Sunday, December 30, 2012

Buon Anno Nuovo

This will be my last post of the year.  After 4 years of living in Italy, 2012 was the year that I accelerated from 2nd gear into a steady and comfy 3rd gear.  I'm ready for 2013 to rev it into full throttle overdrive. 

It was a year of confirmation, with a diversity of moments ranging from sad and brutal to those of astounding joy....and discovery.   I sadly lost my best friend to a tragic accident, one of the worst losses of my life.  I also had days filled with rich moments, smiles and surprises.  A few special new people entered into my life who I hope will stay or enrich my heart from afar.  I am in the perfect place, where I can be exactly who I am and who I was meant to be.

I feel very lucky to have discovered this life so full of joy, wonderful friends, and a passion for life that has been fueled with love.  Hopefully 2013 will be a year in which I will finally find a way to share and spread my happiness and to give it back to the universe that has perfectly aligned itself with me.

So, I put my heart out there, ready, ready, ready.....full of coraggio, esperanza e l'amore.

Buon Anno Nuovo a tutti voi.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


I love the word prego for so many reasons.  First of all, it sounds so simple and positive.  I’ve never seen anyone say the word without a smile on their face.  It is a friendly word that conveys a sense of harmony and agreement.  I think it is a pure expression that reflects the Italian culture and the gentility of the people in many ways. 

Prego…. you hear it everywhere and it means many things. It is so simple and subtle though often used, it communicates a sense of openness, a state of harmony, an attitude of tolerance and gentility, of apology, courtesy, refinement  If I had to pick one Italian word that embodies the character of the Italians, it is the word Prego. 

This one little word means more than just a word.  "Please, may I help you?"  "What can I do for you?"  When I approach another rider in front of me, instead of speeding up to stop me from passing them, they wave me in front of them while saying "prego". "Please, pass me on the street" (even though you just about ran my 4 year old over) "I am sorry!"  "Of course you can get in front of me on the grocery line, please take my place" . "Please you almost killed me but I am still alive, so prego".  "What would you like?"  "No problem".  Every time I accidentally bump into or offend someone, they never get irate, but always apologize saying" prego….e la colpa mia". 

If I had to select the Italian word that I love and hear the most during the day, it is the word" prego". 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Day After

Christmas is "over", at least for the day.  Here, the 12 days of Christmas really exist on the streets, at church and at the table. With the PD parlimentary elections taking place on Sunday in which 6 of the 12 Tuscan candidates are Florentines, not even one of my neighbors (other than Giovanna who works at the voting office) is planning to tear themselves away from il letargo delle feste for the mere sake of choosing the country’s new potential "government". 

Family, food and escapism is in full bloom at this time of year and nothing gets in the way of this virtual hibernation from least until after January 7th. Then the whole country goes into "shock" mode, everything goes on sale and people return to the other temporary illusion called "work".

Today, the day after Christmas, we celebrate yet another saint's feast day (St. Stephen) as a convenient national excuse to take off and recover from Christmas just to continue the feasting for another 10 days.  On Capodanno the entire peninusla enters into explosion mode, (it used to be so bad that the whole country used to throw their furniture out the window along with the fireworks on New Year's Eve) just to continue another few days of fantasy binging and recovery, while wandering in a continual coma until the ultimate orgasm of the year when the whole country crashes into its final "Epiphany".

The whole process of feast and recovery seems to be somewhat of a bipolar process here in Italy. The all-out feasts (but how many a year?) are planned and executed with more commitment and WAY-HEY-HEY more enjoyment than an American wedding. But the day(s) after are equally as contrary. Here a recovery day means sleeping late, waking up with a stomach ache and a prosecco-grappa headache. It means walking around the house all day in a comatose stupor, eating panettone for breakfast and watching the third repeat of Christmas Mass at the Vatican (or worse yet, Bambi) while picking canellini beans and Tombola cards off the floor and scraping pork and capon drippings off the 4th load of dishes.  It means drinking tonics, seltzer and bitters and eating digestives such as fennel to remedy the afflictions of the previous day's excess.  Then it's back to the table for leftovers. (I wonder if this custom has its origins in the ancient Roman culture when binging and purging in vomitoriums were practiced by the aritstocracy.) 

Christmas at the "Mazzella" house this year was a milestone...the first Christmas since I've been living in Italy that I was the hostess instead of the guest. A new home, lots of preparations including a real tree, lots of friends with more and more native Italians becoming a fixed part of my life, way less English spoken and continuously feeling more integrated. 
Buone Feste!  There's still alot more to come!

Some photos of my Christmas in Florence this year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Preparations....the Essence of Christmas

Home Sweet Home
 I wrote this 3 years ago, and it is still so true, I cannot say any more, except that my friendships, my Italian family, my life and my Christmas in Florence gets richer and deeper every year!

Anticipating and getting ready for Christmas in Florence still feels like a welcome trip into the past, into the days when things were more simple, more pure, less commercial, less materialistic, more based on emotions, spirit, curiosity and learning, communicating, singing, laughing, sharing, hugging, smiling.

Everything happens here on a local level, in your own neighborhood, at the market, in familiar places with familiar faces. No malls, no chain stores, no franchises, no lines, no road rage, no parking lot acrobatics. Pure. Simple. Friendly. Organ and choral music emanating from churches, bells ringing, accordians and violins playing in the streets, lights everywhere. Artisan merchants selling their wares, their handmade clothes, their handmade jewelry, their antique book collections. And oh, the lights!
The salumeria selling salami, prosciutto, mortadalla, the forno selling fresh bread of every kind, the pasticerria selling mouth watering torte, panettone, pandora, the ortolana selling exotic vegetables, figs, dates, chestnuts, zucchini, the macelleria selling whole baby pigs, capon, pheasant to deck the middle of the Christmas table, chickens stuffed roasts of every kind, sausages with every conceivable kind of filling, fresh pastas of every shape, the pescheria selling fresh fish and scoglio for the Viglia ,

And the librerie many bookstores in Florence! They seem to be on every single street. I am fascinated and so proud to be living in a place where there are so many book stores. Each one is unique and specializes in a different genre, subject or theme. If all these people weren't reading so much, those book stores would be out of business. It makes me feel good to know that I am living in a city where the mom and pop bookstores are and important, integral part of life here. They are always crowded with all kinds of people.....old men, young boys, wives, students.

The tourists have completely disappeared and all that's left are the real people who live and work here. The air is fresh, and just cold enough to bundle up without freezing. I never realized how much I missed the cold weather until now. I thought that 5 years of living in California had made me a spoiled weather wimp. But I have built back my tolerance to the cold little by little.  I am happy to re-discover again the truth of the matter....I had been missing the seasons for a long time, and getting them back is a gift. Finally I can appreciate Christmas again the way I knew it all my life. Cold. Dynamic. Illuminated. There is nothing that can compete with that feeling of seeing Florence covered with snow and feeling the cold flakes touch and melt on your face in the silent night luminated by the reflections of snow everywhere.

Finding the right gifts for the few but important people on my shopping list was a pleasure, as I identified with a new kind of gift giving that is different than in the U.S. For instance, here, a 10 year old boy would appreciate receiving a gift consisting of a book or CD of Giovanni Allevi, whereas in America most boys would prefer something more computerized and sophisticated, not to mention exponentially more expensive. People here seem easy to please. In my experience, Christmas in Italy is actually more focused on buying food rather than gifts. Festiggiando con abbondonza, eating with their families, the act of cooking together, cleaning up together, taking a walk after dinner together, playing Tombola together....being with the family and bringing them together with food. Christmas in Italy is less materialistic, more spiritual, more sensual, more real. The way it was when I was a kid. I'm thankful for getting it back!

Presentation is not as important here as it is for us in the U.S. Italians do not wrap their gifts as elaborately as we do. They do not set their tables as perfectly as we do. Those who have Christmas trees don't care if it isn't perfectly balanced or if it's got bare spots. Even for those that do have trees, the prespe is still the priority tradition. We always had a presepe, although it was not very ornate, it was still an Italian-American tradition that we loved.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas 2012

Nothing like Christmas in Florence, (well, maybe Napoli) lasts for a full month, concerts, lights, presepe, choirs, theater, many many celebrations and dinners with friends, music in the streets.  Despite the tough economy, Italians know how to live in fantasy and put life's problems behind, at the table and with friends.  Heaven is here. first "real" Christmas tree in my new home.  My new living room furniture was received in time for Christmas, didn't expect it!!!   Hosting Christmas Day with an abbondanza of food, wine, prosecco, grappa, dolce, the whole day to be spent cooking together, then Michele plays the flute for us, we play Tombola and cozy-up on my new sofas to watch a classic Italian film....maybe Totò, maybe Eduardo De Filippo?  Maybe Sophia and Marcello?  

Life is good in Florence.   A few in the moment does not leave much room for taking photos...but here are just a few clips, with many, many missing, but many, many wonderful memories in the making....

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Still Pinching Myself

It’s not just a nip, it’s freezing cold outside. Winter arrived today and snow is expected by Saturday. Florence is ignited with lights and a Christmas glow unequaled to any city I’ve ever lived in or visited.

I am sitting inelegantly on a red-carpet covered marble floor with my back against a cold, hard stone wall.  I feel like a student camping out on the floor of an airport beset by cancelled flights. I had expected given the season, that most Florentines would go home directly after work and stay inside. But I am wrong. Even though my friend and I arrived early, all 500 seats are already taken, relegating us and 200 other Florentines to stand or sit on the floor. I've chosen to sit.

It is 0˚outside, and even colder in this room. But I am warm. My eyes are closed and my ears are filled with heavenly choral voices as Florence's illustrious orchestra performs Mozart's Requiem. I am drifting somewhere between reality and fantasy, lost in space and time.  Surrounded by an audience of 700 Florentines wrapped in heavy coats, scarves and boots, we are all connected by an inexplicable, magical bond. Heaven couldn’t be closer. This moment, this place, this space in time is exactly where I want to be.  I’m frozen in this miraculous moment, mesmerized by the music, my heart which is full of love, and this magnificent space.

And then I open my eyes. I gaze towards Vasari’s Battaglia di Marciano, (behind which once existed Leonardo's Anghiari), and Michelangelo's famous marble group, the Genius of Victory.   I look ahead at the elaborate theatrical stage setting ordered by Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo l and then lift my head up to see the grandiose gold-laden panelled ceiling. Over the past few years I have sat in this room dozens of times attending community-related functions.  And here I am again, sitting in the magnificent Salone dei Cinquecento, still not believing that this is my city hall, enjoying an elaborate celebration of the anniversary of the death of Mozart among my Florentine neighbors.

I love my city and I love my life in Florence and I will never take it for granted.  Even after four years, moments such as this seem to happen on an overwhelmingly frequent basis, too often to write about. And I cannot stop pinching myself, because this all seems too good to be true. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Il Giorno del Ringraziamento

After 4 years living in Italy without a sign of Thanksgiving around me, I finally took it upon myself to buy a bird and spent 2 days preparing a typical turkey feast for my Italian family (four adults, two kids), which was enjoyed by all with tremendous gusto. We chose to celebrate today, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, as of course nobody is off on Thursday. It was the first time in many years that I made a turkey and all the trimmings, and although I thought I would have forgotten how to make the perfect stuffing, it came right back to me in a flash.  What fun, and at the same time how strange it was to prepare for Thanksgiving in this setting.

Nicoletta, (a thoroughbred Fiorentina) and I collaborated on the menu the week before. We decided that no Thanksgiving among Italians could ever succeed without a primo piatto di pasta.  While brainstorming on the pasta, her eyes lit up as she declared "penne al cavolo nero"!  (A typical Florentine pasta dish made with black cabbage).  It was exquisite and complemented the meal perfectly. 

The secondo piatto and all the trimmings were foreign to them.  Not understanding what turkey "stuffing" is, I explained it by calling it "Panzanella Americana" and then it clicked!  They never had turkey gravy before (it was rich with pan drippings....the best I've ever made...this time the roux was perfect).  They loved it!  I got a kick out of how crazy they went over the cranberry sauce (which I spent 2 days hunting down and spent a fortune for)....they practically licked it off the plate and and asked to take home the leftover berries.

It was especially fun explaining the story of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower to them and sharing the history of our greatest American holiday.  The kids soaked it right up and asked alot of questions about the Indians.  They were star struck.  I led the meal by having everyone hold hands and said a prayer of was very emotional. 

The kids are amazing in the kitchen, just like at their house.  Setting, unsetting the table and following me all over the kitchen asking me what they could do next. What a great day. Roasted chestnuts, fruit and Nicoletta's masterpiece tiramisu, topped off a very nostalgic day as little 7 yr. old Costanza performed for us all on the violincello.

This was a momentous day for me.  After 4 years spent making Florence my home, I'm able to look back on my American life with a lifetime of memories, and am now able to integrate my past and my present in a new and meaningful way. It marked another new Italian/American tradition that will be the first of many to come, spent with a precious family that has become mine.  I am so grateful on this day of Thanks.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Voting in Two Different Countries

Yesterday, as the world watched the American presidential elections and having already cast my absentee ballot, I began preparing myself to vote in the Italian Primaries on November 25th.  It was uncanny that I was juggling thoughts of voting in two different countries on the very same day. 

This will be the first time since receiving my dual citizenship that I’ll have the opportunity to vote as an Italian citizen. After all the complex steps I’ve taken to establish myself as a citizen, resident and community member, when I step into my local electoral office to vote, I will truly feel arrived. I’m proud to have the privilege of being able to vote for the leaders of the two greatest countries in the world.

When I first received my jure sanguinis Italian citizenship and Florentine residency in 2009, I expected to steer clear of Italian politics, given its complexity and my lack of first-hand knowledge. I certainly didn’t expect that I would be as enthusiastic to vote as I am now.

Over the past few years, my relationship with Florence has become precious like a friend. Thus, I have become engaged with social, economic and political issues, eager to understand the forces that drive the vitality of my city and the country of my roots.  Here I feel more involved and connected with city politics than I ever did during a lifetime in the U.S. perhaps because in spite of the complexities of the Italian political scene, the feeling of community is so much tighter here, where I feel like a member and not a number.

I’m not jaded yet and doubt I will ever because I think so differently than I ever did before and have eliminated expectations from my life.  I’ve embraced and am fully committed to my future here and equally invested in preserving the integrity of Florence and Italy.  Having a voice and a right to vote is more important to me now than it ever was before because I feel like a valuable member of this big crazy family called Italy.

I’ve actually been surprised that many Fiorentini and Italians don’t get politically involved beyond musings on the communal level. I have kept my opinions to myself and my blood pressure from bursting, although this attitude is contrary to my New York City breeding. Hence, I’ve developed some strong political inclinations and am thirsty to express them. I'll have the opportunity to do so at the polls on November 25th.

Other than what I read and hear around me, I’m ignorant of the system and have a lot to learn. But I sure know my gut. I know which candidates I like and who I despise. For me, this is enough.

Today I visited my local Arco Circoli to register to vote. They asked me for my voting card, which I do not have. I thought all I needed was my Carta d’Identità. They told me that I should have received my voting card when I first got my residency in 2009. Of course I never received it. So now it is a mad rush for me to get this card subito, in order to vote by the 25th.

Learning all these new ways of living is so exciting. There is no book written on the subject of how to navigate the voting system as a new citizen.  So like everything else, I continue to pioneer my new-founded territory, an adventure of somewhat solitary but intimate self-discovery that has been endlessly rewarding.

I know that when I have my voting card in my hand, it will feel like a treasure that I've waited a lifetime to earn.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Redefining Beauty: It's Not About the Belly Button

The old concept of Italian female beauty is about to be scrapped
Miss Italia 2008

In favor of a whole new concept of inner beauty
Tara Gandhi

The Miss Italia Pageant Goes Mainstream

Arrivederci belly buttons and bikinis. Anna Maria Tarantola, the new boss of Italian state TV under Mario Monti's austerity government is clamping down on female TV nudity, beginning with the Miss Italia Pageant. Patrizia Mirigliani, pageant organizer has announced that bikinis will be replaced by one piece bathing suits to cover the crotch and upper thigh. In an unprecedented move, the granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi has been invited to teach the girls about “inner beauty''. Gandhi will also judge the final competition, replacing a panel spot typically reserved for the likes of Sylvestor Stallone, Bruce Willis and Andy Garcia. Somewhat contradictory is the inviting of Jane Fonda, who in her perfectly plastered body will also serve as a judge. (This is the same sex symbol Jane Fonda who stared naked in Barbarella and who admitted that her father taught her that her looks were all that mattered.)  An incidental case of mixed signals?

Is this "flight to purity" a moral triumph for Italian women, or is it an insult to their female sexuality? Are they being told to cover up something that they should be proud of? Is it insulting to tell a woman to cover up her body and to imply that she doesn't have inner beauty? Is this a politically inspired maneuver to correct the distorted global perception of Italian female sexuality propagated by internationally acclaimed political pervert Berlusconi? Or is this the beginning of a “piccola grande rivoluzione”, a top-down strategy, using the media as a vehicle to indoctrinate and slowly reform the very gut of Italy’s female culture?

Italian women in my age group are divided. Some believe that female nudity on TV undermines the female image, and others see it as harmless realism.

Yes, I bought a pair of rose-colored glasses when I moved to Italy and will never take them off. Perhaps it has distorted my perception. When I watch the bikini-clad Miss Italia contestants I see nothing but innocent, wholesome, elegant teenagers whose body behavior is far from suggestive. If a woman in a bikini is sexually indecent, then we might as well call the Uffizi a porn gallery and cover up half of the art in Florence. After all, this is supposed to be a beauty contest.

I always thought that the Miss Italia candidates already had inner beauty. But maybe it's just those darn rose-colored glasses getting in the way, ehh? Telling them to adopt a more Indian philosophy can be interpreted as an insult. (In fact, the Indian culture is not exactly the global epitome of feminist success). Are we saying that the Italian ideal of beauty isn't good enough, and therefore we have to copy someone else's culture? 

There isn’t a culture in the world that uses body language the way the Italians do. Their inimitable facial expressions, hand gestures, body movements! Covering up their bellies is like putting them in a straightjacket.  Where's the fantasia?

As I see it, it's not the bareness of the body, but the behavior of the body, the way the body is used, the innuendo and the attitude that makes the difference. It’s the difference between the obnoxious “Big Boob Barbie Doll Bimbo Beauty” and the pure elegance of Botticelli Beauty. And these little innocent girls, many from the back roads of Italy, are not strutting their bodies in "that" way. I always found the Miss Italia Pageant to be imaginative, spunky spontaneous, innocent, natural, entertaining and well.....Italian!

As a rather straight laced corporate American competing in a man's world, I was unfortunately taught to strut my bodily stuff in a business suit and to cover up the cleavage. Just the opposite mentality. It took me four years of living here to finally shed the old uniform and start dressing Italiana. The difference is that Italians are taught to love their bodies unabashedly, regardless of being fat, skinny, young, old, housewives or executives. They have a confidence and elegance that I wish we had in America. One of the reasons I love watching the Miss Italia Pageant is that it is pure in its bodily pride, carefree and unrehearsed. I dread the thought of  Miss Italia going the way of Miss America.   Let’s not make it too psychologically competitive and serious, man!!   This is Italy!!!!

On the positive side, the new “inner beauty” movement may indeed indoctrinate the young beauties with more esoteric values and prepare them for better career and life opportunities. And as long as Berlusconi keeps his pecker out of the Italian sex scene, it will certainly improve Italy’s image in front of the rest of the world.

I’m sorry to see it go. I guess after all is said and done, I can’t blame Italy for changing its image, but I'll miss the old Miss Italia Pageant. It was a pisser. I’m probably more in favor of the new ideas than not. On September 9th and 10th we will see the outcome and judge for ourselves. I just have one thing to say:  "Hey, Italy keep your "Italian-ness"!

Either way, the very gracious Patrizia Mirigliani is sure to pull it off with elegance and finesse.   And as usual, it will probably bring tears to my eyes!!  It must be those rose-colored glasses.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Zucchini Flowers for a Hot Day

A perfect pick for dining in the Florence heat!  I'm always hunting for alternatives to panzanella, salads, caprese and panini to keep cool. Today I found the perfect summer dish based on what's currently fresh in Florence's markets. Objective: minimal cooking and the pursuit of a cool kitchen and an even cooler Barbara.
As I browsed the Sant'Ambrogio market this morning, the zucchini flowers screamed at me for attention.... freschissimi e abbondanti!  It instantly grabbed me....eggs with zucchini flowers and pecorino.  Fast, fresh and it doesn't heat up the kitchen.  A soft Vermentino or sparkling white makes the perfect partner.

I love eating all kinds of flowers and always have.  In the U.S., zucchini flowers are a delicacy and priced as such.  Here, they are common, cheap and abundant in the right season.  Italian eggs are much more tasty than American eggs, and combined, they make a heavenly simple meal. 

The recipe:  Three eggs, 3 tbs.grated aged pecorino, 3 tbs.chopped parsely, 1 tsp.shallots, 5 big zucchini flowers, a few pats of butter. Die-hard Tuscans can use olive oil, but butter enhances the sweetness of the flowers.  Sliver up the flowers. Melt the butter, add slivered shallots and saute for 2 minutes. Beat the eggs, add the cheese and 1/2 of the chopped parsley to the eggs.  Add the flowers and remaining parsley to the pan with a dash of salt and cook for 1 1/2 minutes (keep the crunch!). Add the eggs and as they cook, fold them over a few times for maybe a minute!  Withdraw the pan from the heat when the eggs start to coagulate and finish the cooking off the heat! (you don't want to scramble it, and do not cook too long. Keep the yokes a little wet for the best flavor)  Done!  You can also cook this frittata style, but it is thicker, drier and takes longer.

Now you can serve it plain, or over some toasted Tuscan bread rubbed with olive oil. You can also plop a dollop of ricotta on top. Sprinke more parsley over the eggs and enjoy.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Liberation of Florence

Last Saturday was the 68th Anniversary of the Liberation of Florence from the Germans, under whose occupation the city suffered great damage during WWII.

Among the many civic celebrations in Florence, this one is particularly well attended by native Florentines, many of whose families witnessed the brutal mutilation of their city.
I felt a great sense of pride as an American participating in the ceremonies as it unites me closer to the Florentine community in celebration of a mutual victory.
In order to attend the ceremonies in Palazzo Vecchio, one must receive a private written invitation from Mayor Renzi.

While I will never achieve such insider status, I was fortunate to have been extended  a written invitation by a native Florentine friend whose husband was unable to attend. I was honored to partake in the festivities in the filled-to-capacity Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio and afforded a VIP seat for the closing concert conducted in the Arengario in Piazza Signoria. It was a day of great emotion, solidarity and pride.

Below is an amazing video taken in the streets of Florence as Allied Forces liberated the city on August 11, 1944.  One minute of vintage history-in-the-making!!!  Viva Firenze!!  You must plug in your headset as the audio quality is poor!  Don't miss it!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Celebrating the Silence

I love it and I hate it.  August in Florence.  We are expecting our 7th heat "wave", but since June, I cannot tell where one has ended and the next has begun. We are enduring a persistent drought unseen in years. Merchants and residents alike have left the city behind in pursuit of cooler destinations, clinging to a vacation tradition that has it roots in ancient Roman times.  A tradition that is slowly fading as Italy is forced to become more competitive and fewer Italians can afford the luxury of vacations and time off from work.

While the tourist trade never sleeps in Florence, in my little world, nearly everything is closed and I am the only tenant left in my building. I've learned that anything you need in August, you better buy in July.  As I gaze out my window, my neighbors' shutters are closed, there are no clothes hanging on the lines and my plants are almost dead from the heat. An eerie solitude hovers over my empty courtyard at night.

But I too, am clinging to my own "tradition" of heading south after the panic has ended, to enjoy uncrowded beaches, no traffic, no lines and better service.  I've again chosen to remain in my beloved Florence, even when the going gets tough. For more reasons than one.

I love this city even in its heat and its silence. The roads are empty. I can spend mornings enjoying traffic-free bike rides in the northern hills and passeggiatas in the city. The duomo bells resonate with a richer tone and a deeper echo since there is nothing to absorb the sound. My girlfriends seem to be taking turns going away, so there's always someone here with whom to share an aperitivo on Florence's rooftops, overlooking a quiet and peaceful city. Or at Las Palmas, my favorite open-air niche. I've found a little oasis in the Cascine, where a local piscina allows me to run or ride in the morning and swim in the afternoon.  In August, even the Duomo looks lonely, but it feels like it's all mine, as it stands silent against the backdrop of a naked city.

I spend more time indoors, doing things that I would typically find boring, but love it.  Like watching cultural films on T.V., reading, writing, tending my plants and refining my goals for the rest of the year.  And  taking time to lay back, have a glass of wine, and enjoy il "dolce far niente".

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Big Find in a Little Museum

I joined a group of Florentines today on a tour which examined the works of five Renaissance artists who left their mark in the Land of Arezzo. The tour is one of many sponsored by the initiative "Rinascimento in Terra d'Arezzo" exploring some of the lesser frequented "Little Big Museums" outside the city of Florence. The program, promoted to the Florentine community by a Florentine cultural arts foundation, offers gratis day trip tours via motorcoach, skilfully guided by a master Renaissance art expert.
I heard some reviews from local friends and it sounded like a unique oppotunity to examine a very select sample of masterpieces of Filippo Lippi, Beato Angelico, Luca Signorelli, Bartolomeo della Gatta and Lorenzo de Credi within the context of their original settings.

The tour took us to Arezzo, Cortona and Castiglion Fiorentino, where we spent a short but concise amount of time in each of a few museums.  I found it to be an effective way of avoiding "Stendhal Syndrome" because it was focused, clear and expertly guided by a passionate, animated scholar.  Calling it a "tour" is a misnomer.  It was rather a scholastic expedition among a group of well-heeled Florentine art afficionados.

The highlight of my day was the mind-blowing "gift" that I received at the end of the tour.  While we were in "Collegiata e Museo della Pieve di San Giuliano" in Castiglion Fiorentino, my eyes caught sight of a painting that I knew from my distant past, but never knew where it came from, or who the artist was.

Pictured above, is the painting, "L'Adorazione" by Lorenzo de Credi. It was the very image from a holy card that I cherished as a kid for many years, and used as a bookmark.  The image disappeared from my memory until I saw it today, connecting yet another link between my past and my present life that was simply meant to be in Florence.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Coping with the Heat, Italian Style


These are my two most recent acquisitions, made by a local artisan.  Now all I need are sandals to match.

In spite of their vulnerability to stiff necks and sore throats, the Italians are slowly surrendering to air-conditioners. Their tolerance to the heat is admirable. Today in 41 degree heat, I chuckled insidiously as I caught glimpse of a woman wearing short shorts, flip flops a see-though short top, and a heavy scarf frivolously wrapped three times around her throat. 
However, for me, it is still a challenge to take a passeggiata in Florence without some creative way of keeping myself cool.  A gelato cools the body, a bike creates a breeze, and so does a ventaglio.  I never thought I would ever own a ventaglio (fan), no less a seriously fashionable one.  But I just had to break down.  
. the Italian life has changed everything about me. And I love it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Spiritual Encounter with Dante

When the box office opened for Benigni's return to Florence to revive his 2006 presentation of  Dante's Inferno, I reserved a subscription for 6 of the12 evenings, which concluded in a stunning climax last night.The encounter brought me face-to-face with two of my greatest idols, Benigni and Dante.

Benigni, in his genius, so eloquently and charismatically brought Dante's Inferno out of  the Middle Ages, right into the lap of modern-day Florence. Just being there was a lifetime gift.

I realized as I sat there on opening night that I wasn't waiting a mere few months for this night, but rather I was waiting a lifetime.

Following the series was akin to following some of the worlds' greatest events, like the Olympics or the Giro d'Italia.  You don't want it to end, and when it does, you feel like something is missing. Last night, Benigni made his final presentation of Canto XXII, ending two weeks of profound, mind-boggling emotional entertainment.

During the series, I reflected upon a person who had a great impact upon me, Dr. Mirella Affron, Ph.D, under whose tutelage I first studied Dante.  This exceptional woman fed my passion for Italy and awoke my appreciation for my Italian roots.  Everyone has that special teacher who pinches a nerve that you didn't know you had. Who inspires and provokes you.  Dr. Mirella Affron was that person for me.

Mirella Affron, my Italian Professor
at City College of New York, still
going strong
Last night, I looked her up on the internet to see where she is today. This is a photo of her that I found. At first, I was shocked to realize how many years have passed and how she has aged. It made me realize the long journey that I've traveled to get here.

She still has that same beautiful glow in her eyes that has inspired so many students over the years.  Thank you, Dr. Affron.

Click here for article in La Nazione

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Apartment in Florence.....Moving On!

View From My Living Room
It’s been hot as hell in Florence since mid-June. As much as I love living the simple Italian life and have enthusiastically embraced old-world traditions like hanging my clothes out to dry and washing the floors with a 5 pound mop, there are a few American conveniences that I can’t live without. The top of the list::  air conditioning.
Florence can cook my brain and physically break me down as much in the summer as it can feed my brain and fulfill my soul the rest of the year. This season has been especially difficult for me to survive without air-conditioning. This has given me the incentive to search for another cooler, larger apartment in Centro.

Air conditioning is not really the reason why I am searching for a new place to live, but it has been the catalyst. The truth is that I have been living in the same apartment that I rented for 3 months when I came to study here.....4 years ago. My life has grown and now I want a long-term lease in a more residential palazzo, with an extra bedroom and bathroom.

View From My Bedroom
It is hard to believe after 4 years, that I would consider leaving this little piece of heaven where my fairy-tale destiny in Italy came true. I love my special place, but it is time to move on. I am ready to start “Chapter 2” of my life in Italy.

I must quickly reminisce! I found this apartment while I was planning to study in Florence for 3 months in 2008. It was advertised on Craigslist as the former art studio of artist Pietro Annigoni. Little did I know just what that meant! It featured an enormous, romantic bedroom with high chestnut-beamed ceilings, two walls of tall windows, a living room with a stunning view of the duomo, a fireplace kitchen and a terrace laced with jasmine and gardenias. In the bedroom where I sleep, Annigoni painted his portrait of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth! Yes, she sat in my bedroom!

Destiny, timing and instinct collided at once, leading me to my final doormat….this apartment in Florence.

During my 3 month stay, a series of successive miracles occurred, one after the other, begging me to stay. Life came together for me, and all of it happened from this special apartment, the home where I’ve spent my first 4 years living in Florence.

My Front Door and One of my Bikes
 Instant friends, an adopted Italian family with whom I spend weekends and holidays. A job that fell in my lap, and a group of local cyclists who invited me onto their team.

As if that was not enough, the greatest miracle of all was yet to come: After an unsuccessful attempt to find my grandparents’ naturalization papers (with no intent other than to proudly frame and hang them on my wall), I discovered to my utter shock that they (who immigrated to New York in 1909), never became American citizens. Discovering this exactly 100 years later in 2009, was an unmistakable act of God. This entitled me to be an Italian citizen “jure sanguinis”. My destiny: two passports, Florentine residency and a life in Italy that has allowed me to rediscover the “lost” traditions and comforts that I learned as a child growing up in a neighborhood of Italian immigrants who held strong to their Italian roots. My life in Italy was always meant to be, but it had to evolve.

My Bedroom
I am searching for a new place to call home in Florence. I don’t know how I will give up my epic view of the duomo. I don’t know how I will get along without the swallows returning to the rooftops every April 1st, where they sing for me every morning and return at sunset, flying in front of my duomo view, fulfilled and happy after a day of eating up the mosquitoes on the Arno. They left in mid-July, overwhelmed by the summer heat. And now I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to open my window again to greet them next April. I’m very lucky to have this unique place that I’ve called home since 2008.

But I am ready for a change, a larger space, to embark upon Chapter 2 of my life in Italy. The right place will appear as naturally and as certainly as this little piece of heaven appeared to me 4 years ago.

My Apartment Photo Album

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Coming Back Soon !

Welcome back to my blog. I think every now and then I need to un-clog my brain and let my life and experiences unfold without writing a thing.  I am feeling ready to write again, for the sake of expressing myself, my love of life, my love of Florence, and as a way of ensuring that my memories and sentiments will survive me....even if in a virtual world. 

There is so much pouring out of me, so many times that I celebrate a moment that I want to record.  Most of it revolves around the profound love that I have for this country, my life in Florence and the people who have become my friends and family in Italy.

Moments become memories.  Memories can get blurry, even lost. So, I'll continue my blog for me, for one day, when I look back at how lucky I was, to recall the moments and memories of a lifetime dream-come- true.

If you care to follow my jouney on the way, you are invited!  And say hello every now and then.  It can be weird being out there in the anonymous world of blogging!
See you soon.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Vestiamo il David"

Piazza della Signoria was jam-packed tonight with proud fans of Florence's soccer team, La Fiorentina, who created a thunder that rocked all of Florence. 

Here, the Comune di Firenze staged an extraordinary light show projected onto the walls of Palazzo Vecchio, celebrating the team's new technical sponsor.
What made this event so spectacular, was the ingenuious lighting technique that was used to project dynamic images of the new team jerseys onto an image of Michelangelo’s David, creating the illusion that David himself was wearing the new jersey!  Thus the theme, “Vestiamo il David”.   A spellbinding and emotional evening!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Closing Down My Blog For a While

I started my blog almost 4 years ago when I first came to Florence to study and immerse myself in the culture and the language.  Little did I know that this experience would lead me to a permanent life in Italy.

My blog started as a way to keep in touch with my friends and let them know what was happening to me day-by-day.  However, in the past several months, I realize that my blog is not what it used to be.  Instead of being a spontaneous way of celebrating each and every glorious day that I live in Firenze, it has become an infrequent and calculated commentary on diverse subjects that strike me at the moment.

But there are so many people out there who do that!  I am no expert and I don't want to be one.  I just want to be true to my blog and feel the freedom that I once had in freely expressing my feelings.

For some reason, perhaps because my blog has gone global, I've been feeling very conscious about what I write, because my audience is so diverse and so anonymous.  And that's not what I originally intended my blog to be.  As a result, I have not been true to myself, because I feel that in a way, my privacy has been compromised, and as a result, I am reluctant to express my silly and passionate feelings about my amazing "every-day" life in the city that has fulfilled every single dream I've ever had.

So, I have decided to temporarily shut-down my blog, until I can allow myself to write freely again, without paying attention to every word, without worrying about if people who I don't even know are criticizing me, without caring who thinks what of me.  I don't want to proof-read, I don't want to do anything but write about the glorious life that I have realized in Florence.

I will continue writing in my blog, but in privacy.  I will write more frequently, maybe every day.  I need the juices to start flowing again, because every moment that I spend living here is precious.  Too precious not to write about.

I intend to open my blog up soon as it flows the way it used to, and as soon as I feel that it is once again what I originally intended it to be! I don't know when that will be!

I know I will lose readers and that's okay, because that is not my objective.  When I open my blog again, I will post a note on Facebook and on Networked Blogs and other portals, to let you know that my blog is "alive" again, "whenever that is".  So, maybe we will meet again!  Thank you for your interest.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Tiglio Flowers are Blooming!

Have you noticed the intoxicating fragrance of flowers infusing the air of Florence for the past few days?  It is one of my favorite scents, the sweet smell of the Tiglio Tree.  When the Tiglio tree blooms in early June, it produces clusters of dangling yellow pendulum-like flowers that emit an intense perfume. The heavenly scent is strong and very sweet, more delicate than honeysuckle but equally pungent, and stronger and sweeter than jasmine.  All of Florence smells so sweet !!

The Tiglio trees can be found scattered around a few of Florence's residential piazzas, such as Piazza d'Azeglio and on the corner of Via dell'Angolo and Borgo Allegri.  But the smell that is virtually hypnotizing the city right now is emanating from Parco delle Cascine, where an abundance of these trees cohabitate alongside their neighbors, the chestnut trees. Their captivating fragrance is carried along the Arno by breezes that blow east towards centro storico.  These tall elegant trees flank both sides of the northern perimiter of the park and they lace the interior dirt path where many runners choose to jog under their cool shade.

When these trees are dressed up in their yellow floral costumes, they are a pleasure to see and to smell.  And here's a surprise!  The flowers themselves can be eaten and are heavenly sweet.  You must pick them at the right time (within the next few days) when they are  ripe, sweet and al dente.  They are delicious and crunchy in the center.  Just pick them off the tree!

Last year I saw a woman picking them and putting them in a basket.  I inquired.  She said that the flowers are used to make an herbal tea.  So, not only can you eat the flowers right off the tree, but you can savor them all year round in your tea.  The flowers have a calming effect and medicinal properties that enable it to be used to cure stomach and digestive ailments and angina.  The sap of the trees is used to treat intestinal spasms and liver problems. The flowers are also used to create fragrant soaps, perfumes and sachets.

Because of their sweet scent, they attract bees that produce a delicate Tiglio honey reminiscent of fresh mint and eucalpytus. This honey is produced and bottled in Piemonte and Emilia Romagna where the trees thrive in great numbers.

So, if you get a chance, take a ride or a walk down to the park to observe the beauty, smell the flowers and pick some too!  They taste like candy....and wait until you taste the tea!!  Don't forget to bring a basket.  When you get home, leave them out to dry and put them in an air-tight tin can to preserve them for all-year-round tea.  But do it fast!  If we have windy rain like we had last year, the flowers will all fall to the ground before you get to them.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sono Golosa! Ma Basta!

Perhaps the greatest challenge that I face living in Italy is how to cope with the eating culture and control my weight in spite of my “golosità’”. “Sono golosa” is a common expression announced with unabashed pride, conveying a person’s lust for a particular (or all) food, and the burning pleasure that one derives from eating it. The closest English translation is “I am gluttonous” but unless intended as a joke, it hardly means the same thing, being perceived more as a vice, rather than as considered here, a virtue.

Gluttony has after all, since early Christian times, made it to the top of the Cardinal Sin hit list, along with pride, avarice, wrath and envy.

Regardless of their religiosity and in spite of their respect for Dante, who in  La Commedia evoked fearful images of the horrific consequences of gluttony, Italians have chucked this sin straight out the window. In this culture, “siamo golosi” is a sensual, quasi-sexy expression of our gusto, our appreciation for having food on the table, and for that which feeds our relationships, our family and souls. But unfortunately, that which feeds our souls also feeds our thighs. Or at least mine.

My first year living in Italy, I immediately espoused the “sono golosa” cultura, having been raised on it as a kid. What a great excuse to run wild….everyone accepts it, and I can be me! I was back in “comfort-food land”, a place and state-of-mind that brought me back to my childhood. I was instantly emancipated from the “lean and mean” all-American mentality that I, as a product (or victim) of the Jane Fonda generation, was effectively brainwashed (and still sadly am) to believe that in order to feel happy and successful, we must eat anorexic quantities of food and “feel the burn.”

I indulged myself at sagras, tested every aperitivo buffet in Florence, learned how to love lampredotto and carne bollito and went pazza for finocchiona . I got to know every food stall at the market and developed an ardent appreciation for an exhaustive list of cured meats and other fatal foods. I went through a liter of olive oil per month, a gelato and a bottle of Chianti per day (which at first enhanced the food but maybe now it’s a problem?). I quickly realized that there’s a prescriptive food for every conceivable illness, olive oil being one of the most important, because it lubricates and allows everything else to “slip right through”. To me it’s another dimple in the thigh.

I thought I would eventually burn out and get this “food is fun” lust out of my system. I trusted that Florentine Italians must be doing something right since they are not fat in spite of the food obsession. So all I needed to do was to imitate it.

Although many Americans think that Italians are skinny because they eat small portions and walk a lot, I haven’t met those Italians yet. I instead have observed that they eat a lot and they eat often, albeit much more elegantly, slowly (since they are equally busy talking) and artfully than Americans do. They certainly don’t walk, cycle or sweat as much as I do and I’m probably the only woman in town who owns a full set of dumb bells.

They rarely consume one course, wine is a given, and gelato is the high of highs. Their diet is based on fatty and cured meats, bread, pasta, olive oil and lard. Yes they love veggies, but their menus are overwhelmingly carb and fat based. The concept of a calorie has not entered their consciousness although the American influence is slowly creeping in. They eat into the wee hours of the morning. God forbid…if Italian restaurants were to disclose the calorie content on their food menus, it would kill the tourism business and knock off a serious chunk of GDP, if there even is one anymore.

The Italians who I know talk about what they are going to eat, eat it, and then talk about what they ate. So, why are they skinny? Bulimia? Genes? I don’t know, but I unfortunately wasn’t born with it. I inherited an Italian fat gene and have struggled with it all my life. I don’t know whether to blame my Sicilian side or my Neopolitan side, but my family just didn’t get this right. Thank God for Jane Fonda.

Somehow Jane saved the day. She enabled me to become a cheerleader and to excel in competitive sports such as cycling in spite of the insidious golosità that lurked in my blood, threatening to emerge the moment I dropped the ball.

And then the ball dropped. Along with my destiny in Italy, it was bound to happen. On September 8, 2008 my most distant dreams and fears simultaneouslycame true. I moved to the land that I love, and the ghost came out of the closet.

I am surrounded by temptations from the minute I open my window. Within yards of my house there are 7 restaurants, a gelateria immediately downstairs, 2 pastry shops, a butcher, a forno, and a few "street food" joints. Walk further and it’s pure sabotage. I can’t fetch my bike from the piazza without being assaulted by the smell of food emanating from everywhere.

So I am finally saying "basta"!  My love affair with food will never end, but I am figuring out how to enjoy the passion of living in dreamland without overindulging. I don’t want to go back to the Jane Fonda mentality but there has to be a balance.

One month ago I designed a five-star program to deal with it. It is really working so far!  So, if you’re interested in finding out more, I promise to write about it in a future blog post. See you then!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sensational Spring in Tuscany

Cycling inTuscany is intoxicating at any time of year, but springtime is especially enticing. Covering so much territory while breathing in the perfume of spring flowers and watching the Tuscan earth bursting with such energy is a heady experience. Today, guiding a bike tour, these were just a few of the Tuscan treasures that we saw along the road...

Wild, elegant iris flanking the roads.  Beholding them in their natural environment is a gift!

Sangiovese grapes just starting to pop from the life is so invigorating to see!  What does this year's harvest have in store?

We were only 2k into our ride when we were greeted by a small flock of sheep!  Pecorino in the making!

And oh!  The olive trees are frizzante with bubbly baby olives growing from their leaves...

Stupefied by the allure of spring popping around us, we had to take a pause and headed to Le Corti winery for a fabulous lunch, wine/olive oil tasting and a tour of the wine cellars and olive press...

After which we saw Massimo picking the most luscious bing cherries from his enormous front yard tree in Chiesanuova!  As we gazed in awe from the road, he invited us in through the front gate, climbed up the ladder and brought us a basket full of cherries.  He wouldn't let me leave without giving me his telephone number, so cute!  I pass by this house several times a week and never noticed the tree, because it was never so ripe with fruit.  Massimo and I are now friends for life!

Artichokes budding like roses!

Happy clients!  See the sheep in the background?

Peaches in the foreground, Florence in the distance

Another sensational day on the road.  I will never tire of this!


Monday, May 14, 2012

Eleven Years of the Giro d'Italia

It was more than 40 years ago at the age of 15 that I was first exposed to the world of bicycle racing. During the summer of '69 I had the great fortune to study in Grenoble, France, where I watched the Tour de France as it descended Alpe d'Huez.  Not only did Eddy Merckx take the stage but it was the year that he took his first yellow jersey. Since then, it's been in my blood.

Years later I would come to love the Giro d'Italia even more. Eleven years ago, in 2001, I escaped New York City for a serious bike tour in Italy that followed the last 5 stages of the Giro d'Italia.  Not only did it solidify my love for cycling and for Italy, but it eerily turned out to be a pre-vision of my future.  Here is the article I wrote 11 years ago which was published in the New York Cycle Club monthly newsletter. I dug it up today and read it for the first time in many years.  Following the 2001 Giro d'Italia.

Three months later, all my dreams including this one, came to an instant halt by the event of Sept 11.  Thrust from my home in the shadow of the World Trade Center, I was in survival mode for the next 5 years, struggling to regain my sanity and the few pieces of my life that still remained.  Of the material things, I was lucky to salvage a few pieces of furniture, a plant, and the documents on my hard drive, which included the article above.

Well, this dream as well as many other ones came true.  I never would have imagined that today, I would be living in Tuscany, watching the Giro d'Italia pass through my own backyard.  I never dreamed that I would discover that I've been an Italian citizen all my life and never knew it.  Italy's been calling me for a long, long time.

Tomorrow, I'll be joining thousands of cyclists from all over Tuscany to follow Stage 11 of the Giro d'Italia.  Finding the article that I wrote 11 years ago made me think of how I have not only survived the aftermath of September 11th, but how I have thrived and have become a stronger person with a newly founded spirit.  A spirit that has found the environment where it thrives the best.  And how grateful I am to be alive and living out my dream in Italy.