Category Archives: Italian Life Rules

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)

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

Italian Life Rules – If The Shoe Fits

Italy is famous for its shoes and rightly so. There are, however, rules for which pair of shoes is appropriate for each occasion and location.

The short and unchanging list: 1) shoes and sandals for townwear (be it a village or city); 2) sport shoes for participating in sporting events; 3) flip-flops or rubber sandals for the beach or poolside; 4) shower shoes for public or hotel showers; and 5) slippers for home.

Italian Style seen on the streets of Florence
Italian Style seen on the streets of Florence

The trend-setting Italians base their choice of shoe both on reasons of style and of health. The sidewalks, streets, and floors in the world outside the home are not controlled nor cleaned by the Italian mother. Thus, all surfaces outside the home are suspect and assumed to contain large amounts of deadly pathogens. Shoes and sandals, depending on the weather, are to be worn at all times when outside the home, except when participating in a sport or at the beach.

Traveling Italian Style
Traveling Italian Style

No professional Italian woman transits (on foot, via car, scooter or bicycle, or on public transportation) to work wearing sports shoes with her designer slacks or skirt. Sports shoes are to be worn when participating in sporting events. Men may be let off the hook if they are wearing designer sporting shoes with casual attire.

Flip-flops are never worn by Italians anywhere except the beach, poolside or at the spa (spa footwear is usually a spa-branded slipper). After leaving the sand and entering the parking lot or street, shoes or sandals must be worn.

Good for the beach (or Jersey Shore) not for the center of Florence
Good for the beach (or Jersey Shore) not for Florence

Shower shoes are necessary for any shower that is not your own or is not maintained in the way that your mother would approve. Dangerous fungi, molds, and germs lurk, waiting for the Italian foot in public shower stalls and hotel bathtubs.

Upon arrival home, the Italian will remove his shoes and put on slippers or some footwear that is designated for the house only. An Italian does not wear these slippers down three flights of stairs to retrieve a package from the deliveryman. An Italian does not wear slippers to deposit the bundled newspapers and magazines outside the door on recycling day.

The Casa della Pantofola sells only slippers
The Casa della Pantofola sells only slippers

Bare feet are not allowed in the home, except in the shower or the bed. The coolness of the floor can lead to cramps, if not other maladies. Furthermore, between mopping and vacuuming an errant breeze might bring a dust-borne pathogen will adhere to bare feet and those feet will eventually slide between clean sheets at bedtime. Pantofole (slippers), wool for winter and open-toed for summer, are the footwear of choice for the Italian home.

Be stylish, be healthy, be Italian by wearing the proper shoe at the proper time in the proper place. It’s all part of the Italian Life Rules.

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

Italian Life Rules – The Anarchy of Shutters

One sunny autumn day Francesca and I were walking through a narrow medieval street downstream from the Ponte Vecchio.

“Anarchy,” said Francesca, “I like it.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Look up there,” she said, pointing to the top floor of a medieval building in the center of Florence.

“I don’t see anything anarchical.”

“The shutters. They are turquoise.” Francesca pointed at a pair of small shutters on one window on the top floor where a noble family’s servants once lived.

The Grand Duke watches over brown Florentine shutters
The Grand Duke watches over brown Florentine shutters

Sure enough they were a light blue-green — different from every other shutter in Florence. This is absolutely illegal under the code of the Belle Arti, the governing body of all aspects of historical buildings in Florence. All buildings inside the now mostly absent 16th century walls of the city are deemed to be historical.

Shutters in Florence and Tuscany, as well as some other regions in Italy, can only be dark brown, black, dark gray or dark green. Any other color or lighter shade of one of the allowed hues is deemed out of compliance. A homeowner can expect a registered letter in the mail demanding change on threat of a substantial fine.

Another Grand Duke and the window shutters in Piazza Signoria
Another Grand Duke and the window shutters in Piazza Signoria

Shutters are important to the smooth running of Italian life. Not the color, just the use of shutters. Only Americans and the British throw open their shutters and windows on a sweltering summer day in hopes of catching a stray breeze. (As in “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun.” (Noel Coward).)

Shutters throughout Tuscany are consistent
Shutters throughout Tuscany are consistent

The Italians know that windows and shutters must be closed by 9am to hold in the night’s coolness and then at sunset they must be opened throughout the house to cambiare l’aria (change the air) throughout the night. Of course, the window in the bedroom will be closed as the occupants retire to prevent the dreaded draft (colpo d’aria) from striking the exposed necks of unwary sleepers. In the morning the process starts again.

The other kind of window shutter, the heavy rolling wood or metal blind, known as an avvolgibile, is found on most modern buildings (less than 100 years old) and provide the same service for standardized windows. (They are also better at denying entry to cat burglars.)

The lack of standardized window frames make traditional wooden shutters a common sight in the historic cities of Italy, but also prevents the use of screens to deny entry of the ever-present mosquitos. Itching tourists frequently complain about why even a five star hotel can’t figure out how to install window screens.

Green shutters do not keep the mosquitos out
Green shutters do not keep the mosquitos out

However those same tourists love the standardization of architectural artifacts, such as terracotta roofs and pale golden painted walls. It helps reinforce the cliché of Florentine and Tuscan style. But perhaps it would be better for Florence and the Florentines to take a risk and flaunt bright yellow, blue or even red and white striped shutters.

 

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

Burnt to a Crisp – Americans Behaving Badly in Florence

Florence is a living museum, a museum that reminds us that not everything changes even in this age of Google and smart phones.

One of the first foundling safe havens at Ospedale degli Innocenti
Culla per la Vita at Ospedale degli Innocenti

The early Renaissance orphanage Ospedale degli Innocenti in Piazza SS. Annunziata had a foundling wheel known as culla per la vita (life cradle) where unwanted newborns could be left anonymously to save them from a watery death in the Arno. Today, a society that honors Padre Pio has a modern culla per la vita, located across from the small church of San Remigio in the Santa Croce neighborhood. Its purpose is the same – to give foundlings a safe haven – in a special spot, cared for by special people.

The statue of Dante in front of Santa Croce reminds us of the great literary achievement of a medieval genius, who is being celebrated today by Roberto Benigni in Tutto Dante and is getting another kind of pop culture fame in an international bestseller.

The Santa Trinita Bridge owes it design to Michelangelo and Ammannati in 1567 and was so important that it was rebuilt with the same stones to the same design after the German troops blew it up in 1944.

Piazza Signoria contains one of the largest collections of original sculptures available for public viewing free of charge. The Neptune by Ammannati, the copy of Michelangelo’s David and Pio Fedi’s Rape of Polyxena and Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women are all favorites.

The Baptistry and the Duomo are at the heart of the city and have been in the hearts of residents and visitors for seven hundred years.

But Then Came The Study-Abroad Programs

An estimated 7,000 Americans, 80 percent of whom are women, come to Florence every year through about 40 study-abroad programs. This and the advent of Snooki and her gang from the Jersey Shores in 2011, and another hundred short tours by American high school and college student groups, have resulted in a bad rep for Americans in Florence, basically undoing any good opinion, left over from World War II, held by Florentines over sixty, and the respect once held by everyone else regarding American ingenuity, intelligence and  drive.

Snookie and her friends representing America in Florence
Snookie and her friends representing America in Florence

On July 25, 2013, at least two sloppy drunk American college students wandered into Piazza San Remigio. For some reason one young man decided to test the door of the culla per la vita and when the four-foot high, two-foot wide, door slid open he stuffed his intoxicated female friend inside. As the glass door closed, she proceeded to treat this climate-controlled, pristine haven for babies as her own disco cage and commenced singing and dancing to the amusement of her friends. What they apparently didn’t notice was the sign in four languages that warns that once the door closes it will lock until the medical volunteers arrive.

Modern safe haven for babies in Piazza Remigio
Modern safe haven for babies in Piazza San Remigio

Arrive they did. The Catholic Church volunteer service, known as the Misericordia, received the automatic alarm from the culla per la vita and they pulled up in an ambulance within minutes to find the drunken twosome. They did not immediately release the performing girl. They called the police. The young man ran off to get his friends. They returned and started to rain abuse down on the heads of the medical personnel. One American claimed to be a lawyer and threatened legal proceedings. The Misericordia volunteers asked for names and phone numbers. Those were refused. Because the police did not arrive in a timely manner, and in fear that the foundling window would be damaged, the volunteers felt they had to release the inebriated girl. The story was reported throughout the local newspapers, including herehereherehere and here. The unifying points in each of these articles is that she was American and she was drunk.

In June 2012, among the wheels of the scooters, parked at the foot of Santa Croce’s statue of Dante, two drunk randy American students decided to partially strip and engage in intercourse on the pavement. They were filmed for YouTube and immortalized via smart phones. Their parents and grandparents must be proud of this educational experience gained in the Renaissance City.

In 2004, an Irish girl was drinking with her friends on the triangular stone platform topping one of the piers of the Santa Trinita Bridge. They had climbed over the bridge railing to set up their minibar. Later, she staggered to her feet, fell into the river, and died. It happened again last year. In two separate incidents, in one April week, a drunk 30 year old American man and an inebriated 20 year old Italian woman both were pulled – alive – from the Arno after falling off bridges.

Right hand broken off Neptune statue
Right hand broken off Neptune statue

At least once a month when it’s warm the vigili chase Anita Ekberg wannabes out of the Neptune Fountain in Piazza Signoria. The fine is 160 euro. In 1991, a man in his underpants scaled Neptune and tried to remove the spiky pigeon deterrent ring from around his head. In 2005, drunken youths managed to break off the diety’s right hand, a toe and a seashell, just to get a cell phone photo.

In the Shadow of the Dome
In the Shadow of the Dome

Tourists and students have tried to climb on the copy of Michelangelo’s David and the statues on the Loggia dei Lanzi. Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women was damaged in 1971 and 1987, and Fedi’s Rape of Polyxena was defaced in 1971, 1982 and this year.

Last month, one night around midnight, I was reading The Paris Wife about the bad behavior of Americans Ernest, Scott and Zelda in France, when I heard a group of people yelling in English in the street outside my open window – not an uncommon occurrence since I live in the shadow of the dome, a half block from the cathedral. First, an American girl was asking her friend if they should urinate “right here.” Then, the two drunk twentysomething boys laughed and did just that against the wall of the jewelry shop across the street. They seemed somewhat miffed when I yelled at them to leave my street before I called the police and that they made me embarrassed to be an American living in Florence. I admit that I also opined on their behavior, their upbringing, and their parentage until they turned the corner.

Unrelated, but still in my neighborhood, three weeks later, graffiti reading “Shotty#1 crew” was scribbled on the 800-yearold marble facade of the  the cathedral’s Baptistry with black permanent marker (perpetrator unknown).

Not a New Problem

American high school student injured
American high school student injured

Certainly, all of the uncivilized, disrespectful behavior that occurs in Florence can not be laid at the feet of American students,  but the number of alcohol related events and injuries: a student severely injured from fall off apartment balcony at party (2003); Arizona high school student at disco (with group chaperoned by teacher) has permanent brain damage after being assaulted with a golf club (2007); and finally, young American soldier, drunk and apparently role-playing the video game Assassin’s Creed fell to his death from a rooftop in Piazza della Repubblica (2011), make the naysayers’ arguments weak. Moreover, a 2012 study abroad student shared a maddening set of stories from the first couple of days of her Florence program and ended her post with: “All in all, Italians do enjoy a good drink and having a fun time. But in a whole semester of studying abroad, I can’t remember a single time I saw an Italian stumbling around drunk and making a scene on the way to a club. As for Americans… there are more times than I could ever count.”

Official study abroad program materials routinely discuss the problem like this:

Moderation
One of the most fundamental rules of Italian culture is moderation. At first glance, Italians might seem to drink a lot, but upon a closer look, quite the opposite is true. They do drink – spumante to celebrate, limoncello to digest, aperitivo to taste and vino to mix with food – but with moderation, not in order to get drunk. In fact, the quickest way to lose the respect of your Italian friends and neighbors is to get drunk in public. Drinking on the streets is also considered very disrespectful.

However, not much seems to change. The mayor has weighed in on the problem with pressure on both the the school programs and the bars, but found he could not do much to influence the schools and got a major push back from the establishments making so much money off of the sale of alcohol to American teenagers and college students.

Why Now?

Post this sign in Florence streets
Post this sign in Florence streets

After fifteen years living in Florence, and almost as many writing about it, I’m not sure why this constant irritation has finally burst forth to a point that I had to write about it before I could sleep well again. Maybe it was the thought of the stupid girl dancing on the baby’s bed, but more likely it was the two Americans who were planning to pee on my doorstep and the other two who, in fact, did so in full view of my window. Heaven knows this isn’t the first time a drunk has stunk up my street, but it is the first time I’ve had to listen to them talk about it first.

And, of course, don’t get me started on the group of eleven Americans who made a reservation at a small Florentine restaurant and did not call to cancel, but never showed up …

Italian Life Rules – The Dreaded Draft or a Blast of Air

In no other part of the world is the air as dangerous as it is in Italy. Not because of pollution, although cities like Florence have some of the most polluted air in Europe, but because of the air itself — throughout the country — inside and outside. In fact, it seems to be more risky inside than out. And air conditioned air is the worst of all.

Beauty and protection - Italian women always carry a scarf
Beauty and protection – Italian women always carry a scarf

Tell an Italian that you have any of the following symptoms: headache, sore throat, indigestion, chest pain, toothache, earache, stiff neck; and the diagnosis will be the same — you have been attacked by air. Specifically you have experienced a blast of air or colpo d’aria. The incident of exposure could have lasted for seconds or hours, but must have occurred within the last week to cause your present malady.

The result of the dreaded draft will be a cervicale (sore cervical spine), torcicollo (stiff neck), mal di testa (headache), raffreddore (head cold), or congestione (stomach cramp). These relatively mild ailments could lead to pneumonia indigestion or death.

Even Italian dogs are protected from the dreaded draft
Italian dogs are protected from the dreaded draft

Not being Italian, the tourist is not in danger of contracting any of these ailments from the colpo d’aria. The tourist, instead, will be merely hot because the air conditioning will be off in the car, the train, or the restaurant, or suffocating because the windows cannot be open at night, or in a car, or in a train. Alone in a restaurant, trying to cool down on a sweltering hot August day, it is guaranteed that a group of Italians will arrive and within five minutes ask the waiter to turn off the AC “for their health.” Refrigerated air is considered more peril-filled than fresh air, but night air can claim the unwary sleeper.

Even the political candidates are subject to a colpo d'aria
Even the political candidates are subject to a colpo d’aria

Sweaty bodies are especially at risk, as are children emerging from the ocean onto a blistering hot beach. An Italian mother will always have a sweater, scarf, and socks (cotton in summer, wool in winter) in her humongous purse in case her treasured only child is threatened by air. Any part of the body (knees, liver, hips, gall bladder, heart and lungs), but especially the head and neck, is subject to the dangerous air

Only tourists will risk drying their hair au naturel, either inside or on the street (also a violation of the hair styling rules). Only tourists expose their tummies and shoulders to the errant breeze.

British designer Sibling will not sell well in Italy
British designer Sibling will not sell well in Italy

The benefit, of course, is that Italy produces the most beautiful scarves, sweaters, wraps, shawls, and other apparel in silks, cottons, cashmere and wool to protect the delicate neck and shoulders from the dreaded draft.

But it doesn’t end here. Ask your Italian friends about the saying: Sole di vetro e vento di fessura mandano l’uomo in sepoltura. It seems that sun through window glass and the dreaded draft will send a man to his grave. Beware!

 

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

Italian Food Rule – Don’t Touch the Fruits and Vegetables

What is it about the fruit and vegetable stands found in markets and along the streets of every town and city in Italy that make foreigners want to fondle the merchandise?

Italian Food Rule: Don’t Touch The Fruits And Vegetables.

In the US everyone feels free to poke, prod, squeeze, thump and sniff the fruits and vegetables whether they plan to buy anything or not. At a produce stand in Italy that will garner you a withering look and a command to unhand the eggplant: Non tocchi le melanzane, per favore!

Don't Touch the Fruit, Please! at the Florence Mercato Centrale
Don’t Touch the Fruit, Please! at the Florence Mercato Centrale

One of the pleasures of Italy is the taste of vine-ripened (or tree-ripened) fruits and vegetables. It is the major reason Italian food is so good – fresh local ingredients at the perfect level of ripeness. They are a feast for eye as well as the stomach. This also makes the produce delicate to the touch, even if you don’t have the outsized fear of germs that most Italians have.

The Italian Food Rule – Don’t Touch the Fruits and Vegetables – has its basis in both the protection of the produce and the desire to reduce the spread of disease.

Following the Food Rule

The proper procedure is to approach a shopkeeper and say “buongiorno” followed by saying exactly what you’d like to buy. You’ll have to deal with weights and/or numbers. “Un chilo di fagiolini, per favore” – a kilo (2.2 pounds) of green beans, please; “Tre cipolle, per favore” – three onions, please; or harder still for the metrically-challenged: “Due etti di zucchine, per favore” – two hectograms (200 grams) of zucchini.

Careful handling and hygiene are the reasons for the Food Rule
Careful handling and hygiene are the reasons for the Food Rule

It’s considered rude to tell the fruttivendola exactly which fruit she should put in your bag. She’s the expert. Locals will tell a vendor when they plan to eat their fruit and she’ll use her expertise to pick those at the appropriate stage of ripeness, especially for repeat customers she wants to keep happy. If you want ripe fruit to eat today, add clarification, “da mangiare oggi, per favore” – to eat today, please.

If you don’t know the language, you can always point to the bin and use hand signals. Be aware that they’re different in Italy than they are in many places around the world. “One” is signified by raising the thumb, as if you were hitchhiking. The number “two” uses the thumb and index finger. Then you just add fingers. (Try doing 4 on one hand using your thumb as 1. Maybe it works better with 2 thumbs and 2 index fingers or, better yet, learn to say numbers in Italian.)

Vine-ripened datterini tomatoes - just like candy!
Vine-ripened tomatoes – just like candy!

Sometimes a vendor will tell you to just go ahead and pick your own, or you can request permission by asking “Posso?” – may I? – and wait for a nod or the passing of a plastic or paper sack for your use. But just because you have permission to select your own potatoes, doesn’t mean they want to see you rooting through the bin tossing your rejects hither and yon. You’re expected to carefully select and touch only those items you wish to buy, unless there’s obviously something wrong with them. It’s all about hygiene.

You may have the luck to find the one or two produce vendors in Italy who love foreigners and take pride in providing all of their customers, new and old, with the very best fruit and vegetables they have to offer. Do not feel bad if this is not the case on the day you are shopping for figs and plums. Your fruttivendolo may not have your best interests at heart. It most likely has less to do with the fact that you don’t speak Italian with the local accent as it has to do with you are not a regular customer and he has produce he need to offload.

The Perils of the Food Rule

My most memorable experience was the day I wanted to buy three large fresh porcini mushrooms. I went to a stand in Florence’s Mercato Centrale where the vendor only sold mushrooms – the expert. There was even an example of his high quality ‘shrooms split in half exposing its firm white worm-free center. I followed the Italian Food Rule – Don’t Touch the Produce. I asked for three large porcini with stems and caps. He selected three fine looking specimens and placed them carefully in a paper bag. I trudged home with my sacks of shopping, unloaded them on the table and discovered that one of my fine mushrooms had a toothpick holding the cap to the stem and was turning slightly brown at the center. But there were no worms.

And act of faith to buy porcini without feeling the firmness
And act of faith to buy porcini without feeling the firmness

Also, in the Mercato Centrale is a lady that has the largest, most beautiful stand of fruits and vegetables. Years ago I bought a bag of apricots from her. Before she had finished giving me change the bottom of the bag was soaked with juice. I showed her the bag and ask for another selection because clearly at least one apricot was over-ripe, spoiled or damaged. She proceeded to yell at me and refused to replace the fruit. For the next five years I brought my touring clients to her stand and explained that it was a Kodak moment, but that they should never consider buying her produce that was beautiful to the eye but rotten to the core.

Beautiful to the eye but over ripe most of the time
Beautiful to the eye, but overripe most of the time

Florentine Francesca does not get a free pass to produce perfection. She has been the recipient of blue mold on lemons, rock-hard plums (“mature e perfette,” said the vendor), limp green beans, and worms in porcini mushrooms (though at this Francesca declared it was a protein bonus).

Following the Food Rule at the Supermarket

Buying groceries at an Italian supermarket is easier. You get to touch the produce. But not with your bare hands. At Coop or Esselunga or Conad, it won’t be the vendor upholding the Italian Food Rule: Don’t Touch the Fruits and Vegetables. It will be Italian housewives, young to very old, enforcing a subset of the rule – Don’t touch the produce without a plastic glove. A withering look from an Italian grandmother is just scary. A sarcastic comment is even more frightening.

Glove up before selecting produce at an Italian supermarket
Glove up before selecting produce at an Italian supermarket

You’ll find plastic gloves near the plastic bags in the section with the fruits and vegetables, and you’re expected to use them. Although this goes beyond the applicable Italian Food Rule, I offer here the procedure for buying loose vegetables and fruits in a supermarket:

1) Find a plastic glove; 2) Put it on; 3) Get a plastic bag for each of your desired fruits or vegetables; 4) Select your produce from the bins; 5) Look for and remember the code on the bin’s label; 6) Place your bag on the nearby scale and push the button that corresponds to the code; and 7) Wait for a printed sticker to exit the scale and paste it on outside of the bag.

If you don’t follow this procedure, the checker will have to do it for you when you check out (or worse, will send you back to do it), much to the displeasure of the people in the line behind you.

Making Friends at the Market

One of the pleasures of living in Italy is shopping at the food markets. The produce is necessarily fresher than at the supermarket that stocks in massive quantities. The ideas that come to mind when discovering what looks best at the market on a given day enlivens your dinner menu. Savoring the perfect cherry, peach or fig can almost transport you out of the crowded city to a sunny orchard.

Finding a trusted purveyor of produce is a long term project
Finding a trusted purveyor of produce is a long term project

But to enjoy all of this and follow the Italian Food Rule: Don’t Touch the Fruits and Vegetables, you must by trial and error, with good humor, find an ortolana who treats you right and then get to know her, asking her advice about what to buy and how to cook it, greeting her even when not shopping for produce. It is a relationship that can last seemingly a lifetime and can save you from finding toothpicks in your porcini.

Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Italian Food Rules: The Book

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

Books, Books, Books – Secrets of My Tuscan Kitchen by Judy Witts

Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen
Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen

CONGRATULATIONS!!!

JUDY WITTS has published the 2,000th copy of her new cookbook SECRETS FROM MY TUSCAN KITCHEN.

To celebrate 25 years in Italy, Judy Witts Francini of Divina Cucina self-published the collection of recipes she used for the past 20 years at her cooking school in Florence and wrote about in her blog Over a Tuscan Stove.

The cookbook started out as a handwritten, spiral-bound, photocopied edition that she gave to her students.

In 2008, she took the time to recreate it as a more permanent collection and developed a blog to go with it.

There are almost one hundred of Judy’s favorite recipes, perfected in her classes and her home kitchen, in the pages of Secets From My Tuscan Kitchen .

To order an autographed copy, you can use the link online.

Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen is available also at these Tuscan bookstores, vendors and restaurants:

Florence:

 

Paperback Exchange– Via delle Oche 4r.  Paperback Exchange is also Tuscan Traveler’s favorite bookshop in Florence.

In the Central Market at Conti, the Conti family stand for olive oil, fruits,vegetables, balsamic vinegar, and more.

Judy's food photos ready for her next book
Judy’s food photos ready for her next book

Near the market at Casa del Vino, a wine bar that specializes in small select wineries.

Osteria Pepo on Via Rosina

Uffizi Gallery Bookshop

Panzano in Chianti:

Enoteca Baldi in the main piazza, specializing in wine from the Chianti Classico region

 

Siena at:

BookShop Siena,  Pian dei Mantellini, 34

Liberia Senese, Via della Citta’ 62/66

What might Judy be up to NEXT????

 

Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Italian Food Rules: The Book

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