We are all being affected by the various ramifications of the global pandemic. Some feel angry and want revenge (on who, it’s not clear). Most of us are worried and anxious. About their kids, about themselves, about money, about the future. Perhaps in my whole life, this is the second most frightening thing I’ve ever faced. I’ll keep you guessing on the most frightening…a story for another time.
When I am feeling nervous and anxious and out of control, I go shopping! It’s fun, recreational, lifts my spirits and gets me out to see the newest, latest and greatest. Because shopping is my avocation and vocation. I think I did that on purpose. Love what you do, and it won’t be work right?
Retail therapy, my life’s blood, has been taken away from me. It was my first language. My mother, who didn’t like me much, used to take me shopping. When we were out of the house, and away from my equally unpleasant father, life was clear and bright. We would go to stores (Marshall Fields at the time), buy me something new, and then have a soda at Blum’s. I think a soda was a scoop of ice cream, some sort of effervescing liquid and syrup flavoring. If you lived in Chicago, you probably know these institutions. The best department store and the best candy store, all within walking distance downtown. Those were happy times and gave me a future look at a lifetime of work to enjoy.
I am first and foremost a retail analyst/consultant and have been my whole career. With that taken away from me due to the pandemic, I am left feeling lonely and isolated. True, I am with my husband and have friends I talk to on the phone and through texts, but it is not the same. Yesterday, when taking my daily walk around a beautiful and springtime panorama that is my neighborhood, I recalled feeling like this, another time. It was my third year of college, what we used to call “junior year abroad”. I’d opted for Florence, Italy. The American Consulate was able to enroll my girlfriend Dutch and I in the University of Florence. She was enrolled in the art school and I in the school of economics and business. Our classes were all in Italian and we had both taken two years of Italian at Berkeley. But studying a language and living a language are completely different experiences, with one about 1,000 times more difficult!
To learn the language, I distanced myself from all my English-speaking friends. There was a whole campus of Stanford kids who lived in Florence for a year, in a villa where no Italian was spoken. I didn’t talk to them. I had a group of young American ex-pat artists who were studying (or not studying, maybe just drinking red wine as I recall) at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze, a school established in 1563 to provide instructional experiences for young, blossoming artists. It was gorgeous and had an open lunchroom, where food was cheap for starving artists. A midday trip to the lunchroom felt like floating on a balloon for me. Great food and great American friends, who of course, only spoke English. I cut myself off from them!
Me and My American Friends
And then I had the few girlfriends I had traveled with from Berkeley, who were my anchor. I insisted on speaking only Italian with them, and two of the three never learned the language. They had come to party, and party they did! I rarely saw them.
After a few weeks of this “social distancing,” life became a drudgery and I was depressed. I couldn’t understand why. I was in the most gorgeous city in the world; I was 19, free and beautiful; I was pursed by many boys at school; I was friends with the pappagalli, a group of young Italian men in red sports cars who pursed foreign girls because they were “faster” (the girls, not the cars) than the heavily chaperoned young Italians. I racked my brain trying to understand. “Why do I feel like this?” I asked myself over and over again.
And then finally it hit me! While I was learning the language, I could only speak about the weather, what I wanted to eat, what I was doing that day, where I was going, how I would get there. Remember the sentences they teach you when you’re first learning the language “Where is the bathroom?”; “The spring flowers are beautiful.”; “Do you think it is going to rain?”; “I would like a steak with green beans please.”; “I am a student at the University of Florence.” This was the extent of my social interaction. And I was so frustrated trying to converse about meaningful things to my classmates, who were all Communists. Politics, the Vietnam War, what it felt like to attend Berkeley at a truly historical moment, where I got my clothes, how I missed my American way of life, how I missed peanut butter!!!
Me and My Italian Friends
At a time like this, stressed and isolated, I would normally go shopping, the true nadir of retail therapy. And Florence was a fashion capital. The major high-end retail street was Via Tornabuoni where I walked every day on my way to school and back and to the library. A coat cost the same as a Fiat 500! Thousand of dollars for textiles! And the Ponte Vecchio, where all forms of 24-carat gold was sold for pennies of what it would have cost in the U.S. I was on a generous budget, but I couldn’t afford Armani, Pucci, Ferragamo or Gucci. I was relegated to the “flea markets” which had gorgeous leather goods and fake Gucci scarves. I still have one, I’m not kidding. I visited there often, but it wasn’t the same as my childhood shopping experience.
The Retail Choices in Florence
When I finally realized why I felt so down, I changed my behavior. I talked to my American boyfriend; I talked to my Swedish boyfriend, I had wine with friends; I visited with my funny and sarcastic American ex-pats; I began to repair the damage I had done with my girlfriend from Berkeley. And voila! I was happy again.
And what did I do about shopping? I saved my money and every month or so I could buy a gorgeous dress or shoes or scarf from a fancy store on Via Tornabouni.
I guess I’m saving money again! This time to visit my local Nordstrom when it opens again! To delight in all my senses; to touch, to see, smell, to taste to hear the beauty and majesty or retail therapy!
How about you? What will be the first thing you do when this pandemic is over? Write us and let us know. We love hearing from you and getting your input!