Festa della Rificolona and the Bakers

Posters went up in our local area about a week ago for Festa della Rificolona (which translates loosely as the festival of paper lanterns), which happens on 7 September to honour the Virgin’s birthday. Nic had had previous thoughts of us heading into the heart of Florence to see the lantern parade and enjoy the festivities; however, when we found out our own little community was putting on a weekend of festivities we decided to stay and try to meet a few locals.

Basically it is a festival where kids make lanterns, sing and dance and then, on the night of the lantern parade, use something like a pea-shooter (loaded with bits of clay) to shoot each others’ lanterns to put out the candle (alas candles are not used widely anymore, but that doesn’t stop the kids from shooting!). As you can imagine this was a highlight for the boys and there were many a time I was shot in the buttocks and head (by what seemed like ghosts as they are very fast at hiding these devices!).

By about 5pm on Saturday the smells of barbecued meats were wafting through the hills and beckoning our attention as to where it was coming from. We were unaware there was a big feast on for everyone to enjoy until our neighbours came over to let us know of the up-and-coming dinner. I had just finished making a chicken curry (we had previously made it down to the local Asian store for much-needed supplies), but it wasn’t a hard decision to pop that in the fridge and head on over to the community feast. We arrived to a long line of locals at around 7.30 pm and started introducing ourselves; questions of where we were from and how long we were staying were asked and there were smiles all round..we were starting to think we definitely made the right decision.


The picture above was taken just after we got in line and the picture below was taken just after we paid and entered the dining area!! To say the queue was long isn’t quite true; being in Italy it is perfectly justified to invite your friends who have come in late for the festivities to join you which instantly puts them further in front and you further back without really moving! Thankfully we were very relaxed and met a few other I Tatti people there so we did as the locals and invited them to join us too!


The kids were starving, grumpy and sick of standing by the time we finally sat down next to a lovely guy with his three strapping lads all around the same age as ours. Max was freaking out he hadn’t eaten yet while Alex was quietly wanting to go to sleep. The service, however, was spot on and we were eating our BBQ-ed meats within 5 minutes of sitting. The boys demolished the ribs they ate while Nic and I shared the grilled chicken and Tuscan sausage, all of it delicious! Now I also have to make a confession; we ordered patate fritte and despite my previous blog post of potatoes in Europe, these were hot crisp and fresh…..I think I need to apologise!


After dinner was eaten and wine was consumed ( a 1/4 litre carafe of vino rosso for 1 euro!!!) we were ready to check out the festivities under the blanket of night. I may also point out that it was also past our bedtime so Nic and I high-fived at the fact we were still up and on Italian time along with the kids.


So much effort had been put into a lot of the lanterns and it was a pleasure to see all the happy faces of kids, mums and dads alike taking pride in their works of art. The guys with the bug below were the family we sat next to at dinner, so we felt like we really were immersing ourselves in the local community and they were also impressed that we came from Australia to their neighbourhood!!


The evening went on with lots of singing, tears from babies who were in need of their beds and lots and lots of bubbles. There was this guy Mago Federico, who had these wonderful bubble rods that filled the sky with hundreds of bubbles for all to pop. It had been a while since I last popped a bubble and I forgot how good it felt to be a kid again….believe me I wasn’t the lone adult in this scenario!


As the evening went on I was starting to fade, I was told the finale, being a bon fire of the lanterns was happening at 10pm so I thought I could hold out until then. With a march of lanterns over our tiny bridge I thought we were getting somewhere……


However, I soon found out that was for the judging. The kids were outlasting a lot of the adults yet no one was budging! By about 10.30pm Nic had an espresso to stay awake and I went back over to bubble man for another bubble popping session.

It was about 10.45pm when the scarecrow led the parade of lanterns to the dried up river bed where the bonfire was to be lit. We all gathered around, people threw their lanterns down to the guys who were attaching them to the scarecrow  and we all waited to see the end result


Alex couldn’t believe anyone would burn something they had spent so much time making and just couldn’t belive they were going to ‘blow it all up’ (I did tell him a bonfire wasn’t quite blowing it up but it didn’t register).

The lanterns went up in a roaring fire; at first we were all clapping and cheering,


and then it went up in a ball of fire where we all took a leap back……just to be on the safe side.


The lanterns were burnt for another year and we were tired but delighted we got to enjoy this experience with our new neighbours. Just when we thought it was all over, firework started sprouting from across the road and it was the first time in many years I have got a bit of something in my eye from debris of falling explosives, at which point Nic commented that only in Italy do they still let off fireworks right on top of the crowd! And with that we walked home in a sleepy daze, pleased with our efforts at becoming more Italian.


The olive grove


It’s not everyday you re-connect with a person you met 8 years ago when life was throwing you a few curve balls; for example……living in a foreign country with a new-born baby and a toddler; your husband going off each morning to bury himself in the archives of 16th-century Europe, or trying to work out when you should leave the apartment so it fits in with feeding schedules for the baby, toilet stops for the potty-training toddler and last but not least, trying to figure out how to make friends.

I met Melanie at a local English speaking church (St. James) where a bunch of mums started a mother’s group for English-speaking mums living in Florence. It was something I really needed and a chance to speak to someone other than my 3-year-old son.

Melanie also had a boy the same age as Max and a new born a few weeks older than Alex so I’m sure we had lots to talk about….Oh did I also mention she is a chef and one of the best cake designers I have seen; her website should explain her work better than I can write about it. Anyway, I say ‘I’m sure’ because to be quite honest I don’t remember a whole lot of the early days when Alex was only weeks old, however, I did remember Melanie and I did remember talking to her about food, cooking classes and a few other bits and pieces even though we never had a strong connection as I left about three months after meeting her. Thanks to Facebook we reconnected a few years ago and have been following each others career ever since.

When we found out we would be heading over to Florence this year I was so excited to reconnect with Melanie in person and basically pick her brains about all she had been doing in the 8 years we have been living in separate countries. I was also happy to learn she felt the same.

Once we settled in to our place in Florence I gave Melanie a call and she invited us all out to the family olive grove for a much needed swim in the pool, a relaxed, delicious meal, vino and lots and lots of talking. This was an offer I was not going to refuse!

It was a really hot day when Paolo her husband came to pick us up at 4 in the afternoon. Foolishly I thought it wouldn’t be so bad re. the heat, and when I stepped out of the house into what felt like an oven on full range, all I could think about was a pool and a cool breeze.

I had never met Paolo, and we laughed at the fact that we really were complete strangers getting together on a chance meeting that happened 8 years ago when our lives were very different. This is stepping out of your comfort zone; if I’d never of connected with Melanie over the internet once back in the comforts of the world I knew, we would never of arrived at the olive grove and we would of never been able to talk for 4 hours straight about our lives both in and out of the kitchen- it was fantastic!


Melanie has since had a third son and all 5 boys got on like a house on fire; swimming until their fingers were shrivelling like dried prunes; gathering sticks for bows and arrows, making swords, daggers and anything else you can whittle out of a piece of wood. Running through the olive grove trying to catch the fat bunny that feeds on all the vegetables will be forever in their memory, this I can guarantee!


As the air cooled Paolo stoked the BBQ while Melanie took me around to the outdoor kitchen and we played with produce that was grown a stone’s throw away (seriously, a dream come true for me). We used olive oil that was pressed from the trees around us and I had a hard decision wondering which tomatoes I would use for the salad.

ImageWe decided to keep the food simple and stress free. I made one of my all time favourite faro salads before we left home. I can’t seem to get enough of it at the moment, though I’m sure this will pass when I eat it one too many times…….well maybe?


We were in for an absolute treat. As Melanie was cutting off slabs of pecorino cheese onto a plate she was telling me of their family’s butcher who goes and hand picks the animal he slaughters and then lovingly butchers the beast, then sells it from his shop in the back hills of Southern Florence (I have been promised a visit to his shop as it is quite difficult to get to if you don’t know the area……..YES, I am excited!!)


So a quick reverse, the pecorino Melanie was cutting (pic below)  and also the prosciutto we ate with the melon were from their wonderful butcher, honestly the man can do no wrong in my book!

The other treat Melanie had in stall was the 35-year-old balsamic vinegar she drizzled over the pecorino: a brilliant flavour combination and the texture of the balsamic was syrupy, sticky, rich and divine to put it simply.


Melon, prosciutto and homemade salami..I could of eaten this all afternoon..


I don’t have to tell you the olive grove holds a special place in my heart and being asked back for a second week was heavenly for all four of us. We will have many more fun days/nights with Melanie and her family this I am sure of but for me this will be a memory I will hold onto when I’m wondering what an earth I have done with my life……I feel very lucky indeed.



Italian lessons

Taking Italian lessons never really entered my mind the last time we moved to Florence. To be totally honest with you nothing much entered my mind except sleep, Thomas the tank engine, sleep and what can we eat?

It’s quite funny looking back at your life and seeing what was most important to you at that stage. I was a stay-at-home-mum thinking I had to play with my 3-year-old whenever he demanded otherwise I wouldn’t have been a very loving mother (I can hear you all laughing, I know!). In my mind I was thinking…..

‘If I have to push around one more train I think I will go bonkers’ or ‘please dear god, not another light saber battle….geez I wish the baby would wake up so I could have an excuse.’

Going to Italian lessons wasn’t even on the rector scale especially with two young kids and no babysitter, so I blundered through and felt terrible that I couldn’t even put a sentence together when the Nona’s use to come and ask me

a ) are they my children?

b) are they boys or girls? and c) Where are you from?

It took me about two weeks of constant repetition (thank god old people are patient!) before I worked out what they were asking me and it took me another two weeks to remember what to recite back!

I figured there must be an easier way this time, so the boys and I enrolled in a local Italian class a few weeks ago to see if we could familiarise ourselves with a few common Italian words.

Max seems to be enjoying the experience and feels confident he will be fine as he can ‘totally have a conversation…it’s not that hard’ – the kid knows how to say hello, what is your name and a list of animals in Italian, I wish I had his confidence!

Alex and I both struggle with the speaking aspect. We are embarrassed about how we sound and I never seem to say the right word at the right time (I’ll say where instead of how!). To say I’m not much better off than before would be an understatement. Just last week my Italian teacher said she would love to be a fly on the wall watching me in Italy…..I said me too!

Two more weeks of lessons to go, 5 weeks until we fly across the sea and a year to work out the language…..you never know, by the end of this trip I may even be able to write a small paragraph in Italian but don’t hold your breath.


I think I was thinking about sleep here, not Italian lessons