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  • Italian Lessons
  • Sue Allison (bio)

1. Street Life

Had it not been such a warm afternoon perhaps so many of the tables beneath the green-and-white-striped awning of the Cafe Piccolo would not have been occupied. As it was, when the young woman stopped alongside the cafe she had at her command a sizable audience.

Her hair, long and blond, was held loosely off her neck. Escaped tendrils stuck wetly to her skin. She handed her cigarette to her dark-haired boyfriend and began to unbutton her long-sleeved white cotton shirt, under which she was wearing a white chemise, which would be cooler. Her jeans, though tight, were probably cool enough, being white. They shone in the sun as if made of silk, or satin.

She bent swiftly at the waist—it was a long drop; her high heels made sure of it—to stuff the shirt into a shopping bag from which she pulled, as she stood, a long pink boa trailing white tissue paper.

The girl unfurled the feathers, draped the unseasonable scarf deliciously around her neck, and struck a pose at her boyfriend, who smiled, finally.

She kept the moment masterfully brief. Even while the image of a sultry nightclub remained, she unwound the boa, doubled over once again, stood, again, plucked the glowing cigarette from between the fingers of her dark-haired boyfriend and swayed away—cool now, and smoking.

I do not speak for the others in the café—though I do not think I was alone, I did not feel so—but I for one, when I looked down at the table at which only the briefest moment ago I had been so complete and happy, at which I envisioned spending an afternoon's eternity of utter content, all I could see was an empty coffee cup and a newspaper in a language I couldn't read. I dropped my coins on the table. [End Page 120]

2. David

A man in dark glasses watches the piazza. He turns his head left, then right, back and forth, left again, right again, and so on. He is sitting in the last row of the outside tables so he can see without being seen, but I am sitting even farther back. I am inside. Before him on the stiff white tablecloth is a black cellular phone, a silver cigarette lighter, and a small white espresso cup he never brings to his lips. He is wearing a navy blazer and a shirt the color of the Mediterranean Sea. His hair, evenly gray and brown, is trimmed close, as if freshly mowed. He does not wear a tie. Nothing in the piazza escapes him. But nothing in particular interests him, nothing holds his glance, so that I tire of him. Then his head stops. He's found something. I follow the direction of his gaze, and I see the girl on a bench holding a map, her knapsack beside her, the American man in khakis staring at her while four Italian boys—whom the girl is studying from behind her map—stare at the woman by the man's side. Her back to her husband, she aims her camera at the naked boy who, as he has these many years, faces the café, seeing nothing.

3. The Duomo

To the right and straight up the narrow cobbled street is the Duomo. I could see it if I left my small plastic chair outside the Bar Tabacchi Daria in the Piazza San Pier Maggiore, where I drink my morning cappuccino in the Italian style—slowly, making it last—and watch the small neighborhood around the unfamous square conduct its affairs. But I do not move.

I glimpsed it, as one does often in Florence, on my way to this small café near my hotel and thought: "It looks different than it did the day—when was it?—we had only an afternoon in the city and we saw the whole of it in a sudden, exhilarating rush." The Boboli Gardens in the rain. The famous David (not a copy, but the real thing) we ran to see before the doors of the Academy closed for the...


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pp. 120-124
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