martedì 30 giugno 2015

Experiencing Florence Through Flavors: 5 Unique Restaurants

by Laura Tressel

When you think of Italy, you think of history, natural beauty, artistic masterpieces, and most importantly food. Honestly, I think for a lot of people food is the first thing that they think of when Italy is mentioned. Visions of pizza, pasta, cannoli and gelato tempt tourists to visit and to indulge their taste buds. Food is definitely a huge part of the culture in italy, and especially in Florence, but sometimes it pays to try restaurants off the beaten path. Eating pizza for every meal sounds like a good idea, but in practice, it might not work out so well. Here are a few of my favorite places to go and things to eat, both typically Tuscan and unique.

1. Mostodolce- This pub and restaurant combination is the first place I recommend to people visiting Florence. They serve their own craft beers, produced just outside of Florence, alongside some truly delicious food. Their pizza and burgers are great, but if you go make sure you order the "coccoline"which are little fried balls of pizza-like dough, served with soft cheese and spicy sauce to dip in. The atmosphere is great for a fun and relaxing night out, and the walls are covered with customers' drawings, giving the place a very welcoming and personal atmosphere. Located at Via Nazionale, 114/2.

2. Mercato Centrale- The market, located behind San Lorenzo, in the heart of the leather market, is not exactly a hidden secret of Florence's cuisine. It is well known and often very crowded, but for good reason. The variety of food and the quality of their ingredients is fantastic. There are different stalls lining the walls inside, serving pizza, pasta dishes, vegan options, lampredotto (cow stomach, a Florence specialty), chocolate, and more. There is even a happy old man who walks around with a cart filled with the most savory, fresh mozzarella. The market is made up of two floors. The top floor is where the restaurants are located, and below is the market itself, full of fresh vegetables, fruits, meats and bread. The best part about the food sold in the restaurants is that the dishes are prepared only from the ingredients sold in the market below.

3. Spumantino Verrazzano- If you want to step up the level of class for an evening, this is the place to do it. The tiny restaurant and wine bar is located a few steps away from Ponte Vecchio, and offers an enchanting view and atmosphere. While the focus is on the wine produced at Castello di Verrazzano, my favorite part of the dining experience is the sushi. Living here, surrounded by bread and pasta, you start to crave foods that aren't native to the region, and for me those cravings are for sushi. Though a higher price tag accompanies this restaurant, it is worth it for the unique tastes and exceptional service. The waiters are very friendly and accommodating, adding the the relaxing and romantic atmosphere. Lungarno Acciaiuoli 4/R. 

4. Le Vespe Cafe- This place offers a perfect blend of cultures and flavors in their quirky food and drinks menus. With vegan and vegetarian options, as well as special weekend brunch menus, Le Vespe Cafe is the perfect healthy spot to sit and talk with friends or to work quietly with their free wifi. The owners are from the UK, but their menus offer English, Italian, and Middle Eastern dishes. There is something to please everyone. The quality of the food is exceptional, and the coffee drinks are also fantastic. The inside decor is mismatched and colorful, and board games and magazines fill the shelves, creating a comfortable atmosphere. If you're looking to spend Sunday morning somewhere unique and out of the tourist foot traffic of the central area of Florence, head over to this quaint restaurant a few streets away from Santa Croce, at 76R Via Ghibellina.

5. L'Azdora Piadineria Romagnola- For a quick and authentic lunch experience, this is the place to go. Right across form the entrance to Mercato Centrale, this little one room kitchen makes the best piadina in Florence. A piadina is a flatbread sandwich, originally from Romagna, which is where the owners come from. They use only authentic ingredients and recipes for the bread, which gives it an extraordinary flavor. Their menu has tons of tasty varieties, or you can choose to make your own with your favorite ingredients. The prices are extremely reasonable, especially for the quality of the product you are getting. A piadina is a great alternative to a panino (if you want to change up your diet) and this is definitely the place to get them. Piazza Del Mercato Centrale 14/r 

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Less known attractions of Rome that you will appreciate

Lungotevere and St. Peter Basilica at sunset (picture
by Olga Lenczewska)
by Olga Lenczewska

Many people, if not all, dream to visit Rome one day and experience the place where such a big part of the Western civilisation was created and developed. Rome has the ancient Forum Romanum and the Colosseum, it also has the beautiful Baroque fountains and churches. If you go to Rome, however, make sure you don’t end up in a touristic ‘bubble’, which is not only pricy and overcrowded, but also doesn’t present the whole picture of Rome’s splendour. 

If you’re a fan of ancient history or art, one not-to-be-missed site is Ostia Antica: a big archaeological site situated very close to Rome, which is bigger, quieter, and calmer than the Forum and the Colosseum. You can find it near Ostia, by the Mediterranean Sea. Ostia Antica used to be Rome’s river port and a first Roman colony. It was built on the remaining of an Etruscan town Veio, and therefore is not less multicultural and aristically eclectic than the centre of Rome. Its most impressive buildings include the military camp that dates back to 3rd century BC, and the Capitolinium, where the gods Minerva, Juno, and Jupier were worshipped. 

Another ancient site worth visiting is the Theatre of Marcellius, located five minutes away from Piazza di Venezia, next to the Jewish quarter and the Tiber River. It was built at the sunset of the Roman Republic as an open-air theatre for all kind of performances. What is interesting about it nowadays is that half of it is Renaissance, as in the 16th century a new part was added on top of the ruins. This eclectic design looks very unique, but the two parts blend in really well.

Piazza del Popolo (picture by Olga Lenczewska)
As for the Baroque features of Rome, Piazza del Popolo is a must. Nowadays, it is the favourite spot for both classical art enthusiasts and modern street performers. The first may admire the ancient Porta Flaminia, build during the reign of the Emperor Aurelius and two symmetrical Baroque churches designed by Bernini, where Rome’s most fashionable street Via del Corso begins. The latter may listen to Rome’s best street performer Emiliano Fiacchi, who resembles Michael Jackson like no one else.

For those of you who are Christian, it is worth noting that there is a much better opportunity to see and pray with Pope Francis than the famous Sunday blessing at noon, which is only in Italian. Each Wednesday morning St Peter’s Square holds an ‘audiencia’, during which the Pope reads the gospel and gives a homily in a number of languages as well as greets the many groups that came to listen to him. This is the best opportunity to see the Pope, listen to his message, and pray with him. The (free) tickets for this ‘audiencia’ can be obtained up to one day before from the Vatican office located on the left side of the square.

Finally, if you have experience all of the above and feel tired of all the Roman sightseeing, you can have a relaxed walk alongside the boulevard of the Tiber River. This alley is melancholic and peaceful, shaded by plane trees. You can admire the sunset over St Peter’s Basilica as well as the beautiful ancient Ponte Sant’Angelo, with its ten sculptures of angels created by Bernini.

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lunedì 29 giugno 2015

Museum Exhibits: "Anche Le Sculture Muoiono," Palazzo Strozzi

July is the last month to visit the exhibit "Anche Le Sculture Muoiono" now on display at Palazzo Strozzi. The title translates to "Sculptures Also Die," and is centered around contemporary sculpture. The exhibit features work by thirteen artists, Italian as well as international. The artists featured in this collection have incorporated the use of materials and textures that relate the past and present of art in their works. 

According to the curator of the Strozzi exhibit, Lorenzo Benedetti, "Consumed in the immediacy of the present, the transformation of its meaning and value, and the “death” of its original state, the exhibition allows to measure the passage of time, responding to the need to look towards an indeterminate future."

Artists featured display particular themes in their work, such as the use of 3D techniques in a modern manner to explore culture, the nature and use of certain materials, the distortion and fragmentation of sculpture, and more. The exhibit is aimed to create conversation and thought about the impact of sculpture beyond just art, and into the politics and cultures of society. It will run until July 26 at Palazzo Strozzi, located in the heart of Florence's historic city center. This is a great opportunity to experience contemporary artwork in a city known for it's renaissance culture. 

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A Different Version of Paradise: Leaving California for Florence

by Laura Tressel

I have spent 5 months of the past year living in Florence. The other 7 months were spent at school and home in California. When I studied abroad in Italy in the Fall, I didn’t realize that those few months would just be the beginning of my time here. In August I left the comforts of California for the strange excitement of Italy, never imagining that I would be spending this summer in Florence too, and that it would begin to feel so comfortable. Florence is becoming a second home to me, and the differences in culture and lifestyle have begun to seem less strange. I am starting to see more similarities in everyday life between the two places, but there are still a few things that remain separated and give Florence its unique charm. To me, these are some of the things about living in Florence that I value because of their extreme contradiction to my life in California.

  1. You can get coffee anywhere, anytime. There are bars on every street, making it easy to get your daily caffeine boost without having to go out of your way to find a café. Italians take their caffeinated drinks seriously, and there are certain etiquette rules to be aware of that somehow make the experience more special than it is in the United States. For example, milk is really only consumed in the morning, so in the afternoon cappuccinos are replaced with espresso to power you through the rest of the day. Before coming here, I rarely drank coffee, but now the drink has become a huge part of my daily ritual and is the best way to relax and socialize. 
  2. Food culture is huge, even spreading beyond the world of coffee. Before living here, I paid attention to what I ate, but only to a certain extent. In Italy, especially the Tuscan region which is full of fresh produce and livestock, knowing what you are eating is super important. I have sat at a table with Florentines and listened to them argue to the point of yelling about which restaurant offers the best quality of a certain dish, the proper way to make and eat pesto, and many other particulars I would never even think about. The food here is so good, and knowing how to tell the difference in quality can lead to some of the best culinary experiences in the world. Meals are more than eating whatever is easiest, they are about really enjoying the experience, with great flavor and good company. Dinners with friends and family can last for hours, filled with conversation and laughter. Here, food brings people together. 
  3. People in Florence are more genuine and straightforward. What I mean by this is that in California, there always seems to be a sort of an act that goes on during social interactions. People feel the need to present themselves in a certain way to make an impression on others. Here, people are very open about their thoughts and feelings. You know that the smiles you receive on the street are genuine, and when talking with people, they will tell you the truth. This attitude creates a more welcoming environment. 
  4. Public transportation is not as popular. This applies mainly to Florence, because bigger cities in Italy do have extensive public transportation. Here though, getting places is easily done by foot and maybe an occasional bus ride. The city seems more welcoming when you don’t have to deal with transit delays and figuring out routes and schedules. Your feet can take you everywhere you need to go in Florence, which keeps you healthy and happy.   
  5. Everything is rooted in history. There is no comparison in history between California and Florence. This city is older than the birth of  the United States. The buildings and cobblestone streets resonate with richness. Walking to my internship, I pass sculptures and palazzi which hold the histories of some of the most influential people in Italian history. Being surrounded by these reminders of the past makes me eternally grateful for the chance to live here, in a city and country that has greatly influenced the world as we see it today. 
These are just a few key differences that make living in Florence an entirely different experience. Of course there are plenty of other little things every day that display the particular charm of the culture and lifestyle. The longer I spend in Florence, the more comfortable it becomes. The city itself invites people to become integrated and to explore. However, even though sights and activities are becoming familiar, it doesn't take away from their magic. Seeing the Duomo every day still fills my eyes with wonder and makes me forget the beaches of San Diego. 

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giovedì 25 giugno 2015

Hidden Jewels of Florence: Villa Demidoff and the Colossus

by Laura Tressel

When visiting Florence, it's easy to get swept up in the glory of the city center. There are so many fascinating things to see and learn about that the days go by in the blink of an eye, and you can hardly believe that between the rising of the sun and the setting, you saw the works of dozens of the world's most famous architects, artists, and sculptors. The city packs so much culture within a small area that it almost seems there can't be more outside of the center. But there is.

Print of Villa di Pratolino, the original buildings constructed for Francesco I. 

Beyond the boundaries of the ancient walls of the city, endless expanses of the Tuscan countryside hold  even more mystery and excitement. One of these places, only a short bus ride or drive away, is Villa Demidoff di Pratolino. The Villa is surrounded by a gorgeous park, and offers insight into the history of its past owners. Originally built by Francesco I de' Medici, the then Grand Duke of Tuscany, it was named Villa di Pratolino. The style was very structured, with flat grounds and symmetrical architectural details. After Francesco's death, the land passed through multiple possessions, from Grand Duke Ferdinand III to Leopold II, who then sold it to Prince Pavel Pavlovich Demidov. The Prince restored some of the deteriorating buildings, renaming it Villa Demidoff di Pratolino. Eventually, the park and Villa were bought by the province of Florence, which maintains it to the best of its abilities and opens it to visitors during the summer months.

Anything that is passed through different ownerships acquires various characteristics from each individual. This is also the case for Villa Demidoff. Though it is one place, it is filled with all kinds of different ponds, fields, caves, buildings, and sculptures that give it a sense of haphazard beauty. Perhaps the most particular contribution is the gigantic sculpture of Appennino, carved by Giambologna in 1580. This colossus rises above the waters of a manmade lake, seemingly dripping with the mud and clay from which it was born. Though worn down from hundreds of years exposed to the elements, you can still make out parts of the monster that the giant was wrestling when his creator carved him in stone. It is a magnificent piece of artwork that inspires wonder and curiosity.

The Colossus 
Past the colossus lie the grounds of the park, great open fields which create an overwhelming sense of freedom. The fields are framed by woods which are home to the wildlife of the region, including wild boars which might be seen exploring the edges of the park. Walking down the pathway you come to the Villa itself, sadly out of use but managing to keep some sense of regality with the history of its residents still present in the architecture. Throughout the grounds are various grottoes and caves guarded by "Danger!" signs, which warn visitors away from following their urge to explore the dark mysteries behind the overgrown foliage and carved entrances. Pathways cross the park in symmetrical lines and are lined by shade trees, connecting the various structures.

Villa Demidoff di Pratolino is full of wonders that differ drastically from those located in the historical center of Florence. The park offers a serene escape into greenery, and the fascination that comes from gazing up at the face of the colossus is worth the short bus trip out of town. By taking the ATAF bus 25A from Piazza San Marco, anyone can arrive at this hidden gem. It is the perfect place to spend a leisurely summer afternoon walking around the grounds and feeding your sense of imagination and exploration.
The grounds and structures of Villa Demidoff.

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martedì 23 giugno 2015

Experiments, cards, and the machinery of narration

Italo Calvino
by Olga Lenczewska

In the late 1960’s and throughout all of 1970’s, Italo Calvino lived in Paris and belonged to a French group of experimental writers called Oulipo. Influenced by its founders, George Perec and Raymon Queneau, who played an important role in the development of the ever-growing structuralism movement, as well as Roland Barthes, whose seminars he attended, Calvino eagerly participated in the creation of new, combinatory, labyrinth-like and reader-oriented literature.

In a lecture entitled “Cybernetics and Ghosts”, Calvino explicitly expressed his fascination with structuralism and semiotics as well as more specific problems within these fields, such as: the importance of the author, the role of the reader, the construction of a narrative, the multiplicity of interpretative possibilities. This focus on the relation of words to each other as well as the relation of words to their meanings had been first analysed by Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, who claimed that our use of language is central to our understanding of the worlds and the events in it, emphasising that it is the very relation of concepts to each other that create the meaning of every one of them by means of “differential relations”. The natural consequence of this observation was the fact that one can only understand a given word or concept if one is familiar with all other elements of the same “system”, that is, in the context of other elements which together constitute a system of communication and conceptual understanding: language. Because literature is created primarily by means of language, the meaning one reads into a text depends heavily on these “differential relations” – not only between single words and concepts, but also between more complex elements that constitute a book, such as single stories, chapters, characters, types of narration, and so on.

Let’s look at how Calvino’s literary experiments in his book “Il castello dei destini incrociati” contributed to the creation of a new type of literature which came from the structuralist movement. “Il castello dei destini incrociati” consists of two quite distinct parts: “Il castello dei destini incrociati” and “La taverna dei destini incrociati”. The two parts are composed in a similar way, both telling stories of different protagonists with a use of a deck of Tarot cards, but the settings and the decks are different in each of the halves, and so are the variations in the cards’ order. The action of both parts takes place in an obscure place and features characters who have just met. All of them have suddenly lost their power of speech and thus struggle to tell the others what has happened to them. Once presented with a deck of Tarot cards, one by one they decide to use it as a means of communication which therefore from now on happens by symbols and images, not words. The narrator, himself a participant in the gathering, attempts to understand the stories they tell (or perhaps interpret them, as we are never sure whether his description is right).

The very idea for the book’s composition came from Paolo Fabbri, who in 1968 delivered a lecture that Calvino attended. However, already in one of his previous works, “Il cavaliere inesistente”, Calvino begins to explore the idea of pictorial, non-linguistic story-telling. Some critics have, in fact, compared “Il castello dei destini incrociati”, to a giant card game, in which both the protagonists and the readers participate. In the book’s first part, the physical arrangements of the cards right before the narrative begins is such that the stories of all the protagonists are reflected by a series of cards, either read horizontally or vertically, either forwards or backwards, which sums up to a total of twelve stories. In the second part of the book the cards are not read sequentially, but in a rather random order.

One of the experiments Calvino put to test in his book was that of narrative units and various ways of combining them. In “Il castello dei destini incrociati”, by constructing different stories on the basis of various order of the Tarot cards, Calvino attempted to prove that a narrative is able to be reduced to a finite number of elements or meaning that can be combined in a infinite number of ways, resulting in infinite narrative solutions. Moreover, by providing the Tarot cards decks on the margins of “Il castello dei destini incrociati”, Calvino ensured that his text would be self-referential. The cards are used as a narrative combinational machine, as the meaning of each of them strictly depends of the card that preceded it and that will follow it. The cards, in reality, have no real existence until given meaning by a player or, in this case, a reader of Calvino’s book, and such meaning can differ, depending on the card’s place in the deck and the story. For example, in the first story of the first part of the book, a card called Strength that depicts a man that beats an animal signifies a knight in a forest who was trapped by a brigand, whereas in the fifth chapter the same cards means an African invasion on Catalonia.

In “Il castello dei destini incrociati” the cards, as units of the system of communication and at the same elements of the story, only gain genuine meaning in relation to each other, as every preceding and following card influences each other. Calvino subverts language, challenging the meaning of its elements, showing us through the use of cards that even if the elements of the communicative system remain the same, their reading and interpretation can constantly change if the relations between the elements change, and so all kinds of stories and meanings can be found the our world, too.

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lunedì 22 giugno 2015

An Inside Look at Teaching and Studying at Istituto Europeo: Manhattan College, Professor Nonie Wanger

Interview by Laura Tressel

Professor Nonie Wanger, Manhattan College
Director of Study Abroad Program

How did your teaching career begin?

Well originally I wanted to be an architect, but since I grew up with the French language, I decided to become a teacher. I like teaching, it's really a passion for me. I love to see the impact it has on my students. Especially seeing students that I had in a class in their freshman year, and then having them in another class junior or senior year and seeing how much they've grown. I teach French and Italian in the Modern Language and Literatures department. I've also been the director of study abroad at Manhattan College for 35 years now, and seeing the impact that the program has on students who have never even been out of their neighborhood is really amazing.

What brought you to Florence?

About 20 years ago we decided we wanted a program in Italy, and we thought about Rome, but decided it was just too big of a city. We chose Florence for several reasons. First because of the Renaissance history and art that it has: it's the city of Dante. Also because it isn't that big, it allows the students to become part of the fabric of the city. We were looking for a school to host our students and our program, and that's when we found the Istituto Europeo. My colleague visited the school and said that it was perfect, that it was small, right next to the Duomo, and that we would get great attention from the administration and teachers. So we decided to bring Manhattan College here. It was an excellent choice, since we have been teaching courses here for 20 years now.

How has the program changed in the past 20 years?

It started with very few students. Originally it was designed for students who had just finished the beginner or intermediate Italian courses to continue their learning here. The first year we had seven students, and this year we have 19 students in two classes. In past years, when we have had four courses besides the language course, we have had more than 30 students. Florence's summer study abroad program is the most popular out of the ones we offer. I think it is simply because they talk to each other about it and spread the word. We also have a lot of students from Italian backgrounds that want to make a connection with the country. Students from all five colleges of our university (Art, Science, Education, Business, and Engineering) come to study here in Florence. One of the best things for me is when students tell me how much the study abroad program has impacted them. I was just emailed by a  girl who studied here two years ago and is returning now to work for a tour company.

What do you think is the most important thing that students get out of the study abroad experience?

They understand the differences in culture, and that not everyone thinks the way they do. Different cultures do things differently, but ultimately we all have the same goal in life. Students also discover themselves when they study abroad. They learn to be more independent, to negotiate situations, and they learn tolerance with each other and the outside world. This will help them in their future jobs too, to help them think from different points of view. The best way to learn from this experience is to fully engulf themselves in the culture and in the language. Students should break from home, and learn about the city and culture they are in. They get to see the world differently and to use that in their own lives.

We wondered what some of the students from Manhattan College's program thought about Florence and the study abroad experience, so we interviewed two students attending classes here at Istituto Europeo. 

Student Interviews: Matthew Chiaramonte and Anna Champagne

Why did you choose to come to Florence?

M: I'm going to be a senior, and I wanted to study abroad at least once. Also, my family is from Italy so I wanted to learn about the culture.
A: I've never been to Europe before, and I had a friend who studied here for two semesters and he told me about all the experiences he had, all the people he met, and everything sounded so great that I decided I wanted to come here too.

How are you enjoying Italy so far?

M: I like Florence a lot, and also the South where my family is from. In my free time I just like hanging out with my friends, going to get coffee at a bar. Basically every week we have a trip too, so I've been to Rome, Pisa, Amalfi Coast, and we're going to Siena this week. It keeps us really busy.
A: It was a big culture shock initially, but after a couple of days being here I started exploring and walking around more. I want to see all the little streets and try different foods. I don't like having a destination, I prefer just wandering around.

What are some of the cultural differences you've noticed?

M: They dress differently, I guess more elegantly. When I went to visit my cousins who live in Italy, it was interesting because they see us differently. We're related, but we live in different places which makes our lifestyles different.
A: How people greet each other is very different. Everyone is so friendly here, especially compared to New Yorkers. They're also friendly to tourists and are eager to help which is something that i'm not used to at home.

What are your favorite things about Florence?

M: I like that you can walk everywhere. Everything is within like 15 minutes walking which is great. I also like the food of course. My favorite thing I've had is the Florentine steak which was amazing!
A: This past week I just went up to Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sunset over Florence and it was amazing. I also love the gelato.

When you go home, what are you going to tell your friends?

M: First off, I'll tell them to definitely go. I've had so much fun, it feels like I've been here for two months not just three weeks. Everyone should study abroad if they can.
A: I'm going to tell them to go abroad, they have to. It's scary at first, but everything about it is worth it. It's important to try to break out of your comfort zone, like trying to break the language barrier. The experience is great!

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martedì 16 giugno 2015

Ethics and Beauty in Florentine Shops- Todo Modo: Pietro Torrigiani

Interview by Fabrizio Ulivieri and Laura Tressel

Where does the name of your bookshop, Todo Modo come from?

It comes from a famous book written by the Italian author Leonardo Sciascia, which they also made into a film. We also chose the name because the letters "T" and "M" are included in all the surnames of the people who work in the shop, which makes it more personal.

There are five of us who work together in the store. My wife and I manage the store and the books, there is someone in charge of the wine selection for the bar, and there are two guys who work outside with publishers. We all collaborate to make the business work.

How did you come into the bookshop business?

When I was younger and in school, I worked in a famous bookshop in Florence: Seeber. Unfortunately, that store is no longer around, but I really enjoyed working there. I finished school, and while I was working as a lawyer, my wife and I started a literary festival in La Spezia during the summers. We did this festival for seven years and through it we made a lot of connections with writers and publishers. The idea of creating a new bookstore in Florence came from this experience. It took us three years to build up our catalogue of books because the titles are not necessarily the popular books you see everywhere. A lot of the time, clients come and suggest books and if I like it i'll buy a couple copies of it.

What is your personal relationship with the city and with the bookstore?

I grew up on the Oltrano side of the river, San Frediano. I always thought that we would open the bookstore over there, but this location, just across the bridge, was perfect for our shop. A lot of our customers still come from that side of the river.

How do you feel about Florence?

Of course I love Florence! Especially in the last two years, independent bookstores are really getting attention here. I think six new independent bookstores have opened (including us) recently, and its really good for our business. I also think that if people get the chance to live in Florence, they can really become a part of the city and get deeper than just the tourist experience.

For me, one of the most important aspects of living and owning a shop in Florence is making connections with other people. For our bar, we always buy produce from the same market because we have good relations with them. Also, there is a new place that sells only art catalogues nearby, and because we have a good relationship with them, we make sure not to sell art catalogues at Todo Modo because we respect their business. These types of connections form a community among the businesses and people of Florence.

Why do you think people come to Florence?

They come because it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, of course. Also, its very easy to walk everywhere. When people ask me for suggestions for where to go I always tell them just to walk around, not to spend hours inside a museum. There is so much to see around the city.

What are some of your favorite places in Florence?

My favorite place, besides my bookshop, is the area of San Frediano. I really like the atmosphere of the neighborhood. My favorite square there is Piazza Tasso. It has a lot of nice restaurants, there are always people that hang out and play soccer, and my favorite ice cream shop is here.

What reason would you give a student to come to Florence? 

The city is is place that you can really create a relationship with. You can connect with the churches, the  piazzas, the different places, and they will become a part of you. I think if a student could come here for six months or a year, they would really have the chance to become part of the city. It's a wonderful experience.

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lunedì 15 giugno 2015

Florence Hosts the Best in International Fashion: Pitti Immagine 2015

Florence is a major center of worldwide fashion, and upholds this title through the events of Pitti Immagine. Pitti Immagine is an exhibition of fashion, lifestyle, and the latest trends with exhibitions from over 1,000 international brands. There are a few different categories of events which take place throughout the year in Florence, and beginning tomorrow, June 16, the 88th edition of Pitti Uomo will open its doors to inspiration. The exhibition will last from June 16-18 at Fortezza da Basso with different events and shows each day, each showcasing various designers and fashion trends, particularly related to men's lifestyle.

The overall theme of this summer's exhibitions is "THAT'S PITTICOLOR!" which is a celebration of all the color that surrounds us and inspires life and fashion. There will be special events based around the theme, including LIVINGCOLOR, a look at color as it influences our lives from all aspects, and #GOLDMANIAC, a special collection designed to pay tribute to the color gold and all of its sparkling attributes.

Each day will host a wide variety of events throughout the city as well. For example, at the end of the first day, a special talk titled, "Buoni Talenti," will define the necessary ingredients for innovation in future design. This talk will feature speakers like Sara Maino, the senior editor of Vogue Italia, Matteo Cibic, the designer for Benetton, and Alessandro Colombo, the director for Istituto Europeo di Design Firenze. A major goal of this entire event is to inspire and support young designers who will become the future of the fashion industry.

There will also be the 81st exhibition of Pitti Bimbo, which celebrates trends in children's fashion this summer, June 25-27. In July, Florence will host Pitti Filati for its77th year. Pitti Filati showcases works of knitting and yarn, and is the biggest gathering for this type of fashion in the world. For more event information, visit the official website at

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mercoledì 10 giugno 2015

Stendhal Syndrome: Psychologists Diagnose Disoriented Visitors of Florence

Michelangelo's "David"
by Laura Tressel

Slowly turning a corner in the Galleria dell'Accademia, I tilt my head back to gaze at the glory of the marble miracle that stands before me. There, alone under an airy archway, towers David, the king of Florence's statues. I was stunned into silence, and for a while, all I could do was take minuscule steps around the base of the sculpture, acquainting myself with every centimeter of intricate detail and pale, immaculate beauty. Soon enough I came out of my hypnosis and realized that I wasn't alone in the gallery, that there were hundreds of other visitors feeling similar emotions and marveling at the same wonder. Later, after leaving Michelangelo's masterpiece behind, I wondered at the strange effect it had on my mental state. 

The explanation behind these feelings of overwhelming awe comes to us from the words of Stendhal, a 19th century French writer who visited Florence and described in his own way how, “I reached the emotional state in which we experience the celestial feelings that only the beauties of art and sentiments of passion can offer… On leaving the Santa Croce church, I felt a pulsating in my heart. Life was draining out of me, while I walked fearing a fall" (1817). These lines were written after Stendhal witnessed the tombs of Santa Croce, which houses the remains of some of Florence's biggest legends including Dante, Galileo Galilei, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Michelangelo. 

Stendhal Syndrome, as it has officially been named is a psychological condition diagnosed in 1979 by Italian psychiatrist, Dr. Graziella Magherini. She witnessed similar symptoms among visitors to Florence after being exposed to the artwork and historical magnitude of the city. Patients symptoms included disorientation, dizziness, seeing unrealistic visions or scenes, heart palpitations and shortness of breath. Dr. Magherini contributed this state of illness to the effect of artwork and Renaissance culture on the human psyche. 

Tomb of Galileo Galilei
Most commonly, Stendhal Syndrome pertains to cases that occur upon visiting Florence, since the origins are very specific. However, the term can be applied to similar sensations felt when facing a grand spectacle of nature that makes a person feel overwhelmed by their connection with it. The feeling is one that draws the person out of their usual consciousness, and into a spiritual state that they have never experienced before. As Stendhal also describes, "I long for those rare moments when I shiver with the rush of altered consciousness. In an ephemeral blast of time's breath, it's like the universe reveals itself and there is a mutual recognition of all things." 
Tomb of Dante

The condition has been diagnosed to many visitors to the city since its discovery, and has even been made the subject of an Italian horror film, La Syndrome di Stendhal. The film was produced in 1995 by director Dario Argento, and at the time of its release became his biggest grossing movie in Italy. The plot focuses around the a young detective who travels to Florence in search of a serial killer, and falls victim to Stendhal Syndrome. Due to her altered consciousness, she loses the battle in her attempts to hunt down the villain. The story creates a darker vision of the effects of this psychological condition, which otherwise has not been known to cause such dramatic results. Some patients however, have been admitted to hospitals due to severe symptoms, and given psychiatric treatment to bring them back to reality. 

Florence is a city that keeps history alive. Here, renaissance works are never "old" and every day brings busloads of new people, eager to witness them with fresh eyes. These visitors don't know of the danger that lurks behind the eyes of the paintings in the Uffizi, and the hard gaze of the marble guardians of the city. The danger of connecting with art and history in a way they never thought possible, of giving in to the inexplicable awe that understanding brings about. Some of these visitors may fall trap to Stendhal Syndrome and forget their itineraries and maps while reaching a higher level of consciousness connected with the living history around them. 

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martedì 9 giugno 2015

Once in a Lifetime Astrological Lightshow at Santa Maria del Fiore

by Laura Tressel

It is well known that Florence is a city with strong connections to the subjects of art and history, hosting some of the most world-renown works of art in its museums, and greeting thousands of visitors everyday hoping to absorb as much historical knowledge as they can in their short stay. The past breathes life into the city and all who venture here. However, there are some lesser known aspects of Florence that retain their own magic, specifically in the field of science.

The dome of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore itself is an amazing scientific accomplishment, but perhaps something even more marvelous housed in the dome, is the Gnomon. This device is basically a circular hole located in the top of the dome which, in the past, allowed scientists to observe the passage of the sun through night and day, marking the solar year.

With the technology we have today, the practical need for such instruments has ben eliminated, but the gnomon is still a major attraction. This year, during the summer solstice, you will be able to witness the phenomenon of the disk of sunlight from the hole falling on the floor of the cathedral to match up with its marble counterpart on the floor below. The opportunities to see this will be June 12, 20, and 25 between 12.30 and 13.30 in the afternoon. The light show takes place in the chapel of the cross, to the left of the main alter. Regular admission into the cathedral, as usual, is free.

The gnomon has been in use in the dome since 1475, when it was designed and installed by a Florentine mathematician by the name of  Paolo Dal Pozzo Toscanelli. It was built 90 meters above the floor, with a small opening in the middle of a circular bronze plate, and is the biggest of its kind in the world. There are other, similar devices located in churches around Italy and France, but none as high up as Florence's. Its extreme height is the reason that the rays of light only reach the floor during a short period of time each year. When the sun falls through the hole, it moves across the meridian line on the floor of the church, marking the solstice when it matches with the specific marble circle.

The device was used to its full potential for about 300 years after its installment, however due to scientific inconstancies such as the shift of the earth, or change of altitude of the Sun in the sky, the gnomon lost its accurate accredibility. Now it can be used to help determine the stability of the structure of the cathedral by taking the measurements every year and looking for any differences of the light matching up with the marble circle on the floor. This is an occurrence that can only be witnessed during these few days, and a truly magnificent historical and scientific accomplishment. The ingenuity of famous Florentine people keeps the past alive and inspires new inspiration in our own lives.

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Ethics and Beauty in Florentine Restaurants - Our Suggestion Today: Caffè Florian

Chef Daniele Di Sacco
by Laura Tressel

On a mission to learn more about the creative cuisine of Florence, we met with the head chef of Cafe Florian, Daniele Di Sacco. Caffè Florian, located in the heart of Florence, offers the sublime combination of a coffeehouse, elegant restaurant, and contemporary art collection which highlights Italy's refined food and art culture. 

Chef Daniele, can you tell us how you started your career as a chef?

It started when I was very young. When I was a child, my sister gave me a toy oven to play with, and that started my interest in cooking. Professionally, I began my career in 1990 in Florence. Some restaurants that I have worked in have been Don Chisciotte and the Grand Hotel. I began working in the kitchen immediately. Then, when I was 20, I went to school. So at this point, I studied while I worked. 

Do you have a certain philosophy for your cuisine?

I try to take the best ingredients and the best products that I can and put them together. For example, a famous dish from I learned while at school that I like to make is with shrimp, foie gras, pata negra (Spanish pork), and truffle. So, they are four ingredients that are all on different levels, but you can put them together with a certain knowledge of flavor. 

Where did you take inspiration for this philosophy?

Particularly from a restaurant that I was at. I met a chef who was very good and who made me realize the importance of having this passion while cooking. 

What are the best and worst parts of your job?

The best part is the interaction and communication with the clients. I particularly enjoy when I get to go to the dining room and talk with them, finding out what they enjoyed and what they thought of their meal. The worst part is the stress of working in the kitchen and making all of these things. Cooking in a restaurant is not the same as cooking in your kitchen at home. I don't have particular hours that I work. I start when I come in and end when I leave. 

What is your relationship with your culinary vision and the Florian vision?
This is also a contemporary art museum, so I make a point to be more contemporary in the kitchen. I have to pay close attention to details. For example, the brunch that we make on Saturday and Sunday. I try make the colors of the dishes for the brunch similar to the colors of the paintings that are above them to bring everything together. 

Are you Florentine?
No, I am from Pontedera, near Pisa. But my relationship with Florence is strong. I came here a lot when I was younger and I have always worked here. It is the part of Italy that I've been the most. Here I can truly express myself.

What is the level of Italian cuisine, in your opinion?

For me, Italian is one of the best cuisines in the world. I think that French cuisine is also very high quality. It is true that we do have more famous Italian chefs now, which is great. I would say that the top three kitchens in the world are the French, Italian, and Japanese. 

Do you have any advice for young people trying to start working in this field?

Don't look at how many hours you work and don't immediately pay attention to your economic situation. Just do things simply, and show dedication. For example, five years ago I went to a famous chef and asked to work for free, just so that I could get the experience. Eventually all the time you put in to working with help you learn, and will advance your career to where you want to be.  
Caffè Florian is located at Via del Parione 28-32/R, near Via Tornabuoni

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