A friend asked me once why I felt the need to make such a final production out of goodbyes. Why I needed to ceremoniously visit all of the places that held a piece of my heart, leaving each behind, one by one.
“When you quit smoking,” he said, “you don’t pick up a cigarette, you don’t slide it out of the pack, holding it up to say, this is my last cigarette. One day, you simply don’t light a cigarette. One day, you simply smoke a cigarette and then don’t smoke another. One cigarette is your last, though you probably didn’t know it, at the time.”
It was cold, walking though the city after dark, but I wanted to see the lights. Christmas in Florence was always a spectacle. Somehow the streets were all but deserted, a shocking contrast to the sea of bodies that had occupied the Piazza’s on December 8th, when they lit the city. That night, as the tree came to life in Piazza del Duomo, I could not move. Now I could dance through the streets unhindered.
From the station, I walked through Piazza Santa Maria Novella, admiring the ornate facade of the chiesa and the various hotels where tourists were already tucked in for the night. From there I made my way to the Duomo, looking up at its impossible mass and marvelling at the mystery of the dome and how it came to be. I then crossed to Piazza della Repubblica, passing the carousel, now still, finally reaching the covered and columned space which typically held the bustling leather market. It was deserted. No vendors shouting prices, no tourists. My footsteps echoed as I crossed beneath the stone ceiling, weaving between the columns, eyeing the lonely porcellino, a rare sight. It’s said that the porcellino can tell you whether or not you are fated to return to Florence…you must simply drop a coin from his bronze tongue. If it falls through the grating, you will be back some day, if it bounces out, you won’t. The myth keeps the statue surrounded day after day by flashing cameras and smiling tourists, engaging in the ritual.
“I need a word with you,” I said, pulling out a coin.
I looked from side to side. No one in sight but a boy sitting on the curb lazily strumming the guitar in his lap. I softly touched the porcellino’s snout, rubbed smooth and bare by thousands of hands.
“I want you to know that I will listen, whatever your answer might be,” I said aloud.
I placed a coin on his tongue, behind a row of flat bronze teeth, took a deep breath, and let go.
With a clink, the coin hit the grate, balancing precariously on a rung but not slipping through, as it had done every time before, always reassuring me that this would not be my last time in this beloved city. Yet this time, there it sat, ready to be plucked away by greedy fingers. I thought of snatching it back and trying again, but I remembered my promise.
I looked the hulking bronze beast in his unmoving eyes for a moment, digesting his prediction.
“I never claimed it was my last cigarette,” I whispered, walking away.