Past Present

This weekend I had a glimpse of my life exactly 25 years ago.

How did I get this peek through the porthole of time?

Well, it all began with my dentist appointment in December.  While reclining and having my teeth cleaned, I learned that Taylor, a former babysitter and neighbor in Old Greenwich, would be studying in Florence during her Junior year abroad.  Taylor’s mother is my dental hygienist…and our minister’s wife…and a friend.

Three months later, Taylor was on my doorstep visiting London with a friend for the weekend.  While we caught up on her adventures in Italy, I learned that she is studying on the exact same program I was on 25 years ago in the Spring on 1988.  She is now walking along the same cobbled streets of Florence, skillfully dodging the wayward Vespas, on her way to the Piazza Savonarola to study art and Italian every day.  She is following my footsteps as she explores the markets of San Lorenzo for scarves and trinkets, samples the best gelato at that little place to the left of the Ponte Vecchio, and relaxes on the grounds of the Boboli Gardens where all I needed was a bottle of wine and hunk of cheese to fill an afternoon.  She lives with an Italian host family as I did.

Memories of my experience came flooding back to me.

On my first day, I made a big impression with my host family when I asked them for a “pene” as I wanted to write something down.  My attempt to ask for a pen was met with wild hysterics.  With my limited knowledge and incorrect pronunciation of Italian, I had actually asked them for a penis!   If you ever need an ice breaker upon introduction try this:  “May I have a penis please?”  I was a hit with their four kids after that.

The youngest in the family was a girl of 7 named Isabella.  She was obsessed with the Eagles’ song, Hotel California, and she begged me to translate all the lyrics in Italian for her.  If you think that song is long to listen to, it is endless when translating it word for word!

I had a roommate named Buffy (this was the ’80s remember).  True to her name, she was in Florence to shop, shop, and shop some more.  She was always covered in leather and draped in scarves.  I’ll never forget the day she went to get her hair lightened.  With her non-existent Italian skills, she asked for strawberry blonde highlights and came home with bright pink hair!  As for those lost in translation moments, she would have been better off asking for a penis.

Florence is where my love affair with art began.  Taylor is entranced as I was, studying art on site with daily visits to the museums, monuments, and churches that celebrate the Renaissance in all its glory.  Art literally came to life for me during my time in Italy.  Looking at slides with eyes glazed over in a dark classroom could not compare to seeing it plastered on walls, hung in museums, tiled across ceilings, molded in marble, or stacked brick by colorful brick.

I loved having Taylor and her friend stay with us because they are full of youthful exuberance and genuine curiosity.  They traipsed and traversed throughout London, determined to see and do it all. Even a meal at the neighborhood pub became a cultural experience as they had to try the traditional fare of fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and hard cider.

On their last night, Jackie  joined the celebration with a hard cider of her own, apple/strawberry flavored.  The barmaid delighted in telling her that as of 12 years of age, children can drink at pubs when ordering food and accompanied by adults.  We met both requirements, so there was no stopping her from ordering a bottle.  The flavored cider has a sickening cool-aid sweetness that effectively masks the alcohol and reminds me of that 80’s specialty, the wine cooler.  Jackie had to be satisfied with her shot glass portion as meted out by her mean old mom!  (Notice how she protectively clutches her prized bottle in the picture below).


I hope that my girls will one day stop rolling their eyes and instead open them wide to see and explore everything around them.  Taylor and Leah are great role models.  I was encouraged this week.  Katie is in Madrid with a friend on break.  She called to tell me that they were mapping out their week together, eagerly planning excursions filled with sightseeing.  Maybe it is rubbing off…

I end my glorious glimpse of the past with hopeful visions of the future. 






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