Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ying and Yang: Why I love and why I hate Florence at the same time.

So, shall I give you the good or bad first? I guess it's best to start with the negative, because after that everything else will be great. Yes sadly, there are negative things about Florence, the worst of which being the Italian bureacracy and in that case, you can't really blame Florence alone.

Yesterday, as some of you may have read on my facebook page, I had to report to the Italian Questura in Florence. This is a place that is equivalent to an immigration office in the United States, although, much much less organized. Three weeks ago, I was given an appointment time and date to have my fingerprints taken, so that I could obtain a valid, one-year permit to stay in Florence, or un permesso di soggiorno. My appointment was at 10:30 am yesterday. Knowing the difficulties which sometimes ensue in these situations, I stopped by school first and told them what was up, because I had to teach at 12:45. I then went to the questura and was in line by 9:36 a.m. Now, I was given a number to wait for and when it was called it was 10:23 a.m. So, I thought I was in good shape. Well it turns out that the first line you wait in, is basically just the sorting line. From there you are given another number to wait in line for. I received that number at 10:27 am. It was called at 3:05pm!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now, I get that there are a lot of people who have to get in and out of the immigration of office on a daily basis, but seriously, why the hell give someone an appointment time that is completely unrealistic and cannot be kept, by any stretch of the immagination? So, yesterday I spent a whole day, sitting on my butt, in Florence, waiting for a number to be called. I tried like crazy to make the best of it. I planned lessons, read a book, wrote a letter, made a couple of phone calls, chatted with other folks, but in the end I was completely frustrated by the Italian system of appointment making and keeping. So what I have learned from this is, like the Pirates' Code in the Pirates of the Carribean, Italian appointments, especially with the government, are more like guidelines! Sadly, I must report to the questura one more time to get the final document. That appointment just happens to be scheduled for what will be the fourth day of our fall break, which means I now have to delay any travel plans until after that day, because you don't mess with the questura!

So, bureacracy being the downside of things, spontaneous events in Florence are definitely the upside! Two night ago, on my way home, I was walking through the Piazza del Duomo, when I was pleasantly suprised by an impromptù parade given by an amazingly energenic percussion group, whose name was Bandéo! This was actually the day when I was feeling down and missing all of you a lot!! I saw the group preparing to perform and really did not think much of it. A lot of times things spring up in Florence and they are not that exciting. Usually they have something to do with the reenactment of an event in Renaissance Italy, so folks get all dressed up in old-timey garb and march in somewhat of a melancholy manner through the narrow, old cobbled streets. They are usually accompained by a few drummers and a group of flag throwers. The group that I saw this night was definitely different!

They were men and women of all ages and they were carrying and wearing all different types of percussion instruments. There were tambourines, drums, those jingling scarves that belly dancers wear, triangles, wooden blocks, and yes, even cow bells! (You can never have too much cow bell!) Like all the other real Italians here, I was curious and so I stopped for a bit to see what was going on, but as you can tell from the first part of this blog, timing means little to Italians, so I thought I should just go home, because I was sad and I didn't want to just stand around and wait. I had no sooner turned my back to go home, when the group began to play. And it was incredible. This group was clearly not into the dreary dirges of 500 years ago, but was instead fully emerged in the music of a more Latin influence. The drumming was loud and it was the kind that cut right through to your soul. From the moment they started playing, I could not have been sad if I tried and I could not go home! I could feel nothing except the beat of the music. For lack of a better word, their performance rocked.

What an amazing thing it was to see, hear, and feel just in the shadow of the Duomo. It was a strange juxtaposition, but it worked. Of course, the band did not stand still; they moved, and drummed and danced all the way to the Piazza della Signorina. And, like any good Italian resident/citizen/transplant, I followed them and danced along. After a while, everyone was dancing in the streets and it was so crowded, but so amazing. It was only then that I lamented the Europeans long-standing disregard for deoderant. :( You have to imagine the town you live in, whether it be Fulton, Baldwinsville, Carrboro, Bastrop, or Ithaca...imagine that in one sweeping moment, the streets just fill up with everyone who lives there and everyone who is visiting, because they heard the music.

For about an hour on Tuesday night, everything in the center of Florence came to a standstill, except for the drummers drumming and the dancers dancing. It was as if the city just needed a quick dance break and so this group of brilliant percussionists filled that need!

Florence can be a little stuffy sometimes, a little too cold some people say, but good music can just cut right through that, just as it did my bad mood.

What can I say...sometimes I hate Florence and other times, most of the time, I just love her like she's my own!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fate in Florence?

The longer I live, the more I believe in Fate or rather in the fact that life gives you exactly what you need, whether you knew you needed it or not. Last night, I was further convinced by the surprising generosity that I found in a couple from England.

For the first time in three years, I returned to one of my favorite pizzerias in Florence; Ciro and sons. After all this time, my favorite waiter still worked there and still remembered me! Now, I say that this is one of my favorite pizzerias, because the pizza is very very good and exactly what I want in an authentic pie, but the prices are less than desirable.

In any case, I sat down to eat and ordered a pizza, a salad, some water, and a single glass of house red wine; which in most establishments will cost you about Euro 1,50 or
2. To my astonishment, the glass of wine at Ciro & sons was Euro 6, which is more than I ever pay for a whole bottle of wine. None of this was known to me though, since I didn't look at the menu, but ordered from memory.

While I began to eat my dinner and drink my wine, a English-speaking couple was seating next to me. And as I couldn't help but listen to their discussion about what to order, I jumped in and made my recommendations. Thus began an hour-long conversation between Kevin and Ann, from just outside of London, and me! These were some of the most pleasant folks I have ever met in my life. They kept asking about the UNC program and life in Florence, as well as dinner recommendations for tonight. I, of course, pointed them to La Giostra, which is an upscale, but still affordable restaurant where everyone is treated like a king. I also gave them advice on visiting museums and the like. It was such a nice time and they apologized more than once for interrupting my dinner. But, to be honest, I didn't really want to eat alone, so they were welcome company!

Initially, they ordered tap water, but the waiter would only sell them bottled water, so as I finished my dinner and had almost a whole liter of water left, I gave it to them.

Now, where does Fate come into all this you might ask...well when the bill came, I was astonished to see that it was 22 Euro. I only had 18 in cash. So, I went to use my credit card, which I then discovered I had left at home!!! So, Kevin gave me the difference and I was able to pay for my meal and not have to beg the waiters to let me come back the next day to pay them.

It's funny how things just work out that way. I thanked Kevin and Ann and we exchanged email addresses. I hope to somehow repay them in the future for their kind gesture. They kept telling me that just my pleasant conversation and advice was payment enough. Go figure!

It just goes to show that you never know...I didn't want to eat alone last night and so I didn't. I needed help to pay for my meal and help arrived. Sometimes you just have to be open to whatever it is that life or Fate drops in your lap!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

In Memoriam

It’s funny what a difference a few hours can make.
When I blogged earlier this afternoon, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and I had just finished cleaning my apartment. Everything was perfect. Only a few moments ago, the clouds rolled in, the thunder clapped, and the rain began to pour. Then, as if on cue, my phone rang. It was my sister calling with bad news. Our friend and my sister’s best friend’s mother had passed away. We all called her Meme.
She was an incredibly wonderful and beautiful person who took in my sister, as well as me, as her own. She was of Italian descent and always talked about the Old Country, but never once had the opportunity to come to Italy and for that I am sorry. I always did my best to tell her all the wonderful things about this place. The last time I saw Meme, was four weeks ago and she asked me to say hello to the Pope for her. She had been sick for the last few months and now she is gone and I hope, with her husband, her one and only true love, who died almost two years ago. I only new Meme for a short time, but I will never forget her, because she was so loving and so kind and frankly we had the same political views. It was so much fun to sit with her and bitch about the old administration while praying for this new one.
Thinking of Meme makes me realize that life is just too short. Tell the people you love how you feel, before it’s too late. You just never know when someone you love will be taken from you. There is no time to waste.
So, now I have opened a bottle of red wine and I am going to sit outside, watch it rain, and lift a glass in honor of Meme; everyone’s favorite surrogate grandmother. She will be deeply missed by so many!

Domestic Domenica

In Italy, the word for Sunday is Domenica. For most, if not all Italians, it is the one day of the week which is to be spent with family at home, or at another relative’s house. On Sundays in Florence, there is no school and only stores which tourists would frequent are open. The only two almost guaranteed activities are a family dinner around 1 or 2 pm and going to mass. I remember Sundays when I was growing up and they were very home and church centered as well. I also remember with great joy the Sundays spent at my Italian grandparents’ house eating delicious pasta and being allowed to drink homemade red wine. I can never remember though, who exactly made the wine, but I know it was not my grandparents. It makes me feel good to see these same traditions alive and well and even thriving in modern day Italy. I only wish the same thing was true in the U.S., but we just move too fast in the States.
Since all my Italian friends are gone this weekend, Sam has returned home, and I have not yet contacted my actual blood relatives here yet, I have decided to make today my Domestic Domenica! Even as I write the words…I have to wonder if the two do not have similar spellings for a reason! ;-)
When Sam and I arrived here over three weeks ago, we hit the ground running and I had no time to just be in my apartment and make it my own. Today, all that has changed and instead of moping and feeling lonely I decided to really get down and dirty with cleaning this place. My landlords, as fabulous as they are, did not have the opportunity to do so before I moved in, because the former tenants moved out early on the day of my arrival. There was barely time to change the linens before I got here and the former tenants (not from UNC, but temporary summer visitors) left the place in a bit of a mess. As I noted before, the couch was destroyed and pots and pans were left dirty with gunk caked onto them.
Today I gave everything I could “the once over”, though I am saving my bedroom for Tuesday, when I have more free time. The floors were in urgent need of my attention. Here in Italy, almost all the floors are made of marble or some sort of ceramic tile. Let’s just say this; you never want to drop a glass here, because it will surely be destroyed! My apartment, as standard 19th century homes go, is wall-to-wall marble and I’m guessing it hasn’t been cleaned in months. Just one walk across the floors in bare or sock feet and you would have black soles. You see here in Florence, there is a black dust that floats through the air. None of us are sure what it is, but I’m banking on it being smog or even acid rain, because it corrodes the lawn furniture and then comes out of your nose when you blow it. BLECK! (Ok, I know it’s not very pretty sounding, but all dream locations have their downsides!) Anyways, this same black dust tends to collect upon the marble floors and throw rugs whenever you open a window or shutter. Keep in mind though -throwing open windows and shutters here is what makes you realize that you live in Florence…it’s a romantic notion of the past, which can be seen in courtyards all around Italy and even Europe. So when it comes to the black dust you have two choices, live in a closed, dark, old house from the 1800’s or throw caution to the wind (literally) and enjoy the beauty of living in a Tuscan home in 21st century Florence. I choose the later, which means, I must clean the floors!
In about two hours today I was able to sweep, vacuum (yes vacuum!), and mop all the floors in my apartment, except those in my bedroom. At 2:36 in the afternoon on a Sunday, I am still wearing my pajamas and I am sweating like crazy, but my house is clean and I have realized that it is all mine, at least for this year. Even my sister would be proud, because not only do the floors and the apartment look fantastic, but they smell fantastic too!
I hope that whatever you all are doing today…you are enjoying your Domestic Domenica, as I am.
Oh, I am also excited to note that my landlord will be replacing my couch this week with a brand new sofa-bed from, of all places, IKEA!!!  When it arrives, I will be able to accommodate 3-5 people, besides myself, comfortably in this apartment. So, I say again, book your tickets and come visit…Florence is waiting for you!!!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Lucky in Landlords...again!

Ok, it seems ages since I have updated this blog and I will try to be more on top of it in the weeks to come. There is a lot to share, but right now, time is short. My friend Sam is still with me in Florence. As she is leaving on Friday morning, I am doing my best to try to show her the best that Tuscany has to offer. Needless to say, we have been staying up late, drinking too much, and walking a lot. Yesterday we saw Cortona and today, Siena. Last weekend, we hit Lucca, Pisa, and the Cinque Terre. Hopefully, we can squeeze in a day trip and a half to Rome on Wednesday and Thursday before she flies out. It has been great to have her here helping me make the adjustment back to Italian life and soon it will be time for me to go it alone! ARGH! What a scary thought…somehow I’m sure I’ll survive, as I always do.

So upon my arrival in Florence (now three weeks ago!), I found myself the renter of what I am calling the best apartment in all of Florence. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I also have the best landlords in all of Florence. When I got into town, the Signore was not in Florence. He was on vacation by the sea, but his wife remained here for work and let me into the place. She apologized for the lack of light bulbs (which had mysteriously vanished during the last tenant’s stay) and told me not to worry about the rent or utilities until her husband returned to town. The apartment is apparently his deal, not hers. So, today, three weeks later, the landlord finally came over and what a charming man he was! He spent over two hours here cleaning up our lovely backyard/garden and listening to my concerns about the apartment, not the least of which was the state of the couch. It had been ruined by the last tenant as well. In fact, from where I sit now, I can see the springs resting on the floor below the couch…ouch! We also took a tour around the kitchen and he was appalled at the lack of utensils and state of the various pots and pans. But what concerned him most, was the fact that I had inappropriate glasses for serving Chianti and espresso to guests. Now that’s an Italian for you!!! He left my apartment with a list and said he’d see me in few days to drop off new items for the kitchen! Before leaving, he recommended that I take Sam to see Siena before she left. So, after he left, we promptly left for Siena!

We arrived in Siena somewhat late and so we decided to just enjoy a long aperitivo in the Piazzo del Campo. About an hour or two into our Bellinis, my phone rang and it was a number I did not recognize. We answered the phone and it was my landlord, asking if he could come over and leave some stuff for the kitchen. I was shocked…he wasn’t supposed to come back for days! So I said sure, why not! Upon arriving home tonight, Sam and I found a treasure trove of kitchen goodies on the table and all new light bulbs in the lamps. Above are a couple of pictures of the gifts from a very generous and concerned landlord. I should also add that he gave me the option to not pay my rent for September and October until I received my money from school, but I insisted on at least paying the rent for September. As well, he would take no rent money for the 4 days I was here in August or for the overnight mailing of some important documents that I asked him to send a few months ago to North Carolina. He told me that I should instead; take Sam out for a nice dinner on him and his wife. Now, I have to admit, I may not be lucky at many things in life, but for the last few years, I have been very lucky in landlords! My new ones are no exception!!! Things are certainly looking up today!