Yeah, but I couldn't wait to get back in the states - Back to the cutest girls in the world.
I wish they all could be California , I wish they all could be California,
I wish they all could be California girls." (The Beach Boys, 1965)
It had been both a wonderful and tiring day in Florence - and the same could be said for our trip to Italy as a whole. By that Friday evening, we had seen and done so much - what more could there possibly be to do or see? Deborah and I were pretty much worn out - if not by all the shopping and walking we had done that day, then definitely by our search for a place to eat that night. We had walked around in circles, looking at all the sidewalk restaurants and cafes - most of them empty (Italians don't eat dinner until after 8-9 pm - it was 6 pm!) and uninviting. Finally, we plopped down at the Caffe Paszkowski in the Piazza della Repubblica. Why? Because it had a fan and shade - and because we couldn't go any further.
Our waitress was a young, dark haired Italian woman. When she came to take our order, she semi-patiently waited as I tried to order in Italian. Together, she and Deborah shared a not so secret "eye-roll" and "sigh". "Do you ever get tired of listening to people try to speak Italian who can't?", Deborah asked. And the waitress sighed, "Yes. I just wish they'd speak English, and save us all the trouble!". Mildly embarrassed, I did as she asked - and we all had a good laugh! (And I was reminded that it's always better to just be who you are!)
As we waited for our dinner, Deborah and I watched the people walking by. "Italian women are just so stylish!", she said. "Look at them. Dresses, heels, scarves. Always looking good. Me - I'm just a "shlump-a-dinka" in my jeans and sneakers." After a week of living out of a suitcase, Deborah was road-weary. "I haven't exercised or run. I've been eating and drinking more than usual. I'm sure I've gained weight.", she lamented. And like a good (and intelligent) husband, I just listened sympathetically.
"Shlumpadinka" (definition): Word created by Oprah Winfrey referring to a woman who dresses as though she has completely given up on herself; unstylish. (Ex. My sister is a shlumpadinka, she wears nothing but sweats.)
Suddenly, Deborah leaned in to me and whispered. "I think that man sitting at the table behind you is listening to us.". I turned slightly, and saw an Italian man in sunglasses - the epitome of sophistication and style - dressed all in white linen, sitting and reading a newspaper, who just smiled - so I smiled back. We sat quietly for a bit, and then Deborah saw a group of people all standing and looking at something in the square. "I wonder what they're all looking at?", she said. Surprisingly, the Italian man behind us spoke up. "They're all looking at a map of the piazza. Many people, locals and tourists meet there to decide where they'll go next." So, he had been eavesdropping on us! "Hello", he said. "My name's Giorgio."
"Hello, I'm Deborah and this is my husband, Jon", my wife replied. We told Giorgio that we were tourists from America (Isn't it funny how tourists feel the need to tell locals that they're tourists - isn't it obvious when they open their mouths?) and just visiting Florence for a couple of days. Giorgio immediately perked up. "America? I've been to America many times", he said and recounted some of his travels to both the East and West coasts. "Where in America are you from?", he asked. "I'm from California", Deborah said. "Ah, California!", Giorgio replied. "I had a girlfriend from Woodland Hills. I used to fly her here to Florence to see me many times."
"You're kidding!", my wife exclaimed. "I'm from Woodland Hills! That's where I grew up and where my parents still live!". What an amazing coincedence! This seemed to spark Giorgio's interest in the two of us even more. "Ah, California women", he wistfully said. "My ex-girlfriend. She said to me once. "Giorgio. You will never be happy with another woman after me. I am Every Woman for you." "I love California women.", he said, shaking his head with a smile.
We continued to talk and chat throughout the evening. Giorgio's family owned several leather goods stores, including one down in the Ponte Vecchio, the famous shopping district in Florence, and he was on the Board of Directors. His family had been selling leather coats and purses for over a century and was quite famous. They sold merchandise to stores like Nordstrom's and Saks Fifth Avenue in the U.S. and had dressed celebrities like Hilary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea, tennis star Venus Williams, and others. Deborah asked him if he worked a lot, and he smiled and said "These days - not so much anymore. Just as much as I need to." We were "hob-nobbing" with a real, live, rich Florentine businessman! The "Old World" meeting the "New"!
Here's a link to Giorgio's store's website. Click below.
Ponte Vecchio Florence
We were enjoying the visit, and my wife (God love her!) is never afraid to say anything to anybody. When she asked if Giorgio was seeing anyone special now, he bragged about having a girlfriend in Brazil. "What's with all these long-distance relationships?", Deborah chided him. "Ah, women. They want so much", Giorgio said. "Don't give me that!", my wife replied. "You seem to have a problem with committment!". We all laughed - and Giorgio hemmed and hawed his way to another topic. "We should get together tomorrow. I'll show you my shop.", he invited. But we told him we weren't sure we would be free the next night, and that we were leaving the next day. "Well, I'll take you there now.", he said. How about that for an unexpected adventure! So we paid our bill and took off walking with him. Unbeknownst to me, Deborah would later tell me that Giorgio had actually motioned to the waitress to let him pay for our dinner - but she had forgotten and given me the check. What a surprise that would have been!
So, we trailed Giorgio through the city. As we walked, he pointed to landmarks and told us about the local history. This was better than any "guided tour" with headsets. Finally, we reached his shop. Giorgio strolled in as if he were the King of the place - we scurried behind like two little street urchins. "These are my American friends", he announced to the sales clerks. "We're here to drink some champagne". And so he took us to the back of the store and popped open a bottle of bubbly and poured glasses for all of us. Of course, we acted like this happened to us "all the time" (not!). We giggled and drank - and tried to not do anything silly.
Then Giorgio stood up and said to Deborah, "I want to dress you like an Italian woman! Let me show you some of our coats.". This flustered Deborah a little, but it seemed harmless and fun, so she went along with him. Giorgio began to pull coats down off the wall and putting them on her. He called for his sales clerk,Vittorio, to help. Vittorio strode over and told Giorgio to let him handle it. "You know nothing!", he said to Giorgio. "All you do is come in here and drink!", and they both laughed. And I smiled and sat there and watched these two Italian fashion experts flit around my beautiful wife, putting coats and scarves on her, and even bringing out some sexy Italian pumps to wear. They fussed over her and spun her around, admiring how she looked. "Bellisimo!", they said. When Vittorio found out that Deborah was Italian, he asked where her family was from. When she said Naples, he exclaimed, "Ah, the people from Naples! So full of life and laughter and fun!", and ran and put some Neapolitan music on in the shop!
It was all a very "Cinderella-esque" experience. While I watched, I snuck a few pictures of it all.
Deborah and Giorgio
Vittorio helps Deborah out
Giorgio and the "bella donna"
But, like Cinderella, at some point "the carriage turns into a pumpkin" again, and the magical evening ends. Giorgio sidled over to me and whispered, "I have a deal for you. This coat that Deborah is wearing - I will give it to you!". The coat had a price tag of over $2500! An unbelievable offer - but not one that we felt comfortable accepting. We hardly knew Giorgio and didn't know why we would be deserving of such generosity. So I said "Grazie, but no." Deborah immediately took off the coat and thanked Giorgio for the offer, but firmly said "No" as well. Giorgio smiled and didn't seem bothered at all. He let us finish our champagne, and then smiled and waved goodbye as we did our best to gracefully leave his shop.
We laughed and laughed, and chattered all the way back to our hotel about what had just happened. "Can you believe that???", we said. "What an experience!. Who knows what might happen when you least expect it! People will not believe it when we tell them about this!"
This was a memory that we would never forget - two "shlumpadinkas" from southern Oregon courted, even for just a little while, by a rich Florentine businessman. Not in our wildest dreams!
But the story wasn't over yet! You'll have to come back for my next entry to hear the remarkable ending to this story. Ciao!
Sweetie on the Ponte Vecchio