Sunday Strolls in the San Lorenzo Market

Similar to every other girl on the entire planet, I love to shop. I enjoy my time spent at any random mall with a cheap Icee in my hands and a credit card in my bag, happy to be among strangers who I don’t have to even make eye contact with. Maybe this is what makes what I like about shopping a little different than what other people do– I like that I can aimlessly browse shelves with really no solid motives at all and no one will pester me. This is also why I am the guru of online shopping– I like to find things cheaply and easily, pay with a card with a beach scene on it, and then go about my day– all within five minutes.

This is why I wasn’t really excited today to go to the San Lorenzo marketplace in Florence outside of the San Lorenzo church to actually find specific things- Christmas gifts! Usually, this important task is reserved for my best friend, where I can grab a ton of crap at once, have it gift wrapped and shipped to my house, and then I don’t have to worry about it until December 25.

Like anything else in Italy, though, shopping is not an independent activity. And you know what? This is nice. This is refreshing. I am used to some sulky teenager snapping her gum and trolling Facebook while swiping my card from behind the counter for some mass-produced piece of junk I found on the sale rack. In the San Lorenzo market, vendors will tell you how they handmade their little journals and which ones are their favorite. They will tell you that the guy selling them down the street is kind of a douschebag. They will whisper their deals in your ear and tell you not to tell anyone else, and they will tell you that you have beautiful eyes and they will be able to guess every place you have ever lived based on the way you walk and the way you talk.

Is this quietly stalking through the mall on a Sunday afternoon? No, no it is not. But this is something better– this is making friends with students like you who study Interior Design, who will tell you the best bars to go to and beg you to come back tomorrow, and will remember your name when you do. This is Italy, where unlike in the United States, the people outnumber the credit cards.

The Renaissance Theory of Love

I have a confession to make. I am in love. He is a big, strong, strapping lad with lean muscles and a twinkle in his eye. He also happens to be around 511 years old.

One of the things in Florence that I have made my way over to see- twice- is my biffle the David, made by Michelangelo around 1501. Back then, Florence had this huge, yet sort of thinnish piece of marble they were trying to get sculpted into something to be a symbol of freedom and strength for Florence. But all the artists said, “That piece of marble? Puh-lease.”

Well not Michelangelo. He said let’s GOLO and he sculpted David, of the story David and Goliath, although according to him, he only set David free from the marble itself. Michelangelo said that he didn’t really sculpt anything. Instead, he said that his job as an artist was to set the image free that wants to be freed. Originally, the statue stood outside the Palazzo Vecchio (which was kind of like the town hall, where the Medici family worked) in Piazza della Signora, but somewhere along the way, someone figured out that keeping a priceless statue outside probably wasn’t the best plan.

So nowadays, David sits in his nude glory inside the Accademia, where you will literally stand in a line for at least two hours unless you make a reservation. But when you finally get inside, if you turn immediately left… there he is. Right there. Boom. Down the hallway of the Michelangelo room, past the Pietas and a few of Michelangelo’s paintings, is my beautiful man.

I seriously love the David. Fiercely independent and self-assured, nobody messes with him, not even a giant. He doesn’t even care that all he has is a slingshot and seems to have left his tight-whities at home. This is totally okay with him. David wasn’t scared at all when he fought Goliath, even though he was a skinny 17-year-old, because he had God on his side. He says, “Do you know who I am? No seriously, do you?”

And it is in this way that David showcases Florence. Florence is the same way– it doesn’t need anyone else, it doesn’t care if you think it’s old or sort of dirty or smells kind of like garbage sometimes. It says, “Umm, I am really ancient and beautiful and you can like me or not, but I am still going to be my awesome self.” And now that is the real spirit of the Renaissance.


Classic Florence

I am very lucky. As some of my roommates gloom about in homesickness, I feel like I am home. This is because somehow, I have persuaded an army of people to come and visit me in Florence.

This is good for two reasons. One, I get to see the people that I care about and I’m not totally alone as I wander about Europe. And two, it forces me to stop messing around and go see actually Florence stuff!

When you’re studying here, you live here. This is home. And just like any other home, you start to take it for granted. Have I been to the Uffizi Gallery? Uh, no. Have I been inside the Duomo Cathedral? Um…no. Have I have Florentine steak? Nope. Have I eaten a ton of gelato? YES! Yes I have.

But anyway, my point that I was getting at is that when people visit you, you are forced to actually do something during the week besides sit on your ass. You are forced to do the same cool stuff that tourists do, even though even the word “tourist” fights the word “cool.”

So when my boyfriend visited me last week (Grandma comes this week!) one of the first things that we did was trek up to Piazza Michelangelo, a pleasant little square, as Rick Steves informed me, that boasts one of the best views of the city. Unfortunately for him and myself, I was feeling it a little bit after some wine at lunch and I literally took us an hour in the opposite direction of this famous square across the Arno. And “an hour” is being gratuitous to me.

Quick and easy hike, Rick? Um, I think not. Seriously this is a goddamn JOURNEY. I thought I was in shape. I was sadly mistaken. I was sweating just looking at the pile of steps that led up the Square that is adorned with a fake David and tons of tourist shops. When we finally got there, I wanted to stay for hours just to make it worth it, but there isnt really much to do besides take a couple of pictures, listen to some music, eat some gelato, and watch the occasional wedding. Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

Another thing that I dragged my boyfriend into doing is climbing the Duomo, the beautiful landmark that chills right outside my window. I figured it was about time I climbed the 463 steps, being that I live there and all and I love it like its my parents. So we paid the eight euros, stood in the line that- take note here- clears out by the afternoon, and began the trek up the ancient and tiny steps that circle the Duomo.

Once in a while throughout your steps, you have the chance to glance out the little windows, which tease you with their ascending views as you climb Florence. Whenever you start to feel a little tired, you see the encouraging messages people have scratched all over the walls, like…

Keep going. The view is seriously worth it. 

And then when you finally get to the top… you’re there. This is way better than lame Piazza Michelangelo, because you’re getting a 360 degree view of this fantastic countryside and the Tuscan hills that surround it. Yet another reason why the Duomo is seriously awesome.

This Place

I am blessed to be in Europe and have the opportunity to see countries that I have only dreamt about every weekend. I cannot believe that me, of all people, was awarded such an obscene chance, to see places I have only read about in books. But let me tell you this– as beautiful as Europe is, as much as I literally love every city that I have visited so far, from Munich to Positano to Venice, I am so in love with Firenze that it’s a little embarrassing.

Other cities win you over with their individual masterpieces, like the Colosseum in Rome or the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Big Ben in London. Obviously, all of these cities, and every other city out there, has tons of cool stuff to see that I am itching to visit and take lame pictures with. But Florence is different. Florence, in and of itself, is a sight.

Florence does not try to convince you to love it with big words, big buildings, big promises and rainbows and sunshine. Florence says, “I’m pretty awesome. But that’s all I’m gonna tell you.” From the Secret Bakery to the century-old buildings that seriously litter this city and the uncanny amount of statues and timeless artwork and architecture, it certainly wasn’t built in a day, and you sure as hell can’t see it in one, or even 109, as I am.

Florence has a quiet confidence, an air of intelligence, that, like many of its women, knows that it is beautiful. And soon you will, too.

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

“Ignorant American.”

“I hate America.”

“Stupid Americans.”

You have probably heard phrases like this before. If you aren’t an “ignorant American,” I’m sure that you have heard how the rest of the world hates America, how our country lacks culture and substance, how we are a nation full of people who know nothing outside of their own world, who spend their days thinking of money and die unfulfilled.

Oddly enough, as it seems to me, it’s not the rest of the world who despises America so whole-heartedly (yet some parts of the world do, as there will always be people who hate another simply for their nationality, gender, religion, or race), yet sometimes, it is Americans themselves, bashing the country that gave them life, freedom, happiness, a land full of prosperity and opportunity. Most often, it is spoiled students who don’t feel like they got their deserved lot in life and instead of joining the rest of the world and making a change, they choose to take it out on the land that takes care of them, whining and complaining like brats.

Is everyone happy in America? Does every American belong there? No, of course not. Some people who are born there, just as anywhere else, don’t find it their cup of tea for a plethora of reasons and move to other beautiful places like Italy, France, Australia, Canada, Asia. This is all well and good. Wherever you want to go, that’s the great thing about planes, people. But to bash your own nation? This will not make foreigners like you more. It makes them wonder what’s wrong with you, that you could be so disloyal to the place that took care of you.

I love Florence. I feel like it is a piece of my home. I hope that one day when I take my kids here, I remember it as vividly as I do when I sleep in my apartment next to the Duomo and that I can smile when I think of the short amount of time that I was blessed enough to spend here. But I also remember that it was my American school that sent me here, a glorious opportunity at that.

And I have many other pieces of home too– down the coast of New Jersey where I spent the best three years of my life. Back in the countryside of Jersey where I grew up, which still felt like home even when I moved there knowing no one after my parents got divorced and life made a 180. No matter where I go, whenever I go, America is home.

The States has its problems. Our political system makes a mockery of itself, more people vote for American Idol than they do for the President, we grossly overspend and overuse. I’m not denying any of this or any more of the laundry list of problems anyone can attest to. But America isn’t the only country with problems. And making it the scapegoat for yours won’t fix your life, either.

So students abroad, I’ll tell you this. You don’t have to bash the place that you will be returning to in a few short months to get foreigners to like you. You don’t have to run around toting an American flag all day, but while you are learning the beauty of another culture, don’t be ashamed to share a little of yours too. It is the people that make up the United States, not the grass that grows there. Remember that next time someone says something nasty about the place you, and I, were born and raised, and show some respect.

Just Another Night with Vogue

Being that everything that I brought to Florence is worthless enough that I will probably be leaving it here, I was not very well equipped for Vogue’s Fashion Night Out, which takes over the streets of Florence, Milan, and various other big cities throughout the world to celebrate fashion; yet another one of Italy’s artistic masterpieces. Fashion Night Out is kind of like a street fair; where big-name designers like Armani and Gucci and lots of other stores which have clothing that is worth more than my life open up their doors until late (11:30 pm) to showcase the season’s newest designs.

Even if you show up with like ten euro (as I did– didn’t want to tempt myself…) to be there in itself is insane. The streets are pure pandemonium, crowded with people in their best outfits, decked out in heels, stumbling around with champagne glasses on the cobblestone from the last store they visited. Models covered in body paint and designers making surprise appearance intermingle on the sidewalks and inside the stores with security guards in suits hanging out around them.

Walking into stores that I usually don’t even bother to look at in my $30 dress from Century 31 (literally the nicest thing that I own– my life is sad) with a champagne glass in my hand and looking at such beautiful things is kind of like being in a museum in Florence since clothing is more like real art than a piece of fabric here. However, I’m reminded who we are and where we come from when we can’t get into one store because we’re not on “The List” and we get yelled at for taking pictures when we thought no one was looking. Whoops.

In Florence, fashion is art, and everyone from designers to the lady next to you walking to work remind you of this everyday. It’s nice to see things so well-made and so intricately designed that vary greatly from the standard Northface and Ugg boots that we get back in the States. I think that one of the coolest things about it is that even though the stuff I’m seeing on these racks is beautiful, in Florence, you don’t need that kind of money to make something your own. Italians could put on a pair of sweatpants and make them chic by strapping on a pair of heels and some pink sunglasses. It’s a quiet confidence, a noncommittal care, that makes Italy and maybe Europe as a whole different from the States.

Back home, even if I see something kind of cool that I do actually like, sometimes I feel like I’ll stand out too much from the skirt-and-tank at the bar or the yoga pants-sweatshirt in class. Plus, the inspiration is missing, too– at home, what do you have to be inspired with? The girl next to you in a Victoria’s Secret hoodie? Or… the other girl in a Victoria’s Secret hoodie (that probably cost $50)? In Florence, not only are you inspired and awed by the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, the David, but you are inspired by the ordinary people with ordinary wallets and extraordinary attitudes. (And extraordinary closets).


To the Motherland

Back in August, as the days leading up to my plane ride to Florence came about, my own family relations at home in New Jersey grew more and more complicated (because God forbid we all fight at a time that isn’t inconvenient). Someone close to me in my own Italian family began to hate me more and more, and I couldn’t help but regret my decision to fly to Italy, just a bit, in a few days because I felt like as much as I wanted to escape this person and their various methods to hurt me, instead, I was heading to what I felt like was “their” country. I felt like I was intruding in their life when really I wanted to create my own.

But since being here, living next to the majestic Duomo is this city surrounded by Renaissance art and architecture, traveling to places like Capri and Pisa and Venice every weekend, I realized that this isn’t a place that belongs to anyone that lives in the States. I feel silly to think that these people who wish nothing but the worst for me also have no real connection to this country– as much as they would like to think they are a part of it, that they understand the culture and their lives, they have never even been here. If anything, they are a part of the overstated Italian-American culture, which literally has nothing to do with Italy. These people I was so afraid of have never been here and probably will not set foot on this land before they die. They don’t understand the fine art and the modest love, the humility and the sunshine.

I may only be a kid. I may not understand too much and mostly, I’m just musing here the best that I can. But I will say this– for this time, I live here. I breathe this air and I see these places and I eat this food. This land is mine.


Can We Have Class Outside?

Okay so maybe I missed the memo over here, but turns out that when you’re studying abroad, you actually have to GO TO CLASS. Which kind of cramps my three-and-a-half vacation across Europe a little bit, but you do what you have to do, I suppose.

Today I got up early to trudge through the rain to my first class, a 6 credit Italian class that meets every day at NINE O’ CLOCK IN THE MORNING. I’m not totally sure what possessed me to make this schedule back in April, but that’s okay. Anyway, the street system in Florence doesn’t follow a brand of logic that I can particularly follow. There are two kinds of numbers on the street- red and blue/black. Red (marked by an /r at the end of a number) marks a business, while no letter and just a number marks a personal space. These are scattered within each other (obviously, it’s a city) but each set follows their own number system, neither of which are really in order. How anyone finds anything in this place is seriously beyond me.

Somehow I found my Italian class, and then I headed off to Renaissance Theory of Love, a class that I had no idea what it was when I signed up (see a pattern here?) Thankfully, the class is about just this- what Renaissance thinkers thought about love- and is taught by a little American woman. Whenever she speaks, I just wonder what brought her to Italy; if she fell in love or studied abroad many years ago, if she has grown children back in the States who wish she would come home already.

The woman (whose name escapes me at this moment) was happy to see our 10 person class was entirely composed of girls, all of which whom are outspoken and involved. That’s yet another pattern I see here- almost every study abroad student is female. According to a 2012 article, females are roughly twice as likely to study abroad than men. In my three classes thus far, each one with between 10-15 students, only three students IN TOTAL are male.

Afterwards, I had Pairing Food with Wine (this is not real life). Giancarlo Russo, my sturdy Italian professor, told us how in his former life, he worked in Business and made a lot of money but was never very fulfilled. Fifteen years ago he quit and started his own restaurant, making his own wine. I can see his old Business self in his chiseled face, but his eccentricity in his pink pants and yellow glasses comes through stronger as he tells us that if a waiter ever opens our wine bottle in the back, we better hit him with a big stick. Whenever a student says that he/she is some kind of Business major, like Accounting or Marketing, I can see he looks a little sad for them.

When you’re walking the streets of Florence to get to class, plus you’re getting better and better at navigating without a map, class is a lot less sad to hike to. I won’t lie, though– it’s still class. Today is only my first day and already my notes are covered in doodles of flowers and hearts.

A Night on the Town

So, as usual, we are drunk already.

But I have to say, being drunk in Italy on a beautiful red wine doesn’t have too much in common with sitting in a circle at my University drinking a crunched water bottle filled with vodka and whatever else I could find in my fridge. Instead, a pregame that I eat with my dinner feels nice and classy, and even better once I am giggling with Juliana and we are holding our bottles up together so that we know drank the same amount. Once I start chugging it from this bottle though and scrunching my face, I know that it isn’t very classy anymore.

Juliana, Andrea, Sean, and I wander the street for awhile to go to Louis and Billy’s apartment, which is in a nice square with some grass only about a half a mile away, maybe a little more. Juliana and I skip the street, our wine drunk seeming to skip the tired phase and instead makes me want to scream out I LOVE ITALY! although I’m pretty sure that’s the best way to get mugged.

Billy comes out to meet us and leads us into his apartment which is over a gelataria, and we hike the three floors up until we get to an apartment that isn’t as big as ours, but is stuffed with books I would love to read and consider packing inside my purse. It is filled with pretty Italian paintings and glass and generally looks like a family could live there and gaze out their window onto the square and the Santa Maria Novella church, while ours kind of looks like a big empty house that has an obscene amount of wine.

Max tells us he doesn’t want to go out because he doesn’t want to spend the money, but he gives Juliana and I another glass of wine anyway (as if we needed it) and I tell him I will make him a gourmet meal in return. Billy hands me a pair of binoculars and it’s kind of cool to stare out the window with them after all the people lounging about the square. After awhile, the bunch of us meet our old tour guide, Anthony, as well as some more girls in our group at another bar where we pay 20 euro to join a pub crawl and get three free shots and free entrance to a big club, Space.

I’m so drunk as we wander around that I don’t even feel weird arguing the principles of Catholicism with Billy, meanwhile considering that maybe I won’t be accepting all of my free shots. The problem with wandering a dark city when you’re drunk, adding to the fact that you have an awful sense of direction, is that in the daylight you can never find where you were and you feel like all the places of the night before were just a dream.

When we get to the third club, Space, we are crammed in with a million other people on the floors, reminding me of Pacha in New York. All of the girls dance with each other and watch each other’s backs, and we turn the other one away when a weird European boy tries to creep on her and take advantage of her American tourism. This is one thing I don’t have in the States: girlfriends. I hang out with all the boys when we dance, it’s more of a joke than anything else and we mostly spend our drinking time trying to get into mischief. It’s a nice change once in a while to go out with everyone else and just dance with girls and not worry about what you owe another.

Leaving Space at 2:30 am, even though the place is still packed, is a disaster. Even though we bought no drinks, we have to stand in a crowded line where a huge man screams at us all and actually makes me a little nervous as he holds us back and I yell at him that we are never coming back here. Nicole, a feisty Portuguese girl in our group, is especially mad when she is charged for her supposed free drinks. Once outside though in the Firenze air and walking home together, it’s hard to be angry.


Count to Five

I’m sort of getting used to all of this, to living in Italy, and that I know because of one single reason– I can breathe.

When I’m at school in the States, my time is never mine. My time belongs to the newspaper that I write for, The Outlook, the Newsletter that I put together for the Honors program, Arete, the Annual Fund, New Logic Educators, and many more. Don’t get me wrong– I love every activity that I am a part of, which is why I could never bring myself to quit even one of them. But when I finally get home at night, I am sometimes a little sad when I have to miss dinner with my roommate or when I have to decline happy hour invitations or other simple hang-outs that others take for granted.

At home, my brain buzzes constantly (sounds healthy, I know) and my thoughts are echoes of the countless lists I make of the things I have to do and to consider. When I go to sleep, I count to five over and over again so that I can relax.

It is only now, in Italy, where I see that this is not normal. Today I sat in a nice little cafe near a building where Andrea, Juliana, and Sean had a meeting, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t look at the clock or think about what else I had to do that day. I sat and I breathed in cool air (thank God) and I drank a tiny cup of expresso and ate a sandwich that was an obscenely low cost. I’m glad to say that it’s only the third day, and I can already see the joys of a three hour dinner.

I know that once I return to the States in a few short months, I will go back to my old ways and I will be stressed and overload myself. And that’s okay, because things need to get done. But it’s nice to think that just for now, I think I’ll just sit quietly on a side street and sip my drink.