© TYLER REED SHIELDS 2017

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  • Tyler Reed Shields

Friends and Firenze

When it's 03:00, ready to sleep, you're still on the upper deck of the ship and the Master Captain offers you a cigarette...wait, let's back up here. From the beginning. One day earlier.


Livorno is cool but it's more just a place to dock and catch a train to Pisa or Firenze (Florence). I wake up at 07:00 to the sound and vicious shaking of the forward thrusters (used to easily maneuver the ship in tight areas), as usual. My bunk room, basically a closet, is directly above the forward engine room as well as the anchor. Ozzy makes you a morning person. Time to get up! I ate breakfast and planned to meet my friends, whom I've known only five days, in Firenze. They caught an earlier train than I since I had to stay behind til the early afternoon for a new hire training session. My Parisian (Paris) friend, Nesrin, and I convened after training and hopped over to the train station. A quick 30 minute skip. We bought our tickets.

Last train home, 23:07.
The ride was nice! It was a big train, two decks per car, and almost nobody was on board. About an hour and fifteen minutes after departure we arrive in Firenze. Wrong stop! Back on

the train. Five minutes late we arrive in the center of Firenze. We begin our search for the group. I text Diana, one of the cast members on their way out because their contract just finished, and she pins her location. Of course, my basic cell plan is slower than glacial erosion so the location never loaded. Oh and Nesrin's phone is on 11% and neither of us brought an external charger. We text descriptions of landmarks but the search is becoming futile. By this point we are starving and Nesrin needs to charge her phone so we can find our way home, so we decide to stop and eat dinner. We found some affordable pasta and they have wifi! Sit outside? Um...si.

There were a few other tables occupied so we took one near the center. As soon as I connected to the wifi, we ordered our food and then I video called Elise because I miss the crap out of her. Since I was occupied on the phone, Nesrin being the extroverted Parisian she is decided strike up a convo with the women three tables down from ours; a couple of students from New Zealand, visiting Italy. My conversation is wrapping up with Elise as their conversation is reaching a high point, and then our food arrives. Nesrin, a 6£ lasagna and I, a 6£ dish of mushroom and white truffle linguini. Not two minutes later, the New Zealanders receive their food, which by coincidence was the exact same two dishes. After a laugh and coming to an agreement that the food was amazing, we decided to push our tables together. We introduced ourselves. Kate, a photographer and Asher, an entomologist. Asher and I had a good long conversation about our mutual love for the study of insects. As introductions concluded, the women at the table behind us overheard my mention of the U.S. and decided to chime in. We met Cheryl, from Philly and her Ukrainian friend, Lyudmila. After little convincing, they decided to uproot themselves and join our random family dinner. By now we had three bottles of wine for the six of us, and then Tom, the Netherlander, arrived. He plops down in the middle of our group and orders food and champagne, each of us assuming he knows one of us, until he says,
"Hope I'm not crashing your party, I thought this group looked fun!"
We're two hours into dinner and I have yet to meet a single Italian...in Italy. When Tom's champagne arrived, we poured two extra glasses. One for Cheryl's friends who just arrived, Mohammad (an Iranian studying in Firenze), and the other for a woman dining alone, from New Jersey, at the "corner" table. Our Table of two was now a table of 9. But only for a short time until the two girls from Barcelona sitting near the edge of our dining table were finally convinced to move in with the family. Still not a single Italian, except for our waiter who hopped in the picture. Laughs, deep conversations, cheers, Facebook friend requests and Insta follows. We'd been at dinner for close to five hours, I'm heavily engaged in conversation and I hear,
"Bambino, we have to go!"
Some people on the ship, including Nesrin, have nicknamed me "bambino". Maybe because I'm young, I look like I'm 17, and I'm a new hire so I need to be babied. I look at the time. Fuck! 22:58. It's a seven minute walk to the station and our train leaves in nine minutes. Lyudmila offered us a place to stay but we had to be back on the ship. "Okay it was nice meeting everyone, we have to run!" And run, run, run, we did. We sprinted onto the train, sat down, and lost it. One of those painful laughs that's impossible to stop. The last train home always has to stop at every station so the one hour train ride from earlier now took a hunkin two and a half hours. Back at the station in Livorno, we hired a taxi to the ship. I thought, "too bad I was never able to meet up with my friends departing the ship, but maybe I could catch them at breakfast. Now at 01:30 the following day, I decided I wanted to call Elise and my family to tell them about my crazy day. I stopped by my room before heading up to the upper deck to get signal. I put the key in the door, crack it open quietly not to wake my Russian Pianist roommate, George. To my surprise, the light is on. I push the door open, and George is standing in the middle of the room waiting for me, with a bottle of Cognac in hand. "Taylor!" (half the mf's on this ship call me Taylor. Haha) "Taylor, drink with me." he said. I thought, "Oh boy here we go. I'm about to go shot for shot with a Russian." George just started learning English and I know zero Russian, so our conversations up to this point had been minimal, but this night was the night he decided to break that ice. Shot one. Cognac is smooth! I'd never had it before, but I like it now. George says he'll teach me Russian and I'll teach him English. He taught me a few words and phrases which in true American fashion, I promptly forgot. Shot two. Cognac is still good. George open up about his homeland and describes to me his friends, family, car, and how he's not a fan of Moscow. Shot three. I'd drink cognac again. Then the conversation got dark. Apparently Russian Roulette is real. George is living proof. It's now 02:00. "George, thanks for the drink but I need to go call my family. See you tomorrow! And don't play roulette you crazy mf."

I stumble up to deck 11 and call Elise and my family and eagerly describe to them the insane day I just had. Upon finishing the conversations, one hour later, I head down the stair well and who do I bump into? The group I was originally supposed to be meeting in Firenze. What are the chances?! Back up the stairs I go. It was a bit reduced in size as most people aren't the crazy night owls we are. Diana, the departing cast member, Mario Esteban, the soon to be departing sound technician, Sandra, the manager of shops, and the Magnus, the master captain of our vessel. Now, when it's 03:00, ready to sleep, I'm still on the upper deck of the ship and the Master Captain offers me a cigarette, especially after the wild day I just had, I thought, "Why the fuck not?" Don't worry I'm not, nor will I ever be a smoker. It was just another experience. I slept well that night.