Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Friend MC Loren Taylor and DJ Jahknow Playing at Tamburello Wednesday

Normally I don't promote events for the sake of promotion. But as I was packing for my trip to Sicily I received an e-mail from my friends Loren and Mark about their musical gig at Tamburello in the Cascine Wednesday, August 5. I looked closely and noticed that they lovingly stole my picture from my blog. I found that very amusing. So during intermission, while my life in Florence is on pause and I leave for a hopefully eventful month in Sicily, I leave you with the flyer. If your in Florence in August you should definitely check them out.

Will write as soon as an Internet connection is available. Happy August!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Suffering from Moving Syndrome

These past days I have seriously considered giving up and moving back to the States. Going back to NYC. Will I ever be happy anywhere? Is this symptomatic chronic moving syndrome? Do I suffer from moving syndrome? I posed those questions to my friend Cassandra during our breakfast Thursday morning. I expected her to reassure me that I will someday have a permanent home happily settling in one place for the rest of my life.

Instead she whispered a “yes” as she slowly brought her café macchiato to her lips and took a discreet sip.

My mouth dropped. Was she serious? I do have moving syndrome?

“People like you, me and Loren, we get bored quickly,” she said referencing her track record in dating as proof that it’s difficult to hold her interest. I replied that I never even get the chance to be bored with a guy because my relationships never last past six months. So I don’t know if that holds true for me in regards to men.

But as far as cities go … well it’s a different story. I have lived in so many places in my opinion, too many places for my life — Oxford (Ohio), Cleveland, Kent (Ohio), Washington D.C., Cleveland, Washington D.C., Hoboken/New York City, Cleveland, Firenze, Athens (Ohio), Firenze. I feel like a yo-yo. Will my list ever end?

The thing with humans is that we never stop wanting. If I could just be satisfied then maybe I wouldn’t always be searching or moving. But maybe I am fighting against human nature. Why am I so restless?

I remember one episode of “Sex And The City” where Carrie was going through the checklist of the three important things in a woman’s life: Apartment, Job and Boyfriend. At the time of the episode she only had two out of three. I currently just have the apartment and I am not sure how long that will last.

I always think how things look greener on the other side. And it’s true. I never imagined that I would have so many dislikes when it comes to Florence. Italy seems so beautiful from the other side of the pond, especially the Italian men. And I know that life is difficult no matter where one lives. But I did not imagine it like this. I also didn’t imagine that I would be selective in which Tuscans I actually liked.

Why can’t someone just call me and tell me what I want and the next step I am supposed to take? Why can’t I get out of my head?

I asked my sister for advice. She is biased. She told me to move back to the States. Her life is “the program.” No offense; a person on the program cannot understand a person who decides to get off “the program.”

No one understands that I feel obligated to all the people I call “friend” in Florence. I just can’t up and leave them because I can’t buy a pair of socks, or because I can’t afford to sustain the lifestyle I want. I’ll just be another person they speak about when they tell the newcomer how all their friends always leave Florence (see April 2, 2009 post “Keeping Friends”).

“I miss pedicures, and haircuts and buying things like shoes,” I confessed to Cassandra.

But above all this, the thing that bothers me the most is not being able to write for a credible newspaper. It does not have to be the New York Times. I would like to write for any newspaper that has some ethics and reports the daily news. How many times can I write that Italy is “beautiful?” When I interview people they are just trying to plug their product or business all for tourism. And I suspect that some people only befriend me because they know I write, hoping one day I'll write about their paintings, political cause, Web site, and other services that cater to Americans. It sickens me.

Before I left the States I had to search and discover my true feelings for wanting to return to Italy. If it was for my ex I could not return to Florence. I had to do it for myself. Before I left I told myself that I can no longer move to places just for an experience. I had to put my career first. I would go to Italy, but staying in Italy depended on my journalism career.

I am working on a project, which I am excited about. I will assess my decision to stay here in six months. In December I will return to my two homes, NYC and Cleveland. By then I should know if the project is moving forward. I know I said a year, but I can’t linger that long.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Cold Enemy: Air Conditioning

There are two words that when I hear them I want to scream: “Air” & “Conditioning.” Put them together and they mean that marvelous invention that sucks out humidity and blasts dry cold air. For some reason, Italians blame it for everything, every malattia (illness). It’s the Antichrist.

“I can’t sit near air conditioning; shut it off,” said one of my cousins during dinner at a restaurant. She was referring to a white thing positioned on the wall behind her that slowly emitted puffs of air. I sweated during that dinner.

“Don’t put the air conditioning, I have to work tomorrow and I can’t have a headache,” said another cousin when we drove to Piemonte. Another time I sweated and could not breathe because they also refused to open a window for the same reason.

They even converted my friend Melinda into a believer.

But what makes me want to scream about the invention that the Italians use as a scapegoat, which I’m sure came from the new world, is that it barely exists here. I can literally count on my fingers the few times I have actually stepped into a room with air conditioning. Let me be more accurate, I can count on my fingers the few times I have actually stepped into a cool room with air conditioning in Florence.

I have been sick this week. I have suffered all my life from chronic ear infections. Without warning my ears are blocked and an excruciating ping of pain takes over, so strong that I cannot speak.

Of course the Italians have their homemade remedies to cure my pain. My roommate once told me to put a scarf around my neck. I wanted to kill her, but I was in too much pain to argue. A scarf does not cure nor silence the pain of an ear infection, nor does it prevent an infection. She eventually took me to the emergency room.

This week my left gland was noticeably swollen. I felt fine. Just as a precaution I went to the Pronto Soccorso, (emergency room). My doctor was so nice, he waved the payment because I told him I was a broke immigrant, he showed the location of the eye hospital in case I needed a check-up, and he gave me advice about getting my tessera di sanitaria, the national health card.

He said the swelling was because I was getting an infection, in both ears, again. When I asked him why he said, “well you go from hot air to cold air; in and out of the air conditioning.”

I still carry my sarcasm from NYC, but it doesn’t come across quite the same in Italian.

“Air conditioning,” I said rhetorically. “oh yeah, cause it’s…,” I began to mumble. I noticed he was not laughing just looking at me with a blank stare.

Then I could not remember how to say “I’m joking” in Italian.

“See doctor, it just doesn’t exist anywhere I go, none of the bars or restaurants have it and I do not have it in my home,” I said.

“Well maybe when you get in and out of your car,” he said

That’s when I decided to just play along. If the doctor was smart he would have taken my shock over paying 26 euros for a visit as a sign that I cannot afford to own a car. Moreover why couldn’t he just admit he did not know why I was sick, instead of blaming it on air conditioning?

When I got home I called my friend Christine to judge the believed culprit — Air Conditioning. During the conversation she told me her allergies have been acting up the past few days. That’s when I realized what was probably causing my unnoticeable slight congestion, leading to an eventual infection. The last time I had an infection, I was also suffering from allergies. Thank God I have an American friend to consult with.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Making Potato Gnocchi with My Students

No matter how hard I tried to gently roll the dough using a calm rhythm with my hand flat it was gooey stuck to my palm. I just couldn’t get the right pressure and touch so that it was round in form instead of dull flat pasta.

One of my students teased that she comes from generations of gnocchi making, when I asked her why I just could not get it right. Despite feeling worthless because I only rolled one little batch of gnocchi right, the mood in the kitchen was fun and upbeat. We were having a hands-on “Gnocchi Party.”There were seven eager cooks in the kitchen, half of which were my students that I teach English to at the Library in Sesto Fiorentino; one part eager to eat and the other eager to make light practically weightless potato gnocchi.

It started with 12 (or 2 kilograms) of “classiche patate” boiled and peeled, and then pressed through a food mill. But the next steps were not easily measured; six eggs a pinch of salt (stirred well) and then “00” flour based on the elasticity, and stickiness of the dough. I was told this part is something that is learned by practice not by reading a recipe. The flour and eggs required just depends on the potatoes. We put in at least 300 grams of flour, and we all made a note of that.

During the mixing of the “pasta” is when I noticed that in Italy every measurement is done by weight, whereas in the states we measure by volume. That did not cause too much of a dilemma when I oversaw the making of one of America’s favorite desserts, Rice Krispie Treats. I had to explain what a cup was, and a tablespoon. It was amusing. But the most amusing part was seeing their delightful curiosity over the marshmallows. They had never seen marshmallows in the form of a puff.

I tried to warn them not to look at the ingredients because it was pure sugar. But we had a good conversation about what really was a marshmallow. At dinner time, everyone could only eat one Rice Krispie Treat because there were also brownies present.

I had to have my brownies with milk. Is there any other way to eat them? One of the guests was shocked. You see there is an order in Italy, an order to eating. Cappuccinos and anything milky or as they would say “heavy” should not be eaten at the end of a meal. Instead Italians drink a liquid to help with the digestion. Some may have a splash of Coke to help push the food through, before ending the meal with café and all sorts of liqueur including Vin Santo.

Even though I was playfully teased for refusing to be ruled and eating my chocolate brownies with a tall glass of cold milk, I was truly thankful that the guests and hostesses were open enough to try marshmallows. That they did not refuse a food because it didn’t have thousands of years of tradition and craftsmanship behind it was pleasure enough for me. We even roasted them on the barbecue, not quite the same as a fire, but it’s the thought that counts.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Attending BarCamp at Palazzo Vecchio: Discussions on Integrating the Contemporary and American Students

Salone de’ Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio (city hall) abounded with pens and notepads held by journalists eager to record discussions at the first BarCamp conference organized by the new contemporary and culture councilor, Giuliano Da Empoli.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. along the walls of the large room marked by marble statues and frescos were numerous tables and dry erase boards facing a seated audience ready to hear the presenters’ opinions, ideas and visions for Florence in regards to culture and bringing the city in line with the contemporary and modern elements characteristic of most leading European cities.

I should probably explain this to my readers. Most people come to Florence to view the past. As beautiful, rich and preserved the past is, at times it’s a burden to the city. Florence is like a big small town. There is no modern museum, no cool nightclubs or swanky lounge bars like the ones you would find in NYC or London, no recent fashion trends that I know of have originated here, and there is no metro or subway.

There are innovative and forward thinking youths that come up from the underground during the Festival Della Creatività and Frabbica Europa. Those once a year events boast modernity in music, design, art, fashion, thinking etc… Despite that the shops display antiques, the art scenes hung on the gallery walls reminisce in the Tuscan hills and landscapes, the design of the buildings faithfully hold to the medieval structure and the artists promoted by the city are the artisans creating objects according to a hundred-year tradition. That is what keeps the tourists coming. I am not saying get rid of it, hell I’m Catholic I love tradition and always worry that the Sicilian ones I have witnessed will be lost because I am too busy to practice them.

But what’s wrong with a bit of the future alongside the past? Why can’t we have some different and diversity? Is that possible without damaging what the Medici’s left behind? Less than a month in office the new mayor Matteo Renzi and Da Empoli have recognized that Florence’s past is weighing the city down. BarCamp gave people a platform to discuss integration of the contemporary while preserving the culture heritage of the city.

One topic I overheard being presented was integrating the American students into the Florentine life. As of now, I feel that they separate themselves and don’t really have a way to experience Florence they way it should be experienced. In my opinion most of the locals probably wouldn’t give them a second look if it weren’t for the Americans’ excessive drinking with a side of shopping. The drinking is a catalyst for peeing in the Fountain of Neptune in Piazza della Signoria, puking in the streets and other debauchery that takes place in the wee hours of the morning keeping up the residents. Plus many men from Italy and Albania hang out at the local bars just for a chance to brag about having a one night stand with a hot, rich “American bitch.”

In some ways I am so sick of hearing about the American student. It’s like an obsession for the business owners: “How can we take their money while controlling the things they do?” It seems that most of the American students that come here are from the affluent neighborhoods in California or the East Coast; not an accurate representation of the 50 states. Because of my aversion towards the obsession I walked over to another discussion.

Pino Brugellis, an architect of Fondazione Targetti, presented Spazi Comuni: L’Architecture Contemporaneo Per La Citta (Common Space: Contemporary Architecture for the City). I couldn’t hear most of what he said due to the poor acoustics and lack of a microphone. When he mentioned the word “space” Maurizia Settembri broke into his discussion taking an opportune time to present her ideas about making permanent space in Stazione Leopolda for Fabrica Europa, an organization that promotes contemporary arts in Europe. There was a disput between them about time slots. Eventually Brugellis conceded that his time was up, giving me a chance to talk to him alone.

It seems that public space for the people is slowly deteriorating. In giro (around town) I hear people complaining that the city center no longer belongs to the Florentines; the locals do not frequent the center as they once did. That may be because they do not feel safe in their city.

He made it clear that he does not believe in a police state, rather the people can “autocontrollo” (self control) their city by promoting activities in the public spaces. The socializing and mingling of the residents can make Florence approachable at any time of day including night. “Streets are not only for cars … an influx of people makes a safe city,” he said. “A secure city is possible when the people of that city control it. If there is activity in the streets it will automatically become safe.”

I asked him his opinion on restaurants and bars taking up public space on sidewalks and piazzas for outdoor seating or entrances, such as the Cavalli Club’s entrance ramp that is causing some distress to the locals. He said the problem is the use of good sense. The space should not be overcrowded while fitting the objects in with the local atmosphere. “I am not against this use of space, but the space used should be proportional to the overall public space; an element of elegance is required,” he said. “When a restaurant takes up space and that is half of a piazza … they should use good judgment.”

Brugellis was called back to the Settembri’s discussion during the interview. So I found some of my friends and met some other Expats. My male American friend wanted to introduce me to Da Empoli, but said there was a crowd around him. I tried to figure out who he was. I saw a good looking man who barely looked 30 surrounded by journalists. That can’t be him I thought.

“Is that him?” I asked unconvinced it was.

“Yep, that’s him,” said my friend.

We slowly inched our way closer to him. My friend, being a journalist in the past, did not want to interrupt their work. I had to remind him that I am a journalist. But it was too late. Someone escorted him away. Even though I did not speak to Da Empoli it was worth the little time I spent there and I hope to be informed the next time Palazzo Vecchio opens its doors to the residents.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Visiting the Catina La Torre Castel Rocchero in Piemonte

“She was the one drinking wine like water,” said our waiter to two of the soci (associates) of the winery La Torre Castel Rocchero in Piemonte. The soci of the cooperative invited their clients for a lunch at the agriturismo S. Desiderio (agriturism) near the winery. Fortunately for us, Nuccia’s neighbors Fiorella and Bruno were one of the chosen invitees. They RSVP’d for 22, turning the lunch into our mini family reunion. Relatives in Torino, Milano and Piacenza were coming to the lunch.

We left Milano around 9 a.m. with the TomTom GPS system guiding the two “drivers” in the front seat. For some mysterious reason no one listened to it. After a couple of wrong turns, reverse driving to catch the passed up exit and fighting over rolling down the windows, we finally made it to our first stop before lunch, the cantina cellar near Acqui Terme. A cooperative, the winery collects grapes from the 120 soci that own vineyards in the area. According to our tour guide Michele, an aggregate 15,000 hectoliters of wine including Moscato D’Asti, Barbera D’Asti, Brachetto D’Aqui Dolce (a spumanti) are produced each year.

Fiorella said that although white wine from Piemonte is good, red is the par excellence.

The meal seemed to last forever. An endless stream of dishes came one after the other, each with a wine. My favorite dishes were the carne crudo (raw beef) and tortellini. Even the coffee came with sugar cubes soaked in flavored alcohol. Two jars, one orange the other green were placed on the table. At first I thought they were candies. I popped one in my mouth. The whole inside of my mouth burned like a cool fire. I quickly spit it out. I looked over at my cousin. She was eating them like Skittles. With a smile on her face she said “these are soaked in pure alcohol. I love them.”

At the end of the meal my brother and I were saddened because we only had a drop left of the Brachetto D’Aqui that was served with the cake. We stared at his almost empty glass.

“Oh man I wonder if they’re going to come around with anymore,” I said.

Just when we both gave up hope, the waiter appeared. Our spirits rose again as he refreshed our glasses with the red bubbly. A cling and a toss, we finished the last of the wine. The long lunch ended in the early evening. With our stomachs overloaded we headed back to Milano.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Eating Sicilian Cookies with My Family

Ci vuole tempo, pazienza e passione (it takes time, patience and passion),” said my mother. She proudly explained to her cousins the mix required to bake. My parents returned to Italy after a five-year absence, and with them they brought my mom’s homemade Sicilian cookies. Everyone at the table was pleased that she managed to pack and transport the delicate edible “surprises” that she made in the early mornings.

She primarily made them for my sister’s baby shower, but then decided to pack up the traditional almond and hazelnut cookies, for her relatives in Milano and her sisters who are both waitng for her arrival in Sicily.

Her first cousins and their children sat around the table in awe of the little “gifts.” I find it a bit ironic that they enjoy her cookies when they have access to the ingredients and bakery shops that create the sweets. Thier reaction to me means my mother is an excellent baker.

My mother and father brought me the best gift of all — my older brother. His last visit was 16 years ago. He hardly remembered some of our distant cousins that were no bigger than a newly planted tree stalk the last time he visited Milano. But nonetheless, the Caprino’s, each one with fuller lips than the other, carried on just fine around Nuccia’s dinner table.

During dinner Nuccia discovered that she and my father are distant cousins.

E sangue che ti tira (its blood that pulls you),” she said to me as she kindly squeezed my chin.

She always looks after me, and treats me just as good as her own children even though I am only related to her husband, Mario, through my mom. But now we know why she instinctively takes care of me.