Sunflowers and lavender

…and what better place to visit at this juncture than the origins of the Italian Renaissance: Florence. I’m not quite there yet;  we are staying a few kilometres south and planning to pay a visit next week when we’re refreshed and relaxed. There is only so much city life anyone can take, wherever it is. After the stifling heat and humidity of Dubai, the fresh air and sprawling vineyards lining the Tuscan countryside are a miraculous gift, and although I can barely wait to walk through the streets and squares of the great city itself I am relishing this time to reacquaint myself with this most beautiful part of the world.

Nostalgia tends to grip me at times like these; it’s as though my brain collects every memory of strolling through shade-dappled squares, drinking coffee while mopeds buzz past my streetside chair, gazing across flower filled meadows and buying fresh vegetables from a thousand markets, rolls them into one big moment, and calls it ‘Europe’.

Everyone has their favourite bit of Europe. For my husband, it is the french countryside, the Gard carving its way through the rocks like the wine flowing on our shaded table sat beside it. For my friend, it is Paris, for the shopping and cafe culture. For my father, it’s anywhere as long as he can torture everyone he is travelling with by driving there, preferably non-stop. For me, it is the rustic hillsides of Mallorca, where tapas and sangria flow free and happy memories of my youth gather in the sunshine.

But Italy is different. Just when the world had become black and time stood still, it created something new and beautiful. The great men of the Italian Renaissance breathed energy and light back into Europe, their ideas and inventions pushing us forward during those few hundred years where previously there was only stagnant darkness. Yes, there were still wars, death, plague and pestilence, but out of these years of enlightenment came a lasting beauty and grace that is with us still, in our learning and appreciation of life – a collective memory, a hive mind of history from which we all inherit passion, creativity and innovation. It allowed painters, sculptors and musicians to walk alongside men of great academic learning, each honouring the other, each learning from the other. I wonder how amazing it must have been, to be a true ‘Renaissance Man’, emboldened by the society they themselves created.

The last time I visited Florence I was 17. It was a history trip, although I recall very little of historical value was learnt that week. I think I was more interested in drinking alcho-pops and staying out until past curfew; shame on me, that I slept through the trip to see the Ponte Vecchio, and my only photos are of my friends, not the Duomo. Twenty years on I will truly relish my time here, discovering my own creativity outside of time, and soaking up some of that ancient inspiration for myself.

But for now, I will sit amongst the scent of the lavender, listen to the buzz of the crickets and enjoy the soft warm wind that rustles through the  sunflowers while I write. If there was ever a place to collect your thoughts, the Tuscan countryside is surely it.

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