An Italian Love Story

Just back from a magical trip to Italy, many people ask what was my favourite part…

Was it the history of Roma, the natural beauty of the Cinque Terre or the magic of Venezia?

It was all those things but Florence (Firenze) was somewhere that struck my heart.

History & fashion combine to create a wonderful city!

We were on our way to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (St Mary of the Flower) fairly early one morning, passing the mind blowing window displays of Gucci, Armani, Roberto Cavalli, Prada, Hermes, Burberry… the list goes on- when I spied a little shop full of old camera’s in the window.

Of course I had to stop…

…of course my husband did not- we were trying to beat the lines at the Duomo.

After a ‘discussion’ we decided that we would come back to it later.

Later came and after traipsing many streets we found it again… Umberto Dei Ottica Fotografia

 The window was amazing, full of all kinds of camera’s and photographic paraphernalia & a small newspaper article entitled ‘Oldest Shop In Firenze’.

In I went and was greeted by an elderly man in a white lab coat, in a very old shop… skyping on a 27” mac!!

He finished his call and greeted us.

After finding out that I was also a photographer he pulled out a large hardcover book on the history of WW11 in Florence.

He showed us his photos of the Germans digging up the cobblestones at the entrances to the bridges to plant mines. Machine guns were at the ready. He told us stories of how when they discovered him taking photographs, he was chased down and shot. At this point he pulled up his trouser leg to show us the bit missing from his leg! He told us that he managed to get himself to a hospital and how proud he was that he only took one day off and opened the shop up the next day. When I asked did he have any customers because of the curfew, he told us that the Germans were good customers & that he was also an optometrist.

He met Hitler & Stalin and photographed them.

I felt like I was in a movie…

The he showed us a photo of his wife.

He told us that she was from London and that on their very first date he asked her to marry him.

She said no.

They went back and forth from Italy to London before finally marrying in 1953. He said that she thought he looked like Danny Kaye, the American actor.

He showed us photos of their children, and with tears in his eyes told us his wife had passed away in 1990.

In his very broken English he told us,

‘She was the love of my life- we were on our honeymoon for 37 years’

Writing this now, I am teary again- we spent a few hours with this wonderful man and listened to stories that I will never forget. What I took from this is the importance of printed photographs as memories.

With this in mind I got my husband to snap a picture of the two of us together. It’s not very good, but it is important.

Just after this was shot he whispered to me,

You can kiss me if you like…. Yep, he’s still an Italian man, Mario Baracchi.