Thursday, January 22, 2009

Uffizi Library

Well, unless they take it back, I have been accepted as a volunteer at the Uffizi Library in the Museum of the same name. I don’t exactly get paid but they will enroll me in an insurance plan for 30€ and give me a pass to the museum which works for all the others, so it’s not exactly slavery. We actually spoke in Italian and they seemed mollified by my pronunciation if not my grammar. The director is a charming gentleman and his associate Luciana who will supervise me is warm and friendly. The work they are interested in having me do is data entry but I do lots of this at home. I call it writing but WTH. The library is a very large two story room with a catwalk like balcony around three sides. Naturally there are frescoes above and around the shelves. The visitors, researchers all I suppose, sit at tables with lamps but there is a large window which lights the place in the day. The floors are tiles that show the centuries of wear and the corridors frequently open up to vaults or pillars or in one case, the old foundations that Vasari built the place on. I feel honored just to be allowed in and they are thanking me for being willing to help out. Pinch me.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

January musings

While I am very busy I can’t always remember what it was that made me so, and it’s not the wine. Or the gin. Last night I was escorted by a lovely tall Romanian beauty Nicoleta who volunteered to show me the way to a jazz club where a new friend Tiziano would be playing. I am fully capable of finding anything in Firenze, armed as I am with maps of all scales and content, but a companion on a passegiata seemed a fine idea. So we walked, she with her bici and I with my limp, the five or so blocks (the only blocks actually here are the stones that make up the buildings and streets but there is no other way to describe the distance since I’m metri impaired.) to the piazza where we would find the venue. Italian all the way, even if she would like to learn some English. The club was in the bowels of a pizza restaurant not unlike the lower levels of the churches: arched ceilings and small bricked up proto windows, refectory style tables and benches for seating. More Italian again. And because they are very polite they told me my Italian was fine. Should be fined is more like it. After some time waiting, surprisingly free of demands that we buy drinks(TG), the musicians arrived with kisses for all including me since I was “a friend of the band!!” No backstage privileges. No backstage. The group was pure geezer rockers with either no hair or more grey than me. Six pieces: drums, bass, piano/organ, 3 guitars trading the lead and rythym. All good players. Typical west coast style. All Italian lyrics. LOUD! Glad I brought my ear plugs. Played for two hours + without stopping. Tiziano is lovely, speaks fine English. (I’ve told the ones who will listen that an Italian accent is an American aphrodisiac but some still won’t speak even if they do better at an alien language than I) The crowd was mostly middle to my age with a few young groupies including one who seemed to know all the words to all of the songs. Too loud to talk which was sort of a relief at least for the first hour and a half. Having never been a concert goer and stayer-up-later-than-12 type, I faded at the end and made for home around 1.30 texting Nicoleta that I was off. She’s adorable and I hope to see her soon again, this time for English.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Pretty Nice Holiday

I had a pretty nice holiday, all things considered. Matthew came to visit and we had a nice time together. He had something of an ordeal getting here because his plane was diverted due to fog in Pisa. So it turned into a 36 hours back smasher. And of course, he's already got a smashed back. But then we had a nice Christmas dinner together and the next day my friends from France arrived laden with fois gras and wine and chocolates and cheeeeeese, Grommit. Very nice. Lovely kids 16 and 13 and darling folks. We walked around the city and nearly froze solid, what with an arctic gale blowing. Spent a day in Siena that nearly froze our blood and actually snowed on us!! But we managed to eat several fabulous meals: my famous lasagna with Matt's famous spaghetti sauce and two (2!) restaurant meals. And they volunteered to take me to Ikea and schlep all the stuff I needed to finish making the apartment fully functional, including assembling all the purchases! Talk about good guests! And then they dashed back to France for NYrs Eve and I fell into bed with a stinker of a cold. So for the second consecutive NYE, I celebrated with cough lozenges and gin. It's medicinal. If disgusting. Matthew stepped up big time and made me tea and other hot fluids and DID MY LAUNDRY! A little old lady in the laundromat eyed his careful folding and smoothing and nodded approval so he said "Mia madre es infirma" meaning sick but he speaks Spanish, so it came out "my mother is infirm" not sick. Not infirm yet. Much. Then, as I had made a heroic recovery, we went to dinner Saturday at a friend's and had lovely food and alleged conversation in Italglish. And last night as a parting gift, dinner with another Italian friend, one that Matthew knows, well staffed with characters, mostly musicians. Sent him off to the mysterious west with lots of good stories to tell and plans to come back in the spring when he can visit a pal in Spain who will drive him here which is probably easier on the back. I will look forward to more food fests and this time conversation in Spanitalglish.

Christmas in Italy 2008

The lights are all up across the streets and on the trees of the piazza. Mostly they are tiny white ones, some that move or twinkle, but the ones outside my window are blue and mercifully static. The windows have displays of desperate merchandise – very poor sales this year. Some stores have already put up sale signs. But the passersby are smiling and friendly. For the most part we are not troubled with those vampire Christmas carols that will not die or the cute Santa motifs. This is a Catholic country of course. There are some carols in my cafĂ© but they aren’t insistent because it’s not common for Italian restaurants and stores to mess up your shopping or eating with bland musak. They prefer the sound of conversation. The number of visitors seems very small but I’m comparing it to what I know of the season when the streets are full. I had dinner with friends the other night and Padraig said that the restaurant we were in should rightfully have been jammed with after-shopping diners. We were the only people in the place. I am enjoying the lack of crowds but I may be the only one in town doing so.
I have been polling my friends to find out what the traditions are here. So far nothing that explodes. (see Easter) The traditional meal is tortellone in brodo (big ravioli in broth) on Christmas Eve with the broth being made from boiled beef. Then on Christmas Day they eat the beef with vegetables and potatoes. In recent years they have turned to turkey maybe from the Norman Rockwell image they get from the states. One family I know always has bruschetta di fegato (toast with chopped liver). I even got a very specific recipe for it, although my liver eating days were mostly over when a Stanford biologist said he wouldn’t touch it. This family also has Guinea fowl which is larger and darker than chicken but not as bland as turkey. The principal gathering is at midday, although you wouldn’t call it a lunch. Old Fashioned Sunday dinnerish meal is what I would call it.
For those who are religious or just traditional, there is a midnight mass in every church. I’m thinking I will go to Santo Spirito since it is 50’ away and I can sit down, I think. The bells have been ringing more this week. It’s a lovely part of the environment here. And over the door to the church is a lit star with a tail like a comet, small and just inside. I like the modest decorations and don’t miss the 10 billion bulb extravaganzas that we Americans are prone to. But then maybe the reason it’s inside the door is the lurkers who haunt the doorways across the steps most nights, Upton O. Goode and his pals.
Most of my friends are going to family or having them here in herds. Fawn and co. are off to Luxembourg to the daughter-in-law’s family. Nikkie and Luca are eating at their son’s house even if she’s bringing the dinner. Then off to the seaside house and supper with their friends there. Andree is driving to France, as we speak, to her brother. Alessandro will make a speedy trip to the Veneto and back in less than a week. Sonia my landlady is entertaining 14 in what I believe to be a three bedroom apartment. When I said I fed a bunch a few years ago but I had patios and decks, she said “Meglio tutto fuori!” (better they’re all outside!)
Matthew will be here tomorrow midday. I’m tracking him in the air as I write. (Better than worrying) We will have a tiny roast beast ala fiorentino (I have no trouble understanding food info in Italian!), oven roasted potatoes with some of that killer new oil and peas with bacon (Nikkie’s special recipe). Then when Mike and Nathalie arrive, I’ve got lasagna, pappardelli with mushrooms and onions, beef bourguignon. We won’t starve.
Sometime in the week between Christmas and New Year we will all drive to Siena and see the gorgeous duomo. And maybe Matthew will convince me to make a whirlwind tour of all of northern Italy. Or not. Time to make egg nog. Happy Midwinter Merchandising Festival from Italia.