Just call me "Brighamo" (5/18/02)
I think it is true for most of us that the little experiences of life are what ultimately make it worthwhile. I had one today that I believe will end up being one of the highlights of this trip. I spent most of this afternoon on what might be best described as a scouting expedition. We want to attend church here tomorrow, and Sheila does not have nearly as much stamina as I do, so I set out to find the chapel, the best and quickest way to get to it, and in addition to learn the meeting times if I could. (Italy, as you can imagine, is not exactly crawling with Mormons, which is why I felt I had to do some advance legwork in order to be able to attend church.)I ultimately concluded that it will take us about an hour to get there tomorrow, but in the meantime this is what happened: While walking down the Via Cavour en route to the Piazza San Marco -- the closest bus stop for Route 20 -- I passed a tourist-information office and decided to ask the people there for assistance. I was waited on by an attractive and personable young woman, probably in her early 20s, whose name, as I later found out, was Sabrina. I launched immediately into my request, whereupon I noticed that her eyes had opened wider and she was slowly breaking into one of the most engaging and captivating smiles I have seen in a long time. It was very much like watching a sunrise. I figured I must have mangled the language in some really entertaining way to elicit this reaction, but after we transacted our business, I learned exactly the opposite; she told me this was the very first time an American had ever spoken to her in her own language, obviously without expecting her to accommodate him in English; moreover, she said, my Italian was "buonissimo." She went on and on about how well I spoke it. A middle-aged woman who was present and overheard the conversation indicated her concurrence, and discoursed at some length -- with emphatic hand gestures and other body language, alla maniera italiana -- about the frustrations she had experienced during her frequent trips to the United States, where she hardly ever found an American who spoke Italian (or any other language, for that matter). It was nice to know that in some small way, I had helped to dispel the image of the overbearing and condescending "ugly American," but in all honesty I must say that Sabrina did far more for me today than I did for her. I was reminded immediately of an experience I had more than 20 years ago at BYU, where I was being waited on at a counter and took notice of a coed who was standing next to me. Soon she became aware that she was being watched, and when she looked up at me I remarked, matter-of-factly, that I thought she was beautiful. She absolutely glowed, and accepted the compliment as graciously as anyone had any right to expect. It meant a lot to me then that she was able to accept the compliment in the spirit in which I intended it, and over the years I have often reflected on the incident, which perhaps suggests that God may love a cheerful receiver as much as a cheerful giver. I have felt much the same today, and I hope life always treats Sabrina kindly. She may rest assured that I, for one, will always remember her. Oh, how I wish you could have seen that smile! [Yes, I do still remember Sabrina three years later, and I hope life has been treating her well.]
Anyway, I found the chapel, after a long bus ride through the labyrinthine streets of Florence. It is in a part of town that does not show up on most maps, and appears to be located in the general direction of Fiesole. There was no sign indicating the meeting schedule, so I rang the bell and was actually surprised a moment later when it was answered by a man who appeared to be about 60, and had a few teeth missing. He could not duplicate Sabrina's performance, but likewise broke into a big smile when I told him my wife and I were active members of the Church and I was there today to find out where the chapel was so we could attend the meetings tomorrow. I was there for perhaps 20 minutes, during which he showed me around and spoke about the travails of being a Latter-day Saint in Italy, as well as how much he had enjoyed attending General Conference in person last year.
I don't know what we are going to do tonight, but I suppose we will find out when we do it. I was going to take Sheila to the Duomo, but now will probably wait until Monday, as the Duomo closes at 5:00 and my "scouting expedition" took up the whole afternoon.
I will be coming back with a lot of pictures. Some of them may be of things most tourists do not really think about. For instance, yesterday I took a picture of an Ape parked on the street. Unknown in the United States but ubiquitous in Italy, this contraption might best be described as a low-horsepower, three-wheeled pickup truck. I want to take a good picture of an "A" bus, too. (In future years, I believe Sheila and I will always break into a good laugh whenever either of us mentions the "A" bus. Today I remarked that there was once a successful TV show called "The 'A' Team," so perhaps we should market the idea of producing one called "The 'A' Bus." In response, Sheila said that driver may have been much more polite to us if we had been accompanied by Mr. T. I said that in that case, I'm sure he would also have learned his area real quick-like.)
At a bookstore today, I found a beautiful edition of the Divine Comedy, which I had to hold away from me in order not to drool on it. It costs 60 euros and weighs about as much as Sheila's suitcase, so I am not going to buy it on this trip, although I may order it in another six months or so. But I WANT THAT BOOK!!!! I even tried to take a picture of it, but alas -- or rather, ahime' -- I had run out of film. I probably will buy a less-expensive, more compact version of the Comedy before we leave Florence, however. That may satisfy my craving for Dante until I can get the big volume.
I probably will not be sending another of my dispatches until Monday morning, but I have sent two today, and all of you may spend the weekend digesting those.