Until my guidebook brought it up, I never much thought about why Florence is the English name for the cradle of the Renaissance--Firenze.
Founded as a settlement for soldiers, Florence was named Fluentia, as the site was built at the junction of the Arno and Mugnone rivers. The name morphed into various forms, from Florentia in the Florentine dialect and eventually Firenze in modern Italian, and Florence in the English language.
A clumsy explanation, and who really knew how much of that was true? I was in no position to argue, so I accepted it.
When I exited at Fluentia/Firenze/Florence's Rifredi train station and walked out onto an empty road with little sign of life, I realized that the guidebook failed to tell me I wanted the Santa Maria Novella station instead.
It was chilly, dark, and desolate at 5:54 in the morning as I hurried back to the platform to watch my train pull away.
Although not a crisis of epic proportions--I simply had to catch the next train and ride one more stop--I did have to wait a half-hour on that lonely platform, not exactly a situation where buon divertimento comes to mind.
I finally hit Florence proper at 7:45 a.m. The sidewalks were crowded. I was tired and dehydrated. The sun was already feeling strong on my face. The woman at the information booth in the station had recommended Hotel Z, both for its prime location and the fact that it was newly refurbished.
"Sure," I told her. The price was within my budget, and I didn't want to spend the next several hours trying to find a room.
I hadn't traveled more than a block when I noticed him: wavy hair and deep brown eyes and his nose--prominent yet suited to his face--a Medici nose redesigned by a more thoughtful talent. His stride was confident and unhurried. If he had anything to attend to, it would be on his terms. I guessed he was twenty, probably a student since he wore jeans and carried a stylish book bag.
He stared at me. I glanced down, paranoid he looked at me only because of my disheveled, zombie-like appearance. After we passed each other, I looked back.
He did the same.
His crisp white shirt and jeans hugged his body. When he shifted his bag to the other shoulder, his shirt briefly rose up to reveal a taut stomach. He approached me with that confident stride.
"I am taking a caffe," he said, tilting his head to the left, "if you care to join me." He paused. "Or, I could make something at my apartment."
His directness shocked me as much as it aroused me.
He glanced down to where my shirt revealed a glimpse of chest. If he was really suggesting what I thought, I couldn't do it. I was a mess: unshowered, unshaven, exhausted. Did he really want me--in all my touristy slovenliness--to go back to his place with him? I needed to check into the hotel, clean up, take a nap, and drink lots of water. If I were to get together with this man, I wanted to feel fresh and have the encounter be more relaxed than a ten-minute rush.
"I can't now. Could you meet me later?" I lifted my suitcase. "I just got in."
He contemplated this, or so I thought. When he didn't respond, I wondered if he understood what I meant.
"Later tonight," I said, "we could meet."
He scratched the back of his neck. I stared at his bicep pressing against his shirt sleeve. He checked his watch.
"Uh...it is difficult," he said. "I am not so..."
I tried to make it as simple as I could. "Il Duomo," I said, pointing to the landmark in the distance, "seven o'clock?"
He chewed his lip. He nodded. He looked me up and down one more time before turning and crossing the street.
I started on my way again, perplexed yet excited at the prospect of a romantic encounter with a gorgeous Italian stranger. Then it occurred to me: I'd said seven o'clock instead of the standard European nineteen-hundred hours! Would he have understood what I meant? I imagine it was a common mistake. I was sure he would make the connection, but my paranoid brain kept telling me otherwise.