Friday, June 29, 2007

Fuoco di San Giovanni

On June 24th, Florence celebrated their patron Saint San Giovanni with a fireworks celebration. The event was scheduled to take place at 10:00 p.m.

I went to dinner with some friends, and afterwards we headed to the Arno to line the street and bridges to view the fireworks. The fireworks were being set in Piazzele Michelangelo, above the city, and it promised to be a beautiful display.

The streets were crowded with people and promptly at 10:00 p.m. (Much to my surprise), the street lamps went off, and the display began. Let me tell you something, the USA and the 4th of July barely holds a candle to this display! It lasted for 45 minutes, and I believe it was the best fireworks display that I have ever seen! Wow!

Did you notice the colors of the Italian, green, and white?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Be Careful What You Wish For!

Okay ladies (and most likely men also) how many times have we complained and longed for the man who doesn’t play games, says what he means, and means what he says? Well, I met such a man this week, and it was absolutely shocking. It has taken several days for me to put this in perspective and into words.

As usual in the evenings, I was at the Uffizi, listening to music. It was one of the weekend concert series so an orchestra had played from 9-11 and then the usual guitar player started. It was another beautiful evening, with clear skies and a temperature of about 70 degrees. The breeze off the Arno, and the shape of the Uffizi and the street that runs along the side creates a lovely cool breeze.

On the Uffizi side of the Loggia, there are stairs and people line those early to sit and listen to music. I had been seated for a few hours listening to the concert and many people had come and gone as the night progressed. It is common for people to bring bottles of wine, cans of beer, or gelato for refreshment. A young man had been sitting beside me for a while and he struck up a conversation. He knew some English words, but I knew more Italian, so we had a conversation in Italian. His mother was Italian, and he had lived all over Italy. His father was Greek, and he worked in a Pizzeria nearby as a cook. He had on a baseball cap, jeans and sneakers, which is unusual for Italians, but more common for really young people (25 or younger).

We talked about my studies, (he was complimentary of my Italian), our work, the tourists in Florence, and the music that was playing that evening. The young man’s name was Gabrielle. After about an hour, Gabrielle said that he had a question for me. I waited and he told me that he enjoyed talking to me and liked me very much, and would I like to have sex with him?
Well, I know it was not the response he was looking for, but I couldn’t help it and I burst into laughter! Really, I am not kidding, he just flat out asked me if I wanted to have sex! No kiss, no flirting, just straight up....Would you like to have sex? I felt bad that I started laughing, because I could see the embarrassment and hurt on his face. So I curbed the laughter and told him that his question surprised me and that he was much too young for me. He looked even more offended with that remark and tried to convince me that he was not as young as he looked, he was actually 28 years old. I told him that I was 49 and had a son a year younger than him, and he was not swayed in the least. Can men (or just this one) really have such egos?

We talked for a while longer mostly about why he preferred older women, and how sex in Italy was not so difficult because there are no strings attached.

Like I said, having thought about ths for a few days now, I realize that his approach, with some addition of refinement and subtlety is probably what we have wished for in terms of "no games" and the truth. Is there no happy medium out there?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Notte Bianco

This weekend there was a festival in Oltrarno called Notte Bianco-which means White Night. It started in the early evening and there was wine, food, and music all through the streets. Some of the streets were closed to traffic, but most were not. People who did venture out in their cars or scooters were very frustrated because the streets were packed with people walking, and drinking and dancing.

The festival lasted until 8 a.m. Sunday morning, The Oltrarno, is the "other side of the Arno" in Florence. The city center with the tourists is on one side of the river, and the rest on the other. The festival was not widely advertised to tourists so they were rare at this event! Regine and I walked from piazza to piazza wine glass in hand listening to all types of music in beautiful gas lit piazzas, in front of the Pitti Palace, and in front of ancient churches. It was like having a beautiful dream all night long!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Animals in Florence

I miss animals. Especially my cats. There are a lot of dogs in Florence. Seems that everyone has one and they are all shapes and sizes. Even some of the folks sitting on the street, cup in hand asking for money use their dogs as a sympathy ploy for people to give to them.

Regine saw some cats one day below the Ponte Gratzie and took me to look at them. There are many birds along the river, swallows, gulls, and herons. There is one mostly white cat, and one mostly black. They stare curiously up at the people looking over, but are unconcerned, and well protected. Their coats are shiny, and they look healthy. Apparently there is plenty of fish, birds, and sunshine to keep them happy! In addition, while we were there a man came and fed them a can of cat food, and a half pound of ground meat!

We also saw some beavers! At least I guess they are beavers, or maybe muskrats. Regine calls them bibo, which is the German word for beavers. Their tail is not like North American beavers, it is more long and slender like a rat. I took some photos, so you can tell me what type of animal it is.

Last week when Regine and I were at a festival, we saw many birds for sale. There were doves, canaries, parakeets, etc. There was also a booth with kittens and puppies, and I had to stay totally away from that. There were also rabbits. Since I live in the city, there is not much opportunity to see wild life, and the domestic animals on the street are moving with purpose as their owners march them through town baggies in hand to clean up their messes.

I have thought often about getting a cat here, but the thought of leaving it when I return is too much, and the travel to bring the cat back to the USA, plus the requirements they have ridiculous. So.....I will just visit the cats under the bridge for now.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mexico, Italian Style

Last night I had my first non Italian meal in almost 4 months! It was at a Mexican restaurant called Tijuana. Some friends from school, 2 Mexican and 2 Swiss and I went there for dinner, and it was fabulous, and almost authentic! I truly love Italian food, but what a nice change.

The decor was Mexican, and the ladies from Mexico gave their stamp of approval on the decor and the food. The margaritas were delicious, but you can hardly go wrong there, right? I had fajitas, and they even had sour cream! I swear I have searched the city over for sour cream and have not found it until now. It was all I could do not to just eat it with a spoon!

They were out of guacamole, but I suspect it is just too expensive to make it, and there is probably not a huge demand. One avocado in the supermarket costs 4.50 euro ($6.00)!
The only place where the food was slightly different was that the vegetables for the fajitas were sauteed in olive oil. They were delicious, but didn’t have quiet the same flavor as those sizzling ones that come on the skillet. I don’t think that Italians know that there is any other type of oil to cook with, and even if they did, I am not sure they would use it. It suites me just fine!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Non Parlo Italiano!

Okay, here is something I have to admit, that I am surprised about, and you know that nothing really surprises me but also, I am a little ashamed! Recently, I have had a couple of occasions to indicate to people (read "Men") that I do not speak Italian!

I regret to say that I have heard people say in the US, that when they encounter non English speaking people in the United States, they often believe that they can speak English, or at least understand some of it, but that they use the language barrier to their own benefit. Having traveled frequently to other countries where I do not know the language, I do not believe that is true. Learning a new language is overwhelming and intimidating, and it is a very vulnerable position to be in when you do not understand what people are saying to you. Even when you begin to understand, as I am, there is still always the fear that what you believe they are saying is an incorrect translation on your part, and when you answer, God forbid that you say yes to something that you did not understand you were saying yes to! (This has happened to me in a most embarrassing way!)

Anyway, that is my belief. Now, I may have to modify that based on my own shameful actions.
When Regine and I are together talking, it is a mixture of Italian and English with a German and Southern accent. Regine occasionally throws in a German word when she doesn’t know the English or Italian one. Hearing our conversations is confusing in regards to what language we are actually speaking, and we sometimes have people inquire.

While walking with her last night, we were approached by two Arab men. They were speaking arabic when we approached, and inquired if we spoke Italian to which we shamefully replied "No, non parlo Italiano! " Since they were non English speaking, and we had no common language, they did not pursue us. This is not the first time it has happened, and it is easy to get rid of someone you really don’t want to talk to by saying "no, non parlo Italiano". Do you think that’s a bad thing?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dolce Vita

Usually, when you really think about it, it’s the "unexpected" things in life that pop up, spontaneously, with no forethought, that provide the most fun, excitement and pleasure. At least, I find that’s true for me. It doesn’t have to be anything earth shattering either. It’s a time when you have plans, but the way things turned out are different than planned, and have some element of surprise in them.

This happened to me last night. It had been a lazy day. I had slept late, tried to mail some packages, only to find the store closed during it’s posted "Open" hours. (This happens often in Italy) gone to the grocery, shopped at a local craft market, and had a glass wine atop the Rinescente. I had no plans for the evening, and that was okay.

I stayed in the Piazza until the sun started to fade behind the buildings and the breeze kicked up, blowing all the hot air away, so that I knew my apartment would be bearable when I prepared dinner. I met Simone while standing on the piazza and we parted, saying we would see each other as usual in the evenings at the Uffizzi, to listen to music.

I headed home, had dinner, and then back out to listen to music. I was early so decided to go to the Ponte Vecchio. This is something I don’t often do because of the number of tourists. However this time of the evening it is beginning to clear, and it is cool and beautiful there with the sun sinking behind the Tuscan hills and the colors on the bridge changing to beautiful patinas, that will take your breath away.

As I approached the bridge, I saw my friend Regine, and hailed her down. She was heading back to her apartment to get her cell phone, but had no plans for the evening either, so we decided to have a "little something to drink".

We headed to the Oltrarno, looking for a wine bar, that I had seen before. I thought I knew where it was, but after about an hour of walking, which we enjoyed anyway, I gave up on locating it, and we decided to go to one of the many places that are in that area. We stumbled upon Dolce Vita.

When we arrived at Dolce Vita, it was about 11:00 p.m. They had outside tables and one was vacant so we had a seat and ordered a bottle of wine. Dolce Vita is a club/lounge, and we were the only non-Italians there. It is so rare, and fun when that happens in Florence. I am certain that the locals like to keep their favorite places just that....local. Clearly there were many groups of friends there meeting for drinks, conversation, and fun. They played all 70's and 80's music, the evening was beautiful and relaxing. I know I will return with my friends repeatedly to Dolce Vita, and what a perfect name!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

On Top Of The Rinascente

The Rinascente is a large department store in Florence. There are only three, Rinascente, Coin, and Oviese. These stores are small compared to department stores in the US. Small in size, and in inventory, as are most stores in Italy. Because of the limited space, it is interesting to see how they handle their inventory. The do not put every size and every color of every garment on the racks. Anyway, that’s not what this is about.

The Rinascente is located in the heart of Piazza della Republica, and is 5 stories high. On the top of the roof is a nice little bar that serves drinks. I like to go there in the late afternoon when the sun is starting to set, and the breezes start to blow, and look down into the piazza. From this view, you can see the rooftops of Florence and the hills of Tuscany. Below is the view of the Piazza where I can spy on the men are usually out talking to the women tourists.

If you come to Florence, let’s plan on having a glass of wine there, for a "birds eye" view of the piazza!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Luciano's Last Chance

If you are not familiar with Luciano, see my prior entry titled Talking With Luciano in early May.

Okay, so last time I saw Luciano, in early May, I told him I was not going to see him anymore because he could not keep his hands off of me. Additionally, all he wanted to talk about was kissing me. I like talking to Luciano because he is patient with my Italian, unlike many other people. Maybe that is because he thought eventually I would give in an kiss him!

Luciano has called me every other day since the first of May to ask me to see him. I always say no, and I always tell him not to call again. He asks why and I say because I don’t want you to touch me or kiss me, and he says he won’t, we will just be friends and talk. Of course, I don’t believe him, because, guess what? I’ve been told that before.

Our phone conversations have actually gotten longer since my Italian has improved, and he commented on how much better I was speaking the other day. Because there are not a lot of people outside of school that I can have conversations with, I am desperate to speak with someone in Italian. So desperate in fact that I decided to give Luciano one last chance.

He called me last week, and I told him I would meet him on Saturday. We arranged out meeting place in Santa Croce at the Dante Alighieri statue.

It was hot that day, and there was a craft market in the Piazza. I decided to look around in the market for a while, and a little before our scheduled meeting time, I ran into Luciano.

We said hello, and true to his word, he did not touch me or kiss me! Not even kisses on the cheek which is the traditional Italian salute! Things were off to a great start.

The sun is hot now in Florence, so we started walking to the park to find a place in the shade to sit and talk. We walked for about 20 minutes, talking the entire time in Italian, and I was so happy, because I thought this was going to work out! I hadn’t even had to use my dictionary yet.

We got to the park and found a bench in the shade and sat down. The park is public and it was a Saturday, and it was crowded. We had not been seated 5 minutes when Luciano turned the conversation towards kissing me. I am certain he saw my anger and exasperation when I stood and said, "Sono vado a casa mia! Non chiamarmi, di nuovo!"

I don’t know who is more for giving him another chance, or him for trying it again!

Monday, June 18, 2007


Regina and I decided to take a trip to Pisa to see a Regatta. Pisa is a one hour train ride from Florence, and the Regatta was supposed to start at 5 p.m. We met at the train station at 3:00 and purchased tickets for a train that departed at 3:30.

The train to Pisa was very hot, and we slept most of the way there. We were happy to find that once we arrived, the temperature in Pisa was much cooler than in Florence. We made our way towards the Arno where the race was to be held. By the time we got to the Piazza, it was about 4:45, but there was no one there! We went to one of the street vendors and inquired about the Regatta, and the starting time.

We were in the right place, but the Regatta did not start until 7 p.m. we learned, so we decided to visit the Duomo and the Leaning Tower, and to have something to drink. We had both been to the leaning tower before, but it seems no matter, you aren’t prepared for how much it is actually leaning! I know that everyone has seen photos of it, but when you are there in person, you would swear that it will topple at any minute. That is so, even though they corrected it somewhat a few years ago!

This time was no different. Taking photos of the tower is difficult because you want to try to straighten it in the lens. You have to keep the ground level so that the actual tilt shows correctly. Of course there are angles of the photos that show better the degree of the lean than others. I wanted to take photos of the people taking photos. Of course, you must know someone who has visited and has a photo of them or their travel partner "holding up" the leaning tower! There are rows of people with their hands in the air trying to get just the right angle so that it will look like they are supporting the tower. Regine firmly told me not to even ask!

We found a café and sat down to have something to drink and watch the crowd which was growing. There was a calcio (football) game on the TV and Pisa was playing, so occasionally you would hear a roar from the gathering crowd.

At 7 we made our way back to the river and found a spot along the bridge to view the Regatta. Italians have their own way of dealing with time. The fact that one paper had said the race started at 5 and then we were told it started at 7 is no first time occurrence. At 7, the crowd had grown and we begin to see the fire patrol, coast guard, and other vehicles needed for the safety of the race on the river. The crowd continued to grow, and once the football game was over, banners came out, horns started to blow and cheers were heard from the crowd. We didn’t know if it was because of the football game, or the boat race!

We stood and watched and waited. There were 4 crews of boats and they went up and down the river to warm up a few times. At 8:30 or so, the race started! The race took about 15 minutes, and was a real let down! An announcer was on a loud speaker giving the blow by blow, but there wasn’t one moment of excitement or tension!

After the race, we headed back to the train station. The train was crowded, but not so hot at this time of the evening. We got on the train, but had to sit in the jump seats in the aisle for a little while until enough passengers had departed for us to secure a regular seat.
This is what it is like when you are in Italy looking for adventures. Sometimes you find them and they are fantastic, and sometimes they aren’t. Live and learn.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Star Fucker

Now that I have your attention......

Star Fucker was written across the back of a man’s jacket at a festival I attended recently out in the hills of Tuscany. The man was about 35 years old, and had his wife and 2 children with him, and they were with 2 other couples and their families, seated at a table, enjoying the music and food at the festival. Of course, he was Italian. I was the only one there who wasn’t.

Francesco and I were seated at a table nearby when I spotted the jacket. When I saw it, I was shocked! Even if I had seen it in the US, it would have been shocking, because few people wear blatant profanity in public, although there are some. Anyway, the people who do are usually not 35 year old men with their families out for a wholesome evening of fun at the community festival. It just didn’t add up.

I leaned over to Francesco and whispered in his ear....."there is a man behind you who has a jacket on that says "Star Fucker".". Francesco turned around and looked at the man. The music was playing loudly and we were close to it. Francesco turned back to me, and said in a voice so that I could hear over the music...."What is Star Fucker?" Since I could hear his voice over the music, so could everyone else, and I gulped down my mouthful of wine to prevent it from spewing all over the table. "SHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhh! " I said. "Don’t say that out loud in public!" I was mortified, but none of the people nearby who had heard him looked alarmed.
Francesco started to laugh and said, "No one here speaks English, so they don’t know those words. Even if the did know it was a bad word in English, it doesn't have the same impact here. " I think that is probably true because now that I know Italian profanity, it definitely doesn't have the same impact on me when I hear it, and saying it doesn't give me the same satisfaction at all as English curse words!

I still didn’t think it was funny, but to this day, he teases me about being so subversive about pointing it out to him, and says that the look on my face was priceless when he shouted it out over the crowd.

I still wonder why the man had the jacket on, and if he knew what it meant or said and where he got it. So many unanswered questions.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Divide and Conquer

Last night Regine and I met at the Neptune Fountain for a Friday evening on the town. Our preliminary plans were to go to dinner, and then to a concert by a local orchestra in the Piazza della Signoria. This is a regular summer concert series.

We met at the Neptune, and she had a restaurant in mind, but was not sure if she could locate it. We begin the search. When we came upon the restaurant that she had in mind, lo and behold, it was Bicherriria Centrale, the duck restaurant! Yeah! I of course had the duck, and we shared a bottle of wine.

After dinner we made our way over to the concert. Tonight’s selections were all Giuseppe Verdi, and we were not very impressed. The music was slow and sad, and didn’t fit our mood, or the mood of the rest of the crowd who came and went. We decided we had not had enough wine, and moved to one of the nearby cafe’s to remedy that. We drank another bottle of wine, and by the time we were finished, we could hear the guitar music coming from the Uffizzi, so made our way there to listen. He didn’t play long tonight because Florence has restrictions on how late the street musicians can play and it was about 11:30. We weren’t ready to call it a night so decided to go over to the Slowly Bar.

I have been there before alone, and was a little intimidated by the large number of men, and the small number of women. Regine and I went in and ordered a drink. There was the same ratio of men to women as before, about 10:1, but with Regine there to talk to, it was manageable. It wasn’t too long before men began coming over to talk to us, and I am proud to say that we could hold our own speaking Italian to them. Regine is 2 weeks ahead of me in class, because she did not repeat. She also has just begun taking afternoon classes in preparation for the DEGLI test which is an international language designation/certification.

After a few hours at the bar, we decided to call it a night, and as always, walked together to the Neptune. Regine lives near the Ponte Vecchio, so Piazza della Signoria is a midway point for both of us. As we approached the fountain and were beginning to say our goodbyes, two men approached us and begin talking. They of course wanted us to go for a drink, but we were having none of it. We had already had too much to drink and we’re tired. We told them no, but they continued to persist. I turned to Regine and said, "Sono vado a casa, tu vieni anche, Ciao!" (I am going to my house, and you head for yours) We hugged and parted in opposite directions walking quickly towards our homes. I didn’t look back to see where the men were, but in just a couple of minutes, one of them was behind me, asking me again to go for a drink, to which I replied, "No basta. Sono vado a casa". (No, that’s enough. I am going home). I pulled out my phone and started to dial Regine. I think he thought I was calling the police, because he was gone in a flash. Regine answered, and she was not alone, so I offered to come back and meet her. But she said it was not necessary. I told her to call me when she got home. In about 10 minutes my phone rang and she was at home. We laughed and decided that it worked pretty well, and next time we would need to work out the signals to maintain the element of surprise when we separated so quickly.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tosca-My First Opera

At the top of the hill is the original city wall, Porto Romano that borders the gardens and the Medici Palace. The opera was held near the city wall in the garden.
Before the show
After the show

Last night I attended my first opera, and I am sure it won’t be my last. I have grown to love classical music over the years, and once I heard Andrea Bocelli, opera has been an interest. Opera is not extremely popular in the United States, and particularly in Nashville, although with the addition of the Schermerhorn, I think there are plans to introduce it. I have often thought of seeing an opera while visiting New York, but there are so many options there, it never hit the top of the list.

Opera and Italy go together, and now since I am taking language classes, it is a good way to check my understanding.

Purchasing the tickets was an interesting task. First of all, I went on line, and saw that I could purchase tickets there, but I was on line on Monday and wanted to attend on Tuesday, so I had missed the deadline. The Opera Festival in Florence is held at The Boboli Gardens, at the Pitti Palace, home of the Medici Family. It is a beautiful outdoor venue with a lovely sculpture garden, and the air is filled with jasmine.

My second choice for purchasing tickets was a venue called The Box Office. This is an independent store which sells tickets for all types of events in Florence and the surrounding areas. It is located near the train station, which is on the other side of town from me.....a 20 minute walk. I set out when school was dismissed to purchase tickets for Regine and I. She had given me direction to the location, but I had some trouble finding it, so my walk to get there was about 40 minutes on a 90 degree day. Hot! Once I got there, I was so happy to be able to request the tickets in Italian for the venue, date, number of tickets and location that I wanted. When it was time to pay for the tickets, I pulled out my credit card, only to find out that the only method of payment accepted here is an Italian bankcard. I have a bank card, but it is not on an Italian bank, so they would not accept it. I don’t know why. Anyway, no tickets. They told me I could purchase them at the entrance to the theater 1 hour before the performance.

Regine and I met at the Neptune at 7:00 and walked to the garden entrance which was a 30 minute walk. Thankfully, the weather had cooled substantially, almost 30 degrees cooler, and we needed a sweater. We arrived and purchased the tickets, had a couple of glasses of wine, and then the opera began. It was really beautiful. The evening was perfect, cool breezes, blue skies. The sets were simple, and the songs magnificent with a wonderful orchestra. I was not familiar with the libretto of the opera, but with the little Italian that I have, was able to follow the simple story line. I was familiar with some of the music, too bad for the male lead, because I was familiar with them because I have CD’s of Andrea Bocelli and he sings the arias from Tosca. As far as I am concerned, no one could live up to that.

The opera was in 3 sets, with 20 minute breaks between, so it started at 9:15, and was not over until 12:15. We walked home through the city, which I love at night, and it was a wonderful evening.

In August, Regine and I have plans to go to Verona to see La Traviata at the ancient theater there. I can’t wait!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Men At Work

Ok, I admit it. Two of my favorite times of day are in the morning when I am walking to school, and in the evening around 6:30, when I sit in the Piazza della Republica, people watching. These two times of day happen to coincide with all of the Italian business men going to work.

A sight I have not often seen, until I arrived here, is a man dressed in an Armani suit, riding a bicycle. Many times, not only are they riding a bicycle, but they have a child on the back or on the handlebars and they are transporting them to school.

In the evenings, they stroll across the piazza, and sometimes stop in the middle in groups to chat with friends, or stop at one of the cafes for an apertivo. It’s like being at a Fashion Show. Armani, Gucci, Versace. Even in the heat, long sleeve shirts, suit and tie, beautiful leather shoes or boots, and designer sunglasses. Oh la la!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Permesso di Sogiorno (The Saga Continues)

This week, it will be 3 months since I have applied for the Permesso Di Soggiorno, which allows me to stay in Italy for more than the 90 days allowed by a tourist visa. Even though I received a visa from the Italian Embassy in Detroit prior to departing for Italy, I still have to apply for permission to stay here through the police department.

My ordeal dealing with the Questura and La posta is documented on early blogs, but suffice it to say, that when dealing with any government agencies, it seems to be the same all over the world. At least in the USA and here, there are lots of red tape.

Since it has been 90 days, and since I have learned a little more Italian, I decided to take another look at the paperwork I was given when I made the application at the post office. I found no additional instructions, and I had been assuming that I would receive something in the mail regarding the document. So far I haven’t. In the documents that I have, there is a password and a user id and some reference to "del permesso di soggiorno electtronico". I remembered seeing a machine at La Questura pertaining to the "electtronico" document, so I thought maybe I had misunderstood the original instructions and maybe I was to go there again with these documents.

Today I walked back across town to La Questura. I had to wait until school was out at 1:00, so it was a long hot walk. When I got there, all of the offices that I had been to before were closed. There were 2 police women at the door, and I asked one, in Italian, "Dove il ufficio per richesta Il Permesso di Soggiorno". She let off in rapid fire Italian, and I looked at her like a deer in headlights and said, "Parli piano per favore" (Speak slowly please). She then begin speaking in English, which is typical of Italians in Florence and why I don’t get to speak too much Italian. Not too many people have the patience for it, or else, they want to practice their English.

Anyway, she told me that I should receive something in the mail, but that I could go online to check the status of the application. She gave me the web address, and also said that the offices had moved. I decided to check the status on line first before going to the office. The office is opened from 8:30-10:00 Monday thru Friday, so I will need to miss school to go there.
At home, I went on line and found information about the Permesso di Soggiorno, absent any time lines, and I could not find anywhere to locate the status. The site is in Italian, and I spent 2 hours on the translations trying to find it.

I guess at this point, I will wait to receive something in the mail, or for the authorities to show up and tell me to get out of the country. It is interesting being on this side of the immigration process. While I have no idea what it is like in the USA, I can only imagine that it is equally as complicated, and the language barriers also a problem. I am sure that countries cannot afford to have forms, and information in all the potential languages of the immigrants. Even if you try to do the right thing, it is difficult when you cannot speak the language, and you do not know what steps to take next. Not an easy thing to solve, for governments or immigrants either!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Firenze Countryside

It was Sunday afternoon and I was trying to recover from an eventful weekend. Friday afternoon a wine tasting, Saturday a trip to Bologna, and a lazy Sunday morning spent cleaning the apartment, doing laundry, some painting, writing, and reading. Around 5:30 in the afternoon, I decided to head for Piazza della Republic and take my book.

I had no sooner found a seat when my phone rang, and Francesco told me to meet him at the Ponte Vecchio, where he had his car. The streets were so full of tourists that the usual 5 minute walk took me almost 15, and Francesco was waiting when I arrived. I jumped in the car and we were off!

I have only been in a car a few times in the past 3 months (3 to be exact). I had no idea where we were going, but I didn’t really care. There is a seatbelt law in Italy, but no one wears them, so when in Italy......It is interesting how quickly you can drop "rules" when in a new place, with new people, and new customs. Francesco had the soundtrack for all the James Bond movies playing loudly in the CD player.

On the autostrada (Highway), the roads are wide, but there are no lines, except down the center. People just "bob and weave" all around each other, and really it is worse than being in a New York Taxi, except that it seems they are all playing by the same rules, it is just not exactly clear what those least to me. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about it and put my trust in Francesco.

After a little while of driving, I asked Francesco where we were going and he said "alla compagnia". (To the country). We went about 25 kilometers outside of Florence into the Tuscan Hills where the vineyards and olive groves are abundant. Off the autostrada, the roads were narrower, steeper, and less traffic. We climbed the hills towards a specific vineyard that he had in mind, which is owned by Frescobaldi, a prominent Florentine wine producers.

The views were spectacular, and the winery was in an old castle on the top of one of the hills, overlooking the beautiful countryside. It seemed they were having a family reunion in one part of the winery, as everyone was dressed up, and they had large tables with dishes of food spread on them.

We walked around the grounds for a while and took in the views and the strong smell of jasmine in the air. Back into the car and on the road again, Francesco saw a banner for Festivo della Cinghiale. (Festival of the Wild Boar) in a little town called Peluga. He was very excited and asked me if I liked the cinghiale. I reminded him that I didn’t eat four legged animals and he reminded me that I needed to "experience the happiness" and so we were headed to the festival. (Francesco is the man who said I would not make a good Italian, so I have a lot to prove with him).

We followed the signs to the Festival and came upon a community soccer park, with a clubhouse type building, tables outside and in, and lots of people. I am absolutely positive that I was the only American there and also the only tourist! It was so exciting. Francesco quickly converted to parlare Italiano, and I did the same. He ordered a bottle of wine, Tortellini di Cinghiale, pollo a griglia for me, and patate fritte. We were assigned a table with another family, and went to sit down and wait for out food. There was a 3 piece band playing and people started dancing.

Francesco’s pasta came first and he insisted that I try the cinghiale, which I did, and it tasted very strong, exactly like you would think a wild boar would taste. It was not a bad taste, but after years of not eating meat, it was not one that I am fond of. My pollo came and we finished up our meal and the bottle of wine, and had to race back into Firenze so that Francesco could get to work by 10:30 p.m.

What a wonderful way to end a perfect weekend!

P.S. The photo of Francesco and I is equally bad of both of us. My eyes are swollen from allergies to the jasmine, and he is taking the photo of us, soooooo. Anyway, we were having fun!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Caught In The Rain

The weather in Florence has been very beautiful with hardly no rain. Recently, in the past few days, we have had a heat wave, which I have not enjoyed. The temperatures have been in the 90's, but I haven’t used my air conditioner yet. It is not too bad in my apartment and there is still a slight breeze stirring, but really, getting out during the day and walking is tough.

Today it was cloudy when I left for the grocery, but still hot. Not as hot as when the sun was out, so I felt that getting to the grocery and back with my sacks of goods would be tolerable. As I started out of the apartment, it began to sprinkle, but the clouds did not look menacing, and the weather report had not called for rain, so I continued on.

I got to the store and finished my shopping only to find that the bottom was falling out outside. I made my way out of the store and under the covering outside to wait for a break in the rain.
I waited a little while before it slowed and decided to start out. The slowing was actually the calm before the storm and by the time I crossed the street and found new shelter, I was drenched!

In Florence there are many vendors who sell scarves, sunglasses, purses, etc. These vendors are usually not licensed to sell, so walk the streets with their goods in bags, and pull them out only to show people who they think might be willing to buy. When it rains, umbrellas are the item to sell! While I was under the shelter, a man approached me and tried to sell me an umbrella. He spoke Italian, but I could tell that he was not Italian, by the way that he spoke. He had a very heavy accent of some type, but I did not know where. Instead of trying to sell me an umbrella, he told me that I looked beautiful in the rain, and asked me to go and have a glass of wine with him. Now please! I am soaking wet, I have two bags of groceries and I look like a drowned rat, ready to enter a wet t-shirt contest! I desperately wanted a glass of wine, but his timing was way off.

He persisted with me, offering to carry my groceries to my home and give me an umbrella for a gift. I refused all of his offers and we parted when he saw a group of tourists with limited umbrellas! The rain stopped and the temperature dropped substantially! Umbrellas are put away and we are back to sunglasses and scarves. Ciao!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


Regine and I decided to visit Bologna because the tourists in Florence are driving us crazy. Really, you wouldn’t believe the numbers! As I have said before, Italians are very tolerant and appreciative of the tourists, but living with the numbers of them is tough! You can’t walk for the people strolling in herds, eating gelato, gazing with their mouths opened at every statute, tower, building, painting, etc. I know it is hypocritical of me to even talk about it, since I was one, and probably still act like one regularly, but on those days when I am just trying to "live here" (go to the grocery, the post office, school, etc) it’s crazy.

This weekend was another "holiday" of some type, so we expected the numbers of tourists to increase even more. Florence is a destination for other Italians as well!

On Friday evening, after the wine tasting, we had purchased our train tickets to depart at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. The weather was not supposed to be great, but we thought we might as well be in Bologna with rain, as in Florence. The train ride there took barely an hour.
We got a map when we arrived in Bologna at the tourist information center and made our way pretty easily to the historic center. We caught the end of a parade in the Piazza, which was fun, and toured the cathedral there, San Petronio. San Petronio is built of bricks, which is much different than Florence and the rest of Italy. It was founded in 1390 and was originally supposed to be larger than St. Peter’s in Rome, but I was scaled down in order to perform other construction in the area, and remains "unfinished" currently. Nevertheless, it is beautiful and the bricks create a different look than other s in Italy.

When we excited the church, it had started to rain a little so we decided to have a cappuccino on the piazza. Many things were closed today because of the holiday, but our timing was great around staying out of the rain. The architecture in Bologna is very different and has lots of porticoed buildings and almost all of the sidewalks are covered with beautiful gothic arches and painted dome ceilings. This made is convenient for walking all over the city, even when it was raining.

Because of the holiday, many things were closed, we walked all over the city to see the sites and the layout, and when we needed a rest, we found a wine bar for a glass of vino, and a snack. Throughout the day, I think we visited 3 or 4 of these, and had a wonderful time. Towards the end of the day, Regine remarked, "Whenever I am with you, I am drunk!". I laughed out loud, and said that she was not the first person that had told me that, and that my friends in the states would be happy to know that some things had not changed about me!

We made our way back to the train station to catch an 8:30 p.m. train. We stood on the platform and noticed that it was decidedly empty and tried to listen to the announcements in Italian about the comings and goings of the trains. At the time our train was to be parting, we noticed that there were 2 number 3 platforms! There was a train at the other platform! We looked at each other astonished and ran over to the other train. The other train was actually headed to Rome Termini, but had a stop in Florence, so we boarded quickly. Apparently we missed our original train, but for a small extra charge, we made it home in less than an hour!
When we arrived in Florence, the difference in the number of people was astonishing. Even though we recognized the difference and appreciated the quiet streets of Bologna, we were immediately bombarded with hoards of people. It was about 10:00 p.m. by now and we made our way over to Piazza della Signoria to listen to music. The Firenze Philharmonic was set up on a stage in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, and what a nice concert it was! We got to listen to about half of it which was primarily Rogers and Hammerstein music, with the Italian National Anthem at the end. The Italian National Anthem is such an upbeat and happy sounding song! I decided I would look it up on the internet and learn the words! Italians sounded so joyous when they were singing it. There is a stark contrast to our National Anthem!

After this concert ended, we finished the night with the guitar music at the Uffizi. What a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Wine Tasting in Tuscany

On Friday, the school had a trip opportunity for a wine tasting. It was called 100 Vini (100 wines) and cost 10 euro. Regine and I decided to go. We met at the train station at 4 p.m. and rode the bus to a resort outside of central Florence. There were about 25 of us, mostly young students, but we are used to that.

Regine and I were skeptical that there would really be 100 wines. She and I had at separate times taken a trip to Chianti, and the wine tasting consisted of 4 wines. So we suspected there might be 100 wines, that you could buy or chose a very limited number to taste. Anyway, with that expectation in mind, we headed out.

The bus trip took about 20 minutes and was up in the hills surrounding Florence. It is a beautiful area with huge Tuscan villas like the ones you see in the movies. They have beautiful gardens and views, with vineyards and olive trees all around. The jasmine is in bloom in Tuscany, and the air smells so sweet, it can make you swoon. (or your eyes swell, if you are allergic like I am)

The resort was a beautiful old building with a covered patio where the white wines were, and 3 rooms inside with doors opening into courtyards for the red wines.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that not only were there 100 wines, there were probably 300 wines, and you could taste as many as you wanted! We arrived at around 5 p.m., and the tasting lasted until 9:30, and the last bus was out at 10:30. They had lots of samples of olive oil as well, and some cheese.

Regine and I both prefer red wine, but started with the whites and particularly the prosecco, which is an Italian sparkling wine. They provided us with a list of the wines, which you could also purchase, of course. The wines were categorized by the region of Italy that they originated from.

We sipped and chatted and critiqued the wines. We are speaking much more Italian together these days, but sometimes have a "mix" of English and Italian when we are having a discussion and don’t know the Italian words.

We moved on to the reds, and when we saw there were 3 rooms, we had to come up with a plan! Regine loves birds, so we decided to drink only the wines that had a bird on the label. This worked pretty well, but occasionally, we drank one with a tree on the label, (where a bird might have nested), or a house (where the owner had a pet bird in a cage). Mostly there were young students there, but we did notice some older men, who we had some things to say about (one with beautiful long curly hair, which I wanted to touch but didn't-REGRETS-he is the owner of the establishment that sponsored the tasting) and a younger group of men who were very serious about their tastings. They would swirl, and swish, and sip and take notes. They even poured a lot of the tasting out! We decided they must be choosing wines for a restaurant or something important.

We begin discussing our journey for the next day, which we knew we wanted to take, but had not decided where. We moved into a garden to discuss it, and the leader of our group came out to chat and see if we were doing okay. She asked if we knew how to get back to the bus as most of the students had left and she was on her way out (we really hadn’t noticed!)

We found the bus back into the city, and went for a pizza, then called it a night, with plans to head towards Bologna the next day.

We didn’t taste all of the wines, but as many as we possibly could! We decided that it was the perfect way to spend a Friday afternoon and evening and are hopeful that it is offered as a regular event at school!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Karen's New Life According to Kelly submitted by Kelly Mills

I asked Karen if I could write a "guest blog" about her new life in Italy, and she agreed. Here are a few of my observations: (WARNING! I am not as eloquent as Karen)

I think that those of you who know Karen will agree with the following assessment: she is always put together: clothes, hair, bling (think Mr.T), nails, the works. She likes to pamper herself. She always has a plan and she is always in control. People are intimidated by her, and with good reason.

The Italian Karen (Ms. Zani Capitani) doesn’t have a manicure or pedicure. She wears very little jewelry. She smiles all the blessed time. She is friendly to strangers. She starts every day by opening her kitchen window, sticking her head out and saying "It’s another beautiful day!" I don’t think that is a commentary on the weather outdoors, but a heartfelt feeling about where she is at this point in her life. Remember in the Disney movies how Cinderella and Snow White are so happy and sweet that birds land on them while they sing? That’s Karen’s new life.

Karen is lighter, and I am not talking about the weight she’s dropped. She is thriving in this little tiny apartment, with few creature comforts. She is making the most of this opportunity in the beautiful city of Florence. She has completely opened herself up to this experience where each day brings new possibilities. She is happier than I have ever seen her and I am thrilled that she is sharing her experiences with all of us.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Jazz Club

Sometimes on Friday evenings Regine and I go out to dinner and then to a club called The Jazz Club. They have live jazz there and it is so much fun, but really surreal. The first time we went, there was a 3 piece trio with a Bass, Piano and Guitarist, who also sang. The selections they chose to play and called Jazz, I wouldn’t necessarily have classified in that way, but it was all American music, with a jazz feel and very good and enjoyable.

The last time we went, they were playing Blues, and the first song was The Thrill is Gone by BB King. They continued on with the blues which really threw me for a loop! Can you imagine how strange it is to be in Italy listening to an Italian sing "I’ve got my mojo working?" At one point, I was sure I had entered the twilight zone, but chalked it up to not drinking enough wine, and remedied the situation immediately!

The Jazz Club is not too far from my home, and the music usually starts at 11:00, and after a couple of bottles of wine, we are usually ready to call it a night by 1:30 or so. Clubs are open very late in Florence, and there are a lot of people out on the street at that time. Regine and I usually walk together to the Neptune and then part ways. A domani! Ciao!