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Success, Failure...some of my greatest failures have been a springboard to my greatest successes...the terms are truly fluid.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

24 Francesca’s Wisdom

     When my fortunes changed, I felt so much freer and less restricted both inside and out that when Francesca told me to stay again for the Karaoke party, I stayed. This was not a bar in the states but a family place where Spencer and I could both have fun together and go home if it got too wild.

     He went off to play and I tried to be as helpful as possible while the Bar filled up with platters of local food. Anyone who knows me, realizes that my favorite functions include pot lucks any day over restaurant dishes. Homemade food is always more spicey and tastes like love is a key ingredient and comes in a dazzling array of bowls and platters. To me that is simply thrilling. I had to admit that this food was like the finest of Italian restaurants back home, I mean the fancy ones in San Francisco. The beautiful girl behind the counter did not have to tell me to eat more then once for me to start flitting through the multitude of tasty hors d’houvres. I was thrilled!

     Of course I went right for the marinated eggplant loaded with lots of large fresh garlic chunks. Most of my adult life I have been with a male who really hated it when I ate my fill of garlic, but I sure adore garlic in all of its strongest splendor. But since here I no longer have either a husband or fidenzata…it seemed like a great time to exert control over my own eating habits. I ate the tasty slices of pickled vegetables of all kinds, seafood salads and the heavenly pomodori bruschetta with vigor and relish. Francesca’s relative behind the counter, offered me a free beer. I decided that since I was exercising such wreckless abandon with the garlic, it would be a great time to try Italian beer.

     Right after I started sipping at it I saw the small barrel it came from and realized it was a hearty German beer…my brother-in-law would be so proud of me since he is a hearty German who drinks his share of beer. Since I am a tea drinker my mind went to a conversation a few nights ago when I wound up creating a minor mess by declining a nice man, (the one who showed me cards last week), when he tried to buy me a beer. I explained that I only really drink tea. It was not understood at all and it looked like a vocal rejection in front of everybody. That taught me that if someone wants to buy me a drink…I should probably just say yes and enjoy the niceness instead of trying to wade through Italian culture with my silly tea culture sensiblities.  If he saw me now he would think I was a liar, and I guess I am…from one week to the next I feel like I am a different person. Terri from last week never drank beer…but today I am Teresa in Italy…Teresa seems cool enough to at least sip at a beer.

     Spencer was out playing still and I was sitting alone. I could not resist my book worm ways and found myself furtively writing all the rich language around me on little recipe cards I had folded up in my suit jacket. Pieces of conversations were being recorded from all around me. This was simply the most fun I have ever had in a Bar in my life!! As a language nut…it felt incredible to soak up this wonderful rich source of words flying around me from all directions.

    I realized at one point that though I was wretchedly poor, I had not actually spent a dime but felt as rich as an aristocrat! Earlier when I started to feel better, Spencer had jumped ahead of me heading to the Bar while I picked up a few items from the store. I had someone say to me, with that most excellent seasoning, an Italian accent, “What is it like…walking around the world with your son, being a world traveler?”

     That stopped me in my tracks. I thought to myself, “Wow, he is not describing the Terri I think of myself as being.”

     The Terri I know is intimately familiar with the menu at Oakdale, California’s Kentucky Fried Chicken, loves the seafood buffet in Santa Cruz and forgot to brush her hair after boogie boarding at the Boardwalk almost every summer afternoon last year. I am the person who delighted in $5 oversized tank tops from Walmart in Sonora to take on this trip. The Terri I have always been is more of a homebody who obsesses over scholarly pursuits.

     I laughed and told him that I think of myself as a “boring housewife,” and probably more than one person who really knows me realizes that is closer to the truth. But it sure was nice to look around and realize his version of me, this exotic creature roaming around like a vagabond through Europe, talking about English relatives that I wished were here...and children and family back home in California, might be a part of the truth now too.

     I was living out all of my wildest dreams and perhaps I am someone different from the me who left San Francisco, trusting my fidenzata to watch my dogs and home until I returned.  

     At around nine at night, a half hour past my traditional bedtime but at the beginning of dinner time for most Italians, I was ready to go but Spencer was still socializing.  I had now settled next to a large table of people as I wrote snippets of the conversation that I could pick apart later for more meaning.

     The conversation seemed to die and I looked up to find the table of people, who turned out to be my age, watching me. I must have turned a bright shade of red.

     There was a merry look in the eye of Carlo who asked me to join them. I tried to seem like the exotic creature that I had been accused of being earlier but I am sure I appeared to be myself, a bookish, but happy person lost in the language of Italy.

     They were all such nice people. Carlo promised to sing a song for me about my eyes. He later did. I promised myself to buy the song when I get home caled “Occhi Del Cielo.” He sang 3 songs and looked at me the whole time.  You have to love the confidence of all the Italians but Italian men seem to carry it to new heights. They seem to do a good job since they collectively don’t seem to come across as arrogant but truly affable and friendly instead.

     As the night unraveled I enjoyed songs being written out on the screen, word for word, for the benefit of both the singer and myself. This was better then my notes! This was an Italian student’s dream scenario. It was a whole new crowd than usual here tonight and they sang in English very well. I heard “New York, New York” belted out to perfection. I couldn’t help singing along with every word when Howard Jones’ song, “Wouldn’t It Be Good To Be In Your Shoes?” popped on the screen. My sister and I loved the song and every bit of singing it seemed to draw me back home to a time in the 80’s that we sang it with more fervor then we ever would now. I was in the car with Christine before we had children, long ago.

     I felt warm and happy inside.

     Francesca has been watching me pour over details in Italian language, and she knew exactly what I needed. I really needed a night of Karaoke at the Bar here in Italy. I made a mental note to listen to her and just do what she says from now on.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

23 Family is Social Capital….

     After my morning “meditation” I was able to clean clothes, hang them out in the sunshine, write a post and make a lovely breakfast.

     I felt so good in the sun later, and so hopeful, I suggested to Spencer that we walk over to the ruins of the Abbey, that we have been calling a Monastery. It happens to be close enough to see from our back yard here. I knew I could ignore the pain in my back today.

     We packed a bag and headed over. Walking hurt…but I was going slow and after about a mile it felt looser in my back and eased the stiffness. There was so much to look at as we walked along the strada as the warm sun beat down.  Spencer was just glad to get over to the ruins where he had itched to walk to since the first day.

      Lovely olive trees dotted the hillsides. Plentiful papavero swayed in the gentle breezes that occasionally came up from no where.

     Hours later still, I enjoyed finally getting a much sought after Skype call with family. Both Spencer and I have been trying to get a time to talk, but nothing had materialized since my time on line was so slim. I have been writing these posts on a computer that is not on line at all in our Italian home.

     My first Skype call since England had me feeling so happy. Just hearing Brittany and Gordon sent a euphoria through my spine. They were already in an involved conversation with Spencer when I had made it over to the Bar.

     They had the money already thanks to my family’s understanding input! It was more a matter of how to send it. No one knew if it needed to go to an address in Italy or where. For my family it had been a difficult 24 hours while they waited for me to have my daily access to he internet.

     I explained that it was important to send the money via money order to the specific US address as already agreed. We talked about many other things…how thin one of my dogs had become from being sort of abandoned in my own house while I was gone, how the economy in the states is improving and along with it 2 new jobs cropped up in the family. Their voices had a tonic effect. Just hearing them was a balm for my soul in ways that are impossible to clearly put into words….but all the downside to being away from family was brought into a sharper focus.  And the upside as well.

     To be away from my family…my sisters and parents, children and their partners and Gordon and Bart, helped me to realize how much my family has been the sole reason I manage to weather so many unsettling shifts in life. Overall I have been fortunate since my family has allowed me to make many mistakes and has always been there to watch my back.

    In my last romantic relationship, I had been criticized often about considering my Ex to be the one who was watching my back. Through all my adventures…and even my foreclosure was an adventure, my whole family has been there watching my back. I like to think that I have been doing the same for them as well.

      What I like about Italy is that here everyone is watching everyone’s back. When I talked to Stefano about it I called it “social capital” like they do in the Anthropology textbooks. There are no true beggars since everyone seems to make do with family filling in the blanks.

      The strong family link has created a society that seems to protect their elderly…care for their own children and generally protect one another. I think this is why they seem to view people differently here.

     I come from the friendliest of states. Californians can’t write a constitution apparently, but we do say Hello and care about people as we walk around socializing constantly. But I described the Italians this way on my Skype call, “It is as if here…everyone, stranger and family alike, is viewed as an important person….someone deserving of care and attention…..sort of like family.”

     I have come to view Italians this way and being here in this lovely small town has just reinforced this feeling that people are important, especially family.

      As soon as we finished the call…I sent Stefano the email that made sure he understood the address and the money, via a money order was coming on the next business day…which thanks to a holiday was Tuesday. Now I had reason to be cheerful…we could eat for another few days….and my biggest problem was now behind me.




22 …..Flipped on a Dime!

    In a flurry of communication, my fortunes flipped on a dime. A practical person would say that simply tackling my problems as they arise is the ONLY WAY to move forward. They would see telling my sisters, who think more clearly, as the best move and the point where I did move myself forward. She would notify my mom and dad who always can outwit everything that happens in life…something that usually has me feeling like I must be missing some of the family wisdom.

     From my starry eyed perspective, things started to move forward when I gave my mind a break. I had been worrying and gnawing on worry, with my mind fully on the  money issue that had suddenly appeared the night before. I had lots of sorrowful thoughts but none of my worrying had amounted to any actual problem solving.

     I knew I was spinning my wheels and wasting time and energy. A whole night had come and gone since I had found that email…I had to get a grip. I have a way to get my excessive thinking in line…I prefer the mentality that sees to much mental chatter as being drawn into ourselves and away from whatever version of the divine you wish to believe. I knew I had to just dive into my best method.  I found instant relief…just like I always do. I got out of bed at dawn, (after a sleepless night!). It was obvious that I was keeping all my mental machinery working overtime without producing any results. It was time to do……nothing.

     Call it prayer. You can call it mediation too, but here with the constant church bells, it felt more like prayer. I was freezing in my tattered Monterey Peninsula College sweatshirt. I just sat there…teeth chattering, doing nothing. Dawn was waking up everything and I just sat and enjoyed the view.

    The birds called one another in different calls from what I am used to in California.  The wind rustled the sleepy trees. I watched the light spread over the valley before me and every time I had a thought I swept it away as if it were dirt before the dust pan.

     All of my usual fears valiantly came forward. I was reminded of my poor choice in a reliable person to watch my dog and all my belongings while I was gone. I was reminded of every blunder, rude remark, and stupid embarrassing moment. I could feel the momentary push to believe that I could be the most ignorant person on the planet, more so than anyone else.

     But when it comes to everyone else, I can always see that no one means to make mistakes. No one really consciously says, “Hey, I see some real possible heartbreak ahead…that is the path for me!”

     All the classy, intelligent people I have ever been friends with know this is the way to view everyone else too.

     I was able to pull back from believing wholeheartedly in my own stupidity.  If everyone else has their good reasons…odds are that I am probably not without good reason either. I have to be as kind to myself as I feel for everyone else, right?

     When you can look around and breathe free for a minute, for just that minute you have succeeded, and for that moment you have already hit the ground running spiritually, at least from my perspective.

     When I sat still doing nothing it all became so much clearer. I guess you could say that I was asking for something while I didn’t do anything. It really wasn’t nagging or entreating God…more like expecting, sort of “allowing” answers to come. And absolutely none did at all.

     But what a relief!! This is how I let go of everything. I just sit and do nothing. I was no longer desperately trying to blame something so I could fix it. The bald fact for me is when I meditate, breathe and just be for a bit, I can feel my body trust.  After trust comes that Divine feeling of prayer…well, at least for me. I am not real fussy for which version of God you revere. All seem to hold the Truth….and it goes by many names.

     I don’t believe it resides in one name or place, but instead seems to exist somewhere between my thoughts.  In between my excessively wordy, sometimes useless thoughts.

     This was an extreme situation. It had required an extreme reaction on my part. Time to do nothing…and I could tell I had managed to do it well. I ran out of words, in Italian, Spanish or English…and I could feel its calming effect.

     By the time my shivering had gotten me to rouse from my nothingness, I knew it would all turn out OK, with perhaps better now that I realized that I am not the true solver of my own problems. That was the Truth I found from attending lodge. I learned to trust something greater while there, with my lodge brothers and sisters…and here their wisdom was guiding me all the way in Italy.

     A few hours later, my fortunes flipped on a dime. Period.


21 Ciao

     This morning I felt a true wave of overwhelming home sickness. I missed my dogs, my family, my life left behind.

     My mood went into a very dark depressed place before Spencer woke up. I worried with a heartfelt frown about everything. Suddenly I felt like a screw up and very insecure. My money problems were $700 worse than I thought because I had received an email from Stefano, who had showed me nothing but kindness, that my check had bounced with him. This was horrifying for many reasons. I saw a $700 check go through. To have been my landlord’s it would have had to have been held for months before being cashed. That was the only other $700 check that could have gone through. I had already been gone from the US for over a month and a half when it went through! I have had so much trouble negotiating the differences between US dollars, European Euros and British pounds. I also had found out first hand that the exchange rates are all stacked against me and that nothing matches the exchange rates they show on the news shows. It is no secret either that even under ideal conditions, I have in the past, been unlucky with money.

      I thought for sure I could sail in now with few expenses left but a train ticket and bus back to Firenze. I also have 3 hostel days left to pay for at the tail end of my trip. That can be anywhere on my trip that has a cheap place to stay along the bus or rain ticket lines. We don’t have to stay in expensive places like Rome so I thought that was something I could work with a bit. Meals on the road can be quite affordable here where you buy pizza by the weight.

     My sense of failure permeated everything. I am sure I might have seemed like a mechanical version of myself to Spencer when he got up.

     That change of mood had been caused by imagining my benefactor here, Stefano’s face, who is friends with every single person I have met here. I had to rethink how I got in this mess when I had checked and double checked every detail. This also mortified me beyond compare. Stefano had been so kind to Spencer and I as he introduced us to people all over the area. He also used lots of gas and not to mention his time driving over to Giulianova and waiting for us at the train station. Even though we were an hour late after missing a train in Bologna, he was waiting patiently though we had not asked him to even pick us up. His kindness did not stop there, but spilled out into also sharing his house as well.

    When he put out word that he needed to talk to me, I had 4 people come up to me hours after I had found his email (and answered him) to tell me to call Stefano ASAP. I also have to say that Stefano was so good to me that I really could not stand the idea of him not having his deserved payment now, not later.

    I happened to find my little sister while I was agonizing just after I found the email. I had kind of frozen at the screen trying to figure out what I could do to rectify the situation. Suddenly I was not on the trip of my lifetime…enjoying most of my dreams come true…but instead I felt like an idiot who had gotten herself stuck in a foreign country without enough funding to have the absolutely mandatory things like food and housing.

     Of course now I can see that this is the way of everyday life too. All of us have the feeling we are doing just fine until one little thing derails our ideas of who we are and what we are up to as we run along living a life of our choosing. Suddenly we all get that kick in the stomach that feels an awful lot like failure.

     My sisters, both of them, are the new and improved versions of me, in my mind. Neither of them would be in this predicament. Both are wonderfully practical and actually get paid for being intellectually intelligent. I have almost never been paid, being the housewife and mommy sort and never have really used much of my intellect as I blunder through my life. I am OK with that usually. I feel happy and sometimes insulated since I am not always seeing what can go wrong…giving one of my sisters the right to call me the “one who always looks at life through rose colored glasses.”

     My littlest sister had calmed my nerves enough to move me forward as she reminded me to write Stefano first. Today was late Friday here. Even though the bank is closed in California for a holiday this Monday, I knew I would somehow find a way to have that money sent via money order on the next business day. Even if I pooled together my food money now and my food money for next month Stefano had to have his pay or I would die of embarrassment.

     It still amazed me how sick and completely awful I felt about myself in the process as I waded through a mess I thought I had done all I could to avoid. How differently I had felt as I had managed to make it into town two days this week, on a bus, something that all Californians seem to have a born inability to negotiate...I was feeling quite confident and together…that was just this morning. Now by the afternoon I was a wreck. I almost think my back thing was a warning to let me know something big like this was on the horizon, like some decadent foreshadowing on the real life book of my life.

     It reminded me of the ubiquitous Ciao that falls so caringly off of everyone’s lips here. It means both Hello and Goodbye. In fact Spencer and I say it so often that we are now saying it to one another. I had a dream the other night that when we got off the plane in San Francisco that we found ourselves greeting them with the cheery “Ciao!” they all say here in Italy, followed by the sweet grasping of the hands and scooping you in for a kiss on both cheeks. Everyone here does that. Male and female….friend and family. And they do the same thing for partings. Such a lovely way to show you care and remember a person’s value.

     My life had showed how quickly it could shift from hello to goodbye, happy or sad. There was an old record, I listened to that belonged to my dad…and I could hear the Old Salt’s voice, “We’re sure in a pickle Hoppy!” I can’t see anyway out just like that old story. I am sure in a pickle now…and no one even knows who Hop-Along Cassidy is anymore!

     Let’s hope here is some way out of this and I will find myself in a Ciao situation, where things shift in ways I can’t fathom now.

Friday, May 25, 2012

20 Familiarity photo

     I know that the Dogwood trees back in Twain Harte, California should be done with their blooming season and the same with the lilacs in Wales and Sonora, California but here in the Abruzzo area there is a familiar flower I see on many of the bushes near the house….the Elderberry. They are called Samucco here in the dialect of the Abruzzo and now the Elderberry should also be coming out in lovely Jamestown, California. As I look at the clumps of white flowers I am reminded of a walk along Tabletop Mountain that my friend Donna would walk with a group of us morning hikers. She stopped near the bush as she told us how great they are to use for making Elderberry pancakes. She would break off the entire head of flowers and dips them in a pancake that had already been poured into the pan for cooking.

     Here, in Italy, I haven’t made one pancake, though we loved having them daily with our Little Welsh Dragon and our Miss Kimberley in Wales. The chilly weather…the family companionship there is a stark contrast to life here.

    Spencer and I have more friends in the Abruzzo area then we do at our home in Santa Cruz…and I thought we had a lovely group of friends there. We have many people we hang out with and we have many friends drop by to say hi.. I know we are going to be very sad the last day here. We are going to miss all the people here. Since I live a life of student’s poverty there is no telling when we will be back. Funny though, Spencer and I are already planning our next Italian trip. We know how many beds this house has and have figured out how to divide it amongst our small family and their mates. We have been planning out how we can hit Harrison and Brittany’s interests in Italy in order to make sure that they each have their Italian experience reach optimum potential. We know we can make Gordon happier if he is not worried about housing every day like we had to consider during the first two weeks of Italy when we went on a whirlwind through the area. This would be a great home base!

     It is amazing how Stefano’s kind sharing of his friends before he left has given us a trail of buddies to help us socialize in this faraway home. I sure hope we can talk some into coming to California, like we did Miss Kimberley.

    Last night at dinner, our friend Cherubino dropped in. Both Spencer and I were delighted to see him come around the corner!! We were in the midst of woofing down our haul from the fish man….clams over pasta. We were eating way too early for Italians. Our timing threw him off since he was visiting exactly when he should have been.

    Cherubino had come over to invite us on a trip over to his daughter’s place in Urbino. We are so excited! We get to meet one of his daughters. Cherubino is a patient and highly effective communicator. I can see why all of his children have done so well in college life, scoring very high on every test. He makes concepts clear with his face and his and movements. His wife is a calm and easy going woman who makes you feel appreciated without a lot of words needing to be said. The couple remind me of my friends back home Ann and Mike. Ann is the same sweet feeling person while Mike has the power to make sure things happen. Both Mike and Cherubino are highly successful people. Even California Mike walks with the same cool confidence that all the Italian men here walk with….sort of a pure gait in their walk. It can only be described my me as looking like they have a clue.

     Today we also have plans to invite Gabriele to dinner or out to dinner. He is our family away from home here…

    I think my sisters would be so proud to imagine me having friends that I am eating with and hanging out with here in this wonderful Disneyland that is real. Spencer likens our life here to a program we got into before we left Once Upon a Time. Every one here seems to be a character from Disney. Francesca, the Bar keep is an older version of Snow White. Everyone loves her and her family.  Paolo is a happy version of the character Jimminy Cricket, if he had a family and a beautiful Italian wife. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

19 This is the Life!!

     We had a lot of adventures during the last couple of days while my back was still out. We read the entire Hunger Games book that Harrison and Mallory had pressed us to take in one day. Another adventure was a trip into town since we were really out of food and Spencer and I had only 4 Euros left.

     Paolo’s store is awesome and he is a thoughtful and intelligent person to talk to as well as buy from but there isn’t a lot of food to buy when you haven’t got cash. We had been able to buy some pasta and we had already bought a big container of olive oil and other supplies but this store does not have bread, fresh meat, milk products or fish.

     Yesterday I carefully, lentamente, walked over to the store, and we tried to buy bus tickets…only to find that you can’t. You have to buy them in town. Eeek!!…I stood there with Spencer looking stupidly at the bus driver after he explained all this in clear Italian. I felt too desperate to leave the bus. He motioned us in and after about 4 miles stopped at a Bar like Francesca’s telling me in careful, lentamente Italian, “You may go buy a ticket to pay me now.”

     Spencer hopped out quickly as the entire bus waited patiently for me and my slow moving back to unwind from the bus.

    We bought our tickets and enjoyed the rest of the bumpy ride into town where we had an hour and a half to eat, get cash and buy some food…but not more then Spencer could carry alone.

     Well, we bought 6 bus tickets back and forth, and got our cash. We didn’t get fresh bread though or meat or any milk products. We bought almost 20 Euros worth of vegetables and fruits. We also got a nice 13 Euro meal of paninis, pasta, drinks and a pizza slice. Not bad at all.

      Then we had to get back to the bus stop…the one where I met the Brutto. But it wasn’t slow and leisurely with an obvious bus for our area as it had been on Saturday. Now there were a multitude of studenti from the universita`, and tons of busses that whipped in and out with extreme speed. Now I could not remember if our bus last Saturday had listed our town amongst the towns in its window. So far no bus said our name. I could not take any chances so I proceeded to ask each and every bus driver in Italian if this bus went to our new home. They all patiently told me “no.”

     After 10 minutes, I started to worry if we had missed it somehow. Spencer assured me that the bus had indeed pulled up with our town’s name in the window and that the bus was simply late. I thought well that makes sense, hadn’t I just held the bus up while I bought a ticket?

    After a flurry of large noisy buses zipped in and out of Piazza Garibaldi, a small bus pulled into our station area. Spencer started laughing, “Look mom, it’s a tiny bus!!” I was only 6 rows long.

     Sure enough, I found our quaint little cozy town's name listed in the window and knew he was right. This was our bus.

     Now a bus in Italy is a plush thing out here. Actually in Europe…they have been rather fancy…with jewel toned velvet seats and large open airy interiors. In America many buses are leftovers from a different era. They are worn and old fashioned on the inside. Well, in Wales and here…I have to say that using the word bus might give an American the wrong sense of what my experience was like. We were riding like royalty through the countryside. We made it home with cash in our pockets.

    The next day, after 4 days of treating my back like gold, I was rewarded with being able to get out of bed and move around with little pain. Now we had to get some food in the house…not just the 20 Euros of vegetables and fruits to nibble through…but I wanted real food. Here the trick is that I cannot make bread since Stefano said he wasn’t sure how reliable the oven was….the stove I could count on but the oven…he advised me against going on big bread making binges. That was a pity since I would have loved to make some foccacia bread here!!

     I had heard that the bread man came around on Thursday mornings, around 9,30 so we decided to jump on it when it came by. At 9 O’clock we were already out on the terrace waiting for the telltale honk.

    At 9,15 we did hear the honk and Spencer ran out with the vigor I could not possibly muster until next week, with this back. There was a man and a truck but it turned out to be selling frozen goods. So I spilled 30 euros on chicken spinach, white fish and lots of gelato. Usually I am not a big frozen foods person but this is the perfect place to have something around in case I can’t make it to town again.

     We were quite excited and we decided to go over to Paolo’s and get some basics. Spencer and I spent another 10 euros getting more pasta and salt and stuff we needed. On our way back we spotted another truck outside our street. We were ecstatic. He was the fish man…his truck was filled with fresh scampi, shrimp, clams, fish, salmon and calamari!! I bought a kilo of clams.

     A while later we heard another truck honk a few doors was the milk products guy!!! We were so excited…I let Spencer get a very fresh chocolate yogurt…and I bought a 2 euro tub of the freshest looking ricotta I have ever seen.

     For lunch, I heated up a bit of pasta and cooked a handful of the little vongole and we had clams with pasta for lunch and yogurt and ricotta. We also had goodies from Paolo’s store. We felt so rich and we were so happy to have been able to buy so much right here in town.

     It is amazing how much the Italian penchant for fresh supplies is fed. We are in a tiny rural town that has luxuries brought right to the door. The widows on my street have no idea how easy they have it here. They have such great foods delivered right to the door. In Tuolumne County California, we are excited when the Save Mart has a fresh fish weekend since we know the fish is even fresher then usual. The ladies on my street would laugh at how ill planned our lives are back home for eating fresh. No wonder this is the land of slow food and we are the land of fast food.


      Give me slow food anyday!! Va bone, Va bone!!

18 Back Again

     This morning I ran into every traveler’s worst nightmare. It happened to my dad while he was visiting Wales a couple of years ago too. Only my dad cracked his ankle. My reoccurring illness of choice has been tackling me anytime the stakes are high and it always catches me unaware.


     As I unwrapped myself from whatever uncomfortable position I had settled on the night before, I heard the telltale snap of my back letting me know I was in trouble.

     “No!! Not NOW!!” I mentally screamed.

     I held everything in my body in a completely frozen holding pattern. I refused to let my body tell me through the pain how bad this next few days would be.

     I got up carefully….walked around as gingerly as possible…did only what was mandatory and still felt intense spasms at each little cough and shift in my weight on my hips.

     Ugh! Just last night I had been bouncing up and down hopping over learning the Napolitano set of cards here. Now I am stuck in the back bedroom of the house and the cheery church bells are anything but cheery to me today. Now they sound doleful. Right on cue the last clang signals the rain to start and we get a heavy 5 minute downpour…which after Wales isn’t all that bad…but with back pain it doesn’t feel all that great either.

     I knew immediately that I would feel the absence of my Ex fiancĂ©…he was so good at squeezing the pain away with his strong arms…I had a momentary lapse of irritation which I am sure he forgives me for…after all I left a man I trusted completely with my dogs and all my belongings…I fully expected to come home to him…until things changed while I was gone…something I could not control…nor do I think he could either. Anyway a momentary irritation over not having him around went through my mind…then I relaxed…realizing that my belief is that it all works out as it should and we will all wind up OK in the long run. I can’t stand feeling sorry for seems too counter productive…but I am not mad at myself either. I can wallow when I want…there is so much that is really cool about my life now…does it matter if I at least notice when things didn’t go right? In the short run that is….

    We were scheduled to go back into town with the beautiful blond Giselda…my age and cute as a button. I think of her and her husband as completely representing the Italian spirit. She always has lovely blond curls bouncing about her shoulders while he walks with the confidence that I associate with Italian men.

     While in town I was hoping to get some cash for food and internet. Our house was almost out of food and the cash went quick since I spent most of it on material for the church. Without cash we can’t get into town and get cash. We really needed to get in there and hit an ATM. All I had left was 20 Euros and 3.60 was needed to get us tickets for the bus into town. There is no ATM in town here. Also there was the fact that I had invited Gabriele to dinner here.

     I could not move so I sent Spencer into Paolo’s store and told him to spend less then 10 euros. I explained that we needed pasta, fruit and vegetables. He left excited to be roaming around on the rainy morning alone in town.

   He came back in minutes and with everything I had asked and he had brought it all in the reusable ASDA bag that Miss Kimberley in Wales trained us to use to keep from buying bags. Europe has figured out the ubiquitous white bag fiasco that we wallow in back in the US. Every shopkeeper has to charge for bags. Ouch.

     He has gotten so much taller since we left California. His face was radiant with self confidence. I don’t know if it is Italian self confidence or the confidence of someone who knows other cultures aside from  their own very well. I wonder if I have that easy manner that he has developed here. He doesn’t look like the same boy who left SFO airport back in March. Now he is a seasoned world traveler with his feet firmly planted in 3 worlds, the UK, Italy and California back home.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

17 Out of My Shell for a Card Game

    I felt very frustrated with my computer connection at the Bar since it was so slow today. I must have been wearing the face of a bored or annoyed person since a kind face I recognized from other days at the Bar smiled at me and offered to buy me a gelato.

     I spend the bulk of my days at the Bar now loading pictures or posts or emailing family. I really need to set up a regular appointment to be able to do Skype calls and see how everyone is doing. The time difference and only small chunks of access to the internet have made that virtually impossible.

     I ache to know how my son and his freshly asked fiancĂ©e are doing….or how my daughter likes her new home she just moved in to when I left, but I am here to learn Italian and immerse myself in Italian culture. Because this time is so limited, I find it really hard to not be responsive when someone wants to talk to me. Let’s face it, I desperately want to talk to them too. They are amazingly interesting people. This causes me to sound clipped and short in conversations with family since they don’t realize I am in a busy Bar and many things happen at once while we are there. This probably make me look like an insensitive jerk back home but if they were here they would totally understand. Maybe they understand anyway.

     The people of this town number between 350 and 500 according to the locals. They are the most fascinating group of really interesting and fun people you could imagine. I feel kind of like I have been dropped into a Northern Exposure season with an Italian twist. As if I had somehow crossed into an imaginary world that could not have been written to be any more different from my own but which also has many things that are the same.

     Like the flowers and bushes here. Scotch Broom is the yellow flower I know when I look out the window of the bus. They are still in bloom here but in California they are all probably dead. In Wales Miss Kimberley said were called “Gorse” I think. And here they are Genesta something. I think they are just as fragrant everywhere. Spencer and I have been startled by how much is the same and how much is different. We spent 20 minutes trying to figure out a strange and beautiful bird yesterday.

    Now to get back to the kind, probably happily married man from the beginning of this post. He was offering to get me a gelato and I did what I always do here, I explained in slow Italian that I am trying to contact my family back home in California.

     He kindly went back to his card game with his quiet friend.

      It was at that moment that my computer died again due to the radical differences in electrical current here. Spencer was downstairs playing with the girls where they let the kids get louder and wilder then upstairs.

     I realized I was sunbathing and not jumping in the water. It was time to jump in. I adjusted my glasses and grabbed a chair and joined the guys playing cards. They were clean cut, local  guys, well behaved and safe feeling. I had to stop being the shy awkward girl. That is not who I am at home, most of the time so why was I using language to allow me to be distant from people who were all so fascinating. Besides I have not had any alcohol for a few days and I have a lot of trustworthy friends who can keep me away from Brutti. Francesca will know their whole family history like I would in Sonora, California of any name that rolls across my path.

     The two men had cool Italian names that I don’t remember. When I later wrote my notes I labeled them as “Calm” and “Lotsa Words.”

    They were both extremely patient as I asked the inevitable stupid questions. I am reminded of my Ex’s patience as I hounded him about poker and forget everything every few minutes.

     Not one card looked familiar. I saw no girly looking “queens” or masculine kings but there was a guy with a horse with each of the crazy looking suits. What was this deck of cards? There were no diamonds, hearts, spades or clubs. I can read Tarot cards and these were like them but still way different for me.

     They explained everything to me in Italian. They were adding up the cards looking for combinations of 15. I was so embarrassingly lost it wasn’t funny. They were so Italian though. They were friendly, confident and willing to share what they know in a heartbeat. These people are proud by nature and ready to share their culture at every chance. They are patient with their children here in the same fashion. I can gain a lot by being in their presence personally as well as culturally.

     Back to the guys. They were my age and obviously easy going. They kept playing and explaining and I built up a bit of confidence even though I must have looked strange to not even recognize a simple deck of cards.

     I finally got up the nerve to ask about the suit with green asparagus on it. My thinking was that asparagus ends in “–us” and I kind of figure that here anything ending in “-us” must have a Latin root and be Italian already. I felt kind of confident about that question.

     They both looked at each other and burst out laughing.


      “Lotsa Words” was so tickled he told my friends behind the counter in rapid speech what I had said. They all burst out laughing. It was a good natured laugh and I did not feel stupid or anything. I didn’t whither.

     Then “Lotsa Words” carefully walked me through the deck. He assigned every card a number and a name. The four suits here are spada (swords), coppa (cups), dinari (coins), and bastoni (clubs). It was the wooden clubs that I had mistaken for asparagus. They were small green sticks…you would have too…

     My friend Carla taught me how to buy the cards when I get to town. I have to go to a Tabacchi shop and ask, “Per favore, vorrei un mazzo di carte napolitane!”

     What a great time I had at the Bar tonight and I don’t feel bad that I could not connect with family.  I took a leap of faith and was rewarded with yet another interesting moment in a sea of fascinating moments here in Italy. It sure pays to jump out of my comfort zone!



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

16 I Meet a Brutto

     On market day we wound up taking the bus back to my my Preciosa Italian town which was exactly what I needed. Before this point, I knew nothing about taking a bus to Teramo and now that Stefano is gone, and his car along with him, this is my only transportation back and forth.  

     Francesca bought us bus tickets and took us to the right area of Piazza Garibaldi to catch the bus home to our place. Here we found a bevy of local beauties that belong to our town. Many of them looked like Sofia Loren over the years and with or without makeup. All you need to see in your imagination is a bunch of women with the eyes and shape of Sofia…as if she has a lot of relatives all over the area. I have to admit that everything about Italy is a meditation on beauty.

     Most  of the people I met in the Abruzzo area were friends of Stefano’s that we met while he made sure we had emergency contacts in the area and friends after he left. Stefano was a perfect example of the Italians, a classy gentleman and so were all of his friends that I met, so of course when I spotted a familiar face at the bus stop, I felt safe in acknowledging it. I mean I am 1000’s of miles from was natural to smile and wave when there was a familiar face here, right?

     The guy  was on me in a moment. He ran over and became completely overbearing tugging on my arm, and insisting that I get in his car and go with him now. I was appalled! He was loud and physical and I was mad that I couldn’t figure out how to say “Don’t touch me!” in Italian. He was way too close and way too aggressive. I shrank back, withering instead of growing in stature.

     My first response was to play the “I don’t understand Italian” card. This guy wasn’t like this when I met him with Stefano and the professor. I think that my face must have registered my disgust but he bounded on, obnoxiously pulling on me and coaxing in slick yucky tones I found completely foreign in my experience.

     I was mortified. The ladies I was standing with were aghast. The teen girls, the mothers and the grandmothers all had different stages of disgust on their faces. And I realized that I had invited ugliness into their midst.

     I honestly had no idea how to disengage the man. I am a California woman who has always had a 6’1” man on my arm. No one bothers with me. I had no idea how to say, “Buzz off Mister!” I missed my Rick Steve’s guidebook which believe it or not does have a section of how to get rid of men in Italy.

     In my world, all men are gentlemen and would never behave like some overbearing Casanova from the 1960’s. I have never developed the skills to do deal with this and no ability to be rude in the face of rudeness.

     I looked away and pulled my hand free.

     That was when he started in on Spencer. He kept asking if the boy was my son and asking Spencer to get into his car. I corralled Spencer away who felt completely lost about all fuss.

     That was when Francesca rode to the rescue. Her eyes said so much without words. She told me to not talk to this particular fellow again and mouthed the word “Brutto” which means “ugly.” She chased him away with short clipped sentences while the rest of the ladies shifted into more cool and comfortable positions. Boy these women were savvy!! Even the teens clearly knew better then I did how to deal with ugliness.

     The first thing I studied when I got home was the many ways to say, “Buzz off” and “Don’t touch me!” in Rick Steve’s phrasebook for Italy. I have to say that this small little pocketbook has been far more useful then my class text book which  I left back home in the states!

15 To Town

     Today Spencer and I ambled out of bed early which is not an easy task in a place that serves dinner at 8,30 pm the night before.

     My friend, the bar owner in town, Francesca, (who looks like yet another Sofia Loren sibling!), took it upon herself to get me into Teramo on market day to shop for the altar cloth I am making for the church here in our Italian hometown.

     Now if you will, let me wander off for a moment to point out that the bevy of men here are not brutally handsome 40 somethings and I am not in a Sex and the City episode. Someone who has been reading this blog thought that this is the life I am leading here and that would be a fun life but it is the wrong impression. I am spending the bulk of my time with older handsome men who remind me of my dad’s lodge brothers. They are funny and engaging as well as safe, kind and clean cut gentlemen. Even the ones my age are could be described the same way here. I have yet to meet any of the oily Casanovas that inhabit 1960’s films and represent Italian males of the olden days.

    With Francesca as my guide, I am safe. There isn’t a man here that she would not know the entire history of and let me know about it immediately. So far she has not seen any of the local men as being good enough for me and I am pretty sure all of them are taken anyway.

     Really I am in the perfect place to heal. I am reminded of the Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet movie called The Holiday.  Cameron Diaz’s character sends an email query to Kate’s asking a pointed question since she just had a messy breakup.
     “Are there any men in your town?”
      “No,” Kate’s response was quick.
       “Is tomorrow too soon?” Cameron’s desperation was obvious.

     Being here is a balm to my injuries from yet another broadside from romance. I wish these things had more to do with timing I control overtly. I hate being unconscious of what is about to happen. I feel like Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote  the book, “Eat, Pray, Love,” who perpetually falls in love with a man’s potential. I am like her, a victim of my own optimism. Instead breakups feel for me as if they are instigated by other worldly forces that seem to ignore my input.

     Here I am far away from the painful realities and free to just enjoy this very different environment full tilt. What have I got to lose here? What better way to remove myself from old crippling ways of thought then to find myself suddenly living a new life?

     Hence the adventure I find myself in today. Spenchere and I are riding without seatbelts in a Fiat and I can’t help but feel so Italian. Spencer keeps nervously fidgeting with his seatbelt wishing he had something to plug it in to while I ramble on in messy cobbled together Italian about how lush Italy is compared to my beloved California.


     “Our plants are green for fewer than a couple of months. The rest of the year our grass is yellow. All of our plants are dead and dry on the ground. We call that Golden in California.”

     My mind wandered back to conversations with my Welsh relatives (who we miss terribly!), and our conversation along these lines. When I asked them how long the grass stays green, they eyed me with concerned Welsh eyes, “You mean your grass doesn’t stay green?”

     Our Welsh Miss Kimberley’s best try at figuring out when she had seen grass that was not green was to explain that if you pick something heavy up that has been on the grass for awhile, the grass underneath gets yellow or white.

     Finally we found ourselves walking, or  strolling,  through the long winding market place. I had lots that I wanted, especially the cheerful tablecloths that come in bright colors. Everywhere I have been in Italy, The Cinque Terre, Roma, Siena, Bologna and Pisa….and all the train rides in between seem to have many different moments where I found myself appreciating the lovely laundry drying outside in the fresh air. Always there was at least one cheerful and bright table cloth waving gently in the breeze. You would crave a tavolina too if they seemed as attractive as they do here. They bring up images of families gathered around tables enjoying the noise of the children and drinking loads of wine…a regular sight here. My other big craving is clothes pins. If you were hanging all your clothes out on the line…you would understand the need for a multitude of clothespins.

     I still was not aware of whether I was paying for the material or how much something like that costs here in the land of fancy cloth. The idea of buying a treat right now seemed a bit silly. It was easy to remember that last week, I had no idea what money was in my account and literally I closed my eyes at each ATM, Bancomat, stop hoping that money would again magically pop out of the opening.

     Now at least I know there is money in there to take at all. At least enough to eat for a few more weeks.

     The first material vendor was under a make shift tent and wanted 20 Euros a meter. I know I need 4 meters, and this piece is half as wide as I was hoping so my gut reaction was a clear “Nope!” I couldn’t picture me paying 80 Euros before I even got thread and possibly lace.

    Luckily Francesca said no first and pulled us away.  We bounded to a fancy store that focused on Home linens with expensive looking sheets and colorful towels. The brand that seemed happiest was Happy People and my favorite said in Italian “Everyday with you is a party!”

     Francesca led me upstairs to the material section where we found better prices and nicer clerks who spoke to me in careful Italian.

     Before I knew it I was paying 52 Euros for a fabric that felt like the altar cloth the church already has and it was as wide as I am accustomed to, so there was some room to do this right.

     Since I cannot remember my last tithing, now while I am desperately poor in a foreign country seems as good a time as any to share with the church of my choice. I decided to go the extra mile and buy lace too so it would look like the altar cloth I already saw.

     Francesca splurges on some pork for us and gets me one of the tablecloths I have been drooling over after our true errand is done.

     I have to say that I had not even made it home yet and I felt truly satisfied…what a fun experience it is to shop at a market in a small town in the Abruzzo.     

14 Now, a Routine….ahhhh…

     I woke this morning to realize that we are finally swinging into a routine. It hit me last night as we hung out again at the Bar. We hang out there where Spencer can socialize with the other kids after school. Also this is conveniently when I can connect with family since they are just waking up back home after four in the afternoon here.

     Today I was sitting at the Bar holding my cup of tea. It is always served to me in a small beer stein with a smiling German and the words, “Bit Burger” written on it in gothic letters. It always comes with a slice of lemon and one or two packets of sugar. They remember from my first day that I haltingly asked for my tea to come this way.

     Not only do I have my tea routine down pat…but I ask for and order anything I want in Italian at this point…in the store or at a restaurant. I have to admit to that being a victory for me. And each and every day I am learning new words to add to my vocabulary. I was happiest when locals read my writing and exclaim how well I am doing and that I write very clearly in Italian. In fact that makes them treat me like a ringer as they say to me…. “You know Italian…look at this!! They say to others. She does speak Italian!”

     We start off the days now tending to clothes, dishes and then to writing. Spencer has been very focused on his video making and we have been following through now one each for us since last Tuesday when Gabriele taught us how to go about it. It has been a lot of fun though we have had too slow a connection to get much loaded, yet.

     By lunch we have had a lot of fun. I think it is a good life here and now.  We have also taken to watching our videos that are loaded on our computer for media time since we are without any TV here and internet connections are scarce. We found some great videos of us in Columbia and enjoying our life in Santa Cruz that has completely disintegrated. Oddly I found that whole thing reassuring.

     It is a routine. I now have a regular pattern to living here and that suits me fine. I have already decided that we are coming back to  this perfect town and appreciating our friends here again. This is just too much of a perfect culture and people not to share with my kids, and family back home. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Two Gatti and a Grail

     I carefully opened the paper package that Francesca brought to me while I chatted with both my sister, mia sorellina, and Manny, the Ex Fidenzata, at the Bar. I wanted to make sure that Manny’s perspective on our parting was at least within the realm of mine and did not want to leave him without any say now that he was seemingly back to the sensible man that had always been so protective of me. I could not publish to my blog anything that he did not see as true. In between 2 Facebook conversations, I found myself, receiving yet another gift of kindness from Francesca, who had already taken me to the market today in Teramo.

     It is not easy to match schedules with my family because of the 9 hour time difference. You see my only internet connection is at Francesca’s Bar, and to use it means that I am by my nature not going to be there until much later then 8 o’ clock when the Bar sort of turns more into a Bar and less of a coffee bar. It still is a clean cut classy place but I can’t comfortably cross that line and hang out there until too late without feeling a little out of things. This relates to a difficulty in finding the right time to Skype with family or chit chat in general. My afternoon is early morning back there. This precious conversation with mia sorrelina is about the most connected I feel since getting to this small Italian counryside town, and I have to say it is really important to me.

     This package that Francesca brought though had the tastiest caramel wrapped almonds still warm from being made. I was amazed! How very tasty! I woofed down half and only then tracked down Spencer to share some. Apparently tomorrow is a communion day for some and the traditional thing to do is to have the mothers, in this case a mom who is also an elementary school teacher and a relative, spend an entire Saturday creating 2 huge cats of this almond caramel candy and a large grail with initials.

     Francesca took me over to the house where her daughter had made these lovely treats. They were incredible. And just 2 women worked in a cheery cool kitchen all day to create these, needing the door to stay open to prevent the heat from getting overheated. She showed me an album of pictures with photos going back decades with different combinations of the same family faces holding 2 candy cats and different combinations of grails. Such a rich and lovely tradition. Such a rich and lovely community. Such a deep connection. Such a tradtion.

     At the end of my conversations I felt happy and connected. Manny gave his permission and his approval of what I wrote while my sister politely listened to my excitement over more possibilities that I am working on. She understood my thrill over a cheery table cloth. She understood my need to sew for the church. My sisters and mom always do understand. Mia Sorellina promised to update mom and dad tomorrow when she sees them.

     I learned from the Welsh relatives that Sunday afternoon dinner was very important. They had the whole family together eating a nice meal and that was that. No excuses. I was awestruck by how much this connected them all. We all enjoyed an intricate and happy meal that felt like it had all the camaraderie of Thanksgiving back in the states.

     Since I cannot have my sisters, parents, exes and kids over for dinner here, I can at least invite Gabriele who is our family here to Sunday dinner. He can be part of our new tradtions, our new community and connections. Our house is clean. The table is set. I bought meat at the market yesterday so in a few hours, we are having Sunday dinner and a new Sunday tradition starts, complete with candy for dessert. I can bring this home Welsh tradition home with me. I won’t make everyone come to dinner every Sunday when I get back, but maybe I will try to make sure that Sundays are my family days for hanging out and having fun.

     I can create my own connections and community, just like I am doing here.