The city is beautiful. It has it all: architecture, history, food, wine, fashion, traffic. A walking town with centuries of Renaissance art, it is easy to lose yourself in the web of streets and alleys, dodging scooters and bikes. Our apartment, nestled in the streets of Piazza Beccaria at Via Fra Giovanne Angelico 45, is small and comfortable. It overlooks a Tabacchi, which sells cigarettes among other things: stamps, calling cards, the morning paper.
Only ten minutes away is a supermarket, COOP, one of three larger grocery stores in Florence. Unlike “super”-markets in American, it provides all the household and kitchen essentials in one or two brands. You can easily find what you want, offered in only two versions: expensive brand name or the cheap generic. Compared to the States, this makes the task of shopping a breeze. There is no reason to loiter in the aisles, trying to decide between the same granola bar in three different packages from three different companies with three different prices. Here, the only aisle worth pausing in is the pasta department. COOP offers every color, every style, every flavor of its country’s staple. As college students, it was easy to find the inexpensive bags, ranging from 0,30 Euro to 1,50 Euro. This too, in a matter of days, has become our own staple (coupled with gelato, of course…1 or 2 Euro for a small cup).
Grocery stores have a culture of their own. There are no personal bubbles or manners when it comes to reaching around someone to retrieve an item off of the shelf. Each shopper attacks the “supermarket” with purpose, speed, and efficiency. Little red shopping carts, the size of hand-held baskets, skirt the floors on wheels. And some shoppers, those “card-holders” who pay membership fees, carry their own price guns, which they connect to a computer before exiting through the self-checkout aisle. A visitor to these “supermarkets” must be aware of the rules. One must never touch the fresh fruit or vegetables without plastic gloves, stationed in baskets throughout the produce section.
Stores, especially post offices, solve the confusion of lines using numbered tickets. In some cases, Italians will pick up a ticket, go out to lunch, and return with plenty of time to hear their number called. The concept of lines is not grasped without this number system. People stand in clusters, cut each other off, and generally pace around, anticipating their turn.
Despite the number of roads intertwined with each other through Florence’s historical center, it is possible to travel “map-less” in under a week. Now we research the location first and walk in general directions, using the cathedrals and familiar streets and stores as landmarks. In this respect, I almost feel “at home.” (Of course, I shouldn’t fail to mention that I never leave without a map, for that rare occasion when we might get lost. But it hasn’t happened yet…). Plus, there are dangers associated with map gazing. First, a map in hand coupled with a look of confusion signals your status as “foreigner”—that is if the graphic tees, flip-flops, or baseball caps didn’t give you away already. While your attention is diverted, you become a prime target. Your status as “foreigner” and “lost” gives stealthy pick-pocketers ample time to rid you of your valuables. Watches can be stolen from your wrist in a matter of seconds and all you will have of its existence is a sun-deprived white wrist. We are advised to walk with our bags and purses over the shoulder opposite the street. Bikers will comb the roads looking for loosely held goods and go in for the kill, ripping it from your grasp and riding away. This hasn't happened yet, but I'm on the lookout!
Trying to stay safe.