The doorbell jingled brightly as I entered the store, my feet feeling the instant change as I stepped from the cobble stoned lane onto the ancient hardwood floor.
I had seemingly crossed an invisible stream of time and space.
The air seemed different inside the store. It had a wonderfully aromatic bouquet, and that coupled with the light which rose up to greet me as I entered.
It was if as if I’d stepped back in time through some magical door, back into the heart of the Florentine renaissance. Very cool!
My eyes slowly circled the shelves taking it all in as I surveyed the thousands of leather-bound books that lined the walls of this ancient bookstore.
I was mesmerized momentarily by the dust particles as they danced and floated in the sunlight of my wake…
The ageless owner of the bookstore looked up from behind the counter smiled a knowing smile, then nodded almost imperceptibly.
I returned his smile but felt guilty for interrupting his peaceful sanctuary. It was obvious that the same pantomime had been played out thousands of times in this little shop.
Clearly the shop was a curiosity for many as they walked by the store.
I moved slowly along the shelves. Taking my time and enjoying the experience. The soundtrack for my experience was provided by the faint and muffled sounds of the alley outside.
Actually some piano and violin background music would have been perfect to set the mood. 🙂
Something that defined the invisible stream I was now floating in…
Smiling to myself, I reached for a book on a shelf slight above my head.
At first the book was uncooperative.
Clearly, it had been many years since the book had been released from its confines high up on the shelf. Perhaps it was the ink or maybe the leather cover that held it momentarily.
Eventually it gave way with a stronger tug on the leather binding.
I opened the cover and noted that the edges of the pages were discoloured with age… Next I searched for year the book was published and found to my surprise that it was dated 1922.
Like many of us, I make associations with the little things in life and strangely 1922 was the year my mother was born.
I find it strange that in a bookstore halfway around the world, I can pull a book from the shelf, and be able to associate it with something so familiar.
As I thumbed through the pages, I realized that my Italian is so poor that there was little that I could actually read or relate to…just the word or two to get the general drift of the passage but no more.
I replaced the book and continued on my discovery along the shelves. I was still marveling and shaking my head at the coincidence.
For an instant my stream of consciousness was interrupted by the jingle of the bell as another patron entered the store.
I turned toward the owner to observe if his ritual for greeting was the same for all his customers. However, before he could engage the door jingled again as the interloper made a hasty retreat, back into the tide of traffic in the alley.
He looked toward me momentarily and caught my gaze. He half smiled and we quickly returned to our respective activities.
I noticed that he was reading a book that was perched on top of two others stacked on the counter, a long practiced habit I’m sure!
As I made my way toward him, I noted that he also sold blank, leather bound notebooks and old-fashioned pens.
Yes, you know the ones, the type that you need to refill with real ink. The type that I used as a boy during my primary school days in rural Australia…
So many little reminders, triggers and connections to my life, yet here I was in a store half a world away.
As I neared the counter, he turned, and we greeted each other “Buongiorno” in unison.
Now both smiling he asked in Italian if I required any assistance, I sheepishly replied “parlez inglese” to which responded in excellent English “how may I help you?”
Here I was standing in the centre of renaissance Florence, in a store filled with antiquities and being served by a master of many languages.
Sort of makes you feel a little inadequate is all I can say. 🙂
I enquired about the pens that he had on display. I explained to him that the last time I had used a traditional ink pen had been during my early school years – yes, a universe away.
He explained that the ink pen had been making a recent resurgence, at least in his circles.
Taking one from his case he held it out to me, I took it and turned it slowly in my fingers. The thick black pen weighed heavily in my palm.
I then raised the pen to my nose to smell. I’m sure at this point the owner thought I was completely crazy, but his face didn’t give anything away.
I guess I was looking for a connection to my days as a child to see if brought back any other memories…
As I reflect on that moment, it’s not surprising as my sense of smell has always been my strongest sense. Smells always take me back; they’re like little gateways into my memory.
They transport me via an invisible stream…to another time and space.
I offered the pen back to him, which he took smiling and replaced back into its case.
I was itching to ask him about the history of the store, and so I posed the question to him.
He told me that he was the third generation of his family to own and run the bookstore.
He knew that the building had been built in the late 12th century, but had little else to offer in terms of the history.
The short time that I spent in the store triggered something in me; something deep that encouraged me to stop and consider every other conscious thought and concentrate on each moment.
Some might say a bit of an out of body experience, or perhaps I was just being in the moment.
In retrospect I had crossed an invisible stream of time and space and was now in the heart of renaissance Florence….
It was the sort of place you can literally feel the history oozing from the every fibre of the surroundings.
I felt rejuvenated and alive as I stepped back into the sunlit alley. This wonderfully rich experience had invigorated me.
As I departed the store I looked at the alleyway with far different eyes. I wondered what it must have been like during the 12th century when the store was first opened.
I find it amazing that when you slow down, take your time to observe and open yourself up to being in the moment the incredible things you discover.
Until next week!