Look for the Dragonfly Moments

I confess, I am a travel harlot.  Each time I journey to a new locale, I capriciously give my affections away.  It doesn't matter if I am traipsing over the wild Yorkshire Moors, sipping lemoncello at a seaside village in Portofino, listening to the wind rattle through a bamboo forest in Arishiyama, or devouring Tex-Mex beside a trailer in Austin, I fall in love as easily as a tweenie-bopper at a Justin Bieber concert.  No matter the adventure (or, misadventure as is often the case), I always find something to adore.  That one thing that becomes, for me, synonymous with the place.  It might be a restaurant, park or museum.  Sometimes, it's just one moment.  One perfect, vivid travel moment painted within the canvas of my mind.  A masterpiece to be privately admired over and over again.  I call it "looking for my dragonfly moment."

I coined the phrase several years ago, after a series of unfortunate events lead me to South Korea.  I stepped off the plane and into a fetid cloud.  The air in Songtan as thick and putrid as the inside of a kimchi pot.  A cacophony of thundering jets, screeching automobiles, and miserable humanity assaulted my ears.

I went to bed that first night feeling irritable and negative.  All of my senses were engaged in hating my surroundings. 

I woke late the next morning, still gritty-eyed and groggy from the disorienting sixteen hour flight, to find the fog and my malaise had not lifted.  My first thought was, "I hate Korea."

I'd had my feet on the ground for less than twenty-four hours yet my mental compass was determinedly fixed to "HATE."

I decided to go in search of sustenance.  My first step kept me headed in the direction of loathing.  Outside my apartment, I stepped on a slimy green patch of concrete that nearly sent me head over Converse.  (I would learn that the sewers in the area were too shallow to accommodate the waste and frequently backed up, belching offal that would ferment on the sidewalks).

Keeping my Converses cruising, I navigated around the slick spots, peering through the fog, until I came to a small park.  Ahead stood a most unusual tree.  With branches laden with short pine needles growing in tufts and blue pine cones, it looked like something Dr. Seuss would draw - if he had been chosen to illustrate Mulan.  Exotic.  Beautiful.

I was standing alone in the park, staring up at the oddly Asian tree, when a single dragonfly appeared in front of my face, fluttering its diaphanous wings with an almost undetectable whir.  It hovered there, staring at me staring at the tree.  Then, a swarm of dragonflies descended, flying around me as if characters in an animated film, sent to cheer the hapless Princess.

I listened to the whir of their wings and something miraculous happened.  I felt my compass begin to turn away from hate. 

I would never truly appreciate Korea, but that single moment - that dragonfly moment - became a symbol for me.  It was a perfect travel moment - a brief, fluttering moment of beauty and acceptance. 

"Look for the dragonflies" has become my mantra.  No matter where Fate tosses me, I know there will be at least one memory I will take with me to love, to cherish.  In South Korea, it was the dragonflies fluttering beneath a Seuss tree on a foggy morning. 

Sometimes, I am fortunate and Fate tosses me somewhere splendid, somewhere with loads of backdrops for perfect travel moments.  A place filled with temptations that have me falling in love again and again.

A place like Edinburgh.

It was my second trip to Scotland but my first to Edinburgh.  I landed during a torrential downpour.  The airlines "displaced" my luggage (Cheers, British Airways!).  The taxi got a flat tire.  My expensive hotel room was located between the stairwell and the lift and, inexplicably, smelled like my grandpa's house on Saturdays (Gramps, a retired cop, hosted beer, brats, and sauerkraut feasts for his German and Irish cop buddies every week.  Fifteen men in a Depression-era bungalow sauced up on kraut and brews makes for one odoriferous environment.  Just sayin'.).

Not an auspicious beginning to my Grand Highland Adventure.

For three days, I was forced to survive on what I had carried with me on the airplane.  I felt like Bear Grylls only without the sexy scowl and savvy survival skills.  (I tried to fashion an Armani-esque pantsuit out of the pinstriped down comforter but the feathers kept sticking to my fingers.  Besides, not even Bear with his mad skills could have salvaged enough thread out of the Hilton's complimentary sewing kit to construct a couture ensemble.)

I abandoned the butchered comforter.  Surrounded by a swirl of goose feathers, I ventured beyond the confines of my over-priced hotel to go in search of my dragonfly moment.

From the Battlements
by Leah Marie Brown
The buildings of Edinburgh's New Town stand like
soldiers in a straight line.
I started at Edinburgh Castle, where I learned a wee bit about the fierce battles and political rivalries that scar Scotland's brawny countenance.  After the tour, I stood high up on the battlements and admired the city below.  The rain had stopped.  The sun had returned triumphantly, like Lady Godiva in all her splendid golden glory.  In the distance, the Bay spread out like a shimmering blue cloak. 

I descended the battlements and began my walk back toward Deacon Brodie's, a colorful pub I had spied in the heart of Old Town.  I was walking down High Street when I encountered a cluster of tourists watching a street performer.  Dressed as William Wallace, he was swinging a sword through the air while delivering a rousing speech about the need for his countrymen "to stand in defiance of tyranny." 
I am not usually one for blatant, cheesy tourist attractions, but something about this performer's impassioned delivery captured my interest, so I remained with the throng of giggling, tennis shoe-wearing tourists. 
I watched as a woman walking a West Highland Terrier struggled to keep hold of her lunging animal.  The terrier broke free from its master's hold and charged up to the street thespian, tail stiff, growl rumbling deep in its furry belly.  Undaunted.  Terrifying in his dogged determination (pardon the pun). 
Without missing a breath, the thespian lowered his sword and said, "Be gone with ye, ye wee mangy beast, or I'll gut ye as sure as I did the English."
The dog's embarrassed owner seized the leash and tried to pull her barking canine away but the Westie had dug in and was determined to see his battle through.
The blue-faced thespian made a few more quips.  The crowd laughed and tossed coins into his bucket.  The thespian dropped to his knee and continued to beseech his countrymen to fight the snarling tyrants.  The metallic cling of coins dropping into the bucket confirmed what was already obvious -  several of the tourists (especially those in the young, female demographic) were lapping this scene up.  Some were pleased by the impromptu entertainment, while others were falling in "love" with the William Wallace-wannabe.
Braveheart and the Wee Beast
by Leah Marie Brown
I didn't realize it then, but I was falling in love, too.  Not with the man in the kilt, but the dog on the leash.
For me, the brave little Westie became my first Scottish love.  Like a kid on a cross-country trip shouting out "slug bug" every time she sees a Volkswagen Beetle, I would search for the squat little dogs and squeal with glee each time I found one. 
I saw an elderly couple strolling through a park in the Victorian town of Strathpeffer, leading a pack ambling Westies.  (Cue squeal!) 
In Plockton, a picturesque fishing village on the shores of Loch Carron, I saw a precious Westie pup wearing a yellow rain slicker sitting in a rowboat. (Cue double squeal!) 
The few times I did turn the tele on, I saw the same dog food commercial featuring a freakishly sympathetic Westie following its master on errands, including a visit to a cemetery to leave flowers on his dead wife's grave.  (Cue sad awww!)
There are many things to love about Scotland: her verdant paps that appear to be blanketed in a quilt of golden gorse and purple heather, her finger-licking good crispy fish and chips, her potent Drambuie, her fascinating history peppered with fiercely loyal and courageous characters, and her warm, welcoming people.
Any one of Scotland's appealing features can charm a tourist into yielding their heart. 
I enjoyed hiking her paps, eating her delicacies, sipping her liqueur, learning her history, but  her scruffy little canines stole my heart and gave me some of my most treasured dragonfly moments.
That's the amazing thing about travel, though, isn't it?  No matter where you find yourself - a thatched hut in Honduras, a farmer's market in Omaha, a blueberry eating contest in Anchorage - if you take the time to look, you'll find something remarkable.
On Guard
by Leah Marie Brown
I fell in love with this little Westie, who stood
guard at Cawdor Castle, a beautiful estate
high in the Highlands.  I couldn't resist dropping to the ground
and snapping his picture. Though, I did wonder what the Laird of
Cawdor thought when he looked out his window and saw
a crazy American sprawled on his lawn, cooing at his dog.

Below the Surface

Knowing of my love for Marilyn Monroe, a friend sent me a book of Marilyn's recently discovered poetry and journal entries.  I took the book to my screened-in porch, curled up on my chaise, and lost myself in Marilyn's candid, touching musings, the cicadas providing a rhythmic, soothing backtrack. 

I was struck by Marilyn's intellect, courage, self-depreciating humor, and deeply probing questions.  I found her to be a talented poetess and a philosopher.  I've always intuitively sensed there was more to her than big boobs and a big smile. Yet, so many times I have focused on her external, rather than her internal beauty.  It's an easy trap to fall into - looking only at the surface, failing to probe a bit deeper.  How many times do we make rash judgements about someone - a surly cashier, a seemingly "perfect" parent, an unfriendly neighbor? 

Dumb Blonde Jokes
I have been unfairly judged because of my looks and personality.  I am a bubbly, petite blonde who likes to talk...a lot.  I am also an anxiety-riddled perfectionist.  People look at my appearance and assume I am a dumb blonde, that I must have been raised by wealthy parents who pampered and coddled me.  They look around my clean, orderly home and assume I have it all together, that I am another "Martha Stewart".  They watch me greet friends and strangers with equal ease and assume I am outgoing and utterly confident.  They don't know I had a difficult childhood, that I am educated and extremely well read, that my jet-powered speech is fuelled by a deep anxiety that people won't like me unless I connect with them in a relatable way/entertain them with my stories/keep the awkward silences at bay.

When we were newlyweds, my husband took me to a barbecue hosted by one of the guys in his squadron (my husband is an Air Force pilot).  After the introductions were made, greetings exchanged, backs slapped, and beer distributed, the wives and girlfriends formed a chatty circle, while the men clustered together to talk shop.  I chatted with the ladies and then joined my husband.  I wanted to put faces with names and get to know the men who accompanied him on missions.

As is often the case with military men and women, the talk centered on the mission.  The tricky approach into Guantanamo Bay.  Upcoming deployments.  Recent promotions.  Which loadmasters were the most skilled/inept/annoying.  Tired after a long, challenging day at work and a bit lost in the flying jargon ("He's getting ready to go on a SID..."  "Blah blah blah microburst...."  "...updated the pubs..."  "...visual flight rules..."  "flaps...trim...elevator...pitch...").  Honestly, their talk began to sound a bit like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons.  Mwa Mwa Mwa Mwwwwaaa Mwa.

Maybe my eyes glassed over.  Maybe I yawned.  I don't know what inadvertent signal I sent out that I was beyond bored with the one-track conversation, but suddenly one of the pilots turned to me and said,"I am sorry.  Are we boring you?  We can talk about something you would understand."  Then, affecting a condescending, Valley Girl patois, he said, "Like, ohmygod, did you hear about the totally awesome sale at Nordies?"

My quick, witty retort drew appreciative chuckles from my husband's coworkers while the patronizing _______(fill in the blank) looked like an Alaskan salmon leaping out of the water only to discover the open mouth of a grizzly ahead.  His mouth kept opening and closing as he struggled to find the words that would extricate him from the situation. 

Later, I learned that Lieutenant Salmon and I had grown up in the same city.  How unfortunate that his erroneous, snap judgement precluded us from connecting in a meaningful way.  His loss, not mine.


I sit here, now, thinking about the way our prejudices and superficial assessments preclude us from connecting, achieving, relating, expanding.  When we judge people solely on the basis of their exterior or our prejudices, when we offer platitudes in favor of thoughtful responses, we miss the opportunity to expand and connect in a meaningful way.  It's like traveling to a famous museum but never walking through the front door, never looking at the artwork inside.

I recently read a biography of Lucille Ball and was surprised to learn that she had been in Hollywood for over twenty years and starred in dozens of films, before she was presented with the opportunity to showcase her comedic talents. 

Lucille Ball started out as a model, a walking mannequin, for several New York dress designers.  Studio chiefs and directors learned of her earlier career and quickly typecast her.  They saw her as a chorus girl, a pretty secondary character, set dressing.  For years, she was only offered bit parts in B-movies (She eventually earned the moniker, "Queen of the Bs"). 

A few Hollywood types looked beyond Lucy's porcelain skin, wide blue eyes, and long dancer's legs.  The brilliant, beautiful comedic actress Carole Lombard believed in Lucy's talents, as did the Marx Brothers and several other well-known comedians.  Lucy fought against type - raged against the typecasting - but it was only when she put up her own money to help fund the sitcom I Love Lucy, and form Desilu Productions, that her comedic talents were given free rein.

Today, most people associate Lucille Ball with the character she played in I Love Lucy, a zany redhead who uttered Vitametavegimin, smuggled a round of cheese out of Italy, and stuffed chocolates in her mouth while working at a candy factory.  Few know that she started out as a model and a somber B-movie actress.  Lucille Ball was the first woman to run a major television studio.  She was nominated for thirteen Emmy Awards for her comedic performances. 

I can't help but wonder how many more television shows and movies Lucille Ball could have starred in - how many more people should could have entertained with her unique comedic style - if only movie executives would have taken the time to look beyond her exterior. 

To Like or Comment, That Is The Question
I have often wondered if Facebook is making us more superficial and narcisstic.  We share our likes, aversions, daily irritations, inner-monologues, photos, annecdotes - an endless flow of personal information - all in an effort to connect, relate, maintain.  (Believe me, I am guilty of letting it flow.)

Does Facebook bring us closer together or is it merely giving us a false sense of connectivity?

I have noticed a trend.  People seem to be reflexively clicking "like" on updates - even the sad or tragic updates.  How can anyone "Like" an updated that speaks of loss, illness, depression, or hardship?  Just last week, I read an update posted by an acquaintance in which she announced her brother's suicide.  Sixteen people clicked like but only two took the time to compose a response.  What?

Another friend recently posted an update about the loss of her much-beloved pet and her lingering depression.  People actually clicked like or offered quick or insensitive platitudes like, "Stop being sad and focus on your pet that's still living."  What?  Is that what our demonstrations of support and compassion have come to - terse oneliners, or worse, no lines at all?  After suffering a loss, a friend wrote,"I feel like dying..."  And someone actually clicked like.  Clicking like to an update like that is akin to saying, "I am glad you feel miserable...I like that you're suicidal."

Connected or feigned closeness?

I spent an hour today scrolling through my updates for the last few years and do you know what I discovered?  My most "popular" updates - those that received the most responses - were the ones about inane topics like:

"What's your favorite 80s song?" 

"If you were planning the ultimate dinner party, which six people from history or pop culture would you invite?"

"Damn Teavana and their aggressive tea pimps! Went in for a quickie - one cup of tea and four ounces of tea leaves - and walked out an hour later with SIXTEEN ounces of tea. Bonjour! My name is Leah Marie and I am, in fact, a tea WHORE!"

The ones that got the least responses were ones in which I asked deeper, more ponderous questions or the ones in which I posted a link to my writing (I receive, on average, 6,000 page hits per month.  Apparently, not all of my friends are included in the demographic of On Life, Love and Accidental Adventures readers...or they just find my blatant self promotion annoying...or they visited my blog, read my piece, and found it unworthy of comment.)

I can hardly blame them.  What with Pinterest pins, Twitter tweets, Facebook updates, Amazon Wish Lists, and Instagram photos to upload, who has the time to dedicate 2 to 7 minutes (depending on your reading speed) to read one of my blog posts?  I barely have time to write them!

The thing is, writing has been my profession and passion for as long as I can remember.  As any artist knows, sharing your creation is like giving birth to a child.  You conceive an idea, let it gestate, nurture it, and eventually you share it with the world (internally wincing in anticipation of the critics who will survey your "baby" and find it wanting.)  Our creations - our art - is an extension of ourselves.  It takes a lot of courage and generousity to share oneself so openly.  I would rather people appreciate my creations more than my inane/entertaining/silly musings and inquiries.  Does that make me needy, demanding, too sensitive, overly-analytical?  Perhaps.

Suddenly I feel as if I am lost in a tangled tangent...but no, it all connects.  If we only look at the surface, connect in superficial rather than meaningful ways, we visit the museum without appreciating the art.

I am resolved to slow the flow of information I share, to reduce my inane musings, to never click like or offer a thoughtless platitude in response to a friend's omission of suffering, to connect in deeper, more meaningful ways with the people who truly matter.  I resolve to appreciate the art inside the museum more than the facade of the building.

A personal note to my friends:  This blog post is not meant to shame you into responding to all of my updates or read all of my blog posts.  This is less about guilting and more about growing. I realize we all lead busy lives and are often unable to connect as frequently or deeply as we would like.  I don't expect you to comment on all of my thoughts - or even half of them.  All I ask is that you don't click "Like" when I post an update about the death of my pet, a brutal rejection letter from an editor, or a photo of a tragically awful new hairdo (I know.  I know.  My decision to temporarily go copper penny red was a fashion misstep of EPIC proportions, but if I make a similar misstep in the future, please don't click like.) I treasure each of you and appreciate the time we spend "together." ~Leah

Serendipitous Traveler: Cinque Terre Lovers Lane

Turquoise Sea
by Leah Marie Brown
Imagine if you will, a footpath carved into the side of a granite cliff overlooking a turquoise sea. Now, situate this idyllic thoroughfare on the Italian Coast.  Picture yourself standing on the path.  Do you feel the sea breezes blowing seductively on your skin?  Can you hear the surf gently lapping the rocky shore far below? 

If you knew such a trail existed, wouldn't you want to traverse it?

When I read about a trail in Italy that stretches between the clifftop villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola, I felt my pulse quicken, my imagination take flight.  The guidebook said the Italians have been calling the trail Via dell'Amore (Lovers Lane) since the 1940s.  Sigh.

I imagined it to be a place for romance and daydreams.  I saw myself strolling down that magical path, pausing to admire the Mediterranean sea, a patchwork of cerulean and turquoise spread out as far as the eye could see.  Perhaps I would encounter lovers locked in a tender embrace, or a handsome young man on bended knee begging for his lady's hand in matrimony.  More sighs.

As any seasoned, serendipitous traveler knows, guidebooks often exaggerate.  Authors usually gild a scene with far more charm than actually exists.  I am an author and I have been guilty of dabbing a tad more golden varnish on a travel piece occasionally. 

I soon discovered that the author who wrote about the Via dell'Amore didn't dab a little gilding on his piece, he washed it in a freaking bucket of gold paint. 

Stormy Seas
by Leah Marie Brown
Stephanie and I arrived at Via dell'Amore after a brisk, choppy ferry ride from Levanto to Riomaggiore.  Clouds as thick as gray flannel had rolled across the horizon the night before, enveloping the verdant sloping fields in their dreary downiness.  The threat of a late summer storm hung heavy in the air.  Intrepid as always, we refused to allow something as trifling as bad weather to dampen our spirits.  After all, we were far from home and the middling, monotony of our separate daily lives.  We were best friends embarking on another adventure.  Mistresses of our Fates.  Relentless taskmasters determined to drive Destiny.  

Stephanie and I successfully maneuvered the swaying gangplank and found ourselves in lively Riomaggiore, the easternmost hillside town and the start of the Lovers Lane.  We followed a series of signs, climbing precariously until we were mingling with clouds.  The clouds parted, a shaft of sunlight spilled down from the heavens and divinely illuminated the Via dell'Amore. 

Anticipation pumping through my romantic veins, my Nikon poised and ready for documenting fleeting moments of amore, I followed the steady stream of tourists making their way toward the entrance.  I was so lost in my idyllic haze I didn't immediately notice the hostile looks some of the other tourists were giving us.

"Ferma! Ferma! Non hai pagato! Pagare!"

I heard the ticket mistress's angry flow of Italian jibberish before I saw her.  Apparently, when Stephanie and I plunged into the heavy flow of tourists, we had unwittingly joined a tour group.  We were following them down Lovers Lane without having paid the required entrance fee.

Innocent but humiliated, we disengaged from the group and made our way back to the ticket booth.  A pinch-faced woman sat perched on a stool, her beak-like nose thrust forward as if to sniff out thieves.   I felt myself flushing in mortification, and yet, I could not avert my gaze from her bangs.  She had teased and sprayed them to form a fan over her forehead, like a cockatoo.

"You did not pay!  You are not part of that group, so you must pay the individual ticket price like everyone else," she clucked, her gravity-defying bangs quivering.  "You Americans are so entitled, so evil.  You do not belong on Lovers Lane.  We should toss you into the ocean where you will die a horrible, watery death!"

Okay, she might not have spoken that last part (see above paragraph regarding author's gilding), but she was definitely thinking it.  Her eyes were telling us what her lips were not.  She was definitely shooting us some bad joo-joo looks.

"Seven Euros," Miss Cockatoo chirped.

Seven Euros seemed like a steep price to charge for a brief cliff side stroll, but mortification propelled me to hurriedly pay it and move on.

We stepped through the archway out of the ticket booth and onto Via dell'Amore, Lovers Lane.  I don't know what I expected - maybe a mustachioed man cueing an orchestra of violins, a flock of doves fluttering above our heads, the heady scent of roses staining the air.  Regular readers of this blog know that my imagination is frequently diametrically opposed to reality (see How Not To Visit the UK). 

How to describe the melange of aromas?  A breeze spiced with sea salt?  Yes, but it carried with it the acrid scent of vomit commingled with urine.  Eau de Romance.

Struggling to quell the wave of nausea rising in my throat (I instinctively feel the need to vomit whenever I smell someone else's vomit), I blinked in the watery sunlight and tried to make sense of the scene before me.  There were no mutually absorbed lovers strolling down a serpentine path, no bougainvillea covered tunnels perfect for romantic encounters.  What I saw before me was not the perfect backdrop for romantic liaisons, but an over-hyped tourist trapped scarred by graffiti.

Graffiti dell'Amore
by Leah Marie Brown
Exploding hearts defile a tunnel wall
along the Via dell'Amore in
Cinque Terre, Italy.

Modern Romance
by Leah Marie Brown
Forget sonnets recited from a Juliet balcony. 
In Italy, true affection is displayed in one
way: street art.  Graffiti: when you care enough
to give the very best. 

David, It's Not
by Leah Marie Brown
Graffiti scars a tunnel wall in the
Via dell'Amore in romantic
Cinque Terre, Italy.  One wonders
what Michelangelo would have to
say about this crude male form.

I paused for a moment and looked out at the Mediterranean, beautiful even on this disappointing, stormy day.  The sea appeared a rough cut of turquoise, the wind creating jagged blue-green stalagmites.  I stared at the sea and listened to its angry surf until the horror of Lovers Lane seemed to fade away.  I felt the rhythm of my heart slow.  I felt a light spray of sea mist over my face.  I felt something sharp cut into the back of my ankle.


An elderly tourist had driven her wheeled walker into me and kept on shuffling down Lovers Lane.  What?  That blood trickling from my ankle onto the pavement?  It's nothing.  Just keep on rolling, Granny, I wouldn't want you to miss this eighth wonder of the world, this spectacular love fest taking place all around us.

Go Granny, Go
by Leah Marie Brown
Aggressive elderly stroller
making roadkill of unsuspecting
tourists on Via dell'Amore
in Cinque Terre, Italy.

That's Amore
by Leah Marie Brown
I've always said, if you are going to
get impaled by an elderly woman's
walker, the best place to do it is in
Italy, especially with accordion
music playing as a backtrack.

Hobbling on, I stared at the urine stained path, the graffiti covered tunnel walls, the scarred flora and fauna, and tried to make sense of it all.  How could such a grubby, olfactory offensive spot rate as one of Italy's most romantic walks?  Italy?  The land of Romeo and Juliet.  The home of a million hot blooded Roman lovers.

What a prick!
by Leah Marie Brown
Silvia: "I thought Steve was going to
give me an engagement ring but
he didn't!  Insteas, he took me to Via dell'Amore
in Cinque Terre, Italy and
pointed to some stupid cactus he'd
carved our names onto."

by Leah Marie Brown
Only my best friend, Stephanie, could strike a
pose and actually make graffiti look cool.

I kept craning my neck, anxious to behold that one picturesque site that would make my less than romantic stroll down Lovers Lane worth the expense.  You might be thinking, "Seriously Leah Marie, seven Euros is hardly a fortune!" 

To that I would say, "True, but that same seven Euros could have bought me a delicious slice of hot, cheesy Foccacia Formaggia and a single scoop of sour cherry gelato.  Just sayin'."

Finally, we reached the end our stroll.  Was I rewarded with my panoramic view, my postcard perfect snapshot?  Well, that depends on your point of view.  If you are a junky for post modern installation art, if you appreciate irony, perhaps you would have found what was waiting for me at the end of Via dell'Amore to be a sublime juxtaposition of hope and disillusionment, of romance and reality.   Here's what I saw:

Sublime juxtaposition of Love and Disillusionment
by Leah Marie Brown
Empty booze bottles piled atop a garbage can at the end of
Via dell'Amore, Cinque Terre, Italy.

Further Reading:

If you enjoyed this article, why not let me know?  Everyone likes to get positive feedback, even authors with a penchant for gilding!  leahmariebrown@live.com 

Serendipitous Traveler: The Light of Florence

I found myself in the heart of Florence, walking down an ancient, dimly lit pedestrian street just moments before the magical gloaming, when the sinking sun would bathe the city in liquidy shades of gold, bronze and copper.  (Apropos colors, when one remembers that Florence was once the financial center of Europe.)

Florence is a magical city in any light, but during the gloaming it appears more beautiful and more mysterious.  Shadows deepen, elongate, shading the city in slightly sinister tones.  The air appears as gauzy as a shroud.  Streetlights flicker to life, creating otherworldly halos around the heads of the statues standing sentry in the piazzas.

It takes little effort to imagine a Medici woman, ensconced in a voluminous cloak, her face partially concealed by her hood, slipping down an alley to meet an old crone hawking deadly nightshade. 

What secrets do the shadows hold?  What demons does the light keep at bay? 

Visiting and resident voyeurs surely experience orgasmic delight as the darkening world affords them unhindered views into salons, shops and even private residences.  I confess to playing the role of the voyeur, peeking into an apartment aglow from the light of a spectacular chandelier, wishing I could join the fabulous people dining beneath it. 

Instead, I snapped my secret shot and moved on, slipping in and out of the shadows with the skill of a Medici or Borgia.

As the evening faded to black, I stood in a candlelit wine bar, savoring a tart, full-bodied Chianti, and noticing the way the ruby liquid rolled in my glass.

Basking in the Light of Florence:
  • Catch some rays, sip a cappuccino, and take in a spectacular panoramic view of Florence atop the Hotel Hermitage on Vicolo Marzio.  One of the hotel's friendly employees invited me to visit the rooftop even though I wasn't a guest of the hotel.  "You simply must see Florence from above," she urged.  "The light is spectacular."  She was right.  *Notice the contrast between the cobalt sky and the terracotta roof tiles.
  • The Haunting Florence Tour, an evening walking tour offered by ArtViva, is a great way to view the architectural wonders and learn the hidden history of Florence.  The tour begins shortly before the gloaming and culminates after dark.  I highly recommend this tour for anyone visiting Florence, but particularly those who have an interest in history or an appreciation of light.  *Notice the way the transformation the city undertakes as day fades to evening.
  • Take a cruise down the Arno River in a traditional barchetto with Viator's River Cruises.  *Notice the way the light shimmers off the river and highlights the brightly colored buildings.
  • Stroll over to Via del Campanile angolo via delle Oche and sample the creamy goodness of Grom Gelateria's gelato and then head to the Piazza del Duomo.  *Notice the juxtaposition of the varied architectural facades and the way the sunlight slants into the piazza at sharp angles.

Florence in the Gloaming
by Leah Marie Brown
This shot was taken just moments before the street
lights flickered to life, giving the charming
alley a slightly sinister look.

Hound of Hell
by Leah Marie Brown
This hound stands guard in a private
courtyard in the heart of Florence.  The ancient Romans
and Greeks regarded the dog as a magical animal
with the power over life and death.

by Leah Marie Brown
I spied this chandelier hanging in a second
floor apartment in Florence.  I could
not resist snapping a picture of it.

Pretty in Pink
by Leah Marie Brown
I took particular delight in viewing Florence's
shop windows.  These sweet little pink
gowns made me smile.

by Leah Marie Brown
ArtViva's guide, the charming Stefan, pouring a local
vintage after sharing his prodigious wisdom about

by Leah Marie Brown
Mounds of gelato create a delicious rainbow in a
gelateria in Florence.

by Stephanie Mounts
The author enjoying a chocolate and
coconut gelato cone from the world
famous Grom Gelateria in Florence.

by Leah Marie Brown
Sunlight highlights the terracotta
tiles on the roof of the Duomo.

by Leah Marie Brown
The varied facades of the buildings around the
Duomo provide an intriguing juxtaposition.
by Leah Marie Brown
A tower in Florence, lit at night.
David and the Lion
by Leah Marie Brown
Taken at night using a slow shutter speed, this
statue of a lion looks like it is about to
devour David.
Stalked by Shadows
by Leah Marie Brown
A statue appears to be stalked by
ominous shadows.  Florence.

A Roof with a View
by Stephanie Mounts
The author enjoying the Florentine
skyline on a bright, late summer day.




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