Italy has been as frustrating as it is thrilling and wonderful. I love this beautiful country almost as much as I love France. In France, I feel that the general culture is tasteful, appropriate, with unspoken rules that I see as a puzzle one must assemble in order to live as a French person would. In Italy, I don’t feel that there are any rules, only keys and codes that are not evident on the surface of the culture, but reveal themselves as you dig further into the culture and that can help you function with savvy and charm.

I will say the obvious first – to any pretty girl that is feeling a bit down by the timidity of Canadian men, COME TO ITALY. In Florence especially, there was no possible way to fall asleep at night without feeling like the most beautiful woman on the planet. I don’t believe even for a minute that I am the only girl made to feel this way, but it is quite the self-esteem boost to be seduced right from the moment you step out of your door in the morning. As long as you have the self-control to say no to beautiful Italian men, the seduction can be quite enjoyable.

What made this particular Florence trip amusing was the presence of my mom. As we were together all the time, we discovered something peculiar about Italian culture… A mother is more important than any man. After the initial ‘Bella, bella, you are so beautiful,’ (addressed to me), Italian men would address my mom, saying, ‘Are you the mother?’ If my mom would say yes, they would say, ‘Your daughter is very beautiful, just like you.’ They would then proceed to engage my mom in a lengthy and wordy conversation about life, travel, and mostly just request her permission to take me out that night. Without even consulting me! Although my mom wasn’t easily swayed by their charm, you had to admit that they have their strategy down-pat. The problem was that every single Italian man in Florence had the same strategy, down to the WORD. After 2 days of this, my mom started seriously considering claiming that she didn’t know me, although that would have meant I would have been left alone to deal with these men.

One of the most interesting social codes we discovered in Florence is the real meaning of the ‘soul patch’. For those who don’t know, that is the little patch of facial hair left right under the bottom lip. In Winnipeg, I don’t remember being aware that this had any specific meaning or code. However, in Italy, this signifies a ‘Lover’, or perhaps a man who will tend to search out many beautiful women to seduce. Or, if you will, someone willing to spend time seducing a girls’ mother in order to get the girl. This should be published in Lonely Planet, but instead it has been brought to you by yours truly. 😉 There was one specific case where ‘Italian man X’ suspected he would see us again and knew that ‘the mom’ knew the meaning of the soul patch, so he SHAVED IT OFF. Now if that isn’t a sacrifice made for love, I don’t know what is.

Florence has horrible pizza. We were told when we arrived that we weren’t allowed to eat pizza in Florence, but we thought, ‘How bad can it be?’ The answer is, VERY BAD. There was one instance of the pizza being actually inedible. However, on the last day we finally tried some local specialties: Starter of salami, ham, bruschette alla pomodoro (tomatoes), Main course of Florentine steak (ABSOLUTELY to die for), and Dessert of Biscotti with Sweet Wine for dipping. We didn’t go anywhere special for this meal, just to some tourist cafe, but we were raving to the server after the meal that it was the best food we had had in Florence.

We didn’t like the Uffizi Gallery. It is supposedly the Louvre of Italy, and the most important museum in the country, but apart from a few Giotto and Carvaggio pieces, I was highly disappointed. I think I realized that there are not many masterpieces in the world, and high percentage of masterpieces in the Louvre has completely spoiled me for any other large museum. On the other hand, we just saw the Museo Villa Borghese today (in Rome), which is listed in Lonely Planet as the best museum in Italy. I loved it – even though there weren’t very many “masterpieces”, the museum is smaller and less packed, and the layout is charming and easy to follow. There were enough beautiful paintings and sculpture (especially Carvaggio and Bernini) to hold my attention and make me happy. I definitely recommend the Villa Borghese.

One night in Florence, we partied. We found two charming American ladies, an English couple, and invited a few local folk that we had met that evening. It was a hoot! We parked ourselves on the steps of the Duomo with a bottle of red wine and scared everyone else away. At one point, we ran out of wine so I went with ‘Italiano A’ to try to buy wine illegally from a nearby bar. After the person he knew in the first bar we tried wasn’t working, we tried a random bar that charged us 15E for a bottle of vino bianco and demanded I hide it under my dress. It was definitely worth the sketchiness. The party ended at 2am.

When we were on the train to Italy from Nice, I spent several intense hours with my iPod ‘ISpeakItalian’ beginner’s course trying to memorize some words and phrases to get by in Italy. I did not initially think that this cramming would stick, but I am surprised to say that there have been several simple restaurant interactions made entirely in Italian. We have also run into a few people in hotels and restaurants (including a very sweet uomo vecchio in a gelati shop) who I was able to communicate with and understand even though they didn’t know any English. It is a very basic knowledge, but I know enough to want to continue to learn the language. I want Italian to be my next project. And I want it to happen in Florence, where all the love is.