Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Kristen's pumpkin this year

Pedestrian Area

The piazza around the Duomo and some attached streets are now pedestrian only.

duomo       pedestrian street

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Today was a beautiful fall day, and in the afternoon we decided to go to Pistoia, a city in the greater Florence area. I don't think many tourists make it there, especially not in October, even though the city has some sights that make for a nice half-day trip. When we got off the bus, we walked into the center, where there was some sort of market going on -- mostly clothes and shoes, and throughout the entire city. However, we were not there to go shopping, and so we continued on to the main sights. As usual, these consisted mainly of churches, with the largest being the cathedral with its massive bell tower, though the interior was nothing to write home about. A pair of lesser churches had some beautiful carved pulpits, though -- a fairly simple one by Guido da Como in the church of San Bartolomeo in Pantano, and a more elaborate one by Giovanni Pisano in the Pieve di Sant'Andrea. The other main attraction was the polychrome frieze by the Della Robbias on the facade of the Ospedale del Ceppo.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Last week, we took in another opera at the Teatro Comunale here in Florence; this time it was "Rigoletto" by Giuseppe Verdi. Surely one of his masterpieces (and known mostly for "La donna e' mobile"), we had never seen this piece on the stage before. Actually, I was surprised by how much it is a story about Rigoletto (and not the Duke, who nevertheless has the famous arias). The whole first act is basically a tour de force for the baritone, who in this case was Ivan Inverardi. Deservedly, he got the most applause of the night for a very good performance. The rest of the cast was competent enough -- Shalva Mukeria as the Duke was a bit shaky on the high notes in the first act, but later improved, and Annamaria Dell’Oste performed well as Gilda. On the other hand, Nicole Piccolomini in the rather minor role of Maddalena was one of the few instances in which I wanted the singing to end. A grating voice and no hint of interpretation -- forte all the way -- I hope she was simply having an off night.
The staging was a bit curious: the costumes were traditional, but the scenery (a 50's style car, a boat, and a large black wall) were more modern. It didn't add up to a coherent statement, and I was left wondering if there was a lack of communication between the different departments of the theater. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable evening, and probably not the last time we see "Rigoletto".

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Music Recommendations, part 5

  • Lightning Dust: "I Knew"
    This song sounds a bit like glam rock meets folk -- sort of like what Marianne Faithfull would sound like if she were singing Rocky Horror Picture Show. Amber Webber, also of the band Black Mountain, has a voice that is both powerful and incredibly fragile at the same time. While "I Knew" is my favorite song by them, the entire album "Infinite Light" is worth listening to, from the jangly opener "Antonia June" to the apocalyptic "Take It Home" that closes it out.
  • Katzenjammer: "A Bar in Amsterdam"
    Katzenjammer is four Norwegian women who make unclassifiable music, and "A Bar in Amsterdam" is catchy, fun folk-punk-pop.
  • Leonard Cohen: "Live In London"
    He's an icon, and still making fantastic music at age 75 (!). "Live In London" shows him in great form and with arrangements and a backing band that make his songs sound even better than the album version, in some cases.
  • Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros: "Home"
    All Songs Considered loved this band at this year's SXSW, and though they were somewhat disappointed in the album that followed, their songs are still catchy, and uniquely arranged, with a somewhat 70's aesthetic to them. Check out the duet "Home".
  • Dead Man's Bones: "My Body's A Zombie For You"
    Just in time for Halloween, here's a track featuring Ryan Gosling collaborating with the Silverlake Conservatory Childrens Choir. If it sounds strange, that's because it is.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Schiacciata all'uva

It seems like fall has finally made it to Florence: the days are shorter, it's no longer above 30 degrees every day, and the nights are pleasantly cool. And of course, there's the food. Porcini have reappeared, the first cavolo nero has been sighted, and the summer stone fruit has largely given way to pears and grapes. With the last of these, particularly the small wine grapes, you can make an excellent Italian/Tuscan treat -- Schiacciata all'uva.

  • 25g equivalent dried yeast (one packet)
  • 350g (~2 3/4 cup) flour
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g (~1/2 cup) sugar (can be more if desired)
  • salt
To garnish:
  • 1kg (~2 1/4 lbs) black (wine) grapes -- the ones they have here are small, sweet, and have a large seed-to-flesh ratio
  • sugar
  • olive oil
  • rosemary
Dissolve the yeast in a little lukewarm water and add to the flour, oil, two tbsp. sugar and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Knead together with additional water as needed, form into a round ball, cover the bowl and leave to rise in a warm place for about two hours. Carefully remove grapes from their stalks, wash and leave to dry.
Divide the dough in two and roll out into rectangles the same size as the baking tray you are using. Put one piece in the greased tray and top with half of the grapes. Sprinkle with a little sugar and put the second rectangle of dough on top. Cover with the remaining grapes and the remaining sugar. Drizzle with oil and rosemary. Bake at 180° C (350°) for about 40 minutes.

(from Sandra Rosi: Florence, The Art of Cookery)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Tallis Scholars

Last night, we went to the Duomo for a free concert by the Tallis Scholars, one of the pre-eminent Renaissance choral groups active today, along with singers that took part in a master class they gave. This being Italy, there was a definite lack of organization: the concert took place in one of the largest churches of Christendom, and yet it was located in one of the transepts, so that half the people waiting in the line outside were turned away, and a considerable number of others did not find seating. We were among the latter, so at least we got to hear the concert. It did not disappoint: the setting of darkened cathedral with a slight smell of frankincense was ideal for the complex simplicity of the works. Works by Palestrina, Gabrieli, and Josquin among others were on the program, but the highlights for me were a setting of the mass by Ingegneri, sung by the Tallis Scholars, and a motet 'Inviolata Integra et Casta es, Maria' by Festa, sung by their students.

Renewing the Permesso di Soggiorno, Part 3

(This is a continuation of Part 2.)

I tried again at the questura today, and I was right. It turns out that all they wanted to see was the stamped letter I got when I received my visa last year...the letter they saw last year when I applied for my first permesso di soggiorno. I've found that there is no rational explanation for a lot of things in Italy, so it's better to just not think about it (I split that infinitive good). They definitely did not say anything indicating last year's letter, or the original enrollment letter, when I was at the questura a week ago.

My next "appointment" is in about a month, so it seems they did greatly reduce the length of this process (from a year to two months, barring unforeseen complications), though it's no more enjoyable.