Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A blog is born

Dear Readers,

Even though I still have a few more posts in the pipeline here at Letters from Florence, I thought I'd mention that the new, Portland-based blog is up and taking those first few tentative lurches toward a full-on writerly stride, as soon as I can settle a bit here and get my bearings.

The blog is called Bumblepuppy (*) and you can find it by scurrying over to

Here's the gist of it: a former expat (ahem, me) returns to America and tries not to pee her pants in gratitude and glee every time a random stranger or bureaucrat is actually nice to her, or when a simple task/errand does not take hours/days/eternities to accomplish nor requires buckets of angst/rage-induced perspiration and a marca da bollo. Kind of an Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole sort of thing. Or a former Florentine Yankee in King Arturo's Court kinda thing. And probably a reverse culture shock kinda thing, too.

I hope you'll follow me over to the new digs, dear Readers, in order to accompany me on this mad maiden voyage among the tall timbers of the Portlandian northwest.

So come on: grab your kilt, bagpipes and unicycle and let's make some beautiful music together.

May the Force be with You,


* What is this 'bumblepuppy' of whom I speak, you ask? As we say around these here parts: GTS... (Google that shit)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A burglary and a departure

Dear Readers,

So Florence said to me, in that overdramatic way she has--you know, all Carmela Soprano after a bad manicure: "Get the f*** outta here, and pronto!" Or, perhaps like a cross between a miffed Mark Twain and an angry/drunk F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Take that pusillanimous Yankee derriere and those imperfect verb conjugating skills and be off with you! Back to the slimy green breast of the New World!"

On my penultimate night in the Bel Paese, I was robbed. The thieves entered my house while my family and I slept, spraying us with that nefarious narcotic aerosol that enables them to complete their villainous errand in undisturbed haste. They popped the living-room shutters and drilled a hole in the window casement, turned the handle and let themselves in (with great aplomb, I imagine), and ransacked the packed suitcases that were in our bedrooms. They took all my good jewelry which was conveniently nestled in my carry-on bag, including my impossibly lovely Torrini ring (given to me by Paolo when Gemma was born)--a great hunk of beautiful 18-carat gold with a glorious, domed citrine set into it like a blazing orb: the One Ring to Rule Them All. They took Paolo's handsome Longines watch--a gift from me--and even pried the wedding band off his finger.

They took our cash and Paolo's Ray-Bans, Gucci wallet and electric shaving kit (which leads me to believe that these thieves cut a rather bella figura). They left the credit cards and our passports and the vitally-important U.S. immigration documents. They helped themselves to a bottle of water from the fridge.

The shock of it was numbing, licking as it did at the heels of days of exhausting preparations for the big move. But there was little time to indulge the usual feelings of bitter regret, outrage and violation; we had a 20-foot container arriving in mere hours that we had to load with all our (remaining, less valuable) earthly belongings. Cut to the chase: we did the damn thing in punishing heat and the caustic glare of the sun, and uselessly--yet fittingly--spent our last evening in Florence filing a police report with a blue-eyed, raven-haired officer of the Carabinieri who was all sinew and bone and cold efficiency and who looked strangely like a sexy Sicilian version of Ichabod Crane.

So pretty, this den of thieves
photo by MarcusObal

The next morning, in that soft-edged early pink light, as we wended our way to the airport, Florence seemed like a sleeping infant--downy and peaceful as a pillow, sweet-smelling and cool. It was hard not to love her.

And like an infant in all its monstrous self-absorption, the city seemed callously indifferent to me as the taxi sped along the viali; indeed, why should it have been otherwise? Why should this centuries-old purveyor and repository of culture take notice of one puny human leaving, leaving with a capital L? No matter that I gave birth twice here, that I learned to speak its language (aspirated c's and all), that I navigated its ancient alleys and wrestled understanding out of its stubborn morays. No matter that I put up with with my fakakta in-laws for over 12 f***ing years.

Yeah, I got the cold Tuscan shoulder all right that morning. We sailed pass Piazza delle Cure where the market-sellers were setting up their stalls, stomping their feet to shake off the sleep that still hugged them like dew-drops on leaves. The first buses were careening freely through the traffic-less streets, hissing like beasts on the prowl in an all-but-empty savanna. A faint clinking of spoons on saucers danced on the air like a whisper of counter-melody as the coffee bars, their doors flung wide, served the first few customers: old-timers already on their second espresso and third cigarette; and that so-very-Italian smell of fresh coffee--deep, rich, all velvet and chocolate and pepper--filled my head and buzzed in my veins.

And it was all as soft and as rhythmic as a lightly-strummed guitar, and as graceful as an arc of water, and it flowed around me like the soft pink dawn-light that it was--a morning madrigal, a song of parting. The city was awakening and I was departing, and it seemed right, after all. That thing that is stolid and unyielding about Florence, that essence of the eternal, was soothing. Its impassive stones are my old friends and enemies, part of my foundation now, never to be hewn from me nor eroded into the mere silt of recollection. Though I no longer call it home, I carry Florence with me like blood.

But like the sea, Florence is a cruel mistress indeed. Like a thief.

Many moons to the day 
That I threw her love away 
Now every whale spouts "go to hell" 
As the wind laughs in my face 
I've grown harder on the eyes 
And salty to the taste 
My pride has gone with the wake 
As I wait a cold wet grave 
I rose to the smell 
Of a wet desert hell 
And I thought to myself 
How'd I wind up in this jail 
Till a voice called to me 
From deep within the sea 
Dry your eyes my dear fisherman 
Your ass belongs to me *

Semper fidelis,


*lyrics above from "Cruel Mistress" by Flogging Molly