Tales of a wandering lesbian

Last pizza

My flight back to the US was an early one from the little Florence airport.  Florence is a couple of hours from Fornaci, and I had to be at the airport by about 5:30 AM, so I decided to spend the night in Florence.  Because the Florence airport is a small, regional one, there aren’t a lot of hotels that serve it.  We asked around, and found one that was about a 5-10 minute cab ride, and was safe and clean.

Deb and Tommy gave me a ride to the Fornaci train station, which I was pretty darn familiar with by now, and I hopped on a train to Florence.  I had a great moment at the Fornaci train station when a woman come up to me and ask me where to find the validation machine for the tickets.  It was a triumphant moment when I was able to understand the question and respond in Italian in a way that was actually helpful.

When I got to Florence – another train station I was pretty familiar with by now – I grabbed a cab to the hotel.  Once I confirmed that the cabbie knew where we were going, I settled in for the ride.  I prefer to sit up front in a cab when I’m alone.   Usually I’ll chat with the cabbie about the town, so I tried in Italian.  He was very nice, and we chatted back and forth, navigating my bad grammar together.  I recommended an art exhibit in town and he told me about growing up just outside Florence.

The hotel was in an industrial zone outside the tourist district of Florence.  When I walked in, I thought it might be deserted.  There was nobody to be seen.  Then a man appeared from an out-of-sight office to check me in.  I was pretty tired when I arrived, so I bid the front desk man “buona notte” and headed up to the room.  The room was Spartan, and I swear there was virtually nobody else staying in the big place.  It was a little creepy riding to the top floor in the teeny tiny elevator.  Fortunately the hotel attached its keys to huge, metal pieces that seemed perfect for use as a bludgeoning device.  This made me feel better.  Kind of.

Blunt instrument

After a long, hot shower, I found myself hungry and wandered back downstairs to seek out a little food.  The website and Rick Steves both showed almost nothing in the area.  I’d need a little help with this one.

The guy behind the desk pulled out a couple of business cards and pointed me down the road a little.  I’d have to walk, but there were a couple of pizza places about 5 minutes away.  “Just go right then left then down to the main street.  You’ll see the restaurants on the other side.”  Armed with my key fob, I headed out into a part of Florence that was different than the Florence I had seen before.

Florence street

I walked quickly, hoping the area was safe and wondering if I should head back and have another Cliff Bar for dinner.  Until I saw a sign for military surveillance.  I was in the neighborhood of a military facility.  Suddenly, everything felt very safe.  I slowed down a little and even talked to a guy in a car who wanted directions.  I wasn’t really that helpful, but I tried.

When I finally reached the main street I was wondering if I’d ever find the restaurants.  There were a couple of American-style strip malls across the way, but nothing that really looked like a restaurant.  I checked the business cards.  Bingo.  One of the restaurants was just across the street.  The sign looked a little like a video arcade.  I was a little skeptical about the location, but I was hungry enough to forgive the strip-mall atmosphere, so I walked inside.

It was brightly lit, and filled with people picking-up to-go orders and long tables of apparent locals having dinner.  I sat down at a table with a salt and pomegranate centerpiece, and considered the menu.


Most everyone was ordering pizza, so I followed suit.  There were margherita, verdure, funghi, and a new one:  parmagiana.  Eggplant parmesan pizza.  Yum.  I hoped it was as good as it sounded.

Eggplant parm pizza

It was.  The pizza was beautifully thin, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, thinly sliced, tender eggplant, and a healthy crust of parmesan on top.  The eggplant was juicy, so I ate most of this one with a knife and fork.  The crust was thin, but sturdy, making it possible for me to cut strips, fold them over and shove them in my mouth with the toppings inside like a little calzone.  I was perfectly content eating what I knew would be my last pizza of the trip (not counting the airplane pizza, which isn’t really in the same league).  I listened to the people around me and watched as the long table next to me ordered dessert.  It looked to be a birthday celebration or something similar.  The table was full of older couples, but the women sat at one end and the men at the other.

I got a preview of dessert as the men, who were closest to me, harassed the waitress over the dessert menu.  My entire trip I found it interesting the role that fruit played in almost every meal.  In people’s homes, a big basket of fruit would be placed on the table after a meal.  In restaurants, fruit was served, whether in a salad form or on its own, as dessert.  Pineapple, “annanas,” was commonly on the menu.  Cut lengthwise into thirds, the fruit would be sliced and served in the rind, sometimes drenched in a liqueur of some kind.  The men at tonight’s table ordered pineapple, except for one, who ordered an orange – which showed up by itself, rolling around a plain, white plate.

I like fruit, but it’s not what I had in mind for my last night in Italy.  I asked the waitress for the “dolce” and she started down a list.  Somewhere along the way I heard “pistachio torta.”  Yes, that one.  I’d had good luck with nut pies.  I hadn’t, however, experienced fluorescent green nut pies.

Pistachio torta

The minute it arrived I knew this wouldn’t be the best dessert of the trip, but, all things considered, it wasn’t bad.  There were even little pieces of pistachio in the unnaturally green gelatin.  Along with the caffe, it was a totally satisfactory dessert.

Last caffe

The pizza was excellent.  Probably ranks in the top 3 from the entire trip.  But the best part of dinner was the fact that I didn’t speak a word of English the whole time.  I don’t want to congratulate myself too much for making it through a few sentences, but it was nice.  My last night in Italy I was able to get myself to Florence, find a place to eat, and even get through a meal in Italian.  Like the rest of my trip, I had help from friends along the way (sometimes a lot of help), and in the end, I was able to do what I needed to on my own.  What more do I need than a place to sleep, a blunt instrument, and a really good pizza?

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December 21, 2009   Comments Off on Last pizza

Anchors aweigh

As I’ve mentioned, I really enjoy Italian words that sound similar to each other.  Come to think of it, I really like English words that sound similar to each other.   For years, I kept a list of homophones in my underwear drawer.  They might still be there.  I’ll have to look next time I’m home.  Yes, I know I’m a freak.

Anyway, one set of words that I’ve learned is ancora (stress on the first syllable) and ancora (stress on the second syllable).  The first means “anchor” – as you would find on a boat.  The second means “more”.  I use the second word quite a lot.  When Franca and I won at Burraco, for example, “Ancora!” and we played on.  When I finish a befuddlingly good meal, “Ancora!” and my plate is suddenly full again.

Today was a day of ancora.  More great food, more beautiful places, more fantastic people.

I had no idea (my Italian is improving, but I miss some of the finer points), but Franca works in Florence!  Fabulous.  She’s the regional secretary for the country’s largest union.  Too cool.  So, Giovanna and I decided to take the bus with her and bum around the city while she worked.

When I was here last time, my family visited Florence for a day.  We knew it was a bit insane, but armed with Rick Steves’ (incomplete) guide to Italy, we got up super-early and hopped a train to Florence for a whirlwind tour.  One major thing I want to accomplish on my current leap is to experience places with locals, as though I’m living here, and not as a visiting outsider.  Today, that happened in a couple of ways.

First, we took the bus, and not the train.  Interesting.  While the train ride from Lucca was kind of dirty and took a couple of hours, stopping in a gazillion little towns along the way, today’s bus ride was just over an hour, very clean, and direct from Lucca to Florence.  We were really proud of ourselves to have figured out the train last time.  I would never have thought to take the bus.  Good tip:  take the bus when traveling from Lucca to Florence.

Second, while we tried to cram everything into one day last time, today, we picked out one exhibit and spent the rest of the day wandering around.  The exhibit was at the Palazzo Strozzi, and was about all manner of trompe-l’oeil.  Everything from the program to the paintings to the floors of the exhibit were designed to fool the eye.  The art was beautiful-  but the exhibit was marvelous.  I kept trying to step over decals that had been placed at the thresholds of rooms, making it look like you needed to step up or down to enter.

Fake threshhold

And there was an entire gallery dedicated to experiential art.  Giovanna and I took turns posing with the other optical illusions, walking through a wonky room that looked normal from the right perspective, and donning 3-D glasses to watch rotating images pop to life.

FramesGio frame

Then it was off to wander.  We grabbed a sandwich and coffee and strolled the streets of Florence.  In this off-season, the streets were very quiet and the experience was much different than last time.  The temperature was perfect, prices were really reasonable, and we were able to walk through the streets easily, just enjoying the day.

This morning, I had a pretty serious fashion crisis.  This is somewhat rare for me, but it hit today.  Over the last couple of days, Franca and Gio have outfitted me with new coats and boots, totally suitable for strolling around fabulous Italian cities.  I wasn’t able to wear anything new yesterday, because it was raining the entire time.  However, today, it looked like the rain had stopped, and so I decided to get duded up.  That meant figuring out what, exactly would go with the navy blue coat and tan suede boots.


After a wardrobe change or two, I had it worked out.  Now, walking down the streets of Florence in my hip Italian clothes, I felt like I could melt into the city.

After a while we decided to visit Franca at her office across town.  A short taxi-ride later we were sitting in her second-floor office surrounded by union slogans, books and materials.

Franca at work

We chatted about Franca’s work – what she does, how much she truly loves it – and when I left, I had a film about workplace discrimination and a beautiful book detailing the history of women in the union over the last century.  Bello.  But heavy.

When she finished up work, we headed back downtown for some shopping at a fabulous department store, and then a bookshop, where I picked up a super-handy Italian-English dictionary.  At this point, my little computer bag was overflowing with goodness – heavy, heavy goodness.

Full bag

While we waited for the bus to Lucca, we sat in a café drinking tea and eating a chocolate-dipped cookie.

Tea time!

By this time in the day, I’d had 4 coffees and declined two more.  I especially love that the people I’m around not only drink coffee, in actual cups at bars, but they also take English-style tea – in pots – in the afternoon.  It’s lovely and somehow more civilized than grabbing a venti latte to go, or drinking tea all day long from a mug at my desk.  It means more stops for little coffees, and more interactions with more people.  Ancora.

Once we were back in Lucca, we sought out an open restaurant.  Many restaurants are closed on Monday, especially in the off-season, but we found one where they knew the owner and the lights were on.

As has become customary, we sat at the table identifying food items in dueling languages, deciding what we would eat.  Tonight it was gnocchi with truffle and pumpkin.  Buono.  The ladies had spaghettini arrabbiata and some kind of fish balls.  While they ate fish I had a plate of baked cheese with honey and tomato.  This cheese and honey thing that the Italians have going is pretty great.  I’d suggest trying it, but I can’t remember exactly which cheeses you’re supposed to do it with, or which honey goes best.  I’ll let you know if I get a hard and fast set of rules

Gnocchi tartufo e zuccaAngry pastaFish balls

Cheese...PotatoesSpinach - we think

Finally, it was time for dessert.  When we walked in, Franca and I rushed to the counter to look at the torte.  All manner of yummy things stared back at us.  The most interesting is a vegetable pie that has peppers and pine nuts and spinach, I think.  Tonight’s was extraordinary.  Giovanna asked for a sampling for one person, and a plate big enough for three arrived.


Franca, who pretends not to like sweets the way she pretends not to speak English, and Giovanna, who had declared herself too full, found it in themselves to help polish off the plate while we examined my little dictionary for words we weren’t able to translate during the day.


As we walked from the restaurant to their flat, a stone’s throw away, the night was magical.  We saw only one other person in this often busy city.  Very few stores had open windows, and the cobblestones of the street glistened with the memory of that morning’s rain.

“WHEN you return…” Franca had said over dinner as Giovanna nodded.  “WHEN you return we will…”  Ancora, ancora.  It’s a lovely feeling to know you aren’t the only one wanting more.

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November 10, 2009   6 Comments