Today we left Rimini and headed to Florence. We arrived and had a short tour through the city. Then we had free time to wander around. Florence is yet another magical city that is incredibly beautiful and very unique. I’m not sure what I had expected it to be like but probably because I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what it should be like, I enjoyed it even more. Again there were a lot of tourists, mostly doing tours, but I was surprised at the variety of nationalities of the tourists. I heard hardly any English being spoken.
During our free time while sitting near the copy of Michelangelo’s David in the Palazzo Vecchio, Katya and I had our first encounter with Italian men. They approached us and struck up a conversation even though they barely spoke English and definitely didn’t speak Russian. One of them knew English better than the other and we were able to converse with him and understand and be understood. We were able to try out our stock phrases such as “where are you from,” “what’s your name,” “I don’t speak Italian,” “I don’t understand,” etc. and speak some Italian. If we wanted to say something or ask a question, we used my phrasebook and pointed to the Italian translation.
Surprisingly we were able to interact and talk to them despite the language barrier. We spent several hours chatting with them and after a while were able to understand each other quite well. Although I can’t say I speak Italian, I could understand some of what they were saying and they soon picked up some Russian and English words they didn’t know.
The men we met were actually quite far from the stereotypical Italian man in that they weren’t aggressive or forceful in their attempts to be near us. They were quite polite and were making jokes with us instead of flirting and telling us how beautiful we were or that they loved us. However they did gradually work their way closer and closer to us, starting with sitting close to arms around the shoulder and then trying to hold our hands. After a while they also started saying how they would come visit us in Moscow and that they really liked us. Perhaps that was a bit forward of them after knowing us for several hours but it wasn’t as forward as I’d imagined or as much as others had said when recounting their meetings with Italians.
One thing they did which wasn’t unique to their nationality was immediately divide us up. One of them sat between us and began speaking primarily with Katya. The other one inched closer and closer to me. He barely spoke English but it was a fascinating experience how we finally breached the language barrier and began to understand each other.
When it was time for us to meet up with our group and go to our hotel, they walked us to our destination. But I was surprised at just how far they seemed to take their “possession” of us. At one point I tried to take the one who was “with” Katya by the arm and he immediately pushed me away as if to say “don’t touch me”, insisting that he was with Katya and I was to be with his friend. The lines were clearly drawn. The one I was with left me with his phone number, telling me he’d gladly come visit me at my hotel in the neighbouring city on his motorbike. It sounds like a cliché I know, but he said it. Then he kissed me twice on the cheek, starting on the left side first, and said goodbye.