by Melinda Gallo

Flashback: Waking up to Florence

The only sound I heard from my cell phone within the last 24 hours was my phone's alarm ringing at 7AM. Before I fell asleep last night, I went through my suitcase and was comforted by what I found: blank notebooks, a portable CD player, a few CDs, one book ("Women Who Run with Wolves"), and my running shoes, which would prove to bring me the most comfort.

At dinner the night before, I sat with the ex-husband/father and their son who was about 8 years old to eat dinner. The ex-wife/mother cooked the meal and stood at the sink, watching us and not eating. The father tried to talk to me, but I didn't understand much of anything. He laughed heartily when I tried to say papà (father) and ended up saying papa, which meant Pope. For the rest of the dinner, I tried to catch a few words while they were talking.

I was disappointed that none of my friends called me last night. My best girlfriends, like Polly, used to call me or SMS me all the time when I was back in England. I made sure my phone was charged and kept it close to my cot, but it never rang. I didn't want to call any of my friends because I didn't want to tell them that my big dream felt like a big disaster.

Last night, I think the mother asked me what I wanted for breakfast. I only guessed at what she meant since she said, "Caffè, tè, succo di frutta." (Coffee, tea, fruit juice). I had to get my dictionary from my room to understand what she said to me. I responded, "Succo di frutta."

I didn't know how the organization of the bathroom was, so I waited until they were all finished. I opened up my notebook and wrote my morning pages, which I had been doing for years. When I heard all the girls in the kitchen having breakfast, I scurried past them with my towel, toiletries bag, and clothes and quickly said "Ciao" without really looking at them.

After my shower in the bathtub with a hand-held shower head, I went back to the kitchen to introduce myself to the girls. The first one, who spoke the best Italian, was a Chilean girl. The second one was a Japanese girl, and the third one was Swiss. They all seemed to know each other quite well and told me in a mixture of English, Italian, and French that they all go to the same school. We were all roughly the same age except the Swiss girl who was 19.

They all got up at the same time to leave for school. I sat at the table eating breakfast alone. I quickly finished my succo di frutta and ate some cookies that were left on the table. There was some bread, but it was probably from the night before. I tried a piece last night with my pasta and the father and son both shrieked. They told me, "Pane e pasta, no" (Bread and pasta, no). I took one bite of the unsalted bread with my salad and almost spit it out. I couldn't believe anyone could eat it.

After breakfast, I went back to my room, which was next to the kitchen, and looked at the map to find my way to school. The man at the school, Gianluca, told me to take bus #17, but since I arrived so late at night last night I didn't know how to get tickets for the bus. I tried to ask the girls before they left, but all they told me was that I had to buy tickets at a chiosco (kiosk).

My Italian being what it was, I didn't even know how to say ticket or bus. I walked to Piazza San Marco and hopped into a taxi. I read off the address to him and the man drove me past the Duomo and the train station and then he kept on going until we hit a residential area. He stopped in front of a two-story building over a bar.

I looked at the building and my heart sank. I can't go back now: I don't even know where I am. I rang the doorbell downstairs and was buzzed in. I wasn't ready for my Italian lessons, but here I was walking up the stairs about to begin.

I will be continuing to write about my arrival to Florence back in 1997 and will preface them with "Flashback" in the title.

Share your comments for this blog post on the Living in Florence's Facebook page. Grazie!