Sunday, November 25, 2007
How do you say goodbye to a place where you feel you belong? Although I have decided to return to the U.S. I cannot say goodbye, only arriverderci, which translates to “we will see each other again”. I have walked the streets these last few weeks with a different purpose than I started. The intent was to memorize and breathe in and make everything a part of me. Little did I realize, that has already happened, and there is no taking it away.
My memories are well documented here in my blog (with a few extras written elsewhere for my eyes only!) I have photo upon photo of practically everything in Florence. Most of these are vividly engraved on my heart and in my mind. I am already planning a return “visit” and my long term plans are to retire in Italy, although maybe not in Florence.
This place holds the most special place in my heart. I took a big risk (several of them actually) to come here and live for a year. It was exhilarating, stimulating, frightening, and overwhelming, but oh the rewards. I could not have dreamed a dream this beautiful and impactful for anyone in their life. I am so thankful for everyone that helped me get here and for everyone who stayed in touch and showed their support, and visited, and cheered me on in my adventure. I hope that each of you get to experience something such as this, in your own way, in your lifetime.
As I leave, I will turn my heart towards the business at hand, which is the same as last year in many ways... Living somewhere else, and doing something different!
I return to the States on November 28th. Ce vediamo apresto! Ciao!
Saturday, November 24, 2007
The Elderly in Italy are treated with a great deal of respect, and it’s respect they deserve. Italy is not equipped for the handicapped, so elderly folks have to “suck it up”. There are stairs versus elevators, cobblestones streets, narrow sidewalks, lots of people walking close together, and quickly. I often see very elderly folks with their canes and orthopaedic shoes, making their way to the markets, bars, or stores.
Today, I was behind a very elderly lady at the grocery store. She had a cloth bag that she used to gather her things, and then took them out to lay them on the belt. In Italy, you must bag your own groceries, and you must pay for the bags, or bring your own back to carry away your things. She of course had a huge handbag, and it took days for her to get her money out and pay. In the meantime, she had not begun to put her groceries back in the bag.
The cashier patiently started checking me out, and handing me my things to place in the bag one at a time, so the elderly woman could remove her things from the tray at the end of the belt. She asked for a bag, after she had paid, and he gave her one for no charge.
I bagged my things, paid, and made my way around the woman, who was still slowly but surely putting her things into the bag. The other people in the line waited and worked around her as she gathered her things. I pray that someday, I will be that old woman in Italy!
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Right after All Saints Day, which is November 1st Italy starts to drag out the holiday decorations. Recently, the middle of November, the department stores, sweet shops and others have put up their Christmas windows.
The “streets” have garland lights across them, chestnuts are being sold from an open roaster on the street, Christmas cakes, candy and toys are everywhere. It doesn’t snow here often at all, but all of this concrete and the wind from the Arno, sure make it seem cold enough too!
I went outside the city to a mall. Alas, a mall, is a mall, is a mall.
No, they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in Italy. The pilgrims did not land here. Americans are shocked to find that other countries don’t celebrate this Holiday, but I am not sure why. Italians have holidays that we don’t have, and a lot of them.
Anyway, I am celebrating Thanksgiving today. I am taking myself out for one of the famous “duck” dinners. Yes, no turkey, but something here that I love very much. I am sure I will have a large plate of spaghetti with it and a nice bottle of wine as well.
When my kids were growing up, our tradition at Thanksgiving Dinner was to reflect on our gifts during the year, and talk about what we are thankful for in our lives. In keep with that tradition, I will do that here.
I am thankful for:
1. My parents good health
2. My 2 sons independence
3. My good health
4. The 3 things above plus a few other people and miracles allowed me to have this wonderful year in Italy.
5. My friends, who I have always cherished, but it is true that “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. You have all been a wonderful support system and such good company on the internet
6. Taking risks (May I always assess those wisely....well, almost always)
7. Learning Italian
8. Living simpler
9. Not having so much “stuff”
10. Getting to live somewhere else and do something different again next year!
Olive oil is a staple in Italy. A staple in the kitchen, and a major source of production and jobs in Italy. Olive trees line the Tuscan hillside with their sage and silvery green leaves. They are a beautiful site. The Mediterranean countries produce 95% of the olive oil in the world.
There are many types of olive oil depending on how it is pressed and when. Italian olive oil can obtain a denominazione di origini protteta (denomination of protected origin) if the olive tress come from certain areas of Italy, just like certain wines.
In Santa Croce, this weekend, there was a tent set up with different olive oil producers demonstrating and selling their wares. Olive oils, like wines, have different characteristics based on where they are grown. There is a certain way to taste olive oils.
Olive oil is said to have heath benefits because it is comprised of more monounsaturated fat that other oils. In the United States, producers of olive oil may place the following health claim on product labels:
1. Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about two tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.
I love olive oil, but my pallette for tasting them is not as developed as my wine tasting pallette. I can detect the ones that are more salty, nutty, etc. Just like wine though, I pretty much like them all!
It’s no wonder that Italians life span on average is 3 years longer than the USA, and the second highest in the world (behind Japan). I have done my body a service this year with all of the olive oil, red wine, and chocolate I have eaten!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
The Palazzo Vecchio (or Old Palace) still performs the function that it was originally built for as the Town Hall of Florence. It is a beautiful and grand building and stands in the center of Piazza della Signoria near the Uffizi. It was completed in 1322. There is a large bell tower that was used to call citizens to meetings or warn of fire flood, or enemy attach.
Much of the interior was remodeled for Duke Cosimo I when he moved into the palace in 1540. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were asked to redecorate the interior, but it was Vasari who did all of the work.
The art work in the Palazzo is magnificent. Even the walls, ceilings and floors are all works of art.
The statue in the photo is one of Michelangelo’s called Victory and is was presented to Cosimo I in 1565 by Michelangelo’s nephew, following the Duke’s military triumph over Sienna.
The map room with it’s antique globe and maps is amazing as well.
The shields on the exterior symbolize episodes in Florentine history. The crossed keys represent Medici papal rule.
I have walked by and admired the outside of this building every single day and night that I have been in Florence. It is one of my favorites. I could not believe that the interior was as magnificent as the exterior. I am so happy I ventured inside!
Monday, November 19, 2007
From the time I got here, I have raved about the tomatoes. At the end of February when I arrived, I was surprised to find such beautiful, tasty red, juicy tomatoes, like the kind my Dad gets in his garden, but only in July and August. Even though we have a large country in the USA, and ship produce from the southern most areas in the winter, it cannot hold a candle to what I have found here.
Maybe, this is one of the best benefits of being a small Mediterranean country. Tomatoes can’t grow all winter in the Northern part of Italy, but they can in the South, and the Southern part of Italy, is not that far away. The tomatoes are juicy and sweet, and the skins are thin and delicious. Not the tough, pulpy inside, hard things that you find in US supermarkets.
Now it is late November, and I am still eating these wonderful tomatoes.
Recently I started to think about what things I will miss when I return. While the list is long, tomatoes are somewhere near the top!
Friday, November 16, 2007
I smoke cigars. I have resisted this since I came to Italy, not wanting to get “addicted”. My cigar smoking is contained to a few outings per year with too many martinis, and a headache the next day that I always blame on the cigars.
In Italy, they sell Cuban cigars. The smoking laws in Italy resemble those of the U.S. although there are no “smoking sections” in restaurants. Everything inside is non-smoking. The outside cafes and terraces allow smoking, and so, they are full of smokers.
I saw these cuban cigars early on when I got here, but as I said, showed incredible restraint. About 3 weeks ago, I bought my first pack of Monte Cristo 10 pack Cigars, and they are outstanding. One pack lasted me over a week, and I only indulged in about 1 per day.
Recently I switched to the 20 pack, which have smaller cigars, but am now up to 2-3 a day. Maybe it’s just my nerves about leaving, finding a job, coming back to the U.S. working again and all that. I plan to give it up soon! I promise.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I have changed in the year I have been here, in many, many ways. I think that most of them are positive, and here are some of them:
1. Gained confidence (Oh God, just what I needed)
2. Learned to speak Italian (and a little Arabic)
3. Experienced a new culture (or 2)
4. Gained knowledge about the Renaissance and its impact on the world
5. Experienced Socialism first hand
6. Viewed the U.S.A. from an outsiders view
7. Learned how some others view the U.S.A. and why
8. Became a Night Owl
9. Prefer sparkling water
10. Prefer oil and vinegar to any other salad dressing
11. Prefer espresso to coffee
12. Lost weight
13. Learned the value of exercise
14. Learned the value of living “stress free”
15. Learned the value, or should I say “lack of” of having “stuff”
16. Became more ecologically aware
17. Learned I can live with a minimal number of shoes (As long as they are Italian leather)
18. Lived without cats, but learned I don’t like it.
19. I talk to strangers
20. Made peace with myself
How do you buy souvenirs that will commemorate one of the most memorable, meaningful, blissful, educational, dream-like years of your life?
I didn’t shop much this year in Florence, having gone through the “purging” of all my “stuff” to get here, which was a traumatic experience. I really was not in the “mood” to buy more “stuff”. Besides, what could I possibly need? I had brought a lot of clothes (which did end up being a problem because of my weight loss) and lived in a fully furnished apartment.
As my time here is ending, I am thinking of a few special things to buy. I already bought the two most beautiful leather coats in Florence. One is black leather and you can see it on some of the recent photos posted on the blogs. The other is red suede, and while I thought of taking photos, I decided against it, because it really wouldn’t be done justice. You will have to wait and see me sweep into a room looking like Cruella Deville!
I of course bought wine, and had 2 cases shipped back. I must have a statue of David, and a painting from a local artist. All in all, my blog and my photos and the feeling in my soul are really enough. Don’t you think?
While in Florence, the American dollar has disintegrated to an unbelievably dismal low. When I arrived, the dollar was worth 63 cents for 1 euro. Today it is worth 51 cents. Stated this way, in cents, it might not sound so significant. Let me put it into a little more perspective for you.
During this year, I had a budget of $50,000 U.S. (Net). This equates roughly to $4000.00 U.S. per month. When I first came here, $4000 U.S. dollars was 2800 euro. My rent each month is 980 euro + utilities, which are usually around 150 euro. So, I was living on a very modest budget, all things considered.
Today, that $4000.00 is worth 2000 euro. The 2000 euro minus rent and utilities is killing me!
As you read this, what I really want you to be thinking about is what is happening to the U.S. dollar and why? I believe that most Americans are not aware of this, and think if they don’t travel to Europe, then it really doesn’t affect them. WRONG! I don’t know enough about it to educate you on this, but I encourage you to research it from more knowledgeable authorities on your own. Especially before the next election!
Not only is the euro worth more than the dollar, it's a lot prettier too!
I have been out of school now for one month. It seems like it was so long ago, as these days without school blend one into the other, and I never even really know what day it is. School had been a way to meet people, learn the language, and provide some structure to my days. It proved to be a successful tool for all of these things.
I learned more at school than how to speak Italian. I mingled with many other cultures and had the opportunity to talk (in Italian) to the students about their countries and cultures (Japan, China, Korea, Spain, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Mexico, Portugal, etc). Most of the people at my school were much younger, but to my surprise, in a land where there are 16,000 American students, only 3 other Americans showed up in my classes over the 6 months. As it seems, most Americans just aren’t interested in learning another language (or at least not Italian).
The 6 months were packed with information, the courses were in 2 week blocks and accelerated to a speed that I could not keep up with, so I repeated some of the courses several times. This turned out to be very beneficial, although a blow to the ego, I must say. The month since I have been out of school, the language has started to come together in my mind. Many of the conjugations that were mixed and jumbled in my confused little brain, are finding order there, and starting to make sense. At the oddest times when having a conversation, just before I start to panic, the word that I am looking for swims its way to the top and appears on the blackboard of my mind. I have gained confidence, and knowledge (with the help of my Italian speaking boyfriend)
People ask me regularly now if I am “fluent”. Well, I don’t know what the official definition of “fluent” is, but for me, the meaning has definitely changed. I will say that I speak Italian, but I am not “fluent” yet. I am so proud that I accomplished this goal, and can speak Italian. For me the language is beautiful, musical, lyrical, and mesmerizing. It is something that I will cherish and practice and hold onto all of my days.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
I know that in the U.S. Illegal immigration is a hot topic of conversation. The media in the US, leads us to believe that we are the only country plagued by this dilemma. Everyone wants to come to the US, and they try to do it illegally.
Do you know any illegal immigrants? Have you asked them why they are illegal? I am currently an illegal alien residing in Italy.
I have a different perspective on illegal immigration, now that I have witnessed first hand the difficulty of “immigrating” to another country, albeit mine is temporary. The initial Visa process to come to Italy, was intimidating and overwhelming. As US citizens, we can visit European countries (and maybe others but this is the limit of my knowledge) for 3 months as tourists without going through the Visa process. Since I was planning to be here longer, I had to obtain a Visa. In order to do that, first of all, you must determine which Visa is appropriate, and what you are eligible for. For me, there were 2 that I thought might work. The first was a Student Visa. Since I was going to language school, it seemed an obvious and appropriate choice. In researching this, I determined that I was ineligible, because taking language education solely is not cause for a Student Visa. I suspect that because there are no admission requirements, or graduation fulfilment, it would be too easy to apply for this type of Visa, and use it indefinitely.
My second source was the Elective Resident Visa, which indicates that I am choosing to live in Italy, but in no way will become a “ward” of the country. This Visa does not allow me to work, and to obtain it, I must prove a source of income, as well as proof of medical insurance which will cover me in a foreign country. I used documents from my investments to show my source of income. Italy has some type of formula for calculating living expenses as a minimum level per month, and you must show that you have at least that much money. Getting “proof of insurance” was difficult. I am certain not many people ask this of Progressive, so getting the right wording in a document took longer than most of the things I had to do to come to Italy (including selling my house!).
Once I had the application completed, and the appropriate documents (and of course I had to have extra passport photos), I had to physically fly to Detroit, Michigan to the Italian Embassy there and present the documents. There are several Italian embassies in the US, and the states are designated as to which one they must use. For Tennessee, the Michigan embassy is designated. Once I got there, I was told that I also must show an airline ticket for my departure and return. I had not done this for a couple of reasons: 1. I did not know if my Visa would be granted 2. If it was granted, I did not know for what start date, 3. You can only make flight reservations for a round trip ticket for a certain period of time. I was told I must purchase the ticket and fax it back to them.
I went back to Tennessee and made the reservation and faxed the document to them. I went to Detroit in early November, as I was told it could take up to 90 days to get the Visa, and I wanted to depart in early March at the latest. In the meantime, I had to sell all my “stuff”, get some things to storage, vacate my house, etc. During that time, my son was admitted to the hospital (early January) and for 10 days, I was consumed with him and being at the hospital in Washington D.C. When I returned in mid-January, still no passport, so I telephoned them to inquire. At that time, they told me they needed proof of where I was planning to live in Italy. I telephoned my landlord and requested a copy of the “lease” and faxed it to them. I received by Visa on February 2 dated 2-15, but had a ticket to leave on February 28.
Once I arrived in Italy, I found that I needed to obtain a Permesso di Sogornio. I want go into details about this, because I have covered it in earlier blogs, but suffice it to say, I completed the application process, but never received the document.
As of today, November 1, 2007. I am an illegal alien living in Italy. I never received my Permesso di Sogiorno, and my Visa expires today. The reason I am writing about this is because, I feel pretty strongly, and have evidence that the issue in the US is even worse than what I have experienced in Italy.
Try this: Got to this web site: www.uscis.gov Let’s pretend you have a friend (not a family member who is from a non-European country. Try to figure out what they need to visit the U.S. And if they decide to immigrate, what they need. I think it is virtually impossible. Let’s just all agree that we want immigrants to enter the U.S. legally.....then, we have to figure out some non bureaucratic way to make it a reality. I am sure that 200 years ago, this kind of red tape did not exist for our ancestors.
I said good bye tonight to Ken and Alice. This was the first time I had actually spoken to them. All of the many, many other nights over the past year I sat in the cool darkness beneath the Palazzo Vecchio on the steps of the Loggia, and I remained quiet and listening. I was one of the many fans that gather late in the evening to hear their tunes.
Ken and Alice have been a big part and a huge pleasure in my time here in Florence. I took almost everyone who visited to the Piazza after dinner to listen to their music. Sometimes we bought bottles of wine to share, and others we sat quietly, listening, or talking, and quietly singing along with the nostalgic tunes from our past. Every evening I looked forward to making my way out into the night to the Piazza della Signoria to gather and listen to music, meet friends, and watch people.
Tonight when I said goodbye, I told them that I had been here for a year and what a big part of my time here they had been and what pleasure I had taken from hearing their music. It was cold tonight and they were turning in early. Their daughter who usually accompanies them was no where to be seen. I left them a generous sum that in no way begins to compensate for what they gave me, and as I walked away, I couldn’t stop a few silent tears.
“Sign, sign everywhere a sign. Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind...”. Remember that song?
I believe in signs. There are things people say, things that happen, things that don’t, that will point you in the direction of the “right” decision, if you pay attention. It is important not to make the decision first, and then look for signs that support that decision. Sometimes the decision is a surprise and is a long time coming, and goes against everything you thought it should be, but there it is.
I know I sound like the child of the 70's that I am, but looking for and paying attention to signs has been successful for me. Recently the signs that I have gotten have frightened, me beyond belief and I am resisting them, but I know I can’t. I have to wait for the clarity to come.
Surely you are wondering what the hell all this means, and that I have lost my mind. I will explain it over drinks soon.
The Internet Train is a chain of “Internet cafes”. Thankfully, there is one close to me, and they aren’t very expense. For about 4 euro an hour, you can use the Internet. Printing services, faxing and other services are available for additional fees.
For the past 2 weeks, my telephone, as well as the Internet in my apartment have been down. Boy, do I feel isolated! I have a cell phone, which is how I communicate with my friends in Italy. To call the U.S. on my cell it costs 50 cents per minute, so is a little expensive. Others can call me, and it is free for me then, but calling an Italian cell phone, is expensive even when using a calling card.
Phone service is available at the Internet Train also for 20 cents per minute, but it is not an ideal situation. There are also public phones where you can use credit or calling cards, but the streets of Florence are so loud, it is not an ideal situation.
These Internet Trains are a life saver though and give lots of people access to Internet who wouldn’t have it otherwise. For me, when I first got here and my service wasn’t connected yet, and now, it has been a “link” to my other world.
Every month, Tania, the woman from the rental agency comes by to read my meters and collect the rent. Tania is a 30 something Polish woman, and I have dealt with her on my apartment from the beginning when I located it on the internet.
Tania speaks English pretty well, and advised me about a few apartments that I was considering on her agencies website.
The first day I arrived in Florence, Tania was to meet me at the apartment with the keys, when I called from the airport to tell her I had arrived. Remember in one of my first blogs how scared I was about her not showing up, and maybe I wouldn’t like the apartment? Well, of course she was there on time, helped me with my luggage up the many stairs, told me all about the neighborhood and where to shop, etc., and has become a great friend.
Tania’s husband had cancer and he died in May. He was very young, but Tania said that he was tired of the treatments and so decided not to take them anymore.
Tania rides a scooter, and is tall, beautiful, and independent. She is also a professional. A few things have happened at the apartment (the bathtub incident, blown fuse, construction, DSL line not working, and phone problems) All I have to do is call Tania, and she gets it resolved right away.
When I pay my rent, it must be in cash, so it requires a few trips to the Bancomat in the preceding days to gather enough money. Tania reads the gas, water, and electric meters, and calculates what I owe. I enjoy this once a month encounter so much more than writing a mortgage check!
What I am not enjoying is the constant road work that goes on. There was apparently a gas leak about a month ago, and since then they have been digging up the entire street! Not only is it noisy, but now my phone and internet don't work. Think there is a connection?
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Friday, November 2, 2007
In Italy, coffee is sacred. It is one of the few European countries that does not have a Starbucks! I think this is because Italians are more than a little particular about how they “take” their coffee. In fact when you want to have coffee in Italy, you say, Vorrei prendere un caffe. Literally translated, this means, I want to take a coffee.
This is not unusual. As I have learned the Italian language, they often use “take” or “make” where we use “have”. I think it is especially appropriate when it comes to coffee.
Bars in Italy, are where you usually have coffee. Most Italians have breakfast in “bars”, and that breakfast consists of a coffee or cappuccino, and a pastry. Cappuccino is never “taken” after 11:00 for Italians. Coffee on the other hand, is taken regularly and often. When you go into a “bar”, there is always a counter, and occasionally there are tables and chairs. Most Italians take their coffee at the bar. When you sit at a table and order there, it costs more. This is because you are paying for the service at the table. Tipping is not customary in Italy, but paying for service is, and it is included in the price of meals and table service items.
When you go into the bar, if you are going to take coffee at the counter, you must pay first at the register. You will be given a receipt which you take to the counter to order your coffee from the barista. The coffee comes in a tiny cup, and in the U.S. it is called espresso. If you have it with a dollop of steamed milk, it is called a caffe machiatto, which is my favorite. This strong thick coffee with sugar, will really get you going! Now the reason I think Italians say “taking” coffee, is because you drink the thimble sized cup by “knocking” it back like a shot of whiskey or a dose of medicine.
It’s just what the doctor ordered!
Thursday, November 1, 2007
I took a short trip to Venice with Mimo. It rained very hard the entire first day we were there, but it was still beautiful. We walked for hours with umbrellas and the wind blowing the sea breeze in our faces. It was cold and wet, and we hardly noticed.
Venice is another time, and definitely another lifestyle. One morning I watched from the hotel window as men worked on a building, doing construction, and unloading the materials from the canal below. As we walked along the grand canal, large barges pulled into the docks with goods of merchandise and produce and restaurant supplies. Men loaded handcarts with the goods to be pushed through the narrow alleyways into the city.
We took pictures on almost every bridge and many canals. They are all as picturesque as a postcard.