Study Abroad - Nathan Young

nathan youngBY NATHAN YOUNG ‘11

On my second night in Florence I decide to walk through the markets. The sun has just set and the street lamps are turning on. All the vendors have lit their lanterns, shining bright light over their cheap merchandise.

I join the herd of people mulling in the street. We’re surrounded: the vendors take up entire streets, on both sides, with their carts gaping, cov-

ered with ties and scarves and mirrors and cheap jewelry, purses, wallets, knickknacks, and Carnivale masks. I don’t want to buy anything, not this night. I just want to see the people and the cheap things for sale. Besides, I only have 20 euro.

Almost immediately I see a man standing alone between two carts. His arms are behind his back and his eyes twitch across the crowd. He sees me and I see him and he walks towards me and reveals his hand; he has maybe five or six watches in his fist with the straps hanging over like an octopus. He starts speaking Italian. Just for fun I ask, quanto.

—Quale? he asks.

I point to a big-faced classy one with a silver body, black straps, and an ocean blue face with gold numbers that just barely glint in the lamplight. I can't spot the brand, but it's a beauty.

—Ottantacinque, he says.

I furrow my brow, squint my eyes and tilt my head.

—Eighty-five, he says. Eight, five. Eightyfive.

I shake my head and chuckle. —No, I tell him.

—Okay, okay, you come here, he says with a bad English accent, leading me behind the carts onto the sidewalk. I see three other men huddled together, each with a white sheet hoisted together like a bag. Whatever is inside bulges through the cloth like tumors. They’re looking anxiously around, they seem nervous.

This might be a bad scene, I realize. But not bad enough to leave, not yet, because it’s a sexy watch and this guy is already lowering the price. I still don't have the money for anything he's selling though. I decide it's time to leave.

—Seventy, he says.

I shake my head and tell him: ho venti.He says seventy again and tells me it’s a good deal because he's got a fist full of Rolexes and Gucci watches. I tell him I can't buy the watch, or any of the others. I don't have seventy euro, I have only 20.

—Ho solo venti. His tongue clicks and he rubs his chin.

—No, no, no, no. Sixty.

—Ho solo venti, and I take a step back.

—Fifty, he says, and takes a step forward.

—Solo venti, scusa. I shrug my shoulders, expecting him to leave. I don’t have the money

—Forty, he says, clicking his tongue again.

—Solo venti. I put my hands up, thinking that'll be the end of it.

He paws at his chin with his free hand. He looks around and back to his friends with the bags and they nod, as if to say the price is still clear.

—Ciao, I tell him and turn the other way. He grabs my arm.

—Okay okay, Twenty. Gimme the twenty. It's been slow, bad night. You first customer.

—Yeah? I ask.

—Twenty, si, only for you. You first customer. Slow night. Twenty.

He snatches the euro note out of my hand and brushes through his friends with the bulky sacks. He's in the street again, already eyeballing the next customer.

I wrap the watch around my wrist and it looks good. I thread through the thick crowd of tourists and Italians and I pass a big blue sign, about as tall as me. In Italian, French, German, and English it reads It is illegal to buy and or sell counterfeit merchandise.

I guess I'm a Florentine criminal.