…ieri…oggi…domani… Fall Equinox to Winter Solstice

I never would have guessed that the ‘blogosphere’ is flat…as in the Earth is flat…flat. What I have discovered since my last blog post is that a novice blogger like me can fall off the edge of said blogosphere…if one doesn’t keep blogging. And a lot has happened on my life adventure in the last 60 days…



…ieri…Riding to the Harvest

October began on several high notes…there was the l’Eroica bicycle ride that my friend Francesco rode in and I photographed. 2016 marked the 20th l’Eroica ride over the gravel roads of the Tuscan countryside beginning and ending in the hill town of Gaiole. With rides of varying lengths from 46km to 209km the l’Eroica attempts to rediscover the love and passion for cycling in our ever more disconnected electronic world. Here in Tuscany for one day…thousands of cyclists…many riding old bicycles in period attire make that connection.  https://joemessina.smugmug.com/PrivateGalleries/Italy/LEroica/

No sooner did I get the bike ride photos downloaded…and it was time to celebrate my birthday. As many of you know, part of the allure of spending a year in Italy was that it would be my 70th year. So how to make this a memorable milestone birthday…besides celebrating it in Firenze? In costume of course. Ever since arriving in Firenze I have been drawn to the endless number of parades around the City and all the marchers in costumes from the middle ages. Costumes that signify different craft guilds or positions in the City’s political or social circles.

After a little research and a fistful of euros I became a Renaissance Man for a few days in October. And with the help of some good friends with cameras and a sense of humor…I blitzed Florence and the Tuscan hills…photobombing tourists and posing with the locals in some fun and iconic locations.

Many special thanks for enabling my birthday antics to Nancy Schiff and Stefano Lecci (local Firenze friends)…Lew and Jan Lively (international travelling companions)…and David and Debbe Aiton (college friends). For more birthday photos go to https://joemessina.smugmug.com/PrivateGalleries/Italy/Renaissance-Man/

Stefano Lecci and Joe
Lew Lively and Joe
Jan and Lew Lively and Joe
Nancy Schiff and Joe
RM -66
Dave Aiton, Stefano Lecci, Joe, Debbe Aiton, RoJean

As Fall fully embraced us, I made another short trip into the countryside to photograph…except I missed the grape harvest…drat…maybe next year?  Another sign of the calendar was the plunging temperature.  Seems we went from daytime blistering 90s to very cool 50s in the course of one week…right after the Equinox on 21 September.  And another reminder that we’re not in ‘Kansas’ anymore…in public and multifamily buildings the City of Firenze controls the heat…it was not turned on until 1st week of November…brrrrrrr.

And an encore visit to Pompeii with a side trip to the Amalfi Coast…

Closer to home I managed to get a glimpse of what it means to pick olives…and then have them processed.  The picking is still hard work, while the ‘pressing’ has gotten mechanized.  Gone are the old stones that squeezed the oil from the olives, except for some tourist attractions and stubborn Tuscans.  Here are a few photos from two days I spent with Lorenzo Doni at his orchard  (http://giardinoeacquarinfusa.com/it/home.html) just outside the old south east wall of Firenze and at the Torrini family owned pressing operation (http://www.agriturismo-olmigrossi.com/).  We were invited along by Francesco and Silvia Gambi, long time friends of Lorenzo and his family…and where they buy their yearly supply of extra virgin olive oil.  You can see the entire two day process in 40 or so images in my gallery (https://joemessina.smugmug.com/PrivateGalleries/Italy/Olio/)

By the end of October it was time…I could not put off having my left paw fixed.  Some of you may know that I developed a pinched nerve in my left hand back in June.  We talk about hitting our ‘funny bone’ and feel a shock like reaction from our elbow to our hand…then you know it is not funny…nor a bone, but we have bumped our ulnar nerve that travels from our shoulder to our hand.  Mine was pinched (impinged) as it passed thru my Guyon Canal…similar to the Carpal Tunnel but on the hand side of the wrist.  Bottom line was that I had to have ‘minor’ surgery to un-pinch it…which I put off until after the flurry of Fall guests and activities.  I believe the surgery was successful, however it may be 8 months before I see/feel any result.  Even with a wonderful medical team led by Dr. Lorenzo Preziuso, a local orthopedic hand surgeon…this newly 70 year old doesn’t recover quite as quickly as hoped.  I’ve also learned that ‘full’ recovery doesn’t necessarily mean ‘as good as new’…

So at one week post-op and with a bandaged paw, RoJean and I set out for a hastily planned two week trip to California and Colorado.  The first week in San Francisco to check in with doctors and dentists…and hair cutters/barbers/stylists, while getting re-acquainted with our apartment.  The second week it was off to Denver and Ft. Collins to visit with off-spring of our off-spring…grand daughters of which we have four.  Other than the three days I was laid out in Ft. Collins with an intestinal ‘bug’, I think it was a good trip.

Alert: Following paragraph is a political opinion!

Oh, and while we were in San Francisco we participated in an extended day of mourning on November 9th.  Being an ‘independent’ voter, I can see thru my rose colored glasses some positives in any candidate.  And while our in-coming administration can possibly do some good…I am profoundly disappointed with the tone and tenor of our election process. The political smoke and noise perpetuated by all the media…instead of providing real information on which the voters could make a rational decision…was a terrible dis-service to us all.  Enough said…plenty more opinions on line…like this blog from a friend trying to see ‘America’ from California or New York…http://www.allangoldstein.com/?p=520

November was mostly a blur.  Recovery from hand surgery…election hang over…round trip Firenze/San Francisco in two weeks…finally Turkey Day brought a bit of clarity and grounding to the month.  A number of restaurants offer an ‘American’ Thanksgiving Dinner in Firenze…some interpretations better than others.  RoJean and I spent our Turkey Day euros at the Diner…owned and operated by Martha from Atlanta, Georgia.  A complete meal including dessert and beverage for 35€ each.  And on every other day Martha serves outstanding blueberry pancakes and cheeseburgers.  http://www.theflorencediner.com/wp/?lang=en   Turkey dinner wasn’t particularly photo worthy…but we did eat well these last 60 days.  Here are a few examples…

November did have several food related bright spots.  Our first meal when we arrived in San Francisco was tempura at Ten Itchi on Fillmore.  And the grocery store in Firenze, Essalunga, started selling wonderful Italian marroni chestnuts (castagna) at the beginning of November.  Great flavor when roasted and priced at about $2US per pound, as compared to Mollie Stone in San Francisco at $6 – $8 per pound.  And lest I forget the chestnut vendors all over the Center with their little roasting carts…selling this winter street food for the price of three nuts for a buck…but they make great pocket warmers.

…oggi…Preparing for Babbo Natale (Father Christmas)

Pick a month…any month…and there are many things to do in and around Firenze.  Food…Arts…Music…Education…Lecturers…Tours…and on and on.  December is in a class by itself…opportunities to keep busy and spend money abound.  Things begin to heat up around Thanksgiving (not celebrated in Italy, except for a few devotees) and really kick-off on December 8th…a Catholic holy day, Feast of the Immaculate Conception…with the lighting of the huge Christmas Tree on the Piazza del Duomo.  The tree is right next to the life size Nativity or presepio as it is known in Italian.  There are Christmas Markets in Firenze and all around Tuscany.  One of the larger and more unique markets is the Weihnachtsmarkt or German Christmas Market that takes over Piazza Santa Croce for 3 weeks.  Besides crafts, trinkets and beer, there is an abundance of German food…usually non-existent in Firenze.

Some markets offer a little of everything…food…decorations…gifts…etc.  And some specialize…one we visited offered many, many varieties of the traditional Holiday Panettone…a type of sweet bread loaf (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panettone).  Some plain (called Pandoro)…others with traditional candied fruit to all flavors of nuts, chocolates and liqueurs.

Speaking of Holidays…Italy seems to celebrate many…both liturgical and public.  Naturally some these days off from work and school that fall on a Thursday or Tuesday become special because they then have a giorni ponte (bridge day)…the day separating the holiday from the weekend becomes another day off…the 4 day weekend in the US…but I like the sound of giorni ponte.

For a multitude of reasons RoJean and I typically do not decorate for holidays…mostly because none of our grand daughters live close and we don’t encourage their parents to travel on holidays.  This year is different, as Travis, Kim and Bella will be staying with us over Christmas…so decorations seemed like a fun idea.  First, in our vacation rental apartment there were many left over items of decor…then Silvia came thru with more items from some of their past Christmas’.  And we couldn’t pass an opportunity to see what IKEA had to offer for an Italian Christmas…immediately followed by a visit to the weekly Thursday Flower Market near Piazza Republica.  And shazzam…decorations galore…but NO tree.  Artificial?  Live and potted?  Carry it home or take a taxi?  But wait…in the dark corner of our front terrace stood a ragged, mis-aligned and often used conifer…sadly with no top…no place for an angel to alight.  Inside it came…and is now decorated one more time for our one and only Christmas in Florence…check it out.

Our apartment is not alone in its holiday decor…the City of Firenze is tastefully decked out in understated elegance…from the huge lighted tree in Piazza del Duomo to the lights on many of the main streets and alleys.  Firenze is alive with a number of light displays projected on buildings, statues and bridges by Firenze Light Festival…I tried to capture a few…http://www.flightfirenze.it/

…domani…and each day grows longer

The holiday season officially ends on January 6th…Feast of the Epiphany…another religious and public holiday (a Friday, so no giorni ponte)…and the Procession of the Magi through the City Center.  My kind of people…men in tights marching around the City…another photo opportunity.  However, the festivities play on into February with the Firenze Winter Park (skiing and skating next to the Arno) and the annual Chocolate Fair at Piazza Santa Maria Novella hopefully with some of Firenze’s wonderful chocolatiers doing their best to celebrate St. Valentine.

We are planning to close out 2016 quietly with an opera concert on RoJean’s New Years Eve birthday…maybe followed by a stroll around the Center to experience the several music venues in the main piazzas.  Big crowds…no cars…walk home.  On New Years we will have been here in Firenze for 10 months on what has been a wonderful life adventure for both RoJean and me…most every day brings joy and sometimes excitement.  It would be difficult for our smiles to be any wider…

…and so we wish all of you Joy and Excitement…each in your own way…for the Holidays and for all of the new year…


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  1. Patti
    December 21, 2016

    We’re loving your posts! Ahhh: to be on Florence at Christmas. I can taste all that delicious food, see the holiday markets, and certainly feel a sense of wonder. Thank you for sharing your adventure with all of us.

    Have a wonderful holiday with Travis and the family. We miss you both. Sending big holiday hugs.

  2. Patti
    December 21, 2016

    Ahhh: to be on Florence at Christmas!. I can taste all that delicious food, see the holiday markets, and certainly feel a sense of wonder. Thank you for sharing your adventure with all of us.

    Have a wonderful holiday with Travis and the family. We miss you both. Sending big holiday hugs.

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