A letter from a recent LEAPYEAR graduate from her travels in Italy – beautifully demonstrating the way that an outer journey becomes a metaphor for an interior journey. Reminds me of a quote by Lillian Smith: ”I soon realized no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.”
Today I caught a ride bright and early into Florence and spent my first real full day alone in the city. I want to share one incredible experience with y’all: There is this one building a few streets away from the big old famous Duomo, that was once an open air market and a granary. There are tall, thin columns and arches, but somewhere along the line they decided to enclose it so there is no more flowing air, and stone was plastered in between the columns. It’s a tall building – 5 or 6 stories at least – with various larger than life saints carved from stone or cast in blackened metal gazing down from on high, small frescoes high up the walls are chipped and faded in places, the stone work was not anything especially ornate to begin with. Now it has been worn away by time and the elements. To sum it all up, it is not the most beautiful or ornate building in Florence, not by far, but it is my favorite. I don’t chose favorites often, but something about the very real history of this spot draws me, it feels like a place where people have lived, not just where they have been. It feels very real.
All the times that I walked around this building I never realised that I could enter it but today I found one set of the small wooden doors open. Inside had been converted to a rather shabby higgledy-piggledy sort of church, it was dark because of the closed arches and the frescoes on the ceilings and inner columns were dark and rather grim. I sat for a short while in one of the pews slightly disappointed despite myself, until I noticed a very small door opening onto a small shabby stone staircase. There was no rope across it and a little sign said “museum entrance” with an arrow pointing up. The sign looked like it had been printed from a printer a decade ago that had been low on ink and it all felt so peculiar but up the stairs I went.
It was a very very small stairwell, it was stone, and it just went up and up. I was thoroughly winded by the time I made it to the top where a well-dressed older gentleman handed me a ticket and waved me forward. The room was big – filled with chairs, a few people, and about a half a dozen statues, life-sized versions of the same ones that are on the outside or maybe the originals – I don’t know. Finally there was one last staircase, though this one rather grander than the last. I emerged into something amazing: LIGHT. It was a vast room with high arched windows many of which were open. I stuck my head out of every one of them to gaze out at the breathtaking views of the city and to feel the soothing breeze that was not sweeping the sweltering streets seven stories or so below me. I could see these huge thick dark wood beams that supported the high ceiling. I spent a long time up there. It felt so peaceful. So wonderfully perfect.
The reason I share this surprisingly long love letter to a building with you is because as I read all the emails today and talk with my cousin about my experience I was very reminded of this afternoon. It feels like a metaphor to me; Like that building is my life, or no, more like living, and I’ve spent years walking around living, admiring it from afar – never realizing that I could enter it and live in it as well. Then one day I find a door in, and it’s new but it’s also a little disappointing and a little hard and not at all what I expected. But wait, there in the corner, where others overlook, is a way up, a way to more. It’s dark and not clearly marked and it’s much harder than if I had just stayed on that first level and I doubt myself but still trudge on, and with each new landing it is brighter and clearer until finally I am above everything and my life just pours out the window reaching tall above the roof tops, and it all makes sense!
But as much as I want to stay, I have to descend the steps again into less clear times of life. With me though I now carry a memory of that room at the top of the last landing, and the way to the steps to get back there if I ever need them.