Sunday, November 28, 2010

Marathon and Opera

Tomorrow I will be joining thousands of spectators to observe the Florence marathon...for me, the third time. I wish I were a runner. Just walking and riding my bike through the streets of Florence is intoxicating, I can only imagine what it must be like to have the whole city closed to traffic and thousands of people routing you on. Last year's marathon was sensational and I was able to ride my bike through side streets to keep a little ahead of the action, and got to see the best of it. I hope I can do that again tomorrow, although the prevision is for rain.
I am so proud of my city. Mayor Renzi is a dynamo, a doer and little by little he is transforming the city in many ways, promoting cultural, social, athletic, and educational events throughout Florence and garnering outside support to heighten the pride of its constituents and improve its image and economy. He has played a strong part in promoting the marathon since his election, and he will be participating as a runner too.....I hope to spot him!! The marathon is just one of the many events that is contributing to the growing international appeal of Florence over the past year. In spite of this being our rainy season, it is a perfect time of year for a, crisp, with many outdoor events happening.

This year the marathon is attracting over 10.000 participants who will be starting high above the city at Piazzale Michelangelo and running along the streets of the Medici to finish at Piazza Santa Croce where renowned Renaissance masters such as Galileo, Machiavelli and Michaelangelo are buried in the Cathedral....a very fitting backdrop to this electric event. I am psyched to see this exhilirating display of energy which, with the backdrop of Florence's great monuments, is truly a great tribute to this great city.

Today, in preparation for the Marathon, Florence was especially buzzed and the streets were packed with tomorrow's athletes, including 3,000 of which are coming in from other countries. You can tell who are the tourists and who are the runners...they dress more sporty (which means no high heels) and have a rhythm in their gate....they are pumped for tomorrow and the anticipation can be felt all throughout the city.

There were helicopters flying low over Florence today buzzing around all day, either preparing for the marathon or surveilling a student protest at the duomo, which was very interesting and informative to observe. All the hotels are booked and restaurants are prepared to feed the crowds with their special pasta carbo-loading menus today. I am looking forward to following the marathon along the side streets on my bike tomorrow, although rain is predicted, and I still haven't mastered the art of carrying an umbrella in one hand while handling the bike with the other.

Tomorrow also marks the beginning of my opera season subscription, which after cycling, is my number 2 passion, in search for which I have traveled to many countries over the past 20 years as an avid follower who can never get enough. Opera and cycling have their respective seasons in perfect harmony. Both are spiritual sources of energy and enrichment for my spirit. Tomorrow's opera is La Forza del Destino one of my favorite Verdi operas. It makes me think of how we get to our destiny by way of the sometimes conflicting powers of nature, searching, hard work, desire, struggle accident. Somehow the right combination of these elements brought me here to Florence, where I am peaceful and happy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Truffled Out

I am suffering from an apparent truffle overdose.
As the autumn truffle season approaches a crescendo, Florentines are in a frenzy to lay their hands on the best of the costly culinary crop. Merchants are raising the stakes for these highly coveted parasites as people hunt them down more furiously than did the original dogs and pigs. Even those of us who are reluctant to spend a small fortune on this addictive seductive fungus are giving in to the temptation. Including me.
I’ve recently learned to simultaneously love and hate these brutally ugly creatures. In the past 10 days I‘ve engaged in the ultimate macho truffle challenge, having eaten ad nauseum this precious food in every conceivable culinary concoction…both black and white…accompanying tagliatelle and risotto, shaved on quail eggs (my favorite), mashed into a pâté, sliced on carpaccio, stuffed in ravioli, whipped inside a soufflé, sprinkled on paper-thin raw scallops and shaved on top of a mega Tuscan beef burger. I am up to my ears eating truffled pecorino, truffled sausage, truffled salami, chocolate truffles, and even truffle infused gelato.

I was invited on a few recent occasions to dine at friends’ houses who needed to consume these potholed, grotesque looking creatures before they self destructed. They must be eaten immediately or they die an ugly death.

Hopelessly afflicted by truffle fever, I reciprocated by buying a tartufo bianco from San Miniato and a tartufo nero pregiato from Norcia at San Lorenzo. The precious diamonds were meticulously jarred, wrapped twice and then boxed. Would I make it home without being accosted? Flinging my scarf around my face like an outlaw, I hid the prized package under my coat and escaped undercover in case someone having observed the transaction would follow me home. (It didn’t occur to me until later that this could be a new strategy to meet my ultimate Italian amore.)

After preparing my precious find with some friends in 3 different ways, I decidedly inhaled my last gluttonous truffle tasting for the year. It is now coming out of my ears, it is in my sweat, and somehow I cannot get the smell out of my apartment. After preparing that pleasingly pungent microscopic morsel of white truffle that almost broke the bank, my whole house reeks of truffles. The exquisite aroma initially provoked an orgasmic olfactory experience on the first night, but even two days after its consumation, I nearly keeled over from the scent as I entered my apartment this evening. I opened all the windows, turned off the heat and prayed that the smell would vanish in time to prevent me from seeking revenge with a can of marsiglia-scented air freshener.

Too much of a good thing is not good. Thank God truffle season comes only once a year. All the better to anticipate, to appreciate and to indulge.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Green Day in Florence

Last Saturday, Florence woke up to behold an extraordinary spectacle at Piazza del Duomo. Here, a magnificent carpet of lush, fragrant green grass was sprawled on top of the dark cold stone ground, transforming the piazza overnight from a bustling urban observation deck into a lush green oasis. This one-day event was organized to commemorate the 4th Century Miracle of San Zenobi, kicking-off the first "International Week on Cultural Heritage and Landscape" hosted in Florence.

Walking on the grass-swept meadowland bedecking the piazza was a rare opportunity to feel and smell the soft earthy grass beneath my feet instead of the usual hard musty stone. The whole city lingered, appreciating a fleeting moment in time that would last for only hours. Children played, elders were pushed in their wheelchairs, people strolled and laughed. Mayor Renzi was there hanging with the people, and a historical flag-throwing event followed. The piazza's transformation transformed the very mood of Florence. Every Florentine walked proud today.

This spectacle was just one of 100+ cultural exhibitions, concerts, lectures, films, tours, workshops, wine and gastronomic events that occurred here this past week in various venues all over Florence. The program was packed with events, rendering the city a global forum of art and culture, promoting “international economic and social development through appreciation of our artistic and cultural heritage”.

During the week-long conference, a new copy of Michelangelo’s David was exhibited in various spots in Florence, including the duomo, a photo of which I captured in the evening. You can faintly detect the new moon rising by the side of the Duomo. This manifestation recalled the 1504 debate among Florentines as to where the David should be placed. Three copies later the debate still goes on, with Rome being the latest to argue its rights to possess this majestic Florentine icon.
I spent much of the week following the activities through its museums, bookstores, libraries and piazzas. I particularly enjoyed a special tour of the Palazzo Strozzi Sacrati, one of the lesser-known treasures of Florence as well as seeing the replica of Loggia dei Lanzi being constructed in Palazzo Vecchio.
After living in Florence for 2 years, I fall more and more in love with this city every single day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Town Hall

Catching the moon rising over Palazzo Vecchio tonight while taking a two-wheeled evening passeggiata was a glorious moment which captured a plethora of emotions in a single vision. Irrespective of how often I pass through the piazza I am always struck by overwhelming feelings of passion, pride and gratitude. Tonight these sentiments overflowed in the form of joyous tears.

It was here in Palazzo Vecchio that one year ago I was ceremoniously presented with my official Florentine residency acknowledging my final acceptance into the Florentine community shortly after being granted my Italian citizenship through "ius sanguinis". (Latin for the "right of blood".)

For this reason I feel a very deep-rooted connection with the Palazzo. This magnificent palace, world renowned as a historic bastion of political power, is my town hall. It is where my new life in Florence was officially cannonized, and where my dreams have become reality.

I am constantly drawn here, whether to delve more deeply into the Palazzo's art, history, to tour its magnificent interior, or just while strolling around, to say hello and connect with the power and appreciation that it fires up in me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Exploring Pecorino and Brunello Land

This weekend I discovered the rich wonderland of the Colle Senese, the southern Tuscan rolling hills of the Siena countryside, while scouting out some spectacular roads for a new 2011 bike tour.

Discovering the infinite bounty and diverse landscapes of Tuscany is an endless experience. While venturing more deeply into southern Tuscany beyond the classic Chianti countryside, I saw the topography of the landscape and its indigenous gastronomic resources gradually change character and form.

In this area of Tuscany, the vineyards are sloped gracefully along rolling hills that reach deep into the visual distance, with the stark contrast of the white winter wheat fields acting as a stunning backdrop to the elegant, regal cypress trees that accentuate the ridges. The gradual long rolling hills provide perpetual long-distance views all the way to the Appenines.

Dramatically different from the Chianti region, its views and terrain are all the more mystical, dreamy and lunar-like. The roads are virtually traffic-free, smooth and pristine. From the silence and tranquility of the environment and the sheer lack of human presence on the roads, it feels like an undiscovered, virgin land, yet this is where the Via Cassia was forged thousands of years ago, rich in Etruscan, Roman, medieval and Renaissance history. This dreamy territory boasts some of Tuscany's most precious jewel towns, Montalcino, Pienza, Montepulciano and Cortona. It is the perfect cycling haven, rich in medieval and Renaisance treasures, providing truly gutteral opportunities to feel and taste the land through its fine Brunello and Vino Nobile wines and its "cacio", pecorino cheeses.