"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Florence, Week #1: In Which I Watch a Medieval Parade, Meet my Host Family, and Have a Food Epiphany

My first glimpse of Firenze

Despite all of my fears leading up to this trip, the morning of my flight to Florence dawned along with my acceptance that yes, I was actually going to spend an entire semester away from home, and yes, everything would be ok. The flights and arrival were pretty uneventful. I took a cab to the hotel where we stayed for the first few days and lucked into meeting the director of the London part of the program. She was just as excited to be visiting Florence for a few days as I was to be visiting for two months, and we hit it off immediately. I also happen to be in her London theatre class for the second half of the semester, which I am super excited about.

Right now, my first week feels like a blur of introductions, orientation meetings, and lots and lots of walking. Breathtaking is the only word I can think of to describe seeing the Duomo for the first time, and even that doesn't seem to do it justice. If you've seen photos of the Eiffel tower, you can kind of get a sense of what it's like in real life, but the Duomo is a different beast entirely. It is altogether more colorful, intricate, and imposing than any photo of it I've ever seen. In photos the facade looks flat and smooth, but in reality each section is carved with stone lattice work or statues of important figures. As you walk away from it down one of the narrow cobblestone streets, be sure to turn and look over your shoulder. It looks as though you've entered some alternate dimension, and all that's left where you were standing is a towering wall of marble.

My first glimpse of the Duomo

On Tuesday (my birthday!) we moved in with our host families. My host parents are named Christina and Bruno, and they couldn't be sweeter. We sit at their kitchen table every night with Italian television murmuring in the background, and try to make conversation in Italian. Everyone says that Italian is similar to Spanish, but my five years of Spanish hasn't helped me with vocabulary one bit. I suppose grammatically the two languages are comparable, but that doesn't make remembering that "very" is not "muy" but "multo" any easier. Despite this, I think I'm picking up Italian so much faster than I thought I would. Even the first night with my host family, while trying to form dinner conversation on exactly two days of Italian class, went smoother than I imagined. It helps that our Italian professor, Luigi, is one of the best language teachers I've ever had. He's sharp and funny, and entirely un-intimidating. His enthusiasm makes you want to speak up in class, and in another language no less!

View from the Piazza Michelangelo
Me in front of the view from the Piazza Michelangelo

Wednesday was Epiphany, a christian holiday celebrated in many parts of the world. The main event in Florence was the Parade of the Magi (which dates back to the 13th century), in which Florentines dressed in medieval attire wound their way towards the Duomo. They carried flags and banners representing the many important families and guilds of Florence, lead by the three wise men on horseback. There were flag throwers and falconers complete with live falcons and owls. The surrounding streets were crowded with people, Italians and tourists alike. It was truly a grand spectacle. We joined the masses in front of the Duomo to watch the final ceremony (a nearly impossible task because it was so crowded), and eventually we made it to the front. The ceremony wasn't entirely enjoyable because it took place completely in Italian, but at the end they released a flurry of balloons into the air while a choir belted out the hallelujah chorus of Handel's Messiah. The blur of color against the creamy marble of the Duomo was simply spectacular.

One last experience deserves mentioning: my first gelato. You guys. It was so good. I got a scoop of Panna Cotta (which I'd never heard of), Coffee, and of course, Pistachio at a place a couple of streets down from the Ponte Vecchio. While all three were amazing, the Pistachio was unlike any other pistachio ice cream I've ever had. It was the perfect balance of sweet and salty, with a hint of nuttiness. It wasn't even green. And with that first bite, just as - inexplicably - Bob Marley started playing over the speakers in the gelataria, I became enlightened. I actually teared up. Seriously. Food has never made me cry before. I reigned my emotions in before my friends saw, but the experience still remains one of my favorite so far. I think it was a combination of being happy to be with new friends in a beautiful city, and eating incredible, perception-altering food. I've had gelato since then, but it hasn't been the same. (Always delicious, though!)

Lights along the Arno river

Not everything has been as great as my first experience with gelato, unfortunately. I am writing this from my bed after spending an entire day (a day, in fact, in which everyone else went on a day trip to Pisa) recovering from an awful cold. I spent most of my nights this week coughing, and most of my days running around the city and eating a delicious (but not very balanced) diet. As much as I hate missing out on an excursion, I feel so much better after giving my body time to recharge. It's been an incredibly wonderful, messy week, and I can't wait for more. Ciao!

View from my bedroom window


  1. Hope you are feeling better! I can't wait to read more of your adventures in one of my favorite places on earth!

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