When I returned to Florence in September 2013, I had returned for an internship at a newspaper. The line had been cast, during summer of the same year, for many other positions before something had caught. After the grand return to Florence, my sunburn was diminishing, the passive-aggressive ‘let-me-yell-at-you-all-in-note-form’ flatmate was alive and well, and a slightly out-of-the-blue email popped up in my inbox. Another magazine in the city, one which hadn’t contacted me after my first email, was now suggesting we meet. I saw no harm in meeting, perhaps for future collaborations or a future position.
It was the most bizarre meeting of my life to date.
Walking through a beautiful courtyard, filled with weeping willows and impressive entrance doors, I tentatively knocked on the appropriate one. Finding it open, I cautiously poked my head around the door, excusing myself. The scene inside was nothing short of odd.
A woman, long flowing white hair tied up with a blue ribbon, was sitting sobbing in a chair. Another woman, apparently oblivious to the dramatic mess in the corner, was sitting behind a desk, intently scribbling away. I wasn’t sure which one I was meant to be meeting and since nobody turned a hair when I entered the room, I hovered awkwardly for a bit before volunteering another introduction. Eye contact still hadn’t been made, but I was ushered to sit by the woman behind the desk.
I sat down. The woman, ignoring my hand, proceeded to tell me that the sobbing woman had just broken up with her boyfriend, which would be a great problem, since the boyfriend also happened to be the photographer for the magazine, and would now be moving away. Unsure who to extend my sympathy to, I said how sorry I was to both women ‘for the difficult situation.’ Perhaps I had accidentally stumbled upon the filming of a soap opera. (Completely off topic, but the Italian soap opera ‘Beautiful’, explained in italiano in 6 minutes in the video below, is wonderful).
Wishing I could just slip out, the thought only had time to enter my mind, when I was whisked out of the office, leaving the crying woman alone.
Already suspecting something ‘off’ about the whole scenario, we headed for our ‘business lunch’. The first question, or rather statement, will remain with me as the triggering point when I should have made my excuses and fled for the Tuscan Hills. ‘So, obviously, you came back to Florence because you have a boyfriend and you’re back for him.’
‘Erm, actually, no…I just, came back, because I wanted to.’
‘Well, you are lying.’
Oh wow. This was going to be a fun lunch.
Conversation continued in this vein. I ordered my food in Italian, since, you know, we were in Italy, only to have her yell above me in English. Why? Nobody knows. I didn’t question it.
Once seated, the conversation went a little like this:
‘So, your boyfriend, what does he do?’
‘Well, I don’t…’
‘He’s probably an engineer.’
‘OK… You’re probably right?’
‘So what are you doing in Florence now?’
‘Well, I am interning for this newspaper…’
‘I hate them. I can’t believe I am even talking to you. You are the first person from…from there…that I have allowed into my office. They stole all of my ideas.’
‘Ah, OK, well *pretty sure that is not true*…I’m only interning there and know nothing about the history or bad blood or…’
‘I don’t believe that for a second.’
‘Is your sandwich good?’
‘Sorry?! Eh…yes. Very good.’
‘They make wonderful sandwiches here.’ *rummages in bag* ‘Take this business card. I can see you are wearing contacts. My eye doctor is wonderful. He can sort you out.’
‘Em…sort me out? Sorry, what? Who?’
‘For laser eye surgery. Just call him. He’s very good, you know’
‘Right. OK. Thanks?’
‘Does your boyfriend wear glasses? He probably has blue eyes, too.’
I think for the first time in my life, I was almost speechless. I say almost, because I don’t think I have ever been 100% speechless, even when I had laryngitis. I nodded and made sure my mouth was always full of sandwich, so that she could ramble on and I couldn’t say the ‘wrong thing’. By the end of lunch, I was despised for where I was interning at the time, almost had an appointment for laser surgery, was told that I obviously couldn’t speak Italian and was apparently co-habiting with my Italian, engineer boyfriend, who also had blue eyes. Good.
Returning to the office, the sobbing woman now nowhere to be seen (maybe she had seen sense and bolted), I was handed a pile of paper and instructed to write an article. Just like that. So, bamboozled, I took the papers, thanked her and left. After a very short period of reflection, I returned the papers and said that, ‘unfortunately’, I wouldn’t be able to work for her for free. Or, for that matter, for any amount of money, ever.
Life lessons learnt: If your instinct tells you someone is mentally unhinged, they probably are and you should remove yourself from the situation ASAP.