The Upsidedown

In Florence, The Art of Travel Fall 2016, Strangers by HarryLeave a Comment

Okay, for this one I’m going to go back to one of my first one-on-one interactions with an Italian person. I don’t mean one of the many Italian NYU staff members, who are more than prepared (in most cases) to answer all of the questions an American with no knowledge of Italian might have about Florence. Questions such as, what is a bancomat? Or, how might one take the bus? Or, where am I? No, the kind of Italian I’m referring to would be one of the stranger variety, which is coincidentally the title of this particular post. Crazy. But anyways, it was at the very beginning of the semester, when I was at my most lost and helpless. Specifically right at the start of my whole technological fiasco period (outlined in my first post I believe), which conveniently began with the loss of my intellectually endowed cellular device, or ‘smart phone’. This gave me a bit of difficulty at first, as it deprived me of a much needed map to the new city I was in. Now, before you get all buck and millennial bash me for not being able to cope without my phone, and “what do you think people did before google maps, Harry?” and “I used to walk to school, up hill, both ways, in the snow, without google maps, Harry.” Chill out. I’m not even a millennial, first of all, I’m ‘Generation Z’ or something irrelevant like that. But that’s not even the point shut up, and I had a map thank you very much. But you see, in this particular instance, I happened to be lost somewhere off the edge of this particular map. At NYU Florence, the campus is about a 40 minute walk from the city center. Thus, some maps of the city do not go far enough north to show the surrounding neighborhoods. It was in one of these uncharted areas where I found myself on this particular misadventure.

So there I was, scared, alone. Mapless. Aimlessly wandering around what could have been the same three blocks for like half an hour, who knows. Trying to find some street that looked mildly familiar, secretly hoping in vain that a little blue dot would appear at the edge of my map, which I was continuously turning over, and over, and over again. It took me a while, but I finally came to terms with the fact that I would probably have to ask someone. That couldn’t be that hard, right? After all, I had heard Florence was a super touristy city, and that a lot of the locals speak English. I figured I’d give it a shot. That cute old couple look friendly, I thought, and they have to know Florence pretty well. I wasn’t at all confident with Italian, but I thought my pronunciation was pretty good, so I approached the two Florentines, gesturing at the map hopefully, asking “Piazza della Libertà?”

I thought I did pretty well, but who am I? The couple just starred at me blankly. I tried again, doing my best to look as lost as possible. The man whispered something that sounded like a question to his wife, shrugged, and turned back to me asking “museo?”

Now I’m no Italian major or anything, but I was pretty sure that meant museum. Unfortunately something about my face must have said “yes I definitely need to get to the museum, that’s what I meant,” because from that point on the man seemed convinced that’s what I needed, and tried very animatedly to get me to follow him. All I could do was put my hands out in front of me apologetically, and back away, shaking my head. It was real uncomfortable.

That’s not the end of the story though, because just as those strangers were so unhelpful, it was yet another stranger who got me out of my debacle. As I walked dejectedly along a nearly abandoned street, with boarded up windows and graffitied doors, I passed by a little hole-in-the-wall hardware store. I wasn’t any closer to being home than I was before, just a little more hopeless, so I figured why not? Nothing to lose.

I approached the man behind the counter, asking tentatively “Inglese?” But my heart fell as he shook his head. In my dejection, without thinking, instead of trying Italian I asked him how to get to the city center in Spanish. To my delight, that got a response. In Spanish no less. I was always told as a kid that at some time, somewhere, knowing Spanish would come in handy. It didn’t make me any happier having to learn it as a kid, which I let be known loudly and proudly at home, but that day, it payed off.

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