… or maybe naive’s a better word.
Hi Friends! Happy to have you here as always. 🙂
Last week, I promised another post on my experience in Italy. And another post on Italy you shall have, for here is my Italian tale of woe.
Despite my personableness (Hey, Dr. Seuss made up his own words. And Shakespeare. So…), I don’t consider myself to be someone who connects easily with other people. Which is why, in the few instances I do, I really throw everything into that connection. I’m passionate and honest and… fascinated by that other person. Great for an aspiring writer/journalist! Not so much for a tourist in Italy.
I’m going to pause here to caution you, dear reader(s). My story doesn’t portray Italians in the most agreeable way; it supports stereotypes. I’d like to enforce the point not all locals I met were at all like this (just read my post here: Everyone Has a Story-Even the Local, Friendly Shopkeeper). I don’t want to disrespect anyone or generalize a group of people. This is not my intention. But I’d really like to share this experience, as it was one of the most influential experiences I had while overseas. So with that, I’ll plow forward.
As previously mentioned, near the end of my time in Italy, I finally gathered the courage to scour the streets near and not-so-near my place of residence during my spare time. I took walks and explored, spent time thinking and journaling. On one of these solitary walks, I found this beauty:
I know, maybe not much to look at in a place where there’s so much to observe and admire. But for those few, brave days, this beloved place was where I spent my reflective, introvert time.
The first few times I went, I was truly alone. Truly away from people (essentially just around the corner of a building, but, you know…). But one day, there was a man. A man on this stairway. He was what looked to be washing his face. Initially, I was a little caught off guard, just because in the days prior, no one else had occupied the stairway, but technically it was an area open to the public. I figured he could do his thing and I would do mine without incident. I immediately began the day’s journal entry, and all was well. Until.
Just as I was finishing my writing, the man began shouting. I couldn’t understand what. At first, I thought he was on the phone, having an animated conversation with someone unseen. But when I glanced over his way, he was looking right at me. Shouting at me. Or, I guess now in context, talking to me. He started asking me questions. Introductory things like my name, reason for being in Italy, occupation, etc. In Italy that wasn’t so off-putting as much as the fact the conversation was taking place across a stairway and everything spoken had to be shouted. Until.
He picked up his bag, strode over to where I was sitting, and sat next to me. To properly talk. Maybe that move should’ve sent a warning signal to my brain. Elsewhere, this is likely harmless–including in Italy–but I didn’t even consider an alternative possibility. Instead I interpreted the change in proximity as, Oh! This is so cool! Another local is interested in discussing outlooks on life, world experiences, exchanging advice, etc. My prior experience with inhabitants of Italy led me to this conclusion. And discuss we did. Briefly.
I found out the man was an art student at the local university who just so happened to be on a break between classes at that moment. He offered to show me some of his newer work and pulled out a sketchbook with some really good drawings. Although, admittedly I don’t have much of an artist’s eye. He turned to a fresh page in his book, took out a pen, and started to draw something. It wasn’t until he told me to turn my head a certain way I realized he was drawing me. Cue second warning. Instead I just thought, Oh! This is so cool! I’m being drawn by an art student–what a nifty experience! It doesn’t take much to enthuse me…
Whelp. When he finished and he showed me the drawing, well… Let’s just say I became less enthused. Artist man asked me what I thought. To put it lightly, the drawing was not good. Even my non-artist’s artist’s eye could tell that much. Plus, this sketch looked nothing like his others. Did that raise suspicion? Nope! Some nonsense part of my brain claimed this drawing was perhaps a different style, a different interpretation of how someone viewed me. That’s what I attempted to voice to my new artistic “friend”. He seemed to buy it. So much so that he asked me to buy the drawing.
He tried to disguise his request, make it seem optional, like the decision was completely left up to me. Technically it was, I suppose, but that’s when reality finally began to set in. I didn’t know this man. I didn’t know what he was capable of. And I was in a public, yet secluded stairway alone with him. And he was beginning to seem a little pushy, to put it lightly.
What would you have done then?
I paid him. I paid 5 euros for a less-than-stellar drawing of myself. I paid 5 euros for something I had no intention of keeping (not even for the potentially funny-story-in-years-to-come memory), for something I didn’t want to remember from someone I didn’t want to remember, from someone who, in the minutes, hours, days after the encounter I belatedly realized wasn’t an art student. The drawings in his sketchbook and the drawing I received were way too different to be created by the same hand. I had gotten hustled. I had gotten hustled and I knew it. I knew it as I paid him, I knew it as I politely extracted myself from the situation, walked away and rounded the corner and fast-walked all the way back to the bed and breakfast where my class was staying. And I knew it as I relayed the experience to my professor. I just didn’t want to believe it.
How could I have been such a fool? I claim I knew what was going on, so why did I comply? Why did I pay? He wasn’t fair. He offered to draw my picture–as an art student, NOT a professional. I could have called him out–why didn’t I? Other than the realization he was a stranger about whom I knew nothing (depending on how much of what he told me was actually true), I still don’t know why I paid and why I paid 5 euros at that. All else I can attribute are my naivety, my trust, my eagerness to learn about and tell the stories of others. These all contributed to an experience I, immediately following, wholeheartedly regretted had taken place at all. But now, now that a couple of weeks have passed, recognize the value, the influence in it. After all, it’s these types of experiences that helps us grow the most, right?
I certainly don’t mean to insinuate my type of persona is cursed for falling victim to situations like this, nor, as iterated earlier, do I intend to depict the worst of Italians. (Honestly, taking a step back, I recognize this situation could have been so much worse. But as someone who doesn’t experience these sorts of things often–or ever–my bar for scary, life-changing experiences is pretty low.) This was just my experience. Just one shaky, memorable, influential moment in an overall phenomenal, memorable, influential trip. But I had to share it. So that’s that. That is my Italian tale of woe.
Thank you so much for reading–I’ll be in touch. 🙂