Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A burglary and a departure

Dear Readers,

So Florence said to me, in that overdramatic way she has--you know, all Carmela Soprano after a bad manicure: "Get the f*** outta here, and pronto!" Or, perhaps like a cross between a miffed Mark Twain and an angry/drunk F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Take that pusillanimous Yankee derriere and those imperfect verb conjugating skills and be off with you! Back to the slimy green breast of the New World!"

On my penultimate night in the Bel Paese, I was robbed. The thieves entered my house while my family and I slept, spraying us with that nefarious narcotic aerosol that enables them to complete their villainous errand in undisturbed haste. They popped the living-room shutters and drilled a hole in the window casement, turned the handle and let themselves in (with great aplomb, I imagine), and ransacked the packed suitcases that were in our bedrooms. They took all my good jewelry which was conveniently nestled in my carry-on bag, including my impossibly lovely Torrini ring (given to me by Paolo when Gemma was born)--a great hunk of beautiful 18-carat gold with a glorious, domed citrine set into it like a blazing orb: the One Ring to Rule Them All. They took Paolo's handsome Longines watch--a gift from me--and even pried the wedding band off his finger.

They took our cash and Paolo's Ray-Bans, Gucci wallet and electric shaving kit (which leads me to believe that these thieves cut a rather bella figura). They left the credit cards and our passports and the vitally-important U.S. immigration documents. They helped themselves to a bottle of water from the fridge.

The shock of it was numbing, licking as it did at the heels of days of exhausting preparations for the big move. But there was little time to indulge the usual feelings of bitter regret, outrage and violation; we had a 20-foot container arriving in mere hours that we had to load with all our (remaining, less valuable) earthly belongings. Cut to the chase: we did the damn thing in punishing heat and the caustic glare of the sun, and uselessly--yet fittingly--spent our last evening in Florence filing a police report with a blue-eyed, raven-haired officer of the Carabinieri who was all sinew and bone and cold efficiency and who looked strangely like a sexy Sicilian version of Ichabod Crane.

So pretty, this den of thieves
photo by MarcusObal

The next morning, in that soft-edged early pink light, as we wended our way to the airport, Florence seemed like a sleeping infant--downy and peaceful as a pillow, sweet-smelling and cool. It was hard not to love her.

And like an infant in all its monstrous self-absorption, the city seemed callously indifferent to me as the taxi sped along the viali; indeed, why should it have been otherwise? Why should this centuries-old purveyor and repository of culture take notice of one puny human leaving, leaving with a capital L? No matter that I gave birth twice here, that I learned to speak its language (aspirated c's and all), that I navigated its ancient alleys and wrestled understanding out of its stubborn morays. No matter that I put up with with my fakakta in-laws for over 12 f***ing years.

Yeah, I got the cold Tuscan shoulder all right that morning. We sailed pass Piazza delle Cure where the market-sellers were setting up their stalls, stomping their feet to shake off the sleep that still hugged them like dew-drops on leaves. The first buses were careening freely through the traffic-less streets, hissing like beasts on the prowl in an all-but-empty savanna. A faint clinking of spoons on saucers danced on the air like a whisper of counter-melody as the coffee bars, their doors flung wide, served the first few customers: old-timers already on their second espresso and third cigarette; and that so-very-Italian smell of fresh coffee--deep, rich, all velvet and chocolate and pepper--filled my head and buzzed in my veins.

And it was all as soft and as rhythmic as a lightly-strummed guitar, and as graceful as an arc of water, and it flowed around me like the soft pink dawn-light that it was--a morning madrigal, a song of parting. The city was awakening and I was departing, and it seemed right, after all. That thing that is stolid and unyielding about Florence, that essence of the eternal, was soothing. Its impassive stones are my old friends and enemies, part of my foundation now, never to be hewn from me nor eroded into the mere silt of recollection. Though I no longer call it home, I carry Florence with me like blood.

But like the sea, Florence is a cruel mistress indeed. Like a thief.

Many moons to the day 
That I threw her love away 
Now every whale spouts "go to hell" 
As the wind laughs in my face 
I've grown harder on the eyes 
And salty to the taste 
My pride has gone with the wake 
As I wait a cold wet grave 
I rose to the smell 
Of a wet desert hell 
And I thought to myself 
How'd I wind up in this jail 
Till a voice called to me 
From deep within the sea 
Dry your eyes my dear fisherman 
Your ass belongs to me *

Semper fidelis,


*lyrics above from "Cruel Mistress" by Flogging Molly


  1. Anonymous2:11 AM

    Sorry, you were sprayed with...what?

    1. Thanks. Not sure what the substance is called, but it's harmless enough (at least in the quantities typically used for this purpose) and just knocks you into a deep slumber, long enough for them to move about undetected and undeterred.

  2. TiCub6:06 AM

    Very powerful piece and a horrific way to leave any place.

    1. Thanks, Mr. S. Yes, it was rather ghastly. But we're okay and it's now behind us :)

  3. Anonymous10:09 PM

    I can't believe this happened to you. I'm so sorry to hear it. It must have been just awful. That aside your description of leaving Florence is beautiful. I hope you are going to be happy with your decision (I can't imagine ever leaving Italy myself. Just the thought of having to take a cab ride to the airport like the one you describe knowing it's for good is enough for me to never even think the thought!!). I hope you will continue blogging from the US, and I will make sure I share some photos from Le Cure once in a while on my blog :-) (Just to make you feel at least a little bit homesick :-))
    In bocca al lupo!

    1. Thanks for your support and kind words, Birgitte :-)

      I will have many "homesick" moments for Florence/Italy, I'm sure. There are many places in the world that I love; I like to think that the experience of them is something visceral and permanent, no matter where I am.

      Please do take pics of Le Cure and the 'hood for me! I love your photos and will continue to follow your blog. You are so talented. It's good to know that Florence is in your capable hands :-)

      I will be blogging from the States so stay tuned...

    2. Anonymous9:37 PM

      Thank you so much :-)

  4. Holy crap!!!! I can't believe this! What a way to go out. I think Firenze is really showing you the door. There is an underlying sense of desperation that used to bother me in Florence - thievery, the zingari all over the place, everyone out of work, deciding whether to pay the gas or the electric this month. Maybe I was just hanging out with the wrong crowd but it was palpable. Hope you are onto bigger and brighter in the States, can't wait to read the next chapter.

    1. I see what you mean about the sense of desperation, Michele. This is not something the tourists or casual visitors perceive too easily, if at all. Given the economy, it's probably something that is getting more prevalent, in other parts of Italy as well. I've heard that theft is way up. Desperate times and all.

      Thanks for wishing me well :-) I hope you will enjoy the new blog, which should be up pretty soon. There will be a few more Letters posts though, I think, if I can get organized!

  5. I had no idea you were moving, I need to do some catching up! So sorry to hear about the troubles on the last day as well, I can only imagine - but I am sure you are thankful no one was hurt. In bocco al lupo!

    1. Thanks, Christy. Yes, I'm very thankful no one was hurt. Glad to put this incident behind me!

  6. Anonymous8:44 AM

    Cara Elizabeth, You are a marvelous writer, please do not ever stop writing. You are poetry! I am sorry about your horrid last night experience. As you said, it is behind you. Onward! Wishing you a beautiful, tranquilla life in the US. Much love to you and your family!

    1. Thank you so much, Patrizia :-) your kind words mean a lot to me.


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