Gossip Girl and Old Man, Ernesto

In Florence, The Art of Travel, 13. Strangers by Dani Kimball1 Comment

While I’ve met many interesting and unique people, all worthy of a paragraph of description, the one who stands out most during my time here in Florence is my landlady, Francesca. Francesca has owned the building I’m currently living in for twenty years. It’s much different than the other NYU housing options here in Florence. Instead of a dorm-like quality it’s an actual hotel, with apartments available for rent. I only live with one other girl in my apartment and in total there are only 6 NYU students in the entire building itself. However, that doesn’t deter Francesca from getting the latest scoop on everyone who passes through her halls.

Francesca and her family live across the hall from me along with their old black cat, Ernesto (who forgets where he is daily, proceeds to cry, prompting neighbors to call the police after thinking a cat is dying…BUT that’s a whole other story). Each day as I walk down the stairs to the front door I stop by Francesca’s office door and say “Buon Giorno!” or “Ciao!” and she is always there to greet me with a smile. More often than not she stops me and begins to tell me a wild story which I usually have to cut short out of fear of missing my bus. As you walk into the building there is typically an overly sweet smell that greets your nose, a mix of flavored smoke from Francesca’s e-cigarette and cleaning supplies (this combination sounds putrid, but I’ve grown accustomed to it).

Francesca loves to know the local gossip and, even more so, she loves to, as the kids say, “talk shit”. Whenever she stops me she always looks at me inquisitively and ponders, “…so how are you and your roommate getting along? She’s… how do you call it…’quiet’, isn’t she? She doesn’t talk a lot…” and, “Are you two close or no? Because I see the other girls walking around but not you two…why is that hmm?” and then she opens her eyes widely and smiles as if preparing to hear my juicy gossip or complaints about my living situation…which is lovely. As is my roommate, sorry Francesca! No complaints here. 

Additionally, every morning without fail I will hear Francesca screaming. It’s not a shriek out of fear or pain, but just the way she talks! Often it’s while she’s greeting tourists into her hotel or when her husband is leaving for work. But it’s always when I’m in my deepest period of sleep that her screams come through the thin walls. Ironically, there are signs posted all over our apartments stating that “quiet time” is from 11pm to 7am — a rule that’s pretty much non-existent. I really am not bothered by it at this point. It’s now become a comforting reminder that there are people around me at all times. I know that if I have any problem I can go to Francesca and she will help me out.

I had a light bulb burn out and she immediately came to my room to fix it. When our apartment was beginning to feel like the Arctic she came in and turned on the heat for us before it was even time, according to NYU. She gives me wonderful food recommendations while I sit on the concrete steps and pet Ernesto. She is always there for me. She’s a comforting, motherly figure in this time away from home. She has her quirks, just like any of us.

I only wish I had more gossip to satisfy her.

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(Image: Ernesto On His Throne; Source: Dani Kimball)


  1. Your post perfectly captures the cool way that strangers become more than that during our time abroad. There are many people living with me in my dorm at Cite Universitaire who are from all over the world, pursuing careers vastly different from my own, but whom I always see in the kitchen. At the beginning of the semester, I thought they would remain strangers. I would never ignore them, and I’d try to make polite conversation in French, but for the most part, I would not ~know~ them. In some ways, this has remained the case, but your post reminded me of a fun neighbor I have who is pursuing her Master’s in Chemistry. She also loves gossip and often tells me the scoop about people in our hall– people I do not know in the slightest, mind you. I wouldn’t call us friends, but we have become more than strangers, and it’s been fun to practice French in such a fun way.

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