It has been a year since we moved to Florence, Italy. And some might ask…how are you doing with the language? Well I have gone beyond pizza and pasta. In fact today I probably recognize and can utter several hundred words…mostly nouns. My vocabulary and halting speech is heavy on nouns and dramatically short of verbs. My Italian is probably similar to a two year old’s efforts at speaking…many words are floating around but getting them out in sentences is not so easy.
Not to make excuses, but learning a language…like Italian is difficult and requires dedication. One must set the learning as a priority and dedicate the time and effort to making it happen. I have not done that…I have been too busy being HERE…learning how to live in a foreign land…getting comfortable with the every day…experiencing THE moment.
Have I gotten by not being able to speak Italian? Sure…thanks to friends and the generosity of strangers. However, not being fluent will always keep me on the ‘outside looking in’…not being able to comfortably participate in discussions deeper than ‘Hello, how are you?’ or merely ordering at a restaurant or shop. So the solution is time and dedication…much more of both.
Whew! The Holidays came and are finally gone. The Italians know how to celebrate the season…not as commercial as the States, but with more intensity and longevity. From the 8th of December (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) it is full throttle until the 6th of January (Feast of the Epiphany), also know as la Befana (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Befana). La Befana is reportedly an old hag who did not heed the words of the three Magi and has been playing ‘catch up’ every year since. My son Travis with his family, Kim and Bella visited for Christmas…cookies were made…and RoJean had a birthday.
The Holiday season is a great example of what ‘living’ somewhere means versus just visiting. The opportunity to become immersed in the culture and traditions of a time and place. Be a part of the day-to-day of life and also be part of the unique celebrations associated with the season. Firenze during the Holidays was brimming with its own sights and sounds of the season…not to mention special foods.
Seems that January was just as busy as December. First with three days touring Athens and the Acropolis with California friends…Jon and Catherine d’Alessio. And then five ‘freeze your butt off’ cold days in Thessaloniki in northern Greece photographing Dalmatian Pelicans (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalmatian_pelican).
These birds are one of the largest living bird species in the world (over a 10′ wingspan) and traditionally hang out on Lake Kerkini all winter. Frolicking and joining the cormorants in joint fishing endeavors. However, this February saw the lake 95% frozen over…only the third time in the last 50 years, which made for more challenging photography. Thankfully Jon loaned me some rain pants and gloves to go with my wearing ALL the clothes I brought with me at the same time…every day. Brrrrrr….
Firenze was not enjoying warm breezes, but was substantially nicer than a northern Greek lake. The d’Allessios stayed a few days in Florence to thaw out before heading south to Pompeii and Rome…providing another opportunity to visit the Opera del Duomo Museum yet again. Every time I go I see yet something else to photograph.
The museum was followed the next day by a food tour on the south side of the Arno…Oltrarno…neighborhood of San Frediano. This is an area of Firenze where we had not spent much time exploring. The Oltrarno is full of craftsmen (and craftswomen), antiques shops, students and artists….along with some of the most authentic food to be found. Some more enjoyable than others…at least for me. Coffee and pastries started off the tour…followed by a butcher (macelleria), a bakery owned by Beppe, Simone’s food cart specializing in the ‘only in Firenze’ lampredotto panino ( a very tasty sandwich made with two parts of a cows fourth stomach)…yum? Fortunately for those not into cow stomachs we still had the pasticceria (pastry) shop for cantuccini, a cheese and a wine shop, then a hearty lunch at I’Raddi trattoria and finally topped off with some of Firenze’s best gelato in Piazza Passera. All in just four hours…then it was time for a nap before dinner.
In the first week of February I fulfilled a commitment I made to our friend and author, Ann Reavis. Ann is writing another novel…this one set in the Zoological la Specola Museum filled with every imaginable stuffed animal (not cuddly) and wax human bodies and skeletons. My ‘job’ was to assist with research by photographing many of the exhibits for Ann for reference on her book. Great fun…mission accomplished.
Did you know that there is a 645 year old building in Italy that…leans? We had not visited Pisa yet and when my daughter, Karyn (now living in Germany) said she wanted to do some research for a school thesis in the adjoining cemetery…we went. The Campanile (bell tower) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaning_Tower_of_Pisa) is but one element of the Campo dei Miracoli (Plaza of Miracles). There is also the Duomo, Baptistry and the Camposanto (Cemetery) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piazza_dei_Miracoli). Karyn is writing about Deane Keller…one of the ‘monuments men’ who is buried there. You might remember the George Clooney movie a few years ago by the same name (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Monuments_Men), about a group of men and women who volunteered to try and save European art work endangered by allied bombing and Nazi looting.
OK…raise your hand…who knows about Foiano? (Our friend, Nancy Schiff put us onto this local treasure.) Foiano della Chiana (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foiano_della_Chiana) is a small (11,000 pop.) hill-town about 30 miles east of Siena in Tuscany. Foiano hosts an annual Carnavale event on the Sundays preceding Shrove Tuesday. And they have been putting on this event for 478 years…the oldest Carnavale in Italy. Carnavale in Foiano (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnival_of_Foiano_della_Chiana) features 40′ high papier-mache floats from the 4 neighborhoods (cantieri) of the town. We stayed Saturday night at an airbnb called Holiday house “Il Papavero” owned by Federico Calvani. It is a very comfortable apartment an easy 15 minute walk to the center of Foiano. Full gallery of photos on www.tcrworld.com coming soon.
On the last weekend in February in Firenze there are many Carnavale parties. We’ve been invited to one by Guilia and Silvia Ambrogi to be held in an apartment overlooking the Piazza Duomo in the center of Firenze. RoJean and I have been scrambling to put together our costumes for this festa. In our quest we came across a wonderful little shop that not only makes masks for sale, but does a mask making workshop the last week of every month. (https://www.walkaboutflorence.com/what-to-do/alices-mask-studio)
Also in the coming weeks will be a day trip to the town of Prato (20 minutes drive north of Firenze) to visit the home of cantucci, a type of biscotti. And a winter visit to the seaside just to see what we can see…well…and probably indulge in yet another dish of tordelli.