Monday, June 30, 2008

What are these people doing?

Answer coming soon.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Notte Bianca

The longest day of the year – what better occasion for an all-night street festival? That’s what happened in the Oltrarno quarter last night. Until around 4am, many of the shops, restaurants, and artisan workshops remained open, and the piazzas were filled with musical acts and street markets. We spent a few hours there walking around, getting some Italian doughnuts, and some free mortadella sandwiches, wine, and gelato. Some of the most interesting places were the skeleton room of the Zoological museum, and the church of Santa Felicita’, which was open and had a much different feeling late in the evening with pop music coming through the door. Since we took the bus, we obviously couldn’t stay until 4 in the morning, but even so it was a fun evening. Since last week, the weather has been quite hot and sunny, and it didn’t really cool down too much. Good for the festival, but I’m already dreading several months of this weather without air conditioning.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


In the continuing saga of trying to get internet access to our apartment, today a colleague of mine called Fastweb, from which I had ordered DSL, to see what was going on. As you might recall, the last time the Telecom was here, they said that they would have to lay a line up to our apartment from the ground floor. Fastweb now said that the Telecom had told them that they had not been physically able to lay that cable (apparently they were here sometime last week – and Fastweb said that they would have called me “today” to let me know). My colleague said that something similar had been the case when he got internet, and that in the end his landlady had an electrician come and do it himself. Encouraged by that, I had him call my landlord to tell him about the situation and see what he could do. The landlord said he’d investigate, but thought the Telecom story was a little strange since the two other apartments right next to ours have a telephone line already installed. Apparently he called the Telecom to find out what the deal was and called me back a short time later. Being the former monopolist they are, the Telecom seems to have decided that it will only install 20 lines per building for other companies, and we were number 21 or so. In other words, they will not install our telephone line unless we go through them (and pay the 96 Euro or so installation fee). Our options at this point are therefore to go through them for landline and internet, just pay for the expensive installation and then get a different company for internet (and telephone), or call the whole thing off and get an (also expensive) USB modem through a mobile phone company. None of these options sound especially attractive, but we’ll have to choose one if we want internet. I still wonder how something like this can be legal…

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Certosa del Galluzzo

Since the lab was essentially shut down today due to the wedding of one of my labmates, I had a rare free day during the week. In addition to sleeping late, we decided to visit Certosa del Galluzzo, a 14th century Carthusian monastery a little south of town, but still reachable by city bus. We got there and walked up the hill on which the monastery is located just in time for a guided tour by one of the monks, the only way to see the inside of the monastery. Unfortunately, the tour was only in Italian and a bit rushed, but we did get to see the artistic treasures kept there, including many busts from the della Robbia workshop in the cloister. On the way out we went by the monastery shop and got some liquor distilled by the monks themselves.

The Carthusians are probably one of the most strict orders, with a significant number of monks having shut themselves off from all contact with the outside world. An interesting film, Into Great Silence, recently documented life in a Carthusian monastery and gives an interesting perspective into the order.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Calcio storico

One of the perks of living in Florence, instead of just visiting for a few days, is that you can take advantage of the various events that happen throughout the year. Today, we went to a “calcio storico” game in Santa Croce square, a game dating back to the 16th century. Even though calcio is the word for soccer in Italian, this sport was more like a cross between football and rugby, with some wrestling thrown in. The tournament pits the four quarters of the city against each other, the winner getting a live cow (or the equivalent in steaks, I’ve read different things). We were seated in the green section, though the San Giovanni quarter of the city didn’t end up being able to field a team, and so their team was replaced by a purple team of free agents. I guess their motivation was therefore not high enough, and “our” team ended up clearly losing to the red team from Santa Maria Novella. Before and after the game, there was a procession of people in historical costume, which was quite photogenic when combined with the backdrop of Santa Croce church.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Chicken Piccata

A quick and easy recipe, not only for lemon fans:

Remove the tender from 4 chicken breasts, freeze for another meal; slice each breast into two pieces. Using the flat side of a mallet (or the bottom of a pot), gently pound pieces to ¼ in. thick. Season with salt and pepper; dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Sauté cutlets over medium heat in 2 T butter or olive oil until golden. Do not crowd pan; cook in 2 batches, if necessary, keeping warm in 250⁰F oven. Deglaze pan with ¼ cup white wine, add 1 garlic clove (minced). Cook 1 min and add ½ cup chicken stock, 2 T fresh lemon juice and 1 T capers. Increase heat to high to thicken sauce slightly. Reduce heat; add cutlets and accumulated juice to pan for 2 min. Remove to warm platter, add 2 T butter to pan and 8 lemon slices; swirl pan to combine: pour over cutlets and garnish with chopped parsley.

From In the Kitchen magazine

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sunday Sightseeing

Kristen made it here on Tuesday, though one of her bags took a while longer. I’ll leave it to her to describe her process of getting used to Italy. Today was our first day of exploring and sightseeing together, and we wanted to go to the Rose Garden, which is only open for another week (and is located very close to the Iris Garden). We went there by bus and got off a stop early, at the church of San Miniato al Monte, an 11th century Romanesque church located a little above the Piazzale Michelangelo. I really like this style of church for its simplicity, and this one boasted some nice frescoes as well, as well as a gilded mosaic above the altar. We’ll have to come back sometime to hear the monks chanting (apparently they do that every afternoon). We then walked down to the Piazzale Michelangelo, but didn’t linger for too long since it started lightly raining. Right there was the Rose Garden, which we walked through, but unfortunately it seems like it was a few weeks too late for roses – most of them had already bloomed. So we just walked back into the city, stopping to get gelato (ricotta & figs, and orange chocolate, among other flavors) on the way before taking the bus back to the apartment.

Later this afternoon, we went to Ikea for a couple of small things. It seemed like half of Florence was there – probably a consequence of it being one of the very few stores that are open on Sunday.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


I went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull yesterday at the movie theater that shows English language movies. It was also a public holiday here, so it was the perfect occasion for an outing into the city. I won't give away anything about the movie other than to say that it was a perfectly decent action/adventure movie. Two things struck me, however. The first thing that I thought when I saw Cate Blanchett as the evil Russian scientist is that she'd make a good Romulan. Also, was anyone else bothered by the fact that gold is not magnetic? With all the ridiculous and impossible things in the movie, this was the one that I just couldn't get past. Still, it was an entertaining movie, worth seeing eventually if you've already seen the first three.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

When would you want to eat gelato?

I love gelato. Which is why I was very happy to see two gelaterias within 100 meters of my apartment. What I didn't know is that these are Italian gelaterias, and that means that they are only open at times when everyone else is working, i.e. mornings and afternoons and maybe - just maybe - Saturday mornings. At times when I would think of getting a gelato, say after dinner or on a weekend afternoon, these places are closed. I can therefore only get my gelato fix on the weekends, when I'm downtown, where store hours are more tourist-friendly.