6:45 a.m. It is unusual for me to sleep this late. I wake up to the sound of thunder and turn on the light while the rain splashes down hard and floods the balcony of my hotel room. I sit up, hugging my knees, looking at the rivulets of water streaming down the window pane. Years ago, when I used to think that unusually tough training would produce unusually smooth racing, I would have welcomed this opportunity to train in "extreme" weather. But that stage is long gone. Now I seek harmony and balance in every run. I push it just as far as my body and soul agree to go without bickering. And if the forces of Nature conspire against me then I just give up. Unless I'm scheduled to run with Indro, that is.
Indro shows up in the lobby at exactly 7 a.m., as planned. The rain? So what? We start out almost without a word, even though we haven't seen each other for the past three months. "Cascine or Lungarno?" he asks. "Lungarno" I choose. My hotel is right in front of the Cascine Park but how could I miss a morning run through the center of Florence (Italy) at a rare time when it's not suffocated by tourists? So we run down the Piazza Vittorio Veneto and reach the Arno's right bank. We run on the narrow sidewalk, skirting the puddles as best we can, wet but not soaked because the rain has subsided by magic just a few minutes into our run.
The cobblestones of the Ponte Vecchio (the "Old Bridge") almost sound hollow under our footsteps today. The goldsmiths are still sipping their morning coffees in their homes, but soon they'll open up their shops as they and their predecessors have done every morning for the past five centuries. "We are running right under the Vasarian Corridor" says my Florentine host, who also happens to be the founder of Seattle-based Run The Planet and Florence-based "Podismo". In his mid-thirties, he's a lot younger than his readers usually make him out to be. His Italian running magazine, "Podismo", has been around since the seventies, when Indro was just in his teens!
"What's the Vasarian Corridor?" I venture to ask. My question borders on the un-Italian. In Italy you never admit to ignorance. But I'm talking to a former Dante scholar in his own territory, so maybe I can be excused. "The Vasarian Corridor" - he explains patiently - "was built in the XVI century as a private passageway between the Duke's residence, the Pitti Palace, and his office, the Uffizi. That way" - he chuckles - "the Medici family could sneak up on just about anyone at any time or return home from work unseen, or simply go to Mass on rainy Sundays without getting wet and without mixing with the populace". My imagination runs freely as Indro's story unfolds. I think of Cosimo I De' Medici, Duke of Florence and Grand Duke of Tuscany in the sixteenth century. Under his very catholic leadership Florence became the European city most densely populated with priests. I picture Cosimo walking swiftly and silently through the corridor, spying on his subjects, perhaps deciding from there who was to pious enough to go on living and who was to die...
We're climbing Costa San Giorgio and the Via San Leonardo, past the Belvedere Fort and the going is tough. So we walk, the way veteran runners do whenever they feel like it, especially if they have a lot to talk about. Indro is, indeed, a veteran runner. He has run every sort of race there is, from 2.5 km backwards to 100 km forward. His pace is always conversational and his training pattern... anarchy pure and simple! He divides his time rather ubiquitously between Florence and Seattle: in Seattle he eats and in Florence he runs. Now he's telling me about a race up some skyscraper in North America. He missed that one because the entry fee was three times the price of a meal at his favorite ethnic restaurant.
Now we're running all around an agricultural enclave, an improbable green oasis just a whiff from the city. Florence is sprawled below us, postcard-like. Even Indro is awed... and he comes from here! We're looking at the eastern part, built around the Cathedral. Even from here, the fifteenth century dome looks incredibly large. Yet it blends in with the rest of the city, some of it more ancient, some of it much more recent, as if a master architect had planned every single construction from the very hilltop where we're standing right now. Italy is blessed with many wonderful cities but none of them, however pretty, is quite as harmonious as Florence.
Now we're in Piazzale Michelangelo, for another breath-taking view. I've been here many times before and I always get the same feeling of elation. There isn't another place in the world where I'd rather be today.
We take the grand stairway down and we're back in Florence. We're running in the "Oltrarno", which is where the low classes used to live. It's sober, no-nonsense, even a bit dry. Beautiful nevertheless. Before crossing the river again, by way of the Santa Trinita bridge, we stop in front of a medieval tower. It's the Mannelli tower, which happened to stand in the Vasarian Corridor's path. "The Medicis tried to run the Corridor right through it" - says Indro - "but the Mannelli family was powerful enough to say no way. So the Medicis just built a portion of the corridor around it. I look at it in disbelief. A portion of the Grand Duke's private passageway does indeed cling to the tower in midair and then moves on into another building, one that belonged - no doubt - to someone who could be bossed around more easily than Mr and Mrs. Mannelli.
We rush back to my hotel and sneak into the breakfast room in our running clothes, sweaty and wet. We are obviously violating the dress code, but the people around us are too sleepy to notice or care. Indro talks merrily, eyes darting enthusiasm and cheeks flushed. We both gesticulate and interrupt each other freely. Although the day has yet to start we already made time for health, sight-seeing, friendship and meaningful conversation. Outside it is starting to pour again. The truce is over. The waters parted for our run like they did for the fleeing Israelites except that we weren't running away from the Pharaoh's army today so no one will be drowned... and if this is a far-fetched metaphor written on a runner's high my running readers will probably understand.
Giorgio Pogliano’s morning coffee doesn’t come in a cup, but he can still find it everywhere. Running each morning is his daily “coffee” – it gives him the surge of energy, something good to reflect upon during the day, and a reason to look forward to tomorrow. Just like the different types of coffee found around the world, Giorgio finds different surroundings as he runs.