At Fiorella’s house, there aren’t many rules. In fact, there really aren’t any, except to be on time for dinner, which is at 8:00pm every night. I usually make it home around 7:45pm, just to be on the safe side. Today, however, I was running a little bit late because I stopped by the store on the way home, so I pedaled as quickly as I could, locked up my bike on the sidewalk instead of at the bank across the street like I normally do, and ran up to the fourth floor where we live, with only 5 minutes to spare. Every evening when she hears me open the door, she always greets me with a cheerful “Ciao!” from the kitchen, so you can imagine my surprise when I walked in the door and there were no pots clanging together, the TV wasn’t blaring, and the cat was meowing at me like I knew where her food was. Strange, I thought. Then about two minutes later, my phone rang, and Fiorella’s chirpy voice rang loud and clear. She was going to be late for dinner. “That’s fine,” I told her, “take your time.” Nearly two hours later she floated in the door, whipped up a quick dinner for Hanna and me, and sat down with a cigarette to keep us company. She was happier than usual (a level of happiness that is hard to achieve!) because she had been at a bar having a drink with her son who was in from Rome. Hannah has exams this week so she didn’t linger long at the dinner table, but I wasn’t in a rush so I just sat and talked to Fiorella for awhile. We talked for about an hour as she recounted story after vivid story, all of her best memories, and some of her worst. I mainly just sat and listened, mesmerized by the depth of her sincerity, grateful that the world had given her some really beautiful things in life and saddened all the more for the tragedies she has encountered. She has taught me a lot in the short time that I have been living with her. She has taught me that it is possible to love life with every single breath that you take, even when it smothers you. She has taught me that putting everything you have into whatever task is at hand can be exhausting yet invigorating at the same time. She has taught me that it’s the little things in life that really matter the most– a perfectly-cooked risotto (rice), a nice little summer stroll, flowers on the balcony, fresh herbs in your salad, coffee in the morning. The grandiose things always come and go in life, and at the end of it all, does it really matter that you have the biggest house on the block or the fanciest car in the lot? Or does it matter more that you love with everything in you, and are loved in return? That you give abundantly and without expectations to everyone you meet, leaving an indelible mark on each and every one? I am so thankful to be living here with her, and I can only hope that someday I can have just a fraction of her inexhaustible energy to put forth in the world, that I can open myself up without fearing vulnerability, that I can dance through the mornings, afternoons, evenings, and nights, even when things don’t go my way, and that I can someday make one mean risotto, just like Fiorella.
So today I finally visited the Bargello, a beautiful collection of statues, tapestries, carvings, ceramics, and other hand-made antiques housed in the most amazing old palace. I don’t know why I haven’t been there yet, because with my Amici degli Uffizi card that I bought when I first got here, I get in for free. I had barely even entered the courtyard before I decided that it is my favorite museum in Florence, and perhaps my favorite museum that I have ever visited. The collection is housed better than the collection at the Uffizi, which makes for a more rewarding visit. Also, though there are many things of interest, it is not as overwhelming as the Uffizi and therefore less daunting and much more enjoyable. Not to mention that the palace itself is absolutely incredible. It is truly amazing… this city never ceases to enchant me. I spent the rest of the afternoon navigating the now-familiar streets, trading up the tourist routes for the much quieter little side streets. It is amazing because you can be in the middle of tourist mayhem, and simply turn a corner and you find yourself completely alone on a shady little street. I have never seen another city quite like that.
I cannot believe that I have less than two weeks of class left! I have a lot to anticipate because W is coming to visit on the 28th. So I think I have been kind of willing that date to come more quickly, and I forget that I don’t actually have that much more time here. I remember talking to my dad when I first got here and he kept telling me, “Oh you will be home before you know it!” I told him not to tell me that because I wanted to really live it up. But of course the only reason I did not want him to say it aloud to me was because I knew that it was painfully true, that he was absolutely right, that life goes by so slowly and so quickly all at the same time. And so here I am, approaching the end of my stay in this magical city, and it makes me so profoundly sad. So today I decided to just live it up! I wandered around the Bargello, walking around and around and around, then I stopped by one of my favorite gelaterie and got a granita, a frozen ice drink (I chose grapefruit and strawberry… delicious!). I savored every single drop while wandering through some of my favorite streets, always choosing the narrower ones that offer more shade from the hot mid-day sun. Then I went over to the other side of the river, stopped in one of my favorite little clothing shops, owned by an American girl from San Francisco, and we chatted a bit. After that I met up with Alex again for some more conversation practice, and we chose the rooftop terrace of one of the big department stores here for a caffe shakerato (iced coffee) overlooking the city. We stayed and chatted for almost two hours before I finally wandered back home for the evening. It was pretty much a perfect day. I can honestly say that I savored every single second of it.
I cannot wait for Thursday to come! My best friend Andrew works for Delta and he has a flight into Pisa! He is only here for a day and a half, but we take what we can get. He will return sometime in June for several days, and when he does we (me, W, Andrew) will rent a car and drive around Tuscany! I anticipate that we will make many stops at vineyards along the way! It looks like W and I will spend about a week here in Florence when he comes, then maybe a few days in Rome, then a few days driving around with Andrew, and then finally ending up in Sicily for a week or so! Altogether it will be about three weeks… I am such a lucky girl! I hope in my life to come I always get to travel.
Well, that is all I’ve got for today! I have posted more pictures, which I will try to organize tonight. Right now they are a jumbled mess! Thank you all for continuing to read, and for having patience with me when I don’t write everyday. You will never know how much it means to me that there are so many people out there interested in my life!! What did I ever do to deserve such blessings??!
I am continually blessed in life. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. When I think of all the opportunities I have been given I just cannot believe that it is my life. I am 23 years old and have seen so much, and every single experience has left an indelible impression on me and has shaped me into the ever-evolving person that I am. I have met some of the most amazing people in my travels and in life in general, and have the very best friends and family a girl could ask for. I am not the kind of person who tends to have a thousand friends at a time, but those that I do have are for life and I know that I could count on them for anything. They are also very smart, interesting, good-hearted people who are motivated to do good things in the world. I guess this is the type of person to whom I am attracted, and when I meet someone that exhibits these characteristics, I am compelled to establish relationships with them. It doesn’t matter what our differences are– language, culture, country– as long as we have these fundamental things in common. So I have mentioned to ya’ll before that I have met a few people through a language tandem site where I can meet native Italian speakers with whom to practice my Italian and then they get to practice speaking English with me. I get about 5 responses a day– a day! Everyone is keen to learn English these days, and it is impossible for me to respond to them all, let alone meet them! Anyway it has gotten to the point that I hardly ever check the site anymore because the 25 new messages awaiting me are just too daunting. Anyway, the other day I logged in to sort through some mail to try to see if I could someone who might be a good fit for me. I normally just get responses from men– only one girl has ever responded to me and now we are good friends– and sometimes I question their motives. They see a young, American girl who isn’t too bad-looking and pounce! I try to use my best judgment because meeting someone through the internet can sometimes be a little sketchy. Anyway, the other day I got a message from a guy named Alex who is in the Italian military. He is a civil engineer and is about to take a TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) test and needed some help. He seemed genuine and so I responded to him, and we met up Friday for the first time. We talked for over three hours! It was just a perfect fit! He is about 27 and has a degree from the Italian Military Academy (Italian version of MIT, so obviously he is smart) and studied in Milan and Turin. He is thinking about coming to the States to do an English program for a month this summer to practice some more because he wants to apply for a Fulbright! Imagine that! It was so funny because I was like, “Really?? I did a Fulbright!” So anyway, we got along royally without any weird boy-girl tension. It was a nice surprise because you just never know what to expect! We actually met up again later that night with Andre and one of his friends and had a few beers. His friend was very nice as well and the four of us got along great.
I guess all I am trying to say here is that I feel lucky. I feel lucky to be here in this amazing city that never ceases to surprise or enchant me. I feel lucky to be living here with Fiorella, who is always gracious and cheerful. I feel lucky to have met Andre and Jacopo, Corinne (the only girl who responded to me), Nic and Sim and their family and friends, and now Alex. All of these people are forming the web of memories that I will take away from here. I feel lucky to be young and healthy and to have a sense of adventure. But most of all I feel lucky to have a loving and supportive network of family and friends– all of you– waiting for me when I get home. There is nothing else in the world that I could possibly ask for.
Finally! And there are more to come, so check out my shutterfly site:
The Zanzare. Oh The Zanzare. Say the word outloud. Zan-zar-ay. Sounds a bit like the sound mosquitoes make, no? Che miseria. What miserable creatures!
So I should not be complaining at all, because the weather has finally turned beautiful! The last several days have been hot, sunny, and very humid. The center of the city is getting fuller and fuller of tourists, so much so that I don’t even go there on the weekends anymore. I much prefer to spend my time on the other side of the river, where life is at a more normal pace. Anyway, back to the weather. Because we had so much rain this spring, the zanzare are plentiful. Last week, before Fiorella had bought the little anti-mosquito devices to put in our rooms, I literally did not sleep for three days straight. As soon as I was on the verge of falling asleep, that familiar buzzzzzz would start in my ear or I would feel a bite on whatever body part happened to be poking out of the covers. I would throw on the lights and sit and wait until I saw one land on the walls and then— attack!!! Then I would go back to bed, thinking that I had killed the one and only mosquito in my room, and right as I was falling asleep again…. buzzzzzz. Oh it was horrible. In one night alone, I counted 7 mosquitoes that I killed. And they just kept coming back night after night.
Now here is a good question: if there are so many mosquitoes here, and they like to keep the windows open, why don’t they just have screens? I mean, it’s not like it is the height of technology or anything. And then they could have the best of both worlds! But I suppose that if you have a screen in your window you cannot lean out of said window, a favorite pastime for Italians as they love to people-watch. But to keep the mosquitoes out? I’d say it was worth it…
There is this product here called Vape that thank goodness actually works. It smells like soap when you plug it into the wall, but causes all the mosquitoes to die mid-flight!!! Muahahahaha!!!!!!!!!
Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll try to come up with more colorful representations tomorrow!
So the other weekend (sorry I am so late in writing this!), Nic and Sim invited me to spend a day or so with them on their boat at this pretty little seaside town called Punta Ala. It is only about 2 hours away from Florence, and is a very cute, very chic little port where many Tuscans park their boats. Nic and Sim have this gorgeous yacht with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a nice little kitchenette, comfy living area (that can sleep more people), and a two nice big decks, perfect for sunbathing. The weather report was not promising, but as is often true with the weather report, it turned out the be the exact opposite. Oh how ready I was to bask in the sun after weeks and weeks of seemingly endless rain! I was glad to see that Stephano and his girlfriend Irene were also there, as it was a great opportunity to get to know them better. Jenny, their daughter, was only there for a short time, but it is always nice to see her too.
So Punta Ala mainly consists of a large boat harbor, several nice little boutique shops, a handful of restaurants, a gelateria (ice cream shop– of course), a bar or two, and a tiny little beach that is completely enclosed by large-ish rocks, which sheilds it from the wind. In other words, it is absolutely ideal. I arrived in the afternoon after a 45-minute delay on the train, and was greeted by a smiling, already-bronzed Nic, clad in swimming trunks and sunglasses. I smiled really big inside, knowing that it was going to be a good weekend. When we arrived at the boat, Sim (naturally) had a great big delicious lunch already prepared, and the 7 of us (Pasquale was there too, for the afternoon… remember him from Stephano’s party?) gathered around the table, ate heartily, and drank a few beers. Not a bad way to kick things off! After lunch, I curled up in the sun and snoozed for a bit, thankful to be away from the zanzare (mosquitoes) that had been keeping me up at night in Florence (we will talk about them later!). I read for awhile, too, (I am trying to read a book in Italian, and I have to say that it is going relatively well, albeit a bit slowly!), chatted a bit with everyone, and then it was time for Jenny to leave so she could get the train back to Florence. Stephano and Irene invited me to come along, so we all piled in Nic’s BMW SUV and headed to the train station in next town (Follonica). It was a short trip, but one which I will never forget. Let me try to explain.
So there we were, four young, vibrant adults, cruising down a picturesque road in a small, seaside Italian town. Windows down, music (way) up, scrubby little seaside pine trees blowing past and giving way, every now and again, to another beautiful view of the sea. There was this smell that filled the car, this wonderful, gorgeous smell– was it gardenia? pine? what was it?? I inhaled it so deep, and felt springtime just explode everywhere– in the car, outside, and even inside my lungs. From that point onward, I had a smile perma-plastered to my face, and in fact when we got out of the car after returning back to port, Irene took one look at me and said, “Well, you look more relaxed already!” And indeed, indeed I was.
That night we walked all of 100 yards to this little restaurant on the water. There was a big group of us– maybe 12-14 in all? They were old friends of Nic and Sim’s, mostly from Florence. Everyone was lively, cheerful, and happy to be there. I absolutely love Italian dinner time (not even counting the food!!!) because everyone just sort of takes there time getting there and then really enjoys each other’s company. This particular dinner was especially exciting because the menu was full of fish!! Oh…. heaven was so close that night that I could literally taste it. There was the antipasto (appetizer) of mixed seafood (we’re talking two types of calamari, shrimps, firm-fleshed fish, etc. etc.), a small bite of seafood lasagna, fresh filets of tiny white fish (about the size of anchovies except with a very light, very delicate flavor), and a few other things that aren’t coming to mind right now. I can still taste that calamari… mamma mia!! For my main meal I had the sesame-encrusted tuna topped with balsamic vinegar, which was delicious but if I had to do it all over again I would choose what Irene had. It was a fresh filet of a very flavorful yet delicate white fish, encrusted with really thin layers of potato, then pan-fried until the potatoes were golden. Not only was it gorgeous, but the taste was, in a single word, memorable. The wine we had with dinner was a type I had never had before, called Ribolla Gialla, from the Veneto region of Italy (up near Venice). It was a light, crisp white wine that was surprisingly complex, yet not complicated. Perfect for fish! For dessert I chose a simple mixed-berry fruit salad, topped with frozen yogurt. Of course it was delicious, but especially wonderful were the little fragoline di bosco (literally “little strawberries of the forest”), which were sweet as candy and had an extremely concentrated, perfect strawberry taste. Wow! So needless to say, everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. There was a lot of cheerful conversation, a lot of laughs, vibrant stories, and jokes among friends. It was a lot of fun to be a part of that experience! It will definitely stand out in my mind when I think back on the time that I have spent here in Italy.
The next day, no one was in a hurry to leave. I was thankful for that, because it meant that I had more precious hours to relax, read, and soak up some sun. We wandered out of port this time and motored around to the other side of the peninsula, but it was a little too windy so we went back. We had another light but delicious lunch, and I decided to lay down a bit. Two hours later, I emerged from hibernation with a big fat lazy grin on my face. I think my body really needed that nap. Like, needed it. Anyway, we wandered off to the beach for a bit before taking off, which wasn’t crowded because most people had already left for the day. I put a toe in the freezing water and decided that was enough, so I stretched out on a towel in the sun and watched as the Rabaglietti’s played beach tennis (or was it raquetball? The one with the heavy, wooden rackets where you play without a net and try not to let the ball fall on the ground) in the sand. I tried my hand at it too, but I was playing with Sim who is a seasoned tennis pro. I was proud when we counted to 10 hits without letting the ball fall, but then again tennis was never really my strong point. But at least I gave it a shot. As the sun was setting, we reluctantly left the beach, took showers, and packed up. And with a twinge of sadness, I said goodbye to this little oasis, in the way that you say goodbye to people or places or things when you aren’t sure you will ever see them again. But my, oh my, it was lovely while it lasted!