The following morning we had to meet our graduate professor. I’m not a morning person. I’ve never been a morning person and that’s probably why I’m not insanely famous or successful. I’ve read that only morning people are winners. So when all of us graduate students had to meet at the artist studio on Via Guelfa, I was late, groggy, and slightly ill. Luckily Amy was late, too, so we ran across the cobblestone through the leather market together. We ignored the “ciao belle” from the two-hundred men working that day. We stopped briefly at Bar Anna that seemed to be owned by a husband and wife. He was drinking a small shot of alcohol at nine a.m., she was screaming at him over the espresso machine. This place would quickly become one of my favorite bars in the city. Amy and I entered and stared at each other for a moment to figure out who should order. We hadn’t started our classes yet, neither of us spoke any Italian at all. I knew, “where” and “I would like.” We stepped forward and the owner smiled. “CIAO!”
“CIAO!” Amy beamed back. I smiled and waved.
“Dimmi!” He said.
“Uhm.” I pointed to the brioche, “Vorrei? Cappuccino. Vorrei?” Which basically translated to, “I would like. Cappuccino, I would like?”
“Me too!” Amy nodded and pointed to herself, flashing her perfectly aligned and bleached teeth.
The barista laughed.
We arrived to our studio space just upstairs a few moments later. We walked through a large industrial door into a carpeted room with plastic chairs and a few Mac computers. A man, who I assumed was the director of graduate studies stood in a corner talking with a young blonde woman. He was Italian, in his sixties, about six foot three, lean, and wildly gestured with his large thin arms and hands, his giant blue eyes framed by round red glasses and were fixed intensely on the woman in front of him. They spoke in rushed Italian. The seats filled up with other graduate students, some i’d seen around, others I hadn’t. There were only three men in the program, two who looked like they’d just won the lottery as they surveyed their chances, the other was only interested in his blackberry so I decided that he must be gay which made me happy because gay men are my favorite kinds of men. I would attach myself to him.
I settled into a seat next to Amy as the older gentleman with the cool glasses made his way to the front of the group. “My name is Lorenzo, I have been here for many years but once I was like you, a student of art, well not in Italy, I was in the United States and married, but that’s a long story. I suppose we should start from the beginning.” He did start from the beginning. Two hours later he was wrapping up his entire biography. Lorenzo, as he explained, was born and raised in Florence. He spoke real Italian. In his youth he studied accounting. He fell in love with an American student studying in Florence, married her and moved to the United States to study art. They divorced, “tragically” and he remarried a wonderful Italian woman. In all of Europe, he was one of the only parents to have two children with down syndrome. He had been doing “filo” ever since his time in the US for more than a few decades. Filo means “string” in Italian. He uses red, yellow, and blue, to make string with dried acrylic paint, his world is wrapped in primary color acrylic string. There were pictures of performance pieces, paintings, installations, an endless resume of ideas, and a life wrapped in obsession. His enthusiasm for Filo was inspiring, adorable, admirable. I gathered, after two straight hours of “this is my art career” that there was also some deep-seeded narcissism going on there, too. I’d eventually get used to it and learn that it was normal and totally rampant in an art institution. The nucleus of an artist is self-loathing but the mitochondria is obsessive self love.
“And-a now-a, I-a give deh floor to you all to talk about-a your work that led you all to us here at SACI,” Lorenzo concluded.
The work that we did before coming to school here? Mother. Fucker. We were supposed to prepare a slideshow of our previous work but I’d somehow forgotten. I didn’t have previous work unless you considered “drunk craft time with Ty” previous work. Craft time consisted of me and one of my good friends, various paints and canvases, and me painting girls and animals in weird sexual positions that I claimed was inspired by Greek mythology but was probably just my inner perf coming out in a weird form. Hardly what I’d consider real art or art experience (this is before I discovered performance art and realized that pretty much anything with a clever artist statement can be art). The one painting class I’d taken in college, I had produced a load of shit (and received a C-) that was stored somewhere in my mother’s basement. I hadn’t seen any of that “art” for years and it certainly wasn’t with me in Italy. I watched as each of my peers took hold of the projector. They’d had real training, some had masters degrees from schools like Berkley and Brown. I went to school in Utah. I didn’t study art. I was way out of my league. What the fuck was I thinking? Where was the wine?
I went last. I had hoped that they would have forgotten about me but no such luck. I cleared my throat and slowly walked to the front of the room.
“I, uh, so, I don’t have a slideshow because I lost my jump drive somewhere in between Utah and Florence. Actually, no, I didn’t make one, honestly. Before coming here I painted a lot of animals having sex. Like, animals having sex with humans. Leda and the swan, because literature. I’m interested in sexuality. And literature. I like to read a lot. about. stuff. Thank you.”
Everyone was staring at me probably thinking who the fuck is this idiot? The director of the program, Lorenzo, seemed dumbfounded, his eyebrows in mountainous M’s across his forehead, his hands in a gesture of confusion that looked a lot like he’d went to catch a hot potato but someone froze him just before it reached him. I had officially established myself as the class idiot and probably a sexual predator. My first few weeks in Florence I was constantly making an ass out of myself. If I’m being honest even after the first few weeks.