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

My Love For Florence
I first arrived in Florence as a graduate student in love and learned the city through my now husband’s eyes: the macelleria where his mother buys meat, the shop where his aunt finds tassels, the Sicilian restaurant where the errors on the check are always in their favor. Alessandro pointed out the pool where he won a citywide swimming championship and the park where, it is said, the most beautiful transvestites outside Paris gather. We spent hours walking the streets in its medieval center, which rings with the sound of laughter and music.
In novels, lovers are the connoisseurs of travel, forever drifting down Venetian canals as the heroine trails her fingers in the water (risking salmonella and instant death). Surely, as a part-time romance novelist, I should be describing that Florence to you. The Florence of lovers, of Romeos, Lotharios and honeymoons. I could weave an elaborate brocade of love: I’ve come here every summer since I took up with my Dante scholar of a husband, who happens to have been born in this city and is a cavaliere, or Italian knight.
But although the Florence I discovered was indeed one of dusky corners designed for surreptitious kisses, the city I’ll describe is half mine and half Alessandro’s. Half his because I never would have guessed that the Santa Maria Novella pharmacy is a pharmacy—it looks like a hotel—except that his mother is addicted to its lotions. Half mine because Alessandro buries himself in the archives of the Biblioteca Nazionale during the day, and since I travel back and forth to New York, I have yet to make a really close friend in Florence. Oddly enough, this has turned into a blessing, teaching me how to take myself joyfully out for lunch, admire a fifteenth century statue without a friend’s prompting, and buy a pair of Ferragamos without being told that the buckles make my feet look huge. It’s the privilege of age to trust your own opinion, and it can be intoxicating to head out into a foreign city by yourself.

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