Wow. My six beautiful months here in Florence are coming to a close. Three months! As is so often the case in life, I feel like I have been here forever, and yet sometimes I feel like I have only just arrived. Living in Florence has been an incredibly moving experience: utterly life-changing. Of course with every day that goes by we learn something new, we change a little bit, we adapt, we (hopefully) become better, more well-rounded people. However, living in another country really exaggerates that process, and though you are still fundamentally the same person as you were when you started out, so much about you has changed. You become more astute and aware, more worldly, and, what’s most important, more accepting and open-minded. I have learned so much since I have been here. So much indeed. The past two times that I have lived out of the US, I never fully realized all of the things I had seen and done until much later, in silence and solitude, back in the comforts of my home. I am sure it will also be the case with this experience, but I have really been trying to absorb as much as I possibly can (even to the point of complete exhaustion) while I am still here because it only just feeds my curiosities. I know more about Florence than many of my Florentine friends, and in fact they often come to me for advice on restaurants, favorite churches, museums, and upcoming events and festivals. And even though I now know this city like the back of my hand, it is still so surprising, so welcoming and familiar, yet so foreign. I may know many of its secrets, but I do not know them all, will never know them all. I have known this for a long time, but am just now coming to terms with it. It’s supposed to be that way.
And yet every time I walk by the Four Seasons Hotel (on my way to and from school everyday), the doormen recognize me, salute me, wish me a good day. The boys at the coffee bar I always go to know me so well that on a mild day they will make me my normal coffee drink, and on a rather hot day they will shake it with ice without even asking. I know where to find the best pastries in Florence, and if you tell me what flavor of gelato you are in the mood for, I will tell you where to go to get the best example of that particular flavor. I lament every Monday that I cannot go wander the cool halls of the Bargello museum, or sit and do my homework in its sunny courtyard, because Monday is their day off. The guards at the Uffizi always smile at my now-familiar face, knowing that while the tourists crowd into the Botticelli room, I prefer to haunt the hallways, gazing at each statue with an intense curiosity, trying to personify whomever is portrayed. However, I will always stick out of the truly Florentine crowd because I find wearing 4-inch heels everyday much too painful, my purse is not by Louis Vuitton, and my sunglasses cost $15 at a vintage store. I am not high-maintenance enough to care about perfect hair and make-up, and would most often prefer a cozy trattoria (family-style restaurant) to the elegant new cocktail bars popping up all over the place. I don’t like to interrupt people when they are speaking, which is typical Italian behavior. Sometimes two people will talk at the same time for minutes, each too eager to express his opinion and sentiments than to listen to the other. I prefer to wait my turn, which oftentimes means I don’t get a word in edge-wise. I will never, ever get used to shop-workers looking me up and down with that awful sneer on their face, as I were not good enough to set foot inside. Oh yea, and sometimes I like to eat alone in restaurants. I will never really fit in here. And that is okay.
All things considered, I am pleased with my Italian skills. I am trying not to be too hard on myself, because I only had a few months. I am conversationally fluent, but I’m still a little sorry to be ending my proper lessons at school. The best thing I can do now is just practice, which means fearlessly talking to people instead of being all self-conscious and holding back. But you all know me… I want to be perfect! Now!! I am learning to accept that it takes time, patience, and persistence. See, I told you I am growing!
These have been exciting days for me! This past weekend my best friend Andrew (by some miracle) was assigned to a flight (he works for Delta) to Pisa and had a 2-day layover! So I hopped on a train, took a day off from school (the first time I have missed class), and went with high expectations of a great time. I swear it doesn’t matter how much time passes that we don’t see or talk to each other, we are always able to just pick right up where we left off. We spent a lovely afternoon in Lucca, a gorgeous little city about 30 minutes from Pisa. We just sort of wandered around, stopping often for refreshments, and then caught a train back to Pisa for dinner when night fell. We went to this wonderful little pizza joint that Andrew had discovered on one of his many layovers in Pisa, and shared a half liter of red wine. Then we took a leisurely walk back to the center, had a gelato, and watched the college crowd gather in one of the Piazzas near the river. We reminisced about being in college, and finally turned back to the hotel. The next day Andrew slept until 2:00pm (poor thing was so exhausted!!), which was actually kind of nice because it gave me a lot of quiet time to think and rest and doze and think and rest and doze again. We had originally planned to go to Cinque Terre, about 2 hours away, but since it was so late in the day we just stopped by the supermarket, packed a nice little picnic, and headed to Viareggio instead (15 minutes away). We sat on a park bench and ate our little picnic lunch, and just talked and talked an entire bottle of wine away! After that, happily fuzzy, we walked on the edge of the sea, thankful for a bit of breeze on that hot summer day. After a while we just sat on the pier and watched the fishermen catch that night’s dinner. It was an intensely local moment, and we smiled at all the lovely characteristics of Italian people that we have both come to know and love: the wild gesticulation, the fluid, song-like speech, the old men huddled over a deck of cards, the young men recounting their latest girlfriend troubles. Facing into the sunset we talked about everything and nothing, like good friends often do, until we decided that a coffee was in order so we could work up our strength for dinner. The air got surprisingly crisp as evening fell, so we traded our places on the terrace of the coffee shop with one under the covered porch of a little seaside restaurant, called “Seagulls.” We chose to split a seafood Paella, skipping the wine this time around, and enjoyed our food, the evening, and the company. I have seldom felt so at peace with the world. We returned to Pisa sleepy and content, took cold showers to wash off the day’s stickiness, and stretched out in our generously-sized single beds, ready to dream until the morning. The bus didn’t pick Andrew up until around 12pm, so there was plenty of time for a long shower, a coffee, and a bit of friendly bantering. I accompanied him downstairs where the rest of his co-workers were waiting, and boy did they give me a look when they saw us together! It was actually quite funny because I never in a million years would have thought about how it “looked” to outsiders, but indeed it must have seemed a bit strange. Anyway, I left Andrew to explain that one (after a goodbye hug, of course), and wandered across the street to the train station, shielding my eyes from the bright sun. I bought a piece of fresh coconut from a street vendor and then boarded the train and an hour later was back in Florence. A lovely little weekend, indeed.
Tomorrow W leaves San Francisco to come visit! He will arrive Thursday morning in Pisa, and I am so excited I can hardly stand it. After three months apart, I really do miss him! But we have some lovely little adventures in store, indeed indeed we do:
- A week in Florence
- 6 days exploring other parts, such as Chianti (wine region) and Cinque Terre (along the sea)
- 3 days in Rome with Andrew
- 1 week in Sicily!!
What do you think? I am lucky to have met someone with an adventurous spirit to match my own. I will give you more details as we figure them out!
So now I have stayed up much later than I should have, considering I have school tomorrow morning! But there are so many other things to tell you! I guess they will just have to wait until tomorrow…