Micheline and La Raccolta (The Olive Harvest)

Micheline is somewhat of a legend in Cortona. I have seen her around the past 12 years and never met her until recently. She is Parisian and relocated to Cortona 20+ years ago. She has traveled all over the world, lived in different countries and has led a fascinating life. I have always wanted to know her. This time in Cortona, I had the opportunity not only to meet her, but to have the blessed opportunity to become her friend. The first time I spent some significant time with her, I simply showed up on her doorstep. We had exchanged a few emails and that day she informed me she would be doing the raccolta, or picking olives. La Raccolta is a most wonderful Tuscan/Umbrian tradition this time of year, and I have always loved it. So, rather than ask her if she needed help, I simply showed up, uninvited.

Che palle – what balls.

I found Micheline seated on the ground in her driveway, picking the leaves off the olives that the contadini, the farmers, had picked. She told me that everyone tells her not to bother picking the leaves off, there is a machine at the mulino, the olive oil mill, that will do that, but she does it anyway, very fixated in her belief that the leaves manage to find their way into the oil anyway. So I plopped down on a crate and helped her pick the leaves off the olives.

PB070029Micheline’s home is fantastic, positioned on the side of the Cortona mountain, overlooking the walled Cortona cemetery. She invited me in, and I swooned.

Her home has a similar interior aesthetic to my own,  furnished with a lifetime of objects and treasures from all over the world. Her home takes my breath away, It is so eclectic, filled with art and radiates a vibrant energy.

A house with soul.

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After an hour or so of picking leaves off the olives, Micheline decides that we need to go help the contadini with the last stages of the olive picking.

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Laying the nets under the trees to catch the olives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Micheline and Liviero, one of her friends who is helping with the harvest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Santa Maria Nuova, the view from Micheline’s olive grove.

Not so bad.

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Picking olives is one of the most calming and tranquil things I have ever done. I could do this for days and probably should sometime.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Packing it in for the day. The harvest is nearly done.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Adelio, is trying to convince Micheline to stop wasting her time picking the leaves off the olives. The machine will do that. She does not listen and she picks anyway.

A woman after my own heart.

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Micheline will have none of it. She is obsessed with getting all the leaves off the olives.

I have to agree with her.

Don’t listen to the advice of others-just do it anyway.

Micheline is an inspiration. I want to be like her when I grow up.

And I have ALWAYS wanted to speak French,  she says she will teach me.

I should seriously consider this.

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Today’s Walk in Cortona

I am finally settling into life in Cortona, I have moved into my house, Casa San Marco a few days ago, after staying with different friends for a few weeks and I have to say, it is wonderful to finally be home, get grounded, it has been somewhat stressful few weeks of transitioning from the U.S. life to this one.  The past few days I have taken to walking up to the summit of the Church of Santa Margherita, Cortona’s patron saint. The church sits up to of the mountain of Cortona, overlooking the valley below, it is spectacular.

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Right below the church, there is a grassy field, that is encircled by cypress trees, overlooking the view. It is a magically tranquil place and I have started going there to meditate, breath, do yoga, and simply be. Today was one of those days. After feeling as calm and as centered as I could possibly get, I made my way up to the church.

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The cypress enclosed field

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Chiesa Santa Margherita, Cortona, Italy

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I often light candles for people that I care deeply for, in whatever church I happen to be in. I have always loved this statue of the Madonna, and have lit many candles here over the years.

Today I lit several candles for a friend who is in the midst of an extremely difficult family crisis. I send them all positive energy and prayers.

Then, the most wonderful thing happened. I noticed one of the Franciscan nuns, talking to an American tourist and she was attempting to explain the story of Santa Margherita’s life. He did not understand her and said he only spoke English. I intervened and translated what she was saying to this man. She was elated that I spoke Italian, but the man quickly lost interest and wandered off. I told her that I was very interested, would she please tell me the story?

She told me the entire story of Santa Margherita’s life, some of which I knew and some things I did not. You can read about Santa Margherita here.

I thanked her profusely and then asked her name.

Teresina.  Suor Teresina

Sister Teresina.

I told her that I hoped to see her again. She asked my name and I told her, Stacey. This perplexed her, having never heard such a name, so I told her it was an American name, but the Italian equivalent would be Anastasia.

Comprehension registered on her face and she was happy to have understanding.

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I then made my way over to another candelabra that I noticed in the corner of the church, and lit some more candles for my friend in crisis.

I sat on the bench near by and closed my eyes for a moment and when I opened them, Sister Teresina was standing in front of me.

She whispered,

“Quando avevi finito le preghiere, vieni con me, vorrei farti vedere qualcosa”

(When you have finished your prayers,please come with me, I want to show you something)

I followed her in back of the altar, to a locked room that required her to fish out a huge set of massive keys from under her frock. She opened a door that beheld a beautiful sunlit room with centuries old paintings of various saints that lined the room . In the middle of the room was a massive wood table that had a ceramic bust of a woman. Suor Teresina explained that it was a reconstruction of Santa Margherita’s face , that was made by a local artist 7 years ago , using computer technology combined with the actual 800 + years old mummified Santa Margherita that rests in a glass case up at the head altar of the church.

She says not may people get to come to this room. Then she said that I looked like the statue. Not so sure about that but maybe to her I did.

She let me take a photo of the statue but would not let me take a photo of her.

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I snuck a photo in anyway, a few moments later when we went back out in the main church.

It was a remarkable, other worldly half hour space of time that seemed endless.

Definitely altered state material.

I  have a new friend. Suor Teresina.

I told her I would be back for more stories and visits.

I think it made her day.

She certainly made mine.

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Suor Teresina

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The main altar with Santa Margherita’s body encased in glass.

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Leaving the church,  I headed for the bar nearby at the top of the mountain for a much needed caffe, to get me right back into this world after hanging out in that other worldly state with Suor Teresina. Nothing like a sweet, excellent caffe at an Italian bar, one of life’s most deliziose pleasures.

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I then continued my walk around the backside of the mountain.

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The Roman road that extends around the mountain. We used to walk this road all the time into town when I lived out near here in 2001-2002 with Rob and the kids.

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The fountain at the entrance to the parterre, the park.

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And finally, calling Francesco, (my son Jesse’s best childhood Cortonese friend who is also MY adoptive Italian son –  and telling him to get out of bed at 1:00 pm and meet me at Bar Saletta for another caffe.

Volentieri.

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Casa San Marco, Cortona Italy with Mosca Studio, April 2013

 And to continue and finish posting these incredible photos that

Alice of Mosca Studio created –

Grazie infinite Alice!!

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The new art studio…casasanmarco-moscaphoto-tuscanytravel-italytravel-photography-2634

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Casa San Marco, Cortona, Italia; April 2013

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This past March-April, I was in Cortona for a few weeks, doing one of the most exciting projects I have ever participated in, staging and photographing a PROFESSIONAL photo shoot with the most incredibly talented photographer, Alice Falzone, became my friend last year in Portland, Oregon where she lives with her partner, the ever so cute Josh Kincaid. The two of them own and operate Mosca Studio.  Alice is originally from Rome, but has lived in Portland now for many years. To see the story of how we met, go here.

In any event, we ended up in Cortona together this spring, along with Alice’s friend Michelle, who along with my friend and neighbor on Via San Marco, Patrizia and worked non-stop around the clock to pull this project off in a week. I KNOW that Alice did an amazing job with the photos, as I looked at handfuls along the way.

However, I did not know the full impact of all 1600 photos until a few weeks ago. Alice got the post edited photos to me in a very timely manner last summer, but I never looked at them until it was time to started picking and choosing which ones would make it to the new website that my talented friend, Didi Davidovich is designing for Casa San Marco.

I was stunned upon seeing them.

Speechless.

Over welmed.

Emotional.

And so very appreciative of  how Alice captured my vision and the essence of Casa San Marco, the home I have poured my heart and soul into over a period of 12 years , restoring , fixing, building a new roof, designing, making countless trips to the Arezzo Antique Market, Pissignano Antique Market, Emmaus and wherever the hunt took me in order to furnish and detail this home in exactly the perfect way, according to my dream.

The photos make me cry and laugh, all at once.

They are simply beautiful.

Thank you Alice.

And I have started this post at nearly midnight, and it is clear to me that my eyes are closing and it is pointless to continue but I will put up  a few of these photos as a teaser, and will continue this photographic essay tomorrow, just a small taste of the 1600. Stop by and see the rest tomorrow.

A domani…

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The Antithesis of Printer Throwing

This past weekend I had the magnificent opportunity to attend a 4 day yoga retreat with my beloved teacher Britt Bensen Steele.and 10 other amazing people.

So many take away gifts from the weekend, but some of the highlights from the group:

Open.

Wild.

Grounded.

Sure and Comfortable with Not Knowing.

Embrace the Mystery.

Going to the Edge.

Always, always, always,  back to the BREATH – the gateway to freedom.

Bella gioia, secondo me.

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Finding Inner Peace Through Throwing the Printer Across the Room

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Yesterday I had one too many times of this piece of shit NEW Canon printer breaking down. I picked it up and threw it across the room. Then I did it again. And once more. Third time is a charm. It was so satisfying. I have wanted to do this forever.

The result was a complete state of calm and inner peace. Molto tranquila. Ahhhhhhh.

This was better than yoga or meditation.

Almost better than anything. Well, not quite anything.

I then called Office Max to see what my new printer options might be. They patched me over to their tech guy and I recounted my printer throwing story , and that I was in need of a new printer and NOT a Canon. He cracked up and said I was his kind of person and to come see him today – he would get me all situated with a nice new Epson printer and to bring in the smashed up one – Office Max will give me $50 off the price of the new one for my “trade in”… This is GREAT – not only did I find inner peace by throwing the printer across the room but I am getting paid $50 for it.

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Roma, Cortona and Beyond

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I can hardly believe that I am headed back to Rome 2 weeks from today, and subsequently Cortona.

I am beyond excited.

Thrilled.

Breathless.

Ecstatic.

I have been anticipating this empty nest for sometime, both boys, Jesse and Corey are now launched in their adult lives, Corey in college and Jesse finding his way after college.  It is time for me to explore a bit and see what my post child rearing life will offer.  What better place to begin this journey then back to where my heart resides, Italy.

I will work and live in Italy for the next 2 months, based in Cortona without some huge restoration project on Casa San Marco, travel a bit, and simply be open to the adventures that present themselves. It is a little bit scary, but mostly exciting, and no matter what, I am sure it will not be noioso or boring.

Maybe I will even study Italian and learn to speak it better, I am quite bored of just getting by after 30 + years. It would be lovely to speak it fluently, I have sufficient motivation now.

I will miss my life in Portland, the past 6 weeks have been incredible, forming many new friendships and deepening the ones that are in place.  I love my people here, I am so blessed with an incredible community of support and comfort.

And I will miss my sons, yet I know that they are now entering some of the most exciting years of their lives, they are amazing, well adjusted young men and I know they will be just fine without Mom for a bit.

Time to pack le valige.

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August Moments in Portland, Oregon

It usually takes me about 6-8 hours to create a blog post. Start to finish. Editing photos, processing them in Photoshop until they are my version of perfect, inserting them into the blog and then writing the post. Maybe it does not take normal people this long. But I am very obsessional, an artist, and a perfectionist. So it takes a while. Therefore, I do not make as many blog posts as I would like. So tonight, I decided to do it differently.

I have had some absolutely stellar moments since I returned from Italy two and a half weeks ago. Instead of spending all day going thru the arduous process of creating a blog post, I decided to just throw some photos up – more of a photo essay. Just to capture the moments. It has been a great 2 1/2 weeks. Certainly the best re-entry from Italy that I have ever done. Usually I am a hot mess for about a month after my return from my beloved Italian madness. This time?

Three days.

 Thats all it took. I have some theories about that, but I will save those for another day. Otherwise, I will be here another 6-8 hours.

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My boys, Corey and Jesse.  The day after we returned, August 5,  Jesse celebrated his 22 year old birthday.

I am proud of him. I don’t like the word proud.  But there it is. Proud. I just am.

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Backyard. Early morning.

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Shannon.

 I met her 7 days ago. But it surely has been at least 700 years. I know we have known each other in a million lifetimes. We are glued at the hip.

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My hot, amazing, outrageous friend Deanna. I met her at yoga 2 years ago. Sometimes she wears a leapord hat with little teddy type ears. And cowboy boots. Or something like that. Today, she is rockin’ the stilettos. I might have to try that.

Quite soon.

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Corey washed all his tailored Italian shirts that I have bought for him there. I told him not to put them in the dryer. This was his solution for hanging them out to dry. Of course, they were still on the front lawn when I came home tonight. In the dark.

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11My beloved Sabrina, friend of 21 years. Making a special stop to wish my Corey Buon Viaggio and good luck on his journey to college tomorrow. Is he really leaving home tomorrow? Yes.

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 Sabrina brings me a $500 Italian chocolate brown leather skirt that she found at Goodwill for $5. It doesn’t fit her.

Lucky me.  It is now mine. Grazie infinite Sabrina!

Smooth like butter and fits like a glove. Super hot. It needs to go back to Italy with me.

Deanna, do stilettos work with a leather skirt?

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L’Ultima Cena, the Last Supper at Fireside with some of my boys, Andre, Corey and Owen

15Yoga today with my awesome yoga girl pals at Yoga Pearl.
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uzanne, me, and Mercedes. And Britt of course. The stunning blond – arms outstretched. Our beloved teacher.  She works magic.

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Shannon’s second day at class with Britt. She is hooked.

Finito.

That only took 1 1/2 hour. Not bad. I will try this more often.

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Missing Rome. And All the Rest.

625467_10201689355265244_1731162928_nI am home in Portland, the first few days spent in recuperation mode, drifting  in and out of sleep in a dreamy altered state. My thoughts keep drifting back to Italy, as a part of my psyche and heart is always left there, it as if I have left the love of my life, this pazzo  paese, Italia. As I am in this altered reality, I think of my Rome adventures, I spent a total of a week there, broken up into 3 bits, once when I first arrived, here, then again with Wendy, here, and lastly a few weeks ago, when I went to Rome for the last time of the summer, with Jesse, to drop him off to his 5 day Bartender School at Planet One, on the outskirts of Rome. Taking the train, once again, Sunday afternoon. Terontola to Rome. I’m getting quite familiar with this station.

IMG_8753After checking in the Navona Palace, the place Wendy and I had discovered the week before in the Governo Vecchio neighborhood, we got ourselves over to an incredible bar/terrace restaurant called Hi Res,  recommended by Wendy, who had been to Rome by herself the a few weeks before. Wendy makes friends with everyone, and this was no exception. She made fast friends with Lorenzo, a most amazing bartender, who is passionate about his work, and an expert in his field. She wanted Jesse to meet him, so we went Sunday night, and meet him we did. He saved us two places at the bar, and proceeded to give us exotic cocktails and fruit drinks and drink samples and antipasto tastes and all kinds of amazing things. The level of food, drinks, atmosphere was truly elevated, Lorenzo was charming and we had an amazing time.

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Best drink I have ever had, senza alcohol, some mixture of Italian ginger ale, cucumbers, fresh fruit.

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View of Rome from Hi Res.

I loved this place. I went back the next night, and had a most magical time. A must visit place next time you are in Rome and in need of a great cocktail , view of Rome from a terrace, wonderful food and an elegant experience.

IMG_8785Next day, next stop, Santa Teresa in Ecstasy – Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. I have seen this work many times over the years and it never fails to transport me. I found this cool blog where the author discusses HER interpretation of this work, and how it seems that Bernini was much more focused on sensuality and sexuality and not much so much the religious content. I have always felt this way about this piece. Read more about this here.

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I spent a few days in Rome, wandering around, not doing much, but photographing and poking my head in alleys, stairwells, windows.

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The well worn marble stairs of this building are insanely beautiful, as are all of its arches and windows.

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My friend from Portland, Stefania McCormick, at Taste Unique told Jesse and I to go visit her friend, Riccardo Cruciani, at his macelleria, Centro Freschezza Cruciani. located in a very authentic working class part of the city. Not one tourist in sight. Loved it. Riccardo was a gem, so accommodating and lovely. Jesse could not go with me because of class, but he got over there later in the week to tour Ricardo’s place and to discuss the possibility of working for him down the line, doing butchery work. This place was a trip, a supermarket of meat and cheese, wonderful.

IMG_8854IMG_8858IMG_8860Heading back to the centro, I stumble upon a doll hospital of sorts. Swoon.

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Next, a stop to see Museo Ara Pacis, an alter from Rome antiquity, that has had a modern structure built around it to house and preserve. The marriage of the 2 styles, antique and modern were insanely beautiful. The altar to Peace was driven by Augustus, in 9 B.C.

IMG_8870IMG_8872IMG_8888IMG_8892IMG_8896Lastly, what trip to Rome would be complete without a stop at my most favorite lingerie shop in New York, Only Hearts, with a sister store in Rome in “my” neighborhood, Governo Vecchio. In chatting with the lovely owner, Jean, I found out that Jean’s sister started Only Hearts way back in the day, and Jean, who has lived in Rome for 30 years has the Rome store. We had a delightful time hanging out.

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Only Hearts, Piazza della Chiesa Nuova 21, Rome Italy

IMG_8919Ending the day at Caffe delle Pace, a neighborhood hangout. Found an antique book I could not resist called Santa Settimana, it spoke to me and I will most likely make a book out of this that documents my time in Rome this summer.

As I am parked at the Caffe delle Pace, I notice a woman who is pretty fuori la testa, or nutjob material, making proclamations to herself, ranting, pulling the world out of her purse and arranging the items carefully on a parked car. Not hers. Oh well. Watching the world go by.

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Dinner later, at a new discovery, out of the way trattoria, in the Campo dei Fiori neighborhood La Fiaschetta serving only to locals, not a single tourist in sight. Phew. Dodged them again.

Am I a tourist? Maybe not. I hope I have earned the right to not be one by dutifully going thru all the bureaucratic ridiculousness at the Questura in Arezzo every 2 years for the past 12 years to keep my Permesso di Soggiorno and Residenza in tact. It has to count for something, doesn’t it?

IMG_8926IMG_8929Dreamy. All of it. I miss it all. A presto Roma.

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I Vanitosi (The Silly Vain Ones)

 Arezzo, July 2013

One of my most favorite outings in Italy is visiting my amici at Prive, my hairdressers of the past 12 years. Without them, I would be a mess, important to keep the Goldwell red hair color going every 3 weeks. And equally as important: Fabrizio, Mino, Ela, and Miri  are my dear Arezzo friends/family at this point. Prive is a jewel of a salon, Fabrizio is an amazing artist, along with being a brilliant parrucchiere (hairdresser), he is continually displaying new works he has created in his salon. Whenever I go, it is spa day for me. I am completely at home, I let down, relax, and they all take care of me.

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Mino, Fabrizio, Me, Ela and Miri

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One of Fabrizio’s paintings that I have always enjoyed

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Mino and I bonded a few years ago over our mutual love of our identical Nikon cameras and have been friends ever since. We also share the character trait of being extremely vain and self absorbed ( I vanitosi) when it comes to having photographs taken of ourselves, so we entertain each other in this obsessive quality.

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Yes, I admit it. I am hopelessly vain. Una vanitosa senza speranza. Oh well. It could be worse. It is what it is.

After a delightful afternoon of covering getting fresh color on the hair with my Goldwell 8kg, 7K, etc. formula, I headed over to Albero, a wonderful shoe store nearby. Shoes and handbags, another hopeless addiction. I discovered a handbag line last year, 3rd Floor, and since July is saldo month in Italy, where the entire country is on sale, I figure I need to go check out whats happening at Albero.

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Naturalmente, I find another 3rd Floor handbag I can’t live without (this makes 3) and it is discounted to a ridiculously low price. Of course I bought it. I haul it over to Mino’s and we take more pictures of each other while we wait for his partner Filippo to get ready so we can go to dinner.

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Beautiful bag, isn’t it? Will I stop at 3? Probably not. There is always another saldo, next July.

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Ok, I think this is good Mino, lets go eat.

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They take me to Olga e Albano Ristorante, one of Arezzo’s best restaurants. A friend of mine had recently recommended this to me, so I was excited to go.  It was as good as he promised it would be.

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Olga, the proprietaria, hanging out at her table, overseeing everything that goes by.

IMG_9126IMG_9121A great time was had by all the vanitosi.

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