Friday, October 31, 2008


Had my first visitors this week. A childhood friend of my nephew came with his lovely lady friend for several days. They were delightful and we had a lovely time. I took them on a recon trip around the center the first day. They are pretty intrepid so I could set them loose upon the city to find their own way around. But together we went to the San Ambrogio Market on Saturday and bought a massive amount of food, in particular these yummy sausages that I love. Then we ate our lunch there and proceeded through town on the cute little electric shuttles that make it so convenient to traverse the carfree zone. For dinner we cooked lots of our loot and got truly stuffed. I will have leftovers through November! Then there was the wine thing: we drank lots. Dinner on Monday was somewhat accidental since we had planned a movie but they only had the Italian version of Vicky Christina Barcelona. We were forced to make do with a brilliant dinner at my fav here, Quattro Leoni. Our last adventure was an overnight to Chianti and Siena, stopping in Panzano for a lovely lunch and eating dinner on the Campo in Siena. The return trip took us for a short stop in Monteriggioni, an adorable tiny walled town, and San Gimignano of the towers. It was my best visit ever to this tourist mecca because they were mostly gone! We ate in a tiny restaurant and while they hiked around, I caught the fabulous view at the Punta Panoramica and drank an amazing Vernaccia (the local pour) which I naturally had to buy. They took of yesterday, with what I took to be a mixture of regret and relief. Looking forward to more visits.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Book Reports

Without much TV worth watching (Italian TV really sucks except for a quiz show that functions as a language lesson and old, dubbed, usually American movies) and with lots, AND LOTS of free time, I have been reading madly. Well, I’m not usually mad but some of the books make me a bit peeved: 13 books in six weeks. But it is pretty costly: about 15€ each for paperbacks in English. Of course, I should be reading in Italian but that is still incredibly slow requiring a dictionary for almost every sentence. So I joined the British Institute which has a large (largest in Europe, outside UK) English language library and also lectures, recitals, and movies. Currently they’re doing David Lean. Can’t wait for Lawrence of Arabia and the later ones. Anyway, some of the stuff I’ve read and a few comments:
The Passion of Artemisia, Susan Vreeland. A half biography, half historical bodice ripper about Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the few women to actually make it as a painter before the modern era. Aside from leaving out a whole lotta facts, Vreeland makes free with a lot of incongruous deep thinking that is just too Oprah for me. Ordinary prose and a single plot line that leaves her talking about her art as filler for a “search for love and understanding.” There are the obligatory descriptions of places and food to give it authenticity but it’s thin gruel.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessel. A mad murder mystery with more metaphors (or is it similes) than you can shake a thesaurus at. But fairly engaging and nicely convoluted.
The Betrothed, Alessandro Manzoni. The seminal Italian novel written in the 18th century about a couple in the 17th, in approximately the same period as Austin and the rest of the early romantics. Fated lovers spend way too much time trying to get married. Lots of evil lords and dimwitted clerics, saintly monks and gnarled rustics. Prefiguring Umberto Eco, whom I love, there are long discourses on many of the characters and of course they all live in castles and have names found on the streets around here. Must read for Italian students who hate it.
Julie and Julia, Julie Powell. A depressed writer decides to prepare all (ALL!) the recipes in the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Aside from my adoration for J. Child, the inventor of Good American Eating, and my own personal food goddess, this adventure is amusing and pleasantly tasty, kinda like a nice potato soup.
The Monster of Florence, Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. Well, this is a gimme: a) I’m in Florence (duh) and b) Tom Cruise just bought the rights to the book and you all know how I just LOVE Tom Cruise and those wacky Scientology folks. Well, no. But I was stiffed trying to get into the WORLD PREMIER of Miracle at Saint Anna and decided to eat dinner in the center hoping there would be a late show that I might get into. (There is this theatre that shows OV – original version sound = English) And I didn’t have anything to read and there it was, so I bought it. There was no later show, so I went home and the damned thing kept me up until 3:45 when I finished it. Pretty good stuff. Reveals the grimy underside of the Italian system of “jurisprudence.” Lots of dark forces influencing the path of justice and the freedom of the media. Cripes, sounds like the US. Now if only Tom doesn’t ruin it and put a cape on the American author.


It is truly hard not to emulate Frances Whatsis of Under the Tuscan Sun infamy and write up my food experiences since the food thing here is major. Outside the front windows in the pizza, there is one old woman (who am I to call anyone old these days?) who runs a little truck stand every day and she is usually joined by at least two others. She has mostly indifferent and tired veggies but occasionally there’s a prize winner. Then on the weekends there are often wine tastings (30 wineries last weekend Fri/Sat/Sun) plus some kind of organic fest or food party showing off slow or at least medium fast products. I can buy honey and jam and marmalade from adorable hippy dudes or smart cuties from farms within a hundred mile radius, and need to stagger only a few steps with my bundles to be home. Yesterday I got a loaf of lovely sweet smelling whole grain bread that went beautifully with the pumpkin (not your average JackOLantern kind) soup I’d made the day before. Spread with ricotta (which is not the grainy, tasteless US version) the bread was great, hard to say about most Tuscan bread. I was told that the reason they make the bread here with no salt is that one of the Lorenzo’s or Cosimo’s put a tax on the salt so the bakers said “Phooey, no more salt for you!” And so to this day the bread here is blahx2 and usually stale. Hence the need for various forms of schmutz to spread on this stuff. So finding a lovely soft FRESH loaf even one made of some unknown and unpronounceable mystery grain seemed like a real eureka moment. Today I ate more with risotto made with some of the soup, diluted , red wine and parsley. Now where are those hundreds of threatened visits or was that the gin?

October 1, Today is the day!

Today is the day!! And here is the TelecomItalia guy right on time. It could be that I will have telephone and internet and better tv by lunchtime. Sorry, pranzo! The whole project has only taken six weeks! And required me to schlep the bloody computer to the internet point a dozen times. I’ve learned the hard way that you have to connect to the internet pretty regularly and LET THEM DO THEIR UPDATES or things get rather clogged. And fiber doesn’t do it. Last spring when I was here, I had a partial meltdown because I had not been updating regularly and then some big update arrived and locked me out of my everything. Once I got home to the love and care of my gurus (that would be Matt and Karen), they put in all the updates and all was peaceful in the computer kingdom. But it was a lesson learned and now I make a point to put this thing on line regularly and CHECK FOR UPDATES. It feels a bit like being haunted or having a multiple personality disorder.
Well, not today. RATS!! Seems that by having the technico delay his install, (there was that floor thing) my internet order expired. He will be back tomorrow morning, he thinks. This is really not a huge complication except that it is all in Italian! Telephone and internet stuff is bad enough in the states when you can actually ask stupid questions in your native language, but in Italian. Bah. Well, we’ll just see what happens tomorrow.

Sunday in the Piazza

There was an organic food fair in the piazza yesterday. Thirty or forty vendors selling homemade organic wine, vinegar, oil, cheese, passato (tomato base for sauce), homegrown veggies, organic wool naturally dyed; a lovely collection of country products. The sellers were just the same beads and sandals, back to the land folks you’d find in Northern California except for the occasional German or French interloper. I bought some goodies including a ceramic plate for cheese. I need to be careful however. I still haven’t learned how to make just enough food for one person and typically throw too much away. The standard plan here is to buy for tonight only unless one is going to make their own soup or broth or sauce. The same old ladies appear every morning to buy their veggies from the same old vendor in the same old place as last week (or last year or last century probably). This is just the place to buy Christmas presents as long as you understand the shipping and weight issues. Almost everything I have bought to bring back to the states cost as much to send as the original price.

Economic Rant

The current disaster of the American economy and the European, Russian and Asian dominoes is not an accident. Daddy was right: this decade (actually three if you start with Ronnie’s lies about the “supply side”) of Voodoo Economics and its unmitigated greed and plunder WAS THE PLAN! The winners are those Ponzi players who got out of the game early enough to keep their loot. The losers are the “conservatives” dumb enough to choose leadership based on who they want to have a beer with and the rest of us. Distracted by shiny objects like abortion, gay marriage, and sex ed, these deluded voters didn’t recognize the game of three card monte being played by the likes of Chaney and his cabal. The Neo-cons (accent on the con) and their accomplices like Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, perpetrated the ultimate free lunch scam on every boob who bought the “free market” mumbo jumbo. All I want to know is when do we shoot these looters? At least the ones in most civil disorders are either hungry or poor. And the most egregious irony of all: they insisted we couldn’t have universal health care because A) it is too expensive and B) it would be “socialism” and C) it would put the government in charge of your choices. Do you want the same people who were monitoring the derivatives market in charge of your health? Actually I’d rather have the Italian (or Mexican) Post Office. Since we have now effectively nationalized the entire banking industry, I hope I never hear another idiot ranting about the dangers of socialism. Nothing in the financial sector will change until we have rules that are clear, fair and enforced and the looters are in the slammer. Has anyone seen Grover Norquist lately? He is surely all wet, not least from strangling something in the bathtub.