A Morning as Alice

It was as if I never should have gotten out of bed this morning. No, it was not the case of the typical Monday blues; nope, today was more like a page out of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

It was 9:40 a.m. The number 7 bus to Fiesole was scheduled to stop outside of my homestay at 9:44. Looking at my watch, I felt like the frantic rabbit in Carroll’s piece: “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye! I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!” Worried that the one day I was running behind the bus would decide to come early, I rushed out of my room, turned to see my housemate Emily near the door, and together the two of us scurried off quickly to the bus stop. 

Being the first day of the week and only one of my three Mondays left in Florence, I felt a slight case of the blues as Emily and I stood on the side of the road waiting for the number 7. After only five minutes of watching for the bus to turn the corner, my impatience began to get the better of me. Of course, I thought, the bus would be late after I rushed out of the door. Then more waiting, until finally an older woman on the opposite side of the street stopped at the sight of us and shouted: Non c’è.

Cosa? – “what?”, the two of us yelled back.

L’autobus non c’è. C’è uno sciopero. For anyone planning on traveling to Italy, sciopero is a very important word to remember. It’s significance? Strike.

According to the woman, the bus would not be coming on account of a strike. In Italy, transportation workers love to call strikes as a means of petitioning their salaries and inconveniencing travelers. As the woman turned away from us and continued walking down the side of the road, Emily and I looked at each other with expressions of disbelief.

Rather than a bus speeding to pick us up, questions began to race. Was this a joke? Was she mistaken? Were we missing something? In the past, we were fortunate to be aware ahead of time about any upcoming strikes to make alternate transportation arrangements. This time, however, it seemed our luck had run out. Standing in the springtime sun on the side of a busy street with backpacks and laptops in tow, the two of us had no ideas about what to make of the situation. Though we had a hard time convincing ourselves that the woman was trying to trick us like the malicious Queen of Hearts, my housemate and I were not immediately convinced there was a strike. In fact, earlier in the morning, as I grudgingly woke up to the buzzing of my alarm, I heard the all-too familiar sound of a bus zooming past. Yet after ten more minutes of waiting and seeing nothing but Zespa after Zespa and car after car, there was nothing left to conclude except that the old woman was indeed correct.

While we had our doubts about our messenger, we were grateful that she arrived when she did and graciously warned us about the strike’s occurrence. Had she not been walking herself, one could only imagine how long Emily and I might have stood waiting for a bus that would never arrive.

Once we realized that there was no other way to get to the Villa other than by foot, it was back to the house for a change of footwear. Although it takes only twenty minutes to walk home, walking to the Villa is a completely different story. Fiesole is a city of hills, and thus one can only arrive at Villa Le Balze by climbing up le colline. Considering it was only ten o’clock in the morning, there was no caffeine in my system, and it was Monday, the prospect of hiking to class was not something my mind, nor my body, had anticipated for the beginning of my week. Unfortunately, there was no other way.

As Emily and I trudged with sneakers and backpacks up the Fiesole hills, my housemate turned to me and said: “I feel like I am in a Lewis Carroll novel.” Indeed, the experience was so unexpected and strange, a twist on the average weekday schedule; her analogy was perfect.

Between the rush of getting out of the door and the absurdity of the never-appearing bus, it felt as if I had fallen into a rabbit hole. In the place of a rushing white rabbit, a strolling Italian woman had a starring role. Even the walk to the Villa felt like it was scripted from a page in Carroll’s novel.

Because the winding path upwards to the Villa is different from the driving path of the Fiesole bus, the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire cat suited our hiking scene perfectly:

“Which road do I take?” asks Alice

“Where do you want to go?” responds the Cat.

“I don’t know,” Alice answers.

“Then,” says the cat, “it doesn’t matter. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

Since we were already late for Italian class, there was no time to be curious and see where the unknown paths led. But though we knew where we were going, there were moments when we wanted to second-guess which route provided the most efficient way to our destination.

So after too many minutes waiting for the bus and even more spent walking, we finally arrived at the Villa, huffing and puffing and eager for a cold drink. Had life truly imitated art, our morning would have concluded with us gulping down glasses labeled “drink me” and shrinking to the floor. I only wonder what my Italian professor would have thought about our absences…

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