Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Friend, My Heart

Sometimes I wonder about heart break. Is it necessary to feel? I do not think I would be the person I am today if I did not have my heart completely stomped on. Not only this, but I share a common bond with women who I never thought I would ever have something in common with.

With every life experience, one is able to appreciate a new aspect of living. To be able to understand another person and what they are going through is gold.

Last night I spoke to a friend, who like me came to Florence to close a hole in her heart. Florence is a great place to escape, but no matter how beautiful the backdrop and how many reminders of true love surround you, the aches and nervousness still linger. I tried to give her the advice that was given to me — "think with your head not your heart," "do not let someone manipulate you," and etc.

But her excuses were the same as mine — "I provoked it," "I was a bitch," "It was only that one time; I do not think he would do it again and he was really sorry." The one question we both did not have the answer to — how could one person, cause so much damage?

I feel bad, because I do not know what to tell her to do. I do not even know what I am doing. Maybe her story still needs to be played out.

In the end I hope she realizes, no matter what she said or did, she did not deserve any of that. She only deserves happiness. Her life is ahead, not behind. In the words of Feist “The wings are wide, the wings are wide!”

Friday, July 18, 2008


I love new beginnings. Where all paths are open. Talking all night, hands through hair, anticipating a kiss. Wondering if it will last, or maybe it will never even really start. Either way, it is the thought of possibilities that makes me believe in new beginnings.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On the Terrace

Today I met a friend for gelato, Marcello. He is finishing up his studies in Florence, but before he left he took me to a hotel where his friend works to check out the rooftop terrace. The views were amazing. I could practically hug the Duomo.

Marcello is also a writer and an Italian-American (as if you could not tell from his first name). I love meeting other writers and exchanging ideas. He let me read his “novel” about his experiences in Fi. The day was perfect, gelato, a terrace with exceptional views and hanging out with a cool guy. The only thing missing was drinks.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Storm

There is a gray cloud hanging outside my window, waiting to burst and I hear the clouds rumbling in — hopefully it will be a big storm. I like big, thunderous, loud, storms as long as I am in a safe spot to see it. Like my home. Storms make for good writing day. Also, It has been hot in Florence; a cool day like this is just what the city needs to take a rest and rinse off all the grime left behind from July tourists. Ahh, raindrops — the storm is here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Day in the Past

My friend and I went to the fortress city of Monteriggioni for the Medieval Festival, today. This is the second, of two weekend-long events in July, where the city returns to its medieval past. It was something I have never seen before. The city had recreated the former marketplace and inhabitants dressed in clothing of that period.

When we arrived, the town square was holding a meeting and they incorporated the crowd into the act. In the late afternoon the town royalty marched throughout to the city to the beat of drums. Along with them followed, their armory, a band and a colorful joker. My favorite part was the playful reenactment of a witch burning. Well they did not actually burn the witch — two scruffy men taunted and teased her and tied her up. At the end of the comedic act, the two were too caught up in giving themselves props that they did not notice when she managed to run away — still tied to a giant stick.

My mother would have enjoyed this act. She loves Italian comedy. It is a bit different than American, it is . . . a bit ballsy I guess, but not in an offensive way. Or maybe I should say that I do not find it offensive. The two guys were tossing a wooden instrument, shaped like an hour glass, between each other. One of them would actually catch it on piece of thick string, balance, roll, throw it back into the air and catch it again on the string. Every time he did that successfully, he would excitedly run over to a guy and kiss him on his cheek. Once he even kissed a man in the crowed on his bald head. It was fun to watch.

The whole town was one stage. There were paupers and a sheep herder walking about, along with two ugly old women on stilts. I believe the two women were the town outcasts because they were trying to steal from everyone in sight. Plus they had ratty hair and black teeth. Besides the continuous theatrical performances, there were artisans creating and selling crafts characteristic of that time.

At about 7 p.m., my friend and I decided it was time to taste test overstuffed sandwiches that were being sold at a local “bar.” The bread was carved out to fit cannellini beans, 3 types of salumi (I had specifically asked for porchetta [roast pork] to be one of the three), mushrooms, zucchini and cheese. It was filling and so good. We even paid for the meal in the old currency of grossi.

We did not stay to see the battle between Siena and Firenze (Florence). It was beginning as we were leaving. My friend asked if I would like to stay, but I decided against it. I was drained from the day in the sun, but if I am here next year, I think I would come to the festival in the later part of the day to see the reenactment of the battle.

For more information on the festival and its historical significance visit their Web site: http://www.monteriggionimedievale.com/

The city, located in the province of Siena, is accessible by bus:


Information on where to purchase Sergio Sassetti's wooden artworks are as follows:

Sassetti Sergio
Largo Campidoglio, int. 16
53036 PoggiBonsi (SI)
Tel. 0577.936424

The Package

I have been without the Internet since the day I have moved into the apartment. That is okay for the average person, but when your life depends on communication, the Internet is essential. Without it, I feel lost and cannot write. I use it for everything, the dictionary, to check AP style and inspiration.

Maybe I exaggerate. I have not been entirely without the Internet. I found several signals to steal, and there is one in particular that I can pick up in the far corner of my room, but the signal is low and the speed is slow.

My roommate, Francesca keeps having conversations with me about the installation of the internet. At times, I hear her discussing it with her brother. I do not understand why there is a conversation.

Surely I must be missing something. In the United States, you make a phone call and BOOM, you are connected. I am sure there is something that I am missing; because it cannot be such a process. Or can it?

Francesca’s dialect is bit difficult for me to understand, so half of the time she pulls me aside to discuss it I do not comprehend the problem. The other half of the time, I do not want to hear about the dilemma, I just want to hear, “Natalie, the code for our wireless internet is . . ."

But that is in my dreams. In reality, she did order the Internet and the day before she left for a work conference she told me I had to be home on Thursday and Friday for the installation. At least that is what I understood.

In my mind, she said that someone was installing the telephone line on Thursday and then Friday they were installing the Internet. Now that I look back, I think this is just what I wanted to hear.

I reluctantly stayed home on Thursday, even though I was invited to a tourism conference . . . but I digress. I stayed home with the expectation that some man will be coming into the apartment to install a phone line.

At 10:30 a.m. my door buzzes. I let the person into the building. Another buzz, and I open my front door of my 4th floor apartment. I looked out — left, right and down the stairwell — there is no one there. Then, I heard a voice screaming up to me from floor level.

Signora! Signora! Vieni giu,” said some man. He was asking me to come downstairs.

Chi e (who is it),” I asked.

Buzz, buzz.

Blah, blah blah, Signora vieni giu,” now he screamed.

Chi e,” I screamed back.


Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, goes the doorbell.

The window in the stairwell lets in the constant hum of traffic outside my door, and I could not hear who he was. Plus, this could not be the guy I was waiting for, I thought. Anyways, even if it was, why could he not just WALK UP THE STAIRS?

Non ti sento ( I cannot hear you)! Chi e,” I kept screaming down the stairwell.

By now his hand was glued to the buzzer. All I heard was a constant buzz and him screaming at me, which does not impel me to come downstairs. Instead, I just wanted to make him come up the stairs. Why should I go downstairs for this stranger, who will not even tell me who is?

The conversation above and constant doorbell ringing repeated itself about two more times. Signora!!!! Buzz. Ma va fa in culo,” I heard him say, along with other swear words.

That basically means “go fuck yourself.” This again, is not the way to get a woman to come downstairs.

He finally left. At about 3 p.m. I thought “where the hell is the phone guy.” I called the number Francesca left me.

Turns out, there is no phone guy. No. I was just waiting for a package from express mail service Bartolini Corriere Espresso. The Bartolini representative I spoke to said that the delivery guy is not allowed to come to the door or they are prohibited to enter the building. From what I understood that is a law.

If I spoke better Italian, I would have asked her what her definition was of “express mail.” I did not have time to argue; so I just told her that the delivery man was rude and swearing at me. That did not faze her; she just ignored my complaint and asked if I would be home tomorrow to receive the package. So much for service.

I am still upset that I stayed home to wait for a package. Never in my life have I stayed home for a package. Not only did I waste a day, waiting for a package, I was waiting for a package that was not even delivered to my door. Just to my building. At night, I still ponder this episode, why could he not just WALK UP THE STAIRS? It is so simple, yet they make it so hard.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Expectation

Today I was just, lounging around, thinking about writing, when my roommate Francesca called. She said that she was coming home in 15 minutes and needed my help bringing some couches up the stairs. Then I heard “something, something, Nicola.” The “something something” is something she said in her dialect, and something I am still trying to figure it out.

Approximately 45 minutes later, I hear Nicola coming up the steps. He always makes me laugh because he is theatrical and dramatic. It is like he puts on a show for all of us to enjoy. I think that is a typical thing for Italians in general. This time he was -- I believe -- complaining about the steps. Behind him eventually followed another man, who I later learned was Nicola’s girlfriend’s father.

Finally Francesca arrived in the apartment. She asked me for help, which I was more than happy to give. I told her “I did not expect all of these people.”

“Neither did I,” she said.

Next thing I know, she was frantically searching the kitchen for food to prepare dinner. Both men were shocked she did not have enough food in the house, especially since she was a woman. For the next 15 minutes there was a detailed discourse among the three about what she could make them to eat with the minimal ingredients she had.

They looked in her cupboards and found pasta, but it was mine. Of course I said she could use it. I felt that there was this expectation for her to make everyone food, me included. Luckily she had basil pesto and a couple of different cheeses, along with a vegetable dish made by her father.

She put a pot filled with water on the stove. Nicola peered in to see if there was enough to boil all the pasta. “Francesca this is not enough water for the pasta,” he said. I had to laugh at that comment.

I told them that if my brother ever told me how to make pasta, there would be war. If he expected me to cook for him, because he moved couches and that happened to coincide with dinner, there would be hell to pay; I thought to myself. Wait, my bother has actually helped me move three times, and I never had dinner on the table for him by 2 p.m. Sorry Mike, maybe I should have been more hospitable. I have cooked for my brother, but this is because I wanted to, not because he had to eat.

Dinner was an informal, formal meal. The fold-up table, accompanied by stolen little red plastic fold-up chairs, was set with placemates, and a bottle of water -- Francesca already apologized for not having wine. A plate of cheese was put in the center and a re-used plastic bowl held the tiny cubes of ice. Note to reader: Italy is an anti-ice country.

After we finished the meal, Francesca made caffé which she placed on a tray and carried onto the terrace. Italians always make a presentation. Rich or poor, they use what they have and make the most of it.

I helped her clear the table, while the men drank espresso. Later Francesca was alone washing the dishes. The rest of us relaxed and let the meal digest. Sorry, I could not bring myself to wash dishes while the men sat. So I joined them.

The moral of this day: when it is time to eat, it is time to eat. No excuse. A meal is expected at dinner time. In the States, it is not the end of the world to miss a meal or tell unexpected guests, “Oops. I have no food.” My brother and I would visit my sister, and if she decided to cook for us, great. If not, we would argue for an hour about who was flying and who was buying. But this is Italy.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Gelateria dei Neri

“Everyone has their preferences,” said Maurizio Vivoli, the owner of Gelateria dei Neri, when I confessed to him that I have never tried his granita, only because I think it is odd to eat it in Northern Italy. Knowing the taste and texture of their gelato, it left no doubt in my mind that it would be delicious.

There I was in the laboratoria of the quant shop, interviewing him and his wife Lyudmyla Popova. This gelateria is one of my favorites, in all of Italy. That means a lot since; I have a preference for Sicilian gelato.

When I arrived in Florence last summer, my friend Antonio immediately brought me to the shop. “I want to take you to my favorite ice cream shop in all of Florence,” he said.

A year later, I find myself saying the same thing to my friends who are new in town. I like the gelateria for its variety and unique flavors. Cioccolato Messicano Pistacchio e Pepperoncino, one of my favorite flavors, for example, consists of rich chocolate ice cream spiced with hot peppers and pistachio. The contrast of the hotness and nuttiness brings out the richness of the chocolate and the peppers leave a pleasing tingle on the tongue.

Among other distinguishing flavors such as Ricotta con Fico, they offer the classics such as,
Ciocolatto, Pistacchio and Straccatella.

“Chocolate is one of the most popular flavors,” Said Popova who was taught by her husband the art of ice cream making.

They both proudly showed me the natural ingredients used to make the specialties. They pointed out that they only use Sicilian Pistachio’s to make the traditional gusto, taste. She scooped a spoonful of the dark brown green paste for me to sample. That is the natural color of pistachio. Beware of bright green imitations. The thick past coated my mouth with pure pistachio.

A scoop of 100 percent Sicilian Pistachio Paste.

While they showed me other top quality ingredients used, la miscela, the base mixture made of several ingredients including sugar and cream, mixed diligently by machine.

The base, is very important, it is the foundation of the all the crema, cream flavors. The base must be neutral in order to heighten the flavor of the ice cream; it must not overpower the flavor. “One cannot kill the other,” Vivoli explained.

La Miscela mixing.

The ingredients of the ice cream should not be individually recognized when eaten; instead the separate ingredients should blend together to form one distinct taste.

Making the Giotto flavor; hazelnuts are mixed into the base.

Vivoli and Popova are hands on when it comes to perfecting their product. Last year they bought, cleaned and froze 330 pounds of melons in order to make a quality sorbetto. This is just one of several fruits featured in the display case. On a hot day, I always search for the Gelato di Passion Fruit and Frutti di Bosco, fruit of the woods which is essentially several types of berries. I usually choose a satisfying #3 size serving for €2.50.

I enjoyed spending time with this couple. They have a good partnership, she makes the product and he takes care of the economic aspect of the business and sometimes serves ice cream to customers.

He used to drive a tour bus across Europe. He did this for 18 years. It was fun. He traveled, met and worked with a lot of people from different countries, including the United States. In the end though, he was alone.

That brought him to make a life changing decision; he decided to settle down and make a home for himself in his native Florence and bought the gelateria, in 1989. At that time it was named Green Ice and unfortunately was not making a profit.

The store was remodeled after the ice cream shops of the past. To achieve the classic look, he worked with architects and designed the shop using materials of wood, glass and brass.

After he married Popova in 2006, he passed on what he learned to her. Her past experience as a baker helped her learn the art of making gelato. In her native country of Ukraine, she made pastries and decorated cakes for a large company.

“At that time, the companies were large, not small shops owned by individuals,” she said.

She met Vivoli at a dinner party hosted by mutual friends. They dated for a year before they married.

Popova’s generosity and pride are evident in her work. For her, making ice cream for the public is just the same as making it for her family – there are no cutting corners for an extra buck.

Gelato con passione viene piú buono (Gelato made with passion, turns out better),” she said

We discussed how most of the gelato sold in the historic center is made for show and money at the expense of quality and taste. It was just that day that I watched the uninformed tourist excitedly gawk at the piled high towers of gelato in a city center gelateria.

“That is impossible to make without some type of emulsion to hold the form. Ice cream at that high level melts,” she said.

She also makes the cakes in the winter time, along with the brioche that accompanies the granita. In the end she coaxed me to overcome my bias and eat iced lemon in the North.

There I stood in back of little laboratory, eating my breakfast thinking how a small space could produce such a surprise.

“How was the granita,” Popova asked me as I was leaving. Buonissima!”

Gelateria dei Neri
Via Dei Neri 20/22r

Hours: The ice cream shop is open every day from the mid-morning till late night, when they believe they have satisfied the last customer for the day.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Morning After

I woke up early to conduct an interview today, but it had to be postponed. So now it is 10:30 a.m. and I am sitting in Piazza Santa Croce. Santa Croce is different during the day.

Freshly cleaned, puddles sit in the cracks and bows of the pavement that leads up to the church. No beer bottles or remnants of the night before exist — when local’s and students temporarily studying in Fi filled the church steps to drink openly and socialize. I can hear my bike clattering as I imagine myself smiling, flying through the square anticipating my friends to greet me. But that was nights ago.

Today I see traffic and droves of tourists stomping in, listening to their guide, snapping a photo and stomping out.

They never take time to sit and feel Santa Croce. They will never know the stories of those that lived on these steps; those who frequent the square; those who call it home. They come in, they come out never questioning what they don’t know.