And so I go from day to day collecting these anti-oxidant shots. The good news? There never is a dearth of them, if you keep your eyes open.
I was in Florence for an unplanned catch up trip.
The day was spent chatting and seeing monuments. We walked past the Duomo – a rather splendid piece of architecture but my eyes caught sight of a cycle with a bent wheel doubling up as a dustbin. It made me smile. We saw David at Piazzelle Michelangelo and hesitated about taking his picture considering he seemed to have a real shortage of clothes. And then it was time for goodbyes and I had almost a whole day ahead of me before my flight back to the UK.
I set off to Florence station stopping every now and then at the many shops that lined the pavement. Boots have always been my weakness and so when I saw Italian handmade shoes, there was no way I was going to go past that shop.
I stepped into a small space crammed with shoes and gloves and all kinds of jackets and coats. Every available space had been put to use and everything was tastefully displayed.
A young girl came up to me and took me to the women’s section. I immediately found the pair of boots I wanted. Having done plenty of window shopping in UK I knew they were competitively priced and so didn’t bother haggling for a few euros.
We went back upstairs to the desk and an old man in his late sixties walked up to do the billing. I smiled at him and said “I love these shoes ..they are gorgeous”
He did the kissing his fingers thing that I’ve seen many Mediterranean men do and rattled off in Italian. I looked at the girl and she said, “He say -it’s a beautiful piece and that you have good taste. Beautiful shoes for beautiful lady.”
I laughed at the blatant Gallic charm and said thank you and went to pay the bill. As I finished, he suddenly bustled away telling the girl something. The girl said “He is designer. He want you to wait. He show you something and give you good price.”
I laughingly declined saying I had no intention of buying anything else but I didn’t want to offend the poor man so I waited. He came back with a stylish black trench coat – which would have looked gorgeous on someone half my size. On me? I looked alarming, like a whale.
They both were nodding their approval but I firmly told them no thank you – it’s a beautiful piece but I am too big for this style. The old man looked shocked that I would say something and said “no nobellisima” and I laughed again and said no no not my style. And I thanked them again and made to go.
The old man barked at the girl and bustled off again to the ladies section, this time imperiously asking me to follow. The girl said,“He like you. He want to gift you something at good price. ”
I just didn’t have the heart to say no and so although I protested, I went with him and the girl. He pulled out a huge blue wool coat and skirt and insisted I try them on. I resignedly did.
He spoke in rapid Italian and the girl obligingly translated, “He say the blue brings out the colour of your skin and this is a classic piece.” I still felt like a whale and while I was looking doubtfully at the mirror, the old man held out his hands and drew me in and started dancing around in a circle. I started laughing and when he twirled me, I completed it and did a curtsy, still laughing. And then I explained my whale complex again.
He tsked in that very European way and gestured me to wait and pulled out yet another jacket in pure merino wool. I caught a glimpse of the price tag and my eyes widened. I told him to stop and that there was no way I was going to be able to afford that jacket. But he was a force unto himself. The girl shushed me saying,“he is very famous local designer – he has worked with Roberto Cavalli. He has great taste, you try what he says ..you like. ”
By now I felt the marketing act was beginning to wear thin and I was anyway not going to buy but I still couldn’t resist trying the jacket. Which was a mistake because it fitted beautifully.
I reluctantly took it off and gently told her I couldn’t afford it (They were beautiful but spending nearly a lakh on two jackets and a skirt was simply not me.)
By this time the old man had shuffled off to the counter. I followed him and gestured no, thank you. He saw my eyes lingering on the brown merino coat. And he barked at the girl again. The girl asked me,“He asking you if you like brown coat?”
I said, “Yes I do. But I wasn’t planning on buying anything other than my shoes. I am not bargaining with you, I can see that it’s a beauty but it is out of my budget. Maybe next time.”
She rapidly translated it to the man and he shot back a long response and went back to his desk. I expected to be told off for not appreciating a beautiful piece but I was taken aback when she said in a disbelieving tone, “he wants you to have the coat. What is your budget?”
I replied, “Honestly, I know how much a coat like this is worth. I do not have that kind of budget. And I do not want to offend you by naming a price that is below its value. So let’s keep this for the next trip ok?” And I made to move to the door. I was genuinely beginning to get embarrassed. If I had been bargaining this would have been a game. But I wasn’t.
She translated what I had said and grabbed my hand and said, “He say he not be offended. You take coat, what is your budget?”
I fumbled and came up with a figure that we would pay for a good quality sweater in India. And with the speed of greased lightning the old man said “okay” and I was flabbergasted. I said, “But no! This coat is worth much more. I wasn’t bargaining with you.”
The man spoke again and the girl said, “He say you beautiful, he see your soul in your smile. He gift you. ”
The cynic in me shut up because even for a marketing gimmick, dropping the price to nearly a 10th of its original price couldn’t be anything but a generous gesture from a kind old man who had taken a liking to me.
I smiled at him and said the only thing that I could repay his graciousness with,“I really appreciate the gesture and thank you for it.”
He smiled and nodded and packed my purchases. The girl said in a slightly envious tone, ” He has given you the jacket for lesser than the price he spent to make it.” The man sharply interrupted her. I didn’t know if it was a reprimand.
As my eyes darted to him, he was smiling kindly at me and nodding his head.
The girl said,“This jacket is a prototypo…” (I assumed she meant it was a prototype) and he say he happy that you like it and that he hope it give you many years of good memories.”
I turned to look back at him but he wasn’t there. He had gone to a shelf and was busy doing something else.
I paused and then softly said, “Thank you very much.” He didn’t look up and then just as I was turning away to leave, he looked up and smiled and said “ciao” and went back to his work.
I walked out with a vague sense of poignant emotion mixed with the guilty happiness of having gotten a great jacket. But I felt gentle warmth creeping within me and a burst of laughter gurgled out.
Here was another anti-oxidant shot for my soul. And I walked on with a smile in my heart ready to face the next surprise.