It has been an interesting month…Spring is morphing into Summer…albeit haltingly. According to the locals…the weather has been un-seasonably cool and rainy and Surprise…the heat in Florence is turned off on April 15th regardless of what’s occurring in reality outside your apartment. A joking comment to our landlady about lack of heat was resolved the following morning by a gift…a hot water bottle.

April Rain

Questura…the mere mention of this word evokes many negative emotions to longtime residents. So we are trying…really trying to be good immigrants. We learned months ago that after 3 months you are no longer a tourist. And immigrants have, as one might expect, certain legal obligations to be in good standing in their adopted country. First is to report your presence in the country within 8 days of arrival…with copies of all the documents that allowed you to get your visa in the first place. At that meeting, assuming your documents are in order and you filled out the forms correctly AND you pay several fees to different agencies…you get a card indicating that you can stay…temporarily. You are given an appointment several weeks or months in the future to report back. So on May 2nd we happily went to the Questura…a cold, fortress looking building…thinking we were good to stay. Not so fast, immigrant. After several hours of milling about and standing in lines and getting fingerprinted and photographed…we were apprised of our responsibilities. Surprise…we must attend civic lessons on what democracy looks like in Italy, what is expected of new immigrants and what services are available to us…like voting rights, medical services, schooling for our kids, legal aid, social services, welfare…and in general how to be good citizens. Three weeks later we attended what we later learned was our first session…3 hours of videos…to be followed up with another 3 hours in 3 weeks…ugh! Makes us wonder what is required of immigrants coming to America…?

Line to get in at 7AM
2 hour Wait to get Finger printed
Civics Video – How to be a good Italian

It is hard to believe, but we recently learned…by personal experience…that walking around Florence is a contact sport.  In fact I’m having some football shoulder pads sent over to enhance my street presence.  Surprise…Turns out that the locals are a little more assertive that one would think.  Sidewalks by themselves are difficult to navigate being uneven and of varying widths…but couple those obstacles with the ‘look’ and watch-out.  You’re walking down the street and approaching you at a fast shuffle is a little old lady (or young woman, or man or couple…) as they get close there is a quick ‘look’…more like a defiant stare…then the shoulders square up…head goes down…and they surge forward.  Your only options are…step into the gutter to get out of their way…stand your ground forcing them to avert you…or square up yourself and move forward.  And I may add twinkle lights to the shoulder pads for night walks.

Street Presence
Sidewalk Vanishing
Vanishing Sidewalk

Living in San Francisco has warped my sense of what IS.  The Bay Area is truly different than much of the rest of the US…a more rarefied living experience.  An expensive experience to be sure but one cleansed of impurities.  All public comments are required to be ‘sensitive’.  San Franciscan cuisine has fused and mangled every possible combination of foreign foods.  And the air is relatively free of pollutants…not so in Florence.  Surprise…there are many more smokers than I’m used to…and it is done proudly and with assertion…not remorsefully like in the States.  A good reminder of why I quit 35 years ago.

Smoking by Country*

Cigarettes/person/year % Total Population % Men % Women
USA 1082 16.8% 21% 21.5
Italy 1442 23.8% 29% 19.2%
China 2249 28.1% 59% 3.7%

*Data various 2008 – 2014

My cooking has not been questioned very often (except by me)…but can I cook Italian…for REAL Italians?  Surprise…I can.  The Gambi’s (Francesco, Silvia, Anna and Emma) are the owners of our apartment and live in the same building.  They were most gracious and invited us to dinner at their home a month ago…we brought flowers and ate a delicious meal and had lots of fun.  So feeling brave I decided to reciprocate…whew…they liked it.  Especially the ricotta cheesecake.  The pasta was good and pork loin stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts on a bed of arugula and shaved Parmesan…yum.  And now Silvia and I have exchanged different things to taste…lemon panna cotta and berry chutney from me…ciambella (ring-shaped savory cake) and Filetto di Maiale in Crosta from Silvia.

Filetto Maiale Ripieno

From jaguars in the Pantanal to penguins in the Falklands most people who are familiar with my photography would not immediately think ‘landscape’ photographer.  Surprise…on me…I’m learning.  There are certainly tons of opportunities for me to practice my street photography and cityscapes (there’s a very BIG church in my backyard)…but once out of the City limits…the landscape opportunities are endless.  Giovanni Trambusti, a new local friend, was kind enough to ask RoJean and me to join him for a day in the hills south of Siena.  There were trees on those hills and sometimes small towns with an occasional church or ruins.  And did I mention the yellow mustard in bloom or the vibrant red poppies?  It was a wonderful lesson in a type of photography that has eluded me and now will be ‘front and center’.  There are a few more images and descriptions in my gallery… https://joemessina.smugmug.com/PrivateGalleries/Italy/Tuscany-Tour/

Duomo 1
Duomo in Backyard
Giovanni Trambusti

Poppy Round Hill Church Hill Cedars UU6A0453 UU6A0193

Confession time…we had hamburgers for dinner tonight…but it was because today is Memorial Day in the States and we  wanted to feel patriotic and we were feeling bad that we were not sharing all those election ads with our friends.   Surprise…not…we just wanted a hamburger (and the fries were good too!)

Traveling with family…my daughter Karyn with her husband Will and my 1st grand daughter Alissa…we explored Napoli, Pompeii and Herulareum.  Surprise…the things I didn’t know about the early Italians.  Life was tough…for the slaves, but the elite really did eat laying down on couches…peeled grapes anyone?  At least until Vesuvius erupted in 79AD…that ended the party for Pompeii and surrounding towns.  The excavated ruins in Pompeii and Herculareum are not to be missed, nor the Naples National Archaeological Museum…the collection contains many of the items that were recovered from both Pompeii and Herculareum…great to be able to see the ‘details’ of life up close.  Check out my photo gallery… https://joemessina.smugmug.com/PrivateGalleries/Italy/Pompeii–Herculareum/ We were fortunate to have used Tours By Locals and had Roberto Musio, a professional archaeologist as our guide.

Mosaics in House of Neptune
Family Time
Alissa and Karyn
Pompeii Forum
Original Fast Food Outlet

Kiss a frog…find your prince…?  Surprise…we met a REAL princess…no kisses involved.  We went to a high-end crafts fair in a private garden…Giardino Corsini and I signed us up for a private tour.  Little did I know that Principessa Giorgiana Corsini, herself, would be leading the tour.  The Principessa was most a gracious hostess and knew all the crafts people showing their work in her garden.  And probably as close as we’ll get to royalty during our time in Italy…but lots of fun.

RoJean and Principessa Corsini

And lest you think that I starved myself since my last post…not even close.  I made a fritatta with fresh peas and a red pepper.  Our taste testing for the best cannoli in Florence is on-going.  We broke-down and had blueberry pancakes at the Florence Diner  http://www.theflorencediner.com/wp/?lang=enSurprise…I absolutely could NOT bring myself to try Mojito gelato.  And we met Ms Pasta in the window of Bartolini on via dei Servi, purveyor of high-end kitchen wares.

Cannolo – Test #44
Blueberry Pancakes at Diner
Frittata con Piscelli
Fritatta with Peas and Pepper
Mojito Gelato
Ms Pasta


…a domani…

Coming up later in June we have more family visiting with a return trip to Bologna and the Ferrari factory (if only RoJean could decide on a color I could place my order).  The 400 year old Palio horse race is the first weekend in July in Siena…tickets are bought and we’re ready to go.  And probably after such an exhausting series of events and travel…it will be time to relax at the seaside…and do as the locals do…arrivederci

Seaside at Bagno Stella


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Joe Messina Written by:

One Comment

  1. May 31, 2016

    Loved the photos of the Questura, lest anyone think life in Italy is all about skipping through the poppy fields! The picture of RoJean watching the mind-numbing video says it all…
    Thank you for sharing your gorgeous photos, Joe; they transported me across the ocean, as did your wonderful take on life in our city. As I drank my Americano coffee in the early dawn in Utah, I had a few ‘laugh out loud’ moments! Un grande abbracci a te e RoJean.

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