Sunday, September 27, 2009


After the summer holidays and the visitors we had recently, we finally got around to exploring more of the area via a day trip yesterday. Actually, "area" is pretty generous, since Orvieto is a two and a half hour regional train ride away from Florence. Nevertheless, we got to this city on top of a slab of tufa and took a cable car up the mountain. Once up, we immediately descended again, though this time in St. Patrick's well, which was dug in the 16th century to provide the city with water while under siege. A nice work of engineering, it has two spiral pathways (one for going down and one for going up), down to the water. After making it back up, we were ready for lunch, for which we walked into the city center. It seems like the main tourist season is over, since the main drag was not too crowded. (Then again, we're used to Florentine crowds...) After some pasta, we went towards the highlight of this town, the cathedral. Since there was a wedding going on at the moment, we first went to see the Etruscan collection in the Museo Claudio Faina e Museo Civico. The Etruscans had some interesting vases!
After a brief break for gelato (I had nectarine and fig, Kristen had pink grapefruit and grape/strawberry), we looked at the cathedral in detail. The facade is amazing -- a symphony of colored marble, glittering mosaics, sculpture, and masterful carved panels. And the interior isn't too shabby, either. The highlight is surely the Capella di San Brizio, which was frescoed largely by Luca Signorelli with scenes of the Last Judgement. That's always my favorite topic of religious paintings, and this version had fantastic studies of the human body. Apparently Michelangelo studied these frescoes before painting the Sistine Chapel. Since my ticket for the chapel included the Museum of the Duomo, I went to visit that afterward and was pleasantly surprised. While these museums are typically one depiction of Madonna with child after the other, here the old religious art was interspersed with a temporary exhibition of modern art and sculpture. Along with the jazz soundtrack playing on the stereo, it gave it more of a gallery vibe, and made the experience all the more pleasant.
After this highlight, we walked around the town a little more, seeing the interesting ten-sided bell tower of Sant'Andrea and the Palazzo del Popolo, before heading back. Unfortunately, the next train was not for another hour, and furthermore delayed, but we did manage to make it back to Florence.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Renewing the Permesso di Soggiorno, Part 2

I went to the questura today, and after waiting only 3 hours, was informed that the letter of enrollment from my school needed to be stamped by the Italian embassy/consulate in the US. I think it would be nice if that information were written down somewhere, like in the list of documents you need in order to renew your permesso di soggiorno. Either that, or someone (consulate, questura, the Italian government that wrote the list) doesn't know what they're talking about.

(This is a continuation of these three posts.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009


We had several visitors the past few weeks. First was Ben's friend Marc and his newly-wedded wife Kristine. After driving down to Florence from Germany, they toured Florence one day, then we all went together to San Gimignano and Pisa the next day. This way, they were able to cover four out of five goals of their trip: Seeing Michelangelo's David, eating real Italian pizza, seeing the leaning tower of Pisa and taking the standard tourist shots, and eating a bistecca alla fiorentina. The Colosseum in Rome will have to wait for another trip.
Next was another of Ben's friends, Martin, and his girlfriend Eva. The evening they arrived, we went to Piazzale Michelangelo to wait for the sunset. It was bridal rush hour -- we saw three brides take pictures in the hour we were there. Martin and Eva then toured Florence the next day before leaving for San Gimignano and Volterra.
The following weekend Kristen's parents visited. Since they had already seen Florence, Sienna, Pisa, and San Gimignano, we took them on a day trip to Bologna. Then Kristen went with them to Venice for a day. They stayed another day there, then went to Rome.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pasta e Ceci

This is from the book Savoring Tuscany by Lori de Mori. My comments are in italics.

1 cup (7 oz/220 g) dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) - or 1 can (NOT drained)
3 cloves garlic, 1 crushed, 2 minced or all minced
leaves from 1 fresh rosemary sprig
2 fresh sage leaves
1 small dried chile (optional)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for drizzling - drizzling oil is optional
2 cups (12 oz/375 g) crushed or diced canned plum (Roma) tomatoes with juice - can be regular tomatoes
4 cups (32 fl oz/1 l) meat or vegetable broth - broth made with bouillon cubes/powder is fine
1 1/2 cups (4 1/2 oz/140 g or more) ditali or other short tube pasta
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
grated Parmesan cheese

If using canned chickpeas, skip first step.

- Pick over the checkpeas, discarding any grit or misshapen beans. Rinse well, place in a bowl, and add water to cover generously. Let soak overnight. Drain the beans and place in a large saucepan with the crushed garlic and water to cover generously. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the beans are tender, 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hours.

- On a work surface, combine the minced garlic, rosemary, sage, and chile and finely mince. In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm together the olive oil and garlic-herb mixture and saute, stirring often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and broth, reduce the heat to low, cover, cook until thickened, about 15 minutes. Raise the heat to medium, add the pasta, stir well, and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer half of the beans to a food mill fitted with the medium disk and puree directly into the pot, adding cooking liquid as needed to facilitate the pureeing (this step is optional. You can just add them all whole.). Add 1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) of the cooking liquid (you can use the liquid from the can and maybe some extra water) and the remaining whole beans. Stir well and season with salt and pepper.

- Ladle into warmed individual bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Pass the Parmesan cheese at the table.

Serves 6-8 (about 4, if you don't have another course)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

An interesting combination

I tried this recipe for pasta with beans and mussels the other day, and it was really good. What sounds like a strange combination works quite well together. While I used shelled, frozen mussels, I'm sure it's even better if you use fresh mussels, as in the recipe.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Renewing the Permesso di Soggiorno

The following is a continuation of these two posts.

Last week I went to the Patronato, an Italian government organization that is supposed to be able to answer people's questions about permessi di soggiorno. When I got there, I told the man at the entrance that I had some questions, and he told me to go to the 5th floor and talk to "Flo" (not her real name). When I got to Flo's office, she asked if I had an appointment. I said no, and she told me to wait. I waited for about 40 mins -- I had learned by this time to bring a book in anticipation of things like this -- until some other people, presumably with an appointment, came in. Then Flo said that maybe I should make an appointment, to which I agreed. She said to come back at 11 on Monday. So I went back at 11 on Monday, and the same man at the entrance said Flo wasn't there, and that she was supposed to be in around 1. So I went back at 1, and several people who were leaving for lunch said the office closed at 1. The entrance man said I should go wait on the 5th floor for Flo. When I got there, the man with whom Flo shares an office thought it would be better if I made a new appointment, so I left my name and number, and he said she would call me that afternoon. Then I decided to try the post office. The woman there was able to answer all my questions. Not surprisingly, Flo did not call me that afternoon.

Today I applied to renew my permesso di soggiorno. Under a new system, the post office gives you your first questura appointment date when you give them your application package, instead of having to wait for the questura to mail you a letter. So far it appears they have shaved eight months off the process. If the second questura appointment date isn't significantly longer than three months after the first, this will be a pretty big improvement.

I should also note that the woman at the post office, and definitely not the man who was doing her job in the morning shift, was one of the nicest people I've encountered at an Italian government organization or store (assuming she wasn't giving me bad information). The only other person I can think of who deserves credit is the guy at the Intesa Sanpaolo bank on via della villa Demidoff, who spent a long time trying to help me, and then I didn't end up getting an account there because accounts for foreigners were way too expensive.