The birthplace of the Renaissance; Florence, Italy is one of the most beautifully preserved cities in the world. Does this first sentence satisfy the cheesy 80’s romance novel criteria?
Artistic richness paint the ancient streets which are lined with street side café’s, boutiques, and enough pizzerias to make your arteries clog. Every corner of Florence offers breathtaking views at every turn.
I met Stefano at Pete’s house, last week. Pete was the gracious stranger who invited me in for dinner when I missed my tour bus back to my hotel. We had a great time talking and laughing for a couple of hours and he offered to be my tour guide in Florence when he learned about my plans to tour the rest of Italy. There is a certain swagger that Italian men possess, it’s in their genes. And the genes of Stefano were a healthy balance of sexy and silly. His bronze skin and radiant brown eyes exuded warmth.
I met him at a café in Via de’Tornabuoni. It was hard not to be tempted by the glamorous shops but I didn’t want to run on Arab time and be late. I arrived at the café first and nestled in the corner table on the patio. People watching and distance window shopping should suffice until Stefano arrives. He called to inform me he was about ten minutes late. How thoughtful of him to call, unlike the California men who have too much pride to apologize for making you wait.
Forty-five minutes later, I didn’t think he was that thoughtful.
He arrived at the cafe with another couple from the neighborhood. He apologized for being late, claiming that traffic was horrible. Looks like the California men archetype can also be found in Italy. Not wanting to come off as uptight, I smiled and told him it was fine. I just went through three cups of espresso while I waited.
Oddly the couple appeared slightly awkward. They went from looking at me with a startled expression as if they had never seen an American before to staring at my feet. I wasn’t alarmed when Stefano brought two more chairs to the table because having a bigger group made me feel safer.
His friends were joyful, politically diverse and shared endless stories about their love for their country. Growing restless with being cooped up at a tiny café when I could be frolicking shopping the streets of Florence.
“OK, y’all let’s get moving. There’s a lot to see!” I stood up and grabbed my purse.
“You American’s are very assertive, eh?” Stefano laughed and didn’t budge an inch.
“Assertive is one way to put it. Let’s start sightseeing. I’m only in Florence for a day before I head off into the hills of Tuscany,” I started walking towards the door since nobody from the table moved from their seat.
Stefano and his friends laughed amongst themselves most obviously at my expense. Minutes later they caught up with me at an antique shop where I was drooling over a garnet bracelet. As I tried on the jewelry and made friends with the shop owner, I noticed one of Stefano’s friends standing to the side shuffling her weight on her feet. Turning my attention back to the delicate piece I held in my hand, she nudged her guy friend. He followed her lead and became restless.
“Do y’all need to use the restroom?” I asked.
“I’ll just ask her, you guys are taking too long,” the lady said with a hint of desperation in her tone.
Perhaps she enjoyed my company so much, she wanted to talk me into staying longer. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The woman looked at me up and down, surveying me like a hawk, “We really like you and think you have great energy. We would like to invite you over for some fun.”
“Thank you for your kind words, I enjoy spending time with y’all and I think y’all are a lot of fun, too! Can we spend a few hours in the city, though? I haven’t had a chance to see much, today.”
She stepped a few feet closer to me, leaned in and took my hand, “I hope you understand what I mean by, fun.” Her eyes squinted on the word fun and her accent stretched the “n” a little too long for comfort.
Then she winked at me.
Did I just get propositioned? Holy shit, I just got propositioned. And in Italy of all places! Rome is just hours away, which houses Italy’s equivalent of God, and a church on every block. I can’t even think of looking at a cute guy at the Mosque without having visual-induced panic attacks of being flogged down.
“I hope you understand what I mean by, fun.”
Perhaps if I just look away and avoid eye contact and the suggestion, overall, it’ll go away.
I turned my attention away from her and got back to the jewelry that was screaming my name. The sales clerk spoke broken English but he could sense the weirdness and the bullets of sweat were starting to run down his face.
“I’ll take the bracelet and matching earrings, please,” I told the clerk. Maybe this was what retail therapy was truly meant for, to get you out of a potential kidnapping turned sex ring. Stefano came to the counter and offered to haggle with the clerk.
“No no, it’s OK,” I placed my hand on his forearm to signal him to stop.
“Well, when you’re done here we can go back to their place for some fun,” Stefano was beaming ear to ear, as if his mere existence made him feel like he was an accomplishment.
“Listen, the only place I’m going to be having ‘fun’ is at Dolce & Gabanna a few stores down. When I walk out of here, I’m going to make sure y’all don’t follow me. You’re low key creepy and and that twitch of your friends is starting to make me think we’re in a horror movie and this is the scene where I get abducted.”
“Why are you being like this? Aren’t there places like this all-over America for these recreational activities?” Stefano’s voice started raising.
“Do you mean a brothel? Do I look like someone who has even been to one? You’re so gross!” With my shopping bag in hand, I turned on my heel and bolted towards the front door.
What happened to the elegantly dressed, caring, protective Italian men are known for? My mind had been distracted from the insurmountable missed calls and emails from Emil, thus I was looking forward to a day of tourism in one of the most picturesque cities in the world. This was quickly tainted by the lewd strangers I had met.
Here’s to hoping my three-day retreat in Tuscany, including the spa day, provides me with the solitude and shower to cleanse and detox the filth from Florence.
Stay tuned for the next installment!