Well, I had intended to write long before now! I had a post all queued up about shopping for and preparing our first Thanksgiving dinner in Italy - but then that post became a combined “Holiday” post (Thanksgiving and Christmas) - which didn’t get written. So, I thought I’d write a combined Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s screed - and somehow it didn’t materialize, either, alas. And here we are, in the middle of January, in a new year. Where DOES the time go??
But, let me back up. We’ve been living in Florence for 18 months now. How did THAT arrive so quickly?! It’s been an amazing, frustrating, nail-biting, nerve-wracking, wonderful, exhilarating experience. Above all, very edifying. And a great opportunity to practice what I preach: Acceptance & Allowing.
Our first year was hectic and sort of crazy. After moving from our large Seattle home - with Samantha the Samoyed - into a furnished Florentine apartment in “tourist central” Piazza Santa Croce, in March of 2018 we moved into our current home, where we intend to spend many years. We had lots of crazy experiences that first year you can read about here. And the adventure has continued…
So, from June through Christmas, a wrap up:
We remembered, from the previous summer, how important it is to get out of the house early and then scurry back into the A/C before completely wilting from the heat. It starts getting really hot about mid July and stays that way for something like 6-8 weeks.
The day before our 32nd Anniversary, I went to my local hair stylist and, because of a language misunderstanding, (I guess) I emerged blonde! haha! Oh, well. At least it was summer.
August in Florence is almost unbearably hot and humid. We (including Samantha) had a short stay at Borgo i Vicelli, a gem of a tiny resort in Bagno a Ripoli and only a 20 minute taxi ride away. Important, since we don’t have a car!
Borgo i Vicelli is family-run, the setting is absolutely divine, the food is amazing, the wine is sourced from nearby, the olive oil is made on-site, and it has a lovely pool and spa. Also, dogs are accepted (see photo above). Highly recommended.
My cherished friend/client/chiropractor, Dr. Vivian Ledesma, had 4 days open between her trip to Romania and before she joined a biking group in The Lakes district - I was overjoyed that she chose to spend it in Florence! She stayed a half block from us in Hotel Liana, so we were neighbors for a few days.
….and we cooked zucchini flowers!
In September I had yet another Permesso di Soggiorno complication, but it was resolved and I enrolled in more Italian classes.
We had visitors and good news!
I rejoined the Italian class I had been unable to finish the prior April (due to a severely sprained ankle) and, this time, was a stellar student! Our son, Nick, arrived to pursue his Italian dual citizenship through Bob…
…AND Bob received his Italian citizenship recognition! It was a big, big month!!
The weather became colder, though not bitterly cold, yet. I decided to make Ringraziamento (Thanksgiving) dinner and we were delighted to have guests from Seattle, Susan and her daughter Jen, and our new friends from Scotland, Ellen and her daughter Frances, join us.
Finding cranberries was another story. Eventually, I rehydrated dried mirtilli rossi (cranberries) to make my favorite Silver Palette cranberry sauce recipe.
It was quite an undertaking, sourcing the ingredients for a semi-traditional American feast, while not being in America. The menu:
Olive, nocce, crema di tartufo e croccantini (olives, nuts, truffle spread & toasts)
Confettura di mirtilli rossi (Cranberry sauce)
Risotto con zucca e pistacchio (Pumpkin risotto with toasted pistacchios)
Cavoletti di Bruxelles con cipolla rossa e avocado (Brussels sprouts w/ red onion & avocado - from Heather Christo)
Verdure grigliate (roasted veggies from Ellen)
Torta di cioccolata e nocce di pecan (Chocolate pecan pie - David Liebovitz’ recipe)
An absolutely stunning Pavlova - brought by our Scottish neighbors
Prosecco, vino rosato e vino rosso (Sparking, rosé, and red wines)
Ok, by now the weather was quite bitterly cold in the mornings. Sometimes it remains that way throughout the day but every so often it’s quite pleasant.
As I unpacked the Christmas decorations I had shipped over in our container the prior spring, I was surprised how I misremembered the small amount I had packed and had to be inventive. We didn’t have a traditional tree….or a mantle over which to hang the stockings.
But we did enjoy the beautiful seasonal clutter!
And here we are in 2019. My New Year’s Resolution this year is to post more from Italy in the coming months. More about the culture, shopping, art & architecture, and gardens, of course. Ci vediamo presto! (See you soon!)
I adore interiors that have been lovingly and beautifully gathered, added to, edited, and maintained over the years. There’s a sense of the space almost taking on a life of its own. It’s possible to create an environment from scratch that appears to have been collected over time, but it takes a great deal of talent and knowledge - not to mention the likelihood of costing a lot of money! It’s wonderful to have decades to source the perfect antiques, art, or new, hip furniture and accessories - but what if you want it all done NOW? Fare spese! (Italian for "go shopping")
An enormous part of my job as an interior designer consists of shopping. Fun, huh? But it’s shopping with purpose. I love what I call “Haute Brocante” (aka The Mix: Price (High/Low), Age (Old/New), Style (ie: mixing Louis 16th/Industrial). Brocante means "Flea Market" and haute means "high" (as in Haute Couture = High Fashion), so it's "Elevated Flea Market" style. It takes a LOT of shopping and amazing vendors to successfully - and quickly - create an interior space (or garden) that evokes a collected-over-time aesthetic. Haute Brocante to the rescue!
A few months before we moved to Italy, a new client called me and asked for help creating a Tuscan atmosphere in her 1928 Seattle home. She and her husband had just married in a blissful setting near Florence, and she wanted her home's ambience to remind her of the joyful experience on a daily basis. We started from scratch and this is the 80% finished result. Unfortunately, I moved to Italy before it was 100% complete and before I could have professional photos taken…. Please take a look at my website for more photos.
Since I’ve been living in Florence for a year, I’ve had the opportunity to shop some local flea markets as well as small negozi (shops) and, also, the monthly antiques market in Arrezo. Take a look at some of the amazing items I’ve discovered since living in Florence!
This spring I found this wonderfully Florentine chandelier from the 1950's at a swap meet - right across the street from our apartment.
.....and then, seen in a store front in Florence, south of the Arno...
It's so satisfying to discover and then give another life to items from earlier periods! If you'd like me to look for something, just ask!
Of Permessos, Apartment Hunting, Friends' Visits and more
Well, we’ve been in Florence for exactly one year now - how time flies! Last May was a crazy, hectic time: we sold our house (and most of the furnishings) and sold the car - but still had an enormous amount of packing and moving to do. Not to mention the endless and often emotional choices about what to keep and what to ship to Italy.
Once we arrived in Florence, we spent a month at Hotel Villa Carlotta and then moved into our apartment on Piazza Santa Croce the end of June. In August we were panic-stricken about whether or not we’d be able to stay in Italy (see earlier post) but everything concluded almost miraculously at the 11th hour. I enrolled in Italian classes, turned in my application for a Permesso di Soggiorno and was legally residing here. Yay.
Then, in early March, after I’d squeezed in a quick trip to Seattle in February to supervise the packing of our furniture and beloved household items for shipment to Florence, my Permesso expired and it was the same crazy frenzy to enroll in more classes and apply to extend my PdS (Permesso di Soggiorno). When I went to the Ufficio Postale to renew it, I luckily faced the same nice clerk I’d seen in September - and he remembered me! And when I received mailed notice of my appointment to the Questura for fingerprints, etc it was dated for September - a very good thing! Now for the rest of our issues… It sometimes seems like we’ve been spending an awful lot of time and effort, not to mention money, simply trying to STAY in Italy!!
But, we have managed to enjoy some wonderful experiences. Here’s a month by month recap of our first year:
- guigno, 2017 Since we spent a month at hotel Villa Carlotta, we became pretty familiar with Porta Romana, a part of Florence that doesn’t usually attract a ton of tourists. We visited the Boboli Gardens and the Costume Gallery in the Palazzo Pitti, had some wonderful food at Podere, found Muselab (and have become friends with Samantha and Giulia, designing sisters who also sew everything and source the fabrics), and many more shops, ristoranti, and cafes. Bob went to a Calcio Storico match, which is sort of a combination of rugby and boxing (!) during which the teams wear Renaissance costumes; I went shopping!
- luglio, 2017 We moved into our apartment on Piazza Santa Croce and devoted more of our time to exploring the surrounding area: Sant’Ambrogio, Borgo la Croce, Piazza dei Ciompi, San Niccolo’.
- agosto, 2017 This is when we were scrambling to submit official documents during a time when most of the city was on vacation. Ferragosto is a religious holiday in the middle of the month that gives people an excuse to take the whole month off. We discovered Easy Living (the beach on the Arno) and shakeratos. Also, agosto is very HOT! We only ventured out of the apartment in early morning or late evening and, the rest of the time, sat inside with the air-conditioning on and the shutters closed, wearing bathing suits. I read a number of books!
- settembre, 2017 I flew to San Francisco for a few days on August 31st and then on to Seattle for what I hoped would be about a week. (silly me) But I sometimes felt like a hostage in my son’s apartment, waiting for the mail carrier who would deliver my passport with visa enclosed - which didn’t arrive until September 24th. I had major sticker shock in Seattle over the price of wine, groceries, and dining out - wow! It was so fun to see friends and family, but I missed Florence! Apparently, the weather in September was magnificent - it was definitely starting to cool off by the time I returned.
- ottobre, 2017 I started Italian classes weeks behind the rest of the students and scrambled to catch up! With the weather cooling, it was the perfect time to get out and explore Firenze when homework was done. We took a bus to Greve in Chianti one day and had a delightful lunch at Bottega del Moro. Our friends, Angel and Heidi Diaz, came to Italy and we had a lively dinner together in one of our favorite places. By the end of the month, it was cool enough in the mornings to wear down jackets!
- novembre, 2017 Brought even cooler weather, but not a lot of rain. So, it was perfect for more exploring. And, cooking in our minuscule kitchen. (Which included adapting French recipes for Italian ingredients) The Christmas decorations started going up around town in the middle of the month, which was festive.
- dicembre, 2017 It was sometimes bitterly cold but, thankfully, clear. Our son, Nick, came to visit us for Christmas. We were still living in Piazza Santa Croce, at the time, where there was a wonderful Christmas Market set up for nearly the entire month of December. It was a conveniently close venue for a quick vin brûlée (mulled wine). And Bob bought a hat there! The man who NEVER wore a hat, now always wears one! Our friend, Beth Mountsier, came to visit her daughter and we enjoyed a dinner together. Samantha Rose had chirurgia di ginocchio (knee surgery) and spent most of the month convalescing.
- gennaio, 2018 We found our new apartment (!) across the street from a beautiful Piazza (more of a park to us) that has a very Parisian feel. Maybe it’s because the very formal buildings are only 150 years old, instead of 500 years! And the piazza/park is well-tended and very beautiful - and filled with the sound of children playing, which I cherish.
- febbraio, 2018 I returned to Seattle for a quick trip to meet with our shippers and supervise the loading of our furniture into their truck. It was still cold in Florence when I returned, but not terribly rainy. We discovered our new neighborhood’s cafe/bar/music venue, Cafe 1926, that is an absolutely beautiful French bistrot, but serves Italian food, and has a great selection of French wine - perfect! ( I mean, Italian food & wine are fabulous, but sometimes one longs for French wine.....)
- marzo, 2018 We moved into our new apartment on March 1st and it snowed that day!! There wasn’t a taxi to be found, which is kind of important when you are moving clothes and boxes and you don’t have a car…. Also, I started Italian classes again and, this time, was not behind anymore - but a model student!
- aprile, 2018 Our son came to visit! And our furniture arrived from Seattle! Our friends, Steve and Linda Cuddy, came to Florence to have dinner with us - oh, and visit their son who was studying abroad here - ha! Another fun time with friends! The trees in the Piazza across the street suddenly leafed out and it began to be quite pleasantly warm. And Samantha started running again after her successful surgery!
- maggio, 2018 We hopped a bus to Fiesole and had a lovely Mother’s Day lunch. On a pleasant Saturday, our wonderful landlords took us to the family home in Montevarchi, just southeast of Florence about 40 minutes by car. They drove us there and even included Sammie in their invitation! An amazing place: beautiful home and pool, landscaped and fountained grounds, several large accessory dwellings, farmlands. It’s fabulous and —- for sale! After an incredible lunch in the country with them at Osteria dell'Acquolina, we wandered through their vineyards….. bliss. Finally, (technically in guigno, not maggio), we boarded the train to Arezzo, about an hour's ride from Florence, to peruse the monthly Flea Market (the first Sunday of every month and the Saturday before - I don’t know why they reference it that way, but everything I’ve read about it uses the same strange description - ha!) It’s not really a flea market, more of an Antiques Market, with equivalent pricing. Though there’s lots to see in this charming little city. We had a delightful (and delicious) lunch under the arcade at La Lancia d’Oro. And, our piazza is full of Linden trees that burst into bloom mid-month - the heady fragrance was intoxicating!
We’ve discovered over the past year that Florence has definite seasons. L’invernale (winter) was bitingly cold, at times, but mostly clear and sunny. Estate (summer) is HOT. Pirmavera (spring) and Autunno (Autumn) are delightful. There are a lot of zenzare….(mosquitos) all year round.
Here are some favorite photos from the last year:
After we moved into our Piazza Santa Croce apartment on June 27th, we went to our local Mailboxes, etc right around the corner and requested that the Italian Consulate in Los Angeles send our citizenship file originals to us in Florence, where we would pursue Italian citizenship for my husband. We received the file July 4th, then we spent several weeks trying to connect with an attorney we had met on our last trip to Florence. (We took a wonderful cooking class from his sister, who owns Cooking in Florence, and she introduced us to him) We finally made contact with him mid-July, and he told us things were crazy busy getting work done in preparation for the August holidays. (Pretty much all of Italy, except for tourist-dependent businesses, shuts down most, if not all, of August!!)
We scrambled to get our documents submitted, then spent a few weeks waiting for the police visit to verify our residence. Then, suddenly, the cittadinanza application was halted - the woman reviewing it had found several discrepancies (Bob's grandfather's name was spelled differently in a few places). Our attorney wrote a lengthy "act" in which he explained everything, and the application started again, which meant waiting for the police to visit, again - not leaving all day! On a whim, Monday morning I checked our mailbox and found a document that stated the police had been to our residence on the prior Friday and not found us here, even though we'd been dutifully sitting and waiting for them ALL DAY!!!! We faxed the document back to the police, giving our hours of availability, and they showed up the next day! One down.....
Permesso di Soggiorno
With the cittadinanza restarted, and the residency verified, it was now time to submit the Permesso di Soggiorno kit. We went to the Ufficio Postale on via Porta Rossa (a beautiful building, by the way) and they would NOT accept Bob's application (!) because he didn't have a visa, which you don't need if you are here and applying for citizenship. So, Bob and our attorney met the next day at a different post office and the application was accepted! On August 29th, Bob's last day to legally remain in Italy without the citizenship/residency/permesso di soggiorno applications being accepted! 2 down in the 11th hour craziness.....
A visa application of some kind....
Meanwhile, because of the 90 day Schengen tourist restriction, I had to leave Italy and return to the US to get a visa from the Italian Consulate in order to return to Italy!
I flew to San Francisco August 30th, intent upon imploring the consulate to give me a visa. But, they would not! They said, since my husband's citizenship application was in process, granting me a visa would "confuse things". What??!! (They are telling me this as I beg them, standing on tiptoe, talking to Giorgia, the visa employee, via microphone, behind thick glass)
In the meantime, our attorney had come up with a plan: I would enroll in an Italian language course and apply for a Student Visa. I mentioned it to Giorgia, she was adamant that, no, it wasn't possible. I teared up, she softened, and then - surprise! - she suggested I enroll in classes and apply for a Student Visa. (I wish we'd thought of that!) So, Bob enrolled me in the Lorenzo de Medici Institute, with classes beginning September 4th. I flew to Seattle September 1st and set about getting all my ducks in a row.
I met with the Honorary Consulate in Seattle on September 12th. My file was ironclad, complete, each section was clipped together, with a cover sheet that summarized the pages, and the entire file was in the exact order of the checklist on the Consulate website. After Mr Tesorieri reviewed the file and handed it to me, I was told to send it to San Francisco for processing. And write them a nice note about my impending departure, September 20th.
I overnighted the package to San Francisco, it arrived Thursday, September 14th, delayed a day because of the hurricanes and other disruptions (none on the west coast, but oh well). I called and emailed the SF consulate about my application and ticketed flight back to Florence September 20th but was answered with a terse note admonishing me "not to pressure them about my airline ticket". Well!
The day of my flight arrived and my passport and visa hadn't. So, I proceeded to change my flight (had paid extra for a changeable ticket) - but to what day?? I intuitively chose Sunday, September 24th as my new departure date. And hoped my passport/visa would arrive the 21st, 22nd or 23rd.
On Friday, September 22, I sent another email to the San Francisco Consulate requesting "Visa Status - Flight in 3 days" per directions on their website. I got an answer at 1:12 pm: "Hello. Your passport has been mailed." I opened up the USPS website I had been obsessively checking daily and..... nothing. I refreshed the page over and over and - suddenly! - there was info!! My passport was picked up in SF at 11:20 am and in transit! But would it arrive to me by Saturday, so I could make my Sunday flight??
YES! ...... at the 11th hour....... IT DID!!!!
It was a ton of consternation, hard work, planning, organizing, frustration, and incredible stress - but it was fabulous to see friends and family in Seattle - and I even made a new friend in San Francisco - while I waited for my visa....
And pretty nice to get back to my Florence neighborhood....
We made it! It took a teeny bit longer than we had hoped or wished, but we're here now (yay!) and busily exploring our new environment.
One of the reasons we chose Florence (apart from the art, history, architecture, shopping, food, and walkable-ness!) was for the pace of life. It is Italy, after all. After spending a fair amount of time in France and Italy, I've been struck by how the French and Italians really savor life: food and wine are eagerly tasted, stores are small, thereby encouraging frequent trips (the better to get to know the proprietors) and even a trip to empty the garbage/recycle/yard waste is an excursion.
Our first home in Florence - for 30 days! - was the Hotel Villa Carlotta in Porta Romana, the Florentine gate that one passed through to journey south to Rome.
The area around the hotel is full of beautiful villas, parks, wide walkways, and a luxurious hotel, Villa Cora, as well as bed and breakfasts. We discovered some wonderful shops and eateries in our monthlong stay.
It's been very, very hot here in Florence since the beginning of June. One evening, while dining at Podere 39, I saw a woman at a nearby table fanning herself. She didn't speak English but did speak French so I asked her where to find a fan for myself. She tried to explain what sort of market might have one, then suddenly, a few minutes later, she handed her fan to me! And told me it was a gift! What a wonderful experience!
On June 27, we moved into our apartment (for the next 9 months, or so) on Piazza Santa Croce. It's right smack in the middle of the action, so is inundated with tourists from late morning until late evening - but we love the apartment. It's a good temporary home!
From this new venue, I plan to write about the design scene in Florence as well as events, restaurant and accommodation recommendations, nearby places to discover, and some historical perspectives - and everything in between! Please join me!