Monday, September 7, 2009

Ten Things You Can't Hate About Italy

Lasting Impressions

We left Florence under a full moon at 4 am. The old grizzled night watchman at our hotel made us a cappucino in his white cotton undershirt as we sat on our suitcases in the dark lobby waiting for the cab to the airport. It was the best I have ever tasted.

I'm ending this series with a collection of photos because pictures say a thousand words which is very convenient for us writer types when we run out.

A few final thoughts:

I need an espresso machine. Badly. I don't think I can look a Farm Boy grind in the face ever again.

In the bread department, the French beat the Italians every time.

To do true Tuscan cuisine, I need to find and kill me a cinghiale. These are the ugly brown piggish things with big shoulders and tusks that live in the hills. I saw one on the highway. They make a fine stew. If anyone knows where one is, gimme a shout.

My husband of 26 years is still the best travelling companion in the world. He is not available for rental.

I could seriously fall for a pilot. If I didn't have the husband of 26 years that is. Anyone who can put a magnificent and fully loaded jet onto the ground without a whisper, taxi gently into his berth and then say in his best Pope John Paul voice "All Rise" does it for me.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ten Things You Can't Hate About Italy

Olio Extravergine Di Olivia

There is a palpable feeling of excitement in the air here in Tuscany. That’s because olive season is almost here. The trees are heavy with olives in the groves and the harvest could begin in three weeks time and continue on into January.

Here’s a few things to know about olive trees:

They need regular pruning to maximize health and yield. An unpruned tree looks like this...

and is susceptible to fungus and other diseases because of the lack of airflow and unbalanced exposure to sunshine.

A well-pruned tree has a distinctive vase shape and its fruit bearing branches fall gracefully to the outside like this:

We have just made our first olive oil purchase ever. I mean a real purchase, not just picking a bottle off the shelf at the local grocery store. We bought our oil from a local producer called Mauritzio. He has a small shop in Sasso Fortino that is mysteriously never open. In true Italian style, you need to know that you have to call him and get him to come and open the shop just for you. Awkward, yes, but well worth it.

Once we were ushered into the tidy little shop, with its arching stone ceilings and chestnut beams, Mauritzio started pouring different oil types into small serving cups. To our horror we realized we were going to have to taste the oils and somehow differentiate between them. Not easy for the untrained Canadian palate. In addition, Mauritzio started filling his mouth with oil, swilling and gurgling and making all sorts of other alarming noises out the side of his mouth by drawing in air in large sucking hisses. It was unclear how to participate. However... under his expert guidance (with some simultaneous translation going on in the background) we quickly found that we could indeed taste the differences. After several tastings we settled on a very fine olive oil with a lovely peppery aftertaste. It is made from olives that are hand-picked (ie. not allowed to fall into the nets and risk bruising) early in the season (ie October, before the olives are fully ripe and before a particular fly may infest the crop and require spraying) and the oil is pressed on the same day that the olives are picked. No pesticides or other chemicals are used so the oil is certified “biologica” and has won all sorts of awards and distinctions as well as an honourable mention in the “slow food” winners book published here in Europe. A huge honour for a small producer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ten Things You Can't Hate About Italy

Shopping without Dropping

If there is a crisis in the economy, it isn’t very apparent here. Everyone is out shopping…

and I mean EVERYONE.

The storefronts dazzle with their creative displays and the merchandise is oh so tempting.

Say goodbye to Birkenstock and Bushtakah and mommy’s practical walking shoes, gals, and say hello to Italy’s finest.

Perfect for a special occasion or a brisk walk with the dog across the cobblestoned piazza.

From Florentine gold…

and fine leather handbags,

to back to school fashion...

and clothes for small princesses.

Interested in some sexy pasta?

and some large-ish bottlies of vino to go with...

ruffled gloves in fine Florentine leather...


and lively pinocchios.

Italy has it all and then some.

And if your budget allows, you may even want to stop by here…

and pick up one of these. (excuse the sideways view!)