Leather, Pizza, and More Leather

2013-10-01 09.04.52(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)

Our trip leader, Franco, starts this part of our day trip by first orienting us to shops and other amenities in the immediate area.

Then, some of the group takes off, while the rest of us are taken by Franco to a store called Peruzzi, which specializes in leather goods. He’s mentioned it’s the best place in Florence to find high-quality leather purses, jackets, and other accessories.

In an area near the store entrance, we’re introduced to a salesperson (I think named Roberto), who gives us a pitch about the quality of the goods, has an employee demonstrate how the company applies gold embossed patterns to some of the products, and even gets one of our American tour-mates to try on a leather jacket. It’s all a little bit dry.

We’re finally let loose to look around and see what we can find. Most of the tour group leaves shortly after.

But I’ve been waiting this moment for about four days, and I’m on a serious mission to leave Florence with something, anything, leather.

Mom and I head upstairs to the shoe section. Not much there. We move from room to room, floor to floor, not really finding anything truly affordable, never mind nice.

After going back and forth, I decide on a reasonably-sized (for me) black leather purse. It is, honestly, the most money I’ve ever dropped on a handbag of any kind. But considering all I’ve bought so far has been several pairs of earrings, I justify it as my prime splurge for this trip.

The salesperson we’ve been dealing with then tries to sell my mom on a leather jacket (including a really nice cream-coloured one), but she stands her ground and declines to buy it.

(Truth be told, the salesperson’s being kind of pushy, despite the store’s apparent “no obligation to buy” spiel from less than an hour ago.)

We wander back out into the square, running into yet another peddlar trying to sell us scarves for less than 5 Euros. We rebuff her offer … and I don’t remember what we say out loud, but it’s within earshot of a middle-aged man walking close by us.

I think he responds to our comment by first saying “Pardon?” to which I respond by voicing our annoyance at being harangued by street vendors. He says he hates them too, and asks where we’re from. When asked in return, he says he’s Italian, and a resident of Florence … and owner of a family-owned leather shop nearby.

Oh yes, of course. Trying to convince us to go into his shop. We try to worm our way out of it by saying maybe we’d drop by later, but right now, we’re going to eat lunch.

Of COURSE, we end up at the restaurant right next to his store. Which means he can check on the progress of our meal. Oh, well.  **sighs**

Mom’s not hungry, but I am practically ready to chew my own arm off, so I order a pizza with tuna, olives and onions. (Don’t judge me.)

While tucking into that potentially stank delight, a really attractive young man (accompanied by an older man) passes by, doubles back, then sits on the restaurant patio – our restaurant patio – right across from us.

(Stellar meal choice, D. Cue the “wah-waah-waaaaah” brass section.)

We get to chatting with them, and it turns out this guy – and his dad – are from the States; from what I understand, they both used to be in the army. Son is now working here in Italy (just outside Venice, to be a bit more precise – for the government in some capacity, from the sounds of it), and Dad is finally visiting for the first time. They’re spending the day in Florence, and will be visiting a couple of other places.

It’s nice being able to have a full conversation with fellow travellers from our part of the world, and fellow travellers of colour, at that. It certainly doesn’t happen to me a whole lot.

The two men leave before us. Shortly after, I excuse myself to use the ladies’ room before we continue on. When I emerge from the restaurant, guess who’s chatting up my mother?

We basically have now been cornered. So, into the store we go.

I look at an assortment of purses which, frankly, don’t really tickle my fancy. I get the sales pitch on a grey clutch, which apparently is the same brand used by Pope Francis. Given the unholy ugliness of the big, plastic, gold-coloured logo slapped on the front flap, I’m very doubtful, but keep this opinion to myself.

Then our “friend” suggests I try on a leather jacket. No obligation. And he has just the one.

He passes me this fitted, eggplant-coloured number with a decorative belt that he ties in the back.

Ohhh, shit.  It actually looks good. But I can’t. I JUST dropped some coin on a purse …

I want to protest, and I look over at my mom for an out. But she doesn’t help when she comments on how good this jacket looks on me.

It’s the death knell for my credit card. Some 300 Euros (or $430 CAD) later, I carry out that aubergine moto-styled jacket (I’m kidding myself) in a big, stapled paper bag. The total cost of my purchases today? $600 CAD. Damage: officially done.

2013-10-01 09.50.52Mom and I set off in search of shoe shops, passing sidewalk artists and various other kiosks along the way, in hopes she might land herself a good pair of leather shoes.

Of course, she wants said shoes at Canadian-sale-plus-senior’s-discount prices. Not much luck.

We stop while my mom gets a fruit gelato. Which normally isn’t a big deal. EXCEPT that when go into this one place to order and the woman behind the counter says, “Cone?” and my mom says yes … the gelato lady decides my mom needs the biggest waffle cone known to humankind. By the time I catch the miscommunication, she’s already plopped it into the cone and has charged 10 Euros. NOT. Impressed.

I simultaneously feel badly and queasy, watching my mother attempting to eat that gelato and NOT waste her 10 Euros. After getting about three-quarters of the way through, she quits and tosses it.

2013-10-01 09.55.21We continue looking around, Mom changing her shopping objective to finding a nice belt.

We pass by a small market full of purses dangling from hooks, various belts and scarves we’ve seen at other stands, as well as other touristy knick-knacks. Not much luck.

We then realize it’s getting close to meeting time. Were we supposed to meet at 5:15? Or 5:30? Or maybe it’s 5:45?

2013-10-01 09.48.22In any case, we set out to return to our meeting place – getting lost and ending up northwest of our intended destination.

And we’re both directionally-challenged. But it seems I’m marginally better at reading a map.

So it takes a few minutes more, but we find our way back to the church square.

The group eventually re-assembles and boards the bus down near the river. By the time we return to the hotel, a group of us decide to head out in search of dinner. I’m certainly game, but I’m not sure my mom is, since she’s still feeling a bit under the weather, and is also assuming we’d find something at the hotel (which I’m doubtful about).

In the end, Mom and I join Dallas and Randy from Winnipeg, Selene and Paul from Ireland, Jenna and her friend Andrea (from the U.S.) and another mother-daughter duo, Crystal and Louise, from Tasmania.

We have to navigate a couple of roadways (without getting run over) to get to the restaurant, which basically resembles like a box on sticks (for people in Toronto: it looks like OCAD’s Sharp Centre for Design, minus the fancy stippling). Thank goodness there were two elevators to the top!

We all have various dishes – a number of them pasta dishes – and leave very full.

One more day, one more hotel change. Final destination: Rome.

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Sculptures Galore!

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)

Tuesday, October 1.

We’re on the bus by around 8 a.m. to get to Florence, and our first stop of our city tour for the day: the Galleria dell’Accademia, home to Michelangelo‘s David – perhaps the most recognizable sculpture in the world, if not one of them.

I distinctly remember first seeing David in a picture as a kid of seven or eight. Not in an art book. In a sexual education booklet.

(Now, while it’s absolutely not my intention to debase such a renowned work of art, let’s be real: once you’ve seen the most famous junk in the world, it’s almost impossible to unsee.)

Anyhow. I’m an adult now, and I will absolutely appreciate the experience in a completely different way.

We wait in line on the sidewalk beside the gallery – along with one complete stranger who somehow thinks he can sneak his way in with us. Too bad he doesn’t consider the fact we have reservations – and tickets, which Franco announces loud enough for him to get the hint. (Idiot.)

Today’s local guide, Giovanna, starts our tour in the first large room containing various gold-leaf medieval paintings, and the sculpture called The Rape of the Sabine Women (depicting abduction, not sexual violation) by Giambologna (not Michelangelo, as I would have automatically guessed).

We’re then taken into the next hall next door, which is lined on either side by a series of Michelangelo’s sculptures, called the “Unfinished Slaves“.

It’s fascinating seeing these works, and then hearing from our guide how Michelangelo was able to start chipping and carving from whole blocks of marble, working from NOTHING except an idea in his mind (no test runs in plaster, nothing), and even more baffling that – for whatever reason – he would just abandon them. Just … surreal.

The result makes each work appear as if they’re trapped – like ancient Han Solos lodged in marble, instead of carbonite.

Photo (not mine), from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo (not mine), from Wikimedia Commons.

This corridor leads Giovanna and our group towards the main event – David.

Full disclosure: long before setting foot in Italy, I had heard that it would almost impossible to get to see David without reservations way in advance (I took that to mean one would have to make reservations weeks ahead of time).

And, even if you made said reservations, you’d be lucky if you got to spend even five minutes getting a really good look at the sculpture.

So, two things I didn’t expect?

First: Perhaps due to both being part of Giovanna’s tour, and the other people crowded around, our group, all told, gets to spend 10 minutes gazing upwards and walking around the statue. There are even school kids seating on nearby benches, sketching with the utmost concentration.

Second: I’ve come to see something that is perhaps a little larger than life-sized (because the memory of the photo from the sex ed book has led me to assume that, well, why would it be any bigger?).

Holy CRAP. It is MASSIVE. Over FIVE. METRES. TALL. (Or 16 feet.) It’s ASTOUNDING.

It’s fantastic, seeing the sculpture – the proportions and sheer detail –  and hearing Giovanna tell us the stories behind David. The story of its creation, in secrecy under a scaffolding, while people questioned Michelangelo’s sanity. The reaction after its completion. The fact an entire wall of the Accademia had to be knocked out when they moved David indoors. The nutbar who – in 1991 – broke part of a toe on David’s left foot (and the efforts to restore it).

By the time we leave for another corridor in the building, I’m convinced that David has either set my personal standard, or utterly ruined me, for classic sculpture. But really, I’m done.

We’re led into a room where plaster busts and other sculptures by other artists are on display – to not only illustrate the sculpting process, but to show the craftsmanship and attention to detail.

2013-10-01 04.14.15Once we’re finished with the Accademia, Giovanna takes us on a little walk to Florence’s main church and baptistry.

The doors of the latter depicts some of the most well-known stories of the Old Testament, displayed in 10 bronze panels.

Past the church and down a handful of streets, we’re in Piazza della Signoria, the main square, situated in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (Florence’s town hall).

The area is well-populated with statues, including a replica of David (not as large, but – except for the pigeon sitting atop his head – just as good).

2013-10-01 04.33.29There’s another statue nearby, Perseus with the Head of Medusa.

It stands out from a lot of others –  not only because it’s cast in bronze (which I think helps it withstand the elements a bit better? Please set me straight, if I’m wrong), but because we’re told it’s been outfitted with an electric device meant to deter pigeons from perching – or pooping – on it … by shocking them.

Giovanna navigates us through crowds of tourists and school groups until we eventually reach the Piazza Santa Croce, where our tour ends, and we’re deposited back into Franco’s care.

So our cultural education has ended for the day. But our shopping adventures are just about to begin.

Curing The New York Hangover

November 16th.

It’s cold, overcast and rainy. Again. 

And I feel like death warmed over.

I feel like I’ve gotten a full night’s sleep. But I’ve only actually passed out for about five hours.

I stumble into the bedroom and mumble my thanks to my friends for taking care of me, as well as an apology for being the twit who couldn’t hold her liquor. No worries, they said. Besides, I think to myself, I have, after all, provided them with comic entertainment at my expense.

I’m as slow as molasses getting into the shower. But I feel incrementally better afterwards.

We head out into the wind and sporadic rain to the Tick Tock Diner at W 34th and 8th streets for breakfast before we get down to some serious business of the retail variety.

In the past, the sight of a diner breakfast usually erased all thoughts of hungover queasiness, and I was a new woman by the end of the meal. Of course, the past was when I was in my twenties and had a gastrointestinal system that was practically bionic.

Today is another story. The thought of toast comforts me. The thought of eggs and bacon, however, does not. I make the mistake of ordering scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon (which, by the way, I regret wholeheartedly) and potatoes … and I feel myself turn green when the waitress puts it in front of me.

Shortly after I start picking away at my plate, a wave of nausea hits me and I get up from my table, fast. I make a beeline for the back of the restaurant, only to come across what could only be a HUGE lineup for the bathroom.

This can’t be right, I think. I ask the nearest waitress – who happens to be our server – where the bathroom is. She tells me it’s in the corner … where the lineup is.

“Oh crap,” I mutter aloud, looking around for an alternative. The only thing I can do is go back to my seat, and silently resolve to myself to upchuck outside the restaurant (out of view of my friends) if things REALLY get bad.

But as quickly as it comes, the queasiness passes. Just like that. I start to chew on what I can. Somehow I manage to muster up enough of an appetite to eat most of the eggs and bacon on my plate, along with a second order of toast. (Ah, toast. Sweet buttery saviour …)

new-york-november-2008-078After breakfast, it’s on to the Rockerfeller Center – and shopping. We stop to check out the Rockerfeller Plaza skating rink.

(Can I just say it’s WAY smaller than it looks in pictures? How deceiving. I still dig the Prometheus statue, though.)

Our shopping extravanganza starts at J. Crew, where I manage to pick up a nice cable-knit sweater. Next, it’s to Anthropologie, which is a main point of interest for my friend C (who visits the Web site fairly regularly). I think we cover every square inch of that store. Neither of my friends really luck out, but I splurge on a pair of jeans (which, because of the price tag, I will be taking VERY good care of – like they’re the Crown Jewels).

Before we leave the area, we go into the main lobby of the Rockerfeller Center, where we gaze up at the ceiling mural. We’re actually noting out loud about the number of crotches seemingly painted in our direction when I hear a voice say, “Excuse me? Hello?”

It’s the security guard at the front desk, motioning us to come over.

I’m wondering what could we possibly have done wrong, and get C and P’s attention.

As it turns out, the guard gives us an impromptu history lesson, both about the mural painted behind him – Man’s Conquests by Jose Maria Sert – and the story on the ceiling mural (by artist Diego Rivera) , which “moves”, when we follow his instructions. Well … I kinda see what the guard’s talking about as I walk from side to side, but since I still feel hollowed out from the night before, I’m not really getting the full effect.

We leave the area and return to the apartment for a wardrobe change for the next activity on our list: Our big, fancy New York dinner.

We go to Buddakan, this upscale Asian fusion restaurant at 9th anew-york-november-2008-084nd W 15th. The outside doesn’t really give too much away, but the inside is fabulous. As I find out the next day, it’s one of a chain of different frou-frou restaurants run by this guy from Philadelphia, and was one of the restaurants used in the Sex and the City movie.

But forget the hype behind the restaurant – we’re there for the food. And – cool, aloof wait staff aside – it’s ridiculously good.

There was this salad … and sea bass wrapped in cabbage which was so good … and this edemame that blew my tastebuds away … and a sweet-and-sour chicken entree I order, which actually resembles a breaded loaf more so than actual chicken. It’s almost too much.

Then the waitress asks us if we want dessert. We’re stuffed, but decide to look at it anyway. I end up going the whole hog and ordering a small chocolate ganache cake, with a dollop of coffee ice cream perched atop some unsweetened cocoa.

new-york-november-2008-080The presentation of the plate is so perfect, I actually feel bad that we’re going to demolish it in a matter of minutes. But it was so warm and so rich, I probably would have left my body, had I not been weighed down with so much food.  

Following dinner, we look around for a bit longer, checking out the dining area below and snapping a few pictures before calling it a night.

It’s hard to believe but tomorrow is our last morning and afternoon in town before boarding a plane for home. It’s sad to realize that our four-day adventure is almost over.

Lady Liberty, and Illin’ in Brooklyn

new-york-november-2008-0631November 15th.

It’s P’s birthday. And it’s a late start for us. There’s a heavy rain shower early in the morning, which causes us to hunker down in our beds for longer than usual.

First stop – no breakfast – is the New York Public Library – heaven for librarians and any book nerds worth their salt.

After the obligatory pictures of one of the lions and the exterior, P and I check out the interior. Despite the beautifully designed building itself, there are, surprisingly, no stacks of books – unless you count the volumes upon volumes of catalogues, with countless pages of photocopies of cue cards, containing information about books.

Sigh.

We check out a couple of the reading and research rooms. P – who is actually a librarian – figures that, to get a book, you have to make a request to one of the librarians at the main desk, who then puts in the request to have said book retrieved.

Double sigh.

From the library, we take the subway down to Whitehall Terminal, and board the Staten Island ferry so we can see the Statue of Liberty.

We shuffle with the crowds, making our way onto the boat and then towards the front so we’ll have a good view.

The drizzle and mist from the water hits our faces as the ferry makes its way new-york-november-2008-066through the water. The air’s crisp and cold. Seagulls bob along the water’s surface and harness the wind to glide above the boat, at times appearing suspended in flight.

And we then we see Lady Liberty. She’s smaller than we expect. Then again, we’re a bit farther away from her than we thought we’d be. But for a free ride, it’s good enough. Making the trip back, we get a better frontal view of the statue, and can just make out the torch, which is “on”.

Off the boat, we walk over to Ground Zero. There’s not much to see, unfortunately – huge board-and-wire-gate fences block the hole from public view, and there’s at least one crane from what I can see, which means construction on something has started.

We stop at a nearby deli for our first – and only – meal of the day. As it would turn out later on, this is a small blessing in disguise.

Next stop: Century 21, the store several people have told me I HAVE to go to. The exterior’s already got lights draped the size of the building, so it looks like a big, glittery Christmas present.

The inside is friggin’ enormous. Just floors and floors of … stuff. P is done after about 45 minutes of looking. (Unbeknownst to us, she temporarily doesn’t feel so hot, but we don’t know this until much later.) I’m just looking and looking. I go down to the basement to look for shoes. I’m a bit overwhelmed, and unsure of the selection, so I re-emerge after about 40 minutes or so. C is almost ready to throw into the towel. But partway through, she’s gets the trick to navigating this unwieldy store: you have to be prepared to dig, and dig to find that choice buy.

At one point, we all get second winds, find some things to try on, and get down to business. In the end, none of the things we take into the dressing rooms are truly worth getting. But on our way back through the trench coats and winter jackets, I come across a really nice pea coat, which I end up getting for half-price.

Unfortunately, all the time at Century 21 thwarts our original plan of heading up to Harlem for soul food. So we decide to head back to the apartment and change before going out to get changed for P’s birthday. We’ve decided to go to Brooklyn, to this place P read about online, Black Betty.

Drinking at the apartment beforehand, I’m imbibing slower than the others – I’m kind of tired, plus, I want to pace myself. (Wait for the irony of this statement, if it is indeed ironic.)

We head out and after a few attempts, including a cabbie that outright drives off when we tell him where we’re headed, we land a cab.

Because of the traffic, it takes FOREVER. We almost give up and tell the taxi driver to turn around, but he says the bridge takes no time to cross, once we get to it. 

He’s right. Et voilà. Welcome to Brooklyn … And Black Betty.

How to describe the place? Um … dive-y?

We enter, and the place is packed with young’uns, drinkin’, dancin’, bumpin’ and grindin’. There’s even a Hasidic Jew getting his dance on.

Well, then.

We order drinks from one of the bartenders. As we wait, we spot one of the other bartenders wearing an old-school Saskatchewan t-shirt (which I’m pretty sure she’s wearing “for the irony” because she probably has NO CLUE where Saskatchewan is).

About half an hour in, the night starts to blur. As far as I remember, the rum and coke in the full-sized plastic cup becomes a Red Stripe (!) … which then morphs into a mixed drink C gives me … which then gets placed on a table, never to be finished.

At some point, a speaker falls off its perch above us and nails P in the foot. NOT COOL. She helps put the thing out of harm’s way, which pleases some of the other drunk patrons who didn’t move an inch when the thing originally fell.

Things for me take a turn for the worse. P comes up to me, asking for my help in shaking her loose some young squirt who’s latched onto her … and I sit down because I suddenly don’t feel hot. AT ALL.

I feel it’s my duty at this juncture to impart some words of wisdom to my fellow drinking lightweights.

No, I’m not going to give a lecture about the danger of mixing drinks. Or the virtue of eating enough to absorb the booze. But I WILL say three words in regards to emptying the contents of one’s stomach under a table:

NOT. CLASSY. EVER.

Learn from my mistake and NEVER do it.

Back to my story: I seriously cannot for the life of me remember the last time I did this. I’m too OLD to be doing this. It’s a wonder I don’t retch up a lung. 

My friends and I – to my utmost relief – finally leave Black Betty behind around 4 a.m.

It’s unfortunate that my last memory of the Brooklyn Bridge early this rainy morning is anything but pleasant.

Christmas is Smothering Me

Let me make one thing clear: I like Christmas. I really, really do.

I love the decorations, some of the cheesy music, the parties, the time spent with family, and the quiet downtime I get when the holiday finally arrives.

I just do not like any of the aforementioned things the day after Halloween.

I was already in the mall twice this past weekend, and it took everything in my power not to flee. I tried my best to block out the schmaltzy Christmas music already blaring over the sound system.

I’m barely tolerating having to dodge and weave the multitudes of people shuffling, pushing strollers, or leisurely strolling, who are getting in the way of people like me just trying to get to our retail destinations, so we can get the items we came to get, and just get the hell out of there.

Hey! Mall people! Yeah – the planners, who all think bombarding folks with sights and sounds of the holiday season 7 weeks before Christmas is a good idea?

It’s NOT. You’re suffocating me to death with Christmas! Quit it!

I like to shop, but all this Christmas crap right now is killing whatever potential Bob Cratchett I had in me, and allowing the Ebenezer Scrooge to fester and spread.

I understand more each year why some people do not celebrate Christmas at all.

Seriously? I’m still adjusting to the fact we finally just had frost the other day. What’s the big hurry with the Yuletide stuff? It doesn’t get me to the mall any faster to do my Christmas shopping.

Here’s a compromise: the Santa Claus Parade is what, the 18th of this month (at least where I live)? Why not wait until then to go full-tilt on the ho-ho-hos and fa-la-la’s? I’m down with that, and I’m sure there are a lot of people who would agree with me.

If only there was a petition. Sigh.