Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dolce Florence

My brain refused to accept the words flashing before my eyes:

Your card has been retained. Contact your bank.

My heart stopped.

A person would have to be an idiot to travel halfway around the world with only one debit card. Unfortunately, I was an idiot and I did travel half way around the world with only one debit card.

“Sean, I think we have a problem.”


Words failed me so I just pointed to the screen. I watched my husband mouth the words, seemingly unable to find his voice. He read the sentence a few times before turning to me.

“What happened?”

I didn’t know whether to lie or tell the truth. The truth was that I was drunk and I entered the wrong pin... twice. On the third try, when realization dawned on me and I entered the correct pin, the ATM refused to spit out my card.

“Well… I dunno, really. I guess it didn’t like my card.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” Sean said, pacing back and forth. “What’re we gonna do?”

That was a great question. It was 11p.m. on a Saturday night and most Florentines were in bed. I was doubtful anything could be done.

“This is bad! This is really bad!” lamented Sean, pacing back and forth tearing at his hair. “I read that the mafia can jam ATMs so they can rob people like us blind!”

“What?” I laughed, temporarily distracted. “You think the mafia is trying to rob us?”

We both looked up and down the street. Only two other souls were out at this hour: nuns.

Sean eyed me wildly and grabbed my arm.

“I also read that thieves dress up like nuns and priests to make you feel all safe and relaxed and then pick pocket your Rolex when you’re least expecting it,” he whispered, his fingers digging into my flesh.

“We don’t have a Rolex,” I said incredulously, shaking my arm free.

“You know what I mean,” he said, standing guard in front of the ATM as the petite gray-haired nuns passed with kind smiles.

“Buona sera,” I said, smiling.

Sean nudged me with his arm as if daring me to say another word to the dangerous nuns.

“You’ve got to stop reading those guide books,” I breathed, annoyed. I wasn’t ready to tell him that my stupidity was the only criminal around. “Well, we’re not going to solve this by standing in the middle of the street.”

“We can’t leave!” cried Sean, alarmed.

“So what do you propose? That we stand here all night? Trust me: the debit card is safe and sound in that ATM.”

Sean stalked back and forth again, his fingers digging into his hair again.

“I hate Florence!” Sean shouted suddenly, causing me to jump in surprise.

“Andate tutti a 'fanculo!” a voice called out from above. I looked up and saw a bald man hanging his upper body out of his third story window shaking his hands at us.

“Right back at ya buddy!” yelled Sean, waving his arm in the air. I stepped back and looked at this crazy person, my husband, realizing I had just married him.

“Calm down,” I said, dragging Sean into an alley. “For all you know that man very well could be in the mafia.”

We walked back to the hotel in silence.

“God I’m starving,” I said, as we opened the door to our small room; we were on our way to dinner when the fiasco struck.

“I entered the wrong pin,” I confessed, flopping down on the lumpy bed.


“I entered the wrong pin. That’s why it took the card.”

“Seriously?” Sean asked.

“Seriously. Actually, I entered the wrong pin twice.”

“You entered the wrong pin twice,” he murmured, shaking his head. And then he lost it. And then I lost it. We laughed until it hurt, and then we laughed some more.

“Some trip,” I chided, my cheeks sore from smiling.

“It hasn’t all been bad,” he countered.

“It hasn’t all been good.”

“More good than bad,” he reassured me.

“So now that we have 20 Euros to our name, what’s the plan?”

“I’ll tell you what. There was a tasty looking restaurant we passed on the way from the train station. It had great deals on this Italian specialty called a Hamburger. I think the place was called McDaves or something, and as I recall it was boasting of one dollar sandwiches.”

I groaned.

“We flew all the way to Florence, the food capital of the world, and we’re going to eat off the McDonald’s Dollar Menu.”

“It’s better than going to bed hungry, right?”

I nodded.

He pulled on his coat and grabbed the last 20 from my purse.

“I’ll call your dad on the way,” he said. “I’m sure he can wire money so don’t worry. Come tomorrow night we’ll be eating like kings, I promise.”

He came back wielding the ever so familiar Mc Donald’s bag, and suddenly I was grateful for the comfort of something I knew… even if it was greasy junk food. I fell into restless sleep and dreamt that I was standing naked in the McDonalds back home trying to pay from my milkshake with Euros while nuns laughed at me.

I woke suddenly.

“Huh? Wuzz goin on?”

“Phone,” Sean said, reaching blindly toward the nightstand.

“Hullo?” he slurred. “Jody! So good to hear from you! Do you have any news?”

I felt the bed shift as he got out of bed to stand in the bathroom where there was better reception. I prayed my parents solved our little problem from thousands of miles away.

The bathroom door slammed shut and I opened my eyes.

“Good news!” Sean yelled, jumping on the bed and pulling off my covers. “The money problem is sorted out so get dressed and let’s go!”

So it was in high spirits that we collected our wired money from the lobby and set out to enjoy Florence, Italy. It wasn’t difficult. One quality that brought Sean and I together was our love for food. Florence was our heaven.

We walked for hours, in and out of alleyways, searching for the perfect menu that made us cry with happiness; we ate soft fettuccine noodles bathed in black truffle crème sauce, mushroom risotto atop a crispy cheese crust, and bruschetta adorned with plump tomatoes and fragrant basil.

We walked over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge with chocolate gelato spilling down our hands. After exploring the cathedrals and slipping down intriguing roads, we felt at peace with Florence. We could forgive its ATMs, and mostly I could forgive myself. After all, we knew it would make for a great story when we got home.


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