Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Devil & Angels, Halloween 2012 in Florence

Even Italians know that today is Halloween.  Accessing the automatic vending machine in the Florence station, a jack o' lantern glowed under the Italian for "Buy your ticket here," and a witch's hat 
suddenly appeared, placed atop the usual self service ticket symbol.

Italians haven't always known today is Halloween.
The festivities accompanying the original Celtic holiday All Hallows Eve,
when the dead visit their former haunts on earth,
have gradually become familiar only in the last 10 years or so.
I wrote the first Halloween column in Italian for the local Florence section
of La Repubblica during the '90s.  It was a real challenge to translate
"trick or treat."  I finally decided on dammi un dolcetto o ti faccio uno scherzetto
(give me a treat or I'll play a trick on you).
Looking at articles published later, I found that I was close to the mark--
my Italian colleagues now write dolcetto o scherzetto?

It is trick or treat time at the Children's Lending Library's
 annual Halloween party, a pure piece of America in Florence.
Above is Kathy Procissi, one of the library volunteers,
epitomizing an appropriate wicked party spirit in the company of her vampire grandchildren.
They are posing in front of the Haunted House.

This good witch is Karene Moser, who made the spectacular ghost cupcakes.  The spider and pumpkin themed cupcakes are the work of Sally Thompson...

...much appreciated by these angelic witch guests.

Besides refreshments and the Haunted House, there were also games for children.

Tinker Bell, aka Charlotte Kerignan, is playing one.

Towards the back of the party room, faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer 
Emilia and myself walked into the actual library.
Founded in 1973 by a group of mothers, the Children's Lending Library is a primary source of
books in English for expatriate resident families.  Volunteers staff the library (open 10 am to 12 noon on Wednesdays, 4 pm to 6 pm on Thursdays, 10 - 10:45 am and 12 noon to 1 pm on Sundays).
It is located in a section of the St. James Episcopal Church undercroft (via B. Rucellai, near the train station).  Volunteers make donations to the church for the space, hold readings, and buy children's books and games.  The necessary revenue comes from annual membership fees (15 euro per year), fundraisers such as the Christmas party, the Easter egg hunt and the Halloween party.
This is why volunteers Alice Kenney, Ann Young and Barbara Maraventano
are collecting a 4 euro admission fee at the door.
They were also selling raffle tickets for the Welcome Great Pumpkin Cake 
(inspired by the Charlie Brownie TV special),
made by Italian volunteer Maurizia Pizzi.

The admission didn't deter devilish Hilary Scott and her angelic 17-month daughter
Ellie Calonaci from attending the Halloween bash.
Both were attracted to probably the only authentic
jack o' lantern in all Florence.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Florence's International Market

Faithful readers of Beautiful Florence probably notice that many of the posts are about food and art.
Together with fashion, that's what Italian culture is about.
Those familiar with Florence are probably also familiar with the city's food markets,
Sant'Ambrogio and San Lorenzo, each specializing in 0 km farm produce.
But for a taste sensation a little more exotic to the palate,
those in the know as well as passing tourists, flock to the
International Market, held every two years in Piazza Santa Croce (above).
The International Market opened today, and will run through Sunday, October 7
(hours 10 am - 10 pm).

Beautiful Florence blog photographer Avigaykil Kelman and I headed over today at high noon.
Temperatures are still summer-like in Florence, but not hot enough to melt the chocolate
displayed by this proud chocolate artisan.

His speciality is cremino, he explained, white chocolate and milk chocolate  
layered with chocolate hazelnut cream.  
He gave us a sample.  Wow!
The only puzzling thing was the chocolate master's name is Fabrizio, and he comes from a town near the northern Italy city of Verona.  Perhaps Florence already considers Verona as "international."

Fabrizio was actually the only Italian we found, except for David, who is noticeable thanks to his 
"I love Finland" tee shirt.  He is in charge of a booth with  Finnish crafts,
 including woolen hand-knit woolen sweaters, scarves and hats.

David also showed us pukki, steel blade knives with raindeer bone or moose antler handles, as well as 
kuksi, handmade carved cups of silver birch that Lapps traditionally use.

"The winters are cold and dark, but the summers with their 'white nights' are one big festival," said David, who admitted living near Helsinki but wouldn't tell us how he ended up there from Italy.

Next, we came across Robert from Amsterdam, with his handcrafted briefcases and wallets.

"I didn't know that the Dutch created leather goods," I commented.
"Ah, yes, many," said Robert, "especially in South Holland."
"It is a strong industry since we have so many cows."
Ah yes, Dutch cheese, I thought.

"Florence is a city of leather," he said, "but our specialty and trademark is natural cowhide."


Next, Avigaykil and I came across a Frenchman who could not speak a word of Italian or English.
From the reaches of my memory, I accessed my high school French.  He understood enough to tell us  he was from Gascony, in southwest France,
 a culinary haven.

"My onions are the violet variety, easier for 
 digestion, the red peppers are biting hot, and 
French garlic is marvelous," he told me.
Viva la cuisine francaise!

I wonder if any of the Frenchman's garlic and onions ended up in this authentic Spanish paella.

Looking closely, I saw mussels, shrimp, pieces of squid and peas in this version from 
Besides the option of take out, nearby tables and benches offer a place to sit down and savor 
the national dish of Spain.

From pungent southern Europe to cool northern Europe, I thought, 
when catching a glimpse of this fairytale stand. 
 Italian, English and French left this attractive couple mute.
Finally, the artisan handed a ceramic token engraved with his name--Romas McKisa--and 
country of origin, Lithuania. 
 All of their crafts are made of the lightest and most delicate ceramic
 that I have had the pleasure to come across.

My high school French came in handy once again with Thierry from Savoy.
Ever the careful journalist, I asked Thierry if the cheese for sale at his stand came from his dairy farm.
Mai non, this honest vendor answered, communicating that he was the proud maker of various French salamis and sausages displayed alongside the cheese.
Salami made from asino, donkey meat?!  A delicacy, Thierry assured me.
I began to wonder what attraction, beyond ceramics, that the self-proclaimed International Market--
which did not wander beyond the borders of Europe--could offer the vegetarian and the vegan.

The answer came from an explosion of color....
Dutch flowers and bulbs in bloom.