Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Profiles in Transit: Antonio

Creative Commons, guillenperez
The walls of the buildings around the piazza diffused the afternoon sunlight so that it flowed over the cobblestones, gilding them with that spectrum of light that is so uniquely Tuscan. The sun's rays spilled over my skirt, drawing me into the picture-perfect Florentine afternoon as though I belonged there.

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.


Marsha said...

Love this! I actually have similar story. When I was in S. Korea, I ran into this girl at one of the universities but her English was weak as was my Korean--but we both spoke French! One of my favorite memories from my time there!

Jessalyn Pinneo said...

How neat, Marsha! I always enjoy talking to people but being able to talk to someone because you both speak a second language is such a cool feeling. Makes me want to learn even more!

Unknown said...

Aww Random, but I think it's cute that you wrote about this story on this day-my grandpa's name is Antonio and Nov 2nd was his birthday :)

Jessalyn Pinneo said...

That's a lovely coincidence, Claudia! :-)