TRAVELMAN FLORENCE, ITALY: Fortunate Scars

Travelman @travelman
· June 2018 · 12 min read · Italy · #writing

I met Bruna, Shuwa, and Fausto at Sabetino Trattoria on my last night in Florence. Up until that point my stay in Firenze (as the Italians call it) was pleasant, beautiful, and uneventful. By the time the evening came to a late and abrupt end, Firenze had become a city forever alive in my memory.

I’d arrived four days previous, having walked the six miles down hill into the city from my countryside hostel. The hike was pleasant. I’m glad I chose to see the outskirts of the city on foot, depsite the efforts of the sun to slow roast me in its rays.

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It was Sunday morning. I walked on the shaded side of the street. If locals weren’t asleep in bed, they were out at one of the few open cafes serving up espressos and Italian pastries.

(Remarkably mesmerizing in person)

I know this is an assumption on my part, but everyone here seems to know one another. I’m sure they don’t, but people are so open to talking with their fellow Florentines that it seems to be so. It reminds me of Nepal in this way.

(Italian SUV)

My new hostel appeared to be nice enough. Paintings of Marvel and DC comic book characters hung on the lobby walls and in the halls. Superhero comics translated into italian were stacked next to the common room tv. The comics theme struck me as odd, but it was fun looking through old issues of Spider-Man in Italian.

I figured I’d extend my stay for another two days, maybe four. I asked the desk woman for two. She told me this was fine and I could take care of it immediately or the following morning. She gave me the impression the place was big enough that I wouldn’t have trouble extending as long as needed. But we all know what happens when I assume...

Long story short, I waited to extend, decided to stay til Saturday, booked a train out of town before booking with the hostel the following morning, found out I could only extend til Thursday morning, and had to extend the limit of my patience while scrambling to correct my blunder. I initially took this as an unfortunate event, however the opposite proved to be the case. I ended up staying in San Gimignano those two days, very fortunate indeed. (I promise not to extend on the extension blunder any further, so as not to overextend your tolerance of extended repetitions.)

The hostel wasn’t nearly as social as I’d expected. They had an upstairs bar but it was always empty. If the dorm room windows were left open at night, the occupants became the main course at a human blood buffet catering to mosquitos. If the windows remained closed, the room was unbearably hot and stuffy. It was a pick your poison kind of deal.

The hostel had a decent breakfast for five euros though, so that was nice. Overall, the place was fine. It was good enough and the only deal in town.

After taking a shower, I ventured out for a meal. I was nearly overcome with joy as I took in the sights. It felt like walking through a pleasant dream.

I spent my days and evenings wandering around the city, eating pizza, pasta, and panini’s, drinking wine, and hoping to meet somebody...anybody.

On the third afternoon I sat down with a young woman at a cafe. She had what I told her was a fortunate scar on her face. It was a small crescent, perfectly placed at the edge of one of her high cheekbones. It was more of a beauty mark than a scar. She was blonde, long curly hair, and her eyes were thermal baths in which a man could drown if he wasn’t careful. She was from Sweden and her almost perfect English gave her a false air of depth and intrigue.

We talked for a couple hours. She painted a story of an emotionally scarred life, and said she didn’t like to travel because “travelers are all running from something.” I wondered if these emotional scars would prove to be beauty marks as well.

She was young and called herself an actress. Her parents were disappointed in her for choosing this profession, especially her father. They wanted her to be a painter. Why not a doctor or lawyer? Her father was a famous painter.

“He’s dying. …Of senility.” She said.

I assumed she meant Alzheimer’s and thought it best to not bother correcting her.

“The disease makes you cruelest to the ones you love.” She said.

My spidey senses screamed that her daddy issues would make her the crazy ex-girlfriend of many unfortunate men. I sat, listening to her, mostly out of curiosity. She had a hickey on her neck and was too eager to share of her inner self with an American traveler who’d asked to share her table.

I mentioned the hickey late in our conversation. It was from a man with whom she was staying. She met him shortly after her arrival in Florence. That’s all I learned before she changed the subject.

She pulled this funny power-play thing as I was preparing to get on my way. I felt our conversation had run it’s course. Not only did my body language indicate this, but I grabbed my bag, unplugged my iPad, packed it away, and slung my bag over my shoulder as well. Clearly, I was preparing to say goodbye.

That’s when she said, “If you don’t mind, I have some work to get done on my computer, so...” Her laptop had been open on the table in front of her the entire time. Now, with me obviously about to leave, she attempted to frame it as her ending our encounter.

I almost laughed. Instead, I merely tugged on my bag and said, “Yeah, I’m about to go.” I wished her well and we slipped back through the dimensional portholes with which I’ve become so familiar. It was a pleasing single serving encounter.

The next evening, I wanted to ensure that I had a great dinner on my last evening in Florence. The internet had a few suggestions. Sabetino’s was highly rated, cheap, and promised authentic Florentine cuisine. It was located in a part of town beyond where I had yet ventured. I walked along the river, beyond the tourist area. Finally, I spotted it, tucked away and easily missed.

I entered. The decor was less than memorable, a bit cafeteria-like, but the place was crowded to capacity on a Wednesday night.

I discovered that the line of people along the counter was “the line.” I joined it. Two younger women stood in front of me. I heard them speaking Italian. I did not open a conversation. I was a bit intimidated by the entire scene. I was the only tourists I could spot in the place.

A young man in a New England Patriots cap entered the restaurant. He approached the counter. He spoke to the women in both English and Italian.I heard him say he was getting take away. A conversation ensued between the three, in Italian.

I got the impression he was hitting on the women. Assuming I may be with one of the women, he engaged me in conversation, in Italian. I told him I only spoke English, we said a few words and that was that. One of the servers addressed the women and directed them to a table directly next to the line.

This restaurant is so busy that they utilize every seat at every table, unmet friends share tables. I thought this was spectacular. The women were seated with a family of four. I noticed one empty chair remained available at their table.

I approached and asked I could join. The women agreed. Score! I got a table, I didn’t have to eat alone, and I’d probably get to have some lively dinner conversation. I had no idea, how lively.

Two minutes later, the young man in the Patriots hat asked to join our table. This involved one of the young women having to move to the long, bench side of the table and the family on the other end having to scooch down. I was only mildly surprised by the man in the Patriots hat’s boldness.

It seemed to me that he felt he had made some inroads with these women, saw me join them, and didn’t want to be left out of a possible romantic opportunity. In the past I may have perceived him as an adversary, out to establish himself as an alpha and me as a beta. This thought crossed my mind, but I didn’t care, my only intentions were to make friends with everyone at the table and have a great time.

Patriots hat’s name was Fausto. He liked to talk and be the center of attention, so I gave him that. I focused my attention on him. I wanted to meet locals and hear their stories so I was genuinely interested in what he had to say.

We got along famously, but I sensed an underlying competition, at least on his part. He would make a biting comment in reference to me here and there. “I mean, you... (Positive comment, positive comment)... and you have this weird necklace and I don’t know.” As well as various other underhanded insults. I noted it mentally and persisted with my positivity, asking him more about his life and opinions. I learned about Florence from him and social dynamics from the encounter.

When you give a bearish person like this the attention they’re craving, it disarms them and keeps the power in your corner. Instead of them commanding the social interaction with their stories, you command it by saying in essence, “I offer you the floor so that I can learn more about you. It is MY floor and I’m offering it to you.” If there is a power struggle, the winner is not the bear, it’s the bear whisperer. The bear whisperer is then free to shift the attention where he pleases.

I also learned, that I can like someone like this. I genuinely liked Fausto, and actually felt for him. I knew that the women were also taking note of his underhanded comments and my refusal to react to the digs. It left one of us in a more favorable light. Making friends with everyone left me feeling unthreatened and able to enjoy myself. I could give a shit what any of them thought of me. I knew I was being friendly and genuine and that’s all that mattered.

My three new friends helped me pick out my meal. I ordered a roast beef plate and split a side of potatoes with Fausto. The four of us shared a large bottle of wine. Bruna and I fell into a conversation and Fausto engaged the family on the other end of the table, they were from Spain. Bruna’s friend, spoke Italian, but she was Chinese. She’d been studying and living in Italy for her masters in cinema. Bruna was in the same program. The three of us had much to talk about. Fausto could talk about anything, so he was good. I noticed the underhanded comments came at times that I was getting more of the attention.

The time came to pay for the meal. I asked them how much I owed. It was too late, they’d already split the bill three ways and paid for my meal. An example of Italians (and one Chinese woman) being Italians. I expressed my gratitude and Fausto invited us back to his apartment/art studio down the street. That’s when things got weird.

His studio was a one bedroom, strewn with art finished and in progress. Bruna and I went to the bar down the street to retrieve some drinks. You can do that in Italy, take drinks from bars. We returned and we drank.

Fausto seemed to cross an alcohol consumption threshold. He went off on a rant and became almost impossible to interrupt. He began trying to prove a point to Bruna about talking to people with Borderline personality disorder. A moment ago, he’d finished giving us his life history, filled with heroin addiction, methodone, recovery, traveling to Switzerland, studying botany, and falling in love with a woman suffering from Borderline Personality disorder.

Bruna had questioned a small part of a method he’d learned, and the conversation went off the rails. Shuwa indicated she was ready to go. I waited for Fausto to finish his point, or at least pause. I soon discovered I’d be waiting til dawn. I had to gently grab his arm, force his attention to me, and shoehorn in the message that we were calling it a night.

We said goodbye, he wrote down his Facebook (he didn’t have internet or something). The women walked me back across the city. They were annoyed and disappointed by his behavior. It was a bit awkward and a sour ending. I managed to keep it light by telling them that now my Florence story went from great to fascinatingly entertaining.

Bruna pointed out how wonderful Florence is half past one in the morning when the streets are empty, the night air is free, and your footsteps echo on the cobblestone. I agreed and we said goodnight and I fell asleep thinking of all my fortunate scars.


Topics: WRITINGPHOTOGRAPHYITALY

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