Besides “thank you” being one of the few phrases I know in Italian, It is also appropriate to categorize my feelings during this first week in Florence, Italy.
Thank you to my parents (grazie infinite!) for giving me the opportunity to be here, thank you to my advisors for making sure I was ready to go, thank you to my Italian watercolor teacher for her patience while teaching a new skill in another language, and thank you to all the restaurants who keep feeding me Italian delicacies. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Before this starts to sound like an Oscar acceptance speech–which I do plan to have, don’t you worry–I’d like to share some ups and downs about immersing oneself in Florentine culture. However, let me be very clear: none of this is negative, even the downs have helped me adapt so I can appreciate this trip as much as possible. There are simply things that we take for granted in America and I believe that the way others choose to live differently is admirable.
First, Italy seems to work a couple hours behind, and sort of at a leisurely pace. I’m used to the hustle and bustle of weekdays and the importance of starting early, keeping busy and ensuring the day is as productive as possible. Whether intentional or not, this city has taught me to work a little differently. While walking to the train station at 8:00 a.m. for class excursions, I have to cross through the center of the city, and let me tell you it is a ghost town. The streets aren’t filled with joggers trying to get some exercise in before work, coffee shops and restaurants aren’t filled with people trying to score the early-bird special. If anything there are some street-sweepers driving around central piazzas to make sure they’re ready for the arrival of the day. And from what I’ve seen, that arrival is no earlier than 10 a.m.
Somewhat related to this is the procession of meals. As a firm believer in the importance of breakfast, I was struggling hardcore. With a later start to the day, breakfast is somewhat eliminated (besides a small espresso or pastry) and the holy, American brunch is replaced with the appartivo or Italian “linner.” Lunch may be a panini or even pasta around 12-3, and starting at 6:30 p.m. it becomes acceptable to start drinking wine with some meat, cheese and crackers. I’m all about a snack before dinner, but what I find is that if I miss lunch, no restaurants are open between lunch and appartivo. Actual dinner isn’t eaten until much later in the evening, mostly 9-10 and many restaurants will still seat you at 11:30. All in all, I’ve learned to bulk up on the midday lunch so that I can participate in the drawn-out final meal of the day.
Another shock for an American millennial in this city is the absence of wifi basically everywhere. Communication is tricky, however I’ve learned to love not having my eyes glued to my phone. It forces me to be even more present in the world around me.
Finally, apartment life. I live on Corso Tintori, which is a street that runs right along the Arno River. I have a stunning view of the Piazza de Michelangelo and the Florence countryside which lies on the opposite side of the river. It is unique and has high, lofted ceilings with multiple skylights because we are on the top floor. It honestly exceeds all of my expectations.
With that being said, it lacks just a few things I’m used to having in America. Air conditioning, blinds, a microwave, a dryer, and a stovetop that does not require being lit with a match. While it was tough to get used to, I’m happy to know I’m living the same way a typical Italian would. They put special emphasis on energy conservation and have found ways to live that omit the unnecessary. I can leave the windows open in the night to let in the cool air, I can heat my food on the stovetop, I can hang my clothes to dry, I can now say I can start a gas stovetop–all these things I didn’t think I could do, and now I can say I can.
The differences between our two cultures has made this experience even more special and authentic, and now that I’m over the hump of that first week I’m hungry for more. And I mean that quite literally, I plan on having four-cheese gnocchi tonight. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to say ¡Grazie!