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.