The Nose of the Boar

My wife and I just returned from a week in Italy, Florence to be exact.

This whole thing started by planning a run-of-the-mill trip to San Francisco. It was last September. I was on the Web, checking out fares and accommodations, getting a line on some pretty good deals. Then I started thinking about it. What, exactly, were we going to do in San Francisco? We could visit some friends and relatives, maybe see an art opening, but in fact we had already seen all of the “sights” on our last trip there. And in truth I had no great desire to go back.

Then I started thinking, “Well, then, where do you really want to go?” And I knew right away it must be Florence.

I had visited Florence once before, when I was a lad of twelve. My family was living in Naples at the time (a great place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit there). We drove up to Florence for a two or three day visit.

When we got there I was immediately blown away. The city itself is a work of art. The narrow cobbled streets, the ancient buildings, the winding Arno and its beautiful bridges, all surrounded by the rolling Tuscan hills. This is the city of the great Medici, the city of the Renaissance. Here is Brunelleschi’s famous dome for the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (AKA the Duomo). Here is the Uffizi, the greatest museum of the world (with the added feature that it is not in France). Here are dozens of important basilica, cloisters and cappella. Here is the home of Dante, of Galileo, of Michelangelo. Here is the birthplace of modern art and science.

Of course, I didn’t quite see it that way at age twelve. But I knew I was in a magic place, a place that exists outside the mundane world of office towers, malls and suburbs. I knew the streets were for walking, and that the cafes were for idling, and that the people were alive to it all. I saw Botticeli’s Birth of Venus and knew I was in the presence of a masterpiece. I drank wine in a family-owned Trattoria and strolled to the Mercato Nuovo, an open-air market famous for leather and stationery, where I rubbed the nose of the boar.

And in truth, that was it. I had forgotten, until some days after I had convinced my wife that Florence was our destiny, after I had booked the flight and the townhouse, after I had checked out my Italian language CD from the library–I’d forgotten that on that chilly night in 1974 I had in fact rubbed the nose of the boar at the Mercato Nuovo. The boar in question is a large bronze statue of same, one of the several symbols of Florence. Its nose is kept perpetually shiny by the hands of a thousand tourists a day, all of whom know that a visitor who touches the nose of the boar is guaranteed to return to Florence one day.

As I did. And I am forever thankful to that boar.

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