By  Maria Francesca Di Scala February 3, 2011

A chance encounter that I experienced when I visited Europe as a chaperone on a school trip during spring break (I am a high school teacher in Montreal, Quebec). 

I fell in love on with Florence; this powerful experience and subsequent trips convinced me that I need to take a chance and work and live in Florence for a year.

Pressed for time, I nervously fluttered around the stationary store.  Amid a tornado of decorated sheets, cards, and leather-bound journals, I found myself lost in the sensuous, Italian words that wafted into the air, and the beauty that lay in front of me.  Choosing gifts was impossible, but what better gift could one offer than that of communication?: the thread that ties us together when the odds of time and distance are against us.   The parameters of the North American lifestyle strain our ties; despite cell phones, we still manage to disconnect.  But there is something about a special piece of paper – what it represents: taking non-existent time to stain it with sincere emotion – that keeps us connected.

Gift selections made, I focused on my ultimate goal: my journal.  I examined each one, imagining myself scribbling ferociously in them.  Using an object to trap the feeling of being in a place that means the world to you puts a strain on your heart and flirts with your dreams. Back home, the object’s violent love affair with your memory is the only link to that place.  

As I stroked the journals, I heard, “Qui c’e la nuova colleziona.  Gli ci sono quelli dell’anno scorso.”  I turned around to see a face smile as the clerk explained.  Our eyes met and I asked, “Scusi, questi sono quelli dell’anno scorso?” and pointed to the journals in front of me.  “Si.  Gli altri sono agenda,” she smiled.  “Ah, no, Io scrivo le poesie,” I clarified. Her face lit up:  “Anche Io voglio quell’altri; sono designer!”  Face to face with my past – my ancient dream of being a fashion designer, put on a shelf so long ago, it was coated in more dust than the journals.  

A flood of conversation ensued: she, Katerina, a Greek who emigrated to Florence with a passion for the city and fashion.  Only two years older than me, Florence was her home.  As we fought against time, my coworkers waiting, I revealed the contents of the journal of my dreams: an Italian-Canadian on a trip with students, dying to live in Florence. 

“Do it!” she advised in English, a flavour of Greek revealed in intonation.  “If you feel the desire, you must follow it.”  I looked at the journals, thinking how amazing it was that a chance encounter could be so powerful.  “Thank you,” I said.  “It was great meeting you.”  We wished each other luck.  

I turned to the collection, selected a leather-bound journal with the Florentine pattern – the largest one – not because I’d never return, but because it might be a while… I had too much to write, and I needed that symbol to keep my dream alive – to keep my connection to Florence alive. 

I left, pausing to look at the store’s sign: Signum.  

Florence and I took our relationship further that day - through Katerina, through paper…  I turned and ran towards my coworkers - the tangible.   The blurry sight of ceramic shops made my ephemeral dream more concrete.  

Duty might call, but dreams beckon, seductively, addictively.  I ran towards Piazza Santa Croce, Florence’s ink stain forever on my heart.  I ran towards my future; it simply needed to take root – the ink stain...  Indeed, Signum.   

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