By this time our classes where in full swing, and between that, free movie nights in the center of Florence, and almost routine weekend trips to towns nearby, I managed to keep busy. However, a rather funny, very unplanned adventure occurred on the evening of Wednesday, February 16th.
I lived pretty much in the center of Florence, and my school campus was about…a 45 minute walk up a hill away. This particular Wednesday evening I was up on campus, talking to a friend, and we decided to go grocery shopping because we didn’t have stuff to make lunch with and instead of going to the supermarket that was halfway between my house and campus, he suggested we go to one that’s “just a bit further south, but much cheaper.”
Let me preface this story by saying that not only is grocery shopping one of my favorite things to do, but I also love Italian products. They remind me of my childhood, and so Italian supermarkets, to me, feel like big-person toy-stores.
“Just a bit further south,” turns into a 1 hour walk completely out of the way. I start to feel drops falling on my face. This guy’s house just happens to be pretty close to this supermarket….which apparently meant he lives really far away. I mask my annoyance at having to walk so far, because in reality I’m really happy that this particular supermarket is really big (not much choice on what one buys in the center of town) and much more affordable - worth the walk, if not an hour and not in the rain…
When I realize I’ve probably bought too much food we finally leave the supermarket, and my friend points me in the direction of the river (which, I later find out, is not the direction in which I need to be walking). I walk that way for only 5 mins (thankfully, since I decide to look at my trusty google maps on my iPhone) only to find that I have about a minute to discern the general direction in which I do indeed need to be walking, before google maps crashes.
“Ugh,” I say, “this has been happening way too often,” so I go to restart the phone (just then I wonder if I had enough battery for such a feat, hoping but not worriedly that it wouldn’t just die) (and no, I wasn’t talking out loud to myself) meanwhile walking in the general “right” direction, waiting for my phone to turn on….it’s completely pouring now, by the way….I do have an umbrella but my grocery bags are too heavy and too voluminous to be carrying it. It’s times like these that I remember this hat I once had when I was 6 years old that was basically a band that went around my head that was attached to a personal-size umbrella.
My phone turns on, and a minute after my sigh of relief, holding it in front of me as the plastic bags cut into my arms, a message comes up saying I need my original sim card’s pin number, and that my phone has been blocked. In other words, my phone patronized me with that little rectangular pop-up bubble as if it were texting me, “You’re screwed.”
Meanwhile, I’m in the middle of nowhere, I don’t recognize anything, and most importantly I don’t know where I’m going. I follow the road I’m going down until I hit a dead end, at which point I randomly decide to keep walking left, because I’m left handed (not because of any sort of sense of direction). I’m almost completely soaked at this point, and I see in the distance a piazza that I seem to recognize. I come out onto the piazza and realize with horrible dread that not only is this not the piazza I had imagined, but that I still, after having walked for 30 minutes, had no idea where I was. I see a map on a wall - I walk over to it and realize it’s all graffitied (insult to injury). What’s worse, is I can’t recognize any of the places it was showing me. I can’t even find the Duomo (main cathedral) on it (which was near my house at the center). Needless to say I can’t find where I currently am on the map either. I could have just as easily walked into the wrong town and not known it.
Two young guys rush by mumbling to each other, just as eager as I am to get out of the rain. I stand in front of the map, exasperated, unnoticed. Another man walks by in the opposite direction, talking to himself: “che giornataccia, eh ragazzi?” (“what a bad day, huh?”). He walks away from me, hunched over and waddling away, as 65+ yr old men do. You know.
He is wearing a helmet (thankfully not as a standalone accessory), and I call out to him and ask him to please point me in the direction of the Duomo. He points down the street I’m on and tells me to walk until I get to a big street, and to follow that to the right until I get to the Duomo.
I tried to look reassured by his directions, but the truth was that I knew I was far and I had no idea where I was, and that I probably would have taken another hour to get home. I think this showed on my face. Secretly I think “I’ll just walk down until the big road and when I see another person I’ll ask again.” I thank the man and start walking again, the bags cutting into my hands but ready to face the long, wet walk, when all of a sudden he’s caught up to me, and asks me if I need some help with my bags, a ride perhaps to where I was going - (oh, if only i had known where I was going. I was supposed to be meeting my roommates to go see a movie, and the address had been written in my phone.) So I say “Oh no, don’t worry, it’s not a big deal, really.” Meanwhile, my feet have walked over to him, giving away what my brain was saying - Oh god, please! Just get me out of the rain! Thank you! “I really, I mean, well, I’m sorry to hassle you - “
“Oh, don’t worry, I was just on my way home from city hall, I work there you know.” he says.
He points to his helmet. “See this symbol? It’s the City of Florence emblem.”
I know what you’re thinking…but he really was though. Those italian government office people, they have a particular way about them. I can’t explain it. No one else really talks and acts like they do. After I came home I realized that the point at which I met him had been right outside of city hall.
After some awkward back and forth at which point I was having a hard time expressing myself (inner turmoil between knowing not to take rides from strangers and really desperately hoping for a ride to warm, dry safety), I decide that it’s ok, and he takes my bags and we whizz off. It’s against the law to ride without a helmet, by the way, so he tells me to keep my hood on so that it “looks” like I might be protecting my cranium against impact from the wet cobblestone street.
So he’s explaining city hall to me as we drive, and gets even more fired up when I tell him I’m studying italian politics in school. He offers me a tour of the building, in better circumstances of course, (by the way, city hall in florence is one of the most politically/historically important buildings in all of Italy), and meanwhile I don’t quite know how to tell him that other than knowing that where I need to go is near the duomo, I’m not sure where it is I’m actually going. After driving for quite a bit we pass by that piazza that I had originally thought I had recognized but hadn’t, really. I made a mental note to kill my friend tomorrow, when I saw him. Anyway, we finally get to the Duomo and I don’t know where the movie showing is exactly, so he gets off his scooter (because you’re not allowed to drive around the cathedral) and walks it all around the Duomo (a full square NYC block, avenue-avenue) until we find it.
Chivalry isn’t dead, no? well, with a 65+ yr old man who works at the city hall of renaissance central, I would sure hope it isn’t! If it’s dead here, it’s dead everywhere!
Just as a recap, I left campus for the market at 7pm, got to the supermarket at 8:15pm, left the supermarket at 8:45pm and didn’t get to the movie until an hour later.
After that, my friend felt so guilty that he had left me out lost in the rain that he walked me home almost every night we were out together. It worked out well (thankfully) for me, and I got to ride on a scooter - one of my favorite things to do, probably even more so than shopping in Italian supermarkets.