Florence Food Shopping……..

Written By: Arlene Ridolfi Valentine - Apr• 27•16

Just look at this pile of oranges…..they’re from Sicily and the aroma emanates for at least two city blocks!  Shopping at the food markets of Florence has always held great fascination for me.  I love to cook and there’s hardly anything more inspiring to a cook than a pile of farm fresh ingredients.  Now that we are facing retirement and a possible change of address, the whole market experience has become even more highly concentrated for me.  I have a fantastic fruit and veggie vendor on my corner…..I go there every day and they will get their very own blog entry.  But there are also two very large food markets in Florence……Mercato Centrale (near the Santa Maria Novella train station) and Mercato Sant’Ambrogio on the other side of town which is the subject of this story………


Florence Ambrogio Market Oranges, April 2016                                                              

There’s something very compelling about the signs that call out “nostrali” (our own) in a pile of fruit or vegetables.  Even though Florence is a major city, it is surrounded by countryside and every day there are still farmers who haul their own produce into town.  The goods are usually snapped up in a flash because no one bothers to bring anything to the market unless it’s in its prime.


“Nostrali” Zucchini, Ambrogio Market, Florence, April 2016                                      

These zucchini, for instance, with their blossoms still intact will need only the slightest effort to coax out their tangy flavor.

Fresh Greens

Fresh Greens, Ambrogio Market, Florence, Italy, April 2016                                       

And this pile of greens……lettuce, spinach, artichokes and piles of celery…..are even identified by their farm location.  The goods in markets like these are different than those we are accustomed to in the USA.  Since they are right off the farm, usually just harvested, they are stacked in their natural state.  They don’t always look polished and scrubbed so it’s a bit of a shock at first.  But the aromas of each and every selection win you over and you suddenly don’t mind that you’re probably going to carry home a bit of dirt with your grocery order.

Vegetable Medley

Vegetable Medley, Ambrogio Market, Florence Italy, April 2016                                

Another comforting habit in markets here is that each type of vegetable, if brought in from elsewhere, is identified by its origin……this is important since most cooks have their own store of specialised recipes from different parts of Italy, like these green “Roman” cauliflower heads which are really great in a pasta dish which originated there.


Berries at Ambrogio Market, Florence Italy, April 2016                                                

And everyone knows that the first of the Spring fruit arrivals from Basilicata are going to make you very happy (almost as happy as summer) whether you eat them for breakfast with your oatmeal or savour them all alone for dessert.

Fruit Market

Fruit Selection, Ambrogio Market, Florence Italy, April 2016                                     

This show is ongoing….it’s there every morning and it’s crowded.  These photos are only shots of the outside…….there’s a whole world of meats, fish, cheeses, breads and condiments waiting a few steps away in the large covered section of the market.   If you love to cook, try to live in Italy for a while…..even if it’s just for a month.  Stay in one place and just live life a little differently than you usually would.  In a certain sense, it’s as entertaining and rewarding as visiting museums…….really!

Florence: Art Moves Forward……Slowly!

Written By: Arlene Ridolfi Valentine - Apr• 22•16

When I heard about the new art installation in Florence’s beautiful Piazza della Signoria, I headed down to have a look.  I was a day early and the exhibit was not yet ready, but what I saw brought back a flood of memories of our sabbatical two years ago.  It was in the south of France, on that solid gold peninsula called Cap Ferrat, that we came upon a very strange vision on a morning walk along the promenade.  There was a shiny, golden, enormous sculpture of a man astride a giant turtle peeking over a garden wall.  It was too bizzare for words…..we couldn’t conjure any explanation for the thing; who was the man, why the turtle, why so big, why so shiny……so we did the next best thing—-we took a couple of photos.

Man on Turtle, Cap Ferrat, France

Man on Turtle, Cap Ferrat, France, February 2014                                                        

Shiny Turtle & Man Sculpture

Shiny Turtle & Man Sculpture, Cap Ferrat, France, February, 2014                                               

So when I saw that unmistakable shape rising above all the privacy screens surrounding it, I knew what Florence was in store for…..

Turtle Man Behind Screen

Art Installation in Progress, Florence, April 2016

A very big surprise.

"Searching for Utopia"

“Searching for Utopia” by Jon Fabre, Florence, Italy, April 2016

I finally got answers to all of our two year old questions.  The city of Florence is sponsoring an exhibition of the multidiscipline works of the Belgian artist, Jon Fabre.  The exhibition is called “Spiritual Guards” and will include displays of his work in various points around the city.  This is one of the larger works, called “Searching for Utopia” with the artist himself portrayed as the voyager astride the turtle.

"Searching for Utopia" Florence Italy, April 2016

“Searching for Utopia”, otherwise known as a very big bronze turtle with rider, Florence Italy, April 2016

The sheer magnitude of the sculpture nearly dwarfs the fountain and statue of Neptune who commanded centre stage before this interloper showed up.  I don’t blame him for turning away.  As you can imagine, the installation is creating quite a buzz among the locals.  Florentines tend to like their art just the way it has always been….classic.  But like it or not, the future is here…….

"Searching for Utopia", Florence, Italy, April 2016

“Searching for Utopia” , Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy, April 2016                

The Piazza della Signoria is a wonderful quad of ancient buildings, exquisite sculptures, cafes and restaurants overlooking it all……so why not inject some controversy once in a while?  It is certainly giving us all something to talk about!

Florence: Village Dog Show

Written By: Arlene Ridolfi Valentine - Apr• 12•16

Florence is not just a world-class tourist destination because of its art and history.  It’s also just home to some of us and the neighborhoods (called Quartieres) each have their own personality and identity accompanied by a strong sense of community.   Our neighborhood is Porta Romana and we all love the spring street fair that closes our main road to traffic and gets all of our merchants to open their doors on a Sunday.  This year, the local pet spa (Piero Toilette) sponsored a Dog Show, complete with red carpet rolled out right in the middle of a normally very busy street.

Archibaldo at the Dog Show

Archibaldo Opens the Porta Romana Dog Show, April 2016                                        

The judges are all local children who take their jobs seriously but still mange to delight in seeing the entries strut by.

Judges at Work

Judges at the Porta Romana Dog Show, April 2016                                                       

The crowd gathers quickly once the show begins and the laughter is contagious as one precious pet after another walks the runway as their names are called.  The names are of great interest and amusement to all of us, especially since most of them seem to capture perfectly the spirit of their owners.

Marcantonio, Dog Show

Marcantonio with his three handlers at the Porta Romana Dog Show, April 2016                                            

The sweetness emanating from these humans and their pets is simply heart-warming and even the most grumbly or disinterested passer-by is captured and won over by the flood of good cheer surrounding the event.  The parents are proud, the kids are delighted and the pets are doing what they do best….just being themselves.

Florence Dog Show

Big Moment, Porta Romana Dog Show, April 2016                                                       

Some dogs are wayward, some march down the red carpet as if they were born to do so, others are impossibly drawn to any hand outstretched with a promise of a head pat…….

Portia & Lucia, Florence Dog Show

Portia’s Moment at the Porta Romana Dog Show,
April 2016

Chihuahua & Jack Russell

Chihuahua & Jack Russell Going Rogue at the Porta Romana Dog Show, April 2016                                      

but they each remind us of how much they have to offer in the way of companionship and unconditional love.   What a great afternoon!

Oliver, Florence Dog Show

Oliver the noble Rhodesian Ridgeback, Porta Romana Dog Show, April 2016

Therapy Dogs

Therapy Dogs at the Porta Romana Dog Show, April 2016


Wisteria Lane in Florence

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

All of my Florentine friends know about Wisteria Lane because the TV series “Desperate Housewives” was a big hit over here.  They were amused and a bit puzzled when I called our street Wisteria Lane one day.  That was because they didn’t get the connection to the blooms right away since wisteria are called “glicine” in Italian.   There’s a lot of greenery in Florence, and a lot of gardeners who pride themselves on the showy displays that wisteria blossoms are famous for.  Once they appear in early spring, my walk home is a riot of pale lavender canopies popping over walls.


Wisteria, Florence, italy 2016

They are so delicate, so fragile, such a refined color.  And such a surprise to find so many in a city setting.  They grace many entry gates and doorways along our street

Wisteria, Florence Italy 2016

Wisteria Entry, Florence Italy, 2016                                                                                   

and they cascade over driveway doors, spilling their buds into flyaway trails.

Wisteria Driveway

Wisteria Driveway, Florence, Italy, 2016                                                                         

They love to live in protected gardens and seem to pop up in the wild when a city street becomes a country lane…….

Wisteria Garden

Wisteria Garden, Florence, Italy 2016

Wisteria Country Lane

Wisteria Country Lane, Florence Italy 2016     

But one of my favorite wisteria sightings for years now has been my supermarket’s parking lot!  There’s a giant and very old wisteria tree just carrying on with its display smack in the middle of a usually very crowded parking area.  The proprietors, in a wonderful display of good taste and style over commercial gain, have actually erected supporting structures around the tree.  It’s a joy to see in the spring, a little gift to those customers who take a moment to look up.

Wisteria Parking Lot

Wisteria Parking Lot, Florence, Italy 2016