Klimt, Boboli and Heavy Metal

Last week meant a return to routine for Antonella and the girls: teaching, marking, classroom prep, for mom, attending classes and studying non-stop, for the signorine. They all follow a brutal schedule. But more on that later.


Alone in the midst of this scholastic whirlwind, I tended to organize my days in Florence by working in the morning, then meandering and exploring in the afternoon.

Klimt Experience at Santo Stefano al Ponte

On Tuesday, March 21, I decided to attend an interactive Gustav Klimt exhibition at Santo Stefano al Ponte, a deconsacrated church very near the Uffizi Gallery, just over the Ponte Vecchio. It was billed as “an experience” and it truly lived up to the hype. It included a virtual reality component, which immersed the participant into several of the artist’s individual works. I felt suspended, floating amidst showers of gold, red and green mosaics, all swirling above me, below me, around me. . .  I was caught up in an intense Klimtian meteor shower.

After catching my breath from that ride I sat through a stunning multi-media experience in the nave of the empty church. It was a kaleidoscope of  sorts: images of  late nineteenth century Vienna, pertinent political figures of that period, Klimt’s own paintings, in their entirety, or close-ups of specific details, and photos of the painter himself and of his many muses.

Projection at the Klimt Experience

The music accompanying the visual presentation allowed it to soar. Beethoven’s 9th symphony, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, and Strauss waltzes danced with the bigger-than-life images in that cavernous space while we, the onlookers, swayed to the music in the midst of more showers of gold, green, orange. . .  most of us sitting on large blocks spread out through the open space, or lying down on the circular ‘Klimt’ carpet in the center. It was extremely moving, breathtaking. I felt suspended in time, and for an hour or so, not of this world —  a feeling only art can gift me. A wonderful and unique way to spend a gloomy Florentine afternoon.

Tuesday evening was quite a contrast. I accompanied Antonella and Vincenzo, the guitarist in one of her singing groups, to Sesto Fiorentino, a new town, near the airport, just outside of Florence. It felt as though I was back in North America: wide roads and boulevards, anaemic neighbourhoods, futuristic shopping centres — not at all the cramped, Medieval world I had been exploring of late, or the post-war neighbourhood that Antonella currently lives in. Our destination was a large, modern community centre where we were to see a concert — or more correctly, the last night of a music contest which had been taking place over several months. Antonella and Vincenzo’s friends had made it to the finals and we were here to support them: everyone who bought a 3 euro consumazione (any kind of drink or coffee) was eligible to vote, along with the four judges. The more friends and family you were able to entice to the event, the better your chances of winning. Thankfully, our group performed their half-hour set first, at 9:30. They were very good — a mixture of jazz, pop, and latin rythms, sung in Italian, French and English. Gabi (Gabriella), the lead singer, had a lovely voice and wonderful stage presence; the musicians were excellent. The only glitch, for me, was the performance of Estate, an Italian jazz standard that I love and had just performed at a house concert in November. It is a song of longing and loss; to my mind, slow and full of emotion. Gabi and the group did it at a good clip — a bit too good for my taste. But her innovative jazz vocalizations were impressive!

Hard Metal, Medieval style

The next group up was, well. . .  hard metal. Loud, very loud — especially the drummer, who seemed intent on murdering his drum set. The lead singer, a woman in her 30’s, had a very good voice, a near-perfect English, and had the demonic ‘horns’ down pat, but the music drove me away after the second song. I knew that my poor, aging ear drums would not be able to handle any more of the assault, were I to stay. Couldn’t handle it well in my youth, what hope had I now?

What bothered me most, however, were the young children, aged 5 – 8, dancing at the very front of the stage, where their tender, young ear drums could get the full benefit of the screeching amps. They had obviously come to watch mamma, or zio (uncle), or nonno perform but keep in mind that their set began at almost 10:30 and this was a school night. And did I mention it was loud? As I’ve said before, children here are fully part of the social scene, but there are some cases — this one comes to mind — in which leaving the little ones at home with nonna might be a prudent decision.

On Thursday I had a lovely — much more peaceful experience — at the Giardino di Boboli, the extensive garden of the Pitti Palace. The day threatened rain, but I took a chance, wanting to see some of the special exhibits.

Pitti Palace, rear view

The weather improved during the course of the afternoon  as I wandered through the formal gardens, studded with statuary, most of it old —

Gioco della civetta (Game of the Civetta) by Giovanni Battista Capezzuolo








Segreto del cielo (Secret of the Sky) by Kan Yasuda

although some was much more modern. Any chance to place my hand or my face against marble is a spike in my happiness quotient, and Kan Yasuda’s piece, standing alone and stark in a grassy field, called out to me. I couldn’t resist. . . Sometimes it’s those very small things in life, those seemingly silly gestures, that can provide us with such a sense of connection with the world, or with our roots.

Happy hand!



For hours I wandered the alleys and boulevards of the gardens. There were few flowers out at this time of year but in the grand, many-windowed seventeenth-century buildings now being used as greenhouses, I could see huge earthenware pots full of orange trees and flowers. They crowded around open doorways, acclimatizing to the outdoor air, almost jostling to be first out of the gate, as though tired of a winter spent indoors.

Cypress PathI sauntered down a cypress-lined boulevard, studded with statuary, leading to a grand fountain. Beyond, were fields studded with white-pink daisies — and students, lounging on the grass, enjoying some respite in the afternoon sun.

During the  course of the afternoon I also re-visited the Museo delle Porcellane (Porcelain Museum) which is housed in a building high on the belvedere, adjacent to the rose garden (sadly bereft of blooms at this time of year).

museo delle porcellane

The exhibit displays fine porcelain from the 17th – 19th century Germany, Austria, France and Italy. Some of the pieces are exquisite.

19th century gown designed by Rosa Genoni

But I was most looking forward to walking through the Costume Gallery which displays fashion from the 18th century to the present. There are also two rooms dedicated to the remnants of clothing worn by the Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici and Eleonora di Toledo in the 16th century. That anything of the cloth remains after almost 500 years, I find stunning; I am grateful for the many hard-working people who make it their life’s work to preserve the past, even the tatters.


After a long, hot afternoon immersed in flora, marble, porcelain, cloth, and history, I desperately needed to sit and sip and let the day wash over me. And what better to aid in the process than a cold one at a sidewalk cafe’?

Birra e patatine                          


 Buona notte!


Welcome to life on the Superstrada!

March 18, 2017

Living with Antonella, even if for a short time, can feel like being caught up in a whirlwind. Saturday was a particular — if well-intentioned — tornado.

It began as a gloomy day threatening rain, with the two of us in full chiacchiera (chat) mode, over our morning  caffelatte. She needed to go to Ikea in Florence to buy a hide-a-bed to place in her mothers’s apartment in Lido di Camaiore. Was I game? Sure! Why not!

Ikea in Florence. . .  It all felt so familiar. It could easily have been Vancouver (or New York, or Stockholm, or Hong Kong, I imagine). The only difference was that the food was oh so much better! How do I know this? Because the sofa she wanted was not available until the end of May in Florence, but there were four in stock in Pisa. What did I think: should we go to Pisa (one hour away), then head to Viareggio (half hour from Pisa) and then to Lido (ten minutes from Viareggio), then high-tail it back to Florence for an 8 pm. dinner with some members of her choir?? Well, why not! We were two crazy gals with no set plans until the evening and no kids to drop off at various sports practices. (The signorine, Antonella’s teenage girls, were with their dad for one more day.)

Even a local such as Anto bemoans the dearth of clear signage along Italian roads and superstrade, and finds it all most confusing. So, once we’d actually found the Ikea in Pisa, it was after 2:00 pm, and were both famished. I honestly never foresaw that I would be having a meal in Ikea in Italy — or back home, truth be told — but our growling stomachs led the way. The cafeteria was large and its food offerings extensive. Besides the ubiquitous lunch salads and stock desserts there was a large variety of cooked main dishes (meat & vegetarian) and also a good number of fresh pastas and soups. The place smelled amazing, like a regular Italian restaurant, like home. Parents were busy feeding their young ones in the hope that the post-lunch torpor would calm them down before attempting another kick at the shopping can. Sadly, for our part, we knew singer/cook Roberto would be spending all day in the kitchen preparing delicious seafood dishes, so we opted for the virtuous salad route, nonetheless gaining three pounds each simply from the smell wafting around us.

The sofa acquisition did not go as smoothly as predicted, nor did our attempts to stuff the extremely large and unwieldly boxes into Anto’s small car. The end result was that we left Pisa later than anticipated. A quick pit stop in Viareggio to greet my cousin Sandra and Sara, her daughter, and to finally meet Emel, her granddaughter; then another quick stop at my zia‘s (aunt) house to drop off the sofa, and we were on the run again, this time taking the autostrada in order to get to Flrorence in time. Made it!

On previous visits I had met everyone in Anto’s choir, Associazione Musica Harmonica, except Roberto, our host. It was nice to see familiar faces. John and I had sung with several of them a year ago, when we participated in the Flash Mob in Bologna, in celebration of European Early Music Day. The familiar faces included the children of three of the singers. Even though the evening went from 8:00 until 12:00, there was no question of not including the kids. It is one stark difference between our two cultures. Children are included in most social activities in Italy and treated as full members of the gang. The conversation includes them, topics are not censored, and the kids feel comfortable interacting with the adults around the table. As the evening progressed, all of them, even the older ones, draped themselves onto their father or mother, conversing or resting, with the parents not missing a beat of the adult action taking place around them.

Festa! spaghetti al sugo nero

The dinner at Roberto’s was wonderful! He most certainly does have a knack for dealing with seafood. We dined on spaghetti al sugo nero di seppia (spaghetti with black ink), followed by the delicious seppie (squid) which had provided the sauce.

Calamari al sugo

Being a squid girl from conception, I felt I had died and gone to heaven. My only moment of sadness came when I thought of my dear Giovanni, back in Victoria, he of  squid-and-black-black-ink-adoration fame.. . To ease my guilt, I texted him a picture and moved on.

Next came baby red mullets cakes (think crab cakes) in tomato sauce, followed by more calamari, also in a very light tomato sauce.

Dessert? Well, of course. Homemade torta alla ricotta con cannella (ricotta & cinnamon torte).

Wine? Oh, let’s just not talk about it…

               Buona notte!


Sono arrivata!

March 17, 2017


Ready to leave the gray!

The Victoria I left on Wednesday afternoon, March 15, was still cloaked in winter. Drab gray-brown, and a cold annoying drizzle accompanied me to the airport. On that score, I was happy to be leaving.

What greeted me in Florence was bright sunshine and heat: Spring had arrived just in time!

After a much-needed sleep, I woke up late-morning on Friday, refreshed and ready to step into the Tuscan sunlight. By the time I had rummaged through my  suitcase (there is a lot to pack when one is staying for two months, bridging two seasons), and found something suitably sun-worthy to wear, it was after 1:00. Time for lunch! And on a warm, sunny day, what better lunch to have than a gelato: I am fairly certain that it includes most of the primary food groups, so please, no finger wagging. . .  As is my routine when I come to Florence, I walked to my favourite caffe’ just a couple of blocks from my cousin Antonella’s house in Galluzzo, a suburb of the city. Usually, my sojourn begins with a cappuccino, but today, I was willing to break with tradition and live on the edge.

Lunch! — gelato al nocciola e al fondente

So, nocciola (hazlenut) and fondente (dark chocolote) cone in hand, I went to sit on a bench in the piazzetta where the morning market was being dismantled. The only stalls left were the flower vendor and the used book seller, both of whom were loading up their vans: it was time to go home for lunch and a rest.

My day, of course, was just beginning. The sun was hot and I unwound the light scarf wrapped loosely around my neck to let the heat and light restore my aching muscles and harried soul. Travel is becoming such an ordeal, as I age! While in the middle of frustrating delays, endless bovine waits through passport control, and awkward, painful runs to departure gates — the ones that always seem to be at the very end of a terminal, you know the ones I mean — I wonder if the destination is worth it. Surely my time would be better spent hiking through Mt.Doug Park with my dog Sam, or chasing after my grandchildren, or drinking an afternoon espresso with my husband. Surely.

But then,  as I am flying over the Alps and heading down Italy’s western coast, I spot the Versilia shoreline for the first time, the beaches where I spent so much of my youth; I marvel at the Apuane, foothills of the Appenines (Are those white veins snaking down to the foot of the mountains, snow or marble?); I catch my first glimpse of cypresses dotting the gentle hills of our approach to Florence. . . With all of this the excitement and emotion builds and I forget the torment of the past twenty-four hours. I’m home.

This feeling is solidified when I see Antonella’s huge smile as I exit the customs area with my bags. She is ten years my junior, but so much like me: a passion for languages, teacher of same, singer, writer, wicked wit. We are both blessed with two biological sisters  — and each other, a third. Perhaps one of our storks got confused and took us to the wrong house. No matter. Despite the physical distance which separates us, and the difference in age and life experience, we enjoy a close relationship and look forward to our time together. I will stay with Antonella and her two daughters until I leave for Lucca on March 26, where I have rented an apartment for a month.


Parco, Galluzzo

On Friday, my first full day in Italy, while Antonella taught French at a private school, I meandered through the neighbourhood. To my delight, I discovered and explored a park along a winding river. I walked several kilometers, trying to straighten and loosen my sore body, all tangled and cemented by long flights and almost as equally long runs through the Charles de Gaul Airport.

The air, the sun, the walk did me a world of good and I was soon ready for an evening on the town with Antonella.  After Prosecco and tapas at a bar close to the French Institute, our destination, we  attended Florence’s fourth annual Quebecois film festival. The film we saw was Les Demons, by Philippe Lesage, which we enjoyed immensely and highly recommend. Crazy, when I think about it: I have to come to Florence to experience a festival of French-Canadian films, all free, by the way. Perhaps English Canada should take note.

After the film finished, at 10:00 pm., we spent a couple of hours wandering through the heart of Florence. I was happy to discover it a much more pleasant place than the tourist-clogged daytime city. Don’t misunderstand: I love Firenze! But Friday night I became aware of it in ways I never had before. Spaces appeared that I’d never noticed; well-known icons acquired a new singularity. Piazza della Signoria, for example, is actually larger than I believed it to be — there is an entire section of it I’d never noticed before, because it was always overrun with bodies; Santa Maria Maggiore, the Baptistry, and the Campanile di Giotto were  almost vulnerable in the darkness, naked; Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella, with their respective piazzas, the same.

Santa Maria Novella

It was beautiful, yet eerie. Almost too quiet. Too raw. This is not to say that we were alone. Far from it. Many of the bars and pubs were overrun by youthful revelers celebrating St. Patrick’s Day; young foreigners and Italians sporting tall black and green leprechaun hats, stumbling on the uneven stones of the Florentine streets, everyone Irish for the day, irrespective of locus —  the green, white, and red/orange flags of the two countries melding, just for that one crazy night.

Buona notte!