Diverse, Modern, Vibrant: The Vocabulary of Florence Today
By Amy Tanzillo (Florence University of the Arts)
“Diverse” and “modern” are two adjectives that one might not initially use when describing Florence in a nutshell. Certainly, Florence has always been a “vibrant” community of intellectuals, writers, and artists that have brought fame to the city long before and certainly after the Renaissance. Historical and artistic monuments are, of course, still the top attractions that bring hordes of tourists from near and far to these Renaissance-era streets year after year. And as it has grown into recent history, Florence has become more than its past, incorporating recent values such as “diversity” and “modernity” in addition to its eternal emphasis on tradition.
The slow but steady development of Florence into a modern and culturally diverse metropolis is evidenced by the up-cropping of large supermarkets, restaurants featuring innovative cuisine, and the recent popularity of tea cafes, just to name a few examples. Perhaps this cultural maturation can be traced back to some of Florence’s oldest ethnic inhabitants in the Jewish neighborhood surrounding the Great Synagogue of Florence. Although Florence is not typically known for its rich Jewish community, the synagogue adds a bright pop of mint green and an impressive dome to the city’s intimidating skyline. The continued success of kosher restaurants such as Ruth’s and the recent popularity of the Kosher Market represent the consistent value of businesses and cultural communities that are not typically “Florentine.”
Florence’s culinary offerings are in fact the most apparent manifestation of cultural diversity in the city. Locals and tourists alike have the very “modern” option of choosing from traditional Italian and Tuscan ristoranti, and a vast range of eateries that feature food from around the globe. If one is in the mood for Asian cuisine, he or she might try any one of the Chinese restaurants located in the San Lorenzo area, several sushi joints near Sant’ Ambrogio, or Thai restaurants at Buddakan, just off of Piazza Santa Croce. A thriving Asian food market, also located near San Lorenzo, supplements these choices. If one requires a meal with a bit of a kick, there is always Tijuana, a Mexican restaurant right on via Ghibellina. American food has found its place in Florence as well, but fortunately, not just at McDonald’s. The American Diner, near Tijuana, features all sorts of American fare, while Mama’s Bakery in the Santo Spirito neighborhood supplies true American coffee, bagels, muffins, and cupcakes. Even small tea cafes are popping up all over the city, bringing the decidedly un-Italian tea culture to Florence.
The contemporary art scene in Florence also demonstrates an increasingly worldly perspective, with many galleries featuring international as well as Italian artists. EX3, Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Firenze, is exactly the type of venue that consistently features work by international creators. Take for example a recent exhibit at EX3 entitled Voglio soltanto essere amato, an array of multimedia works focused on the omnipresent human experience of love in cultures all around the world. The exhibit includes pieces by thirty-eight artists, twenty-one writers, and a host of curators and intellectuals from Italy as well as from abroad. The manner in which such an exhibit exemplifies the modernity and diversity of Florence is thus twofold: first, it does not discriminate in its creator-base, and second, it links people of all backgrounds via a common theme and under the same roof. EX3 then takes what many small galleries around Florence have been doing for several years to a grand scale.
Many Florentines see the infiltration of restaurants offering all kinds of “unusual” cuisine and internationally based art shows into their city as less than ideal. However, perhaps these recent developments really do show that Florence can grow and diversify with the rest of the world, and continue to be a haven for culture junkies and ethnic groups searching for a better quality of life. Florence has not lost its status as the “jewel of the Renaissance” in the hundreds of years since Brunelleschi, but rather it is the addition of exotic treasures from the world over that will only make the city shine brighter, perhaps differently, in the years to come.
Ruth’s Kosher/Vegetarian Deli
Via Luigi Carlo Farini, 2a
via dei Pilastri, 7
Largo Bargellini, 7/8
Via Ghibellina, 156
Via dell’Acqua, 2
Via della Chiesa, 34
Viale Giannotti, 81/83/85