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Report 881: A Slow Trip to Italy for a Mother and Daughter

By stella from Brooklyn, New York, Fall 2005

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Page 4 of 16: The Vespa Incident, a new hat, and David

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Casa Buonaroti, not far from Santa Croce

We both slept well that first night in Florence, no doubt because we were both exhausted. The apartment was as quiet as a tomb, and shuttered up, pitch dark; just lovely for sound sleeping. I woke up around 7:30 and found Mom reading on the couch. The skies were gray and a misty fog was drifting in and out, obscuring the hillsides surrounding Firenze. I was hoping for a sunny day, and gearing up to be a bit bummed about the weather when a patch of blue suddenly appeared in a corner of the sky. By the time we ate some breakfast, showered and dressed, the fog had burned off and the sun was poking through the clouds.

Our only pre-determined agenda this day would be a visit to the Galleria Accademia to see the statue of David at 3:00 PM. I needed to fill my Italian cell phone with talk time, and we needed to get some provisions for dinner, so we set out to do those chores first.

Not two minutes after we stepped outside the front door, I experienced one of the scariest moments of my life. Almost in slow motion, my mother narrowly missed being plowed down by a speeding Vespa. I had warned her before about not crossing even the smallest street without my clearing the way first; those Vespas could dart out from nowhere constantly and without warning. Sure enough, she stepped out in front of me and directly into the path of an oncoming scooter. I shouted and tried to grab her, but she stubbornly thought it would slow down for her, and that instinct seemed to propel her forward. Luckily the rider, an older gentleman, stopped literally an inch from hitting her, using his feet to stop the final burst of motion. He calmly looked at her and said, “Madam, you should not run in front of me.” Uh-oh. Little did he know with whom he was dealing. Mom comes back with, “And you should have slowed down for me!” After my heart started up again, I led her away, while she continued to scold him over her shoulder; we stopped on the corner for a quick lecture about Vespas and streets and how to walk in Florence. Mom hates being lectured; (she only likes delivering them!) but the possibility of what might have occurred must have scared her, because she was jumping at the sound of scooters all day.

We made our way towards Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, through the Santa Croce district. I love this part of the city; it has the distinct feel of a real neighborhood. Young mothers with baby carriages share the narrow sidewalks with older nonnas walking their dogs, and there are lots of little shops that take care of life’s daily needs. At the market we chose a small pork roast, neatly tied with bay leaves, sage and rosemary and ready for the oven, and a few links of fresh sausage. From the lush produce vendors I selected some onions, garlic, celery and carrots, some gorgeous, deep red, ripe tomatoes and fresh green beans. On the way back we stopped at a tiny alimentari, or general store, and the kind owner sliced some mortadella, finnochiona, and provolone for me while I picked out some pasta. The final stop was at a nearby enoteca for some white wine, a nice Vermentino from Maremma.

All of this took some time, and we were back at the apartment by noonish. We unpacked our treasures and made sandwiches from the sliced meats, eating them out on our terrace as the Basilica watched over us. It was warm and pleasant, the sun was shining in a big, blue sky. In order to make it to the Accademia in time for our reservations, we could not linger in the apartment, so I cleaned up fast and we were out the door again, after a question-and-answer session over whether or not Mom needed her heavy winter coat. It was 72 degrees, people were strolling about in shirt sleeves, but she was positive this weather would not last for much longer than a half-hour. I finally convinced her that a turtleneck, cardigan, and light jacket would suffice, making a note to myself to feed her some pork fat during our stay to build some natural insulation!

We set out for the walk to the Accademia – not more than ¾ of a mile, but I constantly reminded myself that Mom had her own pace and I must fall in line with it. In between the Piazza della Signora and Santa Croce, she spotted a cute store with some knit hats hanging outside. We went in and admired the collection of hats and scarves. On our morning shopping trip, Mom came in very handy, speaking Italian to the vendors when I was at a loss. For some reason, I hadn't gathered my wits enough to use the Italian I already knew and felt comfortable with, and I was struggling. In the hat shop, Mom really started speaking Italian freely and fluently, and the sweet mistress of the store helped her pick a pretty red hat after Mom tried on several others. To my surprise, she shopped for a pashmina too, and together they decided on a black and grey one, chatting away while I stood there, smiling and mute. It was wonderful to see my mother treat herself to something nice.

We slowly made our way towards the Duomo, passing the Piazza della Repubblica, which was crowded with vendors that were not there last year. In fact, Florence seemed more packed than ever with vendors; it was a bit disturbing. We rounded the corner and there was the Duomo. Mom fell silent; I noticed that this was her reaction to most of the grand sights. I asked her about this and she said that she simply could not believe what she was seeing. There was definitely more emotion going on than could rise to the surface, and I sensed the need to let her quietly stare and take it all in. Again, I reminded myself that she is on a different channel than I am, and I resisted the urge to move her along.

From the Duomo it was another short leg to the Accademia. There was a short line for visitors without reservations, but since we had them, we breezed right in. Florence had more tourists this past November than it did in 2004; I encountered no lines on my first visit exactly one year prior. It had not calmed down very much since late summer, it seemed.

It took us about an hour and a half to see the collection of paintings in the Accademia, and to gaze at the magnificence of David. Last year, I had too much wine with my lunch before my Accademia visit; it was good to finally see him without being somewhat drunk. My mother once again fell silent. I panicked a little; was she not enjoying it? Once again, after observing her, I understood that she was in the midst of emotional sensory overload. All I could do is give her a hug and let it all sink in on its own.

After the Accademia, I had to stop for a gelato at Carabé, a nearby gelato shop owned by a Sicilian couple. Their gelato is lighter and less creamy, but still intensely flavored. The pistachio tasted like biting into a nut. Mom didn't want any; she was convinced it will make her feel cold. She must have felt a hot flash a few minutes later, because before I realized it, my cup was in her hands and she was digging in.

The walk back to Santa Croce was long and my legs were getting tired. Amazingly, Mom reported that her feet and legs were fine. I whined a bit when I realized that I now had to cook dinner. All I wanted was a bath, followed by a nap, but we were both pretty hungry. I sucked it up and marched into the kitchen, which turned out to be very relaxing and pleasant with a glass of wine on the counter.

The roast went into the oven while Mom cleaned the fagiolini. I prepared them with garlic and olive oil; there was also a salad of nothing more than the sliced tomatoes, some salt, pepper and olive oil. We started out with the tagliatelle I bought, tossed with the juices from the meat and topped with some grated Tuscan pecorino. Tired as I was, it was surprisingly nice to cook, especially with such great ingredients. Mom and I had agreed before we left that we would only eat out every other night; she wisely knew that the meals we would prepare for ourselves would beat anything we could get at a restaurant. As much as I love eating out in Italy, I quickly decided that I would throw myself into shopping and cooking as much as possible on this trip, another big change in my usual Italy routine. The only disappointment was that the apartment’s kitchen has extremely bad knives. I will make it my mission upon my return to convince all vacation rental owners I encounter that a selection of sharp knives is as necessary as good towels!

We dined on the antique table in the dining room, which opened onto the terrace. I was hot, Mom was cold, and I lost that battle rather quickly. The heat went on, and I wondered if it would be inappropriate for me to walk around the apartment in my bra. After the dishes were done, we settled down in front of the TV. I always miss my bit of American TV; I know I am an awful, indulged American, but what am I to do without reruns of The West Wing? The satellite TV in the apartment included BBC World, with about 25 other Italian stations. Mom quickly became absorbed in trying to figure out if it was indeed Italian that those newscasters were speaking at the speed of sound.

Thankfully, I had my laptop, and I relaxed in front of the terrace doors typing the notes from our first full day. I also had the presence of mind to check my calendar and was utterly shocked to notice that that it was Thursday evening. It wasn’t so much that I was convinced it was Wednesday, I just didn’t know that it wasn’t. I was obviously a bit confused as to what day it was; hopefully I would get the hang of things by the time we left. Either way, I thanked goodness that I suddenly remembered tomorrow would be our day trip to Chianti with Luca of Hills and Roads. He would pick us up at 9:30 in the Piazza, but I called his mobile to confirm. Luckily, Luca had a firm grip on what day it was and he was ready for us. He also sounded very nice.

It was a little difficult to fall asleep, but I had to try; it was past ten, and our first full day in Florence came to an end. I opened the window of my bedroom to look at the stars in the sky and lights twinkling in the hillside. Little did I know I invited the mosquitoes in for a feast.

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