As I was enjoying my tart and Americano standing at the small espresso bar, there were three gentlemen enjoying a large beer at one of the two nearby tables.  They beckoned me to join them.  It was my day to be bold, after all.

I joined the trio and they made room for me at the table. I discovered that one of the gentleman was a musician, one was an architect turned hotelier, and one owned a leather store.  The leather store owner was the ringleader.  He was boisterous with a larger-than-life attitude. He boasted of his life’s accomplishments to me, although I suspect he was trying to prove something to himself as much as he was to me.  He played soccer professionally until he was permanently sidelined due to injuries.  He’s been all over the world.  He’s divorced and I would eventually learn that was the source of his challenging day, causing him to cajole his buddies out for an afternoon beer.

They invited me to share their beer with them – it was a very large beer.  After initially declining, I finally accepted their hospitality. The hotelier asked how I would like my pour – with or without “suds”? I must have had a quizzical look on my face, so the musician took charge and poured my glass without “suds,” no head, no foam, a perfect pour in my world.  The hotelier liked a good topping of suds on his beer, so I was glad the musician poured my beer!  I toasted the three of them – “To new friends, Salute!” They were pleased.

We had a lively conversation and suddenly, it was 2:00 p.m., and the market was closing.  Sadly, I had bought nothing.  The leather man invited me to see his store.  While I wasn’t initially interested as I had my sightseeing list, I reminded myself of my mission from Freyja – BOLDNESS.  So I accepted and walked with him through the back of the market, entrances reserved for the local vendors, and we made our way to the leather vendors.  En route, he knew and greeted everyone.  I realized this was going to turn into an experience from the “locals” perspective and I was getting excited for yet another unplanned excursion.

As we approached one of the leather vendor stalls on the cobble stone street, he stopped to greet the owners and workers.  These were his friends and his competitors.  They were enjoying a plate of prosciutto, cheese, rustic bread and white wine.  They invited me to join them and sample their delicacies. I declined, but they insisted.  I didn’t want to offend or appear ungrateful, so I made myself a small bite.  Not satisfied, one of the gentleman made me a large slice of fresh bread, cheese and prosciutto. And he handed me a glass of wine.  I felt a bit overwhelmed, but graciously accepted.

I was taken by the gentleman who generously gave me the food and wine.  He was perhaps in his 60’s, but it was very hard to tell. He had the vibrancy of a young man.  He was Persian with silver hair.  He wore jeans and an orange Ralph Lauren polo top.  His blue leather shoes were beautifully tailored and I fell in love with the Cole Haan look of the loafers. Large dark black sun glasses covered his eyes.  I eventually learned his name was Joseph.  He owned the large leather store in Florence.  He has offices in Dubai, Florence and Iran and he also travels to Paris.  He later told me that his main business is interior design and he specializes in one of the King Louis eras, but I forget which one.

Joseph is an astute business man.  He’s well educated with two degrees: engineering (or architecture – everyone I met had one of these two degrees) and psychology. He is the father of 2 sons, both in college.  One is studying anthropology and the other is studying sociology.  They’ve been fortunate to study in Shanghai, London and elsewhere.  I learned that Florence and the surrounding cities have excellent education and students are sent here to study, you guessed it, architecture and engineering.

I met the locals and apparently I was the buzz of the day.  The ex-soccer pro was smitten and apparently there was a consensus that I could help distract him from his woes.  I was not on board with this plan and made that very clear.  Joseph, on the other hand, intrigued me. He was a man of philosophy and he lived in the moment. While he was clearly a man of means, he was unpretentious.

I met their comrade, Flooz.  He was charming.  He also fell in the ranks of being professionally trained as an architect or an engineer (I really couldn’t keep track of which of these two degrees everyone had) and he worked for Joseph. He was probably in his 60’s, Persian, full, trimmed beard and eyes that danced.  He had a mind for philosophy and gave it his best attempt to sell me on the big heart of soccer man.  I could not make it any more clear – I’m not on the market.

There was a nice crowd of locals I was mingling with and enjoying the conversation.  They would go into a nearby shop and come out with more food and wine.  Joseph gave me another sample, this time of buffalo mozzarella cheese and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh pepper. The wine flowed.

We moved indoors from the leather stand and I met the proprietor of a local wine shop.  The camaraderie blossomed around me.  Joseph was laughing and living large while enjoying the company of everyone who walked into the store.  I snapped photos hoping they would catch the magic of the mood and the moment. This was a day in the life of the locals and they let me in to enjoy a glimpse and share a few moments with them.  I felt privileged. And very welcomed. They lived in the moment and enjoyed it. There was no rushing – pure camaraderie. I naturally turned to my rusty Spanish and since everyone here speaks 5 languages (I conducted an informal survey and 5 was the average), they would talk to me in a blend of Spanish, Italian and English. I was completely in the flow of life and able to take it in and communication was easy. Life was easy. Conversations were extraordinary.

They played hard, and they worked hard.  At one point, we walked to a nearby store for a gelato.  The next, when we returned, Joseph’s store was flocked with customers, so everyone pitched in, including his competitor – soccer man. They helped tourists try on leather jackets and pulled out exquisite leather bags.  Joseph taught me the difference between lamb and cow’s hide.  As the crowd thinned, Joseph needed to drop off some paperwork at his attorney’s office.  So soccer man and I joined him.  We hopped in his new sporty Mercedes and he revved it up and sped down the street.   I was about to experience yet another aspect of Florence.