Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Return to the USA

I made a somewhat sudden decision to return to the US. It is difficult to concentrate on living a charmed life when you are wracked by guilt because someone you love is having a rough time. All I could think about for weeks was that I should be there to do something about it, make it better, fix it, change it, make it go away. Of course, I don’t have the power to do any of those things, (dammit) but somehow I thought that if I was in closer proximity, it would help. What I really wanted was to make a statement to this person of how important they are to me, and that I am willing to sacrifice some of my precious time in Italy to provide support, love, caring, a shoulder to cry on, or whatever is within my power to give.

At the point that we had the final word that she would not be able to visit me in Italy, I booked a flight and headed out. The week went quickly, and I am so glad that I returned for the visit. It was a surreal experience on many fronts, the details of which will surface in other postings I am certain.

I wish I could have seen everyone, but really devoted my time to the purpose for my return. So, if you know I was there, but didn’t get to visit, my apologies. I guess this is one of the consequences for my decision to be in Italy this year. I knew there would be prices to pay, and they are surfacing all of the time. As you may have noticed, I didn't take my computer, or post any blogs. I am back now, and boy do I have a lot to say......................................

Monday, July 30, 2007

My Walk to School

Everyday, I leave my house around 8:15 to walk to school. I don’t have to be there until 9, but I go a little early to look notes from the day before, and to have a leisurely walk, and a cup of coffee. I walk out of my apartment door, and take the back road through Piazza San Petro Maggiore. This is the area where I do much of my shopping, and where one of my favorite restaurants, I Ghibellini is located.

As I turn the corner out of my apartment, there is Vivoli Gelateria, which is said to have the best gelato in all of Italy by the guidebooks. Judging by the crowds that flock there night and day, I would say it is true. Next down the street is a Greek Orthodox church, a latteria (milk and cheese shop) and the Ailmentari (sort of like a deli). As you get to the piazza, there is the restaurant with a nice covered outside eating area, and across the way, the fruit and vegetable vendor which sets up an outside stand of fresh fruit and vegetables every morning. There is a macelleria (meat shop) and a Pesceria (fish shop) and Il Forno (bakery). Imagine the smells from all of these places every morning! Some nice, some not so much.

After I leave the piazza and turn left towards school, I have a beautiful view of the duomo, and everyday I think how lucky I am to be here as I walk down the quiet street. After 10:00, the street becomes busy with tourists and cars, but my walk to school is the perfect start to the day. Oh, and can you believe that in 4 months, I haven’t had to walk to school in the rain!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Oh, The Places You'll Go

Are their any Dr. Suess fans out there? Remember one of his last books called "Oh , The Places You’ll Go? I think about it every day with all of the experiences I am having. I have met and talked to people from all over the world. Germany, Australia, Ireland, Switzerland, Spain, France, Austria, Norway, Netherlands, Mexico, Greece, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, Turkey, Morocco, Israel, Africa, Egypt, to name a few.

Many of the people I have met are other students who have come to Florence to learn to speak Italian. Many are people who work here who have come from other countries where jobs are not as easy to come by and some are like me, looking for another place to live that feels more like home in their hearts. . Many of these people do not have work visas and are here illegally, selling merchandise on the street, also illegally.

Even though the news in the US only has information about the USA immigration problem, it is in no way isolated there. Other countries have borders also, and other people want to go into them! It doesn’t seem that Italy has a good solution either. It is interesting to note that they have signs warning tourists not to buy from these "black market" vendors. The signs are in Italian, so if you don’t speak the language, you will probably miss it. Guidebooks usually indicate this to be so, but the difficulty is in determining who are "black market" vendors.

Some of the vendors carry fake designer purses around in white sheets which they must set up and pick up 50 times a day, or whenever the police come by. Interestingly though, they only wrap the merchandise in the sheet, and stand there until the police go by and then set up again. There are vendors who sell purses, sunglasses, toys, scarves, and when it rains (rarely) umbrellas.

These vendors are on all of the piazzas. I have never seen the police say anything to any of them, but once I saw an officer yelling at a lady who purchased a toy from one of the vendors for her child who was standing nearby. It is definitely buyer beware!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mercato Cacine

Every Tuesday in a large park outside of the central part of the city, there is a market called Cacine Mercato. This market is visited by locals, and usually not tourists and has everything you can imagine.

Gloria and I went one Tuesday. She had been there before, but it was a new experience for me. We met in Piazza della Republica at 9:30 a.m. (I skipped school!). The walk took about 30 minutes and was along the Arno to the park.

We saw the site where they are building "Tram Via" a highly controversial project that will bring a tram from the outskirts of Florence into the city. (Think Disney world, and you have it). Easy to see why the controversy, and it was a mess on the construction site.

The people who set up in this market do a different market in a different city each day. Imagine setting up the stall, tearing it down at the end of the day and driving to another city to start all over again! The goods that they carry are of a wide variety like: shoes, cosmetics, jewelry, underwear, dresses, jeans, pants, bags, food items like dried fruits, olives, breads, meats, cheeses, fresh vegetables, and even some animals! It is easy to see why the locals shop here because the prices are low, and there is a lot to choose from.

Gloria and I spent several hours here and didn’t quiet make it to the end of the line. We walked back on the Oltrarno, and Gloria took me to a wonderful restaurant that she had frequented regularly and become friends with the owners who are brothers.

We had a wonderful lunch. I had gnocchi with pesto as a first course and she had lasagne. As a second course, we both had Taglieta di pollo which was a grilled chicken breast, sliced over ruccola and grated pecorino cheese on top. I guess you would call it a Caesar Salad in the states, but believe me, it beat any Caesar I have had there! We also shared a bottle of white wine. Gloria got to visit with the owners and introduced me to them also.

I was pleased to be able to make a few purchases at the market. I won’t go into details about what, but imagine losing 30 lbs in a city were everyone is the size of a doll. Clothing items are hard to come by in designer stores in my size! The market was a life saver!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Heat is On

Okay. It is 1:00 in the afternoon, and it is 80 degrees in my apartment. I am not sure what the temperature is outside, but in the sun, probably 95ish. It is cooler in the shade, but not too much. The humidity is not too bad here, but bottom line, it is hot. When you are outside walking everywhere, and climbing 52 stairs to get into your 80 degree apartment, it gets warm! I cannot remember the last time it rained, and you can tell by the Arno, which seems to be drying up! Earlier in the year, there was talk of a drought. I haven’t heard it lately, but if there is not one, I cannot imagine why. Literally, I don’t think it has rained in over 8 weeks.

The evenings are still very nice. I have air conditioning in my apartment, but use it sparingly, as it is expensive, and that is not the way I want to spend my money. The heat is increasing my "vampire" tendencies. I go to school, 9-1, come home and have lunch, do homework, email, blog, etc., then sleep the afternoon away until the sun goes down.

Once the sun is down (well, not down, because in Florence there is daylight from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m.), but around 6:30, I hit the streets. First out, I go for a walk along the river. I usually stop somewhere for a glass of wine, and then off to one of the bridges to watch the sunset. The sunsets here are beautiful. People line the bridges to take photos, particularly of the Ponte Vecchio.

I like sitting on the bridges, because it is so entertaining. I can usually get some material for my Public Displays of Affection book, because people love to kiss on bridges at sunset. Also, people do many other crazy things while taking photos of their own. One bridge that I frequent regularly, Ponte Santa Trinita, has large pillars that jut from the side of the bridge. People are always crawling out to those to have picnics or drink wine. I would love to do it, but am afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back over on the right side of the bridge!

Everyone says that August is the worst for the heat. All of the Italians go to the beach then. I sure am glad I got my hair cut short, only because it dries faster! It stays wet most of the time. Enough whining. I took the liberty of looking at Weather.com for a little relativity. Today it is 95 degrees in Florence with humidity of 18% and feels like 93 degrees. In Nashville, on the other hand, it is supposed to be 93 degrees with 83% humidity.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Villa San Michele

While Erik and Larry were here in Florence, Larry treated Erik to a birthday lunch at Villa San Michele in Fiesole and I was lucky enough to be invited! Villa San Michele is a beautiful old Italian Villa which has been turned into a 5 start resort atop one of the hills overlooking Florence on the way to the village of Fiesole. The views are outstanding, and the villa, grounds, and gardens are breathtaking!

We dressed up for the event and took a taxi to the Villa. When we arrived, we were blown away by how beautiful it was! We had time before our reservation to look over the view of Florence, take some photos, and visit the various "drawing rooms" in the Villa. It is beautifully furnished, and the suites surrounding the Villa for guests seem to have wonderful views also.
The Villa was originally a 15th century monastery, the facade of which was designed by Michelangelo. It is owned by the Orient Express Group of Hotels and is remarkable and the afternoon truly memorable!.

We dined in the open air loggia on the side of the Villa, again with a view of Florence and the Tuscan country side all around. We started our dining experience with bellini’s, the wonderful prosecco and peach nectar drinks that are heavenly. Larry and Erik opted for carpaccio for their Primi Piatti, and I had a salad of Octopus, black truffles, and chick peas. For our main event, Larry had calves liver, Erik grilled sea bass, and I had a fabulous monkfish. We accompanied the food with a refreshing bottle of white wine.

I had a marvelous cheese plate for my final course, and Larry had a chocolate mouse with cinnamon gelato.

Feeling happy from the wonderful food and drinks, we finished our meal, and walked through the gardens and up the terraces to the pool at the very top of the property. There was another place to dine pool side.

This was truly another fabulously memorable meal with good food, good wine, and excellent company. Thank you Erik and Larry for letting me be a part of the birthday celebration!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Timing is Everything

I have incredible timing. It swings from being the absolute worst to the absolute best at times, bordering on extremes, much like the rest of my personality. I had visitors this weekend, Erik and Larry. They were to arrive at 9:15 a.m. on Friday while I was in school. I had told them I would be in school until 1, and to call me whenever they felt like it on Friday afternoon/evening.

I went to school, came home and reviewed my email, wrote some stories for my blog, posted a story, ate lunch and took a nap (my usual afternoon activities), and then got ready to go out for the evening. It was a little earlier than usual for me (5:30 p.m.) But I was excited about seeing Larry and Erik. I knew they would be calling at any time, so I decided to go to the Rinascente to have a glass of wine while I was waiting.

I walked my usual path towards Piazza della Signoria, which is not the most direct route since the Rinascente is in Piazza della Republica, but I get to see the Neptune that way, and if any of my friends are around, chat with them before getting into the piazza.

This path takes me along the route directly in front of The Bernini were Larry and Erik were staying, and as I approached, I thought that maybe I would pop in and call them on the house phone. I decided against it, because the first day arriving on an international flight can be tough. Sometimes you just want to sleep and others you want to be out and about. Not knowing if they arrived on time, what their flight was like, or how they were feeling, I decided to just stick to the original plan, and let them call me.

Just as I was crossing the street, I heard a voice....."Karen! Karen!" I searched the crowded street of tourists for the voice, and there they were! Larry and Erik, designer shopping bags in hand!

Erik said that he had been watching for me on the streets while they shopped and was surprised when he saw me. Another data point for the size of Florence! We dropped off their shopping bags, and all headed to the Rinascente. What a great start to the visit!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Rinascimento in Valdarno

Rinascimento means Rennassaince and Valdarno is an area along the Arno River outside of Florence but in Tuscany.

Gloria found a tremendous deal in Florence, and believe me, not too many of them exist! We went to the Rinascimento in Valdarno exhibit. This exhibit is in 5 small towns in small cities around the Arno, and have works of art from 5 of the masters. There was an air conditioned bus that left at 9 a.m. from a point near Santa Maria Novella, and returned at 7:30 p.m. and the cost was only 5 euro. Their was a guide at each of the exhibits included!

The works of art are pieces that exist in these small towns outside of the large renaissance city of Florence, and the intent is to show that there was no favoritism given to Florence as a large city over these smaller towns where works of art were created by these masters. It is amazing that these works of art were created in the 14th and early 15th centuries, making them 600-700 years old, and the towns were they are located even older. It can give you goose bumps!

The cities were small, quaint, and remote. We visited on Sunday, and most everything was closed in all of the cities, which was disappointing, but understandable when you think about it.
Gloria and I found a lovely restaurant for lunch and had a wonderful pasta, Linguine with ricotta and lemon sauce.

The cities that we visited along with the artist represented there were:
Vallambrosa-Domenico Ghirlandaio
Cascia di Reggello-Masaccio
San Giovanni Valdarno-Fra Angelico
Santa Maria in Figlini-Giotto
San Lorenzo in Montevarchi-Andrea and Luca della Robbia

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Odeon-al Cinema

Behind the Piazza della Republica, and the Strozzi Palace, there is a theater called the Odeon. The theater is very old, although I don’t know how old, and is used for movies, and other theatrical events such as plays, symphonies, etc. It is in the old style with beautiful balconies, velvet curtains and plush velvet seats.

Occasionally, they show movies in the original language, some of those being English, with Italian subtitles. I LOVE this! At this point in my learning, it is so helpful to hear the English words spoken and to read the Italian translation.

The movies are shown 3 times per day, although not every day of the week. You have to pay special attention to find out when they are playing. It is an excellent way to spend a hot afternoon, because there is air conditioning, and they also have popcorn!

Italian movie theaters have an intermission during the movie which is strange, but nice. A good time to take a bathroom break and get something else to eat. So far I have seen: Death of a President-this was an excellent movie in my opinion. I heard about it in the states, but don’t think it was widely released if at all, since it deals with the fictional assassination of George Bush. I don’t really understand why it was banned because, really it treated George with much more respect than he deserves (my opinion again!) I saw Ocean’s Thirteen, and Running With Scissors, and most recently Breakfast on Pluto.

I don’t think if you are on vacation in Florence that you are likely to visit the Odeon, because there are so many other things to do. But, if there is an opportunity, it is a real experience!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Andrea Bocelli and Teatro del Silenzio

I am a huge Andrea Bocelli fan. I love his popopera stuff as well as the classical opera. I have read his memoir The Music of Silence, and have seen him in concert at the Lincoln Center in New York City. My dream within a dream was to see him sing in his native land, Italy. Well, not only did that happen, but I saw him in the town where he was born!

Some people have accused me of living a "charmed life." Well, I will be the first to admit that wonderful things happen to me that seem to be unexplainable and miraculous. I don’t know the reason or cause, but I am thankful and aware that it is not normal and of how lucky I am in these moments to be attracting this "positive energy" as some have called it.

I stalk Andrea Bocelli’s web site regularly looking for concerts because he does them worldwide, and they are not widely advertised in my opinion. I guess from the crowds that arrive, they don’t need to be. When Kelly and my Mother visited, Kelly heard Bocelli’s name on the radio, and I didn’t think that was too unusual, but decided to check the website to see if any concert announcements had been made, and located the one in Lajitico at Teatro Del Silenzio. I purchased the ticket right away. The prices for the tickets were 60, 115, 160 and 210. Being on a budget, I opted for the 115 euro ticket, knowing that I would still have to pay for transportation, overnight accommodations, etc. It would be an expensive outing for me, but worth it.

I have written about my search for transportation and accommodations, and how beautifully that worked out. (See Il Mulinaccio) I was in 7th heaven when I left school on Thursday for the train station, and seeing Il Mulnaccio and the countryside only made my euphoria grow by the minute.

By the time the concert rolled around, I could feel an "anesthesia" settling over me. It was almost like I had been drugged and was hallucinating, and that continued all night. (And in a good way!) We traveled to the theater, and the traffic was bad and parking impossible. Our van let us off at the designated spot, but we had to walk about ½ mile to the concert site. I had to pick up my ticket, which I had purchased on line, at the Will Call window.

I went to the window and waited in line. Lines in Italy are interesting. They have no form, and everyone just crowds around, although they are attentive of the order that people arrived. It makes Americans very nervous and inevitably some American will act pushy and say "I was here first."

When I got to the front of the line I handed the woman my receipt for the ticket and she began looking for it. I could see her searching in box after box, and then going back again. Clearly, it was not there. She pulled out a paper list, and seemed to locate my name, or reservation on the list and then went back to the boxes. No luck. I stood there trying not to panic. She took my receipt to another lady, who came to me and asked if it was correct that it was for one ticket. I said that it was and she asked if I was sitting with friends, or was it okay to change the location of the ticket. I said that I was alone, and the location was not important.

The woman returned to me with a ticket, and I breathed a sigh of relief. She said that she did not know why mine was not sent, but that she had "upgraded" me and that she thought I would be happy. I was already so happy just to have a ticket, I didn’t think it was possible to be happier, but it was! I made my way inside the theater (which is all open air) and located my seat, after much searching, on the front row, center stage!

I could not believe it! I held my ticket in my hand and looked and compared the section, aisle, and seat number over and over and over and over and over, not believing it could be true. I was 15 feet from center stage! The concert was scheduled to begin at 8:15 and it was 8:00 now. However, nothing in Italy starts at the designated time, and this was no exception. Since I had some time, I walked around and took some photos of the scenery around the theater. The theater is located on the top of a hill with the Tuscan countryside all around. As I said it is in the middle of nowhere, and it seems like heaven. I came back to my seat and a man inquired if I was in the right seat, his ticket in hand. I showed him my ticket and he said that I was right. I was sure my dream was coming to an end at that point, but it didn’t.

The concert started, at nine, and I was in my front row seat. Honestly from that point on, I didn’t know there was anyone else there! Andrea looked so handsome dressed in all black when he came onto the stage. He had many guests with him that evening: David Foster, Kenny G. Heather Headly, Chris Botti, and Sarah Brightman! He sang all of his most famous songs and he and Sarah Brightman ended with Time to Say Goodbye. There was one 15 minute intermission, and Andrea returned dressed in white this time. They filmed the concert, and I believe they are making a DVD from it.

I had my usual fit of tears rolling down my face during much of the concert and as I write this, still feel that I must have been drugged and hallucinating about the entire experience. It was surreal, and hypnotic, and erotic, and heavenly.

It just goes to show that if you have dreams, and you dream big, things can happen that are even bigger and better than you dared to dream!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Il Mulinaccio

About a month ago, I purchased a ticket to an Andrea Bocelli concert in Lajtico at the Teatro Del Silenzio. Lajitco is a very small village and when I asked locals were it was, they had never heard of it. I located it on the map, and it was in the middle of nowhere, about 2 hours away from Florence (per google maps).

Because the concert was in the evening, I would need overnight accommodations. I began an internet search of how to get to Lajitico, and what accommodations might be available.
It took me 6 weeks, and much frustration, and I was at the point that I had reserved a rental car, and was planning to drive to the concert and back to Florence because I could find no accommodation within a reasonable distance, when I stumbled on Il Mulinaccio. The website where I located it is called http://www.toscanasempre.it./ On the site, there are many agrotourismo resorts, which are very popular in Italy.

I corresponded with Stefania about accommodation, and she offered two. I chose Il Mulinaccio, at the reasonable price of 118 euro per night, with breakfast included. Not only was Stefania able to provide the accommodation, but advised me about the train to Pontedera, arranged transportation from the train station to Il Mulinaccio, and to the concert that evening!

The train ride was only 45 minutes from Florence to Pontedera, and of course, I had my usual problem with the train. One of these days I will get the hang of it, but I haven’t managed yet. This time, it was a regional train. The ticket was only 4.50 euro, and as I said, the journey short. The ticket person took my ticket, examined it and said that I was supposed to get it stamped in a machine on the platform. (This I did not know-this was my first regional train ride). As a result, I had to pay a fine of 5 euro. Oh well, as I say, live and learn. The train arrived on time, and Allesio and Frederica, owners of the resort were there to pick me up. There was also a mother and daughter who had arrived from Ireland at the train station who were traveling to Il Mulinaccio and the concert.

The trip back to Il Mulinaccio took about 45 minutes. The countryside was so beautiful and picturesque. Sunflower fields were everywhere, just like the photos you see of the Tuscan countryside. Hills rose all around with vineyards and olive trees, and the smell of jasmine in the air.

Il Mulinaccio is on a hill, and is a beautiful restored farm house with one guest house, and a separate kitchen and dining building. There is a pool and the vistas from the grounds are breathtaking. My room was in the guesthouse, and was lovely. There was an antique metal bed, armoire, side table and chair. The room had a tv and air conditioner, and the bathroom was the size of my apartment. I felt like such a queen!

Once we had settle into our rooms, I took a walk around the grounds and made some photos. Allesio’s mother, Ila had prepared a buffet for us with bruschetta, insalatas, salamis, cheeses, wine and bread. It was beautiful and delicious!

A van transported 10 of us to the concert that evening, and that is a whole other story!

If you plan to be in the Tuscan countryside, I highly recommend Il Mulinaccio as a place to stay. It was a delight after the noise and hustle and bustle of Florence.

Monday, July 9, 2007

One Door Closes, But A Cool Breeze Blows Through the Window

Yes, there is that old saying that when one door closes, another one opens. Isn’t that the truth! Sometimes you have to pay close attention, but it almost always happens, doesn’t it? I’ve told you about Regine leaving and how much she meant to me, and how I will miss her. The Sunday evening that Regine left for Germany, I met Gloria!

I was sitting on a bench in Piazza della Republica. About 6 p.m. in the evening, the business men are walking home from work, or to meet friends for an appertivo, the piazza is entirely shaded by the arch and as the sun goes down, the city starts to cool. I was sitting there feeling a little sorry for myself (believe it or not!). My friend had left and I was all alone again in the city. Two men had been sitting beside me for a while talking together. I had on my earphones and was listening to music on my IPOD, so that I could suffer in private. (Poor, poor pitiful me) After a while, I was back to the luckiest person alive to be living in Florence, and looking forward to seeing Regine in August, and happy that I had made friends with her.

I took off my earphones, put a smile on my face, and within 5 minutes, the two men who had been talking together turned their attention to me. The benches are wide and concrete, and always crowded because there are not many of them. This bench was no exception this evening, and there were people at my back and both sides. The men spoke no English but inquired about where I was from, etc, etc. We spoke for a little while, and I of course was struggling along with my Italian. We reached a point in the conversation where I did not understand what one of the men had said. I was telling him that when the lady to my right, said, "He is saying that his nephew works just outside of Florence and makes beautiful terra cotta pottery.". She is American and her name is Gloria.

I laughed and thanked her for the translation, and the men begin speaking to her in Italian. She speaks beautifully, and so the four of us talked for a little bit, and then Gloria and I introduced ourselves to each other. Gloria is from Baltimore and will be in Florence for a month. She spent 9 months here a few years ago, and she speaks Italian very well. She is my new hero.

Gloria and I exchanged phone numbers, and we have already been to dinner together and see each other every day at the piazza. Isn’t that the damndest thing?

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio, means the old bridge, and it surely is. Although it existed previously and was made of wood, the current bridge was built it 1345, and is the only bridge in Florence that was not destroyed during World War II allegedly by an express order of Hitler because he thought that the bridge was beautiful (wasn’t that "big" of him?)

Originally, the bridge housed vegetable, fish and meat merchants, but in 1565, Cosimo di Medici ordered that they not be housed there because of the smell, and gold merchants moved in immediately and have occupied the space ever since.

I personally have 57 photos of the Ponte Vecchio, and I can’t say that any of them really capture the beauty of it. Not only is it beautiful because of the character, age, color, and architecture, but the jewelry shops are like large jewelry boxes. They have wooden coverings that come over them at night, which are also beautiful.

I have to stay away from the Ponte Vecchio during the day when the jewelry stores are open. The jewelry there is hand made, 18k italian gold, and unbelievably beautiful. It is a beautiful romantic place at night, and in my mind it is one of the "wonders of the world".

Mangiare Prima (Eating Comes First)

A few weekends ago, while at a festival in the streets, I participated in a wine tasting. You bought a glass for 5 euro and you got to try 3 different wines. I am not talking about the 1 ounce taste that most American places give you. I mean 3 full glasses of wine.....so, it is a fantastic deal!

I purchased my glass and went to the first station, for a glass of Chianti. The server poured my glass and I went to the piazza were they were playing Jazz and drank my wine and listened to the music. After a while, the musicians took a break and my glass was empty so I moved on to the next station.

When I got there a crowd had gathered and were waiting patiently. I strained to see over the crowd, thinking that the wine at this station was "finito". I asked a man standing nearby, "Questo vino e finito?" He turned to me and laughed. He said, "No, Il vino non finito, la cameriere e prendi una pausa per mangi." Translation: "No the wine is not finished, the waiter is taking a break to eat"

I saw the waiter behind the station eating a sandwich and talking on his cell phone!

The amazing thing is that this crowd of Italians (no tourists here) were waiting while he finished. He finished his phone call first, ate the rest of his sandwich, poured himself a glass of wine, and opened the next bottle for the crowd. The line moved quickly, and I couldn’t stop laughing about this all night! Not the reaction that I would see at home!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Ode to Regina

Regine and I made the most of our last weekend in Florence together. On Sunday she left to return to Germany. She has another 3 months of leave, which she plans to spend in a camper touring all over Italy. I will see her in August when she returns to Florence, and we will travel together to Verona for a night at the Opera.

On Friday evening, Regine and I celebrated her completion of school and the Degli test with dinner at Rifrullo. This restaurant located on the Oltrarno, is a beautiful rooftop garden, with a wonderful menu. Regine had visited here before and invited me as her guest for the evening. It was a lovely setting outside on a rooftop, very secluded in a garden. The last of the jasmine smelled sweet and wonderful and the breeze was cool. I had sesame seared tuna which was magnificent, and we shared a bottle of wine from Bramesole, the mansion in Cortona, made famous by the book and subsequent move of the same title. Under The Tuscan Sun.

Regine ordered the wine, but was not familiar with Bramesole. I found it interesting since the book Under The Tuscan Sun, which I read in 1996, had a profound influence on me at the time I read it, which continued until reaching my destination here in Florence. I read the book upon its release and Will was 14 and Nick was 10. We were living in Alexandria, VA. I wanted to sell our house, and travel with the children all over the world for a year. Reading the book was my first realization that you can have dreams, change your life and your future. That dream didn’t come true at the time, but I harbored it and nurtured it, and thought and planned, and waited, and waited, until finally, it happened.

Back on the subject.....the bottle of wine was a nice tie in to dreams come true, new relationships, new experiences, changing your future and being open to the possibilities. As a side note, it was vintage 2002 which recently Regine and I had been told was not a good year. Wrong! It was fabulous!

After dinner we walked to a nearby wine bar, called Fuori Porta, which translates to Outside the door, which it happens to be. The ancient city wall and the entrance lies a few feet away.
Saturday afternoon, we met unexpectedly in the Piazza and decided on dinner again, and then afterwards went to a concert in Piazza della Signoria. We visited the Slowly bar, but bored of it quickly with it’s undanceable techno music, and went in search of a disco. We found one that had few people over 21 in it, and left quickly, and another with no one in it. We finished the night at Colle Berreto with another bottle of wine, and discussions about opening an adult dance lounge in Firenze!

Sunday morning, Regine had to be out of her apartment early, and her flight was not until the afternoon. She checked out of her apartment and brought her things to mine to store. We had to make the long trek up the 52 stairs with her things, but once they were safe and sound, we headed out to "cats corner" to say good bye to the cats. At first we couldn’t find them. It was mid day and hot, so we thought they were hiding in the shade somewhere. Eventually we located them in the shade of the bridge. There were many birds and ducks around and while we were wondering why the cats did not try to get the baby ducks, a lady came with a can of cat food and threw it off the bridge, and down to the cats! This is the second person we have seen feeding the cats, so that must be why the birds are safe and the cats looking so smug, healthy, and happy.

We walked to San Lorenzo, but decided it was too hot for walking and we parked it in the piazza for prosecco and a light lunch, and then over to the Rinescenta, for more of the same. Eventually, it was time for Regine to head to the airport so we made our way back to my apartment, got her things, hailed a taxi at Santa Croce, and said our goodbyes.

This friendship made in a foreign land where and when I knew no one, is a very special one to me. To find someone with similar life experiences, outlooks, and opinions, half way around the world was a very pleasant surprise to me and a real gift. I have enjoyed sharing life experiences, cultures, languages, learnings about Italian life (and men), stories of our families and children, birds, cats, clothing, music, etc., etc.

I will see Regine in August and until then, will miss her greatly, but I know that we will remain friends and cherish our experiences and time together in Firenze for many years to come. Arriverderci, Regine. Ce vediamo Agosto!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

1812 Overture

For several days, the Piazza della Signoria was wrecked with equipment being put in place for a concert in front of the Loggia. The concert was the final one of the summer series, and some people purchased tickets for a seat at a very high price. The stage and sound equipment filled most of the piazza and there was standing room in the very back.

The orchestra played selections by Tchaikovsky including the Romeo and Juliette Overture, Fantasia, Concerto No. 1 and the 1812 Overture which included fireworks over the Piazza and a performance by a choir! It was spectacular!

The piazza was crowded, from corner to corner with people standing to listen. The sound was incredibly good for a temporary outside venue, and even though the evening was warm, there was a slight breeze blowing to make it comfortable among the crowd. The performance lasted for almost 2 hours and as people came and went, we inched closer and closer to the front of the crowd. Italians are very respectful of classical music and the crowd was quiet for the most part, with the exception of the loud drunk Americans on the outskirts of the crowd. (There are some in every crowd, creating an "undesirable stereotype" for the rest of the world.)

The fireworks display was from the top of the Loggia, which is connected to the Uffizi. The sky was filled with fire and sparks and debris floated in the sky over the piazza. The display sounded in unison with the overture and cannon blasts. Wow! I bet it made Tchaikovsky proud!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Going Away Parties

Well, I started school 3 months ago (12 weeks). Many of the people that I have become friends with started at the same time, and are now leaving. Dora had a party one evening for many of the people that were going away. She is going to Amsterdam, Angelita is returning to Spain, Regine to Berlin and then traveling throughout Italy, Andrea back to Switzerland.

I am so sad to see them all go, but so thankful that I got to meet them all, hear the stories of their lives and the cultures they come from, and form some life long friendships. At the party, it was a very interesting mix of laughter, discussions, and the languages, oh the languages....Italian, Swiss German, German, Spanish, and English.....whooooo. That plus a lot of wine will make your head spin!