Thursday, January 31, 2013

Should I stay or should I go? My Italian love affair

The frustration of living in Italy. It's a common theme around here. It always has been, it always will be. In fact there has even been a documentary film made titled Italy:  Love it or Leave it addressing the issue, which  is quite serious these days. Two guys, one Italian one German, travel the entire country in a vintage Fiat 500 in search of a reason, something, anything, to stay here.

Over the 12 years I've spent living here I have seen many people come and go, some of them very good friends that I miss dearly. Both expats and Italians. I won't lie, it's hard to get close to someone and then one day find out that they are leaving because Italy no longer has anything to offer them. Of course with the way things are going lately with the economy and politicians I can't say I blame them. I've had my moments too. In fact back in 2004 I was frustrated enough to leave an amazing apartment and a 'decent' job and convince my husband to move to California with me.

We spent 3 years there while I went back to school and he worked odd jobs and took ESL classes at the local community center. Perhaps it was our circumstance that weren't ideal but somehow we ended up back in Italy. Why? Well because at the end of the day it's the place that suites us best. For now anyway.

I learned two very valuable lessons in those 3 years. Nothing and nowhere is perfect. And never say never.

Sure I get jealous of my sister's beautiful big house with her giant kitchen and family room, but guess what? Turns out she is just as jealous of my tiny one bedroom apartment and miniature kitchen in the city. For some Italy is not the best option for living as I can assure you it is nothing like 'Under the Tuscan Sun' or 'La Dolce Vita' unless of of course you are independently wealthy or freakishly gorgeous.
So NOT my life. 
But it does have its benefits and of course it's disadvantages, but so do most countries in the world. As my dear friend Michele put it before returning to Boston, one thing is for sure, no body moves to Italy to make money. Our reasons in fact, are very different.

The fact of the matter is this; Italy is an amazing country to visit or to come to study and a great place to live if you are an artist, designer, historian or other type of creative person who wants to be inspired Every. Single. Day. Or the kind of person looking for a new adventure and isn't concerned with the inner workings of the system or who doesn't mind working whatever job(s) come your way just to get by, then Italy is your country soul mate. The food is incredible and fresh and healthy, the wine is to die for and lets face it, the place is breathtakingly beautiful and chock full of history.

But if you are career oriented and looking to make good money or if you prefer structure over chaos, and expect things to function properly such as public services, then I would say that it will only be a matter of time before you decide its time to see other people. And it certainly doesn't help that the Italians themselves are not their usually happy go lucky selves these days. All things considered.

So the important question to ask yourself, wether you're deciding to come or go is, not where you are going to be happy, but rather what do you need to be happy. Trust me, living in Italy, is most definitely a test of mankind's greatest virtue and believe me, I have my moments even now, yes even now. There are times when I am ready to pick up and go but at the end of the day, what it comes down to is searching inside yourself and understanding what happiness means to you. We can't depend on anyone or anything else to that for us. Happiness is ours and ours alone. So just remember that the grass is not always greener, on either side.

One thing is for sure, everyone has to do what is best for them to find their happiness.

What do you think of all this? Have you loved and left? Or are you forever faithful? (or at least for now anyway) are you somewhere in between? Tell us the tale of your Italian affair!

Mentioned in this post:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pasta e Broccoli

Do Italians really eat pasta everyday? Mostly yes. At least that's true in my house and that of my in-laws. Not only do they eat pasta everyday but its usually at 1pm.

What that means of course is that it's necessary to change things up and mix in a variety of sauces and flavors. After all we can't really eat pasta and tomato sauce everyday.

One of my all time favorite pasta dishes is pasta e broccoli. My mamma always made it when I was growing up so not only is it super delicious but also a little reminder of home. Since produce is always seasonal around here, this is a dish that I usually only get to eat about for about 3 months out of the year but it's a perfect winter meal. Nice and hot and super filling.

I do things a little differently then Mamma Jo and Mamma Finetta (my Italian MIL). There are many different ways of making this dish, for example my mom usually boils the broccoli for about 5 minutes and leaves it a little al dente, whereas my MIL boils it until its super soft and then throws it in the blender and makes broccoli sauce of sorts. Me? I prefer it somewhere in the middle. The tips get soft and tend to melt when I mix them in with the hot pasta but the stems still have a slight crunch to them.

So here is my version. When I cook I never measure. I think this is pretty standard in most home cooked Italian meals. I know my mother never measures anything. So my version will consist of 'a little of this and a few of these'

Ingredients: (This makes 2 LARGE portions) 
1 large bunch of broccoli (I like to use fresh, but frozen would work just as well) 
3-4 garlic cloves (more or less if you prefer) 
about 250g of short Pasta such as pene, farfalle, or fussili
Parmigiano Reggiano, as much or as little as you like 
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
salt to taste

So the first thing I do is break the broccoli into smaller pieces and rinse. Then boil a large pot of water add a pinch of salt and throw the broccoli in. Depending on how you like your broccoli cooked, leave to boil anywhere from 5-12 minutes.

Boil your pasta in the same pot after you remove your broccoli to absorb more flavor!

Next break off 3-4 garlic cloves and smash the skin off with a large chopping knife, then chop garlic  into chucks. Heat some olive oil in a separate pan and brown the garlic, but be careful not to burn it. When your broccoli is to the desired tenderness, transfer it with a slotted spoon into the pan with the garlic and saute. You may want to add a little of the water to the saute pan to keep it from drying out, I usually do. Next, while still occasionally stirring your broccoli, throw the pasta in the same water that you used to boil the broccoli. This is going to add some extra broccoli flavor to your pasta so its very important not to throw this water away. Grate some of that Parmigiano and mix it in with the broccoli, this also usually where I add a bit of salt to my broccoli too. And finally, just before the pasta is fully cooked, if your broccoli looks like its drying out, grab a ladle and add a bit of the water and mix it in. Drain your pasta and combine it with the broccoli. Top it off with the rest of the Parmigiano.
Make sure yours say 'Parmigiano Reggiano' on the rind. This is how you can be sure its authentic. I like mine on the fresher side, meaning that its going to be a bit soft. The hardness will depend on its age. You could also use other types of cheese. For example Mamma Jo uses an aged Pecorino Romano that has a nice tang to it and goes well with the broccoli. 
I like lots of cheese on mine so I usually grate up a good amount!
I ONLY use whole wheat pasta at home, this make the dish even more healthy! Its more filling this way too. Lots of fiber! Some people insist that they don't like it, but honestly after the fist couple of times you really can't tell the difference anymore. I've also tried several different brands and really find Barilla to be the best of the whole wheats! 
And there it is! A delicious, hot healthy home cooked lunch! (or dinner) 
Do you have a different version of this dish? I'd love to know how you make yours! Please share in the comments section below! Buon appetito!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Closing Exhibits

Next week will be the last week to see some great exhibits in Florence and like usual I always think I have more time and then find myself trying to catch them all before they're gone! I did get a chance however, to see the Francis Bacon show a few months ago This is a great contemporary art group show at Palazzo Strozzi's Strozzina centere for contemporary culture. I definitely enjoyed this exhibit even though I did find myself trying to no avail to explain to a somewhat angry Italian woman 'why this is considered art'. I guess that means that the show was a success since that is precisely the point. What is art? and who decides? Does beauty define art or vice versa? Definitely worth a visit before it ends on January 27th.

I was a big fan of the work of Annegret Soltau's threaded photographs as well as her threaded web room. Good stuff. 

Also at the Palazzo Strozzi is the 1930's: The Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism. I have yet to see this one and hope to get there this weekend. It looks pretty interesting with works from Giorgio de Chirico,  Lucio Fontana, and Giorgio Morandi, just to name a few. 

And then there is the amazing Marilyn at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum . I am slightly confused about this one though since one of the flyers says that it ends January 28th while another shows the date running though April 1. I think I'll try to stop in this week and check it out. I will be sure to report back on this one. 

And then of curse since a couple of there shows are coming down there are two new ones that I am looking forward to. The first will take the place of the Fancis Bacon exhibit at the strozzina titled An Idea of Beauty  running from March 29th - July 28th. This show will focus on what beauty means to us today. Sounds great and should be interesting to see after the Marilyn exhibit. I can't wait to check this one out. 
And lastly, for now, is Salvador Dali. The incredible and fabulously mad Salvador Dali is coming to Palazzo Medici Riciardi in his own universe as he deserves to be (and how the show will be titled) The Dali Universe will open February 1st. 

So as you can see there is plenty going on around town for those of us looking beyond the Renaissance.
Let me know if you've seen any of these exhibits and what you thought of them. Leave a comment below!  

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday Musings: Tuscan Interiors

I think in my next life I will come back as an interior designer. Or perhaps I already was in my past life. All I know is that I can't seem to get enough of it these days or any other day for that matter. Maybe it's because it's cold and rainy again (although we did get a glimpse of sunshine last week and over the weekend) and I've still been spending a LOT of time inside. I'm always looking for great design ideas and I am completely addicted to Pintrest, so this Monday is the result of some of my recent discoveries and faves! I hope they inspire you as much as they have me. Buon lunedi.
Tuscan Interiors with a modern touch. Apartment Therapy 
I so love this kitchen! Makes me want to redo mine right now! From Interiors and Design less Ordinary
Another view of the same kitchen 
Same house, outside patio. To die for or what?! 
I think this book needs to be on my Amazon wish list! 
Inside the Hotel Four Seasons Firenze
Inside the Hotel Four Seasons Firenze. Seriously Wow! Just gorgeous!
Inside an Antiquarian's home in Florence from Interior Design, Home Design, Decorating Ideas Blog
J.K Palace Hotel in Piazza Santa Maria Novella
Indoor / Outdoor living space from Architectural Digest
And another from Architectural Digest
Lovely bedroom from Inspirational Album Blog
And a great door to get inside. Photo from Mermaid Child

Friday, January 25, 2013

Contemporary Florence: An interview with Helen Bayley

As an artist and designer one of the most important influences for me are other artists and designers. I believe that having a community of like-minded people who share  the same ideas and passions is essential to creativity. Art in its many forms is a language and I am continually fascinated by the message that other artists aim to communicate though their work
The ideas of the Renaissance masters was not to continue repeating the same ideas and methods but rather to continue pushing forward and create the new and unexpected and to challenge the perception of what art is while paying tribute to those that came before them.  Contemporary art aims to push the boundaries of these accepted ideas and move away from the past to create the present.  With this in mind,  I will be conducting a series of interviews here on my blog to highlight the artists, designers and creative minds of present day Florence
In conjunction with our facebook group Creative People in Florence, I will be conducting these interviews with our group members. In the coming months I hope to be able to interview each member who is currently living in Florence as a way of highlighting their wide range of talents. The questions will be exactly the same for each artist/designer and creative person, what is fascinating are the similarities as well as the differences in the answers.

It's Friday! And that means it's time for another interview with an amazing artist who calls Florence home. With me today is Helen Bayley, painter and Florentine Tour Guide extraordinaire! I had the pleasure of working with Helen a few years back while I was conducting tours of Florence I also participated in the group exhibition Amerigo & America: Contemporary Art in Florence with her. 

Helen has shown her work in galleries in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington DC, and will be one of 8 artists to exhibit at "Gallerie Sparta" in Beverly Hills in their inaugural exhibition later this spring. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself: I am originally form Uk but was educated in US.  First a BFA in Painting at RISD then MFA in Painting at Indiana University.  I then taught painting and drawing at the university level for about twenty years.  The last 7 at Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia.

Why did you choose Florence or did Florence choose you? My first experience in Italy was in 1987 as a study abroad student in Rome.  I caught the Italy bug and as soon as I was able, began to return as often as possible.  I came for travel, study and teaching.  The four years before moving to Florence I attended summer workshops at The Florence Academy of Art.  Florence is perfect fit for me as a city because of it's beauty, art and cultural, history and also size.  I love being able to walk or cycle almost anywhere.

What is your favorite thing/place/sight in the city or all of the above? Piazza della Signora still amazes me as do the views in each direction from the Ponte Santa Trinita and also San Miniato al Monte.

Was there a defining moment when you knew that you wanted to be an artist? If so when and what was it? I was five and began showing other five year olds how to do their school art projects.

What or who is your greatest inspiration and why?  Caravaggio is probably numero uno, but also Bristish painting and Italian Painting.  Many different artists from Sir Thomas Gainsborough to Turner, Artemisia Gentileschi and Lucien Freud.

What is the best thing about being an artist? What is the most difficult part? The best, finding yourself in that creative zone that is becoming completely lost in your work.  Worst, earning a living!

What message do you hope to convey with your art/creative process? My message changes however, there is usually something about man's relationship with nature embedded in each piece.

What is art/design to you? How would you define art? Beauty but not always.  A vehicle for communication.

Do you listen to music when you work? If so who or what? Usually always.  Anything from opera to Pearl Jam.

If you could go back in time 10 years knowing everything that you know now what would you change and why? Or what would you tell yourself? I would have moved to Florence earlier.

How have your two cultures affected your work? I had an excellent education in USA with lots of art history, much of it Italian.  Last year I completed and passed the course to become a licensed tour guide.  Thus Saints!  There will be more saints in my work!

Who is your favorite artist/designer/writer/performer? Odd Nerdrum.

What is your favorite movie? Cinema Paradiso and A Room With a View

What is your favorite book? Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follet and The Sixteen Peasures by Robert Hellenger

Describe yourself in five words. Creative, intelligent, sensitive, thoughtful and independent!

When you’re not being creative what do you do? Work! (as a Tour Guide)
In my free time... walk and spend time with my amazing friends in Florence!

If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be? I am here.
I would like to travel more and visit more if the great cities and museums in Europe.

Is there anything else that you want people to know about you? As well as being a painter, I am also a teacher and now a licensed guide of Florence.

Thank you Helen for sharing your work and your thought with us! Its been a pleasure!

If you are planning a visit to Florence and looking for a great tour guide with in- depth knowledge of the city and the techniques of the masters, you can contact Helen here.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Super Sale!

As we (ok, so it's just my hubby at this point) work on getting my new studio built (finally), I am cleaning up and organizing all of my supplies and inventory in order to make room for the new Spring designs. So that means a HUGE sale. Everything in my Etsy shop is now 50% off! All you have to do is enter coupon code Happy2013 at checkout to receive your discount. Here is a little sample of some of the pieces on sale. Happy shopping!

Chunky Statement Neckace

Chunky Statement Necklace

Polymer Clay Statement Necklace

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday Musings: Butterflies, Teapots, and Flowers

It's been cold and rainy since I returned from California, so yes, you could say that I am California dreaming on such a winters day. I honestly don't know how the Scandinavians do it, with such little sun for 6 months! I guess the payff must be the 6 other months of constant light! I am very much looking forward to sunshine, flowers and warmer days so I am musing away and gathering inspiration for the week and attempting to add some color to this grey day. Here are a few of my favorites, like a breath of fresh air, I hope they will revive your senses and make your day happy!

Desire to Inspire
Dwell Accessories
Metal Sculpture by David Kracov
Just one of the many gorgeous pieces by Kathe Fraga 

From the exquisite Giorgianna Lane

One of my all time favorite interior designers, Patricia Guild
Christy Kinard
Just another reason to go to NYC! Fabulous scupture by Will Ryman
Flower Construction by Anne ten Donkelaar
Claire Basler
Jose Villa photography
If we can't have the sunshine just yet, at least there is hot tea. Now if only I had a teapot like this! 

Don't be Shy! Share!