Meredith Popolo: Florence

First impressions of Florence leave Popolo clinging to her pocket dictionary.

It sounded easy enough, I thought, as I dug my toes into the silky sand. The surf instructor smoothly demonstrated how to mount the surfboard. “Just let it happen,” he said. “When you get out there, you’ll know what to do.” I dove into the warm Hawaiian water and saw a perfect wave approaching. It wasn't until I was swimming after my surfboard that I realized I had no idea what I was doing. When I got to Florence, I felt the same way.

It first hit me that I wasn't in Kansas anymore when I was suddenly surrounded by a beautiful babble that made absolutely no sense. Even with three semesters of Italian under my hand-made leather belt, the few words I actually understood came from the menu of my favorite Italian restaurant back home. Pizza, panini, gelato. And although familiar, they sounded much more exotic, and appetizing, when spoken by the slippery Italian tongue.

Practicing the sentence over and over in my head, I mustered up all my courage and opened my mouth. And then I closed it. I cleared my throat, to disguise my pathetic hesitation. “Un'acqua, per favore,” I finally squeaked. The woman behind the counter smirked and then replied faster than any of the tapes I had heard in my Italian classes. I handed over my crisp and colorful five-euro note, not sure how much she had asked for. She passed back some change, which slipped through my clammy hands. Head spinning, I had survived my first encounter.

Did I seriously think that I could ride the rough waters of Italy, having only learned to surf on the shore? Trying to stay afloat, I cling to my pocket dictionary like a lifesaver. The only way to learn, I realize now, is to jump right in and just try not to make a big American splash.

Eventually, I stood up on my surfboard and rode a tiny wave until the water met the sand. I got the worst sunburn of my life that day. The back of my legs were so hot that I couldn't sit down for days. But I survived, and looking back, it was one of my most memorable experiences. Not to mention, my sunburn turned into a deep olive tan.

Meredith is a junior magazine journalism major.

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