Most people come to Florence and head to the Duomo. I arrive and make a beeline to IKEA for Scandinavian bits and bobs. To its credit, IKEA boldly predates our current Hygee-mania. In front of the once grand Stazione Leopolda, I watched the tramvia shoot by. My jet lag made it purely hypnotic. The tram was still new enough that some Italians seemed out of sorts boarding the futuristic vessel to the burbs. The walk lights for pedestrians to cross the tracks were obviously a mere suggestion to the Italians passing in waves in and out of the old city gate at Porto al Prato. I watched the game of chicken with some amusement and waited, in an undulating sea of humans, for the 29 bus. 29 rolled up, but it had the dreaded BC next to the numbers. The translation, based on my experience, is that the route will most likely be arbitrary and take me to the ends of the earth. Oh, what the hell. Why not just give it a whirl? I slipped into the exit door in the middle of the bus, and that’s when I met Ida.
It wasn’t lost to me that in Italian E-da is pronounced like E-KEA. So what of this guardian angel on the 29 bus?
Ida sat with perfect posture on a fold down seat in the standing space in the center of the bus. She seemed out of place perched on the threadbare blue stool-like seat. She donned a simple string of pearls which played in the same autumn light as her neat silver bun. While everyone else on the bus was studying a phone, she alone seemed to size me up. Satisfied, she slid over with a motion to join her. I smiled at her and thanked her, before wincing at my own accent. I had only been in Italy for a day, but it was abundantly clear to me that 6 weeks on Long Island had done some damage. I expected that was the end of our conversation, but Ida turned to me with a slightly distressed expression and a deep sigh. “Is everything okay?”, I asked her earnestly. “ Oh, yes, but it is a shame that we are facing the back of the bus,” she explained. “Between this and the strange heat in October, it seems like a sure-fire recipe for nausea.” I tried to reassure her but, in the end, I simply agreed that were most likely doomed.
Ida was the perfect conversation partner as my brain switched from English to Italian. She just went on and on about the weather, random, perfectly Italian complains, and offered a personal narration of the frequent stops along the bus route. At one point, she started to make her way to the door and sat back down with an obvious show of embarrassment. “This used to be my stop”, she told me with a twinge of sadness. “But now I live in a new place.” I could tell she didn’t want to talk about the new place, so I just smiled at her and said simply “I am happy to have your company for a little longer.” With the twinkle back in her eyes she explained,” you know, my friends call my Ida the chiacchierone. “Absolutely not!”, I retorted. “You are lovely. And besides, it is my favorite Italian word because it sounds so perfectly like little bells.” Even if it was true that she talked too much, I’m sure glad of it.
Ida’s new stop was fast approaching and she seemed at a loss for words of wisdom to leave me with about IKEA. “In bocca al lupo?”, I suggested with a snide grin. She roared with a laughter that caused the pearls on her neck to dance. “Yes, good luck, break a leg”. “Crepi!” I yelled to her as she approached the door. As the bus hopped to a stop, she glanced around at my new seatmates and made a hand gesture at me by using her pointer finger to drag down her eye lid. She was reminding me to be alert for danger and not to get robbed. Rather than wave, I nodded firmly to let her know I was on it, hugged my bag, and winked warmly.
I saw Ida get off the bus and turn left, and then I saw her turn back to go right. I watched intently with some concern as we sat at the light, but something obviously had clicked. She now walked with determination. She knew where she was going. I let out a sigh of relief and looked at the empty seat with a surprising wave of nostalgia. As bus 29 lurched toward the edge of the city, my stomach reminded me that it was still in my mouth. I couldn’t think of a better welcome back to Florence, and it had nothing to do with the promise of cheap terry cloth towels.