go out into the world

“Go out into the world where your heart calls you. The blessings will come, I promise you that. I wish for you the insight to recognize the blessings as such, and sometimes it’s hard. But you’ll know it’s a blessing if you are enriched and transformed by the experience.”

(Sy Montgomery)


la ribollita

Being out of Italy, I love figuring out how I can bring its essence into D-Town. The “cappuccino” I had this morning out of the instant machine at the BMW dealer while I was waiting for my car didn’t quite cut it so I decided to try a more full-on approach: la ribollita.

Ribollita is a traditional soup from Tuscany that was recommended to me by the owner of an “American” bar and cafe one day while I was staying in Florence.  He noticed that I was tearing up my bread and putting it into a bowl of tomato soup and told me that I had to try this famous Tuscan stew that involves lots of day-old bread to thicken the consistency.

On his recommendation, I scouted out a nice-looking restaurant and sat down for a glass of vino and a bowl of this hearty soup. I had a a pretty nasty cold that night, but I can tell you that this was without question one of the best meals I have eaten in Italy. I don’t even know if it should be called a soup or even a stew for that matter; it’s so thick it could be eaten with a fork and every bite seems to encompass the Florentine culture and Tuscan countryside. One bowl of this stuff inspired me to go back to my hotel room and start a food diary, dating all the way back to 2009 (I have a great memory for food). I then scoured the internet for recipes and swore that I would make it as soon as I returned home to Denver.

One month later I am here and the days of 80 degree temperatures have finally disappeared and I am sitting in my kitchen while it is 40 degrees and raining out. So the day couldn’t be more perfect to try out my culinary skills. Embarrassingly enough, this is actually the first time in my life I am opening a cookbook and preparing dinner for multiple people. Usually I just throw whatever I have into a pan and and turn it into either a) a stir fry or b) a pasta, so this is a big day for me. After following the recipe of Mario Batali and making various adjustments with the help of a few Italian websites, I think I may have actually come close to bringing Italy home with me.

The ingredients are simple and cheap: potatoes, celery, carrots, leeks, cabbage, kale, onions, garlic, tomato paste, cannellini beans, Italian bread, olive oil, salt, pepper; but when it’s all thrown together it’s pretty delicious. Being back in the States, I am glad I can still capture the heart of Italy in an afternoon, because there really is no better way to celebrate it than through the food.

PS. I debated not inserting a picture because it probably could look more appetizing, but just trust me on this and next time you need a cold-weather meal go for it.

florentine photo blog

one word: impressive

just walking home one night and stumbled into this… no big deal.

I love this sky.

old school liquor store. I love history.

if you went to Florence and didn’t eat una bistecca fiorentina then there is no point in saying you went to Florence.

highlight of the hostel: the view of the Duomo from the terrace bar

along the Arno

seriously, this is just beautiful.

“my object was to walk it into my head and, this time, keep it there”

After weeks spent under that lucky old sun in Alghero, falling in love with yet another Italian city, I have made my way to Florence and, despite the tourism chaos, I was immediately reminded why I love this place so much. I spent four months studying in Perugia, in Umbria, which is literally called the heart of Italy, for it is located in the middle of the country. But when I am in Florence I feel like this is truly Italy’s heart. There is something about this city that has a certain draw to it, something almost magnetic, that keeps a person always wanting to return. I feel like it is offensive to tear my eyes away from any part of this city because there is so much to take in. The beauty doesn’t necessarily lie in the infinite number of museums and Renaissance Art that help make this city what it is, but in the people and the architecture and the atmosphere. There is something that is comforting and warm about Florence that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s definitely not tangible, but it is very real.

And so I have taken to walking another city into my head. I did this with Rome a year ago and I found that it is the only way to experience a big city. Before I walked Rome, I didn’t love it in the way that I love other cities in this country. However, after taking the time to get to know it on a more intimate scale, outside of its tourist wonders, I realized that there is something special about it. I have always loved Florence in a different way, but being back now that I have truly seen every magnificent sight it has to offer, I finally have the time to walk the city and get to know it as if it were actually mine.

I wrote a paper on this in a class my final year of college, about how running through a city in a matter of hours is no way to get to know it. And while I can see the lure of Euro Tours and other trips that take you to many places in a small amount of time, I know they aren’t for me. I need more time in a place. There is nothing I love more than frequenting a specific bar or restaurant and getting to know the people who work there; receiving a smile of recognition every morning.

As far as the history goes, even in 2011 it lives on, and it is all I can do as I wander the streets to keep from imagining in my head what went on here hundreds of years ago. Take away the brightly colored tourist kitsch and the little Fiats zipping around, and you may have just stepped into 1600. My love for history runs wild when I walk the streets here, making it even more fun to slowly imprint everything into my mind. So, knowing that I most likely only have a couple of weeks left in the country, I am going to do my best to walk Florence into my head. For me, there is something a little bit magical about this place and I want to know it as best as I can because in a place this old, you never know what it could be hiding a little bit off the beaten path.

“This is Sarah, she studied in Italy for 9 months.”

Note: this post has been migrated from my former blog “Parliamo dell’Italia – una ragazza fortunata a Perugia.”

Now that I have been back in America for a pretty solid amount of time, I realize that the rest of my life is going to go something like this: every time there is an introduction-like situation, I am going to forever be “Sarah, the girl who studied in Italy for 9 months.”

I realize this because it is happening.

Two weeks ago I started volunteering at the Denver Library and the very nice woman there introduced me to each of the other volunteers. “Hi [Todd], this is Sarah. She studied abroad in Italy for 9 months.”

When my managers at that phenomenal clothing store I work at introduce me to other co-workers I am “Sarah DeNapoli and she just got back from 9 months in Italy.”

And now I am doing it to myself. When the doctor I met with this morning asked me to tell her something about myself I started with, “Well, I just got back from 9 months in Italy.”

As I sit now in my beautiful little kitchen, craving an afternoon macchiato, I wonder if the rest of my life is going to be like this. Future job interviews (“I have done only one thing worth mentioning in my life: I lived in Italy for 9 months”); potential dating situations (“Will you eventually be rich enough to take me to Italy? Because I studied there for 9 months.”); and all future acquaintances (“I hope we have something in common … do you like Italy? Because I studied there for 9 months.”)

There was a scene in Bridget Jones’s Diary when her friend insisted that she introduce each of her friends & co-workers accompanied by a fun fact. This scene just keeps playing through my mind and I realize that I have inadvertently labeled myself with one, single fun fact: Italy.

But I guess there could be worse things. I could be Sarah who didn’t study abroad at all for 9 months, or worse, Sarah who studied abroad in France for 9 months.

So all I ask is this … remember there are a few other, interesting things about me … I still harbor a fierce hatred for Josh McDaniels, I am slowly becoming a real-live baseball fan, and I love to sing in my car. So maybe remember some of those fun facts next time you’re showing me off to your friends. Mix it up a bit? Just a thought.

This is potentially my last blog here (seeing as I am not even in Italy any more) and I guess it’s better late than never to mention this, so if you want to know what I ACTUALLY did over there for 9 months please check out my blog for the University of Denver’s Admissions Office.

un bacio.

Old Italian People

Note: this post has been migrated from my former blog “Parliamo dell’Italia – una ragazza fortunata a Perugia.”

As I told some of you, though maybe not most of you because I have checked out of life and stopped caring about keeping in touch because my internet situation is so bad, I went to Sicily over Easter weekend. I flew down from Roma and spent Friday – Tuesday in Siracusa. I’ll skip out on all the boring details but I will tell you that this was by far my favorite place I have visited since being here. It was a beautiful city, the people were extremely welcoming, and the food was UNBELIEVABLE (which is really the only real reason why I liked it).

Sicily also introduced me to some of the best old Italian people I have met thus far, so I decided to make a collective list.

1. The Nonna who attempted to teach me how to make orecchiette in Mola di Bari. God bless this woman, because I know how much of a hopeless case I was. I never knew that rolling out pasta with a knife and then doing a perfect pop – flip from your thumb to your pointer finger was so incredibly difficult. Nonna smiled at me a few times, but mostly she whispered legitimate directions in my ear and I know that the dialect she was speaking were not actually words of encouragement, but something more along the lines of “this girl has absolutely no life skills whatsoever and I would never marry her to my hot Italian grandson.”

2. The old crazy in Ricigliano. This character spoke in some sort of backwoods, top of a mountain dialect that I don’t even think was a real language. After being harassed by my father for 20 minutes to ask someone in this “town” (strip of 5 houses) where his cousin Gina lives, I finally broke down and began a “conversation” (neither of us understood anything that the other said) with this man and tried to retrieve directions. Seeing as I couldn’t formulate anything he said into Italian, I told my parents a made up answer (past the trees, on the left) and continued walking. However, this was not the last I would see of this man. After we did actually find the house (I had to speak to a younger person who spoke real Italian), the old crazy came up to our car and started yelling something through the window that I think had to do with Gina and her whereabouts, but I cannot be positive. The encounter ended with us rolling up the windows and driving away, so I would say that this old Italian person is one I would look out for in the future in case he is still angry.

3. The old man from Catania. Upon my arrival in Sicily I went to get a pizza pocket from a little shop. There was an old man in there eating a large plate of spaghetti and a glass of wine. After I finished my pizza pocket and left he came out on the street, ran through the crazy Italian traffic like only someone with a lifetime of experience would do, and started yelling at me about how much his wine in the pizza pocket shop cost. This then led him to tell me how bad quality the wine was and that I should never have eaten in the aforementioned pizza pocket shop. Grazie, il vecchio.

4. The Nonna on the bridge in Siracusa. This Nonna was GREAT. It was Saturday of Easter weekend and she was walking around handing out pamphlets like there was no tomorrow. When she approached me and my roommate and told us directly that we were stranieri (foreigners) I knew we were in for a treat. She spent the next 10 minutes enlightening us about how Jesus is not God and then made us take home some well worn Church booklets … from 2003.

5. The old man of paradise from the same bridge in Siracusa. He was passing out little pictures of God’s paradise and explained to us that if we created love in our families, this is what our lives would look like. I wanted to ask him how a grizzly bear playing in the middle of a meadow with a 5 year old was considered to be paradise, but I couldn’t remember the word for grizzly bear and I really didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

Currently, the list stops here, but I am going to do everything in my power to meet as many old Italian people as I can in the next 15 days. They are really the greatest part about this country and I am scraping my memory to make sure that I haven’t forgotten about any of them. Also, I really want one to cook for me and introduce me to their extremely attractive grandson who has the life dream of moving back to America, living on a beach, and contributing a lot of money to our new life together while I read books for a living. I’ll keep you posted.