|02| - "Does your boyfriend smoke?" -
The early October sun was warm as it shone down on Jasmine and me, reflecting off our glasses of prosecco and casting long shadows across Piazza Maggiore. Constant streams of distant voices added to the hustle and bustle of the city, as the last dregs of tourists huddled together for selfies while shop-owners and businessmen hurried back to work, post-siesta.
For the first time since arriving here, I felt content. Maybe it was because Nathan would be visiting me at the weekend, and the excitement from that was lifting my spirits, maybe it was the prosecco, or maybe it was just because this was nice.
You couldn't do this in England; the weather was hardly ever good enough to allow you to sit outside with a cold drink and soak up the atmosphere.
It wasn't just the visual aspect of it; granted, this square was beautiful with its historical architecture and large open spaces where children ran around, happily playing as their parents watched over them from a nearby cafe, but the main difference was the people. It was a lot more civil; nobody was drinking pints, getting rowdy or cheering at a nearby football match.
It managed to be classy here, without being overtly so. Jasmine and I didn't feel out of place, like we weren't elite enough for it, and that was what made it a much nicer experience overall.
However, there was one thing that was already starting to bug me.
"Are you sure you don't want to move?" Jasmine asked as I tried to subtly waft away a cloud of cigarette smoke.
I shook my head while simultaneously glancing around for any other free tables. At this time in the afternoon, the café was busy, and the weather was pleasant enough to encourage most guests to sit outside, which meant no table was entirely free from straying smoke.
"There's no point," I told her. "You can't really escape it and I'm gonna have to get used to it at some point."
"I do find it ironic," Jasmine said. "I mean, Italy has this reputation of being such a classy country, fashion capital of the world, full of elegant people and heaps of culture... But then they sort of ruin the illusion with all the smoking."
I shrugged, agreeing with her. "I guess so."
"I mean, it's such a disgusting habit," she went on, leading into a full-blown rant. "These people are probably proud of their country and how elegantly they're viewed as a nation, and yet you walk past someone smoking and you'd never think, oh she looks so classy with that cigarette poised between her fingers!"
I smiled in amusement and took a sip of prosecco. Considering I'd been anxious about meeting Jasmine, she'd not given me an opportunity to be nervous around her. With a matter-of-fact attitude, and a plethora of opinions just begging to be expressed, my new flatmate was easy company and very down-to-earth.
"I guess there used to be a time when it was considered sophisticated," she said, "but with all the scientific evidence behind it nowadays proving how life-threatening it is? They need to move on and find other ways to look cool."
"It's ingrained in their culture, though, I imagine."
"Shit," she said, an unusual veil of concern falling over her face. "Does your boyfriend smoke?"
Laughing at her evident panic that she'd accidentally offended me, I shook my head.
"No-well, he used to... But not anymore. Not for a while now."
Jasmine nodded in approval and looked visibly relieved. Although her straight-talking personality was refreshing, it was also reassuring to know that she didn't want to offend me with any of her strong opinions.