Sunday, June 01, 2003


I waited 'til I saw the sun
I don't know why I didn't come
Left you by the house of fun
I don't know why I didn't come
I don't know why I didn't come

When I saw the break of day
I wished that I could fly away
Instead of kneeling in the sand
Catching teardrops in my hand

My heart is drenched in wine
But you'll be on my mind

Out across the endless sea
I would die in ecstacy
But I'll be a bag of bones
Driving down the road alone

Saturday morning came with a bang. And a thump. And the incessant buzzing of a drill. The workmen were back, working on the bathroom. Didn't they know it was 8:00a.m.? Didn't they know we didn't have class today? DIDN'T THEY KNOW WE WERE ALL HUNG OVER?

Well, not all of us. Just those of us who were left behind, with no weekend plans. I was one; my roommate another. I was going to go with Lisa and Mary and Erin and company to Firenze early in the morning, so I could maximize shopping time. But the alarm found me in a dreamy mood, and I decided to sleep in my comfortable bed. I got up, showered, lazed around for a bit, and finally, after grabbing a quick mushroom omlette panini (note to self: next time, tell Rinaldo to leave the ketchup out of it), I began my journey. Marilyn, who I didn't particularly care for on my last trip here, seemed to be more pleasant this time around. She even gave me a tip on how to get to the Metro quickly. It was surreal, standing in the Italian Metro station. listening to Norah Jones.

I got to Termini station just before noon. I went up to an automated ticket booth to find and buy a ticket on the next train to Firenze (Florence). To my delight, a Eurostar train left in just over half an hour. I punched in my order for a second-class ticket. Alas, I wasn't able to get one. At first, I thought it was a problem with the method(s) of payment I'd chosen, but it soon dawned on me that it might be that second class was sold out. That turned out to be an accurate guess. First class was open though, so I got on.

Eurostar trains are generally nice, clean and very quiet, especially first class. Seating is 4-and-2, with an aisle between the 4 and the 2, so I picked one of the "2" seats. Since I was traveling alone, I figured it would be the better choice. As it were, in the section of four seats across the aisle from we were two young (about 15-16) Italian girls, very pretty, and quite fashionably (if casually dressed). They were joined by a older (mid-40's) woman who arrived breathless from running for the train. Quite generously, one of the girls offered the woman a cup of water, which made me wonder if that was because a.) she was a woman, b.) she was older (that's important here in Italy) or c.) they were always that nice. The last seat in the group remained empty. Across from me sat an early-thirties Italian gentleman, who alternatively read the paper or talked on the phone. The only thing noticeable about him, aside from the fact that the hands-free headset never left his ear, was that he had quite the lisp. I noticed, because at one point I'd had one, and after a couple years of therapy, no longer do. Anyway, the ironic thing about the trip was the topic of conversation between the two girls. One had a binder with her, with a drawing of the US on it, and words that appeared to proclaim it as a study manual about the United States. She spent a considerable amount of time reading from her manual to the other one, complete with commentary, not one word of which I could understand. I SO wanted to ask what they were discussing, particularly when they appeared shocked at something the book told them about Americans. I wound up falling asleep midway through the trip instead, dreaming that I could speak better Italian.

Firenze is a compact city. It's easily walked in a day. Filled with shops, outdoor markets, and outdoor cafes, you hear more American accents there than in Rome. It's sort of a tourist Mecca. There's plenty to see - the Uffizi museum, the Academe (home of Michelangelo's sixteen-foot-high David), Ponte Vecchio, the Boboli Gardens, and of course, the markets. People come from all over the world to shop Firenze's markets, where shoes, leather goods and jewelry rule the day. As Jeanne said later in the day, "every five booths this stuff repeats." And it does. Want a leather jacket? There's hundreds to choose from. But be careful - the prices are cheap (a hundred euro for a jacket, or about $117) but the quality may be as well. And the salespeople can be shifty. In one booth, a vendor with beer-soaked breath pointed out to me the different kind of jackets he had, all for a hundred euro and up. "These are lambskin, these are COW. If you want sommating different, I have dose (as he pointed to ugly suede jackets), or if you want sommating warm, for da cold, I have buffalo, over dere." Now, I'd never seen a buffalo coat before, so of course, I looked. And it seemed to be quite the heavy coat. But since I was looking for a nice, date-appropriate leather jacket, I passed on the buffalo.

Just before I'd met beer-soaked guy, I'd met Carmen. Tall, with big, captivating, brown eyes and long dark hair, her accent was like warm butter on toast, but her English was outstanding. She'd come over when one of the street guys had coaxed me into the off-street store to show me more men's jackets, and was trying to pick my size. She took one look, and guessed right. It was a deep burgundy colored jacket, which looked very nice with the grey Haggar pants I was wearing. She showed me all of the highlights of the jacket - the reinforcing button on the inside of the coat, the two interior pockets, and the lining. She talked about how the leather would give over time, and that's why the one I was wearing was good enough (that, and the fact that the already-long sleeves would be a bit longer in the bigger size). She talked about how the leather was made, and how to properly care for it. And she told me that if I didn't like the color, it also came in black. We spent a bit of time looking at different types (the burgundy was made of lambskin), but she wasn't pushy in the least. In fact, when I told her I wanted to think about it, she graciously wrote down the style, size and price, and her name and told me they'd be open until seven.

Then I went and looked some more. I used my cell phone to call my parents back home, and asked about prices there, to make sure I wasn't overpaying for what I could possibly get back home. They were happy to hear from me, especially Mom (Dad and I had discussed business-stuff the night before, but when Mom came on, I had to cut her short, as I was at a Pizzeria, and dinner was arriving). Eventually, I wandered to the end of the market, where another store was. I went inside, and nearly didn't get out. The salespeople combined efforts. If I didn't jump for joy at a jacket (or even said I didn't like it) I quickly got another.

"Is nice, no?"
"Umm. Well, no."
"You no like? Wait. Mario, (unitelligible Italian, spoken at rapid-fire speed)." Mario ran off. "I send him to other stores. We have lots of styles. You find one you like."

I found one there that was marginally decent. "Quonta costa (how much)?" I asked.

"One hundred forty euro." Carmen wanted one hundred seventy for hers.

This continued on for a good thirty minutes. She'd give me a jacket, I'd put it on, look less than enthused, get another. All the while, the one I'd initially shown interest in kept dropping in price - first one forty, then one twenty-five, then one ten, finally, one hundred even. But the closer I looked, the more flaws I saw. The mariginal interest one gathered when I buttoned the buttons ("that's from the cell phone you're wearing," she said), and it was kind of, well, wrinkled, at the bottom. Another had loose threads. Finally, at five after six, I thought of a way out of this Hotel California-ish situation.

"Oh, my," I said, looking at my watch. "I'm late. Can I come back? I'm supposed to be meeting my wife." No, I'm not married, and don't even have a girlfriend, but desperate times.....

"You wife? Where you meeting her?"
"By the Duomo." This, I knew, was a considerable walk from where we were.
The saleslady spoke with another woman, whom I'll call tailor lady, even though saleslady told me tailor-lady was the owner. "She'll go with you."
"Uh, I don't think that would be a good idea." Clearly, they had no intent of letting me get away without buying a jacket.
"No, no. It's okay, she help you find your wife."
"Well, that's very nice, but my wife might not see it that way."
Quick Italian conversation. "You mean, she'd fight with you, eh?"
"Right. She's a bitch that way. Very possessive."
"Ok. You bring her back." Quick Italian conversation. "One hundred euro. You get nice jacket."
"Right. I'll be back soon."

Carmen was very happy to see me. She brought out a black jacket in my size, and I tried it on. When I pointed out that the little thingy sewn into the collar and the label (ostensibly for hanging the jacket from a hook) was fraying, she looked for another. Failing to find one, she immediately repaired the damage, double stitching to make it fast. "There," she said when finished, "I fixed it. My sewing is not so pretty, but it will hold. And it is inside, so only you will see, anyway."

We made some small talk, and I found out she was from Mexico originally and had come to Europe three years before to travel. "And then I came to Firenze, and I thought it was beautiful, so I stayed for a little while. And then I knew a man.......and I stay longer." I looked at her finger. It must have been some man - she was wearing the Rock of Gibraltar. I wondered if the Brits knew it was missing. Eventually, I left with my purchase, and went to meet John, Heather and Jeanne for dinner.

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