Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Taking a break


I have my first visitors at my new home for the next two weeks! Nick is here (arrived yesterday, and Will is coming next week.) So, for now, I will be taking a break. I will be accumulating new stories and photos with them, so stay tuned. See ya, Karen

Saturday, March 24, 2007

La Passeggiata Does Not Disappoint

You know all about La Passeggiata (see previous posting) and that it is one of my favorite things. I promised to let you know if I met anyone interesting, well I did.

First, there is Enrico and he is from Sienna, a small Tuscan town about 1 hour from here. He moved to Florence about 4 years ago because there are more jobs here. He speaks English very well, and learned from talking to tourists. We met in front of the Palazzo Vecchio one evening at about 8 p.m. We were both admiring the piazza, and taking in the sites.

Enrico is easy to notice because he is 6 ft 5 inches. Yes, tall, dark and handsome. Another thing about la passeggiata is that everyone is assessed by the skill of fare bella figura ("looking good"). Enrico has that down to a fine art.

He and I strolled all over Florence, had coffee and wine and talked until the wee hours of the morning. Dish list subscribers stay tuned!

Next, there was Raffaele. Odd thing is, I met Raffaele when I was in Florence October of 2005. Don’t you think that is weird! I mean Florence is small, but.....

Raffaele is a leather importer and has actually been to Nashville. The two things he remembered were the Batman building and The Bound’ry. Imagine that! He said he also bought some cowboy boots there. Go figure.

Raffaele is exactly what you would think an Italian businessman looks like. Armani suits and overcoats, Gucci sunglasses, Ferragamo shoes....you get the picture. He actually lives in Fiesole, which is about 5 miles outside of Florence in the countryside. I am hoping in one of those beautiful Italian Villas that I admired on the way to Piazzele Michelangelo!

Anyway, the Firenze date is consistent (at least with these two) Strolling all over the beautiful city and along the river, wine, coffee etc. etc...........................................................

Friday, March 23, 2007


Gelato is the Italian version of ice cream, but it puts ice cream to shame. There are shops every block with beautiful colors and flavors. My problem with gelato is that many of the flavors are made with eggs, which I am allergic to. Thankfully, this causes me not to eat it very often, for fear of getting a flavor with egg. There are many fruit flavors, but you know what I say...."Fruit is for children".

When selecting gelato, I have learned that the shop with the best reputation in all of Italy is around the corner from where I live. Look in the guidebooks! It is called Bar Vivoli. This is dangerous. There are usually huge crowds around, so that helps with the temptation. I have also learned that when selecting gelato, buy only from vendors whose containers are aluminum. This signifies that the gelato is made on the premises, while the white plastic containers mean that it is mass produced off site.

You can get gelato in a cup or a cone, and it ranges in price from 1.50 euro to 5 euro! I stick to the smallest size available which is thick and creamy and so rich it will make you kick your Granny!

The proper way to buy gelato is to pay for it first and then take your receipt to the counter and tell them what flavor you want. The flavors all are exotic sounding like:
Cioccolatta- Chocolate
Striaccalette- Chocolate Chip
Caffe’ -Coffee
Noccioli- Hazelnut
Aranciotti al Cioccolatta- Chocolate with Orange
Cioccolatta Ricci -Chocolate with Chocolate Chips
Crema All’ arancio- Orange Cream
Riso -Rice pudding
Limoncilla all crema -Lemon Cream
Ananas -Pineapple
Pera al Caramello -Pear with Caramel
Banane- Banana
Mandarino -Mandarin Orange
Limone -Lemon
Fragole -Strawberry
Arancio -Orange
Crema Caramel -Cream Caramel
Straccatelli alla menta -Mint Chocolate Chip

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Church Bells

I wish you could hear the sound of the church bells in the evening, just when the sun is starting to set and washes the old antique walls of the buildings with shades of color that you’ve never seen before, or at least if you have seen them, you don’t recall them being so beautiful.

It can take your breath away. You know I am not religious, but I could be after this.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Piazzale Michelangelo

Aerial view of Florence (the church to the righ is Santa Croce, where I live)
View of the Ponte Vecchio
Another view of the Duomo
The terrace, Arno and Ponte Vecchio
San Miniato
On the South side of the Arno, above the city is Piazzale Michelangelo. Last Sunday was a beautiful day, and I traveled by bus to the top.

Piazzale Michelangelo was designed in 1869, and has copies of Michelangelo’s famous status, including a copy of David. The views here are breathtaking. You can see that Florence is a relatively small city with the Tuscan countryside not too far in the distance.

I spent a couple of hours taking in the scenery. I must have 50 pictures of the Duomo by now, but none of them seem to actually capture the beauty and presence of it. Just outside the city limits, the beautiful Tuscan countryside is laid out like a dream. Vineyards, villas, and olive groves! A picture might be worth a thousand words, but that’s not enough to describe this place. It’s a real experience!

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Kiss

Why is it that some days, the whole world finds you attractive? Well, maybe not the whole world, but you get enough attention to notice that something weird is going on. The same hairstyle, makeup, clothes that you’ve worn before, but for some reason, this day, everyone notices, comments, smiles, and appreciates who you are. What is that? Pheromones?

I had one of those days today. It was another fantastic weather day, and I was still basking in the glow of having completed the dreaded Permesso di Soggiorno, so maybe that was it. I had nothing in particular to do, so left the house late in the day for a stroll, and to get some lunch. Maybe it was my imagination, but men were more attentive than usual. A glint in their eye, a Ciao bella under their breathe.

I stopped at a leather vendor to look at bags, and struck up a lengthy and flirtatious conversation with Marco who owns Leonardo da Vince Leathers. Everyone is named Marco and everyone is in leather. Anyway, the waiter at Boccadama (the mouth of the woman) an enoteca (wine café) were I had lunch was especially enamored, and brought me a complimentary limoncello (2 days in a row now). All this was very nice and complimentary and added to the beautiful relaxed springness of the day.

I decided it was time to make my way home, so cut through a short cut that I usually take from Piazza della Signora. I passed a man on the sidewalk and we glanced at each other and said Ciao!. He took my hand as we passed, and turned me around, and did the customary kiss on each cheek that Italians do. He said something in Italian, and I replied, "No parla Italiano.", so he reverted to English and said, "I want to kiss you". I laughed and said no, and he asked why not. I told him that I did not know him, and he said, "My name is Marco, I live in Florence, and I work at a restaurant down by the Ponte Vecchio. Now can I kiss you?" I said no, but he did anyway. Dammit.

I didn’t have time to take a photo, as I said I would to post on the PDA site, but maybe next time. You can tell from the photos of the beautiful Tuscan countryside that Spring is here. Ciao Bella!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Random photos

San Lorenzo market
San Lorenzo Medici Chapella
San Lorenzo-Church of the Medici
More market
More PDA for the coffee table book!

I'm putting in some random photos, because honestly, all that about the damned Permesso di Soggiorno was stressful as hell. Enjoy!

Permesso di Soggiorno (Part due)

Today was a good day! Things do work out with perseverance. I started out the day determined to put an end to this thing hanging over my head. First stop, Tabbachi shop to buy Marca da Bollo. This is an official stamp those goes onto the front of the form. I have no idea what it is, or why you need it, but it cost 14.72 euro. I managed to get it with no problems. This was a good start.

I took my application, copies of my passport and visa, copies of my financial support data, copy of my enrollment, and 4 passport photos to the post office. I went to a different post office, because a person who I met at the Internet Train, Melissa told me that they were very helpful there and had helped her immensely. I obtained my ticket at the machine and begin my wait. I had not even found a seat when my number was called! I hurried to the counter, and begin to pull out my paperwork, saying what I hoped was the last time, "Permesso Di Soggiorno?" The lady behind the counter begin to speak to me in Italian, asking for my passport which I handed over.

I affixed my Marco da Bollo to the form, signed it and handed it over. She went through it page by page, and put another stamp on it. She looked through my documents, and gave me a return postage form and asked for my address. Still speaking in Italian, but somehow, I was following her. I completed the form. She asked me to pay 60.00 Euro, gave me a receipt, a copy of the receipt for the form, and explained that I would receive the Permesso Di Soggiorno by return postage. Grazie!

I left there so happy, that I decided to take myself to lunch! In the Piazza della Republica, there are several sidewalk cafes, a huge Piazza with a Carousel, and quite the place to people watch. The weather here has been unbelievable, and it didn’t disappoint today. I found a café, ordered a tuna salad, wine, and water. Tuna is a food staple here. It is the canned variety, but it is canned in olive oil, and is simply delicious. The salad consisted of mixed greens, tomatoes (which I have already told you are phenomenal) onions, and the tuna. The only "dressing" that is ever available in Italy is olive oil and vinegar. They have the worlds best Balsamic Vinegar (which is actually made in Modena, Italy), or you can have red wine vinegar of course. "Italian Dressing" as we know it is an American invention.

As I have told you, even the smallest things in Italy are different enough that it takes concentration and effort to master them. Today, I had an experience with the containers that the oil and vinegar were in. I don’t know how to describe what they looked like. Nothing complicated. Glass cylinder bottles with plastic tops, which I could not figure out how to open. I twisted the top, and it unscrewed only to reveal the bottle opening. I could see there was a pour spout in the top of the container, but could not figure out how to open it. I put the container down, and begin to look around to see if I could observe someone else using it. There were a group of 8 young boys-college age-at a table near by. I saw them giggling and knew they were laughing at me. After a few minutes, I did not see anyone using the containers, so decided to try again. I picked them up, turned them over, upside down, nothing. One of the boys at the other table got my attention. They did not speak English, but were not Italian. My guess is German, but I don’t know. They made a motion of pulling the top up, which I tried, but it was so oily, I could not get a grip. One of the boys got up from his table and came over to open the container for me. Must be a boy scout! Even he had a little trouble getting it off, which made me feel a little less stupid. How sweet!

Italian bread is unsalted, and honestly, I really don’t care for it. Eating it by itself, it is bland and boring. Italians do not use balsamic vinegar and olive oil to dip their bread in, that is another American invention. The bread is useful and delicious if you have a pasta sauce to mop up from your plate. Lunch can take several hours. No waiter would ever bring you the check unless you ask for it. This makes for a relaxing afternoon!

Italians seem to have a tradition, or at least where I am concerned of bringing Limoncello as an after dinner drinks, compliments of the house. It doesn’t happen every time, but it did today, which added to the celebratory nature of the day. Amy and I first experienced this generosity in Rome. And found that it occurred several times on our trip there. I was happy to see that the custom is alive and well in Florence! Raise a glass to the conclusion of the "Permesso Di Soggiorno"!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Permesso di Soggiorno

In order to stay in Florence for more than 8 days, you must be granted a Permesso Di Soggiorno, or a permit to stay. I could not find much information about how to obtain this, but the information that I did have indicated that the documents you would need are similar to applying for a Visa, and that you had to go to the Police Station (Questura) to obtain it.

I traveled across town on the bus, and was so proud of myself, to the Questura. The office opened at 8:30 and I got there at 8:45, so was certain there wouldn’t be much of a wait. That was my first mistake! The Questura is in an old hospital. Remember, when I say old, I mean old. It is 300 years old, and a beautiful building (on the outside). When you get inside, it looks just like every other government building, white walls, tile floors, non descript. There was an officer at the door when I arrived who inquired in Italian what the nature of my business was. I said simply, "Permesso di Soggiorno" and he pointed me in the direction of another room. As I entered the room, there were hoards of people! All nationalities, with lots of forms and papers in their hands, waiting with numbers, talking to people in plexiglass booths etc. There were 2 separate rooms and there were lots of signs (all I Italian) about where you should go, and what you should do. I wandered around for a minute, looking at all the lines, and trying to observe what was going on, and where I should get in line.

I saw one line that said America above it, and there was no one in line, so decided to start with that. I went to the counter and told the lady "Permesso Di Soggiorno". She said "numero?" She was inquiring if I had a number. I told her I did not, and she said that I needed one. She was speaking all in Italian. I finally got from her that I was supposed to get a number from the police officer out front. I went back out front and told the officer that I needed a number. He indicated I did not need a number for information, and I was to get in the first line. The first line is the one that I had hoped to avoid, as it was the longest and most chaotic. I went back to the line to wait. It was quite nerve racking in this line. There were two people behind a plexiglass window. As people approached, they had to lean down to speak into a little hole in the glass to the people behind. Because the hole was too far below, a lot of yelling was going on, and I am not certain if it was because people could not hear, or if they were having some problem. It seemed like a lot of people were having problems. I was trying to listen to get clues on what I needed to do, but every language besides English was being spoken.

Finally I made my way to the front of the line. Neither of the people spoke English, and when I said Permesso Di Soggiorno, they motioned me to the side of the booth. An Arab man in the line behind me said, they want you to move to the side, and I did. The officers handed me a form with post offices listed on it, and explained in detail what I was supposed to do.....none of which I understood. The Arab man told me to go into the next room and there was an information desk where there were some English speaking people who could help me.

I went into the next room, which looked like a passport office, and immediately spotted the machine to get a number. I waited for my number to be called and went to the desk and said again....Permesso Di Soggiorno?" To which they replied....."Go to the other room". Now, my patience was being tested, and you all know that I don’t have any, so that’s a problem. The Arab man appeared again, Bless His Heart!, and pointed me to the office next door, which had a sign that said Public Relations (in Italian of course). I went into the office and inquired if the woman spoke English. She said only a little, which everyone says, but they really are quite good at it. Anyway, I said again, guess what, Permesso Di Soggiorno? She said that was in the other office. I told her in English they had given me a list of the post offices, but I did not know what to do. She said, in English! That I was to go to the post office to get the necessary forms to be mailed in! She located one near the Questura, and I set out to the post office.

At the post office, I faced the dreaded ticket machine again, but guess what? Clearly labeled on it was Sportiva Amico, which was exactly what I was looking for! I took the ticket and waited for my turn again. At this point I am 3 hours into the process. When I was called I went to the clerk and said....like a parrot at this point, go ahead, repeat after me, "Permesso Di Soggiorno?", and she asked me for my "document", which means Passport, and then gave me a packet of paperwork. She said to fill it out and bring it back to her. I was encouraged! Yeah, I had made some headway. All I need to do is fill this out, and get it back to her. I found a seat and prepared to complete the paperwork. I pulled out 2 forms, one 12 pages, and the other 8 pages, all in Italian with 2 instruction booklets to complete. Picture our IRS forms! At this point I had enough for one day, so stuffed the paperwork into my bag and set out towards home.

Walking really can bring some clarity around things. I walked straight to my school, went in, and asked them for some assistance in completing the forms. They were great! Two ladies, took two hours completing the forms with me. Believe me, even for them, and they are Italian speaking, they were not easy. I still have to obtain a stamp, and take the forms and some photo copies of my documents back to the post office, but at least am feeling like I am making some progress.

This whole thing got me to thinking about immigration problems in general. The USA is not the only country that has them. These European countries who have many bordering countries have a lot of problems. Italy especially has problems with some of the Western European countries whose economies have not recovered from communism yet, and with Africa. At this point, I guess I am somewhat "illegal", in that I haven’t fully complied with all of the criteria, even though I am trying. I know nothing about what the USA requirements are for immigrants, but I seriously doubt that it is much different in terms of complexity for non English speaking people entering the USA. It is much more complicated than I think we realize with the information the media gives us, and our ignorance around what it take to go to another country where you don’t speak the language. Some things to think about!

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Every morning when I get up, I go into the kitchen and throw open the window and look down on the street below. There is always a lot of activity with tour groups going to Piazza Santa Croce, folks walking to work, street sweepers, construction workers, postal carriers, etc. As you have seen from the photos, the street is very narrow.

Due to some construction on the next street over, a temporary detour for some small buses has been routed down my street. These buses are very small and are labeled only with A, B, C, or D. I see these buses pass, and have wondered where they go, so I decided to find out.

I perused my guide books and found limited information. First of all, it costs 1.20 euro for a 70 minute ride. The tickets must be stamped in a machine when you get on, and you buy the tickets at the Tabbachi shops. Tabbachi shops are the 7-11 of Italy. They have stamps, bus tickets, sodas, postcards, etc. You can buy a ticket on board for 2 euro, but the drivers do not give change.

Good information, but nothing about routes, times etc. I decided a trip to the bus station was in order to gather more information.

The bus station and the train station are across the street from each other. When Nick comes to visit, we are planning a train trip to Milan, so I thought I would check out the train station while I was there also.

Train tickets are purchased through an automated machine, that comes in 6 languages, and looks pretty straight forward. The station is nice, and it seems that this will be relatively straightforward. More on that after the actual trip! The train station does have, of all things, a McDonalds!

Anyway, the bus station is confusing. There are tons of buses, that travel outside of Florence, inside Florence, around Italy, etc. It was difficult to locate the information office, but I finally did by asking newstand vendors in the area. I went into the information center and asked for a route map. They gave me a very nice map, and it is in Italian and in English! Yeah! Unfortunately, all of the buses in Florence have routes on this map so it is a little difficult to tell one from the other. Additionally, all of the stops are not listed. I decided, armed with my map to try one of the routes out.

I had to go to the Questura (police station) to apply for my Permesso Di Soggiorno (permission to stay) document. You must have this in addition to the Visa! It is supposed to be applied for within 8 days of entering the country, so I am late. Anyway, the station is on the other side of town. It is within walking distance, but I thought a good chance to see what the buses would be like. I got up early so that I could be on the bus my 8:30. I stopped and had a café on the way to buy my bus ticket, but when I got to the Tabbachi store, it was closed. I went to the Edicola (newstand) and they sold me the ticket.

I waited at the bus stop for the C bus to come along. When it came, there were only 2 other people on the bus. I got on, and immediately located the machine to stamp my ticket. I was on my way! I tried to follow the route on the map that I have, and did pretty well I discovered that I was going in the wrong direction, so had to stay on the bus a little longer as it makes it circular route. Going to a stop around the corner from my apartment would have put me in a more direct route. More people got on and off the bus along the way. Clearly these people ride the bus everyday, because they all knew each other and talked and said hello. One mother was taking her daughter to preschool, 2 old ladies were going to church, an old man to the library. I was clearly the "outsider" although several people did say Buon Giorno. Anyway, I made it to the stop that I was looking for, and it was all relative harmless! There are 3 more routes for me to explore. I think these will be handy when my Mom comes to visit, and maybe when it is raining and I have to get out. Really, there is no reason not to walk everywhere in Florence! A photo of the bus, and one of the McDonalds in the train station are above.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Amore in Firenze

Public displays of affection are prevalent in Florence. In my experience, Italians are much more demonstrative about their affection than some other folks. A generality of course. Maybe it’s just that Spring is around the corner and love is in the air!

The weather has been beautiful, and with all the inspiration and beauty in the city, it certainly does evoke a romantic feeling. I started noticing a lot of PDA around me, and at first thought, maybe I was being overly sensitive (or attentive!) to these actions. After a few days though, I decided that this was not something that I usually saw in my everyday life.

Recently I saw on the news (in the US) a story about a woman who was taking photos of people sleeping on subways. There was a big uproar about whether she was "invading their privacy" or not. The general feeling was that since they were doing this in a public place, that it was not an invasion of their privacy. The photographer went on to say that she made every effort not to disturb them and to maintain their dignity. I guess she wouldn’t photograph someone snoring or drooling, I don’t know.

Anyway, based on that news story, I decided that it would be okay for me to photograph these public displays of affection. I realize it is risky. I try to be "covert" in my picture taking. Which even heightens the fun! Who knew I was such a voyeur? Anyway, I think some of the photos are beautiful, and I’m going to keep it up. I think it will make a fabulous "Coffee Table Book". Don’t you?

As soon as I get myself into one of these positions, I’ll have someone take a photo and put it in here. Don’t hold your breath!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Art in Florence

Religious Fresco
Art in my apartment-acrylic
Art in my apartment-charcoal
Art in my apartment-watercolor

Sidewalk artist

I guess that everyone in the world knows that Florence houses some of the worlds most fabulous art collections. Florence is credited with the Birth of the Italian Renaissance and it is evident everywhere. I am not talking about just the things that are obvious: The Uffizi Gallery, The Bargello, The Pitti Palace, Palazzo Strozzi, , and I could go on for days with other museums and galleries. I am talking about the stuff that you see walking around town that can just blow your mind.

Renaissance art and medieval art consists of religious works that really, content wise, are not my cup of tea. What is amazing however, is that they have been around for 500 + years!

Being in Florence is inspirational and intimidating for the creative soul. The architecture, frescoes, statutes etc are an inspiration, the fact that the works were done by Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael (I am not talking about the Ninja Turtles), Botecelli and Cellini, is intimidating. How does one city manifest so many creative geniuses? That doesn’t even begin to take into account the literati and musicians from the area, which is a whole other topic! (Or 2 or 3)

Anyway, while walking through the city, I decided to take some photos of some of the art that I observed on street corners, streets, etc. I realize some of the photos didn’t come out so well because of the glare on the glass. The point is not the content of the art, but that it is there. I wonder how many people walk by and never notice that these things exist?

Most of you know that I am an art collector myself, and that currently all of my art is being stored. Less you worry that I am being deprived of anything in my current apartment, "on contrar!" I have included some photos of art work in my Italian apartment, which you will notice is very consistent with the theme of my personal collection.....women! Isn’t that a coincidence?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Doing Laundry! UGGHHH!

I am sure it’s no secret that doing laundry is not my favorite thing. No, I know it’s not anybodies favorite thing, but when I am talking about me, well......I take everything except underwear and towels to the dry cleaners. At least I used to. I am not sure dry cleaners exist here. I know they must, but on my current budget, they aren’t a possibility.

I am fortunate to have a washer in my apartment. No dryer though. I think because of the space, and the electricity they use, they are considered too much of a luxury. Many don’t have washing machines, and there are laundry mats in the city. I haven’t used one of those since college, so thankfully, I don’t have to revert that far back! This laundry experience is really something else though. First of all, the washer is smaller than a dishwasher! I haven’t put the "load capacity" to the test yet, and try to do small loads relatively often. (You’ll know why soon).

The washer loads from the top and has a "basket" inside to put the clothes into. Once the clothes are in, the basket closes into a round cylinder. The first time I used it, I forgot to close the cylinder and you would not believe the awful noise that it made! Not to mention that the washer was lurching across the floor! Clearly for such a small machine only a small amount of water is needed (more conservation efforts), and a small amount of detergent.

Once the laundry is done, then comes the fun part! (That is sarcasm!) I get to hang the clothes from some clothes lines from the back windows of my apartment in an alley! Since I am on the fourth floor, I have to lean from the window to do this. The first time I did it, I of course dropped something, which I still cannot figure out how to retrieve. It must not be possible since the alley has a variety of clothing items on the ground! Thankfully, it was a sock and not something critical or embarrassing. I guess this is what happens to socks in Italy since there are no dryers to eat them!

There are 3 clothes lines about 3 feet long under one window. The other window has a fancy line with a pulley on it! Hey remember those wooden clothes pins? They still exist!. There are also fancy plastic ones in different colors. All these came with the apartment!

Photos are included, lest you doubt my ability as a "wash woman".

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Post Office

Italy has the reputation of having the worst post office in the world. That must be an exaggeration! I was impressed by the efficiency that I saw! Any issues were solely on the part of the user, who had a terrible time translating the options available.

I bought some postcards to send through snail mail. It’s fun to get unexpected mail, don’t you think? (Hint, hint) I wrote them out and addressed them, and then discovered that I had no idea how much postage to put on them, and had no Italian stamps, so located a post office, a couple of blocks from my apartment, and went in.

It is pretty large, and reminds me of the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) at home. When you enter there is a long counter were the postal clerks are. Above them is a station number and an electronic sign indicating which "ticket number" they are serving. In front of the counters are a lot of chairs for being seated while waiting (that was a scary thought). I looked for the place to obtain the tickets.

There is a machine as you enter the building with four options for services. This is were things started to break down. I pulled out my phrase book, and did not find any of the words that were listed there! That is one problem with phrase books....the English word is not necessarily what it is called elsewhere, and the word listed in Italian does not necessarily translate literally. In order to be served the most quickly, I took a ticket from each service! I sat down to wait for my number to be called. The numbers moved pretty quickly (especially since I had 4 to keep up with). Finally one of my four numbers came up and I proceeded to the counter. I handed over my ticket and my postcards. The clerk said that my ticket was the wrong one for stamps, I needed to press "Green". I thanked her and went back to the ticket distributor.

The tickets that I had previously pulled had no clues as to which one came from which service, so I had to request another one. I pressed the "green" one, and on it was printed "Basic". Well that makes sense that getting steps would be a "basic" postal service.

I went back to wait for my number to be called. Finally it was my turn, but another man had went to the counter! I checked my ticket again, checked the number above the clerk, and Yep. He had cut in line! I approached the counter and waved my number at the clerk. She said to the man, "Do you have a ticket?" He explained to her that he had 229, the number before me, but he wasn’t paying attention when it was called, so he came up when the next one was called. (I understood him saying this in Italian, aren’t you proud?). She nodded at me, and said just a minute, so I waited until he was finished.

It was my turn so I handed her the postcards and asked for Dieci affrancaturra, per favore.. (10 stamps, please). She smiled and handed them over!

The postcards are on their way to a few of you. Let me know when they arrive, so that I can assess the bad reputation. If you wanted to send something my way, that would be fine too.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Things We Take

If you where going away for one year, and could fill one suitcase with personal items to take with you, what would you take? Some may say that this answer is the same as if your house caught on fire, but I think not. If your house caught on fire, you would be in a time crunch, so the things that you might grab on the way out the door, could be different than what you take with you on a journey, after careful consideration.

For me, I had to evaluate every single item I owned as to whether to keep it, sell, it, throw it away, or give it away. Some things were easy, a relief, and should have been done long ago. Others, I labored over, not really knowing what the right decision would be.

For me, the things I wanted to bring are all items that bring me comfort. That might not sound that odd, but if you think about what those things are for you, in your home, you might be surprised. The first thing I wanted to bring that fell into that category were my cats. That not being a possibility, I looked for other things. Here is what I ended up with:

  1. 2 framed photographs of my sons

  2. My computer

  3. My IPOD and Bose docking station

  4. My paintbrushes

  5. My journals

  6. My courage angel that was given to me by a friend on leaving

  7. A ceramic bird that my niece made

  8. A dozen printed photos of friends and family

  9. A calendar of Italy that the AR guys gave me

  10. A red blanket

  11. 2 feather pillows with my favorite pillow cases

  12. My sketchbook and colored pencils

  13. A dozen books-fiction, on writing, on creativity, and tour books on Italy

Now that I am here and have time to assess what I brought, they seem like all the right things! As I look at the list, there is nothing I would have left behind, and nothing that I missed along the way. I am sure that the things that I chose say more about me than can be written here, and besides, I haven’t figured that part out yet. What would you take?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Meeting Mirko Michele

Door to my apartment on left, Mirko's shop on right
The "Karen" jacket
Yesterday, as I was unlocking the door into my building, a man standing next to the leather shop next door said "Buon Giorno!" I looked over at him and said Buon Giorno and he started speaking in Italian. I smiled and said, "No parla Italiano. Parli Inglese?" He immediately converted to English saying "So you are a new neighbor?"

I told him that I was and that I was planning to be here for a year. He owns the shop below my apartment and his apartment is directly over it. All of the leather in his shop is handmade there at the shop. They have jackets, purses, belts, etc. Florence is famous for their leather products, and the Santa Croce area where I live has leather artisan shops everywhere!

His name is Mirko Michele, and when I told him my name, he looked puzzled and asked for the spelling. He showed me a jacket in the window which is named Karen. Imagine that!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

La Passiagetta (The Evening Stroll)

On the Ponte Vecchio
View of Ponte Trinita from the Ponte Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della' Republica

Piazza della' Signora

In Florence, the tradition is to go for an evening stroll between 6 p.m. and 9, before dinner. The stores are reopening after being closed for the midday meal, and the streets go from deserted to packed in a matter of minutes. Everyone dresses up for these evenings out and it is quiet fun and civilized and a very social event.
Even at this time of year, the piazzas are crowded in the evenings, but nothing like they will be in the summer months and the fall.

Florence in the evening is even more breathtaking that ever. I’ve attached a few photos of the piazzas near my house that I frequent. The one labeled Piazza della Signoria has the building with the tall tower which is the Palazzo Vecchio. It has been the town hall since medieval times. You can see the back of the tower in the views of the street that I live on. It’s only a few blocks away. Last night it was a little damp and foggy which shows up a lot in the photo of the Arno River that runs through the center of Florence. The carousel and the cafe's are always a hit. The photo that seems to be on the street is actually on the famous Ponte Vecchio. I try to stay away from here because it is completely lined with jewelry stores. Jewelry like you have never seen is here! If you look to the end of the street in the photo, you can see the top of the ever present Duomo.

The evening stroll is a great way to meet people, get some exercise, have a gelato, and know you will walk it off, etc. As some of you may recall from my visit to Florence before, it was absolutely one of my favorite things! It still is, and I’ll let you know if I meet anyone interesting!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Outside my Window

Every morning when I get up, I go into my kitchen and open the window. The window has shutters that cover from the inside, which keeps out the light and the noise, and then of course, glass. It is a large window and after I open it, I stand there for long periods of time just watching what is going on on the street. There are all kinds of city noises: street sweepers, horse drawn carriages, scooters, baby carriages and children, japanese tour groups, etc.

This morning, there was a huge traffic jam! La Polizzia were ticketing and having scooters towed that were parked illegally at the end of the street. It is difficult to describe the traffic flow in this area, but suffice it to say, that there really is not enough to be jammed. The road is so narrow that to get the tow truck in was a feat in itself that took about half and hour. Owners of the motorcycles ran out of the apartments shouting Italian curse words! The photo is of one the the motorcycles being taken away. I had never seen a tow truck specifically for motorcycles. Have you?

Broken Plumbing

Two days ago, my bathtub broke. You know the piece that goes into the hole to stop the water from draining out? Well, it won’t come up. There is a round thing at the top of the tub that you rotate to put it down, and then rotate to put it back up again. It won’t rotate up. I got a knife and tried to pry it out, but couldn’t. How the hell do you think it got stuck so tight?
Anyway, I had no choice but to call my landlord. She came over that evening to look at it, and she tried the knife also, but to no avail. We made an appointment for today for the apartment owner to come over and look at it. By this time, most of the water had barely seeped out, but she dished the rest out, and tried the knife again. Whatever space there is for water to seep down the drain, it is not big enough for that damn knife to get into. I think we know that by now. She tried gluing something to the top of the stopper to pull it out, but that didn’t work either. This is Sunday morning, so now we have to call a plumber. Plumbers don’t work in Italy on Sunday. They don’t charge extra for working on Sunday....they do not work on Sunday. The first availability is Wednesday. My landlord says that plumbers are like surgeons in Italy. They set their own schedules and charge what they want to. That part sounds like the USA!
At this point, even though I have never previously used one, I am thankful for the bidet. Unfortunately, there are no instructions for it, and I am not about to ask! I plan to research this on the internet! I will let you know how it comes out. (Both the drain plug, and the research on the bidet usage)

Monday, March 5, 2007

Grocery Shopping in Italy

One of the first things I did the day after I arrived, was locate el supermercato (grocery store) to stock up on some staples. In the neighborhood, only 3 blocks away is Standa, a grocery chain in Italy. I walked down the street and into the market.

The store is simply laid out, but feels like a fine gourmet store, primarily due to the types of choices which are all foreign (imagine that), size (very small), and mostly all fresh foods.
The first thing I did, which is not unusual, is get a cart. Well, I tried to get a cart, but it was chained to the other carts, and costs 1 euro to obtain. As it turns out, it was a blessing that I did not have any single euros, and opted for the carry basket which was free. The blessing about it was that I had already forgotten that I had to carry whatever I bought back home and up the 50 steps, so having the carry basket was a good gauge of when to stop. Escaped a bullet there!
The store is arranged as many American stores are with a prepared food counter, a deli, fresh seafood, bakery, meat and poultry sections. These are small, but well stocked with what seemed like exotic foods to me, but are ordinary for Italy. In the prepared food section there are pate’s, veal cutlets, grilled vegetables, panini, etc. I had to bypass this section because as you would expect, it is expensive, and I am on a budget.

When I got to the deli section, I could hardly contain myself: all types of cheeses, pecorino, romano, gorgonzola, parmigiana, and at reasonable prices! Huge buckets of all types of olives! These are all my favorite things and definitely considered a staple in my home whether USA or Italy. It was difficult to determine the amount that I wanted due to my inability to convert in the metric system, but the lady behind the counter held up the different size containers for me to chose. The cheese, I indicated with my fingers the width that would be sufficient. If I were a meat eater, which I am not, the "cold cuts" looked fabulous enough to make be wish I were one, and consisted of salami, mortadena, prosciuto, bortadello, etc.

On to the produce. They have the smallest produce section I have ever seen in a grocery store! I do not know how to describe the quantities that were out. If you have ever been to a farmers market and seen the wooden crates that they use to bulk produce, that is what was used. There was usually just one of these per the type of produce. All of the produce was obviously fresh, and you are responsible for weighing and tagging your items in the department, before you get to the checkout. I bought onions, garlic, and tomatoes, bananas, and berries. On a side note-the tomatoes here, given that it is early March are fabulous. I can’t figure it out! They are from Italy, so must be the South, and they don’t have to be shipped very far. Tomatoes are one of my favorite things and I swear these rival the ones from my Dad’s backyard garden.

One of the most challenging sections was dairy. Thankfully, I had written my grocery list, and then for my own benefit and learning, translated most of the items into Italian. Even though I knew that Latte meant milk, I did not know which was whole milk or skimmed. I settle for parzialmente scremato, which turned out to be partially skimmed, but I don’t know how partial. Cream was another challenge, along with yogurt. Sliced cheese for sandwiches is non existent in a packaged form like Kraft Singles-that, I thought was a good thing, being the cheese snob that I am. No Velveeta, or processed cheese food for these folks!

Canned goods were minimal, although frozen vegetables were more abundant. The bakery held all of the wonderful breads, bread sticks and pastries that you can imagine.

Of course they sell wine in Italian grocery stores, and many other stores as well! Wine can be less expensive than water and sodas, and given all of these beverages are heavy to carry, I opted for the wine.

One thing that is currently a mystery is whether or not Italians use tissues. You know, Kleenex? Now I understand there might be another brand, but try as I might (and at this point, I have looked in several other types of stores where paper goods like toilet paper and napkins are sold) I cannot find tissues!

At the check out line (there were only 3, and they had about 10-20 people each in them) there were no "express lines" (not in Italy!) and 99% of the folks would qualify for the 12 item or less line anyway, due to the same issue around carrying their groceries home. When it was my turn, the cashier asked me if I had a Standa Carte. Of all the ridiculous American marketing things to copy, I now have a Standa Carte to get discounts when I purchase groceries at Standa! Bags at Standa cost money. Most everyone carries grocery bags with them at all times. This is not only cost saving, but another conservation effort. The cashiers sit down, (yes, literally, behind the counter on a stool) while the customer bags their own groceries. Very self service!

When I was there, it was so crowded that they ran out of the handheld baskets and people were standing in line at the counter waiting for people to empty their baskets so they could have it!
Going to the grocery will undoubtedly be a big part of my life. This is true for several reasons: 1. My refrigerator is the size you would have in a dorm room, 2. I have to carry my groceries home, 3 I am buying 95% fresh foods that will spoil if uneaten in a small amount of time, and 4. A bottle of wine only lasts 2 days at the most!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

I've Arrived! (In More Ways Than One!)

Santa Croce
Ponte Vecchio

It's Saturday, March 3, 2:40 p.m. Florence time. I have been here since 1:30 p.m. Thursday, March 1, so for about 48 hours. I know that some of you are anxiously waiting on my update! I have been very busy getting settled and acclimated, but honestly, I am mostly so excited and overwhelmed to be here, I hardly can think straight....maybe it’s just the jet lag. In 48 hours I have experienced so much, it is unbelievable. I will try to capture the highlights here and save some of the details for later.

The journey was relatively pleasant, although I had a lot of excitement and anxiety about the still "unknowns" (my apartment, getting my luggage settled, etc.) The plane was not crowded at all, which made the trip comfortable. I had 2 seats to myself! I flew from Nashville to Charlotte, had a 45 minute layover, just time to get to the next gate, and then Charlotte to London. All was pleasant and uneventful here, although I only slept about 2 hours due to my excitement.

I arrived in London Gatwick, and it was chaos. I suspect additional security measures in the London airports contributed to this. I had an hour and a half, so arrived unconcerned about the time of the layover, but ended up cutting it really close. I had 2 carry on bags, that unbenownst to me are not allowed on the airline that I was using from London to Florence. So, I got in the massive security line only to be stopped once I got to the end and told to go and check my bag. I was able to do so, but only had 15 minutes until flight departure time, and had to go through the security line again. Thank goodness for "Fast Track", a line that allows passengers who are within 30 minutes of their flight time to go into a shorter line. I made the flight...last one on the plane. My anxiety level was out of control at this point. First of all only 2 hours of sleep, and for my body it was 2 a.m., although the clock in London was at 8. Secondly, still the outstanding unknown portion of my apartment, meeting the landlord, the luggage, etc. but the 3rd thing that had just been added, was checking a piece of my previously carried on luggage! Now think about why you carry on luggage on an international flight.....important stuff that you need and don’t want to get lost, that’s why! I had in that bag....medications (a years supply that I worked like a dog to secure), my Bose docking station, information on my school enrollment, financial documents, etc.....you get the picture. After I got on the plane, I also discovered that my Palm Pilot and my cell phone where in there! So, for the next 2 hours, I just about hyperventilated thinking that for sure because of the lateness of checking the bag, that it would be left and I would be stranded.

I arrived in Florence about 15 minutes late, and got a cart to gather my luggage. I was pretty happy with my packing. I ended up with 4 checked pieces (5 after the carry on). The only thing I was focused on was that red carry on bag, which I saw almost immediately! Yeah! I piled my cart with my luggage and one smart ass looked at my pile and asked if I was moving.....to which I replied, "As a matter of fact, I am! He didn’t know how to respond to that. (American of course)

Anyway, one piece of luggage was missing, the one containing summer clothes. I went to the lost baggage counter, filed a claim, and proceeded on. All of the travel I do, and I have only had my bags missing 3 times in my life, this being one of them. The other two times they were found, so I had high hopes that this one would be also, and if one was delayed/lost, this was the best possible scenario. Today I learned that the bag has been located, and someone will call me for delivery.

I called Tatiana, the woman who leased me my apartment over the internet. She had been helpful and nice through our email correspondence and had told me to call her from the airport so that we could meet at the apartment. We connected and agreed to meet at 2:30 at the apartment. (See the photos I saw to make my decision around the apartment at (http://www.rentit.it/DeTortafoto.htm).

The taxi ride took about 20 minutes and cost 25 euro. As we pulled down the street (which looks more like an alleyway), I saw no one there to meet me. The taxi driver who I had hoped to pay to help me take the bags up the stairs, unloaded them in front of a locked iron door with 7 doorbells which was the entrance to my apartment. I waited for only about 5 minutes when Tatiana called my name...Buon Giorno!

She speaks English pretty well. She unlocked the door and we dragged the 5 bags into the entrance way, allowing the door to close and lock behind us so that they are not sitting out on the street. We started up, carrying some of the lighter bags. One of my check bags weighed 72 lbs! The one that is lost weighs 58 lbs. There are 50 stairs to my apartment and no elevator (or lift, as they call it). The building was built in the early 1500's, and is concrete and plaster. The hand rails on the stairs are a piece of iron which is molded into the cement/plaster. The width of the stairs is about 3 feet. You get the picture, narrow and steep.

As we entered the apartment, I immediately recognized furniture from the photos. There is a desk, a wardrobe, which serves as my only closet, but it is massive. The kitchen is well equipped, and larger than I thought. Actually, the entire apartment is larger than I thought.

The entrance area and kitchen are to the right when you come in the door, and the living area and bathroom to the left. The loft with my bed is directly over the living area. The ceilings in the apartment are about 16-18 feet high, and the loft was built in later it seems. The floor is ceramic tile, painted a light taupe color with blue accents. There are 2 windows, but because of the height of the buildings around, I don’t get much sunlight. The window in the kitchen looks into the street - 4 stories down. The photo with the motorcycles and buildings attached is looking to the right out of my window. The second photo of the "street" leads to the beautiful Piazza Santa Croce, and the church in the photo.

The location is ideal, and I have located a supermarket, restaurants, internet café, and walked to my school to gauge the distance. Perfect! Because it is in the city, there are unusual noises at all times of the day and night.....tour groups walking by, scooters, ambulances, questra (police) drunks, etc. Because of the locked iron door, and another dead bolt like I have never seen before on any door, and the fact that Florence has hardly any crime, I feel very safe.

Tatiana and I hauled the luggage up to the apartment, and before we were finished, Sylvia, the owner of the apartment showed up and helped us also. Sylvia lives in Vienna, but is in town a few days, so came by to help show me the apartment and to meet me. Both Tatiana and Sylvia were unbelievably friendly and helpful. They spent about an hour and a half going over things in the apartment like : cleaning supplies (because these are all Italian labels, they wrote on them in English for me so I would know what to use for what), how to use the tiny washing machine (there is no dryer, but 2 clothes lines that hang out my back window), Information on the microwave, refrigerator, other supplies in the apartment, how to use the telephone, how to use the call button on the door below, use of the heat, water, and gas (all of which have gauges on them, and other cost saving switches). They gave me many conservation tips around the use of electricity, gas, and water. This is very important to Italians!

After they left, I poked around on my own and started to unpack. I unpacked my toiletries, my personal goods, and then decided I had to get out and about and have something to eat.

At 5:00 p.m. I sat in the Piazza della Signoria, and the church bells in the city started to ring. I was eating roasted chicken, salad, and french fries (arrosto pollo, insalata mista, y patate frita), drinking wine, and weeping like a baby! It was at the point that I was relaxed enough to realize that I was actually living in Italy, and I was so emotional, happy, relieved, and proud of myself, I could not stop the tears. The waiter inquired if everything was okay, and I assured him it was, but I don’t think he believed me! At least he knew it wasn’t because of the food and wine, which was one of the most delicious meals I have ever had, and I was ravenous!

That evening, I wandered a little more around the city trying to familiarize myself. Since I spent 2 weeks here about 16 months ago, and Florence is small, it is easy to gain my bearings. I went back to the apartment, and tried to sleep. Exhausted, but still so excited to be here, so many new noises and unfamiliar things, it was tough, but finally I did sleep.

Yesterday I was busy grocery shopping, finding internet access, buying a hair dryer that is European friendly, tracking down my lost luggage, finding my school, and continuing to explore the city. I could and will elaborate on many of these experiences in the future, which were all much more complex and full of learnings than you could ever imagine! I couldn’t leave this first entry without photos of two of the most famous things in Florence.....the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, which I had to visit to bring additional reality to the fact that I’ve arrived!

Friday, March 2, 2007

How is this going to affect me? (Better known as What's in it for me)

Those of us who have invested a large part of our lives in management of people, know and understand that a big part of people management, communication, motivation, and getting things done, is presenting things to people with a clear explanation, of what’s in it for them. Everyone wants to know how any change will affect them. It was no different when I started to tell people about my decision to take a leave of absence and move to Italy. I didn’t try to "manage" any of you around this, and I know many of you are still contemplating what’s in it for you and aren’t I selfish for doing this to you?

Here are some of the thoughts that I saw running through peoples heads as they appeared on their faces:

1. Who the hell is going to do her job?
2. Who is going to be my new boss?
3. Who will I get to drink/travel/party/gossip/vent with now?
4. Who is going to say what everybody else is thinking?
5. How will I get money?
6. How will I get in touch with you if I need something?
7. Who is going to pick the restaurants for the DRG meetings?
8. Where will we crash when we go downtown?
9. When will I get to see you?
10. What the hell are you thinking?

You know who you are and which one applies to you. No matter what your thoughts were, or how they have evolved you all responded outwardly with support and admiration. Thank you.

"That Which I Should Have Done, I Did Not Do. The Life Unlived"

This past summer, I visited Chicago, to go to the King Tut exhibit. I met the boys there, along with Paul and Kelly and their family. The day I arrived, I had to myself as the boys weren’t getting there until later, so I decided to visit the Chicago Art Institute. The trip was in June, and the idea of moving to Florence was only an embryo, if it existed at all....I can’t remember.

Anyway, the visit to the museum was unbelievable. Probably one of the best museums I have ever visited. They have a huge modern art section, and I was dumbstruck by a large painting of the front door of an old victorian house, dilapidated, covered with vines, and a funeral wreath (with dead flowers) hanging on the door. The door was cracked open slightly, and cob webs hung around the corners. A skeletal hand reached for the door knob. The title of the painting was "That Which I Should Have Done, I Did Not do. The Life Unlived."

Several years ago, as my marriage started to crumble, and I set about dealing with what to do about it.... I decided that whatever happened in the end, I did not want to have any regrets about my words, actions, or the decisions I made. "No regrets" became a mantra of mine, and because it worked so well in that situation, I adopted it as one of my "Principles of Living". I have since used that principle in many decisions, actions, etc. When I saw the painting and the title, it reemphasized my "No regrets" policy on an entirely different level, because it added "The Life Unlived". I guess when I had thought about "no regrets", I was trying NOT to do things that I might be ashamed or have second thoughts about. This was the first time that it had dawned on me that I might have regrets about things that I did not do!

As the idea of moving to Florence started to formulate and develop, and as I was making my decision around what to do, I thought of that painting often, and as I get nearer to my trip, it is constantly on my mind. I am so happy with my decision to take the leave, and move to Florence. I feel so proud of myself right now as I am finally embarking on my adventure. It’s true that the past 2 months of preparation have been an adventure, but as I said previously, I underestimated the amount of work. So now, with all of that behind me, my "to do list" down to 7 items (and that is causing me anxiety!) I feel a real sense of pride on what I have accomplished....thinking long and hard about the impact on my family of my decision, examining my finances for the feasibility of taking a leave, trying to determine what I could offer Progressive in exchange for consideration of the leave, broaching the subject of the leave, succession planning my job, selling my house, all the contents, moving a few things to storage, giving some to charity, some to friends, selling my car, applying for a Visa, and arranging hundreds of details around an apartment, banking, getting medications, school applications, etc. Whew!

I feel good about the time I allotted to get all of this done, and now, as I am off to Italy, feel such a sense of freedom, relief, excitement, and wonder at what the coming months will bring. I really cannot begin to describe the feeling. It is like nothing I have even experienced! This decision and adventure will surely not be a part of "That Which I Should Have Done, I Did Not Do." I am doing it!

The FInal Half of the Goodbye Tour

My weekend in San Francisco with Will was wonderful. I arrived on Saturday afternoon, and we went to the Top of the Mark for cocktails. Will had made reservations at a fabulous restaurant, so we went there for dinner.

Sunday we spent walking, visiting the Ferry building, shopping, drinking, and eating all over San Francisco. The weather was warm and beautiful. We spent time in North Beach, where I managed to fall on the sidewalk, massively bruising both of my knees and mortifying Will, and had dinner at an Asian Fusion restaurant called, Betelnut.

On Monday, Will had to work, so I slept in, walked down to the Embarcadero, and had lunch at the Slanted Door, which was excellent, but extremely over priced, and then met Will at the San Francisco Modern Art Museum. Frankly, it was a disappointment. I had expected it to be of the same caliber as NYC or Chicago, but it was not at all. Strange!

I had hopedto meet my new pen pal, Remmel (Randy’s AR Mulberry Ski Club buddy) in San Fran while I was there, but unfortunately he could not work it out to get there from Lake Tahoe.. Maybe next time, huh Remmel?

My last weekend was spent in Ft. Lauderdale. Beautiful weather, fantastic food, motorcycle rides, fun in the sun, and that’s all I am going to say. The perfect sendoff. The rest is for the "dish list". Ciao Bella!