Monday, September 22, 2008

La Dolce Vita

When my friends and family from Australia ring me and ask 'what did you do today?' I sometimes get the feeling they are very bored with my answer which goes a little like this: 'ummm I woke up, brushed my teeth, checked my e-mail, did a load of washing, vacuumed and then went out and did some errands'. I think what they are hoping for is this: I got up and opened my curtains to let the Tuscan sun come in through the wooden shutters. Then my Italian lover woke me up. We went out to the Chianti countryside and had a picnic where I sat sipping brunello while my Italian lover fed me morsel size bits of mouth-watering bruschetta and olives that are from his family's olive farm.

So, this one's for you my dreamer friends. On Sunday we had a romantic, gorgeous, fairy tale Italian day.

So you are not disappointed, my disclaimer is that no Italian lover features in this blog nor any of my other blogs, but my spunky Aussie/Filipino Italian looking husband does, so you'll have to make do with that.

So, said husband and I got up early and went to our favourite coffee shop, the Open View Bar which overlooks the Arno river. We had a caffe latte and a chocolate pastry. Very Italian. No bacon and eggs in sight.

We then hopped in our car (I wish I could say Italian scooter to make this story even more Italian, but I value my life and refuse to get onto on of those) and drove two hours to Lago Trasimeno which is a large lake in Umbria. This is such a beautiful spot and we plan on returning when it is a little warmer and a lot less cloudy.

On the way home, we saw a sign for the town of Cortona. I had started reading the autobiography 'Under the Tuscan Sun' some time ago and remembered that it was the setting for the book. I'm possibly the only person in the world that thought it was one of the most boring books I've read and I couldn't even finish it, but I remembered the author's description of the town and thought it was worth a look. We quickly flicked through our Frommer's Guide book but it didn't even have a listing for Cortona so we weren't expecting much.

But when we got there we instantly fell in love with this gorgeous town. And clearly a lot of tourists were also in love with it as there was more Americans than Italians around that day. Sitting atop a hill and overlooking the most beautiful scenery, we ate some panini with proscuitto and finished off our lunch with some of the best gelato we've tasted.

We also stopped in at a bakery to sample their local pastries. Cortona's specialty seemed to be these giant meringues as all the shopfronts were filled with them. They kept chanting at me 'eat me, I taste gooood and I have no calories'. So I had to go in and see for myself.

On the way home, we stopped to admire these gorgeous grapes growing by the side of the road. Someday someone will enjoy these beauties in their glass of red.

In keeping with the Italian-themed day, we got home and husband cooked up a beautiful Italian meal of pasta marinara with prawns, fish, octopus, mussels and clams. We had bought also bought some Brunello wine and some local oil from Cortona. Needless to say, we had a feast.

Unfortunately Monday came around too quickly and reality set back in. Husband went to work while I waited patiently for the fairies to come and start the housework. By ten am, I realised I was on my own and started the washing and ironing.

I can't wait for next weekend to come around again where the weekly chores and routine stops and we get to experience another town that some people only dream of visiting. Yes, life is really dolce (sweet) sometimes. Not always, but for now, it's very very dolce.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My ex-pat interview

Here's the link to my ex-pat interview. I love reading about other expats' lives so I was really happy when this website asked me to answer some questions and in turn, contemplate our last seven months here in Florence.
Hope you enjoy it :)

Sorry for some reason it won't let me add an actual link onto this page, so you can just copy and paste the text.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Skinny jeans and Italian food - not a perfect match.

I don't mind the word skinny. And I don't mind the word jeans. But when those two words are put together 'skinny jeans' my palms start to sweat and my stomach involuntary pushes out in protest that it may be soon be unwillingly shoved into a pair of them.

See, here's the thing. I'm 30 and I love food. Especially tiramisu. Oh ok, and bread smeared with olive oil too. So whilst I don't consider myself overweight and I exercise every day, unfortunately I have thighs and hips with little flabby bits on the side that when pushed into a pair of small skinny jeans, they have nowhere to go but attractively spill out of the sides. When we eventually want to have children, I'm presuming those child bearing hips will come in handy, but for now, they are just a nuisance.

So, it was with a sense of dread that I went out looking for a new pair of jeans today. I went into the first store in Florence, a Levi's shop. The gorgeous Florentine lady that looks like she has never eaten a risotto in her life hands me a pair of...wait for it...skinny jeans. I tell her my dilemma and my request for some standard jeans that are not low cut. She replies with 'You have a great body and you MUST try these on'. Uneasily fooled after having been in sales for 5 years myself I sighed and headed for the change room as her size 0 body followed me. I take a deep breath and surprisingly they fit. But unfortunately for me, I am the kind of girl that likes to eat dinner when we go out to a restaurant (strange I know) and I know I would soon be uncomfortable.

Next stop, the Rinacentre, a department store in town. Again they recommend the Italian favourite, the skinny jeans. I tried not to think of the chocolate pastry I ate that morning as I tried on another pair.

My last fashion attempt was at Diesel. I was skeptical but I love going into that store because it is by far the friendliest store in Florence. And that is saying a lot as most of the girls who work in the stores here are far from friendly. And that is a very big understatement.

I have to also mention that I was wearing high heels and was dressed up. So what, you say? Well I have tried shopping in Florence in my sneakers and shorts and I have tried shopping in nice jeans and stiletto's (what can I say, I love shopping) and I can tell you now that you will not get any service wearing sneakers and most times they will not even help you if you ask. Plus, we all know that a pair of stilleto's makes your butt looks ten times better and you can worry about your bad back and blisters later on.

I decided to be honest with the Diesel guy that served me. And yes, foreign female readers, he looked like he stepped out of Men's Vogue, but after living in Florence for 9 months, you kind of get over them looking so good and you just want them to help you find something that fits.

I said to the Antonio Banderas in his prime look-alike 'I'm 30, I love tiramisu and am not prepared to stop eating it, can you help?' He laughed so hard and said 'I love you Australians, and I will help you'. And help he did. For the first time in my life, I couldn't choose between three pairs of jeans that all fitted me perfectly. Yes his exclaims of 'yes, that is beautiful on you' probably meant that he was just being a salesperson and yes he is an Italian male, but when I put on that perfect pair of jeans, I felt so happy and the only person I wanted to think they look beautiful is my husband. Now only a female can understand that perfect feeling of the right pair of jeans. And I'm hoping husband will be just as understanding when he sees the visa bill.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Polish wedding

Yesterday we returned home from a week long holiday in the country I was born, Poland.

Whilst there we ate, we visited beautiful Krakow, we ate loads of Polish delicacies, we visited my relatives and did I mention we ate a lot? The Polish clearly think that I do not feed my husband or perhaps that there is a food shortage in Italy because it seemed we were eating full hot meals every half hour.

On Saturday we attended my cousin's wedding. When we got the invitation in the mail some months ago, I thought they had either made a mistake or were having a very short wedding. It read that the wedding started at 4pm and ended at 6. I didn't realise that 6 meant 6AM! As I rsvp'd yes, I wasn't sure whether my body would hold up all night!

The wedding was held in a town called Wadowice which is famous as the late Pope John Paul II was born there. I was surprised to find out that my dad was confirmed in the town church by Pope John Paul when he was a bishop. Apparently one day the late Pope said that his favourite Polish cake kremowka was sold in one of the local cafe's. So now, every single bakery in Wadowice sells the famous cake which consists of vanilla custard filling in between pastry. The Pope was clearly onto a good thing there!

The wedding started with the groom's family and friends going to the groom's family home where he would be blessed by his parents in front of us all. While the blessing was happening, a large ochestra played Polish music and hymns. Then all of us, including the orchestra, drove to the bride's house and another blessing with her parents was made and the groom went into the home to find his bride.

Then we all got in our cars to drive to the church. However we were stopped by a woman posing as a gypsy who 'demanded' a bottle of vodka or she would not let the cars pass on her road. This was a very old tradition and was very funny to watch. She also read out some poems and encouraged them to have children.

After the church ceremony, coins were thrown at the bride and groom. They had to pick them up to ensure thier financial success in their new future together. We all lined up to congratulate the new couple and we had to present the bride with a bouquet of flowers. I wondered what the bride would do with the 140 bouquets of flowers but she later told me that they give half of them to the church and half go to the local cemeteries. For me the wedding ceremony was extra special as I was asked to be a witness.

We got to the hall and after we all toasted the couple, the bride smashed two wedding glasses. The the groom had to sweep them up. I didn't catch the meaning of this tradition, but hey if she can start training him this early to clean the house, it can only be a good thing.

Then the festivities really started. The next 12 hours were pretty much non-stop eating and dancing. The orchestra would play five songs, then we would all eat a full hot meal with a lot of shots of vodka. Then we'd get up and dance, then eat another hot meal. Dance, eat, vodka, dance eat, vodka....repeat about 20 times. I don't like dancing but nobody listened to my pleas and I danced with nearly every man in the room.

We were the first couple to leave at 4am (I knew I wouldn't make it until 6!). But in that time, I counted that we had at least ten full meals. I was soon regretting wearing a tight black dress. I should have picked a tent if I knew that my poor stomach was about to go into defense mode. And don't even think I could say no! As soon as I said those words that every Polish person thinks are a sin "I'm full and can't eat another thing" the whole table basically starts spoon-feeding you and looking at you with offended eyes. So you eat again. And drink more vodka.

Because I was so pre-occupied with eating everything, I forgot to take more photos of the food. But I got this one which was a traditional Polish entree of cold jelly with chicken and vegetables. Sounds gross, but really good.

My Australian husband was a hit with everyone and after all those vodka's nobody seemed to notice that he didn't talk Polish and they didn't talk English. I guess vodka is the universal language. This isn't the best picture but here is my uncle with a basket full of vodka. His main job that night was to walk around with the basket and make sure there were full bottles of vodka on each table. Because you know what would happen otherwise...a riot would start. And those are never good at a wedding.

When we were leaving, the bride and groom handed us two vodka bottles (I presume it was for the drive home in case we got thirsty), four big slabs of cake (in case we were still hungry) and a bottle of wine. My aunty quickly came and gave me a tin of hand picked dried mushrooms from their forest on their property. I am yet to meet a more hospitable race of people than the Polish.

One of the reasons I love living in Italy is that I'm much closer to my family and it doesn't cost the earth to visit them like it does from Australia. But, as with every trip I make to Poland, I am always left with a feeling of sorrow when I am leaving. I feel sad at leaving my family whom I share a blood connection with but not a real relationship with because of the distance between us. I emigrated from Poland to Australia when I was five years old and consider myself an Australian at heart although I still cook Polish food three times a week and speak the language fluently. I sometimes wonder how different my life would have been had I stayed in Poland. One thing is for sure, I would be a lot fatter.