Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve in the Rain

After 2 beautiful days of snow that left Florentines either awestruck or traffic-stuck, the umbrellas came back out, returning Florence to it's usual damp seasonal weather, and rain. But it didn't seem to matter. The city was just as vibrant and the Christmas buzz shone through. The longer I live here, the more I am beginning to appreciate the rain in Florence. Not only does it add a feeling of mystery and antiquity as I walk through the streets under a serious umbrella, but it changes the sound of the cathedrals' bells.

The clouds in Florence hang very low and when the bells chime, the sound bounces back and forth between the clouds, eventually getting literally stuck in the clouds, creating longer and deeper echoes, making the resonance last longer, adding more dimension and solemnity to the sound. You can tell if it's a cloudy day without even knowing it, just by listening to the bells.

Rain is a part of the personality of Florence and I am finally learing how to adapt to it and not allow it to stop me from my normal buying a collection of serious umbrellas and never leaving home without one! You can tell who are the native Florentines because they can ride a bicycle with one child in the front, another in the back, and hold an umbrella in one hand while navigating the narrow streets, and still come out of it alive. I won't feel like I have earned my Florenting badge of honor until I can pass a similar test.

Waking up on Christmas Eve morning I opened my windows to see a heavy, dense layer of grey-white clouds looming above the Duomo. The bricks of the duomo were brown instead of orange, being soaked from the rain. I was looking forward to spending the day doing last minute shopping, enjoying the spirit at the market and just taking in all the energy and anticipation for the day to come. I decided to start my day by walking up to the top of the Duomo's bell tower to observe the greatness of my city from far above. It was as spectacular as ever, even in the rain.

I ended the day on an equally high note, attending an exceptional Christmas Concert at Teatro Verdi, where the Orchestra della Toscana, under the direction of Giuliano Carella, performed Puccini's Messa di Gloria complete with a tenor, baritone, 2 sopranos and the entire Maggio Musicale Chorus. This was one of Puccini's early religious works that I had never seen or heard before and was deeply moved by its beauty and the perfection of its execution. It was a glorious prelude to Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Shopping

This is the third and possibly last day to experience the rare occasion of Florence in the snow. Just in time to enjoy Christmas shopping in Florence, what a blessing!

Strolling down Via Gioberti, I suddenly heard the sound of trumpets playing in the distance. At once, there appeared a small brass band of men marching down the street, dressed in red, filling the air with music! When I asked who they were, I was told that they are just local friends having a good time together! How much I love living in Florence. So rich and full of surprises!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

When Are You Coming Back to Visit?

The answer, my friends, is that I don't know. I thought that by now I would have made plans to return to the U.S. for the holidays. I am struggling to understand why I am not feeling this desire. Why am I not compelled to go home to New York for Christmas, after living and working there for 50 years? .

And why have I not yet booked a flight to California? To reunite with friends, to see the coast, to ride my bike, to feel the sun, to actually drive a car? To escape the cold. To maybe go to the gym? To perhaps lose those few pounds that have insidiously accumulated from an overdose of olive oil, wine, salami, bollito misto, and that intoxicating just-baked Tuscan bread that I ritualistically buy from the forno next door.
I can only attribute my procrastination to this feeling of being content and at home in Florence. When I look at my Christmas tree and the view of the Duomo out my window, I feel the magic that has begged me to spend Christmas right here in Florence.

I know that one day I'll just wake up and book a reservation. But it hasn't happened yet. And perhaps I'm a little worried that maybe it should. Because my airline ticket has now expired.

But what about that Hammer Gel, those Powerbars, that cold cream, those vitamins and anti-persperant that I cannot find here? And the soft contact lenses and dental bleach that I want to stock up on? I got nervous last year when my supply started running out, and didn't think I would survive Italy without going back to stock up on those "necessities".

And what about all my "stuff"? The stuff of a lifetime that I whittled down to a mere storage room in San Clemente? The remains of things that were so desperately important to me.

I can't seem to detach myself from Florence! I love the lifestyle here, from my morning vegetable market expedition, to buying buttons at the button store, to buying pens at the pen store, paper at the paper store, salami at the salumeria, chicken at the polleria, and knives at the coltelleria. I have my carpenter, my shoe maker, my macelleria, my lavanderia, my pasticerria, my pizzeria, my fioraio, my farmacia, my gelateria, my mesticheria, my salumeria, all within a pleasant pedal or a short walk from my piazza. I love that I have the opera and 3 theater houses within a 5 minute glorious walk away. I love that all the shops that I frequent are owned and operated by families who have owned them for generations. I'm even beginning to love carrying a serious umbrella and getting to know Florence in the rain.

Stopping into a church for a quick prayer, getting engaged in a conversation with a macellaio trying to convince me that Tuscan soprassata is better than Pugliesi soprassata because it is more fatty and morbido. Standing on 2 different lines for an hour at the post office only to have the both numbers called at the same time. I can live with that...I can even laugh at that. But I don't miss frozen, prepared foods. Above all I do not miss mega superstores like COSTCO. I love being able to buy a pizza at 1 o'clock in the morning and a cappucino as the sun rises, right outside my door. On the other hand, I would like not to have my showerhead sticking off my bathroom wall and would love to find a worthy dentist. Tradeoffs!

I love hanging my laundry out to dry, it makes me feel so loyal to my wash and so proudly domesticated! I like walking up 56 steps in a 500 year old renaissance building into my apartment, the former studio of the aritist Pietro Annigoni.....who has a whole museum devoted to his art. It was here in my apartment that he painted the masterpiece portraits of his career. My home feels like a very special place.

I get a kick out of Franco who will fix the front light on my bike for either a Euro or a kiss. He's got a hell of alot of testosterone for a 70 year old man. And Giuseppe the shoemaker who wants to make love to my feet and Giovanni the florist who won't give up on asking me for a "date" (in my apartment, mind you). Priceless stuff! Now if only one of them were my age, didn't smoke and were relatively healthy !

So my friends, these are a couple of the things that keep me here in Florence. I love my friends and cannot wait to hug my brother, my sisters, Aunt Marion and my nephews. I am sure that one day I will wake up and make that reservation. But for now I cannot imagine leaving Florence.

Another Day of Florence in the Snow!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Concert at Palazzo Vecchio

Living smack in the middle of Florence's mecca of magestic cathedrals, I awake each morning to a divine, melodious symphony of chiming church bells enthusiastically beckoning me to rise. But this morning was special because as the bells resounded I knew today Florence would be at its best, covered by a mystical coat of snow, just waiting to surprise me with endless sensual delights.

This ended up being a day of unequalled splendor that could never have been planned! It started with the divine opus of church bells and concluded with a grand finale concert conducted by the master Domenico Pierini in the breathtaking Salone dei Cinquecento of the Palazzo Vecchio.

I started the day on an escapade to explore Florence's winter wonderland in my much appreciated New York snowboots, to experience this extraordinary moment of snow before it melts away. From the snowboarders gliding down the hill of Piazzale Michelangelo, to the snow-laden bridges of the Arno, the city was magnificent. I snapped uncountable photos and marveled in these fleeting moments of capturing so many precious and rare perspectives of my city.

During the day I paused in several places to warm up. First on the rooftop of Rinascente to warm my tummy with a cioccolata calda (100% pure melted hot chocolate) and later as I was passing by Palazzo Strozzi, I decided this would be the perfect time to see the Bronzino exhibit, which revealed to me another great master of Renaissance art. I then stopped at my favorite lunch place for a panino finocchiona.

After a long day of exploration and appreciation for my city, I remembered that that there was to be a concert at Palazzo Vecchio for which I had tried to get tickets several times. However, nobody, including the palace's curators knew how to get tickets! I entered the ticket office at 6:20 PM, expecting that the concert would be sold out. However, to my surprise, I was told to simply enter, no ticket was necessary...and that the concert would be starting in only 10 minutes. Lucky me! What a dramatic climax to an already perfect gift of a day!

Friday, December 17, 2010

More of My Snow Videos From Today!

Snow in Florence!!!

It was a blessing to wake up to the splendid miracle of Florence under a veil of snow and to spend a glorious day marveling at its endless wonders. Every single day Florence finds another mind-blowing reason to keep me here. I cannot imagine ever leaving Florence.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Florence Prepares for Christmas

The Duomo dazzled the eyes and hearts of the Florentine community tonight as Mayor Renzi lit the Duomo's first-ever Christmas tree, on this feast day of the Immaculate Conception. Preceding the lighting ceremony were festivities and music and the spectacluar traditional flag throwing parade with noble Florentine families clad in medieval costumes. Children and elders alike were awestruck by the spectacle. It was quite an emotional ceremony that brought tears to my eyes.

Florence is alive with Christmas fairs and concerts, musicians are in the streets playing violins and accordions. Singers burst out into song unexpectedly, the smell of smoky chestnuts fills the air and lights are strung all throughout the city, making Florence more stunning than ever.

Coming home from the festivities I bought a cute Charlie Brown Christmas tree and started shopping for ornaments and a presepie among the cheery crowds.

After two years of settling in, I am really feeling and living the rhythm of the holiday season, rejeuvanating some old traditions and learning and adopting some new ones.

Things i did last week

I am stuck on Florence. Drunk on her. So rather than waste more time, here's a snap shot of last week's activities that I didn't write about yet. So here goes....while I have the opportunity. No theme for this blog entry. I am overflowing with things to record......for myself....and for whomever wants to read them. Some of the magical moments of the past 10 or so days: Strolling the narrow streets that are all dressed up and sparkling with lights, smelling the olive wood burning from the pizza oven across the street, everyone smiling big smiles, scarves, mittens, vapor rising from my breath, ears freezing, buying a cutie Christmas tree and ornaments....and a presepi nativity scene with a hundred little figurines!! Deciding which panettone to buy, and finally......buying a espresso machine! Settling in......nesting.....buying new curtains, a new sofa, a new hunting for a flat-screen TV. The merchants and shoppers look happier than last year! The city is alive and brilliant and spilling with emotion and passion. I am finally settling down after 2 years of slow adaptation....I am redecorating my way and signed a long term contract for my apartment. The Christmas fair at Santa Croce was delightful this year....For the first time I went to Teatro Verdi, a 19th century theater 2 blocks from my house to see a rockin' Gospel Concert. I discovered the best finnochiona in Florence in Falciani. Every day the sweet sound of church bells competes with motorini, amblulences in a bizarre but unique harmony. I discovered a very special Thursday night Mass at Badia Fiorentina. I saw performances of Tosca and La Forza del Destino at Teatro Comunale....and often visit the church where Dante met Beatrice...NEVER having my camera at the right time! Speaking better Italian all the time! Had a pizza reunion with my bike team a few days ago...making friends with Michele from Minneapolis.....spending last Saturday taking Rob Valinoti, (a good friend from New York) on a whirlwind tour of Florence....climbing the bell tower in the rain, a terrific lunch at Il Giova....enjoying my other favorite lunch spots…Rocco’s at Mercato Sant'Ambrogio, Antico Vinaio, Antico Noe....rediscovering carne bollito after 50 years! Ponies on the street, horse drawn carriages near my house, and to top it bike team came in 3rd place this year.....and won a couple of trophies....and a prosciutto. Damn!