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.