Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Street Where I Live

For the past year I have lived on Via Laura. It is my third apartment in Florence. The first was for a month when I first arrived in August 2008 and was literally in the Piazza Mercato Centrale on Via Panicali. The second was on Via Degli Alfani and now this one, the small but awesome loft on Via Laura.

Via Laura is located in the historic center but is a quiet street on the edge. My apartment is located at the end or beginning of the street depending on where you approach Via Laura from, I am a few steps from Borgo Pinti ( now one of my most favorite streets in Florence).

Via Laura is pronounced L-OW-U-RA, which is important otherwise the taxi drivers will insist that it doesn't exist. No matter how hard I try I never get it on the first shot and usually takes a few back and forth. It is a long, long street! Especially when approaching it from the Piazza Annunziata area.

It's a quiet street especially down on the end toward Borgo Pinti. There is a really cool archway where Via Pergola runs into it and a building of the University of Firenze is also on this street.

There is a super famous bookstore where people line up for hours, taking a number and waiting outside. They store their bikes at the rack surrounded by flyers and posters.
All these things I love about my street but it's not the thing I love most. Until Sunday I wasn't really sure what the small relief/wall statue was that I look at everyday. So I asked my go to guy on all things Florence my friend Eli. As we were walking toward my building I asked, " Hey Eli, what is that ?" and I pointed down the street to where Borgo Pinti intersects Via Laura. He asked if I was talking about the tabernacolo. Is that what it's called? Yes, that is what I was asking about because everyday when I walk out the door and look left I see it, staring back at me. It sits just beside the street sign that says Borgo Pinti.
Eli explained it is one of many tabernacles found throughout Florence usually located at where 2 streets intersect. He said it was there to give protection of the residents who live on that street. WOW, I have a guardian angel watching over me, who needs mace.

Now I'm no stranger to superstition and I love me some icons and such. I have evil eyes and Buddhas.

I have lucky owls, frogs and fish

And then........ I have my saints, I have St Anthony given to me by my mother's friend Anna ( from Frosinone near Rome) This one I was told to put upside down in my closet to deliver me a " good guy" Sorry to report St. Anthony has been slacking on the job!

I also have St. Lucas Patron St. of Artists

And very important for any Jewish girl, the Madonna and Child from Romania

NOW,  I learn I have another at the end of my street. It is the Madonna and Child and she watches over the residents of Via Laura, which means me. Well I did some google digging after confirming what Eli said was true with the guy that works at the Tabacchi and this is what I found.

There are said to be over 1200 tabernacles in Florence!! They are found through Italy but especially so in Florence. In a nutshell ,most of these were made and installed to first fight off the heretics of the catholic church  and then the plague of the 14th century. Desperate times call for desperate measures, ( which I think is what Anna told me when she handed over St. Anthony)

Great article found here if you want to read up and lists a bunch of tabernacles around town

For me , I'm content with my tabernacle and I give her a nod everyday :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Baby Door

Back in April my friend Philipp was visiting from Germany. I had met Philipp the first month I was here almost 3 years ago in my language class and despite our huge age difference became great friends, he's like a kid brother to me.

It had been almost 2 years since I had seen Philipp and also I think since he had been back to Florence. We were walking to aperitivo the evening he arrived and he was trying to get his bearings on the location of my new apartment. We walked across Piazza Annunziata ( more formerly known as Piazza Santissima Annunziata). As we entered the piazza he said, "Oh, I know this piazza!! This is the piazza with the baby door!"

I looked at him as if he had already had too much to drink and repeated, "The baby door? Philipp, what are talking about? What's a baby door?" He said, "Andrea! THE BABY DOOR! You know it is the door where they put the babies!" I said, "Where they put the babies? What babies? Whose babies?  WTF are you talking about Philipp?" I was totally confused. He went on to say there is a door where the people put the babies in a box that they don't want and then they put the box in the door. It took me a minute and I said," like in the movies when someone puts a baby in a basket and leaves it at the door of someones home or at a church?" He said, " YES! OF COURSE!!" ( of course being his favorite expression). " Really?  In this piazza? Are you sure? How do you know?" He said, " Because everyone knows about the baby door!" Well I didn't! Where is it? He did not know but was sure it is in this piazza.

For one year, everyday I am in town I walk across Piazza Annunziata and have never heard of or seen a baby door. I see gypsies, I see tourists, a church, a statue, on some Saturdays a farmers market, a  cafe , no baby door. About a month goes by and I had forgotten about the baby door until one night when I was walking with my friend Mary ( from Rome but studying here in Florence) and I asked her," Hey Mary, did you know there is a baby door in this piazza?" She said, " Siiiiiii! Infatti!!!" I asked if she knew where it was and she said no, but it is here. I thought how does everyone know about this baby door but no one knows where it is.

I would continue to look for this "baby door". Not everyday, but on the days I remembered to look. I looked at windows and mail slots and was picturing a tiny little door that maybe one of these guys would walk through:

Fast forward to Sunday. I had met my friend Eli for an afternoon cocktail to catch up, it had been months since I've seen him. Albanian by birth but having lived in Florence for most of his life, Eli knows a ton about this city. He studied at The University if Firenze and is totally up on the history of this city. Great thing about hanging with Eli is his English sucks so it's always good for practicing my Italian. Anyway, he was walking me home and as we come to Piazza Annunziata I ask him , "Eli, do you know about the baby door, la porta di bambina?" He says yes that he knows. I ask if he knows where it is and he says, " SI!!! Lo so!" He knows! He knows! Finally someone knows where it is!! I ask him to show me and with that comes a history lesson about the building that holds " the baby door"

Cliff notes version is as follows: The Santissima Annunziata ( the church) is on the North side of the square. The original church which was a tiny little church was built there in 1250, the church building that stands there now was built in the 15th century. I have to admit until Sunday I had never gone inside, my miss because it is really unlike any other church in Florence, very Baroque and ornate, quite beautiful. The church gets it's name from a famous painting inside that depicts the Annunciation. That's all I got on the church because religion and churches are for sure a phone a friend catagory for me.

On the East side of the piazza is the Spedale Degli Innocenti, and this is where you find the baby door. The Spedale Degli Innocenti is said to be Europe's first orphanage, opened in 1445. Eli explained that the door was actually like a window with a wheel like shelf. When women birthed unwanted children they put them on the wheel and rang a bell. The wheel would turn inward bringing the baby into the building allowing for anonymity. Today the Spedale houses a museum and the offices of UNICEF.

This city is filled with so much history, you learn something everyday, just walking around. I had never really taken much notice of this building. As I photographed it I noticed the ceramic reliefs of babies above the arches of the portico and wondered how I had missed that. In the far northeastern corner of the Spedale, tucked under an archway lies " the baby door"

 Built over 4 centries and finished in 1875
The wheel of the innocents
Secret refuge of the misery and guilty
for the perpetual succor
of love which never shut the doors
The baby door

Monday, July 18, 2011

Daytrippin: Il Passo di Consuma

Fellow blogger Christine of " Ciao Christy" has started a Monday series called La Dolce Vita. She has been so kind to invite fellow bloggers to share posts about what makes life sweet :)

Definitely a "Dolce Vita" kind of day!

One of the things I miss most about living in Florence is a car. I used to drive EVERYWHERE! I loved driving! The thing about living in Tuscany is there are a ton of awesome places to go out of the city, most reachable by train or bus but it's not the same as being in a car out on the smaller roads where the vistas are for me, the most beautiful.

Not having my own car or even a motorino I'm dependent on friends who do to go to these places where a) a car is necessary or b) is just way more convenient. So when my friend Laura invited me to go for a drive with her, her husband Marco and brother Doug, I said HELL YEAH!

Around noon on Saturday I met up with them for a drive to the Passo della Consuma. It's a long windy road up and over the hills that connect the provinces of Arezzo and Firenze. The countryside is spectacular plus it's like 10 degrees cooler up there ( which was welcome after the recent heat wave). Our first stop was the abbey at Vallombrosa.
We walked around the grounds a bit, took a bunch of photos and then headed to a well known but far removed sandwich shop located along Il Passo Della Consuma called the Chalet il Valico. Laura and Marco had been there a bunch of times before. The place is basically a shack on a mountain frequented by Italian motorcyclists decked out from head to toe in matchy -matchy leather biker wear ( and they wear it well). Think Harley enthusiasts go Armani. I especially get a kick out of the guys with the aerodynamic fins on their backs. Anyway, this place is known for their VERY rustic sandwiches, meat and cheese on schiacciata bread ( Tuscan focaccia). The sandwiches were HUGE and a little difficult for me to eat as I am still recovering from the dentist.
View from Chalet Il Valico

Laura's brother Doug with all 4 sandwiches

Dessert: La Bomba- had chocolate pudding inside- YUM!

After lunch we went for a drive to the Castel Castagnaio ( which was closed) but the drive was real pretty and tested Laura's driving skills. Bonus, meeting the fat beagle who I thought was pregnant at the bottom of the hill. Her name is Zara.

Finally we headed out to Poppi, a town in Arezzo province. Poppi's claim to fame is that it's one of the places Dante stayed during his exile from Florence and the of course the medieval  Il Castello di Poppi. Super cute town, like one of the perched villages in Provence, great way to spend a Saturday.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


On Friday I spent the day tooling around town with my friend Laura and her brother Doug who is visiting from Vancouver. They are both cellists and since Laura is Canadian and immune from bragging I'll do it for her. They are both playing a few Italy tour dates with Sting at the end of the month and in fact Laura has a solo!!!

Anyway it was still super hot on Friday but on the way back from the stairs that lead to Piazzale Michaelangelo ( we were too hot to walk up) we stopped at one of the many outdoor temporary bars that pop up in city during the summer. This one is called Easy Living and has a great location under a cluster of trees, where it is so breezy you forget it's 100 degrees outside. It also overlooks a make shift beach if you can call it that.

We originally stopped for " a drink" but ended up hanging out there for a few hours enjoying Bacardi Breezers, the breeze was great and the only thing that could have made it better was if they had hammocks. As we were leaving we noticed a bunch of these great signs. Below are the basic translations. Funny stuff!!
The force of gravity: do not challenge her she always wins. Basically don't sit on the edge because you will fall over and die and then become an angel and go up to heaven.

                                                Large open space: Noise travels!!

Contemporary art installation other wise known as trash bins!!The trash bin art installation is not    going anywhere so use them. I like the big brains don't litter :)

Don't park here!! Tow zone and if we tow your car or ticket it , it will cost more than a taxi!!
Angels park where they are supposed to and devils do not!

It's OK to drink, it's not OK to drink until you puke!!!

Mark their territory!
Be educated and don't piss on a tree, use the toilette!!
(this one mainly applies to guys)

And Finally just for fun:

Creepy Tim Burtonesque Squirrel!



Thursday, July 14, 2011

DEAL OR NO DEAL: The follow up

The following is all true and no embellishment was necessary because, well, it's Italy :)
Key Code: Yellow,things that would never be heard said in a US dentists office or in any other dentists office.

I was late. Not that late, but fashionably, Italian late to my 11:30 appointment this morning with the Dentist. I woke up late, mainly because those damn sleep drops either didn't work or I didn't read the directions properly( which is the more likely) and it was 4 am before I fell asleep.

I could have rushed out and been on time but I've been trying to make more of an effort on the cute front these days, so I was late. I rushed in and swung the door open only to realize I had smashed it into the person behind the door. Mi dispiace! Mi dispiace! ( I'm sorry) Non ti ho visto ( I didn't see you).How could I see him, he was behind the door, hanging a diploma, his diploma, he being the son.
He said, niente (no problem ) and smiled and I swear his teeth actually sparkled, ting!

I tried not to seem flustered but suddenly I heard some twisted version of the song "Son of a Preacherman", in my head " The only boy who could ever teach me was the Son of a Dentistman" and instantly turned into Marcia Brady from that episode when she falls in love with her dentist.

Unfortunately I was there to see the banker, I mean the dentist from yesterday, his dad, who was waiting for me. After I apologized again and he made some lame joke about having to reschedule and then he showed me in of course stopping at the blue shoe bag machine. I took my camera out and took a pic as I stomped my foot in, then I heard the Dr," what are you doing? " I answered,"I'm taking a picture" to which he said, " Of what your sexy feet?" Now I've probably been here too long because all I thought was, really? my feet are sexy? cool.

I'm settled in the chair and doc asks what are we doing today. I tell him just the bonding of the 2 teeth. He seems disappointed I am passing on the bite plate and I tell him I just can't do it right now ( it's my 3rd one) he says,"well I can make it for you now but you can pay me in September or October." Can you imagine, in the US a dentist telling you that , with no deposit or letting you walk out of the office as I did yesterday as a first time patient without paying and only leaving a partial address, no phone number, no I.D. The honor system is alive and well in Firenze it seems. Still even with a delayed payment plan I pass.He told me I needed 3 teeth done but he will give me a deal today 3 for the price of 2. Fantastic!
Conversation snippets and such over the next 45 minutes ( which seemed pretty speedy for bonding teeth to me) went like this.

Fidanzato: ( Fiance') While looking in my mouth the Dr. says," Your fiance will be happy." ( I think to myself, I don't have a fiance, I don't even have a boyfriend, what's he talking about) I said, "I have no fiance'", he says," of course you don't, look at your teeth, no one wants to kiss those two teeth. But afterward with the better teeth your new fiance' will be happy." I figure GREAT! better teeth and a boyfriend ( is your son available?) He continues," and he will want to kiss you all the day with your beautiful mouth and beautiful teeth ( actually he said it in Italan, bellissima boca e denti belli). Will you be happy with your new fiance'? I told him of course and then said, " But you know who will be happier than me?" he said chi (who) and I told him, mia mama! Well it seems mama humor translates.

The mouth vaccuum: He starts prepping the dental tools and informs me that we will go without numbing today because he does not believe I need it. Really? Really? my mouth is killing me and you are going to be poking around in there, yes I need it. He assures me  I do not. Why? Because he says," I am gentile with the women, I know the womens teeth." He starts sanding or something and I am choking and I wave my arms and ask where is the mouth vacuum, the thing that sucks the stuff out of your mouth and he says," It is the fault of my assistant, she does not love me"  at which point he yells, DANIELLA! and tells her he needs the suction.

MUSICAL BREAK: Dr. sings " What a beautiful mouth, la, la la, What horrible teeth, la la la"
* Note: I have perfectly straight teeth, have never had braces!

Color choices: As he is working on my teeth he asks, "If I can not get the color exact do you prefer a brownish/ gray tone or would you prefer clear" WTF is he talking about and I shot him a look because his hands were in my mouth. He said, Oh I think you prefer clear, your mind has no secrets from me, I know everything you think, so be careful what you think about Rachael"

The assistant is now back in the room and standing next to me with some sort of laser or something. He is doing his dental thing and then he says what I think is BITE. So I close my mouth a little and I hear BITE so I chomp down and he says OUCH!!! RACHAEL! WHY DID YOU BITE ME??? He is shaking his hand, WHY , WHY DID YOU BITE ME????  And his tools are still in my mouth and I wave my arms so he will take it out so I can talk. I am laughing and apologizing at the same time. He didn't say BITE he said VAI , which means go, do it and he was talking to the assistant to hit the resin with the laser VAI!! OMG I was horrified, I bit the dentist.

I am happy to say it did not kill his wacky mood. The assistant is now in place as she is constantly hitting the laser when he says vai, and I didn't bite him again. Instead, I watched like a ping pong game the conversation between him and the assistant that is the same conversation I hear while waiting 15 minutes on line behind someone at the grocery store, the post office, the cafe. The conversation that tries every bit of patience of an American while waiting to pay for something in Italy. The conversation of the person in front of you and the cashier. Well my dentist and his assistant were having the same conversation, how is your family, how do you think about the weather? how is the panini at that new cafe that opened up? blah blah blah . Italian small talk.

Finally he is finished and when he clears everything from my mouth I ask ,"who's Rachael? He says, Rachael? Yes, who's Rachael? Non ho capito ( I don't understand) " I said," Chi Rachael? You kept saying Rachael" and then it dawned on me, He was calling me Rachael. I said, " My name is not Rachael" He said, "It's not?", and I said," No it's ANDREA!!" and that's why I bit you :)

I paid and as I left he yelled after me, " Ciao Bella!!! Rachael, remember we close on July 27 and do not open again until Sept 5" and I thought of course you do it's AUGUST in ITALY!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

DEAL or NO DEAL: The Dental Edition

So I just walked in from the dentist. I have been to doctors here in Italy before like the time I ended up in the ER in Rome with horrible stomach cramps to have the attending (and I'm pretty sure the janitor who was assisting her, he was sweeping before she called him in the room) tell me "hai troppo caca", that basically I was full of shit. This however was my first trip to the dentist and since I have another appointment tomorrow, not my last.

Here's the deal, I am a self proclaimed hypochondriac. It's not normal hypochondria , it's Jewish mother propelled hypochondria, the very worst kind. It runs rampant in Jewish families ( especially those from NY & NJ). It could have something to do with the mother constantly saying," go to the docta!!" I'm not the only one, both my sister and brother are afflicted with this, I'm not as bad as they are because I don't use Web MD, that would just put me over the edge. I love how my mom always says, " I don't know why all you kids are like this!", Ummm........ maybe because we have a neurotic mother? Just a guess.

Anyhoo, I'm a teeth grinder in my sleep, numerous bite plates later, none of which have helped and I have turned the backs of my 2 lower bottom teeth into razors which are cutting my tongue at night. Sounds grosser than it is, that said, it's making me CRAZY!! I go back to the States in 3 weeks for a visit and a trade show and have already made an appointment with my dentist but this morning I couldn't take it and with mom in my ear " go to the docta!!!!" I buckled, called and got an appointment for this afternoon with a dentist.

The dentist is part of a father/ son practice and the younger has his masters in dentistry from University of Michigan so I figured it was a safe bet. The father dentist ( who I saw) did speak English ( kind of) , his staff however did not, I was able to bumble through. What I was not able to bumble through was the 10 pages of medical history in Italian, and for some reason all those diseases sound scarier in Italian, so I just filled in my name, address and birth date and called it a paperwork day.

The dental assistant calls me back and right off the bat asks me to place my foot ( with flip flop) in a metal shoebox of sorts with blue plastic in it, so I did. She said, "piu' forte!" ( harder, and made a stomping motion) I stomped! "piu' forte! (and I stomped)  PIU' FORTE!!!!" Finally I heard a BRAVA because I now had a blue plastic shoe cover like the surgeons wear on my left foot. I got the right foot on the first try.

Gotta say the doc was very nice even if he thought I was nuts. Super quick dental exam, no poking with metal tools, a quick spritz of air and a peek in my mouth, a few xrays and a rinse, exam done. Good news, even with all that gelato I eat, no cavities, and I have young, healthy teeth and mouth bones. Bad news, yes, my teeth from grinding at night have turned into, in his words, not mine, the tools with which you cut the meat.( I know there is a joke in there but I'm not touching it)  :) Like little knives those two teeth are he said.

He suggested I get a bite plate, I told him I had one and produced it from my purse at which point after looking at it he literally, no joke, threw it in the trash bin. He took it back out ( it was for theatrics) and said I may as well throw it away, it was terrible ( I paid 500 US for that terrible bite plate, but he was right). I need a new one AND to bond the backs of the two little knives in my mouth. OK, well what's this gonna cost me because I have no dental insurance here ( or in the States, I know, I know). He tells me he doesn't like money, he will send the assistant in to discuss money with me ( the assistant who speaks no English).

The assistant comes in and rattles off a bunch of stuff and then a price. I couldn't have heard her correct, could I have?  Ripeta (repeat) I say, and she repeats, I heard right 1,050.00 Euro, that's about 1500 bucks!! For what!! in between my laughter I ask ( that you have too much shit ER visit was 40 Euro!!)

Bite Plate  500 E
Bonding 180E per tooth = 360E
Teeth cleaning 100E
Visit + Xrays + the mouthwash to rinse while I was in the chair ( following "paying for your shampoo at the salon" rule)  90E

Well that's not happening. Not today. And so begins a game of deal or no deal.

Me: Doctor, how much just for today's visit, exam and xrays?

DR. I don't like to talk money, I don't like money. ( Uh, well you do cause you just quoted over 1,000 Euro!!)

Me: Ok, but if you did like money, how much?

Dr. 170 E

Me: But in the breakdown it was 90E?

Dr. Siiii, but that is with the bite plate discount

Me: OK, but I can't spend 700 dollars on a bite plate today

DR: It is only 500

Me: Yes, but in crappy US dollars it's 700

DR: Yes, I see your problem, we take the teeth cleaning away less 100 E

Me: Yeaaaah.... still can not

DR: So you just get the two teeth fixed today, OK?

Me: How much for that?

DR: How will you pay

Me: Visa

DR: 400 E ,200 per tooth

Me: What happened to the 360 E, 180 per tooth

Dr: That's the discount if you pay in cash

Me: Hmmmm

He could see my nerves becoming frayed. He asked why am I so nervous? DUDE! I'm nervous cause I'm on a budget and my teeth hurt!!! It's at this point where he prescribes 2 different drops for me. The first one I use at night, 10 drops on my tongue 1 hour before bed, he said he gives it to his wife and her nervous friends." What is it? It relaxes you. Oh, like a xanax? Yes, like xanax but also to help you sleep." Alrighty then! He then tells me, " the second drop use when you wake up if after the night drops you feel not relaxed . Put 15 drops on your tongue, or maybe only 11 drops or maybe you will need 12 drops. You must try different amounts to see what is right, what is not too much." I ask how will I know if its too much and he replied in very technical medical terminology, " If you feel blahhhh, lala, then that is too much" It's like freakin St John's Wort Russian Roulette I'm gonna be playing with these drops!

We finally come to an agreement that I will make a tentative appointment for tomorrow for the bonding but will think about it tonight ( I wanted to call the dentist back home and see how much it cost there) and will hold off on the bite plate for now. I go to checkout, my bill 170 E for today and then I hear him tell the staffer something, oh, I'm getting a discount tomorrow if I decide to bond the teeth even if I use the credit card, 360 E for both teeth.That's the bankers or should I say dentist's final offer. Ok, well I'll pay for today now and she says no you can pay tomorrow.

As I walked out I realized I just said DEAL because I have to go back tomorrow either way to pay him for today and once I'm in there with the blue plastic shoe covers on there will be no escaping.

To be continued......... (and I'm bringing the camera!!)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Staying Cool During a Tuscan Heat Wave

There has been a serious heat wave for several days now. Thank goodness I have A/C, my last 2 apartments did not and after one Tuscan summer I knew better when renting this place. My electric bill this month will probably be equivalent to Berlusconi's salary, but I don't care. Drapes are drawn closed and I have those 2 little wall mounted Mitsubishi electric a/c units blasting!!!

On a usual day my diet resembles that of an American teenager, it always has. Example menu : pizza, candy, frozen fish sticks and some sort of ice cream or gelato. Why I don't weigh 650 lbs. is a mystery to me but I fear I may wake up one of these days looking like a "nutty professor " version of myself, which is probably why I have insomnia.

Now I know this is not what people think of when they think of great food in Italy, I do indulge in "normal" delicious Italian food as well. Food like this........

I  just don't eat it on a daily basis, and definitely not when it is a real feel of 105 F with off the charts humidity, it's just too heavy for this heat.On days like this, it is becoming strictly a cold food on a stick, in a cup or in a cone diet.

After I finally dragged myself out of bed late morning and made my coffee I took a peek in the freezer for my dining options for the day. One tray of ice cubes and this

The 6 flavor assortment of icy pops! Cooling and low in calorie BUT not filling. I feared that even if I ate the entire box through the day I'd still be hungry ( and vitamin deficient).

SO, as much as did not want to be slammed in the face by the steamy, sticky blanket of 100 degree Tuscan air I made my way to the little bodega/cafe on the corner and in 10 minutes was back in my airconditioned apartment with this ...........................

Those that live here know what this is, for those that don't ................

It is 500 grammi di gelato!!! That's right! 500 grams of gelato, that is 1/2 a Kilo or 1.1  LBS of gelato!! Surely enough to feed an entire family dessert or in my case, breakfast, lunch and dinner TODAY!!!

Now in my dietary defense, the gelato is made with milk ( and that's good for ya, vitamin D) and I got 2 fruit flavors (which are usually not my favorite) , melone & fragola ( cantelope & strawberry) figuring they could almost cover my fruit portions for the day. The straciatella and cafe flavors I needed, because those ARE my favorites.

Buon appetito a me :))

Sunday, July 10, 2011

You live in Italy? That's AMAZING!!!

When I decided to start blogging less than a week ago I was torn with what type of blog I would write. Personally I read for the most part travel blogs ( for my perpetual wanderlust) and twisted funny blogs ( because I like laughing) and I read a lot of expat blogs about people ( usually Americans) living in a host of different places. I decided I wanted my blog to be a mixture of all those things, mainly for friends and family but also anyone else wanting to pop by.

In less than a week and a long list of subjects I want to post about but I find myself a bit unnerved. Here's the thing I ask myself, will honesty come across as a Debbie Downer, will posting about fantastic places I visit come across as bragging, will the humor I find in some aspects of everyday life come across as poking fun at Italy? It's a hard balance to strike, for me at least.

I've always been a straight shooter, opinionated and honest to a fault. It's something else beside my coloring that have in common with the Italians. They have no problem with directness, blatantly staring or asking how old you are ( something Americans are taught that you do not ask a woman) or telling you your ass looks big in those jeans. So I'm going to take my cue from the Italians.

So back to the title of the post , "You live in Italy? That's AMAZING!!!"

I hear that alot, especially in my travels. People ask where I'm from and I answer New York but I live in Italy now. Every time ,without fail I hear some version of ," WOW! That's amazing, I love Italy, I wish I lived there." It's weird but for some reason that response always makes me a little uncomfortable and at first I wasn't sure why. Now I am.

So many people visit Italy and love it ( for good reason) so many people read about Italy and living here, for there are many people  who dream of living here maybe imagining everyday is like the last scene in " Under the Tuscan Sun." I may have done that if my decision hadn't been so rushed. They read about the wonderful food and the scenery and etc. it all seems so perfect, all the time, and I have to admit yes, there are days like that, but not everyday.

Living here for an extended period of time, it's not like a movie, it's not like visiting or even like being here for a few months and not every day is the "good life" It just is not, not for anyone here or anywhere for that matter, because life doesn't work that way. Nobody's life is perfect filled with only aperitivo, love and good wine. Nobody's life only has ups and we all know that, no one is immune to the peaks and valleys of life. I 'm not sure if many people either don't realize that or they choose to just not think of it.

I am so fortunate to have seen the things and places in this world that I have. I am so fortunate to have the experience of living abroad and a family back in the US that supports that decision. I am so fortunate to be able to work for myself and live where I choose. I never forget this.

 In this moment in my life I choose to live in Florence, and for the most part I AM happy here. The honeymoon phase has passed for sure but it finally feels right when I call it home. I finally feel more comfortable than not. As an artist it feeds my thirst for the aesthetic, the sights and the sounds inspire me. That said, no ones life is a bowl of cherries everyday and living in Italy doesn't make it that way.

I have happy days and I have sad days

I have inspiring days and uninspiring ones

I have days where I feel brave for living alone in a foreign country and I have day when I think wtf am I doing here

I have days when I feel complete and days when I feel lonely

I have days that are full and days that are boring

I have days that are fun and days that are frustrating

I certainly don't want to be buzz kill to people who read blogs for the escapism but I think it's really important to me, for me, to be honest, at the very least to myself. I just wanted to get this out of the way, even if only for my own comfort in future postings.

I have all sorts of days, the same sort of days that anyone, living anywhere has because in the end life is the same wherever you live, only the backdrop is different.

Friday, July 8, 2011

SCIOPERI ( The Italian Strikes)

It's interesting, the same things that can drive me up a wall here are the same things that I find humor in. As beautiful a country is Italy, as good as the food, as wonderful is the art, is as dysfunctional that it runs.

We are all familiar with strikes. The teachers strikes that delay school openings for weeks, transportation strikes like the one that basically shut down the tri-state area in and around  NY during X-mas 2005, Pilots strikes and SAG strikes. In the US these usually make big news because they are about contract disputes and lag on before some sort of resolution. It's different here in Italy.

Now I'm no expert on the Italian strike. In fact I don't know why they do it and why it's so frequent across the board of services but it is a whole different animal and a nutty one at that. For instance there could be a strike on a Thursday of odd numbered, yellow colored buses between the hours of 10:46 am- 3:17pm. It's THAT random. Like I said, I don't know the whys, there is probably some justification,what I do know is for as much as I travel, I need to be on the up and up.

There are a bunch of websites dedicated to the Italian strike schedule. The 2 that I use are:

I was on the phone this morning with my friend Deirdre ( my next door neighbor for 6 years in Hoboken) she is in town with her hubby and 10 yr. old. I had made previous lunch plans so was giving her some options for sightseeing and meeting up later. She mentioned her son really had interest in the leaning tower of Pisa and that they might go tomorrow. I suggested she go today and then remembered there is a strike ( second one in 2 weeks).

I said, " Oh, wait, you can't go today, there's a strike". I said it so casually and didn't realize the impact on someone not familiar with the Italian striking culture until I heard the concern in her voice asking if it will be over by Tuesday when they leave for Venice. I laughed and said, " Oh, don't worry, it'll be over by the afternoon. Her response," WHAT", Are you serious.?" Yes I am!

I told her it happens all the time. I told her of the time I was in Siena 5 years ago. I had been visiting Florence for 3 days as a stop on a 3 week February/March trip to Provence and Italy. I had never been to Siena so decided to take the SITA bus ( bus is a better bet in my opinion) to Siena for the day and had bought a RT ticket.When I was ready to leave in the late afternoon I found my way back to the piazza from where the buses departed. 

I got to the square and wondered which bus to take, I asked a driver in my best Italian which wasn't that good (still isn't). The driver told me there are no buses to Florence they will go on strike. On strike? Yes, At 5:15 in 15 minutes we go on strike. 15 minutes, why not 10? That was lost in translation on him. When I asked why? Why there was a strike it was probably one question too many because he looked at me as if I was the one who was pazzo! He told me to take the train, with no choice I ask for directions to the train station and how long by foot. Dieci minuti.

Dieci minuti my ass. If your an Olympic sprinter maybe but when you're 5'2" with the stride of a beagle it took 35 minutes. Around the town up the hills, past the entrance walls of the old city where the she-wolves guard. Around the bend, walkin, walkin. I'm exhausted. Finally at the train station. I ask for a ticket, there is no direct train. Out of curiosity I ask about the bus strike. No strike? But the driver said... Did they settle already? In the last 1/2 hour? Talk about good negotiators. I remember thinking they could have used a few of them in New York Christmas week.

It was after that that I decided whenever in Italy and especially after moving here I would be in the know about any transportation strikes. But the sites are not always reliable and these strikes can pop up without a moments notice. 

In fact almost 2 weeks ago on a Sunday there was apparently a train strike that ran from 11:00 am- 4pm. I had not checked like I usually do, but I lucked out. I was coming back from Crema via Milan, my train left Milan at 10:45 so I was not affected, but a ton of people were.When I arrived back at Firenze SMN there was a taxi line longer than I had ever seen in 3 years. The foursome in front of me on the taxi line was begging a cabbie to take them to La Spezia, didn't care how much it cost, and I thought it weird they just didn't take the train. It made sense after I read a blog posting about the strike later that day. 

To better get a grip on just how widespread and frequent these strikes are I have cut and pasted the strike schedule for today July 8, 2011. It's in Italian , by region, but I will tell you that it ranges from specific banks and post offices, to Italia Telecom, to buses, train, airports and airlines. It's probably going to make this post go on FOREVER . Remember these are the strikes for just TODAY

08-07-2011 Ministero della Giustizia -
Uffici Giudiziari
Nazionale Rdb Pi-Usb
08-07-2011 Ministero della Giustizia -
Circondario del Tribunale di Taranto e sede distaccata di Taranto Corte di Appello di Lecce
TARANTO (TA) Camera Penale di Taranto Indicazione immediata - Revoca
08-07-2011 Telecom Italia -
Lazio (telefonia fissa)
Regione LAZIO Filatel
08-07-2011 Telecom Italia -
Regione MARCHE Snater
08-07-2011 Telecom Italia -
Fraud Operation, 187, 191, 119 e numeri verdi - Escluso Marche, 119 Toscana e Sicilia, 187 E.Romagna
Nazionale Snater (adeguamento con nota del 15/6 per la Regione Lazio) Indicazione immediata
08-07-2011 Telecom Italia -
Regional Transport e Switching sede di Bologna
08-07-2011 Telecom Italia -
Reparti Aou e Rjm
Regione ABRUZZO Slc-Cgil, Fistel-Cisl, Uilcom, Rsu
08-07-2011 Meridiana Maintenance Spa OLBIA (SS) Cobas-Lavoro Privato
08-07-2011 Ministero della Giustizia LAGONEGRO (PZ) Consiglio dell'Ordine degli Avvocati di Lagonegro Indicazione immediata
08-07-2011 Banca Monte Paschi di Siena -
Personale delle aree professionali e dei quadri direttivi
Nazionale Unità sindacale Falcri-Silcea, Confsal
08-07-2011 CPTV -
Reparto SuperTV-Messa in Onda
Nazionale Rsu di Via Verdi Centro di produzione di Torino c/o RAI Indicazione immediata - Revoca
08-07-2011 Aziende del Comparto -
Medici di base
Regione FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA Fimmg, Smi, Snami, Intesa Sindacale Indicazione immediata - Revoca
08-07-2011 Telecom Italia -
Personale del 119 di Telecom Italia
Regione TOSCANA Snater
08-07-2011 Poste Italiane S.p.A. Regione ABRUZZO Slc-Cgil, Fail-Cisal
08-07-2011 Poste Italiane S.p.A. -
Personale Mercato Privati della filiare di Trento
TRENTO (TN) Slc-Cgil
08-07-2011 Poste Italiane S.p.A. -
Settere recapito
Nazionale Cobas Lavoro privato, Cobas Pt-Cub (Adeguamento) Indicazione immediata
08-07-2011 Poste Italiane S.p.A. -
Settore recapito
Nazionale Si Cobas (adeguamento) Indicazione immediata
08-07-2011 Comparto Pubblico Impiego -
(Escluso comparto Scuola e Afam con nota del 24/6)
Nazionale Usb-Pi Indicazione immediata - Revoca
08-07-2011 Ditta Alba Paciello -
Cantiere di Sessa Aurunca
08-07-2011 Vigilpol S.r.l. Regione SICILIA Uiltucs-Uil Revoca
08-07-2011 Pentalfaservice -
Lavoratori appalti pulizia Base Militare di Decimomannu
DECIMOMANNU (CA) Filcams-Cgil, Fisascat-Cisl, Uiltrasporti-Uil
08-07-2011 Pentalfaservice -
Lavoratori appalti pulizia Base Militare di Elmas
ELMAS (CA) Filcams-Cgil
08-07-2011 Casa di cura Villa Cinzia NAPOLI (NA) Fp-Cgil
08-07-2011 Centro FKT NAPOLI (NA) Fp-Cgil
08-07-2011 Telecom Italia -
Dipendenti operanti in ambito del servizio 119
Regione SICILIA Snater Revoca
08-07-2011 Telecom Italia -
Dipendenti operanti in ambito del servizio 119
Regione SICILIA Snater
08-07-2011 Air Vallée Spa -
Personale Navigante Piloti e Assistenti di Volo
Nazionale Filt-Cgil (adeguamento) Indicazione immediata
08-07-2011 Alitalia Cai -
Reparto Ruote della Divisione Manutenzione di Fiumicino
FIUMICINO (RM) Cub Trasporti
08-07-2011 Fenice Srl -
National Airport Services Srl - Scalo di Fiumicino
08-07-2011 Gruppo Alitalia Cai/AirOne -
Personale Navigante di Condotta
Nazionale Ipa (adeguamento in data 23/6) Indicazione immediata - Revoca
08-07-2011 Gruppo Alitalia Cai/AirOne -
Piloti gruppo Alitalia Cai, escluso i voli da e per l'aeroporto di Venezia
Nazionale Filt-Cgil, Fit-Cisl, Uiltrasporti, Ugl-Trasporti (adeguamento al p13d) Indicazione immediata - Revoca
08-07-2011 Meridiana Fly -
Personale Navigante di Cabina
Nazionale Filt-Cgil, Anpav Indicazione immediata - Revoca
08-07-2011 Trenitalia -
Ferservizi - Settore Uffici
Regione TOSCANA Filt-Cgil, Fit-Cisl, Uilt Revoca
08-07-2011 Trenitalia -
Divisione passeggeri regionale - Direzione regionale Toscana
Regione TOSCANA Filt-Cgil, Fit-Cisl, Uilt Indicazione immediata - Revoca
08-07-2011 Trenitalia -
Divisione passeggeri regionale - Direzione regionale Toscana
Regione TOSCANA Ugl-Af Trasporti
08-07-2011 Trenitalia -
Divisione passeggeri regionale - Direzione regionale Toscana
Regione TOSCANA Filt-Cgil, Fit-Cisl, Uilt
08-07-2011 Trotta Bus Service ROMA (RM) Filt-Cgil, Fit-Cisl, Uiltrasporti, Ugl Trasporti

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mood Swing Tuesday

Every morning I roll over and see this. It's the view of Fiesole from my terrace which is connected to my bedroom. It's the next best thing to rolling over and seeing George, which sadly is not an option 

I love my view. It's only the 2nd apartment ( first was also here in Florence) of 12 I've had since college that actually has " A VIEW" . Oh I've had views before, of parking lots, and other buildings, dumpsters and diners, but this, this is the way to start any day. Puts you in a good mood straight away, even when it's raining.

Here's the thing about living in Italy, for me at least, that view induced good mood can swing right in the opposite direction to the " why is that" bad mood. There are MANY days I find myself frustrated and saying WHY IS THAT??? Yesterday was one of those days.

Started like any day, my view, my coffee, even the heavy handed eyebrow waxing that left me looking like a tomato from the eyes up could not dull the spring in my step yesterday. However, The UNO store could.

The UNO store is your go to place for all things Apple in the Florence city center. There are other electronic type places Alberti is another ( but they didn't have what I needed), Media World is great out at the Gigli center(1/2 hour by bus, pass), but in town for Apple stuff, it's UNO.What I needed was a new charger for my I Pad.

In March when I was in Hong Kong I did a really bad idiot check of my room and left my charger there. I bought a new one here

at  underground non government sanctioned computer haven ,The Golden Computer Center in Sham Shui Po while this guy

was fixing the fan on my laptop. I used that charger for months not realizing it was charging like 1% an hour. Turns out he sold me an IPOD charger, not an IPAD charger.

On Friday I walked over to the Uno Shop on Via Dei Pucci, 10 minute walk. When I got there it was 1:30 , CHIUSO ( closed) . Siesta. Now one would think that an Apple store, and the only one in town would be open all day, but this is Italy. I read the hours on the door

                                 lunedi- sabato: 10:30 - 13:00, 14:30- can't remember
                                 domenica- closed

Ok ,so open for 3 hours in the morning and a few in the afternoon , monday through saturday, sunday closed. I could have returned that afternoon but got sidetracked by some paperwork I had to finish. I figured I'd just swing by Saturday afternoon and I did at 15:00 ( 3pm) CHIUSO! What? WHY IS THAT???? Then I noticed why, summer hours, funny. As if that shop wasn't closed enough NOW they are closed after 1pm on Saturdays in the summer. Thing is, that sign was not there the day before.

I thought ,ok ,no biggy, that's when I headed down to that war zone that was the saldi. So Sunday they will be closed but Monday, I'll go on Monday. Then I thought, wait, Monday is July fourth, they'll be closed, then I thought, but this is Italy so they'll be open. I swing by one more time on my way home on Saturday and double check the hours.

Monday, view, coffee, walk to Uno store, get there at 11:00 am CHIUSO!! WHY IS THAT!!! I press my face to the glass door and there is a guy in there, sitting in the dark at the register. I knock to get his attention and he shoos me away, I got the hand shoo. I step back bewildered when I notice a NEW sign CHIUSO OGGI- 4 Juglio- INVENTARIO. Closed for Inventory? They sell like 3 things in there .Ok, I'll go back the next day, yesterday, Tuesday.

View, coffee, stop by the rental agency to pay my rent, eyebrow wax, wander around for a bit and find myself in front of the Uno store at 2:00. I'm early, that's ok, I was chatting on the phone with my friend Arlene anyway, I'll just wait. I'm in a fine mood, beautiful day! 2:15 rolls around, and there is the guy, oh, finally I think, and he's going to open early. YAY! NO ,he is not opening early.

2:20,  guy number 2 shows up and I think, oh now he's going to open , the other guy arrived, he'll open now. NO. For 10 minutes they sat in a dark store, not saying a word to one another while I glared at them through the glass door. It's 2:27!!!!! They see me, I'm waiting!!!! I've been trying to get in that freakin store for FOUR DAYS!!!! Open the fucking door!! That is what is going through my mind, view induced good mood- GONE!!!

All this while I am still on a call with Arlene and I am asking her why?WHY IS THAT? she's like it's Italy. I say, " OK it;s 2:30, here we go, but still NO, they don't open the door. Lights don't even go on. It's 2:30!!!! I'm yelling in the phone while she is laughing at me when she says, "No, it's 2:27, remember last week when you were visiting we had this discussion about your watch being 3 minutes fast" #^%*&^*()((5^%&%*!!!!!!! My reaction.

I marched right across the street, ordered 2 scoops of gelato, because no matter how bad your mood may turn, gelato, always turns it back happy.