Lost and found
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Lost and found

I've concluded that it's the walk. Speeding down my street each morning as if I'm 15 minutes late for something, even when I have nowhere in particular to be, I stand out among the Florentines, whose measured steps and leisurely strolls belie any stress or pressing engagements.

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Thu 11 Dec 2008 1:00 AM

I’ve concluded that it’s the walk. Speeding down my street each morning
as if I’m 15 minutes late for something, even when I have nowhere in particular
to be, I stand out among the Florentines, whose measured steps and leisurely
strolls belie any stress or pressing engagements. The urgency with which I cut
through city streets never fails to reveal my identity as a New Yorker.

 

Once I forced myself to slow down, however, I began to take note of
everything Florence has to offer beyond its museums and churches. I noticed all
the small wonders invisible to most tourists, like the grocery store regulars
who would give me a smile or nod when we recognized each other in the aisles,
or the man who chases the pigeons every day in Piazza Santissima Annunziata. I
was filled with an immense sense of pride when Italians began asking me
questions about the bus routes and I was actually able to answer them
confidently.

 

I also became friends with Silvia, the woman
who runs the café beneath my apartment. The first Italian to reach out to my
roommates and me, she would always say hello to us when we left the apartment.
It was nice to have a neighbor with whom we could talk, and, thanks to her, we
felt like we were home.

 

One weekend Silvia invited us to come out for
drinks with her and some friends. As they were stylish 20something Italians,
and I am socially awkward in English, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to
keep up with conversation in a foreign language. But to my surprise the
atmosphere was as relaxed as with my oldest friends back home. Everyone seemed
pleased and enthused to meet us, greeting us with handshakes and hugs before
even learning our names. There was none of the harsh, cold appraisal one might
find in an American social setting. We were friends with Silvia, so therefore
we were part of the group.

 

We all walked over to the Santa Croce district, where on the weekends
the church steps usually resemble a house party moved outdoors, filled from top
to bottom with dozens of Italian university students chatting, drinking,
playing music and having a good time. We went to a couple of bars and lounges
in the area that Silvia and her friends frequent-places with a European crowd
around the same age group as at the American clubs, but noticeably more mature
(e.g., no one dancing on top of the bar or vomiting within close proximity to
the entrance)-and we talked about all of our
reasons for coming to Florence and shared jokes about American and Italian
politics. We ordered rounds of Silvia’s favorite drink, the B-52, and the house
special, the Caipiroska. The guys
there would not allow the girls to pay for anything, which I’m fast learning is
Italian custom, and while I prefer self-sufficiency as much as  the next feminist, the whole situation
was charmingly nostalgic. To end the night, our new friends took my roommates and
me past the Porcellino statue and
taught us how to drop a coin into the fountain to ensure a return trip to
Florence.

 

It was then that I finally realized what it
means to live in this city with the personality and charm of a tightly knit
small town. In a place where tradition is so honored, newcomers must prove
themselves worthy of becoming a part of it. Now, as I prepare to return to the
United States, I am seeing that the true Florence was there all along, buried
just beneath the tourist kitsch. It was in the chaos of searching for produce
in the Mercato Centrale, in encounters with locals waiting in long lines at the
post office and in conversations with my new Italian friends. The spirit of
Florence is far from lost; it just needs to be found.

 

 

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