Florence Surprises…….

Written By: Arlene Ridolfi Valentine - Jun• 02•16

How’s this for a Florence surprise?  Walking down a narrow old street (via della Chiesa) in the Oltrano, we noticed a marble plaque above a doorway.  Wow.  We stood in awe for a moment after we read its message.

Doorway in the Oltrano, Florence Italy

Doorway in the Oltrano, Florence Italy                                                                             

I mean, it doesn’t look like a prestigious address, does it?  And yet, as the plaque indicates, something quite spectacular went on here.  What was it?

Galileo's First Home

Galileo’s First Home, Florence Italy                                                                                   

“In This, His First Florentine House, Lived the Baby Galileo Galilei during 1574-1575”.

Galileo spent most of his life in Florence, but to think this humble abode cradled him in his infancy is a powerful thought.

Let’s ponder the remarkable achievements of this man and realise that a torrential stream of creativity was about to be unleashed into the world from this very spot.

via della Chiesa, Florence Italy

via della Chiesa, Florence Italy                                                                                            

The cobblestones are being replaced, little by little, with paving stones or asphalt but the ancient buildings on either side are still there.  Perhaps they are not five-star dwellings but they offer a unique opportunity to experience history in a very personal way……….

which is precisely what makes Florence the magnificent city that it is.

Once a Yankee, Always a Yankee…..

Written By: Arlene Ridolfi Valentine - May• 30•16

Aside from being the name of an iconic New York baseball team, on the world stage the term “Yankee” applies to all Americans.  Although the origin of the word is disputed, it remains widely acknowledged as a term that relates to northerners, specifically northeasterners in the United States.  Yankees have a reputation for being independent, intrepid and bold… the first settlers in New England.

Yankees in Italy on Memorial Day 2016

Yankees in Italy on Memorial Day 2016

Even though we have lived in Italy for the past thirteen years, we know in our hearts we are Connecticut Yankees…..and never does that feeling emerge more strongly than on a national holiday such as today, Memorial Day.  It’s a day set aside in the USA to remember and honor all who have served in the military, past and present.  We are a small family but even so we count many military members among us…….our fathers, our brothers, our cousins, our sons-in-law, not to mention Russ himself who went off to Korea in the 1960s.

The day is traditionally spent together with family, outside, usually cooking hot dogs and hamburgers and marking the beginning of the summer season.  It’s comfort food to yankees…..and although we have to really search to find some of the fixings, we always try to put a picnic together here in Florence to the amusement of our friends.

Cookout in Italy

Memorial Day Lunch for Two Yankees in Italy                                                                

The hot dogs are wurstel from Germany, the mustard is from France, the relish is made from various types of local pickles that have been finely chopped, but hang on…..good old Heinz to the rescue by way of providing ketchup and a can of baked beans!

Happy Memorial Day and heartfelt thanks to all Vets and current Service members.


A Day in May…….

Written By: Arlene Ridolfi Valentine - May• 10•16

Yesterday, May 9 2016, we celebrated our 52nd wedding anniversary.  We did it quietly.  Almost incognito.  We had morning cafe in our local bar, a big lunch at our favourite trattoria in Florence, sweet little dinner at home.  We did some reminiscing and some planning for the future because we’re about to retire.  And while I was looking over some old photos of anniversaries past, I came upon the story of our 50th anniversary which we spent in Greece on the island of Santorini.  It was a grand way to celebrate 50 years together and it started off with a surprise visit…………

Donkey, Santorini, Greece

Donkey Visits our Apartment, Santorini, Greece                                                            

We woke up in Santorini, Greece, in the little village of Finikia. No cars, just donkeys. We wound up here at the end of a year-long sabbatical. We had never been to Greece and we knew this quite special event was going to happen and we kind of wanted to be alone. It is, after all, a bittersweet moment. We have grown up, grown older, grown a bit wiser together and it comes as a surprise to realise that 50 years have gone by.

But, back to this morning……

After our breakfast of yogurt, fresh fruit, spinach pie and hot coffee, I was making my way up the craggy stone steps to our apartment with thoughts of the wedding day preparations that took place on that day long ago. I remember them because I was a very calm and happy bride. I had no doubts at all. I knew Russ was the man I would spend my life with, so I was completely in the moment and enjoying it all. And there was a lot going on. Beautiful wedding gown hanging there just waiting for its moment to arrive, friends and family already arriving downstairs and chattering busily with my mom, while my father and I sat on my bed sharing the breakfast he had made for us. It was such a sweet and loving gesture that touched my heart and his. We laughed and cried together. We were both happy and yet aware of the significant day this would be in our lives.

Today though, as I reached the last step of the walkway to our apartment, I looked up and stopped dead in my tracks. I was face to face with a large brown donkey who was furiously chowing down within the wild chamomile patch contained in the walled garden outside our door. He didn’t even notice me such was his intense focus on the yellow blooms. I abandoned my wedding reverie and dashed inside to get the camera and immediately dashed outside again to lean over the porch wall to get some photos.

Shepherd, Santorini, Greece

Shepherd and Winding Stone Path, Santorini, Greece

By the time I got out there, I could hear a voice softly shouting Greek commands and I looked below to the long and winding stairway and turned my camera on what I saw. A quintessentially Greek old-timer, sun-browned and lined face, blue beret on his head, rustic sweater zipped up against the morning chill, gnarly hand wielding a cane stick, was dashing up those stairs as if he were a teen.

Shepherd, Santorini, Greece

Shepherd On the Run, Santorini, Greece                                                                                                                                                  

And when he reached our stone wall, he hopped over and gave chase to the donkey who had broken out into a true gallop upon the sight of this man.

Shepherd Hops the Wall

Shepherd Hops the Wall, Santorini, Greece

They were both out of sight within seconds, and we were left laughing, full of wonder and curiousity, just like we were 50 years ago at this time!



When you reach a 50th anniversary, there are so, so many things you can focus on, write about, remember.



The “then” photo is a bit blurry (no digital cameras on the scene yet) but in our minds and hearts it’s just as clear as the “now” photo.  It’s likely that I’ll have more to say on the subject, but for this morning, I am ever so grateful we can stand here together in this very remote place and still find wonder and amusement in the life we share.

Mother’s Day Notes About My Mom

Written By: Arlene Ridolfi Valentine - May• 07•16
Mom and Me

A Portrait of Mom and Me

She died eighteen years ago, but I still think of her every day.  I love describing her to my friends in Italy who never had the pleasure of meeting her.  Here’s what I say:

Mom on My Wedding Day

Mom on My Wedding Day

Lydia loved a lot.  She loved her life with Benny, her family, her house.  She was truly a happy person who saw the bright side…..always.  She loved to cook, to keep house, to shop, to iron;

Mom and Her Red Hat

Mom and Her Red hat

She loved linens, china, big hats, shoes of every possible description, soft bathrobes, flowers, birds, teacups, driving fast, feeding lots of people, and all things Italian.

Mom & Me in Florida

Mom & Me in Florida

She had an incredible pantry.  There were exotic things in there as well as doubles of every staple.  That pantry bailed her out many times when she’d fly in the door a half hour before Benny was due home.  I’d stand there beside her looking at this array of cans, bottles, boxes, sacks and wonder what on earth we were going to do.  Having a full meal on the table every night was an absolute in our house.  Absolute.  She’d hum herself a little tune and drag one of those true-red polished finger nails across a few rows of selections and then she’d pause and begin handing me supplies to carry back into the kitchen.
Some onions to start a quick sauce; some canned tomatoes and canned peas to finish it off; some thin spaghetti; some olives to dress up the pathetic half head of lettuce which was all the veggie drawer of the refrigerator had to offer; some chocolate pudding mix (a surefire way to make that guy happy…..worked every single time).

That’s how I learned about the real way to cook.  Not the calm, relaxed, organized world of TV cooks, but this world, this real place that had a working mother and father, kids, pets, after-dinner appointments and responsibilities.  I learned how to calculate the time each component of the dinner would need to be ready and to work backwards from those totals….to put the milk for the pudding on the first burner, followed by the big pot of water for the pasta.  While the sauce was being made and watched, the pasta water would come to a boil.  At the same time, since we were already hovering at the stove, the milk would be ready and the pudding could be made and tended to.  Before cooking the pasta, we’d abandon the stove for a moment and tend to the table setting.  And then, after the lettuce had been shredded, tossed into a bowl and dressed, we’d cook the pasta, arrange the drinks, set out a platter of cold meats as a second course, and put the finishing touches on the table.  Presto!

A Wonderful Mom

A Wonderful Mom

In hindsight, I think I was being trained as a sous chef…..but there was a lot more than that going on.  I was being shown how to nourish a family with grace and love…..and a lot of very, very good food.

Thanks Mom.  For Everything.