Tourism; whether you’re the holiday maker taking some vital vacay or the local ducking and diving in between dawdling visitors, you can’t deny the benefits it brings to an area. My time in Florence certainly highlighted that. After Rome and Venice, Florence is the next most popular Italian tourist destination and why not? It houses over 60% of the world’s art heritage, boasts architectural feats such as Brunelleschi’s Duomo and is the birthplace of luminaries, Michelangelo, Dante, and Niccolo Machiavelli. Sixteen million visitors a year flock to the city to pay their dues and Florence’s economy thrives on it! Restaurants, hotels, museums and tour agencies all revolve around attracting foreigners to make big money. But it’s not the just the conventional establishments that are capitalising. There is a growing group of young and intrepid entrepreneurs riding the wave. I talk to three such locals, restauranteur Federico, Martina who manages holiday apartments and historical tour guide Andrea who have started their own businesses in tourism and are doing bloody good job at it too!
I’m an all or nothing kinda gal. If I commit to a task, no matter how arduous, I claw my way to the end. Only a handful of times have I not. Like when I started reading “Crime and Punishment” by chapter three I was so confused that I conceded defeat. Then that time I was determined to watch “Reservoir Dogs”, the tiresomely long conversation at the opening drove me to boredom…and the stop button. Petty things aside you get the picture! But alas my one year sabbatical in Florence now joins this list and it certainly wasn’t a minor moment to shrug off. Readers may remember my appraisal two months in to my year out in Florence (60 Days and 60 Nights) and now that I’m back I going to update you on the realities of Italian life, it may well just give you something to think about…
Loving your curls is about loving who you are…or is it the other way around? Whichever way it was for you, embracing your natural hair is about staying true to your identity and no-one knows that better than my next admission into the Curly Kella Hall of Fame. Meet 25-year old Mishelle Wanniarachchi; an Australian-born Sri Lankan working as a radiographer in Melbourne. We’ve been Instagram buds for a good part of a year, but our friendship goes beyond the world wide web. We are curl comrades in arms. Despite being both beset with hormonal issues that have affected our curls, and relatives who weren’t exactly exalting over our frizz, we’re proud Sri Lankan kellas with a love for our desi DNA. She’s been curl-ready for little over a year and wants you all to know that championing curls was all about reclaiming her South-Asian roots- hair and all!
I’ve resurfaced to tell you that I’ve made it. I’ve completed 60 days of my one-year Sabbatical- dropping work to help myself to a slice of the Vita Bella in Florence. In a tweet I’d say “weather intense, flat hunting tough, made some friends”. But instead of taking the easy way out I’ve decided to put my money where my big fat mouth is and let you know how I’m finding it. I’ve been hyping myself and others about this experience for a good few years and now that I’m here, I bet you want to know if I’m sold on the idea of living here or not? I’m still unsure. The bouts of homesickness are still frequent but what I can tell you is that from finding an apartment to making friends, dating, I’ve learnt a lot and gone through a raft of emotions. So for those curious to take a leaf out of my book, here are my initial observations of Florence 60 days and 60 nights on…
P ics by Gretchen Oris-Chong @Eightcorners
How far would you travel for a good curly-hair cut? Answer: 17000 km. That is the distance I covered from London to Melbourne where Australia’s king of curls, Neel Morley, is sovereign. Since a chance meeting in 2013, I have followed him religiously on social media, not only because he rules over curl cuts but because he truly loves them! The Aussie press can’t get enough of him either; some want to big up his reputation as a curly-hair stylist, others focus on his entrepreneurial talent and then there are those who are hyped up about his quirky fashion sense when he turns up at the Melbourne Cup. So upon going Down Under, I had to book myself in for a signature cut at his funky salon, aptly named, Neels Loves Curls and grab a word with the mane monarch himself.
That’s right. Single. Not single and ready to mingle. Not single and searching. Single. Full stop. End of sentence. As marriages fail, work life becomes more demanding and socialising ever transient, being single is no longer a process but a way of life for many. For the best part of my 20s and 30s I was on a fruitless search for The One! Family and friends often questioned my status like it was a defect. They often tried to set me up, as if they were healing the sick. It got me down for a while. Then at the end of 2017 I thought, “what if I am meant to be single?”. Call it an epiphany – you may think a defeatist one at that – but it gave me so much clarity and freed myself from the assumption that we are all meant to be with someone- an assumption that was at the root of my disappointment and injustice.
Since then I have been retraining my perception of going solo and stopped seeking soul mates as if it was an automatic entitlement. Then I spotted an article about 1930s Vogue Editor Marjorie Hillis’s book “Live Alone and Like It: the Art of Solitary Refinement”. It has been repeatedly published because of its growing relevance in modern society. I related so much to her ideas and was glad to see that I already was on the right track to reclaiming singledom. Now that a new year dawns I’ve decided to continue that trend further in a bid to not sacrifice another day of my youth to lamenting at my lonesomeness nor letting others do so. So if you want to do the same, here is my (and Marjorie’s) guide.
Earlier this week a letter by Einstein was auctioned off for $1.5 million. Its contents included his take on success and happiness:
“A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness”.
This comment got the media’s attention. But it also got mine. It reminded me of an experience in April where I was caught in an emotional maelstrom that got me questioning success and happiness. The trigger? Well to anyone “normal”, here’s the anti-climax. I received an amazing job offer that would catapult my career into an infinite realm of opportunities. But when I got the offer my stomach turned, I thought I would projectile all over my desk.
I agonised over the decision about whether to take the job. Therapy, gym, confiding in friends, drawing up a pros and cons list; not one iota of anxiety budged. I came out of it feeling pathetic and frustrated at myself. Now that I have had time to reflect, I realise that I was experiencing the collision between my ambition and anxiety; two diametrically opposite but POWERFUL forces. One is driven by a desire to excel, the other coloured by a crippling fear. It was such a potent feeling that I wondered just how familiar it had been to others with mental health issues. So read on if you relate!
Long before I flirted with the frizz, there was one kella who had nailed her curly look; Anjali Tandon- my sister’s best friend’s sister. Compared to the long silky locks of my Indian peers (the archetypal look of an Asian babe), her look was completely the opposite; short, choppy, wild, streaked with coppers and reds. In truth before the hype, celebrity role models, magazine beauty spreads, and natural hair blogs, Anjali was my original inspiration and thanks to her I was able to roll with my own unruly curls.
But little did I know how much her curl style allowed her to overcome a lack of confidence and eventually empower her to resist the cultural stereotype. In her own words, Anjali tells me all about her journey; from an unsure, timid girl blindly wrestling with a wild head of frizz, to a young woman revelling in curl confidence.
Every Easter I earmark a trip to Florence, in fact I have been there 7 times. Friends ask why I give up a chunk of my annual leave to the same place year in year out. Why?? OK I admit it; I’m obsessed. But it’s criminal to shrink this wonderful city down to the obvious highlights. Without playing down the rich Renaissance art, food, and history, there’s so much more to unpack that has niente to do with following the tourist trail. Each time I come to Florence I go off piste and it’s showed me a vibrant way of life, an envious way of living. But after a day or two, I want to explore and what you may not realise is that being in Florence puts you in an ideal place to spend what little time you have to open out and experience Italy as a whole.
For the past 11 months I’ve been single and, for the most part, cool about it. I have quite a bit going on and when I don’t, relish the idea of chilling out at home. So yes I really don’t mind being on my own. But, when I meet up with coupled friends, the social inadequacy creeps in and I think I should get myself a plus one. Everyone tells me to get back on to the online-dating front. But I just can’t find the courage to hit that “register” button. Memories of my 20s come flooding back where I was a relentless internet dater; Guardian Soul Mates, Time Out Dating, Match.com (3 times), My Single Friend.com, Badoo- at some point I have been a member of these. My bank statements prove it.
Looking back I can’t believe the amount of crap I took from various guys and now at the age of 33, it got me thinking. I could tell myself that it’ll be different this time, but the prospect of going through that clinical process of scrolling through online profiles turns my stomach. Let me explain…