A Writer’s Request

Cari amici, if you are reading my blog, would you consider following me?

And also, please, please, please comment away. I adore comments, and as much as I love to set a well-written literary table, what I love even more is when engaging guests arrive to enjoy the dinner’s many courses with me.

And if there is anything you would like me to get nosy about in Firenze for the purpose of blog content and your reading amusement, mention it. I’ll probably be into it.

I’ve updated my template and layout to make it easier to read and more interesting for my reading friends and family. (That means you, if you’re reading this.)


Florence: The Short List

What do you like to do when you find yourself in a new place?

Do you like to see beautiful things? Meet locals? Meet fellow travellers? Go to museums? Eat food you’ve never tried before, or try local versions of food you know that expand your foodwareness? Have a buon bicchiere di vino?

Let’s talk about what is good, and pleasing, and tasty.

Amy, one of my oldest friends, has been in town for the past week and a half. She is a savvy and intrepid traveller. Together, between working hours and family time and kid care, we have examined and reexamined the short list of local and fantastic things to enjoy in Florence, with or without your host (Monica) – save the one activity that absolutely MUST be undertaken with me in company.

I’m going to link these so everyone can bookmark. Hey, maybe if I review a few of these in TripAdvisor, they’ll send me another baseball cap. That I will never wear in Italy. Unless it is bedazzeled. But enough about bling.

Dinner at Trattoria Cesarino. I’ve been here twice in the past week, once with Amy and once with Jason, and once so long ago with Tommy and Courtney (probably in 2005) that I can’t even remember. It’s a block from us on Niccolini. The place is warm, bustling, and welcoming; the food, honest, localvore, and very reasonably priced. Two can eat like royalty for 50-60E. The owners and staff make you feel like a regular even when you’re not. Just call ahead for a reservation, even same day. Italians know about this place, and WHAT! It is #50 of 2000+ restaurants on Trip Advisor? Makes sense. The secret is out. Cesarino delivers.

Lunch or dinner at Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina. I’ve been here multiple times now, and Edo and his staff excel at the welcome and the luxury of premium Italian food and wine. The menu is accessible, but you know what? This is a clean, well-lighted place where, like Hemingway, you  might prefer to place yourself in the hands of the owner. He won’t steer you wrong. Just let him pick the wine and plates. He’s so pleased at the wine list and menu he’s assembled, and with reason. Sit inside and bask in jazz and Montalcino, sit outside in the shadow of the Pitti’s hulking rusticated stone wall and sip your Brunellescho.

Pitti view from outside table.

 Wow. Just.

 Our primi, before we inhaled them.

 A plate of local specialities to start.

I’ll be taking you to Flying Tiger just for amusement’s sake, and probably because I need something from there on any given day.

Massage at Silathai in Oltrarno. Amy and I both agreed it was the best massage either of us had ever had in our lives, and we have probably had 500 massages between the two of us. Ok maybe 400. A lot, anyway. I love a good massage and believe in its restorative properties. Silathai is a Thai jewel in the Oltrarno crown. If you come to Florence, you’ll probably have just gotten off a plane, or been walking around for days. You’ll need a massage. Get it here. YOU MUST TAKE ME WITH YOU.

Post massaggio

Snacks. You’ll need fresh snacks. If you’re with me, we’re probably going to La Loggia dei Albizi. Also consider Robiglio on Via dei Servi (conveniently located close to FT) or Caffe Cavour.

Gelato at Medici on Beccaria for sure. Prepare for this one. You’ll be changed forever.

 Frozen confections worthy of a Medici wedding.
We’ll be getting small cups of heaven though.
If you’ve been away from the US for some time, or if you are not a Yank, we are headed to Mama’s Bakery in the Oltrarno. Bagels, cupcakes, and muffin tops await, lined up in neat glass cases. Whipped cream cheese, everyone, and shmears with chives and herbs. Probably some brownies in there too. Friendly for lingering as well, with none of the HOV coffee lane feeling that my favorite Italian caffes can emanate. Happy yelpers agree…
I’ll keep adding and mentioning my favorite places in Florence as they become clear to me. No talk here of large museums, long lines, or crowds. Just the experiences you need to fill in those gaps if you are interested in seeing a human side of Florence, because the crowds around the tourist hubs most definitely fail to deliver on that point!

Need to take a bus? Your local ATAF tourist representative, 
Victor, will be happy to discuss routes and numbers with you, 
or accompany you as needed to your final destination. 
Return collection by appointment only.

Florence: Teatro della Pergola

So, just quickly, yesterday we tagged along with Jason’s class group on a guided tour of il Teatro della Pergola:

The oldest Italian Baroque theater in continuous existence!
The horseshoe with boxes, that influences theater design TO THIS VERY DAY.
Perfect acoustics.
Around the corner from us. If anyone comes to visit who fancies some live theater … let’s get a sitter, we’re going.

the dismantled monarchic crown 
 Technician graffiti from ca. 1900

 The well of death? Or the fullers’ original water source? The red light gives pause… FOR DEATH

 Poster repro from 18th c. Come and see the horse circus!


 Backstage ropes. The theater is still manual backstage.

Boxes and gallery. 

Baroque ceiling detail. 
 Stage. Curtains up!
 Ceiling detail.

 Faux Florentine marble on the pillars. Rabbit paste. Poor rabbits.

 Entry detail. 19th c.
 Entry detail.

The Pergola that gives the name, in front. Glass and wrought iron, very Victorian! 
Or new republican.

Florence: Space and Memory

I am feeling a bit of a fraud in Florence these days, casting her pearls as she does, while I hurry to and fro to coordinate schedules related to work, childcare, varying degrees of personal illness among different family members, meals, and shopping. And probably more.

I actually have already come to resent a bit the awestruck tourist hoardes on Piazza San Marco, disembarking their enormous tour coach for the first time to alight on Via Ricasoli, preparing to join 6000 other breathing tourists in the Accademia to peer at David’s feet and … other bits. They amble, they mosey, they seem to have time. The new tourist status symbol is a camera with a telephoto lens that looks like only Robert Capa should be behind it. Cell phone camera function no longer cuts it. One carries a phone in one’s pocket, or backpack, but the hilariously steroidal Cyclopean camera must hang about the neck as proof that One Is Really Quite Serious About Capturing These Moments.

I am enjoying my daily commute to and from Piazza della Repubblica, mostly on my Fiat-red bike, and smiled this week to remember my first week here as I had Google maps turned on to tell me how to get from the Duomo to Repubblica. Hilarious. And so typical. When you don’t know how far away something is, it feels like leagues.

The bike commute is problematic around the core. The tourist passel is well-packed. Jason and I talked about how there should be a continuation of the bike lane from the Viale and Cavour into the Piazza del Duomo and over to the Uffizi and Signoria, and our Italian friends had a very Italian response to this very American idea:

“Everyone will just ignore it.”

I think I may need to just start hopping off my bike and walking it over to Cavour. I feel awful dinging my bicycle bell incessantly, but I honestly do not want to hurt anyone. And, as mentioned above, I am always in a hurry, particularly in the early evening as I am hasting home to see the kids, and Jason, who usually gets there before me, since he is working on Via la Marmora rather than deep within the molten core of the tourist nucleus.

This bike has so many km on it now.

Yesterday in the middle of Cavour, in front of the bookstore but after the pedestrianized part of the street begins, an Italian couple stepped out in front of me, and I braked suddenly. Scusatemi, I said, feeling very Anglophone indeed to have an apology quickly at hand. The man unleashed a string of Italian profanity at my receding figure that I couldn’t decipher. I find these mini interactions very stressful. There has to be a better way to get around the Piazza del Duomo and on my way home. So at the end of the afternoon yesterday, I said to myself, I am going to find it.

I set out from behind the Duomo, and turned left. A few seconds later, the chessboard walls of Santa Maria Novella appeared around the corner of Pizani. Crap! I thought. I am not going to the train station – that piazza is a traffic nightmare. So I took the next right that I could that seemed to be going in the right direction. But one block later it turned into the wrong direction! Taxis and the C1 bus and other bikes and Vespas begin blizzarding toward me. Crap again! … Oh triple crap! I am now on my bike in San Lorenzo next to the market where the street is about two feet wide.

I turned left. Ok, this side street is a little better. Florence, being about 2000 years old, and remade in varying epochs, is a tangle of non-grid streets. Nothing connects to anything in a logical way, save for the grand boulevard of Cavour, and the Viale, which must have been a twentieth-century invention.

Suddenly, I see I am on Via San Gallo. Hey great! I know where I am! What! This is the Bibliotecca Riccardini! Hey – my favorite local jewelry store!

I am blocks away from Jason’s office, where we are meeting to continue on to an apericena – the Tuscan light dinner that goes with the glass of wine after work – a wonderful custom. It’s all good – I am not going to accidentally maim any dog or person, and I am on time. As I round to corner on Via la Marmora, I see Jason waiting for me on his bike. Success!

Apericena. Just add a glass of premium Italian wine.

This happens to me often. Florence exists as spaces in my memory in ways that don’t necessarily connect with any kind of accuracy, reality, or logic. I’ve been coming here since 1995, and each piece of memory lives in a different version of the city in my mind, and it is hard to connect them spatially until I actually see them again to place them.

The train station. The Riccardini. The jewelry shop. San Lorenzo. Over in the Oltrarno, the street the Gould institute is on, where I stayed for a week in 1996. Le Cure. The IperCoop up there. The pizzeria where we had our first meal in Florence in 2005, damp with sweat and swatting mosquitoes as we drank room-temperature red wine in July. The intersection with the obelisk after the Ponte Santa Trinita, where I always oriented myself in 1996 coming from the Oltrarno. Ognissanti. The Carmine Basilica. San Freddiano, and Santo Spirito. The gardens of Santa Croce with Paola and Jason.

And today, most thoughtfully, walking home from kid drop-off, I saw another entrance for the Four Seasons Hotel, remembering the outcry in 2005 as they built it on the site of an historic convent, annexing the Giardino della Ghirardescha for clients. I remember going by here countless times on the back of the motorino, but why and how does it look so different now? Where is the view I remember, the endless trucks coming and going, the arch into the garden expanse? Did we really take our motorino down Borgo Pinti that often?

How can this possibly align with what I remember this place looked like in 2005? 
Where is that other view? It’s driving me nuts.

Working in the Sprachcaffè

It’s a very Tea With Mussolini crowd here learning language in the Sprachcaffè.

Also, the Sprachcaffè just acquired another language company. I hope they keep renting me this workspace!

Finding the give: Friends

We’ve got an old friend in town and on the scene with us – Amy, whom I have now known for almost a quarter century.

She and I have shadowed one another’s lives like Scandinavian-crazed doppelgangers, through undergraduate study abroad programs (she went first to Clermont-Ferrand, France, I to Santiago de Compostela; we both took a second longer jaunt in Strasbourg, she the year before I did), nonprofit immigration advocacy careers, international student services and SEVIS wrangling, and now software.

We’ve never been in the same place at the same time, but always seem to be just coming or going from wherever the other one has been most recently. We also share the improbable personal history and connection with central Oklahoma, and even OU, seen through the lens of wanderings both global and domestic. I am not a little jealous of her five years living in Stockholm. So, we have a lot to talk about and laugh over.

She’s with us through early next week, and even though Victor keeps asking, “Is Amy still here?” I am pretty sure he means to add “… so she can play Legos with me.” Amy understands the finer things and arrived laden with Legos, luxury tea, Burt’s Bees personal care items, and Vermont maple syrup, like the fair trader of the Hanseatic league that she is. Additionally,she is helping us to ensure that we are amply provisioned at all times with Kinder Surprise Eggs, fegato, and vino sfuso.

Auntie Amy shadowing Eleanor in Piazza Dei Ciompi

Another expat mama, a friend of Ellen’s, also found me last week for coffee – we hit up Nabucco on Reparata, one of Ellen’s regular caffeine haunts. Lizzy’s got kids close to Victor and Eleanor in age, and seems to be into all kinds of interesting endeavors here in town, notably a restaurant on Via Zenobia. She’s been back and forth multiple times, and is a fount of friendly energy. Friend of Ellen ftw.

Finally, there is a charming Dutch couple who has children in Scolopi almost exactly the same age as V&E. Kim stopped me as I was telling Victor to stay in the waiting place by Eleanor’s hallway while I took her street shoes off and asked if I needed a coffee. Ma certo! I exclaimed. Let me just drop off the bigger one … don’t leave! So we headed to Caffe Cavour, which is pretty much an annex of Scolopi, and quickly shared personal bio notes. Her husband is in the international NGO circuit and works in Firenze for UNICEF – prior to this, they were in Rome for four years. But most happily for me we share a Spanish connection – she and her husband met on an Erasmus program in Granada years ago. I appreciate expats in Italy with a similarly strong Spanish background. On the one hand, it helps make sense of everything; on the other hand, it can be a false lighthouse of knowledge and direction. There is so much affinity between Spain and Italy, and shared history, and faith, but enough that differs between Rome and Hispannia that finding the places in between and filling those gaps can feel like an Australian doubles tennis match of confidence versus knowledge and ignorance. Also, in moneyed, historic, touristed Firenze, Spain feels like light years away, rather than a relatively short flight.

Roman Spain: Diocletian era

Inside-Out: Europe

I reflect today on the arc of influence that Europe has shot through my life, and how fortunate I have been to have lived, traveled, worked, and studied in the EU in every decade of my adult life – as a teenager (a semester in Spain, mostly), in my twenties (a year in France, and everywhere else), in my thirties (annual trips; Italy and Finland figure prominently; a return to Spain; a year and more in Arezzo), and now in my forties in Florence.

The Florentine forties. That has a nice ring, now that I write it.

This recurring loop has also informed my view of Europe, and myself, and culture; the lens has been ground, and refined. Understanding comes into sharper focus. As a teen in Spain, I was perplexed by the response of Spaniards to my presence in their remote, damp province of Galicia.

“Why are you here?” they asked me.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” I responded.
“Where is your family?” they would ask.
“At home,” I responded.
“Why did they let you come here?” they insisted.
“Why wouldn’t they?” I would answer.
And on and on.

I had no context to understand how completely out of the ordinary my endeavor was in gallego culture. To me, I was enjoying the independence to which I had earned rights by education, and was fortunate enough to have parents who saw value in it. To Spaniards. I was a single adult daughter, dispossessed. And I looked fairly marriageable to them – no wonder they tried to put this American spare tire into the trunk of their Spanish Ford Fiesta. “She looks amenable, and unconnected enough. Let’s fold her into our clan. She’ll love it so much, she’ll never want to leave.” My natural disposition probably contributed to this consistent response. “¡A Mónica le gusta todo!”

Not Santiago, but Pontevedra, 
a city that has figured prominently in my personal history with Spain

France, two and a half years later. Similar themes, compounded by my rudimentary French and, in some ways then, personal incompatibility with French culture. I was viewed as an unmoored single woman, stealing in and out of the country in a span measured by months, with no true connections to speak of. I struggled in France. Alsatian culture tends toward the protective and reserved; centuries of mitteleuropean border wars and land disputes, combined with an uneasy cultural hegemony, have seen to that. Where my warm Spanish friends were willing to befriend an American for a few months out of curosity, the French were having none of it, with the exception of a few friends who were Frinternational. (And gallegos, for what it’s worth, are considered, for all intents, the Spanish analog to French culture, with their reserve and conservativism.) I floated through Strasbourg in a kind of unhinged linguistic confusion and cultural terror. It got better after the winter break, but still – France viewed me as someone whom they would like very much to depart their country as soon as possible. Or, more likely, with a breathtaking indifference. Either perception smarted, and I returned to the U.S. trying to work out what had taken place between me and France.

Strasbourg, Place Kléber 
if you squint you might see my scurrying figure

I didn’t return to Europe for five years after that – my longest hiatus.

To come back into Italy with Jason was a revelation. I was not hissed at, or harassed. Attempts were not made by locals to immediately marry me into the family of a recently-met stranger who happened to be their cousin, or nephew, or confirmed-bachelor son. Jason wears Italy well, like a comfortable suit that still manages to look smart. He is culturally and linguistically proficient in every way with Italian culture, and this has been the case since we met.

Italians light up when they meet him. He is such an anomaly, they cannot believe it. An American who talks like this! Who talks like we do! Who looks like this! Who knows secret directions and shortcuts to small towns, who remembers feast days and festivals, who does not lose his cool at the sportello unico or when stopped by the carabiniere for a random document check in Sicily or the questura, and who has been known to shout back just a tiny bit at Italians in public situations when the situation warrants. It began to dawn on my how much my experiences in Spain and in France years prior were not so much based in cultural learning and understanding, but wore the heavier cloak of age and gender.

With Jason, I was schematically understood as a girlfriend, a fidanzata, a wife, and later, a mother. This brought with it an immeasurable cultural cache that became a door into understanding culture better. Now that they could see me as a person who fit into their understanding, they were open to me. Suddenly, Europe seemed to roll out the red carpet of acceptance. I do not think it would have happened like this were I to have remained single and traveling independently up to the present. Europe wanted a familial context to vouch for my good standing as a human, not because I was judged as a less worthy person without the family context, but rather because they simply could not place me.

This became most apparent in Arezzo four years ago. With Victor in tow, running about town always late for something or another, fueled on espresso, baristas and shop owners would lean out to greet me with a friendly shout, or come ask me if I would please bring in Victor so that they could give him a snack. Any Italian was pretty much up for answering any random question I might pose to them, and with a smile. I felt safe, and supported, and protected, welcomed into a community with my impeccable family credentials.

Arezzo, Corso Italia, 
scene of many a late morning madcap rush in stroller to Victor’s daycare

Incredibly, this extended to France, as Jason and I took Victor t
o Paris for almost a week, with our friend Mel in tow to pinch-hit for babysitting, and meeting Jason’s brother and family, who were also living in Europe for the short-term at that time for a research grant.

Suddenly, Paris was open and welcoming. I felt more accepted, and French spilled out of me. French parents spoke to us at parks where we took Victor. The more comfortable and less nervous I felt, the more easily I interacted with Parisians for various purposes, and the more they complimented me on my ease, my language, my accent, even through a minor medical emergency, talking to doctors, pharmacists, and SOS Médécins on my Italian cell phone and in person until said minor medical emergency was satisfactorily resolved. How can this possibly be the France I remember? I thought to myself. But it was the same France – I was not the Monica that France remembered.

Places des Vosges
felt like home

And so I am lucky that my story arc has come this far, and is imbued with a richness of context and comparison that I can fit into this framework of understanding.

There is plenty more to come on this topic – I just wanted to lay some groundwork.

Cultural Footnotes: Italy

Our friends on the ground here in Florence are another American family who have children the same ages as Victor and Eleanor, by just a few weeks, and also an older boy and a younger girl.

Courtney is American, and has been here for years; she and her husband Tommaso had just started dating when we lived in Florence in 2005. She and Jason met during their time working together at Butterfield and Robinson, where she still runs the Italian show. They helped us get set up with a motorino, two helmets, and an apartment in Le Cure.

Courtney, Tommaso, and me in 2005, in the apartment I am pretty sure they sourced for us.

We returned for their Tuscan country wedding in 2009, which still rates as the fanciest wedding I’ve ever been to, castello, cena, musica, and all.

Jason and I enjoy a prosecco at Courtney and Tommaso’s wedding.
Good thing you can’t see the 30 mosquito bites on my back, courtesy of summer in Florence.

Tommaso’s family is proudly Florentine, and the fact that they now live down the road a piece in Pisa diminishes this fact not at all. His brother owns and chefs at a restaurant nearby in Vicarello, Ristorante David, that you should not miss if you are in the area. If I could eat David’s food continuously, I would. Seriously, if you go to Pisa, skip the tourist hoardes in centro and make a reservation.

It is impossible to count all the many kindnesses that the Nicoletti family has done for us. They are truly the closest thing we have to family, and an extended family, in Italy. We’ve had Christmas dinner with them. Tommy is always our Italian connection for larger projects. Spent the night as their guests numerous times in Pisa. Shared late-pregnancy freezer meal menu ideas and baby name lists.

All this to introduce you to … language class with Tommy, when I am lucky enough to get it.

Tommy is hilarious. Florentine, with a heart of gold, and years of close companionship with a smart and energetic American, and an amusing way of looking at the world, and translating Italian culture aspects, have made him the ideal unwitting language instructor. And even though his accent is Tuscan, it’s not Tuscan in the way of the sweet teachers at Scolopi.

For some reason I can understand Tommy really well. Maybe it’s because he always has me in stitches with his Tommyisms. Maybe because Tommy is the first Tuscan I ever met, whom I still know. I suspect he slows down just a tiny bit for me. I appreciate so much that he does not edit or adjust his conversational content at all when I’m along for the ride.

I here present two Tommyisms.

On this past Sunday, when Jason was out of the country for work, we went to their apartment for lunch. Weekend mornings with the kids on my own is like Appomattox. They live about three blocks from us, but because we tried to use Google maps to walk there, we took the 14-block route. (Had not yet walked there from our new apartment.) We arrive, Eleanor in a stroller and Vic tagging along, through various doorbells, gates, stairs, and elevators. Urban living.

Once we unfurled into the apartment, removed our shoes, and led our children to toys, Courtney asked if I’d like an espresso.

“I never say no to coffee,” I said.
“Do you want a corretto?” Tommy asked. By this he meant a generous pour of grappa or sambuca in my espresso. Well, that would certainly take the edge off, I thought to myself.
“It’s a little early, no?” I responded. It was 11 a.m.
“In Italy it is never too early for a corretto. You can have one anytime you like, You walk into a bar and say, a corretto please, in the morning, they have to give it to you. It’s practically a law. We do not judge.”
I laughed. “I think I am fine with an espresso,” I said.
But Tommy, who always provides more information, had more to say on the topic. “In fact, if you go up north, to the Veneto, you walk into a bar, you can get a corretto without the caffè. They will just pour it into an espresso cup for you.”

So there is that. God bless Italy. Come to think of it, I did have my first caffè corretto in the Dolomites, in San Virgilio in Marebbe…. an acquired taste, but one I do enjoy from time to time. I’ll have to remember the trick to order a corretto with a wink and a nod to the barista though, next time we are up there.

A long play session followed by lunch. A couple glasses of chianti, and we are back to espresso. Court put the cafetera on and as we have learned, I never say no to espresso. The kids are playing again happily, Tommy and I are watching them and gently assisting as necessary.

Out come the perfect little cups with our replenishing elixir. Tommy stands, and briskly pats the top of the half-wall that divides their salotto from the corridoio. 

“Monica, qua,” he says, motioning me to stand and join him. “I never drink coffee sitting down if I can help it. It is bad for the digestion. That is why we have a bar in our home.”

I am dying. We sip our espresso.

A coffee bar in the apartment. For taking your own espresso. At home! It just feels so much better and natural! Who sits for coffee? Who needs to drink copious volumes of coffee? Why do Americans insist on to-go cups in Italy? These are all questions.

This could be you, in your own home, or in a caffè.

Florence: she can be a cruel mistress

Ciao a tutti –

Been on a weeklong blog hiatus as we continue to organize various components of our daily life in Italy, combined with Jason’s madcap travel schedule that has had him thither and yon, all over the Amalfi coast, and North Carolina (which, I hear, is just like the Amalfi), and tomorrow, Athens. He’ll then have a breather until November so that we can settle in.

Fortunately, here we have an incredible babysitter named Chanusha who is from Sri Lanka, and who has been living in Florence for almost 20 years now. She most recently nannied for a new colleague of Jason’s for eight years, and prior to that, for another Italian family for ten years. She has got it down. Her help has been invaluable these past two weeks as she has put in extra and weekend hours to make sure that our piccoli and me stay fed and clean and properly provisioned with fresh air at appropriate child and adult intervals. She does all this while remaining calm and friendly. She also makes an incredible frittata ai zucchini, and made us her home food yesterday for dinner, which was a toothsome biryani with a fresh ginger-mint paste. I hope she likes us, because we love her!

Eleanor is picking up Italian faster than I can gulp an espresso. She was on a major language kick already this summer in Spokane, and now has switched horses to il cavallo italiano. “Sì” has almost completely replaced “yes,” and “eccola!” is now her exclamation of choice whenever she finds a toy she wants. She started full days at nido last Wednesday, and seems okay with it, except at morning dropoff when those one-year-old Italian boys raise a fuss like you would not believe as they are encouraged to give their mamme a bacio. My favorite new things she does: stands in front of my laptop when I stream YouTube videos of arias, and warbles like a little songbird, trying to match notes when she can, occasionally exclaiming, “pretty, pretty.” I think we may have another mezzo on our hands…

Victor tried out yesterday for calcetto (soccer) at school. “Tryout” is a generous term. I think they just wanted to make sure he’d seen a ball before. Victor reported yesterday evening that he “put on a shirt with a collar, that was red. Then, with three other boys, we kicked a ball to a bigger guy, who kicked it back to us.” He loves his teachers at school, the winning Ilaria and Sabrina, who are both positively brimming with joyful energy.

What’s my experience so far? Mixed but heady, frustrations alternating frequently with poignant breathers or glimpses of beauty. For example:

  • Tough expat crowd difficult to break into for friends.
  • Piazza Santissima Annunziata glittering with puddles after an early morning shower.
  • Italians stopping to ask me for instructions in town.
  • Ambient loudness at the Sprachcaffè.
  • Excellent vini sfusi (bulk wine) at various sfusi a stone’s throw from our apartment.
  • No sleep or poor sleep.
  • Invariably restoring cappucini and pastry.
  • Minimal sense of community thus far.
  • Italians very friendly in general. And a couple excellent friends on the ground here.

Florence, you may toss your head at me when you wish. I know you’re well bred, and come from money, even if your nobility is a bit down at heel. I am taking notes, and watching you. There are passing moments when I feel as though I have stepped into a time machine and taken myself back to 1993 Santiago Spain, or 1995 Strasbourg France, living in the historic center as we do. I close my eyes and get a whiff of bus exhaust, cigarette, discarded mop water, perfume, and wet flagstones, and I am transported. Who in life gets this opportunity? Florence, I will bear your hasty snubs, and meet them with good cheer. After all, you’re sharing almost everything with me.

 Via dei Servi – façade detail

                                                                Just a regular door.                                                                              
Victor was angling for some Minions espresso cups on Sunday.
 The Great Synagogue around the corner.

Duomo detail.
Feeling worn? Restore with an aperitivo. 

Monday Funday

I had the day off yesterday and spent it with Ellen about town.

Before my adventure began, though, I ran into Francesca, the owner of the palazzo, coming down the stairs with an armload of feather pillows. “Do you want to see the piano nobile?”she asked. Of course I immediately trotted downstairs with her to admire the frescos, tapestry, and furniture of 1860. It is like a mini Downton Abbey. If you want to come to Florence and get the full effect, it is highly recommended.

Jason reserved a spa day for me close by at a day spa. But it did not start until noon, so in the morning we went to Zecchi to trade out some art supplies for Ellen’s husband Marc. Just walking around the packed narrow aisles of Zecchi makes me itch for a brush and some oils, and an old sock.

We made our move on Zara for some kid clothes, then headed to Scudiero for coffee and pastry before the spa appointment.

The spa’s owner is a Turk, and his Turkish bath proves it. Wow. Steamy marble, hot hot hot. Perfect. Maybe I prefer a bagno turco over a sauna. Give me vapor any day.

I had an appointment for a massage and my person was a young woman from Naples who spoke beautiful Spanish, and explained the long history of the Bourbon kings in the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. She also gratified me with amusing language explanations, at my request:

Quindi = entonces
Comunque = something like Spanish aún, todavía, de todas formas, de todos modos, de todas maneras. She was a little fuzzy on this. “It is a particle of continuation,” she said. “Or a topic change when you want to continue talking.
Ormai. We spent a good half hour on ormai. She presented examples in Italian involving the 9/11 attacks, a missed train, and prepared pasta. As best as I can tell it means “already.” Mixed with “unfortunately.”
Magari. “It’s too bad we don’t have it in English,” I said. “It’s close to if only or I wish! Said in the way that conveys it will never happen.”

I also learned many things that southerners think about Florence, none of them surprising. It is, however, against city ordinance to hang your laundry outside the external windows facing the street in Florence.

Ellen met me at the spa, having monopolized the bagno turco herself for some time at to good result. We headed out to grab crêpes and go (again) to Tiger for Eleanor’s hair bits. We also hit a small boutique close to the duomo called Echo where I picked up a few transitional Italian pieces to further help my wardrobe situation. Then to Piazza dei Ciompi for a spritz.

We came home to two sleeping little girls so made use of the time to get all those little things done that require thought and concentration that can be so hard to accomplish with littles afoot in the house.

Our new helper, Chanusha, made us espresso. By this time I was feeling insanely spoilt. So I tempered my euphoria by checking on pre-debate online to gauge the general feeling. Eeek. Looks like a train wreck from here. Good thing the salubrious effects of my massage were still in effect.
(Don’t worry – our Washington state ballots are complete and en route as we speak via email.)