29 December 2009

How I spent Christmas Eve

A picture tells a thousand words, and this blurry photo best describes Christmas Eve. Words like movement, energetic, chaotic, kinetic, conductive, dramatic are a few that come to my mind.  Let me try to explain.

It is Christmas Eve. We are three American women. Being in Italy, we invite an Italian man. He is brave because more than just American, we are all empowered California women. Sasha (photo) is our host. Her monolocali studio apartment is the scene. Her entire kitchen is what you see in the photo. Two electric burners with not enough space between the burners to use both at the same time if the pot is too large and about six inches of counter space and a sink. Basta and nothing more. The apartment is not designed to throw five-course dinner parties for more than two people. For those of you who do not know, you cannot blow dry your hair and run the washing machine at the same time without blowing a fuse.

Sasha is a chef and famous baker. Watching her cook is like watching a symphony conductor. With passion and emotion, she creates what she wants, what she sees in her mind.

The table is decorated creatively, with typical Italian food ingredients: a bouquet of Italian parsley, plum tomatoes on the vine and lemons that divide the eating places and more including votive candles, and bottles of cracked pepper serve as candle holders for the stick candles. Resourceful. Antipasto and crostini are served and next homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and lemon in a sage-butter sauce is our primo piatto. Oops! The electricity goes out. By candlelight Sasha prepares a salad of Belgian endive, radicchio, fennel, and Gorgonzola cheese. Eventually, the proprietor returns from his Christmas Eve dinner to turn on the power. While preparing the mussels and clams to open in water to be added to the garlic-tomato-red wine sauce and fresh pasta, the electricity goes out again. Without electrical power the rest of the night, somehow dinner miraculously comes together. And of course, there is dessert and coffee and a digestivo. Every bite is delicious.

Such a small space -- if you need to pass another, everyone has to file out of the way -- with no counter space, losing main ingredients, losing electricity twice, having the Duomo "crazy" church bells peal every 15 minutes so loud we cannot hear each other, there are many obstacles to overcome. It is difficult to paint the picture of what it is like, but it is crazy!

We overcome all the obstacles. Without electrical energy, there was plenty of electricity and energy amongst us.  It is a special Christmas Eve dinner. We are together. No one is alone. We laugh. We share. We make new memories. We agree that this Christmas Eve is unlike any other any of us has ever had, and that no one of us will ever forget.
-- Josslyn / 'Giosalina'
Florence, Italy

24 December 2009

La Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve)

Most people who spend more than a little time in Florence know it is very difficult to make true friendships with the Fiorentini ("Florentines"). It can be lonely and isolating for those of us who want to integrate.  Not only do people from faraway lands experience this but also other Italians who are not 100% Florentine. There are several reasons this is true; however, it does not take away from the fact that I love Florence and the Florentines. And not only that, I tend to be a persistent person. With time, I am pretty confident I will break through that centuries-old, fortified Florentine barrier.

Meanwhile, I have been living here about one week shy of three months. In that time I have gotten to know many of my local shopkeepers and vendors and artisans.

It is Christmas Eve. The stores are busy with people buying the last few gifts and food for the big feasts that will commence tonight and continue the next couple days. People are full of joy and in the spirit of the season. The holiday stress we experience in the States also exists here, but the Fiorentini handle it differently. I have witnessed the folks in the streets, in the piazzas, in the stores, and I see how genuinely happy people are, as they wish each other happy holidays and exchange kisses. Many pop their heads inside a store only for the purpose of expressing happy holidays and a kiss on each check.

I may not yet be Fiorentina, but I, too, have experienced some of those genuine wishes and kisses, and it makes me feel almost accepted as "one of them."

P.S. I still feel this is where I belong.

Tanti Auguri di Buone Feste!

Click on the photo of the Christmas tree to see which Italian Christmas ornaments were used to decorate.

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Florence, Italy

21 December 2009

Affascinante ("Charming")

A vision not uncommon in the south of Italy, especially Sicily, or a scene from a movie; however, in the bigger cities in the middle and north of the country it is a method of passing something along to a neighbor that is rarely still used.

It's caught my attention. In fact, in Florence, the only person I have seen actually employ this method is my neighbor across the street. I have waited patiently to capture a photo of her unraveling her rope on a stick with the basket attached from her fourth-floor flat to someone on the street that is delivering flowers, bread, a giornale ("newspaper"), or some other item. He or she announces his or her arrival with a whistle or a "yoohoo," and the blinds and window are opened and the rope is unraveled to the street.

What else I have seen is a similar method used when delivering furniture or when a person is moving in or out. A little more modern technology is used, which looks like a ladder with a motorized box which you fill with your goodies and up or down the ladder it goes.

So efficient and practical. Considering most of us do not live on the pianterreno ("ground floor"), it does make life a bit easier, even if it is not a modern-day convenience.

It's such a simple thing that I find particularly charming.

I have attempted to capture a photo from the woman's window to the street including the woman in the window and the person on the street, but it is impossible because the scene is too near to my camera to get that wide-of-an-angle shot.

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Florence, Italy

18 December 2009

*Snow Falls in Florence*

A stranger on the street told me I am "a very lucky, lucky, lucky girl."
It is 77 degrees Farenheit in Los Angeles.
I am very fortunate.

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Florence, Italy

I Biscotti

Cantuccini di Prato Los Angeles but homemade in Florence, Italy.

Twice-baked cookies. An easy recipe but nearly impossible to make just right. But I'm on a mission. I'm determined to get it down.

Not being the most proficient in a kitchen, I'm no master chef nor baker. I blame it on my busy professional lifestyle, but reality is I had other priorities and grew up eating out more than in the home.

In the past several days, I have attempted to perfect my biscotti. I have compared countless recipes and tried a number of them. Only a few ingredients are called for, yet it is amazing how differing the quanties are per recipe. Not only that, some call for huge amounts of butter or olive oil or only a small amount of butter or oil, but most call for none at all. Being health conscious but also being peccato di gola ("having a sweet tooth"), I prefer the recipes that don't include butter or oil. Each day I learn something I need to do differently; mostly, I use one recipe and learn from my mistakes. I have the flavor down. The form needs some work. The batter is different with each batch I bake. Of course, it probably doesn't help that I don't have any apparecchiatura ("equipment" in this context, "measuring cups" or a "scale"). Even though Italians eyeball measurements and learned their family recipes by watching their mothers cook who watched their mothers cook, who in turn watched their mothers cook in the generations prior, not being so well-versed in the kitchen, it may behoove me to at least buy a bilancia ("scale").

I have been timidly making the rounds to my friends in town, people whom have probably been eating biscotti since they were teething. Even the local police have tasted my biscotti and identified which ingredients I have included. I am receiving valuable information, feedback, constructive criticism, and even compliments. Oh, and I have the one friend that claims to have broken her tooth on my biscotti, which I know was a joke. Overall, everyone says the flavor is right on. I have several people volunteering to sample my biscotti daily. Getting just the right amount of croccantezza ("crispiness") with still a bit of chewiness is what I'm going for as well as the form.

Who knows? At 18 to 22 Euro a kilo, I may be able to start selling my special biscotti soon. A girl's got to make a living!

Cantuccini is most often enjoyed following dinner with Vin Santo, a sweet dessert wine. I prefer it with my coffee. However, I like it just fine all by itself.

Today's batch seems to be almost perfect. Time to go make the rounds ... after a few biscotti for energy.

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Florence, Italy

15 December 2009

Neve ("Snow")

So it happened. This Southern California girl froze her tushy off.

I went to Bologna for the day. I bought and paid for my ticket to go there for work. Work canceled, but I decided to go anyhow. Riding the Frecciarossa EuroStar is a comfortable way to travel. As we approached Bologna and we exited the galleria ("tunnel") we had been in for more than five minutes, I felt suddenly transcended. Everything was white, covered in snow! No, that's not a bad case of dandruff on Neptune's head and shoulders.

A breathtaking sight for a girl from Los Angeles.
-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Bologna, Italy

09 December 2009

Immacolata Concezione

Yesterday was Immaculate Conception Day, a holiday taken seriously in the Roman Catholic religion.  Although it is a religious holiday and some do go to church, most people take it as a day to relax and catch up on sleep. Italians work long hours. Nearly everything was closed, although I was able to find a place open for my morning ritual, un cappuccino. The holiday fell on Tuesday this year. Many Italians were able to facciano il ponte ("make the bridge," to take the day off between the weekend and the holiday) and enjoy a long weekend out of town. Florence was quiet with virtually everything closed and so few cars and motorini ("scooters"), but still there were plenty of Italian tourists that came into the city for the day.

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Florence, Italy

04 December 2009

Sentimenti (Feelings)

Mi sento come la schiacciata!  (I feel like schiacciata!) Schiacciare (vt) to crush; to crack; to squish; to flatten; to overwhelm; to smash.

One of the many reasons I dreamt of living in Italy was to allow myself to transform, to be my best self in a place I feel my best without effort. There is the old adage:  Wherever you go, there you are.  Every choice we make is an opportunity to change, grow, blossom, or stay the same.

My living here in Italy is a dream I struggled to make my reality.  Guess what?  I'm here (only two months), and change is hard.

Recently something has come up that I can only write about in a very general way.  Bottom line:  My struggle now is to find a way to continue my dream of living here.  My choices are either to feel sorry for myself -- something I know how to do well.  It's also easier and more comfortable to stay with the familiar than it is to choose change -- and return to Los Angeles with my tail between my legs or fight to keep my dream alive and find a way to overcome the obstacles I am confronted with and come out stronger, taller, and with the reward of bringing about more of what I want into my realm of possibility.  I choose the latter.

29 November 2009

Maratona: Florence Marathon 2009

Life is strange. Something can be such a big part of your life for a period of time and then not at all.

For more than ten years, running marathons played a big part of my life. My first marathon was symbolic for a five-year anniversary of running from my life to running for my life. The marathon addiction began, and I couldn't imagine my life without running. 2002 was my last marathon as a runner, and 2006 was my last half marathon, however, no longer as a runner but rather as a racewalker. Loving Florence, I considered racewalking the 2007 Florence Marathon. I've since hung up my shoes, and I don't even think about it much any longer.

Today was the Florence Marathon, and the runners were blessed with ideal raceday weather. Traveling along the course at various points to capture photos, I eventually settled down at the Finish Line in Piazza Santa Croce.

It was an emotional day for me, seeing up close the runners as they approached and crossed the finish line with each runner having a varying emotion written on his/her face. I know the emotions well. It all came back to me as if it were yesterday. I stood there in awe, inspired. There were frequent moments tears of joy rolled down my face while a giant smile was plastered on my face because I know well what it feels like to turn that last corner, one-tenth mile to go to the finish line, giving all I have left in my spirit and soul, sprinting across the finish line (wanting to look good), having experienced in the prior few hours of running the gamut of emotions. Today I felt it again. An experience I never want to forget. And I also remember many of my running friends over the years with fond memories -- Toni; Tracy; Mark, my pace sweep (I was the pace leader); Judy, Jim, Chad, and so many others.

I expect to see many people proudly wearing their medals around town tomorrow. What a feat! Complimenti to everyone who ran.

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Florence, Italy

28 November 2009

Il Frantoio ("The Olive Press")

A little more than a week ago, I told you about La Raccolta ("the harvest") of the olives. It doesn't stop there.

Following the harvest, within usually about three days, the olives go to the press. The olive mills operate round the clock this time of year; so it can be difficult to get an appointment to press your olives.

The process is fascinating.  The olives are dumped from the back of the truck onto a scale that's in the ground and weighed.  The leaves and small branches we didn't separate during the harvest are now separated through the machine and then washed. Next, they are crushed and ground, which forms a brown paste.  The paste is kneaded and heated at a low temperature (think extra virgin, cold pressed) to enable the release of the oils. The air in the mill is thick from the overwhelming aroma of pressed olives. Once the oil is extracted, it goes through a centrifuge, separating the oil and water. From one tube goes the pulp of the olive, the waste of the olive, which is called sansa. The look of the sansa is not appealing!  And out of a spout, pours the foamy olio nuovo ("new oil") in varying shades of green and gold, the fruit of our labor. It is customary to immediately eat bruschetta made with the fresh-pressed oil. (There are several other steps before the extraction that I don't know how to explain -- sorry! -- but this website does.)

I told you firsthand about the intensive manual labor involved. And now I will tell you that for all that hard work the yield is only about 10.5%. From our 118 trees, we yielded ~40 liters of fresh olive oil. Now you understand why your bottle of oil can be so costly.

I enjoy every drop of high quality, good-tasting olive oil more than ever before.

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
near Certaldo, Italy

26 November 2009

La Festa del Ringraziamento ("Thanksgiving")

Created by Pilgrims to celebrate a bountiful feast in the New World, Thanksgiving is an American holiday, not one celebrated by Italians.  But I'm in Italy!

My friend and housemate is house-sitting at an old villa in Chianti.  Mabel (see photo) and I joined her at the villa in the country on 33 acres of land. Mabel had a smile on her face the whole day running through the olive groves, chasing pheasant, bunnies, and a pregnant cat.  We enjoyed a non-traditional Thanksgiving meal including a risotto with carciofi tenero ("tender baby artichokes") and an Italian version of torta delle carote e cannella ("carrot cake").

The opportunity for friends and family to gather together round the table for a feast, sharing old stories, and laughing is why Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.  This year we were a small gathering celebrating in a new way.  The ingredients used, as tasty as they are, is secondary to the value of being with the people we care about the most. It's also a time to reflect, count our blessings, and give thanks for all that we have.

Traveling back to Florence on the bus, Mabel, who is not a lap dog, sat calmly and tenderly cradled in my lap and arms. Simple pleasure and gratitude.  Thank you!

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Chianti, Italy


I barely started this blog and then stopped, not intentionally, however.  I am taking some day trips, gathering more photos and stories to share with you.  Will return subito ("right away").

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Sunset in the country near Certaldo, Italy

17 November 2009

Is "Work" a Four-Letter, Dirty Word?

How do I explain?

Work has often stood in the way of my living the life I would dream of living. So here I am. For the first time I am not on vacation, not a tourist in my beloved Italy, a place I have the privilege to now call home. It is not uncommon to spot me walking down a street with a devilish smile on my face for no reason other than I just feel so damn good being here. It's that simple.  I made it. I am here. Living in Italy was a dream that started to feel like it would never become a reality. It was and continues to be a specific dream that caused me to ache every time I had to return to Los Angeles and work those long hours and be in a mode similar to lock-down in prison just so that I could earn enough money to return to Italy as quickly as possible.

Don't ask me why. But ever since my first trip to Europe in 1995, I can't get enough. But once I took my first trip to Italy in 2003, I have been addicted. I always wanted to see the world. Once I came to Italy, I knew I would keep coming back. You've heard it said by so many people. I'm not unique. But it is the truth. I always felt like "This is where I belong." Since 2003 when I have made trips that didn't include Italy, no matter how wonderful the trip, I never returned to the States with the satisfaction I would have when I returned from Italy. One big caveat: I am never ready to leave Italy.

My plan? Well, let's say I've been envious of those that live in Europe. They can go by plane in one or two hours virtually anywhere in Europe. I, on the other hand, living in Los Angeles, could fly in one hour to San Francisco, Las Vegas, Sacramento, Oakland -- well, that's about it. Only one of those destinations is outside the state of California. So I never felt like I was going anywhere far, new, or exotic.

Back to my plan. My thinking has been at least I would be on the continent. Getting to many of the other destinations outside Italy should be relatively easy; right? I can jet-set from country to country and island hop -- oh, how I love the Mediterranean islands. This is still part of my plan except that my dollar is nearly worthless these days. The cost of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world is -- well, it's EXPENSIVE! So I won't be island hopping quite yet.  Besides, it's becoming winter, which brings me to the next two points.

I tried to save un saccone di soldi ("a big bag of money"). Not unlike the rest of the people impacted by the current global economic downslide -- oh, is the word "slowdown"? -- I fell far short of my goal. So here I am trying to creatively earn some money and slow down the speed at which my money burns.

The second of the two points: We're in the middle of an Indian summer in Florence. Each day since I've been here I've thought I'd better take advantage of the weather before this Southern California girl starts freezing her tushy off. Well, weeks later, it's still quite warm. November I am told is the rainy month of the year. Personally, I was under the impression that it always rains in Italy. I think it has rained only one day this month.

Anyhow, the weather is gorgeous, and I have work to be completed indoors. I provide a photo taken today from my bathroom window of the rooftops. Some things don't change. Quotidiano , the everyday, commonplace even boring activities that we don't necessarily want to tend to. No matter where we are, certain things still must get done.

Does it sound like I complain? It is part of the lesson. The truth is it is a very small price to have to pay to be living my dream, LIVING IN ITALY.

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Florence, Italy

16 November 2009


On the other side of the Arno River ("Oltrarno") is Piazza Santo Spirito, which happens to be the zone in which I live. Each morning there is a different market in the square. Sunday this week was the mercato biologico ("organic market"). Open-air markets have always attracted me because of the displays of goods. The glorious colors of the fruits and vegetables are a reminder that it is autunno ("autumn"). The variety of zucca ("squash") available at this time of year makes for a hearty and healthful soup on a cold fall evening. Experiment.

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy

15 November 2009

A Day in Lucca

I mentioned going to Lucca for the Il Desco festival, and I did, but it didn't inspire me to write about the event.  I went to Lucca to "meet up" with a group of ex-pats mostly from the U.S. but also elsewhere.  If I keep spending time with non-Italian speakers, my efforts to learn Italian will be for naught!  A fun day it was, though, making new acquaintances.

Lucca is a wonderful walled city.  The wall was built during the Renaissance and is still perfectly intact.  It is also home to Puccini.  Inside the walls are curvy, narrow, enticing streets.  In addition to all the wonderful history and architecture to be seen and absorbed, if you are anything like me, you will want to bounce from cafe to bar to trattoria and from one boutique to another.  It is a place you could easily leave many euros lighter.  On this visit, fortunately, I did not have the opportunity to get myself in that sort of trouble.

We had lunch at a pizzeria that makes a mean Napoli-style pizza (thin crust) where we were able to sit down and share stories.  This is what gets me every time (teary eyed).  I am constantly amazed at the fairy tales I hear from the people I meet who  live here, doing more or less what I do, living a dream.  Each person I meet has an amazing story as to what they are doing in Italy, how they got here, and what keeps them here.

I am grateful to be here, and I hope my story will be amazing like the stories I am hearing. Stay tuned...

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Lucca, Toscana, Italia

13 November 2009

La Raccolta ("The Harvest")

Ho trovato lavoro in Italia. ("I found work in Italy.")

It is olive season in Toscana, and one can find sagre delle olive ("olive festivals") in most towns and villages.  Tomorrow we will go to Lucca for one such festival.  Olives are one of the oldest fruits known to man, and nowadays the benefits of a diet including and cooking with unsaturated fats are well known.  The fruit and the oil are used worldwide.  I enjoy the fruit cured in various ways as well as the cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in the olive harvest.  I joke about coming to Italy to be an immigrant laborer in the vineyards and olive groves.  Harvesting gave me a new appreciation for the process involved before the olive and its oil end up at the table of the end-user.

We took a bus in the morning through the Strada in Chianti to a hilltop town named Panzano.  With each turn in the road, I saw a watercolor waiting to be painted.  We were greeted by the beautiful woman that runs the small winery where we were to work.  Four of us and one five-month old baby made up our team. 

It is a small grove of l’ulivi ("olive trees"), only 118 trees.  We raked the olives off the branches onto the rete ("net") on the ground.  We would then pull out any twigs that came with the olives, and then into the cassetta ("box") the olives would go.  Moving our net to abbraccia ("hug") another cluster of trees, we would repeat the process again and again throughout the day.  The women were chiacchierando ("chitchatting, chattering") all day long while Mirko (the only man amongst us) was praying for silence, I’m sure.  We were treated to lunch at the infamous Antico Macelleria Cecchini where the atmosphere was unique and the food was Slow, healthful, simple, elegant, and delicious.

By the end of the day, I admit to being tired.  We filled seven cassette ("boxes") of olives weighing at least 50 pounds each.  It was not difficult work, only somewhat physical.  To work in the fields in the Chianti hills with gorgeous views in every direction, honestly, is work I felt guilty being paid to do.  A satisfying day in every way.

Next week we return to take the olives to the frantoio ("olive press") to be pressed into oil.

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Panzano in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy

11 November 2009

One of the Benefits of Being a Homebody

Many of us are familiar with the music played by the zingari (gypsies) at an Italian trattoria. Imagine being home studying the language in your 14th-century-old apartment when that familiar sound is suddenly approaching your small street.

I was compelled to rush to the window to see what was going on:  Three men playing their instruments to those of us at home, and the residents opening their windows and tossing moneta (coin) and euro to the artists in the street. It was a treat I am glad to have been home to see.

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina'
Diladdarno, Florence

07 November 2009

Where to begin?

The pressure is on. My desire to have a blog while living abroad. Five weeks later my struggle, "What do I have to say?" It's a rainy sort of day. Biscotti in the oven. Hours at the keyboard creating a template. Uncertain what will become of this or which direction it will go, know that I have a desire to write but I'm still without a map. So bear patient. So many things have already happened. Now I ponder "Where do I begin?" My preference is to write as my history is being created. It's difficult for me to now write about an incident or experience from a week or two ago. I need to stay current, but I have this achy feeling that I'm not doing it right (write). Doesn't there need to be some order? Forse ("perhaps"), creating the template was enough for today.

-- Josslyn 'Giosalina' 
Oltrarno, Florence, Italy