Morning in Firenze. The cobblestone streets are wet from a light rain. The sun is not yet up.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore stands in the distance, red tile roof obscured by a mist which hangs over town like a damp washrag.
I leave my inn, looking for coffee and breakfast. I’ve been in Italy for weeks now—and I never thought I’d say this—but I’m sick of bread.
I pass a homeless man on the corner. He is sleeping at the foot of a basilica, on the cobblestones. A dog is curled up beside him. They are both wet. Both shivering.
Next, I see two nuns approach the man. Their habits are dark and nontraditional. The nuns look youngish. Maybe mid-forties.
One nun stoops to speak to the man. And I cannot help but watch them. I’m thinking to myself, “Now here is something you don’t see every day.” A nun and a beggar. It’s like the flannel boards from Sunday school class, only in real-time.
Maybe the nun is asking whether the man is all right. Maybe she is offering to help him, or buy him a sandwich. Or whatever.
She stays with him for a while, as crowds of students meander past them.
There are students everywhere here in Florence. You can tell they are students because they are always surrounded by a giant cloud of vape fog. Almost all young people vape in Italy. It must be an unwritten law. If you are young; you vape.
The air is cough-syrup scented miasma. It’s almost enough to make you miss the days when people smoked cigarettes. Almost.
But these children are young and happy, and full of wonderful plans for their lives. Just seeing them makes me feel a little excited somehow. Also, all these Italian students have more fashion sense in their pinky toes than an entire Kardashian family reunion.
Speaking of fashion. Recently, a well-known American university had to issue a mandate that students no longer wear pajamas to class. Kids were showing up in slippers, with messy hair, wearing flannel pants.
Here in Italy, they wouldn’t wear flannel pants to check the mail.
I watch the students pass. They all carry portfolio bags and document tubes. Maybe these kids want to be architects when they graduate. Maybe they want to pursue a career in art. Or—and we can’t rule this out—maybe they don’t know what the heck they want to be when they grow up.
Just like this former American student.
I never knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wasted years spinning my wheels, making idiotic choices, working dead-end jobs.
The funny thing is, I still don’t know who I am. I still don’t know what I’m doing. So when I see their young confidence, I feel a little jealous. Because I never had that. And I still don’t.
Finally, I arrive at Café Gilli, which has been in business since 1733, located at the corner of the Piazza Repubblica.
I order a cappuccino at the marble counter and watch Florentines stop in on their morning commutes.
This is an extremely happy place to be this morning. Everyone is talking loud and is socially animated, flinging hands around, and laughing with each other. They are all trim and fashionably dressed. Even the elderly people look like they just crawled out of a perfume ad.
Meantime, I sip my coffee and glance at my own clothes. I look like a pig farmer in town for a conference on animal husbandry.
After breakfast, I am walking around again. On my way back to the inn.
And I’m thinking. I’m thinking that this is a city often hailed to be the most charming city in the world. The birthplace of the Renaissance. The hometown of Michelangelo. The one-time unofficial capital of the globe. And I’m here, a big, dumb American, still wondering what’s it all about, Alfie?
On my way across the street, I pass the homeless man again. He is now eating a sandwich and drinking a hot cup of espresso. The dog has a full bowl of food, too. I see his smile. I see the dog wolfing the food. Somehow, I just know where their food came from.
And I think I just figured out what I want to do when I grow up.