A dopo Firenze!


I’ve delayed writing my last post about Florence because I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye to the place. Having treated my Florence withdrawal symptoms with unnatural amounts of sleep and large doses of all the carbohydrate groups for the past while, I can finally reflect on it again without drifting into a thousand yard stare punctuated with wistful sighs. Those final weeks were a mad dash to get my jewellery finished, cram in a few more sights and museums, and eat as much as possible. We fitted in quite a lot and I am relying on my camera now to remember it all. Clearly my woefully deficient memory needed this blog, otherwise our entire time in Italy would have become an equally hazy blur. Looking back on the photographs I feel a magnetic draw to return there again, and we will some day.

For my final piece of jewellery I decided to make a heavy silver pendant with enamelled sections, so I melted down odd bits of silver and reject pieces I had, in order to make a silver bar. I flattened the bar to the desired depth using the rolling mill and filed it into a rectangular shape. Then I marked out four rectangles of varying size to be cut out of the middle section of the bar. I drilled four holes and threaded the thin blade of my saw through them to cut out the rectangles. Filing their edges square was a real challenge, but so satisfying too! Once this was done I selected the transparent enamel colours I wanted and set to work. I filled each hole with the wet powdered enamel while the silver bar sat flat on a sheet of mica. Mica is a non-stick mineral, so the enamel could only adhere to the silver each time it was fired. It’s a tricky process as the enamel shrinks each time it’s fired and more has to be added to fill the holes up again. For the final firing the sheet of mica is removed and the silver bar is fired upside down, so that the enamel has a smooth surface texture on both sides. Without the support of the mica, the enamel slightly slumps as it melts giving a beautiful gem-like appearance to the enamel. If it’s fired for too long the enamel melts entirely and drops out of the holes. Nerve wracking to say the least!

Silver piece with powdered enamel ready for firing

Once it was fired I wanted to attach a rectangular silver link to the smallest hole to which I can add a chain. But soldering and enamel don’t like each other, as the heat from soldering will melt the enamel. So I had to get the link laser welded. We don’t have laser welding facilities at the school so Agasi brought me to a jewellery studio near the Ponte Vecchio and explained that I was a student of his before running off to catch his train. For some reason they thought I was Swedish. Maybe I speak Italian with a Swedish accent or something. I explained what I needed done and they very quickly laser welded the link as I watched. They refused to take payment for the piccolo job and sent me on my way. So off I went, distractedly tripping over paving stones while gazing at the pendant on my way back to school, where Ignacio could photograph it for posterity. The sky darkened as I left the school and I walked home slowly to enjoy the soon to be foreign experience of warm rain clearing the humidity. I returned to the school the following morning to collect my piece and say goodbye to everyone. It felt sad to leave, but I know I will return again, so there was less of a sense of finality about it.

Finished enamel and silver pendant

We packed up our apartment full of stuff and packed in a few museum visits in our last few days. The Bargello Sculpture Museum, which had repeatedly foiled us with its weird opening hours, finally had to take our money. The jaw dropping Uffizi Gallery takes less time to get into in the evening than it does during the day, and it’s cooler and less crowded. The San Marco Convent was the best four euro I have ever spent. The Rose Garden and Piazzale Michelangelo and their views of Florence inspired a lengthy ‘what if’ conversation with Ollie about not actually leaving. We lay in the sunshine of the Rose Garden and did some duck-face selfies because we had never done so previously, and it seemed wrong to leave Florence without one of our own after witnessing, and accidentally ruining, so many other tourists’ insane self portraits. London awaited for a ten day visit en route back to Ireland, and while I was excited at the prospect of seeing friends and loved ones, I felt like I had swallowed a rock. Florence had firmly captured my heart and I would have to say a very reluctant arrivederci.

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As a teenager I remember having a vivid dream where I was happily eating delicious fresh pineapple on the deck of a yacht whilst sailing between lush islands with sun bleached beaches. It was so real I could feel the warm sun on my skin and the wind fluttering the fabric of my dress as I gazed into the distance at a beautiful blue horizon. I was awoken from this rapturous vision to go to school…on a pitch dark, freezing, Irish, December morning! That’s what London felt like after Florence. Not that the weather was bad or anything. The hustle and bustle and massive rushing crowds were just such a stark contrast to what had become our everyday reality. My fellow passengers on the tube were just as tense as I remembered being and the lack of ventilation was adding to everyone’s annoyance. How can a city bus in Florence feel so cool and comfortable in a heatwave, when the London Underground feels twice as hot as the modest temperature outdoors? Accumulating a host of irritations as I went about my business, I longed for a saunter down a narrow Florentine street. I was having a hard time readjusting, despite having previously lived in this great metropolis for four years. I was bowled over by the thought that there are enough knives being carried in London to warrant the presence of knife bins!!! I know I was being unfair to London, and Italy has plenty of its own problems. There are innumerable amazing things to experience in the British capital, and I have had the pleasure of enjoying the rich cultural smorgasbord on offer during my time as a London resident. But, after the full Renaissance treatment in Florence, I was beginning to suffer a bad dose of the post-travelling blues, and knife bins beside bus stops made me want to run for the hills.

Knife bin, London.

The madness of the city was tempered by the few days I spent in a lovely little jewellery studio in the basement of the At Work Gallery near Vauxhall Bridge. I had booked a bench to get some work done and found myself working alongside more experienced jewellers who were incredibly warm and generous with their knowledge. We chatted about everything under the sun and I started to think that maybe London was survivable again. I met old friends and went for the best pizza I’ve had in my life in Theo’s of Camberwell (apologies to my former favourite London’s Franco Manca and all of the pizzerias in Italy!) and we talked about our plans for the coming year in London, going so far as to make provisional accommodation commitments for my return – I would be in London undertaking my jewellery business course and Ollie, influenced in no small part by Brexit, would be locating his academic work in Ireland. I felt the rock in my stomach again.

We repacked our bags in London, taking down some belongings that had resided in Ollie’s sister’s attic for months and replacing them with the summer clothes we definitely wouldn’t be needing in Ireland. In September I planned to return to London, to start my business course. But it hasn’t worked out that way. I found myself delaying my departure date and searching for ways to commute to London instead of being there full time. I’ve recently enjoyed the arrival of my sister’s beautiful baby instead of observing all from afar. I’ve been watching the exodus of some of my fellow EU friends from London. I’ve been figuring out my next move and discovering that I need to go to London…to collect the rest of my belongings. I’ve enrolled in a business course in Ireland and have been visiting craft galleries to check out the competition. It’s been fairly stressful to realise that plan A (London) is shelved, but I’m feeling more excited about plan B the more it develops. And myself and Ollie are both in Ireland, and the feeling of the rock in my stomach is gradually dissipating. Here’s to the next chapter in our lives. A dopo Firenze – see you later! Grazie mille per tutto!

See you later Florence!


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