31 October 2011

Day After Day in Florence, Italy

I hope the day never arrives when I take Florence for granted, that it becomes ordinary. Because Florence is not ordinary, it is not plain, it is not just another city.  I never want to stop noticing this city's beauty. Florence, for me, is magical.

  Costa de' Magnoli

This morning I attempted to capture, in a photograph, that feeling of magic Florence inspires in me.  The scene above is one I walk past several times each day, and each time its beauty takes my breath away. 

In the morning light, a patinaed wall takes on a softer shade of orange, the brilliance of pink bougainvillea stretching towards the sunlight and groping an ancient wall, the curves of an ancient cobblestone street, the bombardment of light just beyond the tiny, dark tunnel....  Simple, I know.  Perhaps it is unordinary in an ordinary way, and so extraordinary. See what I mean?  The total effect equals beauty. Spectacular.  Magical. 

Perhaps you agree.

24 October 2011


Beans of all kinds are a staple of the Italian diet.  Today I was in the mood to experiment with a different vegetable.  At Mercato Centrale, I asked my fruttivendolo (greengrocer) the difference between the string beans and the serpenti beans, which look like a skinnier, longer (~18 inches long) version of string beans. He explained that the serpenti beans are much more flavorful and a Tuscan specialty this time of year. Sounded precisely what I was looking for.

He then taught me how to prepare them, and now I will share with you the simple instructions for these delicious beans.

one bunch of serpenti beans or green beans
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
an abundance of ripe cherry tomatoes
sea salt

Break off and discard the tips of the beans.  Then break into semi equal size in thirds.  Wash the beans
Boil a pot of water with sea salt.  Throw the beans in the boiling water for about 20 mins.

In another pot, with a little olive oil, place the tomatoes cut in half into the pan.  Add sea salt.  Add garlic.  In this case, crush the garlic with your hands and break the cloves into four or five pieces instead of mincing or chopping it. Add chopped onion.  Simmer.  To allow the tomatoes to reduce, I let it simmer while the beans were boiling.

Drain the beans but reserve some of the water to add to the sauce as the liquid evaporates.

Add the beans.  Simmer five minutes with another clove of garlic if you, like me, can't get enough garlic.  Add some of the reserved water, if necessary.

Enjoy.  I just did.  Yummy.

I would also steam brown rice or add a protein of my choice if I wanted to make this into a healthful and complete meal. A friend from San Francisco visits Firenze, and we will eat out tonight, which made this small meal a fun experiment in my kitchen. Now I have another yummy vegetable dish for the winter months.

23 October 2011

Romeo and Juliet (Verona, Italy)

"O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?"
"I am Juliet. Are you Romeo?"
I am no Shakespeare scholar -- I was not even an English literature major -- but I do know that, thanks to William Shakespeare's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, Verona is known as the city of love and romance.  I am told that Shakespeare never even visited Verona, and yet his imagination was so vivid that people flock from all over the world to the house of Juliet and her infamous balcony.  So, too, did my friend S and I.  

Juliet's balcony
We left Florence early in the morning on the Frecciargento (one of the fast trains) for Verona.  While on the train, we watched the recent movie Letters to Juliet to help set the appropriate mood.

Throughout Italy, lucchetti dell'amore (love lockets) can be found.  In Florence, for example, sweethearts in love write their names on their lockets, attach it to the gate, and throw the key over the shoulder into the Arno River as a symbol of their eternal love.  Be prepared to pay a hefty fine, though, if caught!  In Verona, feel welcome to leave your lockets of love, and even graffiti attesting to your love, at the house of Juliet.
Lockets of Love

I know where my Romeo is, and Verona he is not...
R&J cookie kisses
While S and I found neither love nor romance -- well, not this trip -- we discovered anew that Verona is lovely and romantic, a top destination in Italy's Veneto region:  fantastic food, friendly folks, plenty of historical monuments and museums to visit. And Verona is particularly special to me because it is the first place I visited on my very first trip to Italy.
-- Giosalina, Verona, Italia
    18 ottobre 2011 

13 October 2011

Blogger Meets Reader

An interesting thing happened on our way home the other night.

Mabel and I were out for our evening stroll.  We passed our gelateria, Cantina del Gelato, near home. Giuseppe, one of the two owners, was running into the pizzeria next door, saw me in the distance and shouted that he would be right back.  "Wait for me!" he said.  Mabel and I had no plans to go for gelato, not this evening.  We often stop by just to say hi, though, as both owners are now friends.
 Cantina del Gelato
When Mabel and I entered, a couple were choosing their gelato.  The woman turned around, looked at Mabel, looked at me, did a double-take, and then asked me, "Are you the woman who wrote about this place on her blog?" 

"I am.  How did you know?"

Turns out she recognized Mabel from the photos on this site.  (I tell you, my dog is world famous!)  She told me, "Thanks to your blog post, my husband and I have been here twice a day each day we have been in Florence.  We love the gelato, and we go home tomorrow."  

Seems her Google search for gelato in Florence led to my post.  Not only that, but it was the first on the page. (I am proud to learn that bit of news.)

The entire experience was very cool. Purely by chance I met a reader of my blog -- from Finland! -- in the very place I recommended readers should visit. Thank you, Coppia Finlandese (a couple from Finland), for recognizing Mabel, me, and saying hello. You made my day!  
Mirtillo (Wild blueberries.  Mmmm...)
I even merited a gelato on the house, and that always makes me happy.

03 October 2011

A Delightful Episode of Sensory Overload: Istanbul

One week in Istanbul was not enough time to visit all that my friend and I wanted to see and do. Relaxation time was not in our schedule, nor our vocabulary.  Despite our racing about, I remember well the genuine and kind-hearted people we met.

I remember also sitting on the rooftop terrace at our guesthouse for one or two hours one afternoon under a grapevine canopy overlooking the Sea of Marmara with the sea breeze on my face while sipping Turkish tea, resting my weary feet ... finally absorbing all that touched my senses.  What a wonderful people, culture, city, and holiday.  I must return.

I hope my photos below capture the wonder I felt and help re-create, for you, the magic that is Istanbul, Turkey...

View of Galata Tower from the Golden Horn of the      Bosphorus Strait
Hagia Sophia (first a church, then a mosque, now a museum)
Making bread and Turkish pancakes
How many different kinds of baklava are there?
Another Turkish yummy.  Looks like birds' nests to me.
Selling melon
Passing the church/mosque mosaic
Mohammed and Omed, two new and young friends
Pistachio baklava
A "shish" lunch.
Spice bazaar
Turkish Pinocchio
A young friend anxious to grow into her shoes
Marble Halvah straight from the source!
Fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice in abundance in Istanbul
Corn on the cob
Smoking the nargile
On the Bosphorus looking at Asia heading towards the      Black Sea
Nuts, I just like the foto
Selling Simit, which is like a sesame bagel that ran into a pretzel
"Yaya yolu" is a funny way to say "pathway"
Sugar cubes, a necessity for Turkish coffee and tea
Skyline of minarets
Bitter melon reappears even more colorful than before    (See my earlier post)

I know it seems I ate my way through Istanbul, but I really did go to many monuments.

Turkish rugs and kilims

Among my many amazing experiences this holiday was shopping for a rug. I went to Turkey with the intention to buy one, and yet, I just might be one of the few tourists to return home without a rug.  

01 October 2011


Two years ago today Mabel and I said goodbye to L.A. and hello to Florence, Italy, when we boarded the plane for our flight to our new home.
Leaving Los Angeles, one last ride in our car

I worried about her traveling for so long in the cargo hold below me: the noise, darkness, items shifting about.  After all, my brother's dog, Sparky, made a similar flight from L.A. to Brugge, Belgium, a few years earlier.  He went deaf from the flight but enjoyed the best year of his life living in Europe.  A dog's life is pretty good here because people in Europe welcome dogs to go almost everywhere.  No need to leave them behind anywhere.

Mabel is a real trooper.  She acclimated immediately to her new environs.  Never will I forget the picture I keep in my head when two airport employees hand-delivered Mabel to me, still in her crate, at the Florence airport.  She was pert and alert.  In the taxi ride to our new digs, Mabel rooted her tushy to the seat of the car between the taxi driver and me as she extended herself as tall as possible to look over the dashboard and out the window at all she would soon get to explore. She quickly spotted sights and smells centuries old that she filed away for future exploration.  
Jetlagged, Mabel naps with her baby after arriving to Italy

Mabel is a lucky girl.  Everyone does their part to spoil her, and she is adored by all.

It can be an exciting and scary adventure to uproot yourself from everyone you know and everything that is familiar and comfortable and transplant yourself to a different country with a foreign language. To move to and live in a city that welcomes thousands of tourists every day makes getting close to the locals even more of a challenge because the locals measure their roots by generations, not days. Why invest in a friendship with people who come but do not stay?

Not every day is la dolce vita (the sweet life/the good life), of course, but the obstacles and challenges are, for me, worth the deeply felt gratitude, joy, and happiness I now experience. Sure, I continue to find my way here.  Slowly and con calma, everything begins to fall into place.  The life of the expat has its own process and rigors to endure -- many days present new and different challenges -- but its objective remains true to our passion: to arrive safely on the other side of the wide chasm that separates our past lives from the future we envision and strive to create.
Radici (Roots)
My roots grow deeper as I make Florence, Italy, my home.