Firenze: My Life is an Indie Film

My life in Florence is an indie film. It will all seem funnier soon, like perhaps when I am done telling you this story.

It all started last Thursday, when Eleanor decided she would, on that particular day, as never happens otherwise, accompany Victor to I Scolopi for his earlier dropoff. His day begins at 8:30, while Eleanor has until 9:30 to mosey in to the preschool on the top floor. We should have tried harder to dissuade her, but instead we all trooped out to the corner of Piazza d’Azeglio and Via Carducci, where our bikes are always locked up, rain or shine.

Eleanor now weighs 12 kilos, and Victor 20 kilos. It’s no longer possible for Jason to put them both on his bike to bring them in, as was the case until this past fall. So Victor went with me on my bike, and buckled in. As we rode away I was not aware of any meltdown behind us, but Victor said Jason and Eleanor were still at the curb. It was 8:25 and he was not going to be late this morning if he was on my bike, so I pedaled at superhero speed and brought him in.

Riding my bike home, I noted on the bike path next to the viale (ring road) that my tire was flat – like really flat. I rode on the rim for about a hundred more meters, and then hopped off to walk it home, the loose rubber flapping on the pavement. Jason texted me to tell me that Eleanor was face down in the parking lot screaming. These days I call her Attica, with love. A riot lurks just under the surface, ready to flare at any time. She throws things, and far, and at me, when she does not want them, or she refuses them, or she is finished with them, or finds them disdainful – clothing, shoes, cups of juice, plastic plates of pasta, toys.

I walked my bike back in, about 30 minutes, on the narrow sidewalk between our piazza and the bike shop. Flap flap flap. Plus some dirty looks from Italians who may have believed I was walking my bike on the sidewalk for fun, rather than trying to avoid being scacciata (flattened) by the constant line of speeding buses that whizz through that arterial. At the bike shop, I showed the tire to our mechanics. Six pm, he said.

Jason and Victor spent the weekend in Trentino in ski lessons, enjoying mountain air and fresh powder. I stayed at home with Attica, preferring to manage the riot in our own home, rather than in a hotel room. Her skiiing stamina is about 45 minutes, far less than her protest stamina. Our friend Flavia came to stay and help, which meant I got to do things like enjoy a Friday evening prosecco in good company, have adult conversations, practice my Italian with a sympathetic multilingual speaker, observe and learn from Flavia’s child-whispering skills, sing in choir, and attend a concert. (I will cover the concert in a later post.) On Saturday I mailed myself off to Napland in Victor’s top bunk in the nap envelope, while Flavia watched “The Little Mermaid” in Italian with Attica, who does not riot with Flavia. (Nap envelope: a zippered fleece sleeping bag that, when properly fastened, makes me forget I live in Tuscany in winter, and permits me to relax as warmly as a sojourning mouse in an old down coat.)

Saturday evening I met up with friends for dinner on the Arno, accompanied by a fair amount of cross-cultural amusement (I will cover the restaurant evening in a later post.) Wow! What was this magical Florence that could be seen and enjoyed in the evening, as the lights of the Uffizi gallery and the Ponte Vecchio reflected off the quietly flowing, yet glass-like Arno?

Eleanor took a long late nap with Flavia, and so was ready to party by the time I got home. I will confess I let her watch Peppa Pig videos on YouTube on the old laptop after I fell asleep. I woke up around midnight and saw that she had closed it and fallen asleep next to me.

Sunday morning I had choir rehearsal, and rode my repaired bike to St. James on the other side of town. Our choir is growing, thanks to the PR efforts of the assistant director, Sophie, and me, and our two new Venezuelan singers were joined by a Muscovite musician and an English au pair. We performed Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” followed by Rutter’s “God Be in my Head.” I was fortunate to sing next to our professional Japanese soprano, Ayako, whose voice would melt a mountain. I always take notes. Or get teary. In any case, as soon as I was done singing, I sped home to relieve Flavia and host friends for lunch.

The assistant choir director Sophie and I had made a date to see a choir perform at 4 pm at Ognissanti. But when I walked out of the building to go to my bike, I saw, to my horror, that the tire was completely flat again. I checked my watch and prepared to hoof it 4,000 steps to Ognissanti, an area I am never in, and was only vaguely aware of how to directly arrive to. Fortunately, the day was gorgeous, Attica was with Flavia, and this was all ok.

The concert was well worth the effort. The Japanese choir sang Vivaldi and Faure. A treble soloed from the pulpit and it felt like 1730. All the soloists were exceptional, even if the organist was a bit flustered and kept striking wrong keys and chords. But I love Ognisssanti, and the acoustics were superb.

After the concert finished, we were greeted upon exiting the church with a sunset straight out of a dream. The Italians around us exclaimed, “Guarda che tramontane!” and snapped pictures. We went up to the lungarno to get our shots right over the river.

I walked home, where Jason and Victor waited, beat from their sporty weekend up north. Another little boy, Enzo, the son of one of the visiting faculty from Gonzaga, was happily playing with our kids. I told Jason my bike tire was flat again so we could make plans for Monday morning. I advised Eleanor, “either the bus or the stroller tomorrow.” I wondered if my rim was bent, or the wheel was broken. Jason and I agreed that Victor cannot ride on the kid seat on the back of my bike anymore. (Jason upgraded his bike to a better model the last time this happened, after Victor broke most of his spokes multiple times.)

So this morning, Eleanor woke up as soon as the door clicked confirming the earlier departure of Jason and Victor. After a mini riot and multiple outfit changes, I got her downstairs into a borrowed stroller that I found in the building’s basement, which I still need to tell the owners I pinched, since Jason loaned Eleanor’s stroller to a visiting faculty family. Eleanor was mad that the clip was broken, but we were off walking to school in no time, while she clutched her large stuffed dog, to the amusement of everyone we passed. This is probably the fourth time in two years that I have str
olled Eleanor anywhere. She hates the stroller for both its lack of freedom, and for its intimation to the public of the infantile rider.

Walking home from school, I passed by the dentist… oh merda, I have a dentist appointment at 10:30, and it is 9:45, and I must walk home. Well, clearly, that does not leave enough time to walk in with my flat tire and make the dentist appointment. I packed my office into my backpack, and headed back to the dentist on foot.

They were ready for me. I want to say here that I like our family dentist, and I love the dentist in general, but wow. Tough on teeth. In no time I was supine in the chair, getting a dam assertively flossed into my teeth. The filling was going to be all business.

“Do you blah blah blah?” he asked me.
“Excuse me?”
“Anesthesia. Do you want it?”
What a strange question! In the US, they just poke you immediately. There is no debate.
“Not now,” I shrugged, thinking of my pain threshold and delivering two babies without anesthesia.
Maybe this Italian dentist knew some advanced tricks?
How much could a little drill…
I flinched.
What was that?
Ow ow ow.
Note, I have not been drilled in ages. Decades. Maybe since 2001 in Seattle.
I gestured in panic from behind the blue rubber dental dam.
“Do you want the anesthesia now?”
I nodded vigorously. Tears were running into my ears.
They took off the rubber dam, and an assistant came in with a huge hypo.
Surely they were going to numb my gum with a big Q-Tip of lido …
WHOA that needle is all the way in and pumping liquid, oh my god.
I closed my eyes and thought of England. (joke)
More drilling, much drilling, much composite.
Finally it was done, and the dam came off.
But no, more drilling and polishing.
At this point I was semi-dissociative, but I am vain about my teeth, and this dentist is good. He was trained in the US. And he speaks English. And his whole staff speaks English too. And his daughter is in school with our kids.
Then the dentist announced he was really done, and off came all the accessories. I wiped all the spit from my chin and around my mouth. I could taste blood where the metal ring of the dam had been anchored onto a molar.
“We’ll do the other one later,” he reassured me.
I felt like I might pass out.
“And your night guard, we can fit you for that after we do the second filling, because it will alter your bite.”
I was wondering if it was too early for an apero.
I went to Jason’s office and told him the story, but he stopped me at the imitation of the drilling sound. I have meant to blog about my Italian dental experiences before, but today’s session seemed particularly memorable.
The entire right side of my face was numb, and I could still feel the place where the hypo had gone in. Jason and I went to his local caffe to order a double espresso for me, to end the anesthesia before I chewed my own lip off.

So I walked home, again, got my busted bike, again, and walked it into the bike shop, again. The bike tech looked at the wheel and said I had punctured the tire again, that the wheel was not broken or bent. 6 pm, he said. Again.

Back out on the street, I downloaded the Mobike app, and after a number of tries, got it to work. I picked up a Mobike outside of Jason’s office, and rode it into my office. Cost: 50 cents. Umm, seems a bit high, so I will only resort to Mobike in cases of emergency (theft, wreck, flat).

At this point today I have walked almost 10,000 steps already, my mouth still tastes like blood, and the espresso did not, in fact, terminate the effects of the anesthesia.

My life is an indie film.

Firenze: Tempo Normale / Normal Time

[PSA: Tante grazie to everyone who reads me here. My creative faculties have been on fire since we moved to Italy! 

If you Instagram, follow me at @occhiatafiorentina, where I am a frequent poster and microblogger of images taken with my phone, both around town and on travels. 

I picked up a modest sidebar in October writing creative Italian lifestyle content in English, culturally accessible to an American audience; the firm is based in Verona, Santamargherita. You can find my pieces by clicking on the Blog link and searching for my byline. 

I am off Facebook these days as it tends to mute my muse – and she does not appreciate that!] 

Il giorno di Santa Lucia (December 13) and the winter solstice (December 21) have passed, Natale has come and gone. The twelve days of Christmas are still assiduously observed in Italy with time off and a general slowing of activity and some serious dining scenes, cruising gently into Epifania and la Befana on day twelve (January 6).

Jason and I got engaged on Epiphany in 2005, on a chilly sunset shore in Charleston – Folly Beach. We went to a Spanish tapas bar to celebrate over tempranillo and membrillo while I sat with perfect posture as the long roadtrip we were on had thrown out my back. Epiphany has always been one of my favorite feast days, and it’s a personal anniversary too.

So the arrival to mid-January in Italy is a shifting of gears, up for work, down for rest. Florentine skies skew grey, and we’ve had days on end of clouds, rain, and cold. Cruelly, the bright skies tend to also be extremely crisp, giving you a double-punch to the gut of both piercing blue sky and paralyzing Arctic air.

The kids went back to school last week, on January 8, with some grumbling after enjoying the generous Italian holiday. Victor asked me, when is the next vacation? 

I studied our 2018 calendar, hung on a nail on the outside of our laundry room door. No ink on a date outside of a weekend in January after Befana.

Febbraio, niente. (Seriously, Martedì Grasso on February 13 is not a holiday in Italy? This is shocking to me. It is the beginning of la Quaresma, or the forty days of Lent.)

Marzo, neanche niente! Nothing either!

Aprile! Madonna! ma tu scherz’! (You’ve got to be joking!)
No days off until April 2, the day after Easter this year, called Pasquetta (Little Easter) in Italy.

I think I was swearing under my breath to myself as I realized this breathtaking drought of time off, combined with the sludgy winter weather, and – thanks for this, Italy – Lent – it’s just like they want to load up on the grind until the weather turns and spring rolls out the green carpet.

Speaking of normal time, and the passage of time, and the calendar, an amusing note here. Raise your hand if you ever think, in practical terms, of the Gregorian versus the Julian calendar. Hands up. 

Okay, put your hand down if you’re Orthodox Christian. 
(Interesting in any case how the gap between the Julian and Gregorian calendars represents the length of the 12 days of Christmas exactly, and Orthodox Christmas falls on Catholic Epiphany.)

I was vaguely aware of the Julian calendar, which began its initial phaseout in 1582, with Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Poland giving up ten days. There were mathematical reasons for the switch, like sloppy leap year calculations featuring double leap years, February 30, and further calendrical nonsense.

Time has a different rhythm in Italy. Memories are longer – far, far longer – than those we refer to as the descendants of immigrants to the Americas. 1582? Practically yesterday. We see this in the persistence and prevalence of aphorisms in Italian such as,

«Santa Lucia è il giorno più corto che ci sia»
The feast day of Saint Lucia is the shortest day of the year.

Certainly prior to 1582, the feast day of Saint Lucia was the shortest day of the year in Italy, what John Donne was describing from his dark English table as the midnight of the year.

A Canadian friend in town told me, with some consternation but also a sideways smile, that her son learned this saying in class here in Firenze, with no further historical background, just some cursory contextual mumblings from the maestra.

December 13 is not the winter solstice; solstice is December 21, or thereabouts. But in Italy, sayings outlive political policies that were set in place almost half a millenium ago. The folk wisdom lives on in peoples’ minds, and La Stampa prints current articles to explain to their readership why, in fact, December 13 is not the winter solstice. (But that couplet, that couplet is so nice, who could ever want to stop saying it?)


I’ll take it a step further here, on both cultural and personal levels, and pose to you the question, what neural pathway has become so well trod in your culture or in your mind that you continue to refer to it and say it, internally or aloud? Vaguely aware that it is no longer true, but the words you’ve built around it tend to play in your mind. «Santa Lucia è il giorno più corto che ci sia» is a tidy rhyme and catchy, but no longer describes reality, although it once did.

I might actually prefer Mayan solstice rituals, after all that administrative confusion here in Europe emanating from the Vatican. Kukulkán still slithers up and down the pyramids on time at Chichén Itzá and elsewhere, and that calendar didn’t need an edit and reboot.

Mayan math ftw.