Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino is hawking pizza practically around the corner from the Uffizi Gallery, which wouldn't let the wildly popular MTV reality show film inside because, well, there were worries that The Situation and his foul-mouthed, hard-partying pals might be too wild among masterpieces by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Botticelli and others.
Paul "Pauly D" Del Vecchio is passing out fliers outside O' Vesuvio pizzeria, and he's decidedly more aggressive working the night shift at the start of several weeks of filming, with Florence, the cradle of Renaissance art and architecture, serving as backdrop for the fourth season of the mostly Italian-American reality stars.
"Best pizza in the world. Ciao, buona sera," Del Vecchio pitches. Duded up, or duded down, in a black T-shirt and black track pants, he looks like a mean bouncer.
Behind the counter, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi and housemate Deena "The Blaster" Cortese are cranking out Neapolitan pies for the dinner crowd, which consists of excited fans and not-so accidental tourists, mainly young women, who plunked down 5 euros ($7.50) for a mozzarella-topped pizza and signed a pledge not to reveal any details of the shooting.
Hours earlier, it was Vinnie Guardagnino's turn to pile high the pies, while Sammi "Sweetheart" Giancola served the customers, asking if they wanted a little olive oil drizzled on top.
It looks like the Guidos and Guidettes, as the show's stars call themselves, might have to burnish their perma-tans with the glow of a pizza oven instead of the Tuscan sun.
Their hard day's work makes you almost wonder what Florence's mayor was so worried about when he laid down conditions for permission to film, including no scenes of cast members' wandering the streets with booze in their hands.
The show, originally set in the New Jersey summer resort town of Seaside Heights, is "almost a hymn" to alcohol abuse, said Marco Agnoletti, spokesman for Mayor Matteo Renzi. But despite objections by some Seaside residents and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's lament that crude, loud and horny kids isn't what his state is all about, the show pumped nearly $3 million into the local economy during its first season. "Jersey Shore" has shown ratings growth from season to season, with some episodes during its most recent season drawing a huge audience of more than 8 million viewers.
Three of the show's cast members will be appearing in MTV spinoffs: Snooki and Jenni "JWoww" Farley will be in a reality show that follows them after the Jersey summer, and Pauly D will have a 12-episode show about being a disc jockey.
Florence City officials sat down to watch old episodes of "Jersey Shore" after the show asked for Florence's "seal of approval," said Agnoletti in a recent phone interview. "Terrible," "awful," "vulgar," were some of the adjectives that came to mind when city youth policy commissioner, Cristina Giachi, watched a few episodes.
The prospect of Florence's quietly elegant streets, soaring church cupolas and gracefully proportioned palazzi being the backdrop for the next TV season's low-jinks was initially unnerving, Giachi recalled in an interview in her office, with a view of Santa Croce Basilica, whose piazza fills up nightly with an elbow-to-elbow crowd of young drinkers, many of them U.S. college students.
Some in the city feared that "Florence's identity would get watered down by the Guidos and Guidettes," said Giachi. Others, in this city where foreign students and their visiting parents pump big bucks into the economy, fretted that the Florence scenes would panic parents of next year's potential visiting students, she said.
Last year, feisty Snooki was fined $500 and ordered to do community service after pleading guilty to disturbing beachgoers in Seaside Heights. Her lawyer said she was under the influence of alcohol when she stumbled around the beach, using loud language. And a woman accused Giancola of punching her in the head at a Miami Beach club when the show was filming there last year before returning to New Jersey.
Keith Grogg, a 23-year-old masters degree student in language at Middlebury College in Vermont, called the concern that the show's presence in Florence would promote excess drinking "a little bit disingenuous" because "young people drink everywhere." He was trying to snap a photo as the reality gang worked inside the pizzeria.
MTV didn't respond to an emailed request by The Associated Press about the restrictions, including a veto on filming in the Uffizi or at city monuments.
But the "Jersey Shore" Eight has proved a big tourist draw, with some fans flipping around itineraries to come to Florence as soon as they heard the reality stars were in town.
Among them was Rachel Lester, 22, from Dublin. She adores Snooki ? she's short but she holds her ground ? was her appeal for the Irishwoman. Lester devised her own Snooki costume for Halloween last year in Dublin. "I wore little black hot shorts and a hot black T-shirt" and revealed as much cleavage as she could, she said, while some of her male friends dressed up as Guidos, slathering on tanning cream.
So far incidents are few, if you don't count the three traffic tickets racked up barely after arriving in highly walkable Florence earlier this month.
But, the season can spice up, and the nights are long. Cortese already has her eye out for Italian men, who are "all very lean, very metro looking," as she told Corrierefiorentino.it, a local online newspaper.
Meanwhile, fans are trying to figure out which Florentine nightclub "Jersey Shore" will invade.
Gabrielle Guzzo, an 18-year-old from Vancouver, Canada, showed how her hands were shaking when she was handed her pizza, even though she described the stars as just "regular 20 year olds." She and fellow traveler, Paige Alfier, 19, from Whistler, had staked out the club Twice on Sunday night but no dice. They were heading back there Monday night in hopes of seeing their idols.
Who knows what the situation will be for "The Situation" come nightfall? Sorrentino was sitting on a curbside, taking a cigarette break. He looked tired and hot in a sky-blue warm-up outfit with "Italia" emblazoned on it.
"Sorry, I can't talk while I'm filming but I can shake your hand," he told a fan.
"I can speak a little Italian," Sorrentino told passersby at another moment.
"Vuoi una pizza?" (you want a pizza?), he asked? He thrust a flier at a man pedaling a bicycle with a small pug dog in the basket, but no go.
"I'm tryin'," Sorrentino said with a shrug. "The Situation" shuffled off clutching a pizza box at the end of his shift.
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