Florence: The Luxury Pharmacy; Space and Memory

I’ve got so much material here in Florence on a daily basis that I am spoiled for subject matter.

On Monday, I posted a list of topics on Facebook, and a few people voted, so I’ll take two of the seven here. They share a nice narrative link – a plus!

I am still stitching together my mental map of Florence with my varied memories of it, from 1996, 2005, 2013, and today. I wonder if this well will ever be exhausted. Probably not.

Our good friend Amy returned to her Vermont haunt on Monday, after a great week and a half visit with us. Her auntie skills are impossible to overvalue. I was shocked and happy at how well Victor minded her (he’s in a bit of a Pierre phase at the moment, a la Sendak – “I don’t care!”)

The guest bathroom in our apartment has the only shower, in frequent use by our family as various combinations of small children and adults steam it up in there, banya-style. Eleanor is more solid on her feet, which means if they’re both in the shower, I can close the interior door and have, you know, a few quiet seconds to think.

Last week I spied Amy’s luxury toiletries on our counter (Nuxe brand – French) and sampled some of her huile prodigieuse. Wow. It was prodigious! Dry oil, delightful scent, made my skin feel great. I was familiar with the brand from my Glossybox dalliance in the US, ca. 2015-2016, but the product they’d sent me to try wasn’t really useful for me. (Contour cream? My whole face has contours. What is a face but a collection of contours? Where do I apply this cream?)

My face is a leaf. Dry in fall, crispy in winter, supple in spring, and supple-ish with dry edges in late summer. Pretty sure I struggle with an Ayurvedic vata imbalance, a topic for a different time.

After Amy noticed me siphoning off her prodigious oil for the third time (sorry Amy), she kindly offered to help me find a location that carried it here in Florence. A quick search revealed a dozen retailers. She scoped them out for me, and found one close by that had the oil on sale! A huge bottle of it for 25E! Like, half the price or less of what Any had paid for it in the US.

We went together back to la Farmacia la Condotta, on via Condotta. It was very, very nice. And the assistant in there was equally nice. Also, her skin looked fantastic, with little makeup. We guessed her age to be mid-thirties. The assistant was pleased to be able to practice her excellent English with us (a major retail plus in the hot molten tourist core of Florence). She disappeared behind her counter to rummage around for samples while Amy suggestively sold me a small collection of products. (I am a total soft sell.)


Note outside wall sconce for your open and flaming torch,
and rings to which your driver might hitch up your horses.

I walked out of there with the huge bottle of Nuxe prodigious oil, the Nuxe face wash, and a large bottle of Italian toner – the ubiquitous rose water that I love and which I used daily in Arezzo. Plus a tons of samples of tony French product. With the relentless cloud cover that has been shaken out over Florence in October, plus my generous supply of luxury face care products, I am confident I will be leaning rosa italiana in no time.

Amy and I had planned to go for an aperitivo before we returned to Azeglio. (The private reception in the Uffizi Gallery that we attended took place right before this pharmacy vignette – Jason had gone home to check in with the babysitter and the kids after a long day.) But where would we go? I didn’t really want to walk back to Ciompi or Sant’Ambrogio – our close haunts. I’m floating around there often enough. Let’s try something in centro. But where? I am rarely nosing around centro at aperitivo hour.

We agreed that the pharmacy assistant seemed like the kind of local who would know where to go for an aperitivo, so we went back in to ask her. She was delighted. “Go to Colle Bereto!” she exclaimed. “Their cocktails are great. They’ll take good care of you.” She scribbled it down on a piece of scratch paper.

We went back out on the street, and like two hapless tourists, wondered how to find the Palazzo Strozzi from Repubblica. Reader, we did Google map it. And scrutinized said Google map between the Palazzo Davanzati and the main post office. Not totally our fault, I assure you – who can see anything in centro with those enormous buildings all crammed in together? It’s like trying to find your way in Manhattan.
Palazzo Davanzati

We turned the corner to Palazzo Strozzi after repeatedly peering at Amy’s phone. There it is, in all its hulking glory, with Ai Weiwei’s thirty red lifeboats hanging off the windows in an indictment of Mare Nostrum and Lampedusa and the rest of the immigrant crisis in Europe.

And there, across from Palazzo Strozzi, is Colle Bereto. My wheels start turning.

Wait – did we just pass the Cinema Odeon?

Everything got kind of wavy, and I felt dizzy as the clock rolled back more than eleven years.

Hot July evening, summer 2005. Jason and I had made a plan to see a movie in English, and ventured into centro on the motorino to see – wait for it – “War of the Worlds” starring Tom Cruise in English! Thank god we saw that movie. In English. Oh, life before kids, and the bored expat Italian days. That movie was awful. The theater was baroque and the movie was neverending. If that slithering thing would have just taken out Tom in the basement. The cinema air conditioning was awesome, though, as I recall.

Such a bad movie. 
Lots of shots of Tom Cruise, face dusted with talc, 
staring at himself in a bathroom mirror 
as he comes to grips 
with the fact that he is, in fact, starring in this awful film.

But then I reoriented myself and looked at our destination, Colle Bereto, from the Odeon. Wait! I know this place! We made so much fun of this place, in a wistful, we-have-no-money kind of way (2005 was the last summer that I had all kinds of time and no money).

The beautiful people of Florence, in their fancy summer dresses and sleek locks and tan shoulders, stuffed the outside terrace of Colle Bereto. We heard them laugh, and talk, and greet one another. None of them were going to this ridiculous movie – it was aperitivo hour! Yes, we made fun of them. Yes, we wished then that we could have afforded a spritz that expensive. Yes, I was going to order that spritz right now.

On the way home, we got my bike from where it was chained just outside of the farmacia. “Let’s go tell our new friend that we liked the bar!” I crowed. Amy looked at me like I was crazy. I tend to make friends that way. It’s not for everyone … So we just went home.

And tonight I am going back to Colle Bereto again! For apertivi with the Sprachcaffe staff, who have welcomed me as one of their own, and have been so incredibly cordial and collegial with me. Just wait til they hear who I work for, and what our software does …

And with this post, I just covered topics #4-7:
4. Arrivederci Amy (this was Amy’s last night in Florence)
5. The best apericena ever (Colle Bereto did not disappoint!)
6. Florence: Space and Memory (“How did I wind up in this bar of all places?”) (Colle Bereto)
7. Luxury items from Farmacia la Condotta (Nuxe)

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