Book presentation, Palazzo San Niccolò, Florence: May 31, 2018

Across the Big Blue Sea book presentation flyer

If you're in Florence on Thursday May 31, 2018 join me for a discussion about Italy, migration and other topics linked to Across the Big Blue Sea, my memoir about a Tuscan refugee home. 

We'll meet at 6pm in the secret garden of Palazzo San Niccolò, my favourite new hotel in Florence (I reviewed it for The Telegraph here). 

The event is organized by Florence Cultural Salon, a fabulous new initiative which showers the Renaissance city with inspiring cultural events and cocktail nights. Click through to the Cultural Salon website for more information about the organisation and their interesting events calendar in an around Florence. 

Not in town on the day? You can get a copy of the book from Paperback Exchange and Todo Modo in Florence (both great independent bookshops that deserve our support!). 

Not coming back to Florence soon? Download an e-book or order a print copy of 'Across the Big Blue Sea: Good Intentions and Hard Lessons in an Italian Refugee Home' from one of these online retailers


Design hotels in Tuscany - they do exist!

The Argentario Golf Resort & Spa excels with something not many hotels in Tuscany's countryside have managed to pull off - tasteful contemporary design. 

Tuscan hotels are usually located in centuries-old villas, castles or farmhouses. In the best-case scenario, they will have been painstakingly restored and the interior design is a sophisticated mix of aristocratic joie-de-vivre or a romanticized version of Tuscan peasant life. 

In the worst case, the interpretation has gone awry with lots of velvet curtains, fake antique furniture and heavy-set four-poster beds in an international baroque style that has little to do with Tuscany but lots with a type of interior design invented to pimp up international hotel chains.

It's a relief that the five-star Argentario resort de
cided for a different approach. No more fake Renaissance architecture, but at last a well thought-through contemporary approach to holidaying in Tuscany.  

My Tuscan native trying hard to match our stylish Junior Suite

Storytellers at the Todo Modo bookshop in Florence

I may not be religious, but I totally worship the Todo Modo bookshop in Florence for its beautiful interior design, central location - a ten-minute walk from the station and Ponte Vecchio - and the cafè hidden among shelves and plants hanging from the roof. UqBar serves some of the best lunches to be had in Florence - especially for people who'd love to forego the usual Tuscan fare for a delicious miso soup.

But Todo Modo does another thing well. The shelf-filled spaces in the back can be turned into a small theatre which makes for a great event space among all the books. I had my Across the Big Blue Sea book presentation there and was back last month for a Storytellers night - the first event of a great new series.  

Linda and Steve, the team from the The Beehive Hostel in Rome have decided to take their storytellers nights to Florence, and Todo Modo has agreed to host them. Whether residents or just travelling through, English speakers will have great fun at these once-monthly evenings. 

Six to eight people tell a short story (around 10. minutes each) that loosely connects to a topic decided beforehand on the storytellers Facebook group. For more background information about the night, watch The Florentine's interview with Linda and Steve in the video above. 

Also, the woman in the striped shirt who looks slightly stressed and keeps gesturing wildly... that would be me. I guess it's a good thing I emigrated to Italy (they arrest you for stuff like this in Switzerland). To my excuse - my adrenalin-induced state was connected to a good cause: I was promoting the artisan book bags the Crunelab refugee project produces for Across the Big Blue Sea (and you'll better order one from them right now or I'll start gesticulating again). 

Via dei Fossi 15r, Florence
Every first Saturday of the month at 7pm. Come early to browse the books and pick a glass of Italian vino from the great wine list (most from small biodynamic or organic estates). 

Not in town? You might be able to catch the storytellers in Rome. Every second or third Saturday of the month (check the Facebook group for the exact dates). In the warm season, the event takes place in the Beehive's enchanted garden in the centre of Rome, right next to the Roma Termini station.

'Across the Big Blue Sea' & the book satchels made by the Crunelab refugee project
Buy my book about a refugee home in Tuscany and the book bags here


Readers of my memoir Aross the Big Blue Sea know about the courageous Syrian family who after a horrendous journey to Sicily stopped over at our refugee home in the Tuscan countryside. The plight of Syrians at home and in exile is at the base of poet, dissident and journalist Rash Omran's work. Omran, who has been living in exile in Egypt since 2012, will present her recent work this July in southern Tuscany. 

The reading will take place in the garden of beautiful palazzo Bracci in Montepulciano. The literary event is part of Montepulciano's longstanding Cantiere Internazionale d'Arte, the Tuscan wine town's art and music summer festival which is in its 42nd edition. 

Portraits of poet Rasha Omran, writer Kim Echlin and musician Ashti Abdo

DEFY SILENCE - SFIDARE IL SILENZIOPoetry, music and translation between war and exile
Rasha Omran, Kim Echlin and Ashti Abdo in Montepulciano
Monday, July 17, 2017 - 9.15pm
Palazzo Bracci, via delle Case Nuove, Montepulciano. 

Rasha Omran has been invited for the first Writer to Writer residency by the newly set up Palazzo Bracci association. Omran will read her poems in Arabic followed by the English translation by Canadian writer and translator Kim Echlin. The two writers will discuss Omran's work, the meaning of political activism and the influence of Omran's life in exile in Egypt. The event will be musically underlined by Italy based Kurdish Syrian musician Ashti Abdo. 

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