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.