Easter with Tita Sue and Uncle Frank

I’d been looking forward to seeing some family members since my dad had come and gone back in February, so having my Tita Sue and Uncle Frank in Florence for the long Easter weekend was definitely an uplifting part of the semester. All of my roommates had left to go to the Amalfi Coast and I would’ve been alone in the apartment had I not been given the opportunity to run out and about with my aunt and uncle and their choir group, come all the way from Seattle to participate in the International Verona Choir Competition (probably not the actual title, but you get the idea).

Though the main reason for coming to Florence was to allow the students to experience Italian culture, I was allowed to tag along to some of their performances as well as a few day-excursions. The kids sang beautifully at every gig, especially when we went to a cozy little chapel in Bango Rippoli, a little suburb outside the city. I can’t remember the name of the chapel, so if Tita Sue or Uncle Frank could let me know in the comments section, that’d be great. Anyway, since I was just finishing up my midterms, I didn’t miss out on much in terms of day trips. We visited Cortona, sight of the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, though we never did manage to find “Brama Sole” (the villa Francis bought and fixed up). I think it was outside the actual city, which was walled and built up on top of a hillside so as to afford protection in medieval time as well as a great view of Florence.

Unfortunately Tita Sue wasn’t able to join us in Cortona, as a student in the group had come down with some sort of illness, so Uncle Frank and I had a delicious lunch with the teacher chaperones, Beth, Erin, and Mark. The little restaurant we ate at was hidden in an alcove off one of the small streets that run through the town, and the food was fresh, excellent, and beautifully prepared. (I’m spamming you with photos.)

As appetizers, we had a mix of traditional Tuscan pickings, including salame, proscuitto, fagioli, cheeses, tomato, cured beef, truffle shavings, and pesto spreads:

As entrees we all ended up ordering similar dishes, and pasta was included in every one of them, save for the gnocchi dish. Of course, I have a hard time saying no to pasta nowadays, even after eating it for the past year at almost every meal. Hell, I had pasta for dinner last night, and I’m in Spain!

One evening, Tita Sue, Uncle Frank, and I went to my favorite restaurant, “Acqua al 2” for a little family dinner by ourselves. I was most excited about this dinner because the restaurant had been established after my relatives had moved away from Florence (where they’d lived for some years while my uncle reigned as headmaster at the local American school). It was something about the city that I knew and could share with them. I didn’t take any pictures of the food that are worthy of sharing, due to the lighting being more atmospheric in nature than accommodating to photography, but rest assured that it was all phenomenal. I’ve already made reservations for my upcoming 21st birthday this June to go with my mom, dad, and brother when we visit Florence again. Can you say “blueberry steak”? Be excited.

I have to say, I knew I’d eat well the weekend that my aunt and uncle were here, and the fact that Easter happened to coincide promised a bit of entertainment as well. Every Easter morning, Florence holds a sort of procession through the major piazze in the city, specifically Piazza della Republica and Piazza del Duomo, complete with an exploding cart with fireworks at 11:30 to commemorate St. John. I chose to chase after this parade instead of going to church and listening to the kids sing, and to be honest (no offense), this parade was way more interesting than church. There were flag tossers, white oxen with gold-painted hooves, and a procession of era-dressed men, women, and children. I took so many pictures so here’s a few of them. Despite my majoring in English, I’m finding it more interesting to show you the photos than actually write about it!!

I have some video footage about the actual fireworks and explosions but I have no idea how long it’ll take for me to upload that, seeing as this post is very nearly at maximum capacity with the photos already. I can tell you that the whole piazza was packed tight with tourists and locals alike, and while I was pretty close, I still envy the people who were right up against the barriers. Having my camera with super zoom was great and all, but it would’ve been better to be closer to the action, even if that action could very well have singed my eyebrows off and given me a serious case of black lung. The amount of smoke had me convinced that the wooden cart had actually caught fire from the amount of combustion going on, but once it all cleared with the help of some rain, the cart appeared to have remained intact.

After this event, I returned to my apartment to get dressed for our Easter lunch, which my relatives, the teachers, and I would take at another favorite restaurant of mine, ZaZa’s. We were pretty lucky to get a reservation, I think, but apparently the restaurant grows every year because we were seated in a section that I’d never seen before. That’s not to say I go to ZaZa’s every other week, but I thought I’d seen all their surprises! I was first to arrive due to my lack of car. It’s way easier to walk through Florence than it is to drive, especially on such a big holiday, rain not withstanding. People mobbed the streets and it was a hassle to arrive on time even on foot. I was wearing my white blazer at the time, too, so paranoia of getting knocked into, splashed, or stained in any way, shape, or form gave me both speed and agility that even a ninja would admire.

The lighting in ZaZa’s wasn’t terribly good either, and given the number of photos I’ve already spammed you with, I’ll spare you only three more since I think they’re awesome. We all ended up having the whole nine-yards lunch of appetizer, first, and second courses, though few of us attempted dessert. I had a fagioli-bruscheta, pappa al pomodoro, and lamb chops with rustic potatoes, in that order. I had no idea that lamb was a traditional Easter dish but I suppose it makes sense. Morbid sense. I ate Jesus on Easter. Awkward.

The madness of the weekend ended with one last day trip up to Antella, a tiny town on the outskirts of Florence in the mountains, where we visited some of Tita Sue and Uncle Frank’s friends from when they lived here. In fact, the little bed-and-breakfast their friends owned gave a clear view of the American school and the house my relatives used to live in nearby. It was a beautiful area, full of flowers and green, not to mention the spare donkey. We enjoyed lunch there and the kids and faculty spent some time sharing thoughts and thanks about their experiences while in in Italy. I think it must’ve been something, coming to Florence on a trip like theirs, a real bonding experience. I remember my first band trip in high school, to the Caribbean on a cruise, but that was more novel-filled than friendship-securing. Sure, we were a tight-knit group, but I don’t think we came together exactly like these kids did.

I had  a great time that weekend and I’m pretty grateful Tita Sue and Uncle Frank came around when they did. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my immediate family, Dad’s visit in February notwithstanding. Even then, it’s been, what?, four months since I’ve seen him? At least ten since seeing my mom and brother. People always ask me how I can do it. Well, they don’t exactly ask. It’s more of a “I can’t believe you’ve managed it” type of comment. I dunno. I hate to say that it’s not debilitating, and maybe that’s a good thing, seeing as I plan on coming right back to Europe after my graduation next May (and isn’t that a thought??). My parents understand, I think. In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing them once they get here in June! Won’t that be a reunion?

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The Dad Weekend

I know this is late, but midterms are creeping up on us here at Palazzo Ruccelai and I actually have work to do! Shocking, isn’t it? I have two papers to write and five exams to take, though I’m not terribly concerned about any of it. Papers have always been easy to churn out and I pay attention in class well enough to know the material with little review. Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll get some studying in, but it’s hard to review for a practical fresco exam. No walls to slather in mortar here in my apartment.

It’s been about a week since my dad was here, and I’m glad to hear from home that he had a good time while here in Florence. Having gone to France to see my grandparents, aunt, and little cousin, the jump to Italy wasn’t far and obviously seemed convenient. We’re not far from each other. Wednesday evening I picked Dad up at the airport, seeing as his lack of directional sense would probably have gotten him lost IN the terminal and we both set off to Poggio Imperiale, where he’d be staying for the five nights he was here. We ate dinner at this little hole-in-the-wall down the street, indulging in the first pizza and seafood of the short trip. I crashed at his apartment, seeing as he was the same distance from Palazzo Ruccelai as my apartment is, and I wanted to show him around the campus anyway.

Introducing Dad to various professors on Thursday was an interesting experience. Some were more responsive than others, my Italian prof for one seeming a little more standoffish than he is in class and my Photo prof jabbering away in Spanish about Alicante and San Juan just as naturally as she would with any Spanish person. I’m not entirely sure what Dad did while I was in class, though I do know he managed to find his way to and from my school twice without getting lost *insert applause here* but he’s always been good with visual association rather than verbal directions. I am, too. Seeing something and remembering it in relation to location has always been easier for me. ONce I got through with classes at 3, Dad and I joined a tour party given by my student coordinator, Alessia, of the Altrarno, or “across the river.” Altrarno is rarely frequented by American students, probably because it’s too damn far of a walk, but there’s a wealth of cafes, restaurants, and clubs out there with a grittier Italian feeling than the center of town. I haven’t been out there as much since last weekend (because it’s a damn far walk) but hopefully I’ll spend some more time out there this week. There’s a cool cafe just over the bridge from my school where I can spend some time “studying.”

No, really. I need to write my papers.

Friday was spent apart, seeing as I had my History/Culture of Food field trip. I had asked the professor prior to Dad’s arrival if bringing him along would be alright, but unfortunately Prof. Fischer said no. Understandable, seeing as if he allowed one non-student along, he’d have to open the door to anyone else who wanted to go, that and our group was already a large one. While I spent time at an organic farm and the headquarters of the Slow Food Movement, tasting local wine and (slowly) eating locally produced food, Dad started on his mission as given from Mom: complete the list. I want to know if this is a common thing, or just a Mom thing. Who else gets lists when going to a foreign country? Dad picked up a vespa skirt, which is basically a flap that attaches to the front of the scooter and protects the lower body from the elements, ie rain, but was kind enough to wait for me to do the bulk of the shopping over the weekend.

That night, Dad, Daniel (who we picked up along the way) went to dinner at another hole-in-the-wall called Giglio Rosso, down near the train station. We indulged in a bottle of lambrusco and some delicious pastas and seafood (for the boys), and Dad tackled Daniel’s familial and academic history with usual nosy vigor that he subjects everyone to at some point in their lives. Don’t worry Mom. Very good behavior from the Daddy. Daniel took it with great aplomb, however. Even seemed to enjoy it at times.

We spent Saturday in San Lorenzo Market, hunting down pasta, aprons, flags, and masks in between munching at the Central Marketplace and sipping the first hot chocolate of the season. The marketplaces have to be my favorite parts of the city. The atmosphere rarely changes but it never ceases to amaze me that outside of the city central filled with tourists standing around and gawking at the buildings there’s a bunch of people going about their lives as their ancestors have for centuries. I’m sure the guy who sells his leather jackets at the corner stall sounds just like his predecessor from Roman times when trying to convince that poor foreigner that it’s just “250 but for you sir, special price, 220, special price.” I imagine the prices were a little different back then, though.

Finally Sunday came around and Dad and I took one last leap at a much wanted tour that we’ve been eyeing for the past few years: segways. I’m sure you saw the videos. The pricing was good for two hours, with a student discount, and we spent the afternoon zipping around the city on two wheels each, carefully avoiding people and not-so-carefully avoiding street curbs and obstructing bicycles. I’m not going to lie and say we were pros. Definitely nearly ran into a police car once or twice. It also brought up some questions: can you get ticketed for driving segways recklessly? What about segwaying-under-the-influence? Do SUIs exist? Something to find out, I’m sure.

I escorted Dad back to the airport on Monday afternoon. No tearful goodbye or anything but I was sad to see him go. I mean, it’s not like family’s going to be coming out to see me anytime soon. Mind, my cousin Danielle teaching in Spain doesn’t count. She’s already here. Christmas without the extended family will be an interesting experience this year between just Danielle and I. No black-bean soup. I don’t know if Mom’s doing paella again this year, but I’ll say no paella anyway since I certainly can’t make it. No teasing Ian or having breakfast at Mrs. P’s before heading to Tita Betty’s . . . no presents . . .

Of course, I’ll be glad to accept any and all money you’re interested in putting towards Nikki’s Study Abroad Fund! 😀