by Melinda Gallo

Flashback: Night out at Parterre

Claudia, Catherine, and I walked down via Lamarmora toward Piazza LibertÓ. We were all excited about going to Parterre. I was the most excited since it was the first time I had been out since I arrived. It didn't seem that late at night, but no one else was walking outside on the sidewalk except us. As we were crossing the viale, it felt like everyone's eyes in the cars waiting at the light were on us. One guy yelled something out at us, but I couldn't understand him. Claudia must have understood because she said something under her breath and hurried us along.

We arrived at a large gate where groups of people were walking in slowly and purposefully. The girls knew where they were going, so I just followed them. They led me up a set of poorly lit steps, which wrapped around in front of a building where most people seemed to be gathered.

As we walked along the wide path, large groups of people were sitting in the grassy area in the middle where tables were scattered around in front of a small stage. It looked like someone was going to perform or was possibly on a break. A D.J. was playing music so loud that people had to sit close to talk to each other.

Almost everyone standing outside was smoking. A few of the guys we passed on the path smelled of toothpaste and cologne. But, only when a breeze blew past us so that the layer of smoke would dissipate. A few people were browsing a makeshift bookstore where the lights were bright and books were piled high on fold-out tables. I would've liked to go in there, but the girls were determined to go to the bar in the back where all the action seemed to be.

We arrived at the bar together and as I was just about to tell the girls that we should go upstairs to the other bar, Claudia tugged at my shirt without looking back at me. I followed her eyes and saw what they were both gawking at. A guy with slicked back black hair, which could've been brown, but we were too far to tell was standing with his back against the bar. He had a pizzetto (goatee) that we all three liked on men. He didn't look that tall, maybe just a few inches taller than me, but was incredibly attractive. He looked like he was only at the bar on his way to a discoteca. We watch him inspect each girl that walked past him.

I led the girls this time to the bar so we could get a closer look at him. At first, Claudia resisted, but I made it clear that we weren't going to talk to him. We all sort of have boyfriends: Claudia's has been in Paris for the past few months while she's been in Florence and Catherine's boyfriend is in Switzerland waiting for her to return. Mine, whom I call that because it's simpler than explaining that we've been dating for only two weeks, is back in England.

We ordered drinks as soon as we got the attention of the barmaid. I asked for a succo di pesca (peach juice) while the other girls ordered due bicchieri di rosso (two glasses of red wine). We looked over at him from the tops of our glasses so it wouldn't be so obvious.

We decided that watching him watch other girls go by wasn't all that interesting. We finished our drinks and headed upstairs to see what was up there. With each minute that went by, it seemed that more and more people were arriving. Who would've thought that all this was happening just a few blocks from our apartment.

We all saw the last free table with two chairs. Catherine and I ran to the table to sit down. Claudia got another chair from a neighboring table. I was happy that she went because she's the only one who could speak Italian. Of course, she just walked over to the table, put her hands on the chair, and said, "Posso?" (Can I?)

The waitress arrived at our table quickly and put her tray on our table. Without looking at us, she asked us, "Cosa prendete?" We didn't have a menu on the table, so we all ordered the same drinks we did downstairs. After she wrote down our order, she put the pad back into her pocket and walked away. She reappeared for a brief second to slap down a bowl of chips and quickly left.

A guy at the next table had a dog attached to his chair that we all kept looking at. It was one of those huge dogs that I didn't want jumping on me. The dog's owner turned around when Claudia began petting his dog. The guys at the table looked back at us and asked if they could join us. I wasn't certain what was said, but they seemed quite friendly.

They scooted their table next to ours and we created one big table. Introductions went around the entire table and we all smiled at each other. And then the questions began. Bar conversation was perfect for my level of Italian: "Di dove sei?" "Quanti anni hai?" "Cosa fai?" "Ti piace Firenze?" "Per quanto tempo ci stai?" "Di che segno sei?" (Where are you from? How old are you? What do you do? Do you like Florence? How long will you be staying here? What sign are you?). I know all of these questions almost by heart and the answers come to me easily since it's what we've been practicing since I got here.

One of the guys in the group had just gotten back from Cuba and was showing pictures. "Non posso andare al Cuba." (I can't go to Cuba) I tell them pretending to be sad. Of course, I have heard of Americans going there through Mexico. They told me how cheap everything is and how it's the greatest vacation spot. From what they described, it sounded like Hawaii, but at a discount.

Luca, who introduced himself as "Luha" with his Florentine accent, switched seats with a friend of his to sit next to me. He found out that I too was a bilancia (Libra) and so wanted to talk to me some more. He's a year older than me, has extremely kind eyes and a nice smile despite his bad teeth. I love his voice, especially his Florentine accent, although I'm sure it has become even more gravelly due to his incessant smoking.

I mentioned that I had a French boyfriend back in London, but that didn't stop Luca from asking me, "Allora...cosa facciamo per i nostri compleanni?" I didn't tell him of my plans to go to Venice alone as I didn't want that to sound like an invitation. I laughed off his idea and tried to ask some more about his trip to Cuba last year.

Luca asked for my phone number, but giving him the house number would almost be like giving him a fake number since no one will ever answer it. Claudia whipped out a cell phone as if from thin air and typed in Luca's number. I didn't even know she had a cell phone until I saw it spring from her purse. Luca added her number to his cell phone and put both of our names.

When I stood up to leave, Luca kissed me on both cheeks and let one hand linger on my shoulder. I smiled back at him and broke away slowly so as not to show that I even noticed. I headed for the stairs and waved back at the guys who have all turned to watch us go. "Ciao!" I yelled back through the crowds of people. As I began to walk down the stairs, I head straight into the arms of the gorgeous guy, we've nicknamed "Eros" after an Italian singer who was popular in the early 90's, while he is coming up the stairs.

He held on to me so I wouldn't knock him down. I was so embarrassed that I couldn't utter a single sound. I was amazed at how he looked even more perfect up close. Claudia snapped me out of my silence by grabbing my arm. "Scusami," I blurted out and quickly walked around him. When the girls caught up to me, we all stopped to watch him head up the steps and disappear in the crowd of people.

I declared myself the designated leader because the girls were a little tipsy. I tried to keep them together so we could get home safely and ended up holding both of their hands when we crossed the viale. I was relieved when I finally made it to my bed and plopped myself on top of it. I was exhausted from trying to listen to every word that was said. All night I kept trying to understand the conversations and yet I couldn't catch everything. Claudia did much better and seemed to be getting along quite easily. Catherine ignored most of what was going on, but still seemed to enjoy herself.

When I said good-night to Claudia in the hall, she said that we'll be meeting up with Luca again soon. I wasn't sure what she meant, but I was hoping that she didn't make some plan for me and Luca to go out alone.

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

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