Welcome back to the “Our Italians” series of interviews that focuses on food artisans, experts and producers in Italy or abroad. These passionate individuals are committed to sharing the best in Italian food, wine and traditional products, through family-owned businesses and small scale enterprises, and we’re here to introduce them to you.
Today we meet Georgette, the girl behind Girl in Florence. I met the lovely Georgette many years ago through a mutual friend. I am an avid reader of her blog where she shares her personal discoveries around Florence and Italy, offers tips on travel planning, and interviews locals. She highlights artisans and bespoke boutiques in the Florentine community. Her site is a fabulous resource to learn about artisans and bespoke boutiques and for suggestions of where to shop, stay and what to do in Florence. You will also find restaurant suggestions because Georgette is a food lover like us. Meet Georgette.
Casa Mia: Why did you choose Florence and what made you stay?
Georgette: The funny thing about Florence is that it was a place I never really “chose” in the first place but more a place I feel like chose me. My dream funny enough was to study in London since at the time my passion was politic, but that changed with a last-minute decision––or rather––an opportunity to come to Florence. One that as a 21-year-old in 2005 was both super exciting and simultaneously terrifying due to the fact that I spoke no Italian other than “pizza and cappuccino” which wasn’t going to get me very far.
Looking back, part of the reason that I feel like the “dolce vita” worked for me was by simply having little to no expectations about what life here would be like. I wasn’t expecting an “Under the Tuscan Sun” type lifestyle of prosecco in the afternoon after a Vespa ride through dusty country roads outfitted in a beautiful silk scarf. Instead, I took it day by day and tried my hardest to make Italian friends and learn the basics of the language which includes saying “penis” by mistake an embarrassing number of times.
What ended up happening to make me think “perhaps this could be the place for me” is that life here felt so utterly different and opposite to that in Los Angeles (where I was living at the time). For one, I was walking everywhere, reading more, learning how to cook properly and eat seasonally, and wasn’t as concerned with what people were doing back home. I fell in love with the country (and maybe out of love a few times – especially when I was working on my visa) and just reasoned that any decision could be changed. In the end, I came back in 2007 after graduating from university and found life to be much harder than that of my life as a starry-eyed study abroad student.
It was hard to meet and make friends, certainly hard to get a job and a visa, all of which really led to a few really difficult years here. At the time, I was dating a local Florentine guy and I didn’t want to fall into that trap of feeling dependent on him and his well-meaning family. That’s partly why I started the blog, because I wanted to offer honest advice from my own personal experiences as I found it hard to relate to the “omg Italy is amazing dreamer” sites I had seen, and alternatively, those who picked apart every Italian character flaw.
My aim was to share humorous stories about the questura, talk about where to get great food, discuss cultural issues, and of course, share the wonderful people I met in the local community. I’ve been lucky to do what I love when it comes to work, mainly because Italy provides that challenge you hate to love. It isn’t at all uncommon to have to create your career when you don’t like the options you have. I have always been passionate about helping others figure out their social media year after year which led to various consulting jobs and luckily through the success of the blog I was also able to obtain my current job as content editor at Italy Magazine. Eventually work and life all got figured out, but not without a fair amount of blood, sweat, and tears. Here I am here 10 years later, a few pasta pounds heavier, still figuring life out, and married to a French guy who coincidentally also chose to give life in Italy a chance. Who would have thought?
CM: You dubbed San Frediano the “coolest” area in the city. Is there a new up-and-coming area of Florence we should be keeping our eyes out for?
Georgette: If there is one thing I have learned about the city of Florence, it is that it never ceases to surprise you. In the past few years I have been personally impressed by how neighborhoods such as San Lorenzo, Sant’ Ambrogio, the Oltrarno and the Beccaria area have become more dynamic in the diversity of businesses that you can find there. After Mercato Centrale’s primo piano opened in San Lorenzo it seemed to have sparked a boom in places seeking to similarly up their game while places like San’t Ambrogio have always been quietly cool for those in the know. The areas mentioned above have a blend of those businesses who have always been there (Coltelleria Donnini, La Casa del Vino, and new spots like craft coffee spots (Piansa), the Central Market’s “primo piano,” Asian – Italian fusion (Cibleo), and even butcher shop’s offering a new skip to their step, like the new terrace at Macelleria Menoni.
What matters most to me, which sometimes puts me at odds with locals, is that we embrace “new” artisans and business owners, even if they aren’t Italian. Italy is evolving, Florence is evolving too – just because a place is changing doesn’t mean it is necessarily worse off than before. It just means it is different. Many of the artisans I have interviewed in San Frediano are people I like to call “New Florentines” that have totally embraced the Italian culture, honed their craftsmanship skills and contribute to the quality of life in this city and it is my personal aim to celebrate their dedication to this city.
Of course, there are outlying areas, namely Le Cure, Isolotto, Settignano that in all honesty are getting even more interesting and worth exploring, I just need to research more before I offer you guys an honest account, hence why life here is a forever project.
CM: Name your 3 favorite places to eat, places for cocktails, shopping, and wellness in Florence.
Georgette: EAT: Trattoria Sergio Gozzi in San Lorenzo: a down-home restaurant in the San Lorenzo area run by several generations of the Gozzi family that is also known locally as “Da Sergio.” Here you will find all sorts of Tuscan traditional favorites such as pappa al pomodoro and fresh pasta. Get the polpette… Address: piazza San Lorenzo 8/r (open only for lunch – reservations recommended).
SHOP: I am sucker for jewelry and I adore the guys over at Officine Nora who have converted an ex-mechanic shop into their collaborative workshop where several in-house artisans create their own diverse jewels and custom work for clients. As you know the artisan culture is strong here and it is nice to see a younger generation continuing the tradition of working with their hands in the heart of the Santo Spirito neighborhood. Address: Via dei Preti, 4.
WELLNESS: Relax Firenze is a recent find for me, it is a center for wellness by Piazza della Repubblica that offers a wide range of programs for those who are seeking a true mind/body experience with a birds-eye view of the square. I love the staff there who make you feel very comfortable and welcome. It’s my go-to recommendation for massages, facials (I love that they only use organic cremes made in Abruzzo), yoga, meditation, reflexology (I’m not obsessed) and EMS training which is something everyone should try one. Address: Via degli Strozzi 2.
CM: Tell us about your neighbors, daily habits, small details of daily life in Firenze or tell us what a typical day is for you in Florence (I know that no day is typical).
Georgette: My neighbors are in the area of Florence quite lovingly known as the “Oltrarno” or “Diladdarno,” an area famous for its rich history of artisans working in their tiny studios on small backstreets
As you rightfully mentioned, no day is typical. Though both of us are non-Italians, we have embraced the local way of life, and cultural attitudes towards food, priorities and schedules. For example, living in Italy means we have completely adhered to the Italian way of eating lunch around 1pm and dinner around 8pm, and tend to limit snacking or having ice in our coke. I try not to care too much when people are late or plans change at the last minute.
Normally I try to keep my schedule aligned with that of Nico, my husband. I wake up around 8am or rather 8:15 after Nico brings me coffee (he’s a keeper) and start working right away.
If I don’t have a meeting, then I typically try to work until 1pm though I may head to Sant’Ambrogio’s lovely market to pick up fresh food for the week. I usually have lunch at home or with a friend at a café which is important because when you are work freelance you tend to be alone a lot. It’s really nice when you can steal someone for a lunch date or as I often do in the Oltrarno, I often will visit friends who are business owners who work in the area. That’s another reason I absolutely adore the area I live in, not just for the immense artistic value places here bring but also because I feel like we have a real community, not just an online digital version.
This makes it easy to stop and have a chat with people, remember birthdays, or laugh over a shared story. I often see the woman who made my wedding dress (her whimsical boutique Anna Fuca is on Via Serragli), stop by my friend Sara Amrhein’s shop on Via dello Sprone, grab a coffee and talk politics or local news at La Cite, fall in love with everything at Betty Soldi’s shop And Company on Via Maggio, grab cookies from Dolce Emporio or see the latest creative creation by Jane of WoodnCut.
This year I was invited to the annual “San Frediano in Cena” which brings together the entire community to give away a prize called “Torrino d’Oro” awarding to those contributing to the city. Besides being a charity event, it was very humbling to spend a night like this under the stars, celebrating those who make our neighborhood and city one that I hope to raise a family in.
We also have a dog, a small beagle named Ginger, who also is an Oltrarno lover and we take stroll the backstreets every single day. I take pictures, she sniffs for crumbs. It’s a great reason for a break from work and gives me the chance to listen to the many, many podcasts I adore (Embedded, Hashtag Authentic, BBC’s The Food Programme, NY times The Daily, This American Life, Coffee Break French, Darius Arya Digs and the Guardian Boos podcast).
I also quite often just going on solo walks to clear my head, popping into places like the Complex of Santa Maria del Carmine to peek at the beautiful Brancacci Chapel, hang out in the buzzing Santo Spirito Square, or see what’s next on the program at community theater Teatro di Cestello. I also adore Piazza Tasso, a place I hope to live near someday, for a gelato at La Sorbettiera.
After lunch I sometimes go to the gym or go back to work until my husband comes home. Because I often have meetings with new clients or existing ones, you’ll find me at a local café like Ditta Artigianale or Todo Modo bookshop across the river.
Florence is a tiny city, one that makes these daily interactions extremely easy, especially if you live in the center.
I try and keep my evenings work-free unless I have to go to a local event or opening and honestly I adore just staying home and cooking for Nico from the many cookbooks we have written by friends (Emiko Davies, Giulia Scarpaleggia, Rachel Roddy, I’m looking at you). We love to eat and discover new restaurants in Florence so I really look forward to date night and where we will gorge ourselves next.
CM: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?
Georgette: I suppose that if there anything else I would say is that there are so many interesting people, artisans, book-sellers, small business owners worth getting to know in Florence. For those who might be interested, check out my locals I love series that focuses on people who live in Italy (and not only) who each share a unique and entirely personal perspective.
I also want to stress how important it is to support the local community; this goes for anywhere you live in the world, it’s not exclusive to Italy nor should it be. This is why I’m not a big fan of disrupters like Airbnb that offer short term benefits for some but create a multitude of issues that are more often negative long term. This is why it is important to celebrate those who dedicate themselves to improving our local urban landscape.
Last but not least, my go-to guide for exploring local craftsmanship is by local journalist Francesca Tofanari, a great book called “Artisans in Florence.” There is also a new city guide “Oltrarno su Misura” that just came out on the Oltrarno neighborhood that is in both Italian and English (you can get it at local bookshops in Florence or online here). It provides a really well-rounded overview of treasures in Florence’s left bank.
For those visiting Florence for a short time, I really recommend doing your research. This is what makes the difference between a mediocre experience and one you might never forget. Plan your meals in advance when possible and importantly, make reservations in advance, as some of the best places in town can fill up quick. Embrace the concept of aperitivo before every meal (if you don’t mind a stiff drink, the local “negroni” is a great choice). Consider getting a private tour guide for a few hours and perhaps not only to see the city’s famous museums, you can also book a small group food tour, peruse the markets, visit the city from a boat on the Arno or visit local apothecaries. Despite the standoffish reputation that Florentine people have, I find them to be quite friendly if you have the right approach ☺. A little Italian goes a long way!