Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Warm Doings in Icy Florence

 As I'm sure you have heard by now, Italy is in the grip of the worst winter since the 1950s.  Icy winds from Siberia have swept the peninsula, bringing below 0° degree Centigrade temperatures.  Being used to the weather of the northeastern U.S.A., I am faring better than most, although the fact that Florence is currently colder than Boston--where I went to school--would be unbelievable if I were not out and about
in the city.

Last week, Florence had several inches of snow.  I had to clean off my car--the ice scraper that my heart sister Mary Louise sent me from the Hudson valley came in handy.

Florence, however, was and continues to be lucky.  At present, the city is located in a no-snow-zone-bubble:  everywhere just outside, to the west in Empoli, to the south towards Siena, to the east near Arezzo and to the north in the Mugello valley, all of which are located our region of Tuscany--circulation is blocked by mounds of snow.  Further afield, Rome, and Lazio, Abruzzo, the Marche and Emilia Romagna are buried in snow.

"Rome in Chains," the above headline reads.
Electricity is out for thousands of Italians, ditto for heat.  Trains and roads are blocked.
The Italian army and the police are digging out the affected areas and bringing aid.
In this scenario Italy can be likened to a beautiful and fragile lady requiring high maintenance.
After all, we are talking about from six inches to a foot,
foot-and-a-half of snow.
Although, from Rome, my zia Tilde told me "non siamo abituati"  ("we are not used to this.")

Here in Florence, there are fewer people out on the street and some of the stores had closed because people could not get in from outlying areas.  I took this picture with my I phone on via del Corso, close to my office, where the friendly neighbors of the shoe shop Sabatini hung this sign "closed because of snow," because the proprietor could not get to Florence from San Donato in Poggio.
San Donato is in the Chianti area of Tuscany, known for its wine.  Its vineyards lie buried under
 a foot of snow.

The down jacket I bought during my student days in Cambridge, Mass. has come in handy.  I braved the cold to attend a performance of "Swan Lake" at the Teatro Comunale.

Feels cold just looking at this, right?

The performance, however,  (also on tonight and tomorrow
at 8:30 pm) was so beautiful
that it warmed the heart.

An updated choreography by Paul Chalmer breathed new life into an old classic.  The dancers, in their fluid and lithe movements, seemed to be a physical extension of Tchaikovsky's music.
Gone is the day that  this resident company, MaggioDanza,
 could be referred to by their ancient nickname "the flying bricks" (mattoni volanti).

At the end of my last post, I promised to write about food.  Of course, after the performance, we headed for some warm food.  What better than a hot pizza?

This pizza Margherita (tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil) just came out of a brick oven at a Florence favorite "I Tarocchi."  Although pizza is a Neapolitan art form. "I Tarocchi" has been famous for its delicious and
moderately priced pizzas since the 1980s.

Located on via de' Renai in the San Niccolò neighborhood, "I Tarocchi" has always been a family affair, in this case
 the Materassi family.

The late Marino Materassi decided to open the first place in Florence with an exclusively pizza or pasta menu (which has since expanded).  He designed the wooden booths, unusual for Florence.  Daughter-in-law Laura  painted the artwork, giant framed Tarot cards ("I Tarocchi" in Italian) which gave the restaurant its name.

Like the Tarot card above, beside food and art, isn't the sun
 what Italy is all about?

Despite the icy temperatures, that evening "I Tarocchi" slowly filled up with friends, families and couples chatting convivially.  In the next booth I heard someone say "some loves are like songs, they don't end but make a few turns and return" (certi amori sono come la canzone, non finiscono mai ma fanno certi giri e ritornono.)

I dutifully wrote this down in my "Beautiful Florence" notebook only after devouring part of my steaming hot sausage and friarielli (a type of broccoli rabe) pizza.  See the notebook in the corner?

The pizza maker is I Tarocchi's only non-family member, a Florentine named Giulio who lives across the street.  The base was light and crusty, the topping a medley of warming winter flavors.
The restaurant is no Olive Garden, but the real deal.

Stefano Materassi, Marino's son and Laura's husband, is in the kitchen to prepare pasta and a few main courses to order, while sons Dario, Silvestro and Marco are the wait staff.

"They are happy to be here, but I wish for them another job," says Stefano, a true Italian father.

His mother Maria Grazia (with him above), who is at the cash register, also creates most of the desserts:  tiramisu, dark chocolate cake and cheese cake.  That evening there was a millefoglie cake -- a sort of giant napoleon its flakey layers filled with a blend of pastry cream and whipped cream studded
 with chunks of dark chocolate.

"My other son Giovanni, Stefano's brother, made this--I don't have his patience," she told me.  Giovanni is is found at "I Tarocchi" at lunchtime (12 noon to 3 pm).  I was surprised to learn that the restaurant is open also every evening except Monday from 7 pm to midnight,
 even on Christmas and Easter.
What better place on an icy Florentine night, with howling tramontana (cold north wind)
to warm the heart and
visit with family?

Otherwise, the Florentines are doing what my cat Puff (Luce's companion) is doing these frosty evenings --curling up at home.

1 comment:

  1. Where I live near Fiesole, it snowed again last night with freezing temperatures and lots of wind. No water this morning...frozen water pipes... So it is, waiting for the sun to warm things up a bit!