We have been in Florence since Thursday. We’ve been enjoying coffee, Gelato, and delicious pizza. We’ve seen the Uffizi, the Duomo and taken a few walks along the Arno. Everywhere we go it’s obvious that we are tourist. And despite my attempts to speak in Italian the people reply in English. English is everywhere in Florence, and the city feels like it’s being invaded by the world. I was aware of this. I knew it would be a “thing” Florence is a cultured person’s Disneyland. The Florentines have learned to embrace this. I’m struggling with it a little. Which is especially difficult because I am part of the problem.
The days of Medici family have faded. Florence is no longer the economic hub of it’s past. Perhaps, that is why so many of the residents have learned to adapt. I think it’s a love hate relationship for them as much as if it is for me. On the one hand they get to continue living in Florence, and they are able to sustain their lifestyle. On the other hand, by accommodating the foreigners they have allowed the city to have a different mark on it. A mark that is not their own.
Florence has always had it’s share of people living in her walls that are from different cultures. However, this is different. Florence is not alone in her struggle. The internet has greatly changed so many things, from the way we buy stuff to the way we communicate. But it has especially shifted the way that we travel. Historically the idea of the European adventure was reserved for those of great means. By comparison air travel is inexpensive today. Several of the touring companies we saw were for Chinese speaking people. This is a new trend for middle class Chinese. But there were still more Americans in Florence than people of any other nationality.
Many of the blogs and Instagram pages I followed in preparation for our trip to Florence are all operated and written by Americans that have chosen to make Florence their home. They complain about the tourist, which is sort of weird considering most of them are a. American and b. Making a living by telling people where to go in Florence. One of them hates AirBNB. She says it, “Changes the makeup of the neighborhoods.” While this is true, she also changes the make up of the neighborhood. Yes, she speaks Italian, but it’s obvious when she is talking that she is American. Most Italian’s know without even letting you utter a word that you are not one of them. The Italian family that we rented our AirBNB didn’t seem to mind us being there. They were very welcoming. I imagine the business is doing very well. The building we stayed in seemed to be mostly locals with our floor being reserved for visitors. This seemed like a good balance. Perhaps that is the answer. Making sure there is a balance so that Italian life and culture can continue to flourish in Florence, but people from the outside world can still come to stay. Bringing all their glorious euros with them.
One of the strangest things we saw while in Florence was a coffee company called Arnold Coffee. It’s a chain that boast “All American Coffee Experience” written in giant letters on the side of the door. Naturally I had to check this out. Essentially it’s a Peet’s Coffee or a Starbucks style coffee chain. It was so strange. They had giant to go cups, and iced mochas. Things that you would never find in an Italian espresso bar. Allora is it just to keep the Americans happy or is this for Italians too? Starbucks only opened a Reserve Roaster in Milan not even a year ago. Perhaps, this is just the beginning of a new wave of Italian coffee?
At Co:Lab several of the Italian baristas spoke about how the Italian attitude of wanting coffee to be a cheap, and fast luxury was starting to change. People seem to be willing to pay more. I knew of one “third wave style” coffee shop in Florence. Ditta Artigianale, the owner has three Italian Barista championships under his belt. Naturally we had to go there. I had the Mamma Mia espresso, and Dan had a Chai. Which was the first and only Chai we saw in Italy. I seemed to have lost the photos I took at Ditta Artigianale. You’ll just have to imagine it.