“Life is unpredictable” was used in the last blog post entered before COVID-19 hit Italy on my then reflecting on having started to split time between San Francisco and Florence. Famous last words, you could say.
Long story short, I came to some difficult conclusions and here I am in Florence. C‘est la vie. I’m trying to roll with life’s punches while clasping to gratitude for what I do have. I’ll explain a little bit of what it feels like being back and conclude with a quick summer-themed pasta recipe.
I’m sure many of you are curious about the logistics, but rest assured it would not have been possible without an essential reason and an Italian passport. Flights while few and far in between, are still taking off.
Airlines “do their best” to implement social distancing in the flights, conduct pre-screening questionnaires, require contact tracing forms and mask wearing for the duration of the flight.
In terms of being back, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. It was beyond odd to walk back into my apartment, flooded with memories of what filled life in Florence over the years and the last time I dwelled in the same space- before March of 2020- and realizing life wasn’t the same outside and what had transpired over the last few months.
Florence is definitely a changed city. Rarely do I hear foreign languages being spoken, historic squares are empty in broad daylight, no students in sight toting around backpacks nor wide eyed visitors jaws dropped in awe of new sights. It felt strange. At the same time, there is a certain amount of joy experiencing Florence in a moment when there are no tourists whatsoever. Even if this is also bad for businesses. This too, shall pass is what I keep telling myself. Enjoy this unique experience, an opportunity to live Italy without the crowds.
I love Florence and living in Italy, and part of why I live in the quarter I do- is because it feels livable. it’s reachable to the center but very accessible for necessities as someone who doesn’t have a car. I’ve never been attracted to living in the Oltrarno or anywhere else in the historical center because I find certain dynamics of it inconvenient, in addition to the droves of transient groups which (made) doing daily errands and life frustrating.
I began to question if the city center started to become unlivable in my opinion in part because of mass tourism, Airbnb (which I really hope doesn’t survive as this multi-billion dollar corporation totally screwed over countless hosts its been profiting off of for years) and in some regard- study abroad programs. (For an alternative to Airbnb- try VRBO, or hotels, hostels, B&Bs, etc who could really use the support)
I’m starting to use this time to reflect on how I can positively be apart of Florence’s new phase. And how Florence can be a sustainable city for both visitors and residents like myself. My friend Girl in Florence spoke on the matter as part of a recent panel discussion you can catch here.
This situation has brutally taught me I never want to be in a position again in which my livelihood relies on one thing. I don’t know if I can truly back out of a corner in which my career could be bulletproof. I have moments where I feel optimistic, energized to take on new ideas and prepare for the day when some tourism will be permitted. But then doubt returns to loom: what if there was an internet blackout? Should we be prepared for another disaster? Who knows!
For now, I’ll spare you my incessant questioning and share with you a little recipe. Ingredients sourced from Sant’Ambrogio market which I was prepared for to be a surreal experience (in witnessing its differences) once I emerged from my cave of existential dread.
Oh and by the way, funny thing- EVERYONE WEARS A MASK IN PUBLIC at least in Florence. I resent in the US wearing a protective cotton covering has become a political act.
Sidebar rant: For those of you who disagree with mask wearing but love Italy, consider this: Do you realize all the things you love about Italy: piazzas, pizza, social dinners at the table, importance on family- is because Italy is a communally-minded society?
While the way Italy handled the pandemic from the beginning was not perfect, ultimately I feel as an outsider they- collectively- did an impressive job of getting their numbers under control- and life is slowly resuming back to an adapted state of “normal.”
In Florence, there have been very few daily new cases- and everyone wears a mask in public, partly out of obedience, prevention but above all RESPECT. So to those who don’t “believe” in the mask wearing- what on earth do you think you’d do should you be able to travel to Italy if mask wearing in public is still suggested by infectious disease experts?
Back to the market….
It wasn’t as surreal as I expected. People seemed to be in good spirits and most of the usual vendors were there, albeit with some social distancing measures.
Most importantly, Leo (my preferred farmer/fruit veg seller) still at his humble little produce stand brimming with gorgeous bounty, free fresh herbs stuffed in my shopping bag sealed with a ciao tesoro. I’m so glad to this little piece of what normality was like has stayed intact.
I spotted some crunchy prickly Florentine zucchini and their flowers. I thought to make fried zucchini flowers, but opted for a healthier route, as I’m still on a low-carb diet. (BOOOORING)
After perusing some recipes for inspiration via La Cucina Italiana, I settled on making a “pasta” with coined zucchini and flowers cooked in garlic, oil and chili. “Pasta” because I used konjac noodles (which are traditionally a Japanese noodle aka shirataki) made from a slippery yam and are carb-free. They have a chewy texture and are super neutral and I don’t mind them as a pasta substitute- but nothing beats sinking your teeth into carbs, man.
Here’s the easy recipe! Pasta con le zucchine e fiori (serves 2)
- 100-150grams of pasta of choice (if you want to try my low-carb version, you can find Konjac noodles at any heath food store)
- 4 medium zucchini with their flowers
- chopped or sliced garlic (2 cloves at least:)
- good ev olive oil
- dried chili flake
- good salt and pepper
- good parmigiano-reggiano
If you are having difficulty sourcing quality extra virgin olive oil and parmigiano-reggiano– consider a custom food box via my gourmet club!
Directions: slice zucchini into medium-thick coins and salt, clean zucchini flowers and slice into strips. Heat garlic, oil and chili flake in a med-large pan and when you can smell the garlic, add the zucchini, salt some more and toss/jump occasionally to prevent burning and deglaze with a bit of white wine.
Cook your pasta of choice, if using real pasta- cook with at least a few minutes left so it continues cooking in the pan with zucchini. If you use konjac noodles, I recommend washing and boiling them for a few minutes before adding to the pan. Once zucchini have browned a little bit on each side, add the pasta and the slivers of zucchini flowers and toss/jump to coat evenly, adding more oil/salt if need be. Pretty simple!
To make it more interesting, you could add shrimp or sausage.
Plate then grate a whole lot of parmigiano atop and a fresh cracking of black pepper.
Wine pairing- I’d say a Tuscan white blend which has some trebbiano as it’s aromatic and fruity, or a Pigato from Liguria if you can find it. I ended up having a slightly macerated orange wine from Sardinia (vermentino/moscato di sennori blend) because I love that wine.
I feel as if coming back to Florence has been a spark of a new beginning for me. I left the US in the midst of (an avoidable) uptick of COVID-19 cases (unless you have a medical reason- why is wearing a face covering so polemic?!) and during a reckoning against systemic racism.
I think it’s way past about time this reckoning has descended in everyone’s face and we propel ourselves into a new chapter where money is put in the mouth of lip service claiming kindness, love and unity. There are several ways to take action, one of the easiest is to listen to this music playlist- all advertising revenue generated will be donated to Black Lives Matter
I have a lot of thoughts, as we all do. I would like to think the US is purging to make room for a new phase of evolvement, of empathy above all. I think this is also an opportunity for the world to shed yet another layer of institutional discrimination. In a way I have less confidence in Italy since they’re painfully behind on most social issues.
We have an opportunity here, for social and environmental justice (with capitalism going on hold and cleaning up the planet by proxy) and social equality. The world has been given a reset button and all the uncomfortable teething pains to go with it.
I’m curious for what the next several months have in store for us. In the meantime, I will take this time in Florence with as much opportunity for growth as possible. To start over myself, and getting more involved with the community and doing some difficult work along the way.
In your renewed trust,
P.s. for more on how Florence is looking and feeling during this unique time in history- be sure to keep track of my instagram page and its stories! Buon appetito;)