On Friday nights in Florence, the mood distinctly shifts. A leisurely air takes over by 5 pm, and the streets become crowded with weekend visitors and residents alike. One popular relaxation spot is Parco delle Cascine, which comes alive on weekends as families rent bikes or rollerblades and friends lounge on the lawn under the setting sun. Concerts also take place near the park throughout the summer [This weekend Guns N Roses performed]. Back on the main streets, gelateria lines stretch out doorways and restaurant tables fill up quickly. As the night progresses, musicians typically claim their own territories, seeking the best position to capture the attention of passersby.
On this particular Friday night, I started at the Duomo and headed down Via Roma, one of the main streets that eventually connects to the Arno River. As I walked, I began to hear faint strains of a beautiful voice. When I arrived at the Piazza del Mercato Nuovo, an outdoor vestibule full of vendors during the day, I saw the source of the music. A woman stood under the hollowed-out roof covering the columned Piazza. All she had was a small Italian flag and a box to collect money, no background music for accompaniment. As I stopped to listen, she lightly tapped her tuning fork on her hand, held it to her ear, and then began to sing. Her voice, clear and pure, echoed off the roof, as the domed ceiling generated wonderful acoustics. She sang various pieces in different languages, including the Habanera/L’amour by Georges Bizet from Carmen. As she sang, people gathered on the stairs of the Piazza and marveled at the simplicity and authenticity of her performance. In particular, one small girl with sparkly black shoes caught my attention. As the woman sang, the girl hopped and twirled between the columns of the Piazza dancing to the music, all while balancing gelato in one hand. She intermittently stopped and plopped down at the base of a pillar to eat a bit of gelato, then she would start again. Likewise, other children ran through the columns enjoying the night air.
As I moved on, another sound carried on the wind and reached my ear. But this time, I heard brass and wind instruments. Heading left, I reached the Palazzo Vecchio, where I had previously heard a concert. On this particular night, another band was performing, and I arrived just in time to hear a piece by Gershwin. The onlookers swayed to the jazzy music while street vendors roamed through the crowd selling glowing toys that threw flashes of neon light into the evening sky.
After my brief stop for the band, I kept strolling toward the river. When at last I reached the bridge, I paused to admire how the lights cast reflections onto the glassy water below. Trailing along the bridge, I came to the Ponte Vecchio, where I heard yet another enticing melody. On the bridge, I found a group congregated around a man with his guitar. People lounged on steps and on the bridge’s wall, drinking wine from plastic cups.
Using only his pedalboard, the man overlaid chords until he created a full sound to back up his vocals and finger-picking improvisation. His guitar had a lovely jazzy-metallic sound that was easy on the ear yet more lively than a simple acoustic guitar. As he played, he invited the crowd to sing along and got an especially rousing response when he sang Stand by Me.
As midnight approached, I reluctantly headed for home, but the streets were still buzzing with friends, families, and couples enjoying the clear, fresh night air. Put simply, it’s nearly impossible to not be entranced by all the lights and sounds of Florence at night, especially on the weekends.
“Because I cannot sleep, I make music at night.” – Jalal al-Din Rumi
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