Tales from Abroad is an ongoing section in which Gustavus students share the highlights of their study abroad experiences.
Every morning as I lay in bed, I am awoken by the friendly banter between two shop owners, which always begins with a “Ciao! Boungiorno!” They continue on loudly for a few minutes as they unlock their gates and sweep their front steps.
A succession of noises continue with the whirring of mopeds driving by my piazza, and from the neighbor lady’s bird from across the street, which is hung everyday outside beneath her window, singing a distinctive chirp.
Although these noises were disturbances at the beginning of my stay here in Florence, they have become friendly, familiar occurrences that I have learned to enjoy as I lay awake in my bed before starting the day.
Navigating my way around the winding, cobblestone roads, I am constantly observing and taking in the people and sights around me.
Middle-aged women, dressed in extravagant fur coats, walk slowly arm in arm, speaking with smiles on their faces. Teenagers, adults, and the elderly cruise through the streets on their rickety old bikes, effortlessly dodging the crowds and cars, seeming not to have a care in the world. Violinists, accordionists, and trumpeters play their cheerful music on sunny days, attracting crowds and earning a few euros.
Crossing the street, or even simply walking on a sidewalk, can be the most stressful part of my day.
Although a green “walk” sign appears, often times out of nowhere, a car stops suddenly as I am halfway across the street, revs its engine, then speeds quickly passed me once I am finally safely on the sidewalk.
Crossing the street when I am not supposed to leads to a chorus of honking from the mopeds and cars that are being held by my stupidity. City buses drive menacingly close to the sidewalks, their side view mirrors nearly touching the occupants of the sidewalk.
A trip to the Mercato Centrale (Central Market) will do the trick if I ever need fresh vegetables or fruit. It’s an indoor market that consists of fresh meat, poultry, fish, and produce (all from Italy) as well as other Italian delicacies such as truffle oil and biscotti. One could spend hours shopping there.
Touching the produce is not allowed, and will result in a series of shouts and yells from the person working behind the stand. Attempting my best broken Italian, I am able to communicate with the worker, pointing and trying to pronounce the name of the fresh fruits.
Every time after shopping here, I walk out feeling satisfied and excited, knowing that I have just made a purchase without speaking a word of English…although I usually walk out with a few items I did not realize I asked for.
During my time abroad, I have realized that the small, seemingly simple interactions and occurrences in my day are what make up my experiences here.
The modest things, such as the clay tiled roofs, the beautiful chime of the church bells, and the cheerful Italian conversations I hear from strangers on the street are the things that I will remember and miss most from my time in Florence.