Friday, September 28, 2007

The Phone Stalker

I don't think I’ve told you about my "phone stalker". It has been off and on for a few months, but anyway, I met this guy in June on the piazza, Tommy. I was sitting on a bench, and he came over and started talking to me. He asked me to go and have coffee, but I said I couldn't because I was meeting some friends from school for dinner, and then the fireworks for the Fuoco di San Giovanni. We exchanged phone numbers for another time. This was probably a ½ hour encounter at the most!

I met my friends for dinner and then went to the fireworks. When I got home, my cell phone message light was on and when I checked it I had 22 missed calls from this guy! Okay.... what a freak! I decided then and there that something was wrong with that. I mean who calls that many times when someone doesn't answer? It seemed like a bad sign, and I decided I wasn't going to see him or answer any of his calls.

The next day around 6 p.m. he started calling again. Again, he must have called 30-35 times, and I did not answer.

The day after that, I got a phone call from this girl. She was American and when I answered the phone she said "May I speak to Karen?" I said "This is Karen" and she said "You met my boyfriend yesterday." I asked her who it was and she said never mind and hung up. The number she was calling from was a NYC number.

Later that day, Tommy started calling again. I answered once to tell him to stop calling and he asked me if his girlfriend had called. He doesn't speak any English and back in June my Italian was not as good as it is today. Anyway, I told him not to call me anymore. I don't know how or why his girlfriend got my number, but either she saw it on his phone or he told her. But, she did know my name. Anyway, more weirdness.
He continued to call and then started sending me text messages saying he loved me, etc., and I just ignored them. After several weeks, he stopped.

In the last week, he has resumed calling me. Many, many times per day. Yesterday he called me 64 times, and sent me 7 text messages.

Last night I told Mimo about it, and he called him and there was a lot of noise, confusion and Italian and Arab curse words flying around. I haven't received another call, but who knows. I am afraid of the guy, but thankful that he doesn't know where I live. I have never seen him again in Florence, which is odd since I see the same people all the time. Mimo took his number and said he would take it to the Polizzia if he calls me again. Mimo says that Tommy is Albanese and he could tell from his accent.
Strange..........but true.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wine Tasting, Again

It is the Fall harvest season in Chianti and wine tastings abound! Yippeee! I traveled back to Certosa with my school and a group of 80 students. Instead of the 300 wines of last time, there were 700 this time, and I tried to taste them all!

When we arrived, we were the first ones there. We received a wine glass and cap (oh, boy!) and started through the tents that were set up to house the wines. The first tent was the sparkling whites, or prosecco’s and spumanti’s, Italy’s answer to champagne. These are not my favorite, but a good way to "warm up" the palette.

Next on the agenda was the white wines. Some areas of Italy have some nice white wines such as Pinot Grigio and Vernaccia, but overall, Italy is not known for it’s white wines.

The largest tent, and inside in 3 rooms of the hotel, were the stunning reds. I didn’t taste one that I wouldn’t drink with pleasure! The wines were all categorized by the regions of Italy that they are produced. My favorites are from the areas of Montalcino, and Montepulciano The nobile, rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montepuliciano. They were all fabulous. Also, a new favorite on my list, but I can rarely afford to drink it on a regular basis is the big, jammy Amarone, that melts in your mouth.

On tables between the wines were bottles and bottles of a variety of olive oils. My wine palette is more developed than my olive oil palette. I tasted many of the oils on the plain Tuscan bread, and liked them all, but had trouble detecting the subtle flavor differences between them all.
Another tent housed the "Alimentary" or food accompaniments. These ranged from cheeses, to spicy spreads, black olive piccante sauce, marmalades, and honeys. These are all excellent spread on bread or to use as dips for cheese. The gorgonzola cheese was suggested for eating with the sweet wines, and I have often partaken of it with a glass of port. (Yummy!) And the hard, salty pecorino is fabulous with the reds.

A wine tasting with 79 20 something’s and me was interesting. I was cute and annoying to see and hear them sniffing, swirling, and tasting and then asking where the white zinfandel, merlot, and sweet wine was! It went a long way in solidifying the American stereotype.

I left there happy and had 2 cases of vino shipped to the states, so that when I return, I can "remember the day". Maybe you can join me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Art or Pornography?

We Americans live in a superficial world where sex is a dirty word, but the media talks about it all the time, magazines, newspapers, movies, and tv exploit it at every turn. We, as a population, don’t talk about sex much....that is, in a serious way. Our WASP upbringing
won’t allow it. As a result, we have a sexually stunted population, that believes art is pornography, and the human body something to be leered and peeped at in secrecy.

It’s okay that women are half clad and prancing around the streets, in schools, on magazines, in
movies, and tv. But, controversy about the naked human body exists in the US at every turn. In Nashville, I have never seen such a to do about the statue in the roundabout that depicts naked muses.

Here is another example:

I sent a statue of Michelangelo’s David to someone I know (who shall remain nameless). The
family has two children. One of the children, was shocked and appalled at a naked man standing on a shelf in his kitchen, and complained loudly about it. What happened next? The father in the family made a diaper out of a napkin to clothe David.

What do you think about that? Art or pornography? What are we saying to our children? Is this an outcome of a country founded by Quakers and Puritans?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Local Color

In Florence, there is a man, who I believe is homeless, and who I see every day. I consider him a part of Florence’s "local color". I don’t know the age of the man, or where he is from. I believe him to be around 45, but with the life he leads, who knows?

I see this man in a variety of places around the city, and suspect that the city has ordinances which prohibit people from "setting up shop" in any one place. Sometimes when I see him, he has on clean clothes and has had a hair cut, but those days are rare. He travels light, with no suitcase, bags, or "extras", and when I see him, he usually only has a carton of wine ( or 2).

Sometimes I see him in my piazza, Santa Croce, watching the puppet shows like a child. The puppeteer always includes him in his antics, and he delights like a child and with the other children in the performance.

Every night, he gathers in front of the Uffizi to listen to music. He cheers for Ken and Alice, (the singers) and his favorite song is U2's With or Without You. When he is here listening to music, he is always very drunk to the point that he can hardly walk, and so he sits (or lays) in front of Ken and Alice and drinks his wine. Occasionally, with much effort, he gets up and walks to the crowd sitting on the steps to bum a cigarette and a light.

Even though the set that Ken and Alice play every night is exactly the same, and always in the same order, "the wino" starts yelling early on for them to play "With or Without You". When they start the opening licks, he cheers and gets to his feet and sings alonng,

I wonder what the song means to him?

With Or Without You lyrics

See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I wait for you
Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails she makes me wait
And I wait without you
With or without you
With or without you
Through the storm we reach the shore
You give it all but I want more
And I'm waiting for you
With or without you
With or without you
I can't live
With or without you
And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away
And you give
And you give
And you give yourself away

My hands are tied
My body bruised, she's got me with
Nothing to win and
Nothing left to lose
And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away
And you give
And you give
And you give yourself away
With or without you
With or without you
I can't live
With or without you
With or without you
With or without you
I can't live
With or without you
With or without you

Monday, September 24, 2007


Ognissanti, which means "All saints" is a church near the Arno It is in the middle of a piazza and I have passed it many times on my way to Ponte Santa Trinita to watch the sunsets. From the outside, it is relatively non-descript, but for the Louis della Robbia ceramic above the door. The church was the parish church of the merchant family of the Vespucci. Sound familiar? Yes, Amerigo Vespucci was the first to realize that the land discovered by Columbus was a new continent, not the eastern shore of the Indies. There is a fresco by Ghirlandaio (master of Michelangelo) depicting the Vespucci family.

Ognissanti is also the burial place of Sandro Botticelli, famous painter of Primavera, and The Birth of Venus which hang in the Uffizi, among many others. A fresco by Botticelli of St. Augustine can be seen on the south wall inside the church, opposite one of St. Jerome by Ghirlandaio.

I would have overlooked this church, but for a tour that was offered free from my school. Monica, one of the teachers was the guide, and she took us to two important piazzas and then the church. The church is one of the more ornate in Florence, decorated in the baroque style, and the perspective on the ceiling and each end of the church is incredible. If you move from side to side in the church, the balconies painted on the sides seem to slant in one direction and then the other! It is amazing to see.

When I entered this church, a monk met me at the door, and had me put on a paper shawl to cover my bare shoulders as I had on a sleeveless shirt. As I entered, I saw others with these paper shawls wrapped around their waists to cover bare legs.

Now I am getting into the attractions that are not so much for tourists, but I don’t know why. There is no entry fee for this church, and it is absolutely one of the most beautiful sites in Florence. I recommend it highly. Then afterwards, stroll to Ponte Santa Trinita and to Noir for an appertivo.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Tattoo

On Saturday, I went for my tattoo. I spent a lot of time deciding exactly what to wear to have the most comfort and the least exposure as the tattoo placement was on my "lower back". I finally settled on something, and headed out to hit the wine bar, before my appointment. I had it carefully planned so that I would arrive at one of my favorite wine bars about 45 minutes before the appointment. The wine bar happens to be just around the corner from the tattoo shop.

When I arrived at the wine shop, it was closed! For a person who believes in "signs" this seemed like a potentially bad one, because I desperately needed some alcohol to calm my ever increasing case of nerves. For those of you who know me, you know that I am not afraid of too many things. The small list of things that I am afraid of include: snakes, satyrs (those men looking things with cloven hooves), stepping over water into a boat, and needles. Just to give you some indication of the depth of my fear of needles, .......I had my babies at home to avoid them. I tried to overcome this fear my giving blood for 2 years. I got a nice pin from the American Red Cross for being a 1 Gallon Donor, but my fear of needles remains.

I have one tattoo, which I got about 10 years ago in Miami, after drinking heavily. I planned to tackle this one in the same way. Even though the wine bar was closed, I decided it wasn’t really a bad sign, because wine is easily accessible in Florence, and I went to the next wine bar, 2 doors down.

I drank several glasses of wine and my appointment time, 3 o’clock rolled around. By now I was calm and tranquil and ready to go. When I got to the tattoo parlor, it was very crowded. There were people in the lobby looking through the pattern books, a woman in the back being tattooed, and some others making appointments and finishing transactions. I told them that I had an appointment and took a seat to wait.

In true Italian style, we didn’t get started on my tattoo until 3:45. I started doing Lamaze breathing at one point to avoid hyperventilating. Once I got back into the tattoo room, which was all glass, I begin to calm down again. I discussed the colors again with the artist, and although originally I had told them a purple outline with a dark yellow in the center, I changed it to a purple outline with a red center. I had wanted red from the beginning, but some concerns around "red die #5" crossed my mind. I decided to put those aside, as I saw many red tattoos being done in the shop.

The first step in getting a tattoo is to apply a stencil of the pattern. I had to lower my pants (more than I was really comfortable, but I got over it when the needles started) and he applied the stencil to the location I had indicated. The tattoo is located just above my waist on my spine, and extends towards my "lower back". The placement was perfect, and he told me to sit down on a backless stool and lean forward with my elbows on the arms of another chair. At this point, he asked his assistant to lower the shades in the all glass room, and I was thankful for that.
He started with the purple of the outline. This part hurt the most. Actually, it hurt like hell, especially the part right on my spine. There was music playing loudly and I tried to concentrate on that and continue the Lamaze breathing. Outwardly, I was the picture of courage! All the while he was working on the tattoo, his assistant was helping others pick out patterns, and coming back to consult with him on colors, appointments, and costs.

After he finished the outline, he asked me if I was in much pain, and I replied that I was fine. He said we would take a 5 minute break, which turned into 15, and I was okay with that.
When he came back, he started on the interior of the tattoo which was the red part. This part did not hurt much at all, which surprised me. I did not look at the tools that he was using (because they are needles!), but it seemed that the larger surfaces were easier and did not puncture as deep. I don’t know, maybe my body had created a natural anesthesia by then.
When he finished, he sprayed it with alcohol, and then rubbed some Vaseline over it, and covered it with a plastic bandage. He gave me instructions to leave the bandage on for 3-4 hours, wash wish plain soap and water, avoid sunlight, salt, and chlorine for 10 days, and apply Vaseline for 3-4 days 3 times per day.

I had intended to have them take some photos of the tattoo, but once he was finished I was so relieved, that all I wanted to do was get out and have some more wine! I paid for the tattoo, and went to one of my favorite restaurants for a celebratory meal. I had spaghetti con vongole, and grilled vegetables and a half liter of wine.

Afterwards, I headed to the market for a little grocery shopping, and then back home. Once I got back to the apartment (around 7:30 p.m.) An overwhelming exhaustion hit me and I laid down for a nap. To my amazement, I woke up briefly at 9:30 p.m., made a few phone calls, and back to bed for the night waking up only minutes ago at 9:00 a.m. Boy! Getting a new tattoo is exhausting!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Spaghetti With Cherry Tomatoes

Here’s a secret. I am a good cook. I want it to stay a secret, because I only want to cook, when I want to cook. No expectations, no demands. I gave up cooking for a long time, but have renewed it here in Italy. With so many fresh ingredients, and wonderful recipes, the "Italian Kitchen" is inspiring.

I have spoken often in my blog about the quality of the tomatoes here. I think that I could turn into one, and it is one thing I will surely miss when I am gone. Tomatoes in the states definitely have their "season", and while they are available year round, out of season, they just aren’t worth it.

One of my favorite recipes is Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes. This is a simple dish with all wonderful fresh ingredients that you can eat as a full meal or as the Italians do, as a first course. (Primi piatti)

Try it:

2 ½ lbs Cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 cloves of garlic peeled and sliced
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
dash of oregano
4 fresh basil leaves, cut into slivers
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lb spaghetti

Wash and dry the tomatoes. Cut them in half, and place in a bowl with the garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat and add the tomato mixture. Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat. Do not overcook the tomatoes: they should still be firm and retain their skins. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pan of salted, boiling water for 8-10 minutes (DO NOT OVERCOOK) Drain the spaghetti and add to the tomato mixture in the skillet. Cook for about 5 minutes more over high heat, tossing constantly, so that the tomato sauce is absorbed by the pasta as it finished cooking. Serve hot, with fresh grated parmesan cheese Serves 4.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


The City Gate

The Promenade on top of the City Wall

The Antique Market

(Not to be confused with Luca, the bartender)

Lucca is a small town outside of Florence, in Tuscany, that you can get to by train in 1 ½ hours or less. Lucca is enclosed by massive red brick walls which help to give the city its special character by shutting out traffic and the modern world. It was built in 1504-1645. The walls are among the best-preserved REnaissance defenses in Europe. Unlike many of Tuscany’s hilltop towns, Lucca is flat. Many locals use bicycles which adds to the charm.

When I arrived, I walked across the street from the train station into and through the city walls. It was like going through a time machine into another world. Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca and the house where he lives still stands there. There is a promenade along the top of the city wall. It is a beautiful walk with fine views of Lucca. The architecture in Lucca is primarily from the Romanesque period.

This weekend there was an antique market going on in the streets of Lucca. There were vendors for glass, chandeliers, furniture, jewelry, books, marble statues, and food. Since Lucca is only 10 miles from the sea, seafood is considered "fresh" here while the 3 hours it take to get it to Florence, it is not. That being said, I took the opportunity to have a wonderful fresh seafood salad for lunch, drink some wine, and take in the scenes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Guitar Club

While Robert and Lisa were visiting, we visited a local guitar club that is very near my house. I had passed this club often, but had not gone in. The club is down some stairs, and from the street, it is unclear what is in there, or exactly what it was like. I was a little intimidated to go in alone, and this provided the perfect opportunity.

The club opens around 9:30 and always has music playing loudly which attracts the attention of passers by. When we arrived, Jim Croce was playing, and we had wonderful nostalgic flashbacks of teenage angst while we sang along loudly to "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, Operator, and Time In A Bottle". We had a bottle of wine, of course, and some "hors d’ oeuvres" prepared by the owner, consisting of an olive mixture and slices of salami.

The club is the cellar of a building with rough hewn stones, a concrete floor, and rounded brick ceiling. There are primitive wooden tables and chairs, and it is dimly lit, with candles on the table. It smells musty like a cellar and is full of atmosphere. There was a small stage, with a single guitar sitting on it and a chair, and posters of the owner around the place. The owner was also the guitar player, at least on this night!

By 10:30 or 11, a few more people had joined the group, and the music started at 11:30 Sadly, we left shortly after the music started, but were happy with the experience overall. I know now that if I want, I can stop by the guitar club on my way home, have a glass of wine, listen to some music, and maybe even some more Jim Croce!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Planning A New Tattoo

I decided a while ago to get a new tattoo. I wanted the Fleur DI Lis, which is the symbol of Florence. You see it everywhere, on the palaces, souvenirs, crests of buildings, shields, etc. It is beautiful, elegant, and popular. Regine and I had spoken of getting tattoos together, but it never materialized. I had difficulty locating a shop which I thought was trustworthy and safe. I started asking people on the streets who had tattoos, if they had gotten them in Florence, and if so where. None of them had, they were all tourists.

Some of the people I have met who live in Florence made recommendations, and one of my friends agreed to take me, while Lisa and Robert were here. Well, that fell through and is a whole separate sad story, but anyway, Robert and Lisa came to the rescue.
They had gone to the train station to purchase their return tickets to Rome, and were walking through the area of San Lorenzo, when they spotted the tattoo shop, which they thought looked nice. They went in, looked around, and wrote down the address and phone number.

After a couple of days of deliberation and tossing around color ideas, I decided to go back to the shop to see what it looked like, and whether I was ready to make the plunge. Robert and Lisa agreed to go with me. I am afraid of needles, to the point that I had my babies at home (sensa needles) I have one tattoo already, and felt that using the same method (drinking heavily) would get me through a second one. Having friends hands to hold is always a plus in situations such as this.

We went into the shop, and there were a few people in the waiting room, and one man with the artist behind a glass wall, getting a tattoo. The people in the waiting room were looking through books for designs. A man came right over to me to ask if I needed help.

I told him that I wanted the Florence symbol, and had a couple of examples from a place mat, napkin, and a pin that Lisa bought for me. He recognized it right away and went to his books were their were many patterns for me to choose. I chose one, but wanted it bigger, so he made an enlargement on the photocopier for my approval. I told him the colors that I wanted and after consulting with the artist came back to say that it would be 150 euro. I agreed to the price, but they were unable to fit me in on that day (Thursday) and I made an appointment for Saturday. I paid a deposit, got a receipt, and departed.

Lisa and Robert are leaving on Friday, so no moral support or hand holding is currently available! Wish me luck.

Friday, September 14, 2007

I Lost My Wallet

A few days ago, I "lost" my wallet. I use these quotation marks, because it is gone, and I don’t know where/why. Robert and Lisa and I had lunch in Piazza di Santa Croce. I paid for my lunch at that time, and walked back to the apartment, because I had to make some phone calls. Robert and Lisa were out and about and we had scheduled a time to meet in the Piazza della Republica.

I finished my calls, and headed out to meet them, taking a usual path into the city center. The streets I take are not too crowded, but not deserted. I walked easily along, but with purpose, not stopping or lingering anywhere. It was around 5:30 p.m. and the sun was setting, so at one point, I unzipped my purse and blindly dug around for my sunglasses, snagged them, put them on, and zipped up again.....all while continuing to walk, with the sun glaring in my eyes. Maybe the wallet dropped out at this point.?.

I found Lisa and Robert on the Piazza and we chatted briefly and then headed up to the top of the Rinescente where we shared a bottle of wine, overlooked the piazza and chatting. When we were ready to go, I couldn’t find my wallet.

We came back to the apartment to see if I had "left" it here, but I knew that I had not. We also went back to the lunchtime restaurant just to make sure it wasn't there. No luck.

I had one credit card, my bank card, driver’s license, 15 euro and 2 photos of my sons. I called the credit card company and they were so efficient and professional indicating they would send another card out over night (that didn’t happen). The bank of course, as banks are, was more difficult. They wouldn’t send it to my Italy address without changing my address in the system. The address change would take 30 days and the card another 7-10 after that to reissue. If they mailed it to my US address which is on the account, it would take 7-10 days. I was able to "expedite" it for a fee of $25, and now it will be mailed to my US address in 3-5 days! What a wonderful customer service experience.

From that point, my mother will have to send it to me. Thankfully, Robert and Lisa were able to provide me with some cash, and everything should be fine.....depending on how long it takes to get the card, and what happens in the meantime.

I am sitting in my apartment today, waiting for the credit card to be delivered (between 9-5) by UPS. I have other credit cards, so that is not a primary concern. Thankfully, I only carry one with me, and keep the others tucked away in my apartment, for this very reason! I can also get a cash advance if necessary at an exorbitant interest rate on my credit cards, should I have some type of "cash" emergency.

I suppose the wallet could have been "picked" out of my pocket. It doesn’t make a difference, it’s gone, and there are inconveniences to deal with.

Yesterday evening, while Lisa and Robert and I were having a glass of wine at an enoteca, a group of 3 ladies sitting on the terrace on the street, got ready to leave, and her entire purse was gone! The terrace had a wrought iron fence circling it, but apparently a thief had stuck their hand through and snatched the purse! I could really sympathize with her. Unfortunately, it didn’t sound like she was so lucky, as she had her passport in there as well!

Moral of the story: Be a smart traveler! Don’t carry too much cash or important things in your
wallet. Separate credit cards, leave your passport in the hotel safe, keep your purse close to your side!

Ireland to Italy

The last time I saw Robert and Lisa together was about 3 years ago when we all took a pub tour in Ireland at Thanksgiving. What a fantastic time, flying into Galway, taking a bus all over Ireland and into Dublin. We must have hit 30 pubs, and have pictures of us drinking in all of them!

Now they are visiting me in Italy, and we are gathering more photos of us drinking together! This is their first trip to Italy, and I can tell they are falling in love with it already. Roberts father’s family is from Italy, so it already holds a place in his heart.

When they arrived, I of course, entered my manic phase of wanting to show them everything on the first day. We walked around town, and got a feel for it, had some wine, and dinner, and listened to some music. On Sunday, we visited the Piazzale Michelangelo, Santo Spirito Mercato, sat on the Ponte Santa Trinita, (of course), and drank a few bottles of wine at lunch, dinner, in between, and while listening to music that evening on the Ponte Vecchio.

This week while I am in school, they will be visiting the sights, and I will meet them in the afternoon for the "behind the scene" stuff and dinner.

Robert and Lisa live in Cleveland, and with my return to Progressive, there is a possibility that I will end of there also. Robert and Lisa have assured me that Cleveland is just like Florence, and that I will fit in well there.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Quit Work For A Year

I wish I had read this article a year ago when I started thinking about my leave of absence. As it turns out, I followed almost every step they suggest, but I had to think of it all on my own! If you are thinking about's how.....

Learning To Be Still

"Learn To Be Still" is an old Eagles song, that I hear every night when I go to listen to the music at the Uffizzi. Many of you may be familiar with it, as I am, because it is a song I grew up with. One evening, the lyrics actually struck me as I listened, and I thought about what they mean and how true they are.

Everyone is searching for something, and that’s what the song is about. I think I have "learned to be still" here is Italy.

It's just another day in paradise

As you stumble to your bed

You'd give anything to silence

Those voices ringing in your head

You thought you could find happiness

Just over that green hill

You thought you would be satisfied

But you never will-

Learn to be still

We are like sheep without a shepherd

We don't know how to be alone

So we wander 'round this desert

And wind up following the wrong gods home

But the flock cries out for another

And they keep answering that bell

And one more starry-eyed messiah

Meets a violent farewell-

Learn to be still Learn to be still

Now the flowers in your garden

They don't smell so sweet

Maybe you've forgotten

The heaven lying at your feet

There are so many contradiction

In all these messages we send

(We keep asking) How do I get out of here

Where do I fit in?

Though the world is torn and shaken

Even if your heart is breakin'

It's waiting for you to awaken

And someday you will-

Learn to be still

Learn to be still

You just keep on runnin'

Keep on runnin'

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pronto Soccorso

I got a phone call from a friend of mine on Friday evening, or should I say Saturday morning at 2 a.m. We were supposed to be going out on a date, but he was calling from the Emergency Room (Pronto Soccorso), to let me know that he had been injured at work.

Santa Maria Novella is the hospital directly across from my school, and so I got dressed and made my way over to wait with him there. When he called me, he had already been there for 2 hours. Two o’clock in the morning is no different than 10 p.m. on the streets. There are lots of people, and the streets are well lit. I am often out at this time of morning, and have not once been afraid.

When I arrived at the hospital, I follow the signs to the Pronto Soccorso, and had to ring a doorbell for someone to let me in. My friend had only explained to me over the phone that he was in the ER, but not what had happened, so I was not certain what I was walking into. He was sitting in a wheelchair in the triage area, with one young man who was bleeding from his hand and arm in front of him.

He was very upset with the length of time it was taking. He hurt his knee while working, and decided to come into Firenze, even though he works outside the city, because Santa Maria Novella has a good reputation. He told me that when he got there, there was no one, but people who were "more injured" than him had gone in front of him. Of course they have a triage system, but he was losing patience.

Long story short, we waited another 2 hours before he got in to see the doctor. During this time, a few overly drunken students were wheeled in unconscious, which nearly sent him over the edge. Once he was in, they did x-rays, released him, and told him to come back the next day to see an ortho.

The hospital is very old, with terra cotta tile floors, and large wooden medieval doors into the narrow corridors. When they were taking him to x-ray, the wheeled him in a hospital bed, through the waiting room, and down the open corridor to x-ray, and back again once they were through.

All in all, it wasn’t the best "date" that I have had, but yet another interesting experience in Firenze!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mercato Centrale

In the middle of San Lorenzo street market, is the huge building that contains Mercato Centrale. This is Florence’s busiest food market, and a great tourist attraction also, even if you are not buying food. The building is a 2-story cast iron and glass and was built in 1874.

The first floor stalls sell meat, poultry, fish, hams, cheese, olive oils, pastas, deli items, sandwiches, and wine. You can buy a sandwich to go with some of the Fiorentina delicacies such as porchetta (roast suckling pig) lampredotto (pigs’ intestines) and trippa (cows’ stomach). I haven’t tried any of these things, and I don’t care if it makes me a bad Italian!

The second floor vendors sell fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers. Now, since it is Fall, the wild mushroom (Porcini) and truffles are starting to come in.

I visit the market regularly for produce, cheese, and chicken livers. The cases full of food are always interesting to look at. If you are interested in food items for souvenirs, this is the best place to go!

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Baptistry and the East Doors

In front of the Duomo, is the Baptistry, one of Florence’s oldest buildings. It dates back to the 4th century! In the 13th century, mosaics illustrating the Last Judgment were placed in the ceiling above the octagonal front, where many famous Florentines, including Dante, were baptized.

The east doors of the Baptistry are made of bronze and are very famous. The doors were commissioned in 1401 to mark the city’s deliverance from the plague and were created by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Ghiberti won a competition which involved seven leading artists, including Donatello, Jacopo della Quercia, and Brunelleschi. These doors are often regarded as the first works of the Renaissance because they are so different from Florentine Gothic art of the time, particularly in perspective and the individual figures in the panels.

The actual doors on the Baptistry today are copies, and the originals are in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Michelangelo called the doors the, "Gate of Paradise", and the name is still used today.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Autumn "Blew" In

September came and Fall is here. I went to school on Monday morning, and realized that in the U.S. it was Labor Day. Italians celebrate Labor Day in May, and this Monday was no holiday. In fact, it seemed busier than usual, since most of the businesses that closed in August for vacation, reopened this day.

It was cloudy and warm when I went to school, but just as class started, a thunderstorm blew in. We had to turn on extra lights in the classroom, because the sky became so dark, and close the windows, because the wind was hard and cold. It rained for 2 hours, and when class was over, the sun was out, the sky was blue, and there was a "nip" in the air.

Summer was wonderful here, with only one week of high humidity and real heat. I used my air conditioner 5 days all together. The evenings never got above 70. Now it seems that Autumn is here, and the air in the morning and evenings is crisp and brisk. Walking to school is exhilarating for different reasons, and the chill in the air brings out even more public displays of affection in the evenings.

The "harvest moon" also made an appearance.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Age Is Just A Number

Gone are the days of my youth....thankfully so! It was a hard time for me with lots of lessons from the school of hard knocks. Now, taking what I’ve learned, I am enjoying life. In case you are feeling old, and need a boost, here are some of my favorite sayings about age:

1. You’re as young as you feel
2. Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson
3. Age is just a number
4. And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.
5. Age is something that doesn’t matter; unless you are a cheese
6. A woman has the age she deserves.
7. Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
8. Wrinkles merely indicate were the smiles have been.
9. Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.
10. You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.
11. A woman’s always younger than a man of equal years.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Regine was in Assisi recently and I decided to join her. It is a 2 hour train ride South, and is in the Umbria region, very close to Tuscany. The train ride through the Tuscan country side was magnificent, even though I left at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. It was stunning enough to keep me awake.

Assisi is most famous for being the burial place of St. Francis (St. Francis of Assisi). The basilica, Basilica di San Francesco, was begun in 1228, two year’s after the saint’s death. There is an upper and lower church and over the next century, they were decorated by some of the foremost artists of the day. Among them, Cimabue, Simone Martini, Pietro Lorenzetti, and Giotto. Giotto’s frescoes on the Life of St. Francis are some of the most renowned in Italy. The basilica, dominates Assisi on top of the hill, and is one of the great Christian shrines and receives vast numbers of pilgrims throughout the year.

Can you even begin to imagine something being around for 800 years? In September of 1997, the town suffered serious damage during an earthquake, but it was quickly restored. I noticed nothing of the damage, and the views are spectacular.

Regine and I managed to have our usual fabulous time. Regine met Raffaele, a painter in Assisi, whom we had heard of from one of our classmates, who visited Assisi a few months ago. We found a wine bar, and walked up and down the steep hills.

I left at 6 a.m. on the train back to Florence. Regine has another 2 weeks on the road with her camper and then back to Berlin. I hope to see her their next!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Italian Rock

Friday evening I went to Sesto Fiorentina, a "suburb" outside of Florence to a rock concert. It was a part of the summer music program in this small town, and it was soooo much fun.
I met Simone and Ceaserai at the San Frediano Door. This door is on the west side of the city (the opposite side of town from where I live) and it part of the original city wall. It is an area that I have been to only a few times, but always enjoy it because it is an "italian" neighborhood. There are absolutely no tourists, and everyone speaks Italian. They always know I am a tourist though, because as I have said before, Florence is small, and particularly in these small neighborhoods, everyone knows everyone.

It was about a 40 minute walk from my house to the door where I was to meet Simone and Ceaserai, and I enjoyed every bit of it. I stopped at one of the neighborhood cafe’s for a piadino on focaccia, and filled with spinach, mushrooms and ricotta. Simone grew up in this neighborhood and he arrived at the door to meet me shortly after I arrived. He had been in a nearby pizzeria and saw the Florentine Calcio (soccer) coach, and was excited to get to shake his hand. The season starts soon, so everyone is excited about that.

Ceaserai arrived with his vehicle (a Ford by the way), and he parked and we went for coffee. There were a few people at the bar, and of course, Simone knew them all. They chatted and we had coffee (real Italian espresso, which I love and am addicted to) and then got in the car to head out for the concert.

It was about a 30 minute drive on the expressway outside of Florence. Italian expressways are very scary. Italians drive the way they do everything else.....emotionally. It is fun, exciting, and seemingly dangerous, but I have never seen an accident.

When we arrived and parked, we walked into the city center which was a beautiful, quaint piazza, with trees lining the side, and a bar inside. We had beers and waited for the music to start.

The concert started at 9:30 p.m. and wasn’t over until 12:30. The band, called Premiata Forneria Marconi, was very famous in Italy in the 70's, and had many best selling songs and albums. This is the first free concert that they have performed. There was a huge crowd, of all ages, although mostly around my age, and everyone knew all of the songs. The style was similar to Jethro Tull, Yes, and the Who. It was great!

It’s really fun to be included in events that are "real Italian" experiences. It’s taken me 6 months to get an "in", but some of the Florentines are starting to know me and include me in these types of things which is fabulous!