Saturday, April 8, 2017
I have a story for you today…
Yesterday afternoon, Sasha, Vasudha, and I established that we wanted to enjoy dinner out together. The three of us hadn’t hung out in a long time together, and yesterday was a gorgeous, sunny day. Our clocks changed recently, so it’s been light until 7 PM. We hoped to eat at a new fish restaurant that opened not long ago, but I received an email saying they were completely booked. We decided to roam across the river to Santo Spirito to escape the mass crowds of tourists and immerse ourselves in some local flavor.
Santo Spirito was pretty packed too on a Friday night around aperitivo time (6-8 PM). Many young Italian students sat on the steps of Santo Spirito Church, eating pizzas out of Gusta Pizza boxes and drinking cheap wine. Tourists looked at the menus of the many restaurants in the square, trying to find the most ‘authentic’ one. We wanted to dine where Italians dine too and ended up landing ourselves at an outside table at Borgo Antico. We thought we heard the customers speaking Italian, but it turned out to be a mix of languages. Italians sipped on Aperol Spritzes in the same outdoor seating area but at a different establishment. We were a bit bummed that we weren’t surrounded by as many locals as we intended to, but everyone around us seemed to be happy with their meals and cheerful over their dinner conversations.
The tables were communal, so we ended up sitting next to some foreigners (didn’t know what language they spoke). The waiters saw through our English and spoke to us in English, while we continued to practice our basic Italian. We ordered our drinks and hearty plates of pasta and caught up on the happenings in our enriching lives.
After our pasta arrived, an older American woman and young Cambodian girl replaced the other diners next to us. The woman asked us where we were from and what we were studying. She was taken aback when Sasha told her she was from Ukraine. “Your English is so good!” Sasha and Vasudha have both expressed how that comment leaves a sour taste in their mouths; there’s something called international school and being cultured. Nevertheless, they were very sweet and enjoying their vacation in Italy.
Then came along these two middle aged women straight from Italian class. They sat in the middle of the three of us and the two others at our table. We thought they were Italian at first, because they spoke to the waiter in Italian; however, they spoke English to each other. Naturally we asked where they were from and what they were doing in Florence.
I never would’ve thought we would strike up a female empowering dinner conversation the three of us would never forget.
The beautiful, blonde woman (think Blake Lively in 10 years) next to Sasha is a freelance therapist from California. She surprised us when she said she worked in Australia for three months before coming to Florence, and she doesn’t know where she’ll be next.
The woman next to Vasudha (I was at the head of the table) is a businesswoman originally from Dubai. She’s also working in Florence.
The two asked us an abundance of questions, our opinions on politics in Europe and in the U.S., and gave us the advice we needed to hear about life, romance, being women, and education. It was so inspiring.
The woman from California told Sasha and me: I live abroad, because it makes me more awake in life. It also makes life feel longer, because it really is short. I didn’t want to commute on the train every single day, because I knew it would isolate me. It would make my brain numb to my surroundings, and I didn’t want that. Being abroad is a constant challenge with new experiences every day.
She didn’t have a diamond ring or a simple band, so I asked her “Do you ever get lonely?” She said something along the lines of, “Of course I get lonely. I don’t have a spouse or children, but I have an amazing family at home. And more importantly, I am so happy with what I do, and my life is so fulfilling. I’m doing what I want to do, I love my job, I love being on my own and making friends along the way. Friendships are all you need to get through life.”
Talking to her felt so refreshing, and I saw myself in 15 years through her. She’s doing her own thing and completely content. I think women have this pressure to build a family on top of have a successful career and are criticized if they don’t do that. She embraces it, and I respect her so much for that.
The Arab woman was also incredible. She talked to Vasudha about her travels and how she loves Vasudha’s home country (Nepal). Her family is in Dubai, but she was lucky enough to go to a prestigious school in London. Here she is openly talking about men, politics, education, alcohol and swearing here and there. That’s not what you would typically expect! She’s had a very successful career all over the world. She’s even been to Vermont and said how much she admires the beautiful greenery. Her valuable advice to us was to know that we have the power to do things (like pay for the check) but to let others do it for us (AKA men). Overall, their whole feminism spiel focused more on individual self rather than hating on men. We appreciated that.
We talked to these women for nearly a whole hour. As it got darker, we knew it was time for us to continue on with our Friday night. I told the waiter “Il conto, per favore.” He promptly handed it to me, and the Arab woman snatched it out of my hands. We couldn’t believe she did that; we just stared at each other before saying “No, no, no. You are not doing this.” They firmly told us, “Yes we are. You girls are beautiful and brave. You’re mature. You’re intelligent. You’re going to do amazing things in this world, and we need you to. It’s only 53 euros; we got it. People did this for us when we were students, and we know you’ll do it for others when you’re our age. Go. Go enjoy your night, being together, and being young.”
We argued with them before they practically shooed us out. We gave them hugs and thanked them endlessly for their encouragement, advice, and generosity. After they were out of sight, we stopped in the street, trying to process the random act of kindness we just experienced.
We couldn’t help but think it was fate. It was fate we saw Olivia on our way to the restaurant, and she didn’t want to come to dinner, because then there wouldn’t have been space for the two women. It was fate we all ended up at the same restaurant in Firenze. It was fate that we didn’t exchange contact info, because the one encounter we had was the one we’ll remember the most.
For them, they returned a favor people had requested of them twenty years ago. For us, we’ve been requested to return the favor in our bright futures. Cheers to girl power. xo ~ e.