Sunday, March 18, 2018

Still Going Strong in Florence

Alot of time since I last wrote, but time passes, everything and nothing changes.

A great Sunday in Florence as this insessant rain holds promise of the most beautiful and verdent Tuscan spring ever.

The drizzly day began with Mass at the Duomo, cappuccino at Caffè Gilli, a snack of bruschetta and wine at a local enoteca, a pause at home to watch Papa Francesco's Angelus, a quick change of clothes, a street food lunch of bollito and tripe, a browse of the latest best sellers at Fetrinelli, a stroll though Tiger and then a great surprise towards the evening at Piazza Santa Maria Annunziata, a street food fair offering Pugliese and Sicilian delights, where we got our taste on with taralli, ricotta salata, caciacavallo, and to top the day off.....panelle.

And now to hear the echoes of rain at home while watching an old classic Anna Magnani film.

Buona Domenica.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

From Momentary Art to Permanent Pleasure

"You never know what new artistic surprises are going to pop out in front of you in Florence." These are the words I wrote on that cold winter night 5 years ago when I first discovered Clet's statue while taking a walk across the Arno. And blogged about it here: Momentary Art.

Today I couldn't believe my eyes, as I caught sight of him "hanging out" on the Ponte alle Grazie as if he never left home.

A sense of joy and homecoming overwhelmed me.  He's back where he belongs!

It was a cold winter night in January 2011 when I first discovered Clet's now internationally famous Florentine masterpiece. On that night the statue had been illegally installed only hours before I first spotted it.

Since then, the installation was not only legally challenged but sadly battered, spray painted, pissed on and vandalized until finally, the old man died and I thought he would never be resurrected again. Florence mourned his death.

To me, the statue's resurrection represents resilience and change in the style and feel of Florence where now, people visit more than live.

Today I smiled as I watched tourists snapping shots of the statue who don't know his history just like regardless of how much I study I will never know the history of the art which surrounds me in Florence because I did not live through it.  How exciting it must have been to live here during the Renaissance watching art coming alive in front of you every single day.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

From Brooklyn to Greve

Did you know that 490 years ago today on April 17, 1524, Florentine Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered New York Harbor. His legacy lives on not only in navigational history, but close to the hearts of Italian-Americans who grew up in New York City. I was one of them, who growing up in Brooklyn along the waterfront, spent my childhood playing in what became the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and watched the mysterious structure emerging from the water as it was being built over the course of 5 years.

Since the bridge was such a monumental neighborhood icon, the story of Verrazzano was an essential component of our historic tutelage. For us as kids, Verrazzano was the man who allowed us to travel between Brooklyn (the city)and Staten Island (the country!) via car instead of ferryboat. Today I live only miles from his birthplace near Greve-in-Chianti, where his statue dominates the main piazza and his memory lives on.

Verrazzano was born in a beautiful castle on the Chianti road, a quick ride from Florence on the way to Greve. The castle claims a daunting position on a hill surrounded by magnificent vineyards which produce a well-known Chianti Classico. The castle changed hands to the Ridolfi and then the Cappellini Family after the death of Verrazzano’s last descendent. His family also lived part time in their Florentine home on Via Ghibellina.

Verrazzano’s navigational career was inspired by his family who encouraged and schooled him to sail. His dream was to discover the shortest route to Asia and in 1522 he transferred to France where King Francesco I set him asail to discover a passageway. It was his first voyage during which he discovered New York Harbor, but did not succeed in finding the dreamed-of passageway.

In 1528, several voyages later, he anchored at a Caribbean island where he met his unfortunate death, being captured, killed and eaten by a cannibalistic Indian tribe. That story was psychologically difficult for us 5th graders to accept, and gave rise to nightmares I had of Verrazano resurrecting from the waters under his bridge!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


I am a cycling enthusiast, but also an opera aficionado, art, music lover and hopelessly Italiana.   I used to teethe on raw calamari rings.  Florence is the only place in the world that affords me the environment to arrange all my loves into one great tapestry of art.

Riding in the country and descending back into Florence to see the sun glistening on the Arno, then spending the rest of the day at an art exhibit or classical music concert. Or just going to the market or stopping by my church for vespers, or taking a passeggiata in my piazza or along the river...I have never known a place on earth which affords me this sense of balance. 

Even watching cultural channels on Italian TV is so entertaining.  And what beats recovering from a Sunday morning bike ride while downing a beer and watching Papa Francesco's Angelus?  Or walking out of my apartment to see a musical quartet or a flute or violin player on the streets. Or absorbing the tranquility of my apartment, watching from my window an old lady hanging clothes out on the line. Or watching from my home the excited tourists standing on the balcony of the duomo like I used to see tourists standing on the crown of the Statue of Liberty from my window in NYC. What a contrast, but what a balance.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


In America, as a couple, we trashed 2-3 60 gallon designer cans of garbage twice per week. The garbage cans were big enough to fit 3 kids in each.  I personally generated an estimated 100 gallons of weekly crap. And that doesn't include the leftover foodstuff that went down the garbage disposal in the sink.  Here we use our throats.

Today I discard an average of two 4-gallon garbage bags of waste per week plus two containing wine and water bottles. Add a cardboard box or two per month.  This means that I carry four tiny bags of refuse to the cassonetti each week on my way to the market. Nulla. This equates to 16 gallons of trash per week versus 100 per week in California.

In America I thought of garbage differently. In fact I didn't really think of it at all.  It's just a part of the American hoard-it-in, dump-it-out routine. You stuff the SUV with over rated, oversized crap from COSTCO, Big Lots and Sam's Club and then you roll out the gargantuan garbage cans on Monday and Thursday nights.  Clockwork. That's how you get to know your neighbors.  Over garbage.
In America garbage customs vary depending on if you live in the city or suburbs. Since all of my Italian friends would like to die and go to California, I will address the garbage customs in California.

In California, you buy a house depending on the number of cars, bikes and garbage cans, not the number of human beings in your household.  Easy formula: If you have 2 cars, you buy a house with a 3 car garage, 2 spaces for the cars and one space for the garbage cans.

Is that the American mentality?  I never realized that I was one of "them".  When I came here, I perceived my endearing Italian ancestors to be overly-anal about conserving, packing, storing and avoiding waste of any sort. Mamma mia, I am now one of these "them", not those "them" anymore! Most people here don't even buy garbage bags, we use the bags that our merchants give us at the daily market.

The last time I was in New York, my brother sent me to the supermarket to help with the shopping and asked me to pick up some large garbage bags. I was aghast to see the overwhelming array of choices. When I returned, he proceeded to give me a lecture on garbage bag characteristics. I quickly told him to quit, I don't give a damn.

So what's to blame?  Obviously American garbage is the result of American consumerism. We "have to have".  More stuff, more is better, until we quickly tire of it and have to dump it and replace it with new stuff.  For me it was an illness. Spoiled by my own success, I perceived consumerism as a positive result of my labors...after all, I was entitled.  I have happily overcome this compulsion. I buy less, use less and discard less.  I spend the money and the time stroking myself by being with the people and doing the things that I love.  What a sense of freedom!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Did you know that 92 years ago today, on April 14, 1922 Florence created a sports club known as “ASSI” which stands for “Arno Società Sportiva Italiana”, located only steps away from Piazzale Michelangelo. It grew from humble beginnings to become a cornerstone of the Florentine sports culture. And all because of a group of schoolboys!

Its grass-roots history dates back to the 1920’s when 18 young Florentine boys from Gavinana with a passion for soccer, provoked discussions within their parish, Santa Maria a Ricorsoli, to create a soccer field on a vacant parcel of landfill on the Viale Michelangelo. The useless landfill had been created when the Viale was constructed by Giuseppe Poggi, and was nicknamed by locals “The Gamberaia Pit”. After getting the green light, these boys dedicated months of physical labor to pave the way for a soccer field. Their dream was realized and a sports association was born.

The sports complex today comprises a soccer school, a golf school and a rugby school. A cross-disciplinary sports menu includes volleyball, running, tennis, and in the past has included table soccer, roller skating, hockey, wrestling, boxing, fencing and basketball. It also offers a diverse fitness program aimed at adult education for all levels including wellness, spinning, trekking and even guided museum visits.

By the end of its first year the club comprised 200 members, 2 soccer teams, and cycling, wrestling and boxing programs. Between 1929-1932, Marquese Luigi Ridolfi reorganized and expanded the complex in order to offer more extensive and competitive programs. Tennis and volleyball courts, an infirmary, saunas and a running circuit were added, although the soccer field was eliminated and eventually moved to the stadium at Campo di Marte.

Since then, ASSI has flourished to become a grand sports society, delivering brilliant results in all categories on both the local and national level.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Renzi Book Presentation at Palazzo Vecchio

Last night, thanks to a Tweet from Palazzo Vecchio, I received an announcement that the Comune di Firenze, in collaboration with La Nazione, would host a press conference this evening in la Sala d'Arme, presenting the hot-off-the-press book "Renzi", the story of Matteo Renzi's life from school boy to Presidente del Consiglio, from the perspective of the press through writings of journalists over the years. 

Presentation to be executed by Director of "La Nazione" Gabriele Cane', our new mayor Dario Nardella, and attended by political celebrities, international press and various Florentine die-hard Renziani.

Arriving well in advance, I was delighted to meet and converse with the elegant Marta Taddei, a pure-bred Florentine with whom I shared conversation until the conference began, and then, sitting together for the presentation, she whispered to me, explaining various double-entendres and Florentinisms that were thrown around on the dais.  It is intriguing to have the opportunity to interact with age-old Florentines who reveal to me and share precious perspectives and tidbits of Florentine history that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to learn.  Carina e preciosa!

My life as a dual citizen who only 5 years ago made Italy my home has been exponentially enriched by becoming involved in the very core of the community. Fortuitously indeed. Part of which includes attending important yet intimate events such as this, which are so passionately attended by an audience of seriously dedicated Florentines.  I've learned more from these community forums and through volunteer organizations such as "Angeli del Bello" than from any other source, book or school. In this city, brimming with tourists and overwhelmed by a large transient community, it can be a challenge to keep attached to the city's true roots as it is so easy to become diverted by the glamour and drama of the city's constant array of well-publicizied and sometimes bombastic cultural events.  

The conference was attended by 200 people or so, clearly all of which were long-term Florentine devotees, which gave me the opportunity to mingle among fellow Florentines in this "little big" city, both before and after, and to rub shoulders with the likes of Dario Nardella.  

As a souvenir of the occasion, "La Nazione" distributed a first page of the first-ever published issue of the first national newspaper in Italy,  printed on July 19, 1859.  The Renzi book was distributed in small quantity only to distinguished political guests, (I was defeated in my attempt to grab one) but today I am bound for La Fetrinelli to buy my personal copy. 

What a stroke of divine luck to have settled in Italy during an era of dramatic political change, and to have experienced my first opportunity to vote as a citizen in the primaries last year. It's been exciting to experience Italian politics first-hand through my exposure to local politics and the rise of Renzi as a mayor who was so involved in our community, who rode his bicycle around town and who sprinted ahead to become the rising star and "man of the moment" in Italian politics...the person who the world is betting on to help pull Italy out of its deeply rooted problems.  I'm going to miss him here in Florence.  He may not have been liked by all, but he certainly had a strong omnipresence in our community and possessed a unique ability to make us feel connected and proud of our Florence.

I hope he does the same for Italy.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Italians Discover Calories

You would never have seen this 5 years ago.  No doubt the Italian pasta industry is suffering as it reluctantly gets dragged into the calorie-counting era after 30 years of living in denial. Here's how we save our ass. Bravo.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Opera in Florence

When I read that Leo Nucci was playing the role of Nabucco in this season's performance at Teatro Comunale, I beelined to the box office and landed the perfect pair of seats. It was a special treat to see Leo Nucci perform in Florence.  I had twice seen him at the Met in the roles of Rigoletto and Falstaff. Given he is past the prime of his career, I knew this would probably be the last I would see him and thus was excited.

I've always been very fond of Teatro Comunale.  It is a humble neighborhood opera house and epitomizes the Florentine culture in many ways, which I described a few years ago in my post:  The End of a Musical Era.  When I entered the opera house for today's matinee,  I noticed the 80 year-old poster (see above) advertising the first time that Nabucco was performed here in 1933.  This opera house is a landmark of Florentine musical history. 

The performance was much to my liking, the new production pure and realistic, the conductor spirited and precise, and the singers quite good.  Nucci carried himself strongly but without the same presence and force that he used to command. I was hoping the performance to be emotionally riveting, but it lacked the drama of La Forza del Destino and Un Ballo in Maschera, but nevertheless I fully enjoyed it. This, the third opera of Verdi is one which Italians even today identify with through the familiar choral piece Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate / believed by some critics to have been the anthem for Italian patriots during the Risorgimento.

Teatro Comunale is home to Zubin Mehta's Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, which produces excellent opera...thanks to its maestro who stands among the best of recent decades. Teatro Comunale isn't the Met. Its humble walls are not worthy of Zubin's grandeur.  Despite these issues, there is something I appreciate so much more about this small homespun opera house in spite of its acoustical defects and production limitations. The theater is perfect for the Florentines and Florence, the match is perfectly in-tuned with their habits and tastes.  It doesn't, however, suit the great Zubin, who should probably be conducting in a more prestigiously recognized opera hub.  Lucky that we still have him, he's excelled and brought us great opera when he could have chosen a city and opera house much more fitting for his status.  But he loves Florence, and I do not complain.  Having seen him countless times over the years in countless cities, it sure feels good to know that he hangs here in Florence like I do. After all, he can be wherever he wants.

The audience tonight was pure unsophisticated down-to-earth Florentine, not a single tourist at this time of year, and the theater felt as always, more like a piazza, a local gathering, an extension of my home. 

Teatro Comunale has gratified the Florentine community for 150 years, having played host to some of the world's greatest musical geniuses including Callas, Abbado, Strauss, Muti and Mascagni.  A Florentine landmark, it is rich in history, having been originally built as an open-air amphitheater in 1862, since then having been thrice reinvented after surviving devastating fires, WWII bombings and the great flood of 1966.

Rumor has it that Teatro Comunale has found a buyer to help it fund the unfathomed expenses required to complete the Teatro Nuovo, which has so far been an economic and cultural failure of poor planning, designed by over-zealous politicians and architects. Sadly, Teatro Nuovo will be the new home of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, which other than being a tribute and gift to Zubin himself,  means we pay more to travel further to an ugly, cold modern building that lacks history and parking spaces.  But its protagonists insist that it will allow the opera house to offer world-class opera and expand its repetoire by 40%.  Somehow I just do not see it.  If I were Zubin and if I loved my homeland, I would build the Taj Mahal Opera House in India and conduct my guts out among my people.  I remain content with what we have now and don't forsee Florence as a destination for world-class opera from both economic, demographic and market demand perspectives.

So, every time I go, I go with a bittersweet feeling of appreciation, knowing that this might be my last time, before the opera house becomes victim to the political dreamers who insist upon something more grand, at any cost.  The rest of the 2014 opera repertoire will continue to be performed here, but this is likely to be the last season.  Tickets are still available for subsequent performances of Nabucco.  Stand-by for Madame Butterfly next month.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio is a sacred place in my personal world. The epicenter of Florentine life for  700 years, it remains the political and cultural hub of the city.  Beneath its grounds lie the ruins of Roman Florence, its amphitheater and evidence of life dating back to the Stone Age.

The first time I beheld Palazzo Vecchio I was 15 years old.  At the time, I was only beginning to understand its historical significance. I can remember the Piazza being empty and eerily silent, not the active tourist destination it is today.  Little did I know that many years later it would be the community center of my life and that within its walls I would one day be awarded my dual citizenship. Fate knew it.

I have been spiritually drawn to this place, not just over the years, but continuously, in my daily life.  When taking a walk, even before I enter the piazza, I become taken with feelings of energy, strength, awe, tranquility, wholeness and roots.

I have read about the concept of a "vortex", and this perhaps describes the energy that grabs me in this spot, filling me with a spiritual lightness.  Could it be the earth's kinetic energy that oozes from below?  Is it the result of centuries of life, death, grandeur and history that emanate from its ramparts? Or is it the result of the voyage I have taken
to find a sacred, natural spot where I encounter an energy so much larger than myself?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

5 Years in Florence

One year ago, after 5 years of living in Italy I realized that my perspective was changing.

I had reached a turning point in my life in Italy. I had overcome the major challenges of cultural adaptation, none of which I hadn't anticipated.  I got slaughtered, battered and beaten by the bureaucratic gods and survived Italian boot camp with flying colors which included plenty of black-and-blue marks.

I had lost the desire to visit the States, even to stock up on my annual hoard of American vitamin pills and Vicks VapoRub.  I had my church and my macellaio, my shoemaker, my favorite market vendors, bars, lampredotto stands and cycling destinations.

I voted in the primary elections and acquired a general grasp of the (no adjectives here) political scene. I understood the good and the bad and had met Americans who made it here and those who threw in the towel. There were no more surprises, or at least nothing that would shock me. I learned how to navigate the health care system.  I had a bicycle team, an adopted family, a dream retirement job guiding bicycle tours in the hills of Chianti.  And I had recently negotiated an 8-year contract to live in an elegant renaissance palace that I don't ever want to leave....ever.  I was ready for the next big bang.

In 2013 I broke through many barriers. It was the year in which I stopped feeling like a newbie in transition and started gaining an identity in the community. It was the year in which my grasp of the language really started kicking in and gained exponential momentum.  So very satisfying to have arrived at this point.

I finally felt integrated enough to join a local volunteer organization, the Angeli del Bello, a group of Florentines who dedicate their time to maintaining the splendor of Florence.  For me, it meant removing graffiti from the walls of our buildings and monuments and then restoring the surface.  Not only did this give me the opportunity to mix with born and bred Florentines who share my passion for this stupendous city, but it led to a great friendship with a fellow volunteer. Not to mention that I love to dedicate my time to make Florence even more beautiful than it is, if that is possible!

I was blessed last year to find four new girlfriends, all exceptional women. They are Florentine, Sicilian and Pugliese who don't speak English.  They love and accept me despite my cultural deficiencies and notwithstanding that they cannot imagine my pre-life in the U.S.  They judge me not on my status or title, but for who I am now, who I am on the inside and the passion and energy that I exude on the outside.

To have conquered the language well enough to develop such intimate relationships is about as good as it gets for me.  After this, everything else is icing on the cake. And what a cake.

In 2013 I turned a corner and started for earnest, planting my soul into the culture, diversifying my interests, studying Italian politics, learning more profoundly Renaissance art and renouncing to a great extent the social network scene because outside my door lies the greatest city, the greatest social network that I can possibly ask for.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I Am an Angel !!!

I am an Angel!

When I came to Florence four years ago, I arrived in heaven, and this month I actually become an angel.

Florence, like every city, has its share of urban decay issues…graffiti, garbage irreverently deposited on the sidewalks, cigarette butts and even broken bottles strewn around by students. We who love our city get outraged to know that someone is deliberately destroying our treasure. Residents and tourists alike complain that something should be done about it. I’ve always wished that I could personally do something about it. And I just did. Today I officially became an “Angelo del Bello”.

The “Angeli del Bello” is a volunteer organization comprised of Florentine residents who have banded together to fight urban deterioration and to restore and preserve the beauty of our city. These people share one hell of a powerful passion for our city of Florence.

The organization is the result of a collaboration between the city of Florence and several private associations, organized by Mayor Renzi in 2010 in response to his “call-to-arms” to its residents, to join together to fight the battle of the beauty and glory of Florence. The idea was born from the success of the “Angeli del Fango”, known as the volunteers who came from all over the world to unbury Florence from the flood of ’66 and to restore its art, buildings and libraries. The Angeli del Bello is its sequel. Our motive is to defend the city against urban decay. We “Angels” give our time and our love towards physically removing graffiti and stickers from palazzo walls, piazzas and gardens.

After having spent several days working on the streets with the angels stripping posters from palace walls, scraping and painting over graffiti, I’ve learned that this group is not just about graffiti and garbage. It’s so much more than that. It’s about personal involvement and dedication to the love of our city. It’s anything that we want it to be. It’s about personal passion.

I discovered this organization by accident. Recently while participating in a week-long conference at Palazzo Vecchio, I attended a presentation given by Florence’s urban planning committee and learned about the “Angeli del Bello”. I was surprised to learn that the operations “boss” was a man that I worked with in the tour business here in Florence. We connected, and two days later I was messing around with paints and learning what kind of solvents to use to scrape graffiti off the walls of our beautiful palazzi. I subsequently received my official orange angel vest. Over the past few weeks I’ve been donating my time, but most of all, my love, to combat. I feel like I’m one of the Mod Squad.

The work is fun and extremely rewarding. The organization is comprised of passionate Florentines from every walk of life. There’s no set schedule, I can just show up when I have time to spare, and the weekly planned locations are posted on their website, so I can choose those buildings that are right near my house. Mayor Renzi gave us an “Angelmobile”, which is an electric minivan that we use to jump from one location to another, where we store all the paints, solvents and supplies.

My day is spent making friends with the other volunteers, mixing, integrating and learning Florentine vernacular, watching and learning the steps involved in removing graffiti and mixing paint colors to match the palazzo walls.

I’m finding the work to be very fulfilling in many ways. First of all my pride and adoration of Florence is pretty intense. I so appreciate the history and the beauty of the buildings, monuments and streets, that I want to see them shine and not be blemished by urban decay. It feels good to see the city getting better and better every day and to know that I helped it happen. Every time I walk past the walls that I worked on, I feel proud. I’m getting to know the architecture of the city and the history of the palazzi and churches I am working on. When I look at a building laden with graffiti and then clean it up, I’m rewarded with a great sense of bonding with my city. People stop by and with big smiles they watch what we are doing and they thank us and cheer us on, for cleaning up our neighborhood. The merchants usually treat us to free lunch and coffee when we work on their walls.

Being a part of this group, working and sweating together to preserve the glory of this magnificent city gives me a sense of pride and makes me feel more and more now that this is truly my city.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fare Una Paseggiatta

Today while I was in the park doing laps on my bike I was overwhelmed by the crowds of people taking a passeggiata.  It's All Saints Day, or more accurately la Festa di Ognissanti. Wish I had taken photos.

It made me think of how in America we don't slow down enough to take walks.  We run, we hike, we power walk, we must sweat, we have to be in a rush, as we have another appointment. We never have time to stroll, we in fact abhor the very word. We see it as a negative thing. We don't know what the world pause means.  We really don't understand this passtime of just strolling and letting loose.  We're in too much of a rush to do...I don't know what.

If you're depressed or just want to smile and see life from a different perspective, go to the park and give in. Take a stroll and change your life. You can see deeply into people's lives this way.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Welcome Back, Florence

What a great sight to come home to.  The baby carriages are back in the building.  The streets are alive again. Men in business suits, mammas toting kids on the bikes to school.  it was like a bomb hit Florence, never thought it would come back but it does.  Still cannot believe how a city that was completely stagnant, silent a couple of weeks ago can be so filled with energy and passion.  So glad that everyone's home again.  Chatter out my window. The lights are on again, traffic, motorini.  Summer is over.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

O Christmas Tree

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree! Thank you for letting me find you. Thank you for staying with me during this great Natale.  Thanks for making me happy, thanks for spreading your arms wide, for so elegantly suspending my little trinkets in your graceful hands.  Thanks for warming up my new home and for making me and my friends happy. Thanks for being so brilliant and sparkling. 

I cannot wait to see you again when I come to Siena to celebrate Pasqua. It will be spring.  You will be shooting new branches with exuberant birds chirping and playing around in your branches.  You will live and live forever, way longer than me, in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany.   Buon viaggio bello. Ci vediamo presto  presto ! .

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I Propositi per L'Anno Nuovo

Ride more
Play more
Love more
Learn more
Fantasize more
Be incorrect more
Be me more
Be here now more
Relax more
Spend more time with friends
Sleep less
Non preoccuparmi cosi' tanto!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Capodanno 2013

This year for the first time I hosted Capodanno and celebrated with a group of friends from Prato who insisted on buying and cooking all the food. After forcing me to abandon my porcelain in favor of paper plates,  they furiously took over the house like a crew of professionals,  What's cooler than eating caviar off disposable dinnerware?   The men were in charge of the kitchen....what a performance.

It reminded me of how I once so incorrectly believed that Italian women did the cooking while the men got served.  Maybe in yesteryear, but certainly not true today. Italian men, thanks to their mothers and their ever-more liberated wives, they can whip up an amazing meal faster than an Americana can nuke a frozen dinner.  

At 5 o'clock, the men arrived carrying the food, from caviar and prosecco to Mantovana and Vin Santo. Dinner commenced with salmon and caviar bruschette followed by tagliatelle al salmone.  For the secondo piatto, shrimp served in a broth laced with olive oil, lemon, wine, black olives and pepperoncino.  
Although it was a seafood dinner, before our dolce, we ate lentils and sausage, a traditional New Years Eve dish, believed to bring good fortune in the coming year.  Follwed by Torta Mantovana which they brought from Pasticerria Antonio Mattei, the famous Pratese bakery that created the recipe in 1858.

We cooked and played all night long, danced, sang and were having so much fun that we decided not to walk over to Piazza Signora to see the concert and fireworks at midnight.  We brought in the New Year by counting down with Carlo Conti, popped the cork singing with Gigi d'Alessio, and the party went on into the wee hours of the morning. Then like magic, they cleaned-up everything, including the floors, in a flash.

After dancing throughout the house, we were joined by other friends and at 1.30am decided to take a passeggiata.  We ventured out into the packed streets which were loud with fireworks.  Every hotel in town was booked and it was obvious.
The streets of Florence have become rowdy on New Year's Eve, it's not the intimate and silent city it was on my first New Year's Eve here.  I can see that from now on I will be spending my Capodanno in the company of good friends, doing our own wonderful thing. Buon anno tutti!  Below a photo slideshow.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Buon Anno Nuovo

This will be my last post of the year.  After 4 years of living in Italy, 2012 was the year that I accelerated from 2nd gear into a steady and comfy 3rd gear.  I'm ready for 2013 to rev it into full throttle overdrive. 

It was a year of confirmation, with a diversity of moments ranging from sad and brutal to those of astounding joy....and discovery.   I sadly lost my best friend to a tragic accident, one of the worst losses of my life.  I also had days filled with rich moments, smiles and surprises.  A few special new people entered into my life who I hope will stay or enrich my heart from afar.  I am in the perfect place, where I can be exactly who I am and who I was meant to be.

I feel very lucky to have discovered this life so full of joy, wonderful friends, and a passion for life that has been fueled with love.  Hopefully 2013 will be a year in which I will finally find a way to share and spread my happiness and to give it back to the universe that has perfectly aligned itself with me.

So, I put my heart out there, ready, ready, ready.....full of coraggio, esperanza e l'amore.

Buon Anno Nuovo a tutti voi.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


I love the word prego for so many reasons.  First of all, it sounds so simple and positive.  I’ve never seen anyone say the word without a smile on their face.  It is a friendly word that conveys a sense of harmony and agreement.  I think it is a pure expression that reflects the Italian culture and the gentility of the people in many ways. 

Prego…. you hear it everywhere and it means many things. It is so simple and subtle though often used, it communicates a sense of openness, a state of harmony, an attitude of tolerance and gentility, of apology, courtesy, refinement  If I had to pick one Italian word that embodies the character of the Italians, it is the word Prego. 

This one little word means more than just a word.  "Please, may I help you?"  "What can I do for you?"  When I approach another rider in front of me, instead of speeding up to stop me from passing them, they wave me in front of them while saying "prego". "Please, pass me on the street" (even though you just about ran my 4 year old over) "I am sorry!"  "Of course you can get in front of me on the grocery line, please take my place" . "Please you almost killed me but I am still alive, so prego".  "What would you like?"  "No problem".  Every time I accidentally bump into or offend someone, they never get irate, but always apologize saying" prego….e la colpa mia". 

If I had to select the Italian word that I love and hear the most during the day, it is the word" prego". 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Day After

Christmas is "over", at least for the day.  Here, the 12 days of Christmas really exist on the streets, at church and at the table. With the PD parlimentary elections taking place on Sunday in which 6 of the 12 Tuscan candidates are Florentines, not even one of my neighbors (other than Giovanna who works at the voting office) is planning to tear themselves away from il letargo delle feste for the mere sake of choosing the country’s new potential "government". 

Family, food and escapism is in full bloom at this time of year and nothing gets in the way of this virtual hibernation from least until after January 7th. Then the whole country goes into "shock" mode, everything goes on sale and people return to the other temporary illusion called "work".

Today, the day after Christmas, we celebrate yet another saint's feast day (St. Stephen) as a convenient national excuse to take off and recover from Christmas just to continue the feasting for another 10 days.  On Capodanno the entire peninusla enters into explosion mode, (it used to be so bad that the whole country used to throw their furniture out the window along with the fireworks on New Year's Eve) just to continue another few days of fantasy binging and recovery, while wandering in a continual coma until the ultimate orgasm of the year when the whole country crashes into its final "Epiphany".

The whole process of feast and recovery seems to be somewhat of a bipolar process here in Italy. The all-out feasts (but how many a year?) are planned and executed with more commitment and WAY-HEY-HEY more enjoyment than an American wedding. But the day(s) after are equally as contrary. Here a recovery day means sleeping late, waking up with a stomach ache and a prosecco-grappa headache. It means walking around the house all day in a comatose stupor, eating panettone for breakfast and watching the third repeat of Christmas Mass at the Vatican (or worse yet, Bambi) while picking canellini beans and Tombola cards off the floor and scraping pork and capon drippings off the 4th load of dishes.  It means drinking tonics, seltzer and bitters and eating digestives such as fennel to remedy the afflictions of the previous day's excess.  Then it's back to the table for leftovers. (I wonder if this custom has its origins in the ancient Roman culture when binging and purging in vomitoriums were practiced by the aritstocracy.) 

Christmas at the "Mazzella" house this year was a milestone...the first Christmas since I've been living in Italy that I was the hostess instead of the guest. A new home, lots of preparations including a real tree, lots of friends with more and more native Italians becoming a fixed part of my life, way less English spoken and continuously feeling more integrated. 
Buone Feste!  There's still alot more to come!

Some photos of my Christmas in Florence this year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Preparations....the Essence of Christmas

Home Sweet Home
 I wrote this 3 years ago, and it is still so true, I cannot say any more, except that my friendships, my Italian family, my life and my Christmas in Florence gets richer and deeper every year!

Anticipating and getting ready for Christmas in Florence still feels like a welcome trip into the past, into the days when things were more simple, more pure, less commercial, less materialistic, more based on emotions, spirit, curiosity and learning, communicating, singing, laughing, sharing, hugging, smiling.

Everything happens here on a local level, in your own neighborhood, at the market, in familiar places with familiar faces. No malls, no chain stores, no franchises, no lines, no road rage, no parking lot acrobatics. Pure. Simple. Friendly. Organ and choral music emanating from churches, bells ringing, accordians and violins playing in the streets, lights everywhere. Artisan merchants selling their wares, their handmade clothes, their handmade jewelry, their antique book collections. And oh, the lights!
The salumeria selling salami, prosciutto, mortadalla, the forno selling fresh bread of every kind, the pasticerria selling mouth watering torte, panettone, pandora, the ortolana selling exotic vegetables, figs, dates, chestnuts, zucchini, the macelleria selling whole baby pigs, capon, pheasant to deck the middle of the Christmas table, chickens stuffed roasts of every kind, sausages with every conceivable kind of filling, fresh pastas of every shape, the pescheria selling fresh fish and scoglio for the Viglia ,

And the librerie many bookstores in Florence! They seem to be on every single street. I am fascinated and so proud to be living in a place where there are so many book stores. Each one is unique and specializes in a different genre, subject or theme. If all these people weren't reading so much, those book stores would be out of business. It makes me feel good to know that I am living in a city where the mom and pop bookstores are and important, integral part of life here. They are always crowded with all kinds of people.....old men, young boys, wives, students.

The tourists have completely disappeared and all that's left are the real people who live and work here. The air is fresh, and just cold enough to bundle up without freezing. I never realized how much I missed the cold weather until now. I thought that 5 years of living in California had made me a spoiled weather wimp. But I have built back my tolerance to the cold little by little.  I am happy to re-discover again the truth of the matter....I had been missing the seasons for a long time, and getting them back is a gift. Finally I can appreciate Christmas again the way I knew it all my life. Cold. Dynamic. Illuminated. There is nothing that can compete with that feeling of seeing Florence covered with snow and feeling the cold flakes touch and melt on your face in the silent night luminated by the reflections of snow everywhere.

Finding the right gifts for the few but important people on my shopping list was a pleasure, as I identified with a new kind of gift giving that is different than in the U.S. For instance, here, a 10 year old boy would appreciate receiving a gift consisting of a book or CD of Giovanni Allevi, whereas in America most boys would prefer something more computerized and sophisticated, not to mention exponentially more expensive. People here seem easy to please. In my experience, Christmas in Italy is actually more focused on buying food rather than gifts. Festiggiando con abbondonza, eating with their families, the act of cooking together, cleaning up together, taking a walk after dinner together, playing Tombola together....being with the family and bringing them together with food. Christmas in Italy is less materialistic, more spiritual, more sensual, more real. The way it was when I was a kid. I'm thankful for getting it back!

Presentation is not as important here as it is for us in the U.S. Italians do not wrap their gifts as elaborately as we do. They do not set their tables as perfectly as we do. Those who have Christmas trees don't care if it isn't perfectly balanced or if it's got bare spots. Even for those that do have trees, the prespe is still the priority tradition. We always had a presepe, although it was not very ornate, it was still an Italian-American tradition that we loved.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas 2012

Nothing like Christmas in Florence, (well, maybe Napoli) lasts for a full month, concerts, lights, presepe, choirs, theater, many many celebrations and dinners with friends, music in the streets.  Despite the tough economy, Italians know how to live in fantasy and put life's problems behind, at the table and with friends.  Heaven is here. first "real" Christmas tree in my new home.  My new living room furniture was received in time for Christmas, didn't expect it!!!   Hosting Christmas Day with an abbondanza of food, wine, prosecco, grappa, dolce, the whole day to be spent cooking together, then Michele plays the flute for us, we play Tombola and cozy-up on my new sofas to watch a classic Italian film....maybe Totò, maybe Eduardo De Filippo?  Maybe Sophia and Marcello?  

Life is good in Florence.   A few in the moment does not leave much room for taking photos...but here are just a few clips, with many, many missing, but many, many wonderful memories in the making....

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Still Pinching Myself

It’s not just a nip, it’s freezing cold outside. Winter arrived today and snow is expected by Saturday. Florence is ignited with lights and a Christmas glow unequaled to any city I’ve ever lived in or visited.

I am sitting inelegantly on a red-carpet covered marble floor with my back against a cold, hard stone wall.  I feel like a student camping out on the floor of an airport beset by cancelled flights. I had expected given the season, that most Florentines would go home directly after work and stay inside. But I am wrong. Even though my friend and I arrived early, all 500 seats are already taken, relegating us and 200 other Florentines to stand or sit on the floor. I've chosen to sit.

It is 0˚outside, and even colder in this room. But I am warm. My eyes are closed and my ears are filled with heavenly choral voices as Florence's illustrious orchestra performs Mozart's Requiem. I am drifting somewhere between reality and fantasy, lost in space and time.  Surrounded by an audience of 700 Florentines wrapped in heavy coats, scarves and boots, we are all connected by an inexplicable, magical bond. Heaven couldn’t be closer. This moment, this place, this space in time is exactly where I want to be.  I’m frozen in this miraculous moment, mesmerized by the music, my heart which is full of love, and this magnificent space.

And then I open my eyes. I gaze towards Vasari’s Battaglia di Marciano, (behind which once existed Leonardo's Anghiari), and Michelangelo's famous marble group, the Genius of Victory.   I look ahead at the elaborate theatrical stage setting ordered by Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo l and then lift my head up to see the grandiose gold-laden panelled ceiling. Over the past few years I have sat in this room dozens of times attending community-related functions.  And here I am again, sitting in the magnificent Salone dei Cinquecento, still not believing that this is my city hall, enjoying an elaborate celebration of the anniversary of the death of Mozart among my Florentine neighbors.

I love my city and I love my life in Florence and I will never take it for granted.  Even after four years, moments such as this seem to happen on an overwhelmingly frequent basis, too often to write about. And I cannot stop pinching myself, because this all seems too good to be true. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Il Giorno del Ringraziamento

After 4 years living in Italy without a sign of Thanksgiving around me, I finally took it upon myself to buy a bird and spent 2 days preparing a typical turkey feast for my Italian family (four adults, two kids), which was enjoyed by all with tremendous gusto. We chose to celebrate today, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, as of course nobody is off on Thursday. It was the first time in many years that I made a turkey and all the trimmings, and although I thought I would have forgotten how to make the perfect stuffing, it came right back to me in a flash.  What fun, and at the same time how strange it was to prepare for Thanksgiving in this setting.

Nicoletta, (a thoroughbred Fiorentina) and I collaborated on the menu the week before. We decided that no Thanksgiving among Italians could ever succeed without a primo piatto di pasta.  While brainstorming on the pasta, her eyes lit up as she declared "penne al cavolo nero"!  (A typical Florentine pasta dish made with black cabbage).  It was exquisite and complemented the meal perfectly. 

The secondo piatto and all the trimmings were foreign to them.  Not understanding what turkey "stuffing" is, I explained it by calling it "Panzanella Americana" and then it clicked!  They never had turkey gravy before (it was rich with pan drippings....the best I've ever made...this time the roux was perfect).  They loved it!  I got a kick out of how crazy they went over the cranberry sauce (which I spent 2 days hunting down and spent a fortune for)....they practically licked it off the plate and and asked to take home the leftover berries.

It was especially fun explaining the story of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower to them and sharing the history of our greatest American holiday.  The kids soaked it right up and asked alot of questions about the Indians.  They were star struck.  I led the meal by having everyone hold hands and said a prayer of was very emotional. 

The kids are amazing in the kitchen, just like at their house.  Setting, unsetting the table and following me all over the kitchen asking me what they could do next. What a great day. Roasted chestnuts, fruit and Nicoletta's masterpiece tiramisu, topped off a very nostalgic day as little 7 yr. old Costanza performed for us all on the violincello.

This was a momentous day for me.  After 4 years spent making Florence my home, I'm able to look back on my American life with a lifetime of memories, and am now able to integrate my past and my present in a new and meaningful way. It marked another new Italian/American tradition that will be the first of many to come, spent with a precious family that has become mine.  I am so grateful on this day of Thanks.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Voting in Two Different Countries

Yesterday, as the world watched the American presidential elections and having already cast my absentee ballot, I began preparing myself to vote in the Italian Primaries on November 25th.  It was uncanny that I was juggling thoughts of voting in two different countries on the very same day. 

This will be the first time since receiving my dual citizenship that I’ll have the opportunity to vote as an Italian citizen. After all the complex steps I’ve taken to establish myself as a citizen, resident and community member, when I step into my local electoral office to vote, I will truly feel arrived. I’m proud to have the privilege of being able to vote for the leaders of the two greatest countries in the world.

When I first received my jure sanguinis Italian citizenship and Florentine residency in 2009, I expected to steer clear of Italian politics, given its complexity and my lack of first-hand knowledge. I certainly didn’t expect that I would be as enthusiastic to vote as I am now.

Over the past few years, my relationship with Florence has become precious like a friend. Thus, I have become engaged with social, economic and political issues, eager to understand the forces that drive the vitality of my city and the country of my roots.  Here I feel more involved and connected with city politics than I ever did during a lifetime in the U.S. perhaps because in spite of the complexities of the Italian political scene, the feeling of community is so much tighter here, where I feel like a member and not a number.

I’m not jaded yet and doubt I will ever because I think so differently than I ever did before and have eliminated expectations from my life.  I’ve embraced and am fully committed to my future here and equally invested in preserving the integrity of Florence and Italy.  Having a voice and a right to vote is more important to me now than it ever was before because I feel like a valuable member of this big crazy family called Italy.

I’ve actually been surprised that many Fiorentini and Italians don’t get politically involved beyond musings on the communal level. I have kept my opinions to myself and my blood pressure from bursting, although this attitude is contrary to my New York City breeding. Hence, I’ve developed some strong political inclinations and am thirsty to express them. I'll have the opportunity to do so at the polls on November 25th.

Other than what I read and hear around me, I’m ignorant of the system and have a lot to learn. But I sure know my gut. I know which candidates I like and who I despise. For me, this is enough.

Today I visited my local Arco Circoli to register to vote. They asked me for my voting card, which I do not have. I thought all I needed was my Carta d’Identità. They told me that I should have received my voting card when I first got my residency in 2009. Of course I never received it. So now it is a mad rush for me to get this card subito, in order to vote by the 25th.

Learning all these new ways of living is so exciting. There is no book written on the subject of how to navigate the voting system as a new citizen.  So like everything else, I continue to pioneer my new-founded territory, an adventure of somewhat solitary but intimate self-discovery that has been endlessly rewarding.

I know that when I have my voting card in my hand, it will feel like a treasure that I've waited a lifetime to earn.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Redefining Beauty: It's Not About the Belly Button

The old concept of Italian female beauty is about to be scrapped
Miss Italia 2008

In favor of a whole new concept of inner beauty
Tara Gandhi

The Miss Italia Pageant Goes Mainstream

Arrivederci belly buttons and bikinis. Anna Maria Tarantola, the new boss of Italian state TV under Mario Monti's austerity government is clamping down on female TV nudity, beginning with the Miss Italia Pageant. Patrizia Mirigliani, pageant organizer has announced that bikinis will be replaced by one piece bathing suits to cover the crotch and upper thigh. In an unprecedented move, the granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi has been invited to teach the girls about “inner beauty''. Gandhi will also judge the final competition, replacing a panel spot typically reserved for the likes of Sylvestor Stallone, Bruce Willis and Andy Garcia. Somewhat contradictory is the inviting of Jane Fonda, who in her perfectly plastered body will also serve as a judge. (This is the same sex symbol Jane Fonda who stared naked in Barbarella and who admitted that her father taught her that her looks were all that mattered.)  An incidental case of mixed signals?

Is this "flight to purity" a moral triumph for Italian women, or is it an insult to their female sexuality? Are they being told to cover up something that they should be proud of? Is it insulting to tell a woman to cover up her body and to imply that she doesn't have inner beauty? Is this a politically inspired maneuver to correct the distorted global perception of Italian female sexuality propagated by internationally acclaimed political pervert Berlusconi? Or is this the beginning of a “piccola grande rivoluzione”, a top-down strategy, using the media as a vehicle to indoctrinate and slowly reform the very gut of Italy’s female culture?

Italian women in my age group are divided. Some believe that female nudity on TV undermines the female image, and others see it as harmless realism.

Yes, I bought a pair of rose-colored glasses when I moved to Italy and will never take them off. Perhaps it has distorted my perception. When I watch the bikini-clad Miss Italia contestants I see nothing but innocent, wholesome, elegant teenagers whose body behavior is far from suggestive. If a woman in a bikini is sexually indecent, then we might as well call the Uffizi a porn gallery and cover up half of the art in Florence. After all, this is supposed to be a beauty contest.

I always thought that the Miss Italia candidates already had inner beauty. But maybe it's just those darn rose-colored glasses getting in the way, ehh? Telling them to adopt a more Indian philosophy can be interpreted as an insult. (In fact, the Indian culture is not exactly the global epitome of feminist success). Are we saying that the Italian ideal of beauty isn't good enough, and therefore we have to copy someone else's culture? 

There isn’t a culture in the world that uses body language the way the Italians do. Their inimitable facial expressions, hand gestures, body movements! Covering up their bellies is like putting them in a straightjacket.  Where's the fantasia?

As I see it, it's not the bareness of the body, but the behavior of the body, the way the body is used, the innuendo and the attitude that makes the difference. It’s the difference between the obnoxious “Big Boob Barbie Doll Bimbo Beauty” and the pure elegance of Botticelli Beauty. And these little innocent girls, many from the back roads of Italy, are not strutting their bodies in "that" way. I always found the Miss Italia Pageant to be imaginative, spunky spontaneous, innocent, natural, entertaining and well.....Italian!

As a rather straight laced corporate American competing in a man's world, I was unfortunately taught to strut my bodily stuff in a business suit and to cover up the cleavage. Just the opposite mentality. It took me four years of living here to finally shed the old uniform and start dressing Italiana. The difference is that Italians are taught to love their bodies unabashedly, regardless of being fat, skinny, young, old, housewives or executives. They have a confidence and elegance that I wish we had in America. One of the reasons I love watching the Miss Italia Pageant is that it is pure in its bodily pride, carefree and unrehearsed. I dread the thought of  Miss Italia going the way of Miss America.   Let’s not make it too psychologically competitive and serious, man!!   This is Italy!!!!

On the positive side, the new “inner beauty” movement may indeed indoctrinate the young beauties with more esoteric values and prepare them for better career and life opportunities. And as long as Berlusconi keeps his pecker out of the Italian sex scene, it will certainly improve Italy’s image in front of the rest of the world.

I’m sorry to see it go. I guess after all is said and done, I can’t blame Italy for changing its image, but I'll miss the old Miss Italia Pageant. It was a pisser. I’m probably more in favor of the new ideas than not. On September 9th and 10th we will see the outcome and judge for ourselves. I just have one thing to say:  "Hey, Italy keep your "Italian-ness"!

Either way, the very gracious Patrizia Mirigliani is sure to pull it off with elegance and finesse.   And as usual, it will probably bring tears to my eyes!!  It must be those rose-colored glasses.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Zucchini Flowers for a Hot Day

A perfect pick for dining in the Florence heat!  I'm always hunting for alternatives to panzanella, salads, caprese and panini to keep cool. Today I found the perfect summer dish based on what's currently fresh in Florence's markets. Objective: minimal cooking and the pursuit of a cool kitchen and an even cooler Barbara.
As I browsed the Sant'Ambrogio market this morning, the zucchini flowers screamed at me for attention.... freschissimi e abbondanti!  It instantly grabbed me....eggs with zucchini flowers and pecorino.  Fast, fresh and it doesn't heat up the kitchen.  A soft Vermentino or sparkling white makes the perfect partner.

I love eating all kinds of flowers and always have.  In the U.S., zucchini flowers are a delicacy and priced as such.  Here, they are common, cheap and abundant in the right season.  Italian eggs are much more tasty than American eggs, and combined, they make a heavenly simple meal. 

The recipe:  Three eggs, 3 tbs.grated aged pecorino, 3 tbs.chopped parsely, 1 tsp.shallots, 5 big zucchini flowers, a few pats of butter. Die-hard Tuscans can use olive oil, but butter enhances the sweetness of the flowers.  Sliver up the flowers. Melt the butter, add slivered shallots and saute for 2 minutes. Beat the eggs, add the cheese and 1/2 of the chopped parsley to the eggs.  Add the flowers and remaining parsley to the pan with a dash of salt and cook for 1 1/2 minutes (keep the crunch!). Add the eggs and as they cook, fold them over a few times for maybe a minute!  Withdraw the pan from the heat when the eggs start to coagulate and finish the cooking off the heat! (you don't want to scramble it, and do not cook too long. Keep the yokes a little wet for the best flavor)  Done!  You can also cook this frittata style, but it is thicker, drier and takes longer.

Now you can serve it plain, or over some toasted Tuscan bread rubbed with olive oil. You can also plop a dollop of ricotta on top. Sprinke more parsley over the eggs and enjoy.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Liberation of Florence

Last Saturday was the 68th Anniversary of the Liberation of Florence from the Germans, under whose occupation the city suffered great damage during WWII.

Among the many civic celebrations in Florence, this one is particularly well attended by native Florentines, many of whose families witnessed the brutal mutilation of their city.
I felt a great sense of pride as an American participating in the ceremonies as it unites me closer to the Florentine community in celebration of a mutual victory.
In order to attend the ceremonies in Palazzo Vecchio, one must receive a private written invitation from Mayor Renzi.

While I will never achieve such insider status, I was fortunate to have been extended  a written invitation by a native Florentine friend whose husband was unable to attend. I was honored to partake in the festivities in the filled-to-capacity Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio and afforded a VIP seat for the closing concert conducted in the Arengario in Piazza Signoria. It was a day of great emotion, solidarity and pride.

Below is an amazing video taken in the streets of Florence as Allied Forces liberated the city on August 11, 1944.  One minute of vintage history-in-the-making!!!  Viva Firenze!!  You must plug in your headset as the audio quality is poor!  Don't miss it!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Celebrating the Silence

I love it and I hate it.  August in Florence.  We are expecting our 7th heat "wave", but since June, I cannot tell where one has ended and the next has begun. We are enduring a persistent drought unseen in years. Merchants and residents alike have left the city behind in pursuit of cooler destinations, clinging to a vacation tradition that has it roots in ancient Roman times.  A tradition that is slowly fading as Italy is forced to become more competitive and fewer Italians can afford the luxury of vacations and time off from work.

While the tourist trade never sleeps in Florence, in my little world, nearly everything is closed and I am the only tenant left in my building. I've learned that anything you need in August, you better buy in July.  As I gaze out my window, my neighbors' shutters are closed, there are no clothes hanging on the lines and my plants are almost dead from the heat. An eerie solitude hovers over my empty courtyard at night.

But I too, am clinging to my own "tradition" of heading south after the panic has ended, to enjoy uncrowded beaches, no traffic, no lines and better service.  I've again chosen to remain in my beloved Florence, even when the going gets tough. For more reasons than one.

I love this city even in its heat and its silence. The roads are empty. I can spend mornings enjoying traffic-free bike rides in the northern hills and passeggiatas in the city. The duomo bells resonate with a richer tone and a deeper echo since there is nothing to absorb the sound. My girlfriends seem to be taking turns going away, so there's always someone here with whom to share an aperitivo on Florence's rooftops, overlooking a quiet and peaceful city. Or at Las Palmas, my favorite open-air niche. I've found a little oasis in the Cascine, where a local piscina allows me to run or ride in the morning and swim in the afternoon.  In August, even the Duomo looks lonely, but it feels like it's all mine, as it stands silent against the backdrop of a naked city.

I spend more time indoors, doing things that I would typically find boring, but love it.  Like watching cultural films on T.V., reading, writing, tending my plants and refining my goals for the rest of the year.  And  taking time to lay back, have a glass of wine, and enjoy il "dolce far niente".

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Big Find in a Little Museum

I joined a group of Florentines today on a tour which examined the works of five Renaissance artists who left their mark in the Land of Arezzo. The tour is one of many sponsored by the initiative "Rinascimento in Terra d'Arezzo" exploring some of the lesser frequented "Little Big Museums" outside the city of Florence. The program, promoted to the Florentine community by a Florentine cultural arts foundation, offers gratis day trip tours via motorcoach, skilfully guided by a master Renaissance art expert.
I heard some reviews from local friends and it sounded like a unique oppotunity to examine a very select sample of masterpieces of Filippo Lippi, Beato Angelico, Luca Signorelli, Bartolomeo della Gatta and Lorenzo de Credi within the context of their original settings.

The tour took us to Arezzo, Cortona and Castiglion Fiorentino, where we spent a short but concise amount of time in each of a few museums.  I found it to be an effective way of avoiding "Stendhal Syndrome" because it was focused, clear and expertly guided by a passionate, animated scholar.  Calling it a "tour" is a misnomer.  It was rather a scholastic expedition among a group of well-heeled Florentine art afficionados.

The highlight of my day was the mind-blowing "gift" that I received at the end of the tour.  While we were in "Collegiata e Museo della Pieve di San Giuliano" in Castiglion Fiorentino, my eyes caught sight of a painting that I knew from my distant past, but never knew where it came from, or who the artist was.

Pictured above, is the painting, "L'Adorazione" by Lorenzo de Credi. It was the very image from a holy card that I cherished as a kid for many years, and used as a bookmark.  The image disappeared from my memory until I saw it today, connecting yet another link between my past and my present life that was simply meant to be in Florence.