As I made my plans for traveling around Italy last summer, everyone told me I only needed to reserve a day to see Pisa. Some even insisted that a full day was too much. But in the spirit of slow travel and really getting to the heart of a destination, I decided to stay for three days. It was a decision that confused even most of the locals I met there.
I spent my days shopping, wandering around the city’s lesser-known monuments, climbing the Leaning Tower and taking cheesy photos with it, accidentally getting a really expensive manicure/pedicure, taking the best naps of my life on the grass near the Leaning Tower, which is seriously the softest grass I’ve ever encountered, and last but not least… eating tons of delicious Italian food.
By my third day in Pisa, the thought of leaving the city was bittersweet. Not only was it my last day in Pisa, but it was my last day in Italy and also the beginning of my last few days in Europe before I would move back to the U.S. after two years of living in Spain. Needless to say, my head was in a weird, emotional space that night when I left my hostel with plans to enjoy my last supper in Italy and drown my feelings in pasta. I wanted to treat myself to a delicious meal that night, and I had a very specific restaurant in mind; one that a friend who had studied in Pisa recommended to me.
As I approached the restaurant, there were two men sitting at one of the outside tables chatting with the chef who was apparently on his smoke break. There was no one else in the restaurant so I couldn’t tell if it was open or not.
“Aperto?” I asked the chef using the little bits of Italian I had picked up in my three weeks traveling there. “Sì, sì, sì,” he said nodding his head furiously and shooing me into the restaurant towards a table near the two men outside. I ordered a drink and glanced over the menu, but I was already pretty sure about what I wanted to eat: baked pasta in a Jack Daniel’s cream sauce with peas, ham, mushrooms and a whole bunch of other delicious things.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one eyeing that pasta. The waiter took the men’s order first, and one of them asked for the Jack Daniel’s infused dish. When the waiter turned around and I asked for the same thing it almost seemed like I was copying the guy. He turned around, smiled, gave me thumbs up and told me that the pasta was delicious. I smiled backed at him feeling even more excited for the food that was about to come my way then returned to my usual staring aimlessly and pondering life while avoiding the stares of passersby that said, “Why is this attractive (if I do say so myself), young woman eating alone?” It had been my typical dinner routine for most of my trip so I was used to it, but this night was already shaping out to be a little different.
Before I could get deep in my thoughts, the guy with excellent taste in pasta turned to me again and told me I should join them for dinner. “Come on! Don’t eat alone!” his friend added when he saw my hesitation. All of this is happening in Italian by the way; a language that I kinda understand since I’m fluent in Spanish and know some French, but it’s definitely not a language I speak.
“Non parlo Italiano,” I told them. “Non importa!” they insisted. They did not care that I didn’t speak Italian. In the two seconds it took me to respond to their invitation, my brain went through a million thoughts: Are these guys going to ruin my meal trying to hit on me? Ehh probably not. They don’t give me that vibe. I legit do not speak Italian. This could be awkward. Then again I did have a decent conversation with the girl who gave me that expensive ass mani/pedi. I guess I do know enough. This could make for an interesting story. Alright, why the hell not?!
And with that I picked up my drink and my bag and moved over to their table. Introductions were made and in true Italian fashion they immediately insisted that I start stuffing my face with the delicious appetizer spread they had already ordered.
Turns out that my method of Italian-izing Spanish and French words/grammar works well enough to have pretty good conversation because appetizers led to main dishes (Jack Daniel’s pasta was aaaaamazing by the way), which then led to dessert, and before we knew it more than two hours had gone by. In that time there may have been an awkward silence or two, but more than anything that dinner was filled with laughs, a lot of charades to help explain things, and exchanges of impressed looks when I said something in Italian with correct grammar and pronunciation. There was even some singing.
I learned that the men were actually from Albania but had been living in Pisa for 12 years. They were cousins and had other family living in the city including the chef of that restaurant. They told me about the beauty of Albania and how I should visit one day. They told me about their families and showed me pictures of their dogs. They asked me questions about all the places I’ve lived, and I, of course, showed them pictures of my dog too. At the end of the dinner, I had two new friends, even if it was just for that two-hour dinner, which they were kind enough to treat me to despite my insisting to help pay.
I wish I could tell you that I remember the names of my dinner companions, but I don’t. They were difficult for me to pronounce in the moment so forget about remembering them months later. What I do remember, though, is how happy it made me to have dinner with them. I’m all about human connection. I live for it even in those brief, fleeting moments when for reasons that can’t be explained, you just connect with someone. I think those are some of the most beautiful moments in the world, and that’s what happened that night.
I don’t know if they tell the story of that dinner as fondly as I do or if they even tell it at all, but those two guys made my night. For those two hours, I got to enjoy two of my favorite things in the world: great conversation and incredible food. For those two hours, I forgot the bittersweet feeling that thoughts of the upcoming days were brining me at the time. For those two hours, I was reminded of just how amazing human beings can be sometimes, and it was exactly what I needed to end my Italian adventures on a perfect note.