Friday, May 29, 2009

Climbing Mount Vesuvio

Climbing Mount Vesuvius on my bike today while following the Giro d'Italia was more than a ride, more than a climb, but the actualization of my spiritual journey to Italy, and my arrival at the summit of my dreams.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cycling the Amalfi Coast

Today was a fantasy day of cycling the spectacular Amalfi Coast. I've spent alot of time here in the past, but never on a bike. Much to my surprise, there was minimal traffic, and the riding was not nearly as dizzying as it appears when you're in a car. The multiple panoramic vistas are so overwhelming, that we couldn't possibly ride without making many photo stops along the way. We stopped in Positano, descended the 1,000 steps carrying our bikes and enjoyed a lunch of frutta di mare at an outdoor trattoria, where we absorbed the excitement all around us. As the seductive blue water of the Tyrrhenian Sea begged us to drop our bikes and jump in for a swim, we resisted the tempation and climbed back up the 1,000 steps to continue our ride to Amalfi. After negotiating the many twists and turns and tunnels cut through the coastal cliffs, we arrived in Amalfi. There we enjoyed a gelato and walked through the village, wishing we could linger longer. We then headed back for Sorrento, enjoying one last time the splendid coast and its stunning panoramas.

Later, we joined Leif and Roberto for a wonderful dinner of frutti di mare. Much to my surprise, Leif asked me if I would be interested in guiding a 3 day bike tour here next week!

"After all", he said...."now you know the roads. And this is where you're from. You're right for the job. This is your opportunity."

I said "yes"!

Tomorrow we climb Mount Vesuvio!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Torna a Surriento"

"Vedi il mare come è bello! Ispira molto sentimento. Come te che a chi guardi. Da sveglio lo fai sognare"

Today Rebecca and I rented a car, packed up our bikes and drove to Sorrento for a few days of unforgettable cycling along the Amalfi Coast and to follow the Giro d'Italia up Mount Vesuvius.

I drove a stick for the first time in years, and it was my first time driving in Naples. It was like driving bumper cars in an amusement park. I forgot how much I enjoy this kind of intense, calorie-burning driving....far from boring! Rebecca, who lived in Naples for 2 years, did the co-piloting, and together we made for a terrific, albeit patient team!

After 6 hours of hair-raising driving, we finally reached Naples and the stunning sight of the Gulf, Vesuvius and Capri opened up in front of us. By the time we reached Sorrento it was already time for dinner, so we headed out for what else? the main piazza which was furiously bustling with the competing sounds of neopolitan mandolins and motorcycles. We then reviewed our maps and plotted our course for the next two days of cycling to Amalfi and Vesuvius.

For the next few days, Leif (a good friend who is a professional bike tour guide and sommelier) is here in Sorrento too. He is accompanied by his van support driver Roberto, and he is guiding a custom bike tour for a group of Russians who have been following the Giro for the last week. We will be meeting up with his group tomorrow somewhere along the course.

Sorrento, Ischia, Ponza.....all part of the Campania region of Italy....this is where my family is from, and where I am closest to my roots. Decades ago, this is where my love affair with Italy first began. Being back here again now as a citizen through blood, ready to ride this part of Italy on a bike, will be more than just a cycling experience for me, but a momentous milestone which will reach its climax when I reach the summit of Vesuvius on Friday.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rebecca's Art Fair and Dining with Angella

Yesterday after watching Stage 15, I headed to a crafts fair where my friend and team mate Rebecca was exhibiting her fabric designs. Rebecca is a graphic design artist and owner of the Paripassi textile design company. She is a talented artist and her delicate, lively and slightly exotic style is reflected in her colors and theme. She is also an Italian/English interpretor, and a cycling tour guide.

Rebecca and I are headed south for a 3 day "cycling escape" on Wednesday to follow Stage 19 of the Giro d'Italia along the Amalfi Coast to the summit of Mount Vesuvius.

While I was at the exhibit, I met Melinda Gallo, whose blog Living in Florence I've recently been following.

Then I went to dinner with Angella, who just returned back to Florence from San Diego. Angella lives here in Florence. What a surprise.....she brought me a couple of boxes of Power Bars, which you can't get in Italy. Thanks, Angella!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Be Here Now

I learned a lesson today. I'll never miss having a DVR again. Today I watched Stage 15 on T.V., live after getting back on track following last night's blackout.

Here, every minute of the Giro is televised live. Since I don't have a Video Recorder, there's only one chance to see it. No tomorrows, no excuses. There's no rewinding to replay an attack. There's no fast-forwarding to see the last 10K. .

And as I discovered today, it's so much better this way because I'm so much more involved. I'm tuned-in to every word, every move. How spoiled we get with DVRs. How can you ever really be in the moment when you know that the moment has passed?

Today was an exciting and maybe decisive stage. Sadly, during today's stage, I watched my all-time "Giro Hero", Gilberto Simoni (two-time Giro winner) lose over 20 minutes of time. He's out of the GC. And he's probably seen his last Giro. It's sad. I've always loved Gibo, especially after seeing him take the 2001 Giro maglia rosa in person. I love his climbing style. But it seems that he's seen his day. I'm sorry to see him go.

Blackout Caused by Giro d'Italia !

Another "first"......last night there was a blackout in my building and neighborhood. Today, while reading today's live coverage of Stage 15 on Cyclingnews, I discovered that the blackout was caused by the blimp that follows the Giro d'Italia!

Here's the clip from Cyclingnews:
  • "14:24 CEST We have a little confession to make. Last night we took some of the race organisation up for a joyride in the Cyclingnews' blimp Hindenberg VI. A little too much grappa and some low power lines were a really bad combination. Luckily, we shorted out the power with the radio antenna so we avoided being electrocuted. Of course, we also knocked out power to a entire suburb of Florence... The end result is we're not flying high above the race today and it might take us some time to get the names of riders in this break."
Before I discovered the blackout at 1:30AM this morning, I was having dinner with Pat Thompson, an old friend from Brooklyn. Pat is a writer. She was passing through Florence after attending a Slow Food conference in Bologna. Pat and her husband Claudio are also the owners of the prestigious La Dolce Vita Wine Tours. I met Pat in 1993 when we were both members of the New York Cycle Club. Later I met her husband Claudio while riding my bike across Italy in 1996. Two years later, Pat and Claudio were married, and together they created a successful cycling and wine touring company.

After dinner I entered my building, and what a surprise! The lights were out. The whole building was without power. Then I realized that the entire neighborhood was without power. I couldn't enter my building because it was pitch dark.

Fortunately, I Ghibellini was still open! The owner, Franco, found some candles, escorted me up to my apartment and left the candles for me. He saved the day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

V.I.P. Passes for Stage 14 !!

I keep thinking that "things don't get better than this"

But then they do.

If being at yesterday's Stage 13 was a dream-come-true, then today was the icing on the cake.

Today, I was one of four team members who were escorted by Lorenzo to the partenza of Stage 14 in Campi Bisenzo. Little did I know that Lorenzo would have V.I.P. passes for all of us! It was a pandemonium of intense, pumped-up fans. The fever was high. The music was vibrant, the sponsor caravans honking their horns, distributing free goodies, t-shirts, caps, espresso and other souvenirs.The excitement in the air was contagious. Partaking in this event, getting so close up to De Luca, Petacchi, Leipheimer, Sastre, Simoni, Pellizotti, seeing them live in front of me...what a lifetime experience.

I am lucky to be living in this city, in this time, filled with new surprises almost every day.

Thank you , Lorenzo for the V.I.P. Pass, for being so concerned about other's happiness, and for being a good friend!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Giro d'Italia Comes to Florence

Seeing the arrival of today's Stage13 in my own backyard was an experience I never dreamed would happen. I've been in love with the Giro for 15 years, followed the last 5 stages on my bike in 2001, but never thought I would be living here to see it! Needless to describe the excitement of hanging from a lampost 250 meters from the finish line watching Cavendish winning the sprint, along with my new cycling friends from Florence. I can only compare the experience to seeing the Super Bowl in person, but even better.

There's Paolo puckering up to me! Carissimo!

Just as exciting as the race itself, was being right up front to watch Il Processo alla Tappa (the technical analysis of the stage), which I've only seen on T.V. Being right there to see such famous journalists and ex-pros like Francesco Moser, Gigi Sgarbozza, Nazareno Balani, Maurizio Fondriest, Fabio Sacchi and Andrea Fusco was an outstanding experience.

Tomorrow we're off to see Stage 14, at Campi Bisenzo.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

All Resolved!

Today was a successful day. Today I finalized all of my residency documents with the comune (city hall). Residency is a very serious matter here and is strictly monitored. Within the next 2 weeks, the Polizia will visit me unexpectedly to make sure that I really live here. Whenever a person moves to a new house or apartment, they are paid a visit before their residency becomes official. Today I received the document that I needed in order to take advantage of my rights as a citizen. For example, now I can get access to the healthcare system. Tomorrow I will go to the Ufficio Sanitario to enroll in the healtcare system and to select my doctors

I finally bought a new phone, a major accomplishment, because I had to conduct the whole buying process in Italian. I was proud of myself. I "syncd it" with my Outlook database and after 2 hours, I retrieved my contact database. I am up and running again, and feeling so much better than yesterday.

Angella arrived today from California. She lives and works here, but went back to San Diego for 2 weeks to visit her family. She is originally from San Diego. We will meet-up for dinner on Sunday night.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Giro d'Italia

Anyone who's watching the Giro d'Italia, look for me on T.V. for the following stages!

tage 13 Friday, May 22
Lido di Camaiore → Firenze
I'll be at the finishing line in Florence

tage 14 Saturday, May 23
Campi Bisenzio → San Luca
I'll be in the vicinity of Campi Bisenzio

Stage 15 Sunday, May 24
Forlì → Faenza
I will be at two different points....Passo dell'Eremo and Monte Trebbio

Stage 19 Friday, May 29
Avellino → Monte Vesuvius
I'll be at the summit of Mount Vesuvio

Growing Pains

Today was a very frustrating day. First, I burnt down another macchinetta while being distracted in the bathroom. After skipping a class to keep my residency appointment at the Comune (city hall), I arrived there to find that Gianni was sick, and so the office was closed. My continued search for a cell phone ended up in vain, and it's going slower than expected. I'm startled at the prices, which are almost 3x as expensive than in the U.S. and I'm having a hard time accepting this. And then there's the Italian technical vocabulary that I'm learning before I can feel confident enough to buy anything. It's taking much longer than expected, and in the meantime, I am feeling very isolated without a phone.

After parking my bike outside the post office to pick up a package, I returned to find it blocked by a motorino that was "illegally" parked on the sidewalk. I had to wait 5 hours until the owner returned so that I could release my bike. He wasn't the least bit apologetic. Unfortunately, not only did I accomplish nothing today, but I missed a class, I'm still without a phone, and needless to say, I missed the Giro d'Italia on T.V. today.

I know that this is all a part of the learning process, and I've learned more patience since I moved here in September, than I've learned in my lifetime. I've had much worse days, though, and I take it all with a grain of salt, because I am happy here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An Interesting Week So Far!

The topic of today's conversation class was the usage of Facebook within the Italian culture. I was not surprised to learn that Facebook and other forms of virtual socialization are unpopular here. It's not a matter of technology, but a reflection of the Italian instinct to fare una chiacchierata!

There's a new student in my class who's a nude model for the University of Florence School of Art. He works 10 hours a day, naked, posing in "David-like positions". Also, I found it interesting that he will be working for an anti-Mafia organization in Naples, called "Liberaterra". This organziation uses land previously confiscated from the Mafia which is used to produce products that are sold to raise money to fight the Cammora. I'm meeting some very unusual people here.

It was a pleasure to ride my city bike to school today. The weather is perfect. The birds are singing outside my window. They sing all day long, not just in the morning. On my way home I bought some sunflowers and lilies from Giovanni. I pass by his outdoor flower shop several times a day. Having fresh flowers in the house is becoming a way of life for me.

I've been spending an inordinate amount of time shopping around for a new telephone. I've been living without a phone for over a week. I've gone to several different shops and have been comparing the different "specials" offered by the different phone companies. It's a whole new learning experience for me, because I have to learn all the technical jargon, and have to understand how their calling plans and billing works. And I have to be sure that I understand the terms of their service contracts.

This Friday the Giro d'Italia arrives in Florence, and on Saturday it departs from Florence.

To top of my day, today I went to the post office to pick up the quilt that Donna and Kent sent me! It's very soothing to have such a masterpiece adorning my bed, and to know that it was made by hand, by a special friend.

Which makes me realize how guilty I feel for leaving my friends in California. I miss them. It is so hard to keep a handle on what's going on there. I feel so far away. I love them and don't want to lose touch, and need to make more time to communicate. But I also know that a friend is a friend for life. I love you guys.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sleeping Late

I'm not an early-bird. I like the night life and I don't enjoy waking up at the crack of dawn. Since I've been here, I don't even want to go to bed, because there's so much to do, I don't want to miss a single moment.

When I moved to California from New York City, I felt guilty sleeping late because the day begins and ends very early there. The surfers are up early to catch the best waves and everyone lives outdoors because the weather is so perfect. The Italian way of life suits my tendency of being a night person. Dinner doesn't begin until at least 8PM. The operas and concerts don't start until 9PM and sometimes 9:30. People stay up late, socializing.

Here it's not a sin to enjoy sleeping late. Not that everybody does it. It's the perspective that's different. Here, sleeping late, at least on the weekends, is considered a pleasure, a welcome indulgence.

The Duomo bells don't ring until 7AM here for the Angelus. And when they do, sometimes I just say a prayer of thanks for being woken up by such a beautiful sound coming from such a magnificent basilica with so much history. And then I close my eyes for another dose of sleep, without feeling guilty.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Raduno Landici Bike

Today was another great day of cycling through the beautiful surroundings of Florence, and another great learning experience. This was my second Raduno. A Raduno is the same thing as a charity ride in the U.S. .In Italy, the charity rides are more frequent, much more localized, and you have to have a license in order to participate. I am learning that in Italy you have to have a license or "permisso" to do almost anything! Lots of rules and therefore, lots of opportunity for Italians to exercise their authority and their need to have process, rank and authority.

The raduno started in Scandicci at a local bike store, and we took a 74K loop to Montespertoli and back. Awaiting us at the end was "Bacelli (fava beans) e Pecorino", wine, dolce, fruit, and we all received a bottle of local olive oil, a water bottle and a pair of socks. All this for 3 Euro. As we headed back for Florence, David, Natascha and I decided to do some more "miles", so we rode out to Dicomano and back home. All this with a bottle of olive oil in my jersey pocket!!!!

I watched Stage 10 of the Giro d'Italia on T.V. Who ever would have thought that I would be watching the Giro d'Italia on my T.V. in Italy? What a dream come true.

Today it was quite hot, and the sun was shining. The weather has really changed over the past week. Spring is in full bloom, and the warm weather has brought out the mosquitoes, or zanzare. I've heard alot about the mosquitoes here....but I can't imagine that they could ever be as bad as they were in New York. We'll see. Most of my friends here have mosquito nets hanging over their beds. I hope I won't need one, because my ceiling is so high....I don't know how I would install it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Team Photo

Today the team got together for our team photo, which has been on the agenda for some time. I cycled to Pizza Liberta' where I met Rebecca, and this was the first time that we both wore our full team uniform. We both agreed that we have to do something about these uniforms, which aren't particularly flattering to the female body. So we laughed about how funny we look. Rebecca, who knows how to sew and has a sewing machine suggested that we get together one day at her house to pin each other up and make alterations to our uniforms. That sounds like a great idea!

We headed to the Giardino dell'Orticoltura, where we met the rest of the team, and we had a real blast posing for photos in front of Il prato con la loggetta rinascimentale and La fontana del Serpente and gardens of roses. It was alot of fun. The guys on the team are so friendly and attentive to the women, in a very respectful way. Italian men have a beautiful way of expressing themselves, that is so innocent and down-to-earth. I love that.

After the photo, we all rode to Pontassieve, when out of nowhere there appeared dark clouds and it started pouring rain. It took about an hour of riding to get back home. I was soaked. After a soothing shower, I spent a few hours studying, writing to my friends back home and then cleaned and prepared my bike for tomorrow's Raduno Landini, a charity ride that starts in Scandicci.

I never go to bed without thanking God for bringing me here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Found a City Bike!!

Today I finally found an old used city bike! I found it in a teeny-weeny dark cluttered bicycle repair shop, just a few blocks away from me. Givovanni, the florist told me to see his friend Pietro. Pietro is a little old man who's probably owned the store all his life. He usually only does repairs, but he just "happened" to have this used bike which seems perfect for me. I took it for a test drive, and Pietro supplied me with a basket for the front, and the back. He also gave me 2 heavy duty catenas (chain locks) that I will use to lock my bike to the rastrelliera (outdoor bike rack) in Piazza Salvemini.

The bike isn't quite as ugly as I had wanted, but I didn't want to spend more time hunting one down. The price was right and I have been anxious to look like a real Fiorentina, carrying my flowers and fresh bread in my basket! Someday I even want to learn how to wear high heels while riding my bike, like many of the Florentine women do.

I hope my bike isn't too pretty. It's used, but it looks nicer than most of the old, rusty, beat-up bikes that I've seen. So, I'm a little afraid that it could be stolen. Well, all I can do is try. And if it gets stolen, I will just have to buy something uglier.

After lunch I picked up my bike and pedaled around to get used to it. What a great sense of freedom! I went down to the Arno and pedaled peacefully as the sun set. Then I headed home and locked up the bike at the piazza and I am praying that it will still be there tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Barbara Makes Italian Television!!

After school today, I rushed home to watch today's stage of the Giro d'Italia. I still had 1/2 hour before the program began, so I figured I would watch the news while making a snack of spinach with garlic and olive oil. As I was flicking through the channels, a program was beginning on Channel 14, called "Pedalando". It was the coverage of the Gran Fondo Vernaccia in San Gimignano, in which I participated last Sunday! The camera focused on the starting line, and there I saw myself and Rebecca on TV! It was only for a second, but I couldn't believe my eyes! I hadn't realized that this GranFondo was so "famous" was cited as being one of the most important Gran Fondo's for Italy, because there are so many would-be and ex-pros in the race. The fact that we even participated appears to have been remarkable.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

City Girl

There are so many reasons why I love living in Florence. I could probably make a list of 100 things that I love about living here. One of those reasons is because I am a city girl, and Florence is just the perfect sized city. I lived 90% of my life in New York City. I love the pedestrian life. I grew up with it and it is in my blood. I love not having to drive a car, rely on a car, park a car and get gas. Here I don't need a car...everything is within walking or cycling distance. I can ride my road bike out of Florence and be in Chianti country only after a few miles. And now with my city bike I am free within the city.

I love the freedom of walking out my front door even past midnight and immediately entering a world of energy, people walking, strolling, shopping, saying hello, socializing and interacting with each other. It's a way of life that I really missed living the past 5 years in California. Living in Florence has made me realize how much I need the city to keep me feeling vibrant and alive. And the train system out of Florence is so accessible and puts all of Italy within a short distance away. I really love my apartment. It is so peaceful, yet near everything. I can walk out of the door very late at night and there's so much going on. It feels like one gigantic Greenwich Village. For me, it has all the advantages of New York City, none of the disadvantages, and certainly none of the madness.

This is just the perfect place for me.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fumare o Non Fumare?

The topic of today's conversation class was "To Smoke, or Not to Smoke?". There are still 14 million people in Italy who smoke, and despite having been banned in restaurants a few years ago, it remains a national pastime. My teacher rolls her own tobacco, because it helps her to smoke less, and because it is more economical that way. The class was surprised to learn that I don't know anyone who smokes in the U.S.

After class, I went back to the Ministero delle Finanze and they finally changed my name correctly. Now I have to register myself as a resident with the city of Florence, and then I have to select a doctor and learn all about how the healthcare system works.

On my way back from the Ministero, I stopped by the bike shop to browse and bumped into Ray Fox, who I met in San Diego just 2 months ago. He and his wife were at Lorenzo's birthday dinner last week. They had just arrived from San Diego, and they are good friends of Lorenzo and Lia. He owns an apartment here in Florence and spends a few months a year here with his wife. He invited me to join them for dinner this coming Friday night.

On Saturday the team is meeting after the ride for our team photo.

Rebecca and I are planning our trip to Sorrento to follow Stage 19 of the Giro d'Italia. Right now, after Stage 3, Petacchi is wearing the maglia rosa. I am really looking forward to our trip in which we will cycle the Amalfi Coast and climb Mount Vesuvius to await the racers for the mountaintop finish.

Oh, and today, my Blackberry came back to life!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gran Fondo San Gimignano

Today I enjoyed my second Gran Fondo, this time in San Gimignano, just a 90 minute drive from Florence. This Gran Fondo is part of the Granducato series, so it attracted the most elite riders in Italy, and it was televised on two TV channels, including RAI. From my team, there were 3 men, Rebecca and me. We did the medio percorcso. It was a heady experience to participate in a race with such a world-class group of cyclists. Rebecca and I finished the race together, and much to the chagrin of the most serious racers, we probably deserved a prize for having enjoyed the scenery more than anyone else. It was a perfectly blooming spring day, with poppies bursting along the perimeter of endless vineyards, and meadows full of sheep grazing below hilltop castellos. Although we kept seriously focused on our momentum, it was difficult to ignore the magnificent environment.

After the race, we each received a "pacco di gara" which this time included a bottle of Vernaccia, a bottle of olive oil, and other local delights. The post-race lunch included pasta, salumi, formaggi, salsicce, pancetta cotte alla brace, fruta, dolci, caffe' e vino.

A prize prosciutto crudo was given to every team who had a minimum of 10 participants, and a "spalla", (prosciutto cotto) to those with more than 7 !!!!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Riding "Tandem-Style" in Florence

Claude, you gotta see this one!!!
This is me and Leif going to a housewarming party for Melissa and Per. They are friends of Leif and Rebecca. They are from Napa Valley and they spend half of their time here and half in California. They own a bike touring company in Florence. This photo was taken by Rebecca. I don't have a city bike yet, so Leif offered to give me a "lift" on his city bike. It was a blast. I told them all about my days riding and racing a tandem with Claude, so they understood why I was so hilarious!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cycling from Florence to Siena

Today Leif, Rebecca and I went on a "business trip". We cycled from Florence to Siena. Leif and Rebecca are bike tour guides and Leif was training Rebecca to learn this route which she will be guiding next week for a group coming in from the U.S. .Rebecca has already been guiding tours for some time and knows the roads very well. Today's ride was meant to learn the specifics of the route, points and stories of interest, the rest stops (for lunch, caffe', wine-tasting and gelato) and hotels where the tour group will be lodging along the route. Leif invited me to join them today so I can start training to guide these tours in the future too. Wow! I always imagined that perhaps in another life, I would have been a bike tour guide in Italy. Maybe this is the beginning of that other life.

So, here I am in my favorite place in the world, riding my bike in heaven and seeing every detail through new eyes. We cycled the Via Chiantigiana through Strada, where Leif pointed out the gelato stop and the notable maccelerria. Then on to Greve where we cycled to the espresso stop in the piazza. Then on to the fun climb through Panzano, and to Radda, which would normally be the first hotel stop. We visited the 2 hotels and took a quick view of the borgo and then took a glorious road to Castellina where the tour would stop for a wine tasting, and then on to Siena, where we stopped for a gelato and some photos in Piazza del Campo. We then rode on to Monteriggione and Poggibonsi, and took the train back to Florence.

Needless to describe the sensations of riding to these glorious destinatons on a perfect spring day with the poppies blooming everywhere, the intoxicating smell of pine and the sight of sheep in the meadows below the hilltop castellos. To see it all from the perspective of a tour guide was a new, but natural feeling experience. I got to learn what they think about, what they need to be aware of, what kind of questions they need to answer, how they need to be prepared, what they need to know about the destinations, the area, the alternative roads to take, how to deal with different types of riders. Rebecca asked alot of good questions and I learned alot from her and Leif.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Visiting the Ministero delle Finanze

Today's class was so good that it got me high. It made me flash back to the exact moment, the exact setting and the exact professor responsible for inspiring my passion for the Italian language when I first studied Dante in college.

After class I met Lucia for a caffe' while she was taking a break from teaching her own classes at Istituto Italiano. Then I went to a few phone stores to get opinions about my Blackberry. It appears that it is irreparably damaged. But I'm still going to let it dry out for another few days before I give up on it.

Then I went to the Ministero delle Finanze to have my name changed on my Codice Fiscale (Italian equivalent of our Social Security Number) from Barrett to Masefield.. The man proceded to make a mistake and my name didn't get changed. He told me to come back on Monday, because after making the mistake, he couldn't try correcting it, since it is now one minute past closing time.

Tomorrow I am going to play hookey from school. Instead, I am going to cycle to Siena (about 80 miles) with Leif and Rebecca.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Blackberry Drowned by Smart Italian Sink

My Blackberry doesn't work. It drowned last night. I am doing a good job not panicking. More than 250 lifetime contacts are on that phone. In addition to other "can't live-without" features.

This morning I realized that my Blackberry was swimming in a puddle of water in my handbag all night long. Apparently when I went to the bathroom at the restaurant last night, I laid my handbag in the sink while brushing my hair and didn't notice that the water faucet incorrectly detected a pair of hands, and filled it up. Who would think that an Italian sink could be so smart? (Or that I could be so dumb?)

So, for a whole day I have been living without a telephone. When I thought about what the alternatives are, I started wondering whether I really need all those features and all those 250 contacts.

I sent an e-mail to those people who are most likely to call or SMS me, to advise that my phone "non funziona". It turned out to be only 11 people.

Well, maybe that means that I don't really need a Blackberry. I will wait a few days to see if it dries out. And if not, then I'll probably buy the smallest no-frills phone that I can find. And live the way I really want to. Senza complicazione.

I had another good class today. I finally got my trainer all set up and took a spin in my bedroom for 45 minutes, gazing out of my window onto the Florentine courtyard, listening to an Italian news podcast. Berlusconi embarrases the government again with his dramatic and sordid personal life.

Tonight I was honored to be a part of Lorenzo's birthday celebration. We met in front of the chiesa at Santa Croce, had a great dinner and then gelato at Vivoli. It is great to be a part of this group.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Team Dinner

I had a good class today and this evening the squad got together for dinner at a restaurant at Piazza della Liberta' where I tried the "stinchi". By the time we left the restaurant, my bus wasn't running anymore, so I had to walk back home. Which was okay, but I am realizing I need to get a city bike very soon. It is a necessity.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Getting Focused Again

I stayed up late last night updating my blog. Even though I was tired after a vigorous weekend of cycling, socializing and speaking Italian, I needed to "vomitare in inglese". That is, I needed an outlet to flush things out in my native language. My thoughts were overflowing, and I needed to write right away in order to get it all out and relax....and finally, sleep!

It was a little hard to wake up this morning but since it was my first day of language classes, I was eager to get started. Istituto David is a small but intimate school at Piazza della Repubblica. The teachers were excellent (2 hours of grammar and 2 hours of conversation) and it felt great to get into the groove again. We reviewed il tempo congiuntivo, which is really the basis of Florentine style and I still need to master it. Thank God I don't have much homework tonight.

I tried to get on my bike trainer to spin out my legs, but so far today it hasn't happened yet.

Nicola stoped by a few minutes ago to collect the rent and to make sure that I am keeping the plants on the terrace watered. He is a sweetheart.

I'm already anticipating next Sunday's Gran Fondo in San Gimignano!


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Madonna del Ghisallo

It's the end of an awesome weekend of riding and developing new friendships in Lake Como with the team. Click here to see all of the photos: Photo Album. We drove up on Friday and arrived at the hotel, which was beautifully situated on the lake with stunning views. I shared a room with Natascha, who is a gas. After a 6 hour drive we didn't waste any time grabbing our bikes to take a warm-up fantasy ride along the lake of 30K, to the very picturesque Varenna. There where we stopped for caffe and gelato. We then boarded a ferryboat across the spectacular lake, to Bellagio and then headed back to the hotel for an apertivo, a wonderful dinner, with just enough energy left to "fare una passeggiata alla piazza".

The 100K ride up the Ghisallo and the Passo del Sormano was a lifetime giro memory. Difficult, but very do-able. Between the great group of fellow riders and the outstanding scenery, I couldn't feel any pain, in fact, it was an adrenaline rush. The group rode dynamically together and it is a well-matched group. Upon reaching the summit, we stopped for pannini and then enjoyed the 30k killer descent. What a rush! We arrived back at the hotel early enough to nap and recover. Dinner was so much fun.....we all gave our SD photo cards to Paolo, who showed everyone's photos of the day on a monitor, for us all to see! Dessert was a cake, with the club logo design. We ended the night with a fine dose of grappa. Pooped!

Sunday after breakfast we drove up to the museum which had a very rare collection of bikes, jerseys, photos, journals and videos of over 100 years of Italian cycling history. Any fan of Italian cycling would have really appreciated this. We then took a group photo and headed back to Florence. What a memorable weekend this was, with many new friends made.

Friday, May 1, 2009

About Me

Born, bred and careered in New York City, I was raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, an area steeped in a strong Italian-American culture that greatly influenced my upbringing and the eventual direction of my life 50 years later. My parents were pure second generation Italian-Americans. We lived and preserved Italian traditions from the food we ate to the songs we sang. From the holiday traditions we practiced to the family and Catholic values we lived. From the dramatic Neapolitan behaviors to the learning of Italian opera as kids. I first visited Italy at 15 years old while spending a magical summer in Europe, studying at the Univeristé de Grenoble with the nuns from high school. I had become fascinated with French and Italian culture. I decided to major in French because at the time, it was the international language to speak.

I attended private Catholic schools until mid-college, when I transferred to the City University of New York where I majored in French and minored in Italian. While studying Dante’s La Divina Commedia, I became awestruck by the profound beauty, melody and sensuality of the Italian language and realized that I was majoring in the wrong language. Despite becoming impassioned by everything Italian, I decided not to change my major, as I had come such a long way with my French and didn’t want to start over again. My learning Italian would have to wait, and with life getting in the way, perhaps it would never happen. This passion was to lay dormant for years. For the next 30 years I vacationed in Italy as often as I could, drawn by the inherent connection that I had to the culture.

My first real job was during the summer of my junior year in college, where, a block away from Wall Street, I worked at Banque Nationale de Paris, translating French correspondence. Upon graduating from college I taught elementary school and French for two years. But then I found a job as a market research analyst at Chase Manhattan Bank, and started a thriving career in global banking.

For the next 23 years I worked as a Vice President at JPMorgan Chase, where I managed various cash management and global investor services in sales, marketing and product management. I also sat on the board of directors of the Chase Automated Clearing House, Inc.

My marriage did not survive my career, which dominated my life. I began questioning my values. Simultaneously my dear father died and my closest sister left New York. Disheartened, I had to take a pause from the corporate world to examine my own self. I started working for myself trading in the stock market. While rebuilding from the core, something else got in the way.

I lived in downtown Manhattan’s Battery Park City, which eventually became known to the world as Ground Zero.

That day changed my life. I never thought I would hear the phrase “Women and children first”. Standing on the rescue boat as it pulled out of the harbor, I watched the towers fall in front of me. Displaced, I returned to a neighborhood that no longer existed. Neighbors, friends and colleagues were gone. My life was uprooted. There was nothing to do but pick up the pieces and move on.

Somewhere along the way, I had taken up road cycling, which probably saved my life. It allowed me to vent my grief, survive my divorce, practice leadership in a new form, volunteer and develop a close circle of friends. Eventually it helped me to transplant myself first to California, and later, to Italy.

I moved to Southern California, the antithesis of everything that is New York City. Friends and family believed I would not survive the cultural polarization. Was this a detour or was this my destiny? It provided the sanctuary and new perspective that I needed. I became a competitive cyclist, raced and even won a few times. I made many friendships through cycling circles and even found love. I almost planted my roots in the ground. But something was out of whack in my environment, preventing me from making this my final destiny. It was out of this uncertainty that things started becoming more clear.

I gradually started pursuing old diversions that made me feel comfortable, things I hadn’t done since I left New York. Like going to the opera, cycling in Italy and studying Italian.. The more I studied Italian, the greater my desire grew to know it more deeply. I joined the Italian Cultural Center in San Diego and met many Italian-Americans who shared my passion for Italy.

It was through this group that I was encouraged to conduct a genealogy search and then met an Italian immigration lawyer who believed that I could pursue my Italian citizenship if I could trace and prove my lineage. As I started digging, I discovered many fascinating details of my heritage, which finally led me to the island of Ischia, where I discovered the 150 year old birth documents of my great grandfather, the home where he was born, and artifacts from his fishing boat which are on display at the island’s maritime museum.

At the time, I was simultaneously studying Italian in Florence, where I had joined a cycling team and was making friends very quickly. I immediately found a job as a bike tour guide, taking cyclists on tours of Tuscany. I had found my home, my final destiny.

I learned and was able to prove to the Italian Ministry that my great-grandfather, unlike most Italian immigrants, never became a naturalized American citizen. Meaning that all of his offspring are entitled by birthright to be Italian citizens, but little did we know it.  These discoveries enabled me to obtain my dual Italian-American citizenship 6 months later. It was destiny.

I have been living in Florence now for four years. Everything clicked in from the day I arrived, as though the angels were waiting for me. I am home, this is where I belong. A dream come true.

I am at the threshold of a whole new life. I love being with and sharing my love of Italy, and in particular, my love of Florence with those who share my passion. I know that there are big things waiting for me here. I believe that when you are in the right place, when the environment is right, when the chemistry is right, that things happen.