When I first arrived in Florence for a three-month stay, my meaning of home shifted. One day I was walking around the city to get myself situated and ducked inside the Orsanmichele church. Initially, I didn’t know it was a church because of its rectangular shape and rather inconspicuous entrance. I made my way to the front of the church where a large, white tabernacle framing a painting of the “Madonna with Child” stood. I sat down in the wooden pew closest to the tabernacle and admired the details of them both. After a few minutes, I closed my eyes. “You are home,” a soft voice whispered to me. The voice startled me at first because it was not my voice and also because I had never once uttered those words. As if the voice knew I was unsure of what I had just heard, it whispered them again to me two more times. I released a long breath I was holding unintentionally and let my body gently find its way against the back of the pew.
I slowly opened my eyes and turned my head to the left and then to the right to see if anyone was around, but I was completely alone. I simultaneously felt empty and full. One part of me felt great joy knowing I was home and the other part of me was sad to have never felt at home anywhere before. As I sat there basking in my solitude, I experienced a wave of happiness come over me like a warm breeze.
The lightness I felt after leaving the church that day stuck with me for weeks. I remember walking through the streets delighting in the beauty of the city and saying to myself over and over again, “I’m home.” At that time, however, it seemed almost inconceivable that Florence could become my home: I didn’t speak the language, know anything about the culture, or have any acquaintances.
In the eight years prior to coming to Florence, I had created homes for myself in France and England. However, this would be the first time I would be creating a home in a location without having a plan in place beforehand. It seemed illogical, but if my heart chose Florence, I knew it was the right thing for me to do. My connection to Florence wasn’t a rational one, but rather an emotional one. I could feel that I was more and more connected to Florence as time went by.
Much to my surprise, everything fell into place rather quickly for me. Before the end of my first month in Florence, I moved into my own apartment, found a job, made a couple of Italian friends, and started dating a Florentine. I was studying Italian intensely so I could become fluent. If Florence were to be my home, Italian would have to become my language.
Unfortunately, my time in Florence was cut short due to a family emergency. After two years of connecting to Florence’s energy, I found myself back in California. It was certainly comfortable and familiar for me to be in California, but it didn’t stimulate me like Florence did.
I moved back to Florence in 2004. I was no longer a carefree woman searching for her inspiration to write, but rather a woman trying to open herself back up to life. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t feel like I could grieve properly while I was in the States. It was almost like I was a little girl who couldn’t cry until she saw her mommy. Once back in Florence’s embrace, I was finally able to dive into my emotions, feel them, and be transformed by them. Florence’s splendor not only uplifts me, but also instills in me an abundance of love so I can transform my sorrows into joys and my losses into gains. My rebirth in Florence was actually a transformation in which I could acknowledge and accept what I had experienced, let go of what no longer served me, and embrace the gifts that had been bestowed upon me.
Florence’s energy is undoubtedly one of rebirth. She nudges us to take off our masks so we can dive into the depths of who we truly are. In that way, we can be not only more joyful, but also more loving.
Having Florence as my home has been vital for me particularly when I have experienced other ups and downs in my life. When I come home to Florence, I am basically coming home to myself. It’s as if my connection to this city is parallel to my connection to my heart. Florence is home to me not only because it is where my heart is, but especially because it’s where my heart expands.
Sort Bio: Melinda Gallo is a writer and blogger currently living in Florence. Her expat life began in France, took a side trip to England, and landed her now in Florence. In her “Living in Florence” blog, Melinda writes about her connection to Florence and in her “Me, My Heart, and I” blog, she writes about being an expat, writing, photography, and anything that inspires her. She is working on a couple of non-fiction books as well as a novel. In her spare time, she enjoys taking pictures of the beauty around her and shares it on Instagram <https://instagram.com/melindagallo>.