...& night

"Here’s to the crazy ones; the misfits; the rebels; the troublemakers; the round pegs in the square holes; the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing that you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."
-- Jack Kerouac from On The Road

Now we were starting to see the less glamorous parts of Firenze.

As Mom & I walked back to the Hotel Della Signora for a nap and snacks, we walked through Piazza della Repubblica alongside its towering arch. Sadly, there was a merry-go-round that stuck out like a sore thumb and little seating in the wide-open piazza.

When we awoke, we explored another different subset of the city. On the street now named after him, we found Casa de Dante a.k.a Dante [Alighieri]’s house. Who would have suspected that the modest home on an unassuming street was the birthplace of one of the most enduring poets? Moving on I rounded a tight corner but noticed Mom had stopped to read a small plaque next to a closed set of doors. She said "awww" before summarizing that this tiny parish from the 10th century was devoted to sheltering and feeding recently broke Florentines who were too ashamed to ask for assistance a.k.a. poveri vergognosi. Mom dropped some Euros in the discreet, outdoor box for the Oratorio dei Buonomini di Santo Martino a.k.a. Oratory of San Martino and we continued to walk toward the river. As sunset approached, we again passed through Palazzo Vecchio – which reminded me of a fortress – with its unmistakable Torre a.k.a. Tower d’Arnolfo.
24 June is always a notable occasion in Firenze because it is Festa di San Giovanni a.k.a. Feast of St. John -- the city’s patron saint. When we arrived at the Fiume Arno a.k.a. Arno River it was packed with Florentines (and tourists) who wanted to partake in the local culture like us. In an effort to find more standing room, Mom & I walked toward Piazza Santa Croce and eventually found space on the Ponte Alle Grazie. The day’s heat was starting to fade and the street lights reflected on the river. Although we were an hour before showtime I was a bit surprised that this particular bridge had more space available since it was actually closer to Piazzale Michelangiolo (the site where the fireworks would be launched). I also noticed a white banner hanging from the ponte. It was difficult to make out the phrase since it was large, upside-down and in Italian: TUTTI LIBRERI. I tried to decode the words in my head. I thought "tutti" meant sweet… sweet library? Sweet freedom?
As the night drew closer, Mom and I both felt the bite of mosquitoes. Now, a tall rendition of St. John was projected onto a tower wall further upstream. Also, I started to become more aware of the people around us. Most seemed clad in dark colored clothing and less lavish clothing (which seemed a bit atypical based on what I had seen so far in Firenze). One had a mowhawk; a few had facial piercings; one woman had a purple highlights. In most civilized nations, I believe this cohort would be identified as "the misfits." Most of the bystanders seemed to know each other since they candidly conversed in Italian to pass the time.
As the sky darkened, more people crowded the bridges and streets along the Fiume Arno but Mom and I had a front row view. To my direct right, an energetic young man with a shopping bag and a glass of red vino a.k.a. wine cheered simultaneously with the hundreds of people as – section by section – all the lights along the Arno were turned off.

As soon as the city was in total darkness, I was surrounded by fire and light. Two people – one 10 feet to my left, the other 10 feet to my right – lit a red and green flare. I was so close I could see the sparks and feel the heat coming off of them. Most of the so-called misfits around me started chanting "tutti libreri" a.k.a. all free and jostling the white banner suspended from the bridge. For a second I panicked as I imagined my Mom & myself being blown up on the bridge as part of a political demonstration. Instead, the banner was snatched by one member of the zealous party and most of the misfits dissipated.

The empty spots were quickly filled by eager viewers. To start, a single red, white, and green firework exploded overhead and the people hailed. Soon the show expanded to fireworks that looked like dust, spheres and textured lines. The imbibing young man next to me exhaled "Dios mio". Some changed color; others wriggled like worms in the sky. Anytime the crowd saw a new style of firework they would let out a long inhale or "ooohhh". Plus, there was always some action going on. For example, when there wasn’t a large firework clamoring above, there were six smaller ones closer to the ground launching. I was also reminded of looking through a kaleidoscope because every scene in the night sky was mirrored in the river’s reflection.

The spectacle drew on for an hour, much to everyone’s awe. Towards the end the smoke was clouding the backdrop so I could just identify the outline of the hillside of Piazzale Michelangiolo. Mom & I instantaneously knew when the show reached the finale because it looked and sounded like World War III. We could see bombs of light being consecutively fired upward for five minutes. At the same time, fireworks were bursting faster than a strobe light. It was so bright I could see every ripple on the water and person on the Ponte Alle Grazie. Climactically everything went quiet and dark again, but the people erupted into a frenzied roar.

Right after the finale, as Mom & I waited for some of the crowd to disperse, I noticed a few luminaries along the banks of the Arno. They were obviously released because they caught wind and height. As they drifted overhead I began to notice more and more clusters of luminaries rising in the sky. I stopped attempting to count at 42. By this time the first group of luminaries was far away with all others in following its heavenly path.