Friday, December 26, 2008

Recipe

This is good, makes a lot, and doesn't even require fake meat. It's from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison (edited slightly, in parentheses, by me). I added links for those of us who don't know how to cook.

Summer Spaghetti (Pasta) with Corn and Tomatoes
  • 12 ounces corn-flour or regular spaghetti (smaller pasta, I think, works better than spaghetti). Be sure not to overcook.
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons corn oil (or vegetable/safflower/whatever oil, except olive) or butter
  • 1 bunch scallions, including half of the greens, chopped
  • 2 cups corn kernels, from 3 ears of corn (or 1 can or box of frozen corn)
  • 1 bell pepper, any color (not green), diced (and seeded)
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded(*) and diced
  • 3 tomatoes, halved, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped (I don't like cilantro, so I don't use any, and it's just fine)
  • 2 ounces queso fresco or feta
  • 1 lime, quartered

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted, boiling water until al dente (use cooking time indicated on package). Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet (something deep like this, not just a frying pan) and add the scallions, corn, bell pepper, and chile (I add the scallions and pepper first, so they cook longer and aren't so strong). Saute over high heat for 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes, most of the cilantro, and a ladle of the pasta water. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a little pepper and turn the heat to low. Drain the pasta, shaking off the excess water. Add it to the vegetables and toss well. Divide among pasta plates, crumble the cheese over the top, and add the remaining cilantro. Serve with a wedge of lime.

(* cut out the white parts and seeds. See link for bell pepper seeding.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Music Recommendations

Some more songs I've been listening to recently:
  • Blitzen Trapper: "Furr"
    NPR's All Songs Considered compared this song to "'39" by Queen, and it does have some similarities (listen when the bass drum comes in).
  • Fleet Foxes: "Winter White Hymnal"
    Sweet vocal harmonies and excellent songwriting. Their album is on my Christmas wishlist, and has appeared on several year-end top 10 lists.
  • The Decemberists: "Valerie Plame" and "Days of Elaine"
    Two upbeat tracks from their singles collection "Always the Bridesmaid". "Valerie Plame" even has a bit of a "Hey Jude" thing going on. This definitely makes "Hazards of Love" one of my most anticipated releases of 2009 (which, along with Neko Case's "Middle Cyclone", appears conveniently in time for my birthday wishlist).
  • Music Go Music: "Reach Out"
    I'm not a big fan of 80's music, but this band takes all the clichees about it and combines it into songs that are so over the top, they're good.
  • Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela: "Mambo" (Leonard Bernstein)
    Dudamel is the biggest rising star in the classical music conducters' scene, and judging from the energy this orchestra has under him, that's fully justified.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Decorations

A good thing: In Florence, people don't put up Christmas decorations until the end of November. And you don't have to hear Christmas music coming from every store all the time for two or three months.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Weather

We seem to have entered the rainy season here. It’s rained almost every day for a month.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Afternoon in the City

This afternoon, we went downtown for a chamber music concert at the Teatro della Pergola, an old theater/opera house. The program included Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, and even though the advertised clarinetist Karl-Heinz Steffens was replaced with Eduard Brunner, the concert was still well played and enjoyable. Afterward, we walked to the Piazza Santa Croce, where the “Heidelberg Christmas Market” has been going on. It’s actually more of a European Christmas market, with stands selling French Christmas cookies, Austrian strudel, Dutch cheese, Hungarian sweets, among others. Well, and German Glühwein of course.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rome - Day 3

Our last day in Rome was both a Monday and a religious holiday, a rather bad combination. Mondays, all the state museums are closed, and on religious holidays, churches have services and are therefore not open for sightseeing. So we started the day with a trip to the cemetery beneath the Chiesa Santa Maria della Concezione, which has been decorated by the Capuchin monks with the bones of their deceased brothers (we first saw this on Globetrekker). From there, it was only a short walk to the Spanish Steps, which were in the process of being decorated since the pope was scheduled to appear there later in the day. Walking on, we passed through some of the most expensive shopping streets in Rome to get to the Trevi fountain. Since at this point all the churches we wanted to visit (including the Pantheon, which is now a church) had mass in them, we then went to the Baths of Caracalla, a bit south of the center.
These were truly impressive ruins, and showed the giant scale of the buildings of ancient Rome. Some of the original mosaic floors were still in place (the second story had long since collapsed, but that floor was also on display in fragments). We took the bus back to the city, where our last attempt at seeing the Pantheon was foiled by its limited opening hours on public holidays. After walking back to the Campo de’ Fiori we made our way to the Teatro di Marcello, a Roman theatre on top of which apartments were built in the 16th century. Finally, we took the bus back to the train station, near our hotel. Since we still had a little time left, we wanted to see the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore with some 5th century mosaics. However, once there we discovered that the Madonna of Lourdes was there for the weekend, and that the Adoration of the Madonna was currently in progress. Still, we went into the church (there were plenty of people coming and going), and at least caught a glimpse of the mosaics. Then we got our luggage from the hotel and took the train (this time the fast one) back to Florence.
All in all, three days is far too little for a city with a rich history like Rome (‘Roma – non basta una vita!’). I’m sure we’ll be back to see the Sistine Chapel, the Via Appia Antica, the Villa Borghese, the Pantheon, and all of the other sights we weren’t able to see this time.

Rome - Day 2

The next day we decided to dedicate to ancient Rome. We started out at the Colosseum, where after a bit of initial confusion, we were able to pass by most of the crowds at the admission booth with our Roma Pass (good value). It was fun seeing a place in real life that I had so far been familiar with mostly through the Asterix comics. One of the things that astounded me was that the Colosseum, as well as most of the other buildings in the area, were all brick. I had always pictured large amounts of marble (probably because of the marble columns) being used. Of course, having invented cement, it makes sense for the Romans to use brick, but it was something slightly unexpected. Next up was the Palatine Hill, residence of several Roman emperors, now in ruins of course. One of the houses of Augustus has been partly restored, so we were able to see some of the original wall frescoes. Apparently, the Domus Aurea of Nero is quite a bit more impressive, but unfortunately that has very limited opening hours.
From there, we wandered through the Roman Forum with its overabundance of ruins. At this point, we were quite hungry, so we got some sandwiches for lunch and then continued our sightseeing activities. After a quick look in the Mamertine prison, where St. Peter was supposedly imprisoned, and the famous Bocca della Verità, we crossed the Tiber and walked through Trastevere, a blue collar neighborhood currently undergoing gentrification, to the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere.
There, we admired the gilded 12th century mosaics, before heading back into the city. By this time, it had gotten dark, so we finished the day in the Capitoline Museum, where there is a large collection of Roman sculpture and other art.
Dinner was at a pleasant enough restaurant on the Campo de’ Fiori.

Rome - Day 1

Last weekend was a long one in Italy (Monday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holiday in catholic Italy), so we decided to take advantage and spend some time in Rome. Unfortunately, most of Italy seemed to be on the road this weekend as well, so when we tried to buy train tickets on Friday, the fast trains were already sold out. Therefore, we had to take the local train on Saturday morning, which took four hours instead of the one and a half non-stop with the Eurostar.
Nevertheless, after getting into Rome and checking into our hotel, we were ready for some sightseeing, for which we took the bus across town to St. Peter’s basilica. On the square in front, the Christmas tree was being raised, and after waiting in the security line for a while, we went into the cathedral. What’s most impressive about the church is surely the size – apart from a Michelangelo statue, there’s not too much in terms of art inside.
Afterwards, Kristen waited for me while I climbed up to the dome for some spectacular views of the city. After weeks of rain, it had stopped and the city looked great in the late afternoon winter light.
From there, we walked into the city. On a bridge across the Tiber, we watched swarms of songbirds flying around, making patterns in the sky. It was incredible how many birds there were and how in unison their flying patterns were.
video
Finally, we wandered through the streets to the Piazza Navona, where we unexpectedly found a Christmas market between the three baroque fountains of the piazza. Nearby, the Pantheon was closed for a Saturday evening mass, so we went back to the hotel for a while before heading out again for an excellent pasta dinner (Kristen had gnocchi with a gorgonzola and pear sauce, I had maccheroni all’amatriciana).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Siegfried

Saturday evening, we saw a production of "Siegfried" at the Teatro Comunale here in Florence. I had previously seen "Das Rheingold" in Mannheim, and together we had seen a fantastic "Die Walküre" at the National Opera in Washington DC, so this was the next part in the "Ring des Nibelungen" cycle. The production was a cooperation with the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia Valencia, and was conducted by Zubin Mehta, who had also conducted the free concert of Beethoven's Ninth this summer. Interestingly, the production was designed by La Fura dels Baus, a Catalan theater troupe (who also worked on an opera production in Mannheim a few years back, which I did not attend though). I guess Siegfried followed their usual aesthetic. Though I usually prefer modern productions (often it's the traditional ones that are a bit tiring), I felt that this one went a bit over the top. There were several large monitors/screens that provided the scenery and which could be moved around. While not a bad idea, the fact that there was always something playing on these, in combination with the many silent actors onstage (oftentimes unnecessarily -- people being hung upside down on meathooks during the question and answer part between Mime and Wotan in the first act?) made it seem like the staging was for people with ADD. It was simply too busy. (Some pictures of the production can be found here.) The singers were mostly good, with the standout performance for me being Ulrich Ress as Mime as well as Jennifer Wilson as Brünnhilde. Leonid Zakhozhaev gave a decent Siegfried, though somewhat weak in the forging song at the end of the first act, and with a rather bad accent that prevented me from understanding most of what he was singing (unfortunate when the subtitles are in Italian). Apparently, the role of Siegfried can be an unforgiving one, so I'll let that pass and hope for some improvement when "Götterdämmerung" comes to town next May.

Thanksgiving

On Sunday, we had our belated Thanksgiving dinner -- any holiday that consists mostly of eating should be embraced. I was able to find turkey at the Mercato Centrale, where I got a 5.8 kg bird (almost 13 pounds), and after searching several stores, we were even able to find cranberries. We had invited one of my labmates and his girlfriend, but they unfortunately had to cancel on Sunday afternoon because of illness. Since the turkey was already in the oven at that point, we had to scramble to make other plans. Luckily, two of Kristen's classmates were able to join us on short notice and help us eat the mounds of food. In addition to turkey and gravy, we had cranberry stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and for dessert pumpkin pie. Since then, it's been turkey for at least two meals a day... plain leftovers, turkey sandwiches and turkey soup so far, and who knows what next (I'm thinking maybe turkey fajitas?).

Monday, December 1, 2008

Messiah Organist on Crack

While on the subject of Christmas music, here's a holiday favorite.

Seen on The Rest is Noise.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

O Holy Night

Funny.

Thanks to mein Bruder for making me aware of this.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

White Gold

I had been looking forward to today for a while – a trip to the truffle market in San Miniato, a hill town 40 minutes by train from Florence. Fall is a great season for culinary treats in Tuscany, from the porcini mushrooms to the new harvests of wine and oil all the way to truffles. Now, to be honest, I still don’t quite understand what all the fuss is about – I mean, they taste good, and they’re rare, but I wouldn’t pay exorbitant sums for a tuber (and couldn’t afford to, anyway). Nevertheless, a taste of luxury isn’t bad, and so we ended up in San Miniato, which has a truffle fair and market for three weekends in November, along with a crowd of tourists trying to get on a small bus from the train station up to the town. The weather was perfect – one of the coldest days so far (highs around 10 degrees), but sunny and a visibility for miles and miles. Once in town, we first did some sightseeing, after all San Miniato also has some sights, such as a 13th century castle built by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. On the way we passed many stands selling all kinds of sausages, cheese, specialties from around Italy, and wine, but only when we got to the Piazza del Duomo did we find the real treasure – white (and some black) truffles for sale.
They seemed to start at around 15 Euros for a small cherry-sized specimen, so we passed on that and got some new olive oil instead. We were not to go without truffles altogether, though, since outside the tent with the truffle salesmen were several food stands, where we indulged in frittata al tartufo (truffle frittata) and tagliolini al tartufo (egg noodles with truffle). After lunch, we made our way through the rest of the town, which was in full truffle festival mode, with many opportunities to eat and buy truffles, other food and drink, and crafts and plants. Finally, we took the bus back to the train station, where we had to wait for almost an hour before the train took us back to Florence.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Some more random observations

  • Italians don't seem to like urinals. That's the conclusion I've drawn from their absence in almost all restroom facilities - even in airports and other places where you'd think there would be a big demand.
  • My Italian colleagues introduced me to a famous (?) tradition: the appearance of the calendars for the new year. Mostly, these consist of attractive women in various stages of undress. The interesting thing is that these are prominently featured on the websites of the major daily newspapers such as La Repubblica or Corriere della Sera, which are of a similar standing to the New York Times and Washington Post in the US or Frankfurter Allgemeine or Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany. Warning: you probably shouldn't look at the calendars at work.

Sunday in the City

Skydiver landing near Ponte Vecchio. Notice the smoke in the Italian colors.

Fall has now reached us here in Italy as well, although during the day it can still get up to 20 degrees. One of the delights of fall is the cuisine, and apparently a highlight is the new olive oil that is available this time of year. Since we don't have a car, we're pretty much stuck to the cities, so after reading about a market in the Piazza Santo Spirito, we decided to check it out today. It turned out to be an antiques market, with all kinds of used clothes, books, and furniture, as well as stands of soap and incense sellers. So we didn't get any olive oil, but we did get some lunch there, porchetta for Ben and some fried polenta for Kristen. Afterwards, we walked through the city some and came upon an exhibition of Buddhist art by Shinjo Ito, a 20th century Japanese artist with free admission in the Alinari Photography Museum. It had some nice statues as well as some good calligraphy, all quite traditional. Then it was back to the apartment for the rest of our lazy Sunday.

Metal Things

I've been taking pictures of door knockers and other small metal decorations in Florence and nearby cities ("I collect tote bags"). Here they are.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

American cheese?



Or toast? Well, it has 48% cheese...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

Vote

This is the most important part. It ain't over till it's over. We don't want something like this to happen:

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Someone used Babelfish

Tonight's dinner

Lasagna with Chard, Tomato Sauce and Ricotta. Since we couldn't get any chard at the grocery store yesterday, we used cavolo nero, a pleasant tasting green which seems to be available only in Italy.

Prato

Today's trip was to the nearby city of Prato. We took the bus, which was quite cheap (2.30 one way) and reasonably fast (~40 minutes). Once there, we walked from the station into town and stopped by the Biscottificio Antonio Mattei, where biscotti (or cantuccini or cantucci, whatever you want to call them) were created 150 years ago. We got a mixed bag of biscotti and brutti buoni, and then walked on. Since most of the sights were closed for the lunch break, and it was approaching lunch time, we went looking for a place to eat.
Prato, in addition to being well known for its textile industry, is also home to the largest Chinese population in Italy, and not having had any Chinese food for quite a while, we went looking for a Chinese restaurant. We wandered away from the center towards the west, and having seen more and more Chinese signs, were assured that we were going in the right direction. Eventually, we were the only non-Chinese left on the street, and we found a restaurant, though without a menu at street level. Still, we were hungry and adventerous, so we went into the Ristorante Ciao, which turned out to be a type of Chinese fondue place (again, we were the only non-Chinese in the place). We got a big pot of broth which sat on a burner in the middle of our table, and ordered various ingredients to go in there: beans, mushrooms, tofu, noodles, shrimp, etc. All in all it was quite good.
After walking back towards the center, we now visited the Duomo, probably the most important site of Prato. In here, we saw several fresco cycles, including the story of the sacred girdle, and magnificent frescoes by Filippo Lippi above the altar. On the outside of the cathedral is a pulpit from which the girdle is shown several times a year, designed by Donatello. From there, we went on to Santa Maria delle Carceri, another church with ceramics by della Robbia, and went through the Cassero, a mediaeval corridor from the Prato castle to the city walls on our way back to the station to take the bus back to Florence.

Fashion

First, fashion = ugly.

What is with the pants that guys are wearing now that are so small and tight that they can't pull them all the way up? I mean really. Che cazzo?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

An unsuccessful sightseeing trip

It was another unseasonably warm and sunny day today (24 degrees), so again we rode our bikes into town to do some sightseeing. We wanted to visit the San Lorenzo church, but when we got there it was closed for the day. So we walked on to Santissima Annunziata, which I hadn't seen yet, but even after waiting for 10 minutes after the stated opening time, the church was not opened. So we decided to see if the baptistry of the Duomo was open and walked in that direction. Once there, we realized that the Duomo was decorated with flags and fruit garlands. It turned out that the new archbishop of Florence was being introduced today in a festive mass, so we assume that was why the other churches were closed. Needless to say, the baptistry also wasn't open, so we'll have to come back to see that some other day. On the way home through Cascine park, it seemed like the half of Florence that wasn't downtown for the mass in the Duomo was on bikes, inline skates, or just on foot to enjoy the last (?) warm day before winter sets in for good.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Yes, You Can!

If you can vote in the upcoming U.S. election, and are possibly even undecided, please read this.

Never in living memory has an election been more critical than the one fast approaching—that’s the quadrennial cliché, as expected as the balloons and the bombast. And yet when has it ever felt so urgently true? When have so many Americans had so clear a sense that a Presidency has—at the levels of competence, vision, and integrity—undermined the country and its ideals?
[...]
At a moment of economic calamity, international perplexity, political failure, and battered morale, America needs both uplift and realism, both change and steadiness. It needs a leader temperamentally, intellectually, and emotionally attuned to the complexities of our troubled globe. That leader’s name is Barack Obama.

On a lighter, yet related note, check out the pumpkins and babies.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Report on Classes

The restoration classes started Oct. 6. I guess I never posted anything about the Italian for Restoration class I took in September. So, about that, the teacher wrote literally everything he said on the board (in Italian), which was helpful for comprehension, albeit a slow way to cover material.* My current schedule consists of restoration of ceramics, restoration of stone, restoration of archaeological finds, technical drawing/painting, documentation and photography, chemistry, art history, Italian for restoration (same teacher as Sept.), and history as it relates to archaeology or history of archaeology? (this class starts in November). The nationality of the students in my class is: 4 Italians (Rimini, Siena, Messina (also, her last name is Messina), Sardinia), 1 from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, 1 from Spain (Barthelona), 1 from South Korea, 1 from Japan (Tokyo), 1 from Cyprus, and 2 from the U.S. (NY and me). There's one guy (one of the Italians) and ten girls, and they're all within about 6 years of my age. The classes are entirely in Italian. The teachers speak in normal language (unlike the way people write in newspapers and books), so I can often understand most of what they say.

* I think this is the first time I've ever used the word "albeit."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Santa Maria Novella

In addition to being the name of the main train station in Florence, Santa Maria Novella is an old church that we visited today. The weather has been pretty warm the last week or so, and today was another beautiful, sunny fall day, so we took our bikes and rode into town to visit SMN, which we hadn't been to before. Unfortunately, you can't take pictures inside, so I can't illustrate this post, but there were several beautiful frescoes, among others by Lippi and Ghirlandaio, to be seen here, as well as a Holy Trinity by Masaccio, one of the first Renaissance works using the new technique of perspective. Other than that we had (and are having) a nice lazy day, recovering from the busy last few weeks, and soaking up the sun and warm weather while they're still here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Strange and Weird, part 1

Just some random pictures of oddities and curiosities we've encountered so far on our travels in Italy:Body of Santa Zita, Basilica di San Frediano, Lucca

Fresco with a depiction of hell in the Camposanto, Pisa

Marble mosaic in the floor of the Duomo, Siena

Triptych with Santa Agata in Pienza. Notice how she's carrying her breasts on a platter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Weekend Recap

My parents were here for a few days, and over the weekend they rented a car so we could see some of the surrounding area together. On Saturday, we drove to Riccione, on the Adriatic coast to the east of Florence. My mom had gone there 40 years ago on holiday, and she wanted to see what had changed in the meantime. Since it was October, and the bathing season had ended, there weren't very many people there (the same can't be said for the summer), and those that were there did the same thing we did: stroll along the beach and go have lunch in the pedestrian area (I had a very good combination of seafood pastas).
On the way back to Florence, we stopped by San Marino, one of the smallest countries in the world, perched on top of a mountain surrounded by Italy (and yes, Italian cell phones are in foreign roaming in San Marino). Unfortunately, we were in a bit of a rush to get back to Florence, since we had opera tickets for that evening, so we did a half-hour "Europe in two weeks"-style tour of the city. Still, the city was quite nice (though very touristy), and the views from the top of the rock would have been breathtaking had it not been for the extremely hazy day. In the end, we made it back to Florence in time and enjoyed a decent performance of "Tosca" at the Teatro Comunale.
The next day, we got up early again and drove into the Tuscan hillside south of Siena. Our first stop here was Montepulciano, old hill town and famous for its wines. Here we walked up (always up!) to the cathedral, with famous triptych and della Robbia altar, and old town hall and were rewarded with some great views into the countryside. On the way back to the car, we picked up some bread, cheese, cured meats, and of course local wine, and then drove a few minutes to the church of San Biagio on the outskirts of the town. After viewing this Renaissance masterpiece, we set up our picnic in the olive groves overlooking the church and enjoyed our lunch.
Sufficiently strenthened, we continued our tour to the town of Pienza, a few kilometers further. In this town, on the UNESCO World Heritage list, we admired the Renaissance center with its cathedral and palazzi, designed by Rossellino for Pope Pius II (he of the Piccolomini library in the Duomo of Siena). In addition, we bought some of the famous Pienza pecorino, which really is a cut above the usual Tuscan pecorino.
Finally, we continued through beautiful countryside to the Abbey of Sant'Antimo, a Benedictine monastery near Montalcino. A fabulous romanesque church from the 12th century with some nice stonework inside, the late afternoon light was perfect for our visit. From here it was only a short drive to Montalcino, another hill town famous for its wines (especially the excellent - and expensive - Brunello di Montalcino). Since it was already dusk, we didn't see everything of this town before driving back to Florence, but perhaps we'll be back again for the sights and the wine.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Siena

Today, we continued our series of day trips to surrounding areas with a visit to Siena, one hour south of Florence by bus. We were joined by Stefan, a German Ph.D. student working in my lab for a few months. Near the bus station in Siena, we visited the church of San Domenico, where the main attraction is the head of St. Catherine of Siena. Apparently, displaying body parts of saints in churches is pretty popular around here, and if a severed mummified head isn't enough for you, you can also see a mummified finger of hers. After this curiosity, we walked into the city center, where the centerpiece is the beautiful Piazza del Campo, one of the largest town squares in Italy, and site of the yearly Palio horse race. At this point we were quite hungry, so we went out in search of a restaurant. After all the tables in the first one we tried were reserved, we went to a pizzeria, in which we were told to come back 15 minutes later when they were open. In the end, the food was pretty good, but as so often in Italy, the service was horrible -- our order wasn't taken for at least 20 minutes, and when Stefan's lasagna came out after Kristen and I had already finished our meal, it was only lukewarm.
Nevertheless, we continued our sightseeing tour with a climb up to the Duomo, a giant cathedral, which was slated to be turned into an even larger church by using it as the transept for the new church (the outbreak of the Black Plague hindered that plan...). For about two months a year, the beautiful marble mosaics in the floor are uncovered, and we were lucky enough to visit during this time. Also fabulous were the frescoes in the Piccolomini Library, built for Pope Pius II. After this, we also went to the baptistry, crypt (only discovered in 1999!), and museum, after which we climbed up inside a wall of the uncompleted church for an impressive panoramic view of the city. Finally, we made our way back to the bus station for the trip back to Florence, and actually managed to get seats on the bus back (lots of daytrippers on a Sunday).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Weather

A little over two weeks ago, it was in the 90s. Then one day it dropped to the 70s. Then, and this is the strange part, it stayed in the 70s. Every day for the last two weeks. Weird.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More Italian

Speaking of Italian (a few days ago), here are some verbs I've found massively useful.

potere = to be able to (posso = I can/can I?; potrei = I could/could I?)
dovere = to have to (devo = I have to; dovrei = I should/should I?)
volere = to want to (voglio = I want; vorrei = I would like)
avere = to have (ho = I have)
essere = to be (sono = I am)
andare = to go (vado = I go)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hiking the Cinque Terre

This past weekend, we spent a weekend in the Cinque Terre, a National Park consisting of five villages on the Ligurian coast. We made our way there early on Saturday (it's about 2.5-3 hours away by train) and got off in Monterosso, the northernmost of the 5 towns. The weather was ideal -- partly sunny and not too hot, and before setting off on the trail to the other villages, we got some delicious focaccia (a Ligurian specialty) for the trail. Monterosso has a pretty attractive beach (even the free part), so it was a bit unfortunate that we had left our swimwear at home since the weather report hadn't predicted very high temperatures. Actually, we separated for the first part of the hike, with Kristen opting for the train to the next village (she had read that this first part was the most strenuous), whereas I hiked through terraced vineyards and olive groves to the next village, Vernazza. There, we sat by the harbor for a while and adored some of the many cats we saw before heading out towards Corniglia. We arrived there a little after 3pm, and found the owner of the bed & breakfast we had booked in a bar near the village center. Since it was earlier in the day than we were expecting to be there, we spent the rest of the day sitting on the balcony of our room, reading and enjoying the view before going to see the sunset on a terrace at the end of the village. Dinner was in one of the restaurants of the village -- fresh seafood for me, and pasta with pesto (another Ligurian specialty) for Kristen.
The next morning, after an al fresco breakfast from the same bar, we headed out on the trail again, this time with much less climbing than the day before. We therefore arrived in Manarola, where we walked up and down (literally!) the main street, before settling down to a good lunch, again with fresh seafood and pasta with pesto. Strengthened, we walked the last, easiest bit to Riomaggiore along the Via dell'Amore. There, we burned some more calories by walking up to the small castle at the top of the town, and to the marina at the seaside, before negating all that with some gelato. Content, we walked back to the train station to take the train back to Florence, along with the hundreds of American college students (probably on "study" abroad) who had had the same idea of spending a weekend in the Cinque Terre as we did.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Learning Italian

One of the things hindering my ability to feel fully at home in Florence has surely been my inability to speak Italian. I didn't speak any Italian before coming here, after all, I chose Italy because of the job, not vice versa, and I didn't have much chance of learning the language beforehand since I was busy finishing my dissertation. I did manage to pick up a couple of phrases during the time I've been here, but those have been limited to absolute basics, and definitely not enough to carry on even a simple conversation.
Back in May I found the website for the language center of the university and emailed them several times, but never got a reply (their website is not very helpful). Now that the new semester is starting again for the students, I thought I'd give it another try. This time, there was an online form with which you could register for the classes, so I did that, not actually knowing anything about the classes. But I got a confirmation email soon thereafter, and so I had someone to contact. I soon found out that the classes were starting later that week and that I needed to send a fax from my institute confirming my employment and that I should come the next day for a consultation. I showed up the next day and talked with a friendly person at the language center, who told me that they didn't actually offer total beginner's classes, but only post-beginner (level A2 in the European classification), but that I could probably take those. He said I should take a language/grammar test the next day, though, for which I'd have to register with the secretary. Being the bureaucratic country this is, she absolutely couldn't register me, though, since she hadn't received the confirmation fax, and since the next grammar test would only be held end of September, I wouldn't be able to register for this round of classes, either. Somewhat discouraged, I nevertheless ended up getting the confirmation letter from my institute and tried faxing it to the language center, but that never worked. A few days and many unsuccessful faxes later, I emailed the secretary again to confirm that the fax number they had given me was correct. I now received three emails in rapid succession: 1. I would need to come in for another consultation end of September, 2. I could bring the letter to their office in person, and 3. An apology for the previous email, and that I was now registered for the classes, of which the first one had already taken place and of which the next one was the next day.
The next day, I arrived at the class, and it seems like I wasn't the only one who had had trouble -- all of the classes had been reshuffled after the first lesson. Luckily, I don't seem to be the only one there with very little previous knowledge of the language. So now for the next five weeks, three mornings a week, I'm off taking these classes, and hoping to become at least somewhat conversational.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Getting some gelato

We're slowly working our way through the gelaterias recommended in the Food Lover's Guide to Florence. Today, we biked to the other side of the city to Badiani, where the main attraction was a flavor called Buontalenti, which is some sort of very rich cream. It was quite good, and I'm glad we biked there, because it was probably loaded with all kinds of unhealthy ingredients! The weather didn't cooperate completely, since this weekend has been somewhat rainy and cool, but then again, that shouldn't keep us from eating gelato.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Victory Is Mine

I have not been charged any fees by Capital One to withdraw Euros from an ATM here. Though, I've only tried getting money from Deutsche Bank so far, because I heard Italian banks charge high fees for everything. So if you want to withdraw money in a foreign country without fees (or just withdraw money from other banks' ATMs), I recommend Capital One. They say they also don't charge fees to use their credit cards overseas, but I haven't tried that yet.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A day at the beach

Even though we've spent the whole summer in Italy, sweating most of the time (no air conditioning in the apartment), we had not seen the ocean yet. So after another week of sunny 34 degree days, we decided to spend a day at the beach in Viareggio today. Of course, once we'd made that decision, the weather forecast changed to cooler and rainy, but that (as well as a look out the window this morning) didn't deter us from taking the train to the seaside resort this morning. After a walk to the oceanfront, we were faced with the difficult decision of choosing a bathing facility. In Italy, most beaches are private property, and so you have to pay to use it. We ended up comparing prices, and in the end, 20 Euros got us two beach chairs, an umbrella and a changing room/locker for the day. This being towards the end of the season and a somewhat rainy day, I think we got a slight discount. After changing, we were shown our chairs -- sixth row, not bad -- and could then start our relaxation. It drizzled a little bit, but then the sun came out and we went into the water, which was pleasantly cool (refreshing, not icy) and choppy. Actually going into the water does not seem to be the point of going to the beach for many Italians, though. I guess working on their tan is more important. After reading some and taking a short nap, a wind came up and the weather became more cloudy, so after a while we left and walked along the oceanfront promenade with many 1920's buildings and then back to the train station, from where we took the train back to Florence.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Provençal Vegetable Gratin

While on the topic of good food, here's a great summer dish. Easy to put together, healthy, and absolutely delicious. Go to your local farmers' market to get the ingredients, and be sure to get some heirloom tomatoes, they make all the difference between a good dish and a fabulous dish. Makes 2-3 servings.

3 large potatoes
1-2 zucchini
1 eggplant
1 large red pepper
4 shallots
3 cloves garlic
3 large tomatoes
Salt, Pepper
fresh thyme
olive oil

Peel the potatoes, slice thickly (about 1/4" or 1/2cm thick) and layer on bottom of lightly oiled casserole dish. Sprinkle with salt and fresh thyme (rub the thyme first). Wash and cut the other vegetables (except for the tomatoes) -- slice the zucchini, dice the eggplant, cut the pepper into chunks, and thinly slice the onions and garlic. Mix everything together. Put half of the vegetables on top of the potatoes, season with salt, coarse pepper, and fresh thyme. Add a few drops of olive oil and then place the rest of the vegetables on top and season again. The tomato skins can be removed, if desired; slice the tomatoes and place on top of the vegetables. Season again with salt and thyme and cook in preheated oven (ca. 180°C or 375°F) for about an hour. Check occasionally that the tomatoes don't turn black (if this happens, cover with aluminum foil). Drizzle with olive oil and serve with french bread. Freshly grated parmesan can be added if desired, but is usually only needed if there's not enough salt on the veggies.

(from Wolfram Siebecks Kochschule für Anfänger)

Thoughts on food in Italy

First things first: Italian food is really good (honestly, who doesn't like Italian food?). Which is why there's another blog post devoted to it. Some random thoughts.
  • It seems like when Italians go out to eat, they want to have Italian food -- preferably home-style food like mamma makes. While we haven't eaten out too often, this has been the cuisine we encountered. It's good food, but every now and then I wish they'd put a more modern spin on the dishes, though maybe we'd have to eat at more expensive places for that.
  • I sometimes miss the variety of modern, innovative restaurants in Charlottesville.
  • Ethnic ingredients can be hard to come by. The nearest big grocery store (comparable to American supermarkets), Esselunga, has a small shelf with some international foods such as soy sauce, tortillas and peanut butter, but for anything more specialized than that, you need to go to an (somewhat expensive) international food store downtown. Some of the things I've searched for in vain at a regular grocery store are: black beans, cilantro, turmeric, naan, chinese noodles, cardamom.
  • The pasta section is about the size of the cereal section in an American supermarket; the cereal section is about the size of the pasta section in the US.
  • Italian pizza rocks -- thin crust, personal pizzas with just the right amount of toppings (usually minimal). Even the frozen pizzas from the store are pretty good (and cheap!).
  • There's a large variety of cured meats, all of which so far have been excellent: more varieties of salami and prosciutto than you could ever eat, as well as mortadella, bresaola (breh-SOW-la), pancetta, speck, and many more.
  • Cheese: it's all about the pecorino.
  • Produce at the market is (mostly) an excellent quality, and I'm always amazed when I get a big bag of vegetables that ends up costing only a few dollars. Produce in the US is terribly expensive in comparison (but if you're in Charlottesville, check out C'ville Market).

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Quattro Stagioni

Für alle deutschsprachigen Leser ein Buchtipp. Als ich in Deutschland war habe ich gesehen, dass "Quattro Stagioni: Ein Jahr in Rom" von Stefan Ullrich in den Bestsellerlisten war und habe es mir gekauft (und inzwischen auch gelesen). Ullrich ist Italienkorrespondent der SZ, und beschreibt auf amüsante Weise seine Ankunft und sein erstes Jahr in Rom mit seiner Familie. Viele der beschriebenen Erlebnisse (z.B. die erdrückende Hitze im Sommer, die Tatsache dass die Italiener bei jeder Gelegenheit, und vor allem im August, an den Strand fahren und an ihrer Bräunung arbeiten, oder den Ärger mit den Dienstleistungen, vor allem natürlich der Telekom) kamen mir bekannt vor und ich musste immer wieder schmunzeln und mir sagen "ja, das habe ich auch erlebt." Insgesamt eine nette kleine Lektüre.

Two churches

Since Kristen is in the US again, and I'm in Florence alone for another few days, I went to visit two churches I hadn't been to that she went to see during her explorations in June and July. Being another beautiful day, I biked through Cascine park to the city and to the Church of Ognissanti (All Saints). This is one of the few baroque buildings in this otherwise Renaissance architecture-dominated city. Even so, the baroque facade and interior were added later, the church itself being quite a bit older. Inside, the highlights were frescoes by Ghirlandaio and Botticelli, though one of the Ghirlandaio frescoes was not there. From there, I walked across the river past the dozens of tourists on the Ponte Vecchio to the Church of Santo Spirito. This was quite the contrast to Ognissanti, since it was designed by Brunelleschi, the master of Florentine Renaissance architecture, himself and was built (mostly) true to his design. Where Ognissanti was overdecorated, Santo Spirito seemed almost bare, although it, too, contains an overabundance of religious art, but it's much less in-your-face, which I appreciated.
On the way back, I stopped at a gelateria and spoiled my appetite for dinner with a portion of pistacchio and ricotta-fig gelato.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Vacation & Argentina pictures

It's August, and in Italy that means vacation. In contrast to other countries, where employers try to organize a bit so that there's always someone in the store or in the office, in Italy everyone just goes at the same time. So for the last few weeks, the number of stalls open at the market has decreased, many restaurants are closed, and one of the free newspapers printed a list of food stores that remain open in August. And so I, too, have traded the 35 degrees in Florence for the 19 degrees in Germany for a week.

Speaking of vacation, I've finally put up some pictures from our trip to Argentina in February and March here.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Additional Comments on Conclusions after Two Months Here

Refer to this post for the original list.

1. The concept of customer service still doesn't exist here, although I will say I've found a few places that will try to help you and/or not rip you off. In general, they aren't familiar with the idea of keeping customers by providing a good product or good service.

2. They don't snuff out their cigarettes, they just drop them on the sidewalk. Also, while they don't smoke in indoor public spaces, a space with a roof and 3 walls is considered outside.

8. I put this in a comment somewhere, but another fake meat product that I like is Yves canadian bacon.

10. Piaggio, which I see a lot, is the parent company of Vespa.

15. Some things that cost less here: watermelon, bottled water (only at supermarkets, not downtown), some vegetables, some cereal (though the selection is fairly small), pineapples (even though they come from Costa Rica), generic brand pasta (by the way, they do have Barilla here), wine
Some things that cost more here: pine nuts (aren't they an Italian ingredient?), ramen and lo mein noodles (though I haven't checked Prato yet), sun dried tomatoes (aren't those also Italian?), other things Italians apparently don't eat (peanut butter, soy sauce, corn, dried chilis, etc.), electricity, sun screen

17. Mosquitoes can disappear

21. I've actually seen dried cranberries and cranberry juice in more than one store here, but they're definitely not common. There's not really a word in Italian for them either.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

What I've Been Doing

If you're wondering what I've been doing for the past 2 months (aside from the items about which Ben posts), here, without regard for parallel structure, is a list. If you weren't wondering, this list will probably bore you to tears, so just stop reading now. I included anything that was productive and/or (e/o) took more than 5 minutes.

wash dishes; do laundry; read; do sudoku and crossword puzzles; look at Italian daily newspaper you get at bus stops; grocery shopping (at supermarkets and Lidl); go to the market; water plants; cook (or start cooking, because I'm so slow at it); argue with telecommunications companies; buy a bike; buy a fan; surf the net (at internet cafes and at the apartment); watch the Simpsons, Monty Python, 30 Rock, various moovies*; sort music on ipod; listen to music on ipod; listen to radio; clean the apartment; get codice fiscale; sign up and pay for language course; find out about health insurance; get accurate visa application and instructions; sightsee; get passport-sized photos; find out about permesso di soggiorno; keep mosquito netting up; get bus tickets/passes; make cell phone work here; recharge cell phone minutes/money; realize how stupid and stingy Bank of America is; go through Italian book; figured out why external hard drive wasn't working; see where Ben works; put the awnings and roller shutters up and down; take out trash; read about other cities in guidebooks; try to figure out cheapest way to withdraw Euros (still working on that); go to Cascine market; hunt mosquitoes; look for cheap books in English; put on sunscreen; figure out which busses to take; pay bills in VA and otherwise try to deal with online banking issues (trying to resolve an issue via email is futile. The responses you get are completely worthless.); watch a cooking show in German; listen to and watch the European Cup; look for magnets; proofread article; tried to find non-skinny-leg, non-bellbottom jeans; answered phone calls from people who had the wrong number; learn how to use the appliances in this apartment (our washing machine can't be operated without an instruction manual. See photo below.); think of blog entries



*do you get it?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Things You Don't See in the US #2

Zero o'clock:

0:09

(It didn't remain singular. What do you know about that? I know it didn't remain singular.)

Bologna

Yesterday, we took a day trip to Bologna, one of the culinary capitals of Italy (home of Bolognese sauce, called ragu' there, and baloney, called mortadella), and only an hour's train trip away from Florence. Of course we ate a good lunch there, but most of the day was spent taking in the city's sights, which in typical Italian fashion, consist mostly of churches and other religious sites. I admit that after seeing such a wealth of impressive ecclesiastical paintings and frescoes, I'm starting to tire a bit of them and wouldn't mind seeing some post-16th century art every now and then. But the early art does get quite interesting at times, especially when depicting hell or martyrs, such as in the beautiful Oratory of Santa Cecilia. Other times, there's stuff who's meaning I must be missing, such as the depiction of the heads on platters in the magnificent woodwork in the choir of San Domenico (which houses the remains of Saint Dominic, founder of the Dominican order, by the way).
Also fun was the Medieval Museum, which in addition to more ecclesiastical paintings and sculptures, had some elaborate choirbooks, and a few rooms of medieval weapons and armor, as well as a visit to the oldest university in Europe (dating back to the 11th century), including its anatomical theater, where dissections were carried out in public. The landmark of the city are two towers preserved from the middle ages, one of which is leaning precariously -- maybe they had the same engineers as the Pisans? Finally, on the central plaza is a fountain with a statue of Neptune, on a base of women with water squirting out of strategic places.
So, all in all, Bologna is definitely a city worth visiting, and a nice contrast to the Tuscan towns we've seen so far, with far more red brick and less white marble (which is why its nickname is la rossa, which apparently also applies to its politics). Oh, and did I mention that there were far fewer tourists than in Florence?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Things You Don't See in the US #1

(This might remain singular, but I'll call it #1 anyway.)

3-wheeled vehicles:



People drive on the street in these things.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New Music Recommendations

Since CDs are massively overpriced here (17 Euros for a new release?!) and Amazon doesn't exist in Italy, I'm relying on some MP3 blogs and the iTunes free song of the week to get some new music to listen to. Here are a couple of tracks that I've been listening to a lot recently:
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela: "Diablo Rojo"
    I know I'm a few years behind on this one, but I just discovered this song. Catchy, foot-tapping, flamenco and folk-inspired, with amazing guitarwork.
  • She & Him: "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"
    Nice, slightly sugary, summery indie-pop.
  • Dengue Fever: "Hold My Hips"
    An American band covering hits of Cambodian pop music.
  • Nation Beat: "Nago Nago"
    I've listened to some albums of Brazilian music recently, such as Forro in the Dark and Brasileirinho, and it's much more than just samba and bossa nova. On this track, Nation Beat combine Brazilian music with... bluegrass?!! Hey, it works. You can download 3 songs on their site for free under "download"

Sunday, July 20, 2008

blog

Yeah, but I had a blog before it was cool.

(Since I think some of you are, sadly, not sufficiently familiar with the Simpsons:
Lisa: You do Yoga?
Jesse: Yeah, but I started *before* it was cool.
)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Another perspective on Italy

"As for Telecom Italia, it is an entire conglomerate founded on the Mafia principal of extortion. They have been milking their customers since the day Meucci got a dial tone."
-- from the blog Burnt by the Tuscan Sun

I found this blog while searching for other people who have had bad experiences with Telecom Italia (and there are plenty). It does a good job in detailing some of the absurdities of life in Italy and offers a nice counterperspective to the dozens of overly cheerful expatriate blogs.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lucca

Today, we took a day trip to Lucca, another one of those must-see cities in Tuscany. This time we went by bus, which was more convenient, since the bus stop was closer to our apartment than the train station, and more comfortable, since the air conditioning actually worked and the seats were better. Lucca is still surrounded by its city walls, and the historical part is pleasantly without cars. There are also a lot less tourists than in Florence, and the buildings seem in better shape than the ones in Pisa. So all in all it's definitely a beautiful place to visit. Some of the highlights were the elliptical Piazza Anfiteatro, which is probably the best known tourist site in Lucca, the cathedral with its marble inlays in the facade, San Michele in Foro with an equally impressive facade, and San Frediano, which had the somewhat creepy mummified body of Saint Zita, a 13th century saint, exhibited in a glass case. As in the other places we've visited, there's an overabundance of art on display, and I won't even begin to try to remember all the famous and not-so-famous works we saw. In addition, we got a loaf of buccellato, a delicious sweet bread with raisins and anise that's a local specialty, and ate some of that while sitting on the city walls waiting for our bus back.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Connected...

In chapter three of the never ending story of trying to get an internet connection in our apartment, we've had some success... at least partially. After hearing from Fastweb that Telecom Italia had told them that they couldn't activate a line in the apartment, we went directly to the Telecom and requested a line from them. That was then actually activated a week and a half later, giving us hope that our situation would soon be resolved. So last weekend we went to Vodafone, which had a good offer for DSL and phone service. Since they didn't have any of the hardware there at the moment, they said they'd call back, which they did yesterday. So Kristen went to pick up the DSL modem, though again a problem arose. Vodafone can't actually give us DSL service at the moment, since for some reason the Telecom is needed for the activation, and their site tells Vodafone that DSL isn't activated in our apartment. Of course, they offered us their own DSL service several times, and inserting our telephone number into their online site shows that it is available, so it's pretty clear that they're simply lying to us and Vodafone (as they did to Fastweb). If in the future anyone has any reason to get Italian phone or internet service, please boycott Telecom Italia at all costs!
Luckily, the people at Vodafone were quite helpful, and we now have internet via their cell phone service. It's the same price as DSL but has some limitations, such as having to sign in, having a maximum of 10 hours a day and not having quite the same speeds, though for now it's fine. If we can somehow convince or bribe the Telecom to allow us to have DSL, then we can switch over to their DSL service without any problems.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Danger... Scientists!

A break from the heat

As a little break from the summerly heat, here's a video of the Perito Moreno glacier, which we saw in Argentina in March. The ice bridge that forms periodically is now breaking apart, making for some pretty spectacular glacier watching.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Conclusions about Florence after a month here

1. the concept of customer service is nonexistent
2. everybody smokes
3. Italians like to talk
4. they use "permesso" more than "scusi"
5. they speak slowly enough to pronounce every syllable, unlike the Spanish speakers I've encountered, who can't get through the words quickly enough
6. apparently they don't consider sliced bread the best thing
7. they don't have portabello mushrooms. It's all about porcini.
8. the fake meat products in the US are far superior (especially, and you should try these, Morningstar Farms "grillers prime" veggie burgers, Veat breasts, and Quorn chicken nuggets, chicken tenders, and "grounds")
9. they capitalize only the first letter of acronyms, e.g., "Usa"
10. I have seen very few Vespas. The motor scooters are other brands.
11. I have been asked for directions 4 or 5 times by Italians
12. I would describe Italian fashionable clothing, as in the rest of the world, as "ugly." The standard procedure for dressing yourself, I imagine, is to take 8 or 9 pieces of fashionable clothing from your closet that don't match, and put them all on together. You must include large plastic jewelry that is not necessarily the same color as anything else you're wearing. I was excited, however, that Converse- and Keds-style sneakers seem to be popular. Also, the hot weather clothing seems to be better, except for the face-engulfing sunglasses, since it generally consists of a tank top, shorts or skirt, and sandals.
13. The city is more racially diverse than I expected
14. English is used in unhelpful places like T-shirts. Some text on T-shirts I've seen: "Wild Monkey High School," "I'll come right to the point," "you drive me crazy," "monster on the dance floor," "I play in a garage band," and "now give mummy a smile." There is also a store called "Sexy Shop Kickdown," which recalls: "I know those words, but that sign doesn't make any sense." -Lisa Simpson. Actually, sex stores are usually called "sexy shop"s, but I can't explain "kickdown."
15. Despite the exchange rate, you can still find things that cost the same amount as they do is the US.
16. "Old" here is pre-1600, in contrast to the "historic" items in the US from the 18 or 1900s.
17. I have killed an average of 1 or 2 mosquitoes a day since I've been here
18. cashiers will always ask you if you have some amount of money other than the amount you're trying to pay with. They don't seem to like to count more than one coin or a couple of bills for change. Unlike the Central and South American countries I've been to, however, they will accept units of currency larger than one.
19. McDonalds is the only American fast food chain I've seen so far. And they have "McDrives" (drive-throughs).
20. I don't think they have crickets
21. cranberries are solely a US/Canada thing

Friday, July 4, 2008

Pisa

As you might have guessed from one of the previous posts, we went to visit Pisa last weekend, where one of the most popular activities is having your picture taken with the perspective so that it looks like you’re holding up the famous Leaning Tower there. But first things first – we took the train to Pisa, which is only about an hour away from Florence, and the first thing that struck me as we walked into town from the train station was how empty it was. Sure, it was Sunday morning, so all the shops were closed, but even on a Sunday Florence is packed with tourists and locals downtown. Now that summer holidays have kicked in, there’s almost no getting through the crowds anymore. We had come that day because we read that the Game of the Bridge was happening, and we saw people on the Ponte di Mezzo setting everything up, but the person we asked said that the procession and game wouldn’t happen until sometime that evening (we were not able to find any information on the timeplan online). So we walked around a bit and saw the sights of Pisa, saving the tower and cathedral for last. Though there are some nice piazzas and old churches, there is by far not the abundance of sights that there is in Florence. It turns out that all the tourists were assembled in the one square with Leaning Tower, cathedral, baptistery and Camposanto. We joined them, and though we did not climb the tower (expensive and you have to make reservations a few hours ahead of time), we admired the Pisano pulpits in both cathedral and baptistery, as well as the old sarcophagi and frescoes in the Camposanto. Since we were done with our sightseeing several hours before the Game of the Bridge was scheduled to start and it was very hot and sunny (as it has been the last weeks), we decided to simply return to Florence, and took the train back.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Beethoven in Florence

Tonight we went to the Piazza Signoria after dinner for the closing concert of the Maggio Musicale, a yearly music festival. Zubin Mehta was conducting Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which seemed to be popular enough for several thousand people to crowd into the piazza (and remain standing for the whole concert). Unfortunately, the sound system was pretty bad and the balance of the instruments lacking, though Beethoven's mastery shone through even these difficulties.

Monday, June 30, 2008

What are these people doing?

Answer coming soon.