Monday, September 30, 2013

Fountainheads: This One’s For You

Before I headed to the charismatic city of Florence (I still can’t believe Jersey Shore filmed there) for a few days last week, someone advised me not to feel bad if I ended up not seeing everything. 

I don’t.

I found a way to deeply experience the city, its residents, and the local culture, which I couldn’t have done if I speed-walked through the streets in a blistered-feet frenzy, to line up for yet another Renaissance art–packed chamber. I guess reading the Florence pages of an Italy guidebook was less stressful than cramming for a Series 7 exam. But keeping track of which museums are and aren’t open on Mondays, which ones are closed every second or fourth Monday of the month, noting the three different locations of Michelangelo’s David (with the warning that only one of the three happens to be legit) - who deserves this? An alternative strategy is to wander aimlessly until you stumble into someplace that looks more compelling than not. If it’s closed, forget about it and keep moving, directly into the nearest gelato emporium.

Florence is another Italian metropolis that features a special fountain, with the idea that if you surrender a coin, you’re guaranteed a return trip to the city one day (that’s what the guidebook says; according to Wikipedia, you need to rub the snout of the fountain’s wild boar sculpture to ensure a comeback – again, all too complicated). Instead of sitting at the bottom of fountains, my spare coins went into the palms and paper cups of elderly panhandlers in kerchiefs, who made beelines for me. My late grandmother occasionally wore a kerchief, and turning my back on these ladies would have carried the whiff of alienating her.

Italy is currently like me six or seven years ago – not on its best financial footing. Yet the word “deficit” could vanish from the budget coordinators’ heads and tongues if they’d start spreading the word that throwing a one-euro coin into a certain fountain will get the thrower the job of her dreams, or keep away the parking tickets, or reduce the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses that knock on her door, or make her spill red wine on her light-colored clothing less frequently. And that a two-euro coin toss will stave off the computer viruses, criminal convictions, and STDs, and may ultimately contribute to bringing down the price of a quart of milk. Although I’m slightly swamped these days, I wouldn’t decline an invitation to serve on any fountain-related steering committees, especially those holding their sessions within Florence city limits because I didn’t get a chance to climb to the top of the Duomo during my first visit there. 


  1. There's only so much museums one can do... I love just wandering through cities and strange places and in doing so, I've often found little gems tucked away in corners and crevices - places I wouldn't ordinarily find. Its the best way to get a feel of the place and its people. Glad you're having a great time :)

  2. Don't know if I ever told you but: your writing? Soothing. Yuuuuup. Have an absolutely beautiful stay abroad!

  3. Oh, Roving Retorter, how I wish I were in Florence with you, tossing coins in fountains. I am told that in Florence there are beauty and music everywhere. But I am at an age to have a very practical question: Are there many public toilets and is there easy access to them?

    1. In Florence, I only visited the bathrooms in budget hotel rooms, restaurants, and the museums I paid good money to enter - there was fairly easy access in those places. But Italians are such nice people that I feel if you went up to one in a store or on the street, claiming an emergency, they would go out of their way to help you find a random toilet.

  4. Sounds like heaven. I agree with Azra. I would rather go off the beaten path to experience a new city. Oh, and I would have my pepper spray. :-)