ANGELIC BEHAVIOUR

A lovely earth-angel withdrew from life as I knew it this past winter. Her name was Beatrice Angeli. Yes, her last name was Angel…  She was my landlady the second time I stayed at Residenza del Palmerino.

Beatrice Angeli

Beatrice Angeli

She wore many hats in her lifetime, however when I met her she was managing her family home, the land and the four rooms she rented to travellers such as myself in search of a quiet, comfortable, stunningly beautiful experience in the heart of Tuscany.

House

House and Grounds

My time in her care was angelic to say the very least. She was a woman of strong character, with an idyllic fascination toward humanity. Every year she would travel to India, living in an Ashram to reconnect herself and further her spiritual studies. When she returned home to Italy, she devoted her time to restoring famous paintings, caring for her animals, the lush gardens on the property as well as nurturing the close bond she shared with family and friends.

In her spare time she prepared delicious homemade jams for sale. All donations raised from the funds collected went to help the kids of India. I’m at a loss for adequate words to describe the succulent flavours I savoured, over the years, in jar after jar of the various jams I slathered on thick Italian bread.

Lovely homemade Jam to raise money for the children of India .

Lovely homemade Jam to raise money for the children of India .

My personal mouth-watering favourite was fichi (figs). I will miss the joy on her face as she prepared her special jellies and shared them with those she loved. My thighs are adjusting to life without her succulent and addictive nectar. I swear she added some mysterious dependency forming ingredient when I wasn’t looking. Or perhaps it was simply the Tuscan sun and her loving touch.

Half a loaf of Italian Bread. Behind me the Wall outside her front door.

Me with HALF a loaf of Italian Bread. Behind me the Wall outside the entrance to her home.

In September of 2013, I had the pleasure of assisting her in the slicing of ripe figs for what would be her final collection of jams. Knowing my love of figs, she offered me the perfect ones to nibble over the 3 hours I worked side by side with her on that glorious afternoon, I walked away with a belly ache and had to cancel my dinner plans. Ohhhh who am I kidding, I’ve never cancelled a chance to enjoy Italian food…. not EVER!

Fichi

Fichi – Figs on the Tree

You couldn’t help but adore Beatrice, she was filled with a unique joy and appreciation for every form of life. Her overindulgence of animals was well known to everyone who entered her home. The picture below of her cat napping, in a box on her table, was classic Beatrice. She would do anything for her four-legged friends. As I soon discovered, she expressed her love of friends in a similar fashion, allowing gifts and compliments to flow freely in her home. In addition she shared her disapproval equally generously. One night I had a few appetizers and wine in my apartment. I attempted to serve what I knew to be fried-polenta. Her response to me was, “this my dear is NOT polenta, it’s corn and it’s yellow, but it is defiantly not polenta. You come to my kitchen next week and I will show you how.”  I’m sorry to say I never took her up on the offer to teach me her authentic recipe.

Beatrice loved animals of all types. Cats topped the list of the over indulged..

Beatrice loved animals of all types. Cats topped the list of the over indulged..

Having the honour of spending time with my lovely friend Beatrice Angeli was one of the blessings I was afforded while living in Tuscany.

Beatrice and Shauna- Vendemmia 2010

Beatrice and Shauna- Vendemmia 2010

Below I’ve added a link to the story I wrote about my time in her home surrounded by her loving care and uniqueness of spirit.

I’d love to hear your story of an Angel who touched your world through their life and how they lived it. Please leave your comments below.. Shauna

THINK POSITIVE MOM   

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SPLITTING HAIRS

When one has an out-of-body experience with a master it produces a lasting effect. I had one such moment with an artist here in Florence. His name – Fabio Velotti - a seriously perfect name wouldn’t you agree? I booked an appointment as my hair was in need of a little TLC. I actually love my hair when I’m in Europe. Contrary to the dry climate of Calgary, the limited wave I fabricate for myself back home is forced with more products and hand-held devices than Vidal Sassoon owns himself.  What can be best described as a swish instead of an actual wave or curl, is sparse and tends to look a little like I forgot to comb my hair in the morning.

A RECENT PICTURE OF ME IN CALGARY: when I force my hair to go curly and forget to wax my upper lip.

In the dewy air that surrounds the hills of Tuscany my tresses behave with a gentle flow and manageable frizz. I need only scrunch the ends with a splash of water and I’m set for the day.

WHAT? You doubt I look like this in the morning...

ME, LAST MONTH IN TUSCANY:  It’s true, I look just like this in the morning. Minus the flawless skin, full makeup, seductive clothing and gorgeous face. The split ends and pillow are exactly the same.

With the aim of releasing an inch or two, I book an appointment with Donatella’s current hairdresser. Fabio Velotti owner of Rasoi Hair Jazz.

My beautiful friend Donatella (you know the stunning Italian one) has arguably the loveliest hair I’ve ever seen. She wakes each morning and it looks like she’s just had it styled. I understand that’s “her” hair, however who best to go to for hair advice than a woman who understands the benefits of a Jazzy haircut. She has nothing but praise for Fabio, says he has Jazz Hands. I have no idea what Jazz Hands are, however after reading his profile on his website, I decided to take the plunge.

Fabio

If it’s a disaster no worries it will grow back. I’m feeling particularly generous with my hair at the moment. I’ll let you in on a little secret, I’m lazy when it comes to getting my hair done. It’s like I’m not really a girl in this area of my life. I rarely go and when I do it’s last minute and not particularly well planned. I could quiet possibly regret this decision today. Throwing caution to the wind I enlist Donatella to join me on my hair-adventure. She reminds me that he is “creative” and “artistic” in his approach. If he chooses to create a masterpiece with the canvas sprouting from my cranium, she doesn’t want to be held responsible. Having said that, I’d never let him go as far as the disaster that many of us experienced with 80s hair. A coiffeur calamity decade if I do say so myself.

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Not exactly my hair but you get the idea.

Upon arrival at his studio he begins our session with a series of questions: how short? layers? no layers? hair idols? pictures? As he speaks he runs his fingers through my hair and studies the structure of my face. After a skillful washing that includes tactical scrutiny of the length, previous cut and condition of my hair, he walks me to his chair and for the third time reviews in detail the texture of my hair as he partially blow dries it. As he works he continues to examining the angles of my face. Once my hair is partially dry, he leaves my side to peruse his selection of music. He choses an appropriate inspirational CD from his sizeable collection. I now understand the Jazz in Rasoi Hair Jazz, he’s actually cutting my hair to Jazz. Can you imagine? Up until I hear the music I hadn’t quiet grasped the artistry he possessed. It seems I’m in good hands with Maestro Fabio.

Such skill and movement

Such skill and movement

The cutting begins in a flurry of motion. His hands move in directions contrary to the natural flow of nature. Segments of hair find themselves airborne momentarily before descending around me, joining the other fallen solders littering the floor within a 4′ radius of where I’m sitting. I’m mesmerized by his movements that I liken to Edward Sizzorhands, combine them with his facial communication that gives way to either pride or discontent. Snip after snip he smiles or winces until he is satisfied in his work. With each cut he runs his fingertips from root to end, twirling and massaging each tendril until he’s achieved the perfect textural reaction. With the rise and fall of the tempo in his chosen music, his scissors keep perfect time.  My eyes dance between his face and his hands, I can’t decide where to look as his facial expressions are animated and intense. His hands are mystical and fluid, much like those of a painter engulfed in a masterpiece. Glints of light reflect off forged steel as his razor-sharp tools clip repeatedly, creating a halo of activity engulfing my tingling scalp. I find myself intoxicated by his graceful movements, as if hypnotized under a magicians spell.

magical hands

Long story short… You need a hair cut? You want an experience? You’re in Florence? Go see Fabio and prepare for a moment well worth the price of admission. You’ll find him at: Rasoi Jazz Hair

Having some fun. Fabio brings out one of his musical instruments.

Having some fun. Fabio brings out one of his musical instruments.

He was embarrassed after I told him I was writing a story on my time in his studio...

He was embarrassed after I told him I was writing a story on my time in his studio…

Donatella and Fabio on the Street outside Hair Jazz

Donatella and Fabio on the Street outside Hair Jazz

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WINE + OLIVE OIL + AMICI = PERFECTION

Spectacular (Huge) New Winery Built Deep in a Tuscan Hillside. (Link to story on the history of the winery).

I had the great pleasure of visiting the above Winery this week with a few friends from Florence.

The lovely Donatella

Donatella – Shauna

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Donatella and her handsome Italian bookends.

My design-side was captivated by the construction and how they achieved it in this tightly controlled country.

stairwell in the shape of a corkscrew.

Stairwell in the shape of a corkscrew. View from parking garage

steel and concrete stairwell

View from middle of stairwell

Keep in mind the Italian powers-that-be tend to frown upon anything new. I agree with maintaining the integrity of Italy, her hills, her history, however nothing is ever achieved without reaching forward.

vats of new wine

Clean and professionally attended

Clean and professionally attended. All natural products used in construction.

My wine-side was grateful to the Antinori Family for their dedication to maintain the high standard of wine and olive oil production this family is known for. I love the fact 3 sisters run this wine empire.

how they used to store olive oil

These are the vats  they used to store each families  olive oil. In the back you can see how it’s stored now.

Olive Oil

Olive Oil Vats from years ago

Family Name

Your Family Name would be etched into the vat for your years supply of  olive oil

I was willing to sacrifice myself, in the form of a massive headache, in order to sample ALL their wine in stock. This however was not an option, they did however offer three lovely tastings for the group of twelve gathered for the last wine tour of the day.

We start with white and move to the reds

We start with white and move to the reds

Three offered tastings for the evening tour

The 3 selections

My Favourite

My Favourite; Marchese Antinori-Chianti Classico Reserva 2009

I’d highly recommend a visit if you are in the area anytime soon. It’s an amazing building and operation. They won’t be harvesting grapes from this location for several years, however it is their head office as they outgrew their previous location in the heart of Florence, Italy.

The new grapes planted this spring.

The new grapes planted this spring. Entire operation is built underground.

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WEEKEND STREET WALKING

cafe in Paris
It’s Saturday morning, I sit at a café drinking my second café longue (espresso with a little water). As the sun peeks down the street warming my face, the city wakes to a flawless weekend in Paris. There’s a street-market on Wednesday & Saturday mornings on the sidewalk outside Gyorgyis’ apartment.  A hint of fall trickles forth this week as the clothing worn by Parisians changes from flowing summer silks to lightly layered cashmere.
In most communities you’ll find the street-market is a staple of life in Paris. The dedicated patrons roll hand carts for their weekly food transport. Why carry excess bags on your arm when you can ferry them effortlessly with practicality and style?
roll cart
I’ve found the children, generally speaking, to be well-behaved, they seem accustomed to the weekly routine of shopping at open air markets. The vendors share tasty nibbles with the budding Parisians exchanging open smiles and obvious familiarity.
children
The people working the various stands are friendly and attentive, acknowledging shoppers and passers-by with “bonjour” (hello) followed up with “avoir une bonne jour née” (goodbye-enjoy your day).
vendor
The fish lady recognizes us walking by and greets us with an affectionate smile. The exchange between Gyorgyi and her sounds something like “how was your week, are you well?” She fillets our fish and after inquiring if we require anything else she sends us warmly off with;  “avoir une bonne jour née” before greeting her next customer waiting patiently for their turn.
IMG_3847
The market is unhurried as customers understand their turn will come, the ritual of market day is one of patience and community.
olives & assorted nuts

olives & assorted nuts

Gyorgyi is a blossom enthusiast, she buys at least one bouquet a week. Even though she’s only lived her 10 days, the flower man greets her like a lifelong customer.
Flower ManHe is passionate about his craft. I must admit it is delightful watching someone so enthused with their work. He moves comfortably amid the colourful blooms all the while greeting his customers with charm and respect.
Cheese, oh the cheese in this country is an art unto itself.
cheese
From the silky texture of a creamy Brie to the complexity of Roquefort… You could spend months exploring every cheese available in the this country. The French adore their cheese with a passion that borders on obsession.
The croissant is as iconic as the Eiffel Tower. You have the buttery, the flakey, the dry, the melt in your mouth freshness of them. I can’t say I’ve had one that I’d toss out, however if you sample enough you do find your favourites. One for every hour of the day if you like, unfortunately my waist line would not survive that kind of dedication to the beloved French tradition.
croissant
The vegetable stand is a carnival of colour and texture. The meticulousness of their presentation will have you dreaming of a fresh salad with olive oil and lemon.
vegtablesIMG_3860IMG_3867IMG_3868
Enchantment abounds in Paris. I highly recommend a visit if only for a day.  A week is a delight, a month spent here you’ll find your heart and in a year you’ll be changed forever.

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A SPACESHIP IN PARIS

Moving day in Paris and Gyorgyi mentions to a friend that I can drive a car, a truck, a carg0-van. She adds, its most likely this crazy Canadian can even drive a spaceship.The SpaceshipWith that in mind, she christens our moving shuttle “The Spaceship”.

After years living in large European cities with convenient and reliable underground transportation. Gyorgyi finds it a task driving a car let alone the Death Star-2.

In my life I’ve moved with three kids & various animals fourteen times over the years. My experience in the building and design industry, not to mention owing a trailer, taught me a few lessons with commercial vehicles. Try backing a trailer hitched to a temperamental SUV into a 15′X15′ camping spot. On one end the river, the other two sides fringed by 5′ drops. Throw in three embarrassed teenagers directing and redirecting as I reverse for the umpteenth time in order to get it positioned for optimal camping enjoyment. Now that’s an undertaking worthy of an honorary PhD or at the very least a pair of plastic wings. PANAMWINGSDriving our little spaceship through the melodramatic streets of Paris could be a challenged, however with todays GPS and a focused co-pilot, I’m sure we’ll manage without incident. (famous last words)

Gyorgyi’s old apartment is fully packed devoid of personal ornamentation. The perimeter walls seemingly inching us out with the boxes and overstuffed storage bags used to transfer ones life between addresses.

Out with the Old

Our brawny crew members in the cross Paris move are Philipe a colleague/friend of Gyorgyi and the spry Jonathan, a friend of a friend. As luck would have it Philipe is an experience Spaceship driver and I willingly hand over my command post.IMG_3757

As Captain of the Starship Enterprise, Philipe navigates the intricate streets of Paris in our dwarf galaxy with 2 count’em 2 First-Mates. Our Parisian captains english is excellent however his delivery of one word in particular has us doubled over in laughter on the complex highway orbiting Paris know as le Périphérique. The word in question – FOCUS. As we approach a crucial interchange, Gyorgyi and I, who are in possession of the GPS, are not paying attention to the road and fail to alert Philipe of an upcoming, quiet significant off-ramp. On our second rotation around what seems like planet earth, Philipe reminds us as responsible co-pilots we must “FOCKHAS ladies FOCKHAS”.

I’m sure you can imagine the entertaining tendrils his pronunciation of FOCKHAS produce within the fatigued minds of two easily amused friends. The remaining move through Paris changes from FOCKHASED to hilarious for the balance of the afternoon. By the time we break for lunch I’m sure Philipe is reevaluating his kind offer of helping Miss Gyorgyi and her one woman comedy crew with the move.

Hours later as our hectic day winds down we watch the evening sky as it dances with hues of rose & violet. As if on cue the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur  is illuminated for nighttime viewing. Our exhausted limbs ignore the remaining unpacked boxes scattered throughout the apartment. Victory is ours, Gyorgyi’s Paris move is accomplished…..

Our final mission: to stop giggling over the day and FOCKHAS on sleep.

 

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A MOVE IN PARIS

MontMartre, ParisMy friend Gyorgyi is changing apartments in Paris and I’ve arrived on my design horse to help with the move. She leaves the 15th arrondissement (neighbourhood) relocating to the 18th, Montmartre district, with a peek-a-boo view of Basilica of the Sacré Cœur

1 basilica of Sacre-Coeur Monmarte Paris Hartensteinabroad

Today we are meeting with the proprietor to take a second look at the apartment. Benjamin a well-mannered and sweet young man of 25ish walks us through the four rooms. We inquire as to the operation of appliances, placement of extra bookcases and the general business of how-tos prior to taking possession of a new apartment.

As Gyorgyi and Ben discuss the particulars in the Parisian white living room, I drift from room to room mentally moving furniture, hanging pictures and reflecting on the lives of the previous inhabitants who’ve long since moved on.

Newly painted plaster soothes away years of indentations and cracks, whitewashing fingerprints and hushing shadows behind a glossy white facade. Living in a centuries old city you understand you are only passing through, your imprint on your surroundings reduced to a layer in time.pealing paint

In north America we design state-of-the-art imaginative homes uncluttered by history other than that of the trees used to build the structure.new construction

Don’t get me wrong, I love designing a new home, the freshness of it, the endless possibilities. However in inner-city Paris NEW is not an option. Recycled is a necessity and appreciated for its inventiveness in preservation.

As I walk through the apartment I’m mindful of the history imbedded within these walls. The families that have grown together. The conversations conveyed or problems solved. How many sunny Christmas mornings filled with excited children waking at dawn, or love songs sung accompanied by champagne and spring strawberries?

My philosopher friend takes possession of a slice of history in the recognizable district housing the Moulin Rouge and the numerous artsy squares in Montmartre. How will she fill her corner of time in this apartment? What history will she leave watermarked on the plaster walls of her apartment?

Have you ever returned to a place you once lived? Had it changed from when you lived there?

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CHANGING DIRECTIONS

The Change

Like so many things in life changing direction starts with the first step. It’s not necessary to have ALL the courage required to alter your course, only enough to take one step in a new direction.

After you achieve that one fear filled step, take a moment to breath and smile knowing you’ve begun.

The hardest part is behind you…that first step on an unfamiliar path. Keep in mind, growth is never accomplished without a reshaping-tweaking-or total revamping of where you currently stand, so yes it will feel uncomfortable and foreign to begin with.  If you stumble along the way, if you miscalculate, be secure in the knowledge you can re-access your action steps, ask for directions or recalibrate the dream to fit the new and improved view of your life.

The first step

Modifying a choice is not a failure, it’s a second chance. Why must we have all the answers before we begin our journey? Who decided that nonsense? I know for sure it wasn’t someone who succeeded in life, business, parenting or love.

Our harshest critic lives within us as does an innocent child. The critic fights us with well placed judgements such as should of, could of, what were you thinking? The child laughs, encourages us, even jumps through sprinklers without worrying about the grass being trampled or what the neighbours think. The child within us effortlessly believing in miracles and second chances.

Your inner child

Who are you honouring and taking direction from the critic or the child?

The courage you are looking for is concealed in a small change, in a word of encouragement, in the hope for a better life. You don’t require all the answers upfront only a hint of the dream and the courage to move in a new direction.

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JAZZY MONICA

My dear friend Monica, who happens to hold a PhD in Art History, has invited me to join her for Jazz at Le Murate (The Walled). Le Murate was originally built in 1424 as a convent for Benedictine nuns. In 1807-14, it briefly housed Napoleons finance department, in 1845 it was converted into a prison and finally in 1998 Italian architect Renzo Piano reinvented its use into the main centre of art and contemporary music in Florence. I highly recommend bringing an Art Historian to your next event in Italy!!

Courtyard of Le Murate

Arriving as the sun is setting over Florence. We rest on the concrete benches in the courtyard prior to the doors opening and study the divergent crowd gathered for tonight’s performance.

The historical impact of countless nuns, solders, and prisoners who would have rested on this very spot in the centuries prior, stirs our fertile imaginations. The infinite life stories infused into this stone edifice produces a rush of respect for the generations of voices hushed by the irreverent progress of time.

IMG_3672Taking our places near the back of the room, we find ourselves entertained not only by the musicians on stage we are captivated by the spectators gathered around us. Neither performance disappoints.

Humans are interesting creatures viewed outside their natural habitat. Living in a foreign country is similar to a scientist observing subjects in an uncontrolled lab experiment. Leaving the comfort of our homes we open ourselves up to the sights, sounds and experiences our world expresses. It’s up to us how we respond those interactions. Do we savour the experience or do we judge with critical eyes and ears? Tonight my Jazzy Monica and I are saturated by the richness of the evening, grateful for this time together and the lyrical freshness of our combined laughter and the pleasing sounds suffused by the characters gathered in this ancient room.
IMG_3673

If you had one night of entertainment at your disposal, who would you share it with and where would you go?

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DRINKING BEFORE LUNCH

The fizz of chilled Prosecco as it sparkles its way to the rim of our champagne flutes, a fitting tribute to the turn of events that gave way to drinking before lunch:prosecco

…Gyorgyi and I are on one of our weekly shopping excursions. Sheltered under a parasol of mischievous laughter and the rhythmic dance off our sisterly bond, we seamlessly navigate our way through the complex maze of streets and avenues in the historical centre of Florence, Italy.

Via dei Servi

Strolling our favourite street of Via dei Servi, we notice a gentleman in a tailored suit leaning awkwardly over the handlebars of his bicycle. He is nervously speaking to a wisp of girl who can’t be more than four years old. Her terrified body language and apprehensive gaze in our direction awakens our maternal instincts. We rush protectively to her side, our zealous arms shielding her from the cars rumbling a breath away from her tiny body, she inches forward sheltered by our makeshift sanctuary.

Florence

The Italian gentleman is caring and apologetic, he’s aware the child is puzzled and frightened by his questions and masculine presence. She is confused by his soft interrogation as to her first name or hometown, leading us to believe she is not of Italian decent.

With her stoic face inches from mine, I smile and calmly request her name in English, then Spanish. When the child shows no sign of comprehension, I turn to Gyorgyi for assistance, she tenderly inquires in French, German and finally Hungarian. Having run out of languages between us, the sympathetic gentleman suggests the two of us take her to the police-stand located near the skirts of The Duomo.

Duomo

A current of faith laced with fear flows from her fingers as we chaperone her in the direction of Florence’s most recognizable landmark.

As we exit the cool shadow of the buildings lining Via dei Servi, we welcome the affectionate spring sun on our faces. From across the square a petite woman erupts from the crown, her empty outstretched arms reach desperately forward as her primitive cries echo off sun drenched buildings. She scoops the child in her arms clinging tightly to her delicate frame. Muffled sobs evaporate as she inhales her daughters sweet scent.

From behind tortured eyes, she thanks us in a language foreign to our ears. A mothers anguished gratitude unmistakable despite the obvious language barrier. We fight back tears, unable to communicate beyond our smiles and gestures of relief.

An understandable need to be far from the pain of loosing her child, she leaves our company and stumbles in the direction of her husband and son. The fathers ashen face is exhausted yet relieved as his wide arms engulf his family in an all-consuming embrace.

The length of time they’ve been separated and the agony endured we can only imagine. What we do know for sure is that our participation requires a celebration.

As the Prosecco swirls in our glasses we toast; spring mornings, reunions and friendship.

glasses

After the second glass we conclude we are superheros in need of suitable apparel… perhaps once we drain the bottle we’ll have convinced ourselves in our ability to leap tall building in a single bound!

superheros

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RED-HEADED ROOSTER

Suffocating under the blanket of noise in the centre of Florence. I flee to the hills of Tuscany indulging in the restorative-air that fills my cosy apartment known as  La Limonaia. The rural location provides the casual elegance of nature lacking in my apartment in the heart of Michelangelo’s hometownFlorence

I trade the enthusiasm of non-stop traffic and teenagers chatting outside my window until dawn, for the downtempo of natures hushed alarm clock. I wake to birds chirping and the distant call of a red-headed rooster intent on taking full credit for a recently laid egg in his henhouse.

My red-headed alarm clock

Garden-fresh air and unfiltered sun replenish my appetite for the uncomplicated taste and texture of Tuscany. Each day Mother Earth seduces me from sleep by gently tickling my senses. This morning heavy footsteps and a breathy snort rouse me from the pleasing arms of my comfortable bed. A voyeuristic horse noses outside my window seeking a nibble of the flowers brimming from a vase on my dresser.

la limonaia

The delicate blossoms are protected by steel bars securely anchored to the window-sash. The resident horse named ARAYA is unfazed by my sudden appearance. He greets me with perceptive nostrils and curious brown eyes rimmed by thick unruly lashes. This sizeable peeping-tom is accustomed to the revolving guests inhabiting the apartments on the spacious grounds of Residenza del Palmerino.  To him I’m just another foreigner on his morning exploration.

Beatrice, my animal loving landlady, permits Araya to roam the property unaccompanied for an hour on sunny mornings. The difficulty with this compassionate gesture toward her 1000 pound child is that Araya has an insatiable appetite infused with unbridled curiosity. His quest for mischief and sustenance is satisfied by devouring figs gathered by Beatrice for her homemade jam, sampling leafy vegetables awaiting trimming, tipping over abandoned coffee cups or glasses of wine left by forgetful tenants like myself, or on occation poking his sizeable snout inquisitively through half-open doors and windows.

trouble makerUnable to nip the buds from the flowers near my window Araya turns to leave and in the process he knocks over several rakes and a small table. Beatrice who is within earshot races toward the clamour, she admonishes and shoos him from his latest fiasco then begins to tidy and reorganize.

Apologizing to me for the disturbance and expressing frustration at the interruption to her daily chores, it would seem her irritation over his antics are infused with love and tolerance.

In my first few weeks getting to know Beatrice I failed to recognize why she permitted this plodding animal to roam free as his misadventures caused her more work and aggravation. What I failed to understand was that her patience with this animal is similar to that of a parent. Caring for a small child or an animal (some would question if there is a difference) begins with allowing. Allowing them to discover the world on their own terms. Allowing him or her to make mistakes or get into trouble. Allowing a few treasured items to break in the name of freedom, no matter if the child is 20 lbs or 1000.

The distilled harmony between protector and progeny is subtle, impossible to gage and unreasonable to judge. My guess is my affectionate landlady loves the interruptions of her bumbling four-legged child as much as I enjoy the unpredictable experiences her gracious personality and engaging home provides.

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75 BOLD TIPS TO KICK FEAR IN THE REAR

I was in need of a pick-me-up today, so I’m posting these inspirational TIPS written by TESS MARSHAL who is a bold and fearless woman. Pick one, five or all seventy-five… to kick any fears out the door!

                          75 Bold Tips for When Fear Grips Your Mind

                                                     by Tess Marshal

You can learn to live a bold life by choosing to let go of fear when you feel tortured by your own thoughts.

When you can’t sleep at night, when you are obsessed with failing or not feeling good enough, decide to take action. Sometimes it will take less than five minutes to make a shift. Other times it may take an hour or two.

The following tips to get through your fear may seem ridiculously simple. Simple doesn’t mean easy. It’s important that you do them. Keep the list where you can see it. Put it on your refrigerator or bulletin board. Carry it with you. You have to be willing to do what it takes to calm yourself down and to move forward in spite of your fear .

When you are afraid, take a few moments to implement the following:

1. Notice the beauty in your environment.

2. Treasure the day.

3. Love yourself through your anxiety.

4. Go for a walk.

5. Let things be exactly as they are.

6. Listen to music.

7. Slow down.

8. Sit still.

9. Relax your grip.

10. Remember you are loved.

11. Learn to hold your own hand.

12. Listen to your intuition.

13. Free your mind from the past.

14. Establish an attitude of delight.

15. Plan a bold future.

16. Expect good things to happen.

17. Surrender what doesn’t work.

18. Reach out and talk to someone.

19. Invest time in laughter and play.

20. Speak to yourself with words of encouragement.

21. Take a break from judging others.

22. Let go of grievances.

23. Begin with a clean slate.

24. Change your thoughts.

25. Heal your mind.

26. Shift your perception.

27. Create positive lasting change.

28. Learn to live in a vibration of joy.

29. Keep your commitments.

30. Find one small thing to savor.

31. Make your words matter.

32. Soften your heart.

33. List your successes in life.

34. Train yourself to feel joyful, safe, and successful.

35. Believe the best about yourself.

36. Believe the world is going to send amazing things your way.

37. Determine what your purpose is.

38. Decide that right now is the greatest moment of your life.

39. Fearlessly tell the truth.

40. Take determined action.

41. Develop a profound sense of contentment.

42. Ask for loving assistance.

43. Say prayers of thanksgiving.

44. Believe that you will succeed.

45. Know that there is an unlimited amount of love and good in the universe.

46. Remember one event doesn’t determine success.

47. Be gentle with yourself.

48. Focus on what goes right and repeat it again and again.

49. Remember you deserve to be happy and prosperous.

50. Trust and keep going.

51. Make your life an awesome adventure.

52. Bring enthusiasm to your efforts.

53. Live with intention.

54. Create a good habit.

55. Dare to go against the crowd.

56. Look at the big picture of your life.

57. Share your truth.

58. Make up your mind to change.

59. Confide in someone close to you.

60. Talk back to your fear.

61. Recall happier times.

62. Live one day at a time.

63. Choose a peaceful point of view.

64. Live with a consciousness of love.

65. Choose unconflicted energy.

66. Cherish the relationships you have.

67. Know that most things aren’t as serious as you make them out to be.

68. Know that you can manage even when difficult things happen.

69. Believe you have the talents and resources you need to succeed.

70. Remind yourself of your positive options.

71. Support, encourage, and believe in yourself.

72. Remind yourself that the world is full of endless opportunities.

73. Look for beauty and blessings where ever you go.

74. Remember a small positive change can put your life in a new direction.

75. Practice gratitude. Gratitude. And more gratitude.

*Remember there is always another option when you are feeling, afraid, doubtful, or worried. You don’t have to live this way. Make your journey one of growth, love and adventure. Begin today. I believe in you!

Tess Marshall

Tess Marshall M.A. is a fear-shattering, risk taker, author, courage coach and blogger at The Bold Life with a master’s degree in counselling psychology. Link the bold life tohttp://www.facebook.com/l/yAQGtyp_fAQG20d8_VXSN69y_NsHSZt8CBLqrUbW0KsNhbw/theboldlife.com/courage-coaching-for-a-bold-and-brillian-life/

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UP FOR A CHALLENGE?

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I was snooping around the internet today and found this Blog by Diane Jarvis-Schuller. Diane was inspired to write A Letter A Day in the month of February by well know author; Mary Robinette Kowal on her website called The Month Of Letters Challenge

I’ve been intending to write more letters lately. In fact, I was speaking with a friend who is know for her love of sending cards. Her motto is; “A card is NEVER a mistake no matter how late it is”.  I liked that sentiment. So I purchased a collection of lovely blank cards in the hope that having them in my possession would inspire me to actually write inside of them…yet there they sat. How often over the years had I thought about writing note or card, I’d think about it some more, forget to buy one, then feel bad about not sending one, then believe after a week, or month that it’s too late now. Somehow the tardiness was rude to me. Where-ever did I get that notion from? I recall standing over my children, no matter how late the timing, forcing them to write thank you cards to their Grandmothers for Christmas or Birthday gifts they’d received.  **Sorry Mom; all those thank-you cards were the result of coercion.

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I recently asked myself; Do I believe for a moment if I sent a “I’m Sorry For Your Loss” card 1 or even 2 years late, the person receiving it would be distressed because I sent it? Do I think they have forgotten the person they’ve lost. Or how about a thank you card to my seventh grade teacher, Mr. Shields who influenced my life, largely in part to his respect for the person I was. Who decides these edict rules?

Ask yourself; How wonderful would it feel if someone sent you a note revealing to you that you had made a difference in their life? Imagine holding a hand written note in your hands with those magic words “Thank You” “I Like You” “I’m Sorry” or “You Matter to Me”.

NOW imagine writing it… sending it; delayed or not!

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It doesn’t have to be as monumental as the ones I mentioned above, however a simple,  ‘Thinking of You’, OR ‘Remember When?’  will add a smile where there wasn’t one before.

How basic and powerful is that?

For my part, my procrastination stops here. I’ve decided to issue my own challenge to all of you:

A MONTH OF CONTACT VIA SNAIL MAIL                                                             

• Wednesday February 20th to Wednesday March 20th

• In the four weeks starting February 20th to March 20th; mail at least one item through the post every day. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, a just thinking of you to someone you’ve lost contact with who made a difference in your life (teacher-boss-uncle-neighbour-store clerk-or perhaps someone who you suspect has never received a written letter)

Perhaps more meaningful make one yourself by writing on the back of an old photo or purchase blank-notes, and write them in your own words.  (this is not about spending your hard-earned money on overpriced cards. As a matter of fact I purchased the blank notes featured on this blog post in a pack of 40. No need to overspend… the words and the sentiment attached are what make a statement)

• Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.

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Keep in mind all you are committing to is mailing 25 items. Why 25? There are four Sundays between the 20th and the 20th. However, you might decided to send more than 25 items. You might develop a correspondence that extends beyond the month.

Write love letters, thank yous, or simply notes to say that you miss an old friend. Let yourself step away from the urgency of modern life and write for an audience of one. You might enjoy going to the mail box again.

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• I’ve just finished writing my first card to a close friend who influenced me. I’m filled with joy knowing she will receive it in her mailbox outside her home. I love thinking of her holding it in her hand and understanding how much I care about her.

• If you find your lost for words google *what to say in a greeting card*. I found this website: Brownielocks, Writing: Tips, Notes and More

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TOP TEN REASON TO VISIT PARIS

It’s never easy to limit oneself to ten reasons to visit Paris, however for a short trip these are my picks. 

•10-Buildings and Museums: No trip would be complete without a visit to The Eiffel Tower – the most recognized & controversial (among Parisians), of all landmarks. See it twice, once during the day up-close & personal-then again after sunset (at the beginning of every hour), watch it as it sparkles with 20,000 lights. Find a spot on one a Paris many bridges OR sit next to the Seine with a baguette, local cheese and a bottle of french wine…..Spectacular!

With my daughter Bree on our BigTire Bicycle Tour...

With my daughter on a 4 hr  ‘FatTireBicycleTour

-The Arc de Triomphe: I’ve come across more than one Arch de Triomphe in Europe, however the one in Paris sits haltingly at the end of the Champs Elysees. Twelve roads lead to and away from this landmark, be sure to climb to the observatory at rush hour, and watch the officers in their uniforms and white gloves as they direct traffic. It’s an art…

Arc de Triomphe

•9-The Food and Wine: Sample the many delicious cheeses, breads, patisseries, pates, superb French wines, the gourmet restaurants, and if you have an extra day a visit to the Champagne Region is a treat unto itself.

•8-The Shopping and Fashion: Visit the unique department stores of Lafayette and Printemps. Window shop along the Champs Elysees, or simply people watch from a street side cafe.

•7-The Museums: The Louvre Museum, of course you’ll stop in to visit Mona Lisa & Venus de Milo, however it would take approximately 25 days availing 24 hours per day to see everything. Best to pack a BIG lunch!!

The Louvre

-The Louvre is breath taking, however my preferred museum is Musée d’Orsay  it’s housed in the former Orsay railway station, I find it quiet intimate, and easy to navigate. Visit my all time favourite painting produced by Gustave Caillebotte entitled: The Floor Plainers, (let me know if you like it too)

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-The Musée Rodin has a collection of wonderful sculptures, including “The Thinker.”

•6-The Churches: Notre Dame Cathedral, dates back to 1163. Be sure to walk completely around the Cathedral as each view is spectacular on its own.

Notre Dame Cathedral I personally enjoy this view facing the River.

-The Sacre Coeur Basilica, located high above the City in Montmartre. The unique artisan shoppers surrounding the Basilica make it a delightful few hours on a sunny afternoon.

•5-The History: La Conciergerie, famous as the prison, where so many were held before execution at the guillotine during the French Revolution in the 1790s.

La conciergerie-The Palace of Versailles, is outside of Paris, however well worth it the trip.  Be sure to Leave time to walk the gardens.

hall of mirrors

•4-The Parks & Gardens: Walk in the Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Gardens) on your way from the Louvre Museum or after shopping on the Champs Elysees. As my friend Gyorgyi lives close by, we pack a picnic lunch and linger on sun drenched afternoons.

OR Stroll through Luxembourg Gardens where you can sit and listen to music, play a game of boules,(bocci) or watch the time-honoured tradition of sail boat racing in the central fountain.sailboats

•3-The River Seine; take a diner cruise on the River Seine right through the heart of Paris.  While you dine take in the spectacular views past Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the romantic bridges of Paris.

•2-The Walking:In my view, when in Paris, get out and walk, even in the rain. Walk around at your leisure or take an Organized Theme Walk with a local expert guide. Although I’m not one for Organized Tours, they give you the information you’re looking for in a relaxed carefree atmosphere. None of that nasty reading or hauling around of books!!

•1-The Bridges:It may seem odd to list Bridges as #1, however the romance & beauty of these works of art, charm me beyond belief.

It would be impossible to include all that Paris has to offer: I would be remiss if I failed to include the Concert Halls and the Opera House. You’ll never run out of new adventures or quiet retreats. 

Have I missed your favourite?  Leave a message below so the rest of us can see it too!!! 

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A CAFE IN PARIS = A LITTLE SLICE OF HEAVEN

(in case you missed it) part#1: CELEBRATE PARISIAN STYLE

I believe: When In Rome Do As The Romans Do, without question it applies equally When In Paris…. NEVER hesitate to “revel in”  and  “celebrate” the Parisian Lifestyle.  There’s no place quite like it on earth….This photo (of unknown origin) taken in the 20's, is a common sight and feel of Paris today.

Photo (photographer unknown) taken in the 20′s, is a common sight in Paris today. Funny how the shoes are back in style. Table, chairs & waiters outfit are exact!

Hungarian Gyorgyi, and Canadian moi, begin each day dressing French-Feminine. Incorporating a silk scarf, striking semi-comfortable shoes, and we top it off with a nonchalant attitude as we stroll arm and arm to our favourite café for our morning indulgence of caffeine. Not once have we found ourselves bored along the amusing and lively streets of Saint Germain. Over the past weeks, we have sampled several cafés that border the bustling and energetic street of Rue de Buci. We find ourselves partial to Café de Paris for several reasons.
cafedeparis• The seasoned waiters greet us with effortless smiles, and heartfelt bonjours while motioning us to our table. This in itself is not unusual in Paris, however they never fail to recognize us. Silly perhaps, nonetheless it provides the ever so seductive French allure…. Apparently I’ve read one to many schmaltzy romance novels!!

• Without fail, our preferred table located directly under the heaters, and facing the street, is unoccupied….. As if reserved especially for our arrival.

• The ‘une noisette’ (espresso with milk), is served in heated demitasses (tiny cups). The accompanying aroma is rich, smooth, and multi-textured.

• This baristas flawless café express (espresso), is served with a hint of golden coloured crema (the slight foam created as a result of the pressure of masterful brewing).

• A stainless pitcher of milk has been gently steamed. Unlike the pasteurized milk served in Canada, milk in France is silky, velvety, and inviting as it summons, and soothes ones senses from the inside out.

• The combined experience of rich espresso, and steamed milk lingers on my tongue, as well as in my mind. I’m confident our ritual will be repeated tomorrow with equal flair.

cafe de Paris

It’s every visitors obligation to dine al fresco (outside), at least three times while in Paris: in the morning, in late afternoon, and then again after dark. If you find yourself without a partner, lover, or best friend, not a problem, Paris is equally inviting when you are on your own. The beauty of the small tables is you never feel out-of-place. It appears to be more of a choice than a predicament, and I like to think of it as mysterious, and chic. Yesterday I sipped a glass of wine by myself, the cafe was crowed and the street bursting. For some strange reason I was feeling rather sassy, so I sat rather motionless, and unfazed never making direct eye contact, as if to say, “Don’t anyone dare interrupt, or even so much as look at me”.  It was a very French moment…. alone in paris

• I’d love to hear your experiences traveling in Paris or anywhere in the world.  Where would you recommend I go next?

Posted in FRIENDSHIP, INSPIRATION, ITALY, PARIS, TRAVEL | Leave a comment

CELEBRATE PARISIAN STYLE

paris welcomeGyorgyi, my fearless Hungarian friend, has invited me to join her for her birthday in Paris: The City of Love, or is it The City of Light?  I never know, then again who really cares??  I’m heading to Paris, lavishing my time with a dear friend – does life get any better?

Travel between European countries is both straight forward, AND complicated.  If you know the rules it’s a snap…. however, after you purchase a ticket, pay to reserve a seat, print your own boarding pass, and weigh your carry-on luggage — keep your wallet open. euros

Using a visa is an upgrade, paying with cash, over the phone, or in person – All upgrades!  Understand they call it “no-frills flying” for a reason.  The 10-kg luggage allowance includes EVERYTHING, your purse, your computer, even the sandwich you packed for lunch is weighed and measured.  Don’t forget, the whole kit and caboodle must fit in one (55 x 40 x 20cm) bag, NOT a (55.2 x 40 x 20cm) bag.  No charge for emotional baggage though, as a matter of fact, it’s encouraged, as you’ll discover listening to the nut sitting beside you drone on!!  Silence?  That’s an upgrade….emotional baggageNO-FRILLS-FLYING   Convenient? – “YES”  Economical? – “ABSOLUTELY”  First Class? – “NOT EVEN CLOSE”

Today however, I’m fortunate to have a row to myself as this silver bird whisks me from Florence, the birthplace of Renaissance Art, to Paris the most romantic city in the world. I’m confident between the mystique of Paris, the hi-jinx my friend and I inevitably find ourselves in, this trip will prove to be an unforgettable sojourn in France.

Gyorgyi has recently made the big move from Florence, Italy to Paris, France, she pulled up stakes and rented an apartment in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, a few short blocks from the University la Sorbonne.  I’ve seized this opportunity to acquaint myself with the enticing world of higher education in Europe, albeit vicariously through my partner in crime, Gyorgyi.  After several years in Italy, she has embarked on a pristine beginning far from the serene, and tranquil shores of the River-Arno in Florence, to the turbulent, and often intoxicating embankments of Paris’s River-Seine.  Besides working full-time, writing her PhD, she’s also studying French.  Good grief I’m exhausted just writing about it!!

My plane arrives just in time for her birthday dinner at the AZ restaurant in Saint Germain.  Gyorgyi, my well-traveled alter ego, insists I order foie-gras as my appetizer.  She is confidant in her ability to immerse this Canadian Country-Bumpkin in the dietary nirvana that is French cuisine.  It is her belief that when in Paris one is OBLIGED, REQUIRED, and or COMPELLED to consume foie gras.Foie gras /Alcazar/italianliving1.wordpress.com  How can I argue with my friend on her birthday?  I have to admit smothering a freshly baked baguette with one of Frances principal delicacies leaves me convinced there IS a heaven on earth.  The rich and buttery foie is served on delicate porcelain plates.  Adding to the experience, we generously spread the thick pate using weighty and impressively carved silver knifes.  Our extremely French, and conspicuously handsome waiter, unknowingly adds a contribution to my “newly-single” friends birthday celebration, by flirting openly with her throughout dinner.  He also suggests the perfect paring of a succulent french wine.  It swirls seductively within the gleaming crystal stemware, as the waiter pours the wine he entertains us with witty banter.Gyorgyi:Shauna  The evening is a fitting introduction to culinary Paris, not only is this city known for LIGHT, LOVE, & ROMANCE.  Treating yourself to an elegant meal in Paris, is likened to physically absorbing art…. food here is luxurious, vivid, structured, and brimming with character…not unlike the luminescent city itself.

Have you ever jumped at an opportunity, stretched your wings, or dared to dream?  If you have please share your experience with me below….

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ITALY AS A METAPHOR

A  friend asked me this morning to describe my life living in Italy with a metaphor…. due to the fact I absolutely LOVE using metaphors, and or comparisons to describe to others how I feel, what I’m thinking, my dreams, an amusing story, etc…… I’ve taken the liberty to list a “few” mental images on how Italian Living  feels to me:

A trusting hand laced in minehands laced together

Butterflies stirring inside meButterflies inside

The sun as it warms me from the outside inSunshine on my face

The silky tresses my hair forms on my shoulders & back while walking in warm summer rainwalking in the rain

A view that’s filtered through a field of fragrant spring flowersview

Iron and old glassiron and old glass

A knowing glance from a trusted friendMy dear Gyorgyi

Jasmine growing outside my bedroom windowjasmine

100 Spirited fireflies circling me at dusk as I relax in my backyard vineyardfireflies

The aroma released while heating olive oil, & fresh garlic garlic & oil

Line dried sheetsline dried sheets

The scent of a newborn in my armsthe scent

The grace and dignity of an ancient stone wallstonewall

Bicycle wheels over loose cobblestonesbicycle

Shadows at dawnsunrise at dawn

Delicate violet-hues of wisteria hanging off a sun-bleached arbourWisteria @ Giardino Bardini

The perfect espresso The perfect espress

The whisper of a summer breeze as it rustles the emerald leaves above my hammockhammoc

Christmas lights dusted in silver-white frostchristmas lights

I’d love to hear what are the metaphors you use to describe your favourite people places or things?

next post: CELEBRATE PARISIAN STYLE


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THINK POSITIVE MOM!!!

The Power of Positive Thinking….

A lovely place to reside IF you can pinpoint the exact place to go in your mind AND then remain in that happy place until you reach your intended goal.  Not an easy task for me today. My wish is to find a new apartment for next month. I can’t live with the non-stop noise and renovations to my apartment.  I begin my search at 4:30 a.m. pouring over rental ads posted online.  When my daughter Bree, who is staying with me for a few days, wakes, I inform her of my 4:00 a.m. fiasco with the local Pizzaman…   (see previous post: BASTA BASTA BASTA).

images Bree is mortified, as only a daughter can be, when her mother inevitably embarrass her with public displays of insanity.

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Fortunately she recovers relatively quickly from her latest motherly humiliation and we set out on a dedicated search for a new apartment.  Bree is positive and upbeat as we look at the few rentals available in the city.  They are either rented, too dark, too expensive, or simply not suitable.  Existing on espresso and one hour of sleep, by lunch I’m visibly discouraged.  I am desperately in need of an inspiring pep-talk.  Being the pragmatic woman my daughter is, she encourages me to “think positive Mom, think positive.”  She questions me with, “Do you know of anyone who could help?”  With a tiny glimmer of hope, I list the few resources I have here in Florence beginning with Federica, my original landlady.  I’m aware that all of Federicas apartments at Residenza del Palmerino, are booked for the entire summer, and into early fall.  As Bree points out, Federica might know of someone who would rent a room in a quieter neighbourhood.  If only until the renovations are finished on my place, at least I could get some much-needed sleep…. however, I must admit at this point I’m not very optimistic!!

FYI –  I neglected to mention in my last post, that my apartment had a water-leak and is currently under renovations.  The bathroom has a 1′ x 3′ foot gaping hole in the floor between the neighbours bathroom and mine.  I can actually see into their bathroom and they into mine.  Imagine brushing your teeth knowing your neighbour has a view of you from your feet up.  The contractors have been working on the problem for the past three days and we’ve been without water for two of those three days.

images-1I make the call to Federica….I’m astonished when she explains that 15 minutes earlier, an elderly renter with mobility issues cancelled his 7 week reservation for the Garden Apartment.  He was unable to navigate the narrow path that leads to the Apartment that she manages for her Aunt Beatrice.  The Apartment is a stones throw from the room I rented in Federica’s home when I first arrived in Florence.

Two small complications… it’s twice the rent I’m currently paying, AND my noisy apartment is paid in full for the next 3-1/2 weeks.  I need to make a decision as this particular Garden Apartment never stays vacant for long.  She has offered it to me on the condition I come look at it this afternoon….another possible renter has requested to view it tomorrow.

What to do, what to do….worry about the money OR sleep in paradise?

Breanne presses me to at least go look at the place.  After my early morning outburst with the Pizzaman, (and her having been my daughter for 23 years), she knows I require a tranquil place to lay my head.  We finish our lunch, and strike out on my bicycle to view the apartment.  Bree suggests we pack an overnight bag in the off-chance I decided to splurge and rent it.  (such a practical daughter… could it be she’d like a good nights sleep too?)  

Below are the grounds we encounter once inside the main gate…………

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We are naturally awestruck by the picturesque lane curving toward the whitewashed home that is graciously encircled by the gradual upsweep of lovingly tended lawns.  The house is bordered with lush long-stemmed flowers that shade the main-house from the intense Tuscan sun.IMG_0322  Multiple gardens and grassy open spaces tenderly greet tidy rows of vines laden with plump fleshy grapes ripening in the afternoon sun.IMG_0170  A horse gently neighs his greeting to us as he feasts on grass and figs that have fallen from ripening trees.IMG_0328

A faded wicker chair cradles a sleeping cat under a shaded trellis.   (seriously… it’s as if we’ve entered an oasis of tranquility)IMG_0384

The name of the apartment is “la limonaia” (because of its use in the 1930s as a safe winter haven for potted lemon trees on the property)  Even before we enter the front door we are in love with the apartment.  The glass & metal door beckons us forward with its graceful arch and hand forged steel panels.

Entrance

Sculpted terracotta ceilings guide us through the serene apartment.

IMG_0148The bathroom is charming and unique, a clever use of the limited space combining, sink, toilet and shower all-in-one.  It’s tucked neatly behind an under-height door, and located beneath a stairwell, (well, the underside of a stairwell I assume leads to another apartment above this one).  Notice the ceiling/stairwell behind the toilet… no standing up at this commode gentlemen.Bathroom

The kitchen sink, and stove are framed with an arch that mirrors the entrance door of this peaceful apartment.

partial view of kitchen

Bree looks at me with a wide knowing smile and whispers “see Mom… it’s perfect for you!”

“I’ll take it, I reply to the owner Beatrice when she inquires as to what I’ve decided”.

As Beatrice hands me the keys, my head is filled with thoughts of sleeping in this peaceful room and I struggle to hear her instructions of how to operate the stove, where the washer is located, what button to push in order to open the main gate, where I can store my bike, or the fact that the family will be hosting the yearly Vendemmia in six weeks. She graciously invites me to join in the annual picking of the grapes with her family, neighbours, and close friends.

A remarkable turn of events, in less than 12 hours, a new chapter in my Italian Adventure beckons, I can’t imagine a more idyllic location, or more welcoming people to share it with…. my cell phone rings, it’s Federica she invites Bree and I to dine with her family under the stars tonight to celebrate my new apartment….

I turn to my daughter and admit…OK OK you were right!!!

Think Positive Mom, you never know what can happen!!

***(Below are a few photos of the spectacular grounds)

flowersBeatrice beloved flowersTomatoeTomato harvest

view from the close lineView of the vines IMG_0286Figs & leaves I picked from the Tree

flowers Beatrice picked for me from her gardenFlowers picked by my landlady Beatrice to welcome me home…

cabbage that look more like art than foodArt in the Garden

IMG_0163Pumpkin growing in the garden
IMG_0165sunflowers thriving in the summer sun….. perfect!!

next post: ITALY AS A METAPHOR

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BASTA, BASTA, BASTA!!

BASTA meaning ENOUGH…is a word Italians use in a variety of daily interactions.

BASTA… “I’ve had enough food, I’m content”.

BASTA… “I’m done shopping, and I am ready to pay for my purchases now”.

BASTA… “This discussion in over!”

The first time I heard the word used in context, was at my local butcher.  The woman beside me was ordering, when she was satisfied with her choices her response to him was a friendly yet firm…. “BASTA”.   My ears perked-up as it sounded like she called the butcher… “bastard”!  Due to this initial misinterpretation, I’ve developed a fondness for the word, BASTA… it’s so expressive (like Italians themselves passionate & blunt, yet decidedly charming)

Picture this “BASTA” scenario if you will….It’s +39 degrees celsius (102F) at 4:00 in the morning, and I’m unable to sleep due not only because of the heat and my apartment being located on a busy street near Piazza Ferrucchi.  Directly below my bedroom window, is a bakery where they sell fresh bread, deserts, pizza and panini (sandwiches).  In addition this particular bakery runs an illegal, middle of the night, take-out window.  Their hours are 12:30a.m. to 4:00 a.m. serving the local teen/twenty-something crowd, who seek a snack after all night clubbing.  Young people in Italy are not excessive drinkers, they are however unrestrained in their talking.  Even the quietest of voices carry upwards in these narrow streets lined by stone buildings.

As a business owner myself, I can appreciate that the proprietor of this establishment earns much-needed income in the early morning hours, in Italy’s struggling economy.  What he fails to comprehend is… as one of the many residents without air conditioning, I have two choices; roast behind closed windows & shutters in the scorching summer heat, or endure the racket as a seemingly endless barrage of teens on vespas roar-up alongside the curb, park, greet friends enthusiastically, order gregariously, then sit on the curb “chatting” until such time as they run out of words.Afterwards, they reve-up their scooters, and drive off with a spirited salutation – “arriverderchi amici” (goodby friends) to their remaining companions scattered along the sidewalk..  This friendly farewell is charming at 1 in the afternoon, conversely it’s not as lyrical on sweltering sleepless nights.

In the wake of several nights insomnia, the unremitting heat wave, and adolescent voices permeating my head… I experience a behaviour malfunction…. for reasons I can’t comprehend, I bolt out of bed to have a “little chat” with the errant baker… unfortunately for me, I’m dressed in skimpy nightwear, a pair of well worn slippers, and a serious case of bed-head.  I march down 3 flights of stairs, swing open the main-door from the stairwell to the street, and spring-forth unexpectedly onto the sidewalk.  The startled faces of several teenagers stare back at me, the astute youngsters scatter like pigeons in San Marco Square.

I stomp my way, (not sure if you can actually stomp in slippers, but lets call it stomping to aide in visual clarity) the short distance from my front door to the buzzing swarm of teens waiting to order a late night/early morning snack.  This unexpected arrival of a scantily clad woman, silences every voice as I forcefully weave through the flock making my way to the front of the line.  I ignore the order window, instead thrusting open the employees only door, only to find myself in the middle of a cramped commercial kitchen.  The proprietor is immersed in his routine work, his full attention is focused on the searing forno (oven) before him. 
The only interaction he is accustomed to at this hour, are the faces in the mini-window ordering pizza, paying with exact change, then disappearing from view, replaced by yet another browned eyed, dark haired, ravenous, pre-pusent patron.

The baker is visibly startled by my presence in his kitchen as he sets the steaming pizza on the counter between us…

On a side note: over the past few weeks, I’ve gone over in my mind what I’d say if I ever found myself in a face to face discussion with him.  Never once, in my wildest imagination, did this bizarre scenario play out: with me out of control at 4 in the morning, disheveled hair, clad only in pyjamas &  slippers.  Why is it that reality never quiet matches ones imagination?

The astonished baker is immobilized as he listens to my tirade about this being a residential neighbourhood with apartments in every direction… we the residents are unable to sleep because of his take-out window.  In addition I’m using enthusiastic hand gestures pointing out each dwelling that is within ear shot of his loud early morning customers.  For additional emphasis I throw in BASTA,BASTA, BASTA!!! (enough, enough, enough!!!) My hands are flailing about, and in the heat of the moment, I raise my left hand under my chin, and flick my fingers from my neck to the end of my chin….. I instantly freeze with the realization of what I’ve just done!  This is beyond disrespectful, and totally out of line on my behalf.  This inappropriate insult recoils me back to reality, and ends my rant….He on the other hand, apologizes to me promising to close-shop in dieci minuti. (ten minutes)

Did he just say dieci minuti?  Where have I heard that overused phrase before??? (see my previous post dieci minuti)

I raise my hands in exasperation, frustration, embarrassment, and finally defeat… It’s clear that nothing will change, he’s simply trying to get me out of here so he can continue cooking.  As I turn to leave, I’m conscious of a dozen or more pimpled faces clamouring at the open door, eagerly watching this exchange between their beloved baker, and the wild haired lunatic wearing only nightwear, and slippers.

To add additional insult to injury, the baker purses his lips in my direction, raises his eyebrows, squints as he looks me up and down, smiles a crooked smile, then WINKS.   Oh my God, is he seriously hitting on me right HERE?  Right NOW?   After I just berated him?   I let out a frustrated Aghhhhhhh!!!!

The throng of wide-eyed teenagers scurry out of my way as I exit through the open door.

My temper tantrum abated, I calmly walk home in slippers, Pj’s, and my undisciplined hair.

Climbing the staircase I devise a new plan…. I type three words into my computer search engine:   “APARTMENTS FOR RENT”

next post: “THINK POSITIVE MOM!!”

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WEATHER FORECAST IN PARIS

I feel compelled to share with you the translated version of the weather, as of late, in Paris… yes, it’s been a little rainy, not as much as the forecast would indicate, however the translated version of the weather on the website I’ve been checking, is much more interesting than the actual weather itself….

To start Frances version of “google translate” is a little off the beaten track.  Or some character at the weather station is impersonating an english speaker, and not exactly hitting the mark with their conversion of the original French weather forecast, as it takes a totally bizarre twist every few days.  I’m not an extreme weather watcher but for those of you who are, you’ll get a kick out of the daily laugh I’ve been exposed to….

Every Tuesday/Wednesday/and Thursday, it translates the french version of M/T/W into:

~”Tuesday” = “March”

~”Wednesday” = “Sea”

~”Thursday” = “Game”

Don’t ask me why, it’s just the way it is!!!

What follows is a sampling of the weather forecast for Paris of late…..

~Small passage in the early morning rain and more variable time before the return of rain in the afternoon.

~Some overnight rain and then changing sky clouds and clouds.

~Risk of a storm should disappear (or be less present)

~Atmosphere a little more summer with little sunshine and higher temperatures

~Some overnight rain and morning then cloudy skies and clouds changing.

~Rather nice (although a stormy evolution is possible in the afternoon).

~Heavy and thundery

~A few rain showers in the evening (sometimes supported in Seine-et-Marne).

~Cloudy day early enough, then the atmosphere becomes a little easier with a tendency towards the stormy night (risk of thunderstorms, but not widespread)

~Passage rainy morning, followed by a longer changing clouds, showers and possibly thunderstorms – heavy enough

(this last one is my all time favourite, “time evolution in the middle of the day— Wowza, now that’s a powerful cloud formation !!)

~Time evolution with a heavy thunderstorm.

Every cliché you’ve ever read about Paris is taking place somewhere in this enchanting city….across her breathtaking bridges, beside her spectacular stone buildings, in front of countless awe-inspiring iron railings, under her magnificent, and innumerable glimmering lights, from dusk to dawn, in rain or sunshine, you can’t help but fall in love with Paris…….


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A MESSAGE FOR YOUR TIRE FOOD

nI’m in Paris with my newly-intrepid daughter Bree.parisHer experience backpacking through Europe, has transformed this once reserved, homebody, into the adventurous woman I see before me today.  A woman who believes anything in life is possible…. IF, you are willing to take the leap of faith required to face  ones inner-most fears.  My youngest daughter is formulating a plan to live in Barcelona, regardless of her somewhat reserved character, limited Spanish, and the daunting task of relocating to a country with minimal job prospects, her steadfast determination persists. (motherly pride oozes from every pore)

Our dual purpose of converging in Paris will be threefold: ONE, to discuss her options, TWO, receive guidance, THREE, to explore this incandescent city.  What could possibly top all that???  How about a bizarre incident with a French waiter!

We begin our second day, shopping in the 1st Arrondissement (the district around the Louvre).  After an extensive hunt for Aveda hair products, (isn’t that what everyone does in Paris?), we settle into one of  the many outdoor cafés along the engaging, Rue de Rivoli.

We delight in the quintessential bowl of French Onion Soup, chaperoned by a crispy baguette, and a glass of fine French wine.  Bree has insisted on paying for lunch, so while she waits for the bill, I excuse myself to search out our waiter to; #1 – have him write up our bill,  and #2- inquire as to the locating of the ladies room.  As with many Parisian men in the service industry, our somewhat annoying waiter comes complete with: tailored white shirt, black vest, form fitting pants, coiffured hair, steel blue eyes, and an overly confident demeanour.  Considering “le garçon” has scarcely attended to us during our lunch, he’s now making direct, intense, and excessive eye contact, all the while pointing to a spiral staircase, where I presume the toilets are located.  In addition, he adds the following comment in fractured english.  “If you please Madame, I have a message for your tire food“.  Puzzled, I request clarification, he repeats, “I have a message for your tire food”.  I’m confused, and quite frankly, simply want the bill, and the bathroom, I really don’t care what he’s trying to say.  I point in the direction of my daughter, indicating she will be taking care of the bill.  He nods with perceived understanding, bows his head graciously, and states once again, “I have a message for your food madame, après”.   I grow weary of his peculiar attempt to engage my food in conversation.  I remove myself from this little tête-à-tête, by winding my way down the stairs to the ladies room below.  It’s quite possible, his English is worse than my Italian.

Upon exiting the facilities, le garçon is waiting for me at the bottom of the staircase.  He reaches for my hand, and as he does, I pull my arm away, making my way past him to the first rung of stairs. He smiles, and motions for me to take a seat in the chair to his right.

You may consider this strange, however, for me, when visiting a foreign country, if I don’t necessarily understand the customs, I’ll, at times, simply go with the flow.  With hesitation, and I admit intrigue, I lower myself onto the chair, all the while maintaining a prudent eye on the customers & staff, to my left at the top of the stairs.

He inquires after my comfort level, then lowers himself on one knee, he tenderly lifts my foot, then attempts to remove my sandal.  It would seem he wants to “massage my tired foot”  not  “message my tire food.   message for your food

I resist his efforts, however he assures me, with a gentle voice, and an oh so delicate, and surprisingly respectful hand, that he merely wants to “message my tire food”…. to tell you the truth my “tire food” could use a messaged.  I actually look around expecting to find Alan Funt from Candid Camera, hiding in a corner, ready to reveal the classic tag-line from the TV show I watched in my childhood…. “smile, your on candid camera”.    Ok, now is where it gets really weird…. he proclaims, “your ‘food’ is beautiful”,  and in that moment he raises my “food” to his lips, and kisses my tired, dusty, and I suspect slightly stinky “food”.

He then request a kiss….. I reply with a definite… NO !!!  However, at this point, I’ve  splintered into laugher…. confusing my laughter for demur consent, he leans forward with one hand on my shin, and the other on my ‘food’, he leans in for the kiss. (same lips that just kissed my foot, and I know where that foot’s been walking)  I turn my lips from his overly familiar advance, at which time he modifies his approach, he kisses my cheek, when I resist further, he retreats, without fan-fair.  He’s remarkably non-pulsed by my resistance, as a matter of fact, he’s rather calm, he expertly slips my sandal back on, then helps me to my feet.

Could he possibly pull this stunt on a daily basis?  Do women actually fall for this?  Have I seriously just come face to foot with a full blown foot-fetish?  Does foot-fetishism include; fatigued, non-pedicured, size 8, not overly attractive, Canadian feet?He’s unfazed as he directs me, without conversation, to the table where my daughter sits relaxed, and untroubled, enjoying the activity on this engaging street in central Paris.   Before I regale my daughter with this “message” vs “massage” incident, I interlock my arm in hers, as we walk toward our shared afternoon at the Musée du Louvre, enjoying the company of, Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and inverted pyramids.  With one final glance behind me, I spot our waiter as he casually clears our table, a look of passive contentment settled on his face, with a nonchalant raise of his eyebrow, he winks, and smiles in our direction.

Only in Paris….

Eiffel Tower at dusk… La Tour Eiffel

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ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE

                                              BASIC ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE  

INGREDIENTS                                                                                                                                24-30 Organic Roma Tomatoes (depending on the size of Roma)                                        24-30 Garlic Cloves                                                                                                                           3 Tlbs. Olive Oil                                                                                                                                  1 Tlbs. Ground Pepper                                                                                                                       1 tsp. Salt                                                                                                                                             7 Tlbs. Fresh Basil (3 Tlbs. dried)                                                                                                   3 Tlbs. Fresh Rosemary (1 Tlbs. dried)                                                                                           1 Tlbs. dried Oregano

METHOD                                                                                                                                       *Throughly wash & rinse tomatoes (I use an all natural vegetable wash with DR. BRONNER’S Castile soap, or soak in baking soda for a few minuets)

*Place in a large baking dish with sides ~ glass 5″x 10″x 2″ (12.7 x 25.4 x 5.1/cm)         *Peel garlic cloves ~ **if cloves are large, cut in half                                                    *Remove core of tomato, allowing just enough space for a garlic clove~save and use cut-out core as it adds extra flavour to your sauce

*Insert clove into tomato, until flush with tomato

*Drizzle evenly with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt & pepper (omit salt, if on a sodium reduced diet)

*Bake @375F (190C) 4-6 hrs. until dark brown ~ convection oven 2-3 hrs @375 (190C)

*Remove from oven, cool slightly  (I allow mine to cool completely, transfer to large pot, blend, re-heat, ‘then’ add my fresh herbs)  However did that glass of vino end up on my cutting board?*Blend tomatoes, garlic and all liquid, using mix-master, blender, or hand blender (use caution if tomatoes are hot, as they burn skin on contact)                     If I had it to do over, I’d purchase a steel hand blender, not plastic!!!

*Season with herbs of your choice, or leave plain, then seasoning when ready to use.

*For sauce with a little Spice: add 1 – 4 tsp. of dried red chilli peppers. (depending on your idea of heat)

VERSATILE                                                                                                                                        *AN EXCELLENT SIMPLE SAUCE FOR, PASTA, CANNELLONI, SAUCEY MEATBALLS, or ANY SAUCE BASED MEAL.                                                                                                           *Simply add your choice of sliced & sautéed vegetables eg. onions, celery, red/yellow/green pepper, mushrooms, zuccini… whatever you have on hand, or in season *Meat lovers add: sliced chicken, ground beef, pork, veal, lamb, mild or spicy sausage

STORAGE                                                                                                                                          *I prefer canning in glass jars 1-2 & 4 cups, for later use. (keeps for up to a year)    *freezes well, in individual 1-2 or 4 cup glass jars, or zip-lock bags.                     *refrigerate up to 5 days.


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DID I JUST SAY THAT???

I’ve had my fair share of amusing circumstances learning a new language.  On numerous occasions, I’ve chuckled at my/or my friends, mix-ups, while translating our respective languages. 

Six of my All-Time Favourite bloopers:

#6 ~ One sweltering summer day, I arranged two separate get togethers with 2 friends, Irenna, and Gia.  First off, I met Irenna for lunch, in the centre of Florence, at Palazzo Strozzi.  The Palazzo is an ideal location to have lunch, on a blistering August afternoon.  The restaurant spills into the open-air courtyard, with protection from the intense rays of summer in Tuscany.  We enjoyed garden-fresh salad, & chilled vino.  To reach my 2nd engagement on time, I cycled to Gia’s, for a tour of her ancestral home, AND Gia’s legendary, iced cappuccino.  After a scorching 15 min bike ride, in +39 degrees, I discovered, to my dread, the elevator was out-of-order.  An unavoidable five-story climb, inside a roasting marble stairwell, had me sweltering, upon entering her Villa.  The ever gracious Gia, handed me a refreshing glass of lemon water, and a monogrammed linen napkin, to dab my face & neck.  She suggested, (in Italian), that I was more than welcome to have a dessert, before she showed me around the Villa.   (In my broken Italian) I declined her kind offer, explaining that I’d shared a dessert with Irenna, at the restaurant, in Palazzo Strozzi.  Gia stared at me in amazement, repeating my statement, turning it into a question.  You and Irenna had a dessert, AT the restaurant?   After a confused exchange, we realized, that I was using the word SHOWER, thinking it meant DESSERT.  No, I did not have a shower, with my friend, in the restaurant at Palazzo Strozzi, after a glass of crisp white wine, & caprese salad.                                                                                                                               SHOWER =”DOCCIA” vs DESERT =”DOLCE”

#5 ~ My landlady, Federica, invited me for dinner, and as was our custom, she included me in the preparation of her flavourful recipes.  That night, she described the main ingredient in the dish was in-season, and proudly announced she was preparing:         “Pasta with Garbage” !!!  Before I had an opportunity to react, she corrected herself saying, “No-No-No, not  “Pasta with Garbage”,   “Pasta with Black-Garbage”.  My eyes widened, and an astonished look came over my face.  She clarified the main ingredient, a 2nd and then 3rd time:  “B-L-A-C-K    G-A-R-B-A-G-E !!   Clearly, I was not reacting how she had hoped…. Federica motioned me into the kitchen to “show” me the star ingredient of her feast.  She pointed to the “BLACK KALEin the sink,                                                                                                not the “BLACK GARBAGE” under the sink.

#4 ~ While out for dinner with friends, I removed my scarf, setting it on the floor, beside my chair.  Realizing once we were at our next destination, that I’d forgotten my scarf, I asked, in my best Italian,  if we could swing past the restaurant, on our way home, to retrieve the item.  My Italian friend, and the driver of the car, was amazed that I’d removed it, and somehow left it beside my chair… he was obviously perplexed, and with an awkward laugh, asked me, “WHY did you remove it in the first place???”  I shrugged my shoulders, replying, “it was warm in the room !”  I thought to myself, good grief what a strange question, do Italians never remove their scarves, was it rude of me to do so in a restaurant?  With obvious confusion, he consented, and we returned to the ‘scene of the crime’.  As he emerged from the restaurant, with my scarf in hand, he was chucking, and now understood the mix-up.   His bewildered reaction made sense now!  My erroneous translation was as follows: “I removed my “shoes” and left them beside my chair”.                                SHOES =”SCARPE” vs  SCARF =”SCIARPA”
#3 ~ I was having a conversation, in English, at a dinner party, with the Italian host.  He spoke of his family, his daughter, and the quiet life he now lives, in Florence.  Our conversation progressed to his occupation, he explained that he was an antique dealer, however had not been working for the past 3 years.  He sold his antique store in town, as he was retarded.  When my eyes widened, and I stifled a grin, he stopped mid-sentence, with a disclaimer; “I said that wrong didn’t I?  I often get those two words mixed-up.”  RETIRED vs RETARDED

#2 ~ I was invited to dinner at the previous residence where I’d lived, when I first arrived in Florence.  The owners had become friends, so it was always a joy to return.  On this particular evening, my daughters were with me, and I was regaling how I decided to renamed the room I lived in, and loved for 2 months, from their adopted name of, “The Deco Room” (referencing Parisian Style Art-Deco decor) to my version of simply, “Shauna’s Room”.  I’d been taking pictures of everyone at the party, and inadvertently left my camera behind.  (there seems to be a pattern of forgetting things)Two days passed before I realized it was missing.  I recored the following message on Federica’s answering machine, in my broken Italian: “My camera is on the side-board in your dinning room… I’ll come pick it up tomorrow!”  She returned my call, in total confusion, as to what I was coming to pick-up.  In translating my message to her, I’d mistakenly recored: “I left my ‘room’ on your dinning table hutch, I’ll stop-by tomorrow, and collect my ‘room’!                                     ROOM =”CAMERA”  vs  CAMERA =”MACCHINA-FOTOGRAFICA” 

#1 ~ I’m a lover of Italy’s unique bread, I drizzle it with olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt.  It’s a addiction, and I indulge whenever I can.  I often order a second piece, when out for meals.  In bakeries, in Italy, (unlike the Canadian term, a loaf of bread), a clerk stands behind the counter, asks you the size of piece you would like, cuts if from an oversized loaf, and wraps it for you.  When locals order from a bakery, they either give a measurement, or indicate visually with two hands, how many inches/cm, they require for that day.  To keep things simple, I’d say, “bread please”, and give the appropriate hand gesture.  I tried to imitate how locals ordered their bread, and it confused me as to why I seemed to get the ordering part wrong…every blinkin time.  One afternoon, while studying my English/Italian dictionary, I discovered this latest translation disaster:  For months, I’d confused the word bread for penis.  I’d been ordering “this much penis please, OR  may I have one more inch of penis”  as I would invariably hold up two hands, indicating the size I wanted.  Often, male waiters would asked me to repeat myself, nod, turn around, and laugh, as they walked away.  It became clear why, at my local corner bakery, when I entered the store, the baker would call her father over, and he’d personally take my order. He was always grinning when asisting me.  She must have decided to give the old man his thrill for the day, with the clueless Canadian….                                                                 BREAD = “PANE”  vs PENIS = “PENE”What will become of this Canadian in Italy???


next weeks post: A MESSAGE FOR YOUR TIRE FOOD

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Italian Living:

My Easter Celebration a year ago !!

Originally posted on italianliving1:

It’s been a busy few weeks… below, the condensed version of my life of late:

#1) I move to my own apartment, it’s just one block from the river.  In 10-minutes-flat, I unpack everything I own.  The apartment is furnished with the following: three kitchen tables, (no idea why), seven kitchen chairs, three of which, I personally reclaimed from the side of the road, one hutch, one dresser, two “plywood firm” beds, a 70′s style puffy leather-like chair, and 15″ TV with wobbly stand.  While this may sound like a full apartment, understand there are two bedrooms, a living room, a large entrance, a kitchen, and bathroom… AND now ME; smiling from ear to ear. I’ve rented my own place in Florence… three months in paradise has expanded to five.

My Kitchen, not like any kitchen I’ve ever designed or lived in, however I’m in 7th-heaven. 

#2) I purchased…

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GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER

Two of my daughters arrive this evening for a visit.  The oldest will be apart from her husband for the first time since they were married, and my youngest is embarking on a trek through, Italy, Greece, Germany and Spain….after our 10 day Family Reunion here in Tuscany that is.  Elation fills my heart at the thought of wrapping my arms around my girls, and as an added bonus, introducing them to my beloved Florence.  All three of my children have supported my decision to move here, allowing me the flexibility to follow my dreams, free of the futile, and often absorbing… mothers-guilt.  (yes, I know my children are all adults, however…. mothers-guilt/worry/responsibility, does not miraculously vanish when they turn 18… dagnabbit!!) 

In anticipation of their arrival, I’ve stocked the fridge, arranged flowers throughout the apartment, outlined a flexible itinerary of locations to visit, cuisine to savour, and experiences for the three of us to share.  As for tonight, after 18 hours of gruelling intercontinental travel, I’ll offer them two choices for dinner;  sparkling Prosecco, accompanied by a light Caprese salad, consisting of fresh buffalo mozzarella, vine ripened tomatoes, basil and olive oil,

OR, if they’re famished, a full-bodied vino, with hand-made (not by me) mouthwatering Ravioli topped with pesto, pane (bread) drizzled in olive oil, and a sampling of dark chocolate for desert.  After dinner, if they are up for it, a stroll along the river to stretch their legs before bed.

I can’t imagine they’ll be interested in partaking in the nightlife after an exhausting travel day.  Then again, I’m a mother…. a full belly, and a good nights sleep, is the cure for everything!sung as a bug

Any self-respecting Family Reunion in Tuscany wouldn’t be complete without trips to Siena, Venice and possibly Rome.  As for meeting my newfound Italian Family, my friend Monica, has arranged an afternoon get together on Saturday.  Federica, my original landlady, is throwing a ‘Welcome to Italy’ dinner Wednesday evening, at the residence I lived at, when I first arrived in Italy, Residenza del Palmerino.  If that were not enough, friends from Siena will join us next Sunday, with their two young children, for brunch in the centre of Florence.  My heart is full !!

With everything in order in my apartment, I strike-out for the station.  As if on cue, the twinkling lights of Florence flood the evening sky, sparkling just in time to greet my daughters.  In typical mother fashion, I arrive a-vee-bit early, and of course their train is a-vee-bit late.  I anxiously, sit then pace ~ sit then pace, for 73 minutes… up and down the Stations crowded walkways….

If you enjoy people watching, a busy train-statin in Europe, is the place to be.  Like ants in an overturned ant-hill, life, and motion erupt within this bustling transportation hub.  Normally, one or two trains arrive at once, tonight however, five trains from across Italy and Europe, arrive simultaneously.  The vibration originates beneath your feet, then encompasses your body at its core.  The sight, sound, and aroma, of five trains rumbling forward almost in unison, fill the cavernous building.  The emerging metal structures displace the still air with their heavy, humid exhalation.  The rugged scent of steel, oil, and diesel fuel, mix with the thunderous energy enveloping the previously deserted tracks.  Within seconds, the platform swarms with unrestrained passengers.  Locals, at the end of their work day, intent on making it home for dinner.  Disoriented tourists struggling to hoist overpacked bags, down steep, uneven trains steps.  Backpackers, slinging life-sized knapsacks across tired shoulders.  The merging sounds of wheels from, suitcases, strollers, carts, wheel-chairs, and bicycles, ADD to what could only be described as orchestrated mayhem.  A jumble of diverse languages echo off the tiled walls, ceilings, and floors of this energetic building.  As my eyes scan the mass of people….. I suddenly spot my two beautiful daughters standing at the end of platform #1.   

An excited squeal escapes my lips, as I bolt towards them…..                                                Our Italian Family Reunion begins !!

next weeks post: DID I JUST SAY THAT?

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CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR…

I believe the moment you allow someone into your life, they leave an impression on your world, be it positive or negative… it’s YOUR prerogative, how that impact is felt in your life.

I possess a deep affection for Italy, and a sentimental appreciation of the Authentic Italian Experience, be it through cuisine, friendships, or circumstances.  Previously, I wrote a story introducing my shy Italian neighbour entitled; A Dance In Piazzale Michelangelo.  I detailed a first date, (a dance of sorts) one glorious spring day, atop the famous Florence landmark, Piazzale Michelangelo.

As per readers requests for more information on “the romance“… what follows is my Authentic Italian Experience:

Spring afternoons melted cordially into the tranquility of an Italian summer.  We enjoyed idyllic walks down cobbled streets, gelato under starlit skies, afternoon bike rides, outdoor music festivals with friends, scenic drives through the countryside, dinners by candlelight, and moments of shared laughter due to mis-communication, attributed to our limited understanding of one another’s native language.

Now I admit, this all sounds like a script composed for Hollywood.  I seized the opportunity to participate in the quintessential Italian Romance, complete with a handsome Italian,  designer shoes, dark sunglasses, Armani sweaters, tousled hair blowing in the warm Italian breeze, whilst driving a two-seater-convertable. (what is it they say about things that seem too good to be true???)

Being pragmatic about the relationship, I understood it to be a lovely spring ~ summer romance.  The duration, scarcely a whisper past the blooming Wisteria of Florence.

My eternally optimistic nature presumed he would remain an enduring, albeit distant memory, dissolving like the summer sun over the Tuscan hills. (makes it all sound so carefree doesn’t it!)

Fast forward to the fall ~ insert reality aka Real-life into this charming Tuscan-Scenario.

Real-life, or at least my experience with it, rarely plays itself out as carefree as on the silver-screen.  Picture if you will, as the oscar winning director cues the music, an overpaid, B-list actress, (portraying my cheesy character), runs through a field of sunflowers, wearing a flowing cream dress….  (normally the script would call for a flowing white dress… however, being the proverbial; redheaded, pale-faced, speckled, Irish-Scottish-Canadian~~ the cream-coloured dress would drastically reduces the cameras glare off pasty white skin)

Join me now, as I recount Real-life… no need for imaginary movie scripts here:             #1~ I receive a heart wrenching email from a despondent woman.                               #2~she introduces herself as the Real-life & long-term (4 years) girlfriend of the man in my blog post,  A Dance In Piazzale Michelangelo.                                              #3~remarkably, she’s discovered my sentimental pros on this blog, complete with his first name and picture. (ironically, he eagerly granted me permission to use his real name and picture)                                                                                                                        #4~ he is in fact, the identical, hand holding, bike riding, gelato under the stars, two-timing, snake in the grass. (oops was that my outside voice?)                                          #5~If that wasn’t enough of a shock, she informs me, while he was dating both of us, he was dating two, count em’  TWO other ladies…. that’s a grand total of FOUR women at the same…..blinking…..time!!!  How’s that for a healthy dose of  Real-life?

Fortunately for me, Mr. Flim-Flam Man, was no longer in my life, had not been for some months……..You’re going to appreciate, and I suspect, see the humour, in the reasons I ended our spring/summer romance.                                                                                     #1~he canceled plans, using ‘flimsy’ last-minute excuses                                                 #2~had mysterious ‘business‘ calls at odd hours. (he’s a jeweller for Gods sake, not an international spy)                                                                                                                    #3~my personal favourite… he was tired 24-7.  (no sh#t Sherlock!!)

Initially, I justified these excuses believing it was due to our language barrier, our age difference, our culture differences, his overbearing Italian mother, his brothers impending divorce…..blah-blah-blah.  After two months, his theatrics became all together too much drama for me!  Output vs Input, simply did not compute.  We parted on friendly terms.

Little did I know how much drama was actually going on behind those charming, a.k.a., ‘exhausted‘ eyes, he cleverly concealed with designer sunglasses…..

Fast-Forward to Real-life… I emailed him with this blunt decree; “NEVER contact me EVER…don’t call me, text me, email me, or so much as glance in my direction!!! (did I mention I have the blood of the Irish coursing through my veins?)  Personally I think he got off lucky with me… I’m a reasonable woman, I let the little reptile live…. as far as I know he’s still able to father children.  Unless of course, one of the other woman dealt him a deserving sentence.

I have passing thoughts; Whatever became of the woman who contacted me?  Did she forgive him?  Was she so invested in the relationship, she overlooked his infidelities, remaining with him in the misguided belief he would miraculously change?  I’ll never know what she decided, that’s her dance now, her Real-life.

My current Real-life Authentic Italian Experiences is SUBLIME, it continues in full Technicolor.  Remaining filled with; star-lit-nights, double-scooped gelato savoured on sunlit afternoons, bike rides over cobbled streets, and sunsets in Piazzale Michelangelo, solo, or shared with friends.  The reality of this beautiful city is all I require, Florence prevails larger and louder than any romantic movie could ever portray, real or imagined.

There’s an old saying I used to quote to my kids… “be careful what you wish for…. you may just get it”

I wished for an Authentic Italian Experience.  Can’t complain when you get exactly what you wish for now, can you?  I’ll refine my wishes from now on, be a little more specific in the asking…..

***(If you reread my two stories on “Dancing”… You’ll note I’ve changed the “characters”  real name, and deleted his picture.  Mainly to protect the privacy of the woman who emailed me…. I do not wish cause her further pain or embarrassment)***

next weeks post: GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?

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SHOPPING…NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART

~  In my opinion, Italy produces the finest clothing, shoes, and handbags.  Then again, I’m  a ‘weeeee-bit’ biased.

~ If one wishes to browse, or purchase, these exquisitely designed items, one must tolerate the occasional ~ domineering-Italian-sales-clerk.

~ Distinctive characteristics of this belladonna;  5′-1″ tall, black hair, chocolate-brown eyes, flawless olive skin, unparalleled personal style, AND… attitude up the wazoo!!

~ In my experience, you have one-shot at receiving outstanding service from this pint-sized Totalitarian.  It all rests on the ensemble you pieced together that morning.  If you miscalculated, and wore the: “CLEARLY-you-are-NOT-from-ITALY”, outfit… I have to warn you, you WILL be punished.  That punishment will come in one of three forms; the perfectly timed eye-roll,  a single raised eyebrow,  or my personal favourite, the exasperated ‘sigh’ released from pursed red lips. (on a slow day, expect all three)

Walk with me now, into a high-end Italian boutique.  Thick glass doors encased in an olive-wood frame ~ honed travertine floors ~ the alluring aroma of spun-silk wafting through the air.  As your foot crosses the threshold, you are scrutinized by discerning eyes; they commence at your hairline, move seamlessly down your left side, pause briefly on your footwear, and terminate in the vicinity of your right shoulder.  Amazingly, she never makes direct eye contact.  If your chosen attire is meet with approval, her salutation, although bored, is sincere…. In contrast, if you’ve broken the Cardinal-Dress-Code-Rule, a disapproving, “buongiorno”,  is casually tossed in your general direction, laced with a side of intolerance.

(You feel about as welcome as you would if you’d pushed your way, ‘uninvited’, into a strangers home, sat at their kitchen table, helped yourself to pasta & vino, then belched in Nonnas’ face…. (nonna=grandmother in Italian)

The sales clerks steely gaze speaks volumes: “You…. want to come in here…. dressed like that?”

Assuming you dare proceed past the frosty glare, she’ll chaperone you at a distance of 3ft., as you browse the merchandise.  Summon the audacity to disturb a hanger, or God forbid, actually touch the apparel, within seconds of your hand leaving the item, she will proceed to; re-fold, re-hang, or re-arrange the erroneous mayhem you’ve apparently caused.  My all time favourite sales-clerk-diva reaction; after I slowed down to glance at a display of sweaters, she walked over to the undisturbed stack, smoothed them down, then patted them gently….as if to convey to the sweaters, “it’s ok, you’re safe, she’s leaving soon!!!”

I must admit when I first moved here, it took me a few attempts at shopping Italian-Style, before I realized, these clerks are merely a form of the schoolyard bully dressed in Versace.  I notice when I, (a) stand my ground, (b) ignore their impossibly close proximity, or (c) carry on, nonplussed, with my intended shopping…. they become weary of me, retreating to their respective corners, and wait on my eventual departure.

This morning, I find myself face to face, with a worthy sales-clerk adversary.  I routinely go for a Monday morning bike-ride.  I love Mondays as they are quiet in Florence, most stores are closed until mid-afternoon.  Today, I happened upon a boutique I’d always admired.  The lights on, a sales-clerk busy in the doorway, all signs pointing towards ‘open for business’.  As I enter the boutique, I find myself face to face with a miniature Mussolini, sweeping the threshold.  I sense she knows I’m standing in front of her, yet she does her best to ignore me.  I inquire politely if the store is open, and in place of an answer, she turns her face and left shoulder… ever so slightly to the right, allowing me barely enough room to pass.  In the face of such blatant disrespect, my tenacity to shop here intensifies.  I squeeze past her tiny frame, and to my delight, the boutique is filled with clothing that matches my personal taste & style.  Enthusiastically, I launch into what can only be described as a fitting-frenzy.  Conservatively, I try on 80% of the merchandise.  Initially, she’s reluctant to assist me, her every attempt at intimidation is in vain as I’m on a shopping-mission.  It takes her 45 minutes to acquiesce, and actually participate in her job.  We proceed full steam ahead with operation clothe Shauna, and she is phenomenal!

Two hours, 15 outfits, and a memorable morning later, she is sharing her favourite locations to buy quality shoes, the number for her hair-stylist, and tips on haggling with street vendors.

With shopping bags brimming from the basket of my bike, I leisurely pedal the cobbled street.  I turn toward the sound of a voice… to my surprise and delight, she’s standing in the doorway of her boutique, smiling and waving, and her warm Italian “Arrivederci” echos through the narrow passage!

I did not arrive in a Ferrari, dripping in Fendi, however, this petite Bella-Donna proved to me once again…… this IS the amazing, and hospitable country, I know and love.

If Italy puts on a frosty-facade at times…look deeper, it’s well worth the effort.

next weeks post: CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

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A RUN ALONG THE ARNO

My day begins at dawn with a run along the River Arno.  My language teacher and dear friend Monica requested I listen to Italian music whenever possible so I have reluctantly added an iPod to my morning run. I must admit I’m an iPod snob and have looked at ‘those people’ with little white buds stuffed in their ears with judgment.  “Why not embrace your natural surroundings?”  Today I concede that the allure of singer Eros Ramazzotti, filling my head with his romantic melodies, has dissolved my longstanding iPod boycott.  Magnifying this Utopian state is the mystique of Brunelleschi’s Duomo, greeting me affectionately from across the glassy waters of the Arno.

The river Arno is shouldered by a rock wall that seems to urge individuals to lean against, sit upon, or embrace a loved one along its idyllic and sturdy borders.  The obliging, and occationally temperamental river, was in Medieval times, the main mode of transportation for the cloth merchants who colonized Florence.  In recent history,  the Arno silently spilled her banks in the early hours of November 1966, disrupting the harmonious lives of the inhabitants of this Renaissance city.  The flood destroyed countless paintings, collapsed massive statues, damaged historical documents, and left irreplaceable artifacts virtually unrecognizable.

Today, the Arno dances as if expressly for me in the citrus light of sunrise in Florence.  It welcomes natives, visitors, and temporary transplants, like myself, who have fallen in love with the rhythm and shape of this passionate city.  The Arno’s allure is enticing as she ambles past historical buildings, private homes, and legendary bridges lovingly built by skilled tradesmen.

She seems affectionate and unflustered today, chaperoning my eyes to the glistening reflection of the sun caught in the tiny ripples of her hushed exterior.  A sleek boat pass silently, less than 10’ from the wall, carrying four chiseled athletes.  The teams identical oars, skim Arnos serene facade for a single weightless second, scarcely enough time to discern the silky stream of water gracefully relinquishing its hold on the painted blades; the droplets linger expectantly between oar and river for one glorious moment, then disappear into Arnos nurturing embrace.  Ribbons of ripples dissolve into the shimmering waters as the Scullers vanish between the bridge supports.

The sun caresses the nape of my neck, urging me forward to one of my favorite destinations… ‘Pointe Vecchio’ (Old Bridge).  Its familiar stone arches, topped with miniature buildings, are reflected in the river’s calm facade.  Playful hints of yellow, cream and burnt orange drench the buildings that line this graceful River.  I feel intoxicated with appreciation and admiration for this moment of my life.

I approach the almost deserted Pointe Vecchio, the oldest and most famous of bridges in Florence.  Charming jewelry shops adorn the bridge with individually carved wooden shutters that have lined this famous crossing since the 13th century.

On any given day, this lively ‘must see’ attraction brims with retailers lingering in storefronts bursting with jewelry both new and vintage.  Skilled Jewelers work within the confines of these microscopic boutiques, wedged together like Lego on this legendary bridge.  In addition, a multitude of artisans offer their etched drawings, musicians entertain enthusiastically, and the classic wheeled carts of Florence are laden with souvenirs.  Most days, you’ll find the local beggar woman, dressed in quirky layered clothing, her unmistakable voice that has the quality of sandpaper on rusted metal, her petite frame moving with the crowd, shaking her worn paper cup into the faces of unsuspecting tourists.  I must admit, on more than one occasion this little dynamo has frightened the bejesus out of me.

Adding to the curious spectacle of locals, you’ll find countless exhausted tourist, overburdened with parcels, cumbersome guidebooks, oversized cameras dangling from strained necks, as they stand fascinated, (in the middle of traffic) by the spectacle playing out before them.

Gratefully, at this early hour, only sporadic local Florentines inhabit the bridge.  My preferred encounters are with the boisterous street cleaners, as they eagerly sweep this historical crossing with brooms that look as ancient as the bridge itself.  These handmade working tools are constructed of thick straw, tied at the base with twine.  The handles themselves seem magical and romantic, with their well-worn contours used for sweeping and or leaning against. The untroubled workers sweep and chat amongst themselves, occasionally pausing with a smile and heartfelt ‘buongiorno’, greeting locals strolling to work, or runners like myself, on the seemingly endless quest for improved physical fitness.  These men have no need for such rituals; they stay in shape by actually working throughout the day. What a novel idea!

As I cross Pointe Vecchio, the tip of Duomo peeks over the buildings ahead, and I marvel once again at its beauty and architectural wonder.  As I run beneath the 17 graceful arches of the Covered Walkway, built by Vasari, my pace naturally quickens.  To my left stands the Uffizi Gallery, poised for the tourists who will soon queue beside her doors: her visitors anxious to linger in the halls, pass through rooms filled with world-renowned collections of paintings and sculptures that are proudly displayed behind this artful edifice referred to as Uffizi.  On my right the River Arno, and directly ahead, the elegant hills that surround Florence.  A sigh escapes my lips, I know my time in Florence is limited, my heart lives along this river, on her bridges, and within the dignified walls of the majestic city I call home.

As I climb the stairs to my apartment, I realize my morning run has not exhausted me; quite the contrary, my step is light and filled with the enthusiasm of a teenager.  The reflection that greets me in the mirror in my apartment reveals the maturity of a woman, yet somewhere behind the lines that trace my face, a youthful girl resides.  I’m refreshed by the morning air, my run, these spectacular surroundings, and the freedom that comes with following ones bliss.

Remarkably, each day that greets me in this city gives me the sensation that life has just begun.

Perhaps it has……

next weeks post: SHOPPING…NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART

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THE PRICE OF INDEPENDENCE

Today I purchased a shiny new bicycle.  This fills me with independence: independence from breaking down, independence from failing breaks, independence from chains that slip and fall off in traffic.  Up until yesterday, I cherished my old blue bike, however it rattled to a halt halfway up a bridge, leaving me stranded, and walking home in the dark for thirty minutes.

This gleaming new bicycle is not only practical, it fills me with a secret pride… there are few things as memorable as a new bicycle !!

This morning riding along the streets of Florence, I’m reminded of my very first bicycle as a young girl.  A banana bike with a red seat, and silver fenders.

In addition, it stirs a memory of the hours teaching my own daughters how to ride a two-wheeler.  The letting go….  Permitting them to ride away from the shelter of my arms.

A recollection that prompts me to consider my own independence, this new life in Italy, the choices I’ve made, the unfamiliar road ahead…..

Recall if you will the day your parents hand let go of the bicycle-seat, and you rode a bicycle without assistance for the very first time!!

Think back to how your fingers fit perfectly into the groves of the sturdy rubber handles.  How tightly your hands gripped, bracing against the unknown, refusing to let go, to give up.  The breeze adding to the thrill as it gusts across your face in perfect unison.  Excitement and angst toward this newfound independence.  The quiver in the front wheel as you turn your head to look behind you, amazed you are actually riding on your own, keenly aware of the distance between you and your parents.  The smile on their faces as they watch you ride away, their one hand raised in a wave, the other clenched in fear for your safe return.

Quite unexpectedly you are now the one in charge.  Every move you make is a choice.  Glancing back is no longer a sensible option.  Looking forward is the safest course of action.  By peddling harder, you make it up the hill.  Breaking softly keeps you steady.  Swing to the left, you risk riding into traffic.  Wobble too far right, strike the curb.  Stay the course, and you’re further from home.  Further from the strong safe hands that hold you upright, giving you direction, offering sound advice…. shielding you from harm.

If you refuse to remove the training wheels, you’ll never experience the thrill of that first autonomous ride.

What should you do?

You have a choice…. stand next to the curb OR experience the adrenaline rush of a solo ride….the excitement of a new adventure….achieving it on your own…these choices demand independence.

An irritating requirement of independence is that you must become independent!!!

next weeks posts: A RUN ALONG THE ARNO

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A DANCE IN PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO (part 2)

(A DANCE IN PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO part 1)

It feels like an hour passes before he makes his second bold move.  He reaches up and touches my hair, I feel my entire body tense.  He smiles at my reaction and remarks in half-English half-Italian: “Io…. like….. capelli rossi!”. (translation) “I like red hair!”  He seems oddly fascinated by my hair, I can’t tell if it’s because of the conditioner or the fact he has never been on a date with a foreigner, let alone a red-headed one. With every calming stroke of my highly conditioned hair, I eventually relax and allow him to share his personal story.  In four weeks it will be his fortieth birthday.  He reaches into his pocket, retrieves his cell phone, and introduces me to his life through pictures.  His smile grows tender as he looks at a picture of his niece, who is clearly the light of his life.  The next photo was taken with his father & brother on a recent skiing vacation.  I thank him for sharing his family memories understanding their significance to him.

As our eyes lock, and he holds my gaze the intoxicating  scent of Jasmine surrounds us.  He brushes the hair from my face, my greasy hair day all but forgotten.  Lost in the romance and not wishing the spell to be broken, I enjoy this moment while still holding steadfast to my first date rule, I have no intention of contributing further to Piazzale Michelangelo’s famed reputation of melting the will of even the strongest of women.  On the other hand a little voice in the back of my mind is gaining strength asking me “what’s the harm of a little kiss anyway?”  YES-NO-YES-NO… damn this city, this Piazzale, how is a woman expected to resist, with this view, the Jasmine, the gentle unhurried afternoon.

We sit quietly as the sun warms our arms and faces.  He’s wearing a light sweater & jeans in contrast to my cotton dress and sandals.  Is seems Florentines rarely dress in the casual fashion we North Americans adopt once the Italian sun heats the hills of Tuscany.  His hand caresses my shoulder for what seems like an eternity as I watch the light reflecting off the Duomo in the distance.  The imaginary dance between us becomes an old-fasion waltz and I’m lost in a vision of Floriten life of a century ago.  How many lovers have sat on this very spot with their wicker picnic baskets and white parasols, admiring the awe inspiring view of Florence?  The silence between us is comfortable, inviting and natural.


Raising his hand to my cheek he gently angles my face towards his. Tenderly tracing my lips with his finger he raises my chin with one seamless movement……My resolve evaporates and is carried away on the breeze that cools my neck on this perfect spring day.

Arrrggghhhh what the hell Shauna, you’re in Italy!  Go on, kiss the adorable Italian!

I’ll leave the rest to your imagination…..

By chance, were you wondering how I discover once and for all if his name is Riccardo or Alessandro?  I could blame the conditioner or the view or the intoxicating scent of Jasmine in the air, or simply being caught up in the moment.  The fact is I whispered the wrong name into his ear that afternoon.  You may well ask why I even attempted it?  I have no answer to that question.  After an awkward explanation, and an emphatic apology,  Riccardo smiles a charming smile, and forgives my blunder.  As we walked home, shared laughter rang out, arms intwined, and secure in the knowledge that tomorrow brings a new day.  Our journey begins…continues…unfolds.

next weeks post: THE PRICE OF INDEPENDENCE

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A DANCE IN PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO (part 1)

A text arrives from my handsome Italian neighbour, with an invitation for coffee at the local coffee shop, Caffè Michelangelo in Piazza Ferrucci at 3:00 p.m. today.  Felling a rush of excitement,  I prepare for our first date.

Staring into my open closet, I decide on a simple spring dress, sandals, and a scarf in case the breeze turns cool.  Further preparations entail writing out a few translated key words and sentences, Coles Notes if you will, and slip them into the pocket of my dress.

The clock reads 2:59.  I examine my hair one last time shaking my head, I let out an exasperated sigh and an audible groan.  Allow me to explain my predicament.  I timed myself to perfection.  One of the last preparations was my hair.  Today’s drying time was unusually lengthy, three times as long as a matter of fact.  I would dry then toss my hair, dry then toss, dry then toss, keenly aware that the minutes were ticking away.  At long last, with only a few minutes to spare, my hair was finally dry to the touch but curiously flat and lifeless.  I stare at my reflection, with a questioning look.  “What happened here?”  I rack my brain until the answer flashes into my mind… My eyes widened with horror.  OH-MY-GOD!!  I can’t believe it!!… I’d forgotten to rinse-out the conditioner!

As it was too late to start over, I sprayed a super sonic dose of hairspray, back-combed and sprayed a second time.  With any luck, if I didn’t touch IT, the mistake would go undetected.  Note to self: Absolutely NO HAIR TOUCHING!!  This will be a challenge for me.  As a teenager I developed the habit of running my fingers through my hair.  This unconscious, often distracting trait, has determined the style of my hair for as long as I can remember:  simple, uncomplicated, and finger-friendly.

Five minutes late, I rush to the cafe, and standing outside is the gorgeous Riccardo!  Or is it Alessandro?  Why can’t I keep those two names straight?  He suggests we walk to the Piazza and indicates he knows a shortcut.  At least I think that’s what he said,  as he was so nervous he spoke too quickly for me to understand.  I’m sure where ever we are going, it will be lovely.  Still pre occupied with my hair, we turn the corner at the top of the hill.  Suddenly I realize that he’s leading me to Piazzale Michelangelo

I’m secretly mortified as this famous Piazzale is known for the spectacular views, and its power over the resolve of even the strongest of women.  It’s a little like Lovers’ Lane and his choice of destination shows very little imagination on his part.  I suppress my disappointment as he points out the famous landmarks of Florence.  How do I tell him I’ve been up here on countless occasions, often secretly laughing at the men who bring women here in the hopes they will steal a kiss?  If he thinks for a moment I’ll melt over the view of Pointe Vecchio, and fall into his open arms, he is sadly mistaken.

 However, he’s so utterly adorable, coupled with those dreamy eyes and that lavish open smile of his, I forgive his first date faux pas.  Also he appears genuinely interested in what I have to say, he’s attentive and is absorbed in my answers.  We are however,  using the simplest of language skills…what we actually comprehend in anyone’s guess.

Strolling beside the wall that borders the Piazzale, we weave in and out of the multitude of tourist and buskers, occasionally the backs of our hands brush lightly together.  I can’t quite decide if it’s intentional or accidental.

He buys me a soda and leads me to a relatively private park that’s a few steps below the bustling Piazzale.  We settle on a park bench and enjoy the spectacular view before us.  Three young girls are taking pictures of one another and as he banters with them, I take pleasure in observing his gentle personality blossom.  I was mistaken, he’s not a player at all, he’s simply a Florentine who wishes to share this stunning view.  He alternates between being reserved, then playful, but mainly… honest.  We sit silently delighting in the view of this spectacular city.  He edges closer to me resting a warm respectful hand on my shoulder.  He turns to me with laughing eyes discerning my reaction to his bold advancement.  I think to myself that dating is like a dance, and in this case I approve of his subtle advance.  But, make no mistake, I am resolute in my mind.   I will NOT kiss this gorgeous, sweet, doe-eyed man on a first date.  I absolutely positively will NOT be taken in by his irresistible  Italian charm!!

(A DANCE IN PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO part 2)

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MORNINGS IN ITALY

In this first enchanting week in my new apartment, I take pleasure in becoming familiar with the routines of Italian life.  Upon opening my eyes every morning, I delight in the view of the hills at the base of Piazzale Michelangelo.

The bells of the neighbourhood church ring rhythmically every 15 minutes.  Sitting at my kitchen table with my breakfast before me, I’m compelled to observe the eclectic assortment of neighbours across the street.  The unfamiliar intimacy of living only 30 feet away from complete strangers takes me by surprise.  Living in such close proximity necessitates one to be respectful to the comings and goings of ones fellow human beings, a learning curve I struggle with daily.  I am however, determined to conceal (not suppress) my interest in these captivating individuals who live right outside my kitchen window.

Directly across from me, a woman in an Aztec printed housedress gracefully opens her shutters, pausing to greet the morning sun that bathes her face in soft light.  In an adjacent apartment a stoic gentleman reading in his rocking chair nods appreciatively to his wife as she sets an espresso on the table beside him.  Lovingly touching his shoulder she turns and walks out of view.

On the second floor an elderly man freshens his comforter on the windowsill.  The occupant on the fourth floor with the double balcony, has failed to notice that I’ve moved-in across the street.  I know this because he waters his plants every morning in his extremely tight white underwear, and I’m disappointed to report this is not an image from GQ.

Imagine if you can a young Woody Allen in his tighty-whities…walking from one end of his balcony to the other in plain and painful view, with his coffee in one hand, all the while scratching and adjusting himself with the other.  The pièce-de-la résistance
of this scenario is when he turns his back to me, bends over, and prunes his roses for what seems like an eternity.  It’s a little like a car accident.  It assaults your eyes and you know you should look away, but you simply can’t stop yourself!

The bakery below is owned by a colourful fellow who sings and chats to his customers.  The friendly banter drifts up to my window, and from the sound of the continuous laughter I deduce he has a keen sense of humour.

On the sidewalk, gentlemen in business suits stroll to the bus stop, unconsciously tapping closed umbrellas against the sidewalk.  Impeccably dressed women in strikingly high heels ride past on scooters, weaving dangerously in and out of traffic, as silk scarves sweep effortlessly around their delicate necks.

Rising up to me are the excited voices of young children dressed in uniforms on their way to school under the watchful eyes of doting grandmothers.

Washing the dishes by hand I catch the scent of jasmine in the air.  The white cotton drapes dance above my table, responding to the gentle Italian breeze.  An appealing start to a flawless day.

next weeks post: A DANCE IN PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO – part 1

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WAS THAT “ALESSANDRO” or “RICCARDO”??

I decide that today is the day for spring cleaning and organizing.   I have several projects on my agenda.  One of these is disinfecting & reupholstering the seven mismatched kitchen chairs (some rescued from the sidewalk) with fabric remnants from Ikea.

Another priority item is transforming both bedrooms by creating unique headboards using recycled cardboard, snazzy wapping paper and double sided tape.  Necessity is the mother of invention when you’re on a budget.  The floors are in need of a good scrubbing, and the windows are coated in a opaque film caused by the non-stop traffic on the street below.

With a Windex bottle clenched under my arm and paper towels stuffed into various parts of my clothing, I’m intent on improving my view.  Half perching on the windowsill, and half steading myself on the kitchen table, I notice a man on the sidewalk below waving at me.  Racking my brain as to who this stranger could possibly be, I suddenly realize it’s the handsome neighbour I spotted on the street a few days earlier.  At the time I was in a flirty mood, and had actually flashed a toothy grin at him.  I’m rarely so brazen as to smile at perfect strangers on the street, but I was feeling brave and a little sassy that day.  What I now find shocking is that he recognizes me from 3 floors up, with my hair tied back, wearing oversized cleaning grubbies, and that he’s actually trying to get my attention.  I look like the maid!  I return his friendly wave and smile to myself wondering how this little scenario will play itself out.

By mid-afternoon I’m ready for a change of scenery.  I shower, grab a good book, and head off on my bike to the quiet Bardini Gardens.  (There’s a high probability gelato will be consumed today!!)  Leaving my apartment I bump into the handsome neighbour who is oh-so-casually walking past my front door.  To my delight he is even better looking face-to-face with an effortless smile, playful brown eyes and an irresistible hint of grey hair around his temples. We exchange smiles, and wide-eyed stares while talking for several delicious minutes.  I use the term “talking” loosely as he speaks no English, and my Italian vocabulary skills are on the level of a 10-month-old baby.  Fortunately all the years of speaking with my hands has finally paid off.  He offers to call me and as he enters my number into his phone I notice his hands are shaking.  Ohhhh! That’s so sweet!…. He’s nervous!  Leaning in to give me the customary Italian double-cheek kiss, he says he’ll call in me two days.  At least I think that’s what he says.  To tell you the truth, I actually have no idea what we were talking about.  For all I know he may have just told me he’s going to buy cheese, and it needs to be aged for two days!  This lack of communication could pose a problem.

Whatever!  Who cares!  He’s adorable, with his starched blue shirt, white sweater, and trembling hands.  He crosses the street, then casually turns with a warm smile and a final wave.  I look forward to his call but I have one teensy-weensy miniature problem: I can’t exactly remember what he said his name was!!  “Alessandro” or “Riccardo”?   I’m sure I’ll figure it out before it ever becomes an issue.  Oh Gawd I hope so!

next weeks post: MORNINGS IN ITALY

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EVERYONE SMILES IN THE SAME LANGUAGE

It’s been a busy few weeks… below, the condensed version of my life of late:

#1) I move to my own apartment, it’s just one block from the river.  In 10-minutes-flat, I unpack everything I own.  The apartment is furnished with the following: three kitchen tables, (no idea why), seven kitchen chairs, three of which, I personally reclaimed from the side of the road, one hutch, one dresser, two “plywood firm” beds, a 70′s style puffy leather-like chair, and 15″ TV with wobbly stand.  While this may sound like a full apartment, understand there are two bedrooms, a living room, a large entrance, a kitchen, and bathroom… AND now ME; smiling from ear to ear. I’ve rented my own place in Florence… three months in paradise has expanded to five.

My Kitchen, not like any kitchen I’ve ever designed or lived in, however I’m in 7th-heaven. 

#2) I purchased a stunning new bike.  It has a bell, and a basket, transporting me throughout the city…my smile grows!

To celebrate this 1st day with my bike, I purchase spring calla-lilies.  I ran into Federica at the market.

#3) I sign-up for Italian lessons…. I’m the worst student in class. I try to hide my discomfort with an unconvincing painted-on fake smile.

My Classmates… OK, I admit, this is a real smile, however the business of learning a new language is brutal !!

It’s Easter weekend. Italy is magical in spring, every bud is bursting, as the sun warms, and paints the Tuscan hills, with a burst of colour.

need I say more?

My friend Monica has invited me to join the trio of lovely ladies, who live in her neighbourhood, for a Good Friday celebration at her church in Maiano. This quaint church is nestled in the hills of Tuscany. Monica, Laura, Gyorgyi, and I arrive, and settle into our pew. Ten minutes into the sermon, the rear door opens and a gentleman marches toward the altar, he takes a bow, and sits in a chair directly beside the altar, the chair appears to be reserved for someone of great importance. He looks down at all the parishioners below, as if he is taking inventory.  I turn to Monica and whisper “The Mayor of Maiano?” She stifles a laugh, and nods “Yes”.  I should mention, on our way to church Monica described a fellow who is the self-appointed Mayor of this sleepy village.  Only two problems; firstly the village does not have a Mayor, and secondly this man doesn’t even live in Maiano. The poor guy is hopelessly confused. Every Sunday, he drives in from Florence, sits facing the congregation totally convinced that he is the Mayor of Maiano. The kindly priest can’t bring himself to ask “The Mayor” to sit with the rest of the congregation.  I smile with the addition of a snicker and a chuckle.

After mass, we walk along the path to Settignano – the picturesque field, and castle where the movie “Room With A View” was filmed.  As we walk, I’m touched by these three extraordinary women, who have invited me into thier lives, on this Holiday weekend.

The trio….Gyorgyi-Laura-Monica

This combination of experiences envelops me with the magic that is Tuscany…my heart is brimming with gratitude, and my smile is genuine.

The ever stunning Monica in the Field from, ‘A Room With a View’

Following our picturesque walk, we arrive at Gyorgyis home, the girls make authentic Italian pizza with fresh buffalo mozzarella & vine ripened-tomatoes.

Gyorgyi and Laura

We toast the day with Prosecco, laughing until 2:00 a.m… as I ride home on my cherished new bike, the brilliance of the Easter moon illuminates my path, the crisp night air caresses my face, while I sing to myself the entire ride home, grinning like a schoolgirl.

The Duomo at night

The following morning, I set out on my bike, to purchase supplies for Easter dinner. I buy meat at the butchers, fruit at the vegetable stand, bread from the bakers, wine at the wine store, and cured meat from the corner deli…………..I LOVE THIS COUNTRY!!! (if you say this part really really loud, you’ll appreciate what I’m feeling)

On Easter Sunday, I wake early not wishing to miss the sunrise, or one moment of this glorious day. I sit on my windowsill savouring the sun, the light, and an espresso, for hours, inspired by the sound of the church bells, as they ring continuously throughout my beloved Florence.

view from my bedroom window…

I ride my bike to the Easter Celebrations that take place around the Duomo, in the heart of Florence.  A parade and fireworks fill the square.

Traditional Parade Easter sunday. Italian men in tights!!

I smile blissfully, standing shoulder to shoulder, with these beautiful people, enjoying the familiar aroma of espresso, mingled with warm pastry.  I can’t believe this is real.. would someone please pinch me!!! Ohhh wait a minute, I forgot… I’m in Italy, pinches were invented here, God only knows what would happen if I actually asked for one.

The Fire-Cart a traditional celebration held ever Easter sunday at The Duomo.

I ride to the vineyard where Monica lives, for our Easter Day celebration.  Laura, the artist of the group, hand-paints eggs, while Monica, and I prepare dinner.

artist – Laura

Monica with her delicious asparagus soup starter… yummy!

As I slowly pedal home, not wishing for the day to end,  I realized my face hurts from smiling all weekend.  I can’t imagine a more enjoyable Easter Celebration.

Quote ~ Andy Rooney ~ “If you smile when no one else is around, you really mean it”

next weeks post: WAS THAT ALESSANDRO or RICCARDO?

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RESUME FOR A “FIRST DATE”

Recall if you will the cab driver whom I made that desperate phone call to at three in the morning in my story of  I GET OUT OF THE CAB?  His name is Antonio and I feel a sense of obligation to go for coffee with him.  After all I did wake him up at 3 a.m.  He’s an attractive man in his mid 40′s, unfortunately he’s not my type, but you never know!!  He’s a friend of a friend, and I know him to be a kind and gentle man.  I spend additional time on my hair & make-up, choose a fashionable outfit, and adopt my best “It’s an adventure” attitude.  This first date falls short of the romantic scenario I’d imagined, however I’m determined to place a positive spin on the afternoon…. SERIOUSLY, how bad could it be?

Antonio picks me up in his cab.  It’s infused with a trace of stale cigarette smoke laced with a hint of artificial pine… The cab is actually his car, but he refers to it as a limo because it’s a 13-year-old Mercedes. (I don’t understand this logic either, perhaps it’s an Italian thing)   He explains that his son just called and has an emergency with his math homework, would I mind if we swing by his house for 5 minutes?  I acquiesce … he drives with his lit cigarette hanging out of the window as a “courtesy” to me.

Heads up to all you car-smokers out there.  When you hold your cigarette, and/or blow smoke out of the window, this results in a vortex of Arctic air & smoke flowing into the back seat, it twirls around for a mile-second, eventually finding its way to your non-smoking passenger.  VIOLA… an unhappy frozen passenger suffering from second hand smoke…

After climbing three flights of stairs and a “brief” tour of his attic apartment, (I’ll share design details in a minute), we sit in the combined living/kitchen/storage room while he counsels his son in grade 4 math.  This chain-smoker’s idea of not offending me is to blow the smoke in the other direction.  I perch precariously on a stool in this garble of rooms at a wobbly table that has one leg 2″ shorter than the rest.  My illusions of a successful  first date  disappear into the trail of smoke flowing from  his chain-lit cigarette to the nicotine-stained ceiling above.  Antonio patiently tutors his young son who continually looks over at me grinning, as if I’m about to become his new Mommy.  Even the most minuscule of  movements causes the table to rock.   Neither father nor son are fazed by this repetitive and irritating phenomenon.  I have to literally sit on my hands to prevent myself from stuffing my purse under the asymmetrical leg. (I’ve officially entered the Twilight Zone)

While juggling the math lesson, preparing coffee, washing stained coffee cups, and checking on his mother who resides one floor below, Antonio shares with me his life story to date.  It goes something like this: his ex-wife lives on the main floor as they can’t afford a divorce. His Mamma who lives on the third floor has advanced Alzheimer’s disease.  She has lost the ability to care for herself, she’s incontinent, has fits of insomnia, roams her apartment, escapes periodically, requires supervision, and at this moment is “locked up” in her apartment.  In addition, the combination of Italy’s sagging economy, and the chilly winter months mean he has no work, or income. (Could this be the reason that the coffee date is in his apartment?)  As an added bonus, he lives in a make-shift apartment in the attic, and I mean the attic, of this 3 story walk-up.  It has no windows, other than one 2′x2′ opening in the roof, no insulation, a stained sofa missing its legs, and a sloping ceiling requiring an innovative early cave man style of walking.

As he drives me home he confides that he is currently depressed, but the one shining light in his life is that he ALWAYS, and I mean ALWAYS, finds a parking spot.

I promptly erase his number from my phone…

next weeks post: EVERYONE SMILES IN THE SAME LANGUAGE

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OBSERVATIONS

A few personal observations….

*New Generation Italians find comfort in covering-up the old.  They smear brick buildings & ancient stone walls with plaster and concrete.  The old stands resolute… the plaster & concrete crack, relinquishing their weak facade, ultimately tumbling to earth.  What was stands in defiance.  I pay homage to the patience and persistence of history.

*Italians are a people who use their hands to express enthusiasm on a daily basis when : talking, touching, working, laughing, thinking, eating, talking, smiling, arguing, loving, drinking, laughing, talking…. did I mention talking?  :-}

*Italians protect their external world with steel bars and iron gates.  Who or what are they attempting to keep out?  Who or what are they attempting to keep in?

Iron work by: Felix Cois, from Pula (Sardinia)

*Italians are a people of exceptional culture that is deeply rooted in history.  A past characterized by great leaders, and numerous tragedies inflicted upon their people… often those tragedies were perpetrated by their own people.  Conversely, in hardship or troubling times, they stand together raising their fists and flags in unison, revealing unyielding honour for a culture they believe is worth preserving.

*Yesterday while stuck in traffic, I noticed a shopkeeper arguing with a customer.  Voices raised, hands waving, eyes wide, indignation and frustration boiling over as they both tried to make their opinion known to the other.  Extraordinarily, in the time it took for the traffic to clear, I realized they were not on the verge of exchanging blows, but merely stating their individual points of view.   They parted with sincere handshakes, pats on shoulders, and warm smiles.  Their opposing points of view accepted without malice or animosity.  My guess is the discussion tomorrow will be equally enthusiastic.

*Similar to their expressive language…… in life, Italians leave no syllables left unspoken.

*Italian women know how to wear BLACK, and make it look like RED.

*It is common to encounter grey haired 86-year-old women riding faded blue bicycles returning from their daily excursion to market.  Add to this picture shocking red lipstick,  stylish skirts,  support hose attached to garter-belts, and high-heeled designer shoes.

***I adore Italy….

next weeks post: Resume For A First Date

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