Notes From Italy, Vol. 3: Food Highlight #1

Via Dei Neri
Via Dei Neri, with tower of Palazzo Vecchio in distance

My favorite street in Florence, by far, was Via Dei Neri, a narrow, 4-block stretch, one block in from the north bank of the Arno River, lined with shops, trattorias, osterias, pizzerias, cafés, bars, gelaterias, bakeries…

…so yeah, mostly food, and only a block from the apartment we were staying in.

There are no major landmarks directly on Via Dei Neri — though you can look up and westward to see the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio — and this adds enormously to its off-the-beaten-tourist-path charm.

As mentioned in my Notes From Italy, Vol. 1:

As you stroll through the narrow, cobblestone streets, it seems that every other doorway is a café, bar, or restaurant with outdoor seating, even the tiniest hole-in-the-wall establishments have a handful of stools in the doorway or out on the narrow sidewalk, and Italians sit there with their espresso or glasses of wine in their hands, seemingly not a care in the world, fully relaxed, entertained by just being there.

The epitome of the tiniest hole-in-the-wall establishment is All’antico Vinaio:

All'Antico-Vinaio
Source: Halldis Discover

Though not shown in this photo, there is almost always a line out the door and into the street at this wonderful little osteria, and for a very good reason: for just €7, one can get the most delicious sandwich I ever had — prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato and arugula on rustic schiacciata bread with fantastically chewy crust — all washed down with an equally chewy glass of chianti.

Yes, wine with a sandwich, this is Italy, and this sandwich more than deserves the pairing:

All'Antico-Vinaio-sandwich

Molto delizioso, and WELL worth the wait in line!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 4: Naked In Church

 

 

 

Notes From Italy, Vol. 2: Italians & Their Tiny Vehicles

scooters-cars-composite

So, remember what I said in my last Notes From Italy installment?

Italians make hanging out, leisurely, look so utterly, authentically, natural, in a way that Americans only wish we could…

There was one glaring exception to this characterization of Italians as Zen-like artists of leisure, but you’ll have to wait for Vol. 2 of Notes From Italy for that!

Notes From Italy, Vol. 1: Italians & Leisure As Art

The one exception?

When Italians get on their lilliputian scooters or into their lilliputian cars — heck, even their trucks are lilliputian! —

IM000554.JPG

… they do so as if they are all facing a dire emergency; as if getting from Point A to Point B, even if Point A is home and Point B a grocery store, is a matter of life and death.

Tailgating and passing other vehicles whenever humanly and mechanically possible is of the utmost importance.

Traffic rules don’t seem to exist. I don’t think I saw a turn signal used the entire two weeks in the country, except for obvious fellow tourists in rental cars.

Italians drive like they speak, with great intensity of feeling. They are the Luciano Pavarottis of the road.

But then maybe these motoring tendencies are NOT actually an exception to the “artists of leisure” label I have applied to my Italian brothers and sisters.

Maybe, after all, Italians drive their tiny, tiny vehicles very, very fast because…

…it’s fun!

By that logic, then, driving, even for the most mundane of journeys, could be seen as a form of play, a form of leisure!

Molto bene!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 3: Food Highlight #1

Notes From Italy, Vol. 1: Italians & Leisure As Art

Leisure Italia
My lovely wife and I, attempting to emulate Italian leisure.

On our very first day in Florence, the first destination of our 2-week visit to Italy, the very first thing that dramatically stood out to me was:

Italians make hanging out, leisurely, look so utterly, authentically, natural, in a way that Americans only wish we could.

Put another way, it makes perfect sense that the same people who, for hundreds and hundreds of years, produced legendary artistic achievements — seen and heard around just about every corner, in the legendary art and architecture, in the very way, for instance, that Florence was sited on the banks of the Arno River, with it’s lovely string of bridges leading from the city center across the river to the Oltrarno District, where one can naturally start heading uphill to enjoy the perfect sunset view of the birthplace of the Renaissance from Piazzale Michelangelo — have made leisure an art form.

As you stroll through the narrow, cobblestone streets, it seems that every other doorway is a café, bar, or restaurant with outdoor seating, even the tiniest hole-in-the-wall establishments have a handful of stools in the doorway or out on the narrow sidewalk, and Italians sit there with their espresso or glasses of wine in their hands, seemingly not a care in the world, fully relaxed, entertained by just being there.

Back home in the U.S., most people seem to always be thinking about and concerned with where they aren’t or where they need to be next, constantly interacting with their mobile phones, even in the company of others, while in Florence there was hardly a phone in sight, and even then a brief glance and back into a pocket or purse it goes.

Of course, this does not in any way mean that Italians don’t work hard. They very much do, more times than not in less than desirable jobs, thanks to a weak economy.

It’s just that when they aren’t working, they REALLY know how to NOT work.

There was one glaring exception to this characterization of Italians as Zen-like artists of leisure, but you’ll have to wait for Vol. 2 of Notes From Italy for that!

Ciao!

Notes From Italy: An Introduction

ItalyAs mentioned in my last post, my wife, son and I recently returned from a 2-week trip in Italy, a trip that defibrillated and resuscitated my inner blogger.

The first product of this resurrection will be a recurring series of posts titled Notes From Italy.

A few notes about the Notes:

  • When I tried journaling on my very first day in the country, in a café in Florence, it wasn’t pretty. The experience of traveling there, of actually being there, certainly opened up the creative floodgates, but the flood was so overwhelming that I struggled to determine where to start or what specifically to write about.
  • This partially stemmed from the fact that I’d dreamed of going to Italy since I was a kid, eating at my local pizzeria, then as a teenager learning about Italian art and music, and beyond. My brain couldn’t really comprehend that, at last, I was finally there.
  • So, I took a few days off and didn’t write anything, while little bits and pieces started floating around in my head, observations and reactions to things I was experiencing.
  • Not wanting to lose these thoughts and reflections, I decided to take a different approach and started a simple list, some items no longer than a phrase or a sentence, others a short paragraph, just enough to capture the main ideas. This was incredibly liberating, and it eventually yielded over 30 items.
  • My approach to Notes From Italy will be similar: posts in this recurring series will only be as long or short as they need to be in order to preserve and convey the essence of my observations, some edited to flesh them out a bit, others left exactly as I jotted them down by hand.
  • Read in sequence, as they appear, or later by browsing through the archived series, I believe Notes From Italy will paint an accurate picture of our great big adventure, from the highest highs to the occasional low.
  • Yeah, there’s something powerful about a list!

I’ll leave you with this teaser/spoiler, jumping to where we spent the last three days of our trip: the Amalfi Coast:

FullSizeRender(2)
Positano: a pleasant day-trip from our base in quiet, nearby Praiano. Yes, it IS that beautiful!

Ci vediamo presto!

Shakespeare A Jewess?

Tweet of the Day: #StarWars

star-wars-wineFinally!

A substantive analysis of Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

Also, it points the way to a very real solution for those who disliked the new Star Wars installment but passionately love the franchise.

Simply drink a glass for each suggested wine pairing in this article while re-watching the movie, and I guarantee that you won’t notice all those nitpicky things you complained about the first time.

Bon Appétit!

Headline of the Day: Keeping It Real

starbucks-pumpkin-spice-latteIt’s hard to know where to start with today’s Headline of the Day installment, so let’s just start with the headline itself and see where that takes us, shall we?

Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte is now going to contain real pumpkin and it’s probably going to be disgusting

Salon.com

Listen, don’t hold anything back, Salon.com writer Lindsay Abrams! We can tell that you have strong feelings about this. That’s good. Maybe, even, as good as … real pumpkin?

I guess I’ve been out of the loop, but I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!, to learn that there’s never been, until this fall, actual pumpkin in Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Lattes!

Ok, so, I’m not really shocked. Nor am I particularly bothered by the fact that there hasn’t been real pumpkin in the lattes.

After all, the phrase “pumpkin spice”, to me, very clearly refers to the spices associated with the most famous pumpkin dish of all: pumpkin pie. Pumpkin, by itself, isn’t really all that flavorful. I doubt very many people even consume real pumpkin without spices of some kind, whether it’s sweet, like pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread, or savory, like pumpkin soup or pumpkin ricotta gnocchi.

I don’t really understand attacking Starbucks — a company that is certainly attack-worthy for other reasons — for adding real pumpkin. She brands it “pandering to an ingredient-crazed consumer base”, but it’s not like this ingredient-crazed consumer base is clamoring for more artificial ingredients!

Now, Lindsay Abrams, who I might say is overall a solid writer who covers other topics, such as politics and the environment, makes a fair point about just how little real pumpkin will actually be in a Pumpkin Spice Latte. She includes the list of ingredients published by Starbucks, where “pumpkin purée” is listed as just one sub-ingredient in the “Pumpkin Spice Flavored Sauce”, which is the third overall ingredient on the list, after espresso and milk.

And yet, she loses credibility with her sarcastic addition of a photo of the pulpy inside of a pumpkin, calling it disgusting, either ignoring, or ignorant of, the fact that the flesh of the pumpkin, not the pulp, is what’s used in pumpkin purée, and that purée, by it’s very nature, has a smooth, creamy texture, perfect, right?!, for a latte.

All in all, much ado about nothing, and embarrassingly, I suppose I’ve merely added to the ado.

I can’t wait to wash down my shame with a delicious, real Pumpkin Spice Latte!