First-Aid Courses in Italy: If you’re going to drop dead, don’t do it here.

A few months ago at work, my boss brought up an opportunity to participate in a primo soccorso or first-aid course here in Florence.  I immediately jumped at the opportunity–apparently I am the only American for miles that has never been CPR certified and actually wants to learn how to mouth breathe on total strangers when they collapse in the middle of the piazza ( I blame my mother and Shonda Rhimes for getting me hooked on Grey’s Anatomy–have you SEEN how smokin’ hot everyone is on that show??).  So after filling out my application form and getting the green light to skip out on work after lunch, I trotted off happily to a nearby language school to attend my first basic life-saving skills course.

Over the next three days, my afternoons melted into a blur of Italian medical vocabulary and complete chaos.  For those of you who have never seen the inside of an Italian classroom, let me give you a little sneak peak at what to expect, also known as Utter Bollocks.*

*This is no way reflects on the teacher of my primo soccorso course, who was unfailingly professional and polite in the face of complete idiocy.

Let’s begin by examining the course itself, shall we? A simple enough concept in which several people come together in the hopes of learning some basic life-saving skills should the need ever arise, taught by a qualified professional such as a doctor or nurse.

Now we had the professoressa, a trained medico who had experience in the field of life-saving as well as in teaching this course.  This was clearly not her first rodeo, since the first thing out of her mouth was the following:

“So the course that you will be completing is registered with the state, and you will receive a certificate upon completing the 12 hours required. I won’t be letting you leave early, either, because you really have to do 12 hours in order to become certified, so don’t even ask.”

Immediately several middle-aged women in the front row of the classroom started protesting in what I’m sure they assumed to be their “indoor voices” a.k.a louder than a garbage incinerator. “But I thought that if we went through it quickly..” “Well my friend took this course and she said they got out early…” “I should probably call home to let them know I won’t be there until late..”

Undeterred, our professoressa continued on with her explanation of the course objectives, telling us that we would all be expected to pass a written test of about 30 questions as well as practicing CPR on a mannequin on the final day.  In the front row, predictably, the hands went up.

“Mi scusi…”

And so went my initiation into the Italian classroom, a place where I rapidly learned the foolishness of my desire to actually learn anything at all.  Instead, I took pictures of the Powerpoint presentation to study later in my spare time and sat back to enjoy the spectacle that is twenty middle-aged Italian women forced to sit in a classroom together for hours on end.  The questions ranged from mildly amusing to completely ridiculous, mostly centered on the one scintillating topic–Whose fault was it if someone died? Below is a favorite exchange of mine:

Woman in class: “Ok, so if I finish this course and I get the certificate, what happens if somebody starts dying in front of me and, you know, I just can’t help them?”

Professoressa: “What do you mean, you can’t do it? I’ve just taught you how to administer basic life saving techniques.”

Woman: “Well yeah, but I am a very emotional person and if I see someone collapse in front of me, I just don’t think I could do it. So if I just can’t do it, then what?”

Professoressa: “Can you use a telephone?”

Woman: “Yes, of course!”

Professoressa: “Then you can call 118 (the emergency number in Italy), which is what I’ve basically been teaching you for the past 12 hours.”

My favorite part of the primo soccorso course was our third and final day, in which everyone was required to practice CPR on the dummy unless they were quick enough with the excuse like one woman who claimed her carpal tunnel syndrome refused to allow her to participate. Luckily for her, the professoressa was so sick of us by that point that she just waved her hand in the air and got on with the rest of the class without making the woman get up and go through the act of pretend breathing into rubber Randy’s mouthpiece.  Watching everyone pound away on Randy’s chest while the others simultaneously shouted instructions at them, called them an idiot for doing it wrong and/or cheered them on was better than any medical drama on late night TV.

In short, I’d strongly advise everyone to get a thorough medical exam and maybe brush up on their physical fitness before visiting our bel paese.  You never know when you might need a competent set of fingers to push the buttons on a telephone.

What It’s Like to Fall in Love With Italy

This post is brought to you by your favorite neighborhood blogging mafia C.O.S.I. 

So you want to know what love looks like in Italy? Well, my story might not be the most romantic, but if you’re interested in how a 22 year old California girl who’d never left home before studying abroad and eventually wound up living in Florence and dating a half-English, half-Italian bar manager….well, I already wrote about that here.

The love story I want to talk about today is my long-standing love affair with my city.  Firenze is the place I’ve called home for the past 6 years, and while there have been plenty of ups and downs along the way, there is just something about this goddamn city that I can’t stay away from, no matter how much I hate it sometimes.  Take this morning, for example.  I’ve been packing frantically like a rat high on cocaine for the past two days since I got the unexpected notice that I had to be moved out of my apartment by Feb.20th, not the end of the month like I’d originally planned. I’ve had little sleep and a jam-packed work schedule on top of this, all the while trying to ALSO pack for my vacation back to California on Thursday for one of my best friend’s weddings.

So needless to say, it’s been a stressful time in my household (Zola has taken to hiding in her corner of the couch, blissfully unaffected by the chaos around her) and this morning was no different. After being woken up at 2am to Francesco moving boxes out of the apartment, I had to be up and out the door for work at 7:30am. As I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes during my walk across the Ponte Santa Trinita, I realized that in the morning light I was literally the only person around. Taking cold sips of air in through my nose, I breathed out a sigh of relief and looked around me.

sunrise ponte vecchio
Sunrise warming up the Ponte Vecchio
empty streets by the ponte vecchio
Empty streets for miles…

 

Moments like this are rare with my city, but when it happens it’s enough to stop you dead in your tracks for a brief minute.  Without the noise, the traffic, the bodies and daily chaos of the tourists clogging up the streets, this morning was a stunning reminder of why I fell in love with Italy in the first place. There’s just something there that tugs at just the right place in my heart, kind of like when you eat a lot of really spicy food…oh wait, that’s not right. Well, the obsession with one’s indigestion thing (and also the need to publicly discuss bodily functions) is probably also why I love living here too.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though sometimes Florence can be a real bitch, I also am really going to miss her while I’m away for the next two weeks.

NOT! I’ll be sitting by the pool in San Diego with a beer in my hand laughing at all my friends who are freezing their asses off.  Sorry I’m not sorry, guys. I really need this vacation.

A presto!

Xoxo,

Gina

 

Only Masochists Live in Italy: An Observation on Possible Homelessness

Now before you go getting all uppity and self-righteous about me using the word “homeless” in the title (yes, I am aware that there are actual homeless people living in Italy, and I’m not one of them) I’d just like you to imagine for a minute what life would be like if you were on the imminent edge of, let’s say, losing your home/apartment/cave dwelling/baby momma’s grandma’s house and becoming, as they say in Italy, senza casa.

I realize that for my Italian counterparts, even the mere thought of being without a place to call home is ludicrous, because even the most orphaned of Italians surely have some sort of long-lost uncle that’s got a friend whom they can stay with for awhile, if not an entire undiscovered part of the family who is waiting breathlessly to welcome them into the family fold, chaining those well-worn catholic guilt-stained handcuffs to their blissfully ignorant wrists as the women offer to iron their underpants or at least cook them dinner. But imagine, if you will, being a foreigner or immigrant in a country where the majority of the population was born into a family home and simply never left it. Over the years (and economic cycles), the villas became houses, and the houses became apartments, and some Italians even (gasp!) left their homes and bought new ones further away in the more affordable areas of town, leaving behind the smaller, used apartments in the city center to sit empty and meaningless until the tourist boom hit Italy and suddenly, everyone wanted to live here and the rental market blew through the roof.

I bring your attention to a little-known yet often discussed problem in Florence—the housing crisis. In a city where half of the population seems to be American students who shell out thousands of dollars to universities who cater to their every whim, or foreigners looking to establish a new “home away from home”, finding an apartment in the city center can be as enjoyable as plucking your eyelashes out with red-hot tweezers. I should know—I’ve been frantically looking for a new apartment ever since the clock started ticking on my lease, and I’ve come up completely empty-handed.

You see, part of the problem is me. I know it, and the Italian landlords know it. Being American and a woman, I have a higher standard of acceptable living than most people. For starters, I expect that an apartment on the rental market will have a few basic components to it that enable someone to, in fact, call it an apartment and not a glorified hole. For example, when an Italian landlord describes their apartment as “charming”, we both know that what he really means is “shit-small but in a good area of town”. Or if someone says that their apartment is “unfurnished”, it means that you’re literally going to have to put in all the appliances, oven, stove, toilets, and all the other furniture and junk that goes with living in a habitable environment. These are things that I understand and expect from renting an apartment in Italy.

However, when someone says that an apartment has a full-functioning bathroom, I do not expect to take a shower while sitting on my toilet and brushing my teeth. Nor do I wish to pay two-thirds of my paycheck in order to do so.

Introducing...the scary shower/toilet/sink combo, all in one!
Introducing…the scary shower/toilet/sink combo, all in one!

Also, guys, let’s be honest—the entire selling point of an apartment is in the photos, right? I mean, you wouldn’t think that someone would put up a shitty looking picture of their apartment if they wanted it to get rented…right?

blurry bathroom pic scary apartment 1

These are actual apartments in Florence, everyone. And these landlords are laughing their asses off all the way to the bank with your security deposit, because no self-respecting Italian would put up with this shit in a million years, and everyone knows it but you.

So while I’ve contemplated which cardboard box I’ll be using to set up camp underneath the Ponte Vecchio once I get kicked out of this place I’m at now, I’m content with the fact that I won’t give up on my pursuit of the perfect apartment.  If I have to rompere a few palle on my way towards the top, so be it. Maybe one day I’ll start a legacy of apartment rentals so kick-ass, I’ll be like the Damon Pope of Florence.

New Year’s Eve in Florence, Or As I Like To Call It, The Italian Hunger Games

Capodanno, or New Year’s Eve for all us foreigners, is a celebration so rowdy and raucous that only the most seasoned of veterans can survive. This shitshow usually involves some sort of dinner with friends, in which copious amounts of prosecco are involved, and a giro walking around the city, possibly stopping off at a bar or pub where the cover charge isn’t too expensive to take shots of whiskey to ward off the chill December night. The night culminates in people throwing bottles into the street and chucking firecrackers at each other in the piazzas, drunk and in love with life and laughter filling the air.

Needless to say, New Year’s Eve in Florence kicks ass.

Now I realize that not everybody is prepared to conquer such a night themselves, which is why I’ve compiled this trusty list to get you through the evening in one piece. Here goes:

Rule #1: To Survive the Italian Hunger Games, You Must Adequately Fuel Yourself.

Now everybody knows that in order to sustain a night of heavy drinking, you must consume enough food to get you through to your 4am kebab. My suggestions in order to keep the night from burning too big of a hole in your wallet is to avoid the €75 fixed menus peppering the town and stick to the tried and true aperitivo. This way, you get to start off the night by both drinking and eating, a surefire way to kick start a buzzed night.

Rule #2: Arm yourselves with some trusty weapons.

No, seriously. Do it. Go to a tabacchi in Sant’Ambrogio the day before and load up on sparklers, firecrackers and rocket bombs. You’re gonna want these later when all hell breaks loose in Piazza Signoria , trust me.

Rule #3: Keep your friends close, and your enemies far far away.

Grab as many close acquaintances as possible to start your evening out with. Chances are that half of them won’t make it to midnight, and you’ll want to be with at least one person that you know and trust enough to get your ass out of a jam if people start getting too crazy.

As for your enemies, know them and keep them at a distance. Get sloppy when drinking tequila? Avoid it. Tend to rage a little too hard when hitting the vodka bottle with your girls? Stick to prosecco and pass on the clear stuff. Nothing’s worse than waking up on New Year’s Day with a pounding headache, 10 angry voicemails on your phone and a notification informing you that you’ve just been de-friended on Facebook by your mother.

Rule #4: Map out your plan of attack for the evening’s festivities.

If you and your friends can create a loose idea of which bars you want to visit and what area of town you want to stick to, you’re more likely to be able to find each other again at the end of the night when you’re drunk and get separated because you decided you just had to take a picture with you holding a sparkler sitting on the back of the bronze porcellino wild boar statue in Piazza di Mercato Nuovo.

Rule #5: When the clock strikes Midnight, run like hell.

And kiss the nearest person straight on the mouth cause IT’S NEW YEARS, BITCHES.

Have fun, you filthy animals. I hope you all have a fantastic and phenomenal new year, and thanks as always for reading all the nonsense that I write.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Market Life

Sometimes it’s better to let the photographs do the talking.  These pictures were shot by yours truly over the course of 3 days–please excuse the fuzzy quality and fumbling hands of this amateur photographer, I’m still trying to figure out how the hell my camera works.

What Nobody Tells You About Living in the Top-Rated City in The World

Our bella Firenze was recently awarded the #1 spot for Conde Nast Traveler’s readers choice awards as the top rated city in the world.  I know, I know–it’s almost as surprising as finding out Elton John is gay.  But while the 70,000+ readers who voted for Florence as the world’s best city were busy swooning over the ornate architecture of Brunelleschi’s Duomo and chowing down on overpriced panini at the newly rennovated San Lorenzo market, I couldn’t help but shake my head as I thought to myself, What a load of horseshit.

Now don’t get me wrong–I love Florence just as much as the next wistful American post-graduate who steps off the plane with fantasies about Ferragamo shoes and getting swept away into the Tuscan countryside on a red Vespa by a dark-eyed Italian man.  But I’m also a journalist at heart, which means when I smell bullshit I have to stop and check everyone’s shoes to see who tracked the poop indoors–so forgive me, but something smells like crap and I’m pretty sure it’s Florence.

Perhaps it’s the lack of meaningful criteria on the voting scale (of which Conde Nast’s website explains only the bare minimum based on a scale of “excellent” to “poor”) or just the ignorance of thousands of tourists who pass through Florence each day cocooned in the protective bubble of their guided groups, but to me Florence falls woefully short of deserving the title of a top-rated city.  I could cite the dizzyingly high unemployment rates that plague the country as a whole, or the rampant corruption & narcissistic values that seem to pervade Italian government or culture as a whole, but to be honest that’s not what bothers me the most.  What burns my insides is the perpetuated idea that Florence can survive being placed on an impossibly high pedestal built solely on pretty things and ignorant people.

Allow me to explain what life in this top-rated city really looks like (bearing in mind, of course, that my experience as an expatriate is immensely different than that of my Italian friends).  It’s walking into a coffee shop and being undressed by the eyes of several leering men, or being charged an extra euro because the shop owner thinks you’re just another stupid tourist with blonde hair who won’t notice the difference.  It’s spending a fun night out with Italian friends that turns into a 2 hour argument because you’re trying to explain why it’s offensive when someone uses the word nigger like it’s no big deal.  It’s having a university degree and a desperate desire to work yet getting passed over on a job interview because you don’t play football with the owner’s son. It’s catering to the daily throngs of tourists who believe that paying their entrance fees to the Uffizi gives them the right to act like drunken animals and destroy priceless works of art at 3 am with broken bottles of Peroni and puddles of vomit.

Being a tourist is not an acceptable excuse for being an asshole, just like being Italian is not a reason to shrug your shoulders and say,” E cosí (It’s just the way it is).”  If we wipe away the makeup that Michelangelo painted all over our city, it’s easy to see that our beloved Florence is getting older and more grey with each passing year.  It’s up to us to help her get back on her feet, because as any aging supermodel will tell you, there’s only so much that plastic surgery can fix.  If we can peel back the unrealistic expectations and accept Florence for what it is, only then can we start to address the real issues and hope that one day, when we’re long gone and buried deep in the hills surrounding our city, our love for Firenze will have changed it for the better.

Do Your Best Kanye: Visiting Forte Belvedere

To be honest, I’m the first one to admit that I had no clue what Forte Belvedere was all about until the infamous nuptials of America’s sleaziest couple.  All I had ever heard was that the Fort had been closed up until fairly recently due to a few untimely deaths scattered around the premises, which wasn’t enough to get my interest piqued.  However, that being said, I’m about to admit something that I rarely do–I was wrong.

Like, stupid wrong.  Because Forte Belvedere is one of those incredible gems in Florence that everybody should see.

Thankfully, the timing of my parents’ visit also happened to coincide with a day that my friend Stronza (the Italian word for “Asshole”–she has a real name but we never use it) was working at Belvedere, so she convinced me to bring them up for what she promised was “the best view of Florence in the entire city.”  Bold claim, Stronz–so of course I had to see if she was just making crap up or telling the truth.

We took a taxi from my house up and around the hills surrounding the Oltrarno, thoroughly confusing my parents (“Are you sure we’re still in Florence?” my stepmom asked me at one point) as we were dropped off outside a nondescript metal gate at the entrance to the Fort.  After assuring them that we were not in fact being taken into the hills to be robbed and murdered, we entered the courtyard of the imposing fortress and hiked up a sharp incline of steps to reach the top official entrance.  After being greeted by Stronz and given our tickets to roam around the grounds, we walked out across the grassy knoll leading to the edge of the horizon and were greeted by this disgusting view:

belvedere view
Hideous view of the Duomo.

Seriously, I almost threw up.  IS THIS REAL LIFE?

Located on the highest hill at the edge of the Boboli Gardens, the Forte Belvedere has got some pretty cool history as well as the external wow factor.  Apparently the Fort was built by Bernardo Buontalenti between 1590-1595 by order of the Medici family (not that it means anything to me, art history just goes right over my head but I hear Buontalenti was a pretty important dude, so props to him).  It’s also where Galileo used to go look at the sky and be all smart and astronomical and stuff, and was an integral part of protecting the city’s Oltrarno area from rabid pirates and crazy folk.

Pops and Zola walking around admiring the art installations in the trees.
Pops and Zola patrolling the perimete and also admiring the art installations in the trees.

After walking around taking an obscene amount of pictures, we headed up to the bar and grabbed a couple of cocktails and hung out just enjoying the view before walking back down along Costa San Giorgio and into the center of town.  While I didn’t actually even enter the Fort itself (which hosts a WWI museum among other contemporary art pieces and exhibitions throughout the season) I was absolutely stunned by this beautiful piece of Florentine history and now have a great excuse to go annoy Stronz at work.

forte belvedere

 

How to get to Forte Belvedere:

Walking (only if you’re reasonably in shape, cause it’s a bitch of an uphill climb) from the Ponte Vecchio takes about 20 minutes up Costa San Giorgio, or if you’re lazy like me just take a taxi (average cost €12).  Just be warned that while taxi drivers will take you there gladly, they’re not so happy to actually come pick your ass up so be prepared to walk back down from the Fort.

For more info on opening times and ticket prices, click here.