Category Archives: Francesca’s Footprints

Francesca’s Footprints – A Student Finally Learns Something Important

It is a joy to learn something new and surprising. As a teacher, it is even better when I learn from a student. Here’s a story many of you at TuscanTraveler.com may know, at least in part. It’s about Ann, the Tuscan Traveler. She’s published a book! I wrote the Foreward.

Ann was a San Francisco lawyer in search of any enlightenment that nine months in Italy could bring her when she walked into my Italian grammar class in Massa Marittima, near the Tuscan coast, in 1998. To be kind, let’s say that she had no ear for my melodic language.

Francesca Al Vapore!
Francesca “Al Vapore”!

Changing focus, she sought to learn to expand her kitchen skills beyond admittedly delicious chocolate chip cookies and carrot cake to include Florentine and Tuscan recipes. I was conducting cooking classes for Americans and other tourists. Ann, unfortunately, could never master a passable soffritto or achieve al dente when it came to cooking pasta.

I was ready to give up on the notion that Ann was ever going to awaken to the state of being Italian even for a day, but then we started to delve into the customs and practices that make Italian food authentic. Maybe it is the lawyer’s need for defined rules and precedents or Ann’s love for research that, combined with her passion for eating, if not cooking, Italian food led her to collect what she came to call the Italian Food Rules.

Italian Food Rules FINAL DIGITAL FRONT 1000 PIXELS

After nine months in Florence became over fifteen years in Italy, Ann is still clearly American, but she knows more than most Italians about the basis of the food practices that are passed down from generation to generation. Her delight in each discovery has frequently been shared in her writing on TuscanTraveler.com and, now, in this enchanting book.

The facts, fictions, history and reasons behind the Italian Food Rules, as well as the revelation of the mere existence of so many customs or edicts, will assist any visitor to Italy by making their stay easier, less confusing, and richer. For Italians, their response to reading Ann’s list of the rules is usually “giusto, giusto” (“exactly right”) and then delight when they read the rationale and history of the gastronomic commandments passed down from their grandmothers.

I never knew where Caesar Salad originated (certainly not Italy), or why spaghetti with meatballs was considered an Italian dish, or why Americans always wanted a bowl of olive oil with a squiggle of balsamic vinegar delivered immediately to the table when dining at a trattoria. I enjoy eating lampredotto and lardo on a regular basis, being very familiar with these Tuscan specialties, but I never thought much about their origins in Italian history until Ann started asking questions, urging me to translate at Florentine tripe stands, and traveling to Colonnata to see where herbed lard is aged.

The bricks that form the foundation of the most loved cuisine in the world today are important and should be preserved. Ann Reavis has given us the gift of memory in her light and amusing book of Italian Food Rules.

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 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.

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!

Francesca’s Footprints – Cocktails at Art Bar

It had been a while since I had gone out for a cocktail, but my friend Ollie had been telling me about this place near Piazza Goldoni that had the best mixed drinks in Florence, perhaps the best in Tuscany, maybe the best in Italy. So when Ollie came to town he finally succeeded in taking me to Art Bar.

Ginger Fruit Mojito with Fruit Garnish   (olliefordcamera.tumblr.com)
Coconut and Tropical Fruit Art in a Glass (olliefordcamera.tumblr.com)

Wow! WOW! Best cocktail ever. It’s quite a small space, far from fashionable and fancy Florentine bars attended by the smart and ‘in’ crowds. Just a few tables, good friendly service, lots of popcorn to munch while killing the long long time you have to wait for the drink to come.

But then…it comes and you wished you had already ordered another one in order not to wait after you have savored the first perfect cocktail. I had a Fruit Mojito with ginger and it came with a fabulous decoration of peaches and candied ginger dipped in brown sugar.

Peach Fruit Mojito with extra Banana    (olliefordcamera.tumblr.com)
Fruit Cocktail at Art Bar (olliefordcamera.tumblr.com)

This space has had a number of lives as Antico Caffè del Moro, named for Via del Moro where it is located, and Caffè degli Artisti, which has been shortened and updated to Art Bar.

Artisan cocktails are the main focus of the bar, and you can order many different types of daiquiris, mojitos, fruit cocktails, or beer and wine (but what is the point of wasting the barman’s talents?). Art Bar has “happy hour” every evening until 9pm, 6 euro drinks instead of 9 euros (cocktails). Every table gets popcorn, nuts and bar snacks, which only encourages you to order “just one more.”

 Fruit and Veggie Garnishes are the specialty of Art Bar Cocktails  (olliefordcamera.tumblr.com)
Fruit and Veggie Garnishes top all Art Bar Cocktails (olliefordcamera.tumblr.com)

The menu is rich in both fields of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Behind the bar the two owners, brothers, maybe, look Florentine, and by this I mean with a ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude, but in this case the attitude was well balanced by the very helpful, polite and smiling waitress (a rare species in Florence).

Barman at Art Bar   (olliefordcamera.tumblr.com)
Barman at Art Bar (olliefordcamera.tumblr.com)

The sign and website say it opens at 6 pm, but it doesn’t. It opens maybe at 6:30 or whenever the owners show up – we waited until 7:30. Did I say ‘ Florentine attitude’ already? But the ambrosial drink made the wait worthwhile. Thanks,Ollie!

Art Bar

Via del Moro, 4R

Via del Moro, 4/r, 50123 Florence, Italy
055 287661
Today 6:30 pm – 1:00 am

055 287 661

6:30pm to 1:00am

Francesca’s Footprints – Forte Belvedere Reopens after Five Years

The very sad reason why the Forte Belvedere was closed for so long was that two people died, Luca in 2006 and Veronica in 2008. They both miscalculated the height of the walls thinking on the other side there would be grass and not a gorge many meters deep between the fortress walls  (not enough light at night, not sufficient security measures, some say). Mayor Renzi, inaugurating the Forte on the 8th of July, said: “This is a painful party, it is a contradiction that renews itself and repeats itself because we cannot forget that there are two young people dead”.

View from Forte Belvedere (foto F. Boni)
View from Forte Belvedere (foto by F. Boni)

Last Sunday, it was the “Domenica del Fiorentino” which means that everyone, like me, who is Florentine or a resident, one Sunday a month, can enter different places of interest in town for free.

The card is called “Un bacione a Firenze card”  (from a very famous song written by Edoardo Spadaro in 1938) and it allows free entrance to Palazzo Vecchio and all the City Museums. So today, for the first time, Forte Belvedere was included, and I was really looking forward to seeing it reopen after such a long time, plus I was curious about the Exhibit “The Soul and the Matter” featuring the Chinese artist Zhang Huan.

Three Heads Six Arms, a copper sculpture by Zhang Huan (foto by F. Boni)
Three Heads Six Arms, a copper sculpture by Zhang Huan (foto by F. Boni)

Actually for me it was an excuse to go back to one of those places that I used to go to in my younger years, especially at night, in the summer, when inside the Forte there were two cinemas, yes two: Arena Grande and Arena Piccola. Just imagine this: 2 open air cinemas, Florence in all her beauty and charm as a background, starry sky, warm summer air, maybe a secret kiss or two on the grass, and then back to watching the film, which, if you didn’t like it, you could just move to the other ‘Arena’ and see something else. It was always such a smart programming: Festivals, Cineclub, Jean Vigo, Joris Ivens, Pasolini, the Taviani brothers, Russian films, Fellini, Buñuel, Buster Keaton, Monty Python.

Arena Piccola - the former small open-air cinema (foto F. Boni)
Sad empty screen in Arena Piccola - the former small open-air cinema (foto F. Boni)

It was the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the films never started before 10 pm, (they had to wait for the sun to go down). The chairs were very hard, but it didn’t matter, you could always sit on the grass, and when the lights were turned on during the intervallo, you were blinded for a minute.

And then the film ended and I never wanted to go back home, a last chat, a last joke, a last kiss, a zipped up k-way and broooom broooom down Costa San Giorgio, on my white Vespa Primavera.

Chiang Kai-shek and Hu Hanmin made of temple ash by Zhang Huan (foto F. Boni)
Chiang Kai-shek and Hu Hanmin made of temple ash by Zhang Huan (foto F. Boni)

On Sunday, I asked one of the security guards if at least one of the cinemas was going to be reopened, but he looked at me surprised, obviously there would be too many safety measures to be taken, too much money to spend on guards, impossible. It will be possible to visit it every day, except Thursday, from 10am to 8pm. No more no less. And the exhibit “The Soul and the Matter” by Zhang Huan is definitely an extra plus that adds to the magic of Forte Belvedere.

Francesca’s Footprints – Pizza from Heaven in Florence

While Tuscan Traveler is in Venice for the Biennale, Francesca has found a Pizza Paradise…

Here is her guest post:

So I was thinking how sad this summer is going to be: Florence is hot, it is humid, the world is going to hell, my new professor of Russian went back to Moscow, leaving me alone to struggle with words and a furious nostalgia for a time that is long gone, plus Guido, my cat, is feeling old and scruffy and I, myself, don’t recognize that lady in the mirror in the morning etc., etc. but … last night …

I HAD A PIZZA FROM HEAVEN!

Graziano and Roberta invite you to La Divina Pizza
Graziano and Roberta invite you to Divina Pizza

This place is called Divina Pizza and it is situated in a very scruffy (yes, like Guido) neighborhood, on the corner of via dell’Agnolo and Borgo Allegri.

As the pizzaiolo and owner Graziano says, this is not a pizzeria it is a laboratorio artigiano. Already a good start.

All the info for the best pizza in Florence
All the info for the best pizza in Florence

Let’s see, how to describe it? You can stand or maybe sit on a tall stool if you get one, but it DOES NOT matter. The pizza they produce is worth every possible sacrifice. Graziano made me smell the lievito madre naturale (natural yeast mother) that he keeps re-feeding day after day and that has nothing to do with the usual stinky (his words, and I agree) lievito di birra (brewer’s yeast) that is usually used for pizza.

Then he opened the very new first issue of the guide called Pizzerie d’Italia of Gambero Rosso and with pride he showed us the 3 rotelle (cutting wheels) that were awarded just a few days ago for the best pizzeria al taglio (by the slice) in Florence (one of only 2 in Tuscany, the other one is in Arezzo).

The organic products that Graziano, his wife Roberta and son Gabriele use, are: a top of the line extra virgin olive oil, very fresh mozzarella fiordilatte and  lusty veggies with a hearty glow, but I think the most important ingredient is Petra, a fantastic stone- ground wheat flour.

Dough made with Petra flour is rich in fiber (from 6.8% to 8.1% fiber). The flours are able to absorb up to 10 times their weight in water and the chemical structure of the fiber allows it to bind with water. This phenomenon occurs much less in type 0 and type 00 flours because they are low in fiber. The results will surprise you. Products made from Petra flour are more flavorful, easier to digest and last longer – naturally, without added preservatives.” (More here.)

I went there last night after a very not satisfactory meal in another place that I will not mention. So we had already had dinner BUT we were able to ‘vacuum’ two cutting boards full of paradisiacal tastes:  slices of pizza with sautèed zucchini and ricotta di pecora (sheep’s milk ricotta), others with mortadella made with maialino felice (happy pork!, as Roberta says), and more eggplants and mozzarella; even the more classic margherita with the sweetest cherry tomatoes was perfect, and then real ‘nduja from Calabria, or should we talk about the focaccia topped with black sesame seeds?

Seasonal ingredients make the freshest most interesting pizza
Seasonal ingredients make the freshest most interesting pizza

As they only use fresh ingredients I can’t wait for winter to have the cavolo nero and lardo di colonnata pizza!

Also, for Susanna who cannot eat cheese, Roberta made an amazingly beautiful – yes beautiful – round pizza with string beans, eggplants, carrots, tomatoes, gorgeous black olives (that burned all our mouths because we couldn’t even wait for them to cool off a little bit).

Insomma, a beautiful evening accompanied by smiles and love in this little corner of paradise born amidst the plastic food that surrounds us pretty much everywhere you go nowadays, if you happen to live, like me in a very touristy city.

When you go to Divina Pizza, try not to go during rush hour. You want to enjoy a nice chat with Roberta and Graziano, with their sincere smiles and love for what they do. You will be immediately conquered by the simplicity, enthusiasm and strength of their beliefs: “Remember we are not a pizzeria, we are a laboratorio artigiano!

I can’t wait to be back there … maybe tonight?

Divina Pizza
Borgo Allegri, 50r angolo via dell’Agnolo, Firenze

Hours: 10:30am-11:30pm (Closed on Sunday, except the last one of the month)

See the video of Divina Pizza.

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian 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