Sunday, June 22, 2008

La Notte Bianca

Last night was La Notte Bianca, the white night. It is an all night festival in the Oltrarno district (across the Arno). It begins on the summer solstice, June 21 and ends early morning June 22.

Francesca, Nicola (Francesca’s younger brother), Rina and I drove to the Oltrarno around 12 a.m. We had first stopped off at some friends for food and drink. That is where we picked up Rina. She and her flat mates were having a party, but not the kind that American students have. In the kitchen was a table filled with food and wine. We trekked through the bathroom to the terrace were about 10 people, from different parts of the world, were eating and talking.

Last year for some reason, which I reflect on now, I decided to let my Albanian boyfriend go without me to La Notte Bianca. Now that I look back, there were many of nights that I did not feel like going out with him.

In any case, last night was something I have never before seen in The States. People were everywhere, drinking and eating on the street. The bands that played on every corner set the vibe for the street party. What I observed from the groups of people walking past me, everyone was elated. It was just a good time. People were trying to eat juicy watermelons while keeping their attire spotless. My friends and I looked for cheap, but good wine. And in the end everybody danced.

Drinking in public is one thing the States should instate. It makes a festival. People are free. Also, the shops in the area were open -- shopping with food, music, alcohol and beautiful people everywhere—what more could a girl ask for. Another thing about Italy is that everyone smokes. I mean everybody. I even found myself with a cigarette in hand.

I noticed that a lot of people in Florence roll their own cigarettes. I do not know if this is because of price, quality or just a particular preference. My flat mate can roll hers while walking, with delicate care and attention a skinny cigarette is made from la cartina, tobacco, and filter. It is impressive.

We spent some time in Piazza Santo Spirito. I think this was one of the most crowed areas of the celebration. A song played throughout the square that paid homage to Italy. All the Italians in the crowd began to sing along and jump around. Their pride gave me goose bumps.

Last night was probably the first night where I started to feel a bit comfortable here. It is difficult to come back to a city where I have spent many summer nights with a different group. To come back and disassociate myself with last year’s experiences is more difficult than I thought. It does help to live in a completely different area of Firenze, Oltrarno.

I heard the birds chirping when we returned home at 5 a.m. As I looked out my window at the periwinkle sky about to greet the sun, I wondered what I felt like last year -- I cannot remember.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bus By Night

It is technically June 21, but I just got home from a night out on June 20th. I was at a going away dinner for my friend Lacie. She will be leaving today for the United States. She is going for 10 weeks, but promises that she will be back in the fall. Lacie told the others how she and I see each other right before the departing of the other. Strangely, I feel that she and I have a connection, even though we never have had time that most friendships are given to grow.

I met her one day last summer, while critiquing her article. After that, I definitely thought that she would not like me. One night, my friend Myles brought the both of us together for an aperitivo. It turned out, we had a lot in common and she actually was not offended by my writing suggestions, but found them useful. Who knew? That was several nights before the end of my summer.

On the way back home from the party, I accidentally got on the wrong bus. It was the night bus. I knew I made a mistake as soon as I climbed on. No one else was on the bus except for a tall black man dressed in a suit standing right in the aisle waiting to greet me and Madonna’s 4 minutes was blaring from the Italian drivers IPod. I felt like I got on the party bus, but was the only one invited to the party.

The two guys on the bus were really funny.

“I am on the wrong bus,” I said repeatedly.

“Oh no, stay and we will have a couple of laughs,” said the driver. “I live right by you I’ll bring you home.”

I am sure he would love to bring me home.

Well I did stay and chat with them a bit. Apparently I was on the Bus by Night; a free bus service on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. The service is available from June 19 – August 9. The city of Florence bans cars from going into the center after a certain time, unless you are a resident. Now people can still enjoy the center’s night life, by parking their cars and taking the bus. It loops around all the hot spots, and stops at the cities major points, such as Ponte Santa Trinita, Via Tornabuoni and Borgo San Frediano.

I am glad I accidentally found out about the bus. It was a good way to end the night, chatting with two guys. I like meeting people by chance. It makes me believe in possibilities. Florence breeds accidental meetings. Many foreigners here are eager to meet new people. Whether they are studying, traveling, or just passing through. But these are not the friendships that will last, in my opinion.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lunch with Gino

My favorite place to eat in Milano is not a restaurant, but at the table of my third cousin Gino.

When I arrived he had already been in the garden picking beans, lettuce, zucchini, parsley and basil for our lunch. We had decided that we would rest a bit before starting the preparation.

Above, fruits of the garden - romaine lettuce, basil and zucchini.

Gino lives in an apartment complex. His home is not that big compared to American standards; nonetheless it is elegant and has style.

Every time I visit the apartment there is pleasant perfume of delicate flowers in the air. I have not yet figured out what it is. Maybe it is the laundry detergent or the cleaning products that his wife, Sarina, uses. When a slight breeze blows through the scent drifts through the house like spring morning.

The smell takes me back to the age of 16, the first time I visited Milano and slept here. I wanted to keep the smell with me when I left. It is so refreshing, pleasant and clean.

After a pause we began the lunch ritual, which is he cooks and I eat. He always makes me a full plate of spaghetti with basil and tomato sauce. For better flavor, I add peperoncini, hot chili peppers in olive oil. He also puts out the left over’s from the previous day’s dinner, usually a meat, and cheese and salumi (cold cuts). Of course there is always wine.

Yummy, my plate of pasta with fresh sauce.

When the meal is finished, he makes two cups of espresso. We always discuss how the espresso turned out. If he made it right, it should be cremosa, creamy at the top so that when one pours sugar into it, the sugar should float for a bit, and slowly sink to the bottom.

Almost perfect espresso.

This time it was not perfect espresso, but good enough to keep me alert for my train trip to Firenze.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My Story

I am writing this blog in partial fulfillment of Masters of Science in Journalism at Ohio University and to document my new life in Florence, Italy. On June 14, 2008 I packed my belongings into three suitcases and left on a one-way ticket for Florence. I have been here three times before this adventure. Each trip to the medieval city – never in my initial plans – was taken with reluctance. Yet, for some reason, fate has placed me here over the years. This past year I felt the city tugging at my heart, calling me to return. So I jumped.

My parents, both born in Sicily, moved to the United States for a better life. My father, moved with his family after World War II. In 1971, during a visit to the Island he met and married my mother.

He promised her parents that they would know their grandchildren. He kept his word. My brother Michael, sister, Lorie and I visited the small town where my mother grew up. That stay strengthened the bond between us and our grandparents, and connected us to our heritage.

In 2002, I had my first introduction to Florence. My roommates and I decided it was time to see Italy as tourists. We left our apartment in Hoboken, N.J. and headed East with a planned itinerary of Torino, Rome and Milan. When we arrived at Milan Malpensa airport, my cousin had forgotten to pick us up. That left room for a quick stop to Florence.

After returning, I began to contemplate a life change. In the days following September 11th, televised footage showed the remnants of what resided inside the towers. Among the ash, dust, and dead bodies, all I could see was whole sheets of paper blowing around the Financial District. In my mind this symbolized “work” out living the ones who were assigned it. It put things into perspective.

Eventually, I left my corporate job in NYC and moved home to Cleveland. In spring and summer of 2007, before starting graduate school, I lived in Florence. My desire was to study in Rome; however I only found one school, which was located in Florence that offered an internship with a magazine

The living abroad experience changed me. I dated an Albanian student and the relationship awoke in me an emotion I never knew – Love. The summer months were a whirlwind; I was in love, felt happy and free, and it was during that time that Firenze revealed to me its piccoli piaceri (little pleasures).

Distance and time reveal truth. When I moved back to the U.S. it became apparent that my summer romance was just a fling. During the summer I had questioned whether his dreams were cast in the same direction as mine; blinded by love, I ignored my own doubts. After I refused to sign documents of support, to grant him a visa to the U.S., his lies and excuses became more and the phone calls less. Then there was silence.

In the autumn months that followed I cried a million tears, and felt a pain so excruciating that I cannot remember its feeling today, even when I try. I only know that I never want to feel that way again. Without closure, I was nervous and distraught, crying in my sleep – if I managed to sleep – and at times planted in my bed.

With distance, a sea in between and no confirmation from him that the relationship had ended, I felt stranded in a black hole. I thought I had lost my only true love. Looking back now, I know I did not lose anything. In fact I gained myself.

Everyone has an opinion on how to deal with love, loss and life. In the end I could only follow my heart. Fortunately, before the break-up I purchased a ticket to Sicily for winter break. A mixture of rude insistence, a snow storm and the grace of God allowed me to convince the U.S. Airways employee to fly me directly to Florence.

The third trip to Florence was to reclaim my heart. On a cold December night, in the middle of the historic center, I faced my past and the ghost that prevented me from moving forward. From those days that followed, I began to rebuild myself.

Before graduate school ended, I thought “I can never go back to Fi, everything is tainted now.” Friends encouraged me not to give up on my dream. Se la vita ti porta a Firenze, devi andare! (If life brings you to Florence you must go)," said my cousin.

So now, I move forward as a new person with the past anchored behind me, in the spirit of the city that gave birth to the rebirth. In Italy, where the joys and pains in life are celebrated in a modern world thriving in an ancient backdrop, I hope to experience all life has to offer: love and hate, envy and passion, jealousy and lust, happiness and sadness, beauty and drama. Here are my moments along with a visual and descriptive summary of the food, life and feeling of Florence and Tuscany.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

CLE Airport at the Gate

I just left my family. Every time I have embarked on a new travel or moved away, I cannot remember crying. I do not think I have ever cried. Maybe it is because I knew that I would be back soon or that I was just a short plane trip away.

This time is different. I did not think I would cry, but I did. I will miss them all, my sister, my brother, my mother and father – especially my father. I will miss him the most. His stories, his anecdotes, his nervousness and him yelling at me, but trying to convince me that he is not yelling at all. “Honey I am not yelling at you. No, no I am just talking loud,” he says that every time I ask him to stop yelling at me. Oh God he makes me laugh just writing about him.

Everyone likes my Dad. I mean everyone; if they do not, I know there is something wrong with that person. He has always been a likable guy. He and I even had a conversation once about how he really gets along with everyone. He is easygoing, unless . . . unless someone crosses him, than that is a different story.

When he was younger they used to call him Spike because he was cool and everyone knew not to mess with him. They respected him, because he did not let anyone push him around. Even the guys or bullies, who tried to push him around, after they fought him, would end up apologizing to him and eventually they became friends.

My dad and I used to belong to the same gym. I never had to look for him because from the floor above I could hear people excitedly greeting him. Even at parties, when he walks into the room, the entire crowd greets him.

My father always taught us to be nice to people, but at the same time, if someone disrespected us the treatment must be reciprocated. I guess it is Old Testament, “a tooth for a tooth.”

He used to have long talks with me when I was little in his red Ford pickup truck. He would corner me in the place that emitted his aura, all around inside and out that truck was T.T., T. Trusso.

Sometimes I just wanted to run out and scream, “I get, I get. I won’t do anything bad. Just please let me out.” I was like Meryl Streep in Bridges of Madison County with my fingers clutching the handle waiting for the right moment to flee. All the father-daughter talks were in that truck. “Don’t sleep around . . . Don’t let someone use you . . . If you disrespect the family do not bother coming home . . . mi figlita (my child).”

Now that I am older, he still corners me in the truck. When I had may break up, I weighed about, hmm 100 pounds — wet, looked sickly and could not crack a smile. But this did not stop T.T. He was just waiting for the moment. He was waiting for me to seek out his advice and confess that I had made a mistake.

One day in his truck, while trying to hold back my tears, I broke. I turned to him and said “Dad I think he is cheating on me.” Well I did not receive the expected words of comfort, like “honey it is okay, you can do better” ending with a nice hug. Oh no, not T.T.

“Of course he is fucking cheating on you,” he screamed with anger. “What do you expect he is only 23 and you’re in another country. He is just a boy. Don’t be so fucking stupid!”

For dramatic Sicilian emphasis, his one hand pounded the seat with each “fuck,” “cheat” and “stupid” that gushed from his mouth.

Now the tears were flowing down my cheeks.

“Listen, listen, the writing is on the wall, this guy is just looking for a ticket, he has nothing. You are so much better than that what the fuck were you thinking!”

He continued pounding the seat.

“He has nothing! Nothing to offer you, nothing at all . . . he does not even have a degree. You have traveled and your getting your masters, you’re not on the same level!”

Then I think he felt bad, because the tone changed; only slightly, he lowered his voice about one decibel. “Now you knew it was not gonna work . . . you knew it deep down, mi filgita. It’s just not gonna work. It’s just not.”

This would be one of the times where my father says he is not yelling. No, no, he is just talking loud.

Later I thought about it, and I think my dad, being a man, knew I was being played, and was so upset and angry to see it and know that he could not warn me. I had to find out for myself.

He was just waiting for the moment when I would come to him, in confidence, to tell me how dumb I had been.

Our last truck talk was just a couple of days ago. Me, back to myself, happy and eating again. “People will betray you, you cannot trust anyone. You can be friends with someone for a hundred years and still not know them,” he said.

In the end it was three words that resonated with me the most. I think this is the best advice yet. "Fuck that guy!”