Away for the holiday! Season’s greetings from a far away place…

Dear Family and Friends,

If you are reading this it’s most probably because you’ve emailed me to be in touch during the holiday season. As I’m so far from home, it’s always a nice feeling around Christmas and New Years to hear from people I don’t see let alone speak to for most of the year. So for this, I thank you for your message. Know that even though I won’t be able to read it for a few weeks, I can feel your love and warm wishes for the new year.

This year, I’ve decided to head to Barcelona for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I’ll be traveling alone to enjoy the buzz of a new city around the holidays. One may think it’s a bit sad to be alone during this time of year – and that may well end up being the case – already being so far away from family and friends is a challenge, let alone at the holidays, when I’ve spent 25 of my 27 years in New York around a fireplace drinking egg nog and basking in the comfort of doing the same thing year after year. There is something so divine in repetition, isn’t there? Such traditions are truly very special and a big part of me misses profoundly the warmth and familiarity that comes with the holidays. Yet, as my mother has repeated to me often in varying contexts throughout my life, especially during my adolescent years, I’ve never been one to follow convention. This statement has been said both positively where I think she’s pointed to my propensity to create my own paths, instead of choosing the easy road, and also negatively, where I’ve sometimes gotten myself stuck in the trenches of life having tried to pave my own way but ended up, for lack of a better term, in deep shit or muddled in defeat from what was probably a losing battle from the start.

That being said, this year, following two days in beautiful Barcelona, I’ll head to a small Spanish town called Santa Maria de Palautoredera for a Vipassana meditation retreat where I will be for 10 days. Vipassana in Sanskrit means “clear seeing” or “insight” and is a meditation technique that leads one on a path towards mindfulness through firstly focusing on the breath. As a seated meditation tradition, once the breath practice has begun, a natural awareness of the body and mind quickly follow, and one is set on the task of confronting the discomfort of what can be perceived as physical pain and mental turmoil.  Sounds fun, right? The end result, they say, can be a complete clarity of mind where the experience one endures leads to a face to face confrontation with the inner self, that chattering voice that haunts us as it perpetuates our deepest fears and anxieties. The principle of Vipassana lies in the belief that in facing such inner demons, one can also be set free from them, liberated from the perception of how one always assumed the world to be, how one has conjured, through years of life experience, the self to be. It is towards an emancipation from this inner struggle that Vipassana can teach one to let go and learn to “see” the world a bit clearer, for what it actually is.

While there are a million other things I could be doing this winter break, including visiting friends in other parts of Europe or traveling back to NY for a bit, or even just staying put in Florence, I truly believe there is no time better than now for me to work on deepening my understanding of my inner being; of facing the deep rooted pains of the past as well as attempt to settle and clarify my mind in this present moment.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Cancer, born in July, a summer baby who is so sensitive towards the universe that when I close my eyes during a full moon, I can almost feel myself swaying with the tides, or because I am a middle child between two brothers and always felt that I had to perform or do something extreme in order to confirm my place in the family structure, or maybe it’s just my competitive nature that wants to prove to myself that ‘I can do it!!’ – for whatever reason, I am so grateful for this opportunity. To get away, shut down, take a break from talking, from listening, no cell phone or computer allowed, not even books or journals permitted. Rather, to encompass for the first time in my life the mysticism of being in complete silence, breathing, sitting and yes, confronting and suffering the voices that are so deep within, are what my body, mind and soul are calling me to explore.

With that, I thank you again for your love and for thinking of me. I am so lucky for my family and friends, for my life and for having you in it. I will surely be in touch when I am back to “civilization” and will be happy to share with you whatever I learn during my time away from the hustle and bustle that is everyday life. I’m sure after 10 days of silence, I’ll have a lot to say!!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

Love,

Lauren

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The Dirty South – Italian Style

Probably one of the most emotionally fulfilling experiences I’ve had since moving abroad occurred two weeks ago when I visited my father’s first cousin and his family outside of Naples. The last time I saw this side of the family was 8 years ago when I was 16 and on a whirlwind summer family tour of all the major Italian cities with stops at my mother’s hometown – the island of Ponza – and also a few days spent in Brusciano, the small town outside Naples where my father grew up.

Just to quickly set the scene of that trip four score and seven years ago, it is important to consider my emotional status at the ripe age of 16. I’m not sure what all of you were like, but to put it bluntly, I was a total hormonal lunatic with teen angst seeping out of my pores. I didn’t speak a word of Italian (and only understood a few key phrases like wooden spoon and how to properly curse off Roberto Baggio on Sundays) and really had no interest to learn. We were in Italy during July, it was 300 degrees and in general one does not think their family is very “cool” at this point in their teenage career. I was tired, probably pining for my boyfriend or Justin Timberlake and well, just acting like a huge pain in the ass. I think  you get the picture of my first embarrassing encounter with this side of the family and hope you won’t judge my behavior too harshly as we’ve all gone through a bratty phase at one point in our lives, right??

So back to the present, I took the (overpriced) train down to Naples and was met by father’s cousin Rocco, his daughters and niece. I was nervous about the whole language thing even though I’ve been taking classes since September and can generally communicate with the Fiorentini. For those of you who are unaware, once you get south of Roma, all bets are off in this country. The dialects can be so strong and so defined even between two neighboring towns that there are instances where people who live 20 minutes from one another use completely different words when referencing the same thing! This was a phenomenon I never truly understood. I mean I grew up hearing southern dialect between my parents and relatives, but didn’t yet have an ear for the great difference between the Italian that is taught in schools and the Neapolitan way of speaking.

But how exciting, right?! People are instantly identifiable but the way they speak and while we kind of have a hint of this in the states, with for example New York, Boston, Southern accents, in Italy these strong differences actually imply a different language! If you think of it, Italy was only unified toward the end of the nineteenth century, before then, it was just a pile of city states that one day were all meshed together, so naturally 200 years later there are still great differences between regional speech. History can be so exciting sometimes!

Alright, I’ve got tons of pics to share but just to give a quick rundown of the trip. I of course went to see my family and revisit my father’s hometown but I also made stops at some notable museums in Naples. You see, I am trying to look into possible internship opportunities for my Masters and have been weaving my way through the major cities over the past weeks. Naples offers a diverse selection of museums with my favorites being: Museo Madre in the city center, and Museo Capodimonte located in a quaint neighborhood at the top of the hill (providing breathtaking views of the city below and the Bay of Naples). There was also an unforgettable pizza experience at Da Michele and multiple sfogliatella (riccia) were consumed throughout the duration of the trip.

I left Naples floating on cloud 9, completely enamored by the simultaneous grit and natural beauty that defines this complicated and in many ways lost city. Walking down Via delle Mille near the water I felt like I was on 5th avenue as I was surrounded by fabulous women in high fashion get ups, effortlessly managing their 4 inch stilettos through the romantic cobblestoned streets. With a quick subway ride though, I was back in the city center feeling suffocated by foreigners shouting at me to buy squishy toys and sunglasses. I heard the garbage problem was taken care of a few months ago, but Naples is still a mess and stinks like dirty baby diapers in some areas. Yet, there is something about the city’s complicated history and identity and the passion of its inhabitants that is absolutely intoxicating. I feel like I need more time to explore this area of the world as I feel a pull or some sort of natural connection to the ebb and flow of its unstable rhythms. Wow that was a bit too poetic but I like it… and let’s get real: I also need to get back and have some one teach me how to make real pizza dough.

Allora, ora le foto:

From L -R: Ninella, me, Concettina and Rocco (my father's first cousin)

My, I think 4th cousin if I did the math correctly, Arianna still warming up to the American and her camera...

Typical meal: fresh salad just with olive oil and salt, sliced prosciutt', marinated peppers, pasta with sauce, a side meat dish, and not pictured: a beautiful round of bufala mozzarella that finished the meal off perfectly.

Typical pictures of the grandchildren dressed in costume. It seems you can find similar images in all home of Italian grandmothers.

Concettina took me to a local bakery to have a go at the sfogliatella. The top left is the riccia and the other is morbida or frolla. The one that looks like a shell far surpasses the soft one in both texture and flavor. I am foaming at the mouth thinking of that first bite.

First stop in Naples: Museo Capodimonte

An old Bourbon Palace, the beautiful estate turned into a museum during the mid-twentieth century. It is surrounded by a park and on this particular Sunday there were hundreds of Neapolitans taking advantage of the fair weather and beautiful views.

I was overjoyed to stumble upon Artemesia Gentileschi's, Judith Slaying Holofernes. The display of the work was a bit unfortunate. The lighting on the canvas from this distance was satisfactory, but moving up close, the glare was almost unbearable. Nevertheless, I love this. A definite highlight of the trip.

A small exhibition with video works by Bill Viola. It was a nice to see Italiani taking their time exploring the temporary exhibition.

View from the top floor of the museum.

Museum exterior being used as a goal in this pick up game of soccer. Nothing better than a museum being utilized as a multi-functioning space!

Kiddies getting ready for Carnevale! This little tike was by far the cutest.

Next Stop: Museo Madre

Located in downtown Naples, Museo Madre is in the heart of the city....

The first floor provides a nice mish mosh of contemporary art where the collection was put together through private donations and long term loans. It was a nice treat to see this work by Roy Lichenstein in this museum setting: small, quaint, clean room of former a former palazzo in downtown Naples.

A classic work by Michelangelo Pistoletto, Venus of the Rags.

A work by Neapolitan artist, Luigi Spina as part of the temporary exhibition, Oh Vero! that just closed at Madre. An excellent photography show including artists from the last 50 years that have documented both the beauty and pain of living in Naples.

Not the nicest neighborhood for such a gem of a museum. A sketchy construction site right across the street.

Allora, day 2, the family dropped me off at the train station and I hopped on the Metro to Piazza Amadeo. There is a contemporary space, Pan Palazzo, along via delle Mille. Unfortunately their exhibition just closed days before so there was not much to report. Although, the book store was fully stocked with contemporary art literature and the security guard let me use the bathroom even though the building was closed… nice people in Naples.

Anyway, I then sniffed my way down to the water for spectacular views of the Bay of Naples and the surrounding islands before heading back home to Firenze.

Some girls skipping class and enjoying a morning by the water. I later walked by then and caught a whiff of the pot they were openly smoking along the street. I wish I was that bad-ass at 14.

More ragazzi skipping class and enjoying one another near Castel dell'Ovo by the water.

Bay of Naples.

A great reminder of the Bronx/Naples connection stamped outside the train station in Piazza Garibaldi. I caught this sign as I was racing to catch the train with my pizza to-go box, trailing luggage and a huge smile on my face as I left the city feeling proud to have strong roots in this part of the world.

Now back in Florence I am getting ready for a slew of visitors heading my way all through March. I’m so excited to play tour guide will keep you posted with updates soon!

a dopo!

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55 hours in Rome

One of the great joys of studying in a city in the middle of Italy is the short distance between centralized Tuscany and other parts of the country. For example, the local train between Florence and Venice is just under four hours, next week I’ll be taking the fast train to Naples, getting there in only three hours, and this past weekend my friends and I took the fast train to Rome in an hour and half door to door. Amazing!

Since I used to drive the 6 hours to and from the University of Richmond, VA a few times a year when in undergrad and have spent many a summer weekend commuting 3 hours to Montauk, NY for fun in the sun, such short distances between major Italian cities is a dream. Obviously in Italy, there is always the potential for a strike which can shut down public transportation for many hours/days, but in general, traveling with the train is pretty effortless once you get the hang of how to buy tickets, remembering to validate them, ya da ya da.

Some time in January my friends and I decided that we wanted to plan an overnight adventure somewhere. While we all love Florence, sometimes the best way to appreciate the city you live in is to get away for a weekend and hopefully return with a fresh perspective. In brainstorming ideas, there were talks of Siena, Parma, maybe Bologna, but we finally settled on heading due south to Roma. Since Kathryn, Molly and I had all been to the city a few times already (geez, how lucky are we really??), we felt free from the obligations of visiting all the major touristic sites – which would mean spending two days traipsing around to and fro with fanny packs and our wallets hidden safely down our pants. Don’t get me wrong, I love a visit to the Sistine Chapel and the Villa Borgese, but the intent of this trip was to try to see the city void of large tourist groups and the snaking lines found outside all major cultural sites.

As I happily (and maybe forcefully?) took the reigns for planning the extravaganza, the first thing I sought out was a bed and breakfast in a convenient location. While it is always convenient to stay near the train station as that is where we’d be arriving and departing from, when thinking about evening adventures, the area around Termini is not the best at night with return times past 11 pm. Instead, I focused on Trastevere, an area I’ve heard has a great night life, young people and restaurants. Calisto 6 B&B was the perfect place to call home for 2 days. Located literally above a bar in Piazza S. Calisto, Calisto 6 is ideal for young travelers who want to stay a step up from a hostel in a lively location filled with Italians and other young tourists alike. The only downside was not so much the loud hum of people at the bar until 3 am, but more so the city cleaning crew who came the next morning at 7:30 am and proceeded the throw glass bottles into the back of their truck for about an hour. Get awakened by the shattering sound of some one repeatedly throwing empty beer bottles against your bedroom door was maybe the harshest wake up call I’ve ever experienced. Such is life, and as I am a morning person, there was no way I could get back to sleep so I got up and started the day (the other ladies, all able to fall back asleep with smiles on their faces, were less phased by the early morning action…).

The neighborhood:

View from our window. Small church with strange painting of a woman located on bottom left of facade.

Street art (or graffiti depending on your opinion) located all around the neighborhood.

The culprit! The meanest Saturday morning wake-up call!

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buon anno!

Before I can address all the wonders of the present – new semester, new friends, upcoming travel itineraries, hopes, dreams, fears surrounding the coming months – I must FIRST share with you all some of the happenings of my last months a Firenze.

Starting wayyyyy back in November, for Thanksgiving break, the one and only Rosa P.       (aka my Mom, whom when you see the following pictures take note is practically my twin – both in looks and character) and brother John (in a nutshell: 5 years older than me, works in SOHO, lives in Brooklyn, effortlessly cool. Jealous much? Yes, yes I am…) crossed the Atlantic for a visit! Since both my Mom and brother have visited Florence before, they made it clear that they wanted to get out of town for a few days during their stay. This information obviously sent me into a tizzy of planning an itinerary that would satisfy everyone’s needs: excursions out of Florence, cultural activities (Mom’s request) while avoiding museums at all costs (ahem, John). I went with my gut and decided to plan a week based on what us Piccolo’s do best and that is EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY.*

While you know how much I love planning functioning itineraries, there is also a lot at stake – what if the bus or train that you thought would be there, doesn’t show up?! What if that trattoria that everyone has told you is amazing but is a little bit a schlep out of town happens to be closed the night you try to go and you are stranded in the middle of nowhere, hungry and tired?! What if the B&B you found online that got acceptable reviews on Tripadviser turns out to be a dump?! I mean there is just so much responsibility when trying to create a fluid, “effortless,” and stress-free trip! After scouring the internet, performing a thorough investigation of Italian travel blogs written by foreigners and locals alike, asking Fiorentini for their personal opinions on Tuscany’s best offerings, and placing multiple phone calls and writing emails in broken Italian (pause, breathe…exhale) all was finally set for their arrival! Below is a run through of our non-stop week with highlights surrounding our trip to Bologna and the Chianti region. We’re off:

Day 1: Mommy (Ro) arrives. Dinner at local trattoria, Coco Lezzone.

Day 2: Ro goes to morning mass at Chiesa Santo Spirito (I go find a farmacia that is open on Sundays to buy earplugs to battle against mother’s unavoidable (and shocking) symphony of snores in studio apartment). Afternoon dinner in Prato with my father’s Neapolitan family)

Day 3: Ro and I head to a morning yoga class followed by a stroll through Mercato Sant’Ambrogio. Lunch shown below. Evening aperitivo with friends at Sei Divino (Borgo Ognissanti, 42)

Arugula and tomato salad, pears and gorgonzola, hard boiled egg, bread with pecorino cheese (all market finds!)

Day 4: John arrives! Lunch at Cuculia Libreria (via Serragli, 3) where they offer a great 6 euro lunch that includes a primi and water or wine. For dinner we went for traditional Tuscan fare at Antico Ristoro di Cambi.

Day 5: We are off to Bologna!

John catching some zzzz's on the way to Bologna.

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Review: La Biennale di Venezia

This year’s Venice Biennale of Architecture marked the first time that a female Director was elected to take the reins and organize the pavilions. The theme of the show: people meet in architecture is best summarized by the Director Kazuyo Sejima:

The 2010 Architecture Biennale should be a reflection on architecture. The twenty-first century has just started. Many radical changes are taking place. In such a rapid-changing context, can architecture clarify new values and a new lifestyle for the present? Hopefully, this show will be a chance to experience the manifold possibilities of architecture, as well as to account for its plurality of approaches, each one of them being a different way of living.

In this clip, Director Kazuyo Sejima gives a brief tour of the Arsenale a few days before the show opened this past summer.

As I do with most exhibitions, prior to heading the Venice I scoured the website for any and all information about the shows, looked for names I may recognize, read reviews from critics and the general public. With an organized and fully functioning website (a rarity in this part of the world), I was pumped but also weary that in not having any a strong background in the architecture field, I would feel intimidated but the heady jargon and bloated egos that are often prevalent at international art shows.

Additionally, my friend Elyse and I were heading up from Florence to meet Robert and his two other friends: all (German), graduate architecture students. If that’s not intimidating then I don’t know what is.

My fears were relieved by the fact that it being the middle of November and by now most people interested had already visited the show (probably back in the summer when Venice was glowing, as opposed to now, when it felt more like walking through a misty swamp land), the exhibition spaces were comfortable and we could take our time exploring each pavilion. I have to admit though, in the end I much prefered the grey, oppressive November skies and murky waters over the summer months when Venice could nearly choke a person to death with its claustrophobic alleyways, low tide smelling canals, and pigeon infested piazzas (no wait, the pigeons were still around but the tourists had definitely left).

The Arsenale is a huge space with each room dedicated to a different architectural team. The first mind-blowing exhibition was created by Transsolar & Tetsuo Kondo Architects, a German and Japanese firm, respectively. Their project, entitled cloudscapes literally created a cloudlike atmosphere that changed depending on your elevation in the room. The beautiful circular ramps led visitors up to varying degrees of the climate controlled room, allowing participants to literally walk through the clouds. The exhibition was dreamy and hypnotic and we lingered here for over a 1/2 hour.

An image from the design boom website. I love the way the ramps wrap around the brick columns of the Arsenale. The old and new forms sort of dance harmoniously around one another.

More images from design boom.

Elyse and Sarah heading down the ramp.

Another stunning exhibition was by Danish architect, Olafur Eliasson. New Yorkers out there may remember Eliasson’s project with the Public Art Fund, New York City Waterfalls where enormous, man-made waterfalls were installed along water ways of the five boroughs.

For the Biennale, Eliasson again used water, this time in a much more frenetic way. Unlike the controlled, repetition of a flowing waterfall, here in a long dark exhibition hall covered with black rubber floor mats, water spouts erratically out of long rubber tubes. Bright flashing white lights offer glimpses of the water spraying about. Visitors could choose to avoid the hoses and observe from a safe (dry) distance or as I witnessed, some chose to frolic down the center line getting drenched along the way. Also notable was the sound in this exhibition space created as the water continuously smacked against the rubber floors. As is typical of Eliasson’s style, entering this exhibition space, the audience is fully enraptured in the sights, sounds and space of the fictive world the architect puts forth.

In this YouTube clip, Eliasson is interviewed by Hans Ulrich Obrist. The architect and art critic chat about Eliasson’s project and what inspires him.

The final work I would like to share is by Canadian installation artist, Janet Cardiff. Cardiff’s work at the Biennale uses sound to construct a space, in her words much like the physicality of architecture. At the Arsenale, for her work entitled 40 Parts Motet, she set up 40 speakers in an oval shape. Each speaker projected a different singer’s voice that all united harmoniously when visitors stood in the center of the installation. While the voices emanated towards the center, the participatory aspect of the installation was to move towards a microphone and listen to the voice of an individual singer. Cardiff explains that in her sound installations such as 40 Parts Motet, she wants the audience to freely move about the space and explore the intimacy of individual singers among the choir. While visiting the space and myself included, people were jumping from speaker to speaker choosing their favorites and observing the diversity of sounds emitted depending on where you were standing in the installation.

image credit: contessanally.blogspot.com

I thought Cardiff’s installation was both meditative and thought-provoking. As it was near the end of the Arsenale, it provided a chance for us to slow down, close our eyes, listen to some beautiful voices. Not simply relying on our visual senses, I felt refreshed by the music and the slow pace required to appreciate the artist’s work.

In this interview between Cardiff and Obrist, the artist talks about her transition into sound installation and what inspires her to use sound as medium of choice.

 

I left the Biennale feeling lucky to have experienced such a moving show and was equally happy to be sharing it with Elyse, my new dear friend in Florence, and Robert and his two wonderful friends. It was a special weekend for us as Robert and I usually travel alone and this was the first time we were bringing our respective friends together to get to know one another. Here are some highlights from our epic Venetian weekend:

 

Elyse

 

Elyse, Sarah David and I grabbing a drink before dinner.

Elyse getting to know the pigeons a little too well for my liking in Piazza San Marco.

The ladies.

Group shot by the water.

Elyse and I getting tangled in the (slightly bizarre-cool-obnoxious) exterior of the U.S. pavilion.

Me being a little bored and definitely delirious in the German Pavilion.

Sarah’s stunning picture of the Renzo Piano poster boards. Notice Robert, Elyse and I checking them out.

If all goes according to plan and I am not drowning in my thesis next summer, I hope to make it to the Art Biennale.

For now, I should probably get to work as final papers and presentations are looming overhead.

Ciao a tutti!

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Autunno a Monaco

Getting up at 2:50 am for a 7 am flight out of Pisa airport to Munich (had to catch the bus that departs from Florence train station at 3:30 am to arrive at Pisa in time) was a breeze knowing that I would be picked up by Robert without any hassle of trying to find some sort of public transportation system to get me to my final destination. Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel, and get a high from creating functioning itineraries, planning the right connections ya da ya da, but it is a great feeling when some one does all the work for you and is waiting outside the terminal with open arms and the promise of a long German-style breakfast. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Rob and I get along best over long cups of coffee and the pleasant silence that comes with being tired and happy in the morning.

To sum up our long weekend together, we went on walks/jogs (Robert is always thinking ahead because he knows if I don’t work out I will get grumpy, tired, cranky, bloated and rather than having to deal with me as a sour puss grumpy gus, HE kept suggesting we get outside for a stroll or light jog… smart guy) in the park near his apartment, visited the Franz Marc Museum, the Pinakothek der Moderne, Haus der Kunst, met some friends out for drinks, watched a weird movie in German that I convinced myself I could understand (false), and spent quality time with Robert’s parents and sister at a bier garten in the Englischer Garten. Catching up over big pretzels and cake in a prime people watching spot was the perfect Sunday afternoon activity.

This post will mostly consist of pictures as I should be working on 2 exhibition labels that are due this Friday for my Art and Objects in Context class (buttttt Kathryn, Elyse and I are meeting Robert and his friends (Sarah and David) in Venice on Friday for the Architecture Biennale, SOOO I have to get my work done by Thursday night! I know I know, life is so stressful….but really, the exhibition labels are due for my professor, Franziska Nori, an extremely intimidating, inspiring woman with an insane resume and current Director of the Strozzina. Basically what that means is, there is no room for error with this assignment. I’ve decided to write one label on a work by Andreas Gursky, Rhein II, because well you know how I feel about Germans, and I just saw this work at the Pinakothek der Moderne so I have it fresh in my mind. The second label will be on a video work by Pipilotti Rist because I love feminist artists and she is kind of crazy. Alright, enough yakking about what I should be doing, gotta run!

Munich in 5 days:

Beautiful walk along the river in Munich.

Kochel am See, about an hour outside Munich. Tranquil little town that also boasts the Franz Marc Museum.

Robert at his best. Slightly messy hair, great shades and smiling in front of a beautiful background.

Walk up to the Franz Marc Museum.

As a Museum Studies student, it is essential that I not only explore exhibition spaces but also visit bathrooms, bookstores and cafes to consider how a museum functions. Or maybe that's just a poor excuse to buy a post card and treat myself to lunch at overpriced institutions...

A perfectly classy museum cafe with gorgeous light coming in and views of the museum grounds. It is easy to see why Marc and other German expressionists part of the Blue Rider movement lived and were inspired to work in this area.

Robert's lunch choice: A ramekin filled with a mixture of lard, onions and apples sprinkled with parsley accompanied by sliced red onions and pickles. And of course a bread basket. Yes, I tried the bowl-o-lard but it didn't do it for me.

Perfect cream tomato soup with croutons.

Catching a few more minutes of sun before heading back to the city.

Hello fall. It was so nice to see trees with leaves changing colors, climb a hill and breath fresh air.

Robert's parents, Anke and I lounging at the communal picnic tables in the bier garten.

Die Familie

Anke and I blending in with the sleek exterior of the Pinakothek der Moderne.

A view of the central ceiling of the recently renovated building. The architect, Stephan Braunfels, divided the exhibition spaces according to themes of art, architecture and design. This central room has branches that lead to the varying wings. Also in the center is the ticket area, an opening to the cafe and book shop. When we arrived there was a performance piece going on. Great multi-functioning space.

Me and Robert's family checking out the exterior of the building at night. Great lighting warms up the sterile space.

Haus der Kunst

Checking out The Future of Tradition at Haus der Kunst, a show concentrating on Islamic Art, both contemporary and historical. While the works were fascinating, the layout was confusing. When considering art from such a vast timeline of ancient to contemporary, I think a clearer path for how to explore the exhibition needs to be suggested.

After the delicious tomato soup I had at the Blue Rider Cafe, I was inspired to make a carrot soup. With the addition of white onions and leeks, we shall call this "YELLOW Carrot Soup" as the color shifted drastically from orange to yellow after blending. I topped the soup with some home made croutons and a dollop of sour cream. Perfect for a chilly fall night!

Yellow carrot soup with (a loaves worth of) croutons topped with sour cream and snipped chives, also threw together some rice balls with left over brown right, chopped salami, filled with a piece of mozz, breaded with cornmeal and baked for 20 minutes. Cheese was perfectly gooey and was a great way to re-use our left over rice!

Nothing like saving a little cash and eating in. For me, it’s so much more fun to entertain with food at home rather than going out all the time. People feel that they can relax a bit more and I don’t know, wine is so much cheaper at the grocery store!

Allora, devo andare…

Will report next week on all things Venezia!! Ciao ciao!

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When the moon hits your eye

So it was just a typical Sunday morning in Florence: mopeds zooming by on the streets (people probably sent out to get bread before the bakeries close at noon), hearing Giovannis saying “Ciao’s!” to Marios at the extraordinarily strong (and seemingly aggressive but really loving) pitch that old Italian men have mastered so well, smells of tomato sauces and meat stews permeating out of every kitchen window. I love Sundays in Italy for all of the above reasons. The city seems to be in a big, lazy hangover from the night before, the (local) shops are closed, the streets are empty in the morning except for church goers (and Americans like me who do such sacrilegious things as jog on the Holy day). But in general, one feels no other choice but to get in the flow of an Italian Sunday, with a lack of motivation to do anything but move at a snail’s pace; whether strolling the streets or spending 5 hours in the kitchen depending on your age and gender (Italian Moms and young women are nowhere to be found after 12 pm as I can imagine they have a huge undertaking of feeding some sort of army by 3 pm).

I also get that feeling that I should be getting ready for a nice home cooked meal, as Sundays in New York were also about having a lazy day with the family hanging around the house. With my father watching soccer downstairs and my mother either cleaning or yacking away to some aunt or cousin on the phone, I usually had the freedom to experiment and get creative in the kitchen (except when one of my parents would but-in and throw off my flow, sending me into a tizzy. You see both my parents are excellent cooks and as their child, I feel inclined to ignore whatever they say and yes, usually end up messing something up along the way. But hey, that’s just how parent-daughter relationships work I think).

(I know it’s so overdone but…) for a quick interpretation of what my Mom (and most moms I know) sound like:

ANYWAY, after my stint at the health food store, much to my father’s dismay, this led to the integration of some interesting foods into our weekly rotation. For example the (healthy and delicious!) grain Quinoa along with spices such as turmeric (creates a beautiful burnt orange color when mixed with brown rice!) and curries occasionally made their way into our nightly meals. While there were some hits and definitely some misses, I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have the time and space to flex my cooking muscles in a fully functioning life-sized kitchen.

Adjusting to living in a studio with an itsy weetsy corner of a kitchen, sans full spice cabinet has definitely been an adjustment but it seems I am slowly finding my way. So it being a Sunday and me feeling nostalgic and wanting to get my hands dirty, I decided to whip out my Joy of Cooking bible and get a pizza dough going. (I mean, when in Rome, right?)

So first things first. I put some appropriate beats on my iTunes to get me in the mood and then got started reviewing the recipe. You can never go wrong with a little DM.

 

Earlier in the week I scoured the isles for yeast or “fermento” making a few wrong decisions along the way. If shopping for yeast in a foreign country rely on what the picture shows you and avoid anything with a cake on the cover. This implies that there may be baking powder and/or soda and other strange substances inside; a simple mistake (which I made twice).

Phew! Got the basics down. Recipe and yeast, check!

The key players: yeast chilling in some lukewarm water for about 5 minutes, flour (I had 00 super fine), and a tablespoon of salt. (I also add a little sugar to kick up the yeast but shhh don't tell my father)

IT'S ALIVE!!!! Cooking with yeast is fascinating to me. It's like a bear that's been hibernating for a while and you need to slowly give it nutrients (water, salt, a little sugar) to wake it up. If the water is too hot, you could kill it, too cold, you won't get it moving and your dough won't rise properly. So many factors at play here!

Yeast is kicking, have my 00 flour ready and a big dash of salt (tablespoon to be exact)

With a few whirls around the bowl I combined the ingredients by hand.

Now the workout begins. I threw some flour on the table and got to kneading the bread. You should knead for about ten minutes making sure to streettttccchhh the dough and then curl it back on itself and then streeeettcchhh it in another direction!

Air pockets when kneading are a very good thing.

Che bella.

A very important "note to self" that I taped onto the side of my mini oven. I feel like my entire life is a bunch of little notes: notes to remember how to conjugate this or that verb, name of good bakery that woman at market told me about or note of place across the river that has amazing leather that English girl in elevator at school mentioned. Ah, just great little tidbits all compiling themselves at the bottom of my bag.

Sundried tomatoes soaked in olive oil, oregano, peperoncino and some s+p. I topped this pizza also with some fresh tomatoes lightly sautéed, goat cheese, herbs and fresh basil.

Ok so I must admit this pic is a cop-out. I couldn't manage a glamorous shot of my pizza from earlier this week because I burned the sun-dried tomatoes and the goat cheese looked like white blobs of goo through my camera lens. Soooo I am exhibiting a pizza that Rob and I made last time he was in town. How handsome is that new oven???

All it took was a little courage for to me tell my landlady that I thought I would have an oven in the apt. She replied in Italian, "Si, you have a microwave oven." So I told her, "Si, ho capito. Ma, preferisco un forno per cucinare il pollo, pizza, le torte..." She shot back with a look of surprise, admitting "Ho pensato che tutti studenti americani hanno preferito un microwave!" I then tried to be funny and remind her that I could be considered American AND Italian (you know with my FOB parents and all...) so I also like to cook with real ovens, but I don't think she understood where I was going with that one. Then there was an awkward moment of silence (cricket), followed by a promise that in 2 weeks she would bring me something. To my disbelief, like clock work my microwave was switched out with this cute (confusing) table top oven gadget in exactly 14 days!. Just when I had written off this culture as being incapable of doing anything in a timely fashion! Couldn't be happier!

While my dough recipe needs a few adjustments, for example, next time I will combine the OO very fine grain flour with a larger grain to give it a little more texture, I am excited to be back on the creative cooking bandwagon and will keep you in the know on any new revelations in this department.

For now, I just got to Munich this morning. Will be in town visiting Roberto for the next days (gotta love being back in school and having scheduled breaks). We have a full itinerary of eating as much dark German Bread as possible and will also be making a trip to  Haus der Kunst (www.hausderkunst.de) which I am pretty psyched for. Rob´s parents are coming in from Stuttgart to Munich for dinner Sunday night and it´s always great catching up with them over a long dinner and good wine.

Will give a full report of highlights next week. Tschuss!!

Oh, I almost forgot, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

Posted in Florence, Food, Italian culture, Living abroad in Italy, Uncategorized | Tagged | 3 Comments