It’s laughable. I should be above it. Or immune to it. Or perhaps just calloused enough not to notice. But there is something unsettling about replacing the old and the comfortable with a new familiarity. It’s like having to part with that worn-out, favorite pair of shoes that show no hint of “wearable distinction.” And then replace them with a new pair, that hold potential, but look entirely too clean and pristine.
Comparing the rugged beauty of Seattle with the richness of Florence is unfair. And at first, I was too inclined the assume the position of “tourist”: to give a cursory glance over the Duomo, gaze up at the copy of Michelangelo’s David guarding the entrance to Palazzi Vecchio, and snap a few shots of the Arno River at sunset. Nearing the month mark of my stay in Florence has switched my perspective. I cannot play tourist any longer now that the “newness” has begun to fade.
It’s at this point you start to notice the simple, easily missed repeats. The garish graffiti of purple and black that coat the warm, yellow building facades. The strange baby mannequins, with realistic rolls and wrinkles, in the window of the clothing store. The fur store with cloaks resembling the White Witch’s attire in Chronicles of Narnia. The man with a salt and pepper beard diligently grinding heels and fixing shoes from his storefront window. The Tetris blocks of cobblestone that don’t seem to always fit together quite right, a piece missing here and there.
Since my arrival in Florence, I’ve had to make some concessions. Most are of little importance, but, to be fair, when in a state of “homesickness,” trivial things seem magnified.
1. Peanut Butter. And apple slices with peanut butter. A stellar combination. They have peanut butter in “international” grocery stores, but at 6 Euro for a tiny jar, it’s severely taking advantage of my American craving. And, upon closer inspection, you will find it’s a poor substitute—hastily mixed ground peanuts and oil (with perhaps a pinch of salt). George Washington Carver would be offended.
2. Starbucks. Starbucks is really missing out on an Italian monopoly. “Coffee to go” with recyclable cups and cozies would forever change Florentine culture. And it’s not that I want to really change anything, but on my forty-five minute walk to class, a steaming cup of heaven would nicely compliment the soundtrack of speeding scooters and the near-death moments of side-stepping buses and misjudging traffic.
3. Index Cards. Supposedly, supposedly, they are sold here. Somewhere. But that’s just a myth floating around. My sticky note plan is not a complete fail, but due to the thin quality of sticky notes, I must constantly remind myself not to read through the translucent yellow squares and cheat at my own self-imposed “must be fluent in Italian” regiment. And there is something about index cards that scream intelligence; I feel as if by just holding them in my hands, I’ve already achieved half of my studying. It’s revolutionary, I know.
4. Eavesdropping. A strange loss to mention, I know. But rarely do I find this source of entertainment in English. And it’s not that I’m nosy, but sometimes I crave my native tongue. And after nearly a month of hearing everything but English, I fallen in the habit of getting lost in my own, English, thoughts. To a point, that it catches me off guard when someone actually speaks to me. On my way to class, an Asian tourist with a British accent asked me for directions to the Uffizi. It took me a minute to kick my mind into gear: I can understand him, I realized. And then, without premeditation, I began to speak to him in broken English, short phrases, and a couple Italian words thrown in for fun.
“I’m looking for. The. Uffizi.” He pronounced the last two words very deliberately. Probably thought my English wasn’t very good. I smiled.
“Allora. Keep walking. Fifteen. Twenty minutes.” I waved my hands for emphasis in the direction of the museum.
“Uhh. Walk fast…?”
“Oh. I’m a very slow walker.” He laughed nervously.
“Twenty minutes.” I gave him a slight, affirmative nod.
A slight pause. “Are you going to. The. Uffizi?” Again with the strange emphasis. At this point, I had started to replace my headphones in the ear closest to him as he attempted to keep up with my pace. I wasn’t trying to be rude, but walking along the Arno River is a danger zone of tourists. (They disembark the buses with force, the inertia of the ride ploughing them into any unsuspecting persons, such as myself. I had learned to brace myself for walk, and music was part of this.) Plus, what a strange and personal and completely irrelevant question.
“No. Class.” And I left him behind in my wake. Poor guy. I should have told him thirty minutes. He did walk very slow.