Sunday, October 16, 2005

Mangiare Firenze

Tonight, while eating dinner, I was flipping through the channels on my little portable radio trying to find some Italian music. From the bottom to the top of the dial, I was getting one American pop song after another. Ricky Martin, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, contemporary rap, rock and pop, 70s and 80s, and “classic hits”.

All of a sudden I broke into a state of deranged laughter and tears: Dio mio, what a big world we have! How ironic this is, how right it is, how different it is, how it is just such--just the way it is. If you have ever lived abroad you likely know what I’m talking about; if not, you will have to live abroad to understand.

I finished my pasta and drank my frizzante; the little earbuds I never use plugged into me. In an embarrassing display I finished off the bottom of the Nutella bottle I was savoring. I tried to get every last drop so as to not waste any of the commercial product I have become so addicted to. Nutella is very good, and very addictive.

Last night I had the biggest pang of a longing to stay here. I decided in that moment that I didn’t want to leave. I was sitting with my Italian friends, speaking my semi-broken, nicely improving Italian, drinking a mixed drink, eating free buffet in the locali right at the edge-corner of Piazza Beccaria, slowly becoming more attached to my seat.

We spoke about food in Italy and the USA; we spoke about the culture around it. We spoke about politics and culture and Italy and the USA. I was asked what the typical American cose da mangiare is. Immediately I laughed and thought of the hamburger. If they wanted to see the garbage of American cuisine look no farther than McDonalds. “We don’t really like American cose da mangiare. I can’t see the hamburger being the only thing people eat,” I heard. But I then caught myself and mentioned that USA is much more of a melting pot and its diversity is something quite special and important to remember. I love Asian food and Mexican food, for example, I said. “We love to eat sushi, and lots of it! But our Italian cose da mangiare is important to us.” Italians are lucky, I heard, to have such a beautiful flavor in their own living.

My Italian friends are very nice.

We had a very good time. After wandering the streets and getting gelato, we went to their apartment (with a truly stunning balcony view of the flood-lit Palazzo Vecchio), and socialized. I got nostalgic about my early college years. I was served a small glass of Martini. Two of my friends had very small glasses of Martini after having some apricot juice. All of them shared one beer. And before we left the apartment we had some water. This was really something, so different from the USA, such an opposite! I couldn’t help but comment on this difference, it was really quite funny. I enjoyed myself a lot.

I’m just this simple American guy abroad, the foreigner learning new ways of seeing, new ways of learning, new ways of listening, new ways of talking, new ways of walking, new ways of breathing and laughing. And to think: this is only Florence, this is only Italy, only one of the world’s infinite worlds.

This morning I went with some schoolmates on a hike into the hills behind Boboli Garden and Piazzale Michelangelo. It was not a hike in the same sense as what one would think in California; there was only a small wooded area we walked through. The walk, the roads, the views, and the air were all truly spectacular! We ended up by San Miniato, then walked to Piazzale Michelangelo, and then down to the centro.

Because of the way history has taken its course, the hills around Florence are mostly private. There are apparently more traditional-like trails up by Fiesole.

After the hike, after crossing the Arno and emerging back into the centro near Santa Croce, I asked our hike guide if she could recommend any places that are worth going to beyond the centro. She smiled and pointed out a museum to my left, a free museum we had just passed before crossing the Arno, and a garden that we had walked by on our hike… the places are here in the centro… all one must do is open one’s eyes and pay attention. Look beyond the literal and into the center of Firenze. What appears isn’t always just so.

After studying today at my university I came home and took a nap. Maybe it’s just one of those days? I should have studied more, or taken a walk instead, or at least sketched. Nonetheless, today I learned a lot in many ways. I also found much Italian music to listen to... one just has to tune into the right stations.

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