"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

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Florence, Week #3: Gratitude, Gelato, and Galileo's Finger


In the days leading up to my departure for Florence, one of the many questions that came to me uninvited while I was trying to fall asleep was "Will I make friends?" I only knew one other person from my school going on this trip, and at the time we were just friendly acquaintances. Three weeks in, I'm proud to announce that I had absolutely no trouble making friends, and they are some of the most kind, interesting, and curious people I've come into contact with. These are people who are unafraid to take silly photos with you at beautiful scenic overlooks. People who will laugh with you for ten minutes about some silly Italian phrase, and who will never judge you for eating gelato twice in one day. I've been thinking about the word gratitude, lately. Maybe I've seen it too many times in hashtags like #dailygratitude, but it's a word that's always felt a bit trite to me. I could tell you I'm grateful for my friends, for this opportunity to study in such a fascinating, beautiful county. What you wouldn't see is the stupid smile I get when it suddenly hits me that I'm here, walking on cobblestone streets with my freezing fingers wrapped around a cup of gelato. You wouldn't feel the same immense comfort I feel at being around people who really listen to what I have to say and always offer some new insight in return. It's not always easy to feel this way. Now that the newness of being here has worn off a bit, I have to fight to keep from taking things for granted, settling into too much of a routine, thinking I've seen everything when really I've barely scratched the surface. It's human nature to adapt to new places quickly, to connect the dots while skipping over some of the more nuanced points. Seeing everything anew is a daily choice, and one that so far, I think I'm doing an ok job of making.

Last Saturday, my friends Lia, Rachel, Ciera and I took the bus from Piazza San Marco to Fiesole, a small town nestled in the hills above Florence. We wound through the outskirts of the city and then up, higher and higher. The view grew more breathtaking with each glimpse we caught through the trees. Fiesole was sleepy when we got there, and stayed that way all afternoon. We were dropped off at the center piazza in front of a structure with a tower much like the one attached to Palazzo Vecchio. We immediately climbed a steep hill, Rachel and I complaining loudly all the while. We explored a small park at the top, and I couldn't help thinking how nice it would be to live in one of the cluster of houses that populated the surrounding hills. We stopped for lunch at a cute place near the center of town. The staff was lively and friendly, and I had some delicious (and reasonably priced) lasagna. The waitress made fun of me for eating slowly: "We're open until 8pm, you know!" and my friends and I laughed for way too long at the mis-translated sign on the front door advertising "Hot Chocolate with Ron" which was supposed read "Hot Chocolate with Rum." From then on our waiter was dubbed "Ron."As the sun dipped lower in the sky we climbed yet another hill, until we stumbled on a lookout point even more beautiful than the first. Florence lay below us, already in shadow, while a small group of locals gathered to watch the spectacle of the clouds rolling in over the hills. It was stunning.

Another highlight of my week was visiting the Galileo Museum. It's full of scientific instruments from medieval times to the 1700s, and it all comes from the private collection of two families, which just goes to show how powerful the wealthy families of Florence really were. Our tour guide was a lively woman from California who reminded me of a cross between Mary Poppins and Mrs. Frizzle. She carried a cloth, over-the-shoulder bag, and every so often she would rummage through it and pull out a rubber ball, or kaleidoscope, or even a tiny plastic globe to illustrate what she was talking about. Her tour was energetic and a little sporadic, and every so often she would stop mid sentence to comment on how much she loved someone's sweater, or recommend a gallery show she'd seen recently. In addition to learning fascinating information about Galileo and the objects in the museum, she also told us the best way to pace yourself at dinner so as not to offend your host family (The trick: take a small serving first so that you can ask for seconds later), where to find non-Italian foods like peanut butter and tortilla chips, and what pharmacy to go to if you're sick. All in all the tour was a lot of fun, and the museum was so interesting and there was so much to see, that I might end up going back. My favorite items were the pocket sun-dials carried by the wealthy before there were pocket watches, this giant globe in which each rotating ring represents a different planet with the earth (instead of the sun) at its center, and a giant static electricity machine which seemed like it could have come right out of Frankenstein. The museum also housed Galileo's only surviving telescopes, as well as his thumb and index finger, preserved in a glass jar like a relic. Creepy, but cool!

Pocket Sundials 

Yesterday we visited the Tuscan towns of Sienna and San Gimignano, but I have so many beautiful pictures that I think it deserves its own post. In other news, next week we begin regular classes instead of our three week Italian intensive. I'll be taking an art history class about patronage and the arts (specifically the Medici family) and a drawing class at an old fashioned studio in Florence. I'm excited and a little nervous about that one, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take a drawing class in Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance. Week three has been the best so far, and I can't wait to see what the next has in store!

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