Giorni di Pioggia e il Luned

The Carpenters sang “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.”  For me, summer Mondays are as good as any other day and as far as rainy days go, I’m more in the Eddie Rabbit camp (I’m sure I lost of few of you there with that reference).  Looking out my window, I once again see  light rain.  I have learned to pack my piccolo ombrello when heading out.

As I head out my porta and down my strada, I notice these scarpe in the Ferragamo finestra and go in to investigate.  I’m nervous entering these oh so posh stores.  When a well dressed man has to open the door to allow me to entrare, that is a sure sign I should not.  But, as I said,  these shoes, adorned with paint, caught my occhio.imageSalvatore Ferragamo designed only one style of shoe for men in his lifetime, and you’re looking at them. Andy Warhol owned a pair and naturally, he painted in them.  In 2006, the Ferragamo family bought those paint-specked Warhol shoes at an auction and now create copies available for purchase.  I am LOVING them.  Perhaps this Halloween I’ll dress as Warhol (last year I was van Gogh, Salvador Dali and Frida the years before).  I assure you my scarpe will not be Ferragamo.imageNow these replicas of The Rainbow Sandal created for Judy Garland, I CAN afford.  The upside is I only have to buy one.  It is probably the only Ferragamo I will ever own.

With the weather threatening, I stay close to my neighborhood, but cross the ponte.  As I do, I see this happy guy painting away.  He has his bicicletta set up as an easel and is using a LP record as a palette.  You KNOW we will be doing this in studio602!  I stood and watched him for a moment.  You get different reactions from different “artist”.  This guy…welcoming as can be.  I don’t even think he expected me to buy something.  I admired a cute, silly little painting (he uses a palette knife) of a church and graveyard.  He had attached a clear piece of plastic in the shape of a ghost.  When I commented on it, he smiled and said, “Eeettaaa eeeesssa justa for funnnaaa. oooooooo-a”.  His ghost sound cracked me up!  imageimage

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I know…I’ve got my bridge upside down…

I chose a painted rock with Ponte Vecchio on it…seemed fitting as that most famous ponte was in our sight, the next bridge over.  His “studio” was on Ponte Santa Trinita.  This original work of art cost 1 euro!!!  AND he threw in the ghost painting as a “geeefttaaa”.  I bought 2 more rocks after that.  You would have thought he just pocketed hundreds of dollars.  He was so very tickled.  From halfway across the bridge, he was still telling me to have a bella giornata!  He had just made it that.imageAfter my big purchase I head to the Santo Spirito area.  I had understood there was a market near but could not find it.  I checked out the menus at the trattoria’s framing the piazza.  Tortelli Mugellani (the recipe Anna shared with us…certo!) sounds great, but of course they are not serving now…Well, there is a restaurant on my strada that I have wanted to try…no go either.  Most restaurants…good ones at least, serve lunch and dinner only.  Aperitivo in between, but I am hungry.  With the rain really coming down now, I get a spring in my step when I remember I still have the schiacciata I bought with Costanza.  Perfetto.  and I have left over chips AND left over wine from a bottle I bought at La Volpe e l’Uva.  I turn back around and head for home (all of 10 steps). imageimageimage

Paola and I are to meet at 5:00 in front of the Dante statue at Santa Croce.  This is very near her appartamento.  The great news here is Paola (with Elisa’s help) has agreed to allow me to leave a small bag of…stuff…with her until I return.  I’m not sure how I’ve collected what I have in only 9 days, but this is such a luxury.  When I return, I can sort through and decide what I really want to lug home.

Before leaving for Italy, Paola and I had communicated once.  Our original plan was to meet together in the morning, visit a market, cook lunch, tour a rose garden and then enjoy dinner together as well. However, the rain has changed our plans quite a bit.  At this point we are only meeting for a brief visit.  During lunch she texts me advising  how to call a cab due to the rain.  I tell her I will walk anyway- I will not melt.  Not sure how that translates.  I walk over in quite a downpour, but I love the sound of Italian thunder.  During the walk she has texted me again.  This time giving me the exact address of her appartamento.  She wishes for me to come there so she does not melt.  Negotiating the streets of Italy is molto tricky.  When I reach Dante’s statue, I ask a shop owner standing outside (they ALL stand outside) where I might find Via San Giuseppe.  He says, “I-a weeelll-a show-a you”.  Along our 4 step journey, he adds, “Howww-aa did-a you-a get-a so lucky to have-a found-a me-aa?”  Then he point up and says, “We have-a arrived-a.”  Moral of the story is the street names change at any given point.  Like I said, molto tricky.

The rain has ceased now and Paola comes down to greet me.  Kiss/Kiss.  Oh and by the way, this is Paola1.  We walk up a narrow corridor with many steps.  On the way, she stops every once in awhile to tell me something.  She has lived here for several years.  I think she mentioned she does a four year lease.  She is a bit concerned about what will happened at the end of this current lease.  Her landlady is 97 years old.  Paola’s appartamento is the tiniest one I have visited yet.

Leaning out Paola's living/office/bedroom gives a view of Santa Croce.

Leaning out Paola’s living/office/bedroom gives a view of Santa Croce.

I think we are in the whole of it when she walks back down a couple of narrow steps (I can’t even explain this well.  I felt like I was in a storybook) opens another little door, and we enter her separate, piccolo, piccolo cucina.imageTalk about tidy, organized and cute!  This girl knows how to get the most out of her space.  On the sill she has a little herb garden and inside she uses fruit boxes as shelves.  How clever! (Finger to eye here!)image

We sit and talk a bit enjoying succo di mela e biscotti.imageWe then go on a short walk where Paola shares some of her favorite spots.  The first was the same cafe bar where Constanza brought me to.  It does have a spectacular view of the Duomo’s dome through its large glass finestra.

Our next stop was a very nice grocery.  Paola says she visits when she needs a specialty item.  She bought a bit of prosciutto while here.imageWe parted ways after she showed me this fabulous art supply store.  Paola is not sure if she will be in Florence when I return, but I know we will stay in touch.  What a gentle soul she is.  Kiss/Kiss, Ciao, Ciao!!image

I walk around this amazing story trying not to get too invested.  There are so many things I would like to bring back home.  When I return in July, I will definitely come back to grab some of these palette knives.  I want to use them as cheese knives. (Finger to eye again.)imageWalking back to my appartamento the skies have cleared and the air is cool and crisp.

I have passed this finestra several times and each time I admire that polka dot dress.  This time I decide to go in and try it on.  I walk out with a new Florentine dress that I cannot wait to wear.image

It is aperitivo time, so I grab my book (a prop at this point) and head back over to Santo Spirito.  As I am crossing Ponte Santa Trinita, I look over at Ponte Vecchio and am struck by the amazing light.  People just walk past as I capture the bridge in its golden hour….Again, Living Right!

In the photography portion of Art III, I have students take multiple images of an object, person, place or event and then create a montage work of art from the multi images.  I took multi images of this scene to create one myself.image

When I arrived at the piazza, it was already quite full of people and their spritzs.  I hovered near a prime table as the waiter cleared it.  Instead of choosing the restaurant I had eyed earlier, I chose Tamero Pasta Bar soley because I liked their thrown together look.  Again, good choice Paige!image

I start, as one should start in Florence with an Aperol Spritz.  The waiter looks at his watch when I order.  I noticed people coming out with plates of Happy Hour looking food and I think they were getting ready to stop that service.  Not to worry.  I wasn’t sure how I would hold my table, watch my borsa AND carry a plate of food out.  So I just order from the menu.imageSitting out under the trees, listening to conversations, smelling cigarette smoke (ok not so much that part), watching people, feeling the welcome breeze…I am molto felice.  I mentioned this last time that it would be wonderful to be sitting with a loved one right now, the evenings are always that way, but would they have enjoyed the day?imageOn this summer evening, I chose Panzanella and this year’s favorite, Prosciutto e Papai.  Heaven!!

As with most evening dining experiences in Italia, they do not rush you off.  The table is yours for as long as you would like.  I decide I will stay until they light the candle on my table.  When I do leave, I first go inside to check out the interior.  This is a hip, gritty place.  The kind I’m sure get rock’n as the night gets later.image

When I get ready to exit, I pass the kitchen area.  I LOVE the way they have their meats displayed.  A guy is working with the prosciutto when I walk by and I ask if I may take a photo.  “aahh…si, si…un momento.”  And he proceeds to stop what he is doing, replace the prosciutto and turn the other meats to their most photogenic side.  Grazie!imageAlthough I am leaving the piazza, most are just arriving.  Sitting around the fountain or the steps of Santo Spirito makes for a classic Italian notte.imageimageimageCrossing back over Ponte Santa Trinita, I catch Ponte alle Grazie in sunset.

On my last trip, there was the photograph I took of the 3 boys and their dad in the waters of Monterosso.  It is a photo I would have loved to share with them.  I feel the same way about this one.  Snagging one of the points off the side of the ponte seems to be the thing to do in Florence.  What a date night!imageArriving on my strada, there are signs Fashion Week will be in full swing tomorrow.image   I am sorry I could not get these guys from the front. Although most Italian men do not wear shorts, especially during the evenings, the guy to the left is an exception.  Notice his short sleeve blazer, fitted perfectly over his bare chest.  As I said, at 11:00, the night has just begun.  imageHaving salad and fruit for dinner (work with me) allows me to enjoy dessert…Edoardo’s again!!??  Perche no?image

Cena con Gli Amici

Just like at home, it is nice to have a day every now and then, while on holiday, to sit back and don’t do much of anything.  And just like at home, rain can feed and substantiate that urge.  This being my settimo day, and Domenica, I declare today a day of rest.

I slept as late as I wanted, disregarding the clip-clop of horse’s hooves down Borgo Santi Apostoli.  I know there are carriages passing by weighted down with tourist on their way past the Ferragamo building (a Medieval palace originally built in 1289.  From 1860-1870, when Florence was the capital of Italy,i it became the seat of the City Council.  In 1938, Salvatore Ferragamo purchased the palace making it the headquarters of his company.  During my last stay in Florence, I walked through the store…can you even call it that…and visited the Ferragamo museo below.  The exhibit at the time, highlighted his life and career.  It was truly one of my favorite experiences.  I am told there is a new exhibit detailing the history of this beautiful structure.) and into Piazza di Santa Trinita, but I ignore the call to tourism.  I’m not touring, I’m living.

I got up, made cafe and began writing you.  imageThe way I felt after all the great food of yesterday, was I would never eat again, but after a morning of only cafe, I grab my 2nd Edoardo’s.

This time zabaione and pistacchio.  Amazingly good! And I am not even a gelato/ice cream kinda gal.

This time zabaione and pistacchio. Amazingly good! And I am not even a gelato/ice cream kinda gal.

There is a window that I have been watching be transformed day by day.  Today was the day it was up and running.  To really appreciate,  you need to see the video. 

I am not sure if you can tell or not, but there are fancy, rhinestoned My Little Ponies.  I even spotted an elefante in the mix.

I may have mentioned this, but this coming week is Fashion Week in Florence.  Merchants are really stepping up their game.  The people I pass seem to be even more chic than usual.  Case in point…

Fashion Shoot

Fashion Shoot

imageLouise Roe was getting an early start.

After passing this type of street scene, I was reminded of another.  In a window of a local gallery, they were showing photos of the Calcio Fiorentino.imageCrazy looking, no?  If you remember, I could not get tickets and the way they were setting up the Santa Croce area, I’m pretty sure I cannot get a glimpse, but I decide to walk in that direction anyway.  Maybe the rain deterred some fans.imageNope.  All gated off.  And these guys don’t look like they are in a negotiating mood.  So I walk around in a different direction.  At one point, I pass more polizia and then see these guys…I’m kinda frightened at first, remembering what I was told about the players being from prison, but I decide to backtrack a bit and ask them for a photo….mak’n amici everywhere! imageRoaming has given me an appetite and several of the places I considered are closed on Sunday.  I am meeting Paola, Elisa, Angela and a few of Paola’s friends later tonight for a glass of wine, but I still have plenty of time to spare.  I decided to go with what I know.

Passing some more cool street art on the way…image

Can't remember if I have seen this already or not.

Can’t remember if I have seen this already or not.

For something new and...different...

For something new and…different…

I wind my way back Oltrarno to La Volpe e l’Uva for a glass of wine and one of my favorite crostinis from the other night.  I asked for the same wine, showing a photo I took to be clear, and cuz I’m living right, they had 1 bicchiere left.  Perfetto!

image    I bring along a book to read but strike up a conversation with a couple from Australia instead. (Way better making my own story than reading someone else’s.)  They had just arrived in Florence and were told if they went to one enoteca, it needed to be this one.  They said they were forever indebted to that friend.  We shared some traveling notes and suggestions.  I’m wanting to check out one of their recommendations, Osteria Santo Spirito, and I told them Al Pozzo was a MUST while they were in Cinque Terre.  Some of the nicest tourist I met last visit were from Australia and Mark and Kate fit nicely in that category.

When I looked at the time, I realized it was time to run by the appartamento, ditch my book (that I have yet to crack), and head over to Via dei Neri where I am meeting le ragazze.imageAs I have mentioned many times, I LOVE, LOVE the way life spills into the streets of Firenze.  After my last visit, I swore I would entertain more and drag our furniture to the street just for the fun of it.  Someone hold me to that this year!

When I walk up, Angela and Elisa are waiting.  Kiss/Kiss, Kiss/Kiss then Paola arrives, Kiss/Kiss.  We chat just for a moment, then Paola tells us her two other friends are waiting at an appartamento just down the street.  Andiamo!

As with many places, there is a climb involved.  image

But when we arrive, it is worth it!  This was the greatest space!  I kept thinking all I could do with it.  Paola2, Paola1’s friend,  is currently living here but is moving out within the week. hhhmmm……

Paola2 works for  a university, (the university?) here finding appartamentos and rooms for exchange students.  What a great gal to know.  I think Dalton should head over soon!imageAs if the view from the huge, open windows are not enough, walk up some more steps and you have a terrazzo.  Again…Oh What I Could Do With This…and if I got stumped, I’m sure Costanza’s mum could lend a hand.imageimageThe girls have prepared a wonderful, fresh summer dinner.  We toast to meeting new people and the kindness of strangers.

Cin Cin!!

Cin Cin!! Paola2 and Cinzia

imageAs has been the norm, table conversation is lively.  We all talk about our where we are from, traditions, cultures, popular cocktails and foods.  When I talked about Margaritas they said, “Oh, Boom Boom something or another…”  I wish I could remember, I think Avery would get a kick out of that.  At one point, they were naming some of the dishes we were enjoying and I asked if there were fennel in one, “Mmmaayybee-a” Paola2 slowly answered.  This cracked me up.  It was like, sure whatever you say lady.  She laughed too.  It is a good response to have handy…it fits just about anywhere.

When it was time to say Buonanotte, Elisa and Paola1 presented me with a gift.  A gift for me…after all they have done.  When I opened it, I found the greatest, little coffee table book illustrating and defining common italian sign language.  This had been a fun table topic with Luigi, Elisa’s father.  I had noticed he often put his finger to his eye when he spoke.  Later in the evening I asked what that meant.  At first he seemed to not even realize he was doing this gesture (along with others), then he laughed and explain-a to me-a.  It is the italian sign language for “clever”, although sometimes I think Luigi used it in a sarcastic way.

I found this gift so touching.  It is THE PERFECT gift.  It is SO ME and the girls have only known me for a breve, breve time.  Am I so very fortunate.  How is it some people just click.imageDuring the evening, we discussed this adventure I am on- how I found Elisa and what all she has shared with me.  They said, for them, I do not fit the American stereotype, their idea is American woman need things planned out and just so.  They said they thought I was very brave.  I asked, “Brave or stupido?”  After laughing quite a bit, they agreed- Brave.

 

Cielo in Toscana

I am excited about the day ahead.  I arrive at Santa Maria Novella and although the 9:22 train says “Arezzo” I am familiar enough to know (think strongly) that Arezzo is its end point and my stop, Pontassieve, is somewhere along the way.  Just to be certo, I show my ticket to a representative standing on the platform.  He gives me the universal “thumbs up” and I hop on.

It feels a bit strange traveling on a train with only my borsa.  The Ferrari will accompany me soon enough.  As Constanza said, the journey is corto and I arrive at Pontassieve in about 35 minutes.  Costanza meets me on the platform.  She is looking Italian Casual in her navy linen pants and navy cami.   I am feeling a bit warm in my newly purchased thin Zara sweater, but she had warned me the air around her home “would-a not-a be hot-a”.imageAfter stopping to get petro in her piccola macchina gialla, we head to her favorite market.  She tells me as it is Sabato, it will be very busy.

imageThe small market is occupato and everyone but me moves about with purpose.  I just gawk, take photos and get in the way. imageimageimageOn our list are pomodori, peperoni, melanzane, ciliegie e vino, naturalmente.  I admire the fiori di zucca and hope to have some fritta before I leave for home.imageimageimageOnce again, I hit the road this morning before eating anything, and cannot resist getting a slice of schiacciata cotte e fontina.  Although I am too embarrassed to stuff my face with it at the moment, you will notice it comes in hand later.imageBefore we entered the market, Costanza laughed as she told me that wine, both rosso e bianco were served from a “pump-a…like-a you do-a the petro”.  And sure ’nuff…Fill ‘er up!

Speaking of “speak”, a little side note here. Remember Massimo’s friend Elisa2 who is an enterpreter?  She said the people that are the absolute worst (she was very adamant about this) are Texans.  You should have heard the way she mimicked us.  Also, when Elisa1 read part of the blog and noticed the way-a I-a write-a the way-a they-a speak-a…she said, “Eees that-a the way-a you hear-a us-a?”  She got a kick out of it.  I assured her it was meant with love and not poking fun at-a.imageWe arrive at Costanza’s bella casa and I am immediately in love.

The structures…image

imageThe views…imageThe olive trees…imageThe views….did I already mention the view?  Costanza apologized many times for the haze and the clouds telling me this did not make for perfect viewing conditions.  I’m good, I assured her.imageimageimageInside, I was met with delight at every nook and turn.  Costanza’s mum, Antonella has many gifts and a flare for home decor is one.imageimageimageimageimageimageimageAfter my welcome and tour, Costanza shows me a crostata she has made in my honor, but tells me the rest of the cooking is waiting on me.imageWe (Costanza, Antonella, Aunt Carla and me) tie on our aprons and waste no time. Pasta first. This is Carla’s domain for the day.imageI am in awe and also very intimidated by her expertise at rolling out paper thin dough.  It was fascinating to watch.  Things I learned- Let gravity help you, allowing half the sheet to hang off the table while you roll the other half.  Also, when  you have a couple of rolls around the pin (we are talking a 3 foot long one here) gently smooth the dough on the pin outwards, making it grow as  you go.  To be honest, for my first time at this method, I did a pretty good job.  It was difficult to tell the difference in thickness while eating.  I think I surprised them as well.

Now folding the ravioli was a different story.  Several of mine had ricotta and spinach oozing out of the sides.  At one point, Antonella laughed, looked at the others then told me, “Si pou mangiare che uno adesso”. (You can eat this one now.)  We all laughed.imageConstanza was surprised to notice we were ahead of schedule.  This allowed us to go ahead and prepare the summer vegetables au gratin that are planned for dinner.  (Yes, we are eating AGAIN after the ravioli!)  As the four of us worked in the kitchen, Carla’s method was very direct.  She would demonstrate a technique once, then hand over to me to complete.  I felt trusted and one of the famiglia.imageThis is the grande cucina, there is a second piccolo one attached to another wing in case they ever choose to rent part of the casa.imageAfter looking at the photos, Antonella and I coordinate pretty well.imageIt looks like I am on the set of a cooking show, but this is their everyday cucina!imageHere are the gratin ready for cooking.  Costanza says it is important to mix the vegetables on each tray.  This way the flavors blend creating depth to a simple dish.  In the breadcrumbs (fatta in casa, certo!) we added the juice and seeds from the pomodori and a dash of salt.

At last the table is set.  Mauro, Constanza’s father arrives, we sit down to  enjoy the fruits of our labor.imageFor lunch our ravioli is served with pomodori sauce and parmigiano.  I am so hungry that I made the foolish, foolish mistake of helping myself to a second serving.  What WAS I thinking!?  I should know by now that pasta is only a primi dish.  There is always more to come.  Of course there was affettati, a fresh mixed salad with mozzarella and a new cheese for me stracchino…oh and pane of course.  AND…lest I forget, we enjoyed the local white straight from the pump to their bottiglie.imageCostanza’s crostata was tart with a shortbreadish crust.  Molto buono!  At this point, I was VERY happy to see the espresso offered.  More cafe philosophy was shared as we sat back from the table, proud and full.imageTraditionally, this seems to be the time mid-day where people retire for a bit.  I was confused as to what was expected and acceptable.  Constanza showed me to the study and Antonella offered me a look through her extensive library of art books.  As the white cotton curtains billowed in the breeze, I knew this was a place I could get comfortable…maybe a little too comfortable.

With no one else in the room, I was fighting to stay awake.  I feared if I closed my eyes for a mere moment,  I might wake to the famiglia standing over me.  Sunshine and fresh air would be best, so I found my way to one of the terraces.  The sun was warm and the air heavy with the scent of jasmine and ginestra.

I took these photos on Costanza’s property, but as we first made our drive up from Pontassieve, I noticed the hills were covered in this beautiful, golden yellow.image

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First I light on a wooden park bench overlooking the hazy hills, I hear a siren so far off, I think I am dreaming.  Then, I remember seeing a hammock hanging in a shady spot between two trees…it called my name.  I could have stayed here for hours.  It was so perfect.  But the brief rest was enough to revive me and when I heard the door to the house close, I got up and was ready to explore.

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Inside the house, Costanza, Antonell and Carla were huddled around maps and books.  A volley of conversation ensued.  I assumed they were each proposing brief excursions for my enjoyment.  I assured them I was currently molto contenuti right where I was.

But a light jacket was handed to me and Costanza and I were headed to the mountains.  After many turns and curves we approach the comune of Reggello.  Reggello is about 30 km south-east of Florence in the Apennines Mountains.  Passed the village in a forest of beech and firs you come upon the Abbey of Vallombrosa.image

Vallombrosa is a Benedictine abbey founded in 1038.  Over the centuries additional buildings and towers were added. In the 17th century the wall around the abbey was erected.  A cool, misty day seemed the perfect ambiance for such a setting.

Both Constanza and I were happy to find mass beginning and decided to attend.  Not only was attending mass in such a beautiful, historic church special but we were fortunate enough to have stumbled upon a special mass in which the Bishop was presiding over.  From what we could gather, two new priest were being ordained or receiving Holy Orders.  The spicy smell of incense filled the dark space. imageThe frescoes on the ceiling were painted in the Rococo Period.  Rococo manner is characterized by graceful, enchanting, lighthearted themes of the European upper-classes.  To me, this often light-hearted, rosy-tinted view is at odds with traditional religious themes.  They are pretty, yes, but to see Christ seated on a golden chair with fancy pants, socks and shoes on was just confusing to me. imageWhen we returned to the house…guess what…it was time to mangiare again!

Our ravioli was now served with brown butter and sage.  Hard to believe, this light sauce was even better than the pomodori sauce.  The taste of the spinach and ricotta as well as our light pasta was allowed to take center stage.

The summer vegetable au gratin will be wonderful to make at home on a warm summer’s evening.  I look forward to going to our Thursday market, buying what is in season and making this for mi famiglia.

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Although there was crostata left from lunch, Costanza made a custard ice cream.  Each of us had the choice of espresso or cioccolata calda to drown it in.  It was a holiday in a cup!

Once again, words cannot express my enjoyment and appreciation for being allowed to share in this special day with this special family.  Their kindness and genuine interest exceed every expectation I had.  As with Elisa’s family, I look forward to creating future memories with la famiglia di Costanza.

Il mio cuore sentitio ringranziamento!imageimage

Venerdi a Firenze

A few days before leaving for Italy, I ran across a June Calendar of Events for Florence.  Included for June 12 was an Astromonia Event in the Duomo.  I contacted the given email address and quickly received a reply…in Italian…that when I translated said, “if this email was for the 12 of June, then he has a reservation”.  I thought that seemed clear enough.  So on my agenda today was to attend Astromonia Gnomom and meet later tonight with Angela, Elisa’s older sister.  Something in the morning, Something in the evening…a good day.imageAs I roam to the Duomo, I watch for a few minutes as a store window and entry way come to life transporting the customer Over the Rainbow.  On my studio602 instagram, I later capture the interactive window to the left.

On the printed response from the Duomo, there is a point of entry given.  However, my Friends of Firenze are not familiar with this entrance.  I see a line at the front and 2 lines to the side.  When I show the email to one of the guards, he points me, in italian, to what I think is the other entrance along the side.  There are about 50 people in this line so I figure it is my best bet.  I still have a little less than an hour before the “event” begins…whatever it is.

When I make it up to the 2nd guard, I show him the email and he “entra”, and points me to another guard in the middle of this massive Duomo.  I would like to stand and soak it all in for a moment, but fear I might lose my “escort”, so I continue to go from guard to guard until I, with about 30 others, are the nave off the left side of the main alter.  This area is closed to the visiting public.  I begin to take a seat in the front row, but am told by photographers, not to sit there…or at least I think that is what the words and hand motions meant.  I move to an end seat on the 3rd row.  Organize myself briefly, and then begin to take in where I am.imageI am now seated under the same dome I climbed to the top of 2 years ago.  If you see the dotted row of lights, it is a walkway on the interior before you begin the claustrophobic climb up to the opening at the center.  The magnificent Renaissance dome was designed by Filippo Bruelleschi.  The cathedral was begun in the 13th century with the dome added in the 15th.  I am in here….right now! imageThe biggest artwork within the cathedral are Giorgio Vasari’s                           ( commissioned by the Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici)  frescoes of the Last Judgement (1572-1579).  They were designed by Vasari but painted by his student Frederico Zuccari.  Other themes taken from Dante’s Divine Comedy were added as well.  When looking up at these vibrant depictions, little doubt is left in one’s mind of the eternal outcome of actions and choices.

So I sit and wait.  The chairs fill up as well as the standing room behind them.  Dark figures of visitors circle above adding to the presence of the frescoes.  In the audience, there seem to be only Italians of all ages.  Grandparents have brought grandchildren, scholars have hushed conversations, press have their cameras poised and their notebooks ready…and then there is Paige.

So let us cut to the chase here.  This photo shows the spot where the sun is suppose to cross, on this day, as its beam enters the cupola-  aligning itself perfectly in the larger circle.  imageThere is an older gentleman that takes a seat in the center, checks the microphone by blowing into it, and then begins to enlighten me…us….ok, them.  I begin to tally the times he says “alora” which means, “ok, then, let’s see”.  I also tally molto “va bene” as he checks the understanding of the group before he moves on.imageSlide after slide is shown.  With them comes head nods and some chatter of awareness.  I can only understand “finestra” (window), “piccolo finestra” (small window) “giugno” (june)….you get the idea.

And then a collective gasp as he points to the beam of light that is now hitting the wall of the Duomo.  He continues to talk and show his slides, but people are now jockeying for photo positions.imageThe circle of light draws nearer and nearer to the moment we have all been waiting for.  I am starting to feel a little silly, but don’t want to exit and miss the big event or offend anyone.

As shown in my, oh so professional photo below, the light is about to enter the circle when….when….a cloud blocks the beam.  It was almost comical.  There was a collective slump as we waited.  When the cloud moved…you guessed  it, the light was on the opposite side of the circle.  I have to chuckle even as I am writing this.  At this point, individuals are starting to leave, but the Grand Astronomer continues.  I collect my things, duck and go.imageAfter this…excitement…Ho fame. So I begin my walk for something to eat.  As I enter the area of Santa Croce, I see preparations for the Calcio Storico (Historic Football) continue.  I would REALLY like to see this event.  They say it is barbaric.  Elisa told me although she has never attended, that the only rule is to win.  For several years it was forbidden because the injuries were many and great.  Supposedly many of the players come from prisons.  Sounds scary but fascinating as well.imageI ask about where I might get tickets for this event and am told the way to the “box-a office-a”.  So I head in the direction pointed out on my mappa.  When I arrive, I am told that Sunday’s final match is sold out but there are tickets for Saturday.  I leave empty handed as I already have plans with Constanza on Saturday.

I uscita the box-a office-a and take a moment to look at a mappa to see where I am.  I notice a couple of blocks away is the Museo di Casa Buonarroti.  I figure it would be rude to be this close and not pay my respects.  So I begin to navigate.  When I am hungry, my skills are not as sharp and I track back and forth the same 2-3 blocks determined to find it.  Finally, a beacon.imageYes, this next photo is an “illegal” one, can you tell.  I would say you could skip this point of interest on your next visit to Firenze.  I have shared with you the highlight here…imageAs I uscita the museo, I see a Clet I have not seen before.  How appropriate near Michelangelo’s casa.imageAfter the museo, I decide to head to the train station to purchase my ticket to Pontassieve tomorrow.  The station is bustling.  I wait in a short line to use the automated trenitalia machine. imagePunch the correct buttons, put in my 3.4 euro and receive my ticket.imageI’m pretty proud.imageOn my way back to the appartamento, it begins to rain again.  Those spots on Lady with an Ermine are raindrops.  Moments later, she will be no more.imageI cleaning up a bit and I begin my walk to Stazione Leopolde.  This is to be my meeting point with Angela.  I walk along the Arno in the opposite directions of Piazzale Michelangelo for about 1 mile.  At one point, a Vespa zooms by and I laugh seeing what looks to be da Vinci riding with his beard and hair flowing in the wind.

It is fun to discover different areas of a town.  Ones that the typical tourist does not experience.  When I arrive at the old, abandon stazione, I use my italian phone to text Angela.  At that moment, a car pulls over and a girl with short, full hair checks her phone…it must be Angela reading my text.  And it is.  Ciao Angela!  I am so appreciate of her willingness to take me to visit her friends.

I hop in the car of yet another stranger I have never met and am whisked to the country side.  We are headed to the agriturismo of Angela’s friend Massimo located outside Malmantile.imageimagewe find Massimo and his friend (another) Elisa preparing the grill when we arrive. Massimo works for a bank in Florence and Elisa is an interpreter.  They are both very kind and welcoming.  Massimo is warm and humorous sharing his approval (or disapproval in the case of Pisa) on my future agenda.  Massimo speaks very good english but laughs and says he fears he sounds like a “Native-a American-a” in the american movies, speaking in present tense when something is is needed.imageAfter a short while, 2 other guests arrive,  Lorenzo and Francesca.  Lorenzo is a vet originally from Siena and Francesca is in the fashion industry.  This excites me and I question her a bit about it.  She is a seamstress and works for many houses; Dolce & Gabbana, Vivienne Westwood, etc.  She tells me that this next week is Fashion Week in Florence and that she is very busy.  I show her some photos of my students during a Design Challenge I gave them.  They had to create a garment to wear to their 8th grade dance using only newspapers, tape, scissors and an old art book.  She looked through the photos and said, “Yes…that is me.”  She also got a kick out of the short video I had of them “walking the runway”.  Seeing a couple of the student designs and executions, she said, “Ah…Brava!”.  High praise indeed!

Angela met Massimo and Lorenzo while taking a sommelier class together.  Wine was, as I guess always is, a topic of conversation.

imageMassimo’s toast, “To Florence and Texaaass”.  Cin Cin!

Our wonderful meal al fresco consisted of Affettati, Pasta con Pomodori, and Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

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We enjoyed due Chianti.  One, Il vino di mio padre (Lorenzo’s only english of the night was when he translated Massimo’s introduction of the wine, “The Wine of my father”, which was met with “Bravo” from all) and one from Lorenzo’s collection.  I asked Lorenzo and Francesca about La Volpe e l’uva and they knew it well.  Even being familiar with the wine and many people in the photos I showed from last night.imageimageThe comfortable evening ended with a wonderful torta brought by Angela.  I had due pieces not getting enough of the sweet of the cream and the crunch of the meringue.  Molto buono!  Brava Angela!!image

After a lively discussion and production of the many ways to make cafe in ones Moka, Angela and I hopped in her car and made our way back to Firenze.  As we are driving, I am recounting the concern I shared with Elisa of having to walk too far late at night like this (almost 1 am).  Angela assured me she could get me close.  Although cars are restricted to enter the city center during the day, it should (should…did I understand “should”) be open at this hour.  Well, our first point of entry was not.  At our 2nd and 3rd attempt, we were once again met with a red light.  If Angela were to pass, a fine would follow.  At this point, I will be honest, I am nervous.  She is doing her best, no doubt, but I am still nervous.  In the end, she lets me off at the Biblioteca Nazionale where I met Elisa earlier in the week.  Angela says it is a Friday night and should (again this word “should”) be very safe.  It is located right at the Arno and figure I can make the mile quickly to my appartamento.  I pass strollers and lovers, students still out for the night, glance down alleys to find people still chatting the night away and safely make it back to my “home”.

 

Arte, Cibo e Vino

My plan for today was to not have much of a plan.  I knew I needed/wanted to get caught up with writing you.  That and the Uffizi were at the top of my short list…Oh and yes, I was to meet Costanza, one of Elisa’s friends today at 5:30.  So as you can see, even when I have  nothing to do…there is ALWAYS something to do in Firenze.

Today, number one on the plan, writing you, was like every other day trying to write you…non cosi buono.  I tried writing in my appartamento, couldn’t get much to “stick”.  Although I do have wifi, I think it is solo un po.  For example I can write using the application “what’s ap”, but I cannot get email or for that matter, send email.   So I decided instead of throwing the ipad out the finestra, I would put it in my backpack, head to the Uffizi, then after that go to lunch at Mercato Centrale where they have wifi.

I made my moka (that is what the little “machines” are called that each appartamento and home has several sizes of) drank the entire amount and hit the streets.imageI am still loving Blub and on the look out for him everywhere.  Most works I recognize the art or artist.  Some…not so much.  For example, I have no idea who the hooded couple is, and I think that is Rock Hudson on the left.  But of course on the right is a Magritte mash up.

I have a few notes of places to eat that are a “must”.  I have gathered this short list from other blogs, the food channel and friends.  This morning I am on the look out for “Cucciolo”.  At this pasticceria you are suppose to find the best bomboloni around.  I think I should give it a try but feel sure it cannot surpass one I stumbled upon on my last visit.  And as I approach, I smile.  This is the exact place I stumbled upon.  I remember coming in need of a place to sit, cool off and have a snack  and being so taken by my sweet, crunchy find.imageI find this a testament to a serendipitous adventure…  You end up where you are supposed to end up.imageI think after I successfully (cross your fingers…I am once again losing photos AND the keyboard/ipad relationship is choosing to give me double letters when I type) post this latest entry, I will head back over.

On a caffeine and sugar high, I head to the Uffizi.  I find one door with a line and one door without a line….I do not have a ticket yet, so I decide to try the one without the line..  To my surprise I go right in, buy my ticket, think they are going to direct me to the line, ma no…in I go.imageI like going to museums alone.  I find it very difficult to adapt to someone else’s rhythm or expect them to adapt to mine.  I purchase the audio guide  and begin my walk.  This is my third visit to the Uffizi, but each time  (as with any museum) I walk into a gallery or room and my breath catches with the realization that I am standing in front of such work.  This is NOT a slide I am showing during a Monday Art History lesson, this IS THE Birth of Venus.  This IS THE Doni Tondo.  I know the Uffizi receives millions of visitors each year, but it still feels special to be in such company.image

As I look closely at Parmigianino’s  Madonna with the Long Neck (1534), I see the small man to her left.  Students often point this out and want to discuss. This time, I notice something more.  Number one, the transparency of the man-  how you can see the background through him, but also the lone foot next to him.  Observing a painting is unfinished lends an added mystery to it.imageNear several works of art, I notice these smaller, dimensional white pieces.  These are to allow the vision impaired to experience the masterpiece as well….very cool..imageOne of the last galleries I enter contains the work of Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520).  As I am admiring, I am also getting a bit tired and a bit hungry.  I take a step back and lean, ever so lightly, on a small metal bar.  With my peripheral vision, I notice part of a frame.   I think, “Yipes Paige…Don’t knock over a sign or something.”   When I turn to look, Raphael is giving me this look.  imageNope, not a Uffizi sign directing us to the uscita/exit….Raphael himself. Scusami Raphael!

Before I make a headline, I uscita the Uffizi and head to Mercato Centrale. Of  course I did not want to just take their wifi for free…that would be rude…so I ordered Burrata Bruschetta and un bicchiere di vino bianco…just to be polite.image

Another long, blogging issue short (because I know any complaints I have will be met with molto poco di pieta) working at the Mercato did not go as planned either. So, I decided to head back to my appartamento, ditch  technology, switch to a smaller borsa and head out to meet Costanza.

A little background first.  You now know Elisa and how I stumbled upon her.   We emailed back and forth and skyped once. We had plans for the two of us to meet several times during the first part of my stay and simply walk the streets of Firenze, she educating me on the city and the language.  Well, before my arrival, Elisa found out she needed to take an exam during my stay  and to do well on that exam, would need extra time to study  (Elisa is studying to be an Accountant).  Because Elisa is so very kind and organized, she did not cancel our plans, instead she contacted her friends to see if anyone would be interested in stepping in and spending some time with me.  Before I left Texas, Elisa had emailed me a “proposal or program”.  I was to look over the options and choose the ones I would like to participate in.  She in turn would have those friends contact me.  You have already met Paola.  She and I are to spend some time later in the week.  Costanza is another friend of Elisa’s.  She has proposed that I take the train to Pontassieve on Saturday to spend the day cooking at her country home with her, her mother and her aunt.  We thought it would be best to meet face to face first.  We are to meet in front of the duomo and then walk to a spot she likes to grab a cafe and chat.

It is pouring rain as I walk from my appartamento to the duomo.  The foreign vendors flood the streets with ponchos and umbrellas.  A few meters from a vendor, you find a piece of an umbrella handle…a discarded, upturned purchase. Aahhh street quality!

Luckily I have my italian phone and can touch base with Costanza to make sure the meeting is still on.  She apologizes for the weather (which is fun to me) and says yes, she will be arriving wearing a black dress and carrying a gray umbrella.

We meet, kiss/kiss and talk as we walk through the rain that is now slacking. We go to a cafe located in a building housing a library and a student center.  There are many young people studying, drinking cafe and socializing in the halls and corridors.imageHere we talk briefly, introducing ourselves and defining our plan for Saturday.  Costanza is 26 and completing her masters in Hydro Engineering. Her parents are both Architects so she feels we will have a common area of interest although their english is limited.  I find myself leaning in trying to capture all I can from her while she sits back obviously comfortable in her element.  She orders an espresso and talks of her love and perhaps addiction to italian coffee.  She has traveled Europe and has found no equal.  I drink a bottle of water.  I am learning how late I can enjoy an espresso without staying awake all night… I am past that time now.  I get her to write the name of the station/village I will be meeting her on Saturday and we say ciao until then.

I linger a bit at the building we are in and then begin to wind my way to Trattoria Katti.  This was a favorite spot of mine located on the street where my room was 2 years ago.  I have plans to attend a “Vertical Wine Tasting” at 9:30 but am not sure if any food will be offered.  As it is only about 6:30, I enjoy a bicchiere di vino rosso, order a bowl of pappa al pomodoro and watch the people go by.imageBefore I ordered the zuppa, I asked the waitress if this is under the same ownership as it was 2 years ago.  She said yes they have had this trattoria for 4 years now.  I wondered because 2 years ago, each time I ate here or passed by, Katti, the beautiful, young italian who owned the restaurant was working or her mother would be out serving or cleaning and would always say “Ciao Signora” to me.  This was the first, and best place I had pappa al pomodoro and I did not want to be disappointed.  I was not!  Hot and rich.  Salty and Oily.  Molto Buono!image

Before I left, Katti did ride up on her bicicletta, looking more glamorous than ever and her mother emerged from their apartment next door.  All is right in Firenze!

I had signed up for the Vertical Wine Tasting with a girl who writes a blog called “The Curious Appetite”.  I received an email from her earlier saying the event was sure to be crowded and we might want to arrive an hour or so early in order to secure a tavolo.  Since I had nothing else to do, I went back to my appartamento, switched borsas (the bigger now), looked up the directions and headed across Ponte Vecchio.  The enoteca con degustazione is tucked away but very easy to find from my place.  Over the ponte, through a piccolo piazza, sinistra and then there you are.

Shortly after my arrival, Coral (the coordinator) arrived as well.  Coral is about 26 or so, from Seattle but has been living in Firenze for 3 years now.  She is of Italian heritage and speaks Italian (a study in college) very well.  She is personal friends with the owners of Le Volpi e l’Uva (The Fox and the Grapes) and it was her idea to invite expats and savvy tourist to an event usually enjoyed by locals.  Brava Coral!

imageIt was a good thing we snagged a table early because the place overflowed capacity early.  To accommodate more, they moved the 5 of us further in and added chairs in the street. Siamo stati fortunati in effetti!

Our tavolo was shared by a woman about my age, currently living in Alabama but here as a “resident artist” and teacher and a young couple living in Firenze for the past year.  Adrian is a statistician originally from France and his wife (i think) Emma, is from Dublin which is where they met. They have an internet company that can be run from anywhere and they said, “Perche non Firenze?”

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The owner (far right) greets us and gives a bit of background about the winemaker (far left).

imageBefore each vintage, the winemaker would tell us (Coral leaning over to translate a bit) the particulars about this year’s product along with his approach… clearly living and loving what he does.imageWith each glass, a new cheese or crostini would appear on our small table.  We would adjust everything else in order to accomodate!imageThis unique experience cost a mere 25 euro.  The food, the wine, the conversation, the night…priceless.imageimage

As a special treat, at the end, the winemaker surprised his guests with a taste of his “vera passione”…bubbly red.image

A toast to the wine and its maker! Salute!image

A toast to a wonderful evening meeting and eating.  Cin Cin!image

At 0:30 it was time to once again cross Ponte Vecchio, still crowded with lovers, musicians and friends and turn in for the night.

Buonanotte!image

Nella Cuci

As advised by Elisa, I woke early to find the sun already beaming down on the many beautiful fiori e piante in giardino.imageAnd on il cane di famiglia, Stella.image image The famiglia once again gathered in the garden to enjoy a typical italian breakfast.imageimageAfter breakfast and morning conversation, it was time to walk the short, short distance to the stores to gather the freshest ingredients for the day.image

Pane

Pane

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panna e cioccolato

image And into this small store carrying only a few items like fresh herbs, olive oil, canned vegetables (fatta in casa) and pinoli.image And then we made another trip back to get something else, that I do not remember.  Unlike having to make a return trip to HEB, these outings were a pleasure.  During each visit, the same signore was sitting   sentinel. image Back in the casa, Anna was preparing the vegetables for both the ragu and the crostini  toscani-  leeks, carrots and red onion.imageimage After each visit to Italy,  there are additions to my cucina that must be purchased.  A mezzaluna is on the list. Now to discuss the Crostini Toscani. We first had to cut the spleen  into small pieces…and then do the same to the chicken livers….both of these jobs became mine once they were demonstrated.image The meat was then was browned with the vegetables at this point, if you have fresh anchovies, add now…if not, Mara uses from a tube.  After all ingredients cook together, it is time to put through a food mill.  This process combines all to create a grayish brown paste to be put on crostini (The difference between crostini and bruschetta I also learned).  Crostini is smaller, toasted bread that can have a variety of toppings and bruschetta is larger toasted bread with olive oil and salt (you had me here) and usually pomodori and basilico.  I am personally a member of Team Bruschetta. image The ragu was made as I have learned before,, beginning with the vegetables,, adding the freshly ground beef from the butcher,, tomatoes  and Anna says, “Quando cominicia a cantare, vuole il vino..”  When it begins to sing, it wants the wine…Understood! Now it is time to prepare the pesto…because for lunch, un tipo di pasta non e sufficiente!image Mara steps right outside to gather the basilico fresco.  To this,  fresh parmigiano,  fresh aglio and pinoli from down the street are added.   Oh and let’s not forget the freshest and best of  olio d’oliva.image And for dolce, tiramisu, naturalmente.  But as Mara and Anna added, this was to be tiramisu leggero, tiramisu light…no uova.

We had set up the table to dine in the garden, but a threatening cloud with loud claps of thunder, changed our plans.  In our Italian and English we discussed the common sayings, “Better safe than sorry”  (in english) and “Better to fear than to be beat up”…or something like that (in Italian).  The latter had, had of course, a hand motion to accompany.image At  the last moment, Mara prepared what was to be il mio preferito, salvia fritta.imageimage

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Salvia Fritta…molto buono! And check out the size of that salvia!

With the table set for pranzo tradizionale toscana…we begin. imageimage Somehow, perhaps gluttony, I forgot to capture the Tiramisu Leggero…but not to worry, there was molto after that!  Biscotti di Prato with Vin Santo and finally espresso…certo.imageWords and photos cannot sufficiently describe this day.  Elisa’s family was so open to this new experience.  The language barrier actually added to the fun.  Anna, who speaks no English, warmed quickly and would look between Elisa and myself for translation.  Her eyes excited about what my reaction would be to her words.   At one point, Elisa was telling me something and Anna corrected her.  Elisa gave an exasperated  glance and I said, “Anna knows best.”  Elisa translated this, to which Anna replied with a strong, “Certo!” (sure!) I have a priceless video of Anna sharing her recipe for Tortelli Mugellani with me.  Anna seems shyish during the filming but afterwards asked to watch it again and again.  Each time she would throw her head back laughing and laughing.  I told her she was going to become famoso in America and could have her own cooking show.  We would title it, “Anna Knows Best”  with “Certo” coming across the screen many times through the episode.  I am currently arm wrestling with my phone and wordpress to attempt to upload the video to the blog.  So once you read this post and later see an update…don’t disregard.  That will hopefully mean Anna and I are the victors. Let me recap the lunch menu in Italian for you. Oggi (10.6) Pranzo: *Antipasto=sottoli, affettati, crostini toscani = (pane, pegatini di pollo, cipolla, milzadimanzo) *Pasta al Ragu- Ragu= carne di manzo, odori (sedano, carota, cipolla), passato di pomodoro, vino. *Pasta al Pesto *Tiramisu Leggero= pavesini, panna, cioccolato fondente, caffe *Bevande= Vino Rosso Chianti BUON APPETITO! And now, posso presentarvi, Anna of Anna Knows Best…Certo!

Con la Famiglia

Disclaimer!!!  What you are about to read has taken me days and days to update…it is driving me crazy.  The site seems glitchy putting photos where I do not intend them to be, the wifi is spotty and the worst is when my ipad just chooses to freeze up and I return to lost work.  Please bear with me. ________________________________________________________________ Tuesday morning I slept in a bit, resting up from my late night/early morning blogging (heading into another late one tonight!) but I began my morning in true Italian fashion.I am definitely going to buy one of these before I come home. After my jolt of caffeine, I ironed and packed an over night bag.  I am to meet Elisa in front of the biblioteca at 16:00.  I left the appartamento a couple hours early so I could take my time finding our rendezvous point.  When I stepped out my door, I decided to buy my first bag of cherries.image And then I am off. The biblioteca is located near Piazza di Santa Croce so decide with a bit of time to spare, I will revisit this beautiful chiesa.

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A statue of Dante Alighieri ( Italian poet, 1265-1321) looks down on you as you approach.

The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the principal Franciscan church in Florence.  The building was begun on my birthday, May 12, 1294.  It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italian, such as Galileo, Machiavelli and my personal favorite, Michelangelo.image This beautiful tomb is a work of Vasari (1570).  The 3 scultptures in the foreground illustrate Sculpture, Painting and Artchitecture mourning the loss of this Reniassance Man. I understand Michelangelo was originally laid to rest in Roma but that his body was stolen away in the night to return to his beloved Firenze.  Each time I have stood in front of this, I simply cannot wrap my head around the significance of whose company I am in.  Seriously!…I am standing with Michelangelo Buonarroti! Other works that take my breath away, not only by their beauty but also by the realization of who the artist  is and his presence, are Giotto’s crucifix and his frescos of the life of Saint Francis.  Giotto’s emotion and expression revolutionized art exuding feelings and deminsionality.  These works were covered by others then rediscovered in 1853.  Can you imagine what is still yet to be rediscovered?!imageimage image

Lighting my first candle praying for Mom's recovery.

Lighting my first candle praying for Mom’s recovery.

I sit in the basilica rest and reflect. Then I head to the Biblioteca Nazionale and wait.image Elisa arrives right on time (I used my telefono italiano to touch base) kiss,kiss…and we zoom up past Piazzale Michelangelo and beyond to her parents home.  There we are greeted by Luigi (it’s just fun to say isn’t it…Luigi), her father, Mara, her mother,  Anna, her 2nd cousin and Stella the cane di famiglia.  Elisa, knowing I am a insegnante di arte showed me her room she painted years ago while listening to her favorite band Coldplay.image I told her she would fit right in at studio602!  From the casa di famiglia, we switched cars, cramming the cinque of us + Stella into the , as Luigi announced, “Not an American car!”, and headed to the sea. A couple of days ago I questioned this adventure.  Would I jump into a car with a family I did not know at all and accompany them to their other home in an area I had no idea where it was in relation to …….anything?  I think not, BUT, once I sat with Elisa Monday night, my nerves quelled…it felt like it was suppose to- un’avventura.  We sped down the autostrada darting and weaving with, can you believe it, Luciano Pavarotti canto from the car’s speakers. As we drove, greetings were discussed, American and Italian.  Elisa asked what the formal and informal way of saying hello was in American.  I told her, How are you was formal, What’s up is very informal and the head nod with “sup” is VERY informal.  She laughed and practiced.  Elisa’s momma, Mara, added, “Aaaahhhhh, what’sa upa is like the app What’sa appa.”  Elisa and I were very impressed with Mara’s street smarts. The passing views varied from small cities to the beautiful, rolling, green and ochre hills Tuscany is famous far.  After about an hour and a half, Luigi asked if I would like to see the sea.  Si I replied.  This is one of the things I thought this trip was about.  We stopped in front of a fort constructed half way through the sixteenth century by Cosimo I de Medici (I doubt the Grand Duke himself was slinging mortar, but you know what I mean).  These military structures span the Tuscan coast  and formed an impressive military front to defend his cities from attacks.  image

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And this l miei amici, is the extent of my visit to the “sea” proper.

imageElisa says in late June, July and August, the beaches are packed with vacationing Tuscans. Next stop, the local Macerlleria (butcher shop).  image On Mara’s list was (in english) spleen, chicken liver, prosciutto and salame.  Since I had not eaten all day and it was now about 18:00…the samples of prosciutto and salame were my favorite parts…by far.  At one point Elisa laughed and translated that Anna commented I had better not eat any more or I wouldn’t have room for dinner…no worries Anna. During the next brief part of our drive, Elisa points out a tower on a hill.  She says this tower figures prominently in Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Something about a man being locked up with his family in this tower, they all die and the man is forced to eat his son…huh…I’ll have to look into that.image And we arrive to Castegneto Carducci, a small comune in the Province of Livorno located about 90 kilometers southwest of Florence. Giosue Carducci (1835-1907) was an Italian poet who grew up in the area.  Elisa’s family has two places here, both of which they rent out.  Elisa and I will be staying below and Luigi, Mara and Anna, above.  The rooms Elisa and I are in were a blacksmith shop in the 1800’s.  Luigi is a bit of a History Buff so there are implements and little descriptions of things all about.image Elisa and I go on a short walk about the village and when we return, it is time to eat. imageimage

The melone e prosciutto were amazing!!

The melone e prosciutto were amazing!!

So if the Dante/cannibalism story was not creepy enough, during our fabulous dinner, Luigi tells a more current gruesome story.  Apparently…this is what I gather through translation, hand motions and Anna’s disapproving glances…there was a killer in Florence that targeted young lovers, “only couples” Luigi adds several times, as if to comfort my solo self. Through the story and let me underscore, hand motions, I nod and nod and I am sure look concerned.  Mara tells Luigi he is scaring me and that I will not sleep well tonight.  I tell them it is not tonight that I am worried about.  As my dad does, Luigi’s voice raises as he shares the story, as if the increased volume will bridge our language barrier.  After we finished our cena fuori, Elisa and I accept Luigi’s invitation to take a walk around the village as he shares his knowledge of the local history. imageAnd of course, there is a stop for caffe for Luigi and gelato for Elisa and me.

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Elisa chooses cono con stracciatella and cioccolato and I try marscapone con nutella and stracciatella. Molto buono. Grazie Luigi.

We return to the casa where Mara and Anna have already retired.  Elisa asks me to be ready for the cooking lesson tomorrow morning at about 9:00.  I settle into my bellissima camera for a buonanotte.

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The glass door separates the bed and bath from the living and kitchen. To the right, facing the garden Elisa has a similar set up. This way 2 families can rent the space.

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The winding , stone steps lead you to the updated bathroom. “Pay attention to the heada” warns Luigi.

Giorno Uno

My first night in my appartamento was ok.  I stumped by toe 2x during the night due to the 1″ rise from the hallway to the bathroom and vowed not to do it a 3rd.  The little airconditioner does not get to my home sleeping temperature of 64, but that was to be expected.  I woke up in the morning refreshed and ready to start giorno uno.

My day began at the TIM store.  If you remember, yesterday I spent about 2 hours in the company of Stefania, my personal (ha!) tech assistant but because I could not get the phone to go beyond the spinning “search”, I had to return.  I am not sure what time they opened, but I arrived at about 10, pulled my number and found there had already been 17 people in front of me; 8 or so of whom were still crammed in the small store.  Stefania was once again on duty along with another female phone specialist.  I went in with the attitude that I had nothing else pressing today, so just to be patient.  That sentiment was not shared by numbers 15,16,17 and 21.  It was amazing to me that people would openly fuss and heatedly complain about the amount of time the 2 workers were spending with “clients”.  I just enjoyed it as a form of Italian Theater and it helped the 2 hours go by.

Once Stefania called “diciotto”, I knew I would have her undivided attention for awhile.  Long story short, my old iphone was apparently “locked” even though verizon said it was not.  I considered putting the Italain SIM card in my new iphone, but then imagined getting a verizon bill on top of the amount of the SIM card and quickly decided against that.  I thought the cheapest, easiest way to go was to purchase an unlocked phone here…so I did.  You should have seen the faces and heard the groans of numbers 19-infinity as Stefania patiently showed me how to ramp up my new phone.  Now “all” my Italian amici can contact me AND I can google map a destination (even though once it shows me the location, it shuts down…oh well) out on the streets without fear of having a $1,000 phone bill when I return home.

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When I went back to my appartamento to ditch the iphone and the new phone box, I researched a spot for lunch and headed Oltrarno (on the other side of the Arno).

A blog I frequent “Girl in Florence” (another Texas Tuscan) suggested Chicco di Caffe for a great lunch, budget friendly and loved by locals.

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Rigatoni al pesto di asparagi e ricotta salata

Rigatoni al pesto di asparagi e ricotta salata

This primi plate and a bicchiere di vino bianco locale was a great recommendation.

After lunch, I searched out the studio of the street sign artist Clet Abraham.  Last year I got a kick out of his clever sense of humor and roamed the streets looking for the many different manipulations of municipal signage.  Since then, I somehow stumbled across who the artist was and that he had a studio in Ortrarno.  On the way, I saw several new works by Clet.imageimage

When I arrived I was disappointed that the studio was closed.  I stood there peering through the glass door hoping someone might be in and have pity on me.  No such luck.  I roamed a bit around the immediate area and decided to stop into an osteria have perhaps the studio would be open afterwards.

Osteria San Niccolo was a great choice for dolce and conversation.

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Here I enjoyed one of the best Tiramisu I have ever had.  The zabaione was light as air.  After a short bit, a young couple walked in and told the waiter, “We’ll have what she is having.”  He was from Syria and she from Egypt.  Of course both spoke perfect english (damn us monolingual Americans!)  We enjoyed a lively conversation about the riches of traveling and experiencing different cultures.  They got a kick out of my “Eat Pray Eat” agenda.

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Uno altro per la raccolta!

We parted ways and to my delight, the Clet studio was open!  What a coincidence I thought it was that the girl working in the studio was also just at Chicco di Caffe…she did not.  As I was choosing a few items to buy, I asked her if I could take a couple of photographs.  “Of what?” she said looking around  with attitude.  She agreed.  I took a few quick shots before she changed her mind.image

So cool to see an artist's workspace!

So cool to see an artist’s workspace!

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I know this last one is a little blurry, but I feared she might lose patience with me at any moment.  I love the simplicity of stencil work.

After leaving Oltrarno, I just roamed noticing more and more street art that most simply are oblivious to.  There is a new guy out there, goes by the name “Blub”, creating a new street art series.  After researching the signature, I learned he is a mystery.  He has yet to reveal himself to the public.  He takes iconic works of art and iconic people and puts a diving mask on them. Way quirky, but I’m a fan.  He has a Instagram @lartesanuotare.  My eyes are peeled to see how many divers I can find on the streets of Firenze.

My first to see.  Botticelli's cherub.

My first to see. Botticelli’s cherub.

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Even the ermine has a mask!

Even the ermine has a mask!

As often happens with street art, someone has added a mustache to Dante.

As often happens with street art, someone has added a mustache to Dante.

Other works seen along the way…imageimageimageimageimage

This one is a great example (I censored) of building on the “work” of someone else.  I laughed out loud.  Clever, clever!

Next stop il Mercato Centrale.image

Mom and Dad told me about this place.  It is fairly new.  They just celebrated their 1 year anniversary.  It is an open air food court of sorts.  Located above the traditional Mercato San Lorenzo, it is a foodie’s paradise.  You can graze from stall to stall enjoying pane, carni, pasta e dolci.  Of course there is also a bar area in the middle serving espresso, spritz and wine.  This is a wonderful place to get out of the heat for a bit, reconnect with free wifi and relax.

Roaming about, I passed this street artist several times through out the day documenting his process and sharing my spare change.imageimageimageimage

At last it was time to meet Elisa.  To catch you up on my Italian Amica, I knew for this trip I wanted to add to my “language experience”.  I had searched and searched for a unique, one on one approach.  The only thing I was finding were traditional language schools that offered 1 hour lessons to weeks of classes.  Then I found The Florentine.  This is a bi-weekly newspaper printed in english covering italian news, events and culture.  They also have a classified section.  At first I was very excited to find this.  There were several people offering their services to tutor.  Then I thought it was a little “craig’s listy” and probably not a wise idea.  My third thought was “what the heck” so I contacted 2 females.  Both responded.  The first said she was interested but did I speak italian so that when she is explaining the history and culture I would understand…nope…that’s the point of this.  The second was Elisa.  She shared her interest in learning what I had in mind.  I foolishly responded back asking about her experience with the Italian language.  She said she had lived in Florence all her life and her parents were Florentine as well.  Check language and city culture/history off my “interview” questions.

Elisa and I continued to design our program.  She was so generous with her time and ideas.  We “met” through Skype to nail down our plan.  A plan which now included accompanying her and her familia to their sea home, cooking with her mom and great aunt, going with her sister to a friend’s agriturismo for more cooking and eating, exploring the markets, cooking and sightseeing with her friend Paola and spending a day (again cooking and eating) with another of Elisa’s friends, Costanza, at her country home.  Ya might say I hit the jackpot!

Well tonight that adventure began.  I was to meet Elisa atLa Prosciutteria for an aperitivo. image

Although I was fairly comfortable finding the spot (it is on the same street as yesterday’s panino), I headed over a bit early.  When the people inside on the right left, I snagged that prime spot and waited.

A few minutes later, a woman I knew was not Elisa seemed to be looking for someone.  We glanced at each other a couple of times and then she asked, “Paige?”  Si, si!  It was Paola.  This is Elisa’s amica that I will be spending time with later in the week.  What fun this was going to be.

Shortly after Paola, Elisa arrived.  We chatted and joked like old friends.  They were kind to my attempts at their bella lingua as we shared wonderful food, drinks and stories.

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Salute! Cin, Cin!

Afterwards, Elisa recommended a new gelateria by the duomo.  We grabbed her bike from a nearby rack and walked over.

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The line attested to Gelateria Edoardo’s reputation.  Who can complain waiting in the shadows of the duomo?  Not I.

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Both Elisa and I chose cioccolato e zabaione on a wonderfully crisp, fresh cono.  On our passeggiata through the still crowded,  cobblestone streets, Elisa ran into a couple she knew.  The woman had been her english teacher while in middle school.  It was heartwarming to see their greeting and listen to their lively conversation.  I joined in and immediately knew these were people you could talk with for hours.  I know Elisa, Paola and others will continue to make this trip a once in a lifetime adventure and a  sweet, sweet memory!

As it is almost 3:00am here, I wish you sogni d’oro and a presto.

Italia 2015- Jumping In

I’m sitting in my appartamento in Firenze, pretty much worn out from the last 30 hours or so…but I am going to jump in, filling you in a bit on what has gone on thus far. I feel if I don’t jump in…I’ll get behind and lost.

Earlier in the week, I decided to call United and Swiss Air just to double check my reservations. Good thing I did. Monday night I was told by Swiss Air United had cancelled my flight and had yet to reinstate one. Four hours later, almost 3 of which were spent on hold listening to the garbled United jingle, I was given a new flight, no longer going through Zurich but routed through Frankfurt instead. I had lost my good aisle seats I had chosen in January and was relegated to the back of the plane in a middle seat…But at least I had a flight right?

I made it through the remainder of the week at school, crossing my fingers that everything was going to work out.
And it did. I arrived at the Austin Airport with plenty of time to have a chat with United. Cal was my hero of the day, reinstating my earlier seat choices for free and giving me a $100 travel voucher with United. I would have rather the incident never happened, but at least he seemed like he cared. I asked him what I could do so see that this never happened to me again and he said that when you make reservations that far in advance, you need to check them every once in awhile because schedules change.image

The flight to Chicago went off without a hitch, but when we landed, I noticed I had only 15 minutes to get to another terminal and to my gate.  The flight attendant warned me not to stop at the restroom.  She advised me to take the shuttle and hustle.  I arrived in the shuttle line to be told the shuttle could only take 23 and I was the 25.  So I Amazing Raced it through 3 terminals at O’hare and arrived at the terminal before the shuttle.  No time to grab a snack, not restroom break, but I was there.

Walking through the first class “lounge” area really makes you feel like a peasant when you reach your section.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a nice set up.  As I was walking up to my aisle seat…the one I had originally reserved, then lost, then paid extra for, then was reimbursed for, I noticed a woman looking at me.  The man in the row in front of her was turned around discussing something with her.  Before I even arrived, I knew what they had in mind.  In a heavy Russian accent she said, “You mind if husband sit here and you sit there?”  Before she could even get it out, I said, “No I am sorry.  I paid extra for the isle.”  They continued to “discuss” me in Russian, but I stood (or sat) firm.

Before we took off, the chipper captain kept telling us what a short flight we were going to have, less than 8 hours.  And he was right, we even arrived in Frankfurt 45 minutes early.image

Once we arrived in Frankfurt, I located my new gate then enjoyed my first European pastry and cappucino while I practiced my Italian on my phone.image

Not sure how handy this sentence is going to be…but I got it correct.image

The flight from Frankfurt to Firenze was a short, beautiful one.  I do not know if I have ever flown over the Alps before but this time I will never forget.  From a distance out, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at.  Tufts of clouds in the sky seemed to be dipping below the horizon creating what looked to be a mirror effect.  Then I realized there were snowcapped mountains in the mix.  Lakes fingered through the valleys creating a confusing sense of size and of time.  Thin veils of misty clouds drifted above blue lakes.  Two ridges were split by a beautiful green valley, a river snaking through it.  I looked at these craggy, rugged mountains contrasting with the small villages nestled between.  What must life be like there?  How do you even get to the villages?  How much must a red bell pepper be?image

The mountains soon gave way to lush green hills, spotted with terracotta roofs and cypress trees.  Toscana, just like in the movies.I was excited the moment my foot touched the Italian Terra of the airport runway, but disappointed when no one checked and or stamped my passport.  We were just all allowed in.

Your heart cannot help but race when you are waiting for your luggage, especially when some of the same pieces make their 2nd lap.  So I was relieved to see the Ferrari coming around the carousel.  As I waited, I watched a brief video welcoming visitors to Firenze pointing out the choices one had to get to the city center.  I chose the cheepest of the 4, autobus/6 euro.

As I exited the terminal, the smell of cigarette smoke wafted under my nose. Finding it oddly welcoming, I smile and know I am in Italia!

As the autobus pulls out of the airport, I am greeted by a Fernando Botero sculpture, “Paloma”.

Fernando Botero's "Paloma"

Fernando Botero’s “Paloma”

Is it not the cutest thing.  I have always loved Botero’s (Fernando Botero,1932-   , Columbian, Modern Art) style.  I still regret not buying a copy of his chubby Mona Lisa from a sidewalk vendor in Central Park years ago.

As the bus moved into the Historic City Center of Firenze, it seemed like just yesterday I was here.  The bus let us off at Santa Maria Novella Station, I walked confidently in the direction of the Arno knowing my appartamento was close to Ponte Vecchio.  I found the street and the correct number pretty easily, but that is when I hit a wall.  The door did not have the name of the appartamento on it, only the little buzzer with 6 or so names.  I turned the data on on my phone just for a moment to try to make a call, but it did not go through.  So I quickly turned it back off  and considered my options.  2 young girls had walked by twice obviously looking for their hotel as well.  When they buzzed into the one directly across from mine, I asked if I could tag along and possibly have their hotel call Tomaso at mine.  They said sure, but the guy at their hotel said he “could not help”.  I was tempted to help him define the difference between could not and would not…but I simply slipped back out to the street.

By the way, I have some VERY classy neighbors!  The Salvatore Ferragamo Museo that I enjoyed so much during my last visit is catty corner to my place.  Via de Tornabuoni is like the Rodeo Drive of Firenze.image

Anyway back to my saga…I decide to buzz a couple of the buttons at #20.  Nothing.  I peek into a trattoria next door and give a guy my “lost and confused” face.  Carlo clicks his heels on over and says “Si Signora?”.  I hand him my reservation papers, try to explain my issue and he says, “Well, let us call them.” About 20 minutes later Tomaso appears to let me in.  Grazie mille Carlo!  I’ll tip him well when I have a glass of wine there later this week.

Tomaso and his heavy scent of tobacco let me into the appartamento and he shares the highlights with me.  Very cute, great size, glamorous location and fairly budget friendly.

My entrance once through the beautiful, heavy wooden doors.

My entrance once through the beautiful, heavy wooden doors.

The room from the kitchen.

The room from the kitchen.

Mi Cucina.

Mi Cucina.

 

My view from my open finestra della cucina.

My view from my open finestra della cucina.

There is a nice bath, lots of storage space (drawers and closets) and even a washing machine. Good things can be found when you plan REALLY early.

After I unpacked, I needed un morso a mangiare.  Blaine had asked me what my first meal would be.  At the top of my list was a return visit to my favorite panino shop.

All' Antico Vinaio

All’ Antico Vinaio

And this time, I was fairly comfortable telling the guys what I wanted on my panino- prosciutto, pomodori, basilico, mozzarella, olio d’oliva e balsamico.  Meraviglioso! imageIt’s bigger than my open hand and it’s ONLY 5 euro!!!  I walked through the streets noshing and wiping my mouth…no body knows me here.

As I headed to the TIM phone store, several works of street art caught my eye.  This one I’ve already seen several versions of.

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And these spoons are each at least 5 feet tall.image

da Vinci's "Lady with an Ermine".

da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine”

Hey wait...I missed my first wedding!

Hey wait…I missed my first wedding!

I am trying something new this trip.  I brought my old iphone and had the TIM people put in an Italian SIM card.  I waited in line at least an hour.  Like our phone stores, they do a booming business.  I will need to go back tomorrow.  I foolishly brought it to them without any battery life.  The woman was very helpful, but now that it is up and running, I do not understand the directions and numbers she gave me.  The great part about this is that I paid cash, so when my minutes are used, they’re used.  I do not get charged for going over.  I’ll let you know if it works out for me.  I only plan to use it to call my hotels (would have come in handy to contact Tomas earlier) and search places and maps when I am away from wifi.

Next I roamed around deliriously in circles looking for a small grocery.

When I was trying to ask the owner of a bookstore, he could not understand me.  Then I told him my list, “acqua, zucchero, latte” and he understood me.  I’m making progress!  The one I finally found was quite a ways from my appartamento, so I lugged back my goods including 6 1.5 liters of acqua and called it a day when I got back.

Tomorrow I’ll talk with Elisa to see what she has planned for me/us this week.

Buona notte.