Thursday, February 5, 2009

"Du hast pee pee in augen?"

    I’m here. But what can you really say about one of the most beautiful cities in the world? It’s been a week to the day, almost to the exact hour, that I arrived here and I am still, if you can imagine, at a loss for words.

            Flying over Florence and seeing the red roofs, rolling hills and spotted vineyards was invigorating enough, but actually stepping off the plane almost left me on the floor.

            Lucky for me, all my bags made it safely to the airport, which is more than I can say for most students, because almost 20 lost all their belongings. Fortunately, everything was found within two days and soiled clothes were finally able to be changed.

            Enough about planes though, it’s time to start spilling about the details, and let me be the first to say, there are quite a few. So, I will do what I always do when I have an abundance of information…MAKE A LIST!

-While arriving Tuesday night, I saw so many beautiful things, including the Ponte Vecchio at night (old, very historic bridge crossing the Arno River, which runs through Florence). In the midst of gawking, our cab driver pointed out numerous sites, including Dante’s Pizzeria and the old justice building. I was too engrossed to notice though.

-My apartment is from 500 A.D. and includes three huge windows along the front wall, which faces my street, Via Dell’Albero. A man makes bread every morning at 7 a.m. and I can see him from the living room, sometimes I sit on the ledge and speak to him in Italian. His name is Ricardo and he makes the best apple deserts.  His wife is Carmella.

-I have a single room and share the apartment with four other guys, Giuseppe, Mitch, Hunter and Hunter. To distinguish between the Hunters, we call one Uzelac and the other Carmichael, hence, by their last names. The Hunters are from Alabama and say “Fixin” and “Y’all” in every sentence. Mitch is from Long Island and has a girlfriend. And Giuseppe speaks fluent Italian and is from sunny L.A. They are an interesting bunch. But we’ll leave it at that.

-The wine here is incredibly cheap. Everything is for that matter. Except alcohol at a Discothèque (you know, those Italian equivalents to an American bar, but here people rave and drink Absinth. The usual.) I have grown accustomed to drinking wine, especially vino bianco (white wine), which is something I never thought I would like. But hey, when in Rome, err, in Florence.

-It rains more than I ever thought. The first several days it was beautiful, but now the sky just opens up and pours all the time. Which is also beautiful, because I am in Florence and it is hard to forget that around every corner. Speaking of corners, NOTHING is straight here — all the roads bend slightly to the left or right, making finding out where you really are, terribly difficult.

-The food is incredible. INCREDIBLE. I have had calzones, pizza, gelato, Panini’s, Coca Cola (the only beverage they have here besides water and espresso), sausage, biscotti, chocolates, coffees, exotic beers, and the like. There are just too many to name here, but trust me, I am eating right. And while we’re on this topic, let us touch on the outdoor markets. The food, as I said, is relatively inexpensive here, but the freshest I have ever seen. Breads made daily. Squash, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, onions and bananas in the most radiant colors. Markets overflowing with vendors selling their wares, including meat and cheese cut to your specifications, nuts and grains, desserts and an incredible selection of fresh spices. And these small storefronts are on every corner. No, you don’t have to seek just one out in the city. There are literally hundreds. And I couldn’t be happier. So far, the meals I’ve made at home include salads with fresh lettuce, bleu cheese, walnuts, sliced apples and balsamic vinaigrette, hamburgers made-to-order at a butcher with fresh cheese, basil leaves and red onion, pasta with real parmesan cheese and flakes of fresh parsley and prosciutto sandwiches on wheat slices. I would go on, but I know you’re salivating.

-To take a detour from Italian cuisine briefly, I’ll also say my classes are amazing. I have an architecture course on Mondays, which includes visits to museums all over Florence. Not just pictures in books. But the real thing. Wednesday’s include contemporary Italian literature, a class covering diverse authors. Following this is writing about Florence, taught by a rather enthusiastic British man with spectacles and a pinstriped suit. Lastly, Wednesday rounds out with an anthropology class, led by a rather plump woman with a slightly German/Swedish accent. Everything is over my head, but I grit my teeth for 2 ½ hours until I can once again just get lost for the whole night in the streets.

Ok. So you’re exhausted, I know. But let me throw you a couple more observations that will help sum up my trip thus far. I will try to remember all the wonderful experiences and conundrums of Italian life, but let me be the first to tell you, it is a difficult task and one I am willing to take head on. I will surely update you further, but here is a rather quick snapshot of what I see every day:

-The streets are cobblestone. Only cobblestone. Which means I have blisters all over my feet.

-The first five days, it took me two hours to get anywhere. Florence isn’t big, but when you’re lost. That’s it. Making giant circles is the norm for me.

-I saw an elderly woman buying a double-sided, well, you know what. There are strip clubs everywhere and sex is not taboo.

-There are NO driving rules. People get by where they can and you get the hell out of the way. Besides, everyone has a Vespa, little tiny motorcycle-like scooters that fly down streets. They certainly outnumber cars and so do bikes. I would like to have one.

-There are at least four Gucci stores within walking distance from my house. That is how Florence is. Designer is everywhere.

-People here are beautiful. And this is not an understatement. Men in scarves, nice shoes and suits, women in furs, leather gloves and shades. You go out in anything less, you’re obviously American. Obviously.

-In connection with the last point, I bought a scarf, tie and knock-off Ray Bans. I want to be Italian, but my literature teacher said I have red hair and will never fit in. Fuck.

-I speak Italian. Everywhere, or I try. I bought a pillow in Italian and used no English, leaving the man helping me to look surprised and keep responding in his native tongue. I was never so happy. (guanciale=pillow!)

-People don’t smile here. On the streets at least. And don’t look people in the eyes.

-I introduce myself to restaurant owners and bakers alike, they like me and at times give me free food because I attempt speaking in Italian.

-There are a lot of tourists here, but you can distinguish the true Florentines. They all wear black and are usually the ones hitting me in the head with their umbrellas.

-I paid 10 euro for ice cream (more specifically gelato) and that translates into around $14 American money. I died a little inside. But it was oh, so sweet.

-Dogs poop and pee in the streets and no one cleans it up. They wait for rain. Speaking of dogs, they all wear fancy little sweaters and go into stores with their owners. Every store allows them.

-I climbed over a bridge to sit on a ledge and watch the sun set over the Ponte Vecchio with some Germans. They asked me “Du hast pee pee in augen?” (which means, “Are you crying?”) and then recommended I go to a strip club with them. I declined.

-If you don’t turn your mirror in when parked on the road, you risk getting it ripped off by a passing car due to narrow streets. (DAD!)

-Leather and wine here are like water in America.

-Women of all shapes, sizes and nationalities are prodded like meat on the street by Italian men. They should take caution.

-It takes literally two hours to wash one small load of clothes. And that doesn’t include drying time.

-No one speaks fluent English. Not even professors.

-Life is slow here, stop walking, eating and talking fast.

-Two hour breaks in the middle of the day are normal here, Italians “work to live,” they don’t “live to work.”

-I’m learning how to rave. Badly.

For now, this seems to be an exhaustive list to help you understand my life a bit better.  I have to go buy groceries at an open-air market and dry my laundry, which has been washing for four hours. Besides, I am sick of being indoors, despite the overcast skies and rain. I’m going to Pisa this weekend. Amsterdam or Prague next week and then Paris in April. I will be poor soon, but memories are priceless. Perhaps I’ll try my hand again at raving tonight? Bottoms up.




  1. I love hearing about all your experiences. We await everyday to hear what new and exciting things you have done. Please keep writing. You somehow take our dreary days and let us live a moment with you in a place that seems magical. Thanks Nick!!!

  2. Nick you make me feel like I want to join you as soon as possible.It really sounds like my kind of place.Your stories are just wonderful and very interesting.Keep up the good work.
    Ma and Pa

  3. i like the raving!! do you dance rela real hard like i did in that video on your phone?? teach me to rave when you get home little white boy!

  4. Tickets out of Boston are $250 to Florence arriving March 11. Keep your fingers crossed I can convince your Godfather that we just HAVE to go to Florence!!! You're stories are wonderful. We're so proud of you.

  5. I knew it wouldn't take long for you to try and write some story about the markets. I am glad that your summer stories from the Derrick provided you a solid background to draw from. Farmers and elderly are mysteriously drawn to you.
    You paint an amazing picture of the city and I am very envious. The Hunters sound like they can provide some amusement "ya'll" but I am more curious about the hotties that seem to appear in all your pictures. Bring me home something. I need something gaudy for my desk at work. A leaning tower of Pisa pencil sharpner/lighter would be awesome.

  6. I am so beyond thrilled for you to be having such an amazing experience. It's so awesome that you're writing so much-- you'll be so thankful when you return from your time abroad.

    I am really enjoying reading your entries from a ridiculous internet cafe in the philippines waiting for a bus to manila. small children are staring and poking us and yelling "americano!!"

    haha-- take care, have fun, & xoxo from jamie!

  7. i'm a little offended that you didn't mention any of the GREAT friends that you made!