Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Italian immersion

The pics below I snapped in a beautiful park I discovered on the outskirts of Florence. The leaves are changing colors here too! Although not as much as in Canada.

Although Halloween has always been my favorite event, it's not really celebrated here; not by the locals at least. However the day after Halloween is a religious holiday, All Saints Day, and the city gets the day off. As luck would have it, my Halloween weekend was spent attending a Workshop Crudista, or a Raw Food Workshop, in the nearby Tuscan town of Montespertoli. As some people may know, I'm very interested in nutrition and health and this led me to learning about raw foods over the past year and half. I love raw foods because to me it's all about being creative with the simplist ingredients possible. It's so much fun, as well as being super healthy.

I had been trying to find information online about raw foods in Italy, if there was a community or any resources, but wasn't having any luck. Then last week while shopping at the local health food store I picked up a little flyer at the cash desk and I recognized the word 'crudista' (raw food). I took the flyer and translated it once I got home, discovering it was for this workshop on Sunday and Monday in Montespertoli. I sent an email to the address listed explaining my situation in Italian 'sono interessanta ma non parlo italiano molto bene' (i'm interested but I don't speak italian very well...) and received an email back in English from Vito, one of the instructors putting on the event. He said that both the instructors spoke English well and that it would be fine for me to come:)

From there it all fell together. He made me a reservation at the estate where the workshop would be held and arranged a ride for me with one of his friends driving in from Florence. I showed up at the meeting spot, in front of Bar Deanna, Sunday morning at 8:45 as planned, quite tired as I spent most of the night awake coughing (not sure why my lungs were in rough shape for a few days...). I waited and waited, and then it started to rain. I ducked under the awning of bar and continued to wait patiently, but after 45 mins I started to wonder. I called the number Vito had given me for his friend, Roberta.

She handed the phone to her boyfriend who spoke English and I explained I was waiting in front of the bar and asked if they were on their way? He said yes, they'd be there in 1o minutes. Pfeew. I was glad I hadn't missed my ride although I was questioning 'is it common for italians to be THIS late??'. They showed up shortly after and we proceed to wait another 15 mins or so for another girl, arriving to Florence by train. I kept glancing at the clock and thinking there was no way we were going to reach Montespertoli by 10am when the workshop started, but I shrugged it off as it was all about the experience for me anyway.

I listened to the Italian conversation for the 30 min car ride, trying to recognize words I knew and follow along, but many times my brain revolted and I peeked out the window at the lovely surroundings instead. We reached our destination around 11am and I was then shown to the room I would be sharing with Francesca, a woman from Rome who lucky for me, spoke English well. Once I told her I was from Canada she happily told me some of her favorite Canadian indie bands, including Broken Social Scene, one of my faves as well:) It was cool to hear this as many times when asked what type of music I liked by people in Florence, I would reply 'indie rock' and no one knew what I was talking about!

For the most part of the day I felt like the deaf, mute, blonde sheep, separated from the pack, which I tried to accept gracefully. They asked me if I wanted a translator for the food demos but I turned them down. In truth I was there not to learn to prepare raw food, as I already knew how, but to use my interest as incentive to learn more italian. I watched and let the italian syllables flow through my ears, encouraging my brain to grasp a few meaningful combinations here and there. It helped that I already knew most fruit, vegetable and nut vocabulary in italian. As such, the recipe book was easy to decipher, it was the listening that was really tough.

The first meal was served around 3pm at which point I was starving, having only eating a few organic apples they had on the tables during the demo. The meal included a lovely insalata (salad) followed by raw pizza (on a dehydrated buckwheat crust with tomatoes and nut puree`) and for dessert, cheesecake al cioccolato e arancia (chocolate orange cheesecake, made not with cheese but cashews). It was all very nice. We were instructed to return for the dinner demo at 5pm, so I went back to my room to rest but soon realized I didn't have as much time as I would've liked.

I rushed back at 5 to find a mostly empty room, so I waited around but it remained very quiet. Thinking there must be some italian code that everyone understands you're expected to be an hour late, I returned to my room and on the way said hello to a couple in the hallway who were staying in the room next to mine. I asked them in Italian 'a che ora cominciamo?' (at what time we start?) and they said in english, at 5pm. I asked, isn't it past 5 already? and they said it was 5pm in 15 minutes. I said oh, okay, and then returned to my room in a bubble of confusion.

I sat and stared into nothingness until all of a sudden the knot of wires in my brain untangled and DING! The lightbulb went off! I recalled having plotted in my dayplanner earlier in the week after reading it in the english newspaper: DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME ENDS, TURN CLOCK BACK 1 HOUR on Saturday night which I completely forgot about while planning for my excursion! It all made sense now! Funny how it took me all day to figure this out.

That night following dinner, which included the amazing torta di carota for dessert (carrot cake, yum), I slept well in my little Tuscan bed. The next morning I was up and ready for yoga at 8am. Once again, the deaf, mute, blonde sheep followed along as best as she could, but at least I wasn't blind. For most of the yoga class you were to have your eyes closed but I peeked in order to understand the instructions;) For the acro yoga class later in the day I had a lady translate because it involved working in groups and lifting or being lifted by another person according to specific anatomical instructions on placement of hands and feet... I couldn't really fake my way through that one for the safety of myself or my partners.

During a lunch of crema di zucca (cream of squash soup), insalata verde con funghi marinati (green salad with marinated mushrooms) and cavolfiore al formaggio (cauliflower in a cheese sauce, made of nuts) with mousse al cioccolato (chocolate mousse) for dessert, I sat next to a couple and their 9 year old daughter from the north of Italy. They encouraged the girl, Natasha, to tell me some english phrases she learned at 'city camp' over the summer. She proceeded to shyly tell me some sentences she remembered with her cute, thick italian accent like: Iah avva aya dogga. And: Iah leeika alla animalaz. Somehow with the amount of italian I knew and the amount of english the girl and her parents knew, we were able to have some amount of conversation during the meal which was really nice. Afterall, eating socially really is more about the company than the food:)

We made it back to Florence around 6pm where Rosie and I greeted each other excitedly and caught each other up on our weekends. Spending the weekend mostly in immersion definitely allowed me to make progress in the area my italian language skills were lacking most, which is listening. As well I met a few people who live in Florence and are interested in healthy food, including an Indian woman who studied at the University of Toronto some years ago and is living just up the street from me.

Interestingly, I experienced a bit of a reversed situation around eating. Although I could share in eating the food, I was disconnected due to the language barrier. In contrast, I'm normally able to communicate with those whom I'm eating but am disconnected due to not eating the same food. As I've come to realize it, although italian culture is so much based around food, the food itself is just a catalyst for people to connect. So really, emphasis can be taken off of food and onto more important things, at least in my brain<3


  1. Ciao Jennie, that looks like the park Le Cascine. As for the music just say 'musica rock indipendente' and many will understand you! :-)
    baci, mirella

  2. Ciao Mirella! The park is beside Porta Romana, just south of the Boboli Gardens, I don't know the name! I've also visited Le Cascine, it's very nice. Thanks for the tip about the music, xoxo!

  3. Maybe it's Giardino Torrigiani? PLEASE share the raw recipes!!! Grazie! xoxo

  4. The redish house on the hill makes for a beautiful scene. Pretty romantic to live there.