Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bike Club Meeting at "La Locanda di Nemo"

Today I participated in the annual planning meeting of my bike team. On a Sunday. I thought it was a bit peculiar to have a club meeting on a Sunday. Because it was planned to be a luncheon that took place about a hundred miles away from here. So it meant that you couldn't ride. I couldn't understand why a bike club would give up a ride for a meeting. Because meetings in Italy are never short encounters. They take all-day and they're more like weddings. You get the whole package, minus the happy couple. A 6 course meal. Singing. Entertainment. Wine. Grappa. The whole family comes, including the kids, who sit at their own table. There was even an animal farm on the premises to keep the kids from self-destructing.

Our meeting which took place at "La Locanda di Nemo" was in the middle of the woods, way up north in the Mugello region, deep deep in the wilderness. Transporation had to be arranged for those without cars. What should have taken 1 hour to get there, took 2 1/2. Because nobody was on time. Everyone was late, including the president and team captain. (I was wondering if those sneaky bastards snook in an early ride). As I was waiting for them to pick me up, I wasn't surprised to receive an SMS "Siamo in ritardo" (we are running late) as I waited in a pastry shop in Piazza Beccaria taking my 3rd caff� of the day. "Siamo in ritardo"...the most common SMS message that I receive here in Italy. Nobody cared about being late. Nobody apologized. Nobody was sorry. Nobody was anxious. Except for me.

I guess they really wanted to get our attention and our complete dedication. I might sound like I'm being critical, but I'm really not. It's just a matter of breaking out of the American mode of getting to the bottom line. You ride, you meet, you eat, you go home and do a million other things. Not here. Life in Italy is slow motion. It is affecting my metabolism, my mind. But that's the beauty of Italy.

It was an all day affair. Lunch consisted of the typical Tuscan prosciutto, bruschette, salume, mortadella, ribollita, tortellini, beefsteak, wild boar, potatoes, porcini mushrooms, zucchini and desert. Wine of course. Four different desserts. Grappa.

With a cleaver the size of a chainsaw, the locally famous 70 year-old owner/butcher, Nemo, demonstrated his cutting-edge skills by butchering the side of beef that would soon find its way onto our table with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and somehow avoided keeping his inflated belly out of the beef. He was probably the same guy who killed the cow.

Then all the waiters started singing ancient Tuscan songs. The whole restaurant sang and laughed. It was difficult to decipher the conversation because there was a great deal of old dialect going on. But somehow I survived.
I am really tired of meat, the staple food of Tuscany. Cows, pigs and wild boar. Lard. Fat. Each one is wonderful in moderation, but in Tuscany it can get a bit overwhelming. Try finding a fresh whole fish. Not possible. If you're a vegetarian, you could survive on the fresh produce in Tuscany, but at the same time you would be tortured by the overwhelming sight of meat everywhere. Today's meal made me crave the cuisine of my southern Italian heritage.

After this gluttonous meatfest, we were supposed to have a meeting. Unable to move, I somehow made it out of my chair into the meeting room. For another hour the 14 participants actually had a cohesive, productive, organized meeting with a clear-cut agenda. I was shocked. Everyone agreed on everything. No stodgy board debates. No dissertations. No arguments. The board approved the T-shirt design that Rebecca presented. Everyone agreed on the Raduno route propsal for next year. Everyone agreed on the Christmas party. Everyone agreed on going to the Maratona delle Dolomiti. Everyone agreed on the annual club outing. Everyone smiled and agreed as their lips sunk further into their second and third glasses of grappa.

Now I understand why meetings are preceded by feasts. And wine. And grappa. Everyone agrees to everything.  So there's a method to this madness.  Only problem is that the next day nobody can remember what they agreed upon.  So they gotta do it all over again !!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Brevard Bike Tour

This was a 2 day tour. Thursday and today (Saturday) I worked with Roberto to lead the Brevards on a tour from Impruneta to to the idyllic Podere la Capella, a wine estate that produces a prized Chianti Classico where we had a private lunch prepared by the owners, followed by a tour of the wine cellars, chapel and vineyards. After such an elegant lunch consisting of white truffle bruschette, tagliatelle pomodoro, coniglio, patate and a pear torte, it was hard, but I had to encourage our clients to get on their bicycles again to burn off some of the calories, but they were spent! So, we shuttled to Castellina in Chianti where we toured the town on foot and then on to Radda in Chianti to drop them off at their hotel. I left my bike there too, since I would be returning on Saturday to guide them back to Florence. Roberto and I had some lively conversation on the way back in the van.

Today we shuttled to Radda where we met Ryan and Marianne again. We had a great ride today. We rode up to Badia a Coltibuono, where we stopped to tour the castello, and then on to Gaiole, where a bike race was taking place. We then headed for Castello di Brolio, after which we endured the steep climb up to Volpaia to enjoy a light lunch in the piazza. Then we rode again to Lucarelli. It was perhaps the most beautiful route that I've rode in all of Tuscany. We dropped off our clients at their hotel in Florence and said goodbye, as they got into their rental car, an Alfa Romeo, to continue their Italian journey together.

It's so nice to meet people from all over and it's weird to know that I will probably never see them again, but that their impressions of Italy will always be influenced by our brief encounter.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Girlfriends in Florence

Most people I've met here have said that it is very difficult for a foreigner woman to make friends with Florentine women. They are rumored to be very "closed" and unaccepting of newcomers. It probably is especially true for a city like Florence, where students and tourists come and go all the time. Why should someone invest the time in a friendship if they think you might be gone tomorrow? This is what I've heard, but not necessarily what I think. I think it's not really true, and that if I had a better command of the language that it would come more naturally to me. I am still having a hard time with the language, and I will write a post on this subject soon.

The two women friends that I have are Lucia and Lia. These are precious relationships, different different than what I am used to in the U.S. Making women friends is a real challenge, and it is hard to be profound because you really cannot relate to each others' lives as intimately.

Lucia was my private language instructor last year and we developed a personal relationship because we spent many hours together speaking Italian, and so she came to know me very personally. Yesterday Lucia and I got together for lunch and caught up with each other. Lucia was born and has lived here in Florence all her life, except for the time that she has spent teaching in Georgetown University and Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. She is fascinating and an outstanding author of many books on the subject of Italian politics. I would like to get to know her even more.

And the other Florentine woman that I've made friends with is Lia. Lia works for the bike store that sponsors my team and she has been very accepting and supportive of me since I first came to Florence. She recruited me to the team and made many introductions. I owe alot to her kindness. Today she took me shopping all over Florence, to try to find a Christening gown for the grandaughter of one of my friends in California. I didn't know where to go shopping for an item like this, and when she offered to help me, I thought this would be a great way to spend an afternoon together with a local girlfriend. It was a fun day, but a little frustrating, because when we entered the shops, Lia would start speaking so fast that I couldn't understand a word she said. When Florentines speak between themselves, they speak very fast and they use expressions that are uniquely Florentine and not necessarily Italian. We did find a few beautiful gowns, but they turned out to be beyond my girlfriend's budget. It was a fun day with Lia.

Over the past month, I have made 2 more new Italian female friends. One of them, Simona, I met while I was clothes shopping at Rinascente. She has been calling me to set up a time to get together and I've been so busy that I haven't been able to follow up on it. The other, Sla, I met at a GranFondo. We drove to the coast together and rode the Giro della Maremma two days ago. She is a lovely person and I hope we can keep our friendship going. She is not really a cyclist, but she seems to be a little more independent than the typical Italian women that I've met in Florence.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gran Fondo della Maremma

Oggi, ho passato una giornata splendida e avventurosa al Gran Fondo della Maremma con una nuova amica fiorentina, che ho incontrato domenica scorsa al Gran Fondo della Toscana. Prima di mattina sono andata in bici a casa sua a Novoli e siamo partite in macchina per Scarlino Scalo, la partenza del giro. C'erano circa 200 ciclisti che hanno participato nella questa manifestazione, e eravamo le uniche donne. Abbiamo fatto il percorso corto di 60K, che era privo di traffico, piatto e proprio ventoso. Ho scoperto che il territorio e il panorama della Maremma sono belli, ma secondo me, noiosi e non cosi' belli in Toscana. Al pasta party dopo il giro, abbiamo passato tre ore festeggiando, mangiando, bevendo e parlando con un nugolo di appassionati ciclisti della squadra "Viaccia" del Prato.

In Italia, queste manifestazioni di ciclismo sono diverse delle manifestazioni di ciclismo negli Stati Uniti, nel senso che non sono basate solo sul giro. In Italia un granfondo e qualcosa di molto piu' particolare, e una grande occassone, e davvero un evento che dura tutto il giorno. Dopo il giro tutti fanno le doccie e si passa il resto del giorno chiacchierando, facendosi degli amici, mangiando e festeggiando. E qualcosa di molte piu' socievole e casuale rispetto agli Stati Uniti. Qui in Italia, nessuno guarda il proprio orologio di fretta per tornare a casa. Tutti i paritecipanti vogliono rimanere insieme per festiggiare, e molti ciclisti portano le loro famiglie al party. Rispetto all'Italia, negli Stati Uniti, facciamo le gare, prendiamo qualcosa piccolissima da mangiare di corsa, e poi' scappiamo subito di fretta, tutti sporchi, stanchi, affamati e senza doccia per tornare a casa per fare le altre cose.

La prima volta che sono andata a un granfondo qui in Italia l'aprile scorso, ho notato questa practica e non mi e piaciuta questa abitudine di uscire in cui i ciclisti passano il tempo dopo il giro. Sono abituata alla pratica di fare tutto in fretta. Non mi aspettavo che i giri fossero eventi che duravano tutto il giorno. Ma dopo 4 grandfondi, mi sono resa conto giorno per giorno che io sono in fase di ambientamento, e che questa abitudine a rallentare e una delle ragioni che sono venuta in Italia prima di tutto.

Prima di partire per Firenze, siamo andate al mare per rilassarci, per godere il panorama e per prendere un gelato. E stato' un giorno divertente ed e stata' un'esperienza interessante.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Riding with Will from NYC

On Sunday during the Giro della Toscana I met Will Schneider from NYC, a professional USA Cycling Coach and Cat 2 racer, owner of VO2MaxOut, who is here in Tuscany for the week, training a cycling client. During the pasta party after the Granfondo we got to talking, sharing stories about New York and Tuscany. We decided to hook up for a ride together before he leaves for New York. So we arranged to ride together today. I warned him that I'm no competition for him, and as long as he wanted to do a "fun" ride, that I could show him some great roads. He very willingly agreed.

It was a blast of a ride and we had an excellent time together. We rode up to Monte Senario, and just like everyone from out-of-town who rides with me up there, he was fascinated. One of the monks even offered to take us for a tour of the convent and the church. It was fascinating for me, even though I've been there at least 10 times in the last month.

On the way back I thought he would probably want to get back to his hotel right away, but he offered to take me to lunch, so I took him to Rocco's in the San'Ambrogio market, which is one of my favorite lunch spots, and I knew that a New Yorker would love it. And he did.

Anyway, it was another great experience, meeting someone from back home and sharing the Tuscany that I've come to know.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Granfondo della Toscana

Today I participated in the Granfondo Giro della Toscana (The Granfondo of Tuscany) with my team, pictured here. This is a classic Italian Granfondo event that starts in Florence and transverses the Tuscan countryside just before the harvest when the vineyards are bursting with mature grapes and the weather is optimal. The whole concept of Granfondo has fascinated me for years, so I was thrilled to ride in this, my 4th Granfondo of the year.

I rode the 138k course which took us through Greve, Castellina, San Gimignano, Certaldo, Montespertoli and more. Of the 700 cyclists who particpated, I only saw one other woman. Of course I can't complain about being surrounded by so many bellissimi Italian men. I certainly never lack for company on the road. Our team placed 13th out of 32 participating teams. Not bad for a team that is only 2 years old! The team received 6 bottles of wine as prizes, and I was the proud recipient of one of them, in recognition of being the only woman on the team to participate in the event.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tonight's Sunset

After riding up to Monte Senario today, I worked at home and then switched to my city bike and took an evening spin around Florence. I took this photo of the Ponte Vecchio a few hours ago with my Blackberry phone! Absolutely no editing.

I can't believe it is almost a year since I've been here, and I'm still taking photos as though I'm a tourist. I hope this feeling never wears off.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Patti Smith Comes To Florence

This one's for you, Meg.... My sister Meg literally used to follow Patti Smith and Bruce Springstein all over the United States. Meg was one of those "groupies" back then. At that time, a Patti Smith concert would draw tens of thousands of people and the tickets would sell out in minutes.

Next week Patti Smith is performing in the little venue of Piazza Santa Croce, and so far, I haven't found anybody here who even knows who Patti Smith is. But I will be there, and hope to be surprised by an audience who will appreciate one of the boldest, most revolutionary American female singers ever.