Sandy also had an adventure with me away for so long. She ended up doing things that were typically in my portfolio – and she enjoyed it. Sandy has never gravitated toward driving my car, but she used it all the time while I was away. She also dealt with all the technology issues I usually address. My wife is a trouper and good partner!
While Jessica was not able to "cross the pond' (plus 1 ½ continents) while I was in Italy, she was always in my thoughts and we had some great WhatsApp calls and videos!
And Nan was a lifesaver when dealing with my medical blip. One example was meeting with a specialist and obviously all the discussion was in Italian, and it seemed to go on forever. After some minutes when there was a pause, I asked Nan what she was saying, and while Nan gave me the real answer, I had fun thinking that the doctor was just asking for my name and saying hello.
The first new experience of my adventure, other than the apartment, was starting my Italian classes. I always had an interesting and fun group of classmates, 90+% of whom were 40-50 years younger than me, and again no concern on my part in meeting new people. It was strange to work collaboratively with others in a classroom, something I had not done in many, many years – basically since college. The staff at the school were delightful and I walked to my class near Santa Croce (I think it the most beautiful church in Firenze) and started having nodding relationships with people along the way. Early on a cobbler standing in his shop doorway said simply, “buon giorno” to me and that continued pretty much each day, growing to “come stai” (how are you).
I also met people who were very different than me, but had now become part of my world. I loved walking into the Italian school and having Gianluca and Simone immediately call out, “buon giourno Richard!” My classmates became something of family, and I totally enjoyed partnering with another student on our class exercises – recognizing that I was the age of her grandparents. One day we were asked to write a date on the whiteboard that was significant to us and the rest of the class had to figure out why. One woman wrote a date in 1968 and no one came up with the answer until I said, “Is that the date one of your parents was born?” – and that’s what it was. One classmate told me that her farther was in his 60s, and there was no way he could or would do what I was doing – it made me feel special. And best of all was their sincere, sad reaction to my leaving class.
Another neighborhood connect was with a small market around the corner from my apartment owned by a Bangladeshi guy who was there from 10am to midnight every day. I would buy my morning bananas from him to go with my Ciobar (wonderfully rich and creamy) hot chocolate, and every time I would pass by, we would say “ciao” to each other. I enjoyed becoming accustomed to my neighborhood and did a TON of walking, plus the 3-story climb to my apartment. It was fascinating looking out my bedroom and kitchen windows and seeing what was going on in other apartments, and there were often people hanging out the windows owing to the heat and not having air conditioning. The temperature was cool when I first arrived in Italy, but then the high temperatures came much earlier than usual, but as we know typical is changing with climate change.
There was much time for self-reflection while in Italy, and you have read of my working to accept the slings and arrows of life without my usual approach of getting upset and pissed off. My friend Nan and her son Andrea were instrumental in informing me that all the things I was getting exercised about were not very important. Furthermore, they helped me channel any upset into just accepting the blips as part of my adventure. That started with me being unhappy with my apartment and learning there was really nothing wrong with it – it was just very different from the US. In addition, Andrea was the one who said if you don’t have all the things you need, just go buy them. Think about that for a moment – I would be pissed off about not having extra sheets, or a pair of scissors, and how simple it was to buy them – first-world “problems” that should be cast aside. In addition, the effort to buy the stuff added to my adventure by having to go shopping in stores that are for residents, not tourists – and then having to make myself understood.
Each day I would be back home after a dinner out that started at 8:30, or making dinner at home around the same time. I watched some TV on Roku at the beginning, but then my standard was to sit on the sofa and read and think. My thoughts were on the world situation, the disaster of the war in Ukraine, and certainly the problems in the US – especially SCOTUS. Because I wasn’t at home, I had some feeling of being removed from the US reality, and conversation with others did not center on US problems, somewhat related to the fact that Italy’s government is easily as screwed up as ours if not more so. What I did feel powerfully was concern for my kids and grandkids as they will have to deal with this absurdity way longer than me.
Firenze is a small city of about 380,000 people and 40 square miles, compared to San Francisco at 875,000 and 49 square miles (actually 47!). The historic center of Firenze is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is only 2 square miles and that area and its immediate surrounding neighborhoods were my stomping grounds. The walk from my apartment to the Duomo, Santa Croce, Piazza Repubblica, San Lorenzo, Piazza Signoria, the Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio was about 8-10 minutes. One day when Rebecca was in Florence she and I were walking to the Ponte Vecchio (about a 12-minute walk from my apartment) and when we were first on the bridge, she didn’t realize we were on it – but I knew where we were. From there I took her to Santo Spirito which is a church and piazza on the other side of the Arno (Oltrarno).
I thought of my first visit to Florence with my parents in 1967 – and I was very lucky having opportunities like that as a kid. The huge flood that destroyed much of the city’s art and infrastructure was in 1966, and I saw all the mud still on the floors of churches, and I remember seeing a watermark around Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia – and that’s over a kilometer from the river. The rectory of Santa Croce has a pole showing the heights of various floods going back to one in 1333, and 1966 is at the top. No floods during my visit this time, although with their long drought the water might be welcomed.
The trip also reminded me that at heart I’m still a city boy. Sonoma is lovely, but Firenze is loud (scooters and motorcycles), busy, small streets, great museums, and wonderful sights, and I will be making an effort to spend more time in San Francisco, with Rebecca and Bill’s home as my base. I am stimulated by the tumult and love to look up when walking the streets to see what’s above that people do not usually see – typical architect. I may not see the Duomo or other similar sights walking in SF, but it is also a beautiful city with much to offer.
It has been an adjustment getting back into my world, not the easiest thing to do. I realized that part of my reaction was that in Italy no one was specifically depending on me to do anything, no one had the normal expectations of me, and my time was almost totally my own. While I thought about some of the potential impacts of my adventure, this realization of time being my own was not expected. Even with that, I never felt that I was being shortchanged when by myself and I didn’t feel lonely – although sometimes it was hard to motivate myself to do something owing to the heat. I developed new routines that supported my life, for example, never worrying about buying a ton of food at a market – I could get what I needed day-by-day and carry it home in a backpack or bag from the market. There was a bread store (paneria) just across the street from my apartment, and I bought my bread there (the first time doing so he showed me the big loaves, I said those are too big, and then learned that he’ll cut off whatever quantity I wanted). In fact, I looked in my wallet today and there was a slip of paper with “milk, OJ, vegetables, salad, Ciobar (hot chocolate mix)” – it took me quickly back to Firenze.
I have enjoyed writing this blog and hope that you have learned more about me and my adventure by reading it. I urge everyone to take a chance and give yourself a challenge as I did – it should be worth it.