Abundance of grapes be damned. This whole country is ripe for the picking. In fact, it’s vastly easier to visit vino central than it is to live in a place (America) where alcohol is advertised to the zenith.
It’s totally legit to not be lit in Italy.
Although, upon our arrival in Florence, I was so tired from not sleeping on the flight that I almost felt intoxicated or hungover—a feeling far more foreign than being in this country. And it completely rendered me useless, sans any sense of direction whatsoever.
Before we left Vermont, I’d printed out and assembled all our travel details, including maps and walking directions from the train station to our hotel. I opened the folder to the Florence map indicating that our accommodations were a mere 1.6 kilometers away. However, the tiny map was impossible to follow. We had no bearings. We walked for an hour, around and around the Duomo, before asking an Italian man for help.
“What is the street address?” he asked when I showed him the map.
“Oh, right. The street address,” I answered. Why hadn’t I thought of that?
I turned the page in my file to find the hotel’s details, where I came upon the exact step-by-step walking directions to the hotel. You know, the section from Google that gets printed along with the useless poor-resolution map. The part that is genuinely helpful in wayfinding. A part that I have relied upon and used dozens and dozens of times in the United States and elsewhere.
Turned out we weren’t far from our accommodations, and being lost actually gave us a good overview of Florence. We dropped our bags at the Palazzo Grazianni and headed out for dinner and a huge bottle of water “with gas” for me. Allan wanted to revisit a tiny restaurant called Rocky’s, where’d he eaten three decades earlier on a trip to Italy after filming “Popeye” with Bob Altman in Malta. Miraculously we found it, still in operation. We took a seat outside, marveling at the majestic surrounding architecture, when we heard familiar voices laughing.
About two weeks prior, we’d learned that our Vermont friends Brian and Leslie would be in Florence at the same time. We made plans for a Saturday night dinner in the city. But now, on Friday, they were on the same street as us, at the same time, in the same state of delirium after having flown into Milan and taking the train to Florence.
Everything about Florence seemed to make us giggle with delight. On yet another back street, where we accidently found ourselves the next day, I noticed a women’s clothing shop named “Mimi Furaha.”
“That means ‘I’m happy’ in Swahili,” I told David and Allan. The Italian shopkeeper inside heard me, and said, “Swahili yes!” and gave me the thumbs up.
On Saturday night, we did – intentionally – gather for dinner at 4 Leoni to dine with Brian and Leslie and their children. I will remember it as one of the most spectacular dinners of my life. So much laugher, such a deliciously adorable waiter. Afterward, we pretended to do “parkour” in the alleyways. In hysterics about the whole idea of parkour in Florence. Actually the whole idea of parkour in general. Fellini couldn’t have imagined a more absurd construct.
We took the train to Rome on Sunday afternoon, and felt some culture shock in the shift from Florence to the capital city. We did make our way to the Spanish Steps for a look around before heading to a tiny family restaurant for dinner that may go down as the second most spectacular dinner in my life.
And I don’t normally even like dinner. For decades, I’ve had a rare phobia attached to the flatware, opinions and emotions being negotiated around the table. Usually, I want to get up and run – or do parkour, even before I knew what that was – in order to shake off the entrapment.
But not here, and not since I gave up alcohol. I like dinner better. I like people better. I love travel even more. The jury is still out on parkour.