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!