Florence, 1995

La Pietra
I thank my parents for starting my fascination with Italy.

In 1995, they funded my study abroad
program through NYU.  With the help of my creative college advisor, this summer in Florence would save me a semester in college. 

I hadn't been to Europe before.  I didn't know anyone going on the trip.  I spoke no Italian.  I was a studio art major with a minor in art history and taking a language wasn't a graduation requirement.

I got on a plane from the Midwest, caught another at JFK, and met soon-to-be lifelong friends.

It was the second summer that NYU had been running the program at La Pietra, a massive estate that a British benefactor had bequeathed the school.  Several villas dotted the wild landscape (the picture to the right shows its later manicured state).  I remember being told that we were not to take the mattresses outside to sleep.  

The main villa was dark and dusty with minor Da Vincis and other Renaissance masters.  An old abandoned pool was on the valley floor. Accustomed to opossum and porcupines, I was surprised to meet a family of hedgehogs while wandering the property.

As you would expect, the students were comprised of a lot of kids looking to party.  I was on the older side of the group and fell in with those interested in the beauty and history around them.

Each morning we took bus number 25 to various locales in town where our professors gave private lectures and tours of the most amazing sites.  I have a fuzzy memory of our art history teacher getting a giant key from a bakery worker and opening a door to reveal a lone marble tomb in a room. Supposedly it had something to do with Jesus.  A half-hearted Google attempt later, I cannot confirm this, nor can I corroborate with fellow students.  The mystery is better anyway.

I was particularly fond of the staff at the Villa Natalia, where we stayed.  Quick to give you a
hair-raising ride to town if they saw you waiting for the bus.  Packing you a sack lunch if they happened to hear you were going to Corsica for the weekend.  Cooking french fries in olive oil because they thought Americans liked to eat them everyday.  The housekeeper changing your sheets with a cigarette and its three inches of ash hanging out of her mouth.

Villa Natalia
The bathroom that smelled strongly of sewer in our mirrored and gilt room did not deter us from loving this country.   Nor did the terrible laundry machines that really didn't clean your clothes.

After six weeks, I went from being a Europe newbie to giving people detailed bus route directions and going to the supermarket on my own.  Along the way, I met friends who flew across the country to attend each others weddings, helped one another find jobs, and stayed in touch over these many years.

With marriage, children, and careers taking the focus, it took me 16 years to get back to Florence.  Thankfully, I was still able to give directions to tourists and Italians alike.