We all know the fairytale scenario of a young female foreigner being swept off her feet by a romantic Italian and moving to Florence to live happily ever after. After all, it’s not easy for an Italian man to start a new life away from Italy, and it’s usually the women who decide to follow their heart, quite literally, and join their partners in another country. The opposite is true, however, for British-born, Florentine resident Keith Sheldrake, who tells us of his move to Italy to marry his Italian girlfriend, (now wife) Barbara, and to start a new life in Florence.
Barbara was working in London and Keith was working as an accountant when they met via a mutual Italian friend at a salsa class one evening. A novice both on the dance floor and with the Italian language, Keith decided to keep the conversation simple and break the ice with an easy name introduction. Over the loud music of the club, however, and the uncanny similarity between Keith’s name and chi, the Italian word for ‘who,’ a comical exchange worthy of a spot on the two Ronnies ensued: ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Keith’ (Having understood ‘Chi?’) ‘Yes, you …your name?’Again, ‘Keith.’ ‘Tu, you…come ti chiami’?
Several successful conversations later, in March 2003, during a walk in London’s marvellous Richmond Park, Keith proposed on King Henry VIII’s Mound, overlooking the beautiful city of London. By May of the same year Barbara had accepted a job in Tuscany and they had moved to Florence to start their new life together. The following year they were married in a church near Lake Orta, in Piemonte.
Keith admits he was the one who encouraged the move from the start and he took to the change with enthusiasm after leaving his job in the UK and making the most of the opportunities Florence had to offer. One of these opportunities developed into the business that Keith now runs: he is a trainer in finance for non-financial managers, and in other leadership skills (www.keithsheldrake.com). During his first job in Florence, as an English teacher for businesses, he realised that many of his clients would also benefit from training using English and that he could use his extensive experience in financial management to create a range of executive development courses. He now leads coaching courses all over the world for major international companies.
A more recent project saw Keith launch a Toastmasters club here in Florence (http://tmfirenze.wordpress.com), which has been met with increasing interest. Toastmasters is a global nonprofit educational group designed to improve skills in and reduce fears of public speaking (www.toastmasters.org). People from all walks of life meet regularly to work on their presentation skills in an encouraging and friendly environment.
One of Keith’s more personal achievements has been the birth of his two children here in Florence, the older now six years old!
Where would you take a visitor to Florence who doesn’t like art?
I am one of those expats who didn’t come here for the art so could probably find lots for them to do, as there is so much to see here. The churches are beautiful in their own right; the streets have history on every corner; there are the markets; the gardens of Palazzo Pitti; the old pharmacy on via della Scala is a must, unique to Florence; and the museum of science.
Best cappuccino and brioche?
In Sesto Fiorentino, where I live, it has to be the Pasticcera Fani on via Manin; they make the pastries on-site. In the centre of Florence my favorite is Paszkowski’s in Piazza della Repubblica (bombolone alla crema)!
Best bistecca fiorentina or best restaurant and why?
Again, Sesto-centric and away from the tourist traps, l’Ulivo Rosso is a regular haunt. It has a great menu with the addition of pizza to keep the kids happy! The Bottega di Morello has good bistecca and is great on a Sunday for a sandwich lunch picnic in the garden, or for a take away up to Monte Morello; both are on the road to ‘Colli Alti’ from Sesto.
One place in the city that inspires you?
The church of San Miniato al Monte, just above Piazzale Michelangiolo. It’s fairly touristy, but less so than the main piazzale, and a great place for peace with a wonderful view. The church itself also has some special tranquility to it.
Favorite excursion fuori porta?
Every school holiday we take the kids to the zoo at Pistoia, which they love. They never get tired of feeding the animals, and there is a great park for them to run, jump, swing and slide. We also love going for walks and picnics on Monte Morello; the air is fresh and cool during the summer. The Pinocchio park at Collodi is also a great getaway.
Famous monument or tourist attraction that you still haven’t visited?
The Museo Galileo, the Alinari Photography museum and the Museo del Calcio (I like football)!
Advice for the newly arrived?
Learn some Italian. You are never too old to learn, it is not so difficult and it will help you integrate and learn a lot more about the people and the city.
What would you ask Mayor Renzi over a coffee?
Since 1966, has anything actually been done to prevent the disastrous flooding that happened then?
Icche tu fai? (‘What are you doing?’ Direct and simple, the Florentine way.); Te ne giova? (‘Do you like it?’); Maremma!!
Favourite Florentine, past or present?
Leonardo da Vinci. Not just an artist but scientist and inventor, a genius way before his time.
Pet peeve about Florence (or one thing you will never get used to)?
The heat in the summer, which goes to my head after a while. It’s good to get to the coast or to the mountains to escape it.
What’s on your shopping list to bring back to Florence when you go home?
Before Christmas it’s Mince Pies. At other times it’s PG tips teabags, Scottish shortbread biscuits and thick-cut orange marmalade.
One thing the Brits will always do better?
Wait patiently without complaining.
One thing the Florentines will always do better?
Get to the front of the queue in a snap!