In the moment

Kelly Laffey
December 11, 2008

Walk on to any American college campus between the months of August and November and you're likely to see students out and about, sporting school apparel, the sound of their amicable chatter punctuated by the whiz of a Frisbee floating by. Drop by campus in early December, during finals week: although the students, if you can find them, may be decked out in school colors, it's because they haven't taken their sweatshirts off in the past 72 hours.


Despite suspicions to the contrary, a study abroad experience does actually involve studying, and NYU's finals week is fast approaching, signaling the end of my Italian adventure. Yet, instead of cutting off all social ties during this seven-day period, as is my custom, I have been forced out of my self-imposed seclusion by the arrival of my parents.


Never having been to Italy, they have put me in charge of the itinerary for a long weekend and I find myself lucky enough to have been given an opportunity to reflect on the entirety of my Florentine experience. Where should they go? What should they see? Most importantly, what advice might I give them to guarantee that they appreciate Florence?


My first thought was that four days is too short of a time to get a feel for the city. Fortunately, I can think of one custom in particular that truly gives an accurate perception of Italian culture-aperitivo. I love the tradition of people coming together before they embark on their respective nightly plans. They take the time to recount daily events and to share a drink or to indulge in the freshly prepared buffet. Unlike its closest American relative, the happy hour, aperitivo seems to be more about relaxing after a day at work than about taking advantage of the drink specials. People come to unwind, to catch up with friends, to fervently discuss contentious issues and to simply enjoy living life in the moment.


What I hope my parents will experience is what I've come to realize are among my most memorable Florentine moments: random encounters with locals. Conversations conducted in broken Italian have stimulated my appreciation for Italy and Italian culture. At Santa Maria Novella last weekend, an older man approached my friends and me as we stared at the frescos, offering to explain the history and architecture of the church and surrounding piazza. Wanting so much to overcome the communication barrier, he suggested we read Alessandro Manzoni, whose beautiful Italian would surely help us better understand the language. A priest at the Duomo who was so excited to have American students in his congregation that he gave us the honor of taking up the collection. An older proprietor at a bar near campus tenderly creates perfect sandwiches for each customer. And my downstairs neighbor has taken us out to experience the local nightlife which, contrary to popular belief, does not end at 2am. 


All of these people epitomize Italian culture for me and this is the Florence that I have come to know.  People are patient and passionate. They value their culture and their customs. They honor their traditions but are willing to incorporate change into their lives. And, clearly, they don't all have a negative perception of the temporary student residents.


So, for now, arrivederci Firenze e grazie per tutto!






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