Wednesday, June 10, 2015

In Which We Learn to Make Italian Food

Daniele and I were pouring over the list of field trips and experiences we wanted our Miami University students to have while in Firenze.
This was several months ago, still in Oxford, Ohio.
Uffizi Gallery: Yes.
Galleria dell'Accademia (The David!): Yes.
San Miniato al Monte Basilica, with its extraordinary vista of the city: Yes.
"What about an Italian cooking lesson?" I asked him, hopefully.
As a Florentine, Daniele is understandably proud of the world-class institutions for which his city is known.
But I teach an entire Advanced Storytelling class framed around food writing, and I love how food can teach so many sophisticated journalistic techniques.
Still, was my request too... crass?
Daniele stopped, considered. "Certainly," he replied, waxing poetic about his wife's own pasta-making talent.
And so here we are at In Tavola, near Firenze's Piazza de Santo Spirito, mesmerized as Chef Fabrizio energetically instructs and then prods each student to roll, roll, roll the pasta; pinch the ravioli edges; stir, stir, stir.
Here's one scene -- featuring (left to right) Kara Pietrowski, Abby Kelly, Annie Lynch and Lindsay Clark -- making ravioli and fettuccine.
I'll link to some of the students' own writing about this experience as they post them on their Foreign Correspondent blogs.

Ah, sì. Mi Sento a Casa in Italia

The River Arno at sunset June 9, 2015.
When I left Italia after the summer of 2010, I was relieved. I found myself constantly telling people, "Go as a tourist. But don't try to live there."
The Amanda Knox case was in high gear then.
The summer in Florence had been hot and complicated.
I missed my husband, children, friends.
I missed my garden and Friday night barbecues at our swim club and my dogs.
Never will I return to Italy, I vowed.
And I meant it.
But here I am, teaching journalism again in Firenze.
This time, I feel... comfortable.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Domani, Italia

Good-bye Italy, for now.
I am sorry I don’t love you.

Mattia Barzaghi's vineyards, San Gimignano.
And after two summers in your grasp, I fear I may never develop that Frances Mayes, dewy-eyed romance with you.

Many of my friends yearn for your gold-dusted sunsets, your size 2 women in stilettos, your DOCG Chianti, blue-green Riviera shores, Etruscan artifacts, Limoncello, your David.

I am clear-eyed.

The way I see it, Italia is the Rivendell of the 21st century.

Back to Mediterranean Middle Earth in a moment.

But first, let me say there ARE many things I adore in Italia.
Chiefly – people.
Cristiano Papi, Florentine to the core.

For example, Cristiano - my partner in teaching travel and cultural reporting for Miami University in Firenze. Such a smart, funny and easy-going guy. He would be a friend anywhere.

Cristina, my landlord of two summers. Turn the air conditioning down so low it blows fuses across the 1500s-era building? “We fix this,” Cristina says, adjusting the remotes with a severe look, then sashaying out, waving her hands and laughing. Get stuck in the 4-by-4 elevator? “I was so worried, Aaaaaannie,” Cristina cries, her dark eyes showing that she means it.

Carlo, my Italian teaching colleague, who spent 8 long years earning at Ph.D. at Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., where I also spent many years. “Too cold,” he says, shuddering and clutching his shoulders, then laughing loudly at his good fortune to be back in sunny Italy again.

Claudia, the Holland ex-pat living in Naples who can navigate a train strike like a pro. The courtly Lorenzo, unafraid to strike up conversations with middle-aged women outside churches, then invite them to coffee. Mattia and Cassandra, tending lives rich with art in San Gimignano. Jerry, the fashion photographer who came to Italy as an American college student 20 years ago and realized he’d been born in the wrong country.

These are some of the people who have touched me - an American living abroad without, shall we say, proper training.

And then there’s your beautiful countryside, Italia. Of that, I would never complain.

Wind surfers on Lago Iseo, Italia.
In fact, though I have found many quiet, green places in Firenze to get lost, I feel most comfortable in your rolling Tuscan hills, your Alps, your clear seas.

Your bella lingua. Your persistent recycling efforts.

Your love of art and word and symbolism. And the fact that you live relatively respectfully every day with rich heritage, millions of tourists. That you value quality and family and friends.

For these things, Italians are to be admired.

But my Mediterranean Rivendell, all the magically charismatic natives, vistas and envious tourists will not save you in a global economy that, for you, includes the long distrusting arm and currency of the EU.
Church at Castelvecchio ruins, San Gimignano

This is also what I also see after two summers with you...
You hate change.
Your higher education system is broken.
You often lack ambition.
Your justice system is often unfair and impractical.
Your trade unions dictate your economic landscape – at least those parts that the mafia or Silvio Berlusconi doesn’t control.
You are sometimes sneaky (especially the older women who jump lines everywhere).
You objectify women and futbol and food and immigrants... and tourists.
Sunset over Firenze, Italia.

The Rivendell-esque characteristics are everywhere.
Golden sunlight washing over crumbling buildings.
Boastful egos still reveling in Medici accomplishments of centuries ago.
Siestas in the middle of a work day.
Threadbare clothing worn with handmade leather shoes.

Songs of passion that cannot carry a future’s tune.

Arrivederci, Italia.
But also, perhaps, a domani.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

You Say Tomato, I Say... Rat

First I see the dog.
Secluded riverbed path along the River Arno
It is frenetically running up and down the Arno River bank, barking incessantly, chasing some ghost.
Usually, you see unleashed dogs strolling in the evening with their human companions along the lower riverbed paths, away from the hustle and bustle of Italian city life. It’s a peaceful place, since the Arno is some 400 meters wide in central Florence, and it is still.
But there are no humans with this small, black dog.
And he is quite out of his mind.

As I draw closer I see them. In the water, swimming some 5 to 10 meters off shore, three overgrown…. rats.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Leaning Tower of Debt - to History

It seemed like I would never meet an Italian who was entrepreneurial in a BIG way.

Seems like most everyone I come in contact with in my day-to-day life in Florence has a Small Business, Smallish Personal and Financial Goals, a Defeated Before I Try aura. Lots of excuses, or complaints, or arguments why things will never change.

Fatalistic even. This is life. I’m living, so things are fine.
“Come sta?” I ask one Florence card shop owner in rare confidence of my basic Italian. She looks up slowly from her book, and replies, “Bene, bene. È quasi tempo di siesta!” referring to the fast-approaching siesta hour, when most businesses close for two or three hours.

A few weeks ago, three friends and I stayed at an Umbrian B&B compound with luxury appointments and breakfast, noteworthy landscaping and a divine pool above Lake Trasimeno. The owner, Nadine, who grew up in Interlaken, Switzerland, clearly has a vision and passion.

But then she mentioned that her Italian husband, whom she met while a student at university in Perugia, worked during the week as a meter money collector, emptying coins from machines in towns near and far. “It is boring, but it is a job,” Nadine says, with a shrug.

This entrepreneurial inertia in Italy has been perplexing to me, the American.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

In the Santo Spirito

The church bells are already ringing when I leave my Firenze apartment at 10:15 this Sunday. The peels wash over me as I cross Piazza di Santo Spirito and climb the basilica’s stone steps.

I follow a mother and her young daughter, maybe 8 years old, as they enter the 13th century Augustinian church through a side door. The girl is wearing a white summer smock, with matching ponytail ribbon. An attendant greets them familiarly, but looks me over before nodding me through (my polka-dot dress, covering both shoulders and knees, apparently passing muster).

As we three walk down the long nave, a friar in a simple black, hooded cassock unchains the front pews to allow parishioners closer to the altar. He greets the mother and daughter, his voice warm, and chats with a group of older women up front.

I haven’t attended Mass on my own volition, well, ever.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On the Bright Side...

While sifting through the 50 photos my Italy students sent from our trip to Venice, one person kept re-appearing, a chameleon with a charming, genuine smile.
La vie de la partie.
In fact, you'll find him dancing with a street musician in my own post below.

Justin Russikoff is not a Miami University guy, but joins us from Penn State.
If I ever am privileged enough to receive the url to his blog, a requirement for my class, I'll share it here.

This week, my students are crafting scenes observed in quiet moments (and some rowdy ones) while traveling. Read them via the links at right.

I could have written a scene including Justin, but doesn't this visual - taken on a Venetian river taxi - say it all?
UPDATE: Link to Justin's blog. Someday, you may see this link on Comedy Central.