Sunday, March 19, 2017

Moments in Firenze

I've only shown you photos of my time in Firenze, so here are some moments that took place during that week (February 15-22).

Followed on Arrival

After boarding the train to leave Roma, I double checked with the couple on my left—asking in my default Spanish thinking they were Italian—which direction the train would be leaving (to make sure I wasn’t sitting backwards the whole way, while I had a selection of seating).

They answered in Spanish, and it turns out they were from South America. We perhaps briefly chatted a bit more, but then it was a nice, quiet train ride to Firenze. When we were one stop from the last, called “Firenze [something or other],” I wasn’t sure if that was my stop or not, so I asked the same couple. They didn’t know, so I checked with an Italian woman in the next row who told me my stop was the next one, the last one.

When I returned to my seat, that couple asked me if I had lodging in Firenze. “Yes…” I said, and told them I’d booked a hostel. They asked the price, and I told them roughly how much per night for a shared dorm room. Then they told me they hadn’t booked anything yet, they were just showing up.

“Can you show us where it is?” asked the guy. I said yes before I realized what I’d agreed to. “It’s a 15-minute walk,” I told them, hoping they’d think it was too far. Then we didn’t talk for the remaining minutes of the ride. Hmm, maybe that’s not what I’d agreed to after all, I thought. The train stopped and I got off before them, then was like—dang, do I have to wait for them?
Yup. I hadn’t misunderstood anything, this was happening. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world—and it sounds sketcher than it was (they passed the creep-test; not creepers), so I was just helping them out). But I was not in the mood for small talk. I wanted to walk at my own pace and stop when I wanted to stop and so forth.

So they followed me single file with their rolling luggage (narrow sidewalks with foot traffic), me awkwardly in front because I walk faster and also because I didn’t have the energy or desire to talk. I just wanted to find my hostel and get checked in. 

Near the end they tried making some small talk about each of our travels, but I was even less interested than before and I think it was clear. Finally we got to the hostel, slower than it would have taken me alone, and they said we could separate there—at the steps outside—and we wished one another good luck. They came in 30 seconds after I began my check-in at the counter to inquire about prices and openings. They didn’t end up booking there, and left to look for somewhere else to stay. So long!

Painting Giovanni

A few days into my stay, I met Giovanni down in the common room. She is from Sicily, but wants to live in Firenze, and thus is job hunting in the restaurant business—staying in the hostel while she does this. 

Giovanni has an energetic presence that can fill any room—no matter how quiet—with boisterous “hellos!,” some self-singing, and comments. Basically, she was herself loud and proud, greeting those around her and doing as she pleased. After the first five minutes of meeting, she continually called me “honey” (hoe-NAY) in all subsequent interactions.

She’d seen me painting the first time we met, and on the second evening together when she saw me painting again, she asked “Wait, how long do you stay here?”

“A week” I replied.

“Ooooh” she said happily, her face beaming with excitement. “I have always wanted to do this—okay, I must ask you, will you paint me?”

“Uhh, okay” I said, “But I never draw faces,” I warned her. (As you’ve seen, all of my travel sketches to date have been of buildings and landscapes.) “Faces are very tricky for me. I drew myself once and it was very bad.” (You all know I don't care if my paintings are "bad," but since this would be for someone else, I wanted to be sure she was aware!)

She was already flipping through her phone for a photo she was going to send me. “It’s okay, it’s okay.”

So we had a mutual understanding that anything I did would be more than she expected, no matter the quality. Thus this would be some great low-pressure practice for me. Had she not asked, when would I ever paint my first portrait? Plus, the following day it was going to rain.

That next afternoon I sat up in my room and painted Giovanni from the picture she’d emailed me, onto one of the watercolor postcards Emily had gifted me before I left.

I gave it to her in the evening—she was thrilled, made me a nutella sandwich, and we hung out while eating our dinners. All good!

Then she was off and I continued working on a different painting from the day. She came back to the common room about an hour later and handed me a bag from the Disney Store.

“No, you didn’t have to buy me anything!” I told her. But she had: a pink Minnie Mouse pencil case with a short note inside.

Although very much appreciative of the gesture, I knew the pencil case could not remain in my possession. It didn’t sing to me and I was traveling light, so from that moment I’d be on the lookout for someone to regift it to.

Giovanni and the Microwave

That first night when I met Giovanni, I was surprised to see her eating pasta for dinner! Why would this shock me? Because we had no stove—just two mini fridges, two small electric kettles, and two microwaves.

“Tomorrow I’ll show you how to make it,” she said, after I’d expressed my surprise to see someone eating spaghetti there.

The next night while I was eating something I’d already bought from the grocery store—a salad or microwave soup (cringe)—Giovanni came in and started making her spaghetti.

I observed: First she put water on the kettle until it boiled. Then she poured that hot water over her dry spaghetti noodles in a bowl. The bowl went in the microwave for SEVEN MINUTES, meanwhile she mixed some bolognese and pesto in a smaller bowl. When the microwave finally dung, she placed a plate upside down over the bowl and grabbed the hot bowl with a towel to strain the water in the sink. Lastly she dumped the cooked pasta into her bowl of sauce and mixed it all up. Viola.

The next day I bought a bag of pasta and two sauces—bolognese and pesto—from the grocery store. Microwave pasta for many nights!


One more Giovanni kitchen moment: I’d seen several different people eating hard boiled eggs in the common room, and had no idea how they’d done it. One man told another guest that he’d put it in the microwave. I didn’t realize that worked, but I wasn’t about to try it myself, I’d believe it.

So one day, Giovanni and I are eating our pasta dinners, when all of a sudden Giovanni exclaims, “Oh my god, I forgot!” as she jumps out of her seat.

She goes over to the counter, opens one of the electric kettles, and pulls out... an egg! At the time it was so unexpected for me, it felt like she’d just pulled a rabbit out of a hat.

So that’s how Giovanni was hard boiling her eggs, dropping them directly into the hot water kettles.

Unshaven Sauna

My hostel in Firenze was a little more hotel-esque / commercial than I’m used to, and had a (tiny) indoor pool, sauna, and turkish bath open during the winter. They were all small, but I was going to take advantage of their existence and my stay coinciding!

Normally a hostel sauna visit wouldn’t have been too memorable of a moment, except for the fact that I’m now going on six months without shaving. (Perhaps you noticed in my packing video that there's no razor in my backpack.)

Since it’s been fall and winter all of this time, no one had yet seen the strands now found under my arms, nor my whiskered legs. Thus my first sauna visit at the hostel marked the first time I exposed my unshaven body in public.

Now this wasn’t a stretch for me—I wasn’t uncomfortable, there were few people in the small sauna, and it was far from my mind if they had an opinion of my appearance—but the moment was still a win in my book, inching me that much closer towards not giving a fuck in more notable situations.

My homemade (thrown together) swimsuit worked out well, too, as I'd scrapped bringing my swimsuit on the final day of packing, when I realized how bulky it was. Instead, I wore my sports bra on top, and these black spandex/brief things I bought at the Rastro (outdoor market) in Madrid for a euro over five years ago (thanks Chelsea for the recommendation!).

The Roaring Scrape

One day while walking around in the center, I heard this terrible, loud scraping sound behind me. What was it? A homeless person with a cart of stuff? No, something was dragging against the stone sidewalk.

What could it possibly be?

I tried to brainstorm, but it didn't seem to fit in any of your usual sidewalk traffic categories.

The sound was getting nearer and nearer, louder and louder; it was moving quickly. I was excited that in a few short seconds I'd get to settle my curiosity and see the mysterious object pass me.

Here it comes...

And crossing in front of me went a young gal pulling a four-wheel carry-on luggage on its back two wheels—one of which was missing. So, she was pulling the suitcase on one wheel and one suitcase corner, where a wheel used to be.

Plastic on concrete—that was the loud scraping sound.

Why would you pull it like that? Why not spin it 180 degrees and lean the luggage back on the other two wheels from the opposite side of the luggage?

My mind pondered this for a bit, and then moved on to admire the full scene: this girl speed-walking towards her destination with determination, the boldness in making whatever noise she had to make in order to get there, the mystery of the story behind that missing wheel, the bizarre way she'd chosen to pull her suitcase.

It's small moments and details like these which shape most of my days while traveling.

Impromptu Poetry Performance

On the morning that I checked out of my hostel in Firenze, I hung out in the common room for a few hours before my train to Bologna. Some Uruguayans I’d met the previous night were down there, and later two Argentine girls who I hadn’t met before joined the table.

The two groups were talking as I was mostly focused on whatever I'd been doing online. So I don’t know how they got on the topic, but all of a sudden it became clear that these two Argentine girls were going to recite a poem for everyone.

They pulled up the text on their phone, and then the two went back and forth in a soothing rhythm and with great inflection in their voices. Their hands were also showing the emotion you could hear in their words.

It was quite hard for me to follow, as I’m not at all used to this particular accent nor vocabulary, so I only caught small bits and pieces—not the whole story / purpose / context.

And they went on and on... it was a long one!

When at last they said their final lines, we all clapped. “Have you done this before?” I asked them in Spanish. “No,” they said. Wow, I told them they did a great job performing it!

Little did I know, this impromptu poetry recitation was perfect foreshadowing of the poetry that would shape my stay in Bologna.
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