Florence, Italy: The passing strange parade

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Florence, Italy: The passing strange parade

Ever been in a place where everything is the same, but different? Let me illustrate.

It was close to midnight in Florence and after a fine dinner I went for a lazy stroll through the lamp-lit streets, then stopped at an outdoor cafe in Piazza della Repubblica for a nightcap of grappa.

From across the broad square the distant sound of a woman singing opera mingled with the disco-dance from a bar, but otherwise the night was pleasingly quiet as couples and small groups ambled past. I relaxed into my chair and then glanced around at the other patrons scattered around beneath the umbrellas.

To my left, seated against the wall of the cafe, was a man who looked exactly like the German actor Kurt Jurgens (1915-82), and a little further along Salman Rushdie was chatting with Mr Heppleston my old 3rd form social studies teacher. He hadn't aged a bit.

On the other side of the cafe Meryl Streep -- who had clearly put on weight for some upcoming role -- was talking with a group of friends which included Jay Leno and that guy who played the father in Dennis The Menace on television in the early Sixties. Hed either had work done, or had a hideously ravaged self-portrait in his attic.

The evening was becoming more disconcerting by the minute -- and the grappa hadn't even arrived. When it did things became no more clear.

My waiter was Peter Falk poorly disguised by a toothbrush moustache.

I sipped my drink, listened to the far-off music, and then a group of minor league cast members from The Sopranos (second series) arrived.

As I watched this parade of doppelgangers I felt like Mr Palomar in the stories by Italo Calvino, a man who is increasingly bewildered by the world the more he tries to make sense of it.

I finished my drink a little later when the woman from Boney M turned up with a group of friends.

It was an odd and amusing hour -- I wondered who I was in this pantomime -- but I put it aside as I walked back to my hotel, on the way bidding a cheery "buona sera" to the late Anthony Quinn walking arm in arm with a young Mary Tyler Moore.

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