Every Wednesday I go to lunch at my grandfather’s place in Sesto Fiorentino. I take an hour’s leave from work and head out. When I get back to the office my colleagues ask, “What delicious dish did your grandfather make for you?” Are they teasing me? I’m not sure and I really don’t care to know. So I tell my colleagues what was on the menu, even though actually it’s my dad who cooks and not my grandfather, who is 93 years old. Lately my dad has gotten obsessed with becoming a great chef. It’s not that he watches cooking shows on TV, but it’s as if he’s convinced himself he’s really skilled. He prepares us these all-around normal dishes and then asks us with a little smirk: “So, how was it?” My grandfather and I always encourage him, but when he turns his back to us we look at each other as if to say: “And what are you trying to say to him?” This is just how we are around here in Sesto Fiorentino.
For years, to get to my grandfather’s house I always took Via Sestese. Then one day someone—perhaps Google—suggested that it made more sense for me to take a new street, and it was true. I started thinking about how much time we lose like this, just through old habits. Today I’m taking a different street altogether because from Ponte alla Vittoria it makes sense to pass via Ponte all’Indiano. I like this super-new street. The bridge reminds me of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco bay, where I’ve never been. When I pass over it on Wednesdays, I imagine America like this, with its pillars and iron cables and the bay below. Then, far off in the distance, yet opening up in front of me is a view of Monte Morello—it looks beautiful. They definitely don’t have this out in California, I tell myself.
My grandmother Alba lived her whole life in Sesto Fiorentino, but she was from Prato. Her roots were a point of pride for her: her family had money, like most the residents of Prato, really (this is at least what I thought as a child and I still sort of believe it today). My grandmother, besides doing priceless things like reading me Pinocchio, taught me something about people from Sesto Fiorentino: they always walk in the middle of the street instead of on the sidewalk. Why do they do it? I don’t have an answer—I’m not even sure if it’s a fact or it’s something that just comes out of my grandmother’s Pratese origins. But the idea that the street is not just reserved for automobiles is something I like to think: it makes me think of those people in Sesto as hard-headed, as people who don’t just quickly adopt certain customs that might seem perfectly reasonable, but that are ultimately just passing trends.
If things had gone differently and in a war never fought between Prato and Florence, Prato had won, Sesto Fiorentino wouldn’t be called “Sesto Fiorentino” (Sixth Florentine), but “Undicesimo Pratese” (Eleventh Pratese). Sometimes I think about how things would have gone if it had all been different. The names and words would be different, I imagine… more so than the substance.
Sesto would be identical to how it is today, even if it were called Undicesimo, and all the rest: Wednesday at my grandfather’s, the road to get there, Monte Morello, and Richard Ginori would all be the same.
Perhaps I’m mistaken about something, then: names are substance, and wars are only fought for names at the end of the day.