by Rochelle Hensley
Picture it: A not-bad-looking, young, adventurous black female tourist walks down a little cobblestone road somewhere in the middle of Florence.
That woman was me.
Map in hand, I eagerly made my way to the first site of the day. I hadn’t been walking fifteen minutes when a handsome, stylish Italian man rode up to me on his scooter. He asked me, in broken—but beautiful—English where I was headed. We spoke, on my part, really bad Italian, for ten minutes before he started to say his goodbyes. He had to get back to work, but wanted to show me the nightlife of Florence later that night. Could I be so lucky!? A lovely Italian man, with a broken English accent, and very cheesy Italian scooter wanted to show me around the city that night! Wait ‘til my girlfriends back in the States heard about this.
Later that night—let’s call him Guido—arrived at my hotel lobby, ready to show me around town. We stepped out into the cool night to begin our party. I have to mention that one of the best things about Florence is that everything is within walking distance and only ten minutes away from everything else. So when we were walking for fifteen minutes, and had passed several restaurants, pubs, and clubs, I asked Guido where exactly we were headed. He casually replied, “How you say, my house?” A gullible, shocked Rochelle quickly asked “Why?”
“Well…” Guido started, “We have-a the sex now, right?”
“No, we don’t!”
“But yes, you have-a the sex with me.”
“No, I don’t!”
At this point, Guido started yelling in the middle of the street, attracting a small audience. Although his English was poor, he definitely knew every English cuss word ever invented, and how to use it. Between the Italian phrases and the swearing, I realized he wouldn’t be calming down, so—needless to say—I quickly turned around and retreated onto a side street as soon as I could. In the distance, I could still hear Guido yelling.
Before I could get out of earshot, I heard footsteps quickly coming up behind me. It was the Italian police. They began asking me all kinds of questions in Italian that I couldn’t understand. Finally, in English, they asked for my passport. Once convinced that I was American, they both laughed and walked away. Why didn’t I get the joke?
I was determined to turn my experience around, and have a wonderful day of sightseeing. I was strolling on the street Via Roma, which leads to a bridge filled with jewelry shops. Every so often I heard a whistle. Not like a catcall here in the States, but the way someone would call a dog to them at a park. After the third whistle, I had to turn around to see what type of dog was being so disobedient. I turned around to face two older Italian men dressed in very nice suits, eating gelato.
They smiled at me, mumbled something to each other, and one of them walked away. The one left approached me and asked me something in Italian. I said I didn’t understand, and turned to walk away. Well, walking away I guess in Italian means “follow me everywhere I go” …because that is exactly what this man did! He would wait for me outside of each shop I went into and would whistle if I walked too quickly from one shop to another. Once I had enough, I told him to leave me alone—in shoddy Italian. I went inside one last shop where I asked the salesman to ask him to stop following me. They exchanged some words in Italian, and the gelato man threw money at me. They exchanged more words, the sales man raised his voice, and the gelato man retreated. Everyone in the shop started to laugh—once again, why didn’t I get the joke?
I was determined to avoid all men at any cost. I went off walking in a different direction this day. After about thirty minutes of walking, I came to a beautiful area that at first I mistook for a park. After further investigation, I found that it was the racetrack and a men’s athletic club. The track’s landscaping was beautiful, and open to the public to walk around and stroll through the stables.
As I got closer to the athletic club, which I had to pass to get to the other road that lead back to the city, I saw lots of black women strolling around. I was so happy! Finally, someone to talk to in English! As I got closer the women didn’t look very friendly, and when I smiled they did not return the gesture. They were all dressed like me, in jeans and t-shirts, and wearing tennis shoes. They looked like tourists, why didn’t they talk to me? They were all standing in the front of the club, so I figured they were waiting for a ride, and their ride was late. That had to be the reason they didn’t look happy to see me.
Just as I was walking past, a car pulled up and parked. An Italian man got out of the car and went to one of the women—oh good, her ride was there! They quickly turned together and walked past me. I thought, “Hey, they are going the wrong way. There’s nothing behind me but bushes.” When the two climbed into the bushes, and the clothes started falling off… I realized what was going on. As more cars started to arrive, I hurried off in the direction of the road. I slipped on something along the way and almost fell. When I looked down to see what I had lost my balance on, I was surprised to see several used condoms scattered on the ground. Good lord I was in the wrong place!
I was in the train station, going to Rome. I stopped to talk to a friendly African woman and her husband. It turned out they were also visiting from California.
The woman asked me if I had noticed anything different there in Florence. I was too embarrassed to tell her about my run-ins earlier that week.
She told me I was lucky my stay was pleasant, because many African immigrants go to Italy, and the women soon become prostitutes when they are unable to find work. She said how surprised she was that I hadn’t been mistaken for a prostitute yet, because in Italy the hookers are out during the day, not at night, and they dress in everyday clothes similar to tourists, so that they won’t be spotted by police.
I thought about this my entire way to Rome, and again on my flight back home. I could just imagine saying:
“Hey mom, I have good news and bad news. Bad news is, I’ve become a prostitute…good news is, my trip to Italy paid for itself!”