Not Your Average Italian Love Story
The lush Tuscan countryside outside its city walls wraps around Florence like a verdant blanket. | All photos: Tricia Patras

Not Your Average Italian Love Story

It’s been said that cities can act as a mirror; we can be stripped back to a skeleton of ourselves through their different cultures, architecture, and history when we first enter. When I decided to move to Florence for the second time in a decade, I had no expectations of how my perspective would alter. I simply knew I needed a change. In an attempt to find my reflection within the city, I found myself everywhere — and in the process, wrote an unexpected love story. 

I quickly learned that Florence was not just a place; it was a feeling. 

Eventually, I recognised this feeling after countless walks through the Santa Maria Del Fiore and warm daily ‘ciao’s’ from the restaurant owner down my street. I was home. 

The Ponte Vecchio awakened me. I had forgotten how its light shimmered across the chaotic waters of the glistening Arno. On certain nights after a rainstorm, the river would light up enough that you could see the reflections of bedroom lights peeking from between the slats of the shutters of Italian homes. 

I felt lighter from the second I stepped onto the cobblestoned streets each morning. This is a common feeling that American transplants all seem to resonate with. Florence has this magical power of bringing together the reinvented versions of people. I think that’s why we all feel this ‘lightness’. Each day of living in Florence is like shedding your skin, and eventually, you can just focus on what it feels like to fly. 

As I look at a glass vial of seashells on my shelf, I’m constantly reminded of the people who helped me achieve this lightness. They are my Italian love story. Although it’s not one you would expect I ended up falling in love with a Florentine family. Five years later, they are still my Italian family, and this is the story of how we met. 

Italian Love Story

I decided to take a pasta-making class on my third day back in Italy. During this experience, I met a wonderful man named Giacomo. His kindness shone through him like a beam of light. 

‘Buongiorno! Who’s ready to be the master of pasta?’ he spoke in chopped English. 

After four hours of laughing and eating way too much, I felt my heart (and stomach) exploding with joy. I had no idea then that one pasta-making lesson would have the potential to turn into a lifelong attachment.  

As the day was coming to an end, Giacomo invited me to take on the challenge of making homemade pizza with his family in their Florentine home. 

Nervous but excited to dive deep into local roots, I found my way out of the city centre to where Giacomo lives. 

‘Sono cosi felice che tu sia qui!’ he exclaimed in greeting. I was so happy to be there too. 

Instantly, his wife, Graziella, made me feel at home. Their 9-year-old son Giulio came running out, enamoured by the shiny new American guest in his house. Able to only speak English words studied through listening to the songs of his favourite singer, Olivia Rodrigo, he mainly used body language to communicate. 

After telling him to set the table, Graziella turned to us and said, ‘To the kitchen — I hope you like Aperol Spritz, we made a whole bucket!’ Giacomo interrupted with excitement, ‘Now get ready. We have five pizza doughs ready to bake. Let’s have some fun and pick out the ingredients from my garden! This will be the best pizza party you’ve ever had.’

And oh, it was. 

We proceeded to make pizzas with Giacomo’s favourite secret ingredient: love, he says. I don’t know if it was the bucket of aperitivo cocktails, the never-ending Chianti or the company, but you could definitely taste it.

After five hours of laughing and eating, we were now a family of strangers. Although there was a heavy language barrier, we all found ways to understand each other perfectly. By the night’s end, I knew all their stories, and they knew mine. 

This family was just so… whole. They treated strangers like relatives and saw kindness in everyone. 

I had never experienced anything like it. It almost frightened me how much I felt at home with people I had only just met. The idea that I could share this type of instant love with a family other than my own back in Chicago reminded me I could create my own someday. It was more tangible than I’d ever thought. 

We were full of delicious pizza, love, graciousness, and the humble connection between strangers. 

Giulio stole my heart for the night. His naïve enthusiasm reminded me of what mine was like as a kid. After Google-translating all night to converse with him, we realised we were becoming good friends. We shared our favourite places, one being the magical waters of Cinque Terre.

When it came time to leave, Giulio tugged at my dress and pointed to his room. Curious about what he would show me, he brought out a vial of seashells. 

With her warm smile, Graziella relayed the message of these seashells to me. 

‘He gathered those over the summer when we took our first trip to Cinque Terre,’ she said. ‘He wants you to always have a little piece of Italy with you,’ Graziella continued. 

‘He wants you never to forget him… never to forget this night.’

Holding back tears, I told Graziella, ‘Please tell him this is the best gift I’ve ever received. This night will always be in my heart, and so will you.’

Five years later, this moment is still lodged deeply in my heart. I’ve now seen Giulio grow into an ambitious teenager while admiring how Graziella and Giacomo’s romantic love defies the test of time. 

I had known these people for one night, yet it felt like a lifetime. That is the Florentine way. 

To me, they are a perfectly imperfect family. Their love writes the words in the story of their lives. And I’m just happy to be a chapter in it. 

I can’t help but wonder — maybe this was the requited love I was searching for?

Today, I feel so effortlessly lucky to be understood and welcomed by people who have only known me for snippets of time within the past five years. The Marranni family helped me remember how we are all just strangers, living in the same world, capable of loving one another in the simplest ways. 

I didn’t know pizza and a bucket of Aperol Spritz could lead to all of that, but I’m so happy it did. 

Tricia Patras


Tricia Patras is a writer from Chicago. She is a published poet, author of A Chain of Thoughts (Substack) and @achainofthoughts (Instagram). She has lived across the globe from London to Florence and is a seasoned solo traveller. She has a set of poems published in Open Doors Review, a literary magazine based in Florence, Italy; her short story, Morning Spaghetti, was published in Maudlin House. She was interviewed for Medium magazine based on her poetry Instagram account with +6,500 followers. She is currently in the publishing stages of her debut novel, Just An Average Girl.

Time to Read:  5 Minutes
Storyteller: Tricia Patras
10 May 2024
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