By Raleigh Dale
Fiesole taught me my favorite Italian word – accendino. I whispered it to myself, quietly, under my breath. It sounded oddly familiar, and felt exceptionally natural; it rolled elegantly from my tongue, ascending, descending like rippling water, teasing me into thinking that, for a moment, my Italian accent must not be too deplorable… Accendino.
I learned most of my Italian by accident, by living wildly rather than studying intensely; I have an enduring loyalty to language I learn outside of class, and a bit of distaste for that which I’m forced to regurgitate in the confined spaces where gelato, Santa Croce, and the gentle cooing of pigeons feels so far away. Learning feels organic; studying does not; the unpolished, organic experience – such as dangling my legs from gritty, ancient Etruscan walls, chasing pretty Italian words like lightning bugs on a balmy Tennessee night - is what I seek most.
Fiesole fostered that innate longing in a way that Florence had not. Florence is a collarbone, unyielding and essential; Fiesole is a tender, delicate place – the back of your knee, the softness in the bend of your arm, the nape of your neck – that is worth exploring, a place that makes you feel most truly fragile and truly human. Fiesole, perched eight kilometers above austere Florence, is a place where the breath of language tickled my curiosity.
As a smoker, accendino became a convenient word (though unlike smoking itself). I felt comfortable using it; I felt Italian. I was swinging my legs from a great height, Chianti in one hand, cigarette in the other, friends to my left and right. I’ve heard, “You are the company you keep," but what if you’re also the places you visit? I toyed with that proposition, turned it over, wondered what the places I have visited must say about me. What would Fiesole say about me?
My roommate Eleanor sat to my left on the great Etruscan wall, her dark hair a mass of tangles, her lips stained purple from wine. I knew she was digesting her feelings about Peter, a beautiful boy with curly blonde hair and an appetite for the affluent American lifestyle that waited for her in Georgia. I could see it in the furrow of her brow and her unwillingness to relinquish her glass of wine. It was in the large circles her swinging legs created, the inattentive way she spun her ring around her finger.
To my right, Linnea was chattering animatedly with Dallas, a weekend romance kindled in the dirty, cobblestone streets outside our favorite bar some nights before. They seemed happy, passionate and curious. I liked being the median between Linnea and Eleanor, the division between their two very different lives. Linnea was in the midst of writing a great romantic story; Eleanor was trying to figure out how, and if, hers would end.
I came to Fiesole, because I needed a reprieve from weary Florence. I needed to sit in a quiet place and traverse the far corners of my mind, those that had sprouted weeds and webs. I needed to sit between two friends, recognize their realities as equally important as my own, and consider myself in the world of things. Though I might not have belonged here, I fit here in an unobtrusive, polite way - I didn’t sing obnoxiously in the streets or drunkenly spill drinks on strangers, two major complaints I had heard about obtuse American girls. I tried to speak the language, though admittedly, it was regularly and often intolerably mutilated. Ma sono qui e lo amo (which I learned from Florentine street art).
Fiesole, a mere 15 minute bus ride from the centre of Florence, gave me the peace of mind I had been climbing the walls for in Florence. Maybe it was the physical movement from Florence, the jarring bus ride and bottles of wine singing from my backpack as they struck one another musically. Maybe it’s being above - literally above - Florence that I needed, being elevated from the anxiety of university and the knowledge that my time here has come with an unequivocal expiration date – May 11th, which now looms but 6 days before me.
Perched above Florence, on an ancient 8th century wall in sweet Fiesole, my world felt small. I watched Tuscany’s colors change as the sun settled into the horizon. I watched Eleanor twist her ring around her finger until she was finally encouraged to talk about love, lust and lasting relationships. I watched Dallas casually reach for Linnea’s hand, and I saw her cleverly circumvent his affectionate efforts. I watched my wine and cigarettes dwindle but my contentment soar.
I think you have to find a place conducive to peace, to finding your center when Atlas shakes. It’s a 2.50 euro bus ticket, a bottle of wine, and a place as interesting as the company you keep. It’s being present, being aware. It’s Fiesole.
Sono qui…. Hai accendino?