You can never have enough… what? To some it's jewelry, money, romance, or chocolate, but ask another person and the answer might be travel, museum passes, or fast shiny cars. I like color. To this end, I wander the street markets in hopes to pass close enough to the rows of hanging scarves that residue from the dye slips into my pores, changing my Scandinavian white skin to the pearl pink of an oyster shell with the iridescent quality of the woven silk. I walk the streets of the market place often, not looking for a trinket to take home or yet another unnecessary accessory, but rather for a color rush.
The street market is perhaps the perfect visual representation of the phrase “organized chaos.” The abundance of items are showcased by clever display techniques and offer an advanced lesson in structural engineering. The two primary display methods used are to hang and to lay. Scarves are systematically knotted, draped, and layered, right next to purses which hang one overlapping another like crackers neatly spread on a cheese plate. The soft hanging items play the clear proper notes like the string and horn sections in the orchestra while the rigid table top items bang together with the calamity of the percussion section.
The outdoor market guarantees the opportunity for discovery – my second favorite reason for wandering the streets. “You’ve got to get those,” I overhear a college student with a purple stripe in her waist length chestnut hair say to her friend with braids, “Get those fuchsia colored ones. No the tangerine.”
“I just couldn’t,” replies the blond girl, adjusting the strap on her gingham sundress, “Momma will just kill me when I get home.”“No she won’t,” says the first girl, tugging at the waist of her red leggings, “Trust me, she’ll just be glad you made it home and didn’t move in with that cute waiter at the Old Stove,” she says referring to the local pub in Piazza Signoria, a favorite beer drinking karaoke haunt of students abroad.
There are blocks of stalls set-up in the streets around Piazza San Lorenzo, the closest street market to my home on Via Ricasoli. I have learned to walk each block in six different ways. I don’t zigzag back and forth but rather walk from one end to the other, either on the right side, left side, or down the center – and then repeat the process from the other end. As I approach from different directions, the ever-changing color stories of the stalls provide new sources of inspiration.
The colors show in patches: larger items popping like ornaments on a Christmas tree, and smaller trinkets blending together mosaic-style. Vendors take full advantage of the space by hanging goods from the 10’ tall cross bars of the “porta stalls,” which are actually wagons. In the morning, the petals of the wagon open outward creating stalls with a kaleidoscope of surprises for the tourists. In the evening, the remaining products, along with the hinged canvas awning, fold neatly back into the wagons and are rolled into nearby warehouses for overnight storage and restocking.
Next to the souvenir stall (magnets, bottle openers, key rings, etc.) is a stall with men’s clothes. Today, just above my eye level, a white shirt hangs with pair of papaya colored linen pants. “Ah Marcello” I say out loud, imagining his strong bronze arms extending through the rolled sleeves and his bare legs rubbing against the nub of the linen. He wears bright colored pants, I have determined, so that I can easily identify him in a crowd.
I have not seen him for days and now, imagining him wearing those papaya pants, my eyes scan the crowds in hopes to catch a glance of my Marcello. I search the crowd until finally, my wish is granted – I see a man from behind – red shoes, red shirt and short pants in color called chartreuse.
“Ciao Bella,” I hear him say to a girl and I am jealous. “Bella, Bella, youa coma herea and Ia giva youa extra special.” His words to her make me even more jealous. I can’t see his face as he speaks to the girl, so much younger than I that she is certainly inexperienced with real men, men like Marcello. She seems plain and ignores him. I want her to go away. I won’t ignore him. “Bella, Ciao Bella” he says again and this time she walks away, leaving room for me to get closer.
“I’m here Marcello,” I think so loudly that my face flushes crimson. “I’m here for you Marcello,” I think even more loudly as I approach in hopes that my thoughts speak to his manly desire. And then, as I anticipate our eyes meeting with passion, he turns and like a wind-up toy repeats “Ciao Bella, youa coma herea and Ia giva youa extra special.”
“Yikes,” I gasp, my body responding with such shock that I almost lose my footing on the cobble street. It’s not my Marcello at all – it is a buffoon waving a rainbow colored duster at some leather jackets. Having caught me blatantly excited, he smiles even bigger with delight. “Bella, Bella, wherea youa go, Bella. Coma backa Bella, Ia hava something special fora youa,” I hear him say as I quickly turn and scoot down the street, away from the marketplace, away from the color fix of my day, away from my dream of a chance meeting with Marcello.
The stalls are starting to close and the sun is going down. The festival atmosphere of the street market quickly slips away when the daylight dims. I’m shaken by my aborted search and the heart pounding anticipation, followed by the jolt of disappointment. I plod indifferently from street to street until I reach my home, my safe haven on Ricasoli. I aim my key toward the shoulder high keyhole just as someone inside pulls the door open. Dulled by my sadness, I don’t want to speak Italian right now, so I don’t raise my eyes. My head hangs down as I brush against a large figure in the doorway and step into the long dark hallway leading to the stairs to my apartment. “Ciao Bella,” says Marcello as he pulls the heavy door closed behind him and walks out into the golden glow of the Florentine sunset.