Thursday, May 31, 2007

Eating A Lot Is A Good Thing!

One evening my friend Regine and I decided to go out to dinner. We had planned it earlier in the week, and since I don’t eat out often, I was really looking forward to it. We planned to meet at 9 at a local establishment I Ghibellini, one of my favorites.

For some reason, I got confused on the time and arrived at 8:30. Actually it worked out okay because it was a nice evening and the outside patio was almost full, so I went ahead and secured a table, ordered a bottle of wine and waited for Regine. She arrived promptly at nine and we chatted a little bit about our day before we ordered.

I had had a small lunch in anticipation of a nice dinner out, so I was very hungry. Italians eat in several courses as I have described before: Antipasta, Primi piatti, Secondo Piatti, e Dolce. Meals last for a couple of hours and they are usually able to eat all of this. Americans usually do not eat this much at one meal, but we probably eat more at each meal. Anyway, I had decided to do the full "italian dinner" without the dessert which always has eggs in it, which I am allergic to.

I started my order with Bruschetta, and then Penne arrabiata. When I got to this point, the waiter turned to Regine and I said "Che piu’" (There is more). He turned back to me, and said he was sorry and then I ordered the Tagliatella petti di pollo con vedura griglia (Grilled breast of chicken with grilled vegetables). He said "Tutto per tua?" (All for you?) And I laughed and said "Si, molti fame!" (I am very hungry) and he said "Complimenti!" (Help yourself!) Regine order an antipasta and a primi piatti, and we chatted as we continued our dinner.

I ate every bite of every course and it was delicious. One of the things I have missed is grilling out, and this restaurant has extraordinary grilled chicken and vegetables. Grilled meats in Florence are very popular (Fiorentina Bistecca-is a grilled T-bone and a regional specialty) but most of the grilled items are meat of course. The grilled vegetables are loaded with olive oil and spices and are red pepper, yellow pepper, zucchini, and eggplant....delicious!

When I finished my dinner, I headed off to the restroom and Regine ordered coffee. When I came back the table had been cleared. Just as I sat down, our waiter came over to the table and said "Brava! Mi Complimenta! Bellisima!" (Great job, congratulations! Beautiful!) He was speaking of the fact that I ate everything! That’s how Italians are about food and it is just one of the reasons I love them!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

In Case You Think I'm "Goofing Off"

In the event that some of you doubt my dedication to studying the language, I am including my presentation on Tennessee for your review. It took me so many hours to do this, you would not believe! I know it sounds like a 3rd grader, which is probably the equivalent level of my Italian language ability. I wrote the report in English first, then translated it. There is a slide show of photographs that go with it, and as soon as I figure out how to post them, I will.

The class currently consists of 4 Japanese, 1 Korean, 1 Austrian, 2 Mexicans, 1 other American (a young girl who is getting her master's degree in opera from Julliard! She needs to learn more about the language for the lyrics....I think that is so cool.....she sang for us today and it was bellisimo!) Anyway, everyone thought it was interesting and had fun guessing the people.

If you know anyone who speaks Italian, and you show this to them, they will find many,many errors with articles and prepositions. I have determined that the reason that Italians talk so fast is because if they want to say the same thing in the same amount of time, there are a lot more words to say because of the number of syllables, articles, and they have to talk fast to get it all in in the same amount of time. My teachers assure me that articles and prepositions are one of the hardest things to learn and that this is normal. It is highly frustrating though! you go.


Tennessee is in the south in the United States. Tennessee is surrounded by 9 other states: Kentucky and Virginia are North, North Carolina to the East, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi are South and Arkansas and Missouri are to the West.

Tennessee was admitted to the United States in 1796 and is the 16th state. There are 6 million people living in Tennessee.

The climate is humid sub tropical. In the winter, temperatures range from 0-15 and in summer 15-31.

There are 3 regions in Tennessee. East Tennessee, West Tennessee and Middle Tennessee. Each region has one major city. In East Tennessee, Knoxville is the largest city. The Great Smoky Mountains are on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina and The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited parks in the country. You can hike, fish, ski, camp and view the beautiful panorama there.

In Middle Tennessee, Nashville is the largest city and it is the largest city in Tennessee. Nashville has 500,000 people. Nashville has a beautiful skyline and it is very famous for country music. There are many recording studios, musicians and live music there. There are also a lot of famous people who live in Nashville.

You can visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, or the Parthenon, which is an exact replica of the parthenon in Athens, Greece. It was built for the cities 100 year anniversary. It is located in a park in downtown Nashville, called Centennial Park.

Memphis is in West Tennessee. Memphis is on the border of Tennessee and Arkansas, and the Mississippi River. Memphis is also famous for music. It has many famous blues clubs and Elvis Presley lived there in Graceland.

Tennessee has several professional sports teams:

American Football Tennessee Titans
Hockey Nashville Predators
Baseball Nashville Sounds, Memphis Redbirds

Do you know who these famous people are from Tennessee? Guess.

Elvis Presley
Reese Witherspoon
Tina Turner
Al Gore
Andrew Jackson
Quentin Tarantino

Other famous Tennessee things:

1. Jack Daniels Whiskey
2. Tennessee Walking Horses
3. Dolly Parton

These are the State Symbols:

1. State Flag
2. State Flower
3. State Bird
4. State Song

Il Tennessee

Il Tennessee e’ nel sud degli Stati Uniti. Tennessee e’ circondato da 8 (otto) altri stati. Kentucky e Virginia ci sono nord, North Carolina e’ est, Georgia, Alabama, e Mississippi ci sono sud, e Arkansas e Missouri ci sono ovest.

Il Tennessee e’ stato uniti con Stati Uniti in 1796 (mille sete cento novantaseis) e e’ il sedicesimo stato. Ci sono sei milioni personi loro abitanno in Il Tennessee.

Il clima e’ umido sub tropicale. In l’inverno, la temperatura variae da 0 a 15. In l’estate’ la temperatura varia da 15 a 31.

Ci sono tre regioni in Tennessee. Est Tennessee, Ovest Tennessee, e Centrale Tennessee. Ogni regioni hanno un citta’ maggiore. In est Tennessee, Knoxville e’ un grande citta’. The Great Smoky Mountains ci sono bordo North Carolina. Il parco, The Great Smoky Mountain National Park, e’ un piu visitati in il paese. Voi potete fare camminate, pescare, sciare, accamparsi, e vedete il panorama nel parco.

In Centrale Tennessee, Nashville e’ un grande citta’. Anche e’ piu grande citta’ in Tennessee. Nashville ha cinque cento mille personi. Nashville ha uno profilio il cielo. E’ molti famosi per la musica della compagnia (Country Music). Ci sono molti sala di registrizione, i musicisti, y la musica del vivo.

Ci sono molti personi famosi hanno abbitanno in Nashville. Voi potete visitete al Country Music Hall of Fame, il museo, o il Parthenon. Il Parthenon e’ esatto replicato di Parthenon in Atenes a Grecia. E’stato construire per la centisimo anniversario di Tennessee. E’ situato in el parco in mezzo di citta’. E’ chiama, Centennial Park.

Memphis e’ in ovest Tennessee. Memphis e bordo Arkansas e il fuime Mississippi. Memphis e’ famosi per la musica anche. Ci sono molti blues organizati dove voi potete senteti la musica. Elvis Presley e’ abitato in Memphis al Graceland.

Tennessee ha parecchi professionali squadri:

1. American futbol Tennessee Titans
2. Hockey Nashville Predators
3. Baseball Nashville Sounds, Memphis Redbirds

Voi conoscete questi personi famosi? Indovini!

1. Elvis Presley
2. Reese Witherspoon
3. Tina Turner
4. Al Gore
5. Andrew Jackson-7th president
6. Quentin Tarantino

Altra famosi cosie di Il Tennessee:

1. Jack Daniels
2. Tennessee Walking Horses
3. Dolly Parton
Questo sono di Simbolo di Il Tennessee
1. Bandiero di Stato
2. Fiore di Stato
3. Ucello di Stato
4. Canzone di Stato

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"Hot" Hair for Hot Weather

Okay, so I have been letting my hair grow for years, and it was at it’s longest since I was 16. Still not long, but longer than my usual. When I went to Rome, it was very hot, and I decided then and there to get it cut. My lifestyle in Florence does not support using a lot of hair products, a hair dryer, and a flat iron. Being outside, walking everywhere with the beautiful sunshine and breezes, it is always a mess anyway.

I called Simone and made my appointment....all in Italian this time. "Io voglio fare unappuntomento per capelli taglio con Simone, Venerdi, Maggio 11 at 3". This all sounded great, and the man on the other end of the line asked my name...Karen Mills, I said. Well, this sounds really funny stuck between all that Italian. Anyway, the appointment was made during the time Kelly and Mom were visiting. I hoped to find some photos of what I was going for rather than have to explain it in Italian to Simone.

One of the things I had asked Mom and Kelly to bring was American magazines. I can get them here, but because they are imported, they are very expensive. I am talking 15 euro each, which is about 22 dollars! I can get all the Italian magazines for more reasonable prices, but reading is still difficult for me, so I just do without.

Mom and Kelly came through with the magazines and I went in to see Simone armed with a photo of Mia Farrow. He did a wonderful job, and I feel very "sassy" with my new cut, and oh so European. No fuss, no muss. .

Monday, May 28, 2007

American Music

One of the things that Americans are famous for in other parts of the world is our music. That was a surprise to me for some reason, but everywhere you go, you hear American music in car radios, shops, being sung by bands, and MTV, on the television.

One night Kelly and I were taking a stroll (abbiamo fatto la passiegata) when Paolo, a man who I had met in the Piazza once before, said hello. Kelly and I had just decided we wanted to have a Limoncello, and were trying to find a place for that. When he asked where we were going and we told him, he pointed us in the right direction, and said he would join us in a few minutes.

He pointed us toward Giubbe Rossa (The Red Jacket) which is a famous café on Piazza della Republica, frequented by "the literati" over the years in Florence. There is a large covered café right on the Piazza and small tables just outside for the locals. I have been here often with Enrico for caffe, and we always sit in the small tables-only tourists frequent the patio area, and of course I have done that as well. The small tables outside always have reserved signs on them.

When Kelly and I arrived, the reserved signs were on the small tables, so we went inside and ordered our Limoncello at the bar. Paolo arrived and came inside to get us, and immediately suggested that we move to the outside tables that said reserved. I told him there were signs on the table, and he said that was so that the locals could use them, and we made our way to one of the tables.

There were several of Paolo’s friends sitting there already and we joined them and Paolo made introductions. I am not sure how we got on the subject, but it wasn’t long before we were talking about music and who we liked, and what our favorites were. One man, Giuseppe, was a guitarist who loved Credence Clearwater Revival, The Allman Brothers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Giuseppe burst into guitar licks from Sweet Home Alabama, and Kelly almost fell out of her chair laughing. Hearing an Italian sing that it unexpected to say the least!

We tried telling some jokes, but they really didn’t translate, so we stuck to the music conversation. Here we are having a great time!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pick Pockets

Well, everyone reads in the guidebooks that Italy, and many countries in Europe are notorious for pick pockets! Unfortunately, while Mom and Kelly were visiting, we had to experience it first hand.

Mom and Kelly and I met after my school, near the Duomo, to take the bus up to Fiesole. Fiesole is a beautiful small village about a 20 minute bus ride from Florence. There was an incident on the street where we caught the bus that caused a traffic jam, so the people getting on the bus were backed up and it was very crowded. This bus is usually crowded anyway, but more so this day.

I pushed my way onto the bus to punch our tickets and Kelly and Mom followed. We had to stand because of the crowd. For some reason, (I think she must have felt something) Mom started to look for her wallet, which was not in her purse at this point. Of course she was upset and shocked and felt violated, and the people around her showed concern. Most likely it was one of the people around her that took the wallet, but we will never know.

Thankfully, Mom was a good traveler and followed my instructions about what to carry in her purse and wallet, and only had her driver’s license (she really didn’t need that, but) her bank card (you have to have a pin to use this) and one credit card (that when we tried to use it to purchase a train ticket the day before would not work, because the credit card company flagged it for out of the ordinary purchases).

If you travel to Italy, or anywhere really that you usually don’t, you should notify your credit card company because they always cut it off at the most inopportune times, except this one, which worked to Mom’s advantage. She had her Euros in another pocket in her purse, and they were safe.

Once we took stock of what was lost, and determined that aside from being angry about it occurring, we went on to enjoy our day. Fiesole is very beautiful, and it was cooler there than in Florence that day. I had been here before with Will, so Kelly enjoyed the archeological museum, after we had a nice lunch overlooking the view. Today it was more clear than when Will and I had visited, so I got some better photos of the view.

I am really sorry the incident happened. It’s the kind of thing that we as suburban Americans are not accustomed to, and guidebooks and tourists dwell on it. The crime rate, even for petty theft is minuscule in Italy and most of the rest of the world versus the USA.

Here are some statistics:

Total Crimes
USA 80/1000 This is the 8th worst in the world out of 64 countries

Italy 37/1000


USA .0004/1000 25th worst in the world

Italy .0001/1000


USA .001/1000

Italy .0006/1000

*Per capita (per 1000 people)

I got this information from Check it out.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Meeting New Friends

The Neptune Fountain

Ponte Vecchio at Sunset
Ponte Vecchio
I have had such a fun time writing this blog. There are so many things that happen to me, and so much to tell, I am never at a loss for words.....only the right ones that can make the experiences that I have come alive for you as well. I feel that the words and the photos are often lacking to fully describe my experiences here. Even so, you are all very kind and I love hearing from you about the stories that you like, and especially when you put comments on the site for others to see.

Lately, the site seems to be taking on a life of it’s own, and providing me with opportunities to meet many people that I might never encounter. Some of you pass the website address along to others who might be visiting Italy, or who just might be interested in some of the stories. Recently, I met two couples who were visiting Florence, and had read my website.

I won’t name their names, but they know who they are....... We met at The Neptune Fountain, my favorite meeting spot, and then went for a bottle of wine and "fare chiacchiere" (chat) about my experiences, and theirs in Florence. This is definitely a delightfully surprising unexpected outcome of the site, so I hope that if you are in Florence, or someone you know, that we can meet, drink vino, and compare notes!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Dancing Lady

Almost every evening, I end my day in Piazza della Signoria, near the Uffizzi to listen to music. There is a man who plays the guitar, and his wife, and they sing Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, Rod Stewart, etc.

They are really very good, and the setting is beautiful with all of the statutes and the lighting, and the music reverberates through the arches and stone walls.

When Mom and Kelly visited, I took them there one evening. The weather was beautiful, with a clear night, and a cool breeze in the air. It was very crowded, but we managed to get one of the prime seats to enjoy the show.

Lots of people gather around, but this evening their was extra entertainment. Kelly and I had actually seen this woman the night before standing on the edge of the crowd, dancing and moving to the music. She was in her own world, and thoroughly enjoying it. Tonight, she had some wine and strawberries that she was eating, and had brought along some "props" for dancing.

As the music played, she decided to dance. She gathered her "props", a blue scarf, and headed to the middle of the piazza and begin to dance, twirling and swirling her scarf on her toes, moving to and fro. Everyone enjoyed watching her and someone even threw a rose to her which thrilled her to death! There was a lot of hooting and hollering and clapping when she was done. She went back and sat down to refresh herself with her wine and strawberries, but before too long, she was at it again.

Sorry the photo didn’t come out very well in the dark, but you get the gist!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Meeting Mom and Kelly in Rome

Kelly and Mom in the early morning-ready for the journey Me and Mom arrive in Florence

Mom and Kelly had quite a journey to get to Florence! Planes, trains, and automobiles, galore! They left at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning and flew to St. Louis, then to JFK, then to London Heathrow, then to Rome, where I met them for the train ride back to Florence. There are easier ways to get here depending on where you live and what you are willing to pay. My brother, Paul, Kelly’s husband works for American Airlines, and his benefits include flights for his wife and mother, however, American doesn’t fly to Florence, so that’s why the connections.

Anyway, it was undoubtedly a couple of very long days for them, but the trip went smoothly aside from the two pieces of luggage that were late in arriving to Rome. I took the train from Florence to Rome in order to be at the station close to the time I thought they would be arriving. They landed in Rome at 1:30, but had to go through customs and immigration and get transportation to the train station, so I arrived at 3:00.

On the train ride to Rome, I had a couple of missed calls on my cell phone, which worried me. The cellular service on the train is not very good and you pass through many tunnels, etc. I did not recognize the number that was calling, but it was in Italy.

I arrived at the train station and begin to look for them in the meeting place that we had designated. My phone rang, and it was Kelly saying they had arrived in Rome, but some of their luggage had not, but was on the next plane which would arrive at 4:40. That was in about an hour. They had decided to wait on it, which was a good idea.

I found a place to sit and worked on my homework while I waited. The train station is not a place that you can get bored! Rome has a very large and busy station, so there are lots of shops, bars, and people to occupy your time. Before I knew it, it was time for them to be there. I went to the train which I thought they would be on, and scanned the cars for their blonde heads, which in Italy, are easily recognizable.

I had a luggage cart to assist with their bags. I couldn’t believe my eyes, when the train stopped and in the car directly in front of me I saw Mom and Kelly standing up and gathering their things to get off the train! The emotion I felt was really unexpected, but it is not like I haven’t burst into tears before, and that is exactly what I did! With tears streaming down my face, I rushed to the train and banged on the window close to where they were standing. They saw me, and I don’t think we could all get to each other fast enough. Suffice it to say, there was quite a scene with crying and kissing and hugging and trying to pull bags off the train and stay out of peoples way!

We finally composed ourselves and had just a little while before catching the train back to Florence.

Mom and Kelly left today, and I am busy thinking about all the fun we had, and writing about some of the experiences. I am already missing them, even though it has only been hours since they left, and am sad because it will be a while before I see them again. I am so thankful for their visit and the wonderful memories we made. I can’t wait to share them with you,

Friday, May 18, 2007

Guests in Firenze

Mom and Kelly and I are struggling to balance jet lag, my school, getting caught up, and seeing the sites. I had my 3rd test today and before I went in, I had decided to repeat this part of the course. I have felt insecure at every test time, but this time, after six weeks, my head is spinning!

In six weeks, I have come such a long way, and learned so many vocabulary words, and 4 verb conjugations, with about 6 to go! My head is spinning, and I think feeling secure here on the front end of learning the language is important. Before I went to bed, last night before the test, I had decided, I was going in and tell them that I wanted to repeat the course.

I studied for the test, but still managed to have lunch with Mom and Kelly, and take a long walk at night with Kelly around town. Making that decision really took the pressure off of the test, and I ended up making an 82. My lowest score, still respectable, but I am glad to be repeating next week! As it turns out, I will be back in class with the Japanese folks, who repeated level 2. Seems to be a common theme that folks learn different things at different rates of speed, and I am thankful the school has the flexibility to accommodate those needs!

Mom and Kelly have seen "Il David" and they thought he was magnificent, which he is. Kelly visited San Lorenzo for some "preliminary shopping" and they also visited Santa Croce. Today, I got a new haircut, and we rode the bus to San Marco, and then went up to Piazzele Michelangelo. Tonight, we are dining at "the duck" restaurant.

Here is a photo of us at dinner the first evening. Bear in mind that Mom and Kelly left on Tuesday, on a 7:00 a.m. flight (at the airport at 6:00) and arrived on Wednesday, at 7:30 p.m. (Florence time, which was 12:30 p.m. CST). After 17 ½ hours of travel, I think we all look great!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mia Madre y mia cognata arrivata!

This is a busy week! I returned from Rome, late Monday evening and had school on Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon I spent doing laundry and housework in preparation for a visit from my Mother and sister-in-law, Kelly.

Mom and Kelly flew into Rome, so after school on Wednesday, I took the train back down to meet them at the station and accompany them back to Florence. Everything went smoothly for them with only one snag. Two pieces of their luggage were left behind in London Heathrow. This seems to be a common occurrence. Between them, Will, Nick, and I, 75% of us had lost luggage. Will, who traveled direct on Delta with only one connection had no lost luggage. Anyway, the luggage arrived in Rome, only 1 hour after they did, so they waited on it, and we got back into Florence at 7:30 p.m.

While they are here, my postings might be sporadic while I visit with them and show them the city. Stay tuned!

Roma-Do You Need A Place To Stay?

Amy's family at St. Peter's Me and Amy at St. Peter's

Spanish Steps
My favorite, Trevi Fountain
Quiet street in Rome

This weekend, I visited Rome. I took the train on Saturday morning, and arrived in an hour and a half! A very short and pleasant journey on the Eurostar for 33.00 euro. Rome’s train station is very large, as is Rome. Rome is the largest city in Italy, and full of all of the hustle and bustle that you find in any large city, plus about a million scooters.

I took a taxi to the apartment where I was staying, which belongs to a friend of mine, who I met in Rome in November. I was with a tour group at the Trevi Fountain, after our Farewell Roma tour, when Bruno and a friend of his asked me why I was looking so serious while taking pictures of the Trevi Fountain. I laughed and asked them why they were speaking to me like they knew I was an American. We started a conversation, and before I knew it, Bruno and I had a date for the next night. Well some of you know the story of me and, dinner, all around Rome at night on a scooter, etc etc. Suffice it to say, that we became friends.

Bruno lives in Boca Raton now. He went to Catholic University on a soccer scholarship, but didn’t like it and transferred to Philly and Temple University were he graduated. He moved to Boca Raton for his Master’s Degree at Lane University and works for an aviation parts supplier as the European Sales Manager. He is originally from Rome, and has an apartment which he now rents out to tourists, when he is not there. So, when I decided to meet Amy and her family in Rome, I decided to stay there. You can stay there is you visit Rome also. Go to for information. If you are interested in renting it. Contact me and I will put you in touch with Bruno, or you can contact him through the website.

I met Andrea (a friend of Bruno’s) at the apartment to get the keys, and then took the bus into the city. Saturday afternoon, I was on my own since Amy and her family were not arriving until Sunday. I headed straight for the Trevi Fountain, visited the Spanish Steps, spent some time at the Antica Enoteca, Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon. I had lunch near the Pantheon, and spoke to Amy just before she got on the plane. The best thing about visiting a city like Rome more than once, is that you really get all of the "tourist" things out of the way, and can focus only on the things you really enjoy seeing over and over. Or, just enjoy the people watching.

The Trevi Fountain is one of the most beautiful and romantic things that I have ever seen, so I spent several hours there on Saturday evening. I still haven’t gotten the photo that I want of the Trevi Fountain at night, but maybe it just doesn’t exist. Part of the magic of the fountain is the sound of the rushing water, which just doesn’t come through on a photo. I had a late dinner and made it back to the apartment by midnight.

On Sunday, I got up and walked into Piazza Navona, where I spent a big part of the morning people watching, and looking at the art for sale in the piazza. I managed to buy 3 more watercolors, since the 1000's of dollars of art work that I have in storage just doesn’t seem to be enough!

Amy’s family arrived around 11 a.m. and I met them at the hotel. That day we spent walking the city, and had a wonderful dinner at Vecchia Roma in Campo Di Fiore that evening. It was so much fun spending time with Amy’s parents, Amy and her son Brent! I’ve missed that "family" atmosphere and it was good to share it with them. Of course Amy and I talked a mile a minute getting caught up with all the latest!

The next morning, we visited the Vatican Museum, and as I have said before on this site, one of my favorite things, The Sistine Chapel. I wish I had photos of it, but it just isn’t allowed. We spent the entire morning at The Vatican, and then went into Trastevere for lunch and shopping. We found a wonderful little restaurant in Trastevere for lunch and had a fabulous meal. Amy and I shared a caprese salad, gorgonzola gnocchi, and a fritta pesce mista (fried mixed fish). The fish consisted of octopus, calamari, and shrimp and had the finest batter on it with salt and lemon. It was all terrific, with white wine, and lots of good conversation!

I left for the train station at 6:00 for a 7:30 train, which was delayed, and was home by 10:00 p.m.

Amy, Brent, Meryl and Jimmy.....thanks for letting me join you in Roma! I had a wonderful time!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mother's Day

Italians don’t celebrate Mother’s Day, but I did! I had the most pleasant surprise on Saturday morning as I was getting ready to leave for Rome. My cell phone rang and it was a local number that I didn’t recognize. An Italian woman starting speaking to me in English about a delivery. As it turns out, she was trying to schedule a time to deliver flowers to me, and I could speak more Italian than she could English! That was a nice way to start the day!

We scheduled the delivery in an hour, and I packed a few things and jumped in the shower. I swear, wouldn’t you know it....the delivery came early! That doesn’t happen in Italy! I was in the shower when my doorbell rang. I had to rush out (dripping wet and hurrying on a tile floor is dangerous!), answer the doorbell, and get myself ready to meet the delivery man downstairs.

It all worked out and I received the most beautiful dozen red roses that I have ever seen from my sons! The stems on them are at least a yard long! I had no vase to put them in, so made do with a laundry bucket which I covered in the beautiful red paper and ribbon that the flowers were wrapped in. Hope all you other mother’s enjoyed the day!

Friday, May 11, 2007

When A House Becomes A Home

After two months here, I can honestly say that my apartment feels like "home". When I moved to Nashville, it took over 9 months for my townhouse to feel that way. It’s true that I probably wasn’t there those first 9 months for the number of nights that I have been here in only two because of my travel schedule. Also, after not really having a "home" for the 6 weeks between selling my house and moving here, I was desperate for my own space. After Nick and Will visited, it really started to take shape.

I love the location of my apartment and all 450 square feet! It is the perfect size, and I have added just enough personal touches to make it really feel like mine (at least for the time being). Like any good Italian kitchen, I have my herbs, and today I bought some house plants. They are violets that remind me of my Mamaw who had them covering the back room of her tiny house. She was always able to pinch off a leaf, put it in water, and roots would form, so that she could plant another one. While I was in college, I tried this, but the leaf always rotted in the water. When I asked her why and what to do, she said that I must pinch the leaf on the full moon! I didn’t laugh, because the proof was in all the plants that she had, but I never did try it.
A home is still not quite the same without a cat. This is the first time since I was 5, and my Dad brought home "Daisy", a yellow stray cat that he found at the lake, that I have lived "catless". Nick sent me photos of two of my cats (Edgar and Skittles) (the ones that I insisted that he keep since they are ornery and can’t get along well with most people) and I cried for days. I don’t keep the photos out because I can’t cope. I am posting them for you, and if you are a cat lover, and maybe even if you aren’t, you will see why.

My other two cats (McGee and Vincent) are with my brother and sister-in-law, and they are so happy there, that although I miss them, I know they are happy and thriving. Candles and pillows and art, and books and a sense of tranquillity, peace, happiness, and safety along with the memories I am making when friends and family visit are what make this my home.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Enrico and Me

Enrico is the first man that I met when I moved to Florence. Of course, I met him in Piazza della Signoria (better known as "Pick up Piazza"). The Piazza della Signoria, is very beautiful and has the Palazzo Vecchio, which is and always has been the courthouse of Florence. Additionally, the Neptune Fountain, replica of David, and many famous statues are on display here. There are cafes and gelato shops around the piazza, and every night there is music there. In the early evening there is a flute and violin, playing classical music, and later in the evening, a guitarist who plays old favorites by James Taylor, the BeeGees, Simon and Garfunkel, etc. He usually starts around 9:30-10:00.

The Piazza is a very romantic place, and the perfect place to "meet" people. I am there almost every night for walking, talking, and listening to music.

Enrico and I have become relatively good friends. He works at a restaurant near Orsan Michele Church and between Piazza della Republica and Piazza della Signoria. He works 6 days a week, for 10 hours a day. Enrico is from Sienna, which is a small town about 1 hour train ride from Florence.

When you come to Florence, I will introduce you to Enrico. He is a big hit with the young American girls and makes most of his money in tips, even though you really don’t tip in Italy, and especially where he works, which is a "self-service" restaurant.

Enrico and I meet occasionally for coffee or to walk. Here is a photo of us in front of the replica of David on the "pick up piazza".

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Chicken Livers and Pears in a Port Wine Reduction Sauce

I am not a big cook. Even though I can, after cooking for a family for 20 years, and that was by no means every night, I am just tired of it. That being the case, living on a budget in an expensive city has caused me to have to do it. I am actually enjoying it since I can cook what I want, when I want it. That is a big difference! Also, the ingredients that I have to choose from at the market are unusual and make it a lot of fun.

This morning I went shopping at the Mercato Centrale. It is the large food market in San Lorenzo. The first floor has butcher shops, poultry shops, fish shops, cheese and wine, and the second floor is all fresh produce. It is a blast to shop here for the freshest food possible, that the vendors bring in every morning, and it is also a good chance to practice my Italian, since most of the vendors do not speak English. There are a lot of tourists in the market looking at the foods, but since most are staying in hotels, and not cooking for themselves, few buy.

I like shopping for the produce because it is unbelievably fresh and beautiful, and you can buy it in as large or small quantities as you like. You know in the grocery, sometimes things are already packaged, and it is never just enough for one person. This way, I can buy a small amount and it is less wasteful, and easier on the budget!

While shopping today, I passed the poultry shop and noticed that they had "fegato di pollo". Chicken livers. Chicken livers are a Tuscan specialty and are usually served as a warm pate on top of crostini (toasted garlic bread). You will see it on every menu in Florence, and it is called Crostini Toscana. I happen to love chicken livers and also foie gras (Duck liver).

Before I left for Italy, Amy and I, and her sister Cheryl and their friend (now mine also) Betty went to New York City- (see posting about the farewell tour). While in NYC, we ate at a small Italian restaurant and they had a dish on the menu as an appetizer called: Chicken Livers and Pears with a Port Wine Reduction Sauce.

When I saw the chicken livers in the poultry case, that dish jumped immediately to mind! I purchased 1/4 kilo (about ½ pound) and hurried home to whip up the dish.

Once I got here, I realized that I had no Port Wine, but a quick trip downstairs and next door to the market resolved that!

Here is the recipe:

½ small onion
1 very large clove of garlic (or several small, to taste)
olive oil
½ lb. Chicken livers (cut into bite size pieces)
1 pear
2 cups port wine
In a small sauce pan, heat the port wine to a simmer and allow it to reduce to half.
In a skillet, put the onion (chopped) and garlic (chopped) into the oil and saute until translucent.
Add the chicken livers and more olive oil if needed and brown well. Salt to taste.

Once the port wine has reduced to half, add it to the chicken liver mixture and allow it to reduce further. Serve with sliced pears as a garnish on the plate as an appetizer, or main dish.

I know this might be a little adventurous for some of you, but chicken livers are cheap. Try it!.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Changes in Class (Month 2)

Today began the first day of the 5th week of my Italian classes. There were some big changes in the make up of the class! We had our second test on Friday, and I am pleased to say that I made an 89. After my trip to Venice, where I had to speak a lot of Italian during my travels, I decided that the pressure was really off around the test in school. I felt that the real test was being out in Italy, speaking the language and getting by, and at that point in time, I was passing. So, I still studied hard for the test, and even though I was less secure about the material this time, managed to increase my score over last time.

To my amazement, today, the class was totally different. Two of the people finished their studies and went home. Five of the students, all of the Japanese folks, decided to "retake" the level 2 course. Now this amazed me because most of them did as well, or better than me on the test, but I guess they lack confidence in the material, as I do. I decided to move ahead however because I am planning to study for 5 more months.

This morning, we started the grammar section of the class with 5 people. All women, who had been in the class previously. I am still the only American, there is one woman from Denmark, one from Switzerland, and 2 from Germany. After grammar class, we had our usual break, but when we returned, we had several new additions to the class! The class now has 9 women and 1 man. The average age is about 40, which is great! There are: 1 American (me), 2 Canadians (1 French and 1 English speaking), 2 Swiss, 1 Dane (Denmark) 1 Mexican, and 4 Germans. It is very interesting because the new additions to the class, have had previously Italian courses, and tested into this level. I also have a new conversation teacher, whose name is Fiore and she is from Rome.

The book that we use for this level is much different than the prior 2 books. It actually looks like a text book, and it seems the leap between level 2 and 3 is a big one! I am excited! It seems that every two weeks, the class will change at this point. Many people come for only 2 weeks, a few for 1 month, and fewer still for 3 months. Since I am enrolled in the 6 month course, I will see a lot of people come and go. Regine, my German friend, started the class with me, and will be here for 2 more months. Here is a photo of she and I at Cinque Terra.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Cinque Terra

A few years ago, when Will graduated from college, he took a trip to Europe with his friends. He enjoyed most of the places that he went, but the one that he spoke of as the most beautiful was Cinque Terra. After Will visited there, I begin to hear more about it from other people who had been touring in Italy.

This weekend, I went to visit Cinque Terra with a group of people. Cinque Terra is about a 3 hour train ride west of Florence along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It consists of 5 (cinque)small fishing villages, that literally hang on the edge of the cost. We arrived in Riomaggiore, then hiked to Manarola, Corniglia, took the train to Vernazza and hiked to Monterosso. The terrain is rocky and beautiful and very steep.

The only way you can get to the villages once you get off the train is to hike. Yes, I said hike, and yes, I did it. I wasn’t happy about it then, but since everyone was raving about the area, I had to do it. Even though I had to hike, I would do it again, and plan to, to see the beautiful vistas. The sea is the bluest blue, and the contrast of the rocky mountains and the beautiful foliage and flowers is unbelievable. There are a number of trails to chose from and they are labeled with the difficulty and how long it takes.

The weather in Florence when we left was not good. It had been raining for several days, but the forecast at the coast was for clearing. We had a "mostly" beautiful day, aside from one thunder shower, on the steepest, most slippery slope. One of the trails was closed because of the condition due to the rain the week prior.

I will let the photos speak for themselves. I have another trip planned in the Fall, and want to make it an overnight in order to see more of the trails. Bring your "hiking boots" Cathy!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Dazed and Confused

Ok, so I am not my usual "in control" self. What’s wrong with that? Just because I feel constantly I am living in a foreign country and everyone is speaking a foreign language, what’s the big deal?

Today is a big Italian Holiday. I thought that the celebration was yesterday and that school was closed. I had not planned to go to school yesterday because I thought this, but ended up being stranded in Venice. Today I got up and got dressed and walked to school. I was the only person on the street and everything was closed. When I got to school, all the doors were locked. So, I figured it out and came home with a whole free morning. Well, not really. I need to do all the schoolwork that the class probably did yesterday while I wasn’t there.

Oh well, being confused and out of control feels weird and scary, and sometimes it is fun, but a lot of the time it is nerve-racking for me, and makes me very uncomfortable.

Talking With Luciano

I met Luciano at Piazza Santa Croce. I was sitting on a bench in the sun, going through my "flash cards" that I made for my Italian verbs, and he sat down beside me and started speaking to me in Italian. I explained to him in Italian, that I was studying, and had only started a few weeks ago. We talked for a little while, but the sun was hot and bothering him, and he asked me to walk with him, so I did. He took me to a small private garden behind the rectory of Santa Croce which was beautiful and tranquil, and I never would have found it by myself.

Luciano works in an office that has some relationship to making movies, although I don’t understand what that is at this point. Regardless, Luciano is very patient with my Italian, and he doesn’t speak any English, so that is helpful also. Oddly enough. It is interesting how easily people can communicate with a limited knowledge of the language and a dictionary! It is a little tiring, and tedious, but a lot of fun also. Actually, I was pretty amazed at how much I could actually speak and understand. Yeah! It took a lot of pressure off of the "tests" at school, because, really why I am in class is to be able to speak and communicate the language. The tests are good benchmarks, but the actual discussions I have with people are what is important.

Today Luciano and I met again and went to another park on the outskirts of Florence. He is very familiar with the area and things off the beaten path which is nice. He doesn’t live in Florence, but in Pommerregio which is a ½ hour train ride away. This makes it nice because he has to set up our meetings in advance.

Luciano is 36, but looks 56. He is short and bald, has bright blue eyes, and the body of a soccer player, which he is, and I got to witness it in the park when some teenage boys were playing soccer and the ball went astray and he rescued it. Luciano said that he was "molto sorpresso imprarer io sono quaranta nove" (very surprised to learn that I am 49) Yeah right!

At this point, I have met and am friends with about 6 men. Their ages range from 36-45 and they are all single and have never been married! This is a big culture difference, and at first I didn’t believe it, but now that I know more about Italy and the culture here, I know it is true (at least for some of them). The birth rate in Italy is in the negative numbers. All of these 6 men, except for 1 are only children and the other has one sister. Half of them live at home, in the home they grew up in, and the others live alone. The reasons for this are the expense of housing in Italy, and particularly in Florence, and traditionally, the home is passed along to the eldest son anyway. Some of the homes these men live in have been in their families for literally 100's of years!

The problem with Luciano, is that he can’t keep his hands to himself! This is common with Italian men, but usually, they get the message. Luciano, doesn’t get it, but he will soon!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Markets in Florence

Scarves in San Lorenzo Handbags in San Lorenzo
San Lorenzo and the Medici Chapel
"Slow Food" market in Santa Croce
Nuovo Mercato
Paper goods in San Lorenzo

There are some terrific markets in Florence. In the middle of town, between Piazza della Signoria and Piazza della Republica, there is Nuovo Market, where the Porcellina Fountain is. (See Fountains in Florence). This market has stalls on a beautiful arched platform during the day which are closed and carted away in the evening like a train. It is a real event to see the vendors with their carts all in a row traveling back to "garage" them until the next day. These stalls have all types of goods, from leather bags, leather jackets, handmade paper goods, scarves and jewelry.

Recently, in Piazza Santa Croce, they had a "Slow Food" festival. There were booths with food vendors selling spices, Tuscan food specialties, cheeses, meats, sauces, wine, beer, and bread.
Everyday, the largest leather market in Florence takes place in San Lorenzo. This market has been in existence since the 1500's and is the place to go for, bags, luggage, jackets. There are also scarves, Tuscan pottery, jewelry, clothing, and really just about anything you can think of.

In the middle of San Lorenzo is the church of San Lorenzo, which was the parish church of the Medicos Family. There is a staircase designed by Michelangelo in the Biblioteca, and the funerary figures symbolizing Night, Day, Dawn and Dusk are some of Michelangelos greatest works and are in the Medicos Chapel. One of my favorite things about San Lorenzo market is the view of the Chapel dome, the campinile and the rooftop of San Lorenzo which is shown in the photo. I plan to do a painting of it before I leave here!

The San Lorenzo market caters mostly to tourist, but in the center of San Lorenzo is the 2 story Mercato Centrale which houses a huge food market. The bottom floor has butcher shops, fish shops, cheese shops, wine shops, sandwich shops, spices and delis. The top floor is all fresh produce. This market is of course frequented by the residence of Florence who come to shop for their food supplies.

When you come to Florence, be sure to go into the Mercato Centrale. It is really something to eat. Many of the butcher shops have animals which you might not recognize, and parts of animals which I am sure you won’t. Tripe, is a Tuscan delicacy and is the stomach of a cow. They also consume the tongue, feet, brain, intestines, of cows and pigs, and eat other animals like hare, turkey’s, ducks and the occasional chicken. There are booths with cured meats which are famous in Italy like bologna, mortadella, speck, salami, prosciutto, etc. etc.

Walking through the markets is definitely a must. Never pay what the vendor tells you the item costs. Bargaining is expected, and even though they will act highly offended when you offer them a lower price, chances are you won’t leave there without the item!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Things I Miss and Things I Don't

I cannot believe I have been here for 2 months! Yes, that's right! I arrived on March 2. Time is really flying by, and my apartment really feels like home now. I have a "routine", although I can change it whenever I want, but nothing is really routine here, and I am not taking a minute of it for granted!

Every now and then, people I meet, and folks from home ask me what I miss. Italy is not a third world country, so I can usually get most anything and everything that I can at home, except for a few things. Along with the things that I miss, there are the things that I don't miss, and am happy to be rid of, if even for a little while. Here is what I came up with:

Things I Miss

1. My cats
2. My family
3. My friends
4. Rumours wine bar
5. Mirror and Stephanie’s cucumber martini’s
6. Grey Goose Vodka
7. Grilling out
8. Eating Fish
9. Baseball
10. Massages
11. O Magazine
12. Oprah
13. Cheddar Cheese
14. Grey’s Anatomy-except that I download it from ITunes!

Things I Don’t Miss

1. Seeing/hearing anything about George Bush on TV/radio, etc.
2. Hearing about murders, rapes, robberies on the news
3. Driving
4. Malls
5. Dishwasher
6. Getting my nails done
7. Sports on TV
8. Reality shows
9. Newspapers
10. Getting mail (especially bills) But thanks for the postcards, packages, and cards that I have received!
11. Signs everywhere telling you what to do, not to do, how to act, etc.
12. Salad dressings other than Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar
13. Ketchup

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

I Won't Make a Good Italian!

Last night I spent some time with Francesco. I met Francesco when I was in Florence last time also. By now, you must be able to see as I do just how small Florence is, and how these Italian men stroll the Piazzas looking for new faces! Anyway, Francesco works in a hotel and is also a photographer. He is very interested in American Cinema also.

Francesco and I went to Piazzele Michelangelo late Friday evening. It was my first time to be on the Piazzele that overlooks the city at night. I visit there often during the daytime, and the panorama is unbelievable (see photos in Piazzele Michelangelo posting). Well the nighttime panorama is also incredible! The Duomo rises from the middle of the city subtly lit and it looks like something out of a medieval dream. The tower from Palazzo Vecchio flank one side of the Duomo and Santa Croce Church the other. I wish I had some photos, but didn’t have my camera with me that evening, but I will return to get some! Anyway, we spent some time there talking (Francesco speaks English very well, but likes to "practice" his speaking) He spoke in English with me correcting him when necessary, and I spoke in Italian, and he did the same. It is not ideal when I speak Italian with someone who speaks English because it is too easy for me not to "search my brain" for the right word, and to rely on them to supply it. Anyway, for a Friday evening, it was the right combination.

Francesco lives in the Oltrarno, which is on the South side of the river, and is the oldest preserved part of Florence. I am talking from the 600's! It is more hilly there and there are beautiful palaces along the streets. Since we were on the side of the river having been to the piazzele, we went to a restaurant owned by one of Francesco’s friends. It was very typically Tuscan, and I don’t think there was one "foreigner" there.....except me. This was about 10:30 at night, and the place was very crowded. Italians do not even think about eating until around 8:30, but more often they eat at 9:30-10:30 and on the weekends it can be much later.

We ordered wine, and Francesco had to explain to our waiter that I didn’t eat meat, and that I was allergic to eggs. This of course, is a problem in Italy. Italians, especially Tuscans do not understand why someone would not eat meat. They eat pork at every meal! Anyway, we ordered risotto with asparagus and a chicken salad and some fish. Francesco and I decided to split the chicken salad and the fish.

I have told you before that I do not like the Tuscan bread. It is made with flour and water and is very bland. No sugar or salt in the recipe, but no eggs either. It is nice if you have a dish with a heavy sauce but to eat it by itself ....not for me. Francesco and I discussed why I didn’t eat meat, and I had a difficult time explaining that! Anyway, he said that I should not leave Florence without trying the Bistecca Fiorintina. This is a famous Florentine dish which looks and smells marvelous, and if I was going to eat meat, this is the dish I would try. It is about a 2 lb. (No kidding) T-Bone steak grilled to medium rare. I told him that I didn’t think that I could eat meat now without becoming ill because it has been almost 20 years since I ate meat.

The food arrived and it was delicious. The risotto with asparagus came first, and frankly the "primi piatti" could be an entire meal. A huge plate of risotto would be enough for me! The waiter caused a scene when he took my plate away because I left a tablespoon of risotto! He was concerned that I didn’t like it! The salad and fish were served together and we split those and they were scrumptious. Although, I couldn’t "clean my plate". Francesco become concerned at this point that I did not like the meal. Okay, now literally, there was 2-3 bites left on the plate! I assured him that I did like it, but could not eat it all.

Of course, more concern on the part of the waiter when he cleared the plates and offered us coffee and dessert, Francesco ordered coffee, but I was content as always to continue drinking wine.

It was at this point that Francesco pointed out that I would not make a "good Italian". He explained to me that it was important to "experience the happiness" (this is the exact phrase that he used), and that if I did not like the bread, would not try the Bistecca, could not eat cake (eggs) and didn’t have coffee at the end of the meal, that I couldn’t possibly do that! I told him he might be right, but that I was having a terrific time "experiencing the happiness" of trying, even without those things!

We topped off the evening with a Limoncello! Cin cin!

Nick "Struts" His Stuff

Because this is my blog, and I can do whatever I want to on it, even if it doesn’t concern my adventures in Italy, I am going to. My youngest son Nick is in Fashion Design School in Tampa, Florida at International Academy of Art and Design. He has been there since October of 2005.

Every year, the school holds a Fashion Show at the Tampa Convention Center for the students to show their work. It is a huge deal and tickets are sold through Ticketmaster and professional designers from some of the top agencies come to see it. Nick has a collection in the show this year! Unfortunately, I will not be there to see it, and I am so disappointed about that, but so proud, I just had to share it with you all.

He focuses primarily on menswear and his collection in the show is denim. He was asked by the school to be "the face of IADT" on their upcoming school catalog where his bio will be featured. He has been asked in conjunction with this show to do interviews for local radio and TV stations.
See more here:

The St. Petersburg Times also will be doing an expose on Nick in their upcoming Arts section before the show! Isn’t that terrific? The photos are some that have been taken for promoting the Fashion Show. I am so proud!