September 20, 2011

Finding Firenze

"That’s a part that I didn’t quite expect before I came here— the presence of ordinary in an extraordinary place."
-Claire Shalinsky, Claire Across the Pond

The more I deepen my ties here, the more I realize just what living abroad means. I'll never be a Florentine & I'm still in a state of enchantment as I see the Duomo on my walk to school, but I can see the difference between me & the dazed tourists as I walk down the street. I no longer hold a map and I turn corners without thinking twice. Yet, there is still a whole side of Florence I do not know and will only meet with time.

It doesn't hurt to make the introduction so this week I sought to meet Firenze a bit more formally. On Monday I met up with Emiko Davies, a lifelong expat with an Austrailian accent, Chinese upbringing, American education, and Italian marriage! Emiko moved to Florence ten years ago to study {her first apartment happens to be a few doors down from mine} and after moving away for a short bit, decided to return. Seven years later and she's built an incredible life here, deepening her passion for photography and cooking! Emiko and I had exchanged a few emails prior to my departure about general living tips so I was thrilled when she generously offered to meet for coffee and show me a bit of the city from her eyes.

We met at the bookstore at the back of the Uffizi {that houses some wonderful Italian cookbooks} and wandered towards the city center so she could open my eyes to the secrets of the city that I would otherwise pass-by. From a traditional apocotherary to a tiny restaurant with a promising menu, Emiko pointed out her favorites while I took a snapshot of each in my mind to return to during my time here.

We stopped in Cantinetta dei Verrazzano, owned by the Cappellini family {established Florentine family}, who keep the wine bar and bakery traditional to the culinary tastes of Firenze. It was there Emiko introduced me to Scracciata all'uva {foccacia bread filled with the seasonal sweet red grapes} and cecina {chickpea foccacia}. The sweet grape pastry is only available in September {when the grapes are in season} so my roommates & I went back the following night to try it! It was wonderful & completely different from what my palate anticipated! As Americans, you have to get used to the crunchy seeds of the grapes but it was such a refreshing dessert & certainly something I wouldn't be able to try anywhere else! I can't wait to go back to sample the cecina...

Across the street was Perchè No, a well known gelateria artgianale that year after year wins awards from Slow Food. I tried un cono piccolo di pistachio e rosa {yes made from roses}. It was incredible! I'm still partial to making myself walk across the Arno for my gelato but when I'm weak, this will certainly be my go to. The flavors change daily so if you are ever in there and see the rose flavor, try it because you won't know when it will appear again!

After a bit we ventured across the Ponte Vecchio and down one of the main tourist streets before turning down a medieval alleyway for the promise of an amazing cafe. After peeking our heads into an artisan shop along the way, we sat down at a cute corner cafe in the quiet piazza. I ordered fresh peach juice & had never tasted something more delicious. It was nice to know I was a street away from all the action enjoying calamity in a beautiful, hidden piazza.

Unfortunately, I went back Thursday afternoon with Kait and the waitress overcharged us {I'm guessing due to our lack of Italian} so I have a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Emiko, as sweet as she is, promised to leave a word with the owner the next time she was in & helped me better understand how to ask for the list of prices so it can't happen again! I'm disheartened places would take advantage of two students simply trying to enjoy an afternoon but I see how many tourists take advantage of Firenze and I wonder which is worse? I guess this serves as a reminder to deepen my understanding of Italy so I can give the little that I have and receive back in full what I seek.

Thursday morning I woke up a bit earlier and wandered across the Arno again into a new neighborhood south of the Ponte Vecchio to meet with Jonnell from Cup of Local Sugar. Jonnell is an American woman who studied in Firenze and after falling in love, began her life here in Italy. She's now married with two bilingual boys and an independent travel consultant specializing in destination weddings and honeymoons. I arranged to meet with Jonnell through a new start-up, Cup of Local Sugar, which unites unite curious travellers with knowledgeable locals eager to share their address book and regional knowledge to deepen the travel experience. She wrote me a list of her favorite culinary spots while we sipped fresh squeezed orange juice {and I quietly observed the Italian women interacting around me}. I enjoyed listening {and asking question after question} about Jonnell's experience moving to Italy and developing life here. Jonnell still has the twinkle in her eye when she describes the extraordinary in her ordinary.

My ordinary in the extraordinary this week hit me when I watched the couple selling fresh tomatoes in the market shuffle around, dancing in the stall to give out bags and ring up customers. I see it in my deepening appreciation for multiple cappuccinos
{and coffee highs}. Ordinary extraordinary juxtaposes itself here everyday-I can't imagine Florence without it.

Thank you Emiko & Jonnell for deepening my roots in Firenze & sharing your beginnings with me as I seek to experience my new life here to the fullest! Can't wait to share what's to come!


Emiko said...

It was my pleasure to wander through some of my favourite Florentine streets with you. I am still shocked and awfully disappointed that one of my beloved regular places overcharged you - it's something that unfortunately is not unusual in Florence. But the nice thing about many Florentine places is when you become a 'regular' and they recognise you, and treat you like an old friend - it's rewarding, but it takes time and patience!! it's all part of the true Florentine experience!

Claire said...

You are a beautiful writer, and I feel honored to be quoted at the top! xoxo

Kassandra said...

Thanks Claire-honor from an Oxford girl! xo

Emiko-I will forever be thankful for our walk through the city! Excited to try il Contadino next week with my girlfriends! My favorite cafe tried to do the same to me this morning but thanks to your advice, I was able to avoid being ripped off again. Patience is definitely one of the reasons I came here so I think it was meant to be-looking forward to becoming a regular:)