“I can see you have excellent taste,” said the woman behind the counter, her Italian accent gliding across the room like silk over skin.
She was tall with an olive tan, dark, cascading hair and violently black eyes. Her dress was blue, her lipstick was red, and her voice carried evidence of years spent chain-smoking in an unventilated Cadillac. She was in her mid-40s and, like all things in Italy, she had aged well. “Don’t sound like an asshole,” I thought, as the flutter in my chest moved up my throat and turned into words.
“…I like…records,” I said.
I was in Florence, Italy. It was 2006, I was 19, and it was my first trip outside the U.S. The group I was traveling with had decided to go shopping for the day, which didn’t interest me because 1) I have no taste for Italian fashion and 2) I was 100 percent broke.
I have to admit, at first I was scared to walk around by myself. I don’t speak Italian, and at the time I couldn’t read a map. I thought about spending the day in the hotel, but — after watching a series of inspiring Nike commercials — I rallied and decided to just do it. I left the hotel and wandered alone through the back alleys and alcoves of Florence, eventually finding my way to a small record store. As an aspiring hipster, I figured I’d go inside to have a look.
“Music is life,” said the woman. “But those records are not special.” She curled her finger as if to say “come hither,” then led me around a corner, through a narrow hallway, and downstairs to the record store’s musty basement. With each step, my thoughts grew muddled. Her very way of existing in the world had made me drunk.
The basement was lined with shelves of records, not unlike the first floor of the shop. “These are not for sale,” she said. “They were my father’s private collection.”
I flipped through the records and let out a knowing “hmm,” or “oh” every now and then, to cultivate the illusion that I recognized any of the albums. The cardboard sleeves smelled of dust and tobacco, like an old book.
The woman handed me a glass of wine and offered me a cigarette. “No thanks,” I said, waving off the cigarette and taking the glass.
“You are American, yes?”
I nodded, sipping my glass of wine — my very first glass of wine, to be exact. “Mmm, this is good wine,” I lied, trying desperately to not do anything stupid.