• Ellen Miller

On an Easter not in Florence

Updated: Aug 2, 2020

It seems a lifetime ago, but once upon a time I lived in Florence, Italy, as an artist.

I'd been a student in Florence before, in 2010, a decade ago now. At the time, everyone I knew was studying abroad for a year and I didn't need any more credits for my major, so I could spend a second semester studying whatever I liked. I ended up studying art in Florence for a semester at Studio Arts Center International, and later returning for a year as an artist-in-residence at Santa Reparata International School of Art. While I came to adore the artistic culture and accessibility (it's one of the things I miss most about the city), unlike many, I didn't fall in love with Florence; it's very Americanized and overly touristed.

That's why it's been so incredibly surreal to watch from afar as Florence remains shuttered. When I lived in Florence, even in the early morning it was never silent. People were out walking their dogs; tourists would get an early start and wander the city; Italians would be in cafés and bakeries, and I would be wandering the city taking photographs or headed to the studio. Walking is one of the things that I remember most about Florence, from the cobblestoned streets that were dreadful in the spring rains to the press of the crowd near any major tourist landmark.

I've been thinking about Florence for weeks as I'm cooped up in my apartment in Philadelphia and the people I knew in Italy that remain have likewise been cooped up in their own homes. Yet it's particularly on my mind because today is Easter Sunday. Regardless of whether you identify as Christian, Easter Sunday is a big deal in Florence. During my latter year living in Florence I had the privilege to watch the scoppio del carro from the windows of a friend who lived near the Duomo.

From above, we watched the tradition while drinking mimosas, feasting, and toasting with limoncello. We had the perfect view, and I was able to capture a bit of the moment to share with you on video (video from 2014).

This year, the streets of Florence are quiet, and the usual festivities of Easter are much subdued. It's hard to believe that what is happening in our world is real. Sometimes I wake up and think that it all must be a dream. But I hold out hope that the stringent measures which Europe is implementing to contain the coronavirus means that there will be many of these celebrations once more in the years to come.

There were things that I didn't love about living in Florence... but just as many things that I did love. The wonderful and welcoming expat community that I became a part of. The ability to wander down the street and stumble into an art exhibition opening. The proximity to so much of Europe and the world. Cappuccinos standing at the counter, and focaccia measured by width.

It's these memories, and the spirit of community that I know resides within Florence, that convince me that Florence will come back stronger than ever after this. And it's those memories that mean that sooner, rather than later, I'll be heading back to Italy for a visit.


If you're interested in knowing more about what's happening in Florence, follow The Florentine, the local English-language newspaper. They just released a new issue, Healing, Not Broken. And check out Girl in Florence, who always knows the best of Florence and who I've been following since my time in the city.

The arts in Florence are definitely in danger, particularly as schools remain closed through the spring and likely the summer term. If you're interested and able to help financially, Santa Reparata, where I spent my year as an artist-in-residence, is currently fundraising to support their operating expenses while they remain closed.

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