Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Seeing the "David" for the First Time

I am ashamed to say that for the almost two years that I have lived here, I have never seen the “David.” I attribute my reluctance to see the sculpture to the replica standing outside the comune in Piazza della Signoria. However, a visit from a friend spurred me to see the capolavoro (masterpiece) today.

My friend Tina is from Germany, and this is the second time she has come to visit me in Florence. Thankfully she is not into taking in all the sites of Florence. I find being a tour guide boring and deviant Tuscan behavior. If someone really wants to see Florence, they should just enjoy it.

She did have one request — to see the “David” at the Galleria dell’Accademia. I honored her request. And I am glad I paid to see it.

Seeing the “David” in person is surreal. He is handmade perfection. He stands at the end of a long corridor that contains I Prigioni (“The Prisoners”) sculptures, also by Michelangelo.

When I reached the end of the hall, the room opened up into a circular viewing area. People from all over the world looked up to admire the peak of human perfection. From his navel around to his backside, I examined his body. He is what every woman wants her man to be — strong, smooth and focused.

He is eye-catching. Something else caught my eye. There was a plaque on the wall of the hallway to the left of the “David.” It commemorated his recent restoration and thanked those that contributed funds to the project. I looked closely and noticed that all or most of the names of the supporters had non-Italian or Anglo- last names. I found that odd.

Besides that observation, I was fascinated by the David. I encourage anyone who lives or visits Florence to see him; the replica does not compare.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Eating at My Favorite Pizzeria

After cooking for my friend and date to the wedding for almost 10 days, I wanted a break from the stove. We decided to eat out. At first I was at a loss for suggestions, then I remembered that one of the hottest — hot as in spicy — pizza places I ever ate at was here in Florence.

I only ate there once over a year ago. I remembered that it was not in the center, but over the river and away from the hustle and bustle of visitors. I could not recall the exact name of the restaurant. I only knew that the word “fratelli” (brothers) was part of the name and the owners were Calabrese.

After some searching on the Web I found the pizzeria. Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers) was located in Piazza Ravenna, right down the street from my apartment. All these months I never knew that great tasting real Italian pizza was so close to me.

Florence is known for many traditional foods, pizza is not one of them. Not to say you can’t find good pizza here, but generally in Italy it is best to eat the dish in the town of origin, as the locals or to be more precise, creators, have first- hand knowledge of how it should be prepared.

But this pizzeria is different. The owners are from Calabria, a region known for its hot peppers. The menu has a section dedicated to hot toppers. My friend chose “Stai Lontano da Me” (Stay Far Away From Me) a triple-hot-topped pizza. There was perperoncino piccante (hot chili pepper) spread, freshly chopped garlic and chunks of hot sausage, ʹNduja — enough spice to keep Dracula away.

The origins of ʹNduja are uncertain, but what is certain is that it was brought to the region either by the French or Spanish and is now a food that is considered Calabrese.

The pizzeria is just that, a place to eat pizza. Around the room are signs warning the customer not to get out of hand. “If you get up to smoke outside, stay outside,” was written on one sign.

That’s why I love eating here. Like true Southern Italians, they don’t mess around.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Witness to Love

Under the cloudy blue Tuscan sky my friend and old roommate in NYC proclaimed her honor, love and commitment to the man of heart’s desire.

I have been invited to many weddings, all of them fairly large with hundreds of guests. This was the first small wedding that I attended. I actually spoke to the bride and groom without interruption. I shared their day with them.

It was an intimate gathering. The guests included their immediate family, best friend from childhood (and her husband) and two distant cousins, one of which was my date. In all we were 20.

Before the ceremony I went to the bride’s hotel room to help her with her dress and the final touches of makeup. Her dress was designer and lace. Her shoes were Champaign Manolo’s. Her makeup was NARS.

Her look was gorgeous.

Her hairdresser showed up late. That meant the photographer would have to wait until she felt she was perfect.

Once she was off taking pictures I called a cab and headed back to the hairstylist’s studio near my apartment for my do. But he completely failed to reproduce the look I wanted. Not only did my hair look like a flop but the lateness of the hairdresser made me late to the wedding.

At home I tried my best to get dressed quickly and re-do my hair.

The wedding was at Villa La Vedetta on Viale Michelangelo, literally two minutes from my house. But today there was traffic. We crept up the hill, stopping and going every 30 seconds.

We were a half an hour late, but the wedding did not start without us.

Finally we sat down in cloth covered chairs and waited for the bride. The groom was beaming and anxiously waited for his soon-to-be wife to appear.

With Brunelleschi’s masterpiece cupola serving as the backdrop, they recited their wedding vows among those who are truly a part of their lives.

During the ceremony I thought about how my friend had waited so long for this day. The nights we would stay up till 2 a.m. talking about our dreams and fears regarding relationships. At that time it seemed like forever till “the one” would appear. But then suddenly she fell in love and everything changed in a moment.

After the ceremony we went below the terrace to the pool for aperitivo. It began to pour. The rain lasted only for a few minutes. It stopped in time for our dinner on the terrace.

The bride and groom weren’t walking around the dining room greeting and thanking all the guests for coming or sitting away from their guests. They were sitting in front of me talking, laughing and reminiscing.

I felt honored that they made me a part of their special day and I wish them both love and happiness each day of the rest of their life together.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Harassed by a Worker at the Vendemmia

He cupped my breast so fast I didn’t even realize that I had just been molested. I didn’t know what to do. One of the workers, who I’ll call One-Eyed Pete, kept harassing me today.

At first it started with glaring stares. One of the supervisors had to yell at him.

“Pietro, ma cosa guardi, (Pete what are you looking at),” said the supervisor when he noticed Pete watching me while I took a break to drink water at the end of the vines.

We switched fields later in the day. We began to pick the white grapes for Vin Santo. Only the best grapes are picked, those without any marks, mold and that are ripe. They are cut and then laid in a plastic carton so that they can dry by Christmas.

Because the labor was slower and more involved I had to rely on One-Eyed Pete for advice. Esat was busy riding on the back of the tractor running up and down the rows collecting the filled cartons. So I had to stay close to One-Eyed.

Of course the jokes started. But he and another colleague saw my displeasure and annoyance at hearing more jokes. So they began to assure me that they only say jokes to pass time. It’s only talk.

One-Eyed stepped closer to me to tell me that once a girl thought he touched her, but he really didn’t. I joked that he should stand back since I had my scissors in my hand. But missing one eye did not stop the little man on zeroing in on me. He reenacted how he touched her. He swiftly reached out his arm, placing his hands around my breast. I looked down, his hand was gone and he was laughing.

One of the non-Italian workers noticed what happened. This was the first time he spoke to me. He yelled to me from down the vine to stay away from One-Eyed Pete.

I didn’t know what to do. One-Eyed was slick, he acted like it was all in good fun and even had the other worker laughing about it. I was mostly mad at myself for letting it happen. The rules are different out here. If I yelled at him or told the owner, I would probably look like a prudish moralist or stuck-up American girl. I just kept reminding myself that it was my last day.

Esat remarked that they took advantage of him not being around. He noticed that they had all been acting differently since the day I arrived on the fields.

When I returned home I told my Tuscan male friend what had happened.

His response “Va be, in campagna (Oh well, it’s the countryside).”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Being Tired of Jokes at the Grape Harvest

Carrying the heavy baskets up and down hills, emptying the full baskets into the cart and picking the grapes in general have gotten much easier this week. Listening to the workers talk and make jokes about sex for eight hours every day has gotten tedious — especially when they are made at my expense. It is annoying me to the point of aggravation.

I usually work alongside my friend Esat from Albania. In between the vines we discuss our likes and dislikes of Italy. He also helps me out when I cannot carry my weight in the field. He knows that my body is not used to working in campagna, so he tries to assist me when possible.

Today Esat is away taking care of personal business. It seems that the jokes are more frequent and everyone feels less inhibited to speak to me about my personal life.

I don’t know how many more times I can fake a laugh. How many times can one smile or giggle at comments like “don’t take a sharp turn, I may have to kiss this bella ragazza”; “if I was younger…”; “do you like dopo cena (after dinner, aka dessert aka sex)?”

I thought that if I told them I had a boyfriend they would leave me alone. But that has just given them more material.

I pretend that I don’t understand what they are saying, but they’ve caught on and have called me out on it. “She understands; she’s just pretending. She knows what we’re talking about…wink wink.”

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Taking a Break from the Rain

What started as sunny turned into a grey rainy day. After lunch we continued the repetitious task of cutting grape clusters. After we finished harvesting all the red grapes we would move onto picking the white grapes for Vin Santo. The grapes have to be dry when picked, said Guiliano.

I was excited to do something “new” and to see the initial process of how Vin Santo was made. But after lunch it began to rain. I held out and continued to pick, but eventually the raindrops got bigger and fell faster.

My co-workers and I ran to a little shed filled with hay located on top of the hill with the vineyards below. There I finally got a chance to sit down and talk to some of my co-workers.

Gino, my supervisor, told stories of the most memorable incidents during the 25+ years that he has worked in the vineyard. The one incident that remembered the most was when he caught a couple having sex in a gazebo that once existed on the property. His eyes twinkled and he had to stop himself from laughing in order to tell us the story.

We sat for an hour waiting for the rain to stop. I was told that we would not be paid for that time that we were idle. I explained to Gino that I thought this was unfair. Either let us go home or pay us. “My time is precious,” I said.

They thought my comment was cute, however I was serious. They explained that this is how it is when one works in campagna (the country).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Vendemmia: Unglamorous Work

The vendemmia is one of the most unglamorous jobs I have ever held. To harvest the grapes I have to completely strip myself of anything I consider feminine. A green hat covers my head to protect my scalp from the sun. I wear old T-shirts that are now stained with purple grape splotches; the bottoms of my black pants or ripped jeans are stuffed into my black boots to protect my legs from weeds, overgrown bushes and other creatures that crawl on the vines. I wear gloves but I still have blisters on my right hand from the pruning shears that are used to cut il grappolo (grape bunch) from the vine.

We are required to work four hours before taking a one-hour lunch break, and another four hours after the lunch break. No other breaks are allowed. If I have to go to the bathroom, tuff. The field is my toilet. Luckily I haven’t had to do that. But my colleagues are constantly going among the weeds. A turned back is considered privacy. I try not to avoid seeing them urinate, but at times I catch a glance of a stream.

By the end of the day, I am sticky with grape goo and sweat. My arms and face, the only uncovered parts of my body are a magnet for thorns, seeds, pieces of grass and insects, including mosquitoes.

Because one has to carry the grapes that they pick up and down the rows, which are usually on a slant, the work requires physical strength. It is highly demanding on the body that by the end of the day I could care less how I look. I just want to splash water on my face, hands and arms and sit in peace.

The weather has been sunny and about 28 degrees Celsius everyday. The heat at times makes it almost unbearable to work. The others aren’t bothered as much by the sun as I am. This is not the first time they have worked on a farm. And also they have told me that it is worst to work in the rain because the mud makes your feet weigh 10 pounds each.

I am not embarrassed to say that I don’t even wash my hair at the end of the day. What’s the point. I don’t go anywhere and I haven’t done anything but eat and sleep. The only thing that reminds me of who I am is my tube of Lancôme lip gloss that I carry in the pouch fastened around my waist.