At 9:30 A.M. I was awakened by the ring of my Italian telefonino; “Da na na, da na na, da naa, naa naa!”
Without looking at the phone to identify the caller I manage a “Hello?” in a confused and groggy voice.
“Ciao Valeria. Did I wake you? It’s Nicco. We have your checkout scheduled today for 10:00 A.M., but I am close to you. Can I come earlier?” says the Manager of my apartment rental in a thick, but energetic Italian accent. God I love those accents!
I look over at Bartolomeo who is rubbing his eyes to remove the sleep from his unusually long eyelashes.
“Um, I think 10 o’clock would be better.” I say, knowing that even 10 will be hard for me to accommodate. After all, I’ve got a gorgeous naked Italian man lying next to me and it’s my last day in Florence. I’ve got to savor this moment as long as possible!
“Oh, okay, I’ll see you at 10 then. Ciao, ciao.” Nicco responds.
“Shoot!” I think, “Only 30 minutes more with Barto,” but then I remember he offered to meet me at the train station later in the day after the end of his shift at the restaurant. I look over and inform Barto that Nicco will be arriving in 30 minutes. Barto shoots me an intense look and starts kissing the length of my neck.
Oh how I love his kisses; full-lipped, soft (but not too soft), wet (but not too wet). I know what’s coming next but I am pulled away from this bliss by the annoying ring of my mobile. This time I look before I pick up the phone. It is 9:45 A.M.
“Ciao Nicco. What’s up?” I say with urgency.
“Ciao Valeria. I am in the building now. Are you ready for me to come by now?”
I look up at Bartolomeo who has patiently paused his repertoire to indulge my telephone call.
“Umm. I’m in the middle of something right now Nicco.” I can’t help myself and I giggle a little after saying it. “Actually 10:15 would work much better for me.”
“AHHH, I understand!” Nicco responds. And by the change in his tone, I can tell he finally DOES understand. “No problem. I see you at 10!”
Ugh, my subtle plea for more time was not picked up on. Oh well, this morning will have to be brief.
At 10 o’clock, after about 50 deliciously full-lipped-good-bye kisses, Barto is off to meet his friends to shop for a gift before work, and I move to the bedroom to finish packing. Nicco bounds in 10 minutes later with a smile on his face that more than hints he knows what just took place in my apartment. I smile a devilish smile, nudge his arm with my own, and tell him to “Just keep quite!”
Nicco and I discuss some details with the apartment, exchange some pleasantries and part our ways. Okay, then, my apartment is sorted.
After a shower I’m off to the center for two last minute gifts. I’m walking today as I’ve given my bike to a friend for safe keeping until my return (whenever that may be). And I’m taking the long way instead of cutting through every back road I can think to avoid the throngs of tourists that congest the Historical Center of Florence in July. Today I want to go at a leisurely pace. I want to look up at the buildings and maybe notice something I had overlooked before. I want to take it all in one final time.
I head first toward my favorite piazza; Piazza Della Signoria. This is the one that took me almost nine months to pronounce correctly. Don't ask me why. It’s not hard to pronounce. I just kept adding an extra “n” in the word right before the final “a.” (Stupid Spanish getting in the way of my Italian!) It’s the one with the fake David statue. It’s the one with the original Rape of the Sabine Woman sculpture. It - is - AMAZING!
This is MY piazza. This is where I rode my bike so many times before in the wee hours of the morning with my friend Christine; she on her bike and me on mine, following each other in single file, making large infinity sign designs with our bicycle tires and yelling, to no one in particular, “Weeeeee liiivvvveee heeerrreee!” This is the piazza I go to when I am sad because it just makes me happy to be there.
I walk into this square with a bit of arrogance. “Ugh, all these tourists!” I think to myself. Cameras are out in full force and I wonder whether these people actually stop to enjoy the surroundings, or whether it’s just about getting the photo. I keep my leisurely pace and knowingly walk through an area where a couple is getting their picture taken near the Fountain. Although I know this is a shitty thing to do, I smile a bit after doing it. After all, it is MY piazza.
I say my goodbyes to Neptune's Fountain (that's what I call it. I have no idea what the real name is), and to the fake David. I take one last spin through the Logge to admire the statues and then I head down the street toward Piazza Della Republica.
Unlike Piazza Della Signoria, this piazza is void of great pieces of art. Despite its lack of artwork it's my second favorite piazza in Florence, although I’m not quite sure why. It’s anchored by higher-end shops (think Hugo Boss) and by restaurants that massively overcharge for the simplest of things (think $7 Euros for a small pot of tea).
On the opposite end of the shops is a lovely arch that serves as entrance into the “Rodeo Drive” section of Florence (think Fendi and Ferragamo). Tucked into a corner of the piazza is a colorful carousel. This is the one I forced my friends to ride with me for my birthday (just so that I could say I rode it). The other side of the piazza plays host to one of my favorite guilty pleasures, enjoying a drink on the patio of the Savoy Hotel.
I desperately want to plop myself down now for an overpriced Spritz (not a Wine Spritzer mind you, but a SPRITZ, which is a perfect blend of Aperol Orange Liqueur and Prosecco with a slice of orange thrown in for good measure) but it is getting late and I still have places to visit.
I move on to the Ferrari store just through the archway. This is my first time in this store, but my brother sarcastically said my nephew wanted a Ferrari as his gift from Italy (but not a red one because all of his friends have red ones) so I needed to oblige as best I could. I wonder if the Ferrari mug I bought him will suffice?
I’m hungry now as it’s after 1 PM and I’ve not eaten yet. I know exactly where I want to eat, Focaccine Bondi which is hidden behind the open air market of San Lorenzo. I am determined to order in Italian with such precision that the grouchy man behind the counter has no cause to pretend like he doesn’t understand me.
It’s the perfect location for me, as I want to say my goodbyes to the Duomo and take one more stroll through the San Lorenzo Market, which has been a source of shopping pleasure for me (and my visitors) so many times that a few vendors know me by name.
I walk back through the arch at the Piazza Della Republica, cross the piazza, make a left past the patio of the Savoy, and head up toward the massive jumble of activity swirling around the Duomo and its Baptistry. I get a kick out of all the people doing all of the same thing; crouching down to the ground as low as possible to include as much of the tall bell tower as possible; or crowding by the Golden Doors to snap a photo that no one may ever look at again. However, I am not annoyed by these tourists. Maybe it’s because this is not MY piazza.
I notice the line to enter the Duomo is the longest I have ever seen, and it occurs to me that in my 9 months in Florence I never did manage to enter the church or climb its famous dome. “Hmm, next time,” I think without any regret, as I am completely confident this is not my last time in Florence.
I walk through San Lorenzo Market with no real agenda. I just want to float around a bit before hitting Bondi for lunch. I stroll past the booths I’ve been past so many times before, listening to the merchants hock their wares, “I make you good price. Look at this nice bag. You speak English?”
I pass once more by the men selling knock-off watches or sunglasses by signs that warn, “BUYING COUNTERFEIT GOODS IS AGAINST THE LAW AND SUBJECT TO A FINE OF $50,000 EURO.” And although I have seen it dozens of times now, the irony of it still makes me giggle.
I enter Bondi with a solid determination to order and pay in Italian without question or criticism. Because it’s later in the afternoon, the place is blissfully free of the swarms of local Italians who eat there. I approach the counter and order the same panino I had the last time I was there (because it was super yummy); tomato, marinated eggplant, and mozzarella placed between heated focaccia bread. No snide comment came from the man behind the counter about my order. Fantastic, mission half accomplished, and the sandwich did not disappoint!
Time to pay; I walk to the counter, tell him my order, pay him and walk off without incident. Well then, mission fully accomplished! “AWESOME!” I say to myself and start to make my way home as it was nearing 3 P.M.
Barto met me at my apartment at 3:30 P.M. to help me with my luggage. I managed to keep it to 2 medium sized rolley-bags thanks to lots of friends taking lots of stuff home with them when they returned to the U.S. after a visit. Although I was emotional and a bit sad at the beginning of the week I am surprisingly upbeat now. I am curious though if I will get teary-eyed at the station while saying goodbye to Bartolomeo.
Barto, being the polite man he is, helped the taxi driver place my bags into the back of the taxi and announced our destination. He even insisted on paying for the cab.
We walked into the main vestibule of the station and looked up to locate my track on the departures board. Yeesssss, the track was not listed yet so we had time to chat and kiss some more. After a pause in the conversation, he looked at me with his deep brown eyes and with the most sincere look I might have ever seen on a man and said, “Valerie I will really miss you.”
Normally I would brush this comment aside and thought he was saying out of obligation, but again, his eyes were so sincere I did not dismiss his words.
After the track was announced, Barto walked me to the train and insisted on carrying my luggage up the deep steps to the designated baggage area (thank goodness he did because they were really heavy). He helped me find my seat and then we both hopped off the train to say our goodbyes.
“I will miss you too.” I share with him, “You are a wonderful man who has more manners, depth and passion than most men I have met in my entire life.” And I mean every word of it. He looks at me with a tiny bit of sadness in his eyes and searches mine for the same. But I am not sad. How could I be? I have just had the most wonderful experience of my life. I am filled with gratitude, pride, and true joy at this moment.
We exchange another round of yummy kisses and I can’t help but tell him yet again how much I love his kisses. He smiles at this (as he always does) proud of his “abilities” in this area.
The train conductor blows his last-call-to-get-on-the-train whistle and I am off. One more kiss, a wave goodbye at the stairs, and I’m headed for my seat.
I get situated. Place my bag in the bin above and settle in with my book. For some reason after a short period I look up from my book and notice Bartolomeo standing off in the distance waiting for the train to leave. We connect eyes and he waves one last wave to send me off. I am deeply touched by this. “What a great guy,” I think to myself and another wave of joy rushes through my body.
“Wow! What a fantastic experience.” I think. “I’m so glad I did this. All of the introspection, all of the sadness, all of the loneliness; and all of the struggle was worth the happiness.” And I decide right there I would not change a single moment of my experience in Italy (with the exception of that one embarrassing dancing experience I shared at Notte Bianco with my friend “Mags”).
I have no idea what the next chapter of my life will look like, but I am not afraid of it. I am excited to see how it unfolds.
Okay, what’s next? I’m ready.