Book Review: Big Miracles by Joanna Garzilli… jewelry in Florence, Italy

78369de7-95b5-49a6-b8e6-ddbc79271ef3A few days ago I was at the bookstore. It’s my favorite place to be besides browsing jewelry shop windows in Italy. When my children were young, if we were in Florence, of course, I would have to look at the jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio. My younger daughter would tell me, “Mama, promise, no looking in the windows, we are going for gelato.”

This is funny, because if any of you have been to Florence and have walked across the Ponte Vecchio, you KNOW it is IMPOSSIBLE to walk across the bridge and not look at jewelry. All the shops sell jewelry. The bridge is glittering in white, yellow and rose gold!

I would kid her that she was half Italian, jewelry was in her DNA. One day, I might be telling her not to look in the windows. As she gave me a scowl, I would give a grin and say, “I promise, I will do my BEST to walk in the middle of the road.” See photo, I did a zig zagging walk across the bridge. Can you picture it?  Look in one window to the right, have her pull me to the center, then go to the left, look in one window, have her pull me to the center! It was most amusing.

43a807e3-0894-4785-9fce-bc9248d95e75Guess what – NOW, she is at the age where she sends me photos of jewelry she likes. I KNEW this would happen!

Back to the bookstore. As it is a new year, there was a table full of motivational / spiritual types of books. Browsing through them, I found this book about “Big Miracles,” by Joanna Garzilli.

It’s a book about connecting with your Spirit. One thing she brought up, which I had never heard of, was experiencing the “dark night of the soul.” She talks about when she experienced this period and soon after met her husband. She explains that “the dark night of the soul,” is when we are going through a period of hopelessness/despair, it’s not depression, we are low, but somehow we know we must rid ourselves of negativity, so we can move toward happiness. She spoke about uncontrollable crying and illness that wouldn’t go away. She realized later that her soul was releasing the part of her that felt unlovable, because shortly after this she met her future husband.

She has some interesting insights. I think with each book we read, we gain a little more knowledge that helps us in self discovery, focusing on our vision and destiny in life. Some years we are right on target, other years it is slow moving and then suddenly it seems our hard work pays off and we are catapulted into the happiness and success we have been focusing on.

Life, it’s not easy, but if we focus on the goal — WE GET THERE!

Baci – Want some KISSES anyone?

55DBB27E-DAB9-4901-806A-435CE3CD096AIf you are in Italy and someone asks you if you want a “Baci,” at first you might think they are being fresh! That is until you see they are starting to hand you a chocolate. For those of you who don’t know Italian, the word “baci,” means “kisses.”

If you like chocolate and you like hazelnuts, you’ll fall in love with Baci chocolates. As you see in the photo, each chocolate has a full size hazelnut inside. It’s a treat to eat one, they are delicious. Now, they are a bit expensive, so receiving one as a gift means the person wanted to surprise you with a decadent gift. Oh, and they are similar to fortune cookies, in that they ALWAYS have a love note inside written in four different languages (Italian, English, German, Spanish, French, or Chinese).

DFF41456-9338-49E1-ABFA-45A8A2F711D7

Baci’s are made by Perugina (1907), an Italian chocolate company, located in Umbria, the town of Perugia. Nestlé company purchased Perugina in 1988. This past trip I did not have a chance to visit Perugia, but that is for next time.

On the Perugina website, they offer chocolate cooking classes. The classes are 3-4 hours long, which would allow for site seeing in Perugia. I know, some of you might be thinking… I cannot make it to Italy, how will I ever take their master chocolate class. Well, if you are in or traveling to America, you have the option of going to New York or Chicago for master chocolate classes.

While I am not an expert cook or baker in any way, I do find the idea of being surrounded by Italian chocolate exciting! Something to add to the “Bucket List.”

When I was staying with the relatives in Florence, I gave them Baci’s right after dinner, because I wanted it to be a surprise. It’s amazing how one box of chocolate created such excitement! Baci’s can do that!

Art: Gallery in the Dungeon, visit Cortona, Italy

3E1B71C3-2F09-4709-A95E-4E32D4B1B9F5When you see a sign that says, “Gallery in the Dungeon,” you’ve got to check it out! Going in the doorway was a bit dark, so I admit I was tip toeing in, wondering if this was a good idea, but I kept going.

I found this staircase and started my decent, looking at the artist’s paintings on the way down. The artist, Daniela Piegai, is an Italian woman living in Cortona now.

7E97FAFF-58ED-4F02-90B2-C2ABDFB610EB

She paints in a very interesting 3D type of style. There is movement in her paintings, you can see this in this painting of the buildings as if the wind is swaying the houses. She uses bright bold colors. While her paintings seem childlike, they are interesting even for an adult audience, because they are unique.

D06665BB-5210-4391-89F6-7AF37F647A2A.jpeg

Once you are down in the dungeon, you’ll see a room that looks like THIS photo below with the sofas. If you zoom into the photo, you can see she does some interesting paintings with people, children, cats, funny looking owls, and more.

CF3C2C74-5BA8-41E6-A0E7-8DCE629C7438

I was hoping to meet the artist, while I was there, but she was not in. I would have liked to better understand how she developed her style and painting technique.

So… never pass up a chance to visit a dungeon, never know what you might find!

Do you choose a University or a Trade School?

8A21DF0B-3D5A-4BDF-A8EF-9201CBDCB320University v.s. Trade School – that is a dilemma facing American youth right now. High School students used to choose between going to College or picking a trade (electrician, plumber, carpenter, aircraft technician, auto mechanic, dental hygienist, video editor, fashion designer, tailor, etc.). As you can see, there are interesting and lucrative jobs out there that do not need an expensive College education. However, somewhere along the line, we were ALL made to feel that unless we had a College education we would not find a job.

525A7F73-5A1F-42DF-AE63-F7D5A3CA3A35Walking down a street in Florence, I came across this leather school. I went to take a look and saw people working on different projects. You can sign up for a 1 month, 3 month or 6 month course. It is a bit on the expensive side, but the artisans / students working on their projects looked quite intense and dedicated. Out of respect for the students, I did not snap a photo of them “live” in the class, but this advertisement shows you how their work tables look.

Recently, there was an article “Trade Schools Could Be The Solution To Saving America’s Infrastructure,” in StudyBreaks.com. This article talked about how we have to find a way to bring vocational training back to High Schools. This is important, not only for our infrastructure, but it would allow students who do not want to go to College the option of exploring vocational training. I know when I was in High School, they offered shop, home economics and typing classes. We enjoyed those classes, because they were “hands on.” In fact, my current typing skills are thanks to mandatory typing classes in High School! We had to memorize the keyboard, type a short story without looking at the keyboard, 50 words per minute with less than 5 mistakes. I practiced a lot to get a good grade!

Let’s bring back vocational training. As for my typing, if you see a typo, it means I need to re-take Typing 101, I’m obviously a little “rusty!”

Hide your cashmere, there is a gigantic moth on the loose!

04EAEDFE-C78D-437B-B78E-52D6946D262EI was out walking today and happened to see this gigantic moth!  It’s really beautiful. I’ve never seen a moth this size. My first thought was to hide the cashmere sweaters!

This moth was close to a door handle. I was worried that someone would open the door and the poor moth would be crushed. What’s interesting is that this moth was very s-l-o-w moving. I wasn’t sure if it was dead or in some sort of hibernation, but I was determined to move the darn thing. So, I used a twig from a branch and got her/him to move away from the door. It was tough though, like I said, this moth appeared like it was dying, but I don’t think it was. Once moved it stayed where it was, it did not move at all.

Google to the rescue! Turns out this moth is called a “Giant Emperor Moth or a Great Peacock Moth.” It’s the largest moth in Europe. In North America there are 11,000 different species of moths. In Africa they eat moths, which they say are high in protein. The article did not say if they cook the moths or eat them raw. I tried to imagine what that would be like. Maybe I need to watch the TV show, “Amazing Race,” they eat weird bugs, don’t they?

Apparently, moths are important as they are a source of food for other animals. Bats eat them and Mama Birds feed the caterpillars to their baby birds. Moths are also good pollinators. They have hairy bodies that pick up pollen from any flowers they land on.

Well, I’ve got to say I am amazed! My walk turned into an exciting adventure. Now, I can brag that I’ve seen a “Giant Emperor Moth!”

Florence – The Walking City… explore Piazza Michelangelo by foot

3C529AF7-46FB-4CF9-A311-DF3A3983D9DBI’ve been to Florence many times, especially when my Florentine grandmother was alive.  When I would visit Florence, I was not a tourist. I was staying with my grandmother. I did do some touring, but mainly I lived the life of a Florentine. Go early to the market to buy your groceries, come home set the table for lunch, always put down a table cloth, grate the parmesan cheese, cut the bread, make the salad – this was routine. With my grandmother gone, I realized I needed to find a new way to fall in love with Florence.

Back in those days, there were hardly any tourists. Some, but you walked the streets comfortably. Now, you walk elbow to elbow with tourists and foreign students. It is so packed you cannot enjoy the city unless you wake up at the crack of dawn BEFORE the tourists have started their day.

The Central Market used to have lovely leather purses, cashmere sweaters, silk scarves, belts and more. Now, the vendors, year after year, sell the same products and it’s hard to know what is real leather and what is not. The designs are not special anymore. It’s sad to see this. Gold is so expensive that the Ponte Vecchio does not sell unique jewelry anymore either. BUT for the first timers to Florence, where the leather goods, etc. are all new to them, they think it is fantastic!

It’s amusing to hear conversations among tourists, there is a competition to know Florence better than the next person, to have been to Florence more times than another person, to be the best Florentine blogger, know the best restaurant  — you get the idea.

So, with my heart feeling a bit sad and nostalgic for the old days, I decided I needed to re-discover Florence in a different way.  I was curious to explore the hills above the Piazzale Michelangelo.

64F1C219-CF8E-4EFA-8BD4-F54CB65CD8F3I got lucky and as I was walking up a long road, I found “The Walking City” map. See the photo of the map. I want to see if they have other maps for walking the city like this. What a great adventure for people who have been to Florence many times, want to get away from the crowds and get some exercise. The views and the villas up there, as you can imagine, are fantastic.

If you make the walk all the way around, you’ll have this view of the Duomo from Piazzale Michelangelo!  Stop and treat yourself to a gelato, you deserve it!

Yes, you can see Florence with “fresh eyes!”

Florence – YES, I found a 99 cent store…

DC6A821E-F171-4F8F-93CE-85290D3A99F4The Family Dollar stores are all over America, but I didn’t expect to find one in Florence. I thought you might enjoy seeing this, so if you travel to Italy you can save money by buying water and other small items here! They really have quite a bit, it’s amazing how the store looks small on the outside, but upon entering it’s quite big.

If you save on water, etc….  you can enjoy a gelato!