Saying Goodbye to Florentine Mamma Popi

carla coulson, florence, popi

When I got a call that Popi was dying, I booked a flight straight away and flew to Florence. I wanted to say goodbye to this woman that changed my life, that was my darling friend, that was as naughty as any sixteen year old, even at 88.

Popi was the one that set me on the path that was right for me. She was the one that pointed out I loved photography when I didn’t know what the next step would be. She was the one that gave me a safe place to live whilst I changed lives and careers on the other side of the world and she taught me to follow my heart.

Some of you will know the effect Popi had on my life and others won’t.

Our paths were meant to cross, often I feel like twenty years ago I was carried all the way to Florence by a bunch of helping hands to meet Popi. If I had to name the top 3 influential people in my life, she would be one of them. Twenty years ago, I didn’t know what the word ‘synchronicity’ meant but now I know that is exactly how I arrived on Popi’s doorstep. When a tiny ‘monk-like’ pensione in Piazza Santo Stefano decided to renovate in the middle of August, the sweat, noise and chaos pushed me to find an alternative.

I took up my fellow Italian language school friend’s offer to check out where he was living. He referred to it as paradise, it sounded like hell to me!  A home with a 68-year-old Florentine mamma called Popi who rented out rooms to students of which there were currently 6.

It was love at first sight!

I took the only room available that had a single room that I couldn’t open my cupboards at the same time as standing on the floor. It didn’t matter.

“Casa mia é casa tua!” My house is your house and for the lucky ones that got to sit around Popi’s table and live in her home this is exactly how we felt. She dished up stories and home cooked Florentine recipes of ribollita and pasta ai fajoli and a guzillion other delicious things whilst we felt loved.

I knew I wouldn’t be the only one booking a ticket to Florence, there were literally hundreds of us that found our way to her doorstep in need of something that we probably didn’t know exactly what at the time but sitting at Popi’s table, she helped us figure it out.

carla coulson, florence, popi

There were so many tears shed as the plane landed in the small airport of Florence, the beauty of the Tuscan hills blurred through the tears but it still managed to take my breath away. Patches of bright green fields, then lines of grey, green olive trees that looked fluffy at this time of year, rows of dark green cypress and those sweet hills that surround Florence that almost look like  a green glove that holds Florence in the palm of its hand. Just as you land, if you crouch down low you see the Duomo rising above Florence,  with her white whalebones holding the terracotta roof together. I have seen it hundreds of time before but it’s beauty always stuns and for a couple of seconds I forgot to breathe.

It feel like twenty years were winding up, the decade was almost over. Popi had called me to Florence and now she was saying goodbye. The women that led me to photography was now leaving and I too was moving on to a new phase of my life.

I ran my hand along the white and green stone of Il battistero and chose my favourite streets as I went one last time to see this special soul. Florence had never looked so good, she was decked out for Christmas in her best regalia and walking her back streets was a sensual pleasure. A pleasure I had almost forgotten about but my body hadn’t.

Popi taught me 3 great lessons: don’t sweat the small stuff – it just doesn’t matter, to live for the day because that is what we have in our hand right now, and to follow your heart.

The longer I sat around her table, for the first time in my adult life, I started to feel like roots where growing down into the ground, at this point I couldn’t see where the road was taking me but it felt good and I felt safe, secure, loved and part of something. In a funny way, all the people at Popi’s table were searching for something and it felt great to be part of a group that the only thing we had in common was that we wanted to do something that would make our hearts sing.

Following your heart takes courage but it’s the moment we stop letting ourselves down.  

When I walked into Piazza della Signoria in Florence on a hot august night, it felt good and I decided to trust that ‘feel good’ feeling, as long as things felt good I would keep going. Popi taught me to keep saying YES to myself.

There were so many tears shed for Popi, for the love, the joy, the shared memories, the laughter that would explode in our bellies and that would bounce of the walls into a summer Florentine night when the rest of the neighbourhood had gone to bed hours ago. For the days driving in Tuscany with Mina blaring from the speakers and Popi, Eric, Philippa and myself singing as loud as we could. Popi showed me that our spirit has no age, it doesn’t matter what your calling is and it doesn’t matter at what age you find it, but when you find it everything changes.

carla coulson, florence, popi

Popi’s calling was found by accident one day when she offered a foreign student in a gym, complaining about her accommodation in Florence, a room in her empty post-divorce home. After a messy divorce, Popi found herself not wanting to go home at night so for her it was the perfect solution. She could cook, nurture, and pass onto these two lovely souls all the very best things to do in Florence, the intricacies and stories of the culture and do the thing that she loved the most, feed you. “Mangia Mangia” was her mantra.

By day, she had her job at Pucci and by night she couldn’t wait to rush home to attend to these two lovely souls. It was the beginning of a love affair that would stretch from Roma to Rio and back. There are no words to describe the love, openness, generosity, warmth and curiousity that being loved by Popi was.

That was almost 40 years ago, and Popi’s calling was us. The people that she inspired, the lives she saved, the hearts she mended, the wisdom and the joy she passed onto people from Mexico and Switzerland, Australia and Spain, America and Germany, Greece and Holland, Colombia and Portugal and numerous other countries around the world.

Our lives, our days are precious and with the passing of someone so dear, it’s a reminder to live life. The solace in Popi’s passing was that she ‘maxed it out’, she packed so much love and generosity into her 88 years that I could see she was ready to go. When the call came a couple of days later, I felt that she could rest in peace, she came, laughed, she loved, she inspired and did so much good in the world.

I had those two precious days with a woman I love and who will always be in my heart and thoughts.

She was my earth angel and now I know she has simple switched sides, she is watching over me from above.

For those who followed ‘our story’, I know you too will feel a little sad so I’m sending you love and the words Popi told me all those years ago when I had the choice to go back to my life or change it: ‘You only have one life – live it.’

Remember to love, be kind, generous and do your best.

Wishing you a Happy New Year,

Carla x

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Stacia Wright
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Stacia Wright

A most Beautifully written tribute to your dear Popi Carla. It left me feeling thankful and uplifted even though I only know her through your first book Italian Joy. What a gift she was.
Sending lots of love and light to all the way from Australia xx

Caroline
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Caroline

I’m so sorry to hear of Popi’s passing. In your book it was clear how much she meant to you and so can understand your grief. Such a special and unique woman.
Beautiful tribute to her Carla. I’m sure she is sending you kisses from heaven. Xx

Heidi
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Heidi

So sad, but amazing words of wisdom 😢

Melanie Gowlland
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Melanie Gowlland

This story needs to become a book and a film or a series – so beautiful

Felicity Menadue
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Felicity Menadue

What a special woman and what a beautiful relationship you had with her! You will carry her in your heart forever. Much love to you, dearest Carla ♥️

Yavidan Violeta
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Yavidan Violeta

Such a touching post ❤️✨🥰 and inspiring

Deborah Carter
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Deborah Carter

Although the story may have been prompted by Popi’s death, your tribute to her was uplifting and joyous! She would have loved it, I’m sure. Thank you for sharing your feelings and impressions. It left a warm feeling.
Cheers,
Deborah from Melbourne

Loc
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Loc

Popi for President (up there) 😊🙏🙌🏽

Brunilda
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Brunilda

Such an inspiring story.

Mindy
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Mindy

I am so sorry for your loss, Carla. I know how much she meant to you. Your face always lights up when you talk about her and how she changed your life. xoxo

Sam
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Sam

You are a great writer not only a photographer. Your story made me tear. Going through one of those patches in my life and your story is so encouraging and inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing. Merry Christmas!

Stephanie Clark
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Stephanie Clark

I’m so sorry for your loss! She sounds absolutely amazing. What a lovely tribute to a fantastic woman. May she rest with the saints and angels, and may her memory be eternal.

Terri Lee
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Terri Lee

What a lovely story and magnificent soul! Thank you for sharing Popi with us. Godspeed 💙🙏🏻✨✨✨

LA CONTESSA
Guest

I remember you talking about her and me bobbing my head understanding all of it!I have tears in my eyes as I type………..
I didnot know she worked at PUCCI!What a wonderful experience YOU had.Mine was a bit different BUT I GET IT!MY husband and I turn 60 this coming year it might be time to GO HOME!Just thinking about walking the streets of FLORENCE makes me HAPPY!
Nothing like it!
BIG HUG TO YOU………XOXO

Karen
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Karen

What a lucky person you have been to have someone like Popi in your life, if only we could all have had some one like her. Best wishes.

Jeanette and Hector Coulson
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Jeanette and Hector Coulson

Thank you Poppi for looking after our beautiful Carla when we were so far away . You enriched Carla’s life . Thank you Poppi❣️🙏

Mandy Dodds
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Mandy Dodds

Carla, thank you for sharing in the spirit of Popi xo

Corrina Tough
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I fell in love with Popi through your words and imagery, so funny today I have been sharing Italian joy with my friend visiting me here in France from Australia. I just settled down on the sofa for some evening chill out time to see this. Sorry for the passing of such a beautiful soul. She has inadvertently touched so many more lives mine included because she changed yours! Grazia Mille Poppi for your incredible legacy xx

Janice Brown
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Janice Brown

Carla, truly sorry to hear of Popi’s passing. She sounds like one of those divine selfless humans who love unconditionally and are born with a sense of purpose to guide others. To have left such a strong and positive imprint on so many lives is definitely a life well lived. Love, Janice xx

Teresa
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Teresa

I know who this woman was through your book which was gifted to me. Your experience feels close to my heart because I also did the same (gave up my Aussie life and moved to Florence and studied there) I wasn’t fortunate to set up a real life there but it’s the destination I’m always returning to, and here in bella Firenze right now. Big love to you Carla and RIP Popi.

Melissa Gaggiano
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Popi! Through your words and eyes she was so real. Reading ‘this’ now, I am realizing that the Popi chapter of “Italian Joy” prompted me to prepare food with greater love of the process.
Popi opened her door to you and let you keep the key. You shared Popi with us through your stories. You also opened your door to ‘your orphans’. A baton has been passed. Popi lives in you. You are Popi…

Amanda
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Amanda

What a wonderful, warm and inspirational love story❤️

Cara
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Cara

Wow thank you just what I needed…you were so lucky to have met & loved such an amazing person xo

Kerry Murray
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Kerry Murray

What beautiful words! A loving tribute to a wise lady. Thank you for the inspiration in your story and in Popi’s story. ❤️❤️

Carol Grenfell
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Carol Grenfell

A beautiful tribute to an amazing woman whoclearly had a massive influence on your life Carla. I can feel the depth of your emotion in your words, and its been a privilege to be able to read them. People like your Poppi don’t intersect in our lives very often, but when they do you can either be amazed at the opportunity to have met them, or jump on board and go along for the ride,which you did, and your life has been enriched for it.

Elizabeth Fraser
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Elizabeth Fraser

This is a moving tribute and a delightful Christmas message. I wish I had a Popi in my life and the courage to follow her advice. I’ve followed your blog for years and your story has resonated with me but here I am at 60+ haven given up my dreams, drifting along helping and supporting others, while simultaneously neglecting myself as I no longer have the motivation to “follow my dreams”. The only only singing my hear dies is that of The Wiggles songs. I had passion for photography, ( I attended a seminar of yours in Sydney 5 years… Read more »

Meredith
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Meredith

Oh Carla, such a lovely tribute to your precious Popi. I remember reading about her in Italian Joy and the impact she had on your life. What an incredible legacy of love, connection and joy she has left behind. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, a timely reminder in this weary world of the importance of generosity of spirit. Much love, M xo

Carole Fitzgerald
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As someone said dear Carla , you are not only a superb photographer, you have a way with words . This is a beautiful post . Buon Natale , Joyeux Noel xxx

Rachael Kane
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Rachael Kane

I loved Popi in Italian Joy. Your words today were beautiful and honor her, and her message to us all. How wonderful to have crossed paths with such a joyous woman.

Kathleen Holterman
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Kathleen Holterman

Thank you💖💖💖

Paula Robinson
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What a beautiful tribute, Carla… And such lovely images. So glad you were able to say goodbye to the woman who changed your life. She’ll always be with you – especially in the quiet moments. Love & light, Paula x

Maggie Ensor
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Maggie Ensor