’s all fine – another time I’ll go in. I remember another New Year’s resolution – to be a tourist in my own city more often. I must revisit Santa Croce, San Marco, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Santa Maria Novella – there’s no shortage of places here in Florence – we are surrounded by Michelangelo, Giotto, Donatello, Brunelleschi – the list goes on. If you’ve never need here may it’s time to add this city to your new year’s resolutions?

So I walk around the basilica and head down Via Calzaiuoli towards Piazza della Signoria. I’ve changed my mind & now I want to go and wait for the dawn on the Ponte Vecchio. I’ll get to pass my favourite sight in Florence on the way – the Loggia dei Lanzi, which I simply love, and even Mabel can see it too. I marvel at the bronze Perseus by Cellini which is incredible (I’ll share a secret with you about this particular sculpture sometime), masterpieces by Giambologna like the Hercules with the centaur Nesso and also The Rape of the Sabine Women – all to be enjoyed for free by the many tourists and also the many pigeons in the piazza.

The city is starting to move – only a little but there is movement. We pass other early risers who perhaps are doing as we are and enjoying the stillness of this day and this hour. Perhaps some are returning home after a late night of celebrating. We smile at each, exchange New Year’s greetings – our “Auguri”, everyone is more interested in Mabel however – and she loves the attention. I come across garbage collectors who do the most amazing job after the 31st evening – all the broken glass and post party rubbish is miraculously spirited away leaving Florence sparkling and ready for another day.

I pass the Uffizi gallery – I haven’t been inside for many years to be honest. I often wonder about how many of the world’s masterpieces are housed inside and realise how lucky we are. I think about all the work and pain that went into pieces such as Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” which is now just hanging there, just a few metres from where I am walking. I imagine how the corridors must be at night after closing time –  Da Vinci, Titian, Caravaggio, Botticelli, Michelangelo all living peacefully side by side in the Uffizi now – a far cry from the reality of their times I believe.  On to the Lungarno, turning right and then we cross the street and slip under the loggia of the Vasari corridor. Once on the Ponte Vecchio, I pass an old night guard who heading home on his bicycle, his eyes tired after the long testing night. “Happy New Year” followed by the reply of  “Happy New Year to you too”. It is past 7.30am now and noises are beginning to be heard: a car traveling far away, a bus squeaking as it turns, window shutters opening. I don’t want this silence to end, I want to enjoy this intimacy with Florence for as long as I can.

I stop in the middle of the bridge on the east lookout, I take Mabel in my arms and together we look towards the east. Lucifer, the morning star, is already fading in the first light of the day. The street lights go out, the night slowly dies. Minus ten, nine, …. minus two, minus one. Bong! There are the hills. The sun must takes command of the day – the first day of 2020. The sunrise is a little late but then that’s perfectly Italian –  in this country not even the sun arrives on time. The water of Arno reflects the changing sky, she’s running calmly right now – a great relief after the tirades of water we’ve seen in these months. To enjoy the Ponte Vecchio without the entertainers, the crowds, the many people crossing the city is a sheer joy to behold – try it one day, you’ll really appreciate its charm and beauty.

A song called “Firenze Sogno” (Florence Dream) is perfect for this moment:

Florence is beautiful tonight

covered In a blanket of stars

there’s a flickering glow in the sky

like flames,

in the shadows lovers hide

their mouths tremble as they speak of love

surrounded with so much poetry

for you my love

my heart sighs.

The silvery Arno

reflects the firmament

When with a sigh and a song

You are gone …

Florence sleeps

under the radiant Moon,

but behind a balcony

waits a dark lady.

On the banks of the Arno

feel the harmony of love

of sighing lovers

embracing tightly

heart to heart.

I look at Mabel and her sweet little face is saying enough! It’s breakfast time for me – home we head reflective, appreciative, grateful and hopeful. Time will tell how well i do with my new year’s resolution too!