The Florentine Effect

The Florentine Effect

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Alexandra lawrence ’98 is the very definition of a Renaissance woman. So it’s fitting that the writer, teacher, professional guide, wife and mother calls Florence, Italy, home. It is, after all, la culla del Rinascimento – the cradle of the Renaissance – where the cultural movement was born.

Much like the Renaissance, Lawrence’s life has been an efflorescence of interests and careers in politics and law, literature, history and art that whisked her from the Deep South to the vineyards of California, to the brick walkways of the College and, ultimately, to the frescos of Florence, where she’s spent the past 15 years steeped in the city’s dazzling history and seductive charm.

“I still say, after everything that I’ve done in my life – all the different and cool things,” she observes, “the best decision I ever made was going to the College.”

After a semester studying abroad in Florence, Lawrence graduated from the College with a political science degree and bounced back and forth across the Atlantic, working various jobs at law firms and coordinating programs for other study-abroad students – until, at age 25,

she decided, “I just want to be back in Italy. I’ve got to figure it out.”

She paved her path to Florence with a master’s in Italian literature and language from San Francisco State University. While still living in California, she landed a gig translating from afar for The Florentine, Florence’s only all-English newspaper. When her good friend suddenly had to leave her post as managing editor, she called in Lawrence to take her place in the Tuscan capital.

Her position at the paper led to a phone call from a local university, asking if she could teach a travel writing class. Before she knew it, Lawrence was teaching

seven courses, including journalism, food writing and contemporary Italian culture.

“My favorite thing to teach is the Italian culture class,” she says. “Post 1945 to the present, we really look at everything: politics, the family, social institutions, education, cinema, the arts, immigration.”

She eventually left her position as managing editor of The Florentine to teach full time, but continues to serve as editor-at-large and pen pieces that explore the culture and history of Florence.

In true form, however, Lawrence’s thirst for knowledge and experience, and her

desire to share her passion for Florence – its literature and sculptures, churches and monuments, the great works of Dante and Michelangelo and Galileo and Machiavelli, the idyllic climate, quaint cafés, historic gardens and sweeping views – could not be quenched.

So, after an intensive 800-hour course on Florentine art and history, Lawrence became a licensed professional guide, a highly regarded and highly regulated profession in the city-sized shrine to the Renaissance. And, for the past year, she’s been taking small groups and students, including English professor Bret Lott’s group this summer – on in-depth tours to uncover Florence’s hidden gems.

“It was sort of a gift to myself to be able to study the history and art of Florence more formally,” she says, “and, in an official capacity, share my knowledge with people who come to the city. Florence is more than the “David” and Uffizi and the Duomo. I love all of those things, but there are hidden corners that I like to help people discover.”

And who better to do it than this Renaissance woman herself?

– Abi Nicholas Stock ’07