Saturday, July 21, 2007

Our love nest - I mean - apartment

I forgot to share these. My sister asked for them and it reminds me that you might want to see them too. I miss it already - home in Minneapolis - barely conscious - for two days. But, guess what???? Izzy LOVED her handbag. Ciao. Until I figure out what to write about next.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Our Personal Center of the Universe

Bar Bellini alive at 7:00 a.m. My final cappucino in Firenze the morning I left.

Bar Bellini. From the first day we arrived in Florence over one year ago, Lee and I have not missed a day at Bar Bellini in Mercato Centrale for our morning cappucini. You have to get passed the smell of raw meat. Sides of beef bigger than me hang from hooks on dollies waiting for delivery to the butchers of Florence. But, once you do, it is worth the effort.

By now, they know us at Bar Bellini. We walk up to the soft marble bar and with a nod from Anna, the proprietor, she confirms “Due cappucini?” For all we can tell, it is the only place we have been in Florence where they don’t speak a word of English. It is sort of refreshing and makes us work for our keep. “Si. Grazie,” we respond.

We have never, ever had anything but the most perfect cappuccino here. They use the best espresso and a divine whole milk for froth, specific to Italy. Because of this experience, I will never again have a “skinny” anything. They don’t do “skinny” in Italy. “Ciao. Arrivederci,” every day as we leave the bar.

La Moda Fiorentina (The Florentine Style): Part II

The other morning Lee and I awoke early. Well, okay 7:30, but early in Florence on a weekend. We decided to go for a walk. I wanted to see the city before it was bursting at its seams with people. It was beautiful and quiet and I felt like we had the city to ourselves at that hour. The walk, going nowhere in particular at first, ended up being a fall fashion tour – window shopping at the best negozzi in all of Florence. Armani, Gucci, Pucci, Prada, Ferragamo. Then, of course, there are the fabulous little shops, privately owned, that carry wonderful collections of clothing, all masterfully displayed.

So here is a visual tour of the windows. My favorite fashion statement, without question, was Armani. After all those years of fairly predictable, conservative (but elegant) clothing, he’s added a twist – J’adore! He’s gone a little “40’s in his look, but more to the point he’s added narrow ankle length black knit pants under his dresses and skirts! It suddenly turns a conservative costume into something incredibly hip, but without being grungy. I think it is something even moi – a 50-something could pull off. Wondering if they show it in the states.

Seems like plenty of classics, too. Ferragamo doing what they do best – but slim. Not skinny, just slim. Pucci doing their thing – just had a 40-year anniversary party here in Florence. Prada shows knee highs with their clothes, very vintage 1920 stockings kind of things – with dresses skimming the knee and round-toed shoes with thick heels. I am thinking the pointy-pointy shoes are GONE! And good riddance. Almost no one here wears the heels with tight jeans – grazie dios – everyone wears flats and clearly, boots are the big deal for fall. In general, high heels aren’t seen. But then, who could traverse the black stone streets of Firenze in heels without losing them?

That very tired UGG-with-short-skirt look is much more refined here. Beautiful low-heeled boots (think riding boots) are worn with knee-skimming skirts. If you are under 18, the skirt is shorter. But, ugh! Can we be done with the UGGS? Especially in Santa Monica, girls, where you haven’t seen snow in thirty years?

On this walk, we saw the most beautiful woman I’ve seen on this trip. I was feeling molto frumpo (I’m sure that is an Italian phrase) by comparison. Okay. She wasn’t a day over thirty. She had a waist. She had in fact, a stunning body, that beautiful olive Italian skin, very dark brown long wavy hair and she was wearing the most fabulous dress at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. It was a halter, open back with criss-cross straps, in red, black and white print – probably silk or silk knit – and the slightly full skirt fell to the ankle. She wore black strappy, low sandals and had a gorgeous young man with a shaved head as her accessory. Lee and I just ogled. I couldn’t blame him. I was ogling, too. Just such amazing fashion sense here. (Of course, he was not looking at the dress.) Have you seen a long dress on anyone in the daytime since the ‘70s? So chic.

If you have a handbag fetish....

I was on a mission to find my daughter, Isabelle, a gift for her 18th birthday on July 19, the day I return from Europe. Well, Isabelle had given me a tip, “Mom, buy me a great bag. Not black. I just bought a black one. Brown. Slouchy. Cool.” Subtle, those teenagers.

So, I trusted the advice of my uber-tasteful friend, Laurel, and wiggled my way through the curving streets of Firenze to find the leather artisan who makes her bags. She has been telling me about this place for over a year, but I have not taken it seriously enough to find it. Today we did. Now, I should tell you that on the way, we did a lot of window shopping but all the bags looked commercial and machine made and a little shiny. Trusting Laurel’s directions, we made our way to Borgo S. Apostolo and walked until we found a leather shop. We entered and a soft-spoken man greeted us. I knew I couldn’t handle this one in Italian, asked if he spoke English, and he, naturally, said he did. “Grazie,” I said.

It was very clear immediately that we had found a wonderful shop. There were no labels. No Fendi, Ferragamo, Gucci, Louis Vuitton. This was a shop where an artist worked creating amazing, tasteful, hip, classy (you name it – the dude has great taste!) leather goods! I was thrilled to find it. Within three minutes, I knew I had hit the jackpot and would find the perfect bag for her 18th birthday. The problem now is that I had found three bags that all “spoke” to me.
I tried them on, looked in the mirror and, with Lee’s help, found the right one. I might have selected another, but he was right and the proprietor agreed.

But, truly, as I continued to look, I could have bought 5 different bags and maybe someday I will. Just unbelievable. And the sweetest part….he could see we appreciated his work, his taste. He told us that 30 years ago in Florence, there were many artisan shops where people made beautiful things. Over time, the Chinese and their products have come into the city, bringing cheap goods. (Quite frankly, we see them sold illegally by street vendors from Africa – selling nothing but a label. They are not selling quality.)
It has changed the character of the Florentine market. Yet, thankfully, this shop has survived. Eugenio, the owner, told us they just do what they love, try to be creative, make beautiful things, not worry so much about the money.

Lee and I have talked a great deal about the life of the artist in Firenze. It is a sacred role, at some level. We met one today. I include his website here. But, guess what? You have to go to Florence to get these. They aren’t available at Neiman’s.

Or send me. I’ll gladly pick them up for you. (Okay, can go to the website, but I'd rather be your personal shopper. See web link and Favorites in Firenze.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pointing to the Heavens

As Lee and I were sipping vino on our terrace the other evening, engulfed once again by the glory of the Florentine rooftop vista - the spires and cupolas and crosses pointing us all to the heavens – we noticed this little scene on the rooftops.

We are feeling so a part of the scenery by now that we don’t have much need to play tourist. I worked most of Friday, arranging meetings for my return, considering the materials for a home I am designing in Minneapolis. Let’s see…polished nickel or polished chrome…Carrara or Calcutta marble? Then, there is the daily writing, the just-for-me writing or the writing for my editors, stories for the magazines. I use this as a kind of test run. Can I really do this? Can I work from Florence? From anywhere in this virtual world? I don’ t know yet, but love more than anything giving it a try. Nothing makes me happier here than sitting in my chair in our apartment facing the French doors to the terrace, flung open wide during the day, no difference between inner and outer temperature except to be protected from the sun in the room, and writing, thinking, talking, reading. Lee does the same. It is, for me, as good as all the sights outside these four walls.

Last night, I awoke and couldn’t sleep. I got up for a drink of water and on my way back to bed my eyes passed the window that looks onto the Cappelle Medice – the Medici Chapels. I climbed up on my bed because the window is high, leaned my chin onto the sill and looked at the night sky. It was navy blue, filled with stars. To the left is the bell tower and just beyond that is Il Duomo. All this out our window and only the tops of it because we are on the 5th floor. They are lit as if by magic. The forms, all pointing to God, hang in the night sky like a movie set more than anything believable in my Midwestern world of sensible forms - of farms and silos and barns that live in the earth, of glass and iron and concrete buildings that scrape the sky, but never point to it.

Friday, July 13, 2007

And Spike Lee, too.

The Thursday flower market in Florence. Lunch in Fiesole – Spaghetti di Poverella – Poor Man’s Spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, chili pepper, parsley and parmeggiano reggiano. Yum again. View of Florence from the hillside town, Fiesole.
Fiesole. After a quick trip through the Thursday Flower market in Florence, we board a bus for 1,20 euro each and climb the hill to Fiesole, an old (very old) town settled by the Romans (according to story) so long ago I can’t even imagine it. The city boasts Etruscan ruins which makes it even older than that. So that just makes it confusing. Did the Etruscans settle Fiesole or the Romans?

It is the sweetest, sleepiest little town and I could just be very happy with a little home in Fiesole, overlooking the elegant city of Florence. It’s hillside position makes it attractive for summer residency, especially, when the heat settles in the valley and the city.

We walked, had a wonderful lunch and soaked up the breezes. At one point, I asked Lee what he was thinking – he’d been quietly zoned out across the table from me, gazing about the town. He just shook his head and said, “Bliss-meter” and made that goofy noise like a car alarm or something – like we’d gone beyond what the Bliss-meter could even handle. Made me laugh. It was true.

The craziest thing we saw all day is this: there is a Spike Lee Film Festival happening in Fiesole as I write this. 5 days. Spike Lee is here. Go figure. We think it would be cool to go, though. They show the films in the old Roman arena.


Donatello's Madalena, Michelangelo's Pieta, Unknown Angel.

Just as I am now completely at ease with a daily nap around 3:00 I begin to count the days before I return to Minneapolis – it is less than a week now.

Yesterday we went to Il Mueseo del’Opera del Duomo (The Museum of the Duomo, essentially.) It is Lee’s favorite and one of mine, also. This museum has a few notables and I show them here. Other than the David and Michelangelo’s Slave sculptures, this one sculpture by Donatello from 1455 is the one that most impacted us emotionally. It is carved of wood, then was painted and gilded in places – most of that worn away now. It is of Mary Magdalene, the prostitute who befriended Jesus. She was said to be a voluptuous beautiful woman – living fully in the corporeal world; but after meeting Jesus, she had a change of heart and chose, instead, a life of spirit. After time alone in the wilderness with her hair as her only clothing (lady Godiva?) she returned, having forsaken her beauty and body for a new life. This is Donatello’s interpretation of Madalena after this transformation.

What to say? I have never seen such an expression of the liminal – that psychic no-man’s land – on a face. And the thing that strikes me most is how eerily modern the work is - few artists dug this deep into the psyches of their subject at this point in time. Affect tended to be flatter, less expressive. This seems like something only possible in the 20th Century. It isn’t “beautiful” like other Renaissance sculpture, but it is so bottomless in its feeling nature: it is as if someone has grabbed you by the throat and said, “Pay attention.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Salvatore Ferragamo's Calling

Photo of the Ferragamo palazzo in Firenze - on the River Arno.

When I was last in Florence I went to the Ferragamo Shoe Museum. It is housed in the 15th Century palazzo that has been in the Ferragamo family since that time. Today, it also houses the family’s offices and the elegant Ferragamo store. As a fashionista and costume designer early in my life, I was mesmerized by the displays, room after room, of shoes from as early as the 1920’s in the most artistic patterns and materials. Ferragamo became the shoemaker to the stars. The company displays the lasts belonging to Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Ingrid Bergman, Katherine Hepburn. The stunning observation is how little fashion changes – how easily and predictably it repeats itself. Many of the platform shoes worn in the 1940’s were back in the 1970’s and now, back again. Hmmm….is the thirty-year cycle significant? That would be a generation, wouldn’t it?

That is just the set up. While in the exhibit, I read a piece about “calling” from Salvatore Ferragamo’s autobiography, which sent me into delight. I copied it all by hand into my journal then and pass it on now to you – hoping it will make you as happy or even the tiniest bit inspired to think about your own calling. It is enchanting.

“I was born to be a shoemaker. I know it. I have always known it. I was born to be a shoemaker. But where does my knowledge come from? It is not inherited. In late years, I have searched the records of my ancestors through 400 years. There was no shoemaker among them.

From my first day with shoes – yes, even the little white shoes I made for my sister, I have remembered all about shoemaking. I have remembered. That is the only way to describe it. I have only to sit down and think and the answers come to me out of the memory of the days and it can only be this: when in some previous existence upon this earth I was a shoemaker. There can be no other explanation.

How else can I explain my sense of design? I do not have to search for styles. When I need new ideas, I select from those that present themselves to my mind, as I select an apple from the laden dish upon my table.”

Monday, July 9, 2007

Feeling Small - and Liking It

Some images from the day… Lunch in our apartment. My favorite: white lingerie drying on a line. A wonderful window scene with shutters and simple flower pots.

We have settled into life here. It is interesting to have been here before – we don’t feel urgent about seeing it all. We are most happy living life here on our terms and it is a rare gift, we know. Fortunately, we are both a little driven so don’t while away our days doing nothing. Okay, well we are in the habit of sleeping late, for some reason. We write, read, walk, talk, and see something artistic when we can get ourselves organized. I visit the internet spot twice a day to send a story to my editor or check on children’s lives.

I feel small here. “It is a good thing.” as Martha would say. I feel a tiny little piece of the long and lustrous lineage of humankind. I feel it when I am in a place that is old, that has seen suns rise and set for millenniums. It engenders humility, reverence, and a sense of connection. Sometimes, and I feel it here, it is wonderful to be nothing important at all – just a knot marking a little spot in the thread of life. I see the David and I feel that way. I see Botticelli’s Primavera and I feel that way. I hear the bells of Giotto’s campanile and know they have rung for 600 years before me. Michaelango heard those bells. Dante heard those bells. DaVinci heard those bells. I see the churches and I feel that way. I see the Arno and the palazzi lining their banks and I feel that way. Sometimes, in an enormous snowstorm on the Great Plains I feel that way too.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

What Feels Like Home

Above images taken from the little terrace out the French doors of our apartment. 4th floor. (Warning!!! This is a long post!)

We are home. Or “the cabin” as we are calling it now, in Minnesota style. We are at apartment Il Terrazzino (“The Terrace” because it has one) in Palazzo di Ginori in Firenze. I am drinking the wine that the Marchese di Ginori Lisci leaves for us in the ceramic bowl on the very old walnut table, produced by her family. The studio is exactly the same as we remember it except for the new arm covers on the sofa and a new towel bar in the bath. Il Duomo is still out the window and the scaffolding is now gone. It is beautiful and I literally kiss the wardrobe in the room when I arrive. It is hot and sunny with a pure blue sky. It is paradise after four cold, windy and rainy days in Brussels and Amsterdam. Give me summer!

Getting here was not so easy, but being here is everything to us. We arrived at around 3:00 pm (15:00), went to get a bite since we had not eaten since 7:00 this morning in Amsterdam. We picked up supplies – water, yoghurt, chocolate, vodka and tonic – and toothbrushes and toothpaste. Yes, we packed our toothbrushes and toothpaste when we left Minneapolis. Not, they didn’t make it to Florence.

The story of the last twenty-four hours is a trifle compared to most of the world’s problems, but an annoyance for us. We missed our flight from Amsterdam to Florence. It is the first time either of us has missed a flight anywhere. And, only by minutes.

Yesterday morning, we had our bags packed for the fair city of Florence and left our B&B for the airport according to the scheduled recommendation of our host with his also recommended private airport shuttle service – and then added 30 minutes extra “just to be safe”. “It’s 15 – 30 minutes under good conditions. It’s 45 if it is bad,” he said. Great - we’ll give ourselves 2 hours. So we did and added 5 minutes. Well, it was raining in Amsterdam yesterday morning and none of us – not the driver, Lee, or me, have ever seen such a traffic meltdown anywhere in our lives. That driver tried four different routes, swerving in and out of entrance lanes when the attempt to get onto a major highway seemed hopeless. By comparison, this experience makes LA a contender for the city with the world’s best traffic flow.

The coup de gras is when he knows he is screwed, so skips over this grassy median and begins driving on what we perceive as the bike path along the highway, but which he says is the bus lane. All I know is he says something like, “I hope there aren’t any police around.” Ok – it does say something about “bus” for all we can read in Dutch, but I still say we are driving on the bike path. It is out of a Jerry Lewis movie. And we start to wave at the suckers on the road pretending we are Prince Lee and Princess Alecia today, special guests of honor in Amsterdam, citizens of the day.

Of course, as in any Jerry Lewis movie, a problem comes up – well, that is when we have to cross a bridge, the arm is down and turning around isn’t an option. “Well, now we have a problem,” he says.

“We have more than one problem, buddy,” I am thinking. I suddenly am certain I will be hitching to the airport. We are stuck on a bridge with no way to get through other than to ram it and I have the thought that he might just do that. But he has the good sense not to make matters worse, backs up, finds a driveway to turn around in and heads back to the busy highway.

Well, in the meantime we have heard via a phone call that the flight is being held for 30 minutes. It is 10:00 now, we arrive at the airport, the flight was scheduled for 10:20 originally, but we figure if we hurry, we’ll make the 10:50. What we don’t know is that he was given misinformation and as we got to the luggage check at around 10:15 for the 10:20 flight – not even through security – that the doors are closed and we cannot get on. This is Meridiana. Meridiana doesn’t have a live representative in Amsterdam. KLM is their proxy and can’t do a thing for us except sell us two one-way tickets at $1096 EACH! Not happening.

For the next two hours, we google until we decide the best (read “cheapest”) solution is to just buy two more tickets on Meridiana for the same time, next day and get a dumb hotel near the airport as an insurance policy against this happening a second time. I am done with trains, planes and automobiles at this point. Now airport hotels in Holland are almost as bad as airport hotels in America. The biggest difference is the bar is so smoky, neither Lee nor I could stay for a drink. The food is overpriced and made with that lower common denominator in mind. And the Dutch seem to eat nothing but meat. Meat, meat, and more meat. With their smoking, how do they live beyond 40? Ham this, beef that, a different kind of ham, add a little bacon. For breakfast, the $20 buffet was nothing but meat and cheese. For last night’s dinner, I hoped for a salad. There was not ONE salad on the 5 –page menu! They had 14 kinds of potatoes – and Lee was served three kinds with his dinner even though he ordered only one! But not a single salad! Do they know about cholesterol and heart disease or is their low level of stress such an antidote to the negatives of what they ingest that it all works out in the end? I am thinking that the Dutch could use a gigantic x-ray machine over the country to moniter lung cancer and heart disease? But, hey, they seem really laid back and happy and who am I to judge, the princess for the day?

Oh, the ending. We got to the airport 2 hours before our flight today. And, true to our experience yesterday, it was the longest, dumbest, most annoying wait I’ve ever had at an airport. Their laid-backness started to bug me and I just wanted to kick some ass before it was all over, especially the frizzy-haired lady in front of moi who was holding up a gigantic line of tired travelers while she perfected her caligraphy at the luggage check by writing out ID tags for her fourteen pieces of luggage like they were hand written invitations to the queen’s wedding. Even the agent was getting annoyed.

As I told you in the beginning- we did arrive in Florence. Our luggage did not. Neither did 74 other bags that were supposed to be on that flight. And, true to Italian style, no one knows when they will arrive. So I am in Florence dressed for the winter in Minnesota in jeans, a sweater and clogs and it is 85-90 degrees (well, 35 C) After waiting in line for 1 ½ hours to fill out a claim, we are now just so happy to be here, we don’t even care. The wine helps. And now I will stop whining about the stupid little inconvenience and get back to enjoying life with deep, deep gratitude for what we have and where we are. At the cabin. I’m off to find a salad.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Amsterdam: 4 July

Day Two in Amsterdam - and it has rained both of them, but that didn't stop us. We hit the streets around 11:30 - we just enjoyed the apartment in the morning - writing, mostly and being slow. However, for the next five - yes, five hours we walked the circumference of Amsterdam. Not entirely by plan. It's just that once you get going - and get to the other side of the city, your only way back is to complete the circle. Kind of like walking my own little Lake Harriet by my home. Once you start, you might as well finish. We just didn't quite realize it was the better part of a five-hour walk. We stopped once at a juice bar and once at the Van Gogh museum.

We still think this is an amazing place. It is more complex than the small neighborhood we explored yesterday. It is truly has its New York diversity central crowded street, slightly shabby moments - sort of the Times Square part of New York. It also has lots of little neighborhoods - also like New York - that have their own wonderful character. The cute, slightly hippie family neighborhood with children in Oilily clothes, the stoner laid back 20 something neighborhood (and yes, mom, they really do have hash and marijuana bars and no, mom, I didn't inhale), the edgy let's hang out in the street cafes and read neighborhoods, the "suburbs" which were built in the 18th century - just beautiful canal and tree-lined streets and I don't know who lives there but it would be me if I lived in Amsterdam.

So a funny story from last night. We are coming out of the restaurant and a homeless person stops us and starts speaking to us in Dutch. We look as dumb as we really are and he gets it that we are American, so switches into his fluent English to ask for change. Now, after the whole event while walking home, Lee turns to me and says, "God, even the homeless people are multi-lingual."

Finally, I mean no disrespect here and this is my disclaimer 1. My maiden name is Krebs - German - so I have NOTHING against the Germanic languages. 2. I LOVE Amsterdam. I think this place has major COOL FACTOR as well as people without attitude, which is my favorite part about the city. But, I have to tell you, I am so out of it with the language. I just don't have a feel for it. When I try to say anything in this language I sound like my cat, Pinky, with a hair ball. I'm sticking with Italian.

That said, never ever ever pass up a chance to spend a few days in Amsterdam. It is what life in the 21st Century should be everywhere. Only a little less rain.

Tomorrow we are off to Firenze. Home. Ciao.

Breakfast at the B & B

Breakfast bliss.

Amsterdam: 3 July

The train ride from Brussels to Amsterdam is just a breeze - first class we have lots of room and the seats are big. It is about 3 hours north. The countryside is oddly familiar to an Iowa farm girl. It looks just like where I grew up - flat, flat and more flat. Green, beautiful corn, cows, sheep and horses. Lovely.

We arrive to a torrent of rain and a chill - I have one sweater and it is getting its wear. We arrive at our B&B - near the university - and it is mostly quiet, a wonderful room. What we wonder so far in the ride in the cab from the station through the center of the city and as we walk the neighborhoods is this: Is there anyone over 25 living here? Everyone is young, very hip, but not in that overdone kind of way. A little edgy, alternative. Next question: Does anyone NOT smoke here? I am having to tie Lee's hands behind his back to keep him from buying a pack of Marlboros. (He's a diabetic or I wouldn't care.) We have a very late lunch, take a nap, wake up at 9:00 and head out to dinner. So far, Amsterdam seems like a cross between New York and San Francisco - the bustle of NYC in places and the uniqueness of SF - quaint, beautiful streets, water everywhere - intelligent people, great bookstores.

We are very casually dressed because that seems to be the thing here - also, it is still raining off and on. We find a restaurant that looks great, but linger outside trying to decide if we are under-dressed. For the first time all day, we see adults over 25, they are well-dressed and sitting in all the trendy restaurants on the street. Someone from inside sees us and motions us in - with a friendly smile. We oblige and have a nice conversation about the food, Callaway Golf (Lee is wearing his Callaway jacket) and where we are from.

The food is just divine. See the note at right. The sun is up here until almost 11 - it is dusk throughout the meal. The guests are attractive, seem happy, linger over dinner and smoke over coffee and cordials. The highlight? A beautifully dressed woman in red heels (but tasteful) with a great red bag and khaki trench coat leaves the restaurant with her date. You imagine they will go get in their BMW, but instead, she stops in front of the restaurant and gets on a turquoise bike and rides off in her red pumps - her boyfriend just behind. Lee's comment: You would never see that in LA.
You gotta love a place like this.

Brussels: 2 July

Ok - I am actually writing this in my sunny B&B in Amsterdam, but there is a story about Brussels I can't omit. First, Brussels is very beautiful in an elegant old lady kind of way. But for me, it felt a little starched. Lee noticed right away that people seemed in a hurry - like almost running. It got to be funny to watch it. I don't think it was the rain...everyone had an umbrella. Speaking of which...So, I noticed that mostly people looked rather plain (not unlike my own dear Minneapolis), not showy in their dress, mostly black, a little black now and then, and then for accent - black. you get the picture. No makeup. Practical shoes. Not alot of smiles. All the umbrellas were black. Now, I'm ok because I'm in dark brown pants with a black top, black clogs (for the rain) and a dark olive drab (drab is the key word here!) topper coat (again, rain). Now, we have one umbrella and it is not large enough for two. So, I decide to get my own umbrella at a local market. Well, they are out of black, so I have to choose between leopard and a red floral print. I think in this city they could use something a little happy, so i go for the red floral. We leave the shop and I pop that sucker open.

Suddenly, Lee notices that people are turning their heads to look at me as they pass by me at 90 miles an hour - on foot - then we both notice laughter right next to us. I make a joke that it is about my umbrella in this rather stern setting and he says, "It's not a joke. They are laughing at you." We both start laughing so hard I can't distinguish the rain from the tears in my eyes. But I begin to think he is right and then, of course, I am paranoid about my happy umbrella because I have committed a horrible fashion faux pas - and am somewhat enjoying it. It becomes the "story" of Brussels and Lee enjoys it all as much as I have.

Brussels has amazing seafood so we ate it to our heart's content, knowing we wouldn't see anything from the sea in Florence - which is the only downside to Florence so far. Brussels should be seen when one isn't jet-lagged and delirious, as I was. Obviously...who would buy that umbrella under the condition of sanity?