Monday, March 30, 2009

Fresh Food

Since I've been here, these are fruits and vegetables I've eaten fresh for the first time:

cactus fruit/prickly pear/fichi d'India. I've seen these on cacti, but didn't know people ate them in non-life-and-death situations. I'd say they're not worth the effort it takes to eat them. They taste alright, but they're made up almost entirely of seeds (and, of course, they're spikey on the outside).



broccoli rabe. They have little broccoli-looking things and flowers (see picture below).

fava beans. I feel these are also not worth the effort to prepare fresh. In addition to removing them from the pod, you have to cut off a skin from each individual bean. But they have fur inside their pods.

porcini mushrooms. they're slimy, but don't taste as "earthy" (like dirt) as dried porcini. Actually porcini aren't bad, I just don't see why they're such a big deal.

zucchini flowers. taste like zucchini, or something.

apricots. It's possible I've had these fresh before, but I don't remember.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How to waste a Sunday afternoon

Attempt to get advance tickets to the Uffizi gallery Saturday afternoon. Find out that reservations by phone are not available Saturday after 12:30. Find out that on the internet, only 80 tickets per hour are available, which are sold out a week in advance. On Sunday, go to the Uffizi nevertheless. Wait 2 hours in line. Go home after estimating that you will wait another hour and then will have about 2 hours visiting time left in the museum.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Uri Caine @ Teatro Verdi

Thursday evening, we went to see a concert by Uri Caine and the Orchestra Regionale Toscana at the Teatro Verdi, an old theater near Santa Croce. We got to sit in a box. :-)
For those of you who don't know him, Uri Caine is an innovative jazz musician, who has made a name for himself by combining jazz harmonies and improvisation techniques with classical music. Probably his most successful endeavour in this direction was Urlicht, a collection of music by Gustav Mahler, which was followed by the ambitious Goldberg Variations, taking Bach's variation collection and adding variations such as the "Dig It Variation," the "Luther's Nightmare Variation," or the "Tango Variation." In the concert on Thursday, in addition to two solo improvisations on Mozart's Sonata in C as well as themes by Mahler, he presented Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. In contrast to the Goldberg Variations, with its vast variety of ensembles and musical styles, this was pretty straightforward in that the orchestra usually played an arrangement of Beethoven's original music, while Caine improvised or added some jazzy touches on top of them. Most of the time, this worked quite well, especially in the slower variations, while the faster pieces lacked some of the drive that a solo piano can have.

Field trip season

It's class field trip time in Florence, apparently. There are large groups of middle or high school-age kids everywhere.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

New Music Recommendations, part 4

  • Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers: "Coward Cracked The Dawn"
    This track blew me away when I first heard it. Shilpa has been compared in various corners of the blogosphere to Janis Joplin, and the blues rock she does is pretty awesome. The fact that she plays a harmonium as accompaniment is an added exotic bonus. Unfortunately, she hasn't released any albums yet, so the only music available to listen to is on her myspace page or various other sites on the internet.
  • Lisa Hannigan: "Lille"
    While I liked her performance on the Colbert Report recently of "I Don't Know," I actually like this acoustic song better, though I've only listened to both a couple of times.
  • Buddy Holly: "Crying. Waiting. Hoping"
    All Songs Considered played this track on the anniversary of the Day the Music Died a little over a month ago, which lead me to explore his music a bit more.
  • Fleet Foxes: "It Ain't Me Babe"
    Cool cover of a Bob Dylan song by a great group (Both the self-titled album and the Sun Giant EP are excellent, by the way).
I'm still hoping to get the new Neko Case and Decemberists albums for my birthday, so I can't report on those yet, however the tracks that have been flying around the internet promise good things.

The food in Lucca

Reading this article in the New York Times today, I was struck again by the stupidity of the law banning new "ethnic" restaurants in the city center of Lucca. It's really not like there's a shortage of Italian restaurants in that city, and I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of tourists visiting will go to an Italian restaurant. Also the vast majority of Italians, as their taste in food can be quite conservative. As I've written about before, I think Italian restaurants could stand to be a little more innovative, and surely one of the most important impetuses for innovation in food comes from foreign cuisine. This ban smells to me more of xenophobia than true interest in the best for the city.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


The weather forecast predicted a sunny, warm early spring day, so instead of going to see some museum in Florence, we decided to hop on a train to Arezzo, one hour away, today. Though not usually as high on visitor's places to see as Pisa, Lucca, or Siena, it is a pretty city with plenty of art, and was where much of "La vita e' bella" ("Life is Beautiful") was filmed.
The first stop on our itinerary was the House of Vasari, where the famous architect designed and decorated his own house. Kristen got in for free here, since it was the "Festa della Donna" today. From here, we first stopped off at an art museum to try to reserve tickets for a church we wanted to see later in the day. Though the woman there couldn't reserve the tickets there (our guidebook was wrong), she was very friendly and called the reservation number for us. Next was the church of San Domenico, where we looked at the Crucifixion by Cimabue from afar, since mass was taking place. The same happened in the Duomo, though it had already progressed to Communion, so after a brief walk through the park and finding the Medici fortress closed for renovations, we returned and were able to look at the stained glass windows, stone tombs, and fresco of Marie Magdalene by Piero della Francesca. A short walk further was the Piazza Grande, which was unfortunately being repaved. Maybe we'll come back sometime for the Joust of the Saracen.
After a quick lunch, we then walked to the church of San Francesco, where we picked up our prereserved tickets and then went in to see the fresco cycle "The Legend of the True Cross" by Piero della Francesca. It's rightly famous (and was seen in "The English Patient"), and I was thrilled by the effects of light, as well as the chaotic battle scenes. Finally, we headed back to the train station, stopping at the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre on the way before catching the train back to Florence.

Italian Abbreviation

In Italian, you can use "x" to mean "per," like we would say "times" for the multiplication sign. So in Italy, the movie Superbad is called Suxbad.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


At least they call it what it is.

("Piccione" means "pigeon" in Italian, and in English it's called "squab".)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Seeing David up close

Trying to take advantage of the time in which the amount of tourists in Florence is slightly lower than in the summer, we decided to try to go to the Uffizi today (I've been in Florence almost a year now, and haven't been!). However, even in March, the line to get in without prebooking tickets was way too long, and so we postponed this visit until some other time. Instead, we wandered over to the Accademia, where there are also long lines in summer, but where we were able to walk right in. The big highlight here is to no surprise, Michelangelo's David, which looks even larger and more impressive here than the copy in Piazza della Signoria. The rest of the museum was pleasant enough, though mostly filled with medieval religious art (think Madonna and Child, and again, and again...). The only other thing worth mentioning is that the museum was filled with American college students. Seems like it's the thing to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon when you're on "study" abroad.