29 January 2007.
Things are going well. I found a room, which is a relief. It was the only major worry for me when making preparations for the trip. And after a couple of slightly stressful days I feel the city is already starting to show some love.
There are some people who insist on switching to English when I blurt out something in my broken Italian. Actually many of them do not even wait for me to open my mouth before deciding that this oversized Nordic barbarian will not be able to understand our beautiful language anyway. I don’t like having to be on my toes all the time trying to prove that yes, I do know some Italian and if you let me practice speaking some more my skills will improve. Take that, you smug net café clerks.
But overall I am very happy with the opportunities to practice my Italian. Even though I don’t understand everything of what people say, I find that I get the gist of it pretty easily already, which gives me confidence. The most obvious occasion for practice is of course when the other person does not even know English. But it is a good sign that not all people who do speak English actually try to speak English to me. As for actual progress, I seem to be able to expand my vocabulary little by little without much effort, and speaking feels easier every day. This is obviously not enough yet to be able to follow lectures on obscure Renaissance metaphysics, but I have a few weeks left before any of that.
And I do understand why there are people who treat me like a tourist and expect me not to understand their language. Florence is a tourist city. Even though it is supposedly low tourist season right now, the city center is full of them. I wonder what the high season is like, but the expression “Renaissance theme park” seems plausible. I have no problem with this in itself, but because everyone here is interested in getting his share of the money tourism brings in, it’s difficult to know beforehand if you really want to do business with someone. Most shops and restaurants have their banners, their translations in foreign languages, their “special offers” and so on. It’s not something you want to deal with every time you’re looking for that simple bowl of pasta. Fortunately that bowl does exist, and if you find it, you have to remember where. (Although the average Florentine restaurant menu has less pasta than a person might think.)
Now that I am getting things done and learning the ways of this city I can start focusing more on enjoying my time here. It seems like a good idea to try and see all the standard tourist stuff as soon as possible. Of course there is plenty of time for that, but I don’t want to be postponing everything indefinitely and then realize in June that in half a year I haven’t seen half of the things that the average American tourist sees in a day. There’s at least a couple of weeks of spare time before the spring term begins, and it should be enough to see some old paintings and buildings. And anatomically correct 18th-century wax models of pathologically diseased body parts of course.