As Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) once said, “A man who has not been in Italy is always conscious of an inferiority.”
A generation ago, for a young college student from the United States studying Renaissance and Baroque architecture at university, this was certainly true. Arriving in Florence for the first time on the slow overnight train from Paris, the light and heat hit my eyes hard on the exit from the station, and the wealth of the arts was not only immediately apparent, but also immediately overwhelming.
The symmetry, proportionality and geometry of Brunelleschi’s buildings stunned me with their restraint and elegance, in contrast to the brash mirrored glass that characterized my hometown of 1980s Miami. Orderly arrangements of simple pediments drawing on Roman architecture marched in rhythm down the facades, their ochre patina reflecting the late afternoon sun.
On my second visit, in winter, light turned to night and Italian heat to a biting cold that forced frequent communion with the city’s signature pleasure, the cappuccino. Despite the faded color of winter, the city was no less sure of itself, no less friendly, and no less elegant — simply more internalized.
I recently returned after an absence of more than 20 years, and to my delight, only I had become older. The city reflected a newfound youth, its residents and noisy piazzas resisting the occasional banality of groups of flag-waving, identically dressed Asian tourists. This was still the beautiful Florence “colored with a mild violet, like diluted wine,” as Henry James once commented. Its people still exude warmth, its spring tables still support the harvest of zucchini flowers fried to a crisp in olive oil, its ripe strawberries swimming in liquid sugar still offered as an act of benevolence to cultivate friendship, and loyalty.
As one of Florence’s favorite sons, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) once said:
“The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.”
– Aaron C. Greenman
Aaron C. Greenman has been a photographer for over 25 years and has lived and worked on four continents. He has previously been profiled on The Leica Camera Blog for his work in Asia, India, Africa, Israel, Turkey, Russia, and Eastern and Western Europe. More of his portfolio images can be viewed on his website, and he has several books available for the iPad (here, here and here).