Monday, February 23, 2009

Handmade in Venezia

(This blog should have been posted last Thursday, but due to slow, very slow, Italian internet, you get to reap the benefits of such stories now. So, pretend it's Thursday.)

Today when I awoke, we had no hot water. None. My roommates said it was acting up last night, but for some reason (by the grace of God) I thought it would work for me instead. Fat chance. It was freezing, so instead of getting a shower, I just splashed some of the frigid stuff on my face and called it a morning. Oh, to be so primitive. But now, as I’m sure you all know, I’m doing laundry. Eff my Thursdays.

The past week has surely been full of some interesting scenarios, from which I have some great stories that will undoubtedly be good for a laugh. Whether it’s jumping trains and heading to the countryside or partying with costumed adults in a seaside resort…there’s really something for everyone here. So hold on to you hats ladies and gents and get ready for the ride:

The weekend started Friday with a walk to Piazzale Michelangelo, a scenic overlook of all of Florence that is a must for anyone with a good enough camera to capture the panoramic shots. Lucky for me, I have just that (thanks to my more than generous family!). Traci (a good friend I’ve made who’s every bit as off as me) and I left with the group around 2 p.m., trekking through the city center and off the beaten path as we climbed past some truly beautiful scenery. This particular Piazza, etched into a hillside watching over Florence, sits atop a number of stairs and is flanked on either side by quaint shops, sprawling villas and an obscene amount of lush green (something unfamiliar in the city, seeing as how there is not a single tree, bush or blade of grass anywhere). Making our way under the old city walls that protected Florence in case of war or attack, we passed by some ancient fountains emitting water that has been running since the Roman Empire. Now that’s what I call an antique (by the way, if you’re wondering, on the way back down the hill, yes, I did drink some. I recommend it actually). 

However, after reaching the top, we partook in some gelato eating (mine? Mint and chocolate mixed) and then made our way to a rather old church and graveyard. The views were breathtaking. Tiny buildings all perfectly placed in the city below, an organized chaos to the truly crooked streets and jutting storefronts I was all too familiar with. This must be love. And after snapping, oh, 200 pictures or so, we descended to meet the bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David. The sculpture (in hues of sickly blue and grungy green) stands at an amazing height, chivalrously peering over his land below. It was rather majestic I must say. And even though there were tourists everywhere (in addition to men selling “My own David statues” and aprons emblazoned with his nude body on them) I found a moment to reflect once more on the city I now call home. Home. It was a nice feeling. How I can get lost for two to three hours at a time in a city that looks so small from above is amazing, but I’d have it no other way. 

Once we finished gawking, Traci and I began our descent (but not after finding a small fish pond and snapping yet some more pictures). I’ve also decided to do a photo essay entitled “Lovers,” because quite frankly they are everywhere here and being the creep that I am, I want to capture their love by way of film. Anyways, once we made our way back down, Traci and I stopped in a small park to swing, abuse jungle gym equipment and generally look like five-year-olds, as serious park goers simply looked on in amusement.

That’s when we met James. A gorgeous dog owned by Francis (but goes by Keika) and being walked at that very moment through our park. We played, made friends and discovered Keika lives bicoastal in New York and Florence, working as a designer in the fashion industry. Her wealth and status were rightly proved when we saw James (a big dog covered in mud and muck) jump in the back of her brand new Mercedes Benz. She didn’t even flinch. My Dad would have had a heart attack! We laughed and continued on, making some friends at a pizza place and enjoying a huge pie before returning for the night of debauchery that was about to take place that evening.

And so the story continues…(feel free to go to the bathroom or grab a snack if need be).

Traci and I, alone for the weekend because our roommates had left for Milan, Prague, Switzerland and Vienna, decided we needed to treat ourselves to some fun of our own. Polishing off a huge bottle of wine, we were ready to get the night started, but not before watching some hilarious videos on the Internet (this was, of course, to prepare for the night of dancing that lay ahead). The videos watched included, but were not limited to, Thriller, MGMT and the evolution of dance. And after nearly an hour, we were ready. Stumbling to a local bar (we have several favorites, they include Loch Ness, Naima, Twice and the Old Stove) we met our Italian friends. Now let me state, these are some great people and really take care of us we hang out, making us feel welcome whenever we come. Our group, consisting of Daniele, another Daniele (we call him Daniele Numero Due), Claudio, Nicola and Francesco, are a trip and always the life of the party. We dance. Act a fool. And generally behave like locals, which is a welcomed relief to our otherwise touristy-like lifestyle. However, on this particular night, we really let loose, staying out till 5 a.m. and roaming the streets in search of McDonalds’ hamburgers, a compact Ford car, Shia LaBeouf and a Valentine’s Day lover. We’ll leave it at that, but know it has been one of the most fun nights yet.

Recovering with some sleep, Traci and I decided on Saturday to go to the train station, pick a random city and spend the day wherever we ended up. Now this may not sound like an excellent idea, but at the time it was the best plan we could think of for a lazy Saturday afternoon. Leaving around 2 p.m., Traci and I decided on Arezzo, a small town that ended up being two hours from Florence and one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen thus far. The town, quite different from ours due to less noise, tourists and more charm, was a getaway with its historic architecture and authentic eateries. And after devouring a cupcake I had bought for Valentine’s Day (it read “Ti Amo”), we decided to get pizza and walk around for several hours exploring this great place. We found ceramic shops, parks, scenic overlooks to the countryside, tiled roofs, churches, statuary and basically a wonderful place to get lost. And that we did. However, after some time, we made our way back to Florence to prepare for our Valentine’s Day evening out, which didn’t really consist of anything all that exciting. We drank some, got separated from our friends, made some rice and called it a night. Uneventful, I know. But compared to Friday, we were ready for a night in. Besides, I was leaving early Sunday for Viareggio, a small seaside town holding an enormous Carenavle celebration that is famous throughout all of Tuscany. Needless to say, I was excited.

Boarding the bus Sunday morning, I didn’t know what to expect. Our tour guide had said dress-up, but to me this meant maybe a silly hat or a mask, nothing more. Some of those going donned crazy sunglass, mismatched clothing and outlandish headgear, but I opted for comfortable clothes good for walking in. Boy was I going to be an easy target. Getting to Viareggio some two hours later (everything seems to be two hours from Florence, right?) I exited the bus and laid eyes on the biggest mess of people I’ve ever seen. Carnevale, actually derived from religious roots, once meant to finish off all the meat and butter in ones house to prepare for the forty days of lent that lay ahead (celebrating by basically eating all the leftovers.) Yet nowadays, the meaning has been laid aside for outlandish costumes and ridiculous amounts of fun held by anyone willing to partake. By myself on this trip, I started walking, getting pelted with confetti and hosed down with silly string and shaving cream on every corner. 

The streets were barely visible through the bits of paper and the laughter ringing out with a backdrop of the beach, made this an idyllic setting for me. Carnevale, basically an excuse for adults to dress like fools, was a riot. People were costumed in the most ridiculous getup and in a mere five-minute time span I saw: Spiderman, a family of cows, three Batmen and Jokers, a cross dresser, Goldilocks, a family of chefs, soccer players, a gypsy, a belly dancer, clowns, more clowns, oh, some more clowns, skeletons, a fish, a mummy and his bride and countless others that would have any trick-or-treater stateside, green with envy. But I haven’t even mentioned the floats. Oh, the floats. Made in the city, they are giant papier mache beasts that are merely works of art on wheels. Adorned with music and dancers, they shoot silly string and throw confetti as the crowd roars below with approval. The floats included giant monkeys, geese, a tribal princess, Italian politicians reduced to mere caricatures of themselves and a plethora of other designs that had me laughing for hours. And after being doused with confetti (I’m still finding it in my pockets and shoes) I watched the sunset on the beach and then returned home. What a day.

Speaking of Carnevale, I bought my authentic mask made in Venezia (Venice) and booked a day trip for tomorrow. VENICE. Just think, gondola rides, classy parties and fooooood. MmmmMm. This will undoubtedly be much more proper than Viareggio though, mainly because it’s Venice and they certainly don’t party as much as other Tuscan towns. My friends and I are out at 8 a.m., only to return later that night and hold our own party in Florence. Gotta love Carnevale I must say. Then it’s off to Parma and Modena Saturday to see a Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinaigrette factory. And it that’s not enough, Florence has its own parade Sunday for Carnevale which should be every bit as interesting as all the others. But don’t worry; I’ll certainly have enough fun for ALL of you back home. J

Ok, I am off to bask in the sun at Santo Spirito and possibly fill out some postcards for all you fine people. Then it’s off to window browse and be suave in the streets with my new cashmere scarf. I’m not joking, it’s what I do. Perhaps a bottle of wine and some nutella covered apples tonight? I think so!

Buona Sera!

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