"A local" by my own definition is not somebody who has been a resident of a community for a long period of time. Sure, that has to do with a lot of it but to me, a local is somebody who is a member of a community that is part of some city or town somewhere in this world. I am "a local" of a few places. My hometown of Newport Beach, California where I spent almost the first 18 years of my life. My college town of Oxford, Mississippi where I have spent the last three years of my life deciding who I want to be. And most recently, I have become a local of Florence, Italy. But Ally. You've only been in Florence for a few weeks now and you were only there for six weeks last year. You don't actually live in Florence, you just work and study. It isn't the same thing! I am sure many of you are saying this right now, and I truly understand why. It is a difficult concept to grasp especially to those who have spent that awkward in between time frame that teeters on the line of extended vacation and short work experience. But let me explain to you my day and maybe you will better understand.
I start every morning with a caffe doppio e un brioche crema -a double espresso and a croissant- at one of my three favorite cafes in my neighborhood. I have become close enough to some of the people who work there that they ask about my work and studies. It is a great morning conversation to have while I am standing there at the coffee bar and really reminds me have how truly friendly the Italian are. They never fail to ask about how I am. But not just the generic, "how are you" but a true, sincere, look-me-in-the-eyes, "how are you doing today?"
After that, I head to work at Blending Magazine where I am greeted by Susanna, my boss. She tries her best to speak in English, I try my best to speak in Italian while the rest of the office watch for entertainment purposes and who could blame them? We laugh the whole way through. Three weeks of working here and I already really feel like a member of the team along with the people I work for doing PR for an incredible show on the Medici family. It feels less like work, and more like intelligent, thoughtful, collaborative conversation.
After I leave work, I head to Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio which is the coolest farmers market in Florence which also happens to be in my backyard. First, I head to the same farmer every single time. Cherries, asparagus, eggs, and whatever else he has going on. He sees me walk up and greets me with the traditional, "Ciao bella!" and I try my very very best to speak with him about what is the most fresh, what does he recommend, and just how well this produce goes with that produce. It really is all fascinating creating relationships with such interesting people of all walks of life.
Next, I move on to the stand right next to him. Beads of all different colors arranged in so many lines it makes your head spin. When the days get too hot, I like to buy them and make bracelets to avoid going outside. I try and always wear my newest bracelet when I go and see the sweet Indian man who is always so impressed with what I make, it truly makes my whole day. He takes my arms in both hands and examines each bracelet and says, "Beautiful, Ally. So beautiful. Beautiful." Promptly after kissing up to me, he offers me strands upon strands of beads and we haggle them down to the appropriate price. We always end up running into each other after he gets done working at the market and he never fails to make my day by recognizing me on the street.
As I return home, the Indian family who owns the mini market next door to my apartment is playing frisbee in the street and they toss it to me. The two boys are hesitant for just a moment and then they bound toward me like puppies after a ball, just waiting to see who will get it first. When I first came back this summer, I came into the store and the husband came out from the counter with open arms and said with genuine joy, "You're back!" His wife and kids waved from the street where they played.
There is a very old artist (and looks like Santa) who has his shop right up the street from me. Every morning I pass him and he gives me a ciao or buongiorno and we go about our day. But as I was walking passed him today, he stopped me and asked if I could watch his store for him, because he trusted me. When I laughed and asked why, he replied with that he can tell I am not a tourist. Well if that wasn't the best compliment to give me, than it has to be runner up because I took his place in his store and waited for him to return without a second of hesitation. Upon his returning, I told him to have a nice day and started on my way. He called after me and asked if I liked to paint and I said yes (which is true, I really love it) and he asked for me to join him for coffee tomorrow while he worked. Honestly, how could I decline such a bizarre yet memorable opportunity?
Lastly, is my go-to gelato place since last year. There wasn't one day last summer that I didn't have this particular shops gelato, not just because it is simply amazing but because of the good-natured man who works there. This was the first place I came to when I got off the plane in Florence. I called his name when I stepped in the store and he ran out and looked at me for a second like he didn't remember me. Right before I started to feel embarrassed and awkward that I had been so excited to come back to his shop, tears welled up in his eyes and he said, "You! You, you, you! You and the other two! You came back!" And came around the counter and kissed me on each cheek, like you do with close friends and family. It was all sincere.
What I love most about knowing people here is this. Today, my glass gas stove top shattered into a million tiny pieces, sending shards of glass to every corner of my apartment and giving me a major scare. Glass was everywhere, my gas pipe was still open, and my pot of boiled water was everywhere. A teeny tiny hair crack, a little heat, and my complete lack of knowledge with gas stoves made a good day awful. After many tears and getting off the phone with my boyfriend and parents about what they could do to help me thousands of miles away, I was immediately calmed down by this thought: I have people here who care for me and who may not know me well, but recognize who I am and that my presence makes their day, like theirs makes mine. I have nothing to worry about because I know if I asked for help, they would be here. I can ask for help from people who know me because I am a local.
In the midst of my first adult scare, they are who I wanted to turn to. They may not be my family, but in a place where I have few people, they are pretty dang close.