Monday, October 25, 2010


I fixed the comment setting so now anyone can comment without having an account. Please do! xoxo

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A new week

This week was full of new experiences once again. One of these was doing a yoga class in Italian at studio in my neighborhood. I had to peek at the others in order to follow along, but I learned lots of new vocabulary like la gamba (leg), inspirare (to inhale), espirare (to exhale), la spina (spine), il corpo (body), il braccio (arm), and got lots of practice deciphering right and left (destra and sinistra).

As well I managed to scope out a clothing tailor (una sartoria)on (the yellowpages)to adjust my jeans. She didn't speak english so it was a challenge to communicate, but we managed. She gave me a few pointers too, correcting my pronunciation of 'capisco' (cap-EES-co not cap-EESH-o) which means 'I understand'. I will pick them up in due settimane (2 weeks) and pay her trenta euros (30, expensive!). At the end as we were striving settle the details she said sympathetically 'e` difficile' and I was confused and repeated it a few times to myself, 'deefeecheeleh, deefeecheeleh...' and the light bulb went off. Ah! Difficult! One of those words that isn't so far from the english translation. I told her 'Si, e` difficile ma imparo'. Yes it is difficult but I learn. I only know how to communicate the present currently;)

I've registered for an Italian course during November, but wanted to get a jumpstart so I arranged an hour with a woman I found on craigslist, not too far from my neighborhood. She was very nice and reminds me of my Argentinian friend, Lucia, so I felt very comfortable:) She reminded me of a few important things about pronunciation, for example, when there's double letters in Italian, it's very important to pronounce them both. H's are silent, so in order to distinguish the word hanno (they have) from ano (asshole) you must hold that 'nnnn' for an extra beat. Very important. She was quite impressed with my writing ability when dictating words to me. Pronunciation of letters is pretty straightforward in Italian, unlike English, thankfully. Also we practiced the differences between letters with and without accents, which made a new lightbulb go on for me. I didn't really understand why it was referred to as open or closed sounds, but after practicing and feeling the difference in my mouth and face, I understood. You have to open your mouth a little more to emphasize the accented letters. Un po`! (a little!)

I was considering going to Torino on Friday for Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, a festival and convention supporting Slow Food (as opposed to fast food) and ecological agriculture. I first found out about it in Toronto this summer at small street festival in my neighborhood where I bought some organic strawberries. There was a sign for Toronto's Slow Food group, they were raising money to attend Terra Madre in Italy, and I asked them what it was. I had it plotted in my dayplanner so when I rediscovered it this month I looked into train fares. Torino (or Turin) is a 3 hour train ride northwest of Florence, close to France (and Annecy!). The tickets came to over 200$ CAD and affordable hotels were all booked up, so that would've left me with 6 hours of travel time, and 5 hours in Torino, not worth it, I decided. Perhaps next year.

Instead, my Friday consisted of meeting new people, live music, dancing, and lard....let me explain. I joined a meetup group for people looking to practice Italian or English in Florence. There was an event Friday evening at a little wine bar so off I went. I met some very nice people, some locals, some Americans and a few Brits. Everyone had a story. One of the Italians was from a city in the south, and I inquired as to where. He said'Calabria', a region I was familiar with. I told him that my great grandparents were from a small town in that region near Catanzaro, called Amato. Surprisingly he knew it and has been there! The population of the town is only 800 people so not it's not very well known. He said it's very nice and gave me advice on the cheapest way to fly there when I'm ready to visit. I need to get really good at speaking Italian first!

This is also where the lard came in. I had a few days in a row of a gluten bender, which included my 'eve of indulgence' the day before. Foccacia, cheese, pastry, chocolate, gelato....I had a bit of everything. At this wine bar there was a number of little snacks brought to us, all consisting of combinations of bread, cheese and/or meat. As I was drinking l'acqua frizzante (carbonated water) while everyone else was drinking wine (it was a WINE bar after all), I had already made my health friendly choice, and decided to let go and eat few of the little bite sized snacks. I stuck to the vegetarian looking ones but am pretty sure I consumed a piece of meat in one of the mini sandwiches. The first in years. Then they brought out the last tray...

What is that? I asked, and one of the integrated Americans explained. 'Lardo' or just plain lard in English. She said it was gross but one of the Italians dived in, yum. Sensing his impoliteness, he offered me to try it first. I hesitated, and said I was a vegetarian, and he said, oh nevermind then, but I felt a tinge of curiosity in me and said I'd have a little bite. This wasn't easy as I had to gnaw on it like a dog to bite a small piece off. It was chewy, really chewy. I'm glad I got over my food issues to try it, but I don't think I'll venture to the extent of lard again! When I returned home afterwards, I had red splotches all over my face and jaw. I remembered my face feeling hot when I was there also. The results of an allergic reaction to bread? cheese? meat? lard? Who knows, but after a few days of headaches and moodiness, it's pretty clear it's not in my best interest to experiment. Because of my food choices, I can't fully participate in Italian culture but it's worth it to not feel like total crap:D

Later that evening I went to a live music performance with my roommate, Rosie and her friend visiting from England. Despite being Italian the band played some amazing country/ho-down/folk music with the banjo, cello, and harmonica, it made me want to get up and dance, depression-era style. Apart from us 3 blonde girls, the whole room appeared to be local Italians which is unusual in Florence, there are so many tourists and students from other countries. As the performance went on and the energy escalated, the room became more and more packed and people squished in to make room for others to sit. The guy I was sitting next to struck up a conversation with me and his friend was trying to get Rosie to dance with him to the last song. She was protesting that she didn't want to and I felt my friend Alex's fearless spirit bubble through me. She loves to dance and won't let anything keep her from doing it! I really wanted to dance! I volunteered to dance with the guy and they cleared out some space for us in front of the band. He proceeded to spin and fling me around for the final song while everyone cheered us on, and I got to fulfill my urge to ho-down, Italian style. To hear the tunes, check out:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sunday organic market

Yesterday I was so ecstatic there was a large organic market going on all day in Piazza Santo Spirito, approximately a 30 second walk from my apartment! I initially discovered this news last week in a magazine I picked up at a health food store, which I had to decipher for an extended period of time in order to make sense of it. So when I showed up in Piazza Santo Spirito that morning I felt really 'in the know'. There was produce and plants, baked goods, preserved foods, spices and herbs, tinctures and creams, clothing, baskets, books, it was lovely. I spent all the cash I had left and got some fruits and veggies, artichoke (carciofi!) spread, honey, a blend of herbs for cooking, some alternative baked products and a calendula/aloe face cream. The market occurs every 3rd Sunday of the month so I'll definitely be plotting that in my schedule.

Also posted above are some pics from an awesome bookstore/restaurant I visited last week called Brac. Vegetarian! I read about it online but once I got to the address there was no sign so I hesitantly poked my head inside and skimmed the menu before sitting down in the courtyard. This place appeared to be occupied only by locals which I guess makes sense as tourist usually don't venture into unmarked restaurants. So even though I mostly spoke english with the waitress I liked pretending I was a local too. I grabbed a few Italian children's books to read and drank my herbal tea while I waited for lunch.

One of the books was called 'La cosa piu` importante' (The thing most important) which was about different animals trying to decide what was the most important trait to have. The elephant said that a trunk was most important, the porcupine said spikes were most important, the duck said webbed feet were most important, and the all tried to figure out who was right. At the end, they all agreed that variety was most important. Very cute. It's fun being in the place of a kid again learning how to understand language, and being a visual person, reading books with fun illustrations helps. Although kids who start reading already understand spoken language and are learning the skill of reading, it's still about connecting the dots in your brain. For me I feel it's more closing gaps between many dots simultaneously which can feel a bit chaotic, but it's progress nonetheless.

For 10 Euros, lunch was a choice of 3 dishes. I enjoyed my plate of insalata cruda (raw salad), insalata del villaggio (village salad) and tagliatelle con carciofi e spinachi (pasta with artichokes and spinach). Yum. I decided I needed to try authentic Italian pasta, and this was the place to do it alongside my good friends, the artichokes.

Also posted below for my Dad and Papa are some pics from a car show I stumbled upon last week when on my way to the market. Also wanted to let people know (for those who don't already) that you can post comments to me if you're so inclined. At the bottom of each post, there's a little button '# comments'. Click it, type away, and click 'post comment'. Remember to write your name at the end (if you don't have an account) so I know who it's from! xoxo

Sunday, October 17, 2010


It's been 2 1/2 weeks since I've been here now. I've spent many days adventuring around the city, usually with some destination in mind, often a health food store, vegetarian restaurant or market. I think I've found them all now:) I've gone through 2 maps already because they fallen apart from such frequent usage. Although I'm proud to say that the other day I forgot to bring it with me and I didn't get lost. Not an easy feat in these ancient cities where perpendicular intersections are rare. My other adventures included taking the free bus to Ikea with my roomate, Rosie, so we could get a few things to spruce up our place. It was EXACTLY the same as the Ikeas in Toronto and Calgary. I was most excited about the 2 plants I got for my room. An aloe vera and a plant that looks like the top of a pineapple:)

The apartment has been really cold although the temperature in the afternoons often reaches beyond 20 degrees celsius, the sun doesn't shine into our courtyard so it's often cooler inside than outside! I have at least 6 blankets on my bed and slept in a toque the other night lol! Apparently the Italians don't turn on the heat until November so I'll continue to bundle up for the next few weeks. Fortunately I've got skype working but in order to get a clear connection I need to be on Rosie's balcony, and being 6-8 hours ahead of Canada, it's quite chilly in the evenings when I'm out there. I've also been doing yoga and jumping rope (yes i brought one with me) in the mornings to warm up. I was looking to buy a yoga mat but annoyed one of the yoga schools was selling them for 30 Euros! So I kept looking but ended up buying a slab of sticky mat(to put under rugs)from a big roll at a hardware store! Haha, 7 Euros instead.

I've also met up a few times with my mom's cousin's cousin(confusing I know), Martinho, who is an artist and instructor at one of the renaissance art schools in Florence. We had never met before but he invited me over to his apartment for tea, another day took me to check out an affordable Italian language school and just last night invited me for dinner with some of his friends and we ended up going out dancing after. His roommate claimed that it's obvious Martinho and I are related as we share a similar sense of humor, retorting with dry, witty comments as he saw it.

Going home last night it was raining heavily and my boots are soaked! They'll definitely be out of commission for a few days. Very unfortunate when you only have 3 pairs of shoes with you. One of them is soaked and another is impractical for walking around, leaving my Converse, the obvious indication that I'm from North America:/ But they'll do. The other tricky thing is I'd like to do some laundry, but as Italians don't have clothing dryers (they hang them up on the line, so charming:) it will take the clothes a few days to dry in this temperature. Which is fine, except what will I wear in the meantime? I only brought one pair of pajamas... I'll figure it out but I'm trying to resist buying any more clothes (and shoes!) as I have so many in Canada.

This week I've buckled down a bit and convinced myself to start painting. Sometimes it just takes a little push (or a big one) to get me started but I'm glad I did. I'm working on a set of 2 paintings I started in Toronto, paintings from my imagination, not Italian paintings, yet. It's been great painting on my terrace (or by the terrace windows when it's chilly) in the morning or afternoon. They're coming along nicely and I'll post them when they're done. I've also attended a few life drawing sessions at Rosie's art school and at the school where Martinho teaches. I had a hard time finding newsprint because the people in the stores didn't know what it was. All the other pads of paper were too expensive. I tried asking for 'carta giornale' (newspaper paper) and eventually someone knew what I was talking about and told me they call it 'carta riciclata' or recycled paper.

I haven't visited any of the art museums yet as I just don't feel like paying the handsome entry fee, lining up with the tourists and dragging around indoors. Perhaps over the winter though. Instead I've been hitting the pavement and walking to all corners of the city. It's great that it's so walkable although most days I come home exhausted. The one somewhat tourist destination I visited was the botanical gardens, Orto Botanica, supposedly the oldest in the world. It was nice but a little expensive for what it was. However it was worth it to have some nature time as some areas of the city are a little too much enclosed in concrete and you forget that it's actually surrounded by beautiful green Tuscan hills. There is such an amazing view of these and all of Florence at Piazza Michelangelo which I hiked up to last weekend. Gorgeous.

As for the language, I'm getting by, but yearning to be spouting off quick, colorful sentences like the locals as well as immediately understanding a clerk when they tell me the price of something, rather than repeating the numbers in my head while I pretend to dig through in my wallet. I plan to enroll at a language school soon where I'll be doing lessons for 2 hours at a time, a few days per week, for a few weeks. I've been spying an ad in the window of a restaurant/caffe in my neighborhood, looking for a waitress inglese (english). I'm considering applying for the job part-time, but feel I need to build a little more confidence in my Italian first, so we'll see if the timing works out. In the meantime, I've been working on my food vocabulary between reading labels at the health food stores, menus at the veggie restaurants, and an italian vegetarian cookbook I scored at the dollar store. I've also been asking for 'senza glutine' (gluten free) at the bakeries (with little luck) or senza latte (without milk) at the gelaterias. One of my favorite foods, both the word and the taste, is carciofi (carchee-OH-fee), artichokes!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My apartment

The morning of Sunday, Oct 3 I got up early to try numberous cards in numerous bank machines to try and get enough cash for first and last months rent on my new apartment. The banks were closed and I didn't want to venture all the way to the tourist centre to get hosed on cashing my traveller's cheques. After many attempts I had just enough cash on me and I packed up the rest of my things at the hostel. I checked out at 9:30 am and asked the staff to call me a taxi. As I waited I told them that I had managed to find an apartment the day before, to which they were really surprised and claimed I'd set a new record. I described where it was and they insisted it was the best location in Florence. I had suspicions that it was but now it was confirmed by the locals. An expensive taxi ride later I was waiting on the street in Piazza San Felice with all my luggage. I waited, and waited. The landlady was late. At least 20 mins later she showed up and let me into the apartment where we got things settled despite our communication difficulties.

After unpacking I ventured out for awhile and returned to make some dinner. Shortly after my British roommate, Rosie, arrived and we got acquainted. That evening she took me out to a fancy bar, Colle Bereto, where some of her friends were meeting and I got my first taste of the Florentine night life. I slept great that night and woke up to church bells and the sun filtering through my terrace windows.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The first day and finding an apartment

I had such a good sleep the night after my arrival. I woke up that morning Saturday, Oct 2 feeling energized and ready to experience Florence despite having to wear the same outfit from the days previous. I stopped by the nearby supermarket I spied from the taxi the night before and was plunged into busy Italian life. I grabbed some water, fruit and almonds(organic!)for breakfast and resisted temptations to look at all the foreign things on the shelves. After eating I asked the woman at the front desk of the hostel for advice on finding an apartment in the city. She couldn't really help me but at least she was able to show me where the library was located. I set out on the streets of Florence sightseeing and apartment hunting at the same time. I struggled to ask the newspaper vendor for the classified ads magazine, by saying 'voglio vedere appartmenti?' (i want to see apartments?) and gesturing lists. Once we understood each other I paid him 2 Euros and poured through the Florence apartment and room rentals (in Italian...)in La Pulce, circling potential ads, especially ones with balconies or terraces:)

After walking quite some distance I realized I was walking in the opposite direction I thought I was, and I asked a nice old man with a child for directions. 'Scusa. Dove` ____?' (Excuse me. Where is __(the street name)__?'). From there I figured out where I was on the map and headed in the direction I had originally intended. I walked around with chills and tears as I encountered the familiar sights of Florence which I hadn't seen in 5 years. So beautiful! A man was playing music in front of Uffizi, it seemed so magical.

From there I passed by the Duomo and saw a stand selling fresh fruit smoothies and stopped for some more nourishment. I found the library shortly after and tore a bunch of numbers for apartment room rentals, a few in English from bulletins in the courtyard. Before heading inside though I decided to pass by the street I lived on in 2005 for 1 month which was nearby. Just as I remembered it:) In taking a connecting street I found a caffe that said the words 'vegetarian' and 'vegan' in the window, so of course I had to go in and investigate. I ended up with a salad and soup, both vegan, although the salad had organic spelt(gluten!)which I decided to try anyway. As well I had a blend of herbal tea, 7 fiore (7 flowers).

After eating I asked the woman at the counter for any advice apartment hunting but she said she couldn't give me any and said I needed to deal with an agency. I sensed some political issues she didn't want to get involved with. So I thanked her anyway and headed back to the library, already feeling a bit fuzzy in my head, the effects of gluten unfortunately:( I asked the librarian if there was free internet and she said there was if you had a library card, but I couldn't get a library card until I have an address. So I asked if there was a telephone instead and she sent me over to the hospital across the street where I found a pay phone in the corridor.

I made a few calls to the number's I had taken and finally got through to one of them. I managed to speak in Italian that I wanted to see the apartment for rent and she asked 'quando?' (when?) and I said 'subito' (right away). Then she proceeded to give me the buzzer name, but I couldn't figure out what it meant. I kept asking 'che campanella?' (what's campanella?) but she kept repeating 'Signora Toriti', so I wrote it down anyway and set off to the address on the ad. On the way it dinged on me! Campanile is a bell tower, so campanella must mean the doorbell? Sure enough at the address one of the bell listings was 'Signora Toriti'.

From there the woman showed me a lovely apartment in a great location near San Lorenzo market, but when it came down to details things got tricky. I realized I spoke Italian better than she spoke English so it was up to me. She spoke a LOT which didn't help. Anyway, we managed to figure out that she would rent it for a minimum of 6 mese (months) for 600 Euros. For me this was too much. The ad said 300 Euros but that's because there's 2 beds in the bedroom, so for a couple, 300 each. I asked to rent for just one month but she said no. So it's all good, I carried on my way. I questioned if I could afford it but since that didn't include expenses I knew I didn't want to over extend myself. Plus part of me preferred to have a roommate so I wouldn't be all alone in a new city.

Proud that I'd managed to communicate, I called up a few other Italian numbers but didn't have so much luck. One was frustrated with the difficult communication and hung up, many didn't answer, and one who spoke English wouldn't be able to show the apartment until Monday. I figured my next move was to use the internet to look at English ads on craigslist and ventured back to the hostel to buy an internet card. I jotted down the potential ads and called up my first choice on skype. The key word on this ad was definitely 'terrace'.

The woman answered and I told her I was interested in the room, she asked if I was a student which I said I wasn't, and she said the landlord only wanted to rent to students but that I could come look at it anyway and perhaps we could work something out. From there I hit the pavement again, asking for directions before leaving the hostel to ensure I wouldn't take the wrong street this time. I also remembered to ask if my luggage had shown up as it was expected today, to which the guy said no followed by something sarcastic like 'supposed to, yah right'.

Since the doorbell didn't work in the building, the woman was waiting in her window overlooking the piazza. She let me in and took me to the apartment with a BIG terrace connected to the bedroom. I LOVED. The other room in the apartment was rented to a previous tenant, Rosie, who she spoke well of and would be arriving the following day. She said that she was helping the woman who owned the building because she didn't speak English and that if I wanted it, she would just tell her I was a student at Dante Alighieri Italian School, no big deal. She said she herself wasn't a student but the landlady allowed her to live there because she liked her. So...I said if she thought it was okay, I agreed. It's not a total lie as I will likely be studying Italian at A school here, although I'm not signed up anywhere yet. Immediately we met the landlady on the street and made arrangements to move in the next morning,and pay first and last months rent at 10am as I had to be out of my hostel at 9:30am.

I left feeling great and excited to have a place of my own in Florence. I wandered a bit before landing at a restaurant in Piazza Santo Spirito nearby to treat myself to a nice dinner. I had a mixed salad (insalata mista) followed by the zucchini risotto with CHEESE. I contemplated asking then to leave out the cheese, but figured I'd try it and see how it went. It was delicious, however not worth the trouble in the following days, I'll try to avoid that situation again:S As I was solo, they sat 2 nice Polish women with me. We chatted about traveling and food and they gave me a few names of nice cities in Poland to see if I visit. After having asking for the bill many times and being forgotten about, I paid inside and then headed back in the direction of my hostel, stopping to watch a street concert on the way. A few guys setup in a tiny dead end street singing popular English and American songs. The singer has a really good voice and managed to pull off a pretty good cover of Yellow by Coldplay.

I made it back to the hostel and started preparing my things to head out the next morning. Then hanging up my coat I noticed in the corner of the room, it had luggage.