A Husky Abroad: Florence, part two

This is the second installment of a series of #content meant to illuminate the first study abroad trip for UConn student Sten Spinella.

There are ashtrays on every table, passing people saying things I don’t understand, probably either taunting me or trying to sell something, pigeons everywhere.

I woke up from a nap to try to dispel the jet lag and took to the city. It made me feel less alone.

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Italian people all seem like they know a joke you don’t. As I watched everything around me, I wondered again what brings people to Florence. I looked up all the movies before I came, this city that has been the setting for horror films and romantic buildings alike. Whatever the motivation of the newcomers, the Florence natives are the ones who furnish the traveling outsiders’ desire, but we’ll get to that later.

Italian men are even less subtle than the most overt American men. As the police chief who lectured us study-abroad-students during orientation so delicately put it: “Women are Italy’s number one sport.”

I heard tourists talking, saying this place isn’t like the movies. Isn’t it like the movies? Strange, fun, good-looking? I took an Italian cinema class at UConn last year. I learned that bikes get stolen and there are hardscrabble parts of Italy and there’s an enormous immigration problem. Maybe these vacationers are referring to the Rome of the Lizzie McGuire movie.

I think we Americans are constantly offensive without knowing it.

Why is the architecture so much more appealing here than in the U.S.? Maybe it’s the paint like red clay. Is it the windows? They’re everywhere, peering. The buildings are close together, but that makes this feel more like a community than anything else – one can see when a homeowner is drying their laundry, smell when they are cooking their food. Still, us out-of-towners are distinctly separate from this community (which is tight-knit, with some space for the Duomo Cathedral in the center, as if out of reverence, or practicality) so I would like to make a proposal. Allow me to introduce the “Get Drunk With a Local Program” (name pending focus group approval). Instead of going to the bar or dinner with some white American squares you’ve met a thousand times before you knew them, after a night out with actual Italians at an actual Italian bar or piazza or restaurant, you can now traipse through the poorly-paved streets of Florence and learn the culture from someone rooted in the area’s truth and history! (That being said, my roommates are not squares. Although, to my dismay, two are Trump supporters, they’re all lighthearted, friendly, funny dudes.)

I need a book that outlines everything Italians find rude, and this next thought is definitely untrue, but I see Florence as the North End of Boston multiplied twenty times over and expanded to become a city.

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After walking a distance from my apartment, I settled on an outdoor coffee bar and ordered an espresso and a cappuccino. I felt like Hemingway except I’m not afraid of commas and I try not to be a bigot or a sexist. Why did he choose Paris over Italy, though? From what I’ve heard of France in general and Paris in particular, they’re not very nice to Yankees. Here in Italy, everyone from the bookmaker to the sandwich-seller seems to want to understand you and know how you ended up in their country.

As I sat in this coffee bar, all I could think of were appearances. These little beat up cars and bikes kill me. I can’t tell if Italians don’t care how they look or if riding in them is supposed to be cool. And the clothes, I could never wear them, too creative, different fabrics, earthy color schemes (I think I know what that means now), pant legs cut off too early, shirts completely open or buttoned-up to the chin; I wear plain shirts with solid colors, maybe stripes here and there. The fashion in Florence is that no one looks alike. It’s funny, I thought the States were this bastion of individualism, but here expression is rampant, like chaos, or a blank white room.


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu. He tweets @SSpinella927.