|Creative Commons, guillenperez|
I smiled to myself as I wrote my postcards, pausing often to look around the piazza and bask in the October sunshine, happy just to sit and enjoy the afternoon while my friends explored a museum I hadn't had energy left to gear myself up for after spending hours at the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and the Galleria dell'Accademia.
An elderly gentleman walked into the square and took the seat adjacent to mine on the circular bench where I was writing. After several moments, he spoke and, since I was the only one around, I looked up and said "Scusa?" He repeated himself, gesturing toward me, then tapping his left arm. I caught the word sinistra and assumed he was commenting on the fact that I was left-handed, so I nodded. My limited Italian didn't offer any clues about his next statement, so I shook my head and said, "Non parlo italiano, signore, scusami." He grimaced, nodded and went back to watching the few people wandering through the piazza. Two or three minutes later, I saw the man turn back toward me out of the corner of my eye and heard, "Parlez-vous français, mademoiselle ?" I turned toward him, grinning, and said, "Oui !"
We spoke about trips he'd taken to France, how I was enjoying my second visit to Florence and how much I had loved San Gimignano on a trip a few years before. When I mentioned that I was actually American, not French, he told me he thought it was wonderful that I was taking advantage of my youth by traveling. It's impossible not to learn something new about life when we travel, he told me, and learning about life is how we come to know ourselves and the people around us. As he got up to leave, he took my hand in a warm, strong grasp that reminded me of my grandfather's and asked my name. "Enchanté, Jessalyn," he said, "Je m'appelle Antonio."
I spoke with Antonio for no more than ten minutes on that afternoon in Florence, and our paths haven't crossed since. I don't know what made him think to ask if I spoke French - if he saw the postcard to my French host mother, or if it was just a hunch. But the truth of what he said has stayed with me and, whenever I think of Florence, the first thing that comes to mind is a man named Antonio and the advice he gave me on a sunny October afternoon.