Friday, April 18, 2008

Each morning I wake up, before I put on my make-up....I say a little prayer for you

We have been trying unsuccessfully to get all our relevant paperwork to permanently stay in Firenze for my husband's work. This has been a very trying and frustrating time that has spanned over nearly six months. But finally there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Watch this space...

Whenever we tell our fellow stranieri (strangers to Italy) that we are in the process of obtaining visa's, they often look at us with a mixture of sympathy and disbelief. The next thing they say is 'hmm don't worry no one ever checks in Italy'. So it is my belief that there are A LOT of people here illegally. Whilst we choose not to stay illegally, I can see why a lot of people do. Italian immigration policy and the bureacracy that comes with it is just so incredibly frustrating. And it's upsetting to know that we are trying to do the right thing but get nowhere whereas I can walk past the Ponte Vecchio at anytime today and see at least twenty men from Africa selling fake Gucci handbags. I'm very sure they do not have a visa (or if they do perhaps it a fake one stamped with a Loius Vuitton logo on it).

Each morning I pray before I start the day to thank God for letting me experience Italian food, smells and adventures in this amazing country. But I also pray that the immigration policies will just get that little bit easier for people like us who legitimately want to live here and contribute, if only for a short time, to the economy and community in Florence. Failing that, by at least allowing us into your bella Italia, we are at least supporting the economy by staying in your apartments, eating your gelati and buying those fabulous Italian shoes.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Italian elezione

Yesterday I sampled the crisp Florentine air by going out to buy some fresh salami and pane (bread). Now that I have written that sentence, I am wondering why I refer to salami as fresh, when the best kind is sometimes left to hang for a few weeks?

On my walk I noticed that a lot of the shops were closed and it was well after 10am so I didn't understand why. Then it hit me, yesterday was the second day of voting in the Italian elezione and I guessed that was the reason.

I've only really 'lived' in Florence for 7 weeks now so I will not profess to any knowledge whatsoever of the Italian political system apart from what I see on CNN, which is the only channel I can understand here. But I have spoken to a few local people here who say that living conditions are getting worse. According to them, the taxes are high but public services are inadequate. CNN reported that the national debt is so high that for each Italian there is a 1200 Euro debt. (It was early morning, half awake, when I listened to this but I think I have this information correct).

So, it was with interest that I waited for the results to appear on the internet this morning . But I see that the current leader, Mr. Silvio Berlusconi, won again. What this means for Italy I don't really know. However what I do know is that compared to Australia there is a lot less advertising in the weeks leading up to the election. This could explain why their voting turn out was low.

Late last year, the Australian election was held. During the boxing match Johnny vs. Kevin it was impossible to watch any TV programme without being bombarded by annoying and biased advertisements slandering each others political party. Here in Italy, it seems a lot more civilised and whilst I can't comment on Italian press as I don't read it, the TV did not seem to have every second advertising spot crammed with ridiculous election advertisements. Aussies, you know the ones I am talking about.

As the Italian country voted, I waited at home for my husband to return from work. He was working late as he had received some very good news that afternoon. Our paperwork for moving here permanently had come through. Anyone that has dealt with the Italian immigration office (or any immigration office for that matter) will understand the significance of this. If you have been the recipient of my sometimes angry emails, you too will understand!

So, I decided to make a big antipasto dinner to celebrate. I didn't have any wine at home but had bought some beautiful oranges at the markets that morning. Imagine my surprise when I cut one open and saw a brilliant red coloured flesh. At first I thought there was something wrong with the orange but then realised I must have stumbled across the Sicilian blood red orange. This delicious arancia made deliciously sweet orange juice and we sipped it in wine glasses with our plates of fresh/old salami and cheeses and celebrated the fact that we after six long months in between three countries, we will now have a permanent home soon.
Book recommendation: Well I have a confession on what I will be reading this week. Whilst I love reading books, especially autobiographies, I also am a fan of trashy magazines from time to time. This week my husband flew to London for a meeting and asked me if I wanted anything brought back. I'm ashamed to say that at the top of my list were an English Ok! magazine and Cadbury's chocolate.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

How can something so sweet, cause so much pain?

My daily love affair with Italian gelato has regrettably ended.

See, I have been trying unsuccessfully to kick my habit of ending each meal with a double scoop of my favourite two flavours - caffe and zabaglione (coffee and egg nog). However, I'm the first to admit that I have trouble exercising self control over dessert and would inevitably end up in my favourite gelateria each night somewhere between the hours of 7 and 8pm. Actually make that my ex-favourite gelateria.

Friday night was no different. I said grazie to the shop assistant and proceeded off happily into the streets of Firenze with my own little bit of heaven. Or so I thought. My stomach unfortunately didn't agree.

The next morning I woke up doubled up over in pain and my body shaking uncontrollably. I have never had food poisoning and I pride myself on my Polish stomach of steel that can quite happily eat egg nog and raw mince tartare style. Since I don't want to lose any of my readers, I won't go into any more details about my next twelve hours of severe food poisoning details, but all I will say is that I never ever want to look at ice-cream again. Even now, I can't walk past a gelateria without my stomach turning. If you have been to Florence, you'll know this is a problem as every street has many gelateria's.

It is now two days later as I write this and my stomach is still making noises that resemble a washing machine. No, not a quiet Fisher and Paykel. More like a noisy machine similar to the one I had as a student at university which had a life of it's own on the spin cycle.

I am now thinking about what lovely treat will become the replacement for my daily dessert. Perhaps a tiramisu or panacotta or some fragola with ricotta and miele (strawberries with ricotta cheese and honey). Hang on, my stomach is making those noises again...

Restaurant recommendation: Ok, so it is an hour drive from Florence, but we had a fabulous lunch at a restaurant at the Barberino Shopping Outlet which by the way is a great day out for shopping (and in my opinion a lot better than The Mall outlet centre). The restaurant name is Ristorante Il torracchione and trust me, just get the mixed grill - massive platters of ribs, roasted chicken and ribs. You can't miss the restaurant as you'll see roughly fifty Italians lining up for it. But it's definetely worth the wait.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Italian Intruder

Last night my husband and I had two unwanted extras in our bedroom. I know Italy is a country full of pasion and love, but before you start exclaiming 'mamma mia, what is going on there ?' let me explain.

See, in Australia we have very advanced technology called...wait for it....the humble fly screen. This wonderful invention is cheap, effective and until now has been very much taken for granted by me.

After changing hotels four nights ago, we go to bed knowing our two unwanted guests, the Italian mosquito's, will serenade us with Italian buzzing to the tune of Dean Martin's 'that's amore'.

Like anyone, I hate mosquito's and usually am the first to get bitten. While I calmly swat the damn zanzara, husband is convinced we have a plague in the house and proceeds to turn on every light in each bedroom at 3am. After I kill the offending mosquito's he promptly falls back asleep and I am left to lie wide awake listening to Florence traffic zoom past our window. (Where do people go at 3am?)

I finally fell asleep thinking that mosquito's were the least of our worries. Not long ago I was living in outback Karratha with a gecko in my shower, flying cockroaches in my back yard and I even had a poisonous snake under my desk at work.

After our pest control activity last night, I assured husband that I would not let one ray of Tuscan sun enter our room thereby eliminating any chance of even one nasty intruder getting in.

Happily I left for my daily tea and book reading session at a cafe. When I returned the housekeeper was cleaning our room and putting fresh orchids in our vase. My smile froze as I looked around - every single window was open and she was happily humming away an Italian song...but her humming sounded like buzzing to my ears.

I predict another long night ahead.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Amazing Abetone

On Sunday morning we got up early to go and visit Abetone. We had visited this ski town initially three weeks ago and had such a wonderful time, that we had to return.

We were a little tired but had to leave Florence early as part of the town near our hotel was going to be closed off to cars from 8.30 am. The 25th Florence Marathon, one of the most important sports events in Europe, was going to be held that day. A quick stop for an espresso at our favourite pasticceria quickly woke us up and the 90 minute drive passed quickly.

As a young girl living in Poland I surely have seen snow before. But because I immigrated to Australia when I was 5 years old, I hadn't remembered it so, in my view, Abetone snow is the first I have officially seen and felt.

It was so amazing to see the beauty in the snow covered mountains, hear children laughing while throwing snowballs at each other and feel the snow drops on our tongues.

My dad grew up in the Polish mountains and was an excellent skiier. I thought that I would have inherited this gene but sadly my skiing attempt was dismal and ended in me covered in bruises on my legs from falling over numerous times. My image of delicate snow softening my fall quickly diminished as I realised that falling on the snow really hurts! And it wasn't only my butt that hurt. The biggest injury was to my pride when I saw ten year old children skiing at fast speeds around me while I was just attempting to stay upright.

All the time we were there I was wishing my family could be there to see the beauty that we were experiencing. When they arrive in the Italian summer to visit, we are planning to take them to this wonderful place as I can imagine there will be just as much beauty in those mountains when they are covered in summer flowers instead of winter snow.

Restaurant recommendation: On Saturday we indulged in a wonderful brunch at the Fusion Bar just near the Ponte Vecchio. I go to the Fusion Bar daily for a cup of tea to accompany whatever book I am reading, but I had never tried their lunch. They also put a twist on my favourite dessert - a white chocolate and green tea tiramisu. I'm sure not everyone would like it, but it's really worth a try. I really enjoyed it, my husband had one one spoon and quickly pushed it away. It's definetely not the winner in my quest to find Italy's best tiramisu, but it was really good and the atmosphere in the bar, whilst not strictly Italian, is very chic and modern.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

It's a long way to the shop...if you want a sausage roll

Six months ago, I wasn't filling my days sipping cappuccino and eating tiramisu. Back then, I worked as a marketing specialist for Australia's largest telecommunications company, Telstra.

As part of my job, I had to drive around the Northwest of Western Australia frequently for business. I didn't really think too much of driving eight hours to Broome but with no direct flight, driving was the only option. (My city dweller friends, thought this was ridiculous as like most city people, they complain bitterly about a two hour drive). Sometimes my husband and I even drove to Perth for holidays with the car packed with suitcases, aeroguard protective insect spray and our beloved white dog which would end up a dusty red coloured beloved dog by the end of the trip. We managed the drive in 16 hours non stop and usually went through five packets of lollies and ended on a sugar high.

Yesterday my husband and I drove from Florence to Monza which is a town just out of Milano. The drive took us five hours because of the traffic and due to what looked like new roads, our trusty GPS decided to take us through not one but three autostrada toll crossings and needless to say, the wrong way.

As my husband was driving, I was commenting on just how different the landscape is in comparison to our outback Australian road trips. Driving in North West Western Australia meant sometimes you wouldn't see a car for hours and when you did, they waved at you excitedly and you always waved back. If they didn't wave, you would muffle something along the lines of 'bloody rude tourists'.

Petrol stations were far and few between and it was not unusal to see a sign warning you of the lack of available fuel or water for the next 300 kms. Definetely you would see a whole array of amazingly beautiful wildlife that you try to avoid hitting including kangaroos, lizards, emu's and the number one crusher of cars, the big bulls that navigate into the middle of the road and look at you accusingly when you drive past. One less assuming animal you also tried to and failed to avoid was the humble fly and when you opened your car door to get out for a stretch you would literally be covered in flies...sounds quite glamorous doesn't it!?

Yesterday's five hour drive was molto diverso (very different). There were hundreds of cars zooming along the autostrada at high speeds, car horns beeping at those unfortunate enough to decide they want to overtake at normal speeds and no signs of our Aussie bouncy kangaroos on the side of the road. We did see a husky (for those that don't know this is a BIG dog) sharing a ride on an open scooter with his owner. If only I had my camera out as I can't explain how funny (and dangerous for the dog) this looked. And when we stopped for a break at a roadhouse and I stood ready armed with my can of fly spray, not even one fly greeted me.

Driving in outback Australia , you need to choose your roadhouses/service stops very very carefully. Future travellers, consider yourself warned. Criteria should include:

  • Is there a working air - conditioned toilet?

  • Has the toilet been cleaned say ...this decade?

  • Is the petrol going to cost you more than your car repayment this month?

  • Has that Australian meat pie been there for longer than 24 hours? (23 hours you say? ok two please)

So I braced myself for the worst when we veered off the autostrada into the My Chef roadhouse. Now, I know Italians live for food, but I'm sure their standards drop at the humble roadhouse? Surely there would be the usual suspects - stale cakes, some day old fries and half frozen icy poles?

We walked in and felt like we stepped into another small Italian city full of bustling Italians. The espresso aroma wafted into our tired faces, the patisserie bar beamed with fresh cornetto con marmolada (my favourite croissants with jam), the wood fired pizza oven was in full swing and there was a choice of five different pizzas (try the margharita, it was good!). In another section, there were salami's hanging from the ceiling and a selection of fresh fruits, pasta's and cakes.

Now onto the toilets. Now everyone that knows me knows that unfortunately I am a germophobe at the best of times. (It makes for interesting travelling). So you can imagine my amazement at walking into clean toilets with self flushing toilets, automatic taps and even a lady sitting there waiting to clean after me. There was not one red back spider looking at me doing my business and no cockroaches squashed on the floor.

My Northwest WA readers will surely understand when I say 'Nanutarra road house, you have a lot to answer for!'.

This morning I woke up and I had that sense where I didn't know where I was. We have lived in six different houses/hotels/apartments in three different countries in the last five months due to my husband's engineering job, and that doesn't include the hotels we stay in for trips away or his business trips. But as I opened the room service breakfast menu and saw a selection of cheeses and salami's with boiled eggs, I could almost smell the strong aroma of a macchiato. My senses returned to me and I quickly realised that I'm in the wonderful pulsating heart beat of Italia. But why then, does my heart hurt writing about my true home and love, Australia?