In the heart of Florence, in the Piazza Repubblica is a café called Le Giubbe Rosse. It was once a gathering place for intellectuals and liberals. In fact, the name itself comes from the red shirts that were worn by Garibaldi’s army during the Italian unification in the 19th century. Today you’ll find red-coated waiters, which is supposedly a lingering sign of the red shirts of old.
During the summer the front of the Giubbe Rosse is difficult to find, in an effort to create more space for tourists, many of the restaurants have added covered areas in front of their businesses where they can fit twenty or thirty more tables. They leave a walkway however, between the sidewalk and the outdoor seating area.
I’ve wanted to come to this café, which is actually touted a restaurant and tea room, for quite some time. It’s the birth place of the futuristic movement. While this isn’t really a movement I’ve very familiar with, I like the idea of the literary history the walls of the Giubbe Rosse holds.
I stopped in for a cappuccino and there was not much going on. Several locals occupied one area of the bar and chatted with the barista. A few tourists sat outside, looking groggy and worn out, the way tourists look after several days of intense sight-seeing.
I looked around and tried to image the ideas and conversations that swirled around with the rising cigarette smoke back in the day. In the early 20th century writers gathered here, in this very space to write and exchange ideas and build the foundation for a new artistic venue.
The names that are famous in Italy, sadly are not very well known to me. Ardengo Soffici, Fillippo Tommaso Marinetti, Giuseppe Prezzolini, Eugenio Montale and Giovani Papini. These are the big names, and it’s a shame that I am not acquainted with them. When I looked up their life works, the lists were impressive, to say the least. Maybe my trip to the Rosse brings about a new literary dawn for myself, a time to read some of these great Italian minds.
Today the Guibbe Rosse still celebrates published poets and writers. They still hold award banquets and book launches for artists. But I expect you have to catch these events at the right time. The evenings have more visitors to the café and I was just one of four people inside this morning. Still, in the silence, there is a whisper of something waving out from the tired looking walls, hanging from the worn chandeliers, and winking back at me from the many pictures of famous artist hanging on the walls.
I sipped my cappuccino slowly, looked around the room and tried to imagine the noise and the laughter and the conversations that might be had. It was the Moveable Feast, Italian Style.