Archive for March 20th, 2004

At “Home” in Florence

As wonderful as it to “live” in a beautiful town like Siena, sometimes one needs to get out and into the big city. Florence isn’t necessarily *that* big, but in comparison to Siena, it certainly is geographically larger and has ten times the hustle & bustle & traffic.On Friday’s bus from Siena to Florence, I close my eyes hoping to fall asleep (to avoid motion sickness). I recall the beautiful Tuscan accent of Silvia, the teacher who took us on a tour of Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico on Thursday. When I say Tuscan accent, I am talking about the way she speaks Italian. My grandmother has told me what Tuscans sound like (softer c’s for example), so I easily recognized it in Silvia’s speaking.
The Palazzo Pubblico is an artistic wonder in itself…My favorite room is full of frescos on government gone wrong… I think the set of frescos is actually called “Allegories of Good and Bad Government”. On one wall there is a serene picture of Siena (back in the day), peaceful and pleasant. On the other wall there is the picture of “justice” bound up, just underneath a grinning demon… and other such things… very interesting.

I step off the bus in Florence and don’t need a map. I already know this city and head straight to my hotel with only a quick glance of my Lonely Planet Book just to make sure. I arrive at the address of the hotel, to find….nothing. I re-check the address and it’s correct. Oh dear, I think. Out of business already. I find a telephone and call the number and sure enough, someone answers. I am told that I have to look for the number in black, not red. Addresses are in two different colors here and mean different things, I’m not quite sure just what yet. I find the number in black and it’s Hotel Enza. Hurrah! At the top of the stairs is a pretty receptionist who compliments my Italian as well as my name. I am just happy that she is speaking only in Italian with me. She shows me to my small room where there is a single bed and a desk…just a typical room. I have asked for a room with a shared bathroom…I see that the shower is a normal shower, unlike mine in Siena where the shower is the bathroom (don’t ask, please.)

I drop my things in my room and set out towards the central market. The nice thing about having been here a couple of times already is that I don’t need to do any of the tourist sites. I come to Florence just to be in Florence. I find a dance shop and remember that I really need new Tango shoes. I walk in and tell the lady what I’m looking for and she helps me try on some different pairs of shoes, all made in Italy.

When I hand over my money, she realizes she needs to go make change. Although we have been speaking in Italian primarily, she says to me in English, “Change…This way,” while motioning her hand just outside.

To me it seems like she wants me to come with her – after all, she motioned with her hand. I follow her to the next store while she gets the change. When she sees that I have followed her, she becomes upset and insulted. Back inside the dance shop, she scolds me, “What, did you think I was going to run off with your money? I can’t believe it! How dare you think that of me??!!”

I am actually amused by all of this, and I explain to her that I thought she had wanted me to follow her, but she doesn’t buy it. Shoes and money in hand, I walk out the door, stifling my laughter until I’m gone. As I pass by the shop window I can see her grimacing at me and shaking her head. I suppose it takes all kinds.

As I walk through the market, men selling their wares are calling out to me left and right, to come look at whatever products they have for sale. I stop to look at a leather bag. The man says to me in English, “It’s only 80 Euros!” I say to him in Italian, “Sorry, I don’t speak English, just Italian.” And in Italian he now says, “It’s only 60 Euros!” Notice how the price went down 20 Euros just because I spoke Italian. These are good things to know…. I don’t buy the bag, though. I find my favorite shop in all of Florence and find a lovely handbag with a Japanese pattern for 11 Euros. More my price. I wander down to the Ponte Vecchio and along the Arno and reintroduce myself to Florence…Everything is the same except for the fact that my absolute favorite bar is no longer in business. Darn, I really wanted to stop there for an apperetivo.

At around 8:30 at night, I have dressed in a skirt and made myself up, and set out to find dinner. I choose a small trattoria on a side street. When I walk in, two men who work there, one with blonde hair and a long nose, and one with dark hair and sparkly eyes, greet me. I say that I’m alone and the dark haired one seats me. After a few minutes of reading the menu and being stared at by all the men that work in the trattoria, I order from Mr. Dark Hair. After I place my order, he says “Very well Signorina (miss)…”(then he gives me the “Latin sideways look” and says) “Or is it Signora? (Mrs.)”… Signorina, I reply, laughing. He introduces himself as Franco.

I can see the chef, who looks like Roberto Benigni. He has been making eyes at me from the kitchen with a silly smile and I just can’t keep a straight face because…well because he looks like Roberto Benigni. The blonde with the long nose is staring at me, bewildered as though he’s never seen a young women dining alone before.
It’s a delicious but difficult meal to get through; When men are watching your every move, it’s hard to do unsexy things like taking a piece of chicken gristle out of your mouth. After my meal, I chat some more with Franco and go on my merry little way, into the chilly Florentine night.

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