For The Love Of Florence

Mary Bly fell in love with the city and her Florentine husband at the same time. Here, the best-selling romance novelist—also known as Eloisa James—takes us on an insider’s tour of her home away from home.

By Mary Bly
The Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, in Florence
Photograph: Photo by: Andrea Fazzari

Of Must-See Museums, Italian Men and Marilyn Monroe
Americans have taken their national coffee shop, Starbucks, and made it into an extension of the workplace. In an Italian caffè, especially one with chairs spilling onto the piazza, to open a laptop would be an insult. Rivoire, on the corner of Piazza della Signoria, is the spot to people-watch and engage in shameless flirtation. It began as a fabbrica di cioccolata, which means the hot chocolate is wonderful. But Rivoire also offers a number of cheerful pink drinks with an alcohol kick. Scudieri, on Piazza di San Giovanni, is the kind of caffè where you stand at the bar and toss back an espresso; Rivoire is a place to sit and dream, or eye the statues lining the piazza. Our two children are particularly fond of Cellini’s version of Medusa’s head, freshly cut off by Perseus.
A note about sitting by yourself: Italian men think American women are delightful. The distinguished man in sunglasses sitting opposite you with his La Stampa is quite likely to approach. In my experience, Italian pickup lines often involve footwear. So when he takes off his glasses and gives you a little crooked smile, he’s quite likely to mention the fact that the buckles on your shoes are exquisite. As well they should be, since they’re Ferragamos.
You’ve probably noticed that my Florence doesn’t include much talk of museums. One of my clearest memories of college was viewing the Mona Lisa in the company of 100 jostling tourists at the Louvre. The antidote to that unappetizing experience is choosing a small museum and making a leisurely visit. I recommend the Galleria dell’Accademia. Head over midmorning, while the hordes of teenagers are standing in line at the Uffizi. Walk briskly past Michelangelo’s David and sit before his Four Slaves. Look at how they emerge from stone, each bowed under the weight of a massive block of marble, each blending back into the stone that defines and traps them.
Celebs love Ferragamo too…
But to return to Ferragamo: The flagship store is in Palazzo Spini-Ferroni, a medieval city palace created by Pope Boniface VIII’s banker in 1290. Upstairs is the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum. My favorite display includes prototypes of Katharine Hepburn’s shoes from The Philadelphia Story. There’s something magical about Ferragamos, the very thing that had Marilyn Monroe always buying the same Ferragamo court shoe with a four-inch heel. Wander downstairs and buy yourself a pair: The spring collection features wedges with swirled heels and sandals adorned with clusters of beads.
When you leave, turn left toward the Arno and walk over the Ponte Vecchio. The old bridge is lined with small shops—try L. Vettori for marvelous gold jewelry. One thing my husband most regrets is that we bought our wedding rings in Princeton, where he was teaching; all true Florentines buy their wedding bands on the Ponte Vecchio. Precisely halfway across the bridge is an odd memorial surrounded by a wrought-iron gate festooned with small locks, each engraved or painted with two names. After Florentines marry, they go to the Ponte Vecchio and "lock" their love onto the bridge. The authorities, no respecters of amore, file off the locks once a month, but if you’re lucky, you’ll see a bride in full regalia dancing down the bridge, her veil flying behind her.
Another wonderful—if rarely open—museum is the Corridoio Vasariano (Vasari’s Corridor), a gallery of the Uffizi that runs across the length of the Ponte Vecchio. One notable painting is Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes; the violence of the painting speaks to the Renaissance painter’s tragic life. Grand Duke Cosimo I built the Corridoio in 1565 so the Medici family could travel from the Palazzo Vecchio to their private palace, Palazzo Pitti, across the river, without touching the ground.

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