Monalia's World

Observations on a New Life in Spain

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Hello from Florence

16 September, 2008 (17:08) | Living in Europe | By: admin

Here I sit in Florence, in my hotel room overlooking the Arno river. I can see Ponte Vecchio from my balcony. I pinch myself. Am I really here?

Zia Fiorella and Zio Roberto picked me up from the airport, we dropped my bags off here at my hotel, then they whisked me away to their house, where I spent several hours chatting with my aunt, reminiscing old times. She made a great, simple meal. She looks great. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I could easily mistake her for my grandmother, Nonna Gina. She is in fact, the same age as Nonna Gina was the last time I saw her. And when I think about it, I realize that I am older now than my Zia Fiorella was when I went to school here as a kid. Age and agelessness. I think I’ll move on to other themes now…



Coming here to Florence I realize how lucky Mark and I are to live in Barcelona. There are not many green spaces in the downtown area of Florence itself (unlike Barcelona), and there is now an oppressive Berlusconi induced political climate in Florence where it is even prohibited to hang your clothes outside in view of the street to dry, you can get a stiff fine for laying down on a public bench on a hot day, (even tourists can get fined, or warned anyway), and the government is attempting to micro manage all aspects of city life. Even bicycles get fined for chaining themselves to a post or rail downtown. This would never happen in Spain – even if they passed such laws no one would honor them. After so many decades of Franco, the government has no power to enforce petty laws because Spaniards reject any signs of oppression. Technically it is against the law to smoke in restaurants and bars in Spain but the law is ignored. Technically it is illegal to sunbathe naked on the beach, to take your dogs on the beach, to stick your feet in a public fountain on a hot day … but these laws are not enforced – there would be a chaotic revolution if they were enforced.

Here in Italy it is illegal to sell alcohol after midnight. I cant imagine this ever happening in Barcelona. Also, there used to be lots of tiny fresh produce stores wedged in between the heavily trafficked downtown area here in Florence, but now there are only one or two.

Italy is also suffering from a sexist climate, where women on tv are all bimbos. There are quite a few prime time television shows featuring bikini clad women being interviewed by men who clearly think themselves superior. It makes me mad. I could not live here. I did not know this until this trip, in fact I’d had a secret fantasy to move back here someday to be near my Italian family, but now I know that Barcelona is close enough, I can visit anytime – the plane ride is only 1 1/2 hours and not expensive if you book in advance.

Last night I watched Silvio Berlusconi on tv, talking about the garbage problem in Naples. I almost took him seriously, until the camera pulled back and showed a bikini clad woman just sitting on a chair, for no apparent reason. She just sat there, posed like a barbie doll. Weird. There was no reason for her to be on stage like that, she never spoke a word and for the most part the framing was a close-up of Berlusconi talking to the people of Naples, encouraging them to recycle, to do their part in keeping the city clean.

Stefano tells me Berlusconi is a mafioso, and I believe it. I like my aunt Fiorella’s summary. She says, “I’ve never voted for Berlusconi, and indeed he is probably backed by the Mafia, but to his credit he does get things done. For instance, he created green spaces in Milano, something he would also do for Florence if the local government wasn’t communist”. Fiorella says, “The problem with Florence today is that unlike the Milanese, Florentines are mostly Communists, and communists are full of ideals but they don’t have the money or focus to get thing done.”


I’ve had many “first time” experiences here in Florence:

– First time alone for a year (boarding school) – and first realization of just how alone in this world I am. It was also my first taste of independence.
– First time I ever felt accepted and loved unconditionally (my Italian family – lots of cousins, grandma, great-grandma)
– First kiss
– First time driving a car (my crazy uncle taught me to drive when I was 10)
– First time I ever played tennis (I took fortnightly lessons at my boarding school)
– First time jumping horses (I also did that at boarding school)
– First time on TV (I was chosen for a Christmas special about Christmas around the world, where I had to recite a Christmas carol in Engish (representing Christmas in America). They wanted me to sing it but I was so terrified all I could do was barely, almost inaudibly recite the poem/song about the 3 wise men. It was a very traumatic being on the spot like that, cameras and lights, standing on a stage with people in the audience who I could not see because of the lights shining on my face, reciting that absurd poem i couldn’t even relate to.
– The first time I accidently walked by a pervert (I was 10, walking down the big via that leads from my school to the city and there was a man behind a bush jacking off over a magazine). I ran the rest of the way down the hill.
– My first real boyfriend (no sex involved, but lots of kissing and heavy petting)
– My first disco dance (age 16)
– I saw my first 007 movie, and years later was surprised that 007 was an American film, for I had taken the dubbed over version as the real thing.
– My first rock star meeting (I met the Beatles age 11)
– My first modelling gig (age 17)
– The first time my life ever spun out of control (age 18)
– My first press (when I was 22 I attended a classical music program in Verona on a partial scholarship. I was a conducting major, and there appeared an article in the Verona newspaper about me and my conducting aspirations.

I love the aroma of the Tuscan countryside. Its like breathing in mother’s milk. The scent is a balm
for my spirit. I drink it in, pinch myself – yes, I’m still here.

I am feeling very loved today and am basking in the glow of being loved. Here in Firenze I am so popular that it makes me beam. Its not some story, some fantasy Monalia that I’ve come up with over the years, the Monalia Fiorentina. I am pretty much 100% Florentine somehow, I think. Not sure how that happened. My family is here. Not my mom and dad, but my extended family who I have spent so much time with over the years, especially as a youngster.

Yes, of course my immediate family lives in USA and indeed I am an American citizen and have American political roots, awareness, a house in Hollywood even…but the unanimous, uncomplicated family love all resides here in Florence. My heart flourishes, I have come here to find myself, the Monalia deep within and indeed I have succeeded.

I miss Mark, I miss Barcelona, but am basking in the warmth of my final 48 hours in this city.

My cousins and I have hilarious memories of being mischievous kids together. It was way fun to reminisce:

From my balcony view of the Arno I watch as people canoe by, the exact same way they did over 40 years ago when was a kid here. Only in those days the public was allowed to drive their cars down to the bank and people would walk along the banks. Nowadays you have to belong to chic club with the card to swipe to make it past the gate. They have canoe races here, and canoe teams row by, 8 men rowing, plus one at the helm.

I love this city, even though its currently teeming with tour mobs of 20 to 30 people following a flag. I had forgotten just how impressive, graceful, detail laden Florence is. The vibe has changed, but the city itself hasn’t. In fact, many of the roads are the original cobblestone that you don’t see in Bcn anymore. You really have to watch your step, especially on some of the “short cut” streets.

So its back to Barcelona with me today, being Friday the 19th. Goodbye family! Good by city of heritage!




Italy is fantastic – my relatives really love me here. I return to Barcelona with a big warm glow from feeling genuinely loved. Next time I visit Florence it will be with Mark, to spend Christmas with my big, charismatic family.