Written by Ada Rose Wagar, (Brandeis University), Brandeis Midyear in Florence Fall 2021
Tired after exploring a farm in the Tuscan countryside, I arrived back at the apartments ready to start filling the empty fridge and cabinets. I checked the Google Maps directions to head to the largest Conad—the local chain grocery—near me. A small walking tour of our area the day before had shown us that this location, in particular, was the best one to go to. Keen on finding it again, I departed. I emerged from the canyon-like cobblestone street my apartment is on as it intersected with the main road I was about to take leading away from the River Arno. The famous river is only about a seven-minute walk in the other direction, which is the route I now take to school. I turned onto the narrow sidewalk adjacent to Piazza Santa Croce. Its large exterior adorned with the Star of David came into view. Unknowingly to me at the time, leading figures of the Italian Renaissance such as Michelangelo and Machiavelli were buried inside this magnificent Franciscan Church I had passed daily since arrival.
I continued down the street. Soon, the sidewalk widened as I passed four disposal units, all for different types of recycling next to multiple vehicles all plugged into charging stations. I heard a familiar wrrr as an electric car similar to my dad’s passed by. I was surprised to see it was an electric police car, but as I looked around more I noticed how most police cars, taxis, and buses were electric too. I soon came upon a smaller piazza warmed by the late afternoon sun filled with groups of friends, families, and couples all enjoying each other’s company as well as the diverse cuisine. Then, I turned left, my first mistake. Continuing down the road the journey that was only supposed to take five minutes had soon become seven, and then ten. After fifteen minutes had passed, with no Conad in sight, I decided to look at my map again, something I had been trying not to do to get a sense of direction in the city. Once checking the map for “Conad” it showed that there was one 2 minutes away, but once I arrived I knew that this was not the correct one, and so I turned around. I decided to go to one that looked closer to my apartment on the map.
All of a sudden the Duomo crept up on me, and I was in its main piazza. Weaving through crowds I navigated around the left side. After passing rows of artists, and groups of friends dining and enjoying the last moments of summer, I made my way down one of the side streets I thought to have been the way that we had gone on the tour.
I finally came upon another Conad, but this again was not the right one. Getting frustrated I took a deep breath and checked my map again. During orientation, we had been told that a new approach to life would gradually be forced onto us. Nothing in Italy is ever on time, enjoying the present moment is crucial, and the attitude that everything will turn out fine, in the end, is rampant. Of course, living in any new country or place forces you to assimilate into the cultural atmosphere. While living in Florence, and Italy, we were told that this would come in the form of acceptance to current realities, relaxation in a sense, and again that everything, in the end, would work out. I thought I understood and would be able to adapt to this lifestyle immediately but it wasn’t until this moment that I realized how big a cultural difference this was from America. I had been used to going out and running errands easily, and quickly, without much trouble, but living in a new place, especially one as spatially confusing as Florence, had taken me back. This trip that was originally supposed to be quick and easy had thus far not been.
Regardless, I refused to let this defeat my initial goal. Not only was this a test in my patience with the city, but also a test in my resilience in it. By getting lost I had begun to find what makes Italy special. Suddenly, I had remembered that I had taken a picture of the original Conad I had been looking for, and so by using the location that photo was taken and retracing my steps I was finally able to find the directions. I walked back, past the Duomo, past the artists, past the tourists, the restaurants, the recycling, and found that if I had merely taken a right turn instead of a left then I would have never gotten lost. Everything had turned out alright in the end. And so, after 45 minutes I was able to find the grocery I had been looking for all along, and my next adventure began, shopping.
Me at Piazzale Michelangelo taking in the view of Florence during sunset