LIVING HERE AND THERE

↓ gina from Bologna, Italy ...

↓ christine from Cold Spring, NY, U.S.A. ...

 

Dicembre?! Cosa dici?

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Berlin Park, October.

Sitting between a pile of dishes that need to be set out for dinner and a stack of homework papers that Zoel has left behind, I’m hoping to get at least a few lines down here, before some force pulls me away. As you might have noticed, there hasn’t been much time for crafting long posts or adhering to a steady schedule on LHT lately. Or if your Fall has also been speeding by, maybe you haven’t noted our absence at all. In that case, thanks so much for choosing to spend a couple of minutes here today!

Our calendar has been packed with some of the usual Autumn activities like Fall Break vacation, Halloween, Birthdays, Thanksgiving, and a continuous marathon of dance, swim and piano classes, but also a couple of unusual additions. After our fall break road trip, which took us through Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic (Stefan posted a beautiful set of pics chronicling the journey here.), I hunkered down with my Cahiers d’ activites determined to remind my brain how French grammar works and my mouth how to pucker in that special way that makes French sound the way it does, and that’s best exemplified by the universally exclaimed oooohhh la la! I was aiming to pass a government-mandated exam that I needed in order to get a French passport. It would seem that pledging love until death do us part to my husband would not cut it. The authorities would also like you to be able to communicate in the country’s language. Reasonable enough I guess… although I suspect it also has to do with a plot to keep the language alive as English continues to take over the world. In any case, that little burgundy booklet would certainly make it easier for me to move around Europe. And besides, the three other people in my family already get to stand in the EU citizens line at the airport, and I feel kinda left out.

With all this in mind, I locked myself in my home office for two weeks at the beginning of November, cramming words and conjugations into my head, and quickly realizing that indeed the studying muscle does atrophy with disuse. Just two days before I was to hop on the train to the test center in Venice to see just how much had stuck, I went out to run last minute errands with Stefan in the center of Bologna. All of a sudden, as we were finishing up, he started stumbling like he’d polish off a bottle of grappa. As we walked down the archways of Via D’Azeglio he staggered to the left, then to the right. As he put our bags in the trunk, he nearly fell to the ground as as he slammed down the back hatch. Within an hour, I, along with the kids who had just gotten out of school, found ourselves with a shaking and vomiting Stefan at Sant’Orsola’s emergency room. Thankfully, their diagnosis leaned towards an ailment, Vestibular Neuritis, that wasn’t too grave, but that had debilitating symptoms that would keep him in the hospital for a week, and that now have him recovering at home, still a bit dizzy and clumsy. He tells the story in his on words with a lot more detail over on theapt.com, so please jump over there for his scary, witty, out of the blue adventure with spinning rooms and socialized medicine. Now, between you and me, I’m realizing as I write this, that it may all have been a ploy to keep me from taking that damn test… He’s never had much interest in my speaking the language of his family too well… skeletons, closets, etc.

If there is a continuous thread throughout all this expected and unexpected Autumn action, it might be one having to do with diving deeper into this Italian world, as if last Fall, we had just waded in knee-high, and maybe to the waist by last summer. In September, we decided to schedule all of the kids’ after school stuff outside of their international school. So, now piano is at a local place in Casalecchio with the exceptionally fit and Italian-speaking Filippo; dance is also in Italian, at a more modern place with all local kids; and swim is at the community pool, also with only Italian public school children. Zoel and Leeloo were a little nervous at first, but luckily, they saw they could hang pretty quickly, like within 10 minutes, so it’s worked out well! I’m definitely more at ease moving through my Bolognese world, launching into Italian with much less hesitation, knowing I won’t get it all right, but I’ll be understood and be able to understand, and no longer so confused by the customs at cafes, offices, pharmacies, etc… This has come in very handy as I navigate filling prescriptions and making appointments for Stefan through the “system”, which can be so incredible when you spend a week in the hospital and pay nothing, but so completely dumbfounding when you have to go to a special area of the local pharmacy to make an appointment for an MRI, and, after explaining that you need to do the test as soon as possible, the lady looks up at you and confidently asks, “How about June 16?”. Ma che cosa?! 

Despite these little particularities, we’re all quite comfortable here, I can see how a couple of years slips into 6 or 10, like it has for other ex-pats that we’ve met in Bologna. But in our case, we know my family would show up and physically drag us out of the country if we dared… so instead, we’re up to our necks in activity, enjoying the comfort, language, culture, music and all our good friends, looking forward to holiday time, and knowing that in a few months, we’ll have to start thinking about what comes next.

Lastly, before I get back to the bustle, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my PAPA! Have a beautiful day! We love and miss you!

 

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Target practice in Prague on Halloween.

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Contemplating the Salzburg gardens where Julie Andrews and the gang sung “Doe, a deer, a female deer…”

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My poor Stefan at the hospital trying to enjoy a curiously delicious plate of mash potatoes with grana, while the room spins.

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Zo celebrates his 12th birthday with friends in the midst of a lot of crazy.

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What it’s looked like on our hill for the past 2 weeks. Fog and rain, Rain and fog. That tree masquerading as a rooster to the left of the road greets us every morning as we head out through the mist to school.

 

 

Happy 25th Anniversary Berlin!

Happy Friday everyone! During the last 10 days or so, we’ve been enjoying another road trip around Europe during the kids’ fall break from school. Although I have yet to evolve a stress- and anxiety-free way to enjoy these longish, multi-country excursions with Stefan and the kids, they will undoubtedly still go down as one of the best parts of our time living in Italy.

This journey ended up taking us to interesting places that aren’t only historically significant, but that intermingle with our own families’ histories as well. We found connections in Dachau, Prague, and Vienna, but it was our visit to Berlin and its infamous wall that once separated democratic West Germany from communist East Germany, that was especially meaningful for me, and not just because this weekend marks 25 years since it fell. My family emigrated to the US from communist Cuba, and it was both comforting and frustrating to uncover just how similar the German and Cuban experience has been. As in the case of East Germany, the communist government in Cuba has erected obstacles, much like the very long and winding Berlin wall, which have split families apart and isolated a population.

That’s probably why I was glued to my little TV set in my college dorm room in 1989, teary- eyed at the sight of East Germans insisting on passage through the wall. A still very young news network, CNN, was broadcasting all these jaw-dropping images, and I remember calling my mother to ask if she was seeing what I was seeing. We sat there in silence on the phone just flabbergasted by the moment. Most of the East Germans weren’t interested in staying in West Berlin, although some had surely been yearning for that freedom for decades. Instead, the majority just wanted to be able to go where they wanted to go, see who they wanted to see. Shop, eat, visit with family and friends, and then head back home.

Somewhere between the long silences, we decided that my mom should just come over to my dorm room, so we could watch the coverage together. She was there within the hour and we watched as the gates opened and hundreds of faces poured through. Some were crying, others yelling happily, yet others looking completely astonished, as if they couldn’t believe this was happening at all. We were overjoyed for these Germans, as we saw a sister run into the embrace of a brother waiting on the West side; a group of teens, in all their late-80s gear, dance on top of the wall; and an East German soldier smile widely and give a rose to a girl on the other side, as if no one in the whole wide world was more relieved than he was. It was quite emotional up in that university high rise apartment. In part, of course, because the parallels to our family, stranded behind the formidable waves of the Caribbean instead of a cement wall, were far too clear. We couldn’t help but wonder, what if…

 

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

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The part of the wall that has been preserved with murals commissioned right after its fall, is part of the East Side Gallery. The neighborhood now feels like the Lower East Side of Manhattan, grittier and cooler than the rest of Berlin, but just as sophisticated and modern:

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This one’s for you, Mami!

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Leeloo’s come up with a very endearing new habit… listening to history through architecture. “Mom! It’s like I’m there and the soldier is giving the girl the flower!”

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For my Italian peeps/ Per i miei amici italiani:IMG_0512

 

This image evokes a way of life with which I’m quite sure my relatives are painfully familiar:

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How do you say “perestroika” in Spanish?

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Somebody made sure that I didn’t get too romantic about the whole thing with this insightful graffiti, in Spanish nonetheless! (Sons of bitches. Stop lying. We haven’t learned anything.)

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Yet, a girl can keep dreaming. IMG_0545

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I like that Leeloo serendipitously added her face to the hundreds in this scene, re-playing what I saw on my TV in ’89. She’s got quite a few cousins that I can’t wait to see pass through their own wall someday. Hopefully, not another 25 years from this anniversary.

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Falling Again

As I sit here in front of my open second floor window, the delightful smell of wood burning in the distance is wafting into our home office, a signal that colder days are surely right around the corner. Although today it’s mostly sunny and 75. A little lizard is happily basking in the sunshine streaming in through our screen. The neighbors, way across the fields, are the ones burning wood. I’m not totally sure why, but I love the smell anyway. The acres in between us have been buzzing with tractor activity as the farmers work, day and night, to get seeds in the ground before the cold arrives.

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Just this morning, as I was hanging a few things out to dry on the line in the backyard, a military-looking Land Rover with the windows banged out, drove up onto the adjacent field, one that was overflowing with chick peas just a month ago, and out jumped Luca, the guy responsible for all these crops. He whistled a melody loudly as he walked towards me, in an effort not to startle me in the quiet of the morning I think. Once we saw each other, he yelled over a cheery “Bongiorno Gina!” (Good morning Gina!) I told him I had noticed all the hard work going on all over the property this last couple weeks and he shared that the fields around our house were being planted with wheat today. On cue, a tractor, driven my his brother, went by in the distance, dropping seeds out a giant funnel. “In bocca al lupo!” (Good luck! or literally “In the mouth of the wolf!”) I shouted to the fields as he continued on. “Crepi!” (“May the wolf die!”) he said giving a quick glance back at me.*

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But back to my sunny window, the seasonal reminders visible from my perch over an active farm are varied and plentiful. Aside from the nonstop planting that’s going on now, there were the apple and pear trees just beyond the backyard that provided buckets of delicious fruit in September. (It would probably take us a few years to figure out how to really take advantage of it all, and how to do it before the calabroni (giant bees) beat us to it.) Then, there were the wildflowers of September that lined all of the gravel roads throughout the hills. Red poppies, cow parsley, dog rose and spear thistle were the ones we recognized. The vendemmia (grape harvest) that I mentioned last week, and the harvesting of all the other crops happened as Fall officially began. The Persimmon tree in the front yard blossomed in October, just like last year, when we were surprised by its dark orange fruit after returning from Halloween in the States. It’ll be the last fruit that we’ll see until Spring brings back the cherries that freaked us out earlier this year. But the pink, red and magenta roses that still cover what used to be the horse stable and barn are still blooming this month, and should be going until the first frost.

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You can’t help but be moved, emotionally and physically, by the rhythm of it all. And I don’t just mean that the beauty of nature can effect me, although it definitely does. Being this enveloped by it, seems to have strengthened the notion in my head that we’re just another part of this giant creation, one that is just as susceptible to its seasons as these crops and trees. And when I’m truly in sync with this truth, I feel less stressed, more calm, knowing that I’m following a cadence that’s existed for milennia. Simultaneously though, nature’s  incredibly efficient time-keeping, propels me into action, much better than any clock or calendar ever could. In the sense that I feel compelled by it to get out there – get those hikes in, eat on the patio, ride my bike, pick that fruit, wear those skirts, etc, etc, before the next season ushers me indoors for months!

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Leave it to the Italians to have the brilliant idea of placing Stations of the Cross all along a rather steep and arduous path in Parco della Chiusa, a lovely public park near our house! (Click to enlarge.)

Before we know it, Halloween will be here. And for this family, it’s usually a downward spiral of activity from there, one that we usually recover from in March some time. This year, it’ll start with Halloween in the Czech Republic, then Thanksgiving (if we can find some willing Americans to share it with us!), then four important birthdays, followed by a family trip to Paris, then back home to Philly and New York for Christmas and New Year’s with the family and friends. My normal tendency is to see all of this before me, and start to panic. Instead, however, I might try taking a lesson from Mother Nature as I sit here breathing in that wood smoke, and note that each of these things will happen in its turn. In between, the plants will keep growing, the seeds germinating, the sun will go up and the sun will go down, over and over again. There is space to breathe in there somewhere, so that all of that goodness can be enjoyed instead of just worried about.

So here’s to a beautiful Fall everyone! And hopefully a nice, slow entry into winter and all the holiday merriment that comes with its start.

* (The internet says this Italian way of saying good luck may have come from rural life in another time when a wolf would have been a danger to a farmer’s animals. Going into the mouth of the wolf would have been about going towards or being in danger, so the appropriate response is to hope the wolf will die, so the danger will go away. There’s another popular way to wish some one luck that involves going into the business end of a whale. No idea how they came up with that one!)

 

Welcome Back!

Welcome back to Living Here and There! Before we launch back into things, it seems fitting to re-cap just a bit of what’s been going on over the two months since Christine and I took our summer break from these pages. After a busy June and July, the kids and I were just about to take off for our first trip back to the States in almost a year, and Stefan was off to Brazil to visit his brother.

Upon arrival in the US, we were met with a monsoon of love and attention from our family and friends who had planned all sorts of togetherness for us. There were orchard visits and pool days, long catch up sessions and family dinners, a visit to the warship New Jersey and Washington DC for Zoel, obligatory trips to our favorite big box stores, Target and Michael’s, – oh, if the Europeans only knew – and just a wee bit of singing and dancing too. And thankfully, there were also three days of hanging out with the folks on the other side of this page.

Wine-enhanced, candlelit dinner in the gazebo, check.

Long lunch on Michele’s terrace, check.

Sunday dip in the pool with the whole bunch, check.

Hike with Noah, Zoel, Leeloo and Luca, check.

Inspiring writing chat with Christine, check.

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Ray, Christine and me!

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Banks of the Hudson River.

Back in Philly, a Flower Tea Party celebration a la Cubana feted Leeloo’s 8th birthday, with her 20+ cousins and “cousins” taking over my parent’s house.

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75 cupcakes by the generous and talented Erin Nadeau!

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Mad Hatter Hat decorating!

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Best part of August for the kids… visiting with Nana, Abuelo and cousin, Milo!

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Stefan Salad, made for the first time without Stefan.

IMG_9849And before we knew it, it was time to say our goodbyes again – definitely the hardest part of this choice we’ve made to live abroad. Just 20 hours, two taxis and two planes later, we were pulling back into the vineyard in Casalecchio di Reno, greeted by flourishing fields of sunflowers, wheat, chick peas, plums, wildflowers, and of course, grapes. The feeling of having arrived home was definitely in the warm country air that day, not only because it was beautiful and because this is the place where the four of us have decided to hang our hats for the time being, but because papa (also known as Stefan) was there to welcome us after his trip to visit Uncle Sebastian (also known as tonton.) Three and half weeks was a long time to be without him and we were all happy to be back together again.

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Straight off the plane and into the fields. Ah!

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A little bit of Philly visited us at the very end of August in the form of my childhood friend, Andy and his lovely family, assuaging our leftover longing for the people back home. With them, we went back to visit Lucca, one of our favorite Tuscan towns, were we rode bikes atop its ancient wall and through the piazzas, chancing upon a vintage car show where we were able to get up close and inspect the beautifully detailed interiors and gorgeous exteriors.

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Our friends were even here to send Zoel and Leeloo off to their second year of school in Bologna!

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And what a difference a year makes! There were no morning jitters this time, unlike last year. Instead, we easily slipped back into our comfortable routine and were excited to rejoin our little international community after almost 3 months of not seeing anyone. The school yard was buzzing with parents and children just like the September before, but now instead of hearing booming noise, Italian words (and English, and Spanish, and French…) were discernible. The kids ran right over to their friends and launched into recaps of their escapades while Stefan and I were just as warmly greeting with Ciao’s and Bongiorno’s, Hola’s and Bonjour’s.

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So far, the start of middle school for Zoel and third grade for Leeloo has been beautiful. Rarely have I been so pleased with the efforts made by their teachers to get them motivated and curious at the start of a new school year! As a result, both of them have dialed up their efforts, and it’s been amazing to watch their determination to get new concepts and improve were they can.

While they’re at school, Stefan and I continue to move our projects forward (some of which I hope to share with you here over the course of the year!), sometimes only inch by inch, but forward nonetheless. After drop off one sunny September morning, we got to participate in our second vendemmia (grape harvest.) With clippers and plastic buckets in hand, we hit the fields with our neighbors and happily freed giant succulent bunches of grapes from the overtaxed vines. Earlier in the month, the director of the vineyard had walk us through all the steps they take to process the grapes and store their various kinds of wine, making our small part in the journey that more meaningful, and the glass of pignoletto frizzante that we had with dinner that evening that much more special.

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A few days earlier, Leeloo made herself at home on the wheels of the giant machine that shakes the grapes off the sturdier, younger vines.

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As we move into the heart of the Fall season, we’re planning some trips, projects and events that I look forward to chronicling here for you, along with the beautiful things that we find  here in the country and on our charming Bologna streets. Thanks again for coming back to join us!

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School’s inner court yard with leaves falling on PE class.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Night Dinner 25

What We’re Eating & Drinking: Diner Food! Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 12.11.41 AM

Dinner tonight might just be at the Brooklyn Diner in New York City. If that works out, any of my favorites above might be just the thing after a long voyage! After 20 hours traveling solo with the kids, I’m sure I’ll be ready for a giant glass of wine or cold mug of beer too!

Christine: Yum! Diner food! I’ll have one of each from above!

 

What We’re Talking About: What? Another week went by?!

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The Bologna Board of Tourism may just have to give Stefan and me seats on the Board after this summer! Yet another crazy week of hosting and touring has gone by here. The week started out with the obligatory mid-summer dinner at Drogheria where we were surprised with the news that the always jovial owner has been on a cleanse of liquids (yep, all liquids, including those he loves best!) and foods, and has taken to biking 30 kilometers a few times a week. He was shrunk by several sizes since we were last there, but was as welcoming as ever! Next, it was back to the Adriatic Coast for more beach time. The coast is definitely getting more packed as we get closer to the August holidays, but we still found a comfy spot, beach chairs and umbrellas easily. The kids spent hours building sandcastles and forts, swimming and paddle-boating in the warm, shallow waters of the small town, Cattolica. Then, it was back to Bologna, where the Nadeau ladies and I put in a brilliant day of souvenir and clothes shopping before heading home for dinner with the boys. Stefan had made his Arrabbiata, and one of the Planeta wines that just arrived accompanied the meal. There was also the annual Casalecchio di Reno gelato festival, which the kids and Stefan took in with the Nadeaus too! The end of the week has been focused on packing and getting ourselves to “America”. I can’t wait to sit my butt down on my momma’s couch with a big ol’ bowl of Peanut Butter Pufffins this weekend, and I can’t wait to see you all next week! Maybe we should take a cue from the Europeans and hang a Closed in August sign on this lovely piece of internet real estate. We can start fresh again in September after we’ve had some time to catch up in person and sip our rose in the gazebo by the river. Ahhhhhh… I think that sentence just helped me relax a wee bit.

Christine: First, YES. I think we need to take August off and enjoy our time. We can start fresh again in September with a newly fleshed out purpose and vision. Your summer has been so busy, but so full of the very best things: family, food, friends and wine. I mean it sounds just like heaven on earth. We can’t wait to spend some quality time with you and the kids here. The rosé is chilling and the river is waiting. 

Friday Night Dinner 24

What We’re Eating & Drinking: Venetian Goodies and Quintarelli Giuseppe

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This week we’ll be in Venice for dinner, eating… you guessed it, pasta! But not just the world’s favorite starch, probably fish as well.  Baccalà or cod is the most popular in the city of water, especially in the form of Baccalà Mantecato. Being such an international stop though, there is a bit of every Italian region represented on most menus, which means decent versions of pesto pasta from Genova, tagliatelle al ragu from Bologna, and penne all’ arrabbiata from the South can be found anywhere. The trick really is hunting down the authentic Venetian restaurant among the hundreds of tourist spots that populate Venice’s winding alleyways! We’re also enjoying a wine that we first saw at Yannetelli’s in Cold Spring, which they have displayed in an important-looking wooden box, with a 3-digit price tag. We were lucky to find it at a fraction of the cost in Venice and it’s delicious!

Christine: I remember wandering the streets of Venice last fall, having been warned about the tourist-y food and hoping that we wouldn’t stumble upon one for the only meal we were eating in the city. Luckily we found a tiny restaurant tucked in an alley. It was lunchtime and the place was filled with Italian men dressed suits and working clothes and we figured we’d hit on a good spot. Incidentally, I remember that Ray had some sort of fish. Of course Noah and I split several plates of pasta. I remember that wine, too! It’s so fun you found it there. I don’t remember drinking it, though. Maybe we’ll pick up a bottle for the weekend–if it’s not a hundred bucks!

 

What We’re Talking About: Does anyone ever really get to know this watery land?

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I love this quote from NBC news that comes up when you search for Venice: “Venice appears to have more nicknames than street names. It’s known as the “Queen of the Adriatic,” the “City of Water,” “City of Masks,” “City of Bridges,” “The Floating City,” and “City of Canals. How about the “Floating Queen City of Water, Masks, Bridges and Canals”? Oh, and they forgot “Tourists”, “City of Tourists”. Venice has all of these things and it really is breathtaking, every single time, but on this our sixth or seventh visit to the place, I’m starting to wonder if it’s possible to ever get past all the tourism! I’ve had glimpses of what a Venice without all those German, Japanese, Dutch, French, American, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Saudi, Blah, Blah, Blah, would be like, but it’s always just a fleeting moment. Much like downtown New York, the locals are living parallel lives with the tourists, sharing the same 118 little islands that make up the city, but crossing paths sparingly. Occasionally, we mistakenly stumble onto one of these hidden alleyways. Immediately, the clatter dies down and the cobblestone lanes are no longer covered by marching sports shoes. A couple appears, holding hands and speaking Italian to each other! The neighborhood cafe in front of a narrow canal is tiny and charming, and there are no pictures of food on the menu! From the table outside, you notice a small 1500s era bridge just as a boat glides under it, and if you squint a bit, you can see yourself in a Renaissance scene taking place right on the very spot. None of that has happened today during our mid-summer visit, but I’m happy to have spent a few hours walking through these beautiful streets once again anyway. Now on to packing for the good ol’ U.S.A!

Christine: Like a small town American girl from upstate New York is wont to do, I fell in love with Venice when I was there (grimace), but maybe the very reason the city became an object of my affection was because it IS so difficult a place to know. I’m like that with men and jobs and friends and other things, too–always going after the elusive, the convoluted, the intangible. I mean the incontrovertible beauty of the place is impossible to deny–making it an easy repository for the romantic hopes and dreams of ten thousand tourists. Also, my connection to water (the Hudson River–here, or the Atlantic Ocean–where I spent summers as a child) is tried and true. [Last weekend when we were in New Hampshire, I found myself feeling a bit claustrophobic after a few days because of the land-locked nature of the state.] Though you visiting the place as many times as you have (and for so many different reasons and occasions), makes me think it just might be a city that doesn’t want to be known and maybe that’s okay, too. 

Unexpected Charm on the Atlantic Coast of France

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Marrying a French guy has turned out to be a pretty good deal over these last 17 years. One of the perks has been getting to know the bits of France where Stefan’s family has roots like Paris, Marseilles, Cannes and Provence, but nothing had ever lured us toward the Southwest until this month, when a family reunion of sorts, for a special birthday, led us to the Bordeaux region. When Stefan mentioned where we were going, we had a laugh over vacationing in a wine region, because that’s exactly what we need… more wine. We didn’t think much more about it, knowing that we’d be flying into three days of scheduled festivities, and so wouldn’t have much say over where we visited or what we did.

We had no idea that Bordeaux also includes an area of small ocean towns surrounding the Bay of Arcachon, and Europe’s highest dune located in Pyla-sur-Mer, our final destination. We were surprised on the way from the airport to our hotel as the roadways became smaller and smaller, soil transitioned to sand alongside them, the smell of salty air swirled in through the windows and finally the sight of the dark blue water of the Atlantic Ocean started streaming past us. Where were the vineyards and the French country villages? We were staying at the beach?! Yippee! I was reminded of past arrivals in beach towns from  Wildwood, New Jersey, that I mentioned last week, to the North Fork in New York, from South Beach in Miami to Cannes in the South of France, all very different, and yet, at some level, absolutely the same. It must be the rhythmic movement of the waves and salty breeze that immediately calms everyone down and slows life’s relentless (and maybe unnatural) pace for all who enter these coastal territories.

The car pulled up on a roundabout of La Co(o)rniche, a Philippe Starck designed hotel, beautifully ironic given the sentiments expressed on Stefan’s recently released I Used to Love YouDespite the song lyrics, even Stefan had to agree that Starck had created a comfortable yet modern, peaceful yet entertaining space that fit well within the rugged nature surrounding it. Over a 4-day weekend in this lovely part of the world, we climbed the dune to discover a giant forest that spanned out as far as the ocean on the other side of it, we road the waves on motor boats to visit pretty nearby villages like Cap Ferret, where we were treated to some of the freshest seafood we’ve ever had (the area is known for its oysters, which unfortunately none of us eat!), and got to spend time with a wonderfully eclectic group of family and friends. Sometimes traveling with no expectations is truly the best way to go! IMG_1082 IMG_1175

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Friday Night Dinner 23

What We’re Eating and Drinking: Pasta with Lentils and Water

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Just about every meal we’ve had over the last two weeks has been accompanied by a glass of wine (or two or four), so we’re trying to stick to water for a few days! I think I first started to make this dish when we got here last July, and didn’t have a lot stocked in the kitchen yet, but it’s turned out to be one of our favorites. The lentils and pasta are the base and then we  add whatever’s available – prosciutto, veggies, sun-dried tomatoes or just herbs and parmesan.

Christine: Okay. At the last meeting with my writing ladies we were talking about all of the imbibement that seems to occur come summer. Lentils=good. Prosciutto, veggies, sun-dried tomatoes or just herbs and parmesan=good. Yum!

 

What We’re Talking About: A Different Kind of Summer

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Our summer is feeling a bit erratic to me, kind of like this random night of dancing on the piazza of a small neighborhood in Sciacca, Sicily. Some moments can be so unexpectedly delightful, others so utterly ridiculous, and yet others, totally anxiety-provoking. Last summer had some of the same characteristics, but I figured it was the move that had thrown everything out of kilter. Alas, it may just be the nature of living in another country temporarily or of exploration in general.  In any case, I remember that I arrived at last September, holding on to my sanity by a string, so I’m trying to find some internal calm and make those spaces for myself during the day that I talked about here just 4 or 5 weeks ago, but so far, I’m not so good at it. Maybe better than last year, but there’s still a good chunk of summertime to go, and my mental health really could go either way! In the meantime though, we had a lovely time in France and Sicily last week, and I’m feeling like I need to do a whole other post about them for next week, instead of launching into a summary here. But in general, the town in France that we visited, Pyla-Sur-Mer, turned out to be surprisingly beautiful, and the area we went to in Sicily, Menfi, surprisingly dull. We’ve already decided we’ll need to give Sicily another try in the near future… maybe we could rope you into that trip! I’ll call you this weekend to catch up more! x

Christine: Yes! We’re in for Sicily! Also:

Summer Night, Riverside

Sara Teasdale, 1884 – 1933
In the wild soft summer darkness 
How many and many a night we two together 
Sat in the park and watched the Hudson 
Wearing her lights like golden spangles 
Glinting on black satin. 
The rail along the curving pathway 
Was low in a happy place to let us cross, 
And down the hill a tree that dripped with bloom 
Sheltered us, 
While your kisses and the flowers, 
Falling, falling, 
Tangled in my hair.... 

The frail white stars moved slowly over the sky. 

And now, far off 
In the fragrant darkness 
The tree is tremulous again with bloom 
For June comes back. 

To-night what girl 
Dreamily before her mirror shakes from her hair 
This year’s blossoms, clinging to its coils?

 

Summer Nostalgia

When I was a kid, our family summer vacation always included going to the beach, and then doing next to nothing for a solid week. During the rest of the year, my dad’s schedule involved working 10-hour long days, usually six days a week, and my mom’s consisted of holding together everything else during those long days (and nights.) Given this, it’s not at all surprising that vacation meant parking ourselves under an umbrella on a hot, sandy beach with a cooler filled with sandwiches, soda and beer, and absolutely nada on the agenda. That kind of full stop is what I’m craving right now as we race past the middle of summer, with 2 trips out of the country, a few road trips, 3 sets of guests, and more than a few local events under our belt, and with much more to come before the end of August rolls around.

All of this movement has me thinking about one of my parents’ preferred locations for their restful summer pause from the stress of everyday life, Wildwood, New Jersey. If you’ve never been, Wildwood is a one-of-a-kind East Coast beach town populated by 1960s art deco motels, many of them conceived with a design theme like the Casa Bahama or Lollipop Motels. 

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It’s just a 3-hour drive from Philadelphia, but we’d get up extra early to pile all of our things into the Buick, and make it to the shore before lunchtime. I remember the excitement in the car as we neared our destination, and started to smell the fishy air of the bay and feel the warm, salty breeze coming in through the rolled down windows. Vacation began at that very instant. We packed our sony walkmans, mad libs, tiger beat magazines and invisible ink fun pads back into our sacks, knowing that soon we’d be winding through Wildwood looking for our colorful ocean side motel.

There was yet more anticipation as my dad went into the motel office to get the keys to our room. Which floor would we be on? Would we be near our cousins? Would the strangely alluring ice machine be closeby? Would we face the pool? The beach? Would we have a balcony? Which bed would my sister and I get? Would the room have a kitchenette? It was enough to keep two little girls giggling and bouncing around the giant backseat of the car for hours. Luckily for my mother, it was over in minutes, as we raced after my father to uncover all the mysteries held by our motel room. By that time, the cousins had probably arrived and were doing the same. A lot of running back and forth between rooms usually then ensued as our parents lugged in our bags and beach gear.

Shortly after a quick lunch at the motel’s diner and a change of clothes, we would all climb the stairs down to the beach to set up our spot for the day. Beach towels were arranged side by side, two or three umbrellas were driven into the sand and opened, the cooler was strategically placed between my dad and uncle, and our bags of multi-colored buckets, shovels and sand sifters were dropped close, but not too close, to the adults. And that was it. There we would exist, between the motel and the beach, the beach and the motel, for five or six days. Well, that was almost it.

We’d be deliciously exhausted by the sun, sand and water every evening, but managed, at least 2 or 3 nights out of the week, to make it over to Wildwood’s Morey’s Piers, a seemingly never-ending wooden boardwalk, packed with rides, games, food and t-shirt stands. I only wish I had a picture of the totally rad air-brushed baseball shirt that I got on the boardwalk in 1980… light pink sleeves and a white torso, a black and white checked background on the chest, my name in graffiti emblazoned over the top, complete with sparkling stars. In addition to getting totally awesome shirts, we tried our luck at picking yellow plastic ducks out of a spinning pond for prizes, devoured delicious funnel cake and cotton candy, and then tried to keep them down while spinning on the super loud music express train.

But in the morning, we’d be back at the beach with nowhere to run to, nothing on the schedule at all, no monuments, no historic sites, no lunch reservations, no crazy dinners, no event start times, and no summer homework. It was great for us kids, but frankly, we probably would have been fine anywhere school was out. I realize now, that for our parents, it may have been an even more special place, and the perfect way to rest their bodies and minds. They were too far from home and work to be weighed down by their normal responsibilities, yet the surroundings and people were familiar and comfortable. They weren’t tethered to a smart phone beeping with messages or news from the world outside the beach. All they had to focus on was not losing their joy-filled kids and keeping the overflowing cooler in the shade. Magic.

I’m very grateful for all the things were able to do and see over the course of one summer, but next time around, I’m going to keep Wildwood in mind, and make sure there’s at least one week of the summer just like it. For now, we’ll have to steal some lazy moments when we can, like this rare occurrence from yesterday, all of us sitting at the same time, in the same place. Magic.

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“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
~Nelson Mandela

I think I’ve posted some of these photos before; maybe even in the very same arrangement: one next to the next; next to the next, but that’s only because after four years of living in this place, my time here has become a measurable epoch of my forty-plus years on this planet and I want to take note of it. Visiting this view each morning and every night has licensed it with a significance that I don’t yet fully understand. But I’m trying.

These photos were all taken from our back door over the past year or so. The water you see is the Hudson and the lights and the buildings belong to West Point Military Academy–which is flanked to the north (the right) by Crow’s Nest Mountain and to the south, by sixteen THOUSAND acres of land where the best and brightest eighteen year old aspiring American soldiers train for hand combat and chemical attacks. (Sixteen thousand acres just fifty miles north of New York City…think about that when you’re curious about tax implications and eminent domain.)

Our house here is creaky and old and drafty and cold and our bathroom is Pepto Bismol pink, but we get to wake up to this view every single day which, even after more than fifty months of mornings, persists as both a gift and a wonder. This view, and all of its iterations, leaves me awestruck when I think about the life that has happened–the battles with my heart  that I have fought and lost and the skirmishes with my soul that I have contested and won–during the time that it took for the river to freeze and then thaw; for all those leaves to darken and fall.

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly (errrr…or regularly until Gina and I got busy and distracted by rivers and vineyards) you know I’ve been lovingly envious of my friends’ journey and the opportunities they have EVERYDAY to see the world and themselves anew. The thing is, over the past few months; during this fifth winter of watching the same sky darken before 4pm and the same river steam like a volcano as it cooled and the same mountains stand majestic and still, I’ve begun to recognize the appeal of the endurance and opportunity in the stability.

Whatever really changes but ourselves–no matter where we are?

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Throw-Back…Friday?

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Gina, circa 1989 studying in her UPenn dorm. Christine, circa summer 1989, relaxing one last time before sophomore classes begin.

While Gina and her family traveled around Germany and Eastern Europe during the past two weeks, our family embarked on a different kind of journey. One that kept us (mostly) sleeping in our own beds each night, but transformed all those hours between bedtime and morning seem as if we were living in a foreign land. Over the summer Ray realized that it was time for him to put away the shingle for his small, home-based event production company and head back into the world of full time work in New York City. I, having not had any luck in the finding-a-teaching-job department, took on a bit of part-time work that has me running in several directions at once.

Our sweet little house by the riverside, once buzzing with activity all day long, is now quiet during the days what with Noah at school, Ray in the city and me…at one place or another. Poor Luca is home alone a lot these days, and is making us pay for our abandonment by jumping onto our bed each night and snuggling between us (something he’s never done before/we never let him do). I suppose we’re all trying to take advantage of the scant “together time” that we have now. So far this new chapter has been a wild ride and one that I don’t see an end to for quite some time as we get used to new schedules, missed meals together and calendar snafus. It’s an adventure, to be sure, and one that will hopefully be worth it in the end.

All this is just to say that I won’t be putting up a proper blog post today. Instead, I am treating you to that gorgeous photo history of Gina and me twenty-five years ago–right around the time the Berlin Wall fell. These photos were taken when we were in college in different places. Before husbands or kids, before we knew what we now know. We weren’t yet friends but we both watched that magnificent history unfold from vastly different perspectives but what I think is a shared passion for trying to make sense of and connections with the changing worlds around us.

Lucky, too, for both of us, our shared fashion sense was already intact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn’s Arrival

A former yoga teacher I once studied with, while attempting to guide our class of restless New Yorkers through a pranayama (breathing/meditation) exercise, likened a full breath cycle to the sequence of sunlight in a 24-hour period here on Earth. He wanted us to pay attention to the two obvious portions: the rising part (the inhale) and the setting part (the exhale), but more important, we were to notice the less obvious spaces that separated those two–the metaphorical equivalents of dawn and dusk. We were to observe the brief intervals of time when our breath seems suspended–just after an inhale and then again after an exhale–and to investigate what happens in our bodies and to our minds when we really focused on those parts. Try it now; I’ll wait.

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So…? I’m sure you didn’t do it, but give it a try the next time you’re laying in bed and can’t sleep. It’s a pretty interesting practice. I remember getting nervous and even a little bit panicky at first as I waited in, and even courted, that in-between time. It was a sensation that made me breathe quicker and more urgently–not the state of mind that that yoga teacher was trying to cultivate in students who were desperate for a way to calm down.

I remember, too, wanting to get back to the marquee moments of breathing as quickly as possible. I felt safer there because it was what I knew. We gulp for air when we’re winded. We try to breathe easy when we’re scared. We run, we breathe. We swim, we breathe. Childbirth seems like one big practice in controlling your breath (and your body fluids). Usually we only think about taking breaths and releasing breaths when it’s the transition times that are the most compelling and, dare I say, transformative.

Once I started practicing slowing down, once I actually made a point of noticing what was going on with the parts of my breath that weren’t active or obvious, I actually began to relax and hold off my more rapacious instincts. It was almost as if, during those brief intervals when my breath was on hold, that my mind got turned off (in a good way), too. And that, for all who know me and have had the pleasure (i.e. the pain) of listening to what goes on in my mind, is the definition bliss.

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I mention this now because of the change of seasons that we’re in the midst of; a change, mind you, that I’m not taking very well. I don’t like the fall. Sure, it’s pretty and it is a bit easier to sleep at night on account of the cooler temperatures, but it being fall mostly just marks the beginning of me being cold for the next five months. And wearing socks. Coming off the grouchy-pants year I’ve just had, however, I’m trying to appreciate, if not enjoy, this time of year…which is how I got to thinking about the breathing thing.

See, the calendar year is broken up into four parts, too, and right now we’re in one of those in-between times: fall.

Not that fall doesn’t have a temperament and actuality all its own. People here in the northeastern United States are very demonstrative and vocal about Autumn being their very favorite time of year. It’s high wedding season in the HudsonValley (an even more popular time to get hitched than in June) and every Saturday and Sunday brides, clutching bouquets of dried hydrangeas wrapped in burlap twine, stand with their grooms for photos all along the river’s edge. Our hiking trails are teeming with Brooklyn hipsters and other city folk. The frenzied squirrels in our yard are gathering nuts and seeds at a frenzied pace, as if their lives depend on it; which, of course, they do. What with all of that activity and its natural beauty: the crimson and cadmium leaves, the crisp air laced with the sweetness of ripened apples mixed with smoke from newly lit chimneys, it’s a lovely time of year.

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For all of its unique qualities, however, fall–like that pause after the inhale–is a space between. Acquaintances never ask “How was your fall?” or lament about “What a long autumn it’s been!” It’s like fly-over country for seasonal-speak. Fall is the time between the two gaudiest and blatant seasons and is composed of a temperature gradient as inconsistent as it is variable. It’s days reflect both summer and winter: not uncommon are 75 degree late-October afternoons or frost warnings in early September. Fall is an amalgamation of what came before it and what we imagine will come next.

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If fall serves as the culmination of summer (the harvest, the end of the life cycle for certain plants and insects/a dormant time for others) as well as a time when we humans prepare for the intensity of cold and snow and what will come, than isn’t it the very best time for silence and reflection, too? In the fall we put the patio furniture away, ready the flower beds for latency and put snow tires on our car (or, in Gina’s case, chains on the tires). It’s a time when we’re required to clean up from the three month fiesta of sunshine and bare feet and gird our loins in anticipation of the drop-kick into wool skivvies.

At its very essence fall is the moderation between two extremes. At its very essence it begs us to stop. To wait. To take note. To set an intention. We’ll be moving as soon as winter arrives. We’ll have no choice. We have to stay warm.

So, I’m keeping careful watch of myself this week, lest I get too nostalgic lamenting the exiting warmth and ease of summer, and too concerned about the impending trials and tribulations of winter so much so that I miss out on the quiet respite and beauty and tranquility that fall provides. By pushing this metaphor to the limit today–and I’m sorry about that–I’m hoping that I will learn to appreciate autumn for what it is. I’m hoping that I can rest in its quiet and absorb its moderation and be, if not happy, than content.

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Welcome Back

As I sit here trying to put this post together after the 2+ month hiatus Gina and I took from Living Here and There (well, not from living here and there, but recording our experiences of it), I’ve found that my wheels are requiring gallons of grease and I’m needing to bribe myself with more than a few Netflix breaks in order to get rolling again.

I’m disoriented here at the keyboard and navigating around WordPress seems like wandering through a familiar but patently foreign land. It turns out that not all learned skills are as easy to return to as that bicycle and this particular practice, for me anyway, requires recalibrating and re-tinkering and time. As for sharing my thoughts (and my writing) with an audience of greater than one again…well, let’s just say I’m going to be here editing for awhile tonight.

That said, I’ve missed the company of my friend and the peek into her world over There, that this blog provides. That I got to enjoy a birthday lunch in SoHo with the actual, not virtual, Gina–as well as share a few meals and chats with her and the kids around my kitchen table–was a certain gift. Now, however, so many weeks later, our time together seems like a dream and I’m ready for some tangible, printable contact again.

Before we get started on what’s going on now though, here’s a little recap of what’s been going on Here, on this side of the ocean, for the past many weeks.

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August is my favorite month. Mostly because it was my favorite time of year growing up (my birthday falls during its first week) and while I don’t celebrate my birthday as whole-heartedly as I did when I was younger, Ray and Noah and I managed to do it up small this year and go on a birthday hike and out to dinner and eat cake. We also were able to see friends and family for various meals and cocktails during the beginning part of the month and soak up the still-strong sun and warm nights.

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Noah gussied up for my birthday dinner at Riverview.

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A late lunch that morphed into an early dinner at Michele and Dan’s.

The Hudson Valley is bursting with green in August and though sometimes the nights get chilly, the bounty of the harvest and the still-later-than-wintertime sunsets create an internal heat that keeps me from lamenting the coming fall (too much). In August even the river is balmy–the water temperature can reach upwards of 70 degrees–so Luca spends lots of time swimming and Noah and I spend lots of time chasing him around trying to dry him off.

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August sunset over Storm King Mountain.

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Swimming and stick-throwing.

Of course the cherry on top of my birthday week was Gina and the kids visiting us for a few days. To have them in our house again was so much fun and made me so very grateful for things like airplanes and trains and fossil fuel. The boys took up again like not a minute had passed since they were cavorting around Bologna last fall and, though Gina, Michele and I had to work hard to keep the yarns of our many conversations from becoming one giant, verbal knot of crazy, we managed to swim and hike and lunch and shop and drink a few gallons of wine. It was, to be trite, a divine time.

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Swimming at Michele’s.

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Gina & Leeloo considering the ducks on our hike around Little Stony Point.

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There’s always time for Minecraft (after lunch at Homespun).

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Snuggle pile in front of the TV. (Sometimes the moms get talking in the kitchen and forget that the kids get tired from all of the swimming and the hiking and the Minecraft.)

Even though leave-taking is becoming one of the brightest, no-longer-worrisome stitches in our relationship, saying goodbye to our friends is never easy and this time it especially sucked because our time together was so short-lived. (Here’s counting the days to Christmas in Philly!) Lucky for us, however, we saved our vacation until the end of the summer so we had something to look forward to once the Bouvarez clan had taken flight.

Cape Cod, Massachusettes here we come!

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Driving due east over the Bourne Bridge onto Cape Cod.

Cape Cod is a tiny spit of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Boston. My parents spend a good part of the year there and I’ve been visiting the place for most of my life, so in many ways driving over that bridge feels like coming home.

Our time at the Cape is slow and easy. What with the long days at the beach, long bike rides along the rail trail, trips to Provincetown (one of my favorite places on earth), yummy seafood dinners and plenty of sand and salty air, the Unwinding and Relaxing are sure things. This year, in addition to my parents being with us, all three of my brothers and my sister-in law were there. Noah had a blast swimming and playing with his cousins, and I had the chance to catch up with my beloved family members–all of whom I don’t get to see often enough because they live all over the world–which made this year’s trip extra special. The lot of us crammed into the tiny kitchen of our Cape Cod cottage and talked and laughed and ate and were very, very loud. Just like when we were kids.

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The pilot & co-pilot hunkered down for the five hour drive.

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(Sometimes the co-pilot needs a nap.)

The minute we get to the Cape house we drag everything out of the car, put on our bathing suits and head TO THE BEACH!

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Cousins setting up the court for some kind of sand game involving paddles & balls.

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Noah and cousin Daniel braving the Atlantic with Uncle Dan.

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All set up for a day beneath the dunes.

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Obligatory sand pit photo.

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Clams the boys dug with help from Uncle Dan & Uncle Tom.

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Lobster Roll.

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My brothers and me. Rarely is it that we are all on the same sofa. Most of the time we aren’t all on the same continent.

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Grandma & Papa & the grandkids.

Each year Ray and Noah and I take a day to ourselves and head to Provincetown–a village on the very tip of Cape Cod–and each year, after we’ve had some lunch and a beer or two at Governor Bradford’s and walked the length of Commercial Street, stopping into our favorite shops and bakery, we seek out the real estate listings and try to formulate a plan to move there someday. It truly is one of the most magical places I know–artists and writers roam the beaches for inspiration, tiny piping plovers–an endangered bird that conservation groups rope off miles of shoreline for–roam the dunes for food and mates, and human beings of every color and stripe dress in sequins and glitter and bows and dance in the streets, whooping and hollering and being wholly and fully themselves. There’s a nude beach, a festival week that rivals Mardi Gras and more natural beauty than seems fair for one tiny town.

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View from the end of Provincetown Wharf.

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Noah on the boardwalk.

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Rules of the beach.

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Race Point.

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One last look back before getting in the car.

 

And then September arrived with all of its natter and noise. It’s a month laced with beginnings and endings–as I suppose any month is–but September’s changes seem stern and definitive and cruel. School started for Noah. I got a job. Ray is interviewing again.

The gazebo is empty now. This past Sunday we wiped down the patio furniture and took away the candles and hauled everything into the shed where it sits, packed away for the long, cold season to come.

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First Day of 7th Grade.

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Last gazebo dinner of 2014…unless Stef lets us ring in the new year out here. We could do it with a couple of heat lamps and a case of frizzante, no?

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Empty gazebo.

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Morning full moon over half-bald mountain.

 

I’m trying to stay positive despite this morning that came upon us with no warning about a week ago…

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As I was hiking with the dog the other day, , however, I (sternly) reminded myself to honor all of the beauty that autumn brings. The hills are on fire right now, bursting into a hundred shades of orange and red and gold. The sunsets are still stupefying. October will bring Halloween and Noah’s birthday and longer, darker, more restful nights.

And besides, homework isn’t so bad…

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and neither is reading your favorite book about your favorite holiday to your friend…

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nor September sunsets that look like this…

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The other day there were four bald eagles circling over the river behind of our house. Google will tell you that the meaning in this sighting is that illumination awaits.

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Two of the four eagles I saw circling overhead last week.

I’m looking forward to it.

Friday Night Dinner 25

What We’re Eating and Drinking: Calamari with Spicy Tomato Sauce & Moccagatta Dolcetto D’Alba

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Noah’s been on vacation with his dad and stepmom all week, so Ray and I have had several quiet nights in a row by the river. His absence has also enabled to eat foods from a more sophisticated palate–not that Noah doesn’t eat sophisticated things, but he’s wary of some food combinations that we love: calamari & pasta being one of them. (He actually likes fried calamari (I mean who doesn’t?), but he insists that his red sauce stay uncontaminated by creatures that swim in the sea.) Adams had fresh, CLEANED calamari on sale this week so I decided I’d try my hand at making one of my favorite dishes to order when eating at a restaurant–sauteéd calamari with spicy tomato sauce. It was pretty good–especially because of the in-season tomatoes I chopped up for the sauce and because I paired it with fresh pasta I found at the market and a delicious, slightly chilled red wine that Ray purchased for the occasion. Noah  gets home after dinner…we can’t wait to see him!

Gina:

 

 

What We’re Talking About: Time Flies, as do YOU

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I put this photo on Facebook this week and it garnered more “likes” than anything I’ve ever posted–which isn’t saying much because I don’t post very often but, still. It’s a pretty funny juxtaposition. This past week marks the two year anniversary of us adopting Luca–and it’s been wild reminiscing about all the fun we’ve had with him and thinking about how much life and time (let alone growth) has happened during all those days. We adopted Luca just after our first trip to Italy to see you guys–in Lucca–that summer you spent traveling and trying to figure out the if and when and where of a possible move overseas. Now you’ve BEEN LIVING THERE for over a year. I mean I know I’m being Ms. Obvious right now, but still. I remember that day in the pet store like it happened yesterday. The good news is, that as I write this post, you are in the air, flying towards me at a great and earnest speed. I’m looking so very VERY forward to spending time with you all over these next few weeks!

Gina:

Friday Night Dinner 24

What We’re Eating & Drinking: Grilled Peaches & Kris Pinot Grigio

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The weather’s warm and the coals are hot and we’ve been grilling like crazy here at the riverside. Do you remember how Michele made grilled pineapple for dessert on your last night here in the States last summer? Well, a few weeks ago I got to thinking about that night and remembered how delicious the spread was, despite our heavy hearts. After rummaging through the fridge for a minute (I didn’t even have to go to Foodtown!) I had collected a bowlful of summer fruits and was ready to give the grilling of them a try myself. A quick Google search told me that all I needed was firm fruit, hot coals and a little dab of butter and I’d be in business and it was really that easy. Since that night we’ve been grilling peaches at least once a week, and instead of serving them as dessert (though they are divine topped with some ice cream or crème fraîche), we usually pair them with lean pork or a skirt steak as a succulent side dish. The sweetness of the fruit complements the savoriness of the meat and the smoky, grilled flavor ties it all together. I’m no foodie, but YUM! I think I’m onto something. In other news, Ray has tired of my rosé binge so tonight I got him his favorite Pinot Grigio–one from northern Italy to sip as we watch the river and enjoy these glorious summer nights.

Gina: Do you have any Modena Balsamic left!? That’s delicious on grilled peaches or pineapples or anything grilled, even steak! If not, I’m bringing you some next month. The rest sounds lovely too, especially the riverside part.

 

What We’re Talking About: Noah’s First Trip Alone

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Noah and a cannon (and the tour guide) in Gettysburgh.

OK, so he wasn’t actually ALONE, but this past week Noah went on a trip without me or his father for the first time! I know that Zo’s been doing this kind of thing with your parents and Francois forever, but for Noah and all of the back-and-forth that he deals with on a weekly basis, this was kind of a big deal for him. The trip was a quick one–just two nights with his grandparents (Al’s folks)–to Gettysburgh, PA (only about 4 hours away) to check out the Civil War Museum and do some genealogy research about Noah’s Irish-immigrant family. Noah had a blast and was not the least bit nervous about the time away. I kept myself busy here so mostly the two days flew by and, when it wasn’t, I reminded myself of what a great experience he was having. Noah’s so lucky to have four loving grandparents in great health who enjoy spending time with him…what a gift. And what a perfect quick summer getaway.

Gina: Fantastic! I bet he enjoyed every detail of the Civil War Museum and listened intently to every bit of information that tour guide had to share. Zoel would have loved it too. He has a trip coming up with his grandmother to DC next month, which reminds me that we have to start getting ready for our transoceanic voyage!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Weekend in New England

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 5.42.45 AMWe’re sticking pretty close to home this summer but this past weekend we ventured out into the world for a few days–driving all the way to New London, New Hampshire–a little town in the central part of the state where my brother and his family live. It was one of those impromptu trips that you decide to take on a Tuesday night at 10pm after a phone conversation with a family member or a friend reminds you how much you miss spending time with someone. Despite Skype calls and text messages and Facebook posts, which allow me to see the faces of my family members who are scattered all over the globe, nothing can compare with the sweet nectar of face-to-face time, the sharing of a meal and just quietly sitting next to a loved one over morning coffee.

All sentiment aside, this particular brother (I have two others) also happens to be husband to my fantastically fun sister-in-law and father to my niece and three nephews (one of whom is Noah’s exact age and close ally) who provide tons of energy and an instant party, just by gathering in one room. All that camaraderie, our shared history and our eagerness to be together–combined with with the picturesque lake that they live on (and the plethora of kayaks, Sunfish boats, water skis and hiking trails that abound) added a perfect variation to our hitherto, extremely quiet summer.

New England (a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut) has a unique cultural and aesthetic flavor, distinct within in its borders and markedly different from the border state of New York, where we live. New England’s heritage and culture was shaped by waves of immigration and its earliest Puritan settlers came from eastern England, contributing to the distinctive accents, foods, customs, and social structures found there. It’s also ridiculously pretty and clean.

We’ve visited New London on many other occasions, but almost all of the trips have been during the winter months–the region is known for its skiing and snowsports much more so than its boating and sunbathing–and we thought it might be nice to see the mountains swathed in green instead of buried under ribbons of white snow. We also decided to avoid highways on the drive north and, instead, took old, winding roadways that meandered through small villages and towns and along miles of land that remains untouched by urban sprawl. It was so different than the undeveloped land where we live–which either needs to be incorporated and protected as part of a land preserve or is for sale to the highest bidder.

Along the way we enjoyed a delicious lunch at an organic deli in Vermont, we stopped for gas and snacks at a quirky little station in the middle of a field in rural upstate New York and when we arrived in New Hampshire, wine and pizza waiting for us–along with a weekend filled with swimming, s’mores and succulent fun.

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Friday Night Dinner 23

What We’re Eating and Drinking: Corn on the Cob & Domaine de Vaufuget Vouvray

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As I mentioned in Wednesday’s post, summer is my most favorite time of the year and that’s partly because so many delicious foods are available at the markets now. One summertime treat I cannot get enough of (because it’s really only available for a few weeks each year) is corn-on-the-cob. Do they eat corn this way in Italy? Growing up my father and my grandmother (his Solvak mother, not my mother’s Italian one) used to plant a giant garden in our backyard–which is a really big field and had space to grow all kinds of things. They would plant every kind of vegetable imaginable: tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, peas, beets, radishes, lettuce and…corn. Rows and rows of sweet corn. I remember running through that corn field with my brother and hacking at the plants-that towered over our heads with stick-swords. I also remember carefully walking through the rows with my father, listening intently as he taught me which ears were ready to pick and which ones needed a few more hot days on the stalk. We’d gather a dozen ears, shucking them as we walked, and then cook them up in the pot of boiling water my mother had ready on the stove. To this day, I remember it as  the most delicious corn I’ve ever tasted. In upstate New York (where I grew up) corn isn’t ready until mid-August, but down here in the more-temperate Hudson Valley we can get local corn now, in mud-July. It’s best served piping hot and smothered with butter & salt which, I know, negates some of the healthy vegetable qualities of the food, but…yum! It’s summer after all!

Gina: Beautiful! I have yet to see a single piece of fresh corn at the food markets here. Maybe it’s later in the summer? Or maybe they’re not so into corn in these parts. Come to think of it, I haven’t had fresh corn on the cob since last year! In addition to the butter and salt, we like it with olive oil, parmigiano and peperoncino! Enjoy.

 

What We’re Talking About: Getting Wet & Muddy at Camp

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Noah’s is finishing up his second week of summer camps and it’s been an exciting, albeit dirty, muddy and wet time. He’s spent his days running around the fields of Bowdoin Park, a 300 acre swath of riverside grass and tress near Noah’s old school, in a camp that teaches survival skills, animal tracking techniques and Native American folklore. Last week Noah spent long afternoons sailing up and down the river. He’s in that boat in the left photo above! He and the other kids launched boats from Dockside, right in front of our house, so if I watched the river carefully I could get a peek of them floating by. So many mornings he wished Zo was joining him on the escapades, too, but we’ve been so glad to partake in your adventures from afar. Happy weekend!

Gina: I’m sure Zoel would have enjoyed every second of this camp with Noah. Hell, I think I would have enjoyed this camp with Noah! We’re relishing a few low key days here after our last trip, and as I was saying on Wednesday, I think I could do with a few more weeks of the same. Kids too…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midsummer’s Mirth & Melancholy

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‘Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing’ by William Blake

Today is July 15th so technically it’s well past midsummer here in the Hudson Valley. When the term is used correctly, midsummer denotes the celebrations and festivals that mark the summer solstice and the longest day of the year–an occurrence that falls at the end of June. Today–three weeks after the longest day of 2014–the earth has already begun to tilt its northern hemisphere away from the sun, incrementally adding minutes to our nights and steadily marching us towards winter and darkness. Midsummer, at this point, really is just a dream.

But forget science and poetics for a minute. I’m taking license with the term and using it to describe the fact that today feels to me, psychologically anyway, like the middle of summer; the safest, best part of the year. It’s equidistant from the end of the chilly spring and the arrival of the chilly autumn. We’re living inside the few weeks of the year when it is completely and truly Summer.

Here at the riverside we’ve fallen into a slow and soothing routine–no school for Noah means long, relaxing mornings in our pajamas when we make waffles and Nescafé and walk the dog together before heading out to camp or on the day’s errands. Some days we’ll have a fancy lunch outside and coax Ray out of his office to join us for a little while. Afterwards we’ll water the herb garden, check the tide and maybe go on an afternoon paddle. Longer, brighter evenings mean late dinners in the gazebo, sunset swims with Luca and candlelit games of chess accompanied by pizza and wine. Even though Ray’s work is busy and I’m still (frantically) looking for a job, the pace of our days is unhurried, and I find myself bursting with contentment, especially on nights when it looks like we’re doing nothing at all.

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Checkmate.

There’s magic in the air right now–and not only because of the canopy of blinking fireflies covering the yard and all that birdsong at dusk. Sitting outside at 9pm, barefoot and wearing a sundress, IS the very definition of summer to me. It’s that simple. The humidity pressing against my skin is healing and the cool flagstone underneath my feet is comforting and the  gentle purple twilight creeping in over the river melts away all of the stress from the day’s job search and softens the worry about paying next week’s bills. Peace descends with nighttime in the summer. And surrender. During winter, night falls like an ax, violent and deadly–uprooting all of my anxiety and leaving it exposed and writhing at my (sock covered) feet.

Laughter is easy during summer, too. Even when storms move at us across the river and threaten a perfect evening. We always stay outside until we hear the first rumble of thunder and then Ray and Noah and I quickly blow out the tea lights and gather the dishes and the chess board and run inside, trying (and not trying) to dodge the fat drops of warm rain. We race around the house closing the windows and comforting the dog (who hates storms) and eventually end up on the couch together, damp and laughing and out of breath. These are moments when lightening seems like a blessing. Or an answered prayer.

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“15” is half of something, right?

But each passing day, as lovely and mirthful as the cumulative moments of them might be, is just bringing us closer and closer to the inevitable season(s) that come next. Three of them. Three of them that are mostly made up of days and nights that are dark and gloomy and cold.

This reality came charging at me the other day when I went outside to water the garden and noticed that one of our tomatoes had turned red. Ripened tomatoes on the vine, along with the early corn you can now find at farmers’ markets around here, are a sure sign that summer’s song is coming to its inevitable end. After all, the ripening of said fruit is the final stage in the life cycle of this plant; and of this season. All that’s left is the thing falling to the ground and decomposing or, you know, me cutting it up and eating with a nice fat wedge of mozzarella and a sprinkle of salt.

Harrumph.

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first tomato

It takes a pretty cynical soul to lament the arrival of a garden’s bounty, but the folks who know me best won’t be surprised by my perspective. Maybe I’m extra sensitive to  summer’s mellowing because of the very long, very snowy winter that we endured this past year and I just don’t want to be cold again. Maybe in my older age (I’ll officially hit the ‘mid forties’ next month) I’m simply more aware of the passage of time.

My suspicion, though, is that my melancholy is the result of something else; specifically my inability to recognize and feel gratitude. Yep. Gratitude. I mean, sure, I say “thank you” when it’s socially appropriate–I’m not a exactly a heathen–but the thanks I give is, at best, intellectually driven. I can be obsessively polite and self-denying to a fault, but the “thank yous” I offer seem lifeless and gaunt and, at times, insincere. Like my appreciation (or, rather, my lack of) for that tomato and the soil and all that sunshine and rain. My suspicion is that I’m mistaking sadness for gratitude. It’s midsummer after all, and not time to lament. We’re heading to New Hampshire to see my brother and his family this coming weekend and Gina will be here, sitting at my kitchen table, very soon. In a few weeks we’ll get to party in Philly with my favorite adopted family and then, just a day later, we’ll party at the Cape with my real one.

The thing is, it is summer NOW and it’s high time I realized that before it’s not anymore. Thank goodness I have half a season left work it out.

Hudson River, New York, USA

This summer is turning out to be a ‘stay-at-home’ time for our family here on the western edge of the Atlantic. It’s not that we’re trying to be sedentary, but life’s predicaments, as they sometimes do, have dictated a season of job searches (for me and Ray) and local day camps (for Noah) and we’re trying to make the best of it. Honestly, it’s been a pleasure to stay home, as we’ve never really spent an entire summer here, watching the leaves get greener and the endless parade of storms pass through the valley. Other years we’ve traveled during summertime; looking out and over there for inspiration and delight.

Lingering at the edge of the river is not only proving to be beautiful and serene, but is offering us plenty of opportunities to observe difference and the reshaping of the world that is happening all around us, all the time. Sure, this physical staying in the same place requires discipline and a keen eye when it comes to noticing the world–it’s easy to stop seeing the sunset over the river each night or our resident cardinal’s daily breakfast routine. Attention to what is happening around you is a necessary element of remaining open-minded and not developing tunnel vision about one’s life. It is vital to immerse oneself in difference and to discern variations in the natural world, a practice that is automatic when traveling but less so when you’re staying in one place.

When you’re staying in one place some transformations, typically those that take weeks or months to happen–think springtime or tomatoes ripening on the vine–can be missed or noticed only after a change is so pronounced (the snow is GONE, the tomato is RED) it’s impossible not to see it. In those instances we miss the melting, the subtle shades of pink and that’s a shame. Sometimes, though, changes are abrupt and forceful and are good to notice for just that reason. Here are a few photos taken from roughly the same location over  the last week or so. Variation, indeed.

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