Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas in the South

On Sunday, December 20th, I found myself on the EuroStar train heading south from Florence to Napoli. A last minute change in holiday plans allowed me connect with Giancarlo Rizzi in Napoli, with whom I spent a splendid two days taking in the endless energy and beauty of this most dynamic, antique, stimulating city. It is easy to understand why I revel so much in the feeling of my Napoletan roots....this is a people who are always smiling, singing, dancing, with a swing in their walk, whose eyes are vibrant and whose passion is expressed in their endless love of life, loving and friendship. To me, this is the sexiest city on earth

Christmastime in Napoli is something special...the presepi, the outdoor music, festivals, the lights, the fireworks...the profumo of cibo everywhere, the parades, the rituals, the masses., the sfougliatelli! All of Napoli comes out for days before and after Christmas to delight in the passion that swallows up this city of diverse contrasts.

Giancarlo, along with his mom and friends, welcomed me with open arms. Together we took in several museums, the underground excavations, numerous churches and castellos, as well as having dined with his mamma, whose food was something out of my grandmother's kitchen....brasiole, panzerotti, carcofi, melanzane, meatballs and.....her true work of art.....struffoli! On the second night we dined with his friends...4 couples with whom I made an instant connection. The next day, we visited his beach house in Pozzuoli and had mussels and wine on the sand before dropping me off at the ferry which I would then take to Ischia....where I would spend my Christmas with Maria, Franco, Celeste and William.

Christmas in Ischia
As Giancarlo saw me off at Pozzuoli, I boarded the ferry to Cassamicola, Ischia, where Maria was to meet me. I spent the hour ferry ride re-living every moment of that day last September when I first traveled to Ischia in search of my great-grandparents' birthplace and birth records. Ischia has drawn me back to its shores, to its sea, to its people. I was on my way back again to Ischia to celebrate the festivities with the family of Maria, who I met in Lacco Ameno during my search last September.

To Be Continued (just haven't had time to write)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Visiting the Medico Sportivo

Today, Lorenzo, the captain of the bike racing team, drove me to the Medico Sportivo (Sports Doctor) to undergo tests that would enable me to obtain my racing license. Italy is very strict in its licensing requirements, not like in the U.S. where anybody can buy a race license just by paying a fee. Here, the USIF (the national organization that governs cycling racing) requires that in order to obtain your license, you must pass a stress test and a drug test, and be in overall good health. If you have any health issues, impaired vision or history of illness, you cannot get your license. Joining the team and getting my license must mean that I am staying here in Firenze. I never really thought it out strategically, and like everything else, all the pieces are falling into place by themselves. I am building a new life without even thinking about it. Well, going for my license is definitely a commitment, at least in Euros! We drove south of Florence for a half hour through country backroads and arrived at the doctor's office. The doctor looked like an Italian Albert Einstein.....he had long, curly gray hair and he stared at me in a wondering way. After all the tests, I got a clean bill of health, and should receive my official Italian racing license within a few weeks. Viva la squadra!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Dinner with the Bike Club

Tonight I shared an animated celebration of the Christmas season together with new cycling friends in this little trattoria on the back streets of Santa Croce. It was heartwarming to feel so accepted in this intimate group of local riders with whom I've been sharing so many new cycling adventures. What's really hard to believe is that here I am, so different from every one of these men....they have all shared decades of cameraderie and friendship together...none of them speak English....and yet I am accepted, feel comfortable, and am loving every minute of it.

Much of the conversation tonight focused on the squad's program for 2009, including an organized trip to climb the Ghisallo in early May, as well as trips together to follow several of the stages of this year's Giro d'Italia.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

L'Elisir d'Amore

Going to the opera here is a double treat, as the audience is almost as entertaining as the opera itself. Tonight's audience was a much younger crowd than usual, since this is one of the more playful, light and romantice operas, senza drama. It's very refreshing to see Italian teenagers enjoying the opera, so tastefully dressed alla moda. The performance was excellent, but everytime I see L'Elisir, I reminisce back to the greatest one I ever saw, in '94 starring the best Nemorino of all times, Luciano Pavarotti.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Time in Chianti with Cynthia

I spent a splendid two days at Cynthia's in Tavaranelle, spent mostly talking about old times in Staten Island, our lives, our families, our loves, and our reasons for being in Italy. Over the years, Cynthia has been one of the many people who have shared this common passion for Italy. Our time started with lunch in San Casciano at La Trattoria del Pesce, where the octopus was especially memorable and the conversation very nostalgic. I spent the night at her house, where I played with her children as I watched her cook gnocchi and a wonderful wine infused lamb. This morning we took a drive to Barberino to pick up Julia from gymnastics and then we re-assembled with her family at a little trattoria in Tavarnelle for a lunch of cozze and orata. Cynthia then brought me to her favorite designer shoe outlet, where I couldn't resist buying a sexy pair of Nero Giardini boots. After driving me back to Firenze, I ended the day at a Santa Lucia feast at Piazza della Republica. Firenze is all dressed up for Christmas...the air is cold, we're all wearing scarves and gloves...and the millions of Christmas lights are a stark contrast to the 1,000 year-old buildings.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Had another great lesson with Lucia, went to the palestra for another dramatic workout, finally bought a metric measuring cup so I can start getting my cooking proportions right, did some Chritmas shopping, studied for a couple of hours, and then Nicola came over with a plumber. I was having problems with the heat....I was freezing, the heat wasn't working. It got me scared because the apartment was so cold. I couldn't imagine spending a winter wearing boots in the house....Well, Nicola and the plumber just left. I learned that all I had to do was to turn up the hot water tank. Phew! Then got a note from Leslie, my friend from Chicago who lives in San Diego during the winter. I met her in my Italian class at the ICC. She knows Erma from Chicago! What a small world. Tomorrow after my lesson I am going to Cynthia's and will spend the afternoon with her and her children, doing some Christmas shopping and then will stay over her place for the night. Time is flying. Can't believe I'll be back in San Clemente in less than a month.

Joining the Bike Team

How can I resist any longer? The bike team leaders have been encouraging me to get my UISP license so that I can officially join them before the year is over, because they have to submit all the paperwork to the UISP. I've been reluctant, as I don't want to race. But I learned that I need the license if I want to participate in Granfondo with the team. And....have I've been wanting to do Granfondo... like big-time! So I decided to go ahead with it. Which means I have to go to a special doctor for a stress test, physical, and drug test. Lorenzo, who heads up the team, offered to drive me to the doctor next Thursday and he will help me fill out all the forms.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ride to Cereto Guidi

Today is a national holiday, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, so the ride was on, despite the cold weather. Today's ride made me reflect about how brave I once was, to ride in NYC weather that was significantly colder than today, all decked out with goggles, electric socks and a facemask. But no more. Today's weather dictated my new limit. Upon leaving my apartment it was only 30F and I don't think it ever hit 40F. The roads were slick, the vineyards were covered with ice, and we had to do a flat ride in order to avoid any dangerous, icy descents. I wore 5 layers of clothes, which still wasn't enough to keep me warm and my feet froze, even with booties on. Even so, we covered 90K, and I bonked and cramped up at around 70K. The guys all took turns giving me a little "push" to get me back home before I passed out. Now, this I didn't mind at all....but sure felt silly....I haven't bonked like this since climbing the Continental Divide in Colorado, or was it Utah with Susan T.? It took about an hour for my toes and fingers to defrost when I got back. There were only 8 riders today. The smart ones stayed in bed.

After eating more pasta than I deserved, I wondered how a country that is so good for my soul could be so bad for my body. I'm sadly out-of-shape and anxiously await the opportunity to ride in San Clemente.

I also received today, a note from Debbie Myers, with photos of the OCW girls making quilts together, in anticipation of Christmas. It was sweet, and made me miss some very special people.

This will be a very new and different Christmas for me. The streets are filled with a wonderful Christmas feeling, which is actually complemented by the cold weather.

I will be back in San Clemente exactly one month from today.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ride to Regello

The number of riders is diminishing as the weather gets's ride started at 32 degrees and only warmed up to about 43. Nevertheless, we counted on a couple of good climbs to keep us toasty, and the stop for an espresso didn't hurt either! It felt great to get out on the bike again after 2 weeks of nasty weather!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Working it Out

My relentless 3 month search to find something that remotely resembles a health club had become a source of frustration and culture shock that I was reluctant to accept. I almost resigned myself to becoming a prosciutto. But after trying every health club in Florence, I’ve finally had to make some big-time adjustments.

I’m finally accepting the fact that a health club is as un-Italian as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The Italian health club is a “palestra”…this is a room filled with slick, shiny, brand new equipment that doesn’t work and machines that are designed for some species other than the human being. These machines force your joints into dangerously contorted angles that can inflict more damage on ligaments and muscles than good. How is it possible that a country capable of producing the genius of Michelangelo and Brunelleschi can’t produce an ergonomically designed machine? I believe…it’s not that they can’t…it’s that they don’t want to.

I've pondered the why's and have come up with a few theories, including the fact that this culture doesn’t see the point in unnecessary pain and sweat, and they don’t like to be controlled by machines. It threatens their freedom of expression, and forces them to restrict the movement of their hands. Asking an Italian to keep his hands on the bars of a machine for ½ hour is like asking an American to put a gag in his mouth.

The Palestra is a quiet, empty place that nobody goes to. It’s always empty, with a little old man sitting behind a counter, reading or talking to a neighbor, passing the time away. But today, I discovered a little palestra, hidden in a back alley that nobody knows about except the shop keepers, less than 100 meters from my apartment.

When at lunchtime the shops close down, this Palestra comes to life. As the women boisterously pour into the locker room, the drama instantly begins as the room is transformed into a piazza, where more calories are burned in their furious conversation than in the aerobics class. For a half hour the women noisily exchange recipes, complain out loud about everything… their fatigue, their work and their husbands. Everyone talks at the same time, nobody seems to be listening to each other, yet they are communicating. Everyone is yelling, laughing, lamenting, groaning, crying, talking on their cell phones out loud…you don’t know who is listening to who, you can’t distinguish one conversation from the other…yet everyone knows what everyone is saying. Then at once, they all barge out of the room, and onto the dance floor. The excitement begins.

Party time. The music goes on and the room is transformed into some combination of a 1970's Jane Fonda/Richard Simmons aerobics class....but with a passionate Italian energy that is contagious. I actually had fun, and eventually broke a sweat. When we got down for the floor exercises I was amazed at the sounds, the dramatic grunts of pain, the panting, the superlative expressions of exhaustion, the tears, the groans and sighs. We in America would never let our guard down. We swallow the pain and keep a straight face. But here, no feeling is ever hidden. If they feel pain, they express it, they exaggerate it, they dramatize it. The very essence of the Italian spirit that I've been yearning to reincorporate into my life.

After the class we all headed back to the locker room, where everyone was anguished, gasping for breath, unashamedly exhausted, and as everyone stripped down and took showers, I admired how they walked around the locker room unabashedly naked, demonstrating a shameless acceptance of their imperfect bodies...nothing to be hidden....nothing perfect....and nothing...nothing fake here. There's a certain cameraderie and bond that comes along with being nakedly honest in front of your friends. And one of the things that I love so much about Italy.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Baby Food

Everyday I seek to learn some new vocabulary by browsing the shops and markets, reading labels, and conversing with the shop owners...always picking up new and interesting cultural knowledge along the way. Today I focused on the supermercato, where I spent some extra time browsing the shelves to learn about some of the more unfamiliar food products....when I came upon.... Tuscan baby food! Here it is! They don't have to wait to have a full set of teeth to enjoy their prosciutto! Priceless!!

Just an Ordinary Day

Today marked a milestone for me, as it was the first day in which I didn't utter a single word or think a single thought in English (until now.) It started with a caffe at the local pasticcerria while scanning today's La Republica, followed by a fascinating lesson with Lucia in which I learned il tempo passato remoto within the context of a short biography of Leonardo da Vinci and a study of his "L'Ultima Cena".

Then I met my conversation buddy Filippo and Ksenia, his girlfriend who is visiting him from Russia for the holidays... for pranzo over an animated conversation in a Tuscan trattoria in centro. Ksenia has been offered a one year internship to work for HSBC's London based Private Banking division and the discussion revolved around the the all-too-common female struggle between deciding whether to follow one's career dreams or to settle down with the man she loves....and is there a balance? Can you do both, without sacrificing these sometimes conflicting values? I could feel the struggle they are facing in their new relationship and felt like a counselor, telling my story and hoping that they could get some value from it. My realtionship with Filippo is evolving into a friendship to be treasured...I am truly finding some special people here. I feel blessed.

Then I walked to the government office of the Comune di Firenze, to pick up a very important "Codice Fiscale"... that I've been waiting to receive for 10 weeks! This document is the Italian equivalent of a Social Security Number. I am finally "official" here!

Then I returned to my apartment to cope with a clogged drain in the bathroom which innundated the bathroom with a flood of water. I am definitely "adjusting" to the "system", and getting used to the nuanaces of living in a 600 year old building!

Finally, this evening, I went out with a new friend, for opening night at "Quantobasta", where I danced all night and enjoyed with tremendous gusto and passion, the people, the food, the ambience, and the feeling of being a part of this culture.

My experience living in Italy has been another step towards self-discovery and actualization. I arrived in Firenze 3 months ago. Besides Cynthia, I didn't know anyone or how anything works here.  I was afraid of making this dream come true...some dreams are meant to be dreams....why take the risk of letting your bubble burst? From the moment I arrived, it all seemed so natural.. Tonight I realized how far I've come. And how well I'm just melting into the culture. And how I never expected to meet so many wonderful people who want me to stay.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Dinner with Nicola's Family

I had a delightful evening tonight at the home of Nicola, in San Casciano, the birth town of Machiavelli, high on a hilltop just outside of Firenze. Nicola is my landlord....but feels more like family. He and his wife Nicoletta (who, as I do, share a passion for opera) are a happy, beaming, warm and loving, artsy but conservative couple who have two adorable children and a small and intimate 500 year old apartment in centro San Casciano. Nicoletta prepared an outrageous meal....lasagne, beef carpaccio rolatini stuffed with artichokes, mortadella and cheese, potatoes and a wonderful chocolate torta. I must be doing pretty well with my Italian to have not uttered a word of English all night long. I am feeling more and more comfortable every day.

One week ago I discontinued going to school full time because I was overdosing from too much "grammar" and not enough practical conversation. So, instead, I increased my time with Lucia... who is now coming to my apartment on a daily basis for private lessons. Lucia is also something special...not only is she a great teacher, but she is also becoming a friend. I am very lucky.

It's really cold now, and it rained all day. There are times when I really struggle with feelings of missing my sister, friends and loved ones.... in California. Today was one of them. I don't want to lose them, but I don't want to give this up either. I just feel so "at home" comfortable and natural. Florence is the perfect combination of city and has so much to offer, yet it is compact and very manageable for a city. Italy has accepted me in a way that I didn't really expect. Especially being a woman, at my age....I didn't know if it would "click"....I considered it an experiment....but the experiment is feeling more like the road to a new life. I don't know how this will end....or if it will end...I only know that I am discovering many beautiful people and emotions and a spiritual peace that makes me sing.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ride to Greve, Strada and Mercatale

Today about 24 people showed up, and I was l'unica donna! I didn't anticipate how cold it would be and froze my toes off! The vineyards were outstandingly beautiful and we passed by several renowned wine estates, such as Gabbiano. Thinking of all the clothes that I didn't take with me, and wonder if I should just go back to California as planned, so I can return sooner with more clothes in time for the really cold weather and take care of the paperwork that needs to be filed for my dual citizenship. It was too cold to stop for photos!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ride to Strada in Chianti

Word has it that the 2009 Giro d'Italia will include a stage starting in Florence! This was the big topic of conversation on the road today! The hotels are already booking up, and the local cycling community is anxiously awaiting the final word.

Florence is only a train ride away from several of the proposed stages, including Lerici, Bologna, Padova and Milano, Benevento, Mount Vesuvius, Avellino and Napoli! What a great time to be living in Firenze!

Today's ride took us through Chianti, to Strada. The vineyards have turned bright gold...the weather is really starting to get cold. And most of my winter cycling clothes are in California?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Tutto" Doesn't Always "Va Bene" !

I still don't know how to say "shit happens" in Italian, but it's on my list.

Of course, things do go wrong. Statistically, they must. In spite of the fact that Italy is fitting me like a glove, or more like a silk stocking, I will tell you about 3 "shit happens" experiences that have occured to me since I've been here - and how the two big ones became miraculously resolved.

1. I've gone through four macchinettas already! Can't get used to making espresso on the stove. I walk away for a minute and the pot spits coffee all over the kitchen. This time I caught it just in time to avert another complete rubber handle melt-down. Resolution: Don't leave the room. They don't call it "espresso" for nothing.

2. A month ago, I lost my wallet. Credit cards, drivers license, cash. I filed a report at the Carabinieri, the American Embassy, and of course, had to order all new credit cards. Non problema. I can't believe how calm I was. I didn't get the least bit upset, a sure sign of old age. The people I told about it were more upset about it than I was. Resolution: My wallet was recently found on a train in Piombino and it was turned in to the Carabinieri on the island of Elba (How did it get there?? Non lo so.) Nothing was missing....not a Euro. The wallet was delivered to me today.

3. I had a bad experience at the local Palestra. They charged my bank 168 Euro for one session, instead of 12 Euro! I approached them twice calmy, eventually spoke to the owner, but they refused to reimburse me. Upon realizing that the owners were obsinate thieves, I just "let it go". Forget it. I have too much to do and can't waste my time polluting the positive energy that is all around me. Resolution: In a casual conversation with Filippo, (my conversation buddy who is a lawyer here in Florence) I told him about the experience. Filippo told me to give him my bank statement and receipt. He wrote a letter to the Palestra, and today, at our conversation meeting, Filippo surprised me with a reimbursement check from the owner.

Ok, so what does this mean? Che significa? How did these last 2 issues become resolved on the exact same day? It's the positive energy that's winning out for me here. And somebody's looking over my shoulder.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A New Friend

Leif is one of the leaders of the Firenze Bike Club...I joined him last evening for an apertivo at Sei Divino, where Rebecca's paintings are on exhibit (Rebecca is the woman who rented my apartment before me) and got to know a new friend. Leif works as a tour guide for several bike touring companies in Tuscany, and is a lifetime "all-around" cyclist who's done everything from time trial racing to loaded touring, to mountain and road biking...etc. We talked completely in Italian and felt good that I could actually communicate on a social level. It is much easier for me to talk Italian with one person, rather than in a group conversation, because a one-on-one conversation is slower and more relaxed. Leif suggested that once I get to know the roads here, I could perhaps become a tour guide too. Wow. I'm thinking of taking a pause from school to digest all the grammar I've learned, and spend more time riding, getting back into shape and taking advantage of other more practical ways to practice what I've learned so far. But continue my lessons with Lucia and my meetings with Filippo.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ride to Tavarnelle

Today's 90k ride was a blast....It seems that Sunday is the day that everyone comes out. We passed through quintessential Chianti country and I wish I could have stopped to take photos, especially on the climbs, which were tough, but beautiful. There were thousands of cyclists out today, everywhere. I'm a perfect match for this group...they are friendly, passionate, always looking out for each other, with a strong sense of cameraderie and family. They're kind of like big men who are out there having fun like little boys. Each ride feels like a playful adventure. My Italian is coming along too slowly...I am constantly searching for words to express myself, and feel like a real dummy because I can't communicate. Yet, everyone seems to like me in spite of my ignorance. On the way back, Lia was waiting for us with cookies and she took the group photos above. As we descended into Florence from Piazza Michelangelo, with the vista of Florence in front of me, I couldn't believe that I'm really here, and that I just had one of the most memorable rides of my life.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ride to Greve with the Group

I continue to thank God for this gift He has given me...this passion for cycling, because not only does it open up the door to endless ventures in exploring places that I love....but it has opened up the door to new and lasting friendships. Every minute that I share with new friends on my bike is a moment to be treasured. Today was another energetic ride with the group...we took a different route this time to Greve, where we stopped at the Sunday market, had a caffe and then headed for a subtle climb. Autumn is bursting and the weather was crisp and clear. Here's a link to the ride! http://http//

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tuscany in its bucolic and sophisticated elegance, feeds my thirsty intellect, yet it is Campania that intoxicates my soul, my senses, my instincts. It is Campania that sings to my roots, that provokes my sense of humor, that unleashes my passions. It is Campania to whose people and customs I relate. How do I merge this cerebral vs. sensual dichotomy? Does there exist a middle ground?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ho Fatto Una Decisione!

Tonight Nicola visited to collect the rent and to get my I leaving on December 15th, as planned? Shall he start looking for someone to occupy the apartment when I leave?

But Italy won't let me go right now. I want to experience Christmas in Italy......and so much more...but for now, I stay.

He was delighted..I was fortunate to find Niccola, this apartment, this situation, this opportunity. Nicola is one of many people and experiences that are, without provocation, validating my instinct to least for now. Before he left, Nicola invited me to dinner with his family and friends at his home in San Casciano the week after next. His good friend and opera critic, Cesare Orsini will also be there. This has to be a dream. Pinch, pinch.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Two weeks ago I started taking private conversation lessons with Lucia, to supplement my 4 daily hours of group grammar and conversation classes at school. Lucia, una Fiorentina, is a Italian language and political science professor who has also taught at Holy Cross, Boston College and Georgetown. I found her on I knew immediately after a quick meeting over caffe, that she would be perfect for me. Like everything else, it's all falling into place.

Lucia comes to my apartment every Tuesday and Thursday to focus only on conversation. And I see Filippo every Wednesday and Friday. With all these resources, I should be speaking Italian very quickly....right?

Lucia just left my apartment, and some of our conversation revolved around the dynamics of aquiring a new language. I expressed my frustration of not acquiring the verbal skills as quickly as I want. "But Barbara", she said, "the Italian language is like must drink it slowly, or you get drunk. You must decant it, let it open up, expose it to the air and let it breathe. You must smell must taste it little by little". She was suggesting that I am expecting too much, too soon, and that I need to slow down just a little bit. She was suggesting that I might be getting drunk.

The echo of the Duomo bells signaled that our session was already over. I think I will close my books for the night, and watch Il commissario Montalbano over a glass of wine.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lori and Fred

I spent this weekend with Lori and Fred, friends from California who are vacationing in Italy. Sunday in Fiesole and dinner at Di Giovanni were especially memorable. I felt my past colliding with my future as I wondered...will I reunite with Lori and Fred in a future life? Are they friends of the past or the future? Will I reconnect again with my life in California, or will I continue to dig my roots deeper into this land that draws me closer each day?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Florence stayed up all night to witness the election of Obama. The streets were filled with a passionate international audience...the world is filled with a new hope in is finally, once again, good to be an American in Italy.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Zucchini Flowers for Dinner

It is zucchini season! Their flowers are exploding with life, and they are plentiful in the markets. Perhaps today was a symbolic celebration of my desire to consume that which is beautiful. These are usually lightly battered and quickly deep fried, but I flash-sauteed them in extra virgin olive oil.. a good dose of salt, a glass of Proseco... cosi`delicato!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Weekend of New Friends, Great Food, Liza and Cycling in Tuscany

Friday This weekend began in Mantignano, a small borgo just south of Florence, at the home (which was a former convent) of Filippo's uncle, who is a cacciatore, where we feasted with his family on cinghiale, one of my favorite Tuscan specialities. Of course, it is wild boar season. For me, it was a special occasion, but for Filippo's family, not so unusual. There I met his sister and husband, his best friend and wife, his father, uncle, aunt, a teacher-friend from London and his wife e due bambini! I brought a beautiful bottle of Montalcino. We dined on a robust, piping hot, slightly piccante minestra made from osso di cinghiale, rigatoni, spinaci, fajioli, e un pocchino di pepperoncino. This was followed by cinghiale roasted in the huge kitchen firepit, cinghiale sausages, potatoes, bread, tomatoes, and later, due forme di peccorini, and finally, dolce. By the time we finished eating, it was past midnight! Ciao to the next day's giro! I became so relaxed after a few glasses of wine and lively conversation, that I didn't even realize that I was actually speaking credible Italian....and everyone was actually listening....and we conversed comfortably...a delightful and encouraging evening.

Saturday Last night, Liza Minelli sent chills up my spine, where, at the Teatro Comunale, she delivered a rivetting performance that brought down the house. An Italian audience is all you really's entertainment in itself. But on top of that, Liza belted out a performance that rocked me out of my seat. I am here in Florence for another life experience...hopefully one that will forever be lasting.

Sunday Another day in cycling heaven, with Leif, Rebecca and Rhiannon, this time, to Volognano. The climb reminded me that I've been indulging too much on irresitable food and wine. I am gaining weight, and as much as it bothers me, I know it's good for my soul.....(the food, that is). Maybe time to start playing hookey from school, to ride more during the week. We took a left turn in Bagno di Ripoli, on a road laced with vineyards that are turning golden from the crisp autumn air. Every twist and turn of this tranquil country road offered unique views of hills adorned with olive groves and castles. As we pedaled along, we were rewarded by the vision of nuns wearing old world habits.... and a couple of horses approaching us. On the way home, I crossed the Ponte Vecchio and with the Arno on my right, I had flashbacks of countless parallel experiences from another place and time....cycling back home along the Hudson River from the George Washington Bridge from an all-day ride to Battery Park City. Only 6 years ago, but seems like light-years away. Can it be true? Is this the Ponte Vecchio and not the GW Bridge? Is this the Arno and not the Hudson? Is that San Frediano across the river and not Jersey City? Pinch pinch.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Raduno Pro Meyer

Today I participated in my first "raduno", or charity ride, which took us to Montelupo........4,000 cyclists participated. No Gatorade or Powerbars here....but...bruschetta, pasta, pecorino, prosciutto and dolce at the post-ride festa, and a bottle of wine each to take home.

It doesn't get better than this. But with the way things are happening here for me, it will.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


I am meeting some amazing people. Last Wednesday at the team dinner, I met Jules, a nurse from Australia, who is living out her dream to live and work in Italy. We rode together to Olmo today while she told me of her experience here in Florence and her quest to establish herself here. She then led the way to Parco delle Cascine, where we pedaled the circuit and enjoyed a warm panino before heading home.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cavalleria Rusticana al Teatro Comunale

Bravo! Ancora, un'altra grande opera! Tonight's performance of Cavalleria Rusticana was memorable. The Italian audience was performance art in and of itself.
This was the first time that I attended an Italian opera with Italian subtitles, and so was able to get a deeper insight into the Sicilian dialect in which this opera was written. Needless to say, it was the best Cavalleria performance I've seen. While walking home along the Arno, I had to pinch myself several times. Is this real? Am I really here? Can this feeling last? Will I be able to stay?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Claudio's Visit

Born and raised in Piemonte, Claudio owns and operates La Dolce Vita Wine Tours. (Click on his photo to go to his website.) I met Claudio in 1996 on Ciclismo Classico's "Bike Across Italy" tour, for which he was the tour guide. He subsequently met Pat, a Brooklyn girl who I knew from the New York Cycle Club. They married and settled down in Brooklyn where they live part-time there and part-time in Piemonte. Claudio is in Italy right now, as it is grape harvest and bike touring season. This weekend, during a break between bike tours, he visited me in Florence and familiarized me with the best cycling roads here in Tuscany. We spent hours driving through Chianti, as he pointed out some particularly beautiful roads for my further cycling investigation! We stopped in Barberino, and after touring Giovanni Verrazzano's castello in Greve in Chianti, we dined at the Castello di Lucignano. Claudio is one of Italy's top backroads I had an excellent orientation, while catching up on an old friendship.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Filippo, a Florentine lawyer, is my conversation buddy, with whom I meet over caffe a few times a week, he to practise his English, and I, my Italian. We've had alot of good conversation and laughs, and it's been delightful to make a true friend in Firenze. I've been blessed with so many fortunate happenings since I've been here, but meeting Filippo has been particiulary rewarding because I can sense a real friendship developing.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

My First Ride with the Florence Team

I met Lorenzo at the bike shop and we rode to Tavarnuzze to meet the group. We rode to Greve and up a beautiful climb of about 6k. It was challenging for me since I've been so used to riding the flats in San Clemente and haven't been riding much since I've been here. Then we headed for Regello, a sweet town where Mass was just getting out and the smell of just-baked bread permeated the air. We headed back for Florence after stopping for a quick caffe and pastry. On the way back, as we passed through many tiny towns, I could smell everyone's Sunday sauce and it reminded me of the feeling of Sundays in Brooklyn as a little girl. I had a sensational time, and hope that there will be many more to come. Here's the link to my ride:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

My first Ride to Olmo

Today was the second time that I got out on my bike to escape the busy city center of Florence. Last week I headed south, but got very confused with all the traffic circles getting out of town, and decided to turn back (in spite of my Garmin, which I still can't figure out). Today I rode north through Fiesole, up a few good climbs, to find myself in some of the most scenic and tranquil country roads anywhere. The traffic getting out of Florence is fast and frenzied (but safe in it''s sense of organized confusion)and the cobblestones in town are unstable and dangerous to ride getting out of town is more of a hassel than I thought it would be. But once you get a few miles out of the city, it's like being in God's country. My ride was very peaceful, not to mention, gorgeous, covered with vineyards and olive trees and dotted every here and there with castellos. After 40 miles, I ran out of water and got hungry...and had to ride for miles to finally find a source of nourishment...a macelleria where the clear choice of food and drink was a panino di prosciutto and a bottle of arancina. I stuffed the provisions in my jersey pockets and found a terrace in Fiesole where I ate my panino, while overlooking a dramatic panorama of Florence in the distance. Tough day.

Friday, October 10, 2008


A real coincidenza, Erma Tranter, is studying Italian in Firenze for one month, and we just happen to be here at the same time. Tonight I met her for dinner and we caught up on each other's lives. I met Erma, who lives in Chicago, on a bike tour across southern Italy last year and we share a love of all things Italian.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dinner with the Bike Club

Tonight I attended the monthly dinner of the Firenze bike team and although I was pretty shy at first, I opened up and met some great people who I am looking forward to riding with. It was a challenge to mix with a large group of people who I don't know, but thanks to Lorenzo and Lia, I relaxed and socialized in spite of my limited Italian vocabulary....and somehow I made it through the night. If things continue to go as well as in the past couple of weeks, I will find my place in this group. A little scared, but very excited to have the opportunity to actually ride with them. I will join their ride this Sunday, and hope it's not too hard for me! What an evening. I couldn't have asked for more.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Dose of Local Opera

This is opera the way I remember it as a the local church with local performers and a small, intimate audience. However, this church is part of an old Medici Palace that was owned by Machiavelli and renovated in a neo-renaissance style. This week I saw a triple treat of Rigoletto, The Marriage of Figaro, and tonight, Tosca, with Charlene.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Without Charlene's influence, I would not be in Florence right now.....and she arrived today to spend a few days with me while she is in Italy hunting for a property. I met Charlene a year ago while taking Italian lessons at the Italian Community Center in Little Italy, San Diego, and we subsequently became friends...and even shared a place together for a while as we planned our own separate agendas in Italy. Charlene has just obtained her dual citizenship, as her family has roots in Liguria. It was Charlene's inspiration that stimulated me to pursue my dual citizenship.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Donna and Kent

My first real weekend in Florence was special. Two friends from California visited me while on a Mediterranean cruise! Donna brought me a special memory which is hanging on my kitchen wall....a sweet quilt, made of course, by hand! Together, Donna, Kent and I took in most of the sites on the north side of the Arno, and had a welcoming time together!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Apartment in Florence

My Bedroom

Dining and Kitchen with view of terrace

Living Room with Duomo View

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Roberto, who 4 years ago left Naples with his family to settle down in San Diego, is an attorney specializing in Italian immigration law, in addition to being Vice Consul to the Italian Ministry in San Diego. Click on his photo to go to his website! He was my Italian Conversation teacher at the ICC in San Diego, and upon meeting him, there was an instant's that common Neopolitan blood! But Roberto is not Italian. He's Napoletano. For those Italians who grew up in Brooklyn or New York City, you know what I mean, because as a kid you thought all Italians were Napoletano, (....but we'd play with the Sicilians and Calabrese.....after all, we all looked alike and had our own individual brand of mafia in common). Little did I know that a year after meeting Roberto, he would be helping me to get my dual citizenship. Roberto has been a great inspiration to me, a real charismatic character, and his classes were exceptionally entertaining! Grazie, Roberto!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Finding My Roots in Ischia

Check back later.....Much, much more to come on this story....this was one of the most special moments in my life.....

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Napoli to Ischia

As I boarded the ferryboat from Napoli to Lacco Ameno, Ischia, I was filled with excitement, as I embarked upon this mission that could potentially fill in all the pieces of the puzzle for me. I find myself here finally, leaving the majestic Mount Vesuvious behind me on the boat, and we get closer and closer to Lacco Ameno. This trip, I know in my heart, is going to be successful. I feel Lacco Ameno drawing me there...closer and the fishing villiage where my great grandfather was born. While on the ferry, I asked one of the ship's hands if I could go out on to the deck to take some photos and he allowed me to do it....but once I got out there, he came over and started to kiss me....I had to laugh! These Napolitans think they can get away with anything with a girl! I kindly asked him to lasciami and he obeyed. I had wrote to the Comune di Lacco Ameno (Lacco Ameno's town hall) several months ago from the U.S., before I knew his exact date of birth, because I couldn't even find his death certificate at that time, but from researching the records at Ellis Island I was able to guesstimate it to be 1863 - 1865. The problem is that there were almost 60 people with the name of Ciro Mazzella who immigrated from Ischia to New York City at the turn of the century. On Ischia this name is as common as John Smith. After writing twice to the Comune, I never received a response. So, I figured that I would just have to go there myself to find it in person. I had no idea whether I would find anything, and I never got my hopes up. In fact, with all of my research leading nowhere for such a long time, I would have been content just to visit Lacco Ameno, knowing in my heart from stories told within my family, that this is where Great Grandpa Mazzella was born. I had to see, touch and feel Lacco Ameno, where I know from my family that he was a pescatore (fisherman). I had hoped that the Anagrafe (person who keeps all birth and death documents) would have been able to research and find these documents, even though I only could provide a range of possible dates. But no response.

As luck or destiny would have it, the day before I left for Florence, I received in the mail, Ciro's death certificate from.......... It was signed by my grandfather. Was it fortune or fate? The day before I leave for Florence I have just what I need to find the original documents.

As the ferry approaced Lacco Ameno, I could feel my eyes swelling up and at once they broke into a burst of tears. There in front of me, on that gorgeous little moon-shaped white beach, was Lacco Ameno. It is 2.30 in the afternoon, and the City Hall was closed, so I took a walk around the town and looked for a room. I found a very nice hotel just a few blocks from the beach and the town hall. And that would be my first stop in the morning.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

One Week Here

Settled in my apartment. Internet is up and running. Off to Ischia tomorrow. Very content. Wood burning oven....I'll be cooking alot. The olive oil is to die for. Everything "fits". Nicola, my landlord is great. Visited the 4 schools that I previewed on-line and enrolled at Lorenzo di Medici...I'll be starting classes next Monday. I stocked the cupboard, got a new SIM card/phone number, checked out the post office, the market, and joined the local palestra. (Although I had a problem with the palestra, that I will discuss in another post) Everything I need is right outside my doorstep. Visited the bike shop again and said hello to Lorenzo and Lia...I won't be able to ride until the weekend after a long time off the bike. But I have to find out my destiny in Ischia. I must see where this leads me. I don't know what's going to happen in Ischia, but I have good vibes.