platonic friend date #2
I met up with my second language exchange friend in the middle of a sunny afternoon one day last week. Neither of us really knowing exactly how these things work, he suggested that we go see a little church nearby, apologizing that it seemed like a kind of religious thing to do, but I assumed there was some reason to see it so off we went, me trying to decipher his particular accent, and not walk into oncoming traffic at the same time (which is sort of like that old joke about walking and chewing gum at the same time, but it’s actually kind of hard).
A few minutes later we were there, and he had this sort of funny smile on his face so I knew there was something strange awaiting. And there was. There really really was. Down a little hallway, we stepped into a chapel decorated, as it were, with literally hundreds of skulls and other bones, on one wall forming a sort of cross, and peeking out from corners, ledges, everywhere. Apparently they were people who died during the Plague, and never had a proper burial, so someone decided this was an appropriate way to use their remains. It was seriously jaw-dropping, and I slipped back out of my Italian to say “oh my god” about a dozen times. I’ll have to get a picture another time because I was trying to play it at least a little bit cool, not tourist-y. And also there were people sitting and praying there at the time, so we just tried to stay quiet, towards the back. (I mean seriously? Imagine being a little kid and this is the church you go to on Sundays… “It’s like something from that Dan Brown book,” he said. “Yeah, or Indiana Jones.”)
So we were already off to a good start. Most of the time for these conversation things people go for coffee or an aperitif, so this idea was already a sign of a thoughtful person, an interesting one. (And spurred the idea that so far I’m really not pulling my own weight here.) And a good one: he paused to leave some coins for the men sitting outside on the church steps. Not to overanalyze it, but I like people who in tiny ways like this challenge me to be a better person myself, more interesting, more creative, more compassionate.
We went on to a little park (that’s it up there) which was another terrific thing for me to find, a quiet little oasis just a few steps literally from the very busy center of the city. It’s next to one of the city’s various universities (the one he is just now graduating from, actually) so it was filled with a lot of young people talking, lying in the grass, kicking around a soccer ball, playing with their little dogs. We found a shady bench and stayed for hours talking, switching between Italian and English, about what we studied, travel, different cities, music, television, society. And his belief in the 2012 end-of-the-world theory.
So it seems like it was the start of something good; or even if not, a nice little interlude, showing me a little bit more of the real side of this city, away from the busyness and fashion, crisp suits and fur coats. And this gorgeous little park keeps pulling me back for a few quiet minutes reading, or taking in some sun, or just thinking and trying to be that slightly more interesting version of myself.
This book (A Single Man) is fantastic, by the way! I wrote a little bit about it here.