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The awful responsibility of Time

FLORENCE - If I've learned anything from Italians since I've been in Florence, it's the importance of living life slowly and savoring every moment without a thought of the next-whether that means eating, walking or even shopping at a slower pace. It's refreshing that I've rarely found myself in a hurry during the past six weeks.

Nothing is ever rushed here-even when it should be-and time seems to drift by without deliberation. Hours fade away around the dinner table without notice and long walks leading nowhere are certainly the most gratifying.

But when I'm in the Duke bubble-where everything happens in that New York minute-it almost feels wrong when I'm not rushing somewhere to finish something or dashing across West Campus to make a meeting. Each hour of my day disappears, quickly and without consideration of how I'm spending the rest.

Here, surrounded by the hillsides of Tuscany, my to-do lists go unchecked and I seem to have the time and patience for the 30-minute walk from my apartment to campus, studying each face I pass and memorizing each store front, knowing that my days here are numbered, dwindling week by week.

Somehow, despite my natural tendency to be in a perpetual hurry, I'm learning to slow down, even if it requires a conscious effort.

For Italians, the real art of living slowly is grounded in la cucina italiana. Food is not a means to an end, but rather a pleasure to be savored. Meals are events-ceremonies that last for hours-and every spoonful of gelato, slice of melon or delicate sliver of prosciutto must be appreciated.

After being here for even just a week, you can't help but long for this lifestyle. And if you're lucky, you'll meet the right people to facilitate it-restaurant owners.

Last week, my friend's Roman-born, New York-transplant mother who happens to be a travel agent took a group of us out to dinner and introduced us to one of these people: Paolo, a native Florentine with generations of family in the city, and naturally a leather factory and shop to go along with this heritage-and a stake in one of the best restaurants in the city.

Paolo ensured that we had an unhurried three-hour long dinner, beginning with bottles of the restaurant's own wine, punctuated by an array of antipasti, melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi and delectable chocolate deserts, followed, of course, by a crisp limoncello. When Paolo unexpectedly picked up the check for the entire meal, it became clear that one of the keys to conquering Florence (a city once entirely dominated by only a few powerful families) is who you know.

Although this could be said of many places, I don't think Pauly ensures a quicker hot dog, even for regulars, when there's a 20-person line at rush hour and Rio certainly doesn't hurry up your daily Triple Club when you've got to catch a bus to East.

But here those connections will not only get you a prime table during peak hours, but perhaps even prosecco on the house or a surprise desert made especially for you by the chef when the rest of the menu's dolci are finito. Just like that, your standard Friday night dinner out can turn into an affair lasting past Midnight.

And somehow, I don't consider these hours spent lingering around the table to be lost. Instead, they are all a part of my Italian education-the art of living well and living slowly.

In one of my favorite novels, "All the King's Men," Robert Penn Warren's characters are burdened by the "awful responsibility of Time"-a concept that would be foreign to Florentines, who fervently honor their history, constantly strive toward the future, but live fully in the present. They are not haunted by their past-even its darkest moments-but instead they take time to enjoy every fleeting second, fitting each one neatly with the rest.

While I'm beginning to realize how important it is to take things slowly, I can't help but consider that my days here are few-that despite everything, I still face the "awful responsibility of Time."

Victoria Ward is a Trinity junior studying abroad in Florence. Her column runs every other Wednesday.

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