mercoledì, giugno 10, 2015

Wait, did I really just go to Italy?

As I go about my days back in Atlanta, I’m seized every now and again by a sudden realization: I went to Italy last month.


I really was there. It was truly amazing, as always. And it’s there waiting for me, whenever I’m ready to go back.

martedì, giugno 02, 2015

And Then We Said Arrivederci

I'll continue to post photos from my Italy trip to the blog but I'll wrap up the story of my trip here.

So here are the numbers.

I spent a mere five days in Italy, including 24 hours in Rome.

My travels came eight years after my last visit to Italy (a thorough and thoroughly enjoyable trip to Puglia), and 10 years after my last visit to Florence.

I walked I would guess a dozen miles or more around the two cities, and spent hundreds of dollars, but not too much shame there since I spent them on the best things in life, and the things I like best – books, gifts for Leo and Mike and meals with friends.

When will I be back? Who can say? My job, as far as I was concerned, was to make the absolute most of my time in Italy. And I did that. As I wrote in my notebook that first afternoon in Rome, while walking through a minor piazza where a man was selling used books from a cart, “It’s already enough.”

I’m glad I was able to stay a few more days. I’d like to go back – tomorrow. Next month. Next year. And sure, I’d like to stay a week, two weeks, two months, maybe five years.

But if anyone out there wants to send me to Florence or Rome or anywhere in Italy for 24 hours, hey, you know where to find me. I’m always ready to hear a flight attendant say, “Benvenuti in Italia,” followed, of course, by a round of applause.

domenica, maggio 31, 2015

Where To Eat in Florence (the Update)

OK, a long, long time ago I wrote a post about where to eat in Florence. And I'm more than happy to update it now.

Full disclosure, before we go any further: I'm talking about Florence, Italy. Not Florence, S.C. OK, OK, here we go.

I wasn't there very long so I only have a few places to recommend. But I think you will like them. And in an unusual move, they are all places I'd never been before.

Trattoria Cammillo

Don't trust me with recommendations? Va bene. Trust The New York Times, which has reviewed this spot on Borgo San Iacopo very favorably several times. Not enough? OK, Beyonce and Jay Z were there last week. Ci siamo?

It's really your classic old-school trattoria. White table cloths, a touch of fancy, the thought that an important Italian dignitary might be in a corner table. Walls covered with art, the industrial coffee maker in a corner, just inside the door. Waiters in classic service garb. And the food is lovely.

I ate one of the best pasta dishes I've had in a while: paccheri sul coniglio. Paccheri pasta in a stewed rabbit sauce.

Plus a lovely glass of Vino Nobile, which was the "degustazione" of the evening. That was a new one for me.

Alex, my very lovely dining companion, had bistecca alla fiorentina (which you can see above).

Cento Poveri

This is a good, tried and true Florentine trattoria not far from Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Feeling a bit gluttonous (which in Italian sounds much less sinful: golosa), I ordered a plate of pasta: pici al granchio (in photo above). Pici, a type of thick, long pasta with a large piece of crab settled on top and quite delicious, once I'd managed to extricate its essential goodness from its hard shell (like so many other things that come in hard shells).

I also had a really lovely cheese plate.

And I found the prices to be giusti, and despite the location (on Via Palazzuolo) -- really a stone's throw from Tourist Central.

Alle Murate

In some ways you could say this is an odd ball. A former prison that's now really a cultural space as much as it is a restaurant and bar.

I had a plate of prosciutto crudo (which, in Italy, can almost never fail) followed by a lovely salad, plus the company of an even lovelier former roommate, Irene.

Besides what I ate, what's more important is that this place be on your radar as a punto di referimento. There are gallery openings, concerts, lectures, all sorts of cultural activities going on here that merit your attention or really anyone's attention. This week alone, there will be dance performances by Italian, Korean and Japanese artists.

Also: Near my favorite part of Florence: Piazza Sant'Ambrogio.

So, buon appetito!

sabato, maggio 30, 2015

Rome Notebook (An Italian Walks Into a Bar)

3:30 p.m. May 13, 2015.

I'll call this post: The difference between Rome and Florence: Take One

In a nondescript bar across from the Campidoglio/Monumento Alla Patria, I find a mix of tourists and Romans but the bar remains quintessentially Italian. It should be totally overrun by tourists, it should have no Italian identity left. If it were in Florence in the same kind of location, it would be the worst place to stop for a snack.

An Italian walks in, carrying a motorcycle helmet and wearing a tan fishing-style vest that’s popular among men in Italy. He exchanges one look with the barista, and tutto e’ inteso. Everything is clear.

The look from the barista says, “Oh finally you’re here!” and “What a day we’re having!” The look from the regular – because it’s clear from the first second, the way he walked in, the way he surveyed the bar and looked at the bartender that he’s a regular – says, “Do you see what I’m saying?” and “Can you believe that?” Where both parties know exactly what “that” refers to.

All without uttering a word. A few helpful Italian hand gestures, the jutting out of the chin, an “O!” or two, and everything is clear between these two.

This is the kind of drama that draws me in. It’s the everyday drama of Italy. I eat my schiacchiata with prosciutto crudo and I stare at the two expectantly. Go on. It’s getting interesting.

5 p.m., the same day

I’m on the fifth floor of my tiny, nothing-special hotel, gasping and gaping at a tiny rooftop deck whose view takes in a large, stately cupola and a dozen or more private rooftop decks, some with flowers, some with laundry. All with the majestic silence of Rome from the air, broken only by the neighborhood church bells, chiming out 5 o’ clock.

It’s exactly how I thought it would be. The trip, I mean. If I arrived safe and sound, and at my hotel in fairly decent shape (i.e., slept a few hours on the plane), I’d be quickly satiated, which is to say happy. And I’m not fussy. I don’t need a parade. I only need Rome to be Rome.

That said, I think Rome forgets sometimes it’s Rome (if a city can be said 'to think'. Which it can't. But suspend disbelief for a moment). One tiny, two-second glimpse of the rooftop deck – I'm still climbing the stairs, still tentatively opening the door – and then suddenly an enormous cupola is filling my vision field. I'm on top of the world. Absolutely stunning.

Rome thinks this is normal! Because it is – for Rome.

The Eternal City? Check.

venerdì, maggio 29, 2015

Rome, afternoon, 14 May 2015

Jeanne Shops In Italy (My Top Picks)

OK, here are my favorite purchases from Italy earlier this month:
The coffee cup with the Palazzo Vecchio design. A must-have! Notice the green moka in the background. I couldn't resist. You can never have too many moka coffee pots. And besides as Leo says, "Green is our favorite color, Mommy!"

Placemats. OK, we use a lot of placemats at our house. And it's an everyday way to keep a little bit of Italy in my life.

For the little, future Mario Andretti in your life.

The most incredible tote bag I have ever seen! A tote bag with pithy little sayings about all the wonderful things one should do in one's life and they're all in Italian? Ding ding ding that's a gift for Ciambellina.

And as I mentioned in a previous post, I stocked up on my Elena Ferrante titles. What a twisted book cover this is, no? Well, I suppose, ci mancherebbe. Some of what she writes is a bit twisted.

giovedì, maggio 28, 2015

Why People Fall In Love With Italy (And In Italy)

It rarely fails. Tell someone I used to live in Italy and the swooning commences.

And these days, right after the person I’m talking to swoons, he or she launches into tales about upcoming or recently-completed trips to Italy.
Americans are in love with Italy. And understandably so. It’s a country of such exquisite beauty – not hidden, not at certain times of the year or limited to one particular feature or area – that you’d have to be somewhat immune to human charms in general to resist.

As it turns out, we can map some of the reasons we all love Italy.

1. The country is actually organized.

Hard to believe, right? You tried ordering a coffee at a caffe in Italy during peak morning hours and felt as though you were at the running of the bulls. Or worse, you rented a car in Italy. Yikes!

But it’s organized around public transportation, and divided, for the traveler at least, into two neat spheres of interest: country and city. To be sure, Italians themselves often live in drab, modern apartment blocks in the suburbs. But visitors are able to move fairly quickly and easily on the public transport system between stunning cities and the gorgeous Italian countryside to take in the best in urban and rural life.

2. Rituals remain at the center of Italian life.

Italian life is still dictated by rituals, and delightfully so. There’s a time of the day, week, year or season to do something.

And many Italian rituals are ours for the taking. You can do your own evening passeggiata, strolling past shop windows and stopping to admire the view or chat with someone. You can browse the flower stalls at the market or order un’etto of prosciutto crudo (but don’t slice it too thin, please). You can learn when to order a cappuccino and when to limit yourself to an espresso.

Italians. The people who not only invented the phrase buon appetito, but also a specific corresponding response: grazie, altrettanto!

3. What a visual culture it is!

It’s a visual culture. They understood #travelpics and click-bait long before the Internet arrived. My recent trip to Florence and Rome left me astounded by the gorgeous flowers tucked into every crevice. Gelsomina spilling over the walls of the city, geraniums hanging in flower pots, and quite a few other plants I can’t even identify. I, too, have house plants and tend flowers on a veranda. But they look nothing like this.

And don’t get me started on shop windows. The Italians are geniuses at arranging shop windows (along with the prices, thank you very much). So well-organized are Italian shop windows that they lure even someone like me, a confirmed non-shopper, into all kinds of stores.

They still live life outdoors -- unlike most Americans.

4. Italians are born communicators -- and remain so.

During my visit, my Italian friends expressed the same concerns I have about our digital culture, and the cult of the devices we have in our pockets, or really in front of our faces all day and all night. But, I can see, even in just the short while I touched down in Italy, that if given the chance, Italians would still prefer to talk to people face to face. Why else would the Italian coffee bar exist? They can make coffee at home.

And thank God they don't because there's nothing more entertaining than watching them as they kvetch with the barista over the partita or politics!

mercoledì, maggio 27, 2015

Signs You're In Italy

I went to Italy, as I’ve said, to rediscover the ways Il Bel Paese has thoroughly enchanted me and millions of others. Enchant, perhaps, may not be the right word. Maybe I’ll use the word that I wrote in my first post – beguile. Because Italy can be just as maddening as it is beautiful.

So, here are some signs you might just be in Italy:

*When I get into the taxi that will take me from the airport in Rome to my hotel, the temperature is above 80 degrees but the taxi driver has the windows cracked open only slightly, and the AC is decidedly not accesa (not on). To his credit, he offers to turn it on. But I want Rome to be Rome – and that means putting up with the heat in the old way.

*I’m raising or lowering something called a saracinesca. It’s a slatted, wooden window screen that works like a pulley. Oh what a racket it makes! The sound of it going up or down – and the wooden slats banging against each other – is part of the soundtrack of Italy.

*The tripe food cart vendor is doing a killing

*In a taxi ride back from a friend's house in Rome, the driver is blaring the Juventus game on the radio. When a key goal is scored, I notice him pumping his fist, and when I look up in the rear view window, I see he's trying to catch my eye. That goal? It's something he wants to celebrate WITH me. OK. Forza Juventus!

*I walk into a coffee bar off of Campo dei Fiori in Rome only to find the largest ciambellina I’ve ever seen, which I devour to the sounds of Gianna Nannini’s “I Maschi” (I love that song!) and the comments of the bartender who’s talking over the previous night’s Juventus game with a regular.

*The door key to any place I’m staying is tricky enough that it might overwhelm the CIA

*At the airport in Rome, there's an initial security check, after which you receive plastic bags for your phone cords, which is followed by check-in, and then the actual security screening. And just when you think you're ready to relax at your gate, you realize you have to take a shuttle bus to the terminal.

*You think we need one more? You think we need one more. OK: one more (to steal one of my favorite movie lines). And so let it be an omnibus: I know I’m in Italy because I’m walking everywhere, observing everything, game for anything; church bells are ringing; if it's Sunday, men are walking with their families while pressing portable radios to their ears to catch the partita; young couples are lavishing affection on each other while perched precariously on motorini and everywhere I look, there's something stimulating my brain in unexpected ways.

Also, every few seconds, I hear a man yell out, "O!" (The Italian way of saying, "Hey there.")