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American Girl’s Footsteps March 17, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in Stuff in General.
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By Alex Sawit

March 17, 2015



   I don’t often receive internet ads that pique my interest. It’s not that I generally dislike internet ads. It’s just that, despite sophisticated tracking of online traffic by internet companies, most of these ads still feel like messages in bottles, cast into the worldwide ocean to arrive out of sheer luck on the shores of my laptop. Just like in the real world, not every message in a bottle really amounts to anything more than litter on the beach interrupting you as you surf.

   But after I uploaded my post entitled The Kiss with the American Girl, the following ad started showing up on my browser:


   I remember thinking, “Hey, that was fast,” when it first greeted me on my web-based email page. Then the next day, it appeared on my favorite sports website. Before I knew it, this charmingly relentless promotion of Hotel Berchielli and its beautiful view of the Arno River was showing up almost every day on the websites that I was visiting. Clearly, I had caught the attention of the advertiser’s algorithm, which I attribute to all the online research I had been doing to learn more about American Girl in Italy. More than a month later, the ad still shows up regularly when I’m online, and even though I presently have no timetable for visiting Florence, I continue to welcome the ad’s appearance with genuine amusement, as well as gratitude for the constant reminder.

   Because ad or no ad, I definitely want to see the American Girl’s hotel.

   To recap from my earlier post, Hotel Berchielli in Florence is where photographer Ruth Orkin and fellow American Ninalee Allen (better known by her married name, Craig) were staying while on separate travel adventures through Europe in 1951. The two hotel guests befriended each other and went on a one-day photography excursion of the city, resulting in the famous American Girl photo.

   In the process of researching the backstory of that iconic photograph, however, I stumbled across another one of the photos taken that day in Florence, captured on the same roll of film in Orkin’s camera.

   Here it is:



   It’s a shot of Ruth and Ninalee (taken perhaps by one of the new local friends whom the girls met while on their picture tour), showing the two waving from the balcony of their hotel, just above the front entrance where the name “Albergo Berchielli” decorates the doorway. Marvelously, the camera has collected the exact moment of their unscripted celebration, the girls having just returned to the Berchielli in triumph after a whole day of fun and adventure around this captivating city.

   More than the moment, it captures the instant of Ninalee’s vivaciousness, showing to us that she is uninhibitedly embracing the joy of living life in the present. For this reason, whenever I look at this old photograph, it makes me feel as if it was taken just moments ago. I sense something real in what Ninalee has imparted of her passionate spirit, as if something unbound is reaching out of the picture to greet a new friend across time and space, making past and present feel meaningless.


Other than the removal of outdoor lighting fixtures and
the addition of tempered glass inner doors, the entrance of
Hotel Berchielli looks the same today as it did in 1951.


   I compared the photographed location of Ruth and Ninalee against contemporary images of the same balcony, which is still directly above the Berchielli’s front entrance and still offers guests one of the loveliest riverside views of Florence. It gladdened me to see that its appearance and that of the rest of the hotel’s frontage is almost exactly as it was in 1951.

   Timelessness is the treasure of every heroic sentimentalist. So if you fancy a visit to Hotel Berchielli with that in mind, on top of all the obvious reasons for visiting one of the most romantic cities on earth, by all means follow in Ninalee’s footsteps. With good vino in hand, stand where she stood…see what she saw…and feel what she felt.



The balcony offers a view of the famed Ponte Vecchio (partly visible in the distance).
Outside the door beside the EU flag is the exact spot where Ninalee was waving.





[ Read the original post, The Kiss with the American Girl. ]







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