Sunday, May 13, 2007

Capri: or I must have been very good in my last life

JK Place in Florence after only 3 years, has made it to the cover of The Wall Street Journal, Conde Nast's best small luxury hotel list, at least a dozen other 'best' lists, and is the favorite hotel for many of the international rich and famous. With only 20 rooms, and a staff of 24, the hotel has just the right balance between comfort and luxury, service and feeling at home. The decor, by famous architect, Michele Bonin is exquisite....and it's just a great place to be, visit, or stay.

The creation of the, 'too young to be this smart, responsible and gracious', Ori Kafri, is not only brilliantly executed, Ori's totaly attention to detail is not only applied to making 'the bella figura' but also to the kind of service he himself would want if he were staying at a great hotel. As you can see, I adore JK Place, and I adore, respect and admire Ori. He was one of the first people to advertise in The Florentine, so he was my customer. I was a business consultant for 25 years, and I think you can tell more about a person from how he treats his vendors or the people he hires, the people he gives money to, rather than how he treats the people who pay him. In my two years of doing business with Ori, he has always been respectful (keeps his appointments with me, on time) and honest. And he has become one of my dearest and most treasured friends.

JK Place in Capri had a 'soft' opening in April. Without any advertising or even press announcents, it is almost fully booked for the rest of the year. But in April, he still had a few rooms available and invited me and some other business/friends to see the hotel.

I was super excited just to go to Capri. I had visited there 5 years ago, and felt 'the magic'. But nothing, not knowing Capri, not knowing how beautiful JK Place Florence was, not even from hearing from Ori how beautiful this hotel had come out, prepared me for the experience of being at JK Place Capri. The Florence hotel is so impeccably done, you can't imagine that the one in Capri could be that much more exquisite, but it is. The setting (right on the water) with the huge terraces, the breeze, the view, the furniture, was a tranformative experience. We were all remarking how relaxed we felt, we couldn't even read, much less check our blackberries, or even think about work.

I have been fortunate to stay at some of the best hotels in the world....this one exceeds them all. I'm still dreaming of when I can return.

When in Capri: restaurant most famous, Paolina' eat under the lemon trees, and it is where Limoncello was first 'invented'.

My afternoon with the Mona Lisa

A Day with the Mona Lisa

She’s not just a princess, and when I say princess, I mean she’s a real Italian princess. Her father is the Prince Guicciardini Strozzi. Macchiavelli was the secretary for her ancestors. Some where in her family tree, is Sir Winston Churchill. Her godfather was Gregory Peck. When she was 4 years old, and already obsessed with dance, Rudolf Nureyev, a family friend, staying at their house, ‘discovered’ her, and by the time she was 14 years old, she was dancing with him at the Kirov Ballet.
If that isn’t enough, an Italian genealogist (see front page of TF May 3) is claiming that Natalia Strozzi is a descendent of ‘Giaconda’, the woman who purportedly posed for the Mona Lisa.
I met her at a party last June, at the home of Roberto Cavalli. She’s adorable!! Full of life, always excited, sweet, friendly….and the ‘smile’. More Shirley Temple (dimples and enthusiasm) than Mona Lisa-ish mysterious. She told me she had written a book about her life, all 28 years of it, and though it had been translated, it hadn’t been published yet in English. Maybe it was a book for The Florentine Press?

I went for the second time to visit her at Cuzona, the family’s country estate, a place definitely suited to a fairy princess. Natalia has gone from being a ballerina to acting. She has been working in Italy, but wants to be a Hollywood star, and I would love to help her. Two friends of mine from Los Angeles, both very important in the ‘industry’ were vacationing in Florence, so I brought them to meet Natalia. Since it was to be a fun, interesting and informative afternoon, I stole away from her duties in Florence, the fabulous Nora Dempsey (US consul general). I not only thought she should meet the VIP’s from LA, I knew that Natalia and her family would love to meet Nora and vice versa.

Irina, Natalia’s mother is magnificent. She’s the real hostess with the mostess, regal-style. Her background is French-Slavic, and even in her country setting, her grace, beauty and dignity is evident. She had a few wonderful stories:

How she met her husband: They were both studying in Switzerland and had apartments adjacent to each other, but never met. However, he did not have a phone and the landlord would call her to deliver messages to him. Still, it was months before they met face to face, and not until he had gone back to Italy, did he finally think of asking her on a date.

The family is very close with Tony Blair and his family. When the prime minister of England comes to Tuscany, he and his family stay at Cuzona. Irina told us of the time, when President Clinton called Blair while he was staying at Cuzona, and hearing Blair say to Clinton, “You just need to tell the truth about this Monica person, it’s August and you’ve got to deal with this before September so you can do your job!!’ (These are ‘quasi’ quotes, told second-hand…..not confirmed, verified, or anything else. This is my personal ‘blog’ not The Florentine). Anyway, I could just imagine, all of this taking place in this historic setting. The tower of the palazzo dates back to 1100, and the family living there from the 1500’s.

Cuzona is also a vineyard and winery. Overlooking the vineyards, Irina pointed out that the left side are the vines for white wines and the right side for the red’s. As you enter the cantina, there is an antique tractor, which happens to be the very first Fiat ever made. Natalia, when she is not acting, writing or traveling the world for interviews about her heritage, is director of sales and marketing for the family wines.

As we descended the beautiful tree-lined drive, away from the fairy tale castle and fairy tale princess....Nora looked at me and said, 'who would think a couple of kids from Detroit (our shared birthplace) would end up here!'

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Birthday Overwhelm

May 3, I was to be spending my first birthday without my family. Since I am not a person who enjoys feeling sorry for myself, I decided to make myself a party. I was speaking with a 'new best' friend, Jay Mulvaney, who I met one day in the Ferragamo Museum (which is a jewel here in Florence). Jay was in Florence for 6 weeks working on a secret project....which I can't say for fear of being cut off from him...Jay is an American writer, who has written books on the Kennedys, and other famous people, socialites, etc. So, a great source for me, as a journalist, social climber and celebrity stalker. Check out his books on Amazon. He told me, he would 'throw' me the party at his incredible apartment overlooking the Arno. Then, being the professional writer that he is, interviewed me about my wants and needs. Besides the extensive guest list, I only had one real concern, my cake. I have still not recovered from my 7th birthday, when my mother brought in a very elegant and expensive cake, with marzipan, liquer filling, and fruit, instead of the 'proper' chocolate, with milk chocolate buttercream frosting, and milk chocolate buttercream flowers. Here is the invite that Jay sent:

Please come for drinks to celebrate the birthday of our lovely friend Nita Tucker.

The date is next Thursday, May 3.

The time is 7:30 - 9:30 (PM, PLEASE don't surprise me in the morning!)

Regarding gifts

I happen to know that at the top of her wish list is Sting.

A date, a lunch, an interview, a random siting on the street, it matters not - so if anyone can provide Mr. Sumner in the flesh (CD's don't count), please do.

BUT, I also know that running a close second on her list, and, if you can imagine, even closer to her heart, is The Florentine. As the paper enters what we Americans call the "terrible twos" it, like a toddler, is demanding and expensive. A very special way for her friends to show our love to Nita is by supporting her baby.

Cash is always good, but how about buying a subscription (or two or three), or taking out an advertisement, promoting your favorite negozio or cultural event, taking a space in one of the innovative "business card" pages. or copies of Linda Falcone's wonderful book Italians Dance and I'm a Wallflower.

The Florentine is moving offices soon, so they will need many new things: desks, phones, computers, office supplies, etc.

Most important, however, is that this is Nita's first birthday without her family, so I hope you'll be able to join me as her "FFOC" - Florentine-family-of-choice - and celebrate this special day.


Jay Mulvaney

Then Jay, who immediately went into, "oh my God- mode"....because he had no idea how he was going to give the party, food, flowers, drinks, and of course THE CAKE, called two other friends to his aid.

Louise Ferragamo, came to the call. The angels were looking down on me, the day I met Louise. When we were putting together the first issue of the paper, we met Suzi Jenkins. In defense of not having to repeat all of the same information for her guests coming to Florence, Suzi had put together a website. In an amazing gesture of generosity, Suzi opened up her archives to us to choose what articles we wanted for our paper. Since we had no funds to pay our writers, and we had a lot of available advertising space, we offered them the space to advertise their ‘real’ work. Suzi answered that she really didn’t need to advertise (she is a management consultant), but she had a friend who had remodeled an apartment for herself, but in the meantime had 2 children and now was thinking of renting or selling it. We received the ad, my husband looked at it and said we should look at the apartment ourselves. Meanwhile, the week before, my friend called from LA. She knew we were starting the paper, and she called to tell me that we had to get the Ferragamo twins on the front page of our paper, ‘they’re young and gorgeous….and Ferragamo is very hot now.’

Back at the apartment, we are met by the owner, a gorgeous, blonde Danish woman. The only thing more beautiful was the house….we had to have it. The woman proceeds to tell us that she had spent the last 3 years of her ‘life’ fixing up this dream house, but it wasn’t right for small children. Her husband traveled a lot, etc.. I asked what kind of work her husband did, and she told me he worked in his family’s business….Ferragamo…have you heard of it?’ And she wasn’t joking!! She said when she first came to Italy from Denmark, she didn’t know who they were.
I immediately jumped on the occasion to tell her I wanted to interview the twins, did she know them? She laughed. “I’m married to one of the twins.’
This was 2 years ago, and the apartment was a magical space for my family, and James and Louise Ferragamo have been the greatest friends, but I have yet to get Jamie to be on the cover of The Florentine.

Louise is a wonder at creating and designing spaces. So anytime any of her friends give a party, you will always find Louise there an hour before with lots of candles, feathers, balloons….and more candles. So Jay called Louise to manage the atmosphere.

Now 2 days before the party, Louise accidentally copied me this email.

Hi Jay

- Don't tell Nita yet, I will be there for her birthday, I talked with some friends, we have got an idea.

I still don't know if possible, but it could be fun if we all fake nobody can come, and then be there as a surprise ????

What do you think ?

Ciao Louise

Also a couple of days before the party, I get a call from Ellyn Toscano. Ellyn Toscano is a lawyer, former aid to a NYC congressman, and currently director of Villa La Pietra in Florence. I met Ellyn at a Black and White Ball hosted by Nora Dempsey at the US Consulate last year. Many people had recommended I meet Ellyn to interview her and tour the Villa. So when we were introduced, I said to her, "You're on my list!!" I have still not interviewed her, because she told me she wants to be the only person who stays on the list. But better than an interview, she has become my friend. Ellyn is incredibly intelligent, very, very beautiful, the best sense of humor, has huge job responsibilities, works here, NYC, (did I mention she is very, very beautiful?), and her best asset is she is the mother of Gaby, an 11 year old, who is not only darling, sweet, and even more beautiful than the mother, is one of our best writers for The Florentine. As you can imagine, Ellyn certainly had nothing but time on her hands to organize this party.

Ellyn calls me and tells me she doesn’t know if there is going to be a surprise party for a particular person, but if ‘hypothetically’ there was to be such an event, and if ‘hypothetically’ there was to be a cake at this event, she had heard from some un-named source, that this ‘hypothetical’ cake had to adhere to some strict critieria. After confirming, the milk chocolate, not dark, no fruit, no liquer, absolutely no marzipan, she asked me if someone would ‘hypothetically’ want to buy such a cake, did I know of a place. I didn’t. Then she asked, again, if there was to be such a party, and such a cake, how many people would it ‘hypothetically’ have to feed.

What friends I am blessed with!!

The party: I invited everyone I knew. There were people who I had met or interviewed in a professional capacity, that I liked and wanted to get to know better. I couldn’t count them as my friends, but people who I would like to have as friends.
I think one of my ‘strong suits’, is that I’m not afraid of rejection. I don’t like being rejected, but I don’t look to avoid it.
Soon after the first issue of The Florentine came out, we received an email from Raffaella Antoniazzi, who is an executive with the Lungarno Hotels (Gallery Art Hotel, Continentale, Lungarno and Lungarno suites), complimenting us on the paper and asking to meet with us about having it in each room of the hotels.
We met, and I was so impressed by this woman, that at the end of the meeting, I told her how much I liked her and flat out asked her if we could be friends. Two years later, she was at my party, celebrating with me.
Since this ‘pick up’ technique worked so well with Raffaella Antoniazzi, who is now one of my ‘Florence treasures’….I continue to use it.

A week before my party, I interviewed Patrizia Gucci (see Up Close and Personal… May 3 issue). My preconception of her, was that she would be one of the famous Florentine snobs that I’ve heard so much about, (but after 3 years, have yet to encounter). Instead I left, mesmerized by her kindness, talent, and grace. I invited her to the party….and to my great pleasure, she came.

Two Ferragamos, one Gucci, the amazing Sibilla della Gherardesca, Barbara Deimling (director of Syracuse), Ellyn Toscano…..the rich, the famous, the VIP’s, the notorious, the powerful, talented (Aaron Craig and Bari Hochwald from Florence International Theater)…my beloved partners and editors from The Florentine. The guest list read like a virtual ‘Who’s who in Florence’. But the common denominator for everyone present, besides that they had been stalked or harassed by me, was their amazing kindness and sincerity.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Florentine: 'How did you come up with that idea?'

We moved to Florence in September 2004. It was election year in the U.S. and so we were reading the International Herald Tribune every day. Given that we were in Florence, we wanted more than international news in English we wanted our 'local' news, too. Unable to find a newspaper that had local Florence and Italian news in English, my husband commented, "Florence should have a newspaper like the one we used to read in San Miguel de Allende (Mexico), like they have in Paris, Amsterdam, Moscow, Barcelona, and most other major international cities." My response was that perhaps Tony should start such a paper, I thought it would be a great project for him. Being a serious and professional business man, Tony knew it would be necessary to do market analysis, research, due diligence, etc. Being a professional management consultant, I realized that you couldn't study a project that had never been done before, so I applied the 'just do it' approach.

The first person I talked with about the project was my Italian teacher's husband, Leonardo Cardini. I knew that he was a graphic artist and had a small communications' firm that produced websites, brochures and other printed material. I asked Leo where I could get something printed in Florence. He wanted to know what I wanted printed. I explained that I wanted local, Florentine news, in English. I was thinking that maybe we would print a newsletter. Leo called me back and said he and his partners wanted to do it with us.
In November, we decided to start The Florentine, none of us had ever worked as journalists or publishers before. None of us had any experience of making a newspaper. I knew about 2 months of beginning Italian, I knew even less about my partners, I didn't have a clue about how to start or run a business in Italy. But 4 months later, on April 21, 2005, the first issue of The Florentine was issued.
How we got it started in that amount of time, with no money, no knowlege, no experience....just love, passion and a lot of guts.... was a miracle.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Cultural Musings

The Italian Way:

Random observations, these apply to Florence and Tuscany and could be different in the South or Rome or Milan.

Re: food and eating

Breakfast is a cornetto (croissant) and cappuccino, and usually eaten standing up, and you go to the same place every day. The only place to fine eggs, cereal, etc are tourist hotels.

Lunch: The working man, including all of my partners, go to the same restaurant every day for lunch. Unlike breakfast, they don’t eat the same thing, they hear what is on the menu for the day and choose. There is always time for lunch, and it cannot be skipped. There is no such thing as eating at your desk, in your car, on the bus. Even on a train, you would go to the dining car to eat, not at your seat.

Dinner: eaten late, after 8PM, usually not a very big meal.

People do not “snack” in Italy. Children have an afternoon snack, “merenda”, but only children.

You do not eat while reading, driving, walking, talking on the phone. There are malls in Italy, but you do not find food in the malls, nor do you see people walking around the malls with food or cups in their hands (except for tourists).

Seasonal foods: Italians don’t pick out a recipe and then go buy the ingredients. They go to the market, look what is in season and then decide what to cook. The same is true in restaurants, the menu changes by season.
The ingredients are always fresh, ripe and the flavor of Italian food does not come from sauces but from the ingredients.

Empty refrigerator: An Italian refrigerator is usually empty, they buy the food for one day, going daily to the market, and the portions are just right. Leftovers are a strange phenomenon, and doggy bags are for tourists only.

Go daily to the market. When I go to the market, and want a cantaloupe, the fruit vendor always asks me when I will be eating it, (either today or tomorrow, if it is longer why would I be buying it today?) and then gives me the appropriate melon.

When I go to the butcher and pick out a cut of meat, before he will give it to me, he will question how I am cooking it. It’s almost like going to an animal shelter, I don’t get to take home the meat unless the butcher knows I will be treating it well.

Wine shop: Not only do I have to tell the shop owner what kind of food I will be serving with my wine, but how it will be cooked. There is a different wine that goes with sautéed lamb than with broiled or baked.

Slow food: This is a movement started in Italy several years ago when the first McDonald’s was opened. This organization gives cooking classes, oil tastings, conferences and certifies restaurants with a snail logo naming them as a restaurant that is commitment to the process and appreciation of cooking with good and thoughtful ingredients.


A grand history and range of political beliefs: huge tolerance for differing views
People are not afraid to be: communists, socialists, anarchist or fascist. These are words and political beliefs that we in the United States cannot admit and still be taken seriously. In an interview with the Cultural Commissioner of Florence, he freely stated that he was a member of the Communist Party and got all of his appointments accordingly. These different affiliations are not demonized. It is easy to find people of all leanings to interview.

Italy is not a patriotic nation except during the World Cup. It’s a very new country (just over 100 years old) and people don’t identify themselves as Italian, but rather by their city or region. They are only loyal to their family and local soccer team.

Getting things done:

There is not a sense of manana in Italy, but for an American, things take much longer than we are used to.

An Italian friend said something to me that has helped me understand much about Italy, from the lack of signage on the highways to what makes Italians great lovers.

My friend Giovanni said, in a disparaging tone, “Americans think that the best way to get from point A to point B is a straight line.”
This says it all, Italians are not interested in the most direct route, they are interested in the most interesting route. They abhor boredom, so the process has to be fascinating, challenging and open to many interpretations. There is no place to go to, to find out which stores are closed in the afternoon, there is no set time when they open, for instance on the same block, one store closes from 2-5, another from 1:30 to 3:30, another from 1-6. Nothing is black and white. There are tons of laws and regulations, from hundreds of years back, and even the person at the Questura (immigration office) can use the ones he or she wants to use, which underlines why getting in relationship with people is so important surviving and thriving in Italy. If you don’t ENJOY the art of navigating and communicating and discovering how to get something done, you will not stay in Italy, because it’s just too frustrating.

What surprised me:

Italy is a Catholic country and has the lowest birthrate in the world. When I grew up, if a family had 8 kids, we assumed they were Catholic. In Italy, I find people have no problem being a Catholic and practicing birth control, having an abortion, being gay and going to church, living together (I have met dozens of couples that have been together more than 20 years, have children together and are not married). There seems to be a much greater division between Church and State in Italy than in the US. A very small percentage of people go to church regularly, on Easter Sunday, I was in Portofino, and no one was in Church.

People are thin. We hear of the fat Italian mama’s and we think with all of the pasta that everyone would be fat, but I can’t remember seeing someone really fat in Florence other than tourists.


Semolina is at Mercato Sant'Ambrogio. It's my favorite neighborhood restaurant. Casual, fresh food, at a great price. Best spaghetti Carretiere I've tasted. Piazza Ghiberti 87r 0552347584. Tell Adolfo that Nita sent you

Sostanza-Troia: in via Porcellina 25r 055 212691
need to make reservations for dinner, usually for lunch you can walk right in. Great food, very low prices. Where the Italians eat...even the rich ones. The pollo al burro is unbelievable.

down the street in via Porcellina is Tredici Gobi also fabulous, real, authentic good food, and well-priced.

Trattoria Garga: via del Moro, 48R. More well-known, more expensive and still very good. 055 2398898

Everyone has heard of Cibreo which is very expensive, but Fabio Picchi has 3 other places on the same corner. Next door to the restaurant is the Trattoria, which is 1/3 the price of the restaurant, but is first come, first serve, you need to line up at
7:30PM when it opens.

The deal of the century is the Teatro del Sale. It is open for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. for 25 euro, you get dinner which includes tons of delicious food, served very to go to know what I mean, includes wine, coffee, water, dessert. 055 200 1492 (you must become a member, but it only costs 5 euro for a year)

Books published by The Florentine

Why and how did I end up in Florence?

The question that every ex-pat is asked daily in Florence. The 'cliche' answer for a woman my age, is that I am here for love. And that is true for me, also but not in the classic 'boy meets girl' way. I am here because of my love affair with Florence.
The story: I have always dreamt of living in Europe. Jacqueline Kennedy was who I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to ride in a fox hunt, study at the Sorbonne, speak 10 languages, wear the 'important' designers while doing important charity general, I wanted to be an elegant, educated, important international socialite. Although I did study French for a semester at Tufts U in Boston (fitting to a Jackie 'wannabe') , I strayed from this path and by my junior year, instead of studying abroad, I was a hippie, living in a commune in Berkeley, CA.
Fast foward many years,(and many exciting life adventures later...but this is a blog, not a biography) to my 50th birthday, and I realized that I had accomplished or experienced every dream, everything that was really important to me, I had done. Of course, not every passing fantasy...I hadn't become a doctor and found the cure for cancer, or ended hunger, or married Paul McCartney (he was my favorite Beatle), or been a movie star, or had my own private jet. But the intentions that 'stayed' with me over time. of travelling to Africa and India and China, of being married to my lifetime love, the profound experience of being a mother, writer of books, founder of marathons, worked as a consultant all over the world...always were fulfilled! And it was my 50th birthday, and I was depressed, and truly, I had no problem with my age, I was depressed because something that had been on my 'to do list' for 35 years, my 'year abroad', still hadn't happened!! Four years later, I finally got here.
At the time, I was a management consultant working with a company called, Breakthrough International Group, we had many multi-national corporations as clients, so I travelled extensively. I decided that I would move my base to Florence and continue my work. My husband, Tony, was not very enrolled in the program. We were living in Santa Fe, NM, he worked as a financial consultant there, he is an outdoor enthusiast, who had never had a dream of living abroad, much less, a crowded, polluted city, where he didn't know how to mail a letter, much less find a job. But we both realized, that I had to go. I couldn't and didn't want to talk him into going. When he said, he wasn't coming, I told him, I'd miss him. I wasn't leaving him, and I promised him that I would make our relationship work, even if he didn't come.
Most of our friends in Santa Fe thought I was wrong....bad, mean, selfish, etc. I didn't defend myself, I just knew that I had to do it. I also knew (and so did my daughter, Montana...who was 15 at the time, and part of the 'fantasy' was her having the experience of living in Italy), that Tony would be coming. And we were right, on August 28, 2004, we moved into our house near Piazzale Michelangelo.
Tony decided he would take a sabbatical from work, I would continue my job, and Montana was attending the International School of Florence, and our son Jordan, who was 20, entered his freshman year in college in Vermont.
But....'the best laid plans'......

Friday, May 4, 2007

Introduction to my 'Blog'

I have been in Florence for almost 3 years. My life as the editor of The Florentine has been something that people keep telling me I 'should write a book about'. Daily, friends who visit me here, tell me I must at least keep a diary. I always agree and I have been 'putting it off' for way too long. But my birthday was yesterday, and my present to myself is to act like myself, and I am not a 'putting off' or 'procrastinating' kind of gal, so here it goes.

I guess the first few weeks, I will back-track as well as keep current. I have already learned, seen, and met such interesting people, that I can't just start in real time.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Recommended Reading

Historical Novels



Travel in Italy

Italian Property Guides

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


When you're living, studying or just visiting away from home, it can get very expensive to call the friends and family we leave behind. Sure we can e-mail, but sometimes you just need to hear their voice. VOIP (voice over internet protocol) is a cheap and easy way to talk to your family/friends through your computer and you use it just like a phone! Here is a list of VOIP providers that you can check out and find the one that best fits your needs.

Recommended Travel Sites

Travelling can be the most exciting time in our lives and also the most stresful. Trying to find the cheapest tickets, the best hotels that fit out budget and a car to rent if needed. I have compiled a list of the best travel sites on the web that will hopefully help you make your trip more exciting, and less stressful.

no one deals like we do!

KLM logo

Low Fares to France and Europe