Italy | If This is School, Let’s Have Class on the Weekends


If This is School, Let’s Have Class on the Weekends

One of the most central aspects contributing to my time in Florence has been my elective class: The History and Culture of Food in Italy. I’ve mentioned it in past blog posts, but haven’t given this once in a lifetime class nearly the attention that it most certainly deserves. So here it goes… I hope I can do it justice.

Months before my departure to Florence, after reading descriptions of the culture courses my study abroad program offered, I decided that I wanted to take the food class (the other options were Art History and the Sociology of Love– both of which students in my program are currently thrilled to be taking).  In reality, after seeing the word “food” in the course title, no further reading was necessary; the class chose me.

The enrollment period came around in December of last year, and having had friends go through my exact study abroad program in the past, I was advised to set an alarm for an ungodly hour in order to sign-up immediately, and ensure my spot in this highly coveted class.

Due to the different time zones, unsure of when the enrollment email would find its way into my inbox, and mostly because I am neurotic, I set an alarm to go off in twenty-minute intervals starting at 3:45 am.

After almost two-and-a-half hours of 8 jarring alarms, I received the enrollment notice at 6 am. It was a slightly tortuous night of restless sleep—but I reserved my place in the food class, and boy was it worth it!

Once in Florence, at orientation, Dr. Peter Fischer, the enthusiastic and beyond knowledgeable food professor, was only described to us as being, “very German and very loved.”

On the first day of lecture it became crystal clear why, Peter (as we call him), was so raved about. He passed out the class syllabus that set the tone for the incredible class and instantly deemed all future syllabi disappointing bores. Most thrilling was the class date labeled, “Midterm Exam Followed by Gelato Tasting.”

Class itself is always something to look forward to. Every Tuesday and Thursday, Peter begins lecture by asking us students to share stories of interesting food experiences that we’ve encountered since our last meeting. We talk about new dishes we’ve tried, look for the cultural reasoning behind why the waitress rolled her eyes when we asked for a to-go box after dinner, or tell stories of how when we’d tried to order a caffe coretto (espresso with a shot of liquor) but, lost in translation, received what we had accidentally asked for: cornetto (a croissant).

In class Peter brings Italy to life for me through analyzing the history of the food—one of the most central aspects to human survival in general, and encompassing even more grandiose, far-reaching meaning in Italy, where the meals taste like memories.

Peter has taught us some Italian food survival skills, like why a true Italian will never ever drink a cappuccino after breakfast (because the high milk content is thought to be hard to digest). And, I specifically, learned the valuable lesson that an Osteria is not a restaurant that sells oysters, like I’d originally thought and told a friend (sorry Sofia), but rather, typically, a less expensive restaurant.

Peter has lectured on a variety of fascinating food facts, like the American fast food movement, and the Italian counter-movement, Slow Food, which was sparked in protest of the opening of the first McDonalds in Rome in 1986. Californian chef and Farm-To-Table advocate, Alice Waters, is the Vice President of the international movement today.

We learned that potatoes, tomatoes, and corn originally came to Italy from the Americas, but Italians considered the Native Americans to be cannibals and initially refused to eat the food of “savages.” It wasn’t until a food shortage that the Italians turned to using these American vegetables, however, they made sure to disguise the foods’ original form, transforming potatoes into gnocchi and corn into polenta.

We learned that Italy wasn’t politically unified until 1871, and wasn’t culturally united for many years after that. Italians attempted to create a sense of solidarity through their cuisine. Pasta functioned as a unifying symbol, as its different shapes, sizes, and ways of being prepared, represented the regional diversity, but its same basic ingredients signified a one-ness.

We learned that during the first wave of Italian immigration to the United States, Italy was not culturally unified, thus there was not yet an archetypal “Italian.” It wasn’t until migrating to America, that Italians, as outsiders, honed their identity and discovered what it meant to be “a true Italian,” all while learning how to be “American” at the same time. Studying this, led me to examine what I think it means to be an American, through my own experience as an outsider in Italy.

Last week we all turned in our research papers that we wrote with the freedom to discuss the food related topic of our choice. If you have to write a paper, what better topic than food to write about? As long as you have snacks handy in the drafting process. My essay was titled “Dinner the Implications of the Italian Verb and the English Noun” and writing it, made me even more enchanted with the Italian family style dinners.

Besides learning in the classroom through remarkably engaging power points and lectures, Peter has taken us on numerous field-trips (like on a chocolate tasting!!) that I will remember even more fondly than the crunchy, savory, taste of my most favorite panini.

This Thursday, Peter walked us over to the Florentine Community Garden. The old running track, turned herb garden, was covered in raised plant-beds, and pink flowering trees (happy spring!).  We met Giacomo, the gardener, at the entrance, and in his hip, plaid flannel shirt and light blue jeans, he looked more like he belonged in San Diego than amongst the other peacoat- enthusiast, leather-shoed Italians.

Giacomo showed us around his sustainable herb garden, focusing most proudly on his composting, his rainwater supplied bathroom sink, and his fishpond that serves as mosquito repellent. We walked around the garden, admiring all of the unique hybrid herbs Giacomo was growing– lavender mint, cranberry sage, tangerine thyme, just to name a few.

As a class, we decided on six herbs to pick, and then we each took turns chopping them up as finely as possible. Once the herbs were hacked to a pulp, Giacomo brought out a stash of fresh, homemade ricotta, separating it into three small bowls. We then combined two chopped herbs into each bowl of cheese and stirred thoroughly. We were given delicious bread and slathered it with ricotta, along with various salts to add if we wished. All three of the herbed ricottas were absolutely delicious, but my favorite was the lavender mint and chive with a pinch of black, Greek salt to top.

Two weeks ago, our class of twenty took a daylong field trip to a small winery in the most enchanting chianti countryside. Chianti Classico wine maker, Paulo, walked us around his vineyard and taught us about growing grapes and the fermentation process. He brought us into his old stone house and showed us his downstairs cellar. The electricity was out, so we did our tour and wine/olive oil tasting by candlelight. It was a far cry from any school field trip to the local library I’d ever been on.

After the winery, Peter took us to a small town to eat lunch and drink some more wine at a bustling, down-to-earth Trattoria where we (definitely) over-indulged in a four-course meal. Our giant meat and cheese plate, was followed by a heaping portion of pasta e fagioli (pasta in white beans). A mixed-meat tagliatelle was next (I’m always a little weary of “mixed” meats, mostly because I’m afraid of eating horse… but if I didn’t think about it too much, it tasted good). Then came the pork stew, which was followed by the dessert wine, delicious biscotti, dense chocolate cake, and the concluding coffee, of course.

By the end of lunch, none of us could walk straight—mostly because we were so full (as if we had eaten a horse) but also the wine certainly didn’t help.

Somehow, we managed to waddle back to the bus that carried our very full bodies back to Florence. On that ride home, feeling happy, plump, and satisfied, I stared out the window as we wove and winded through the most breathtaking Tuscan countryside. Seeing the vineyards that braid their way up the mountainsides, come and go from my line of sight, I couldn’t help but think about how this was unlike any day of class I have experienced, or will ever experience again in my life.

I am one lucky foodie.

Italy | The Art of Raising Parents


It’s been yet another monumental week here in Florence—one for the books.

On Tuesday the professor of our History of Food and Culture Course (I still can’t believe that’s the academic class I’m taking here) led us on our second walking tour through the open markets and around the center of Florence. He pointed out the public water fountain that has spigots for both flat and bubbly water, showed us a hole-in-the-wall, worker-populated, Osteria (that wouldn’t allow the Secret Service to clear out the restaurant before Barbara Bush had lunch there, so she ate amongst the locals anyway), and took us to the stand that makes their delicious paninis on the very best bread. The tour also included a cannoli tasting, for research purposes of course…

While the food tour was more fun than any school day of my wildest dreams, I couldn’t stop checking the time, and not even a cannoli could redirect my focus—my parents were on the last leg of their flight to Florence!!!

As soon as “class” ended, I hopped in a cab and headed to the airport where I planned to surprise my parents outside of baggage claim. They were expecting to meet me at their airbnb. Before they landed, I quickly scribbled out a sign that read “Mr. & Mrs. Giffin” and stood at their gate holding it like a chauffer, anxiously awaiting their arrival.

After ten minutes of waiting inside the airport, and two month of not seeing each other, I was reunited with my parents. With a jet-lag induced, relatively confused reaction to my surprise, we joyously embraced. Nothing could feel better than welcoming the most important people in my life to this unbelievable temporary home of mine.

I loaded my zombie parents into a cab where I spoke to the driver in my very broken, just-getting-the-point-across Italian. My parents seemed to be impressed, but only because they don’t know a lick of the language—during his visit, my dad frequently confused “Buenos Aires” (the capital of Argentina) with “Buongiorno” (Italian for good morning).

I was a little worried that my language abilities may have directed the driver to Sicily, but luckily we arrived at the airbnb without a missed turn.

When my parents originally reserved their apartment a few months ago, I gave them a very vague, general, idea of where to stay because you really can’t go wrong in Florence. I simply suggested that they not book a place too far outside of the city’s center and my advice narrowed the search down to a whopping 400 possible airbnbs for rent.

Before their arrival, I spoke to my parents about their finalized apartment arrangements. I asked for the address of their place, hoping to go find it, and snoop around from the outside. I ended up not having to search at all. Completely by coincidence, they’d reserved the apartment building directly next to mine (my address is 11 Borgo Dei Greci and their airbnb is 12 Borgo Dei Greci).  We still can’t believe it!

After they’d settled in next-door, we hit the ground running and got straight to eating. I took them to Osteria Santo Spirito, the cozy restaurant directly across the street from my school. This place was the very first bullet point on my compiled “To Show Parents” list, because they dole out the most delicious olive tapenade with their bread, they serve truffle gnocchi that has a smell that makes me weak at the knees, AND they offer 5 euro half portions of pasta (just substantial enough to make you want to undo the top button your pants, but not so much that you need to change into sweats altogether).

We thoroughly enjoyed our delicious dinner and walked home in a pants-unbuttoned, blissful, fullness.

In a strange, removed way, having my parents here has allowed me to witness and re-experience my own acclimation process to Florence, through watching them figure out the ways of the city and the Italian lifestyle. As they struggle with which direction the river is in, which way to turn down the street to get to their apartment from mine, or what Italian greetings are appropriate for what times of the day, I am reminded of experiencing that same utter confusion when I first got here. Watching them absorb all of this new information has made me appreciate just how much I have learned and adapted, without knowing it, since I’ve been here. Now those things that I once had to struggle to remember, are more etched in my mind than the lyrics to “Happy Birthday.”

In spending time with my parents, I have discovered exactly what it is that I’ve learned; I know how to determine the seemingly ambiguous moment in which I should pay for my coffee, the specific time frame during which it’s acceptable to drink a cappuccino (only mornings and after 4 pm), how to find order, and wait for things in this line-less culture, how to skillfully jaywalk while dodging Vespas, bikes, the fastest mini-cars, how to carve out multiple hours of time per meal, and how to discern which yelling matches are arguments and which are just friends saying good-morning.

I’ve come to realize that I’ve also learned the importance of having a big city mentality. There are times here, like back in LA, when people beg for money or are pushy with selling you things or asking you to sign petitions on the street. While my safety has never felt threatened here, I’m usually not interested in buying the products or signing the clipboards; when approached, I keep walking and just shake my head, not saying anything, as to conceal my true, tourist identity.

I’ve particularly grown accustomed to ignoring the large number of harmless yet pestering men that walk around asking you questions, in attempt to grab your attention, in order to sell you a bracelet and a selfie-stick when its sunny, or an umbrella and a poncho when it begins to rain.

On my parents’ second day in Florence, I met up with them after class, for an afternoon so jam-packed with 14 plus miles of tourism, that my mom’s feet actually bled. Sorry Mom!

First and most logically, we grabbed some gelato from Gelateria Santa Trinita and scarfed it down on the bridge by the river.

With sugar-filled bellies, we began walking to the next of our many destinations for the day. On our way, one of the infamous men selling bracelets approached us. I kept walking, as it is ingrained in me by now, and my mom followed suit. My dad, on the other hand, being the trusting mid-westerner that he is, couldn’t deny the bracelet seller a friendly handshake when the man motioned to “bring it in bro!” Thinking that would be the end of their pleasant exchange, my dad tried to keep walking after shaking the bracelet man’s hand, however the seller held on tightly and walked along side my dad (a classic bracelet man tactic that I see tourists fall for everyday).

Hand in hand they exchanged pleasantries and talked about where they were from (another one of their classic “buttery-you-up” tactics). Meanwhile, I fast-walked, hiding my face, pretending to fit in amongst the Italians, and definitely not associating with my dad, who was committing the most fragrant “I’m not from around here” foul.

My mom, however, grew more and more concerned, assuming that the bracelet man was distracting my dad with the intentions of pickpocketing him. Still holding his hand, the seller pulled out a bracelet and put it on my dad’s free wrist. In a panic, my mom whipped around to my dad, who was walking ten yards behind us, and shouted, “Phil! We need to go NOW!”

Confused as to her unnecessarily extreme reaction, my dad responded with the elation and enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning, “No, look honey!” He exclaimed,  “He’s giving me a gift!!! And he has one for you too!” …

My dad thanked the generous gift giver and tried to go on his way, until the vendor said, “I need money for those bracelets to give to my children.”

My dad gave back the gift and learned his first lesson in Florence: walk past the bracelet men.

The rest of the week was full of other learning experiences and more fun and laughter than I ever thought possible:

  • We tasted olive oil and fresh fruit at the central market
  • We climbed the tiny, windy, 500 step staircase to the top of the Duomo where we watched a stunning sunset over the cityscape
  • We shopped with laser focus and negotiated like lawyers at the outdoor leather market
  • We visited churches and lit candles for loved ones
  • We ran into a good friend from home in an empty, downstairs inventory of a shoe store
  • We saw Michelangelo’s The David up close
  • We went to a Florentine Jazz Club
  • We got (lovingly) scolded by an impassioned grandma running a restaurant who told us—in Italian of course—to relax when we asked for the check after a long meal
  • We walked to Piazzale Michelangelo where we enjoyed the best view of the city
  • We listened to an Italian street singer fudge words to American songs on the bridge overlooking the moon lit Arno River
  • We took a day trip by train to the most spectacular coastal National Park, Cinque Terre
  • We braved a lightening filled storm to get to our favorite restaurant where we ate by candlelight in a power outage
  • We drank enough coffee to keep us awake for the rest of our lives
  • We ate more gelato than I’d like to admit
  • And most importantly we consumed enough spaghetti to wrap around the circumference of the globe.

Tonight their fun, food-filled week here came to a bitter-sweet end. At the close of the evening, my mom and dad walked me over to my apartment where we hugged tightly, and said our sentimental see-you-soons.

I waved as they headed back to their apartment to collect their luggage before their departure. I chuckled again, as I watched my mom turn the opposite direction and head the wrong way down my street.

Willa Giffin studied abroad in Florence, Italy in Winter 2017:

Italy | Weekend Trip to Switzerland and Exploring Florence



I’m back from what feels like a very long one-week blogging hiatus. Life has been wonderfully busy, where even the dullest moments (like taking out the trash) are filled with profound beauty and endless exploration.

I wasn’t able to write last weekend because I was sans computer in the Swiss Alps having the most exhilarating, fun-filled, picturesque, three days that I’ve had thus far in my life.

With a group of friends, I took an eight hour bus ride to Interlaken, where we gobbled up mounds of authentic fondue, learned to make chocolate at a cooking school (and quickly devoured that too), sledded forty-five thrilling minutes down an enormous mountain guided only by moonlight, visited Zurich, took a hike, stumbled upon ancient German ruins, and…wait for it… paraglided through the clouds over the incredibly stunning Swiss Alps. (I can barely stomach going down an escalator, so the thought of paragliding was absolutely horrifying to me… and also the best thing I’ve ever done).

After a phenomenal weekend away, I’m back in Florence, and like anytime I step foot outside of these city limits, I’ve returned with an entirely new prospective and appreciation for this unparalleled city. After Switzerland, I feel completely rejuvenated from that fresh mountain air, but I’m fondue-ed out, and ready to realign my loyalty with my beloved spaghetti.

Almost every weekend, I’ve travelled at least for the day and a night. There is a group mentality that I’ve picked up on amongst study abroad students here towards seizing every single moment so as to experience as much of Europe as possible (and sometimes even Africa). Every Monday the professors go around the class and ask, “dove siete andati durante il fine settimana?” (where did you all go over the weekend?). Responses never fail to include cities scattered across the entirety of Europe. It’s strangely easy to feel like staying in Florence is commonplace and even a little bit boring. I know… can you imagine?!

I am infinitely grateful to have been able to travel to so many fascinating places  (Interlaken, Zurich, Rome, Pisa, Lucca, Verona, Venice, Siena, and San Gimignano). For many students, frequently traveling outside of Florence and experiencing the beauty that is Europe was the initial goal of studying abroad, however, for me, it wasn’t. My original objective was to spend so much time in Florence that I become completely and utterly enveloped and swaddled up tightly in the warm, welcoming, rich, aromatic, and tasty culture here.

This weekend I reminded myself of this intention, and was adamant about staying in this beautiful city that contains more than I could possibly see, experience, or eat in seventy-eight lifetimes.

Last night, it rained harder than I ever thought possible. I considered turning on my rain-sounds white noise app, just to cover up the natural, cats-and-dogs pelting rain outside.

But this morning, I woke up to the most miraculously, crystal-clear, brilliant, blue Saturday sky. What a great day to be in Florence.

After making a quick breakfast at our apartment, Ruby and I decided that the garbage sitting under the kitchen sink had long past reached its expiration date. We gathered up our trash bags and took them outside where we dumped them in the city garbage receptors 300 meters away from our apartment (I’m trying to learn the language of the metric system).

That walk to the trashcans is one of my favorite parts of the week. We pass quaint gelaterias, hip bars, ancient buildings with antique terraces, incredibly innovative street art, and the unbelievable Santa Croce Church, which houses amazingly intricate frescos along with the tombs of Michaelangelo, Machiavelli, Dante, and Galieleo (not to name drop or anything).

Today, on our way back from dumping out the garbage, we decided to go inside the Santa Croce Church, instead of simply admiring it’s outside beauty from (the close) distance of our garbage cans.

Ruby had been in the Santa Croce before with her Art History class here, so she was able to spare me the time and energy of reading the explanatory plaques on the wall, and she gave me a condensed, more lively version of the most interesting facts about this 13th century church.

While I was admiring Michelangelo’s elaborately decorative and enormous tomb, a group of five monks asked me to take their photo on one of their iPhones. Not only did I get to learn about the incredibly fascinating and overwhelmingly exquisite history of the church, but I also learned that monks love selfies too!

When our stomachs began to rumble (as they seem to do about every twenty minutes here), we headed a few steps around the corner to La Prosciutteria, where met up with our friend Sofia. Ruby and I shared a decadent, artfully displayed board of prosciutto, salami, ham, several types of cheeses, roasted vegetables, olives, different breads, and some fig marmalade to top. This gluttonous feast was considered to be a “sampling plate” for two, but in reality it was so enormous, it could have fed my teenage brother.

Of course, lunch wasn’t complete until we got our gelato fix from Gelateria dei Neri (a place that was recommended in the Florence guide book my parents got me for Christmas). The three of us all ordered the “burro di caramello” flavor (butter caramel). It tasted rich and delicious like Werther’s Candy in ice cream form (aka heaven really is on earth, and it’s in a gelato shop right by my apartment).

We tried to walk off our lunches with some good old-fashioned window-shopping. We wandered through the leather market, gawking over the artisan bags, and snooped through the chic racks of the Italian boutiques and department stores. Along the way we listened to street musicians and watched brilliant chalk artists create temporary masterpieces on the cobble stone roads.

Somehow our shopping turned into yet another excuse for a snack break, as there was a coffee shop on the roof of one of the department stores (thanks for the recommendation Andrea!). We sipped on espressos and munched on our complimentary peanuts while looking out at the café’s breathtaking view of the Duomo, the cathedral in Florence and the most iconic monument in the city.

We attempted to climb to the top of the Duomo (where you get a panoramic view of Florence) but the lines were far too long, and we decided to wait until a weekday rolls around and all the tourists get out of our city 😉

We each went back to our apartments to regroup before we’d meet up for dinner later, where I’d indulge yet again in Florence–in another new restaurant, on a street I’d never walked down before, with waiters that could become future friends, and dishes that I hadn’t yet tasted that could very well be my new favorite meal.

Florence, what more could I ask for?

Willa Giffin studied abroad in Florence, Italy in Winter 2017:

Italy | Music to My Ears


If you know me, you most likely know that I am constantly singing and humming as I go about my day: in the shower, while I cook, walking to class, taking a hike, reading a book, and yes, I’ve even been known to sleep-sing.

I just can’t help it. A song (or 10) gets stuck in my head, and absolutely no amount of distraction methods or mechanisms can unstick the tune that has adhered itself to every nook and cranny of my brain.

The Italian language seems to have this same effect on me. The graceful words and their corresponding melodies swirl around, and resonate with me, worming their way into my mind. The words replay in my brain like a broken record and I can’t help but unleash them, saying them out loud, over, and over and over again.

Italians converse with a catchy, deliberate melody that swells and dips, with specific rhythm, dynamics, fierce passion, and not so subtle hand choreography.

Music fills the air in any place that there is speaking at all. The train station is operatic. The open markets are symphonic. Melodies spew from all directions, and are conducted by the vendors, who direct and control any discordant tunes of whining hagglers.

I guess it makes sense that the language gets stuck in my head in the same way that a good Adele jam does. Every Italian conversation is its own song; every sentence is a lyric; every word, a note.

Like the songs that so often overwhelm my thoughts, I find myself parroting Italian phrases that I’ve picked up in passing, throughout my day. Shampooing my hair, I mimic the pitch, tempo, and intonation, of “faccio la doccia” (I shower). Making my bed in the morning, I rehearse “Buongiorno, vorrei un cornetto” (Good morning, I would like a croissant.) Studying for my quiz, I hum “in bocca al lupo” (a phrase meaning good luck that literally translates to “in the mouth of the wolf,” which seemed strange, until I thought about what its must be like for a foreigner to learn “break a leg”).

It is all just so captivating and pleasing to the ear. Often times I am so fixated on the beautiful pitches of what is being performed in front of me, that I forget to listen and comprehend the words themselves.

Before I left for Italy, I, of course, had to read Eat, Pray, Love. I paid special attention to the portion Elizabeth Gilbert dedicated to her pilgrimage to Rome, which she entitled “Eat.” (I’m choosing to take “Eat” as a personal, authoritative command to me from the wise and experienced author herself, to eat eat eat! And I have intently obeyed.)

In “Eat…”, Gilbert refers often to her favorite Italian word: “attraversiamo” (we cross over).  She explains that she loved to stroll with friends along the streets of Rome, intentionally walking on the side of the street opposite of her destination, so as to give herself the excuse, when the time came, to suggest that the group “attraversiamo”.

Every time I cross a street in Italy, I think of Elizabeth Gilbert and her favorite word. As I cross each street in Florence, and “attraverso”, I also consider what my favorite, exquisite Italian words that I’ve learned, might be. After a lot of crossing streets and therefore a lot of thought, I have come to the conclusion that my favorite word changes by the day, as does the song that is stuck in my head.

Today my favorite word is “abbastanza”. Yesterday, I overheard a young woman on my train to the beautiful city of Verona, say “abbastanza” playfully over and over, to her boyfriend. While I had no clue as to its meaning, the fun multi-syllabic word filled with pleasing soft “a” sounds, very much became stuck in my head like a pop tune. It became my mantra for the day. I hummed it under my breath as the train rocked me into a deep, ugly, mouth-wide-open, kind of sleep.

**Turns out “abbastanza” means “enough”…. a word, and in fact a concept, that seems to be null and void for me over here. Phrases in America such as, “thank you that’s enough parmesan,” never ever seem applicable for me in Italy.**

Last week, my favorite thing to say was “Mi dispiace”. I couldn’t get the melancholic tune and slow lilt for “I’m sorry” out of my head—and for good reason.  I’m constantly needing to apologize for bumping into people and things and animals, so “mi dispiace” comes in handy, more than I’d like it to.

I was in a little grocery store when “mi dispiace” first cemented itself in my thoughts, after an instance when I’d forgotten it, causing me to swear it would never slip my mind again. A grocery store clerk was attempting to pass by me, pushing an enormous stock-cart full of produce and products in front of him. I initially didn’t realize that I was blocking his path, until he said “scusi” (excuse me—another snappy word that’s fun to rehearse, and always applicable). Desperately searching for the correct Italian response, and feeling excessively panicked that I was in the man’s way, my instincts took over. My mind clasped onto the only word within its grasp, and I said “sorry” in English! Given that probably 80% of Florentines speak English, and the other 20% would likely know the word for “sorry”, apologizing in English was really not a big deal… The problem was the way I said “sorry”—in a very, very, overly thick, exaggerated, Italian accent, that probably seemed like I was making a mockery of the kind grocery clerk, his family, his friends, and his entire culture, all in just a single word. I left the grocery store, with “mi dispiace” in my mind, on-loop.

Right now, as my dinner simmers on the stove, I hum my favorite word for the moment: “mangia.” Mangia mangia mangia mangia mangia mangia.

Willa Giffin studied abroad in Florence, Italy in Winter 2017: