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That summer of 1989 was distinguished by a philosophy of carpe diem and a Faustian desire to learn. We were young. We were far from home. Everything was possible.

“Come on! We are going to be late,” yelled Gianna grabbing her book bag a clementine, my arm and dragging me down the stairs and out the door of the pensione.

Outside students of every denomination with stuffed back packs and bed head, like us, were making there way through the thick mass of bodies along the sidewalks.

Gianna and I pressed through and raced along while hurling apologies in the shimmering Florentine morning to all those we bumped and knocked into.

“Whoa” I blocked Gianna, before she hopped off the sidewalk, as a Vespa whipped by missing her by a hair in the total anarchy that is traffic in Italy.

“I shouldn’t have slept in,” I grumbled as the sticky sweet smell of freshly baked brioche and the invigorating scent of espresso hit my nostrils.

As we waited for the traffic light to change we took in the magnificence of it all. Faces behind fashionable sunglasses moved past us on foot, on vespas, in cars and buses, on bikes. Pulsating life enveloped by a magical glow.

The light clicked green and the ocean of bodies surged forward carrying us along.

We expertly shot right when we got to Via della Scuola Nova and made our final 50 metre dash to the Scuola per gli Stranieri.

One of the large carved wooden doors at the entrance had been blocked with a huge rock to let in the breeze. We slipped through and in the quiet internal courtyard of mixed dust and light, headed down the 8 worn stones steps to the room that would be our temporary classroom for the next 2 months.

The walls were stone and the only natural light came from the doorway we had just come through and from a tiny grate at the far right corner of the room, where lizards would pass through in order to cool off during the hottest summer days.

Portable lights were positioned all around so that a warm yellow glow filled the shadowy space making it cozy and ancient.

Gianna and I said our Buon giorno’s to the other pupils and our professor and slid into our seats at the front of the class.

“Up late last night studying ladies?” Professor Bondi queried. “Well then, you can refresh us on the Greeks and “l’eredita degli affetti,” he requested, his black eyes squarely on my hazel ones.

“Oh OOOOKay, Well, The Greeks based death on cyclical life, so when someone died they simply restarted their existence. They may have feared death biologically but not culturally due to this continuation concept. With the advent of Christianity however, the Greek concept was abandoned or started to be abandoned as Christian religion based on two poles – one the cross and suffering; if you are bad you go to hell and two the resurrection if you are good you go to heaven. People knowing that no one was without sin became terrified by …

“Very good Giulia. Francesco can you take it from there please,” and Professor Bondi removed his black cesspools from me and positioned them on Francesco.

“Way to go,” whispered Gianna relieved it hadn’t been her that the professor had called on.

After class it was off to visit museums and then homework, dinner with the other students and teachers in our pensione and in the evening we strolled the streets, exploring, planning and dreaming.

That’s how it was that summer; learning, searching and waiting for something unusual and special to happen to us.

It was intoxicating not knowing what lay ahead and life felt open, indescribably exciting, and as though it would last forever.

Photo by Kye Pilger

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