First Week In Italy

Cooper Copeland is a student at the University of Southern California and an official API Student Blogger. Cooper is studying abroad with API this summer in Florence, Italy.

(Long, slow exhale). Well. We’ve been in Italy for nine days now. Nine long, full, rich days of attempting, however laughably, to speak Italian; meandering around the ancient streets with headsets to get us acquainted with the history, as well as the confusing layout, of the majestic cities of Rome and Florence; and, of course, gorging ourselves with embarrassing amounts of pizza, pasta, gelato, and everything in between that could possibly be edible (but let’s be real, it’s mostly gelato). We’ve had excursions, we’ve had orientations, and we’ve had multiple near head-on collisions with the dizzying amount of motorized vehicles found in Italy. And now, at long last, we can call ourselves citizens of Florence—I mean Firenze. That’s right. I know Italian now. With an outrageously gorgeous view of the iconic Ponte Vecchio from my adorable apartment’s window, I wake up every morning with an espresso and pastry, the breakfast of champions for most Florentines, amazed by the place I now call home.

Writing this now, I feel like this is the first opportunity since I’ve arrived in Italy that I’ve finally gotten a chance to stop and reflect on just how much culture I’ve seen, smelled, heard, tasted, and experienced. Was I really in Rome last week? Did I actually casually lean on one of the Coliseum’s walls as I listened to the buzzing voice of the tour guide in my ear? I’ve seen Gladiator (2000) so many times that when I finally laid eyes on the eerie monument in its decrepit state that it was almost like seeing an old pal of mine, only this time he was finally inviting me over to his house for dinner. And when you walk through that front door and finally see his true colors—the immensity, the intricacy, and the menace of the structure, even as it crumbles—you realize that maybe there’s a lot about your friend that you didn’t know. And also that you probably don’t wanna be staying for dessert. As a film major, I ‘spose it’s easy to equate things I see on screen to those in reality with a heavy dose of fantasy, but apart from the cheesy Ridley Scott comparison, the Coliseum truly did smack me across the face saying, “Hey, Coop! Wake up! You’re not in LA anymore. We have things that are indeed older and far more fascinating than Joan Rivers.”

But I think even more than the monuments, and the food, and the beautiful language, the aspect of Italian culture that strikes me most is the sense of unity, of a general collective, both in the family unit and in the community at large. Unlike Americans who need things done now, at this instant, otherwise we will implode, the Italians take pride in time spent with each other, as well as giving oneself time to appreciate the day and one’s surroundings. Sundays and the daily riposo, or rest, are dedicated to the act of breathing and soaking in life, while in America, more unicorns exist than scheduled siestas. Even the most flavorful food of Italy is described as “slow food,” because the process is not rushed, but rather prolonged as to extract the deepest and richest flavors.

As a rising senior with graduation ominously creeping over the horizon like a big, giant sword-wielding Russell Crowe galloping towards you as he prepares to send you to your doom, the notion of taking time to be with the ones you love, doing the things you love, and, moreover, appreciating the ones and things you love, is the most important idea I have taken away thus far. I believe most people will agree with me that this time in our lives seems to be a little too fleeting and that all we can do is watch as time slips through our fingers. But I think not. If anything, watching the seasoned owners of the local bakery at the Mercato Centrale, or the joyous young pizza makers at La Piazza Santo Spirito, should teach us that enjoyment of life exists everywhere by everyone. We, yes we, us soulless Americans, can attain this too. All we have to do is stop, breathe, and be. I want my life to be “slow food”: flavorful, juicy, and rich with experience. Whoa, I’ve only been here nine days, and I’m already talking like Julia Child. Oof. Okay, enough. Now I am going to spout out some half legible Italian that I have learned in my first two days of class. Vorrei uno coni piccolo con caramelle al sale e caffe? That’s me asking if I can have a small cone of salted caramel and coffee gelato from the best gelato place in town. How do you like them apples?

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