June started off amazingly with Giuseppe's return from Germany and Spain and a shipment of ripe cherries from Giuseppe's parents farm in Calabria:) As Giuseppe knows how much I love the fruit and vegetable kingdom, he gifted me the whole basketful, which I had to be on top of as they would only last a few days before spoiling. Giuseppe wbas ruthless in picking through them and throwing out any that were the slightest bit bruised but I picked many of them back out of the garbage to salvage. I did pretty good with them, even walking them home rather than risking the bumpy ride on my bicycle, and ate them to capacity before deciding to make a gluten free torta (cake) and invite our friends, Hailey and Pavel over to indulge with us on my balcony. It went over quite well and Giuseppe and I finished the rest for breakfast. The italians usually have a sweet breakfast so this is quite acceptable, in fact the average italian breakfast of sweet pastries would've been much sweeter than this cake as I used very little sugar in my recipe;)
I had the pleasure of meeting a new addition to Giuseppe's large extended family (his mom has 8 siblings!), his cousin's new adopted baby, Alessio. After a few years of trying for their own and then a few more waiting on adoption lists, Tony and his wife got a phone call that a baby had been abandoned at a nearby hospital (they live in a suburb of Florence, Sesto Fiorentino), and they were overjoyed to become the parents of this precious 2 1/2 months premature chinese baby.
I was so proud and happy to complete the CILS (italian certification for foreigners) exam on the 9th of June. Despite lots of nervousness that I wouldn't be able to understand the listening part, I really feel like I nailed it, and I even felt quite relaxed during the speaking part. I wrote the test at a high school in Scandicci (another suburb of Florence) and had my first experience taking the recently built tramvia, which was super convenient. The only thing I wasn't prepared for in writing the test, was the length of it. It took ALLLLLLL day, from like 8:30am to 5pm, I thought it was going to be 3 hours!
However very little of this time was actually spent writing the exam, most of it was waiting for your turn for the speaking portion and long breaks inbetween the other segments. Although I had brought some homemade gluten free "pizza" (I put this in quotes because most italians who are hardcore about food wouldn't consider it so) with me, this quickly disappeared towards mid-day and I was stuck raiding the vending machine, luckily finding organic dark chocolate and gluten free sesame snaps. With all the waiting time I also had the chance to get to know some of my other classmates better. Although we had spent tuesday evenings for the last couple months together in class, after the 3 1/2 hour lesson we all bolted out of there. I hung out with a bulgarian girl and a spanish girl, both art students at the accademia di belle arte in Florence.
I was so overjoyed after finishing the test and Giuseppe and I went out to celebrate with Hailey and Pavel for an aperitivo and dancing at Flo, a club perched on top of Piazzale Michelangelo (also known as the best view in Florence). We also sat on the steps of the piazzale for awhile to listen to Florence New Grass, the band that I had seen play in a caffe many months earlier and had danced the last song with an italian guy in front of the crowd. It was totally by chance that we came across them that night playing in the open air, and I was happy as despite following their schedule online, I hadn't managed to see them play again and I wanted Giuseppe to hear them too.
That weekend we were scheduled to visit Giuseppe's other cousin, also named Giuseppe, who lives in a town called Bibione, on the coast near Venice, but we decided to bump those plans to the next weekend as the weather had suddenly turned stormy and unpredictable. We didn't want it interfering with our beach time. So instead we headed to a lake closer to Florence, near Barberino which is known for it's outdoor outlet mall (which we also stopped by and was very cute). As I'm the kind of girl who just needs some beach and sun to put a smile on my face, I was super happy suntanning and going for a swim.
The next day we took a little road trip to Sienna, another beautiful, ancient tuscan city, famous for it's annual horse race around the main city square, Piazza del Campo. Giuseppe had attended this race a few years ago and explained to me all of the details and history, of which I made a long, secret video to remind me (i'm not posting it, it's reaaallly long;) We also witnessed a parade of one of the neighborhood squads through the street. Apparently every member of the city belongs to one of the squads and once you move in, or are born in, to that neighborhood, you're in for life. They take it very seriously. We relaxed in the beautiful square and later had a drink at a bar overlooking it.
Giuseppe talking in Calabrian dialect while I chill in piazza del campo.
The biannual pitti fashion event was upon Florence again for the upcoming fall/winter season and as such the city was extra full of beautiful people and events. Piazza della Repubblica hosted the most unique and amazing free performance I've ever seen. A dancer was attached to balloons and she floated back and forth across the piazza, I think for a combination of many hours throughout the day, to a soundtrack including radiohead and coldplay. Then periodically she would approach the ground and dance with a man on stilts before being whisked back into the sky. It was so ethereal and captivating, I could've watched for hours.
Due to my good fortune of being friends with Daniele, who works as a gardener at the beautiful Giardino Torrigiani, I scored an invite to a fabulous fashion party in the garden. Giuseppe and I got dressed up and walked through the candlelit pathways and past the fancy sports cars (decorations) and lit up bar counters until we found Daniele and his girlfriend, Giulia, and some of their other friends. We ate little bundles of perfectly ripe cherries and mini strawberries and mini bars of gelato being served by waiters and enjoyed a few free drinks while watching the band and lounging on blankets and cushions laid out on the grass. How glamorous! Who knew that having connections with gardeners is the way to go?
The next weekend we completed our schedule to go visit Giuseppe's cousin and girlfriend near Bibione, a tourist city on the seaside just north of Venice. The city and the beach was crammed with Germans! Like all seasonal cities, during the tourist season (summer) the place is bursting with people and during the off-season it's basically deserted. We were lucky to have the local advantage and we were directed towards a beach that they don't tell the tourists about. We had a wonderful stay in their new beautiful house and were treated to many wonderful meals, including one at Viviana's (the girlfriend of cousin Giuseppe) mother's house where we ate well beyond capacity and where she went out of her way to accommodate my dietary restrictions.
Saturday was the day of my sister Laura's wedding shower and stagette and despite going on thousands of miles away, she was never far from my mind, especially when we came across la festivale della lavanda (the festival of lavender) stretched through the main street of Bibione. Everything was covered in purple, Laura's favorite color and I found a pretty candle incorporating all her wedding colors (purple, black and white) to bring back to her. Also I came across a hotel named in her honor:)
Back in Florence I was in shock one day when I exited my apartment building, ready to rip over to my friend's house, when I discovered, not only my own bike, but a whole rack containing at least 30 other bikes, completely missing! Suddenly it made sense, a sign that I'd seen there the day before, saying it was forbidden to park there on the date listed. This message was accompanied by an icon of a car getting towed. I thought it was weird that the sign was there in front of a bike rack, as no cars could park there anyway, and seeing that there were still tons of other bikes attached, I didn't think much of it. Damn, another lesson learned.
I went inside the enoteca (wine bar) in front of the former bicycle parking and asked if they knew what happened. They said the vigili (i think they're like bylaw officers) had taken the bikes and they sent me down the street to the office. Instead I found the police office and they gave me the phone number for the compound. Super irritated that my plans for the day had been sabotaged, and so missing the freedom of my bike to bypass the tourist traffic, I retreated into the park and relaxed until I was ready to call the compound and get the details. I took down the address which of course was really far out of the city, and tried to protest the proposed ticket of a total of 50 Euro, to the excuse that I was out of town and just got back that day to discover my bike gone. It didn't work:P
Still too devastated to take care of the situation, and anticipating a situation not as simple as it seems (like picking up my package from Canada). I decided to wait until the morning and ask Giuseppe to drop me off there as it was close to his work. However it ended up not being as bad as I'd anticipated. They took my info and led me down the loooooong line of confiscated motorinos (italian mini motorbikes) and bikes, until we arrived at the section confiscated from piazza san felice (my hood).
I was joyed to find my bike (which was actually my friend's bike on lend to me, but I felt responsible as if it was my own:) amongst the masses, however it was missing an important screw which without it, rendered the basket and some other bits rather wobbly. Upon pointing this out to the worker, he went scouting for a bicycle of the same model from a batch of longer term bicycle inmates whose owner's it seemed weren't likely coming to bail them out. After the bike was stable again, Giuseppe gave me some directions on how to get home and I set out for a long ride, complete with a few wrong turns and near-death experiences, home and he headed for work. Luckily I only had to pay 11 Euro of the ticket upfront and was told I'd be receiving a bill for the remaining 39 Euro in a month. Fortunately I wouldn't be able to receive this piece of mail as I'd be moving out before then, heh heh.
Another strange experience I had one day in front of my apartment building, was when I returned home one afternoon and stuck my key in the door as usual, turned it, and pushed, then pushed harder....and harder. The door was not budging. I pushed all the doorbells until someone buzzed me in, but despite hearing the latch release, the door would not open. Again and again I tried, until concluding something was wrong with the door. Dumbfounded and not sure what else to do I called Giuseppe who confirmed how strange it was. He suggested I call my neighbor. A good idea, which I tried but she didn't pick up. Stuck again, I looked around the piazza and spied the door open of the church of san felice, the church I had been living beside for many months, but despite my intentions to do so, I'd never actually gone in.
Seeing this as my opportunity, I entered the church and walked around before sitting on a pew for a few minutes to dissipate my stress. After I came back outside I tried my neighbor again but again she didn't pick up. With a sigh I walked back to the door and stuck my key in and turned it, expecting to feel the same resistance against my shoulder as I pushed it, but instead, open it went! I was in the church all of 4 minutes but in this time, had someone exited the building, therefore fixing the glitch? Or had this door glitch just fixed itself in these 4 minutes? I'll never know but Giuseppe told me this was a clear sign that I needed some religion in my life:)
A special day was upon us, wednesday the 22nd of June, also know as Giuseppe's birthday:) We organized a small gathering of friends for an aperitivo and swimming at the pavoniere, an outdoor restuarant/bar/swimming pool located inside Florence's giant park, La Cascine. We ate, drank, and swam the evening away, or so I thought. Upon leaving, Giuseppe, in his slightly drunken birthday boy state, insisted to ride my bike back to his house, so instead I jumped in his car with his sister, Veronica, behind the wheel.
We arrived about the same time in front of Giuseppe's apartment building and without saying much, he kicked me into the backseat and took shotgun, directing Veronica where to drive. I kept asking where we were going but he was mostly changing the subject, so I actually thought he was just giving Veronica some driving practice. Then we turned a corner and I realized. It was wednesday and as such I knew it was salsa night at Scusa Mario, an outdoor place for concerts and dancing. We hadn't actually been there for salsa night as of yet, but I should've known that Giuseppe's birthday wasn't complete without dancing the night away too. We took care of that.
The cover of the birthday card I made for Giuseppe, which inspired him to strike the pose in real life.
My last weekend before departing to Canada we headed to Ravenna, another city near the east coast of Italy, to visit Giuseppe's friend from university, Dario, and his girlfriend, Ilaria. As friday was a holiday in Florence in honor of the city's patron saint, San Giovanni, we left early friday and spent the afternoon at the beach despite being a bit overcast. When the sun peeked out we decided to go for a swim. I apparently had lots of energy to burn as I proposed (somewhat joking) that we swim out to the buoy in the near distance. Giuseppe immediately opposed on account of concern about leaving our things on the beach vulnerable to the sticky fingers of passers by, but at my insistence, he quickly caved. I was a little surprised by his quicker than anticipated agreement but pleased as we started the looooooong swim.
Naturally the buoy was farther than it appeared. Periodically Giuseppe would express his concern about our belongings getting stolen and how it would ruin our weekend, but I continued to reassure him not to worry that our stuff would be fine. We swam and swam and swam, and the more tired he became, the more he was convinced that I was crazy. But in my opinion we were too far to turn back, so I egged him on. Finally we made it and I touched the buoy proudly. After my urging, Giuseppe did the same except rolling his eyes while he did it. Then we commenced the loooooonnnnngggg swim back, and I proposed a race, which at least earned me a little smile from him along with some sarcastic remarks. But that little smile faded once it started to rain.
Uh oh, now I was a little worried and felt bad that I'd insisted that we swim so far out. Finally we made it back to shore, scooped up all our stuff, and ducked under the restaurant patio just before it started POURING. Now that we were safe (although a bit exhausted) and our stuff was neither stolen or soaked, we just looked at each other and laughed, rehashing the humor of the situation:P However this experience cemented my nickname from Giuseppe, Pazza (crazy).
Once we met up with Dario and Ilaria, we went for a fantastic dinner at a nearby restaurant and I had the delicious risotto alla marinara, rice cooked in a tomato based sauce with seafood. Then we had a drink at a nearby bar before retiring early in anticipation of our program for the following day, Mirabilandia, a huge amusement park just outside of the city. It was a beautiful day and we got there nice and early to beat the crowds. Upon arriving at the front of the line to buy tickets, we were shocked by the ticket prices, 33 Euro each (that's like 50 bucks)! As it was his idea to go, Giuseppe graciously picked up the tab and we entered the park grounds. For the rest of the morning and afternoon we made the rounds between different rides and shows (including a stunt show with cars and motorbikes), splitting up into couples for awhile as Giuseppe and my tastes were a little more adventurous than Dario and Ilaria's.
After returning home we got cleaned up and headed to a very chic club with a pool in a nearby area, although we were not chic enough to be allowed in the pool section, we fought for space on the dance floor amongst the glamorous italians. The next day Giuseppe and I were planning to spend the day on our own as Dario and Ilaria had some things to catch up on, so we headed out in the direction of another beach, but along the way noticed the signs advertising 'second day free at Mirabilandia' and we both raised an eyebrow. After paying 33 euro for a ticket maybe it was worth spending another day at Mirabilandia beach, an area we never made it to the day previously? Giuseppe left it up to me and I decided yes:)
However once we smuggled our way in (you were actually supposed to get the second day ticket BEFORE leaving the first day, but Giuseppe sweet talked us back in with our ticket stubs) we discovered that there was an additional charge for the beach part. So we forked over another 10 euro each and rode the waterslides and played in the water park for a couple hours before sundrying off and heading back to home base to pack up and start the 2 hour drive back to Florence. The last of our wonderful trips in the company of lovely people, reality started sinking on the drive home. I would be leaving for Canada in 3 days:_(
Of course this was no surprise as I'd had the flight booked for quite sometime, but it's one of those things were you won't know how you'll feel until it's actually happening. Luckily we'd been taking every spare opportunity to cross off things on our to-do list in the weeks prior, including eating granita (kinda like a slurpee, sicilian style), visiting all the clubs and salsa places in the area, touring around the center of Florence and stopping at the famous porcellino so I could rub it's nose and put a coin in it's mouth to let it fall in the water, therefore guaranteeing my return to Florence (however I had to do this at least 4 times before the coin landed in the right spot!).
We tried to stay positive and enjoy our remaining time together rather than thinking of the time we'd be spending apart. As it was that time of year (end of school year), other friends were already leaving. We had a few nights in Piazza Santo Spirito to say goodbye to my italian tutor, Valentina, who was so proud of me, being her first and longest student, and my Canadian friend, Alicia, who I was actually planning to meet up with in a matter of days in Toronto.
I also joined my other Canadian friend Hailey for an afternoon of gluten and dairy indulgences as she insisted that before leaving I HAD to try the out-of-this-world canolli (the sicilian dessert of fried dough encompassing a sweet ricotta cheese filling) at the sicilian gelateria near her apartment, as I'd never had it before. We loaded up on a variety of gelato to share with the canolli, which started melting immediately as it was a super hot day, but I insisted the only way I could survive these allergenic indulgences was to eat them sitting in the park.
So we hustled across the viale (highway) and scoped out a spot under a tree and beside the pond in the area outside of the fortezza (fort) while the gelato continued melting down our legs. It was totally worth it though. WOW, canolli. I kept my bites small and mostly let Hailey feed me as she saw fit, enjoying the tastes of these deliciously foriegn and risky substances. However I think I learned the key to food allergy control, eat with someone you love, small bits, with your butt on the grass, and you will be fine:)
I had the ultimate test of italian a few days before my departure. I asked my landlady, Antonella, when she'd be giving me my damage deposit back, and she starting on a long explanation of excuses regarding heating bills, blah, blah, blah. At first I listened patiently but when I realized she wasn't letting me talk and being a little bit aggressive, I jumped in. A full blown argument, italian style, with my landlady. CILS exam aside, I earned my real badge in italian. The funny thing is I don't think I would ever argue with someone like this in english, shouting over top of each other, incorporating hand gestures 'cosa vuoi???' (what do you want?? shaking your hand at the wrist with thumb and first two fingers together), interrupting; it's just not within my english speaking personality to conversate in this manner, but apparently it IS within my italian one.
In the end, she left in a huff, saying that she would talk to the girl who used to live there, who had told me the terms on Antonella's behalf when I'd moved in. However a short time later when I went out to run some errands, Antonella was at the building entrance and greeted me, calm and smiling, and proceeded to tell me that the next day she would bring me my full damage deposit of 250 euro. Well played;)
My cousin, Martinho, saved me the next day in letting me leave 3 big, heavy bags behind at his apartment until I return. It might have helped that a few days prior I finally had him over for dinner. After many wonderful dinners at his house, it was well overdue. At Giuseppe's recommendation for antipasto (appetizer) I made prosciutto (organic) with melon, seafood risotto as primo piatto (first course), salad as contorno (side dish), and gluten-free blueberry cake as dolce (dessert). Martinho brought the wine. We were all stuffed.
My last evening in Florence was sad but we encouraged each other to keep smiling as Giuseppe and I went through the motions, gluten-free pizza at pizzaman, gelato at de medici, salsa dancing at Scusa Mario, a walk through the center, and an early morning to drag me and my bags through the streets of Florence to the train station. After a difficult and tearful goodbye I was off to Rome Termini Station where I caught another train to the airport and after a nine hour flight, arrived in Toronto. I made friends with the other solo travelers in my row. An italian guy who has been living in a suburb of Toronto for the last 3 years, and was just on his way back after visiting his family for the first time since. And a girl from London, Ontario who was returning home after 1 year in Italy, as she had italian heritage and had decided to go and learn the language and experience the culture.
Arriving in Toronto was strange; although familiar it felt so foreign. After getting my bags I exited the terminal to catch the bus but couldn't find the right bus stop, so I re-entered the terminal to ask someone at the information booth. They instructed me to the OTHER terminal to catch the bus. I guess they'd changed it since I took it last. So I took the train to the OTHER terminal and then caught the bus to Square One in Mississauga. I didn't even really want to look out the window on the ride....blahhhh. From there I wheeled my suitcases over to my friend Sadaf's apartment building where I greeted her confused, emotional, dirty, and exhausted, but after a big hug and a shower I started feeling better:) So much time had passed since we'd seen each other, but as it goes with good friends, after a few minutes, it felt like we hadn't missed a beat.
In the days to follow I was back and forth between Mississauga and Toronto, catching up with friends and running errands, slowly readjusting to the lifestyle in Canada as my life in Italy started feeling like a dream. I heard many of the same initial phrases from friends like "you look great!" (i gained 20 pounds:) " you're glowing!" (i have a killer tan) and "you look so happy!" (i am, i just lived my dream for 9 months!). I spent Canada Day in Missisauga's new celebration square in good multicultural company with Sadaf and Alan, among all the other indian and chinese inhabitants of Mississauga:) We watched some amazing fusion dance and musical performances, including these classical indian and flamenco dancers who totally stole the show!
The week flew by and I was soon back to the airport to continue 4 more hours west to Calgary, where my sister Amy was awaiting my arrival. She even had some tears for me when we hugged (on mom's behalf of course;) and after a little catching up she was happy to let me crash super early. The next day my sister Laura, the bride to be, came in and together we excitedly ran some important wedding errands, picking up her veil and wedding cake before she had to head back to Drumheller to work that night. The following day was Amy's birthday and we were signed up for an afternoon pub crawl to celebrate. As the stampede was currently on I wished I had my cowboy boots and plaid shirt in my suitcase, but we had a blast anyway. I think it was the first of her birthdays that we had celebrated together in 10 years!
The next day my mom happily came to fetch me and bring me back to Drumheller, where I was about to enter in the wedding flurry as it remained less than a week until the big day. First order of business, after greeting my other sister Alison, was to try on my bridesmaid dress and have alterations made by the groom Darryl's mother in Hanna, another 45 minute drive out of town. With that in place I was off to my Dad's for a quick visit before calling it a day. To follow in the proceeding days, after visiting my grandparents of course, were lots of wedding preparations including icing wedding cookies at Laura's friend's house, finishing to write the toast to the bride speech which would be read by myself as well as the other maids of honor (my other sisters), highlighting my hair, setting up the reception hall, doing a ceremony rehearsal in the park, painting our toes purple, and hosting the rehearsal dinner at our house, which was also the same day as Alison's birthday, so we snuck in a birthday lunch out with her too:)
The big day carried out perfectly, with beautiful weather and all of Laura's well thought out preparations made over the last year and a half, coming together just as planned. She looked amazing in the dress that she had picked out when visiting me in Toronto the year prior and I can't wait to see her vogue-worthy pictures. It all passed by so quickly and after dancing the night away, before we knew it we were on clean up duty the next day:( Despite emphasizing that I'd come all the way from Italy to be there, obviously I wouldn't have missed her wedding for anything and was so proud to be standing beside her during the process.
The week after the wedding was my mom and grandpa's birthdays, so I also had the pleasure of celebrating with them after a 10 year gap. All my family members (having birthdays or not) enjoyed the cute t-shirts, spices, and other italian souvenirs that I brought back. Despite taking up a fair amount of space in my suitcase, it was totally worth it as despite being small tokens of appreciation, everyone has been constantly supportive of me and my sometimes crazy plans.
Throughout the whirlwind of my arrival in Canada and readjustment of the way things work here, one thing remained very obvious; I love italy. Canada is great of course, I know I'm so lucky for this to be my home and I'm SO happy to see my family. But ITALY!!!!! has something very special to me. At the forefront of this currently may be a small italian man with a big heart who I've been missing since the day I left, but I think this might be a separate thing all together, as I'd feel the same about him regardless of what country he lived in. Italy just happens to be where it's AT for me, and he just happens to live there:)
After some clarity a few months ago about what I want for my future, I decided it would be best for me to have a time out for a few months and focus on lining up my art career, as it was always a dream of mine to live in Italy, but I want more than just that. I want to be an artist, which is the profession I knew I wanted to do since grade one. In order to do this I need to get serious and finish some projects, including a website, and in order to do this, I need time and focus. I realized there's no better place for this than at home with the support of my family and free rent:) so I'm planning on staying in Canada awhile until I get these things taken care of, and then I can return to survival mode in italy while hopefully making the transition to supporting myself with income as an artist. That's the plan anyway.
It's been killing me the idea of missing my flight back to Rome on Aug 13, as it's not changeable nor transferable, but just a few days ago a better solution has been presented.....that I return to Italy to stay with Giuseppe, but just for a few weeks before I come back to Canada and buckle down on my work throughout the fall. I like this solution:) So I'll be traveling back in reverse, first to Toronto for a few days to deal with the remainder of my abandoned belongings, then off to Rome where I'll then catch the train to meet Giuseppe in Calabria where we'll stay for a week before driving back to Florence:) I'm really so lucky I don't know how I'm getting away with this. THANK YOU WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!