On Florentine Life, Renaissance Schools, and How I Became the Worst Student Ever… …and thrived.
For many people, the idea of selling all your things and giving up your home, packing a single suitcase, travelling solo across Italy, and enrolling in an Italian school in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, is something of a dream.
For me, too, it was a dream – another dream come to life.
Florence turned out to be everything I dreamed of – A City of Art – My Italian Home – another place that beat in sync with the rhythm of my romantic heart.
Living within those medieval walls was an Aesthetic Education all of its own. I remember with relish days spent cycling through the busy streets, which flow easy as silk through the city centre, all leading to the glorious and magnificent Duomo, a monument to Art, where I would demount, tie my old bicycle to the railings, and head to that little Florentine school of mine…
Originally I took a week of intensive lessons at private language school Europass – a charming little place situated in an old Renaissance palace at the heart of the city’s historic centre… I loved escaping the Florentine heat and the throngs of tourists outside and heading into the cool, pillared entrance hall – walking up the grand staircase – running my hands across the marble railings, saluting the receptionist (Eva, who became a dear friend) and heading to my classrooms, with my books, ready to study – to expand my mind, to finally speak that mother of all languages – Italian…
But I soon realised I was a terrible student. Terrible! I honestly spent more time staring up at the muralled ceilings of the beautiful building than I did listening to Maurizio, my teacher, speaking a lot of lovely-sounding but slightly-boring Italian somewhere in my periphery… those ceilings… such a distraction! So I eventually made a new arrangement with the school to have less-frequent one-on-one lessons with a new teacher named Jennifer – on a slightly more informal basis. Phew…
Thankfully the school was very laid-back, and I’d been working for the director. This new arrangement suited me a lot more.
So Jenny and I would meet up for a few hours a couple of times a week – normally at the school, sometimes at the library, sometimes in a nearby coffee shop, where she patiently attempted to take me through the ‘A1’ level textbook (A1 being the lowest language level).
However, it quickly became obvious that these meetings would be not only a learning-curve for me, but for Jenny too! It turns out I’m practically unteachable! It’s almost impossible for my mind to grasp ‘theory’ it seems – I’ve always been a practical person, and a practical learner (hence why I travel to lean about life rather than read endless boring books).
But Jenny and I became quite good friends and our lessons quickly became more of just a weekly chat than actual lessons – most of the hour was taken up with me explaining, in Italian, all about the adventures of my week past – like getting a solo in a Gospel choir, discovering some new uncharted corner of the city, some new friend, singing in the rain, that time I got that gig in the jazz bar, or some terrible mishap like when I got into an argument with a middle-aged Italian after running him over (the brakes didn’t work on my rusty old bike – what did he expect? they were ‘fixed’ by an Italian mechanic!)
And, throughout my life in Florence I learnt one very special thing – if you don’t know it, fluke it!
I learnt very quickly that hand gestures are key to speaking Italian – I spent a lot of time observing and mimicking people in shops, on the streets; and faking a good Italian accent got me a long way. I learnt numerous key phrases really well – how to order a coffee in tourist bars and not get charged the tourist price – honestly, being assertive and putting on what at first feels like an over-the-top accent really gets you through Italian Life, especially in the more touristic cities like Florence, Rome and Venice.
So, no, I wasn’t the best student – but I pulled it off as good as the rest of them…
But still you can imagine my surprise when the lovely people of Europass chose me to be the feature student in a little film about studying at their school!
So, whilst I may not have the theory, when it comes to faking it? – I’m your man.
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