Friday, December 31, 2021

Looking Back on Tuscany, 2021

 

Well, this blog is called "Beautiful Florence -- Tuscan Living, from Rosanna's perspective," so as an end of the year post, I will concentrate on memories from this year in Tuscany.

These recollections began in July, as the first half of the year Tuscany was either in the "red" or "orange" zone.  Designed to contain COVID contagions, residents were not allowed to travel outside their town or city of residence, except for work, health or emergency reasons.  Now, as a journalist with a press pass, I could have faked it, but chose not to.  Hence, apart from press conferences in Prato and Montalcino in June, my first trip for pleasure was in July.  Robert Shackelford invited me on a Harding school trip to the Casentino.

Casentino is an area of wooded hills and mountains, interspersed with a lush valley and scattered hamlets.  It is also the source of the Arno River, and is also known for its authentic medieval castles. 

The photo above is of Romena Castle, built on its present site in 1152 atop a previous fortification from 1008 A.D.   Dante Alighieri was a guest at this castle, which belonged in the Guidi counts, and cites a village in the immediate surroundings in the Divine Comedy's Inferno.  Unlike Inferno (or: Hell), it was a cool place on a hot summer's day.  The castle can be visited from April 1 to October 31 for the modest price of €3.  Obviously the owner, Niccolò Goretti de' Flamini is not interested in exploiting history for $$$ unlike Disney World.

My next trip, this time for a week in early September, was to Seccheto on the island of Elba.  A small village on the sea situated between Cavoli and Fetovaia, it has been my vacation retreat for over 20 years.  This year I was able to go a little later than usual as interns were not arriving in the office until at least mid-September due to the chaos generated by COVID.

To say I was bone tired when I arrived would be about right.  I revived on the shore of the sea.


Now, this looks like an ad for Acqua dell'Elba cologne but I actually took the photo with my I phone.

I stayed seven nights, two of which were paid by the Italian government under the bonus vacanza program as a compensation to hotel owners and clients whose earnings took a nosedive thanks to the pandemic.  The entire bill, after the deduction, taking into account a hearty breakfast, a full Italian dinner (mainly fish) was around €550.  This included a patio outside the room with a lounger, a table and chairs (useful at lunchtime) and a drying rack.  It also comprised a beach umbrella, which I promptly went down and planted on the shore just before breakfast.


The lone open white beach umbrella and orange chair is mine.  Now you know why I was able to get the beautiful picture of the transparent water.

As the autumn was incredibly mild, and I was inspired to go the beach again, this time in Castiglioncello. which is closer to Florence, because of a bad fall.

I slipped over the edge of a stone sidewalk on my bad knee (injured in a 2008 fall), came down on that knee and my lower back went smack against the stone curb in Florence's historical center.  OUCH! 


This happened outside the pharmacy across from the "Straw Market" under the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo.  The market is best know for its "Porcellino" statue (which is actually a wild boar, not a pig), that one rubs for good luck and to return to Florence.  Here, my manicured hand on the bronze snout is posing for photographer Andrea Pistolesi.

While the Porcellino surveyed my fall, unmoved, I was in pain.  This propelled me to Castiglioncello to dive into 62°- 60° Fahrenheit degree water (freezing by Italian standards, but not by the standards of beaches I've frequented on Long Island, Massachusetts and certainly not Maine, the absolute coldest) to relieve the pain.  I went twice, on the 16th and the 30th of October!  I was desperate, but it turned out to be a blessing as you can see below.  And, yes, it was warm enough that my bathing suit dried in the soft sun light.

Wearing rubber sandals because of the rocky bottom -- a must in Castiglioncello -- according to my doctor, upon contact with the crystal water my system went into thermal shock.  I'm not kidding -- that's what he said.  I like to think he meant that it was like applying an ice pack (although it wasn't that cold) to the injury.  So much for pharmaceuticals, which I don't take (except when absolutely necessary). Cold water did the trick: the dip instantly alleviated the pain, especially the first time. 


The only other persons in the water was a man in wet suit and a grandfather and his grandson, swimming like fish.

Now, my 2021 adventures in Tuscany were not limited to the sea.  In early November, the weather still beautiful, thanks to my friend Helen Burroughs, we spent a day in Chianti.

We began by driving around the gorgeous countryside, filled with fall colors, around Lamole.
The we headed for lunch in a quintessential Tuscan hill town (or in this case, village): Montefioralle, above Greve.  Tiny, hard to find parking, but wonderfully and authentically medieval as you can see by the photo below.
As my dear high school friend Angie would say, "this is Tuscany."


Montefioralle happens to be designated as one of the 308 loveliest villages in Italy.  Who wouldn't like to live here?  The places is so so small that only 79 residents call it home, and two of them are sitting outside their home on a bench as you can see.

It was time for lunch, and we discovered "Alberto's Home Restaurant."  I am not joking, there is an Alberto, resident no. 3 of Montefioralle.  He and his partner (#4 but not introduced to us although she was the server) prepare lunch in their kitchen and bring it out to guests on their patio.
Meet owner and chef Alberto.


Now, who wouldn't be happy in such a setting?
And the food!  Genuine Tuscan country food.  The menu, a surprise, that is just brought to us without choice, consisted of a wooden platter of tasty Chianti cold cuts, sweet pepper spread and homemade bread, creamy pumpkin soup with strips of crunchy bacon and croutons, and local wine in a flask made down the road
(as you can see):


followed by a terracotta dish filled with Tuscan white beans in a sauce flavored by tomatoes, topped with sausages and sage, with bread in a basket.  Homemade almond biscotti and Vin Santo dessert wine came next, and the meal ended with espresso coffee.  The actual stovetop pot arrived along with milk, sugar and an enamel espresso cup.


The entire tab came to €25 per person (and there was not even a service charge!).  Truth in advertising: a home restaurant indeed, but outside only (perfect for COVID times) with an incredible vista.

As I wrote in my intro to this blog, which I opened 10 years ago (!) in 2011, after a trip to St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, where my heart sister, Mary Louise has a vacation home, this was my intention in starting Beautiful Florence.

This is from my intro to the blog, which you can also access by clicking the book on the home page:

"Back in the ‘80s, in the sunlight, the soul of Florence—which was the soul of humanity as expressed through the Renaissance—was completely visible.  

     At that time, as an artisan friend Agostino Dessi said, “Firenze era la più bella città del mondo” (Florence was the most beautiful city in the world).  Sadly, over the past decades, with its adaptation to mass tourism, the soul of Florence is less apparent.  Rain or shine,  Beautiful Florence does exist, and you can still find it—I am here to help you look.

       I will also help you discover the Tuscan soul in the countryside, cities, villages and coast, where it still strongly evident."

The last line, especially in this difficult moment of the pandemic, is what inspired me to look back
 on times in Tuscany 2021.  Hopefully, beautiful Tuscany will be safer to visit thanks to new rules and regulations to fight the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant which will go into effect in 
10 days time.

While experiencing change, Tuscany is unchanging as you can see from the view of the Chianti countryside from "Alberto's Home Restaurant" in Montefioralle, a hill town, which, despite my work, was somewhere I had never been to before in Tuscany.


Isn't that something?  One of the many reasons I fell in love with region is that in some places, as in the view of the hills above, the landscape (minus the olive trees) is reminiscent of the Hudson Valley, where I grew up.

This moment, too, will pass.  And Tuscany will be waiting for us.

                                                      -- reporting live from Beautiful Florence

        Rosanna
  

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Looking Back on 2021 in Florence Through Street Art



 

It's the Christmas season in Florence: one that is the usual shiny and bright, mirrored by the installation and decorations above on via Tornabuoni.  After six months of Covid restrictions (December 2020 - May 2021), for the holidays the city was luminous, basking in light.  The atmosphere was positive -- that is, until the Omicron variant hit Italy 
this week.

Yet, the month had started out so well.  Tuscans flocked in ever-increasing numbers for the booster shot, but also flocked at markets, holiday events, Christmas villages and shopping.  On December 8, Patrick Zaki, an Egyptian college student at the University of Bologna, was finally freed from pre-trial detention in Cairo on trumped-up charges of subversion (i.e. freedom of thought) thanks to support by the international community and especially in Italy.

Readers of Beautiful Florence may remember that, reported in last December's Christmas blog, I came across a cardboard cutout Nativity scene at Villa Arrivabene created by Gruppo Donatello artists.   As you can see below, "Freedom for Patrick Zaky" (sic) is written on the T-shirt of the activist, with the depiction inspired by Amnesty International's poster.  

So, hope was in the air.  There was even hope for Dante Alighieri, who was finally freed from endless commemorative events, including historic exhibitions -- ostensibly designed to honor the poet and author of the Divine Comedy.  In many, if not all cases, the program was meant to attract the public and sell tickets.  Florence at a certain point even asked once more for Dante's remains back from Ravenna, where he died in exile.  Ravenna, of course, refused, much as city fathers had in 1519, when a Tuscan delegation arrived to take what was left of Alighieri back to Florence.  They found an empty sarcophagus thanks to the prompt intervention of Franciscan fathers, who had temporarily moved his bones.



Unlike what is depicted in the above piece of Florence street art, Dante was never arrested.  He chose exile as an alternative to being burnt at the stake in Florence, a punishment for being on the wrong side of the political fence.

So, until the next anniversary at least, Dante is a free citizen again.

A modern-day Dante, if not in literature but equally as influential as an environmental activist is 
Greta Thunberg, honored in Florence in 2021 as a Superwoman winking at the skeptical.  The sticker reads "the time is now! -- put your heart into it."  It, being of course, the cause to halt and even reverse climate change.


Set in a secluded spot in downtown Florence, the work is framed almost in the manner of medieval street tabernacles (still visible today) where citizens would stop, pause, and pray.  Greta herself would surely approve that the work -- seemingly a modern day fresco -- is brushed by oxygen-creating nature, 
the branch of an olive tree.

With over 50,000 new Covid cases reported in Italy on December 25 -- an all time record but with 
fewer hospitalizations and deaths that period of the pandemic before the vaccine -- the times suddenly look uncertain again.  What will the future hold?


Times are such that one may be tempted to put a life jacket around one's heart, like this piece of street art near my office, on via Verdi.  The street leads to the piazza and church Santa Croce (which also contains an empty sarcophagus and monument to Dante Alighieri, waiting for the day (over Ravenna's dead body), that the poet's remains return to Florence.  For the record, the stone sign is used to disaster -- it was nearly submerged by the waters of the great flood of Florence in 1966, when the Arno burst its banks, reaching a level of 21 ft (6.7 meters) in the historical city center.

One can also turn to history for solace. This is a fact that I discovered when researching a current mega-project spanning WWII to the pandemic in Florence. As it noted, the retreating Germans blew up every single bridge except Ponte Vecchio in and around Florence in the summer of 1944 to slow 
the Allies' advance and liberation of Tuscany.

Or so it is believed.  Actually, there is another (tiny) bridge that the Germans did not manage to destroy.  It is located in Mantignano, an old neighborhood just past Isolotto on Florence's left bank facing Ponte all'Indiano on the other side of the Arno.  Known locally as the "Ponte dei Cazzotti" (the bridge of blows, thanks to memorable fistfights, the diminutive span over the Greve river was heroically defended by partisan resistance fighters and saved.  When the soldiers of the U.S. 442nd Infantry Regiment -- a segregated and highly decorated unit comprised entirely of volunteer second generation Japanese Americans, many of whose parents were in internment camps in the U.S. for the duration of the war -- arrived, 
to create the first known graffiti in the Florence metropolitan area, still visible today.

Reputedly familiar with the 1943 Cary Grant film, "Destination Tokyo," the soldiers left their mark on the "Ponte dei Cazzotti":  Los Angeles City Limits, then underneath (partially hidden by plastic), 
Aug. '44, and to the left, their I.D:
the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (of the Infantry).

While the bridge is closed, the writing is visible to this day.  I took this photo with my I phone (as all others in this blog post), in November 2021.

Exile, war, flood -- Florence has seen it all and survived to eventually prosper 
in the brutal ups and downs 
of the cycle of life.

While the pandemic resembles a roller coaster, we can take solace in the fact that feelings as well as the physical world have survived.  Like this tower, the Torre di Pagliazzi
in via Sant'Elisabetta in the old city center of Florence, on the right of the below photo.


It was constructed between the 6th and 7th centuries A.D. on the ruins of a preexisting Roman building, either by the Longobards, a Germanic tribe, or Byzantine invaders, all of whom had dominions in modern-day Italy during that period.  Look at that stone work -- now that is patience.  

Patience enough to withstand the trials of time -- 13 centuries worth!  

Featuring a holiday glow, the tower and the adjacent building now hosts a luxury hotel 
and two-star Michelin restaurant.

We, too, shall overcome this challenging moment.

                           -- Reporting live from Beautiful Florence

Rosanna


Thursday, December 24, 2020

A 2020 Florence Covid Christmas



 

It's the afternoon of Christmas Eve here in Florence--and thanks to the red zone aimed to slow down the number of Coronavirus contagions--it is already as silent as the middle of the night.  In Piazza Duomo, Mary and Joseph, the ox and the ass, wait patiently for Jesus to arrive, bringing hope and love. 

Florence is also waiting for the arrival of the Covid-19 vaccine, slated for December 27.

As usual, the life-size Nativity scene will remain in the Cathedral square until January 6.  The figures are made of terra-cotta, the same material as the dome's tiles created in the Tuscan town of Impruneta in the 15th century, during the height of the Renaissance.  This was a period of humanistic and artistic rebirth after the Dark Ages, and the Black Plague, which caused the death of at least 50 million people. 
The Nativity scene were donated to the city of Florence in homage to the basilica's roofing by their maker, a terracotta craftsman still carrying on a centuries' old tradition in Impruneta.

Someone else is also waiting for hope to arrive, whom Florence has not forgotten.
He is Patrick Zaky, a master's degree student at the University of Bologna (Italy's oldest such institute of high learning).  A native of Egypt, Zack was arrested on February 7 (a date coinciding with the warnings of an imminent Covid epidemic in Italy) and has been held in prison in Cairo ever since.
The trumped-up charge is "subversive propaganda."  Zaky's research in Bologna on women and gender studies, for which he received a scholarship, 
offended deep-rooted cultural sensibilities in his home country.  

Florence's response to this is its Neighborhood 2 annual Nativity scene created by 
Gruppo Donatello artists in front of Villa Arrivabene is dedicated to Patrick Zaky.

I had an appointment at the vital statistics department of Villa Arrivabene on a brilliantly sunny December day and found the installation at the entrance.  "Freedom for Patrick Zaky" is written on the T-shirt of the activist, with the depiction inspired by Amnesty International's poster.  Facing Patrick's silhouette is a woman judge seen from the back.  I don't know if this is a reference to 
the subject of Patrick's thesis work in Bologna, but it is known to have irritated Egyptian authorities, 
and probably led to his detention.


The members of Gruppo Donatello are located in and around piazzale Donatello and via degli Artisti, a time-honored location for artist studios in Florence since the late 1800s. The Villa Arrivabene nativity is also populated with portrayals of local residents and protagonists of the Coronavirus health emergency.  A frontline doctor (among those slated to be vaccinated first) can be glimpsed in back of a photojournalist.  The entire scene is so life-like that it's easy to mistake an actual person in the gray down coat to the left as one of the cutouts. 

The installation gave me a feeling of suspended reality, frozen in time.

With 2021 on the horizon, older and wiser with lessons imparted by lockdown (or arrest),
we would like to come to life again. 
The Christmas hope is freedom once more for all of us...and Patrick Zaky.

                                                                          Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                           -- Rosanna



Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Scenes in Florence, 2019

Visitors to Florence at Christmastime are used to seeing a tree situated between the
Cathedral with its neo-Gothic marble facade and the octagonal Romanesque Baptistery.
The 50 ft. (15 meter) fir tree was donated to the city of Florence by the town of Moena in the
Trentino province in the Dolomites, the Italian Alps.  Moena is also known locally as where the Fiorentina soccer team practices during the summertime at a minimum altitude of 3,000 ft.
Florence's traditional Christmas tree is decorated with hundreds of glowing LEDs, glass ornaments and holiday red gigli, stylized lilies, Florence's coat-of-arms, which actually derive from wild irises that grow spontaneously in the area.
To the left of the first photo, the gentle reader will see the top of the city's presepio, or Nativity scene.  Below the wooden roof of the stall, figures are made of terracotta in the local tradition by the artisans of Impruneta, who are specialized in this craft.  Their ancestors supplied the terracotta tiles used in the Cathedral's iconic dome or Cupola,
created by Brunelleschi in the 15th century.

Obviously, at midnight on Christmas Eve, Baby Jesus arrives in the manger; on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany,  Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the donkey and the ox in terracotta are substituted by
living, breathing humans and animals, who await the Three Kings (Re Magi), who arrive bearing gifts in a colorful pageant.
 Well, this year, Florence also hosts "Three Modern Trees" as installations across the city, in conjunction with the Novecento Museum of 20th and 21st Century Art.  The trio can be viewed, like the one in piazza Duomo, through January 6.
The most traditional one, (above) surrounded by the Renaissance arches of
piazza Santissima Annunizata, is by Domenico Bianchi.  As the theme of Christmas lights throughout Florence is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing,
the artist used symbols to create a movement to evoke
the connection between space and time,
united in the cosmos.  


The most unconventional, yet striking tree, is located in piazza della Repubblica.  Its author is Michelangelo Pistoletto, who uses it to illustrate his current artistic project "Terzo Paradiso"
(Third Paradise) to inspire and illuminate contemporary society,
for which he redesigned the eternity symbol (a horizontal number 8) to include three circles, not one.  The outer circles represent, respectively,
the natural world and the modern, man-made world of artifice.
The central, larger circle, is meant to embody the union of the two opposites which create healing and balance in a sort of New Age and utopian garden sanctuary necessary to achieve if
the planet is to survive.

Its location is symbolic as well -- the medieval ghetto and slum-like medieval dwellings and market crowding the space, originally the location of the ancient Roman forum, were demolished in the 19th century to create Piazza della Repubblica.  An inscription above the arch reads "The Ancient Center of the City/From Centuries-Old Squalor/Brought to New Life.

I would imagine that the artist had this in mind when presenting his futurist tree to Florence.

Then, there is Mimmo Paladino tree in piazza Santa Maria Novella, standing before the Romanesque splendor of the church of the same name as a sort of bridge to the Novecento Museum of 20th and 21st Century Art directly across from it, located in a Renaissance building.

Paladino created a cone of light filled with numbers that switch on and off in a sequence,
also playfully alluding to the the game of Bingo, which is a popular pastime among Italians
after gargantuan holiday meals.
A little lightness after the heaviness; perhaps this also inspired Paladino. Numbers are symbolic as well, but one cannot enter the artist's mind to understand his reasoning,
so let's leave it at that...

Paladino's tree does, however, have a beautiful, shooting star, on top.
Maybe we are all supposed look higher.

Buon Natale/Merry Christmas
to you and yours!

                                                                               reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                                                               -- Rosanna



Saturday, December 22, 2018

A Florence Chocolate Christmas

This jolly man looks like one of Santa's helpers, and he actually is.

He is Leonardo Vestri, member of the third generation of premier chocolate makers in Tuscany,
While his family works in Arezzo, Leonardo has a shop in Florence on Borgo degli Albizi. 
He is holding one of his signature holiday specialties:  a panettone, an Italian Christmas bread which normally contains candied fruit and raisins.  This, however, is not
your average panettone: it is made with natural starter, and once hot out of the oven behind the shop's counter and cooled, is hand-glazed with dark chocolate and chopped hazelnuts.

As faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer Kayla Smith and I were to the discover,
one can personalized a gift panettone by selecting it according to glaze: milk or dark chocolate with hazelnuts, milk chocolate with pistachios, dark or milk chocolate topped by almond slivers.

The same choice is offered for pandoro (pictured top left in the above photo), a tall, spongy yeast Italian Christmas cake with origins in Verona, the town of Romeo and Juliet.
One of the reasons the chocolate is so good is that Leonardo and his father Daniele are
chocolate connoisseurs.  Daniele, based in a city, Arezzo, known for frescoes by Piero della Francesca, owns and oversees a cocoa plantation in San Domingo which furnishes
the basic ingredient,
going there at least twice a year.

Aren't these Vestri chocolate truffles to die for?  You are right:  they come in gianduia (a chocolate hazelnut base) instead of the normal dark chocolate; additionally, are coated in
chopped hazelnuts.

Fans of supermarket Nutella (commercial chocolate-hazelnut spread), I dare you to try one 
and taste the difference.

Does Leonardo ever get tired of chocolate?  
"I always eat it - who doesn't not like chocolate?." he answered.
"Besides, I have to taste, taste, taste...the palate is part of the recipe."

I inquired what are the most popular Christmas gifts items in his chocolate shop.
It turns out to be boxed chocolates, which come in endless choices 
featuring 100% natural ingredients.
I admit, Italians know how to gift wrap better than anyone else.
I learned this at my own Italian mother's knee 
in the United States.
Of course she could cook ... and her gifts under the tree were packaged
as if they were works of art.

Just look at these chocolate confections in gold foil 
or in boxes that look like modern paintings...

But Vestri's delights don't end there.
This is the place for the best hot chocolate in Florence:
thick, pure melted chocolate -- nothing else -- with an optional
sprinkling of crushed hot pepper flakes or cinnamon.

What is the secret behind its sheer chocolatey goodness?

This state-of-the-art hot chocolate is keep warm and stirred continuously in
a brass container with a thermostat and a sprout to measure out the just right amount.


"I don't have to have to add potato starch or other thickeners," says Leonardo, "because the mixture is continuously amalgamated, bringing it to 
and keeping it at 
the perfect denseness."

And even better, Vestri sells his own packaged hot chocolate.
The perfect gift, along with everything else in the shop
(to the left in the below photo, which was taken on a table
in the patio just outside Leonardo's intimate chocolate paradise).

Just add hot milk and stir to make a
fabulous cup
of Italian artisanal hot chocolate.

So, have yourself a merry, chocolate Christmas!

                                                         -- Rosanna 
                                                               & Kayla Smith
                                                                      reporting live from
                                                                      Beautiful Florence

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Florence 2017 Christmas Card

What is this in the photo below? the gentle reader may ask.  
It is risotto which was made before our eyes -- intern Deanna Carbone and mine -- at the launch of a Florence hotel this past November and served to guests.  As the event was titled
"Gold," (in English, no less), 
the risotto came topped with edible gold leaf, which marked the first time I had heard of such a thing.
Well, in the spirit of the Christmas season, I would like to share what the Dalai Lama said at a meeting of Florence's Festival of Religions at the Mandela Forum earlier this year.

Much to my relief (due to someone I know who constantly parrots the phrase), the Dalai Lama did not say "Tibetan Buddhism," even once.  His Holiness spoke exclusively of
all-inclusive values.

"We must transmit forgiveness and tolerance," he said.
"Although everyone has a right to a happy life and self realization,
I have seen so much suffering and violence.
It would be helpful to remember that we are all human beings in order to maintain peace.
War is only mobilized violence.
There is no freedom without peace."

"God gave us different religions to take into account different types of people.
There are no Muslim terrorists -- there are only terrorists.
Terrorists do no adhere to any religion."

"Can people of all religions live together and happily?
A 1,000 times yes!"

"To stop suffering, we need to go deeper.  We are all the same.
Peace comes from within.
We must work towards universal love."

Now, that's true gold.

                  Buon Natale from
                    Beautiful Florence
                                -- Rosanna

 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Florence Summer Sales & Armani

Well, summer sales in Florence continue through September 8, and it is clear that this pigeon is window shopping at the Armani boutique near Piazza della Repubblica.

He (I assume the bird is male given that the point of attraction is a pair of men's shoes)
shares my taste.
I really can't afford designer clothes but if I could I would choose Armani.

I am the lucky owner of two Armani pillows given as a gift to
journalists when one of his boutiques opened on or close to via Tornabuoni.
I saw Giorgio at the inauguration and remembered feeling worried about his
excessive tan -- his face was beginning to resemble leather.

love Armani fashion.

I also purchased a pair of gorgeous cream colored linen Emporio Armani pants 
in the Galluzzo market.  As my heart sister, Mary Louise, would say,
"the hand" (I am the daughter of an Italian tailor) reached out and touched
the fabric of items on a rack.  "The hand" felt a find and began to shake. Voilà! 
I became the proud owner of another Armani for only €30!
Back in downtown Florence, after a few minutes, the bird's attention towards the shoes began to wane.  Maybe even the sales prices was too steep, or that he simply realized, being pigeon-toed,
the pair wouldn't fit.

But there still is plenty of sales shopping for visitors and residents alike throughout Florence.
Not nearly as elegant as Armani, but available.
Handy if you are heading to the beach, as I am tomorrow.
But I am not a size 6.
But this is a sales shoe story.  One of my interns purchased a pair of sandals at a shop between
Piazza della Repubblica and Ponte Vecchio.
On the surface, the sandals appeared to be a good buy.
Nice, huh?
But always look beyond the surface.
And regarding sales in Florence, remember to keep your receipt.
Sales time (January-February, July - early September) is probably the only time that the
sales staff or proprietor will allow you to make a return.
Why?
Because sales periods in Italy are regulated by law.
After less than a week of wear, the soles of Natalia's shoes were cracked as the ancient Florentine pavement they are laying on.  Unwearable because they were falling apart, Natalia brought the sandals back to the store, which, in the absence of a sales receipt, refused
to reimburse her money or make an exchange.
Given the fact that the model was still in the window,
I would suggest calling the vigili urbani (the local city police squad) if you find yourself in a similar situation.

"Do you know a cobbler?" Natalia asked me.  I accompanied her to
one located on via Matteo Palmieri, right behind our office on Borgo degli Albizi.
His look of disgust says it all.

What's to be done?
The shoemaker simply made the sign of the cross, as 
an Italian priest would at a funeral.
The shoes were as dead as the time-honored practice of asking for a discount 
("lo sconto") at his repair business, as stated by the notice behind him
("deceduto").

End of story -- almost.

Discounts, at least during sales periods, are still alive and well in
Florence.  You simply need to know where to go.

The pigeon and I do.  Today it's only window shopping at Armani.
Tomorrow, who knows?

                                                 reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                                                       --Rosanna