I work remotely full-time for Terra Dotta; it's a wonderful thing - except when the wifi is out, the kids are at home with a babysitter, I'm going stir-crazy .... Florence boasts, as one might expect, an ample population of professional freelancers, remote employees, and on. As a result, many options exist for office co-op spaces (also referred to as a "hot desk"), and after some casual inquiries and research looked promising, I endeavored to confirm an arrangement for my workdays.
I went back and forth a few times with a woman who had listed their shared space on sharedesk.net. This all pretty much functions like Airbnb, but for work. Their shared space was in a language school that looks on to Piazza della Repubblica, right in the middle of Florence's beating heart.
First mistake - I assumed that this co-op space was located in Piazza della Liberta, a piazza with which I was more familiar and could more quickly locate. Piazza della Liberta is more like the filtering kidney of Florence, where all the buses pass through.
I still don't have my bearings all the way back yet in Florence, as I have not had much time to wander about. So I took along my phone and turned on navigator.
Second mistake - this would not be at all embarrassing in the middle of the street with That Voice intoning directions in English. Her Italian accent is Not Good. I looked around and quickly muted The Voice.
Third mistake - sure, I'll just run over there on my lunch break. Yep, no problem. Looks like these instructions are taking me ... down Ricasoli ... past the Accademia ... across Piazza del Duomo... in front of the Baptistery .. and over to Repubblica ... seems easy enough! Yep! At lunch. I got this.
Me, and 200,000 tourists.
I followed the print instructions until I came to Repubblica. I looked around the massive square, looked down at my phone again, around at the square ... Hmm. Where is #5? I followed the Voice to a corner of the piazza. The numbers above read 3, 4 .... 14, 16...I vaguely remembered Florence's dual numbering system. I walked back and forth in front of Nos. 3/4 and 14/16... a crowd of tourists were seated on the deck of Giubbe Rosse. I wondered if they were looking at me. Of course no one was. Just another lost tourist on Repubblica. After a few passes, I thought, hmm, maybe I should read the business names on the doorbells to see if Sprachcaffe is listed. Nope. And nope. I walked back and forth a few more times. I thought back to the 21-year-old me, who would have folded out of insecurity and panic and walked back. But no. The 42-year-old Monica is shameless. I walked back to #3 and found a doorbell I thought would be a good one to ring. A male voice answered in Italian.
Yes, friends, I immediately played the dumb tourist card.
"Is this the language school?"
"The language school." I was pretty certain by the doorbell name that I was speaking with an accountant.
"No. But it's on the primo piano. Here, I'll buzz you in."
"GRATZ ee ay." I was enjoying my role.
Upstairs an open door framed another friendly Italian man, about my age, in suspenders, looking a bit Peewee Herman. He was VERY happy to see me. "Are you here for the language school?"
"Yes.... but I am looking for the Sprachcaffe." He looked crestfallen. He was clearly waiting for new arrivals, and perhaps angling to do a little cold calling in between. "It is #5 but I can't find it."
"Oh! 5! It is just across the square." Yes, the big, massive square teeming with people. Peewee took me by the elbow to his open window. "It is between the Feltrinelli and the Hard Rock Cafe."
I thanked him profusely and headed back down the stairs. As I opened the enormous wooden door, a fresh group of tourists with luggage pushed their way in. "Benvenuti!" I greeted them brightly. They all nodded their thanks and filed in - I hoped up the stairs to see the welcoming Peewee.
I made way to the other side of the piazza to the Hard Rock and indeed did find the Sprachcaffe, which was well-signed and in a beautiful palazzo. A woman awaited the elevator. "Are you here for the language school?"
"Yes," I said. "I'm actually here to check out the office co-op space that was listed online."
"So... you have spoken to someone from here?"
"Yes - a few times back and forth via email."
"La Gemma non c'è più."
"Well, I was speaking with someone named Lara."
"Ah! La Lara sì c'è."
In the office Lara shook my hand and showed me the space, which was an enormous and well-appointed salon set apart from their classrooms. It looked fine, but not ideal, given the hectic location, and the available hours from 12-7 due to their teaching schedule (Italian in the mornings, executive English at night.) Their rate? 250 euros per month.
I made my way back to Marmora, where Jason's office is located. His Italian colleague (from Cortona) let me in. He looked at me with a raised brow. "I've just been to Repubblica," I said.
"What? Why? At this time of day?"
"I know ... poor planning. It was packed with tourists."
He gave me a long look with a crooked grin, clearly assessing my competence, or lack thereof. "You will find that, once you take the tourists out of Florence, there is little left."