Friday, May 14, 2010


I think God likes me. He has given me the most amazing going away present in history. Today is my last day in Florence, and I met the most amazing person in the world. While the rest of my Study Abroad friends are all excited about having met Billy Joel, who was in the Piazza Signorina having lunch today, I'm excited about having met Antonio.

I met him yesterday. In fact, I met him yesterday as I was sitting in the Piazza Signorina. I was sitting next to this statue, writing in my diary. I often take my diary to places around the city to jot down my life in Florence and this Piazza is a great place for me. I can sit here amongst the most famous sculptures in the world and people watch to my hearts content. I've sat here sketching, listening to music, and eating gelato, but mostly I've sat here writing. I had no idea that today would be the day I was interrupted. By Antonio. I was sitting there, chewing on my Mickey Mouse pen, staring at a pigeon who'd perched itself ontop of that muss of marble hair growing from my boyfriend David's head. I was thinking about the amount of pigeon shit that, for centuries, has been building up inside of the carefully crafted rivulets on this sculpture's head. I vaguely noticed an old man in faded brown leather sit down next to me. I turned back to my journal and commenced writing about the bird shit. A few minutes passed.

"Salve," he said. It took me a moment to register that this man was greeting me.
"Salve," I replied with a smile.
"Come lei?" He was being formal with me. Old man. I looked him over and decided he was harmless. His white hair was combed over carefully, his kind eyes looked out from a rather haggard and rough looking face, he wore leather shoes and a button down shirt and even cuffed his pantlegs. My eyes strayed to his hands. They were big and meaty and on his ring finger was the pale scar of years wearing a wedding band. He carried only his wallet and was clearly lingering in the Piazza in the hopes of someone to speak to.
"Bene, grazie," I said. "E tu?"
"Bellissimo!" He was jovial, clearly enjoying my horrible accent. "Parli Italiano?"
I told him yes, but only very little. Our conversation proceeded slowly, but it proceeded. All my thoughts of writing ended and I enjoyed talking with this man for nearly an hour. I learned that he used to work in the Uffizi as a tour guide. He spoke Japanese, French, Spanish, and Italian and understood not a single word of English. He lived in France for years in his youth as a military man. He was in love with a woman, there, and it was in France he learned how much he loved languages. I never learned what happened to the French woman. He then explained his love for Japanese culture. He fell in love with a Japanese woman, had a child with her, and ever since became obsessed about Japan. The woman left him, taking their child, and went to Japan. Her entreaties for him to come and join her there have never ceased, apparently, but Antonio is too afraid of planes to go there. He asked about my life, which in its brevity seemed so much less rich, and I explained about how I came to Florence. Somehow, our conversation made it to Zodiac signs. He is a Scorpio, I am a Leo. Scorpios are suppossed to be the sign I get along with best. It was right then that I knew I was going to be good friends with this man. I've been obsessed with Zodiac signs of late and my Leo sign has been stalking me. Remember, reader, that all of this conversation was spoken in Italian, so Brava! to me for understanding so much.

"Prendi caffe?" He asked. Yes, I would love to go and have some coffee. He led me to a place called Edizon, Florence's gigantic bookstore. I absolutely love that place and would sit there for hours reading The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Antonio insisted on buying me a cappucino and the two of us sat together for another hour and a half. We talked about so much more. He looked at pictures at young Japanese girls in goth outfits (which was a little weird) and I wrote in my journal. We made plans to meet at Edizon again and get lunch before I left the next day.

I arrived at Edizon a little bit early and sat in the same spot as the day before, waiting. Antonio came, we ordered cappucini, and talked again for some time before leaving for lunch. He told me he had a friend who would make us special food. He walked me all the way back to the San Lorenzo underneath his umbrella and I confusedly followed him through the red double doors of the Mercato Centrale. This is Florence's huge fresh market that I wrote about in one of my very first posts. The melee inside was overwhelming and I didn't understand where he was taking me. A shortcut? No. He introduced me to the cook who works in the Mercato at Florence's famous fresh food restaurant. This man uses food from the market that he buys on the spot to cook for the people who are shopping inside. They are served on small picnic benches with a perfect view of the craziness that is that market. He made us a special vegetarian risotto. I don't know that something that amazing has ever grazed my tastebuds before. Antonio and I sat and talked for a long time, watching people purchase any kind of nut in the world from the nut guy, sample fresh cheese, and order slabs of pork to be sliced (kind of viciously) from the hide of a recently murdered pig. The blood didn't stop squirting.

After I finished my risotto I discovered why Antonio's worn hands were so cracked and broken looking. Not only is he a retired Uffizi guide, but he is also a landscaper and gardener. He took my hand and opened it, dropping into my palm four pea pods. Into the other he dropped a handful of another green vegetable. He explained to me that he had picked me the very best ones from his garden that morning and wanted me to eat them on the train ride away from Florence. Then he gave me his phone number and made me promise that the next time I was in Florence I would call. I would tell him that I am Gabrielle, that I am back in Florence, and that I wanted to meet him again at Edizon for cappucino and to go to dinner at the restaurant of his friend. I had no trouble whatsoever making that promise.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby.

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