Who I've met during my first week in Florence, from a dancing butcher to a singing chef
Updated: Jan 21
It's been a difficult week, full of many solo pasta dinners (not the worst thing), long walks alone (also not awful) and conversations with interesting strangers (and somehow I'm still griping). But even in the midst of these lovely little moments, I realized that I had underestimated how tough it would be to move across the world by myself. I now truly understand that this is going to be one of the most challenging and rewarding years of my life — and I'm going to need to put forth a lot of effort to form lasting friendships, learn Italian and gain what I want to gain from this experience. And that's OK, but effort is hard!
I haven't managed to form those lasting friendships yet, but even still, my favorite part about my first week in Florence has been the people I've met — even though I might not meet them again.
First there were the characters at Osteria dei Pazzi, a casual restaurant I'd chosen for its door sign that reads, "no Wi-Fi, just wine" — an indication of the good vibe I desperately needed on one of my first nights in the city. When the jolly chef, twirling about the restaurant and singing with all the grace of a wheezing donkey, delivered me a trio of juicy tomato bruschetta, perfectly velvety spaghetti carbonara and thinly sliced veal blanketed in tuna sauce, my loneliness and nerves about my suddenly very different life drifted off somewhere into the cooking-scented air. I feasted with great ceremony as I listened to the two American families on either side of me chat. One took about 15 minutes to order because they were asking what "carbon-air-uh" and "pomodor-uh" were, and the other invited me to eat with them, which made my heart swell.
Then there was the cap-clad man at Piazzale Michelangelo on a Thursday night at sunset. I don't think he gets paid for this, but he seems to have appointed himself to help couples take idyllic engagement photos on the crowded steps that overlook the city. This night, he skillfully parted the sea on the stairs to make space for a freshly engaged couple's kissing photo. Then, like a spirit leader at a football game, he instructed the crowd to wave their arms in the background, creating what I'm sure was an extremely strange jumble of flailing limbs and puzzled facial expressions. I saw this man's general enthusiasm for life reflected in a butcher at Mercato Centrale, who spent a Saturday morning blasting '80s tunes like "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" as he prepped huge cuts of pork, dancing and singing as he trussed and trimmed. It's not exactly what you want to see from someone wielding a powerful knife, but it also kind of is.
But the most important character in my week was Tejas, a fellow FUA student from India who I met at an aperitivo at Ganzo, the school restaurant. He's completely interesting in his own right — incredibly extroverted, smart, a photographer, a potty mouth, a speaker of at least six languages, most likely sleep deprived and very kind — but, selfishly, I will also remember him because he changed my week and taught me about myself. Because of him, I met people from Botswana, South Korea, France and beyond. I stayed out with them until 5 a.m., singing karaoke, eating fries and ending the night staring at the Ponte Vecchio. I opened up and accepted invitations to hang out with unfamiliar people that, had I not been influenced by Tejas' warmth, I might have turned down. He made me realize that saying yes is easy, and it's the best thing I can do to live a full life in this city.
There have been lots of other nice people — a bartender from Albania who told me his story about moving here seven years ago, an Italian who taught me the pronunciation rules of "sch" and "cch," which I'm sure I will forget again, and many others — and I'm excited to meet more of them. While these characters might be fleeting, they have impacted my experience in ways that I think will continue to reveal themselves in the coming weeks. It's funny: coming here alone might have been the best way not to be lonely.