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.