Dear New York,
“Grazie.” I said as I accepted my sandwich from these men behind the counter.
If there’s one way to describe my first week as an official study abroad student, it’s this. Trying out the bare minimum of Italian only to be rebutted with empathetic English. I’ve never had apprehension from ordering a sandwich at the Cabaret like a do here. “Silly Americans”, the Italians probably think. We clog up their streets, their grocery stores, their monuments, and yet they still smile and appreciate your business. I imagine it gets tiresome. We don’t know their language, but they know ours. You don’t know them, but boy, do they know us.
As I found myself in a cafe for two hours this weekend sipping a singular cappuccino, I looked around to marvel at how others were doing just the same. No one seemed to notice or mind the heat, let alone the day going on around them. Don’t they have jobs? Responsibility? Of course they do, but they make the time. Europeans would balk at the fact that America prides itself in “running” in and out of a coffee establishment. Because espresso is meant to be enjoyed, not downed on the go. Life is slower.
So as I sit in another cafe writing this, I look at the man behind the counter. He is singing along to “Humble and Kind” and fixing someone a hot chocolate. “I love country music,” he says. “I try to create a home here for the USA students”. This man is taking a work day and making time to sing, enjoy, and make a home for not just others, but foreign students. American students.
Already, after a week, I’ve gotten a taste for this new lifestyle. Nothing is rushed. Tourists are often greeted with patience and gratitude. Italian culture is not about what is most efficient, or most effective, it’s about getting the most out of their 24 hours in a day. It’s about sitting, sipping, and enjoying their coffee. It’s about staying humble and kind.
Everything is about taking your time, even when it comes to classes. Lectures meet once a week and go for 2-3 hours, which is an adjustment compared to Marist’s 75 minute classes.
Longer days. Slower walks. Simpler ingredients, simpler showers, simpler kitchens. You heat things on the stove, no microwaves. What’s five extra minutes? Everything feels simple. If there’s one thing you will learn very quickly from European lifestyle, it’s to take things as they come. Planning is for the future, not the present. Sit in a cafe for the purpose of sitting and experiencing. Wander with no destination. This is all no mystery to Europeans.
I watch the old man behind the counter making another cappuccino. He smiles at me and says, “I pay for this station all the way from Texas”, as he points towards the speakers fixated on the ceiling, now playing a familiar Thomas Rhett. “It’s happy music”, he says. I put some euros in his tip jar and promise to be back tomorrow.
I walk back to my flat and marvel at the Arno River. I see a man in a row boat, and think about watching the Marist Crew Team practice as I walked to my 8am’s last spring. My morning walks are a different kind of beautiful now. Ben and Jerry’s runs turn into gelato runs. You get cafe lined streets instead of the Hancock Starbucks. The Ponte Vecchio is my new Boat House. A piece of my heart aches for Poughkeepsie, aches for familiarity, but I find comfort in the old man’s country music cafe, and the small pieces of Marist that lie everywhere around Florence and in Lorenzo De’ Medici Institute, where I am studying. Things are becoming familiar, and when they’re not, I have the old man’s cafe. It’s not home, and it’s not Poughkeepsie, but it will more than do for now.
The history, culture, food and experience that I’ve had all within three weeks are astounding. It’s like I’ve lived a thousand years in twenty one days, and it’s only the beginning. Four months is a long time when you’re on a European watch, but I can already tell when they’re up, I’ll wish I had a fifth.
It’s not Marist in New York, but I think I’m going to like it here.