Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Tough Ride

Today I had a very vigorous ride through Vallombrosa and Passo della Consuma with Rebecca. The amout of climbing was alot for such a warm day, but the vistas were phenomenal. We stopped to fill our water bottles at the benedictine monastery at Abbazia di Vallombrosa where a concert was playing in the church. And then on to climb through a towering, refreshing pine forest until we reached the Passo della Consuma. It was a very hard but satisfying climb and it was a new destination for me.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Back to Work Again on the Bike!

Today I led my first bike tour since arriving back in Florence and it felt great to really be "back"! The clients flew in from Chicago on their private jet to spend 2 weeks in Italy, and today was one of 3 days that we will be escorting them through the countryside on their bikes. I met Dominick and the team in the early morn and we shuttled to Lucca, where we picked up our guests at their private villa. Our ride began in Viarreggio where we started pedaling along the coast to Forte dei Marmi. We then ascended inland to Camaiore and Pedona to Bargecchia and Casella along the same route of the Gran Fondo Versilia. It was awesome.

I was amazed at how far I have come in only 6 weeks back on my bike, after 5 months off the bike and after recovering from major surgery. It is surely driven by the passion within and this great love I have for life.

I was in my element today. Entertaining and equally being entertained by the great company, sharing my passion with others, while cycling along a challenging course and just being thankful for being able to return to my life here in Italy.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rocky Horror Picture Show at Day's End

Where else but in Florence could I experience a day filled with such diverse activities as today? In the morning I met Massa and Natascia for a dramatic 80K bike ride to Borgo San Lorenzo. After climbing up to Bvigliano we stopped for a caffè. The church bells echoed through the town as Sunday Mass was emptying out and we watched the local parishoners chatting in front of the pasticerria (bakery) or standing in line at the salumeria (a store that sells salami, prosciutto and other cured meats.) We then continued along hilly roads lined with golden fields of sunflowers, bales of hay and old stone farmhouses. This would be the last time I would see Natascia until September, since almost everyone who doesn't live on the coast is leaving the interior of the country for the month of August. Most of them are going al mare (the ocean) but le montagne (the mountains) are becoming a more popular summer destination among Italians, especially the Dolomites.

On my way back home, I stoped at a small truck selling Sicilain tomatoes, porcini and sunflowers. I loaded my jersey pockets with the pomidori (tomatoes) and then passed by the forno (bread bakery) where you could smell the bread baking from up the street. Then to the lampredotto stand (like a hotdog stand in New York, selling Florentine peasant dishes) where I bought a portion of "bolito misto", (a Tuscan specialty comprising cow by-products mixed in a light salad of onions, olive oil, lemon and parsely) Then stopped at the pizzicheria and bought some just-made buffalo mozzarella. When I got home, I picked some fresh basil from my terrace, and munched out on a great lunch!

After a piccolo riposino (short nap) I did some studying and watched the local news and then took my books and pedaled to Boboli Gardens where I sat in the cool shade under an umbrella of aromatic cypress trees.

Just before sunset I rode my everyday city bike over to the Arno where a full moon was rising above the tower of Piazza Poggi (photo above). I then rode on to Ponte Vecchio and paused for a while to listen to the guitarist who plays every night on the bridge. A cool breeze filled the air. Perfect night. I then passed by Piazzza Signoria to observe my city hall where another guitarist was entertaining the crowds in front of the Ufizzi Palace.

Then, while pedaling towards the Duomo, I heard the Calcio Storico band playing and realized that today is the Festa di Sant'Anna (which means the Feast Day of the Mother of the Virgin Mary). The nuns never taught us about her in Catholic School, which I attended until I was 20 years old. There are so many saints in Italy. There is a saint for everything and everyone. I never even "thunk" of the mother of Mary, but I guess it makes sense that she had to be a saint too, no? So, the entire ecclesiatica and government of Florence was involved very seriously in this annual celebration, all of the traditional Florentine festivities, right down to the colorful 15th century costumes, a parade and a Mass at Orsanmichele. I attended the Mass (mind you, this is all going on at 10 o'clock at night) and was thrilled to see the mayor of Florence (who I absolutely adore.....he is doing great things for this city) addressing the congregation.

In America we believe in the separation of church and state. The longer I live, the more I realize how unique America is in that regard, a real sign of freedom. In America you would never see Mayor Bloomberg giving a speech at Saint Patrick's Cathedral, speaking to the congregation as if they represented all of New York City. Here the Catholic Church IS the state, no matter what they tell you. I feel comfotable with this only because I really love my religion and I really love Italy, and feel very intertwined with the two cultures.

I know this all sounds like a week's worth of activity, but there's more. I took another giro around Piazza Santa Croce, to see the moon now reaching far above the chiesa, much higher in the sky than it was a couple of hours ago. I followed noises in the distance which led me to Florence's outdoor summer movie festival. It was midnight, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show had just begun, dubbed in Italian!! I bought a glass of wine, sat at a table up front and needless to say, I learned many suggestive idiomatic ways to speak Italian.

What a treat of a day. There is nothing much more that I could want. As I rode home, past the jazz band playing at Piazza del Ciompi, I kept on thinking that God must really have wanted me to be here. He delivered me back here after a major illness, and He keeps on reminding me that He wants me here. I am very fortunate and will never take this all for granted.

When I got home I checked my telephone to find an SMS from Dominick, saying that he needs me to guide a bike tour in Lucca on Wednesday.

Great day.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Don Giovanni at Boboli Gardens

Tonight I treated myself to see Mozart's Don Giovanni, which was performed at the stunning Boboli Gardens, under an almost full moon. I knew from last year's performance of Aida, that the best seats get sold out right away, and so I purchased my seat well in advance and was fortunate to get the seat of my choice.

As the production lights started to dim under the summer's evening sky signaling that the opera was about to begin, the audience gradually quieted down as the orchestra fine-tuned their instruments for one last time before the prelude.

I always love these last few mystical minutes before an opera begins. It is a time of transition between reality and fantasy. One becomes anesthesized while gradually disconecting from the immediate world. The audience slowly stops socializing and chatting, everyone settles down, the violins play odd notes, creating a mystical and ethereal mood as everyone settles into a state of suspended animation. After a minute or so there is a dead silence. It is the calm before the storm. Everyone's eyes are glued to the orchestra pit, anticipating the conductor's entrance. We are no longer "here now" but floating somewhere in a spiritual dimension outside of the body. A minute more of dead silence. You can hear a pin drop, but underneath you can feel the energy about to explode under the skin of every spectator awaiting the first note of music. And then the passion begins.

Experiencing these special moments under the backdrop of the Boboli Gardens is sacred. But living in Florence seems to be filled with these chilling experiences all the time. If I had the time to write about each one of them, I would be writing around the clock.

It was an excellent performance. Learning and appreciating the opera was a part of my early upbringing, and so I've loved it all my life. But being here, living here in Florence and being able to hop on my city bike in a summer dress and pretty heels on a summer's eve, to pedal a few minutes to Boboli to enjoy such a fine production among such a fashionable and animated Florentine audience gives me just another reason to feel fortunate and happy to have found a new life here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Recognizing the power to create your reality is the key to turning the page and beginning a new chapter in your life story. You begin to dance with the energies of life, allowing the ebb and flow to determine the direction."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Advisor to the Board?

Today I was caught by surprise when a representative of Florence by Bike asked me if I would run for a new position as an advisor to the board of directors of the team. In this capacity I would represent le donne, the women on the team, as well as serving as a point of reference for foreigners newly situated in Florence who are interested in joining the team. The proposal for this "position" will be presented to the board for their votes at the annual elections meeting in September.

I was honored and pleased. It may sound simple, it may sound elementary. It is only a bike team. But for me, it is a significant milestone that marks another root that I have planted into the Florentine earth.

It made me contemplate the tremendous capacity we have as human beings to recover from traumas and illnesses, and it made me think of how when you really have a passion that comes from deep inside of you, that nothing can really set you back.

After being incapacitated with a serious illness and off the bike for 5 months, I am miraculously recovered and my passion for life more brilliant than ever. My life in Italy is back as though it was never interrupted. I am riding right in there again with my team of Italian cycling companions who share this terrific passion for life on two wheels. I am hard at work trying to recruit new women onto the team. I am getting offers to start guiding tours again.

I am fired up and starting to develop a more strategic plan for my future life in Italy. This is only a small step, but one that propels my passion even more.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Raduno Giro dei Castelli

The first raduno of my comeback with 10 members of the squad, a giro starting in Signa which took us 105k through Montelupo, Montespertoli, and up the climb through Vitolini, a stage featured in the 2004 Giro d'Italia.

We won third place in this raduno for our placement as a team. Our prize was a beautiful trophy, a prosciutto, a finnochiana, a bottle of wine, a bottle of olive oil and a basket of pasta.

Great company and a special sense of fulfillment, this having been the first significant ride with my team since recovering from my surgery.

We enjoyed a buonissima festa at the end of the ride, and in addition to our team prize, we each received a complimentary bottle of wine to take home in our jersey pockets.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Girl's Reunion Ride

A great "welcome back" ride with the girls today! We rode up to Bviglano where we stopped at the pasticerria for a chat and a caffè, and then continued up to Lake Bilancio. Somehow I made it back after 88k and 1270 meters of climb. It was hot and very difficult for me because it was my first hilly ride in the heat so soon after my surgery. But Rebecca took good care of me and patiently waited for me on the top of every hill. I am so happy to be back again with great friends!