Sunday, June 20, 2010

May in Italy (Friday)

It's 9 am and I'm the last one up this morning. I encounter Enriche on her way out the door to her hair appointment. We are alone in the house.

I see two enormous bouquets of flowers have already arrived from the school staff and students where Marta teaches.

On Tuesday I was a guest speaker in Marta's English class.

She and I have done this before. Marta introduces me as American, but doesn't mention I can speak and understand Italian.

I'm certainly not fluent, but I feel comfortable not having my dictionary nearby at all times.

The class of 15-17 year olds was a bit unruly when I walked in. I could read why in their faces. Does anyone enjoy talking haltingly in another language? It's not easy to take a chance and risk looking foolish.

I understand their reluctance. Classmates might laugh at you now and then tease you later. My name is.... It makes one feel so powerless to speak with the words of small child.

The students and I began by trading the normal questions.

Questions to me: Where do you live? Do you know Orange County? Do you live near the beach? What work do you do? Do you know any movie stars? When did you arrive in Italy? Where is Prof getting married? (no answer to that one!)

Questions to them: How much does a loaf of bread cost here? How much does a haircut cost? What are you studying? What is your name? Where do you live?

The group quieted down considerably. I complemented them on their English skills and their bravery in speaking. They quickly said to Marta in Italian: "Did you hear that? Can I have a higher grade?"

After 40 minutes of questions, we all took a break. I told them I would tell them something special when they returned.

Ten minutes later, they were back and ready to hear the secret. I started by speaking right to them, in Italian. They responded laughingly with "Ma dai!!! (Come on!!) Why did we need to struggle?"

I recounted some stories about my personal life and past work profession, which had been quite unique and unbelievable. The room went quiet. They moved in closer to me and were anxious to know more. The awkwardness was gone. It was an afternoon for us to remember.

Time spent with students is always a highlight of my visits. It's possible for strangers to meet and in some small way alter each other's lives, just a bit. Fabio Volo states it perfectly his novel, "Il Giorno in Piu'":

"A volte le persone sono solo delle porte, dei passaggi. Tu per me, io per te. Anche gli sconosciuti, ogni incontro e' una porta."

"At times, people are just doors or passages.... Every encounter with a stranger, is a door."

One must be ready to see the doors and have the courage to take a chance to walk through them.


Today, Friday is Marta's last day at work for the spring session. As soon as she returned home from school, she and I walked to the town center to find just the right shade of eye shadow. She carried a small fabric swatch. The wedding dress color has been a guarded secret but now I see it!'s fabulous and 'one of a kind' for sure!

She did not like the white or ecru dresses and instead choose a color she wanted. I hugged her and told her I am so proud of her. This is their day and she has planned it well.

I asked her if she had packed yet for the honeymoon? "I have no time today...tomorrow I'll do it." Hummm...tomorrow is the wedding day I silently note.

Around lunchtime, Marta had first hair appointment. She returned home with her head covered in tight little curled rolls of hair. This appointment begins her separation from Mario. Once she visits the hair dresser, Mario cannot see her until 4.30 Saturday, when she walks down the aisle toward him. For the rest of today, they only talk to each other by phone.

Rosa and Enriche will be Marta's Testimoni (witnesses), just as Marta and I were for Rosa. After lunch, Enriche was busy ironing her dress. With that done, she and I walked to the train station and caught the 2 pm train to Castleleone, where Rosa would be waiting for us with the car.

Our first responsibility today, is to drive to Crema to pick up the wedding dress.

Arriving, we were buzzed through a tall iron electric gate. The back door opened and were welcomed into the work area of a dress making shop.

Outside, I had just snapped a picture. Rosa whispered to me, no pictures inside Zia.

Rosa: "We're here to pick up Marta's dress."

The woman looks at us with an unsure expression.

Saleswoman: "Who are you?"
Rosa: "I'm Marta's sister."
Me: "I'm her aunt."

An expression of distrust appeared on the woman's face.

Rosa: "The wedding is tomorrow and we're here to take the dress."

The woman was not giving any indication she believed us.

Me: "The wedding dress is violet colored!"

The woman still tightly clutched the dress, enclosed in its protective white cover. It looked like she was not going to let us take it. We had no receipt.

Suddenly an brilliant idea from Rosa! " have a picture?"

Me: "Yes, I have a picture of Marta right here, taken this morning buying eye shadow." (Fabric swatch in hand, thank goodness.)

Me: "Eccola! (Here it is!)

My constant picture taking has done some real good! I've wanted to capture both the preparation and the wedding in my camera for Marta, as just as I did for Rosa last year.

Satisfied with our proof, the woman unzipped the cover and we all looked in to see the luscious color. We thanked her and carried the dress out to the car. Enriche, in the back seat, gently held it and we quickly took off, chattering about our close call. Zia to the rescue with a photo, of all things. Meno male!! (Thank goodness!!)

We drove straight home, not making a single stop. Marina was already waiting at the front gate as we pulled in. She took the dress from us and carried it into the house, where it was hung in Rosa's laundry room.

Rosa tells me the color is so secret not even her own husband Mattia knows.

Wedding Rings

A little later, still Friday afternoon, Rosa and I walked into the city center, to perform our second important responsibility. In this part of Italy, the sister of the bride picks up both rings at the gioielleria (jewelry shop) for gli sposi (the bridal couple). I'm not sure if the sister pays for them.

Last year, Marta and I did this same honor for Rosa and Mattia's wedding.

On her left hand, Marta has been wearing a lovely engagement ring for the past year. The ring is a five bezel setting, with five large diamonds. Rosa did not wear an engagement ring, so I'm not sure what type of rings we're picking up today.

We arrive at the store and as usual, the shop front door is locked. There are no guards here, but the entry is similar to that of an Italian bank. We ring the bell and the first door is unlocked. One enters and stands for a few moments in a Plexiglas holding booth, while the street door closes and re-locks. Only then, does the inside door click open and we are allowed to enter the shop.

The lady behind the counter recognizes both Rosa and me with a happy look. Last year, after I pleaded for permission, this nice woman allowed me to take a picture of Marta, holding Rosa and Mattia's wedding bands. Today, I have my camera ready and I'm relieved to see she gives no indication there will be an issue this time.

But, there's a bigger problem! The rings are not ready. Not to worry she tells us. The rings have been engraved, but they haven't arrived at the shop. She makes a phone call. With a reassuring smile, she asks us to come back tomorrow, Saturday. The rings will be here for sure in the early morning.

EEK...tomorrow is the wedding day I silently cry.  I pulled back my emotions, not wanting to unleash my innate American reaction of PANIC.

Rosa and I calmly retreated back through the two locked doors, and did not show our concern to each other until we were well out of range of the shop's windows.

Me: Oh NO! What do we do without rings? Do we need a backup plan?

RosaStai tranquilla, Zia.  Don't worry, Zia, it will be ok.  Often, things get done here at the last minute.

Me:   But Rosa, tomorrow is the wedding.

Rosa:   Don't worry, it will be ok. This is Italy.

We headed for home.

This morning, during Marta's hair appointment, I think she entered into an enchanted state of mind. She was with us, but sort of floating about, her eyes gazing inwardly. She would look startled when reality descended, as it did with our entrance, empty-handed into the house.

Marta: "May I have the rings?"
Rosa: "They're not ready"
Marta: "Don't joke around with me!"
Rosa: "I'm not..."
Marta: .....silence
Rosa: "We need to go back tomorrow morning at 9.30."

I stood silently to the side of both girls and tried very hard to not inject any more worrying into the situation. I knew for sure, no picture taking at this moment.

My impromptu emergency hair appointment

Friday afternoon, a little later, Rosa, Enriche and I are out running errands.  Rosa's phone rings and when she hangs up, she turns to me and says: "Zia, we have a little problem." Apparently, someone has just realized that I am expecting to have a hair cut at my salon appointment tomorrow at noon. But the appointment, was made only for a wedding styling, cannot be changed or cancelled.

Rosa tells me she knows a walk-in place which will take me right now. It's almost 5 o'clock, on a Friday night. But time passes at a different pace in Italy! We still have 3 more hours until the shops close tonight at 8 pm.

Enriche, leaves us to do some shopping. Rosa, quickly walks me along a shortcut to the parrucchiere. She makes a few comments to the attendent and I'm on my own.

No English spoken here, but I manage, without my dictionary. Luckily I've been practicing my words concerning haircuts: Paura (fear), aggitata (nervous), no layers per favore (no layers, please), non mi piacciono i capelli corti (I don't like short hair), va bene? (ok?).

I was helped into a robe and escorted to the shampoo station. In Italy, the stylist never does the hair washing nor the inital blow-dry.

A male attendent washed my hair and massaged my scalp. I felt the tension leaving my shoulders. That done, I waited in another chair for Paolo, the young, co-owner of the shop.

The attendant repeated all my concerns to Paolo. Happily, I had been understood, perfectly.

Paolo reminded me of Edward ScissorHands, the way his hands flew around my head. In the end, the cut was perfect. I would trust him again with my hair.


It's Friday evening, and we have one more thing to do. Marta has pulled flowers from her school bouquets and has setup little arrangements in the kitchen, dining room and her bathroom.

Marina and Primo are ready to take the school's flowers to the church. Marina asks if I would like to go and take pictures. Of course, I jump at the opportunity and within moments I'm following them out the door.  I snap pictures on the stairs, in the courtyard, out the gate, down the street, on the steps of the church and finally, inside.

Just as we are about to leave, Marina and Primo get nostalgic and a little giddy with emotions.  They sit down on the chairs which are already setup for tomorrow's wedding couple, remembering their own vows they recited in a similar setting.

Marina asks me to take pictures.  Relaxed in their  jeans and cotton shirts, they look adorable and loving.

Marina and Primo are still happily in love and to their credit, they have sucessfully raised two wonderful young women, Rosa and Marta.

They have fully accepted Enriche, me and their other foreign daughters right into their hearts. Tomorrow, a new day starts for all of us.

I retrieved a ribbon from one of the bouquets and late Friday night, I secretly tied it onto Marta's armoire.

Monday, June 14, 2010

May in Italy (Thursday) two days until the wedding

Tension and excitement are growing in the household.

Marina, Marta's mother, was up early today, making fresh potato gnocchi.

Marina, Primo and I ate alone at lunch. We had gnocchi with two sauces: gorgonzola and ragu. So so yummy. Marta will arrive later around 1 o'clock and will eat warmed up lunch. The newlyweds from last year, Rosa and Mattia, are at their work places outside the city. 

Enriche called from Milano several hours ago when her flight from Berlin arrived at Malpensa. She is catching the train down.

Marina and I are watching TV and the weatherman predicts rain for Saturday! Not even her favorite soap operas give her comfort today. She is worried about Enriche out in this weather.

Now Marina is pacing. A huge thunderstorm has moved into the area and she's anxious for Enriche to call again to give us an update of her exact location. She wants Primo to go to the station to pick up Enriche, but it's impossible when we're not sure of her arrival time.

It's after 3 o'clock and in the kitchen, the buzzer rings, indicating someone has requested entry to the compound. From the balcony, Marina can see Enriche has arrived on foot at the front gate.

Using the wall phone, Marina releases the gate's lock and we wait for Enriche to pass through the courtyard and enter the building.

We open the house door to her and the poor thing is soaking, dripping wet. She's walked home from the train station and is drenched. Marina hugs her and sends her off to the bathroom to change her clothes and dry her hair.

We've been hearing great claps of thunder with lightening flashes nearby. One lightening strike sounded very close. Too close. We're relieved to have Enriche safe and sound inside.

Enriche has brought only one small suitcase from Berlin. Besides her clothes, she has fresh cheese and other ingredients from Germany to make cheese cake for tonight's dessert.

When Marta arrives home at 4, Enriche and Marina prepare the cheesecake and put it into the oven.

Last night, I was invited to an outdoor nightspot to celebrate girls' night out with Marta, Rosa and two of Marta's friends.

One friend arrived with a tulle bridal veil for Marta to wear. During the evening, thankfully, my new camera with 2 gig of memory, showed the message 'out of memory.' I still have time to purchase another memory card before the wedding on Saturday.

This afternoon, the storm left as quickly as it had arrived. I walked all over town and could not find even one memory card to buy. As I walked in the gates at 5 pm, Mattia was heading out on his bicycle.

Mattia is such an angel. When I asked him where I could find Sony memory tomorrow, without hesitation, he turned around and went back to get his new red Vespa. Enriche was thrilled at the prospect of a ride. They zoomed off in pursuit of the memory card.

The cheesecake was still in the oven! I checked on it and we pulled it out, just before it started to burn on the top.

Missing only Mario, the groom, we all had dinner at 8.00 dinner. It concluded with Enriche bringing out her wedding gifts, which Marta opened, while we ate almost the entire cheesecake. It was delicious.

Just before 9 pm we all walked to the old church, as we had done on Wednesday night. This is the month of the Madonna's birthday and the tiny church is filled with parish members every night to say the rosary.

When we entered the chapel, a woman handed Marta a shinny small red packet. As we sat in the pews hearing the rosary spoken, Marta opened the gift. Ohhh...a gorgeous rosary made of fresh water pearls. I discreetly snapped a picture.

When the rosary had concluded, Marta made her way to the front of the chapel. Marina told me to follow her, with my camera of course. She wanted pictures. Such a change from Rosa's wedding, when my picture taking was ... a bit too much for Marina.

The chapel had emptied out leaving me, Marta, the couple who had gifted the rosary and our parish priest Don Attilio. He hugged Marta and then brushed his hands over my cheeks in greeting. Marta handed him the rosary and he blessed it.

Later, leaving by the side door, Don Attilio hugged us both again with a buona notte.

We walked home, loaded up the car with recent wedding gifts and drove over to Marta and Mario's new apartment. Rosa and Mattia led the way on the bright red Vespa. They looked so cute and happy together in matching helmets and GAP sweatshirts.

Inside the apartment, I saw signs that Mario, a true handyman, had been hard at work here. A ladder, tools and hardware, which had not been here yesterday, were setup in the kitchen.

We spent an hour unpacking glasses and dishes. Marta put them straight into the dishwasher. Marta showed me their new kitchen wall unit, which came pre-fabricated with the refrigerator, dishwasher, sink counter and cupboards all attached. It's not unusual in Italy to find the kitchen "missing" when renting or buying.

I pulled out towels from a box, to put them away and crash! Out dropped the small yellow French garlic dish I bought years ago for her at the Mostra (fair) in Firenze. It didn't quite shatter but it's broken into four pieces. These tile floors are unforgiving when something is dropped on them.

The apartment has recently been one of several carved out of a contessa's palazzo. She and several grown children still live on the premises.

The two bathrooms are tiled in a fabulous bright yellow and blue motif. The terrace has a stone sink with an antique brass faucet and water spout.

Getting tired and punchy, Enriche and Mattia are having fun making noises popping bubble wrap.

Marta is busy nesting and now vacuuming while Enriche, Rosa and Mattia collapse onto the new sectional couch. Mattia demonstrates how it can be moved apart.

Leaving the apartment, we return home and I can't believe the time. It's almost 11 and we still have things to do. We find Marina and Primo in their part of the house, watching televison.

Rosa after a long day, disappears off to bed with a buona notte. I still need to install the new memory and adjust camera settings.

As I finally retreat off to my room, Mattia and Marta are still working at the computer, heads together, updating the wedding mass booklet. Nearby, Enriche is quietly strumming on her guitar.

I love this family.

May in Italy (Tuesday) on the train to Milano

With two bags, I'm on the 8.30 am train to Milano. There are 3 older men and one young priest in my assigned compartment, which has room for six people.  There are two seats available near the door. I claimed one seat and then pulled my two bags in, not wanting to leave them out in the aisle. I know from past experience, they tend to topple over as the train rounds bends. So, I was seated at the outside edge, with the two bags wedged in front of my knees. In this position, it is easy to move a bag out if anyone needs to leave. I stay attentive to not cause any issues.

Definitely, first class is not as friendly as second. The priest is fidgety and hasn't stopped moving since he joined us. He has two books stacked between us: the Holy Bible and 'History of the Church.' Two businessmen are doing paperwork. A third man, looks out the window. With his leather jacket, aviator glasses, bronzed skin and chewing gum, he looks like a playboy or fashion designer. I notice he's wearing a yellow plastic watch. Perhaps a mafia tough guy. The man across from me opens his briefcase and I can read some of his papers. He is a law professor.

I need to ask Mattia about the priest's attire. Perhaps he's just in the beginning stages of his studies. He's reading the Bible, and has two little cards propped up at the side of the book cover. They depict martyred saints, blood dripping off their bodies. After a few minutes, he pulls up the history book. He opens to page one...he reads the Introduction and a part of Chapter 1. He steps into the corridor with his cell phone. He must be Florentine. I can understand everything he says. 'Alessandra, I'm on my way to Milano. Can I stop by to see you?'

His robes look hot and uncomfortable. They're polyester! He's wearing a long white cassock with a full length blue bib, front and back. Underneath, I can see a normal yellow-striped dress shirt peeking out. On his feet are sandals with velcro fastenings. No socks. His finger nails look normal but his toe nails look chewed all the way back. There's a white waist rope which he keeps tugging at, adjusting back and forth.

Two gypsy beggars just came through. The first, a young man, had deposited on an empty seat of each compartment, little typed notes in Italian, asking for money. The conductor came through with a 'tsk tsk' sound but he let the him accept a handful of coins from the priest. The beggar took the money but looked startled when the priest grabbed his hand, holding on, and saying: "You be good!"

The gesture didn't remind me of St. Francis ...This guy is a little too enthusiastic. I watched as the conductor herded the teenager to the end of the car. He let him retrieve all the typed notes. I thought the conductor was so much more sincere in his actions than the priest. I heard him say, not in a mean way: "You again! You need to get off the train at the next stop."

Next a nicely dressed young gypsy girl came through our car. She was not wearing the traditional long skirt. She was well groomed with her clean hair pulled into a cute pony tail. I watched as she peeked into each compartment and asked a question. She got a big surprise as she leaned into the compartment next to ours. We all heard screaming. "Police police, come and take this creature away. Arrest her!"

At that point, a wild haired middle aged aristocratic woman chased the scared girl right past me. She wore expensive clothes and a long soft suede coat. Her nicely cut blond hair was unkempt and flowing out from her face. Obviously this woman suffered from a mental illness.

I mouthed 'poverina" (poor thing) to the professor. He shook his head in agreement.


May in Italy (Monday) with Leo

Leo and I saw each other today. It's been six months since our last short visit. He looks much better. As the car pulled up he was in the front passenger seat. He jumped right out of the car to greet me. He was wearing his busto (backbrace).

Nothing has changed between us. I still feel 100 % connected to Leo. I think he was surprised. Not that we don't write to each other, every day. I can hardly stand not having our daily or weekly talks.

Our phone calls are based on his availability to be alone and this has not happened often these past twelve months. I cannot complain, as our situation is out of our control right now. It's no one's fault.

The multiple myeloma has been contained, but the damage to his back and psyche remain. He needs assistance to tie his shoes, as the busto tightly surrounds his body and protects his spine as it heals. His independence and mobility have been further reduced by a crippling depression, which has been difficult to overcome.

My son Chris put it's a tragedy. However, Leo does look better. His eyes, though not sparkling, were focused and direct. We hugged for a long long time. We had two and a half wonderful hours alone and we never let go of each other.

Thank you kind soul, who made this possible for us. Grazie dal cuore...

We sat, then walked and made our way  up the road to the lovely church, San Miniato, which overlooks all of Firenze.

Later, Leo easily navigated the stairs from San Miniato down to a nearby gelato stand. We shared two cups of gelato.

This place has a special memories for us. Leo brought me here over 11 years ago and treated me to my first Italian gelato.

We talked and talked, which we still can do with total honestly. We trust and understand each other. I love and am loved in this Italian language.

I was relieved to hear Leo's wife has made a significant change in her attitude toward Leo. He does not feel locked in a prison now, thank goodness. Our situation would be impossible to tolerate if I didn't know this.

What's most important is that Leo is comfortable and lives in a peaceful environment. She helps him every day and I think they have become friends again. This is good.

I don't regret one second of these eleven years we have had together. It does make me cringe and hide my anger today when I see that my loving touch to his face or his hair is not something he feels at home. Pain...

I know the pain he feels because I feel it too. My question has always been, how can two people live together to escape loneliness but miss feeling the joy of love?

Recently, I have been reading Italian, semi-biographical, novels by Fabio Volo. He has helped me to understand the culture of a whole generation of married couples, who live together, but have somehow lost touch with each other. 

Leo and I have had many discussions about family. We have a basic disagreement on this topic. He believes in sacrificing all of one's self to maintain the "family." For me, the obligation stops when all of one's children reach the age of maturity.

Each person has a right to live their own life fully. I also strongly believe we owe it to our children to be good role models. This includes taking charge of one's life and making difficult changes, if necessary. There is no doubt in my mind that the stress Leo has endured for so many years inside his home, has caused this cancer.

Invisible cultural mores have bound Leo and I accepted this, out of love. During his recent university studies, Leo tracked the historical waves of immigrants who left Italy for other shores. This exodus was based on various yearnings. I suspect many had a desire to escape cultural restraints.

On the positive side, Leo and I have been one of the lucky ones. I need to focus on this. True love does exist in a dimension in which the soul feels love, even in the absence of a physical presence. Regardless, I want to just cry and call out the unfairness of it all.

Leo is alive...and we need to be very grateful for this.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

May in Italy (Monday)

Today, I was dressed and out the door at 9 am, after a breakfast of pineapple yogurt, a pear and bread. The yogurt was on my window ledge all night and was still chilled this morning.

I'm leaving Firenze early tomorrow and I have a shopping list I really need to finish.

First, I entered a Negozio Casalinga, a place which sells soap and household items, to pick up a meshed laundry bag.

In the past, I've bought wooden spoons made of olive wood, shoe polish, kitchen tools and cute milk pitchers here. This time, I'm looking for a milk frother, necessary for making a cappuccino. None of them were marked 'Made in Italy." I managed to touch every single unit, trying to find an Italian one. I will not buy a Chinese item.

After I moved away from the shelf, the shopkeeper quietly went over and re-arranged the display. They tolerate tourists touching the merchandise here in Firenze, but in Cremona, my behavior would have warranted a stern scolding.

At the Negozio di Ferramenta or hardware store, I picked out two sets of brass hooks.

Hardware stores in Italy are setup exactly like an American auto-parts store. When one wants to purchase something, the counterman brings the item out from the back stockroom.

The store window is filled with a display of some items, but this place is not setup for browsing. Leo and I have shopped here together, so I feel confident. I was once told it is not polite to enter, unless you have plans to purchase.

I walked on to the Santa Maria Novella (SMN) train station to buy round trip biglietti (tickets) to Cremona. After seeing a line of 50 people at the ticket windows, I decided to try my luck using an automated ticket dispenser. One can use cash or credit card. It worked out better than I expected. For my return trip I've selected the Cremona-Pisa-Firenze route, since I need to arrive early next Monday to see Leo in the afternoon at 3 pm.

This is my first trip in season and what a change. There are tourists everywhere.

With my purchases stowed away, I entered the church of Santa Maria Novella. I love the green stripes on the outside facade.

I had a nice tour, using headsets one can rent, leaving my driver's license as security.

Here, during the period of 1485-1490, fourteen year old Michelangelo Buonarroti was an apprentice painter under Domenico Ghirlandaio.

I have just discovered Ghirlandaio was buried in a crypt, which is now unmarked, on the outside front wall of the church.

I specifically returned to SMN to purchase a guidebook and study the frescoes in the Cappella Tornabuoni. Many members of the Tornabuoni family are painted as if they had viewed and participated in holy events.

It was an added treat to see The Holy Trinity by Masaccio, which showed off his stunning new ideas about perspective and mathematical proportions. It was interesting to read this fresco had been removed from another wall and relocated to this original position. I need to research how this is done.

Still on schedule, I headed toward the Mercato Vecchio, the old central market to buy spices for gifts.

Along the way I purchased more DVDs to have some new movies at home.

Outside Mercato Vecchio, I saw a trippa stand named 'Trippa a Modo Mio' (Tripe, My Way).

I paid 3E for a trippa panino (sandwich) to go. I noticed a sign on the counter: "Do not ask me to cut the sandwich in half!" The sign might have been geared toward the tourist trade, but it was not written in English.

It was just 1 o'clock. I took my treasures back to my hotel room, to enjoy my lunch while reading a favorite cooking magazine "Alice."

I headed out at 2 to meet Leo at 3. Racing along, I picked up several scarves and four wooden Pinocchio dolls.

My shopping in Firenze was complete.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday Pictures

May in Italy (Sunday)

It's Sunday afternoon and I've just caught the Autobus 36 back to Firenze from Galluzzo.

After a 10 minute ride through the countryside the driver has pulled over and shut down the engine, to take a break. I am the only passenger on-board.

While the driver made his phone calls, I jumped out to take pictures. I was on this same bus in November when the driver took his break. This time, I'm not a bit worried. When the engine starts up, I'll hop back on.

I disturbed two great blue herons out of the little stream, which flows to the right of the road. There is not another car or person in sight.

Galluzzo is only a 20 minute bus ride from the Arno River. I believe I was the only non-Italian walking around the Flea Market today, which is setup in the piazza every Sunday.

I found a real Luis Vuitton purse here last November. This morning my luck held and I found a larger bag, with a shoulder cross strap. I am sure, this is the same woman who sold me the other Luis Vuitton. I love my new purse!

For lunch I tried, for the first time, a trippa alla fiorintino panino. I watched the vendor as he prepared these delicious sandwiches, before stepping up to make my purchase.

First he pulled a piece of trippa out of a pot of boiling liquid on his stove. He quickly chopped it into small pieces.

He then drew a fresh bread bun from a huge bag behind him. He sliced the bread in half, scooped the trippa up and onto the bun, topped it with a teaspoonful of olive oil with green herbs. He asked if I wanted it "piccante" (hot). With my enthusiastic "si si si!" he drizzled it with a bit of olio piccante (olive oil with hot pepper flakes).

He dipped the top bun into the bubbling meat juices. It resembled a French dip sandwich.

He then slipped it into a triangular brown waxed paper holder, which even had a white napkin already inserted into a little pocket. Yumm! I am so glad I am a 'foodie'. What a wonderful treat I would have missed. I'll be back for more.

Yes, trippa is tripe.

The venditori ambulanti or street vendors are found all over Italy. These trucks act as traveling refrigerated storefronts or portable kitchens. They are setup to sell fresh fish, salame (any dried meat), regional cheeses or cookies. Often they are a traveling Rosticceria, where one can find a full size freshly roasted pig, head still intact, chicken, sausages or ribs.

Italian bar-b-que never uses American style sugar sweetened sauce. Instead, the crispy meats are basted with olive oil, salt, rosemary or spices. Simple but oh so good. Leo loves to bar-b-que here in California and he's won me over.

I remember the first time I had bar-b-qued ribs at Marina's parent's restaurant, located inland from Liguria. Nonno (Grandfather) was roasting ribs and sausages in the indoor, wood burning oven. Small bundled branch trimmings from their vineyard were stacked outside the back door. He saw the yearning for bar-b-que in my eyes and speared a sausage and handed it over to me. HOT HOT HOT...and heaven sent.

So, at lunchtime today, I took my panino to a park bench and enjoyed every morsel.

Rested, I made another walk around the piazza and chose two packets of Sicilian peperocino intero (whole, small red hot peppers). Looking further, I paid 4 E for a set of four tiny, etched liqueur glasses, which I think will be adorable after I wash them up. Marta, our bride to be, will love them. From the honey vendor, I purchased a jar of organic honey.

After returning to Firenze, with my shopping list in hand, I exited the autobus on Via Romana. I know a grocery store which is open on Sunday, when most shops are closed. I purchased as much as I could and then took the afternoon off to walk and take pictures.

Later, I made a terrific discovery. My favorite DVD shop, Alberti, has a location in Borgo San Lorenzo, and it's open on Sundays too. Evviva! (Hurray!)

I normally buy a dozen Italian movies to bring home, which I use for language and cultural studies. The shop was full of American movies too, but I always steer clear of them.

My shopping list:
Brass hooks
DVD: I Centi Passi
DVD: La Traviata
Tank tops
Plastic food containers
Langenscheidt Dictionary
Fabio Volo books
Andrea Camilleri recorded book
Valentina book
Crepe cookbook
Pinocchio dolls
Hair brush
Dior nail polish
Luis Vuitton purse
Seals for espresso maker
Hair cut
Eye glasses
Perugina cacao in polvere (powdered chocolate)
Chocolate pudding mix
Perugina chocolates
Bread crumbs
Dried beans
Dried mild hot peppers (Basilicata)
Black rice
Bread (Sardegna)
Black olives (Morocco)
Baba (bakery, Cremona)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

May in Italy (Saturday)

I've just returned from a quick May trip to Italy for Marta's wedding. In addition, Leo and I were able to spend a whole five hours together.

It's always hard to return to my life here. But, I came back this time with an even stronger resolve to keep following my dream.

When I arrived in Italy I was quite surprised to find myself overweight. Amazing how we can fool ourselves into seeing, not seeing, believing and not believing the things that hurt us the most.

I always seem to wake up my authentic self the moment the plane doors open and I descend the stairs onto the Italian terra.

Just before leaving for Italy, I had read my friend Mia's thoughts on finding one's authentic self. She wrote a scholarship article on her unexpected discovery of a fashion design exhibition in Rome.

"A glossy poster jumped out against the grimy, graffiti-ridden wall of the train station. Stopping and staring, I could not have been more stunned as it announced "VALENTINO A ROMA: 45 years." Remaining gaping at the sign a bit longer, with an expression mixed of utter shock and complete elation I gasped suddenly realizing what this impeccable timing meant. Here in Rome both Valentino's most celebrated compilation of his every collection and I, were about to meet in an unexpected and fortuitous event. My Italian adventure was ending. Rome had initially seemed enormous and overwhelming upon arrival, but the city quickly shrank as I became familiar with its every secret. No famous monument was left unlooked upon, no single street was forgotten, and no shop window was left waiting to be admired. Unintentionally, I had reenacted the eternal classic and a personal favorite, "Roman Holiday." Just as Princess Ann was forced to end her Roman fairytale, I was about to part as well."

While exploring that show, Mia’s goals and dreams snapped into place. Click to read the whole article! Mia's Roman Holiday

I flew with Swiss Air for the first time. I noticed a difference right away at LAX. The passengers were not the usual crowd I fly with on Air France. Missing was the pushing, rather aggressive boarding at LAX.

As my flight prepared to land in Zurich, we were presented with two special treats. First an attendant gave us each a warm moist washcloth. I placed it on my face and it felt so freshing. Next a stewardess carried a large basket of Swiss chocolates through the cabin. I wanted to scoop my hands into that treasure chest. She gave me a single bar. Delicious!

The calm, quiet, refined attitude followed us right through the Zurich Airport. There were no lines at Customs or Security. The airport is quite a bit smaller than Charles de Gaulle in Paris. This made the transfer very easy. I didn't take time for a stop to buy chocolates. I decided to do that on the trip back to LAX.

There's a small electric train which transports transfers between terminals E (International) and A (Domestic). Unlike Firenze, there were no shops at the boarding gate. Just two automated candy and beverage machines. Sigh, too late to change my mind and buy chocolates.

When we deplaned in Firenze and the terminal doors opened, I was amazed to see hundreds of people packed inside. At least three planeloads of tourists were chattering in other languages as they waited for their luggage to arrive on the single carousel.

I made my normal dash for the two stall bathroom, which I found to be unoccupied. I knew then for certain, these were first time visitors. I also guessed the taxi system outside would probably be overwhelmed. The airport at Firenze is a tiny but charming facility. It was upgraded but not enlarged last year.

When I had my two big bags and two carry-ons in hand and exited the building, I was not surprised to see a long line of people waiting for taxis. There was not a taxi in sight and it was 5 pm.

I saw the big blue SITA bus was in its normal location. I made a slow motion dash for it, stowed my two suitcases in the belly of the bus and climbed on board. I paid five Euro for the 20 minute ride to the Santa Maria Novella (SMN) train station. I texted Leo I had arrived and received his greeting immediately.

I was not expecting, nor did I find an available taxi at Santa Maria Novella. Again I found a long line of tourists waiting for taxis, which were not present in the normal queue.

It’s an easy quick 10 minute 'local' stroll to Hotel Cestelli and I needed to stretch my legs. I quickly unzipped my luggage on the sidewalk and stowed a carry-on bag in each case. My bags are always heavy but not "full." It was a pleasant, easy walk and provided the transition time I always enjoy. Welcome back to Firenze...

I rang the entry bell at the hotel and pushed open the outside doors at the click of the lock release. It was Saturday evening and I knew I would not hear Alessio's steps descending the stairs to help me with the bags.

I pulled out my back mover's brace and adjusted it tightly around my waist. I began to ascend the three flights of stairs. Sure enough about half way up, Alessio's mother appeared, distressed to see me pulling one of my heavy bags.

She recognized me and I greeted her in Italian. .. "Buona sera signora!! Non preoccupare. Sono forte. Per favore non preoccupare." (Good evening madam. Don’t worry! I’m strong. Please, don’t worry.)

With the two bags in the hotel's entry hall, la Signora gave me my keys. Entering my favorite room, I was greeted by a ribboned gift of pasta and jam from Alessio and Asumi, the married hosts of my favorite place to stay in Firenze. I've been coming here since before they took ownership and we have now become friends. They're always available to give me emotional support before and after I see Leo.

I pulled out the fresh corn tortillas, longhorn cheese and See's candy I always bring to them. I was too rushed to unpack and find the cans of Herdez salsa. They love Mexican food, having lived in San Diego for five years. I asked Alessio's mother to put it all in the refrigerator.

Within 15 minutes I had showered, changed clothes and was back outside, tucking my hotel night keys into a safe pocket in my purse. I immediately went to my favorite Trattoria Le Antiche Carrozze, located just a few steps from the hotel and across from Ferragamo. I ordered ricotta spinachi ravioli with ragu meat sauce.

My Italian phone is always ready to use immediately upon arrival. Each trip, before departing, I apply 20 Euro worth of time to the phone. I called Rosa, Marta's sister, to let her know I had arrived. I told her I would buy my train tickets tomorrow for Cremona, but tonight, I planned to sleep for a full twelve hours.

The dinner was hearty and delicious.

With a full stomach and feeling relaxed, I paid my bill and started walking toward Edison Libreria (bookstore), which is always open until midnight.