Life and ice-cream
I am standing in an ice cream parlor in Florence. The owner yells at me in Italian. I had just bought a vanilla ice-cream and began to eat it inside the parlor, smoothing the white cold ridges with my tongue to prevent the whole thing from toppling. I am not supposed to be doing this – eating the ice-cream inside the shop, but I didn’t know this until the yelling started. I am supposed to eat it outside. I am 39 years old, but he is shouting at me, waving his arms from behind the counter, like he is yelling at a nine-year old.
I haven’t bought ice-cream in a parlor for quite a few years. If I could look into the future, in a couple of months I would be back in Canada, buying ice-cream at the shop along the beach front in White Rock. Looking out past the train tracks. Past the blue pastel bay to the faded islands in the distance.
But I can’t see the future, so I just want to get away from the angry Italian man and eat my ice-cream and I step outside the parlor and bring within my gaze the Ponte Vecchio with its cookie cutter arches and blurry twin beneath the River Arno’s surface.
To get to Italy I had changed planes in London from Manchester. Everything at Heathrow I found spacious and gleaming, the bathrooms – you don’t have to touch anything. Doors open, lights turn on, water starts, everything automatically, everything twinkling.
I thought the small Italian airport was a dump. In the middle of nowhere. Packed, dirty, line-ups intertwining. I was going to Florence to run the marathon there. I boarded a train, did the “Are we there yet?” thing to two guys who didn’t understand much English on the train-ride up to Florence.
In Florence it was 17 degrees Celsius. All the Italian women wore black riding boots and winter coats. The locals could spot the Americans by their shorts and t-shirts. One local I met, along Via dei Cerretani stopped me and asked if I was American, but when I spoke he said, “Oh, you are English.” I explained I was Canadian but had lived in England for many years. We chatted for a moment or two before he smiled and waved goodbye and I continued onward past the Gucci and Prada shops to the Cathedral with its burgundy domes.
So mild outside. I wasn’t used to Novembers like this. My hotel was on Via Luigi Alamanni near the train station, and my balcony overlooked a tributary.
As I lay in bed the first night I was thinking of things, the marathon, moving back to Canada, Christmas next month. Just then I heard the buzzing of a mosquito above my pillow, I didn’t swat at it, it just flew away and I heard nothing further from it for the rest of the time I was there. It must do a flyover for each new guest. There was complimentary bottled water the day I arrived, but this was not replenished. I didn’t miss the mosquito though.
The next day I wished my Italian was better, so I could talk to the chambermaid, when she was in my hotel room. She didn’t speak English. Not that there was anything I needed especially, but just to have the chance to communicate to someone in a faraway land, and for the satisfaction I would gain from being able to speak a little Italian, instead of gesturing, which I found myself doing. I remember at the time, it was 2007, and the Italian television was full of the Meredith Kercher case. As usual I was there by the skin of my financial teeth. I had $250 for my first trip in Italy. So I went to the free museums, and I lived off the calzone at the bakeries. Right outside my hotel there was a bakery. I also lived off the hotel croissants.
The day after the marathon. I was in the elevator with two men, tall skinny Europeans, talking about their three hour marathon finishings. When they asked me if I ran I said yes, told them my time. “Oh no! What happened?” they asked. It was like they had assumed I had fallen into a ravine during the race and had to climb out again. I took this as a compliment. I let them think this, just muttered that bad things had happened. They hadn’t really. I had injured myself and had to go through a series of physiotherapy sessions for the first time ever. I had a male physiotherapist. With all the lying down and bending it struck me as the closest thing to sex I had experienced for some time, so I didn’t mind it so much.
But when I arrived in the breakfast room, this is how I can best describe it. You take one croissant and one danish, then you put chocolate and jam in each of them, then they multiply until there are around two hundred in all, different flavors populating three or four tables. The coffee, yogurt and cereal were on one corner.
Flying home the sky was mostly clear and sunny with the way the plane flew I could look down and see the French Alps, the coastline and the beaches of the south of France. I thought I saw Monaco. Though what I guessed to be Paris, which I had yet to visit, was covered mostly in cloud.
I would miss the mustard shades of the villas, the 14th century churches and statues, the red carpet of the Duomo, the beautiful names of every building and street. Florence was like an exotic suspension bridge between the chaos of packing I would still have when I got back to my flat in Cheshire, and the unknown in a country that I no longer knew.
This is a work of creative nonfiction; it contains no composite characters and no names have been changed. I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them, but I have taken some storytelling liberties, due to my interpretation of events, fading memory, lack of time machine, and need to cherry-pick some memories over others in order to express my thoughts within the story.