Things have been hectic, so I don’t really have photos to share yet. Moving and meeting and greeting and orienting has filled all of the time I’d otherwise use to wander around with a camera. So, instead of photos, I’m going to share a couple vignettes from 4 days of life in Florence.
Daily life here looks like art. Every street corner is photo-worthy, complete with bikes placed so perfectly that it’s hard to believe their arrangement could have been spontaneous. Italians make no attempts at subtlety in their interactions; you can walk down the street and run through a gamut of emotions just by watching conversations take place in doorways. People wine and dine in street cafes and lick gelato and kiss passionately on the steps of churches. In this city, it’s hard to walk a block without stumbling across some monument of importance. It’s equally hard to get that far without seeing someone in a state of awe over the history and the beauty surrounding them. Living in the midst of that energy is like nothing else.
To start with.. I have two roommates, Cassie and Julia, and they are wonderful. We made zucchini pasta on our first night in our new home. By the end of the night, we’d all forgotten that we’d only known each other for less than 12 hours; something about cooking with people forges bonds quickly. All three of us were shocked by the apartment we were given. I’m not sure what I was expecting- maybe something along the lines of my beloved old apartment in Montevallo. That place was spacious and well-suited to my needs, but without any decor, it was also dark and very much a product of the 70s. The housing SACI assigned us to is high-ceilinged, sunlit, and breezy. I have my own room and a washing machine and a dishwasher (although they are questionably functioning). It’s beautifully decorated, complete with art on the walls and hardwood floors, and I still feel like I’m living in a movie. This afternoon I line-dried my clothes and felt especially European.
Speaking of apartments, did you know that it’s very easy to short-circuit the electricity in Italian apartments? I do now. It’s almost like the old “how many ___s to change a lightbulb” joke: how many people does it take to fix the light in Cassie, Julia, and Cocoa’s apartment after they get overzealous with the air conditioner? The answer: more than you’d think. Three slightly wine-fuzzy art students, a confused Italian twenty-something, the well-meaning father of the tour guide living above us, two school officials, and the Florentine power company turned out to be the winning combination. I think only the power company actually helped the situation.
My now (mostly) functioning apartment is directly beside the Basilica di Santa Croce, and the location is perfect. Also, did you know that drinking on church steps is a favored activity among Florentine youths? If you go to the basillica around 1 in the morning, you won’t be finding any nuns. Instead, the steps turn into a party for groups of Italians, study-abroad students, and questionably sober young lovers. Other noteworthy nearby places include my current favorite coffee shop, a slightly hipster cafe called Ditta Artigianale with good food, great espresso, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Cappuccinos here a little pricier than other places, but it’s worth it, and not just because of the drinks. Generally Italian coffee is to be gulped in two sips standing at the bar, but this place doesn’t mind if you linger with a book or a laptop. Even Italy, I’m going to be able to continue my sacred ritual of coffee shop photo editing.
In terms of other rituals, I went on a run for two of the five (?) days I've been here so far. One day down I took the route down Arno river, and today I explored the Oltrarno (the area across the river) and turned the run into a sort of street art scavenger hunt. Another one of my favorite things about Florence is the abundance of street art. It would be delightful on its own, but the juxtaposition between the renaissance and the contemporary adds another level. The run on the Arno was right at sunrise, and I can assure you that it’s a route I’ll be taking frequently. There’s nothing quite like sunrise over the Ponte Vecchio, complete with a backdrop of fog-shrouded Tuscan hills and the distant clang of church bells.
As for the environment here, I’ve personally observed that Italy is both diverse and surprisingly ethnocentric. For all of their warmth, Italians can be closed off, and racism is more of a problem here than one might expect. My roommate has an Italian friend that told her the Roma population (the street beggars referred to as the gypsies) aren’t even people. Shockingly, this is a commonly held opinion, and it’s more than disturbing to me. However, on a much more positive note, it’s wonderful walking down the street and hearing ten different languages being spoken around you. In my experience, most cities in Europe are like this; each country has a distinctive culture, but visiting other places is as easy as driving from Florida to Alabama. Of course, it’s not just Europeans here; people flock to Florence from all over the globe (especially Americans). Because of this, it’s very common for Italians to speak multiple languages.
For me, speaking in my limited Italian has been hit or miss. I haven’t made any egregious mistakes yet, but I’m sure the day is coming. Most of the Italians I’ve spoken to have humored me as I’ve struggled to string together sentences with my teacup-sized vocabulary. I made a feeble attempt at pantomiming a clothes hanger at an Italian department store because I didn’t know the word for it; thankfully the clerk eventually understood what I was looking for (after several wrong guesses). Also, it’s probably a good idea to know correct medical terms if you plan on buying something at a pharmacy, just for the sake of avoiding embarrassment. It’s a long story. Trust me.
I’ve been saving the most important detail for last: school itself. Classes haven’t started yet, but I made it through orientation, and I have the feeling that I couldn’t have drafted a more ideal program for myself if I tried. For starters, the community is wonderful, both among faculty and students. The other people in the MFA program are diverse and talented and quirky, and I keep having to remind myself that this is not Montevallo’s Italian satellite school. Little things keep happening that feel like the best parts of Montevallo. It’s likely just a side effect of small liberal arts school, but it’s comforting nonetheless. Academically, SACI is a very small school that emphasizes student-professor relationships, and the photography program is intensive but flexible. The opportunities that I’m going to have are surreal; we’ll be traveling all over Italy and even to Paris for the biggest photo convention in Europe this November. On the first day of orientation, one of my program directors described photography as a language. Right now I feel like I speak it only slightly better than I do Italian; my knowledge is workable, but limited. Here, I’m going to be challenged. I’m going to learn so much, and I hope that my perspective on photography is going to be completely altered by the time I graduate. My first class is at 9AM tomorrow… I think I’m ready.