Sunday, December 16, 2007

And Johnny Depp,too

Back in the USA for the holidays. It's hard to leave Florence, but fortunately I love to come back to LA. I live five steps from the beach, so my morning routine is a one hour bike along the beach, followed by a swim in the pool. This is instead of a stroll through Sant'Ambrogio market and cappuccino at Cibreo's. In fact, I refrain from coffee in LA.....why ruin a good thing?

Of course the best thing about LA is that I get to be with my husband (the kids are in Santa Fe and Florida....and I get to see them,too on each trip). That whole 'unconditional' loved and cherished thing can't be overrated. So I'm basking in the sun and love.

But the other part of LA....the 'glam' never fails to fascinate me. I love going to Barney's in Beverly Hills and seeing the 'scene'. No where else do you see people so 'done'. Every woman is skinny, with unmoveable, non-detachable boobs with long blond straight hair (of indeterminate age), and a face that is stretched, ironed and implanted.....and no one looks real but everyone looks the same. Of course, I admit that I'm a member of this movement, albeit an amateur, and enjoy observing the 'pro's' as well as appreciate the danger of going where fortunately I don't have enough money to go.

As far as relating this to Italy.....there is one glaring difference (among many others) that never fails to amaze me. All through Barney's, Neiman's, Sak's and down Rodeo Drive, you fine, women trying on and buying $2,000 a pair shoes, or a skirt on sale for $1,000, or a $2500 little jacket, and what they are wearing to shop are sweat pants and tennis shoes. I know they are buying magnificent clothes, but I failed to see one person wearing them!!

In Italy, I'm the only one who goes to my gym in my workout clothes. Everyone else there comes to the gym dressed in normal work/street clothes (which doesn't even include wearing jeans), then changes into gym clothes, works out and then changes back into street clothes. After 4 years in Italy, I still can't do that. I just quickly get back on my bike and go home to change. I used to stop for a cafe on the way home, but now I even feel like a 'freak' doing that. I 'dress' before I go for coffee.

So to see someone walking down Rodeo Drive, not just one person, but everybody, dressed in a manner I can't get away with for at my neighborhood bar (coffee bar) is quite shocking to well as amusing. And just wait another couple of weeks, I'll be in sweats at Starbucks.

The Johnny Depp reference was not just a tease. I have some wonderful friends here who are in 'the business' and love to invite me to 'screenings' and any other event because they get a 'kick' out of how much I get a 'kick' out of what everyone else here has to pretend to be 'blase' about. In this 'pre-award' season, I'm getting invited to 3 or 4 screenings a week. Usually, these are just small screenings for the press or academy members to get advance reviews,etc. and no one famous is there. But last week, Dreamworks put on a big event at Paramount Studios for the film, Sweeney Todd by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.
I was in heaven......the Paramount lot was sparkling with Christmas lights, and as we walked in I saw Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Mira Sorvino, Martin Short......and standing in a corner with his 'classic' bowler hat was my angel, Johnny Depp.

The movie was starting in moments, so no time to catch up and chat, and besides I was too distracted by catching all the other stars in the seats besides me.
After the film (which I didn't like....I'm not a Tim Burton fan, too gory, and Johnny in white face/Goth is not my favorite look on him), there was the glamourous reception. Johnny was surrounded by 'admirers' which included other stars. I knew that I had to speak to him, but what to say?
"I have to thank you for the gift that you work has been to me"
and he took my hand, and he looked at me, and when he talked to me, there was no one else in the room, or in the city or in the world.
I don't remember what he said, something like 'that's so kind of you to say', because I was lost not in his eyes, but plunged into the purity of his soul. I know this sounds stupid, like the 'love/star-struck' fool that I am, but his inner beauty, grace and kindness overwhelmed me.

God, I love LA!!

Never in my wildest dreams…….

On September 27th, I was handed an envelope addressed to me, it looked like an invitation. I receive lots of invites to openings, symposiums, press conferences, etc and this looked similar to the others. Until I read the first line, which said ‘HRH Prince of Wales…..invites you to Buckingham Palace.’

We had been working on a special edition of The Florentine commemorating the 90th anniversary of the British Institute in Florence, and I’d been told that there would be a reception in London. I just had no idea, that the reception would be in the Queen’s Gallery of Buckingham Palace, or that the host would be none other than Prince Charles.

My first thought, after I read, and re-read the invitation, response card, and envelope (there was no stamp on the envelope, only a small engraved crown, and the words..Royal Mail), was that my mother was not alive to tell her that her daughter was going to Buckingham Palace. I don’t think there is anyone else in my life that would be prouder and get more joy out of the mere invitation than her.

The next thought of course, was, what to wear? I put out the call and got the following advice.
First from via my girlfriend, Patty Detroit who had worked with Julian Fellowes (Oscar winner writer), who is married to Emma Fellowes, lady in waiting to Princess Michael of Kent:

Emma is in Bruges, but I have been to these things, and I know that she has to wear what used to be called a "smart cocktail" dress. Not long. But not informal. The gallery is very beautiful and was rebuilt not all that long ago. It is part of the Palace, and in fact is on the site of the chapel that was bombed in the Blitz ("Now we can look the East End in the face.") She will enjoy herself. If she does get presented to the Prince, she should remember that the grander the lady, the lower the curtsey. Servants bob. Ladies curtsey.

Love, Julian

And my friend William Fford, sent this:

I would guess that it would be cocktail dress, or some would be coming from work so would be wearing something slightly more business. The men would be in lounge suits. I.e. smart informal, not black tie or anything like that (unless of course one is going on to such an event afterwards…).
You can practise your curtsy next time you see me!
William, aka Lorde of Seaforde in the County of Down, Ulster (but also peasant from Ennis, County Clare, Munster), all in ye islande of Irelande

I started the search in my closet, where I found a beautiful Armani evening suit that I purchased 20 years ago. It fit, it was beautiful, and I realized that if I were to go shopping today, I would end up with the same thing. I also had a gorgeous pair of Prada heels, bought 5 years ago, and never worn, and a vintage Balenciaga purse. Fortunately, I didn’t have to buy a thing, unfortunately, I didn’t have to buy a thing!

My friend, Ellyn Toscano, who is director of Villa La Pietra (NYU), the villa had been a gift from Harold Acton, was also invited, so we planned a 3 day trip to London together.

Arrived Monday: Ellyn had hosted some English actors at the villa a few months before. They had done a ‘reading’ of the play that would be opening in London in November. While they were in Florence, we got to know them fairly well, and so they invited us to come to the play while we were in London. The play is called, ‘The Giant’, and it is about the making of the ‘David’, with the cast playing, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Machiavelli, and the boy who modeled as the David for Michelangelo.

Although the play got horrible reviews, and definitely in need of editing, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing my ‘friends’ perform, and the 3 I had met in Florence all are amazing actors. Then ‘Leonardo’, Roger Allam (he was in the movie, The Queen, as her private secretary) and his friend, another actor who came to see the play, took Ellyn and me out to dinner at an ‘in’ place, The Woolsey.

You know of course that I was in heaven. Dining with movie stars, in a cool place. And it actually was even better, because our dinner partners are both very, very intelligent, so we spent two hours in stimulating, very funny, brilliant conversation.

Next morning, we passed the day looking for an evening bag for Ellyn, running around London but found either cheap shlock or frighteningly expensive beauties. Finally at 4, we gave up, and went to get our nails and hair handled for the evening. 25 pounds ($70) to get my hair washed and blown dry, 20 pounds for a manicure!!! But how often do I get invited to Buckingham Palace?

We arrived on time for the reception from 6-8pm. I had brought my camera, but of course I didn’t know how to use the flash to get a picture from the outside. Once inside I asked one of the ‘governors of the British Institute’ if I would be allowed to get a photo with the prince. He told me that this was considered a private engagement and so no press or photos were allowed. In fact, he noted that I was the only journalist there.

About the night:
The occasion was in honor of the 90th anniversary of the British Institute in Florence. Prince Charles and Wanda Ferragamo (wife of the founder of Ferragamo) are the two patrons of the Institute. So the monarchy, which has probably the greatest private art collection in the world, put on display in the Queen’s Gallery, their ‘Italians’.

Seeing the collection was worth it in itself. Not only did it consist solely of masterpieces, but every single painting had been impeccably restored and were in exquisite condition. There were paintings by Titian, Artemisia, Caneletto, and two extraordinary canvases by Caravaggio.

I was surprised at how many people I knew who were there. Several members from different noble families of Florence had been invited, Corsini, Frescobaldi, della Gheradesca, as well as government officials, the president of the region and assistant mayor, all of whom I had interviewed and become friends with over my 3 years with the paper. Of course, I ‘worked’ the room and met as many new people as I could. There were probably 100 people there.

Prince Charles magically appeared in the middle of the gallery, with no apparent ‘entrance’. I went up to him and waited my turn to meet him. He was casually chatting with everyone he met, and I found that I was not nervous at all to talk to him, and that when I finally did, and even afterwards, when I am usually upset that I hadn’t said the right things, I was totally at ease and not at all concerned about what I had said or had forgotten to say. This was his ‘doing’, not mine.

The Conversation:

Nita: I am the editor in chief of The Florentine, the newspaper in Florence and we did the special issue for this 90th anniversary.

PC: Thank you so much for doing that, it is beautifully done.

Nita: Thank you for this great honor to meet you and this exhibit is amazing. The paintings are in such beautiful shape, so beautifully restored.

PC: I know, and did you see the Caravaggio’s over there? One of them was in such awful shape, and so dark that we didn’t even know it was a Caravaggio until a few years ago.
Nita: and how did you discover that it was authentic?

PC: It was a man named Maurizio…?(he turned to his assistant)…

Nita: Oh, Maurizio Seracini. Yes, I know him well, in fact we are about to publish a book about the search for the missing Leonardo in the Palazzo Vecchio, which Maurizio is a key player in developing the technology.

PC: That’s such a fascinating project.

End of The Conversation.

I was blown away that I was talking art authentication with Prince Charles!! What I realized afterwards was that he engaged me in conversation, not the other way around. And that he was that way with everyone. ‘Charming’ isn’t the right word to describe him, more like gracious in a very effortless and intimate way. When I said to Montana how easy it was to be with him, and how incredible he was with people, her reply was, “Mom, he’s been trained to be that way his whole life!!” Well, she’s right, and it worked.

As I was retrieving my coat from the coat check, I noticed in front of me, a very attractive blond woman in the most stunning dress. I looked at her face, and then asked, ‘Are you Trudie?

And yes, it was Sting’s wife!! She was lovely, friendly and fun. I didn’t tell her about my obsession, but we did talk about the paper and that Sting was our first subscriber and I’ve been dying to get an interview with him. She was a doll, and said she was sure he would love to do it after the tour with the Police.

So I got one step closer to my life’s ambition of meeting Sting.

Every person when they left the reception was given a small gift bag which had the catalogue from the exhibit and a copy of our special edition of The Florentine!!!

Princess Giorgina Corsina saw us as we were leaving and invited me and Ellyn to dinner at her friend’s house in Belgravia (a very chi chi part of London). So the night ended in the fairy tale way that it had begun at a lovely table with a Princess, 2 Marchesa’s and a Countess, Ellyn from Brooklyn and the Jewish American princess from Detroit.

Where do you go from there? We had been invited to breakfast by Sir Julian Fellowes and his wife Emma (see above). My dear friend, Patty Detroit (also from Detroit), had kindly introduced us via email, and I was so excited to meet them both.

What a couple!! Julian is ‘everly so dignified’, and Emma is a 6 foot, stunning, dramatic, over-the-top, much younger and more beautiful version of Auntie Mame. Everything was, ‘Darling, you simply must meet my most dear friend..’, ‘I was in the Rolls last night, and off to a private dinner with the Queen tonight’, ‘yes, I have 100’s of gowns and hats designed especially for me.’ But although it may sound like she was full of herself or pretentious, she was absolutely sweet, kind and thoughtful. I was totally entertained and fell ‘simply in love with the darling.’

I had planned to go to the Victoria and Albert Museum after breakfast to see the couture exhibit, and they were off to do the same thing, so we went together. Julian is writing a musical play about Christian Dior and he was going back to see the exhibit for the 3rd time for his research.

Walking through that exhibit with the two of them, who were both forthcoming with history, anecdotes, and Emma pointing out which dress she modeled her Oscar gown after, or what kind of hats she has……’they must be simply huge,,,because I am so tall’, was another experience of a lifetime.

I went back to my hotel, retrieved my rolling suitcase, walked to the tube, took the cheapest way to the airport, and boarded the cheapest flight back to Florence. I should have felt like Cinderella finding a pumpkin in the place of her carriage. Instead I felt overwhelmed with gratitude and thanks.

Most of all, I was thankful for the incredible and generous friendships I have. To Ellyn, for including me every time someone wonderful comes to Florence, which led to meeting the actors. To Patty, for sharing her ‘famous’ connections. Julian and Emma couldn’t have been more gracious and fun, and they only made the time because of their love for Patty.

And the privilege I have as editor in chief of The Florentine, to meet the most interesting people, to be able to constantly learn new things, see the great wonders and treasures of the magical city of Florence, be invited into the lives and homes of the noble, the powerful, the rich, famous, cultured and gifted.

When I was a child in Detroit, I always knew that I could do anything or be whatever I wanted to be. I came from an upper middle class family, so I have no rags to riches story. However, never in my realm of possibilities did I ever think I would be invited by a prince to Buckingham Palace.

May I never get over the wonders that life offers.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Saving Santo Spirito

Rosaria Frescobaldi called me up to ask me to write an article on the project to re-open the Basilica of Santo Spirito. It had been in the hands of two priests, and when one passed away, the other one said, even with a new priest, they were spending more time being security guards and janitors than priests. So 18 months ago, the church was shut down. Now it is only open on Sunday mornings for 2 early masses.
Rosaria, her husband Ferdinando, Agnese Massei and a few other 'neighbors' on the piazza decided they had to do something to take care of their church. They did a major study of what was needed, as far as security guards, maintainance, cleaning and caring of the church, and took it upon themselves to find the appropriate employees (they interviewed many!!) and to raise the necessary funds. The figure is 45,000 euro/year.
I went to visit Rosaria at the Frescobaldi home in via Santo Spirito. She took me down the hallway which leads to the family's private viewing 'box' that looks directly into the church. It was built 600 or 700 years ago (I have it in my notes) by the Frescobaldi family. She told me that up until the church closed, she would attend mass in her little chapel, while still in her nightgown. Yes, she still 'hears' it on Sunday mornings early, but she misses the daily life and sounds from the Church.

I love this Church. I love the simplicity of the facade and the harmony of Brunelleschi's interior. And although there is great artword inside, including a wooden crucifiction which is considered by some to have been done by Michelangelo, it always feels like it's a church of the people. The piazza of Santo Spirito was up until very recently (and still can be considered) a populare zone (working class). It was and still is where you find artisan workshops for wood, silver, gold and other metal crafts, binding, shoemakers, etc. In fact, although Rosara didn't mention this (but I learned it elsewhere), the reason the Frescobaldi, a noble family, built the chapel, was so that they wouldn't have to mingle with the 'common folk.'

But this same family, is raising money through 'amici di Santo Spirito' rather than by charging admission like a museum, because they want to keep the church open to the community to come and pray whenever they want.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Charmed Life, indeed!

From as long as I can remember, I have had a great relationship to time. I rarely feel like I have too much to do, and am committed to having the time to be with friends, family, and most of all the time to listen to people. I hate to use time as the reason for not doing something. I'm really grateful that I have this attitude, because without it, I probably would not have found the time to do and appreciate the last few weeks.

One of our 'interns' at the paper, is a law student at NYU and is taking a semester to study at EUI. He arranged an interview with one of his professors, Giuliano Amato, who was the Prime Minister of Italy (twice) and is now the Minister of Interior (similar to Homeland Security) but still makes time to teach (his first profession).
We met in his small office at the Institute, and I realized that I was sitting with a world leader, asking him what it was like to be a world leader, to wake up in the morning with the responsibility of keeping Italy safe from terrorism. The minister is a small man in size, (and is actually known for being small and thin), and he didn't 'exude' power or charisma. In fact, he seemed extraordinarily human. The first words I said to him, was that we were honored to be granted the interview, and his response was, 'it's no honor'. Not in a self-effacing way, but just in a normal, no big deal way.

We spent 30 minutes with Amato, I left a bit stunned and deeply moved. What impressed me was his thoughtfulness about each question we asked, his intelligence, honesty, and most of all the joy that emanated when he described his passion for teaching, of seeing the 'light turn on' in his students.

I left remembering a quote, I forgot who said it, about heroes not being extraordinary people, but ordinary people who have extraordinary commitments.

A few days earlier, I attended a dinner party where one of the guests was President Bush's uncle, Buck Bush (brother to George H. Bush). In the Italian language, there is the formal use of the word, 'you' and an informal usage. (Of course with the minister we used the formal.) And so, even though I have never been a Bush supporter, I found myself quite at odds talking to my seating companion, and addressing him by Buck.

The following week Alexandra (our managing editor) and myself were invited to a press conference for a new book about a different perspective regarding the iconography and meaning of the Sistine Chapel. The invitation said there would be a round table discussion followed by a private visit to the Chapel. Two years ago, I went with a private group (see posting, A Pristine Sistine), and I jumped at another opportunity.

The 'round table' ended up consisting of one long and tortuous speech after another, mostly from the publishers promoting the book rather than discussing it. Then a scholar went into an intricate and very difficult to follow (even for the Italians present) discourse on the information in the book. It's a pretty far-fetched and unproveable theory that Michelangelo was showing in the scenes from the Old Testament, that they were already forecasting the New Testament. It was 6PM, we were in a magnificent room inside the Vatican Museum near the Sistine Chapel, and there was a thunderstorm outside. In the middle of the room was a huge glass dome, so we could see the lightning through the dome, as well as the 'crashing' thunder. I leaned over to whisper to Alex, that God was telling us, 'forget all this analysis and symbolism, isn't it enough that it's a wonder of beauty? Just shuddup already, and let the people go into the Chapel.'

Before visiting the Vatican Museums, we had gone to the American Academy. For so many years, I had heard of the Rome Prize and of this 'haven' of creativity, and thought it would make a great article. We were blown away by the beauty and the atmosphere of this place on one of the most beautiful hills in Rome. How incredible to provide this sanctuary for artists and scholars, to have the time and space, their meals are prepared for them (menus are supervised by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse), the gardens are magnificent, a perfect atmosphere for reflection looking down about a city overflowing with inspiration. Aaron Copland once composed there, Ralph Ellison was the first black prize winner, and who knows what great works will come from the present residents.

Thursday, November 1 is All Saints' Day, which in Italy is a national holiday. When I have a free day like that, I like to hop a train to some place in Italy, I have not yet seen. With some friends visiting from the U.S., I went to Ferrara. It was a gorgeous day, and a great place to visit for the day. We went to the castle, had an amazing lunch, then a walk around town, with 1000's of other Italians who were taking their passegiata, then saw the Duomo. It was a great day, because it seemed like we were the only non-Italians in the whole town, just enjoying the holiday.

An interesting sight awaited us at the Ferrara train station on our way back. There were over a 100 police in SWAT gear, billy clubs, helmets and shields!! I asked one of them what was happening, and he told me it was because there was a soccer game that had just finished. So I figured that they were guarding the track to allow the opposing team to get on the train which was going to Bologna. We were on the next track and got into position to take pictures of the team entering the train. One of the police saw us and yelled not to take photos, and checked us out several times after the warning. (Our speculation about the photo issue was that the police didn't want to get caught on camera doing what they were about to do.)

Then the train pulled up, and we noticed that 3 train cars were empty and had signs all over them saying that they were closed. Then we heard a lot of people talking, but very civil and friendly, and the police formed a protection to allow.....a bunch of fans to board the train!' I was very confused, and so asked my friendly police man what was happening, and he said they were the fans from the opposing team, which had lost, and were very 'arrabiatissimi', angry, and to prevent any violence they are guarded to and from the stadium and kept separate at the games and on the train. The train left, the helmets and shields came off, and the police went home to spend the rest of the day with their families.

That was Thursday. On Friday, I worked all day and then went to be interviewed on a local Italian TV station for their 7 o'clock news about the newspaper. Because of all of my media experience from my books, it wasn't a big deal for me, only a little nervous because I had to do the interview in Italian.

Woke up the next am to go to Lucca for the weekend. My English friend who has an amazing villa on a nearby hilltop, gave his annual Guy Fawkes party. There was a wonderful,multinational and multi-age crowd there, over a hundred guests, Italians, British, New Zealanders, about 20 of his son's friends (20 year olds) from England, and only 2 or 3 Americans. I stayed at a nearby villa, who is owned by his friends. Villa Michaela is one of those places that gets rented out by movie stars and the very wealthy. It is fabulous, 13 bedrooms, each with enormous bathrooms, closets and views. There are 3 floors of bedrooms, sitting rooms, piano room, libraries, a dining table that sits about 30, 2 swimming pools, a church, all magnificently and tastefully furnished, gorgeous fabrics, paintings.
Several of the out of town guests were staying there, and we were up until 4AM, with the host and one of the guests at the piano singing opera. Was I dreaming?

The next morning (well early afternoon), we were all invited to visit the villa of Gil Cohen and Paul Gervais. They bought their place in Lucca 18 years ago, and passionately took on the gardens. Paul ended up writing the well-known book, 'A Garden in Lucca'. Now garden tours pay to come visit this unique property, where Paul has taken from everything he has studied and seen, used traditional, ancient and contemporary elements to design one spectacular garden after another.

The other guests were British and knew tons about plants and gardens, and they were amazed by every detail. I don't know anything about gardens, but even an idiot like me, had to be impressed by the beauty and serenity.

Back to Florence, back to normality? Until I go to the Ferragamo country house on Friday for a hunt weekend. Thank God, I have the time.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Wind beneath my wings

I must admit that I've always been easily impressed. But the qualities that impress me have changed dramatically over the years. Of course, I've always loved to meet people who were famous and powerful. Then that took second place to people with integrity. Now, although I still 'gush' over movie stars and royalty, and integrity holds more weight for me than wealth, the people on the top of my list, get there by their acts of kindness and decency. People don't necessarily get on the list by kindness towards me, but of course, it doesn't hurt.

Living in Florence, and having my position at the newspaper has given me access to more than my share of magnificent people. I'm easily moved by others, and I prefer to trust people's intentions. Maybe I'm naive, but it's a condition of choice.

So I have decided to randomly share in my postings my experiences of 'acts of kindness', and about my 'heroes'.

I get most of the credit for starting The Florentine. My name is on the masthead as editor in chief. People are amazed at what I have done, my guts, courage, determination, etc. And though, I was the 'instigator', the execution was achieved by a magical and wondrous synchronicity. My partners in crime: Marco is the magician, Giovanni is the rock, Leonardo is the genius, Antonio, the master, and Giacomo, my angel in 'grouch' clothing.

Today I need to talk about Marco.
Though no one in Florence infuriates me more often than Marco, it is because of him that I am still here. Not because of his inexhaustible enthusiasm, not because of his ability to dream of the possibilities of the paper, not because of his inspiration, not because of his millions of 'ganzo' ideas, not because he will do anything to make things work financially, diplomatically, and organizationally, not because of his intelligence, knowledge and humor, nor because of his amazing handsomeness, or having the best laugh I've ever heard. I'm still here because Marco loves me.

Living in Florence and working on the paper, is the farthest thing from a hardship. At least once a day, I am stunned with amazement that this is my life. Yet, if I didn't have my foundation in my marriage and family, if I wasn't in touch with Tony, Montana and Jordan all the time, I wouldn't be the adventurous spirit that I am. I'm willing to risk, try new things, make mistakes, only because I am 'grounded' by them.

Marco is the one in Italy. He is the one who knows if I'm frustrated, knows if I'm sad, knows if I don't answer my emails, that he needs to come into town to see me. He doesn't wait for me to call him if I need a friend, he calls me. And Marco isn't just this way with me, it's how he is with everyone he loves and cares about. This is why Marco is my hero.

If you're one of 'his' people, whether you like it or not, you're going to get 'Marco'ed' to death. You'll be challenged to be your best, to learn more, do more, feel more, see more. Your success and joy will be his joy, and your pain will stab him in his heart. I get most of the glory and 'perks' from The Florentine, but not once has he shown jealousy or resentment, but the opposite, because my thrill and happiness is a success for him.

Like all human beings, Marco is a package deal, so if he loves you, he feels free to to lash out at you also, and I have been profoundly hurt by him at times. I don't like this part of the deal, but so far I haven't met a perfect person, so I'll take an imperfect Marco any day (almost any day).

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bad News Scares

In the last month, I have received 2 pieces of shocking news. My 18 year old daughter got married, and my son's girlfriend is pregnant. Now both of these pieces of news, in another context (if they were both older!!!), would be the most delightful news a mother could receive. I, however, did not take the 'news' in such a context. In fact, I took it in probably the worse possible context, I made it all about me. Both of these events made me 'look bad' and I have been profoundly embarrassed. Besides what others think about me, I personally feel defeated and a failure as a mother. But as I said, it's 'all about me', which I am conscious of, know it's inappropriate and so further feeds and justifies my self-condemnation.

I have a lot of negative qualities, but fortunately self-pity, self-flagellation and self-indulgence are not some of them. So I have put the 'events' into perspective. First of all, my children are alive, healthy and still wonderful. I still talk to them both almost every day, so our relationships are strong and loving. They haven't destroyed their lives with these choices, they have changed their lives. And I know, in a very profound way, that these will be potent and meaningful lessons for them...even if they some day have regrets, the growth and lessons will be blessings on their lives. And so what that I can't brag that my son is in medical school or that my daughter goes to Julliard, I'll get over it.

In the last two weeks, I accepted two invitations from different U.S. friends to visit them while they were in Europe. One friend was in Paris, had use of a luxurious apartment and I said, 'why not'. I put myself in her hands, and spent 3 days going out to lunch and dinner with her Parisien friends (most of which were ex-pats). My friend is a very 'big' Hollywood publicist and her Paris 'crowd' consisted of mostly very, very wealthy people in the design industry (for example, CEO of the company which owns Louis Vuitton, Pucci, etc). All of the people I met were very lovely, very generous and included me in all the invites to the wonderful restaurants.
Usually, I can hold my own in any group of people. In Florence I socialize with diplomats, politicians, teachers, nobility and the major designers. But I realized after a couple of days, that no one among this group was really interested in me. And probably for the first time in my life, I felt that the reason for this was that I wasn't rich or successful enough to be 'one of them.' My reaction was more of surprise than rejection. I certainly didn't feel like I was 'less or lower' than them. Still I had fun, and filed this away as an interesting experience.

The following weekend couldn't have been further from the experience in Paris. My friend, Debra McGuire, who I have known for more than 30 years, had work in Munich and suggested I meet her there for the weekend. Debra is a costume designer for TV and movies, famous for 'Friends' and 'Heroes' as well as the movies, Anchorman, 30 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and is now working on a film with Robert DiNiro and Al Pacino. She comes to Munich on a regular basis to sell a line of her clothing designs on Home Shopping Europa (the European version of HSN).

On Friday, I went directly from the Munich airport to meet her at the television studio and watch her shoot 2 shows. It was a gas, Debra spoke in English, her host in German, and they were both adorable. Then we went back to the hotel room, to cry about our children. laugh about our children, comparing their escapades to our own and the wonderment of the different stages and facets of our lives.

When she knew I was coming to Munich, Debra wrote me that she had been wanting to visit Dachau (the concentration camp) but didn't have the strength to go there alone. So on Friday, we did HSN and Saturday, we did Dachau. From the most superficial and meaningless to the depths of incomprehension and darkness, quite an itinerary?

Debra and I are both Jewish and both are known to cry very easily. Both of our sons, when they heard where we were going, warned us to take enough Kleenex.
Neither of us shed a tear that day. Later, we looked for words to describe our experience. Numb, stunned, and scared. The most difficult part of being there was not knowing that this was done to people just like us.....that it could have been us. But that it was 'done' by people like us....normal, intelligent people. The realization that people can lose their humanity to such a degree that they can keep charts of the efficiency of killing people, or cost/benefit ratio of feeding a worker versus killing him.

Another realization of the day. When we entered the camp, there were two plaques thanking the US troops who had liberated the camp in 1945. Later, I related to Debra how moved I was by these simple statements, and I asked her, when was the last time you felt proud of the United States? Neither of us could come up with another time, when we felt the pride we did at the gates. Sad.

And so I come back to my personal drama and trauma as a mother. Somehow, after these two 'extreme weekends', I was left only with feelings of love, appreciation and gratefulness. My children are alive, they love and are loved, they look forward to tomorrow and they have the luxury of making choices, which is underlined by the freedom to make poor choices and powerful ones. Shame on me, that I would look at their lives and feel sorry for myself..

Saturday, October 6, 2007

One giant leap for mankind: Dynamo Camp

I think I witnessed history in the making last Saturday. It was the dedication of Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Camp (Dynamo) here in Italy. Paul Newman started the first camp 20 years ago in Connecticut for children with chronic or fatal diseases. His idea was that these kids, like all kids, just need to 'raise a little hell'. And the underlining principle of the camps is that 'fun is a great medicine'. All of the profits from 'Newman's Own' products (such as his popcorn, spaghetti sauces, salad dressings) go to these camps and other charities.
When I heard that there would be a camp here in Italy, I thought it would be perfect 'fit' for The Florentine. From the inception of the newspaper, I knew I wanted to take advantage of our ability to reach such a large audience, to do 'good' in Italy. We always give exposure to the different non-profits and services that are provide aid and benefit to this magnificent place.
Why I thought this project was so important was that it is such an understandable and credible endeavor for our readership. I'm not as familiar with other countries but I think they are similar to the United States, in that there is already a culture of giving, and most everyone has heard of Paul Newman and his charitable projects. He has earned a reputation as being reputable and honest. And, so many of us ex-pats want to contribute to this country that gives us so much. This camp is for Italian children, and thus the great 'fit', a way to help children here, in a manner that we feel confident about. And it's even a registered US charity, so American's can get the tax benefit.
Now the 'history making' part. Each of the Hole in the Wall Camps is 'owned' by a person, a philanthropist, who is part of the Hole in the Wall association, but who is responsible for coming up with the funds to buy and run the camp. The 'philanthropist' for the Dynamo Camp here in Tuscany, is Enzo Manes, an Italian.
When I first went to visit the camp last year, I went with an Italian girlfriend. We were blown away with the beauty of the camp and the enthusiasm of Enzo and the staff. Afterwards, my friend asked me, 'what's with Enzo? Who is he?' What she didn't understand was why he was doing all this. She wanted to know if somehow he was making money off of the camp.
To me it was obvious, and I answered that he was a very successful businessman, and that after a person makes so much money, you realize you don't need all this money for yourself, but you want to use it to help others. To her this was a strange concept, and she explained, that her family was 500 years old, and it's a responsible to them, not just to provide for their children and grandchildren, but that the money has to last for another 500 years!! And so there never is enough money to do that.
Since being in Italy, I have had many discussions with Italian and ex-pats about how come Italians 'don't give.' My conclusions are: 1) They come from a culture that human and cultural services were taken care of by the church and state, and since they gave at church and paid taxes, they shouldn't have to give more. 2) That there is a fear if they do give money to an organization there is corruption, and so they have a lack of trust that the money will be used for the right purposes. 3) There are little or no tax benefits to individuals who give money to non-profits. 4) The Italians are generous, they just haven't established 'giving' in an effective way in their culture.
What I witnessed at the Dynamo camp with Enzo Manes, I think, is the turning point that will shift the culture.

Enzo gave a speech at the opening of the camp, that moved the 500+ people at the event. He started his speech with the words, "Is it worth it?" (in Italian of course). And he went on to describe his journey from deciding to 'invest' in a non-profit, to choosing the one for him, to building the camp, the staff, finding the children who would attend, and of course, answering the question with an overwhelming 'yes!, it was worth it.'

After the talk, I spoke with many Italians, who came to the event out of 'duty'....the President of the region, Martini, James Ferragamo, Carmela Batacchi (who is director of Target's buying office in Europe) and others, who were all questioning themselves about how 'they' could give, make a difference, and how inspired they now were to 'act' rather than to complain or explain that the 'Italians don't give'. They agreed with me that something momentous had happened that Sunday...maybe it was a 'death' of the phrase, and birth to the next, which is 'Italian do like to give.'

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cinderella for a day

The Florentine is publishing a book by Professor Robert Hatfield (Rab) about the location, based on his study of the archives, of Leonardo da Vinci's Battle of Anghiari. Contessa Simonetta Brandolini D'Adda, founder of Friends of Florence, is funding the book. Friends of Florence, and Simonetta, have probably contributed and done more for art in Florence, than any individual or entity since the Renaissance. They have funded the restoration of dozens of sculptures and paintings, most notably, the David, contributing millions of dollars, as well as documenting every project with magnificent books and films for education and training.
Two times a year, Simonetta arranges special visits for these 'friends'. In the past, they have included cocktails with the David himself in the Academia, private viewings in the Uffizi, Bargello, dinners in castles, etc.
This trip was a 'theme' trip on Leonardo. The 'friends' started in Florence, went on to Milan for a private viewing of The Last Supper, and off to Paris.
Because of our collaboration on Rab's book, I was invited to join the group for a day in Florence. An honor and privilege which I will never get over. We started the day in the Palazzo Vecchio with the scholars who are on the committee for searching for this 'missing' Leonardo. This is another story, which we have discussed many times in The Florentine (look for Up close and Personal: Rab Hatfield and Maurizio Seracini).
Then to a laboratory where three sculptures from the Baptistry are being restored. Magnificent sculptures by Rusticci. To see them that close and hear from the restorers how they do their work, the decisions they have to make, the precaution, etc, is fascinating and almost sacred.
Lunch at a villa outside Florence, an Italian board member of Friends of Florence, who has the most amazing and thoughtful art collection of masters, as well as Italian contemporary art, incredible gardens, wine by Frescobaldi.....a life I could get used to.
I had to miss the visit to the Bargello to get a little work done before meeting at the Uffizi for the evening, after closing hours. We were taken to a room which is never open to the public, where the drawings are stored. The lovely curator of this 'vault' was dressed to the 'nines' in formal black and an emerald and diamond necklace that took my breath away.....I quickly understood this was an 'important state occasion.' (Fortunately, I was dressed in black, too......of course, I always am, but minus the diamonds and emeralds.)
She then puts on her white gloves as she tells us what she is about to show us, and how few people have seen what we will see. Then she opens a portfolio and takes out a drawing by gasps of shock and awe. I found out by the art historians in the room, that this is the most famous drawing, because it was the only landscape. Very detailed, in pencil, and very fresh, as though it had been drawn a few days, or minutes before. Gary Radke, who was the professor leading the entire 5 day trip, said he often uses slides of that drawing but had never seen the original and was shocked by how different they were.
This sense of 'aliveness' not of the subjects that were drawn, but of the process of drawing itself- you could feel the hand making the strokes only deepened as we saw 4 or 5 more drawings. There were 'studies' of drapery exhibiting the mastery of light and dark, architecture, and then there was the drawing of a woman (or angel...or nymph...something not of this world), that brought me to my knees.

We left the room, to see the 3 Leonardo paintings in the museum. Even though I have been in this gallery many times, being there with just 30 people, no time limit, and without the sensors so that we could look closely at each painting, was a very different experience. And we saw in oil, several of the 'studies' from the drawings!!

The group consisted of very knowledgeable and sophisticated American contributors (and me), who had the means and interest to do and see everything in the world. Not one person there was unaffected by what we had seen.....'been there, done that' could never be used to describe the day.
It would appear that dinner would have to be anti-climactic, but instead it was a perfect completion. We went to the cafeteria of the Uffizi which had been dramatically transformed. One long, long table for 30 people, lit by candlelight, flowers, tuxedoed waiters with white gloves, on the second floor with one wall of windows looking onto the Duomo and towers of Palazzo Vecchio at night. Wine by Antinori, short interludes of opera performances, great food, exciting conversation. At the stroke of midnight, I did my Cinderella number and floated back on my carriage (bicycle) to call my prince and recount my day.

At the end of our phone call, Tony said, "Wednesday you were with the movie stars, Thursday with Leonardo, what are you going to do tomorrow?" I said, I'm getting back to earth, and going to work. Little did I know.

Hanging with the thespians

Wednesday evening, I was invited by my most beautiful, bright and bold friend, Ellyn Toscano to join the 'cast', writer, director, producer, and set designer (from a new play by Sir Antony Sher, that was previewed at Villa La Pietra on Friday, before opening in the West End in London on November 1), for dinner. Besides, being impressed, and I admit, I am very easily impressed, by the works and fame of this group, I can't remember having more fun on an evening out.
But let's get to being impressed:
Sir Antony Sher wrote the new play about the making of Michelangelo's David, which is called The Giant. He has been knighted by the royal order for his contributions to the theatre. He has written 3 plays, been a major actor in the RSC and National Theatre and received the Lawrence Olivier award a few times. He is also noteworthy because he and his partner, Greg Doran (director of the production) are among the first gay couples to form a civil partnership in England. Also, the first 'civil partnership' couple to be invited to spend the weekend at Sandringham Castle with Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.
John Light: An actor who plays Michelangelo in the play is also a noted actor, but got 'impressed' points because he is married to Neve Campbell (American actress).
Roger Allam: plays Leonardo da Vinci. He is an amazing actor. In the movie, The Queen with Helen Mirren, he played the part of the Queen's private secretary. Besides being 'too tired, too old, and too talented', he speaks many languages, has the sharpest wit, and is very sexy!
Stephen Hagen: Remember this name, because he will be a superstar soon. He plays the quarry worker who Michelangelo uses as his model for David (the play is historical fiction). Stephen is such an amazing likeness, that when the troupe went to Carrara, people were pointing in the streets. He's a magnificent 'hunk', tall, exquisite, funny, sweet and heterosexual. At dinner, I had to ask him if he was straight. He barked, 'yes'. And I told him, it was a compliment that stemmed from my 10 years in San Francisco, when I established a 'rule of thumb', that any man 75% or more good-looking was assumed gay. And this 'assumption' proved true almost without exception.
During the reading of the play on Friday, there is a time when Michelangelo tells him to take off his shirt, but since it was just a read-thru, Stephen just makes a motion without disrobing. "Damn!!" is the word that I hear from the student sitting behind me... she was the only one who vocalized what we all were thinking.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Miracle in Firenze: Shana Tova 2006

Rosh Hoshanah in Florence. I didn’t want to go to the main synagogue because although it is incredibly beautiful, the service wasn’t what I was looking for. It is very orthodox, all in Hebrew and Italian, and the women are separate in an upper balcony behind bars,,hot, stuffy and too far from the “action.”
A few years ago, a group of Italians and ex-pats started holding Progressive Jewish services in a classroom of a local school. I made sure their schedule for the High Holidays was in our paper along with that of the Synagogue, and I decided to attend myself.
Saturday morning, I rode my bike to the “classroom”. There were maybe 25 people there. There was a small ark, holding a single Torah. We sat on plastic chairs surrounded by schoolwork and blackboards. An Italian gentleman, greeted us in Italian, and told us that the man who was supposed to blow the shofar wasn’t able to come because a friend of his had died the night before. Then he asked what I considered an absurd question. He asked if anyone there knew how to blow the shofar. The group present consisted of several tourists, who had heard about these services from our paper, or their concierge, a handful of Italians, a few ex-pats and a couple of students. Then a darling American girl of around 23 years old, from WDC, who was traveling in Florence with her parents raised her hand, and said she did. I looked back at her, thinking maybe she had picked one up in Sunday school, and would be able to play it at the level that I can play a kazoo, and the service began.
This wonderful man led the service. In real life, he’s a psychiatrist or psychologist. He spoke very little English, so there was a friend of his who translated. We all did the service, he would ask different people to read different parts…most of us didn’t know each other, but we pitched in, to read Hebrew, or English or Italian. We discussed the parshah in a mishmash of Italian and English. At one point Stefano forgot to wait for the Aliyah before he started the next parshah, and we knew to remind him. No one was “scheduled” to do anything, but it all got done. For the last aliyah, we were all at the Torah. Meanwhile, I was crying so hard that my friend next to me, remarked about what a bad cold I had (obviously, not a friend who knows me well).
In my seat, I kept thinking about the ceremony of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Up until my son, Jordan’s Bar Mitzvah, I always thought a Bar Mitzvah was a rite of passage, of a boy becoming a man. But I learned that the Bar Mitzvah was the time that a boy/girl takes on the responsibility for continuing the Jewish religion. I had my Bat Mitzvah when I was 51 years old, and experienced the joy and honor which come with this responsibility of knowing how to read the Torah, and how to lead a Shabbat service. I looked around the room, wondering and in awe of this religion. What is it that this unrelated group of Jews made sure they attended services. What is it, after 1000’s of years, that we do this? When I grew up in Detroit, we went to services because everyone did…all my friends, family, everyone was Jewish. In Florence, most of my friends are Italian, and even among the ex-pats, I only know two Jewish families. So why did I carve out this time from my life in Florence?
Then, time for the blowing of the shofar. The girl came up front, a little embarrassed, apologizing because she hadn’t done this since she was 13. And she blew the shofar, not just getting some sound out, for which we all would have been grateful. But she really knew how to blow the shofar, she knew the correct response to each incantation (sorry I don’t know what it’s called), and she was magnificent. We tell the story at Chanukah, of the oil that was only enough for one day, lasted eight. That what I kept thinking about when I heard the shofar last week. It was Rosh Hoshanah, the shofar needed to be blown, only 25 people there….I am Jewish from birth, I know a lot of Jewish people, friends, family, neighbors, teachers, colleagues, and I do not know personally a single person who knows how to blow the shofar. And at all the different services over the years, it was always some older man who blew it. Who would think? A young, hip, beautiful, American…..girl, in Florence for a couple of days? It was a miracle.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

A week in the life

Monday: Alexandra Lawrence walked into the office of The Florentine to begin her job as managing editor. After 2 hours, she was up to speed and I knew that my prayers had been answered.

Tuesday: We're working on a special issue for the 90th Anniversary of the British Institute in Florence. Vanessa Hall Smith, the director and Deirdre Pirro, who will edit the edition came to the office. They have been working on the content all summer. My job is to keep it interesting,!! I'm excited by their progress.
Left the office to go to Villa la Pietra to see the film, Empire 2 by Amos Po. It had won a place at the Venice film festival and Ellen Toscano invited Amos to screen the film at the Villa before heading back for among others, the Tribeca film festival. Quite the 'avant-garde' film. Three hours of footage of the Empire State Building shot from the director's apartment window. When introducing the film, Amos said something I had never heard before: 'Please leave on your cell phones.' He also instructed us to walk around, talk, eat, which he did himself. He told me that he had set up the camera to film 24 hours a day for one year. I asked him how he could edit that much footage. He told me he didn't edit. 'I simply asked my computer to squeeze it by 2000x....and it got shrunk, and speeded up, ending up with 3 hours.
I actually enjoyed what he called, 'my poem to New York.' I especially enjoyed speaking with Amos, sweet gracious without an ounce of pretense.

Wednesday: Alex and I have been meeting with interns and program directors from the different universities here in Florence. We've had interns and requests to do internships since we started the paper. But given that we didn't know a thing about the newspaper business and journalism, not to mention that our office had no place for interns to sit, let alone even use their own computer, we didn't have great success. Linda Falcone took the internship program to a new level, where we not only are getting good work from the interns, but the experience is fun and valuable for them as well. Still, I start every intern meeting with the disclaimer, that we still don't have our act together, and that we aren't the New York Times.
What I can say without hesitation is that our office is the most fun place to work on earth.....not always the most productive, but definitely, the hippest place in town.

Thursday: I can't believe my life. The people I get to have 'meetings' with, are the 'who's who' of Florence. I met with the Contessa Simonetta Brandolini D'adda, director and founder of Friends of Florence to discuss some projects we are pursuing together. Then with Professor Hatfield, about a book we are publishing by him about the search for the Da Vinci painting in the Palazzo Vecchio.
Ended the day at a fashion show of Fendi furs. I'm still surprised when I am escorted to the seats reserved for the press. I used to 'pretend' I was a press person to get into such an event.

Friday: Meetings, meetings, and then I had to go out to the breathtaking Il Borro for an event to launch a children's book put out by Ferragamo. First, let me describe Il Borro. It is a medieval town that once belonged to the Savoie, the royal family of Italy. The descendant apparently kept needing to sell off parts of the village to subsidize his extravagant lifestyle. Ferruccio Ferragamo (son of Salvatore and president of the family company) was the willing buyer until he owned the entire 'borgo;.
The village includes churches, stores, a restaurant, the main villa, polo fields, and a cantina is completely and impeccably restored.
The main villa and other housing units are perfectly appointed and available for long and short term rentals. The main villa rents for 40,000 euro a week! Or can be reserved for parties, events and conferences. I have been fortunate to attend a few family parties there, and when I'm there I feel like I've stepped into a fairy tale, or 'sneaked' onto a movie set. No matter, that my hosts have always been nothing but kind and warm, I still think that I'm there under somewhat 'fraudulent' circumstances.
But I'm not complaining nor am I renouncing this behavior.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Good to be me!

People's response when discovering that my husband and kids are in the States and that I am away from them when I am in Florence, is invariably, "Oh, that must be really hard."
Though I am tempted to misappropriate the sympathy, I have to remember what I always 'preach' to my children. 'You can't have it both ways. You can't complain about how bad life is, and at the same time be happy and fulfilled.' Given the choice, I'd rather be happy.
Granted, no one could say that I've chosen a conventional path in life, But, I never looked for one. I seem to still be going through 'phases'. In high school, I had my 'beatnik' phase characterised by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen. In college, I passed through the radical, SDS phase into a hippie and free love phase. I lived in a teepee in Vermont and then a commune in Berkeley. Then there was the 'pop' psychology phase, with trips to Esalen, primal scream therapy, est, and Gestalt which segued beautifully into the 'spiritual' phase of Tibetan Buddhism, Tai Chi, Zen, whatever. (I said my life was not conventional, I didn't say I was in any way an individual or unique.) In fact reading this, it's embarrassing to reveal this trail of 'cliches and I'll save the reader and myself from further boredom.
Florence is my 'Under the Tuscan Sun' phase of course. And like every phase before it, I am living it to its fullest. After one year in Italy, my husband was ready to move onto his next phase, and moved to LA. Fortunately, my 'I love my husband' phase continues to bloom (we celebrated our 25th anniversary this summer) so I have spent the last two summers in LA with him.
Never having lived in LA before, I am completely surprised and delighted how much I love it. We live at the beach, I have tons of friends from previous 'phases', there's so much to see, do, eat, learn, it's a great and fun life.
I am asked which do I prefer, LA or Florence? I can't choose. I don't want to choose. And you know what, I don't need to choose.
Most of my 'phases' lasted 10 years, and given that I'm not getting any younger, and I kind of like this living life in phases pattern that I have, I look at my current life as simultaneously living 2 parallel lives. So I'm getting '2 phases for the price of 1.'
'BE HERE NOW' (from my 'spiritual' phase) still rings true for me as being a key to life. When I am in LA, I don't compare it to Florence, and when in Florence, I don't complain that it's not like LA.
Of course, I have bad and sad days in both cities. But I even feel grateful for my sadness, that I have a husband that I miss and I can't wait to talk to every day, than a husband that I can't wait to get away from.
I don't know how long this 'phase of 2 lives' will last. Maybe when my response to the question, 'Isn't it hard?', is 'yes.'

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Top 10 things you NEED to know: That Italians assume you already DO know, should know and are stupid for NOT knowing!

#10 If you drink your cappuccino at the bar, it costs 1 euro, if you drink it while sitting at a table (even if you bought it at the bar), it costs more, usually double, and in some 'refined' places like in Piazza Signoria or Piazza della Republica, you pay enough for one cafe, that you should be able to take the table home with you.

#9 If you rent a place with a washing machine, be prepared to wait hours for a wash, most machines take 2 hours, then you have to hang it on the line to dry because dryers are scarce.

#8 At any time, for whatever reason, or without reason, there may be a 'sciopero' , the Italian word for 'strike'. I once had to take a train to Rome, and I was told that there would be a strike but a few trains would still be running. I went to the station, the train was on the board, and then 5 minutes before the train was due to go, the word 'sorpresa' was displayed. This meant, 'surprise, we got you, too'.

#7 Taxis: You watch the fare and get your money out as you drive up to your destination, then you look up and the driver has pushed the button. The fare had read 8.95 and suddenly, with a push of a button, it now says, 11.50. This is because a) you called the taxi, which is an added charge or b) it's after 10 or 11pm at night (which can be a different time, depending on the season, day of the week, and whether you are a woman or man) c) you have gone or come from the airport, train station or d) a new tariff applies or e) all of the above

#6 Hours: The rule about hours is that there is absolutely no rule, but some of the following 'customs' may or may not apply. And from whatever anyone tells you, no matter if it is the official website, the mayor, the owner of the store, or a government decree, you can always add the words, 'except not always.'
On Mondays, many stores are either closed or don't open until after 2:30pm. Restaurants often are closed on Mondays, or Tuesdays, and some just for dinner or just for lunch, or one of my favorites closes only on Saturday.
Some stores (usually those in the centre have continual hours, meaning they don't close for the afternoon 'siesta'. When they re-open is anybody's guess. Some at 4:00, or 4:30 or 5:30 or never. The last place you usually will find out, is from a sign on the door. There are many of these signs but usually not filled out. Same holds for Sundays. The supermarkets are usually closed on Sundays, except for the last Sunday of the month.

The wonderful antique and flea markets around Italy have a similar way of scheduling. Arezzo has it's famous antique market on the first weekend of the month (on Sat and Sunday). But if the 1st falls on a Sunday, then it's still considered the first weekend.

Regarding museum hours, I have recently concluded that the creativity that was used to make the amazing art that is housed in these museums is now applied to the scheduling. I recently read a xeroxed sign at the Medici Chapel, a much-visited state museum, with the schedule that went something like this: Open every 3rd Monday in summers from 11;30-1:30 except for August, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-5PM, Friday afternoons in winter, and weekends had different hours every 2nd weekend depending on when the Uffizzi was open. And this wasn't a joke!!

I asked the concierge of a major hotel to check the Sunday hours for the Prada Outlet. He checked the website and it said that the outlet was closed on Sunday. I knew it was open, he kept pointing to the website, and then I asked him to call, he grudgingly agreed, and of course it was open. It was always open on Sunday, everyone knew but their own website.

#5 While we're talking about numbers, we should speak about addresses. In Florence, they follow the standard, even numbers on one side of the street, odd on the other (again, except not always). But then there is the matter of the 'rosso' or red numbers. These in times past, were in red for residential versus a business address. Now that has all been assimilated except the numbers, i.e. 32r, remain. And the red numbers have very little to do sequentially with the black or blue numbers. So in your search for 32r, you might pass a black 30, and a black 34 (and often even a black 32 which places you at a hotel when you are looking for a bike repair) but the place you are looking for is 2 blocks further up next to a black 58.

#4 Once you are thorougly stumped by numbers you are ready to drive in Italy. My judgment is that Italians don't do signage well. For example, you are driving to Siena from Florence. You follow signs that gets you into a roundabout. And you think it's simple, you just find the exit off of the roundabout with the sign to Siena. Except that 5 out of the 6 exits all of signs to Siena. Now, I don't have any advice on what to do, but I have discovered that the Italians don't seem to have any problem with this, the signs work just fine for them.

#3 Taking the train: You are in Florence, you want to go to the wonderful antique market in Arezzo, and it's the first weekend of the month. You go to the train station, buy a ticket to Arezzo. You are given a ticket that says Arezzo, the train number and the time. Then you look at the reader board to see which binario (track) your train is leaving from. Arezzo is not on the board. Rome is on the board, Milano is on the board, Palermo is on the board, but no Arezzo. You look at your number to see if it matches one of the bigger destinations, but no numbers except times are on the board. Then of course you try to match times: but the trains for Milano and Roma leave at the same time. Finally, you ask a train employee, who looks at your ticket, the reader board, and then at you, because he can't believe he's met such an idiot. Then he scolds you for wasting his time on such an idiotic question, because obviously you take the train to imbecile!!

#2 Tipping: Wait staff in Italy get paid wages so do not depend on tips. And there is a charge, called 'coperta' which is added to the check for water and bread, and service. Still tipping is appreciated, it just doesn't have to be a percentage of the bill, but based on the quality of the service and work done. Most taxis do not expect tips, but again, it doesn't hurt to be generous and kind.

and the
#1 thing you need to know, that every Italian knows, and thinks you're stupid for not knowing is:
'Sconto?' You can always ask, any one and any where for a discount. In the major stores or if you are buying a peach in the market (though I can't imagine why you would care about the peach). You do not need to ask for it like you are driving a tough bargain, but rather that you are asking for a gesture of friendship. And it is given in the same spirit. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Good Swill Hunting: In pursuit of the wild boar

Proverbial wisdom about early birds catching worms doesn’t apply to boar. I am used to fox hunting in the U.S., where you have to be ready to go at dawn. Not so with boar hunting; at nine am the hunters were just starting to arrive.

The countryside in Maremma was spectacular, but for me the most interesting scenery was the parade of men. From seven year-old Luca, there for his first hunt, to 80 year-old Andrea, every one of them was magnificent in my eyes. Their hunting garb featured greens and browns, luscious cashmeres, scarves and hats, all layered with casual elegance. I imagine if Armani had been asked to style a hunt for a film, it wouldn’t have been as perfect. Each man lifted my hand to his lips in greeting. And what made it even more exquisite was the fact that in a sea of 70 men, I was one of only four women.

A membership costs approximately 1000 euro for two hunts a year. The boar are fed year-round so that they stay in the area. Each hunter is assigned a different post through a lottery system. Groups leave either by a type of hay wagon, or by foot to their individual numbered stand. The group leader then makes certain each hunter finds his spot and offers the traditional words for good luck: ‘in boca al lupo’- which literally translates to ‘in the mouth of the wolf’ and must be answered with ‘crepi’, meaning ‘may the wolf die.’

Because my host, Francesco Mazzei, had organized the hunt, he was able to beat the lottery and pick a prime spot (on top of a small hill, with a 360 degree view of the hills, forest and sea) for himself and me. We climbed the ladder, onto our tree house (approx. 4’ by 4’ platform with railing and bench for sitting and gear), and waited for the horn to sound for the hunt to begin. After making sure I was seated and safe, Francesco took a machete and climbed down again to clear some of the brush around our site so there would be more visibility of the animals as they ran by.

Once the hunt started, groups of men- called ‘beaters’-with 50 dogs in each group, track the boars and ‘beat’ them ouf of the bush. “You hunt boars with your ears,’ Francesco explained. “You hear the dogs barking louder as they approach and listen for them to become more frantic as soon as they are on the tail of a boar.” The sound of a boar running than that of a dog, and you can hear the sound of branches cracking under its weight.

So we waited, listened and heard a boar come very near. Francesco pointed his rifle where he thought it would appear. Hunters have to be ready to shoot the second the boar comes into sight. There’s no time to take aim once you see the boar. We waited, and aimed and listened for four hours. My sense of urgent excitement dissipated after the first hour and I settled in to enjoy the scenery and the company of my host.

“I like hunting boars because it is not a sure thing,” Francesco explained. “It takes skill and patience. You have to be attentive and listen. It’s almost meditative.”

Suddenly, he put his finger to his lips and lifted his gun. Even I could detect the unique sound of the boar’s movement. I couldn’t see it but I knew it was close. Just as Francesco poised to shoot, the boar changed direction and disappeared. Francesco’s reaction startled me. He grabbed me by the shoulders and sniffed my neck. “Are you wearing perfume?” he demanded. Then I understood. Luckily, I had been forewarned not to wear any perfume or even shower before the hunt. Although hunters use their ears to hunt, the boar’s survival sensation is its nose and one ‘whiff’ of human odour is enough to send it in the opposite direction.

Though we never hit a boar that day, we heard shooting all around us. As we walked back down the road, I asked him if now was the time when everyone got to tell their hunting stories of how they caught, shot or missed the boar (married to a golfer, I am familiar with this custom). Francesco nodded, that was exactly what would take place next over the luncheon spread. “Francesco,” I warned, “I may not not speak Italian fluently, but I understand everything. If you blame the loud and perfumed American woman for your not shooting a boar, I will know!”

We arrived back at the camp and I felt like a soldier coming back from the war. We sat down to long tables of incredible food, tired but in great spirits. The last part of the hunt experience consisted of watching while the 48 boars that had been shot that day, were hung, skinned and quartered. The beaters are paid in meat and then the hunters can have what they want. Whatever is left over is sold to local butchers. I left satiated- with food, wonder and friendship. Although I had mixed feelings about not seeing an actual kill, I was filled with gratitude for the access I had been given to such a rich and authentic experience.
(excerpted from The Florentine, Feb 9, 2006)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Pristine Sistine Visit

(reprint from The Florentine May 2005)

Did you know that you could have a private visit to the Vatican Museums and have the Sistine Chapel to yourself? That you can be in this holy place after it closes to the public, to the 'masses?' Alone, so that you can stand far enough away to take in the entire wall of The Last Judgment, without two backpacks and a raised guidebook with a photo of the same blocking your vision? No wait. No lines. No noise. No one pushing, shoving or bumping into you, or otherwise spoiling the sanctity of this sacred and transformative experience.

If a a 'Pristine Sistine' viewing is what you desire, this 'once in a lifetime', 'dream come true' opportunity is available to you. something we generally assume is only reserved for presidents, royalty and George Clooney, can be yours. For a mere 1800 euro, you and up to 29 of your closest firends (or like in George's case, your entourage) will enter the Vatican Museum at 5PM.

Since you have to wait until closing to enter the museum, take advantage of your trip to the Vatican by arranging to first visit the Scavi (the tombs and Christian graveyard necropolis), a fascinating tour into the archeaological discoveries and theories of St. Peter's and his bones. Depending on your guide (a priest), the trip can either be a DaVinci Code-like tour filled with mystery and suspense into the authenticity of 'the bones' or merely just wondrous and interesting. Either way, it is an important archeaological discovery, believed to be where St. Peter himself was buried.

You walk through an excavated street between tombs and an ancient graveyard, a part of the Vatican that most miss. Due to the close quarters, the Scavi tour, which needs to be booked weeks ahead, is limited to groups of no more than 15. So you will get acclimated to the 'privacy' and 'exclusivity' you will encounter in the Sistine Chapel.

At 5pm, after 'the mortals', or public, have left, you enter the Vatican Museums. A few moments (instead of hours) to pass through security, then you enter the grand and quiet halls. Of course guards accompany you, but it appears their only job is to serve as your valets, to open and close doors (translation: lock/unlock/secure).

Most memories of entering the Vatican consist of rushing and maneuvering through the crowds in a race to get to the Sistine Chapel, missing or perhaps not even conscious that there are halls and galleries filled with some of the world's most precious art. Sculpture from ancient Rome, a room filled with the paintings of Raphael, the amazing hall of Tapestries and Maps. When you enter alone, something is very different, you are not in a museum, but a private villa or palazzo. You are no longer a tourist but an invited guest. At the same time that you are overwhelmed by the grandeur, there is a feeling of intimacy, a closeness to the awe.

Take your time, the Chapel is waiting for you. Go into the gardens, be moved by the same ancient sculptures that possibly were seen by and moved the great Michelangelo. and let the expectation build (you know you won't be disappointed), then as the sun begins to set, enter the Sistine Chapel. Stop. Breathe. This is a moment you will remember for the rest of your life. for now, it's all yours.

Reservations and information:
for 'Scavi'

Saturday, June 16, 2007

If beauty is only skin deep, then make sure you have a great doctor

I met Dr. Foukis when he was recommended as a plastic surgeon to do a minor procedure to fix a scar from a long time ago (you don’t want the details). He has become my doctor (the one I call to make sure my cold isn’t pneumonia, my gas isn’t a heart attack, and that my rash isn’t Dutch Elm disease), my ‘fountain of youth’ (you do want the details about this….see below), and more importantly, my friend. Generosity, kindness and integrity are the 3 qualities I look to develop in myself and I look for in others. I have been blessed to meet many people who I admire for exemplifying these qualities here in Florence, and Dr. Foukis probably tops this list.

Some info on him:
Came here from Corfu, Greece to study medicine in Florence. He is a surgeon who specializes in breasts. Dr. Foukis is a member of the European Society of Mastology and a specialist in oncoplastic surgery of the breast. In order to increase his knowledge he has consulted with some of the leading plastic surgeons around the world. In addition he has participated in most international conferences regarding plastic and aesthetic surgery as well as aesthetic medical procedures.

This led to opening his incredible salon (incredible in that it was designed by world-famous architect, Michael Young…you’ve got to go just to see the place, it’s spectacular) on Borgo San Jacopo, next to the Lungarno Hotel, appropriately named, “Skin”.

The ‘details you want’:

‘Skin’ is a salon, in that you can get pedicures, manicures, massages, facials.

‘Skin’ is a doctor’s office: Dr. Foukis does Botox, restylane and other fillers for lips, cheeks. He has treatments for removal of scars, varicose veins, cellulite, and stretch marks. And he does permanent hair removal with a painless photo-lite machine and many others.

What makes ‘Skin’ unique, is the holistic approach of the aesthetic treatments, an aesthetic medical center consisting of only professionals involved in the aesthetic field; ie. a surgeon, dermatologist, vascular surgeon, dentist, dietician, physiotherapist and aethetician, offer their services in order to meet and satisfy the client’s needs!

‘Skin’ has the latest and greatest:

I have had almost all of the above done (except breast augmentation) and I want to rave about the following because these are treatments that really produce visible results:

• Facial machine. I call it the ‘Triple Threat’, it does photo facial, microdermabrasion and a suction that stimulates the collagen. I have used it on my face and neck, and the immediate results are dramatic. It costs less than a normal cleansing facial in the US, and it not only cleans much deeper, it really rejuvenates the skin. Costs about 90euro. Probably should do it once a month, but I want to hook up to it daily.

• Botox and fillers: I have done this in the States before, and not only does Dr. Foukis do a much better job than previous ‘encounters’, he’s about 1/2 the price of the US, and he is more up to date on the different materials because most of them come from Europe.

• Photo hair removal: the ‘light’ only works on dark or black hairs, and usually need 2 or 3 treatments, and then once a year after that. Mine got done in 2 treatments, and I have almost none to be treated after one year. It’s incredible, I never have to shave under my arms!!

• The good news with Dr. Foukis, is that everything he has done on me (lips, cheeks….to mention a few), he does in a way that looks absolutely natural. You never see someone walk out the office with that awful, Joan River’s frozen monster look.

• The bad news with Dr. Foukis, is that, no matter, what he does, I still look the same, in that I don’t walk out of his office looking like Angela Jolie or Nicole Kidman.

• Mostly I want to rave about the integrity of Dr. Foukis. My beautiful 28 year friend went to him to get Botox, and he told her to come back in 10 years. Another friend asked him if she should get her eyes done (a surgery he performs), and he told her absolutely not, with just some Botox and facial treatments with the Triple Threat, she would get the desired result (and she did). But so far with me, he always advises me to have the treatment (probably because I’m not 28!)

Call and make an appointment just to talk to Dr. Foukis (there’s no charge). I love to hear about all the new treatments, machines, what they do, how much it costs, etc. I’m probably a little ‘nuts’, but I think it’s fun.
Phone number: 055 2741503

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

With Friends like these: Amici, the TV show

With friends like these….

If you turn are watching TV and channel surfing while in Italy, you are bound to at least glimpse a TV show that is broadcast on one of 2 channels 7 days a week. If you have Skye that displays the name, you see the word, ‘Amici’, and know enough Italian to know it means friends, and like me, think oh it’s either the ‘real’ Friends, with dubbing, or the Italian version. Neither interpretation will get you within a mile or kilometer from understanding this Italian phenomena.

In February, I travelled to Rome, and back into time, when I entered the gates of the legendary, Cine Citta. This is the studio where the Italian greats made their films…. Unlike their Hollywood counterparts, like Paramount, Universal, etc, Cine citta seems frozen in time, you are reminded of scenes from The Dolce Vita which were filmed at the same front gates I had entered. Eeery feelings of falling down the rabbit hole and finding myself inside a Fellini film, which became quasi real when I went to the cafeteria with my hosts for a quick bite before the episode of Amici was to start. A woman came up to our table, I thought she worked there serving food or as a busperson. She was 60, 70 or 102…but I’m sure has looked the same for 40 years, and how I would describe her if I had seen her anywhere else in the world, would be, ‘right out of a Fellini movie’. A little bit grotesque, a little bit scary, a little bit threatening, very ordinary….you know….right out of a Fellini movie!! She came to tell us that she was an actress, and we should take her back to Hollywood with us. My friend leaned over to inform me that she in fact had been in every Fellini film, didn’t work in the café, but she was always there, maybe lived somewhere on the lot, or perhaps was not a real human being, but a ghost or an accident of the celluloid that came off the screen, frozen in time, a character that would vanish if stepped outside the confines of the lot.

From ‘gargoyles’ to the ‘gladiators’ as I stepped into the ‘coleseum’ of the Amici set. The audience was already seating in a true amphitheatre as I entered and was bombarded with yelling, stamping of feet, neon lights flashing, loud music, and God knows what else was used to send me into immediate sensory overload. And the experience went downhill from there.

Let me attempt to explain the basics of the show. It’s a little like American Idol, a talent contest among youth with the winner getting a professional contract as the prize.
Auditions are held among thousands (the show is the most highly rated national show, and is in it’s 6th season). 24 finalists are divided into two opposing teams, and come to cine citta to live and attend school. The ‘school’ consists of classes in singing, acting and dancing, for 4-6 hours a day, but they only take classes with and see their own teammates. The only time they see the other team is to compete on Saturday and Sunday evenings.
On these evenings, a woman named, Maria ???, who is the producer and pretty much overall ‘boss’, and apparently one of the most powerful women in Italian television, hosts the show, announcing the different competitions…such as whether it’s dance, song, etc. and which contestant will perform. She does that by turning her back to the audience and looking at a large screen that flashes different possibilities before landing, like a roulette ball on the participant and event. Then the performance is done, and everyone comments: the everyone includes the judges who are apparently experts in each talent and include a middle age, over the top transvestite, drag queen, a over-the-hill professional ballerina, other teachers. The viciousness of the comments of the judges, makes Simon Cowell of American Idol, seem encouraging and protective. The ballerina told to one dancer, a girl that she was teaching 2-4 hours everyday, that not only was she not a good dancer, but ‘don’t feel bad, because not everyone is cut out to dance.’ But the attacks by the judges are not limiteded to the performers, they feel free to cut down each other. The singing teacher accusing the ‘ballerina’ maestra of being jealous and bitter because she was no longer a star, so she was using the show only for self-promotion. This friendly ‘barter’ appetizes the spectators, who cast their agreement or not with boos, stomping, and screaming because the real ‘meal’ comes when the contestants ‘critique’…or castigate, in attempts to annihilate each other. They do this first by showing video that had been shot during the week of the teams talking behind each other’s back, denigrating the other team members. Then they show the person’s reaction to the vicious comments, and ask how he/she feels about that and Maria encourages more attacks and counter-attacks. The nastier it gets, the more revved-up the audience becomes, thus making for ‘great TV’ and of course feeding the most important monster of all, the ratings.
Coming from the world of Big Brother, Fantasy Island, and Fear Factor, who am I to criticize such a successful phenomena? The difference for me was not only the exploitation of youth but rewarding them for excelling at behavior that all cultures find despicable.
In ‘American Idol’, the judges may say cruel things to the contestants, but first of all the judges are not their teachers, and the results show the performers improving under this test, in fact the growth is remarkable, and I think all of us are enobled by seeing a performer blossom before us. However, the competition is to get better yourself, not to have the competitor get worse. I’m sure there is gossip and backstabbing behind the scenes, and obviously not rewarded or instigated to make the show ‘juicier.’
For Amici, what is given the most attention, screen time, applause is not the skill and beauty of the performers but their how well they hone the art of vileness.

Monday, June 4, 2007

My dinner with Andrea

photos by Guido Mannucci

from left to right: Alberto Veronesi,Conductor of Puccini orchestra, Nita, Andrea

Villa La Pietra: June 1st.
Delta Airlines celebrated their first flights JFK-Pisa, and my darling, kind generous friend, Ellyn Toscano, director of Villa La Pietra, invited me as her guest. Andrea Bocelli sang and also agreed to do an interview with me for The Florentine, look for it sometime soon!

Michelangelo Chang?

Carrara: Following in the footsteps of Michelangelo

Another incredible invitation, the privilege to go with the patrons of Syracuse University of Florence, and Professor Rab Hatfield, one of the foremost experts on Michelangelo, to the marble quarries of Carrara.

First of all, Carrara is a ‘must see’. For it’s beauty, the magnificent mountains, that are stunningly similar to snow-capped peaks and glaciers, except all of the ‘white’ is marble, and to see go to see the raw material which gave rise to the treasures we cherish in Florence.

Rab, took us first to Pietrasanta to meet up with the charming and eccentric John Taylor. A Brit who came to Italy 15 years ago as winner of the Premio Romano, a sculptor that never left and now resides in Pietrasanta whcre he works with marble, as well as teaching both there and in Florence at SACI.

He took us around Pietrasanta, to see the extraordinary frescoes by Botero in the little Renaissance church, and then to the workshop where he and several other sculptors work in marble. An incredible sight to actually see the tools, methods, and magnitude of toil it requires to chisel beauty and vision out of rock.

The ‘coop’ where they sculpt is owned by the Barsanti family which has been there since the 18th century. The family were sculptors but now, they rent out studios, as well as being a resource for antique marbles, primarily sold for restoration and repairs. In addition, the family sells completed sculptures. In the ‘sales garden’ they had replicas of famous Italian classics. There’s a ‘Donatello David’, some Roman soldiers, etc. But the most fascinating and shocking information of the whole day, was when John pointed out that these ‘replicas’ all came from China!! And when John directed our attention to the details, for instance, that David’s tummy looked more like a Chinese’s and that the Roman soldiers were remarkably reminiscent of a Samurai, it became quite evident, this was true.

But why?? For the same reason, many of the leather jackets in Italy are made in China, as well as the clothes, textiles, and Gucci purses…… because it’s cheaper. The prices for the Chinese “Italian” sculptures are 1/3 of the price. Non ci posso crederlo!! I can’t believe it. What’s next? Is there nothing sacred?

After Pietrasanta, we went to Carrara. I had been there before to drive around and see the enormity of the marble quarries, but this time we went inside. In Fantiscritti (named because of writings that were found, that seemed primitive, so they called them infant writings), we were given a tour by Francesca, whose family owns the marble ‘concession’ inside the mountain. Francesca, takes you in a shuttle, deep into the depths of the mountain, and you get to the center of an enormous cave (much, much larger than the Duomo!), which has been all dug out. This is where most of the Carrara white marble comes from.

I learned that there are two grades of marble, the kind that is inside this cave, which is much harder, much more compressed, and much heavier. This marble is used for building, floors, counter-tops, etc. Everything, but for sculpting (except some contemporary sculptors are using this grade, too) The ‘statuary’ marble, which is a much purer white, is found in the outside quarries.

The enormity of the cave, how they cut this huge blocks out of the mountain, how they test the marble, to find out if the block is solid (by hitting it and seeing if the sound echoes to the end- because if there is a crack the sound won’t travel), all of this was overwhelmingly interesting, fascinating, adventurous and fun. For instance, did you know that marble is calcium caltrate….it is made from bones, actually seashells, because what is now marble on the inside of these caves and on mountainsides, was previously (like a long, long, long time ago), the ocean floor!!

If you go through the cave, which sometimes you can arrange with Francesca, or if not, you can drive around to Ravacchione, the outside quarry which is where Michelangelo supposedly got his marble. In these quarries, you can see, and even pick up and take home (it’s legal) small pieces of statuary marble.

You can go to Fantiscitti on your own, and see this cave by calling Francesca at: 339 7657470. She charges a small admission. (great outing for kids, too)

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Terrible Two's: My 'speech' at The Florentine Birthday Party

‘Who would read a newspaper like that?’

‘The Italians aren’t going to pay to advertise in it.’

‘You don’t even speak Italian.’

‘Are there enough English speaking people in Florence to support a paper like this?’

And then, from one American woman when I proudly handed her a copy of our first edition, ‘Oh I’ve been here 25 years, and I’ve seen papers like yours’ come and go’.

There were a lot of ‘bets’ about how long we would last…. In fact many were made in our own office, when a familiar ‘saying’ or threat became that the doors of the Florentine would close.

So now after more than 2 years and 56 issues. More than a half a million copies printed, 3 special issues including the commemoration of the 40th issue of The Flood that was sent all over the world, 100’s of subscribers throughout the US, Europe, Austrailia and Singapore…and thousands of downloads from our website each day…we’re still here.

So I thought we’d better celebrate while we’re still open.

We are only here because of you, the people who have read the paper, worked on the paper, written for us, distributed the paper in your schools, hotels, and stores… and of course, our advertisers.

I will not take the time to acknowledge everyone personally, for your patience, feedback, good and bad…and putting up with our continual and ongoing learning curve, but please consider yourselves thanked and appreciated.

I want to thank my partners for ‘putting up with me’….they love me a lot….I know this because they feel free enough to tell me daily how stupid I am, or how badly I speak Italian, or naïve, or uninformed, unsophisticated, badly dressed and just plain wrong.

The community here, my ‘girlfriends’ who happen to be some of the most powerful women in Florence, who know to call me when I haven’t called them in a while. Nora, Raffaella, Barbara, Alessandra, Jody, Lucia…Ellyn..

There are two people who have been ‘angels’ to The Florentine as well as to me personally. Jane Fortune and Bob Hesse….Jane’s column has added to the depth of what we provide and her and Bob have been there as our brain trust….with a wealth of knowledge about business, art, Florence. And fundraising but also as our cheering section, a place for me to go for a great meal, and a family for me when I am homesick. The thanks and apprecation we all have for their many contributions are infinite.

And my husband, Tony. When we moved here 3 years ago, Tony was trying to read the local news in Italian, to know what was happening where he was living. It would take him 3 hours to read one article and then if he mistook a ‘ne’ to mean ‘non’, he got the whole thing wrong. He said, ‘there should be an English language paper in Florence, like there is in every other major city in the world, like Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, Moscow, etc. I said maybe that would be a fun project for him. The Florentine was Tony’s idea. Not only did he write almost every article, he would get on his bike every Thursday and deliver papers!!
Now Tony lives and works in Los Angeles, so he can pay my rent and bills here, and therefore, he is still supporting The Florentine by supporting me. I am overwhelmed and blessed by his generosity and love. I have written books about how to find and have an extraordinary relationship….having a husband like Tony, gives me a lot of credibility.