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April 29, 2009
A rooftop party? One doesn't really think of rooftop gatherings here. It's not like in New York, where lots of people perfect their tans on Tar Beach in the daytime, where those without air conditioners cool off up there at night, playing cards, talking, listening to music until the darkness cools things down enough for them to get to sleep in their apartments.

But sure, we would come. And there it all was, just like at home except with a closeup view of the Ponte Vecchio over the railing, the iconic tower of the Palazzo Vecchio in the near distance and the Palazzo Pitti, with its plain underwear showing, across the river. We sat in sleek Italian lounge chairs at sleek Italian cocktail tables, on the roof of one of the few new buildings in Florence's centro.

It was a good-bye party. People come and go a lot here: students arrive at the airport, get over their culture shock and leave, all within the space of a few months. Artists come and stay for a few years and then go home. A number of retirees have packed up lately, forced out by the weakness of the dollar. Our hostess, a pastry chef, had come four years ago to learn Italian cooking.

And then, some people come and stay. Young women come here and fall in love. Before they know it, they are the wives and mothers and daughters-in-law of Italians, living lives very different from the lives they or anyone else might have predicted they would live when they were girls. For most, this was exactly right. For a few, it was a big mistake. For all of them, though, to varying degrees, it has been an interesting challenge. Florence is very different from New York in most ways, but it is the same in one important way: it can be very tough. It shows you what you're made of.

Some of the artists come and stay, too. And the teachers, some of them. One guy realized that a small fortune could be made here providing American-style landromats, and proceeded to make one doing just that. One man founded the International School here fifty years ago and is still here. This is home now, Horace says simply.

And then, of course, there are the Florentines themselves, those whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents for centuries all were born, lived and died right here in these stony streets. With their strong faces, their careful consonants, their elegant grammar, their graceful posture as they stand and talk to each other, they seem to have stepped down from the frescoes on the walls, out of the pages of ancient books to walk among us.

No wonder the girls fall in love. The tower of Palazzo Vecchio rose into a rainy dusk, its soft lights glowing against the greying sky as we sipped our wine and nibbled on American peanuts and chunks of Italian parmesan, as one of us pondered the nearness of her re-entry into something very different. And then, Good-bye! Don't forget us! Good-bye! we said to our hostess, who was trying not to cry as she hugged each guest. Good-bye!

Oh, no. We will not forget how it was. Not ever.


Up On The Roof

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof, it's peaceful as can be
And there the world below can't bother me
Let me tell you now

When I come home feelin' tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet
I get away from the hustling crowd
And all that rat-race noise down in the street

On the roof, the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so

Right smack dab in the middle of town
I've found a paradise that's trouble proof
And if this world starts getting you down
There's room enough for two up on the roof.

At night the stars put on a show for free
And, darling, you can share it all with me

Right smack dab in the middle of town
I've found a paradise that's trouble proof
And if this world starts getting you down
There's room enough for two up on the roof.
-- (Gerry Goffin and Carole King)

Jeus Wept: When Faith and Depression Meet, Barbara Crafton's latest book, is on sale now at bookstores and at All her books, and others besides, are also on sale at the Geranium Farm's bookstore at
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