Monthly Archives: November 2013

Francesca’s Footsteps – Giving Thanks In The Maremma

Carbonifera!  Baratti!  Campiglia!

How many tourists to Italy or even, Italians, know these places? Already the names are evocative. They are all part of Maremma, the seaside region south of Livorno, but north of Grosseto, where the sea is especially beautiful and clean, and the food is as good as it can be – Acquacotta anyone? Pappardelle al cinghiale? – have you ever tried them?

Foto from Francesca Boni's BlackBerry
Foto from FB’s BlackBerry

In the summer this area is beautiful, but there are people – often too many – on the beaches (you sometimes can even go naked if your body still allows it).

BUT… now … at the end of November …OH my god!

Foto from Francesca Boni's BalackBerry
Foto from FB’s BlackBerry

I went on a weekend “retreat” to Campiglia Marittima. I needed to breathe, away from the usual Renaissance Disneyland of Florence, where I am lucky to have been born and live.

Anywhere else in Italy this weekend was rainy, cold, muddy, even snowy, and in Venice my friend had acqua alta again, poor thing, being a tour guide, that is true suffering.

Foto from Francesca Boni's BlackBerry
Foto from FB’s BlackBerry

BUT … where I was in the Maremma, the weather gifted me with two nights full of the best sound in the world – rain on the roof – followed by two days of pure perfection, with sunny, sweet air, accompanied by the most amazing clouds I had ever seen, cleaned by the storm, pieces of white cotton, sometimes pink.

Foto from Francesca Boni's Blackberry
Foto from FB’s BlackBerry

I turned my eyes for a second and here they are: two rainbows one after another. And then, close up a sighting of pure white on a brown beach: the long neck of a heron lifting off in slow motion, spreading gorgeous wings of gray and white.

To be able to walk on the beach in November is very very rare, but not yesterday. There was even a pink carpet going back and forth on the bagnasciuga made of tiny jellyfish.

Wow! What a gift from God this whole serendipity weekend, the air made me drunk with oxygen, I couldn’t stop smiling and loving everything that was around me. I felt lucky and in sync with everything and everyone else. This never happens in the city.

Of course, I forgot to bring my camera, but my beloved BlackBerry filled the need. Here they are, not technically perfect, but I hope they convey what I felt.

Foto from Francesca Boni's BlackBerry
Foto from FB’s BlackBerry

Actually with just two days away from Thanksgiving, I think this weekend is something to be very grateful for.

Thank you E&R for the house. Thank God for all the rest.

Italian Life Rules – Bicycles Are A Way of Life

“What the …? Doesn’t that old lady know the viale is dangerous and this tunnel is worse? Get on the sidewalk, vecchietta.” Francesca yelled out the window as she swerved around the bicyclist, almost hitting a Vespa in the second lane of the ring road around Florence. The scooter, in turn, darted in front of the truck in the third lane.

“Uh, Francesca, … I think that was your mother.” Annette turned to peer in the passenger-side mirror at her friend’s 82-year-old mother as she emerged out of the tunnel into the sun. “Yup, that’s her.”

“I’m confiscating the bicicletta tomorrow,” growled Francesca.

Cycling on a Milan street (photo by Radu Filip)
Cycling on a Milan street (photo by Radu Filip)

The regional governments all over Italy are pushing for more bicycling, especially in the cities. It is an effort to cut air pollution and congestion in streets better suited for horses and carts, than SUVs and sports cars. Italians are game. They have a history with bikes. The men love the sleek road bikes and the women find that shopping around town goes faster on a bicycle than in a car. With the packed city streets, a bicycle is even quicker than a scooter.

Bicycling at its best in Florence (photo by Phillip Wong)
Bicycling at its best in Florence (photo by Phillip Wong)

The Mayor’s Office in Florence came up with a plan: 22 euro a month for unlimited use or one to two euro per hour for occasional use of  225 bikes supplied by the city in three locations for hourly rentals and six places for monthly plan participants.

When it comes to competitive racing, few Italian women join the huge number of men, who squeeze into spandex and puff up the spectacular hills in the road races that take place every weekend, weather permitting, throughout the central and northern regions of the country. Even men in their seventies and eighties continue riding with organized teams.

UCI World Road Championships in Florence
UCI World Road Championships in Florence

Florence recently hosted the UCI Road World Championships, boasting one of the most difficult stages in the history of the international race circuit, through the hills around Fiesole and one of the most beautiful sprints through the historic center past the Duomo. Except for a few accidents on the downhill curves from Fiesole, the Championships were deemed a big win for the city and the international cyclists. (One only-in-Italy note: The Russian team’s racing cycles were stolen (200,000 euro loss), never to be seen again.)

The race course to Fiesole and back to Florence
The race course to Fiesole and back to Florence

Glistening new bicycles are rarely seen around Italian towns. An old beat up bike is best — less chance of theft. Also, a bicycle with soft wide tires cushions the posterior from the jarring potholes and ancient stones that make up historic medieval streets.

Weekend bicycling in Milan
Weekend bicycling in Milan

People of every age ride in Italian cities and towns. Old ladies, sexy women in stilettos, the guy with the gelled hair balancing his girlfriend sidesaddle in front or behind, the lawyer with his briefcase, and the mothers with their treasured only child in a plastic seat, frequently sighted with neither wearing a helmet like you would see in the U.S. Every neighborhood has a shop that fixes these aging, rusting bicycles, offering only air for free.

BUT Wilma’s bicycling career ended that week. Che peccato!

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Life Rules (the book) is coming in Summer 2014. Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

Francesca’s Footprints – Have a Nice Day & Watch Your Step

“Have a nice day and watch your step!”

I ride buses when I am in the U.S. and pretty much everywhere else.

Every single time I cannot help but notice how nice and customer friendly the bus drivers in the States are. One morning, for example, we were on our way to the Washington, DC train station, schlepping lots of luggage, it was nice that the lady driver “leaned” her bus to help us get on board.

Francesca's Favorite Bus at Union Station in Better Weather
Francesca's Favorite Bus at Union Station in Better Weather

She greeted every single passenger and did not answer her cell phone when it rang. Why am I noticing all this? Because I am Florentine. I live in the historic center and I avoid buses as much as I can – to the point of getting soaked in the rain by riding my motorino just to avoid Florentine buses.

Let me explain for those unfamiliar with the Florence ATAF system: On our Italian buses cell phone calls are always answered. Questions about stops are not answered. Speed limits are not respected. Drivers roar in to halt at the posted stops and brake abruptly at all traffic lights or during the usual dodging of double parked cars, known to all Italian byways. Just take a moment to view these spectacular circus events that were filmed by  passengers in Italy and posted on YouTube: here, here and here.

Buses in the Renaissance City
ATAF Bus in the Renaissance City

Let’s go back to that morning in Washington, DC to the beautiful African American woman driving the bus, with her long painted nails, and friendly smile. It was pouring down rain. We asked her whether there would be a stop very near the train station. She said we would have to cross the street, but then she offered to take us to her final deposit stop inside the back of Union Station so that we wouldn’t be soaked. When we got there, she explained precisely how to get to the train tracks, smiled and said goodbye.

I thanked her profusely. Smiling, she said: “This is not part of my job. This is the way I am. Have a great day!”

Now I think: either I am very lucky and always find happy drivers when I am in the United States (both in Washington and New York City), or bus drivers are happier there than in Italy, or it is just a matter of general fabulous customer service?

Cross-town Bus in NYC
Cross-town Bus in NYC

In the end if you think about it, doesn’t it take the same amount of calories to smile or be grim? Sometimes I have tried to thank the bus driver in Florence, and I got a look like I was a strange lunatic passenger.

And so I will go on riding my motorino, rain or shine in the Renaissance Disneyland where I happen to have been born by mistake, it seems.

Have a nice day, and DO watch your step!