Forget walking like an Egyptian
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Forget walking like an Egyptian

When you study abroad, often the most important lessons take place outside of the classroom. You spend your first starry-eyed days roaming the city with a big map and wandering eyes, taking in the novelty of European antiquity. You walk as a tourist walks-oblivious to the race, the

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Thu 17 May 2007 12:00 AM

When you
study abroad, often the most important lessons take place outside of the
classroom. You spend your first starry-eyed days roaming the city with a big
map and wandering eyes, taking in the novelty of European antiquity. You walk
as a tourist walks-oblivious to the race, the restricted space and the fact
that everyone else is trying to go somewhere useful. But then it happens: a strange
sense of everyday awareness overcomes you. Suddenly you find yourself equipped
to conquer the town. The secret lies in knowing how to navigate the obstacle
course.

 

There are mopeds to avoid, puddles of who-knows-what to leap over, and
hundreds of people through whom you must weave in order to reach your
destination.  The staccato tapping of
high heels echoes off the city walls as women easily traverse the uneven
cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks. 
Don’t bother bringing your headphones; the city provides its own
soundtrack if you’re willing to listen. The voices, bells, sirens and street
musicians blend to create a fantastic cacophony unique to Florence. The pace
simply refuses to slow. Even when the rain makes the streets slimy and slick,
the Italians press on, leaving dawdling tourists in their wake.

 

In a place where everything and everyone is at least 10 minutes late,
why does it always feel like there’s a city-wide marathon that I didn’t know
about?  The streets are teeming with
people who will run you over as soon as look at you.  The atmosphere of chaos and hastiness is
constant. So what’s the big rush?

 

Armando, a good-natured shop-keeper in his mid-60s, offered his reasons
for participating in the daily dash through downtown Florence:  ‘I close down my shop every day at one
o’clock so I can go home and have lunch with my wife. This hasn’t changed in 40
years’! he says proudly.  Armando admits
that he’s no spring chicken, but he can navigate through a crowded Florentine
street with more agility than a man half his age. ‘Why should I waste my time
on the crowded, stinking streets? 
There’s no negotiating with me or my stomach. When one o’clock rolls
around, God help the man who gets in my way’! Florentines, young and old, are
seasoned professionals when it comes to successfully conquering the obstacles
they encounter in their beloved city. They treat the daily commute as a kind of
race; and in Armando’s case, the finish line is his wife’s embrace.  That’s just the way it has always been, and no
amount of cars, mopeds, or tourists will change that fact. The city waits for
no man.

 

It has often been said that in life, the destination is not as important
as the journey one takes to get there. Florentines have rejected this
philosophy in favor of the opposite. Like a river flowing through rough
terrain, the people of Florence are always stubbornly forging new paths for
themselves. But maybe they do have the right idea; after all, Florence is not
famous for its contribution to the world of miniscule sidewalks or
moped-related injuries. Finding a way to overcome the obstacles in life,
whether it’s a group of lost tourists or something more serious, leaves more
time to be spent enjoying the things that Florence is famous for: beauty, culture,
and an outstanding quality of life.

 

Walking in Florence is a one-of-a-kind experience, to say the
least.  Those unaccustomed to such a
fast-paced, chaotic atmosphere may find themselves left in the dust by people
who believe their schedules are more important-and that includes just about
everyone. The city is a complicated and trying obstacle course; there’s no way
to get around that fact. But the course becomes much more pleasant if you pick
up your pace, open your ears, and allow the lively tempo of the city’s soundtrack
to guide you to the next destination. 

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