Friday, November 30, 2007

Senza Fine – Gino Paoli

Gino Paolo - Senza Fine

Really, we don’t sit around just listening to music. We use it as a way to hear the sounds of the language in a very memorable way. With that, I must say one of the prettiest songs we’ve ever heard is Gino Paoli’s “Senza Fine”. The title has the loose translation of “without end or endless” (hello Italian friends, pipe in any time). The song is on a CD by Paoli we picked up a few weeks ago called Canzione da Ricordare. The version we bought is only 1 CD, an extract of the 3 CD box set. At least the version of “La Gatta” is different from the original, so if you are looking for the originals you might try I Grandi Successi Originali

I guess I like “Senza Fine” (1961) and others (from the 1960s) because they have the high soaring strings and tend to be in ¾ time (I'm a sucker for that sound). Here’s what the song sounds like. Here are the lyrics: 

Senza fine
Tu trascini la nostra vita
Senza un attimo di respiro 
Per sognare 
Per potere ricordare 
Ciò che abbiamo già vissuto 
Senza fine, tu sei un attimo senza fine 
Non hai ieri 
Non hai domani 
Tutto è ormai nelle tue mani 
Mani grandi 
Mani senza fine 
Non m'importa della luna 
Non m'importa delle stelle 
Tu per me sei luna e stelle 
Tu per me sei sole e cielo 
Tu per me sei tutto quanto 
Tutto quanto io voglio avere 
Senza fine

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Museo Davanzati

Palazzo Davanzati – Great Hall
Palazzo Davanzati – Great Hall
There was a glitch in the Duomo’s ticketing system this morning so our climb to the cupola was postponed a bit. To kill some time we headed over to the Museo Davanzati (Via di Porta Rossa 13 – near Piazza della Repubblica) for a quick visit – it’s free. It is known as the museum of the traditional Florentine house. When you enter on the ground floor, go up a set of stairs and the museum is the first floor. It takes about 30 minutes for a quick look-see. In December they are going to open the second floor as well.

From the outside the building when you look up, you notice the top floor loggia. Many of the loggias these days have been filled in to create more living space (apartments) – what a shame because it is a neat concept.

First Floor Looking Down Into Courtyard (left) and Looking Up From Courtyard (right)

Sala dei Pappagalli (Room of the Parrots)
Sala dei Pappagalli (Room of the Parrots)Sala dei Pappagalli (Room of the Parrots)

Sala dei Pavoni – Bedroom
Sala dei Pavoni – Bedroom

Onda Su Onda

Paolo Conte - Wonderful - Album Cover

I’m not super crazy about this Paolo Conte album called “Wonderful” – not sure why. Maybe I need to listen a little bit more. The one song I really do like though is “Onda Su Onda” (wave after wave). 

Our teacher at our language school in Florence knows I like music so she’s always suggesting new songs and this is one she recommended. In the song, a guy falls overboard from a ship but his girlfriend doesn’t seem to notice as she is dancing in the arms of another. But luckily, the guy ends up on a tropical island and doesn’t mind his fate. 

Here are the lyrics (I’ll post the translation in a comment): 

Che notte buia che c'è
povero me, povero me
Che acqua gelida qua
nessuno più mi salverà 
Son caduto dalla nave 
Son caduto mentre a bordo c'era il ballo... 

Onda su onda 
Il mare mi porterà
alla deriva, 
in balia di una sorte bizzarra e cattiva
Onda su onda 
mi sto allontanando ormai
La nave è una lucciola persa nel blu, 
mai più mi salverò 

Sara, ti sei accorta? 
Stai già danzando insieme a lui
con gli occhi chiusi ti stringi a lui 
Sara, ma non importa 

Stupenda l'isola è 
Il clima è dolce intorno a me 
Ci sono palme e bambù, 
è un luogo pieno di virtù 
Steso al sole ad asciugarmi il corpo e il viso 
guardo in faccia il paradiso 

Onda su onda 
Il mar mi ha portato qui: 
ritmi, canzoni, 
donne di sogno, banane, lamponi 
Onda su onda, 
mi sono ambientato ormai... 
il naufragio mi ha dato la felicità che tu 
non mi sai dar... 

Sara, ti sei accorta? 
Tu stai danzando insieme a lui 
con gli occhi chiusi ti stringi a lui 
Sara, ma non importa 

Onda su onda...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Permesso di Soggornio – Questura Letter

One of these letters arrived for each of us at the school. It is an appointment sometime next April (!) for a 5 minute slot with an official. We must bring some documentation and fill out another module. Hmm, not sure we will even be here in Florence. The letter:

Oggetto: Convocazione per integrazione pratica e fotosegnalemento.

In riferimento all Sua richiesta di rilascio/rinnovo del permess/carta di soggiorno, Le comunichiamo che risulta carente della sequente documentazione:
  • 4 fototessere su fondo bianco

  • tutti i documenti in originale per il rilascio/rinnovo del permesso di soggiorno

  • passaporto l’orginale

  • questa stessa convocazione

Elenco documenti mancanti:

  • Istanza 209 Modulo 2

  • Fotocopia della documentazione attestante il possesso di risorse economiche, proprietà immobiliari, e assegni pensione

La predetta documentazione dovrà essere prodotta presso:
Questura – Ufficio Immigrazione sito in Via della Fortezza 17, 50129. Il giorno xx/xx/xx alle ore 11:55.

Per cui dovrà pressentare:
  • questa stessa lettera di convacazione

  • 4 fotografie in formato tessera e fondo bianco

  • passaporto in corso di validità

  • originali dei documenti allegati alla richiesta di rilascio/rinnovo

Distinti saluti,
Il Dirigente,
Ufficio Immigrazione

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Museo dell’ Opificio delle Pietre Dure

This morning we went to the Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure – or the museum of semiprecious stones. I think of it as the museum of Florentine mosaics because that’s what is largely there. And boy, are there some great examples. We have seen examples around in the different museums (Pitti Palace, Palazzo Vecchio, etc.) but this museum has the best collection, obviously. Especially impressive are the table tops (usually round) made just after the unification of Italy when there wasn’t that much money and the school made them to sell to raise money (late 1800s). Unfortunately there are no good pictures on the web (you can't see much in this photo) and we couldn’t take pictures. It’s a small museum. You can spend just an hour if you are in a hurry or longer if want to linger over the beautiful pieces. The museum is at Via Alfani, 78 (north of the Duomo). Make sure you go up the stairs to the mezzanine level to see the different types of stone and equipment used.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Stone Flower (Sister of Stone Lemon)

I started another couple of weeks in Florentine mosaic class. My new capolavoro is a little more complicated – less of jigsaw puzzle for a 3 year old and more like one for a 5 year old. It’s a flower – not particularly realistic, more my own fantasy. So far I’m all thumbs trying to assemble the petals. In the photo you can see I’m trying to fit in the last petal. The flower will be surrounded by black, I hope. When the maestro complements the work he uses "bellina" or cute. But I want stunning!

Drain Pipe Mystery

A building in Florence where the gutter downspout is partially in the wall 

We were near the Piazza Repubblica and I took this photo of a typical building in the city. Notice the gutter drain pipe (downspout) goes into the wall above the ground floor. This is the kind of thing that gets me thinking. Why do they do that? 

The other day we came up with some plausible hypotheses. 

* If they ran the pipe to the ground it would probably be destroyed, as simple as that. Seeing the way cars and scooters are parked and the way bikes are chained to anything stationary, it's best to not expose the downspouts for use and abuse.

* In the wall, the downspout water combines with house waste water – combined waste water. 

* Once upon a time houses collected rainwater into a cistern for use in the house. By design, the downspouts went into the walls and emptied the water into a cistern inside the house's cortile and not out into the street. The aesthetic remained even if cisterns are not commonly used today.

All Ears

They changed the schedule of our classes (as we head into our last two weeks at Centro Machiavelli). We have grammar in the afternoon instead of the morning. So now our mornings are free. We think it will be nice because a number of museums are open in the morning and close early in the afternoon and we had not been able to visit them. But no museums today -instead we headed to the San Lorenzo market (which is a morning affair as well 7am – 2pm) and did some shopping. Okay, Mark shopped and I mostly watched. One photo shows a guy cleaning some calamari that we bought. It was only a couple of bucks for fresh calamari and mussels. The other photo shows some pig parts (orecchie – ears, testa – head, fegato – liver).

Diabolik, chi sei?

“Diabolik, who are you?”

Plot: Diabolik and his nemesis, inspector Gingko end up captured at the same time and thrown into a cell together. Both think they are going to die. Inspector Gingko (IG) asks the masked Diabolik (D), "who are you?"

D: Non avrei mai immaginato che il destino ci riservasse di morire insieme.
[I never would have imagined that destiny would find us dying together.]

IG: Non m’importa di morire, perché so che uccideranno anche te!
[Dying is not important as long as I know that they kill you too!]

D: Ero certo che avresti parlato così. Sei sempre stato a sacrificare la vita pur di distruggermi.
[I was sure you would talk like that. You have always been ready to sacrifice life to destroy me.

IG: Sì, ho lottato contro di te con tutte le mie forze. Devo ammettere che certe volte ho persino creduto di combattere un criminale fantasma.
[Yes, I have battled against you with all my might. I must admit that sometimes I even believed that I was battling a ghost.]

IG: Noi stiamo per morire e, questo è il momento della verità: Diabolik, chi sei?
[We are going to die and the question in this moment of truth is: Diabolik, who are you?]

And, there you have it, my translation of this riveting dialog. Seriously, it is useful because you know exactly what each character is going to say so the context is there and that helps you figure out the articulations in Italian.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


We visited the Bargello National Museum this morning. This is the place for sculpture. In particular, this is the home of Donatello’s David. Right now it is under restoration. But, the restoration takes place in front of your eyes. Granted the statue is horizontal so you don’t get to walk around it 360 degrees, however, it is better than not seeing it all. They take great effort to explain how they are restoring it. David is very much a modern man; he is even getting some little bits lasered off.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Today we went to Orvieto. We meant to take the 8:00am train but there was a little error in reading the train schedules and the train we wanted left from a different station. So we took another train an hour later. Lesson: pay attention to the stations in Florence. There are three: Santa Maria Novella, Campo di Marte, and Firenze Rifredi. Here is a good summary of them.

Arriving at Orvieto, you can get up to the city by driving, walking, or taking the funicular (a steep cog railway) that puts you at the east end of the city. It is called the Bracci Funicular. The city (once you get up to it) is very walkable and if you take the main street Corso Cavour you are within a minute or two of everything, it seems.

Once on the hill we headed for the duomo and bought a ticket for a tour of the Orvieto underground at 5:15pm in Italian (for a challenge). Then we peeked inside the Duomo for a while, climbed the Torre del Moro, visited the Albornoz Fortress (a public garden) and then the descended the Pozzodi S. Patrizio (a well). All before lunch.

We had a very enjoyable lunch at he Antica Trattoria dell’Orso (Via della Misericordia, 18-20) where were the owners Gabriele and Ciro were very inviting and friendly. It’s my kind of restaurant because they read the options for each course and you order in progression (after each course). I don’t like reading menus.

After lunch we walked for a hour or two and then took the underground tour which was interesting. Basically, underneath the city there are a series of caves and tunnels and rooms (some private and connecting to houses). The city is built on volcanic tuffa which is easy to excavate and that’s what they did to create more room for doing things that the city above didn’t have enough room for, like olive pressing or storing stuff.

I was surprised on the train going to and from Orvieto on the shortness of the stops. We stopped in towns and there was literally 20-30 seconds for anyone to get on or off the train – that’s it. You are either ready or you are not! I love it. It’s your responsibility to be ready.

Speaking of which, the station sported one of those automated, self-cleaning water-closets (restrooms) which for $0.20 is how one relieved oneself. The board reported our train would be 10 minutes late so Mark headed for the WC. Unfortunately, the door hydraulics malfunctioned and wouldn't let him out. Giving up on the help button, he pried open the door and escaped. The board had updated again, reporting the train was back on schedule. And a moment later we were on our way.

Diabolik - Agguato in Alto Mare

“Ambush at high seas.” We were in the train station and we picked this up to read on the train to Orvieto.

Plot: Eva Kant (villianess) is on board a cruise ship to pull off a heist. She needs to change her look as to not be recognized, so she shoots a tranquillizer dart into another passenger (Debora on the back cover) that she doesn’t like and takes her wig with the following catty remarks:

Sapevo che la prima volta che l’ho vista indossava una parruca nera a riccioli.
[I knew the first time that I saw her she was wearing a black wig with curls.]

Una donna bionda con un abito lungo beige.
[A blonde woman with a very beige wardrobe.]

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Galleria Palatina and Galleria D’Arte Moderna

 After lunch today we went to the Pitti Palace and visited the Galleria Palatina and the Galleria D’Arte Moderna – all in the same palace. One stop museum shopping.

The Galleria Palatina is fun because of the scale and “themes” of the rooms. The paintings are generally from the Renaissance, but the the rooms are in no particular sequence. And, in general, much of the Galleria Palatina was “remodeled” in the early 1800s with some of the ceiling paintings and room themes celebrating the Hapsburg-Lorraines’ return to Florence.

After the Palatina, we went up several flights of stairs to the Galleria D’Arte Moderna (on the second floor). This gallery has over 30 rooms dedicated to the late 19th century and 20th centuries. Each room changes color as you walk down this long hallway that passes through each room. Occasionally, there is a great glimpse out onto the Boboli gardens.

In general, a good site for seeing the paintings room by room if you want is the site. Navigate to the gallery of interest and click on the room.

Italian Brain Teaser (Rompicapo)

Today in conversation class we played a game where we were given a “situation” which we explained to the rest of the class (there was only 5 in the class today) and they had to guess what the “solution” was. Basically a brain teaser, called a rompicapo in Italian. The purpose was for people to ask questions that could lead them to the correct solution.

Situazione: “Una persona abita al 15° piano di un grattacielo. In genere per salire prende l’ascensore fino al 10° piano e gli ultimi 5 piani li fa a piedi. Per scendere, invece, prende l’ascensore fino al pianoterreno.”

Soluzione: “La persona è un bambino che ancora non arriva a premere il bottone del 15° piano.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Start of Another Capolavoro

Started on another mosaic (stone) project. Not very realistic, sort of a fantasy design. It’s a bit more complicated than my first design, with more pieces and a more complicated assembly (for me at least). In the photo above I’m looking for pieces of yellow calcedonia to use for the petals. You can see a little cup of hot chocolate that I picked up at Vestri. Vestri is on my way to the studio so I can’t resist stopping by for something. It is my favorite chocolate place in Florence, so far. (I bought a chocolate bar from the famous Rivoire and it was waxy. Yuck.)


We had made a reservation for a special dinner tonight at Bar Ricchi, a restaurant that we have lunch at (in the bar part) quite a bit but never tried it for dinner. On this particular night they were having a special dinner based on the dish called “cacciuccuo” – a typical fish soup of Livorno. Since Bar Ricchi is touted for its fish dishes we thought it would be good. It was 35 Euro per person and was worth every penny.

We had wine, water, and coffee of course, part of the price. We started with an appetizer which was a spuma di patate with a large squid tentacle in it. Then the soup came with all sorts of fish and a side of bruschetta and mussels and clams. That was followed by a huge basket of mixed, fried fish and very thin french fries (sort of). We ended with a nice piece of cheesecake. Sorry, all you get is bad cell phone pictures which show the mixed fried fish.

It was nice because we were the only foreigners. Everyone was a local from the neighborhood. We recognized some of the people.

We scratch our head every time we see the English translation of Livorno as Leghorn – I think of the character from Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn. Maybe he was from Livorno.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

E Poi, Mina

Now I'm working on the song “E Poi” (“And then”). Phrases you can learn from this song: “Che senso ha?” (What sense does that make?), “Dio lo sa” (God knows [it].), “Mi sento in colpa” (I feel guilty.), “Le tue promesse, sempre le stesse” (Your promises, always the same.), and “Ho sentitio il cuore in gola” (I feel my heart in my throat?). I love the orchestra in the background of the video – they don’t have too much to do it seems.

Qui si parla italiano!

We found this show the other day on RAI and watched a couple of episodes (puntate). The show is about the Italian language and foreigners living in Italy (stranieri) and how they use the language. One or more foreigners is invited on the show to talk about how they learned the language and is quizzed on the finer points of the language. During each episode there is little bit of grammar and vocabulary. A professor from the Dante Alighieri school keeps the language on the up and up by correcting and instructing everyone as needed. At the end of the show, the guest reads a passage from a book (in Italian naturally) and so far it seems it is always the story of Pinocchio.

Qui Italia

We use the textbook “Qui Italia: 1. Lingua e grammatica” every so often in conversation class. My only nit is that it’s a big, heavy book for what it contains. It’s sort of like a magazine format, lots of pictures and space on the pages. I bought it tonight so I’ll see how it works.

Electronic Translator

Almost all the Japanese students that have been in our classes have this translation device (or something very similar): Casio DataPlus.It is a lot quicker than searching through a dictionary, but, I think it takes away from just listening. For example, the dictionary is hard enough (time consuming) to use, that, you can’t look up every word while the teacher is talking in Italian. Hence you concentrate on context or ask questions which is better. Most Japanese, with these devices, can look words up quickly and thus do so and don’t listen as much – it seems. Offline, I’m betting the device is pretty handy – similar to the way we use

Monday, November 19, 2007

Handbag Anyone?

This photo was taken near the Uffizi. It shows some knockoff street sellers pulling up their white sheet as some police approach. They look like Santa Claus shuffling down the street with their big sacks. They set up again as soon as the police leave.

I don’t want to imply that these vendors of knockoffs are everywhere, but, they sort of are. There was a crack down this summer on them and then they all came back in the fall. Now there seems to be another crackdown. I suppose the store owners don’t like them, or they cheapen the city, or they are a nuisance, and so on. But for the life of me I can’t understand who buys the stuff? What kind of person? I mean these handbags (in this case) are not even pleasant to look at. (Okay I admit it I’m not a purse-kind-of guy.) And, there are plenty of stores with reasonably priced bags or backpacks. And, they don’t really represent the city or Italy (at least to me). Yes, Italy is known for fashion but why buy a cheap knockoff on the street to celebrate that?

Different nationalities seem to have the market on different items. Chinese sell these origami decorations, Senegalese sell handbags and luggage, Romanians (I think) sell posters, and so on. Beware, because there is a fine for the seller and the buyer of these goods. We haven’t seen anyone get a fine but if you are caught buying a handbag, let’s say, you could pay up to 1,000 Euro we were told. Now that’s an expensive handbag.

We've gotten so used to see these folks that we don't see them at all. Florence is not the only city by far with this issue.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Stone Lemon V – The Big Polish

I’m about to wrap up my capolavoro (masterwork). Mark stopped by on Thursday and snapped some shots of me working on it. Most of the day was spent cleaning the surface in various ways and using more Tenax products. In the photo above I’m polishing the surface with various pads with different grit ratings.

The Gardens of Palazzo Vegni

As we were walking to Magi (a crappy market we use as a last resort when everything else is closed – because we are snobs) in the San Niccolò district near our house we discovered the rather large public garden of Palazzo Vegni. We talked to a lady from Florence who was there and she said it is only open on Sundays. During the week, an adjacent school uses part of the garden so it is closed to the public. Maybe that explains why we never noticed it. You have to go through a tunnel in a building to enter the garden so it isn’t exactly apparent from the street. The gardens look into the Bardini Gardens which you must pay to enter. In this aerial shot you can see that the gardens back up against the old city wall that runs along Via di Belvedere.

Palazzo Vecchio

We intended to go to the Bargello this morning but when we got there discovered it was closed on the third Sunday in the month. (It’s these kind of odd hours that you run into a lot in Florence. You just go with the flow.) So we went to Palazzo Vecchio (town hall of Florence) instead and had a good time. The building dates back to the end of the 13th century. In the huge Salone dei Cinquecento (room of 500 hundred) there was a youth orchestra performing the Four Seasons and it was a pleasant welcome. One thing that is nice about the Palazzo Vecchio is that it has many windows and there is a lot of light coming in.

The parapet (according to a ticket office person) has been closed for three years – in restoration. She said it would open next spring. We remember the parapet from a visit in the late 1990s. It’s one of the highest points in the Palazzo you can get to.

There is also a guided visit to the palace with stops in the "secret" spots that you normally can't get to. You must have a reservation. Ask at the ticket office.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Touring with Wikipedia

We went to the San Lorenzo market today on our way back from visiting two Medici Villas just outside of the city center. We thought about eating in the market but everything was closing down, so we got some groceries and headed for the exit. As we got outside the market (in the outside market) we saw a tripe cart and decided to try it. I had “panino bollito” and Mark had “panino trippa alla fiorentina”. Mine with boiled meat with a green sauce was excellent. The trippa with a red sauce was good too, but we both liked the bollito better. The thing that struck me (as it has on several other times so far on the trip) is how far Wikipedia has come, because now people just print out a relevant Wikipedia page and stick it up as information. Taped to the front of the cart was the Italian Wikipedia page for trippa.

Two Medici Villas in Florence - Castello and Petraia

Villa Castello - Florence 

Today we decided to visit two Medici Villas, Garden of Medici Villa of Castello and the Medici Villa of Petraia. Both gardens are definitely in winter mode as all the citrus and sensitive plants are tucked away in the cold frames and green houses. But we are autumnal-kind-of people so the visit was perfect for us. Plus, there were no other souls to speak of. Both gardens are free to get into. Both gardens are within walking distance of each other. 

To get there take the #2 or #28 bus from the train station. (Looking at the train station from the front, the bus stop is to the right side.) Plan your trip using the ATAF web site. Enter the starting location as Piazza della Stazione, 1 and the ending destination as Via del Castello 47. It takes about 20 minutes to get there. Both villas are located northwest of city center in an area called Castello. Count stops from the start or keep your eyes posted for the Sestese 05 stop. (Odds going out from the city and evens coming into the city, I think.) 

Here is an aerial that shows both villas, Castello to the left and Petraia to the right. We both liked Petraia more. Just a bit more striking, at least at this time of the year. Plus there is lots of walking opportunities in the “wild” (not really) area behind the villa.

  Villa Petraia - Florence

The Hands Say It All

We studied hand signals (gesti) in one of our conversation classes. The ones we studied were a bit more polite than the ones in this video which more like what you will see. We definitely have seen these gestures around Florence and have had a few thrown our way. Some of the ones in the video include:

Me ne frego! [I don’t give a damn!]
Che furbo! [What a smart aleck!]
Sono d’accordo. [They are in agreement.]
Che palle! [How boring!]
Che cazzo vuoi? [What the ***k do you want?]

Another set of silly learning videos (at least I think they are not serious…) are by host “Marcello Mastrantonioni” and include Learn Italian in 10 Minutes, How to Make Love, and others.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Back to Mina

I realized that learning through music is good way for me to meld the sound of Italian words with what I see written and practice the sounds. The songs from Mina that I studied while still at home continue to help me. (Many of the teachers think it a little strange that I can recite the lyrics.) Anyway, I commenced parsing the lyrics of two new songs: “Non Gioco Più” and “Zum Zum Zum”. The first song is “I don’t play anymore.” The second song I think is a cover of a Brazilian song(?) about how you get a tune in your head and you can’t get it out. The songs have words and grammatical constructions that are very relevant to what we are studying. Here’s my rough translation of the beginning of the first song:

“Non gioco più , me ne vado. Non gioco più, davvero!
La vita e' un letto sfatto. Io prendo quel che trovo e lascio quel che prendo dietro di me”

I don’t play anymore, I must get out of here. I don’t play anymore, really!
Life is an unmade bed. I take what I find and leave what I take behind me.

Rickie Lee Jones

We shared the first two albums of Rickie Lee Jones (Rickie Lee Jones and Pirates) with the guy who runs our morning coffee place. They seemed like the kind of albums he might enjoy. We’ll see. He was playing one today when we walked in.

Everyone is Moving Around

Our current morning conversation class has 3 of us from the U.S. (us plus a slightly older guy from Florida), a young woman from Brazil, a middle-aged woman from Poland, a young a 20ish Japanese boy, and 30ish Japanese women. The lady from Poland was telling us how there are over 2 million Polish people in London (for better work options). Also, there are Polish doctors who fly over to England for the weekend to work odd shifts and pull in extra money. Our Italian teacher told us that in Italy, young kids (especially from the South) prefer to head to Germany to make a lot of money. Meanwhile, the influx of Romanians is on every Italian’s mind – and in the papers, it seems. A student from Madrid said there were very large numbers of Chinese in that city. The Japanese students say that there are a lot of Iranians who live in Japan. Confused yet?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Quattro Leone

We had lunch at Quattro Leone a few weeks ago with another student. It was a good meal but not outstanding. Maybe we need to try it again. I say that because this restaurant always gets great recommendations. Anyway the interesting thing was the waiter we had. He was born in Albanian and he told us about swimming across an 8 mile channel on an inner tube to escape, with his cousin. (It was during the People’s Republic phase of their history.) Then he was captured and returned. He then escaped by walking – for good that time. He works in Italy currently and has worked in Arizona. He would prefer to go back to Arizona – a beautiful place for him. Hope he makes it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Flat Stanley Visits Florence

We found Flat Stanley waiting for us when we got home today from class. Welcome Stanley. We immediately took Stanley around to visit some sights. Included is a snapshot of Stanley at the Forte Belvedere – our favorite spot! Stanley loved it. He was running around and playing. Couldn’t control the youngster.


Cartoons in Italy are called fumetto/i. From Wikipedia: “The term fumetto (literally little puff of smoke) refers to the balloon that contains the dialogs.” Very practical name.

We are starting off with a volume of Diabolik stories. The character Diabolik was created by two sisters, Angelo and Luciana Giussani in 1962. Diabolik is a character who robs robbers to put it simply. So far, the series has a very 1950/1960s TV detective feel to it. In the opening pages we learned immediately: “Se fate una mossa sparo!” – if you (all) make a move, I shoot. It could come in handy in the future, you never know. It’s all in support of learning the language. Plus we can act it out – which gets kind of silly but helps. Mark is “ispettore Gingko” or Diabolik and I’m usually the sidekick, or a nurse, or doctor, or anyone it takes to fill the scene out. We usually end up laughing and using the dictionary a lot.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Stone Lemon IV – Return to the Grind

We (maestro and I) dismantled the structure that held the pieces together in back and buffed (with a circular grinding device…don’t know what the name is) the back so all the pieces were at the same level. (The front is flat but the back can be different levels because not all stones are the same thickness.) After cleaning out the grooves, we mixed up a batch of something sticky (Tenax) and stuck the back to a piece of slate. After that cured (about an hour) we uncovered the front part, drew lines at right angles (hopefully) to cut off the excess. We cut it and called it a day.

I found out a little bit more about the glue (colla) that comes in solid blocks and that you melt with a hot rod to create a liquid which hardens again and is used to temporarily hold pieces of stone together. They call it “api” for short. Anyways, it is really composed of two ingredients that are cooked together:

cera d’api – beeswax, like this
pece greca – pitch from pine trees, a distillation of turpentine, like this

The products from Tenax we used are a glue, catalyst, and colorant – all were nasty smelling. We used the mixture to stick the assembled stones to a piece of slate which serves as the backing to the finished master work.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


We took a mid morning train to Lucca today. It took about 90 minutes to get there by train. It was misty and cool ~ 12C. We walked a bit, ate, and then walked a bit more. Lucca doesn’t have a lot open on Sunday (museums, shops, and many restaurants are closed). Walking the famous, intact, Renaissance-era walls is your best bet for a Sunday. It took us about 60 minutes to make it around. You can rent bikes if you want.

We had a nice, simple meal at Trattoria da Leo and met an opera singer from LA who was serenading the restaurant.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Forte Belvedere is Open!

Mark was in class cooking out his little heart so I decided to head to Boboli gardens to sit in the sun and read. On the way there I was stopped by some Spanish tourists asking where the Forte Belvedere was. I told them it was up (the very steep) Costa San Giorgio but that it was closed. They decided it wasn’t worth it and walked away. Then as I reached the top to enter the Boboli from the entrance near the Forte I noticed the Forte was open. Darn, I felt bad for giving bad information, but the Forte was closed for such a long time. We think it is the best spot to get a 360 panorama of Florence. And, best of all, it isn’t crowded.

After talking with a guard (there are now monitors there, volunteers perhaps?) I found out that the site was closed because an American fell off the wall of the forte (+25 ft plunge) and died plus there were money issues. Apparently money was found or there was enough of an outcry and it is open once again. There are now ample signs warning about getting up on the walls. Tuesday – Sunday, 11am to 4pm.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Nick Nightfly: Yesterday, Today, Tonight

We heard this compilation playing in our morning coffee place the other day. (BTW, the owner’s name? Marc…. go figure) Anyways, we asked because the song “I Don’t Want to Know” by Vaya Con Dios was playing and the singer has such a distinctive voice and the song was interesting. Turns out the song was from 1990. Another artist to look into.

Anyway the compilation is pretty good – just bought it tonight (a mini CD binge after holding out for months). A mix of lots of stuff with an eclectic, new jazz/soul vibe. The compilation was put together by Nick the Nightfly, a DJ on Radio Monte Carlo – a popular radio channel broadcast from Italy.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Test Tomorrow

Tomorrow the test will probably cover condizionale semplice and composto (conditonal mood), a bit of futuro semplice (future tense), la concordanza deit tempi e dei modi, pronomi, and particelle “ci” and “ne”. The particelle are tricky because you have to understand the context of the sentence and how different verbs work in terms of what follows them. In English, examples are “think of”, “talk to”, and “count on”. In Italian, the idea is similar but we don’t have years of hearing the words to help. Here is an example text where we had to fill in the correct pronouns and particelle (not sure of the English equivalent of this) – the bolded words are what we had to supply:
Come vedono Roma i turisti stranieri? Che cosa ne pensano? Sono veramente contenti della loro vacanza romana? Ne sono soddisfatti? Torneranno nella città eterna, oppure, la prossima volta, andranno altrove?

"No tornerò. Mi è bastata questa esperienza", risponde Lizzette, 40 anni, portoricana, per la prima volta a Roma.

"Per me era sempra stato un sogno venire in Italia. Guardavo le fotografie dei palazzi, dei monumenti romani, et mettevo via i soldi per il viaggo. Adesso sono qui da dieci giorni e sono triste". Perché? "Sono appena stata a Villa Borghese. C'era una statua bellissima, l'hanno sporcata tutta con scritte di vernice nera. Mi ha fatto sentire male. Non c'è rispetto per la bellezza. La gente vive in questa meraviglia di cose antiche e delicate, ma non se ne rende conto.

Sembra molto soddistfatto invece un medico danese, Svend Jorgen Angsburg, 52 anni, che a Roma ci era già stato nell' 83 ci è ritornato adesso, con moglie e figlie.
"La bellezza di questa città è una calamita. Ci tonerò sempre", dice con un sorriso.

Passiamo a un giovane tedesco di Francoforte, Sven Gensz, che se ne sta seduto sul bordo della Fontana di Trevi a bere un frappè. Ha 27 anni e lavora in un bar.
"All'inizio ho trovato Roma bellissima, proprio come me l'ero immaginata. Poi il traffico e lo smog hanno raffredato un po' il mio entusiasmo. In Germania ho fatto amicizia con dei romani simpatici e abbiamo deciso di scambiarci, ogni tanto, le case. Le ragazze romane mi piacciono, ma purtroppo in discoteca non riesco a conoscercerne nessuna, perché non parlano inglese. O forse fanno finta di non saperlo?"

They Always Ask

Do you like Hillary? Will she be president? It seems like I’m asked these questions at least every other day. A lot of people are watching the election I guess. It’s hard to explain with limited vocabulary and ability (in Italian) that the concept of the lesser of two evils or many evils for that matter.

No need to say it, but almost everyone we’ve met thinks Bush is pazzo (crazy). Saying that I don’t care for him doesn’t seem to make me feel any better. And, everyone asks, but why did you elect him a second time?? Difficult. No one has been hostile; it is just a very curious thing for them.

Use the Glove or Else

You are suppose to use a plastic glove when handling fruit or vegetables in supermarkets. You pick your items out, put them on the scale and then select the number of the item. Out comes a little ticket that you stick on the bag.

The Stone Lemon Chronicles III

There are three photos above. One is the stone lemon (part 1, part 2) turned over and plopped into gesso for the next step. You can see that on the back the pieces of stone are held together with slate and temporary glue. You can sort of see the lemon on a bluish table.

The other two photos are of the boxes of precut stone that you look through to find what you need. Each box has one type of stone in one color, usually.

The maestro proposed a little “deal” to cut out the middle man out of the transaction if I wanted to continue with classes after my four weeks are up – so Italian!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Trattoria La Casalinga

Trattoria La Casalinga - Florence
We usually eat lunch at home, but today we broke down and stopped for lunch at the Trattoria La Casalinga today. We walk by the restaurant everyday going to and from school, located just off the north end of the Piazza Santo Spirito. For lunch today, we had arista di maiale and fagioli bianci and trippa alla fiorentina and spinaci

Florence Skies

There really is something about the quality of light in Florence that is beautiful. Above is a photo taken last Friday during sunset (tramonto). Tonight I was reminded of that as we were jogging (4th time) south of the city, past Forte Belvedere and the sky was beautiful.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Museo degli Argenti, Palazzo Pitti

Example of quadratura in Palazzo Pitti 

We took a few hours this afternoon to visit the Museo degli Argenti located inside the Pitti Palace (which is about 6 minutes from our house). The silver museum’s attraction for me is not so much the silver or gold trinkets (okay, they are a much nicer than trinkets) but the frescoed rooms which use quadratura techniques to create scenes that are fun to look at. If you close one eye it removes your stereoscopic ability (?) and the trompe l’oeil is especially vivid.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Stone Lemon II

The stone lemon is coming along (my Florentine mosaic class). In the (cell phone) image above you can see a very flat lemon (very Japanese as another student said) with two leaves surrounded by brown. In total it is about 6 pieces of stone. I still have to pick out two more pieces to complete this first "attempt". In the picture above it is held together temporarily with slate and glue in back.

In this class, I’ve discovered several things:

  • I can’t select two colored stones to go together to save my life (witness my jeans and gray tee-shirt daily uniform as an example of color issues)

  • The stones I would like to choose are the ones the “maestro” shakes his head at and says “troppo forte” or something to that effect.

  • I have very little patience for putting things together precisely (on several occasions I have thrown bricks together in our yard and said ta-dah a brick walkway and Mark shook his head, disgusted, and dismantled the mess and assembled the bricks correctly….)

  • Stone dust is very drying to one’s finger tips.

  • The glue used to temporarily hold pieces together when melted (as it should be) makes a cloud of smoke that you should not inhale.

  • The girl next to me hums well to American rock music.

  • Don’t ring that buzzer to open the front door to the studio before 3pm because the maestro isn’t going to be there. Come 5 minutes late.

Oh, I'm having a good time...

Bolzano = Bozen

We went to Bolzano for the weekend (anniversary time, 18 years). 

First things first, Bolzano was amazingly clean. Florence with all its abundant charms is not exactly the cleanest city. (Our teacher at school blames the tourists. I think it is partially the locals as well.) Anyway, Bolzano was clean (no trash, dog crap, and few to no Senegalese hawking sunglasses or Rolexes or Gucci – sorry but only so much of that I can take) and the city was quaint. The city is also very German as it was annexed in only 1919. You will hear more German than Italian. We were the only American tourists around for miles…. The Germans thought we were Italian and the Italians thought we were German. Stuck in the middle.

Bolzano is a city that brings to mind the word “utopia” – it was that picture perfect (for the two days we were there at least). I’m sure it has its warts but I could not get over the miles of bike paths and walking trails, cable cars to higher mountain towns, efficient roadways, direct train service, and stunning scenery to name a few things. Coming from a city like Seattle that prides itself on being bike friendly, I had to just laugh and cry at the same time walking around and riding around (on a hotel beater bike) – Seattle ain’t got it going one bit as far as I’m concerned. Of course the median income in Bolzano I’m guessing is pretty high and dictates that those amenities are put in place? There were paths that ringed the city (mostly flat) or paths along the mountain side that ringed the city or paths that climbed into the mountains. Well-maintained paths with water stops (Bolzano also has amazingly tasty water).

We arrived on Friday night and walked to the hotel – a bit far, but doable from the train station. Saturday we had a fabulous breakfast and took the funivia up to San Genesio. We hiked around for several hours in what we thought was jaw dropping beauty. Maybe we are easily amazed? The picture above is from that hike. There was great signage along the trails, so folks who come unprepared (like us) can get by without having bought the correct maps. (We also asked some German guys, in Italian, on the way up in the funivia what to do and they suggested the route.)

Sunday we just took it easy and chowed down again at breakfast and then hiked into town on one of the popular mountain trails that rings the town and killed time before our 1:31pm train.

The dark cloud in this story: the train back to Florence was packed. We could not get on the train we wanted and had to take another. Standing room only for 4 hours, as in many people standing, seriously overbooked. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds as we had a huge window to look out of. But, don’t get between an Italian and his or her seat reservation. Also, they’ll watch you pass out from fatigue before offering you a seat for a few minutes. Even some nuns had to sit on the floor between cars – they gave it up for a higher calling and they still didn’t catch a break. Tough crowd. Lesson here: book early. It was also a holiday weekend which wasn’t the best timing. Thursday and Friday (for many) were holidays and so many took long weekends.

We did not make it to the museum which houses Otzi which is also in Bolzano. Something to consider for next time.

Here are some relevant links:

The region:
The town:
San Genesio, a town we took cable car up to (about 3300 feet):
Hotel we stayed at:
Majestic trees above San Genesio:
About the wine and grapes grown around Bolzano:
Lunch spot on Saturday during our hike: