FLORENCE, Italy - Florence is the city that birthed the Renaissance, the city that houses Michelangelo’s David and the prodigious walls of the Duomo – but it is also a city of complete contradictions.
Of course some of the benefits while studying abroad in an Italian city include the opportunity to enjoy the appetizing cuisine and wine.
But amid the tourists relishing their plates of caprese salad and bruschetta and platters of gnocchi with gorgonzola, there are fit Italians in every direction.
It is definitely mind-boggling to see these Italian men and women of every age scarfing down foot-long panini and cones of gelato in the middle of the day – in complete tourist fashion – yet still managing to look like they just stepped out of a Versace advertisement.
The apparent fact that Italians can eat whatever they want and remain in shape is reinforced in class every day.
All of my teachers are women ranging from about 28 to 42 years old.
Each one of them can probably still fit into a pair of jeans from high school. And none of them have failed to mention that they do not belong to a gym, they do not work out and they do eat all the things we probably think they don’t eat to look that good.
My model-esque teachers and many other Italian women that fill the streets of Florence also all happen to be model-esque moms.
Little Italian kids seem to be around every corner in a country with only 1.3 kids per woman, one of the lowest birthrates in the world.
Handsome dads and moms are always driving their mopeds, riding their bikes, buying produce at the local market or gobbling down heaps of gelato, and they always seem to have a baby strapped to their back or be holding a little hand while they do it.
But perhaps the most frustrating contradiction of all is in a city that relies heavily on tourism, its main attractions can be closed without any notice.
This past Friday, my Italian art history class planned a visit to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
When we arrived at the museum doors, which seemed more like a set of bathroom doors compared to the overshadowing structure of the Duomo right across the narrow street, a clearly improvised sign was fastened to the door that simply read, “Il Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo chiuso.”
As someone who knows barely enough Italian to buy a stamp, even I knew we were not going to be able to continue on our class visit.
My teacher asked an employee who was standing outside the museum doors smoking why the museum was abruptly closed.
He simply told her, “We have our needs, as well,” and walked away. I have no idea what he meant other than the possibility that he needed a few puffs from his cigarette, which most Italians do anyway when they are working.
Although Florence is unfairly graced with beautiful art, culture, cuisine and people, there still seems to be a balance because of the many cultural contradictions.