Well, I succumbed to the consumer power that presides over Florence. I bought this pair of boots for €179. I don’t usually make impulsive, rash, costly decisions, but they were so wonderful I couldn’t leave the store without them. I wish I had because then I’d be much less stressed. Now I have one pair of beautiful boots, no money to my name, and some debts to pay to my two friends who were there with me. I’ll have to ask the professor to pay me early for what I’ve earned for the month of June when we return so I’ll have $400 stashed away for emergencies. Those are the only things I’m going to allow myself to spend money on from now on.
Florence was amazing, however. Sep and I arrived on Friday early afternoon and were immediately taken aback by how walkable the city is. And, also, how commercial. It’s even more commercial than Rome, and, it seemed to me, way classier. Lots of expensive shops, and of course the Ponte Vecchio. We walked across it at least twice a day and it was amazing each time. It’s like a jewelry box in street form. All day the windows glisten with gold, silver, and gem-filled jewelry (jewelry box open) and then at night the shop owners put heavy wooden covers over their windows (jewelry box closed). Here’s a picture of it, both from across the river and walking across it:
We had a beautiful hostel the first night. After a long day of wandering the streets and buying stupidly expensive boots, the three of us sat ourselves at a rather lively bar outside the hostel. We met these fantastic people:
The woman between me and Sep was from Australia (Sydney). She was 40. The girl to the left of Caitlin (who’s in the front with the printed dress) was from Canada, and she was 18. The young man was 22 and from Georgia, US. They were all part of a bus tour of Florence together and had bonded, somehow, and decided to forgo the restful evening to hit the night scene. At that point I couldn’t afford the night scene, or even the hostel really, so I was relaxing and not drinking and trying not to be cold. It was fun to talk about Australia with a real Australian!
We didn’t want to wait in long lines or pay lots of money to see museums, so we poked our heads into the monuments and important buildings that were free. We stood outside the Duomo for about an hour. It was quite a big moment for me, for some reason. So big that it didn’t even occur to me to take a picture of the outside, which was striking. Here’s some of the inside:
Caitlin had been in Florence already for about 10 days leading art history tours, so she knows a lot about the city and it’s history. I was blown away as she was telling us about how they built the dome and about the long delay in its construction due to an inability to figure out how to make it structurally sound. Brunelleschi ended up winning the contest by imagining what it would be like to cut an egg in half and place it on top of the already constructed church. Imagining all the masters of stone and architecture walking around the same ground upon which I was standing, looking at the same things I was and planning how to make the dome moved me to tears. I don’t know why I was so struck. It might have been that it really sunk in, right then, that I’m incredibly blessed and so, so lucky. I might be broke, I might have been stressed about how to get back to Elba, but I am in Italy with two great friends. I’m well fed, I’m working in a beautiful place, I’m healthy, I’m going to grad school for psychology, I have a loving family on both sides, and I’m happy.
So, thank you Florence. Thank you for all the beautiful sights, sounds, smells, and sniffly sightseeing. Thank you for the handmade boots that better last my whole life. Thank you for bringing me together with Caitlin so we could embark on another adventure together. It was great. I have just a few more pictures of the city at large:
The only thing that wasn’t great was trying to get back to Elba. The trains went on strike on Sunday so we weren’t able to get back to the island in time for work on Monday. We tried very hard, but the effort involved in getting on a bus was apocalyptic. It was like we were trying to evacuate a disaster, practically. Everyone was queuing up in front of the three busses that were departing and waving their papers around trying to get the conductor to select them to board. We knew the struggle was futile, so we decided to stay the night at the same hostel we had gone to the second night. Our room was still open, luckily, and we had a pretty fantastic last day. We sat on the replica of Micheangelo’s bridge (the real one was destroyed in World War II bombings) and drank a couple bottles of wine before the World Cup final at 9. We were seated at a great bar, and we ended up staying there from 6 pm or so on until around 11:30. They had the longest aperitivo ever, it went basically all night. Now that I think of it, it was probably an event for the match that we stumbled into happily. Here’s a picture of Caitlin behind their extensive and enormously overpriced drink menu:
They also had lovely flowers on the table and squirt guns on the tables. This latter detail entertained Sep greatly; he was surreptitiously squirting people who walked by us from under the table all night. (Also, the random picture of Sep pointing at a wall is because the rock was so beautiful. I’ve never seen stone like that, I want it for my future kitchen counters!)
Caitlin managed to make miracles happen: she switched her flight home to the U.S to next Wednesday so she can stay in Elba with us for the next week. I’m beyond thrilled. The Calleo’s are fine with it, as well; as long as she helps out (which she’s more than happy to do) she’s more than welcome to stay. Last night we had dinner and then went to Capolivere to relax and then to Norsi (the beach closest to our house) to drink a bottle of prosecco under the stars. It was wonderful. The moon was out, the ocean was calm, and the breeze was light and pleasant. Caitlin and I worked ourselves into a ten-minute hysterical fit of laughter when we realized, while responding to a story Sep was telling, that our laughs sound nearly the same, completely naturally. Once we realized it and acknowledged it out loud we couldn’t stop cracking up, so much so that we were both gasping for breath and had tears streaming down our faces. We were laughing so authentically that it was hilarious to us that every sound either of us made, spontaneously, was reflected almost immediately by the other in the same easy, natural way. It felt amazing to laugh like that, on a beautiful beach, with such a good friend. Here’s some pictures of us at the beach!
Now it’s back to business as usual here, which is comforting. I missed cooking. When I got back on Monday I figured out that they expected me to cook dinner, which was actually happy about. I made carbonara (unphotographed), chicken with garlic and rosemary on a bed of fresh veggies, and fried zucchini with mint:
Then last night I made chicken again, this time in a piquant sauce, a pasta with tomato and basil sauce, and string beans (unphotograhped) with caramelized shallots and almonds. It was tasty! Also, I love the picture I took spontaneously of Sep walking into the kitchen with the empty white wine tray while I was serving pasta before everyone sat down. Caitlin is a blur of motion, as she always is, Paul is looking interestedly at the tray (perhaps for leftovers, or perhaps to crack a joke at Sep’s expense), and Sep is present and happy. It’s pretty indicative of the general mood that floats through the house every day. Presence, motion, steadiness, interest, happiness.
I threw in a teaser picture of the Gaeta olives I pitted this morning for the pasta sauce. They were so beautiful in the morning sunlight I had to photograph them.
This week will be a little more intense than normal since we already have one guest here (the professor’s administrative assistant for twenty years, Nancy) and two more arriving for his birthday on Saturday. I have to come up with a cake recipe that involves no baking powder or soda (they don’t exist here) and very little sugar (the professor doesn’t like it). I’m planning on making Sacher torte and some kind of almond butter concoction, perhaps sweetened with agave nectar (which I have seen here). I’m infinitely glad Caitlin is here to help me!
I promise I won’t be such a bad blogger in the future. I’m sorry for the delay and for the verbal overload!