Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Museo Marino Marini - Firenze

Museo Marino Marini

We went to the Museo Marino Marini, Piazza San Pancrazio today. As we entered it became obvious that he was the same artist who created the famous “Angelo della Città” sculpture at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice, which we had seen years earlier. The sculpture at the Guggenheim was installed in 1948 and faces the Grand Canal.

The Marini museum is interesting for the sculpture and the space that the museum is in. It was an old church. The way they retrofitted the space was what I was interested in. Don’t miss the basement (crypt) because there is usually an exhibit down there and it is an interesting space.

For more information on Marino Marini, see this Wikipedia page.

Museo Marino Marini – Permanent Collection
Museo Marino MariniMuseo Marino Marini
Museo Marino MariniMuseo Marino Marini

Museo Marino Marini – Basement Space
Museo Marino MariniMuseo Marino Marini

Museo Marino Marini – Basement Exhibit (left) and Museo Marino Marini - Ritratto di Mies van der Rohe, 1967 (right)
Museo Marino MariniMuseo Marino Marini

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chocolate Bars and Cheesecake

I usually buy their 70% bar in the 20 minute break between our first and second morning class*. There is a tabaccheria shop a few steps away from the school and I pop in for a new bar every day. I haven’t always been a big fan of Perugina chocolate (I know, everyone loves Baci candies and so do I) but most of their products are too sweet. This bar has bits of cacao nib in it. It is not too sweet and there is a little crunch with every bite. I usually pass the bar around the class. Our teacher only likes milk chocolate so I’m not winning any points there (her loss). Anyway, Mark already smoozed her all up with a cheesecake (torte di ricotta) made with ricotta and Greek yogurt with a biscotti crumb crust…that he made (and it wasn’t easy in our apartment’s small kitchen)! Everyone thinks Mark walks on water (un buon cuoco - good cook) and I’m a free-loader. Jeez. Hey, I do laundry.

* We we took Italian language classes in Florence in 2007 - 2008. We went to Centro Machiavelli, which during our time there had classrooms in Santo Spirito, Florence.

The Food Lover’s Guide To Florence

This is one book we brought with us to Florence. We particularly like the background information on different foods and wine and the listings of different markets and stores to buy from. It is in this book that we first read about the famous schiacciata.

11/30/07 - I just reread the preface to the 2nd edition and boy does the author have it right about Florentines and the fact they are always talking about food. The other day we were walking on the Ponte Vecchio and I overheard a poliziotta on her cell phone giving instructions on how her lunch should be prepared.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stone Lemon

This afternoon I started my mosaico fiorentino class. I arrived at three and immediately was told to design something. I did a lemon still life. How original! I thought about it a little before class but was needing some help. Luckily, “maestro” (as you call the instructor) had a computer that I could check the internet with. I used this image for inspiration.

The goal is to start with a simple design (9 cm by 12 cm) so you can complete it. Once you get the design you transfer it to a type of thick paper with a peel-off surface. Then you cut the pieces out with a knife, one-by-one. For example, I cut out the lemon first, put it aside and then took the rest of the adhesive paper (minus the lemon) and layed that over different pieces of stone to see which looked best to represent the lemon. Once you find a stone, you trace the outline of the missing piece (the lemon in this case) on the stone and then stick the adhesive part (of the lemon) to the stone in order to mark it. Then you cut the shape (lemon) out of the stone with a stone cutting machine. Once the piece is cut out of the stone (roughly) you start whittling away at it by hand with a file. Don’t all jump up and down with excitement on this? Meanwhile, Radio Monte Carlo with the oddest mix of Euro and American pop and rock plays in the background.

I created one pathetic stone lemon. I'll take a photo of the drawing and post it. I eventually found a stone with coloring vaguely resembling a lemon (it might be calcedonio but of course it came out of the only bin that wasn’t labeled, go figure).

I will go Monday and Thursdays for 3 hours. Except this Thursday is a holiday (All Saints' Day) so I have to go on Friday.

There were several bins labeled “maestro” and in private I asked another student about these. I thought they were only for the maestro’s use because he is always working on something. Apparently they are extras from his work. From what I understood (all conversation is in Italian) he makes color combinations of stone ahead of time to simplify and speed up his work and that’s what is in these bins. I’m a dope.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lights Out!

We blew both the inside and outside breakers trying to run the washer and oven together. We weren’t sure at first what was going on. Resetting the main breaker on the panel inside didn't do the trick. We had some keys that looked to open a another panel outside, near our front door, but they didn’t seem to work. Mark rang Anna’s buzzer (and immediately realized she had power) but then he had to say something. It was funny as he tried to explain what we wanted. She came out and helped a bit but Mark had figured out the key situation and got the outside panel box open and we reset everything. GOOD! On with the ribollita (soup) which was cooking. He had turned on the oven to toast the bread that goes with the soup. Power failure = interruzione della corrente elettrica.

Cat Colony?

On our way back from our Sunday run (yes, it is only the third run we have done since we have been here) we took the pedestrian path from Piazzale Michelangelo down to Porta S. Miniato. Along the way we noticed a cat colony: Colonie Feline. It's a wild area, shady, not easy to get to by humans, I think fenced, and it has little cat houses. I think it may be modeled after a similar one in Rome. The philosophy of the cat colony it seems is more than a refuge and more about trying to help control the wild or abandoned cat problem. For more information, see Colonie feline.

Festival della Creativita

Just found some of our pictures from the Festival della Creativita'. It goes on for several days and late into the night (3am). We caught it from 9 to midnight on Friday. It's free, so it is worth the trouble if you happen to in town. The picture of the band playing to Blade Runner was our favorite. Fortezza da Basso is an old fort just north and east of the train station.

Non Farti Sorprendere dall'AIDS, Copriti

I think it means "don't be surprised about or by AIDS, cover yourself"? We saw this at the Festival della Creatività on Friday night. The best thing we saw though was a band playing along to the movie Blade Runner showing on three large screens. It sounds weird but it was very effective. The band was really good but I don't have the info handy on who they were.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

La Torre di Pisa

Torre di Pisa

If I see another person pretending to hold the tower up while a friend is taking a picture, I’m going to…. scream, I mean smile.

We took a mid morning train to Pisa today. (Hint: there seems to be no difference between first and second class on this regional route so don’t bother.) As soon as we exited the train station in Pisa we started heading for the Catherdral Square of Pisa (see below) in the north of town. Pisa, like Florence, has the Arno running roughly east/west and cutting it in two. The cathedral complex is north of the river and the train station is south. It takes about 20 or so minutes to walk from the station to the cathedral complex. The town is pretty flat so it’s easy if you are up for a walk.

The day turned out perfect at about 70F and blue, blue skies.

Once at the tower, we went straight to the ticket office (just behind the tower) and got tickets for 4pm later in the day to climb it. We arrived at the ticket office around 11:45am and we could have had tickets for 2pm onward. Access to the tower is tightly controlled in terms of the number of people that can go up and the time they can spend in the tower. No loitering in the tower or backpacks (which you check 10 minutes before you go up). Cameras okay.

If you go in the morning on an average “tourist” day, you will probably be able to get tickets for a few hours in the future. If you are a good planner you can buy tickets for no earlier than 15 or so days in the future, on-line, here.

There are six things to see in the Cathedral Square:

  • the cathedral/duomo (2 Euro/person)

  • the leaning tower of Pisa (the church’s bell tower) (15 Euro/person on the spot, 17 Euro online)

  • the baptistery (6 Euro / person combo with cloister)

  • the cloister (monumental cemetery)

  • the Opera museum

  • the Sinopie museum

We did the top four items but bought our tickets in several trips to the ticket office which wasn’t very efficient. Buy one of their combo ticket packages to pay a little less. You could easily spend 4+ hours easily seeing just the first four sites above. We saw the cathedral first, then went to lunch and came back and did the other three.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Okay, we all said some variation of this when we were growing up and didn’t know where it came from or what it really meant. But today we got some insight in our afternoon language class. First, for the last week there has been constant construction in the apartment above the school. Today nerves were frazzled and one of the instructors walked in muttering “stronza, vaffanculo” - so we discussed the origin of vaffanculo. She explained it this way. First there was “Vai a fare in culo” which means you (2nd person singular) go do it in the “rear.” That got shortened to the phrase above and still even shorter is ‘fanculo. There you have it.

UniCredit Banca

We finished getting an account today. It took all week. Since we are in class until 3:10 every day and the bank closes at 4:30 it was a challenge. Monday, we ran over and it was closed. Tuesday, we ran over and they were having an employee meeting and locked the doors so we couldn’t get in. Thursday, we got there and got half the paperwork done before they had to go home. Friday, we finished it up. Persistence wins the day.

Why UniCredit Banca? Because we got strong recommendations for it from several Italian folks. In Florence, the branch we applied at was Via dei Vecchietti 11 in centro. It is just north of the the Palazzo Strozzi. Charges will be 23 Euros (8 of this is a state tax) every 3 months for a debit card/checking account. There is also an international wire fee of 2 Euros for every 1000 transferred. As long as you use ATMs (bancomats) that are part of the UniCredit Banca family there is no ATM fee. There is no fee for using the card for bancomat (debit card) purchases, say at a restaurant or market.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sì, L’Italiano in Mano

Our teacher recommended this book. It’s part of a series I think that is here. The text we bought “Sì, L’Italiano in Mano” kicks hiney over Prego (6th edition) in terms of summarizing and giving practical examples. It is a book for teaching foreigners Italian and it is all in Italian. (As those who follow this blog might remember, we scanned the Prego 6th edition on to the computer so we still use it as a reference, but I’m glad we didn’t lug it over here.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

First Florence Haircut

Yes, traumatic isn’t it, but hey we are sort of natives. We found an Aveda salon (Contrasto, via della Mosca, 8/10 r) in centro that has a good vibe. I even got a, ahem, color (I had the formula). We were both happy with the end result. It was very economical (1/3 the cost for cut/color) than in Seattle and the service was great. Instead of cloth robes you get a paper robe and instead of cloth they use heavy paper towels (nicer than they sound). The cost of laundering all those items is probably too much making paper more economical.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mosaico Fiorentino in Pietra Dura Naturale

I’m trying to decide what kind of “Corsi pratici in studi di artisti e laboratori artigiani” (practical courses in artist studios and artisan workshops) I want to take for four weeks. Part of the process is visiting the studio/workshop of the craft you are interested in. So today, we (Mark couldn’t resist) went to visit a maestro of Florentine Mosaics which is a style that is specific to Florence. The maestro talked to us for about an hour. It was fascinating. By the end, Mark wanted to do it! Anyone who takes the course will definitely start with a simple design, not a complicated landscape of Florence. If you look carefully at the examples in the above link, each color is a different stone perfectly honed and fit into place.

Here are the course options (offered through Centro Machiavelli). Thursday we are going to visit a Florentine marbled paper (carta marmorizzata) studio. Those are the two choices for me: peitra or carta.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Cold Spell in Florence

Yes, there is a bit of cold spell here (low 50s in the day, 40s at night) but jeez is it ever the topic of conversation. More scarves and jackets have come out of the closet than you can believe. It’s suppose to warm up again as this is unseasonably cold. We received the drawing in email (above), a sort of long distance heckling from a certain architect we know.

We turned on our apartment’s heating system. It’s a gas boiler, type: Beretta Caldaie. It is located in the attic space above the bathroom and it provides warm water for everything. There is no reservoir in the unit. The nice thing about the boiler on is that now we have one big radiator in the upstairs room and we can put several things on it to dry quickly. What my thinking has come to: should I put the socks or the underwear on the radiator?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Butchers for Children, Really

It’s really the Festa Mondiale dei Macellai held in Panzano. But was subtitled as above because you “donate” 10 Euro to get into the festival and the money goes to Ospedale Pediatrico Meyer for kids. The festival, I think, was started by Dario Cecchini who was out and about the day we visited. He also is the owner of the Antica Macelleria Cecchini. The small all-you-can-eat festival is held on the street in front of his shop. You’d better like pork!

We took a bus from Florence to Panzano (about 30 km, 45 minutes). The trip was organized by FlorenceForFun. It was a small group of about 17 people which was nice.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

La Notte Se N’è Andata

There is a cabinet on the wall in our combination dining room/living room that has two glass doors. In one of the doors there has been this piece of paper (with writing on it) wedged into the upper corner ever since we moved in. Tonight, after several weeks, I got sick of looking at it and took it down to look at. It’s a lyric from a song! The artist is Vinicio Capossela, the album is “Il Ballo di San Vito”, the song is “La Notte Se N’è Andata” and the lyric is “La notte se n’è andata come una fucilata…”. What does it mean?? I think it means that the night it comes like a gun shot,but will have to check with someone on this one. I’m not superstitious but I’m going to leave the piece of paper there, but I’ll put some meta-data on the back for the next person.

Basilica of Santo Spirito Reopens?

We are in front of it every day, but we haven’t gone into yet this time in Italy because it has been closed. (Don’t get us started on the closure of Forte Belvedere one of our favorite spots in Florence.) Apparently the father of the church had enough and closed it up because of security issues. It appears it is now about to reopen. Hopefully it will reopen soon so we can get a peek inside.

Friday, October 19, 2007

O Sole Mio

I woke up this morning and was wondering about the lyrics to “O Sole Mio”. I always heard this as “O Solo Mio” (with an “o”) and thought it was a song about being lonely (silly, huh?) because of “solo”. It really is a song about the sun and the title is “My Sun” in the Neapolitan dialect. In formal Italian it would be “Il Sole Mio”. File under misheard.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


We had a cooking class tonight. It was our second class at It was part of the “Group Cooking Lessons”. We did the “Pasta fresca” class two weeks ago and that was fun because there was a lot to do and each cooking station (4 of them of several people apiece) did the same thing. In the “3 Risotti tipici” class tonight it was a bit confusing because each cooking station did something different, basically a different type of risotto. And, there were too many people. My advice is to attend a small class if possible. I talked to a lady who took the “Crespelle” class and she said only 8 people came which would be good. For the risotto class there were 24 people which was too much. If you only want to watch, wander around, occasionally stir something, and then eat afterwards you won’t have a problem with the class size. Overall, it is an interesting and fairly cheap evening, 22 Euro per person for several hours of fun and eating.

The instructors (usually two) are good and the class moves right along and you definitely learn something. The classes easily run to 10:00 pm. You can sign up directly with the school or through FlorenceForFun or through a school you are attending in Florence. The mix of people: 90% women, 40% American. So if you are looking for an “authentic” Italian cooking experience with the locals this is probably not the place. If you are looking for some practical recipes, a fun evening, a little smattering of Italian, and some eats, then this is the class for you.

If there are enough Italian speakers there one of the chefs will give instructions in Italian, otherwise it is English.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Codice Fiscale Card Arrives

When original codice fiscale card arrived

It came pretty quickly. I got mine but the half of Travelmarx is still waiting for his. Included a picture of the card.

2021-07-23 Update:  Now that we've lived in a Italy for a bit, we realize how important and requested our codice fiscale is for fiscal and administrative transactions. The codice fiscale is not like a social security number, which we guard in the US. Anyone could guess your codice fiscale.

I had two numbers for a while because in one application, I used my middle name and the other case I didn't which led to two codes.

To see what your codice fiscale is in case you forgot, you can use this codice fiscale generator.

As an example, using the following data:

John Smith

"John Smith" Codice Fiscale example

gives the following codiceSMTJHN70C03Z404T.

Tweaking the data to use a middle name, for example:

John Harold Smith

"John Harold Smith" Codice Fiscale example

gives the following codiceSMTJNH70C03Z404Q. This one differs only in the last letter.

What's more: you don't really need a codice fiscale "card" with the number on it. You just need the number. The codice fiscale appears on your Italian carta d'identità and your tessera sanitaria. In most of our transactions where the codice fiscale is needed, we show one of these cards.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Vasari Corridor

By accident we got hooked up with a group of Japanese tourists with a reservation to see the Vasari Corridor. It's hard to get in to see this famous corridor/gallery, so we did it even though the fee was high (10 Euro for Uffizi and 39 Euro for the corridor! Though the 10 Euro fee was waived for us since we had the Amici degli Uffizi cards.)

From the start the whole visit was a mess and it was pure chaos getting into the Uffizi on a Sunday. We got ushered to the front of a very long line and there was a lot of grumbling. We got in with just enough time to grab a coffee at the café inside before the tour took off. The tour starts near room 25. There is a set of double doors that are closed and guarded that lead down to the corridor. Turns out we didn’t have a guide (so later we would get a bit of refund) just chaperones, one in front and one in back. 

Our group was about 17 people. We just ambled down the .33 km hallway from Uffizi to Boboli peeking out the round windows every so often onto unsuspecting people below in the streets. The real attraction of course is the collection of paintings that line the walls, especially the self-portraits of famous artists. 

We saw some of the damage from the 1993 car bomb which exploded near the start of the corridor. Several large paintings had blast damage. What a shame. Who did it is still a mystery. We exited at the Grotta di Buontalenti inside the Boboli Gardens. We were “told” to exit, wink, wink – but we just walked the gardens for another 3 hours (and avoided 9 Euro entrance fee for our friends with us). The gardens are still a treat and we’ll be returning many times in the coming weeks with the card that gives us free entrance. What’s even nicer is that we can enter near the Belvedere which is closer to our house. (The Belvedere is unfortunately closed currently.)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Perugia - Eurochocolate

Travelmarx accepting a piece of chocolate on stage
We went to the Eurochocolate Festival in Perugia today. It was okay. Yes, I’m a huge chocolate fan, but I don’t enjoy chocolate in a festival format I guess. I enjoy chocolate that is more hidden and unexpected. For example, turning the corner in a small town and finding a good chocolate shop. Not a two ton bar of chocolate trying to break the world record (though I did have a photo taken of me in front of it) or a huge Sony play station controller made of chocolate. What was that all about?? 

Okay, we bought some chocolate, but mostly we just toured Perugia (thanks to F & N we knew where we were going). We did stop at Sandri (2nd time there for us) for a coffee and a snack. We took a small walk out to Chiesa Sant’Angelo to show the friends we were with and climbed the nearby tower in the third wall - that surrounds the city - for a great panorama. Brozzetti was closed unfortunately. We ate lunch at Wine Bartolo Hosteria (in the Slow Food red guide) and it was so so, I'm sorry to say. Not spectacular. Maybe they were having an off day.

Il Fumo

I saw an empty “mini” pack (1/2 pack) of Marlboros in the street and picked it up to read the warnings. There are two messages written in big black letters:

“Il fumo danneggia gravemente te e chi ti sta intorno.”
“Fumare in gravidanza fa male al bambino.”

Which translate roughly to:

“Smoke seriously damages you and those around you.”
“Smoking while pregnant harms the baby.”


Numbers to know:

112 – Carabinieri (Military Police. They have red stripes on their pants and have the most jokes told about them from what I was told and the number of books on the subject.)
113 – Polizia, Pubblica Emergenza (The State Police? They dress in blue and have funny hats. They deal with general crimes.)
114 – Emergenza Infanzia
115 – Vigili del Fuoco (Firefighters.)
116 – 24 hour line for tourists and foreigners with car trouble
117 – Guardia di Finanza (The Financial Police or fraud squad. They wear gray with yellow stripes on the pants.)
118 – Emergenza Sanitaria (Medical Emergency)

Today, 2023, just dial 112 - the single European emergency number.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Second Week of School

We ended week two of classes with a test this morning. The test took about 1.5 hours. The first part was dictation (il dettato), followed by oral comprehension (comprensione orale), followed by pronoun exercise (competenza metalinquistica), and then finally, a letter writing exercise.

The first part, dictation, was by far the hardest. Our teacher read a passage several times and you had to write it all down. The passage was about using a pressure cooker (pentola a pressione). We both got 18/30 possible points. While writing I only had a slight idea about what was being talked about. You didn’t have to know the subject as the test was how you hear words, especially double constants like “fiamme” or “pressione”.

The second part was listening to a conversation (on CD) between a husband and wife. The husband is going out wants to know what the wife needs. There is a lot of ambient household noise like people talking and a TV going. You have to listen while reading an incorrect transcription of the dialog between them and identify and correct words in the written passage. It was trickier than it sounds.

The third part was a drill on mostly indirect pronouns. You had to really understand the context of the sentence to select the correct pronoun (mi, ti, gli, le, Le, ci, vi, gli). A typical example (and one I got wrong): “La zia è in vacanza. Puoi pager__ la bolletta del telefono.” The blank should have been “le”. The sentence means: “My aunt is on vacation. Can you pay the telephone bill for her.”

The last part was writing a response to a friend’s email. Given an e-mail from a friend, we had to respond in at least 60 words, answering questions the friend posed. The friend is in Berlin and you have to give her advice on a place to visit.


Tell me! Pronounced: “dee-mee”. This is a common expression you hear when entering a shop. It’s an informal way of saying “tell me what you want.” It’s an imperative form of the verb “dire” with a indirect pronoun attached to the end. Similarly, “give me” is “dammi”. “Stay quiet” in the singular, second person (you) form is “Sta’ zitto”. My grandfather use to say “State zitti” which means “you {plural} be quiet”.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Il Aspirapolvere

Not sure why but we were obsessed with finding a vacuum bag for our vacuum cleaner (“aspirapolvere”, literally, inhaler of dust). It was quite a challenge. Today we scored and found a little electronics store that carried bags right near the Uffizi. One of the greatest art museums in the world and all we are concerned with is getting a vacuum bag. To be fair we end up buying the Amici degli Uffizi card - a card that allows entry into many museums. Best of all we could do it as a "family".

Lord of the Lambs

“Lord of the Rings” in Italian is “Il Signore Degli Anelli.” I’ve always heard this as “Il Signore Degli Agnelli” – which is Lord of the Lambs. Oops. That’s a different type of movie. That made our afternoon conversation teacher laugh quite a bit.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Caffe degli Artigiani

This is where we get our coffee every morning. (The picture shown on the Web site is a room we've never gone to, we go to the little bar part - standup only!) It's small and has a good vibe. 9:10am every morning we show up in a hurry, drink up and walk 2 minutes more to the school. Total is 2,20 Euro for two. For another 80 cents (Euro) you can get a pastery but we usually eat breakfast at home (yogurt and fruit and biscuits).

TIM 4916

We bought TIM SIM cards for our phones and removed the ATT SIM cards for now. It was a fairly straightforward process. Walk into the TIM store with a passport and then within 20 minutes you have an Italian number. You can buy prepaid cards for different denominations (10, 20, 50 Euros). You scratch off a part of the card (like a lottery ticket) to reveal a code. You call 4916 on your phone and follow the prompts to enter the secret code. Then you get a text message something like this (“we have received the request”):

TIM 4916 Abbiamo ricevuto la richiesta di ricarica di 10,00 EURO per la Sua linea. Cordali saltui.

Followed later by (“we have processed the request”)

TIM 4916 Ricarica effettuata nuovo credito: 24.78 EURo. Per info su tutti bonus della Sua linear contatti il 4916 fonia principale + tasta 3. Cordiali saluti.

The system works well. Before charging up your card, you should follow the automated service in Italian carefully to change the language to English if you want. The default is Italian and it can be a chore to follow if you are new to the language.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

First Week of School

Six hours a day (really 5 when you count the breaks) is a lot. We go from 9:20 to 11:00, get a 20 minute break, go from 11:20 to 13:00, get a 30 minute lunch break, and then go from 13:30 to 15:10. The lunch break is tough because a ½ hour is tight. But there are several bars and sandwich (foccace and piadini) places in Santo Spirito so we manage. Plus there are fruit and vegetable vendors every day in the piazza so we can buy nice produce whenever we need to.

The first week was tough. Factor in an event almost every night related to the school and it’s hectic. We have about a 1 ½ hour of homework per night. Its not mandatory but it definitely helps.

The class sizes for us are small. We are in the same classes so that’s nice. Le due Marx – it’s a point of laughter. First, wow you have the same name, then, wow you come from the same city, and then wow you live together. By then, they start to get the picture. Anyway, our first morning class is grammar and that’s about 4-7 people depending on who shows up. The second morning class is conversation and again about 4-7 people. The afternoon class is just us and an instructor for pure conversation, anything we want. We are the only students doing 3 sessions a day. Our instructor for the first two morning classes is Vincenza and the afternoon, Benedetta. All instruction is in Italian.

The types of students (80%) fall into two categories: Japanese-speaking (Japan) or a Spanish speaking country (several). The rest of the students are a smattering of other nationalities. The Japanese tend to be reserved with conversation in class. The Spanish speaking (especially from South America) tend to be very outgoing with conversation in class. We fall somewhere in the middle.

Making Peace with Anna

Anna is the neighbor who I may have falsely accused (I realize now) in a previous post of taking items off the clothesline. We were coming home from school Friday around 4pm and she was outside. We said hi and exchanged greetings (in Italian) and then she told us that she had a room to rent and did we want to see it. At first we said no but she insisted and then I realized I could see what was on the other side of the “green door” that is next to our dining room window where we see her entering and leaving. Basically I was nosey. So she took us through the door (which turns out to be a back entrance to her house and several other houses) through a small garden and into her kitchen. The back of our house is one large wall of the garden (though strangely we have no windows on that side of the house.) Then we saw the room. It was nice but I wouldn’t rent it. For 320 euro, you get a nice big room with beautiful furniture but you share a bathroom with the family. If you want to use the kitchen, then its 380 per month. I guess it would be a good deal for a student who only needs to sleep and wash-up once a day. But I like to relax and lounge around my living space and I don’t think I could do it there. Anna’s daughter was watching TV in the living room (right next to the bedroom) and that would be nonstarter for me. I hate TV noise. Anyway it was nice to talk to Anna and we told her (in broken Italian) that we would pass the information on to another person at the school who we knew was looking for an apartment. Peace with the neighbor is a good thing. The next day she was out painting something or other and was giving Mark advice about which windows to make sure were closed for safety reasons.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Codice Fiscale

We went for the codice fiscale this afternoon. It wasn’t so bad. We went first to Agenzia Delle Entrate, Ufficio di Firenze 1 (via Nazionale) near Via Spartaco. We were behind a girl from Tuscany who lost hers and needed a replacement. The man at the information desk shushed us along and told us to follow her to Ufficio di Firenze 2 which was around the corner on Via Spartaco. Once in that office (2nd floor) the process was fairly straightforward. Grab a form (1 page), grab a ticket (what else did you expect!?), fill out the form and wait a few minutes. Watch the ticker board to see when you number gets called. You need your passport.

The lady who processed my form (which takes less than 5 minutes) asked me some questions – I don’t remember what she aske exactly, but I think something to the effect: was my name on the door where I lived and how long I was in Italy. (She had the biggest mole/wart I every saw in my life so I was rather preoccupied studying that.)

You get a receipt and a card should show up in the mail in a few weeks (what did you expect!?). The card doesn’t matter a whole lot because the receipt has the “code” which is a combination of letters from your name and birthdate. You need the codice fiscale to open an Italian bank account (at least in the bank where we asked, but I think this is the case in general). So far, we haven’t opened an account.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

One Less Bell To Answer

That cord in the shower, you know the one when you are on vacation that seems to be in your way when you are taking a shower – well we have one too. We pulled it. It our case it just rang the same buzzer as our doorbell. 

The other day we went to friends' house in Perugia and they had bells in the bedroom too (though they just looked like a light switch, not a hanging cord). You might want to ring for something if you're sick is what they said. I wonder why this doesn’t seem popular in the US?

One Less Bell to Answer was a big hit for the 5th Dimension. The song was included on the group's 1970 debut album "Portrait". 

Monday, October 1, 2007

Cleaning the Front Door

I was peeking out the window from our 2nd story into the neighbors 1st story kitchen entrance. It was early in the morning and the brooms, brushes and buckets were just outside the door and the owner had just cleaned the entry way into the house. In Italy, there seems to be this daily routine of cleaning the entry from the public to private space. Restaurants and other public places clean the sidewalks and entrances and private homes do as well. As you walk the streets of Firenze in the morning, there is water trickling down sidewalks and streets with the faint smell of cleaning products. I guess it keeps the entropy of the city in check.

There is also this weird type of rag that is sold in stores that is meant for cleaning floors that you often seen old ladies pushing around with a stick cleaning the threshhold. It’s like a precursor to the swifter (which we have seen in the local grocery store).

I laughed at the neighbor’s cleaning, but about an hour later I was doing the same thing. Sweeping outside our door and swooshing a bucket of soapy water on the stones leading up to our door to keep them clean and tidy.

Maybe the cleaning of the entry is noticeable because that is usually the only interaction point between public and private. A house could have inner courtyards and and other outside areas but you can’t tell from the outside in a town like Firenze. Or maybe doorways get dirty here?

Submitting the Permesso Di Soggiorno

At the language school, an assistant gave us the final bit of information we needed to get the permesso di soggiorno submitted. Here is the list she gave us that helped:

  1. moduli compilati
  2. fotocopia di tutto il passaporto
  3. fotocopia certificato scuola debitamente timbrato dall’Ambrasciata o Consolato
  4. fotocopia assicurazione
  5. fotocopia disponibilità economica
  6. ricevuta pagamento bollettino di 27,50
  7. marca da bollo da 14,62 da applicare sul modulo 1 di prima pagina

Item 1: Is all of module 1. The yellow kit comes with two modules, we only filled out module 1. The second module is for working in Italy. For module 1 only the first 3 pages had anything on them, but we submitted the empty pages too. 8 sheets of paper total.

Item 2: Copy of all pages of the passport – even blank ones. Do full sized copies, not ½ sized pages. We did that and there was some question about it (but they accepted it), so stick to full to be on the safe side. A typical passport will have 24 pages, when you put 2 pages per copy it comes out to 13 photocopies (because of back and front cover pages), so 13 sheets of paper total.

Item 3: We did not do this because we are not on a student Visa.

Item 4: Proof of insurance. We copied a sheet demonstrating our travel health insurance plus our regular health insurance card (now on Cobra). 2 sheets of paper total.

Item 5: Proof of economic means. We scanned a credit card and a letter from our financial institution. 2 sheets of paper total.

Item 6: This is a payment receipt. We did not have this and the assistant gave us the form. You can get it at the post office I’m guessing. This form is three connected receipts where you fill out your name and address three times. The three pieces are later separated. One piece becomes your receipt, one goes into the permesso package, the other stays with the post office. You count the receipt as 1 sheet of paper.

Item 7: You unpeel the marca da bollo (like self-adheseive stamp) and stick it to the front page of module 1 in the space provided. You can buy these a tobacco shops with a black sign that have a certain term on the sig…I forgot the term, maybe “valorati”?

When you count all the pages (in our case 26) you write this in the space provided on page 1 of module 1. The number of pages is important. Then you got to the correct post office (not all will accept the completed kit) and submit the kit. In Firenze, the central post office on Via Pellicceria near Piazza della Repubblica is one of the offices to do it at. We were past the 8 days allowed, but not sure it’s that big of a deal. When you enter the post office on Via Pellicceria first notice what a beautiful building it is and then take a ticket for the “amico sportello” / the friendly(?) window and wait to be called. In our case it was immediately even though the post office literally had 100+ people waiting. We had to go separately to submit our kits, but went one after the other. Each of us handed over the yellow kit envelope with just the items listed above. Remember to remove all the instruction pages that come with the kit. You pay 27,50 euro plus another 30 euro and after a flurry of writing and vigorous stamping you get a couple of receipts – one is essentially your temporary permesso di soggiorno. What a precious receipt because it is necessary for us to stay here legally! The real permesso di soggiorno card may come long after we leave, but that’s okay.

First Day of Class

Even though it has been years since we have been in class we still got butterflies walking into the language school. “Am I going to make friends?” “Why do I have a big zit on my forehead right now?” “Am I dressed cool enough?” Etc.

We signed up for the super-intensive course (3 sessions per day) at Centro Machiavelli ( in Santo Spirito. We walked in and immediately sat down to take a test for about 1 hour. Then we sat (individually) with a instructor and corrected the test and talked with him so that he could size up your speaking/listening comprehension. We both did about the same on the test we think and we’ll be in the same level. Of 17 students starting, we were the only super-intensive “C” course students . There were a number of Japanese students, a couple of Spanish students, and at least one other American student, and several of undetermined nationality.

Every two weeks, a new batch of students comes in, and combined with the old students, everyone is leveled. After taking the test we had a general introductory meeting for an hour and then got the afternoon off. (We needed it because there was a lot to do.) We worked with an assistant at the school on getting the final paper work together for our permesso di soggoirno.

The test had 13 sections, progressing from simple to hard. For example there were sections on:

  • filling the blanks with appropriate nouns
  • matching adjectives to nouns
  • filling in present tense verbs in a story
  • given a few words, construct a sentence using the words
  • filling in past or imperfect tense in a story
  • reading a passage and answering some questions
  • writing a letter to a friend telling him you can’t come to his birthday party and why
  • writing a letter answering a for-rent ad asking for more information
  • writing a short resume

There were a couple of sections that I was clueless on. In fact, I got up to section 8 just fine and then it got hard for me. My knowledge of the language was run out of its boundaries.

Jogging in Florence

This morning we got up at around 8:30am and went for a jog. Jogging is more popular than I would have guessed. (I’m glad Mark insisted we packed running gear.) We see lots of joggers daily in Firenze. Especially on the south side of the Arno, with its shady streets and more residential feel, jogging is actually fun. Anyway, we went for a 10km jog. We could tell it was 10km because today was the day for the “Corri La Vita” (combatti il tumore al seno – walk for breast cancer, I think) and the course was being set up with signs for a 10km and 6km run/walk. Without intending to we ended up doing the 10km loop. We jogged from our apartment right up Costa San Giorgio to Forte Belvedere and through a back entrance into the famous Giardino di Boboli. The man at the entrance thought we were runners in the event (however, we were several hours earlier). We ran through the park and out the back side and made a huge loop back through the south hills of Florence to San Miniato al Monte and then to the Piazzale Michelangelo and then home again. There are hundreds of routes through the hills and this was just one of them. We are hoping to explore more of the routes in the coming months.

Hanging Out The Laundry

It's the second full day in the apartment and we've been catching up on laundry. We have the Hoover Ladytropic HX 44S / Zerowatt washer/dryer unit. It sort of dries. Clothes come out steaming and lightly damp. They definitely need more drying. We’ve been hanging them out on the line outside of our 2nd story window. They dry up nicely. It’s different than just relying on a dryer because now we have to start thinking about the weather and the timing of putting laundry out and taking it in.

The clothesline is right over an adjacent apartment entrance. The lady that lives there does not like low hanging items we were informed. Apparently some bed sheets put out by the property manager of our house went missing. Hmm. Guess, we’ll keep this in mind. Hope she can’t jump high.


Went to buy some household things at Coin in central Firenze. The basement has "bargain" items (well not really). We walked out with three bags of stuff which we carried straight through the heart of the main piazze on the way home. We had a bag (with a comforter in it) that was 4 feet by 2.5 feet and bright red. It was fun navigating it around all the picture-snapping tourists. The weather was beautiful and everyone was out (because it is European Heritage Days) with free admission to museums as we would later find out.

Later we passed by the Giardino Bardini and got in for free for some great photos of the city. The garden is really close to our house.

Taking the Trash Out

What if you had to take the trash further than your garage or curb? Would you use less? I think so. In Firenze, you take your trash to the nearest neighborhood garbage bin. Ours is located about 100 yards away. (There are also bins for recycling: paper, plastic/glass, and garden/kitchen waste. Each bin is a different color.) In just a few days, my thinking started to change. Every time we buy something I now think about how to get rid of or recycle packaging. We have two tiny trash cans: one under the kitchen sink and one in the bathroom.

We started taking plastic bags with us on shopping outings (stuffed in small day pack) because if you go shopping you could get charged for a bag (borsa) or worse, get a cheapo one. So, if you have a good strong one, bring it. Reuse. Canvas totes don’t seem hip here, yet.