Diaries from an Italian Summer – Surrendering to the Florentine Sunset

August 14th
Mid-morning, after a beatific breakfast involving a cornetto or two on our Air BnB terrace, we reluctantly bid goodbye to Rome to embark a bullet train chugging off to Florence. Like any railway station, people pour in in throngs and the order of the day is confusion(in our head only because the truth is, it is very well organized). We thread through the melee, almost scurrying off to find the right train. The journey is short and we intend to get some shut-eye in preparation for a hectic day: more than a handful of places to visit, heaps of history to absorb and plenty of boxes to check-off. Distractions, however,  demand attention. Rolling hills dotted with houses, their balconies alive with tumbling flowers and swaying clothes and acres of lush olive groves are fleeting under a sunny Tuscan sky. One of those times when reality surpasses dreamland. On my right, an Italian mother serenades her little daughter to sleep. I learnt that the cosy outcomes of a lullabye are hardly dependent on language.
Our hotel in Florence is seconds away from Brunalleschi’s Il Duomo, the dome resting it’s sheer magnificence on the Florence Cathedral. Flashes of memories from reading Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’ occupy my excited mind and I ‘m hankering for that long-awaited glimpse of the gilded Gates of Paradise, that fated ceiling of the Palazzo Vecchio. There’s an undeniable urgency to vehemently drown in the present and imbibe everything.
However, at the moment, we hear Sicilian Pizzas calling our name.
(These little square pieces are quite thick and fluffy much like the focaccia and they’re derived from their authentic cousin, the sfincione.  Sfincione are topped with a tomato sauce, breadcrumbs and a hard cheese and traditionally made on festivities. What we devoured was a slightly different counterpart, more like a pizza with a mozzarella topping. Delicous!)
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This is followed by a sonorous gelato call( that surprisingly arrive at very close intervals when in Italy!).
Don Nino’s is a charming gelato and pastry shop attired in a pristine white and is home to gooey, flavour-bound gelatos. Sprawling in front is a cobblestone street and patio seats with a magnificent view of the Duomo. A dash of modern snuck and surrounded by ancient stone architecture.
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Just outside the Duomo, an oil painter, unwavered by the frenzied crowd ambling past him, has parked his ware & is buried deep in brushwork,. By his side, clipped poster-card sized paintings flap in the summer breeze. Mr. Aroen Morina paints abstract imitations of the city and its historic architecture. He’s also an Italian infatuated by Indian television and we converse about how similar our cultures can be. Him gesticulating in an Italian accent, us talking in our Indian accent. The world can be quite small and the old adage is justified yet again.

 

 

I’ve promised the husband an enchanting  scene to capture. Not that it will ever satiate the photographer in him but maybe for the day?  We hurry amid the hustle-bustle to get there in time. The distractions make their play yet again:
-the labyrinthine alleys flanked by  walls so high and lamps so ornate;
-the ornamented doors, so gigantic, they make one feel like a lilliput ;
-the sculptures seizing Piazza Della Signoria in their thrall: an imitation of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ & Bandinelli’s ‘Hercules and Cacus’;
-street artists stopping everyone in their tracks as they play the violin.

 

 

 

{Palazzo Vecchio(L) & Bandinelli’s ‘Hercules & Cacus(R)}

Beauty and history all around, cobbled roads below, merry wafts of food in the air….our brisk pace transforms to a saunter but we manage get to Piazza De Michelangelo a couple of hours ahead of time(there is some steep climbing involved but that’s exactly what the gelato is for).
Atop, the husband is on a quest to secure a spot for his tripod while I’m pursuing a spot in a little patio restaurant. He is intent on capturing memories for us while I sip wine and inhale the effervescent view ahead.
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The sun retreats Florence for the day. Ironically though, it appears that the city is surfacing from quiescence. A vespertinal awakening. Emerging at the far end of the piazza is a sprawling view of Florence, swathed intensely in the evening sun, like a diaphanous veil, capable of rousting every tired cell in the body. The scene is crowded profusely with red rooftops and in the background, Brunalleschi’s Duomo proudly looks on. The entire city is splashed in a soft orange, like a painting! Oh my! Mr. Morena’s painting has come to life…..
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To be continued…

(All photographs by Deepak Mohan Photography)

Diaries from an Italian Summer – When in Rome…

The August of 2016, the husband, me and a little brown leather bound journal carefully tucked away in my bag , traveled to Italy and checked off plenty from our bucket list. We devoured pasta like locals, indulged in wine like there was no tomorrow, learnt a handful of Italian words and drank in immense art & history. I’m glad I could make a note of our precious encounters during this ten day vacation because the many glasses of wine sure didn’t help with the memory! At this point, I’m not sure how many parts this post/journey is going to be sliced into and since I’m heavily ridden with a bad habit of “straying”,  I cross my fingers and hope that I can keep you entertained and not subject you to boredom. I hope this journey makes you as happy as it did us…..

August 11th, 2016
“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
– Giuseppe Verdi
Despite worn down by jet lag, I am buoyed by the spirits of travel & pull out my journal to begin this much sought after Italian love affair. Time waits for none, nor does an exhilarated mind. Let me clarify, while the art & history mighty impresses us, it’s the devotion for authentic Italian food that is consigning our brain on an overdrive. We’re determined and on a mission…..to feast on pizzas laden with bubbling, greasy mozzarella that stretches itself longer than a foot, to gorge on plates of gnocchi smeared with pesto sitting on a pool of olive oil, to dive into luscious tomatoes & creamy burrata drizzled with balsamic vinegar, to devour the plethora of flavours of sugary, sloppy gelato without the perils of petty shackles also known as calorie count and to sip on white wine as the blazing sun goes down.
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We saunter along narrow winding lanes & choked alleys studded with flagstones & Vespas, past the stupendous Piazza Venezia , amid trees crowned with cloud like bushes and make our way to Piazza Navona. Like we were aptly informed, the Piazza is scrambling with tourists and their selfie sticks. The husband encourages me to experiment with the camera. I give in and discuss angles & frames fearing I may not follow through. No I’m not a quitter, nor am I devoid of passion but my heart fails to stay in two places. I may fail to breathe in the sweet summer breeze, I may fail to silently people-watch , I may just fail to close my eyes and soak it all in. That said, it’s probably not the worst dilemma to be caught in….
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Afar, Bernini’s Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of Four Rivers(1648-1651) is standing undauntedly amid St. Agnes Church & Fountain of the Moor(also by Bernini). While an Egyptian Obelisk soars high from the center, Bernini’s intricately sculpted & bearded statues around represent the four major rivers from the four continents, Ganges from Asia, Nile from Africa, Danube from Europe & Rio De La Plata from the Americas. The fountain came to be in spite of protestations from the public. After all, the public paid for it in the midst of an ongoing famine!
I’m well aware that my knowledge of European history is but a tiny speck however landing here has piqued my curiosity beyond limits and my heart yearns to be be transported to a time when Bernini & his army hand sculpted this marble marvel of Baroque architecture. Yet another epiphany, yet another realization that learning how to extract teeth during day & memorizing anatomy during night was the biggest mistake of my life….
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The only intact Roman Temple in Roma, The Pantheon.The elephant grey concrete outside  is beguiling and one can be unprepared for the massive, startling interiors. Colossal, fit for the Gods, humming with silence despite swarming people & sealed by a tenacious dome that apart from being a perfect hemisphere, is also mammoth & perfectly in tandem with the lower structure. The haze of sunlight streaming through the central oculus lights up the air and everything in it, somewhat in an attempt to bringing the place back to life. The Pantheon is also a tomb.
Among many colonnades & sarcophagi rests Raphael, the renaissance artist whose frescoes have bathed the Vatican Palaces with colour, splendor & history.
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Rome’s romance with fountains ushers us to the Trevi Fountain. If truth be told, a horde of people lead us to it so much so, I bravely switch off the GPS on my phone. We arrive close by to hear the sounds of gushing waters and rush to see Nicola Salvi’s alluring masterpiece in Baroque art. The fountain is an homage to the God of Sea. On either side are two horses that depict the two natures of the ocean – calmness & agitation. In the center, rises the God of Ocean himself, overlooking the waters. On the right is an enormous vase aka Ace of Cups. Legend says that a barber managed to irritate & criticize Salvi to such a great extent  that he sculptured this vase to as a means to protect & hide his work. The entire creation is a dance, a dance of imaginary creatures & nature, all harmoniously blending with the blue waters.
The husband, with enormous difficulty scours for a spot for himself and his tripod while I fend for an inch of space on the encircled, severely crowded metal seats to rest my weary legs. Surges of people arrive by the second but no amount of chaos & frenzy is strong enough to drift my mind away from the calm of this enchanting fountain. I sit for hours while the husband gets his heart fill of pictures and not a second am I weighed down by manacles of boredom.
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For all my life, I’ve wanted to live a Parisian life. Accepting that it’s too far fetched, I resorted to being a tourist someday. But, when the husband casually popped the question, “Where in Europe?”, I caught myself blurting, “Italy”. I realized Dan Brown & Robert Langdon had gotten in my head way more that I can imagine.I now speak of Bernini & Michelangelo like they’re old friends. Speaking of books, I owe a ton of gratitude to my father. Daddy as I call him, introduced me to the world of books, case in point, Asterix & Obelix. As Goscinny & Underzo  painted pictures of an old Rome, I reveled in adventure after adventure whilst taking in comical drawings of the Pantheon, the bush like trees & Emperor Caesar, with no clue that many years later I would reminisce these days as I walk the Roman flagstones.
To be continued….

To read the previous part of this journal entry, please visit HERE
Ciao!

Diaries from an Italian Summer- Touchdown, Rome

The August of 2016, the husband, me and a little brown leather bound journal carefully tucked away in my bag , traveled to Italy and checked off plenty from our bucket list. We devoured pasta like locals, indulged in wine like there was no tomorrow, learnt a handful of Italian words and drank in immense art & history. I’m glad I could make a note of our precious encounters during this ten day vacation because the many glasses of wine sure didn’t help with the memory! At this point, I’m not sure how many parts this post/journey is going to be sliced into and since I’m heavily ridden with a bad habit of “straying”,  I cross my fingers and hope that I can keep you entertained and not subject you to boredom. I hope this journey makes you as happy as it did us…..

August 10th, 5pm
The afternoon sun blazes in all his might with no respite for weary pedestrians. The deluge of light is blinding. We don’t have the luxury of complaining though, come December we look high and low for the slightest hints of warmth.
We trudgingly haul our suitcases to spot the usual “sea of blue”that engulfs Bremner on summer afternoons. Torontonians donning Blue Jays jerseys and basking in the glory of the baseball team is akin to India worshiping Sachin. Cautiously, we snake the wheels of our luggage amid many sneaker laded feet and hasten to get away. Familiar wafts of grilled hot dogs fill the air and although I’m a vegetarian, it dawns upon me that I might miss this present home in the coming few days.
We’re rushing to embark Toronto’s glossiest train ride to the airport, the UP Express. We’re headed to Rome.
The husband’s roaring snores & Mindy Kaling’s ‘Who’s Hanging Out With Me & Other Concerns’ keeps me company as the aircraft jets across skies for eight long hours.The thud of landing is accompanied by a boisterous applause & an even louder cheering…For a tourist, this gesture says much about the country that one is about to enter, the people that one is about to meet. The heart begins to relax as all anticipations vanish and we happily disembark…

The Air Bnb apartment that we opted for, instead of a regular hotel room requires me to walk up seven flights of stairs. While I don’t mind the walk, the husband doesn’t mind the ridiculously claustrophobic elevator with it’s walls lightly but eerily grazing his arms. We meet at the doors of apartment knowing fully well that this will be tradition for the next three days in Rome. I am never getting into that elevator!

Marissa & Maurizio, the owners, have done beyond a splendid job with the apartment space. The roof is slant and at times may require a “bend and walk” routine but I’m not complaining because it effortlessly lends a fairytale like aura to the space. Vibrant morroccan cushions and table cloths are strewn about in the neatest fashion and dainty flowers in little white vases have made a home on the coffee table. Maurizio, while giving us the tour saves the best for last. The apartment occupies a tiny space on the terrace, the rest of the space embedded with green lawn grass, white patio chairs and pots bursting with pink & lavender flowers. The magic however is the view.(More about that later.)

The kitchen is equally thrilling. An espresso maker, that I fathom will come of use owing to the jet lag,  a checkered tablecloth and a basket of fruits & pastries steal my attention while Maurizio introduces us to it’s ultra modern fittings. I catch a quick glimpse of the Ikea colander and pasta pots huddled together and feel an idea bubbling in my excited mind.
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The idea of cooking pasta in Italy, using local ingredients is invigorating to me and after a spot of sightseeing, we make a pit stop at the grocery to forage for the freshest tomato & basil. The glorious wall of pasta there makes me want to squeal like a child in Disneyland. At the apartment, while my sweet sous chef assists me, I crush canned tomatoes and gently pluck gorgeous cherry tomatoes from their vine. As they bubble up, I drink in the aroma of basil and toss them into the sauce. Sprinkles of fresh ground pepper & sea salt make their way. Half a pound of cooked spaghetti is then dunked in. The process and the result are divine however, I take no credit. The juiciest, incredibly luscious tomatoes and the heavenly aroma of basil are the real superstars here.IMG_7217

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The terrace beckons us to move our dinner outdoors.The marble dome of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore rises high into the sunset sky painted in rich tones of orange.The church bells ring and the aroma of basil lingers in the air. A silent breeze brushes against us as we smile, we are savouring more than just spaghetti. We’re in Italy….

More cobblestone walks, ambrosial food & enormous history coming very soon….

Bruce Peninsula, Ontario

“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.”
– William Wordsworth

Bruce Peninsula is a close drive from Toronto (around 3 hours) and a good one at that! Let me explain why….Flanked on either side of the road are acres of delicate yellow spring flowers basking in the sun, almost like a can of yellow paint was spilled onto earth, in long strips and then given life to form blooms. William Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ is almost apt!
“I wandered lonely as a cloud, 
That floats on high o’er vales and hills, 
When all at once I saw a crowd,. 
A host of golden daffodils”

But of course, I’ve stated before, I come from the land of Bollywood where dancing around trees is a norm. I couldn’t help but give in to memories of SRK & Kajol romancing in yellow mustard fields in DDLJ! Take a look… Continue reading “Bruce Peninsula, Ontario”

Winter, Snow, & the New Year

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up so snug, you know with a white quilt, and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep darlings, till summer comes again’.”
– Lewis Caroll, Alice in Wonderland

This morning, the first day of the new year, I unwillingly opened my eyes from the comfort of sleep,  only to see that Mother Nature had decided to surprise us with a shower of delicate flurries. I was snuggled up in the warmth of my home as I stared at an enchanting scene outside my window. Continue reading “Winter, Snow, & the New Year”