I have learned a little more about my neighborhood, which is important

In Florence, The Art of Travel Fall 2015, Strolling by Jonathan Rothstein1 Comment

The first actual walk I took (“actual” meaning without headphones, without other people, and most importantly without destination) was last week. I had just woken up from a nap, which was not nearly enough for me to be alive, so I grabbed an espresso as well.

I walked out of my apartment and made a right, and another right on the first street I encountered. That was all I did. I soon left the arbitrary boundaries of my “comfort zone,” which extends in this direction as far as the “OK Café,” a “restaurant” with “student deals” on “hamburgers.” Past this point, I was unfamiliar to my surroundings.

It’s worth noting I was in no state that required me to clear my head, blow off steam, or any other idiom. I was fine. I was not ordained by any sort of higher power, artistic muse, or wandering spirit; I just went for a walk.

About a New York City block past the “OK Café,” I had reached an area where I felt like the only American. I can’t explain the sensation of identifying as the only American, just like most Florentines can simply spot a tourist when they see one, regardless of dress/appearance. In retrospect, I think I felt I was finally only in the presence of Florentines when it appeared no one around me was searching for a destination. Perhaps Florentines take on more of a stroll than an inquisitive gait.

Once I had crossed the threshold between Florence, Florida and Firenze, Italia, I first noticed a custom notebook shop on my right. In the storefront I saw the products of custom parchment and custom binding. “Custom” may not be the right word – “handmade” more be more accurate. Anyway, a papersmith (that’s a word that exists now) in the back was running a straw-like string through the spine of a seemingly watercolor cover. I wanted immediately to become his apprentice, learning paper the way a blacksmith learns iron. More so, I wanted a notebook, but felt like I should stick to a marble notebook as opposed to sullying the work of a man who must be so brilliant at writing, he needs his own parchment.

Anyway, I stumbled upon a similar shop (this one made marionettes) and I gave not a shit. I find Pinocchio troubling for many reasons, so I continued without putting thought into the probably sensual woodworking occurring inside.

Walking further, I found Italian shops that seemed very clearly to be chain stores, like the Italian versions of Gap and Express. I passed many, many gelato shops and many, many Florentines eating gelato. What city other than Firenze has such an economy grounded in ice cream? How can Italians eat so much gelato, carbs and the like without having an obesity issue? Please answer in the comment section below.

Among other things, I found a defunct “cinema.” A friend and I later talked about how great that word is, and how we wished it were more prevalent in the American lexicon. My wish to find a movie theatre showing current films was crushed once again.

Once I hit about the end of the road, I turned back. The end of the road was more of an intersection that was too congested to cross than an actual end. I walked on the opposite side of the road I had started on, and entered the open gate of a church, because I had heard the sound of human activity, life, etc.

I entered some soccer fields where elementary school kids were playing. I watched for a little, but not long enough to see any goals scored. The only thing I could think was that kids were kids; nothing I heard sounded foreign. They got excited and yelled like kids do. They ran and stopped and let their arms flail to their sides just the same as American kids. Language was irrelevant.

I walked back towards my apartment, and on the way stopped to eat. I was one of the only patrons in this little primary-colored café, and sat right behind a pretty waitress who was standing and cutting freshly baked bread. She waited on me, and I found myself talking at a slightly higher register than usual. I found this was due to my being insecure speaking the language. As I sat and pondered this, I realized a lot of my reservations unraveled as I walked alone. I yielded to those walking in my direction as opposed to refusing to alter my movement. I didn’t get frustrated when edges of the sidewalk were too crowded for me to walk on. There was a noticeable difference in my demeanor.

I wanted to ask the waitress, who was especially kind, where I could meet and befriend local Italians. I didn’t.

I got back to my apartment and let my roommates know they could have the rest of the prosciutto, mozzarella and fried dough balls (no kidding) I had ordered from the café.


  1. I enjoyed how real your walk was and you didn’t care to spice it up either, it was refreshing. Due to the terms and reading attached to this assignment I feel like there’s a hint of romanticism in everyone’s walks when who are we kidding, it probably wasn’t. I wish I could tell you why Florentines escape obesity but I often ponder that myself walking on the streets.

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