A Day Trip to Florence, and a Visit with Anne

On October 3, I caught the 5 a.m. train from Spello to arrive in Florence early in the morning. I kept myself busy shopping until the early afternoon, when my friend Anne Boulamakis, her sister Kathleen (visiting from Hawaii) and Alain were back from some tests on Anne’s heart pump at a local hospital.

On my way from the train station to the center of town, I was just in time for most of the street market stalls I was passing to be opening at 9 a.m. I was on a quest for a lightweight scarf that would be suitable for warmer weather and humidity, and spent at least an hour searching with no results. Instead, I found a very LOUD red scarf, with bright colors, and decided to pick up that one, instead, to wear with my new red raincoat. As hard as it will be to “blend in” in a red raincoat, this bright scarf will be even more visible, and from a long distance away. (Maybe some bright matching “clown shoes” would be perfect accessories to complete “the look?”)

Anne’s daughter, Labrini, was in her glove and handbag stand, and I managed to get a replacement pair for my favorite cashmere-lined black winter gloves. It seems that accidentally washing a raincoat with leather gloves in the pockets is a very bad idea for the gloves—AND one of them disappeared forever, joining all of those missing socks that never reappear.

I always head for the Mercato Centrale when in Florence early, and surprise Benita with flowers from the nearby florist. She is a native Sicilian who owns Pork’s, a small corner restaurant on the first floor staffed by her son and granddaughters, and I have known her since 2005. In return for flowers and the surprise visit, I always get a few moments with her and an espresso together, and we catch up on life since the last time we talked.

"Have the courtesy to speak sweetly without raising your voice and without contradicting me in any manner.

“Have the courtesy to speak to me sweetly without raising your voice and without contradicting me in any manner. For people my age, loud noises and arguments raise blood pressure, upset the stomach, disturb the heart and vascular systems, and make me crazy.” Great sign in a vegetable vendor’s stall that had me chuckling!

A new type of mandarin that is green when ripe

A new type of mandarin that is green when ripe

Soon it was time for my rounds in the Mercato Centrale—some of the vendors I still remember, and who remember me, gave me big smiles. I headed for the Pasta Fresca stand, where I held my breath hoping that they’d have the lemon ravioli that I adore. Yes, they were there—and I bought an entire kilo to carry home to Spello. (Unfortunately, by the time I got home, they were a solid block, stuck together forever. Didn’t stop me from eating them, but I sure didn’t serve them to any guests, or share with friends. That was a LOT of ravioli for one person, and for several days for both lunch and/or dinner. What a sacrifice? No, not at all.)

Rental bike? Right into the Mercato? Really?

Rental bike? Right into the Mercato? Really?

The world-famous Florentine beef steak from the Chianina breed of cows

The world-famous Florentine beef steak from the Chianina breed

Fresh white and black truffles

Fresh white and black truffles

My favorite from the Pasta Fresca stand--lemon ravioli

My favorites from the Pasta Fresca stand–lemon ravioli

Fresh fish arriving to be put out on display

Fresh fish arriving to be put out on display

It's the season for fresh porcini mushrooms!

It’s the season for fresh porcini mushrooms!

All of the pig--here the heads

All of the pig is used–here the heads

Pigs' ears

Pigs’ ears

Pigs' feet

Pigs’ feet

Even testicles

Even testicles

Finally, the tails for sale

Finally, the tails for sale

Vendors take care to make inviting produce displays at their stands

Vendors take special care to make inviting produce displays at their stands

Zucchini blossoms, for frying or stuffing

Zucchini blossoms, for frying or stuffing

Roman broccoli, unlike ours

Roman broccoli, very unlike ours

The big surprise for me was the new upstairs floor of the Mercato Centrale—where the fruit and vegetable vendors once filled the space. It has been closed for renovation for several years, and this was the first time that I could get upstairs—on an escalator, no less. Now, the space is full of small restaurants and bars, bakeries and specialty food shops, and Eataly, a gastronomic paradise for gourmet food shoppers. In addition, now there is a new cooking school upstairs, with many stations for the students. One of the instructors was preparing produce inside, and gestured for me to come in and take a look around.

The new upstairs at the Mercato Centrale, finally open to the public

The new upstairs at the Mercato Centrale, finally open to the public

Bakery upstairs, among the new shops and cafes ringing the upstairs

Bakery upstairs, among the new shops and cafes ringing the upstairs

The big new cooking school, with stations for each student

The big new cooking school, with stations for each student

The chef prepping his ingredients for a class

The chef prepping his ingredients for a class

I was soon walking outside the Mercato, on my way to the Sant’Ambrogio marketplace for my fresh mozzarella di bufala from Salerno, a favorite I always try to carry back to Spello and share with Paola and Leonardo. I passed the long line of tourists waiting to climb the Duomo steps (and wondered if they had any idea how tough that climb is), when I walked by a man who resembled my friend Pall from Cinque Terre. Then, a woman who looked just like Birgit, his girlfriend, came walking by, and I stepped right in front of her. It took a minute for her to realize that she was seeing ME in Florence—they had come for the day, shopping and eating lunch and then heading back to Riomaggiore on a day when they had no treks scheduled. I had come just for the day, and a stay overnight with a friend. We walked together to pick up the mozzarella, and then back to one of my favorite restaurants, Osteria dei Pazzi, for lunch together. I kept mine light, knowing that Anne was waiting with lunch for me later—but we had a good time together for a while, and WHAT were the odds we’d all be in Florence on the same day, and pass each other on the street?

Passing the line of tourists waiting to climb the 462 steps up to the top of the Duomo

Passing the line of tourists waiting to climb the 462 steps up to the top of the Duomo

Street art--someone is pasting these up all over

Street art–someone is pasting these up all over

Same artist, I think--what's with the snorkels"

Same artist, I suspect–what’s with the snorkels?

Pall and Birgit, in front of one of my favorite restaurants in Florence

Pall and Birgit, in front of one of my favorite restaurants in Florence

A quick lunch together, and then we headed off in  opposite directions

A quick lunch together, and then we headed off in opposite directions

I headed for the train to get to Anne’s, where she had returned from some medical tests that had taken most of the morning. We had doner kebab sandwiches, with the works, and I got to visit with her sister Kathleen, too—all the way from Hawaii to spend some time with Anne. After a few hours together, Anne needed a rest and I headed off to meet my friend, Irmy, with whom I was spending the night.

Just hand-wrought hardware--a common site in Florence

Just hand-wrought hardware–a common site in Florence

Looking back at the Duomo from a side street

Looking back at the Duomo from a side street

I’m always at home in Florence, never lost, but I can never convince myself to take along my wheeled shopping cart—until I get to Florence and regret, once again, that I’m carrying 35 lb. of ravioli, scarves, cherry liquor, and the fresh mozzarella di bufala in three big bags of fluid for most of a day.

My time with Anne was very short, but I was going to have to miss her birthday celebration that Sunday, with a guest arriving to stay with me in Spello for a few days. I plan to see her again, when she is available, and spend some time with sister Kathleen and Alain, too. Anne is optimistic about an assessment coming up in Padova with a new doctor experienced with the Jarvic LVAD heart pump, and I really hope that she gets back more of her quality of life with his help. She has been my “safety net” in Italy, always—and now she is a good friend. She is a walking miracle, despite being saddled with all of the wearying efforts to carry spare batteries and keep all of the records for the researchers. I’m delighted to have her with us, with her heart slowly getting stronger with the assistance of the LVAD.

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