A Tuscan Fiasco

I'd told her I needed a hair day...

The night before she'd declined my grapes but wanted to talk and watch torrents of "Love and Hip Hop". She hadn't realized I'd unfriended her a city ago. She didn't notice how I knew she was keeping her toothbrush far away from mine. There was no correlation when I made my request. I guess to her it was more obvious that I hadn't combed my hair for a week. I'd been rocking a rather militant afro since Rome. I didn't even make an effort to put a headband on it. At first it was about the weather and trying to maintain my cool. Soon it became a statement about my frustrations. It was my way of saying "it's time to go home". So I really needed the room to myself to not only detangle but rethink things. And I did set out to do my hair. However, I got half way through my routine and realized I had a chance to turn things around.

I call it "deep conditioning"….

The act of showering, shampooing, conditioning and not wanting to detangle. I was under the water and I just didn't feel like being inside all day doing that. I slapped the conditioner on and got out. I found an old plastic bag and put it over my hair. I then put on a decent dress and wrapped my head up in a scarf. If I were back home I'd get in my car and put the sunroof down. A few errands later it would be as if I'd paid for a salon treatment. In Florence, I could wander in the Summer heat and redeem myself. Get lost for a lil while. We'd had breakfast and pilfered all the fresh fruit and Nutella. So I sat in the lounge for a bit strumming mens magazines and eating my stolen apple. After a while of reading Italian I began researching what I could do on a dime. I decided I might as well try every swanky chair and chaise while strumming the internet on my phone. The one thing I kept finding was that people came to Florence to eat. Everyone raved about the gnocchi. 

I told myself "I'm not leaving here until I try the gnocchi".

I think I had about $15 to my name between a broken bill and loose change. Now I'd found the one thing I could access with that much money. However, I still have leaving in the morning, possibly a cab in Milan, an overnight stay in Paris, layover in Iceland and then NYC. I calculated. If I changed the British money I had that would be enough to manage a train in NYC. I also thought maybe I could swing another twenty off my mom by  morning. I basically had to make arrangements to eat. If I'd seen David that money would have been spent so it was justified. I researched more, who had the best for lowest price. The place I eventually chose was just down the street from the hotel. The place had a closing time just after lunch and re-opened for dinner a few hours later. The goal was to walk the city until just before lunch closing. I was aiming to be the last customer and back at the hotel before she returned. It was a Monday so I set out to walk by and make sure things were official.

On Monday, all of Europe is closed. 

It was drizzling a bit so as I approached the place people were hiding near it. It was adjacent to the university and named as such. Next door was a short order counter for pizza and open face sandwiches. People were huddled at a near by bus stop. Inside the restaurant there were people eating and lunch was full throttle. They would close around 3pm and it was now 12:30pm so I chose to walk as far west to the Arno and walk back. I thought in-between the rain there would be slight bursts of sun and I could stop in shops and such. The plan was in motion to head back east around 2pm. I had a map. Every time we checked in somewhere the front desk would give her the map with all the highlighted attractions and circles of suggested places to eat or go. She would covet that map and never offer it. I typically would go down at some point under the premise of getting pillows or tissue and obtain a map of my own. So I had it but something told me not to pull it out. The cathedral was my landmark. I could simply look up and tell which direction I was going in. If all else failed head back to the church and re-assess the time. I started at the Accademia and decided to go south. It was pleasantly "shut" and a group of American girls were banging on its doors and cussing. They only had a day in Florence and they felt like their one opportunity to see David was foiled. I tried to pretend I didn't speak English and wondered why they didn't know the rules.

Everything was photo perfect.

My first site was an antique store that looked abandoned. There was dust on everything in all the windows. One was full of pretty lamps in brass and enamel straight from some Medici commissioned home. Just left of the store were a row of bikes covered in light rain. On the wall next to them freshly sprayed graffiti appeared to be running into the storm drain. Three dumpsters flanked the paint in an oddly styled fashion. Everything was  excruciatingly beautiful and now I was her. I was stopping in the middle of a street with cars trying to get the damn shot. The only difference is I somewhat blended in. I was a student versus a tourist. A traveler versus an overnight stayer. I guess I looked like the authority on things because I was approached by a old couple looking for a specific church. Of course all I could point to was my landmark but they were after another. I stood with them looking at their map and told them I had something better. I pulled out my curated map from the hotel lobby and they discovered just how far off they really were. We devised a plan of going east a bit and then crossing a few blocks to their church. I told them the map was theirs and they asked what would I use. I told them I was fine looking up and was okay without it. A few minutes later I'd hit a complete dead end. I stood in a circle with several offshoots and had about seven choices of what direction to go. There was a younger German couple following me so I broke off from them and went another way.

And then it began to pour. 

I'd managed to walk in the drizzle for nearly an hour. I had been calculated yet graceful. Now I was stepping in massive puddles, I had to pull out my mini umbrella and the water was hitting my face. I took refuge under a loggia full of gypsies and beggars. I tried to compose myself with a mantra of "it's just water, there's still lunch". Standing there with soaked flip flops and patting my glasses dry with the hem of my dress I noticed a covered area nearby. I could see the light of tiny little stores and hear the pooling of caught rain. I'd walked right into the Piazza dei Ciompi - a cluster of ailing antique shops. Most of the dealers had left for the day and some were just packing up. I walked the aisles of this precious casbah rummaging crates of glass doorknobs and chests of jewelry. I finally came across a shop that was still open and noticed a box of old photographs. Inside each photo was carefully marked with a time and place. I believe they were marked 90 cents and I only had about 80 in various coins. The shopkeeper was bringing in her things and had obviously had a bad day. It was now pouring rain and bellowing into the stalls wetting her things. I pulled out my 10 and 5 and she explained that she had no change in hand gestures. I then offered all that I had for one photo when I really wanted three. She graciously took the money but I knew she'd felt cheated. I walked out feeling horrible about it. I'd been the stupid American haggling her after she'd already lost to the rain.

Duomo was just ahead.

I stood outside the loggia with the gypsies eyeing me for being brave. I'd just walked a zillion dark corners on a rainy afternoon. Now I was zipping up my purse having bought something they couldn't see. I took off my flip flops and opened my umbrella and walked towards the cathedral. I was making exceptional time but I still couldn't shake the feeling of having cheated that woman of 10 cents. So here I was with my head wrap and my sunglasses and my "big" bills just going to eat my $12 gnocchi. I couldn't stand myself. I saw a crowd and realized everyone was huddling near an open supermarket. So I put my shoes on and went inside. Again, I found myself looking for the cheapest item to snack on and make some immediate change. As usual it was Tuc crackers and in the checkout like a large scale postcard of David in the Accademia. I now had singles and a dime and decided no matter what time it was I was paying that woman back. I also wanted to grab a few more of those photos. I took my shoes off again and ran back the opposite direction. It was fast approaching 2pm and I didn't want to miss her. All the gypsies took notice of me running back and when I turned down her stall her shop was closed. All the tables and the photos were gone and the lights were out. I peered into the doors hoping she was in the back waiting out the rain. Then there was the loud sound of someone opening their umbrella and she was exiting out the back. I yelled "senoria, senoria" until she looked up and I ran to her and placed the dime in her hand. She was so relieved that I gave her what she was asking. It was as if I'd made her day. I tried to tell her in English that I had change and wanted more and she just shook her shop keys as it say "all is shut". She walked off her way and I walked off mines. A photo of Firenze past in my purse and a postcard of the missed present in a grocery bag.

It's after 2pm and they close at 3pm but I looked up.

I was now running past the cathedral to get back east. Shoes in hand and umbrella up I'm in the touristy area. I'm the devil in a blue dressing passing all the people sacrificing in the rain. I wondered was she there in that long line. Everyone huddled against the church trying to stay dry but the buttresses just basting them in cold water. It was so nice to be in a rush now. If she were there she would see me and I was no longer the one left behind. I was dressed up. I had a bag. I was off to a lunch of hearty gnocchi and bottomless still water with bread. A fiasco indeed. In between the occasional scooter or umbrella bigger than mine there was the puddles and the subsequent photo ops. The motorcycles lined up all glistening. The women walking as though it were sunny in $500 leather sandals with $1000 designer bags. The candy store displays and the students crossing like cattle. Soon the Accademia was on my right and the restaurant to my left. People at the bar eating pizza, the bus stop overcrowded and it's 2:30pm on the dot. I'm seated with my soaked flip flops expertly placed under the chair, my purse on my lap and my umbrella between the table legs. 

"I don't need time, I know exactly what I want."

Having read the menu online, the reviews and stood at the door hours ago I'd become the easiest foreign customer. I didn't need a menu. I didn't need translation. My waiter was so cool about it he's now my Facebook friend. He spoke fluent English, he told me secrets and he kept the freebies a coming. I could say in less than ten minutes I was served my humble plate. I took a few photos of it as well and a satisfied selfie. I had my own shallow platter of house made gnocchi swimming in tomato cream. In the center a hunk of burrata and a sprig of fresh basil. He left me the pepper and rolled back the edges of a torn paper bag with shards of hot bread. He also placed a freshly open bottle of water on the table. Now he would barter with the Japanese mother and son next door explaining what things meant and showing them wines. He kept looking at me with a smirk and I shared his agony. Why couldn't they all just be like me? I tried to savor it knowing the next two days would be very prison like with different regional waters and crackers. I'd amassed a collected of Tuc crackers in flavors like cheddar and sour cream & onion avoiding paprika and bacon. Maybe I could steal a few more apples and pears the morning of checkout, packs of jelly and honey - whatever worked. I was steadily thinking about starving while eating in small bites as the restaurant cleared out. A fellow lone traveler in front of me with a table drowning in enough food for two stared. He was doted upon having bought steak and a bottle of wine. In between cuts and pours he watched me spoon the mozzarella and slice the basil. I decided the last few gnocchis to stretch the meal by carving each one. Then I took the bread and rubbed it in the remaining sauce. As my server moved on to cleaning off tables and the weird overeater smiled I counted all the money I had and placed it on the table. I was full yet penniless.

The rain had stopped and the sun had come out.

I took some detours on the way back to the hotel. Now I was really deep conditioning. I was fulfilling the order as intended. I was prancing now. My flip flops soaked at one cross walk I nearly slipped and yelled out "shit on a stick!" for some American passerbys to laugh. I crept up to the hotels front really not wanting to go inside. Hoping I could keep things just as they were and not return to the madness. I thought let me make amends and I walked up to the front desk for the second time. I inquired about her breakfast. I was really just trying to secure mines but they were all studious about serving the first departing guest. They would make her a togo box upon her request. I felt as though I'd unintentionally done one good deed. I could have invited her to lunch. I could have stayed in and just did my hair. Now I was walking up the stairs versus taking the elevator. I was the adventurer. The connoisseur. The map giver. The change returner. And now I was the thoughtful breakfast arranger albeit apple stealer. When I came into the room I sat my umbrella at the door. I then placed my flip flops in the window to dry. I turned on the TV and laid my photo and postcard on the bed. I text my mother saying how I had such a wonderful day but needed more money. I then walked into the bathroom to find an open black umbrella in the tub. I'd never met a non-superstitious Spanish woman until her. She was either under the bed or in the closet. 

Mother was kind and I was off.

I threw on my wet flip flops. I picked up my umbrella. I was off to the bank before dusk. I  took the elevator this time. It occurred to me she'd probably taken the elevator down while I was walking up. Now she was probably going up via the stairs as I was pressing the button to get down. I wanted there to be no evidence of me coming back. I wanted it to feel as if I'd been gone all day. I had mislead her. Duped her. Then I could buffer her attack with how I was doing a treatment and had arranged her breakfast. I walked out and out of the corner of my eye I saw her in the lounge area. I don't know if she saw me but I picked up my step. I was to the ATM in half time. There were no issues with the door and the bank was now open so someone actually held the door for me. I had a full 20 for my trip home and my British Pound Sterling as well. I decided now I would take a scenic walkgiving her time to a. leave for dinner or b. get into bed. Then I could have the bathroom all to myself to finish my hair. Everything would be just fine. I walked and took more pictures. I saw some statues, a garden and the back end of the Accademia. As a scooter passed its gorgeous driver shouted "ciao bella" to me. It was like hello and goodbye at the same time. I'd taken on Firenze from all points. I had proof. I'd eaten the gnocchi. I'd conquered the bank. I'd deep conditioned. I'd been heckled. I'd won.

So I told her I needed to finish my hair….

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