giovedì, maggio 21, 2015

A Girl’s Gotta Eat (Everything in Italy)

Is it wrong to say I didn’t eat everything I wanted to eat in Italy? That I left, wanting more? I suppose, who doesn't.

(I also left with an ungodly number of books and yet I still wanted to buy more!)

Of course, I had a mental list of the things I had to eat. And topping that list:

A ciambellina.

Not just any ciambellina. A fresh one. An airy one. An obscenely large one, or just simply, a very good one. With just the right amount of sugar crystals dusting the top.

There’s a reason it’s the name of this damn blog. These donutesque delights (above left) are the best pastries you can possibly put in your mouth. Especially if you like something that’s uncomplicated and pure. And honestly I would say that’s the essence of Italian cooking: not fussy, not overloaded with a thousand ingredients or dependent on some tricky sauce or filling. Just the genuine article.

I also ate a lot of savory foods, too, of course. Here's a partial list:

Pici al granchio (in photo above; pici is a type of thick spaghetti often found in Siena and granchio, well, just ask Leo. It's crab); Fiori di zucca fritti; prosciutto crudo; paccheri sul coniglio (photo at top); a selection of cheeses one evening as a second (which included a lovely gorgonzola, of course, that when spread on a piece of crusty Italian bread became a snack worthy of the Medici), crostini with chicken fat and carmellized onions, and so on.

Oh and gelato. Nocciola, of course, the only gusto worth my time (even if the others are pretty good, hazelnut ice cream? You kidding me? Bring another coppetta over here, right quick please!)

And I could have eaten a lot more. I didn't get around to having anything with cinghiale -- wild boar -- which amounts to a felony in some parts of Tuscany. I also didn't have suppli (or arancini) in Rome, which produces a pretty good fried rice ball, if you ask me.

I also didn't have a Conca D'Oro, or enough red wine or fettunta with pomodorini or spaghetti alla carbonara or spezzatino (stew).

But I guess that will have to be for the next time.

mercoledì, maggio 20, 2015

24 Hours In Rome (Alive She Cried)

What can you possibly do in Rome if you only have 24 hours?

That was all I had given myself. I arrived around noon on Wednesday and was booked on the 11:50 a.m. Frecciarossa to Florence the next day so I could meet up with friends there and begin the real work of the Nostalgia Package Tour.

Oh you can do so much in 24 hours, I jotted down in my notebook, as I sat in the window sill of my second-floor hotel room in Rome, looking out over the street below and eye to eye with the ‘H’ and the ‘O’ in the vertical hotel sign on the side of the building.

Here’s what I saw, in some cases just quickly, after walking several miles around Rome over fragments of two days:

The Pantheon, the Campidoglio, the Roman Forum, Piazza Navona (with its many tiny balcony gardens), Palazzo Madama (the seat of the Italian Senate; I stood outside for a while, ogling the carabinieri in their crisp uniforms) the Thursday morning weekly produce market in Campo Dei Fiori, the Tiber, the tony neighborhood of Monti by the Coliseum, a friend from college I haven’t seen in exactly 20 years, and the largest ciambellina I’d ever seen (or eaten for that matter).

I also noticed men and women in religious garb everywhere, sometimes on bikes or cupping cellphones to their ears, and realized I might have been a stone’s throw from Francis.

I jotted down in my notebook, as I stood on the street, gaping up at the Campidoglio: I’m in super computer mode. As I walked the streets, I took photos, I recorded snippets of conversation on my phone, I breathed in my beloved tiny, white, gelsomina flower (which spilled over walls, and climbed up the sides of buildings, unleashing a powerful memory agent for this blogger) and I lingered over well-tended floral displays adorning terraces, window sills and the outdoor seating areas of trattorie tucked into vicoli.

It probably sounds like I was in a mad dash. But, of course, I had the luxury, in most cases, of having visited (multiple times, in some cases) whatever incredible monument I was passing.

(I also found I had such adrenaline, that a mere five hours of sleep was all I needed, especially if I stayed on my feet, drawing energy from my constant movement).

My eye was on the lookout for signs of life, symbols of the Roman personality. My objective was to breath in the Eternal City so that when I returned to America, a part of it would linger on long after I walked away from the Pantheon (my favorite building in Rome. Maybe the World. Shoot, who knows?).

Let’s just say: Mission Accomplished (as you'll see in future posts about encounters with taxi drivers and near collisions with nuns on bikes and conversations overheard and thoroughly enjoyed).

In fact, not only did I remember it’s an amazing city, I wondered – for a half-minute, abbiate pazienza – if I had chosen the wrong city to live in. Because Rome is a city I’d like to live in. A city that remains Italian, Roman to the core, a city where you can have real encounters with Italians, in Italian, if you just endeavor a bit.

Oddly enough the person I have to thank for being able to take such exquisite advantage of the scant time I had wasn’t anywhere near me. My little Leo. Since becoming a mother, I’ve learned to sfruttare (exploit) the hell out of five free minutes. So to think I had 24 hours there, well, shoot, what an embarrassment of riches.

Twenty-four hours in the Eternal City? Well, it felt like an Eternity to me.

sabato, maggio 16, 2015

The Nostalgia Package Tour (Jeanne In Firenze)

You can retrace the steps of Dante when you visit Florence, visiting his parish church, for example, where he spied Beatrice for the first time.

Me? I’m retracing MY steps as I walk through the streets of Florence. Steps I first took so many years ago. Nostalgia comes so naturally to me that I stumbled into a tiny piazza in Rome and stumbled back nearly 20 years to a weekend getaway to the Eternal City – my first with Il Nostro Inviato (also known as Someone). I looked up at the street sign – Piazza San Pantaleo – and my mind, photographic for things like street names and addresses and the dates that important moments happened – recalled instantly that we had stayed maybe two nights at a small pensione on the piazza.

My days in Florence are filled with what the Italians might call controlli. I’m monitoring the streets, the crowds of tourists, the number of restaurants (and gelaterie – there are so many now!), the exact locations of shops (the clothing shop Gerard has moved, ladies and gentlemen. So has Patrizia Pepe’s boutique), the routes of buses I used to take (you catch the No. 23 bus now in front of the station, not on the side) and so on.

I’m also monitoring what people say. As in, I'm eavesdropping. I’m swooning over the constant flow of Italian language in my ear. Finally, I’m once again surrounded by Italian, a scenario I find so inspiring, so fundamentally pleasing I wonder if they should prescribe it as therapy? Perhaps it would only work for me. Jeanne’s Therapy. But I suppose other people could get a prescription for French Therapy? Or Spanish Therapy?

(This is hardly a new discovery since I’ve long known that quite simply, I get my jollies hearing and speaking Italian. Spanish, too.)

Of course it helps to know what the Italians are saying when you eavesdrop. But not only. It helps if you can follow the peaks and valleys of the sing-song Florentine accent, through which the natives express a constant, often hilarious litany of slights, recriminations and general observations that there’s nothing that can be done about whatever problem is under discussion but oh what a mess things have become!

The Florentine patois seems perfectly attuned to bursts of desperation, expressed through comments like, “Dio buono, ragazzi!” (Good God!) and complaints of any kind, though mainly of the most pedestrian nature (a signora told me yesterday that she had been waiting 30 minutes for the No. 4 bus. I don’t belittle her complaint – the No. 4 bus jilted me, as well, because I wasn’t standing in the exact right spot).

And of course there are controlli of the most personal kind. My old apartment now has mosquito screens on the windows that I can see from the street. (I should say: Apartment No. 3 in Florence…I haven’t visited #1 or #2 yet. I did see #4. It’s a medieval tower in the center of the centro storico. So not much has changed, although they have cleaned up l’Arco di San Pierino where the Antico Noe sandwich shop is located. Exactly where did all the heroin addicts go?).

Today, the day stretches before me, and it promises to bring hundreds of small discoveries. I may even do something new (Museo Stibbert, anyone? Apparently the grounds of the museum constitute a gorgeous park, a stone’s throw from the center of Florence).

All I know is I’ve paid for the Nostalgia Package Tour. The “This Is Your Life” Full Immersion Tour. And the “Brush Up On Your Florentine Dialect” Tour.

Also the “Can I Really Be This Lucky?” tour. The answer to that last one is a resounding yes.

giovedì, maggio 14, 2015

Morning in Rome

It’s noon on May 12, 2015 and apparently I’m about to touch down in Rome. Ladies and gentlemen, signori e signore, I’m back.

I’m sitting in my seat on the airplane and I see it. I see IT.

It’s Italy. It’s Italy.

My Italy. Just beyond the green and red Alitalia logo on the wing of the airplane is a country called Italy.

Wait—applause! Everyone is so glad we landed safely that they give the pilot a hand. Benvenuti! The Italian guy next to me has already donned his sunglasses. You can never be too cautious.

Am I ready?

To be honest, I’m a bit nervous. Will Italy and I still be in love?

Well, before we can even figure out whether we want to resume our love affair, there’s a slight delay in disembarking. You see, you can’t take the plane all the way up to the airport. You just can’t. You have to take a shuttle bus. Which isn’t here yet. Obviously.

Once inside the airport, it’s the usual major airport hysteria combined with a particular brand of Italian caos. But my suitcase arrives, the hotel pickup shuttle is there waiting for me, and we’re off.

And within a few minutes, gazing out at the city from the back of the taxi, I have that feeling again. I get it every time I see Rome. I don’t know how else to express it other than, “Oh right, Rome is so beautiful, so masterful, so all-encompassingly majestic that swooning is inevitable.”

It’s almost as though I forget or the human brain, my human brain, simply cannot spend all of its time computing how fantastic a place like Rome is. Each time I visit, I remember why it’s the Eternal City. Eternally enchanting. Eternally beguiling. Eternally mine (and yours) – if only I can find the time to catch a plane and get here.

Because when I do, I see vistas like the one in the photo above. Small, little splashes of Italy to brighten not just your day, but your life.

giovedì, maggio 07, 2015

Luca Carboni's "La Mia Ragazza" Feels Right Now

I've been listening to Italian music and podcasts and interviews and anything I can think of, in preparation for my trip to Florence next week.

This slow-tempo, contemplative song by Luca Carboni has long been one of my favorites and feels right this week, as unexpected emergencies explode in our little domestic life, and render the trip a bit of an afterthought.

In many ways, the visit to Florence is neither here nor there. Sounds odd to say, but I simply love Italy. And I will love it, from near or afar.

Enjoy the song! It's about a man who falls in love with his girlfriend all over again as he sees her give birth to their son.

domenica, maggio 03, 2015

"I meant to say"

He says that now, too. "I meant to say blueberry, Mommy. I meant to say blueberry!"

Instead, he said raspberry.


A two-year-old, almost three-year-old, who seems to soak up every turn of phrase, every nuance, every blessed word you say.


I'm sure it's typical, for children his age. But it's new to me. Hence this blog post.

You can call it a comeback

My african violets have finally come back from the dead, after years of budless limbo.

giovedì, aprile 30, 2015

Film: "La Mafia Uccide Solo D'estate" - (starts 5/1)

So, of course, with less than two weeks to go before I leave for Florence, I'm still actively preparing for my return to Italy.

And that includes cinema.

Luckily, my trip prep happened smack in the middle of Atlanta's Italian Film Fest.

Not that the film I saw, "La Mafia Uccide Solo D'estate" ("The Mafia Only Kills During The Summer") was granche' (in other words, nothing to write home about, at least not subito).

Except for one thing.

Through actual footage from news programs and a deft combination of history and fiction, the movie provides a chilling overview of the Mafia's reign of terror in Sicily, where the film takes place.

It zeroes in on the late 1980s and early 1990s, when some giants who bravely fought the Mafia fell victim to them, chiefly Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. But not only. Generale Dalla Chiesa, the people of Palermo and others also get their this-day-in-history moments.

There's so much we in America don't know about Italian history (while the Italians seem to know everything about us).

It was nice to sit in the theater and see up on the screen some of what has shaped modern Italy, for everyone to absorb and consider (even when the topic is so brutal).

It's a truly complex country that's often depicted as simply the birthplace of gondolas and pasta.

And it's not too late to see the movie! The film will be playing for a week, starting tomorrow (May 1) at the Midtown Art Theater.

sabato, aprile 25, 2015

Ode to Geen

He -- you know who -- says:

“That’s our favorite color, Mommy. Look, Mommy, that’s our favorite color. Geen.”

Or he says:

“We like geen.”

Or, pointing out items in a shop or at home:

“Look Mommy. That’s geen. That’s geen, and this is geen.”

Oh my little green angel.

He also likes lello.

A day is coming so soon on the horizon when geen 'normalizes' to become green, and lello passes away forever.

I'm recording him, of course. Public radio reporter that I was.

But once geen and lello are gone, so, too, is an entire era of language, expression -- and joy.

Of course, on the upside, I've recruited one more person to my Green Brigade.

mercoledì, aprile 22, 2015

"Vino e Pane" (Reading as trip prep)

Half of my brain is trained on preparing for my trip to Florence, which as I said in previous posts, will be my first return to the city I once called home in a decade.

Much of the preparation is mental (though there is a suitcase permanently open on the floor of my bedroom).

I'm listening to music (see below), reading books in Italian (or simply more than usual) and re-reading a few books.

One book is a travelogue by the great Italian novelist, Antonio Tabucchi.Mike brought it back on his last visit to Florence.

For a long while, I left it in the dining room, along with the other ricordini and gifts he'd hauled back, per our ritual.

Before I began reading it, I would look at it from across the room, and there’s no other way to say it. I got my jollies. Just from looking at it.

I'd think, 'Yup, it’s still there on the dining room table, still in Italian, still waiting for me to pick up.'

Looking at it, I felt almost a form of lust – literary lust, I guess.

Essentially Italian books get my motor running, send my heart racing, not all that differently than how a man would.

It sounds weird -- but I suspect only because I externalized a thought most bookworms have, even if only on an unconscious level.

Anyhoo, I'm also re-reading a lot of books. Like "Vino e Pane" by Ignazio Silone.

And I'm packing books for the airplane and to read while in Florence (because the books I buy there, I will first have to set on the dining room table and lust over for a few weeks. Ma e' chiaro, no?)

So as I pack, I'm asking myself: is this the trip I finally read “L’Ultimo Brigatista” about Italian terrorism? We’ll see. The book’s tone has always struck me as a bit too self-important, as if it doesn’t have to sell me on the topic.

Of course, I may just wind up staring at it from across the room. And I'll enjoy that, too.

martedì, aprile 21, 2015

"Tu, Catania, non mi basti!" (First, a little music)

As I said in my previous post, I'm going back to Florence, Italy, for the first time in 10 years.

The first city I lived in as an adult, and the city that arguably has held greater sway over my thoughts, my path, my desperate wishes, than any other (except, probably, New York).

Needless to say, my prep for the trip is anything but casual.

I'm warming up my Italian brain by immersing myself in Italian music, including this infectious song, which I can't get out of my head (see below).

Ever listen to Italian music? Italian pop music. Not Pavorotti.

It takes a while to cultivate a liking to it (unless you’re listening to Ilaria Graziano. Then you like the music subito).

And one big step toward liking it is to indulge your inner sentimentality (not hard for someone like me, whose favorite film is "It's A Wonderful Life.")

But once you fall in love with Italian music, well, be prepared for tears. Or at least, that's the effect it's had on me, probably because almost any Italian pop music transports me instantly back to the days I lived in Italy. Even music that wasn't on the radio in those days or sung in piazzas by friends strumming guitars.

Take a listen to "Non Ho Più La Mia Città," by Gerardina Trovato, who appeared at the Festival di San Remo back in 1993. She sings, "Ancora sto sognando..." I'm still dreaming. Me, too, Gerardina. Me, too.