Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It Never Rains in Southern California

Well it seems as though the rain is following us.  We left cold, wet, rainy Florence in search of dryer ground and as soon as we arrived in L.A so did the rain!

We were very hopeful in our last few days in Florence as we were receiving news from friends and family that L.A had reached 85 degrees Fahrenheit, (about 30 degrees Celsius)! How exciting considering that it had rained in Florence for exactly one month straight! The entire month of November was wet! We couldn't wait for the sun and warm weather. Well so much for that!

But I guess we really can't complain since it certainly is much warmer here than it was in Florence and it gives us a chance to cuddle up by the fire and watch Christmas movies with my nieces and nephews that I haven't seen in over a year. And my sister and I spent the entire day inside yesterday baking Christmas cookies. Yum! We did ruin a few batches and I think we may have eaten more than we baked but it was tons of fun!
The forecast tells us that the sun will come out tomorrow! Lets hope they're right!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Customer is Always......Wrong!

It was one of those days. I knew it since the moment that I started packing my bags at 10:00 last night that today was going to be one of those days. I actually told myself to make sure I put the house keys in my carry-on bag and not my suitcase just in case something happened and we wouldn't be locked out of the house. I just had a feeling something wasn't right....

This week was filled with stress. The week before a long trip always tends to be a little stressful and even more so when you are like me (slightly OCD with a touch of ADD) not necessarily a good combo when I need to make sure I get orders finished,  the house clean, and make sure that everything that can go bad gets eaten, the cat is brought to the sitters with all the necessary kitty supplies including his bed with his favorite pillow and a months worth of food and kitty litter, all of the laundry done including making sure that I have a clean pair of sheets to put on the bed the morning we leave so that we can come home to a nice clean bed, packing, and well everything else that is involved in preparing for a month long trip to the U.S with my Italian husband.

Well it seems that we forgot one thing. One very important thing. A Visa for my husband. Yup, that's right apparently in order for a non-citizen to enter into the United Sates these days, one must obtain an ESTA visa from the Department of homeland security. Who knew? Us that's who! Now mind you this is not the first time we have traveled to the U.S together, in fact its been about 10 years that he has come and gone, passing right through customs with his Italian passport in hand and his blue landing card filled out nice and legibly (by me of course) with his adorable smile and charming Italian accent. Never a problem. Until now.

So here it goes. After making sure I saw some friends and fulfilled all of the above mentioned chores, I finally begin packing a suitcase at about 10:00 last night along with the man in question.  At about 1am we are ready to bite each others heads off (well we actually did) so we try to decide if at that point we should just stay awake that way we could almost guarantee sleep on the plane, or try and catch a few zzz's. We choose the latter.  Its not 2 minutes after I lay down ( or so it seems anyway) that I hear the alarm telling me its 4am and time to get in the shower and ready for our 7:15 flight to Paris, the first leg of our 14 and a half hour fight to sunny Los Angeles California. Yup that's right 3 hours of sleep. But we manage.

We call the taxi which takes what feels like an eternity to arrive as we are standing outside our apartment in the dark freezing cold.  Finally she comes and we are on our way.....or so we think.  As we turn the corner, we see that there is a delivery truck in the middle of the street unloading supplies for the mini grocery store, one load after the other. Now mind you, this is Italy, meaning that these trucks are lucky to fit down these little tiny roads to begin with, there is no way around the truck and there is no other way to go as we are surrounded by one way streets all leading to the only way out onto the main boulevard.  So we wait, and we wait, and we wait some more. Finally after about 15 minutes, sensing my stress in the backseat next to him, my Superhero gets out of the taxi and very nicely asks the truck driver to move his truck as he quickly does.

We finally get to the Florence airport at 6:15. Boarding begins at 6:45, I'm starting to feel the back of my throat closing up on me from the anxiety that we are going to miss the flight and the hubby turns to me and says tranquillo amore, non ti preoccupare, everything is gonna be fine, we're perfectly on time. So with that I relax and head up to the counter when its our turn, and that's when things go from ok everything is going to be fine to WTF!!! You have got to be kidding me!

You see this is the moment in which the desk agent asks my husband for his visa. Visa? What visa? What are you talking about he doesn't need a visa to go to the United States. Does he? Since when?  Yup he sure does. You see this is where the customer is wrong.  So I try to calmly explain to the lovely lady behind the Air France check-in counter that, he has been to the U.S. a million times before and he has NEVER needed a visa.  Well things change.  The new law went into effect in January of 2009. Mind you we flew to New York in October of 2009, still no visa required.

Ok so what now? Well another Signora from Air France very kindly offered to take Luigi into her office so that he could fill out the form on-line. (Its only supposed to take a few minutes) and she is hopeful that we will still be able to make the flight. Mind you it was about 6:40 by this point and last call for boarding is 7:00. He leaves me with the bags and runs upstairs. He calls me about a half a dozen times asking me for  various information about where we are staying once we arrive in Los Angeles, questions he apparently had to fill out on the visa form. He finally calls me and tells me to go to the check in desk with the bags and that he is on his way down. Whewww! We did it!

Except that we didn't. It turns out that the information didn't go though!! OMG!!! So the first lovely lady behind the Air France desk then asks me if I still want to go without him. My response is naturally 'no' of course I don't want to leave my husband behind. So I say to her, well eventualmente we can get on this same flight tomorrow right?  And she says, si we can try to get you on the next flight. So we agree that she will cancel us from this flight.  Well as it turns out the super-economy ticket that we bought is non-refundable and non-changeable.  And not just non-changeable as in you can't just change your mind and decide that you want to leave another day, but non-changeable as in if your ass ain't in that seat, well your SOL my friend.  I mean I understand the non-refundable part, we weren't asking for our money back, but the fact that they wouldn't even honor the ticket and get us on another flight? Wow! I have to say I was shocked. Yes, it was our mistake, admittedly, but come on help us out here! Especially since it was the lovely lady behind the Air France counter that made it sound so simple.

Now I tried to stay calm and let the husband do all the talking figuring well he's the Italian here, it just makes more sense. But I could only stay quite so long.  The reasoning of the airline was that the person checking us in does not know the circumstances of our ticket and could not have known what the restrictions were, i.e, to warn me that if I did not get on that plane we would loose two tickets, not just one. That they have many different fares for the same flight and cannot be expected to know each one.  According to the Air France representative it was my responsibility to know that if I said I did not want to go without my husband that I was knowingly voiding my ticket.  The next series of logic that I received from them is that the lovely lady behind the Air France counter, well she is NOT actually an Air France representative she just checks people into Air France flights so she doesn't really know if its possible to get us on another flight. WHAT???? And I am supposed to know that the lovely lady sitting at the Air France counter checking in Air France passengers does not actually work for Air France. Oh, and well what do we expect, I mean the tickets were so cheap. Because, we happen to be rolling around in money over here and 1000 bucks is really not that much! So as you can see around here, the customer really is ALWAYS wrong!

So we left the airport feeling completely and entirely defeated and after 50 euro in cab fare we are now back at home.  After checking his email (as he was instructed to do by the other Signora from Air France, remember the one who took him upstairs to fill out the form on-line) several times to see if this visa has been authorized, I began to research this new law and try to find out exactly when it was put into practice, I found out that there is no email, in fact there will NEVER be an email because the said traveler must go back to their web site and enter in the access code they were given upon completion of this form and see if it has been approved, and guess what? Low and behold, there it is, APPROVED! Many of the web sites I found mentioned that it would be approved in pochi secondi. So we are completely and totally convinced that it was approved as soon as the form was sent but that the other Signora from Air France simply didn't know what she was doing.

So what now.  Well since we were told we could no longer use our tickets, we have actually purchased new tickets! Yup, that's right. Two of them! Bright, sparkly, shiny, new tickets!

Yes we have submitted a request for a reimbursement of taxes, but we will still be loosing a significant amount of money, as well as another 25euro cab ride back to the airport tomorrow morning! Aren't we lucky.

I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I have no idea yet what the reason is here, but I am sure I will find out soon enough.......

But, don't worry Air France hasn't heard the last from me!

Oh and did I mention that I am a Flying Blue card member? 

My exhaustion has reached it's maximum at this point so it is now time for a nice pizza and a nice pillow so that we can hope to muster up enough energy to ourselves back to the airport tomorrow morning. This time the flight isn't until 10:00a.m so at least we don't have to get up at 4.

So tell me what you think. Even if you don't agree with me, I wanna hear it.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Its Christmastime a Firenze. Every year during the holidays the city is made beautiful when the lights go up all over the streets and the various markets featuring just about anything and everything that you could ever want start to open up in the various Piazze around town. One of the markets that I always look forward to every year is the International market in Piazza Santa Croce. It is always filled with Unique holiday items and deliciousness. The temptations are everywhere and its very hard to resist sampling one of everything. This is particularly dangerous since this market is only about 4 blocks from my house. A little too easy to get to. Since you will be able to see that for yourself, I will let the pictures do (most) of the talking. (You didn't think I could really go the whole time without adding my 2 centesimi now did you?)

This was my lunch. Yummy! Sorry to my veggie friends but it was so goooooooooood!
And this was our desert
Ohhhhhh so comfy and warm! Yes we each got a pair! In fact in wearing them right now!
got some of these too.
And this guy really wanted me to take his photo! I know its a little blurry but he was really funny so I had to add....
.....both. He's French.
So I've already decided that I'm going back tomorrow for one of these. 
Now I just have to decide which kind I want. 
Aroma for your kitchen. So pretty
Love these. 
 Kinda thinking that I might want one of these.....

These girls were bringin sexy back....! Really they were blasting the song!
And this is really how our pizza gets delivered around here!
And these are for you Dr. Mooney!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Art of Conversation

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend and colleague of mine, a fellow contemporary artist, we are essentially just getting to know each other on a personal level and we submersed ourselves in a compelling conversation. We discussed our goals as artists as well as our sincere reasons for doing what we do. We asked each other some interesting and provoking questions and inspired each other to move forward with these objectives despite the negative reaction we may receive. 

We both expressed frustration with our current jobs and the fact that everyone thinks its so cool! And are constantly telling us what a great job we have, or how they would love to have our job and that we are so lucky, must be so fun, etc. Yes it is, sometimes, but it's still work. It is not all fun all the time. Now I now everyone gets frustrated with their work at times but the real question we find ourselves asking is, is this  really what we want to be doing?

Well we shouldn’t complain right? Lots of people would love to have our job, especially in this economy, its money, it’s a steady income, its one of the more well paid jobs in the city. But if we settle for this mediocrity then there is no opportunity for excellence.

We have altered our lives by moving here because we did not feel that our previous homes fit our needs. So why should we sacrifice our goals and reasons for being here only to do a job we don’t like just to make a buck?  When do we actually try to fulfill our life ambitions? We get so caught up in the world around us and the bubble that we live in that we forget to look beyond that, we realize this is not what we want to be doing, but don’t really know how to move away from that.

Both of us have lived in Florence for many years and we have seen many people come and go we wonder why that is. Is it where we are or who we are that is the problem? What is it that we are looking for? And do we think we can find it simply by changing our environment? And sure one could argue that other countries assure higher paying jobs, but does it really matter how much money you are making if you are not truly happy?

When is it time to take that risk and do what it is we believe in? Why is it that we are so afraid to be ourselves? Is it because everyone tells us we can’t, tells us how hard it is to be ourselves, to accomplish our goals, so we passively continue doing what we are doing because it’s just easier that way?

The jobs we have are guaranteed income, there is no fight involved, no struggle to communicate our message. One of the examples used in the conversations was comparing our artwork to speaking a second language. We know how to speak the language and we understand the language, but we still make mistakes and there are times when we might not be able to properly explain exactly what it is that we want to say but we must get over that fear of error and just open our mouths and speak. That fear often times causes us to say nothing at all.  

I realized yesterday that I am missing out on a whole world because I’m involved in another that doesn’t fit right.  It’s right in front of me and I just didn’t see it.

What frustrates me more than anything else is that I too moved away from Florence 6 years ago, OMG, to go back to school, searching for something more, I didn’t want to do this job anymore, and then I came back and I am still doing it. I only have myself to blame. I told myself it would only be for a few months while I figured everything else out, and now 3 years later I feel stuck doing something just to make the money.
Another friend asked me why am I spending all of my energy to make someone else prosper when I should be using it to prosper myself? Great question. The truth is, I am scared I will fail; I am scared that I am not good enough.

I keep telling myself that I can always go back to my day job if it doesn’t work, am I setting myself up for failure? Does success come when we tell ourselves that there is no alternative? It’s all or nothing. I’m not fishing for compliments here or for anyone else to assure me of my ability or talent because that is only something I can do within myself. I am genuinely trying to work out this dilemma.

We have to ask ourselves, what will we regret more? What we’ve done or what we haven’t done? I believe in being passionate about what you do, and apparently I have become a very good actor because people tell me all the time how obvious my passion is for what I do, how much they can tell that I love my job. And I indulge them,  I tell them how lucky I am and how great it is that I get to do this. And I am lying through my teeth! 

I need to converge on my own work, not continuously focus on the work of others. I want to admire the past but move into the future. When a person is truly happy it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or thinking or saying. Envy dies when fulfillment is reached.

Life is about demanding more of yourself, and my current position no longer does that for me. It’s as if I have stopped learning or challenging myself, and that is my greatest fear, I don’t ever want to stop learning. Ever.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For the Love of God

The Palazzo Vecchio has been the seat of Florentine government for more than 700 years. It then became the home of the Medici family in the 16th century when the 17 year old Cosimo de’Medici became the new leader of Florence. For Centuries the Medici struggled for wealth and power, they commissioned some of the most important works of art from the Renaissance period and demanded the best that money could buy, only to be met by inevitable death and complete loss of family lineage.

Today I went to see the Damien Hirst piece titled For the Love of God, on display at the Old Palace and was quite frankly, fascinated. I simply could not take my eyes off of the 8,601 diamonds that cover the platinum skull. It was brilliant in every sense of the word, literally and figuratively. I had heard about this piece a few years ago when it was first displayed in the Rykes museum in Amsterdam but realized today that seeing pictures of the piece does not do it justice. It was quite simply amazing.

After  purchasing our tickets we walked into the museum through the normal entrance of the sala di 500,  the room from the 1500’s, complete with Renaissance sculptures by Michelangelo and fresco paintings by Giorgio Vasari. To our right there was a small line where after being met by a security guard and showing our ticket, we were allowed to enter thorough a small side door into a tiny room filled with more paintings from the 1500’s. From there we waited for a second security guard to communicate with the guard in the next room, once she was given the ok, the curtain opened and  stepped into yet another tiny pitch black room where the work is being displayed. It sits in a glass case, which, naturally is alarmed and we were warned not to get too close. It appears as if the skull is floating in mid air, each diamond dancing in the light that shines down directly on the piece from above, we then walked around it where we could see that every crevice of that head is incrusted in diamonds. Amazing. In fact, one’s first reaction may very well be, Per L’amor di Dio!! or For the love of God!! I personally have never seen that many diamonds in my life. 
 Photo courtesy of google images
And even though I was in awe of what was in front of me, I couldn't help but to think, standing inside this immense palace filled with all of this incredible 16th century art work,  of the old adage that you can't take it with you when you die. 

The piece immediately calls to mind the Renaissance scenes of the last judgment with reminders of death scattered throughout the works in the form of skeletons, cautioning people to be good Christians because God is watching and ultimately only He will judge you. It seems that Hirst’s work is a reflection of contemporary society that speaks to our attachment to wealth and beauty with the inexorable conclusion of death.  It is thought provoking and parallels many events in Florentine history such as The Bonfires of the Vanities in which the fanatic monk Savanarola convinced the Florentines that their focus on materialism would lead to an eternity al inferno!  And one must wonder, have we really come that far?

Death is ultimately the conclusion of life and this piece will not let you forget it. Try as you will, it all ends prima o poi. 
Contemporary art in a city like Florence is undoubtedly necessary.The city survives on its inheritance, the old masters did it all and the Medici left it for us to admire, and we all make our living through the thousands of tourists who pass though every year to see it. But what about now? There are many contemporary artists that are forced to compete with what history classifys as art, ignoring the progression and change that has occurred. I have heard many argue that they do not like contemporary art or find no interest in it, but my feeling is that a true art historian or lover of art understands its significance and the important role it plays in present-day society and how art arrived at the point it is today.
The Renaissance was one of the most important historical movements in history.  It was just as much of an intellectual movement as it was an artistic movement.  The Renaissance period allowed us to be who we are today.  It was about educating yourself and forming your own opinion, breaking free from the medieval ideas that life revolved around death and that your only reason for living was assuring your passage into heaven. It was about the freedom to think for yourself and form an opinion regarding the world in which we live.

What was so significant about the Renaissance as an artistic movement is that the artists progressed from the Medieval and Byzantine period, they understood that it was time to move forward and be something different. The Impressionists challenged the ideas and practices of what came before them.  Then there were the Modernists who broke away from the traditional  ideal of art making, the Futurists spoke of the need to break free from the past completely, and the Abstract Expressionists who sought to ‘destroy’ the image entirely. And now we find ourselves searching for the next big thing- well its here. And what an interesting conversation it makes to place the most expensive work of art ever sold by a living artist, (it sold for 50 million British pounds) in one of the oldest buildings in the city which was occupied by the most important family in the history of Flroence and arguably the world who almost single handily funded the entire Renaissance movement,  only to die out and have no one left to carry on the legacy or family name – the connections are fascinating and the dialogue provoking.
 image courtesy of Wikipedia
Art is about progression and how we can respond to what has already been done and how we move forward. Your ability to understand the meaning of the work is not as important as it to understand the importance of contemporary art as a progressive movement.  I myself am not necessarily a fan of the 'image' of a shark cut in half and submersed in a tank of formaldehyde (as an example of other works by Hirst) but I do understand the significance of it and the significance of the artist himself. 

Artists are notoriously classified as poor or suffering for their work, and being misunderstood. As Hirst shows us through this piece, that is no longer the case, nor is it necessary. The artist purchased all of the diamonds himself - it is certainly a far cry from the contracted images of the Renaissance and the fact that the artist was not allowed the freedom of creativity and/or intellectual autonomy, but rather it was a job and based solely on ones technical ability to create an image. Some tried to break free, push the envelope and make statements but it was rarely understood.

There will always be a response to what happened before. The focus is not so much on the image that you are looking at but rather on what the artist is trying to communicate. Art is a language. It always has been. Contemporary art is a form of communication where the artist is allowing you think and decide on your own what you think the story is.  It bares your intelligence in mind, provoking you to think and form your own opinion based on your personal experiences and view of the world around you.  Perhaps Hirst is challenging the viewer in this piece to self-reflect and think about who exactly is your God.

Of course we cannot expect, nor would I suggest that we no longer focus on the history of this amazing city, but I would suggest that we not be so quick to deny the importance and relevance of the contemporary movement in a city like Florence. I believe that it is vital for the future of this city. But not for the thousands of tourists who come to visit every year, but for the young people who live here, to not be expected to take over the family restaurant or souvenir shop but rather to find a way of participating in a discourse with the rest of the world.   Florence in all of its splendor and historical glory can be surprisingly uninspiring at times. For those of us who live here, the Uffizi is amazing, but sometimes we would also like to see something new. Florence must move forward and give a platform to the young and talented artists who are living today. This is a good start.

You can usually find a contemporary art exhibit at Palazzo Strozzi which changes just about every 6 months. I always look forward to seeing the shows there, however it is a rather small portion of the city reserved for contemporary work. They have had some good shows in the recent past which have included one of my personal favorites, Gerhard Richter, and while the current Bronzino exhibit is quite beautiful, I have to say I was slightly disappointed that they decided to use the space to house a Renaissance show.

There are a few other contemporary galleries in the city, and I have noticed a few more popping up here and there as well, and a definite increase in the time that I have lived here. I will be posting links to these contemporary galleries very soon so be sure to check out the details.

The Damien Hirst piece at Palazzo Vecchio is definitely worth a visit if you are here in Florence. If you have seen it I am interested in hearing your thoughts. So drop me a comment below. I’m also including a video here of the artist talking about the work himself, its very interesting to watch especially after seeing the work.

Who knows, maybe you can take it with you when you die after all....

Along with this video there are many others. Here is another that I thought was interesting, yes it starts off in Dutch, but keep watching because the interview with Hirst is in English and he has some interesting things to say about the piece and about being an artist.  You can view the video here.

I'm also including another video on the work on one of my former professors from Art Center College of Design, he has some interesting points about the progression of art and how it creates the contemporary. Check out this interview with John Millei.

Ciao e buona visione!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

This Little Piggy Went to Market

Saturday is my favorite day of the week. Not only because I get to sleep in but rather because Saturday morning is when I go to the market. Mercato Sant'Ambrogio is literally 1 block and a corner away from where I live and even though it's open Monday-Saturday, I usually like to head over on Saturdaay morning to stock up for the week.  Luckily I can always run over during the week too just in case I find myself missing something. And much to our delight they have recently extended the hours on Wednesday and Friday to 7pm.  Every other day it is open form 7:30am to 1:30-2pmish.

Generally I let  myself wake up whenever I want and make some coffee for my husband and I and then I head on over the market with my trusty carrello. I love this thing let me tell you! And I fit in with all the old Italian ladies too!
I usually start outside and walk around the section that has all the clothes and housewares first to see if there is anything that I simply cannot live without.  You can find anything you can imagine here, from clothes to jewelry and shoes to linens to pots and pans.

I am loving all the recently added bead and jewelry supply vendors! Great stuff for great prices. 
 The vendors are on a rotating schedule which means they move around the city to the various outdoor market places. That means you will usually find different products and vendors each time you go.

     This guys had some great scarves today. I bought 2. They were only 
5euro a piece! Can't beat that!

After I look around a bit I head over to the front outside portion and pick up all my fruits and veggies.  The choices are plentiful and I never know what to choose. The good thing is that most of them are seasonal so the selection changes just about every 3 months or so. No broccoli in the Spring and Summer around here!

 People ask me all the time how its possible for the Italians to stay so thin. Its pretty hard to resist all this healthy goodness around here!
After I gather up all the fresh produce my heart desires I usually head indoors for all the rest. Meat and dairy products as well as grains and flours and anything else that may look particularly appealing that day. 

 While yes, Saturday Morning is the busiest day of the week, I don't mind. I love the idea of being amongst the crowds listening to all the noises watching the worker interacting with all the locals.
 This little guy is looking through the glass at all those yummy dolce! Just waiting patiently for his turn.

 Quite possibly THE best yogurt I have ever tasted in my life! I get a little container every week. In fact they don't even have to ask me anymore!
And then I head back home and throw it all together and have the most delicious lunch imaginable.
So if you really want to do as the Florentines, head over to Mercato Sant'Ambrogio any day of the week (except Sunday of course) and dig in! I always tell tourists this when they ask me where the most authentic place for a Florentine lunch is......are you drooling yet? I think I need a little snack myself!
Ciao e Buon Appetito!

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