Steam rose from the plate of pasta that sat in front of me. As delicious as it tasted, I couldn’t help but poke at the meat, wondering how my lovely blind host, Roberto, had been able to tell if it was fully cooked despite his lack of vision. He looked so fragile with silvery white hair, not much of it, and his endearing cream sweater. It wasn’t long into a conversation, however, that you realize “fragile” is far from describing his character.
We made an odd crew, the seven of us: The architect, the musician, the film producer, the three students- Nina, Sirena, and me, and our gracious host. Despite three of our company being older than 60, we also, surprisingly, made an incredibly lively group.
“Johnny B. Goode,” streamed in from Roberto’s living room to the patio where we were dining. Lucca, the musician who’d invited us to join him and his friends for dinner, had impeccable taste in music and made sure the background noise for our vibrant conversations featured only the best Italian and American classics.
Lucca volunteers with Nina and I at St. James Food Bank, where we first connected over our mutual love for music. Little did we know, our friendship would lead to a night of great food, wine, karaoke, conversations, and, of course, a guitar solo or two on Lucca’s part.
I was concerned when I first arrived in Florence that I would miss out on really experiencing the true Italian culture. The Florentine culture is surprisingly satiated with American influences thanks to the insanely large number of abroad students studying in the city. Instead of being stretched to use Italian and fold myself into a completely new culture, I was all too easy to find myself only speaking English (Why not, they understand it, right?) and going to some Americanized bar because my friends were.
Though, as time has passed, I’ve been able to snag little opportunities, like dinner at Roberto’s, allowing me to experience the Italian culture a little more fully. They are people who love to embrace an evening for all that it’s worth. There is a complete emphasis on the enjoyment of good company; so much so that 8 o clock dinners drag on until 12:30am and only end when I regretfully suggest our leaving (I knew my 6am meeting would come only too soon if I didn’t get at least some sleep). Who knew it would be the 21 year old having to call it a night before the men in their sixties.
The Italian culture is a beautiful one of compassion and hospitality, and one I’m growing to appreciate more and more. It may take a little extra effort to find the real Italian experience here, but it is certainly worth the extra energy. It wasn’t until I began surrounding myself with these vibrant, passionate people that my love affair with Italy really began. Thank God I still have over two months to let this love affair ensue.