Random notes from Italy

One of the interesting transportation facets of Florence is that you don’t hail cabs, but you do hail buses. For cabs, you typically either telephone for a cab or go to a taxi stand. You don’t really hail a bus, since you can’t just stop one in the street, but if you see your bus approaching the bus stop, you hold out your hand to indicate that you want to board. Otherwise, unless someone is getting off at that stop, the bus might sail right by you, as has happened to me!

I was on the sidewalk, separated from the pit only by one of the metal barriers.
I was on the sidewalk, separated from the pit only by one of the metal barriers.

Construction sites are less blocked off; for example, a whole block isn’t closed because there’s work being done on twenty feet of road or sidewalk. I don’t know if it’s because this is a less litigious society or because there’s an assumption of basic common sense (might be some natural selection going on there!).

On a related note, it amazes me, after living in a state that requires police personnel at road construction sites, that roadwork sites here use temporary stoplights to alternate traffic through the one lane open. There are occasionally people with stop and go signs instead of the stoplights, but never members of the constabulary.

Athletic goods stores smell the same as those in the USA. And at Christmas, I noticed that stores like Ikea play holiday music ad nauseam – didn’t even have to feel homesick!

2015oct11_florence_ip_0001I got hooked my first summer here on Aperol Spritzes and discovered I could buy Prosecco in small bottles, which is handy since it goes flat quickly. However, it seems to me that Prosecco is under much more pressure in a small bottle than in a large one. Whenever I’m opening a bottle by myself, and despite the fact that I use a towel to contain the plastic cork, I’m always tempted to email my family to say that if it all goes horribly wrong, I love them!

Learning Italian has its ups and downs. Vowels don’t change their pronunciation nearly as much as in English but two of the most common verbs are irregular and there are at least seven ways to say into.

I’ve been told they’re being phased out, but many gas stations are pumps at the side of the road.  Also, gas flows much faster out of the pump – you can hear how fast.

Gas station in Fiesole.

One of my all-time favorite road sign combinations was seeing a sign for the speed limit increasing, followed within feet by an S curve sign!

What I notice more than anything, though, is the lengths to which people will go to communicate with me – from the woman at the phone store who patiently typed what she wanted to tell me into her phone’s translation app and then showed me the result to the people who will illustrate what they’re saying with whatever props are handy. It’s quite heartwarming.

Images © Melissa Corcoran.

Christmas lights

One of our Christmas rituals growing up was to pile into the car and take a drive through nearby neighborhoods to look at the Christmas lights. One of our favorite displays was on a small manmade lake. The houses surrounding it were on a slight elevation above the lake and the homeowners decorated from the backs of their houses to water’s edge. The lights and reflections were beautiful.

I still love Christmas lights and took a stroll around the center of Florence to look at them.

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Images © Melissa Corcoran.



More magic

I mentioned in a recent blog post that there was something magical to me about fog and that autumn mornings in the Casentino Valley offer lots of magic. That was an understatement, as you can see from the photos in this gallery.

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Images © Melissa Corcoran.

The fabric of life

Sadly, I went to a funeral yesterday in Stia. A local shopkeeper, someone my friend Catherine and I knew from numerous visits to his shop, died tragically. Although we had committed to attending a workshop at the wool museum, we knew we had to attend the funeral Mass. It didn’t matter that neither of us is Catholic or that we couldn’t understand the service or eulogy, we had to be there.

After the Mass, we stood in line to offer our condolences to his sisters. Although we had looked up the translation of ‘condolences,’ we weren’t sure what to say, which I think is typical of these circumstances, no matter what the language. As it turned out, it didn’t matter; simply shaking his sisters’ hands and saying condoglianze and I’m so sorry was understood.

What touched me was coming out of the church to find everyone waiting quietly in the square. The hearse was pulled up to the steps of the church and once the family exited the church, it was driven slowly out of the square and down the main street, preceded by the priest and followed by the mourners, still quiet. Not until we had followed the hearse for several blocks did it stop and the crowd disperse before the hearse continued to the cemetery. I was told later this is traditional; only the close family goes to the cemetery, but the casket is escorted for a short distance.

We didn’t feel like going to the workshop, but felt we should stop by the museum and explain our absence. Once we got there, the woman at the desk said we weren’t too late to join in. As it turned out, it was a good antidote to the sadness felt ever since we heard about the death. We learned how to make a felted bird Christmas ornament with four eight-year-old girls and another woman. The girls spoke a little English and translated when we couldn’t understand the instructor (although the thing I realized about crafts is that show-and-tell works pretty well!). And if I may say it, they thought we were funny and entertaining. That may have had something to do with the bird at a certain point looking like the president-elect of the USA and when I play-shrieked his name, everyone laughed heartily.

I wrote recently about ‘working’ the dream as part of ‘living’ the dream. Yesterday was neither; it was about becoming part of the fabric of the place in which you live.


Right turn

Today was one of those delightful days that are a welcome relief to August heat – cool, windy, sunshine and clouds, so I hopped in the car with my camera for a short excursion. When I came to the bottom of the hill out of Porciano, I almost turned left because that’s what I usually do. Instead, I turned right and when I saw a sign for Campolombardo, took that road.

Near the end of the road, I came to this church. According to a signboard, the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence had a local hospice here, dedicated to S. Antonio Abate. The hospital was responsible for the coat of arms with the crutch and the date of 1491.


The doors had these modern wood carvings.

Driving back to the main road, I came to a small cemetery. When I pulled over to the side of the road to take pictures, the tires crushed some mint, which smelled heavenly.


I love these round hay bales, which I see everywhere – in fields, in barns, and on flat-bed trucks.

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A scarecrow!


I’ve been seeing fields of purple flowers and recently found out it’s alfalfa.  I didn’t realize it was so pretty.


The perfect image on which to end my excursion.


Images © Melissa Corcoran