by Melinda Gallo

Flashback: First day at Italian school

As I walked up the steps to go to school, I could hear the keys jangle in my pocket. This morning, Signora G. (the ex-wife/mother) gave me a set of keys and explained how I'm supposed to lock the door when I leave and then lock it when I arrive. Of course, I only understood her because she opened the door, led me outside, shut the door behind us, and then locked it. Then, after unlocking the door, we walked back into the apartment and she shut and locked the door again.

I feel a sense of belonging and permanence now that I have keys again. I remember having to hand over my keys to Steve and Jenny, the couple with whom I was sharing a house back in England. The moment the keys left my hand, I felt as if I had nothing left to hold onto that linked me to England.

I realize how uncomfortable I am in a different culture and language especially living in a house full of strangers. I thought I would be able to start a new life easily, but it doesn't feel so easy now.

Maybe I just need to meditate. "You need to get centered and get your life together," my friend Trish would tell me as she has told me numerous times before. I'm just too impatient to even try to meditate right now. Also, it would be something else I'd have to learn.

The door to the school was halfway open. A man who was a little taller than me came up to me and said, "Melinda?" "Sì," I responded. "Ciao. Sono Gianluca," he said and shook my hand. He spoke to me in Italian, but I only understood a few words because they sounded a little like French. I kept smiling and nodding as he escorted me to a classroom. Inside was a young male teacher who introduced me to the other six students there. From their names, I could tell they were Japanese and German. There weren't any Americans in my class and I was happy only because then I wouldn't speak English to anyone.

After a few hours of lessons, we were taken downstairs to a small bar. Gianluca told us to go into the back where there were a few tables. We put a few of the tables together and all sat down together. We tried to speak to each other in Italian, which made all of us laugh quite a bit. We had only a choice of a few primi (pasta dishes) so I just picked one I knew, spaghetti al pesto. They set bread on the table, but I knew better than to eat it without putting olive oil and salt on it.

After lunch, we stood at the bar and each had an espresso before going back to class. I was happy when our lessons finished at 4PM. I actually learned a lot of Italian in one day and am excited to do my homework and practice a little bit.

I took the bus to the stazione (train station) and then walked in the direction of the Duomo. I saw lots of small shops as I walked along the narrow sidewalk lined with a permanent railing. Florence seems quite big, but also quite small in an odd way. The sun and humid air tired me out so quickly that I had to keep buying water, but I still didn't feel refreshed.

I bought a monthly bus pass at the edicola (newspaper stand) in Piazza San Marco. I asked Gianluca how to say that in Italian and wrote it down, so when I got there, I said, "Un'abbonamento mensile per favore." I repeated it under my breath at least twenty times before facing the man at the edicola.

I've seen lots of mopeds whizzing around town and I'd love to get one. It looks like a great way to get around and it just seems so Italian.

I got home and obediently locked the door. The apartment was still as dark as ever since all the doors to every room, including the bathroom, were closed. I went straight to my bedroom to relax. As soon as I closed my door, the door across the hall opened and then shut. I figured out that it was Signora G. going to the kitchen to prepare dinner.

I sat on my cot and did my homework. I wanted to write a little bit before dinner, but last night, I realized that one of my notebooks and favorite pen were both missing. The pen was a Christmas gift that I never used because it was so nice. It was worth more than my notebook, but losing my notebook has really saddened me because it was filled with all my thoughts and ideas. I'll have to buy a new notebook, but I don't yet know where to go. I haven't seen any supermarkets or large shops where I can look around.

I heard the father and son talking in the kitchen and I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to go to the kitchen, but I didn't want to not eat either. After a few minutes, the son knocked on my door and said something that I hoped was his way of telling me that it was time to eat. When I opened the door, he was gone. I walked into the kitchen and they were all waiting for me to begin eating.

I sat down at the open seat and smiled at them all. It was the first time I've seen any of them all day. I felt overwhelmed with all the Italian they were speaking, so I was happy that they were speaking among themselves and not to me. I just wanted to eat, half-listen, and not be put on the spot to talk.

After dinner, I went back to my room to read. I don't know if I can keep eating pasta twice a day. I have to find a gym tomorrow so I can get back into running. I'd run outside, but it's just too hot and humid here. It's hard to believe it's this hot in September. When I left England, it was so nice and now I felt like I was back in the middle of summer.

I looked at my mobile and it said that I received a voice message. I don't know who it's from because I can't retrieve messages without using a land line. I contemplated who it might be and was hoping that it would be from P. who is a French guy that I had just started dating only a few weeks ago. The problem is that he's not that happy that I left England and him, but I need this time for me to figure out what I will do next.

I hear a few of the girls in the hall giggling as they walk to front door, unlock it and then lock it behind them. I didn't see any of them since breakfast, but I knew they were home by the continual opening and shutting of doors.

Even though not much has changed since yesterday, I'm feeling a little better. Hopefully, I will sleep better too. I'm finally feeling excited about being here.

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!