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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Sushi

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It’s not easy to find sushi in Italy. Italians are pretty damn loyal to their own regional cuisine, which means that occasionally someone from Emilia Romagna might go totally crazy and make a pesto sauce, or that a Tuscan could go out on a limb, probably after imbibing too much Chianti, and cook a Ragu sauce , or prepare their steak alla Milanese instead of simply grilling it with rosemary and sea salt as god decreed. I won’t even venture to say that anyone up north really knows how to re-create anything made south of Rome. But I can assure you that it’s all delicious, and much more varied than it appears from outside the Italian boot. Given this strong penchant for the food that you grow up with, the food that can be found within a 50-mile radius of where you live, you can imagine that the cuisine of an island nation that’s 6000 miles away can only be so tempting.

I hear that Bologna might have a few sushi restaurants, but I’ve also been cautioned that the quality and taste isn’t what a New Yorker, let alone a Japanese person, would expect, so we’ve stayed away so far. Luckily though, the first day of our first whole week of summer vacation took us two hours north to Milan (and from the Emilia Romagna region to Lombardy), which has much more of an international food scene than Bologna, but that’s still not saying much compared to any big city in the U.S.’s melting pot or mixed salad or pick your own metaphor. We spent a titillating morning at the French consulate, waiting and waiting and then doing paperwork and enduring a little French snootiness (because otherwise how would you know you’re in France! Vous êtes magnifique et je vous aime… vraiment.) But our reward was then an authentic Japanese lunch! We started off with miso soups and edamame, which the kids gobbled up like 19th century French street urchins exclaiming: “These are wonderful! Ask them where they found them! PLEASE!” Then, we moved on to nighiri of tuna, salmon and branzino (okay, not so Japanese but a deliciously prepared white fish nonetheless!), spicy tuna and salmon maki, and a glorious dish of veggie tempura.

The tangy taste of the soy and tempura sauces are probably the strongest flavors in these dishes, and certainly part of what we crave when we’re yearning for Japanese food, but after so many months without it, I realize the texture, temperature and freshness of the meals are equally as important. Silky pieces of tofu and mini rings of firm scallion swim in the hot miso broth; Crunchy cucumbers and spicy tuna mix with chewy nori; smooth pieces of raw, cool salmon top temperate and perfectly cooked rice grains; and crispy tempura batter coats warm soft vegetables. Oh the joy! The variety! And not a tomato or a tomato sauce in sight!

Chances are that if an alien kidnapped me and insisted that I could only bring one type of earth food with me to my new home planet, I’d still pick authentic Italian dishes. I’m not sure anything can sustain me like pasta, and who knows what kind of conditions I’ll find in that foreign land!  Nevertheless, my hope for this peninsula is that a bit more food diversity trickles into its smaller cities in the future, so that more can enjoy – at least once a month! – the beautiful flavors this world has to offer.

 

Forza Azzurri! Forza Italia!

It’s starting to feel like the Shakira La La La (Brazil 2014) hit all over the streets of Italia. All the little ones at school sing the World Cup anthem, talk of the Mondiale slips into every conversation for people of all ages, and I am doing the unthinkable, writing a post about sports.

And it appears that I’m not the only one in my family to have been touched by this madness. My son, who has never followed sports all that closely, totally surprised me the other day when an acquaintance from school stopped by our cafe table. They quickly got around to the games, and not only was my kid asking relevant questions, but he appeared to know the schedule of matches and names of players from all over the world. Now if I could just get him out on a field…

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And of course, its not just the pre-pubscent boys who know every detail of what’s… ahem… afoot (Sorry, I couldn’t stop myself.) I’ve had two occasions already to witness the fever that overtakes middle-aged men during the World Cup. It’s like some kind of rejuvenation spell is cast, and all of sudden, there’s more drinking, more laughing, more dancing, more singing, and more of all of it spilling out onto the streets. And that’s before the match has even started. (We see them particularly late here. Italy’s first game ran at midnight, but that didn’t stop the bars and streets from being packed with fans and celebrants of all shapes, ages and sizes.) The ladies have the fever too, some a bit more than others.

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After a pre-opening match dinner with a merry group of friends in Bologna, Zoel and I stayed up to watch Italy and England duke it out. Sleep won the battle with Zoel mid-game, but I made it to the end, and was treated to a post-game wrap-up on one of Italy’s main networks, Rai Uno, which, of course, featured a shapely babe in a skin tight black dress as our hostess for the evening. While the serious male pundits sat behind official desks, this lady sauntered about in the middle on her 5-inch heels. It looked like it absolutely had to be a Saturday Night Live skit, and yet… it was not.

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Built-in chauvinism aside, I’m looking forward to some more World Cup fun in the coming weeks and am hopeful the Italians will stay in the game for a while, so we can experience first-hand what happens in a soccer country when the national team makes it through a few rounds. The US will have made its Mondiale debut against Ghana by the time this posts early Tuesday morning, and it would also be amazing to see them win at least one. (Forza Stati Uniti!) As Spain’s El Pais sees it, the U.S. team is looking for the definitive push that would help (finally) popularize the game in the States. In case that never happens, I’ll be enjoying some World Cup frenzy while I can get it.

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Go…..team?

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I can’t believe that I’m writing a blog post about sports, either (*see Gina’s side). I’m not much of a sports fan, as I’ve mentioned, but I’m trying to join the world this month and attempt to understand why so many of its inhabitants are riveted to televisions and ESPN.com. My Twitter feed is overrun with hashtags marking team match- ups and popular players and their stats (at least I think that’s what all those numbers are). Even one of the more feminist leaning blogs I regularly read has gotten into the game, if only to showcase the ‘hotties’ of the sport (so much for realistic body images and curtailing the objectification of human beings).

I don’t mean to be a stooge about this. I know quite a few things about the sport actually, and really, I don’t hate it–in the sense that I can’t imagine why people play or want to play. In college I dated a guy who was a Division 1 soccer player and, in addition to his very firm abs, there was something appealing about watching him on the field and, afterwards, listening to him talk with his teammates about this beautiful game with an internal passion that I had yet to discover in myself. I remember him saying that he felt most like himself–and the most unencumbered about how to live his life–when he was in the middle of a game and his team was two goals down and his attention became singularly focused. His mind in those moments–despite the exhaustion of his body–was sharp and crisp and utterly clear.

Isn’t that the point? To cultivate our living and curate our circumstances and prepare ourselves, in the best ways we can, to stumble upon moments, through training and discipline and multitudes of time, when we are no longer distracted by worries or fleeting pleasures? Moments when the rattling of the world and of our minds falls away and we are one with everyone and everything around us?

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An image from the 2010 World Cup.

In this World Cup frenzy I understand the motivation to seek that rapture–for the players, anyway–but I’ve always been a little dubious about fans siphoning off their high. Does that feeling of freedom and alive-ness enchant someone who is simply watching a person follow his bliss? How about an entire stadium full of Brazilian futbol fans? (How about a stadium full of American football fans?) Or that guy, pictured above?

I know I’ve felt something like magic course through my veins at times when I was only a spectator. At a particularly emotional Bruce Springsteen concert about six years ago and during the final curtain call the first time I saw Les Mis on Broadway and when Donald Hall read a poem to a shocked and aching room and comforted each of our broken hearts with his words and his wisdom.

Maybe sometimes action is overrated. Maybe sometimes it’s our job and our duty to watch instead of move. Maybe for this month the world gets to turn its attention away from politics and the crappy economy and global warming and war crimes and place it, instead, on a group of ridiculously fit, wholly dedicated men whose skills and intentions will not save the world, but whose inspiration and example might just influence a few of us watching from the sidelines, who will.

In that spirit, here’s “my” team:

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…a team that, as I was writing this post, beat Ghana 2-1. Go Team!

Also, there’s this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pranzo a Casa di Luigi!

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Luigi is my Italian teacher. He’s an ex-consultant/engineer who fills his retirement days with market shopping, cooking, family and teaching Italian for free to “stranieri” (strangers) like me and my classmates, a merry band of Latin American and Polish girls. Since last October, I’ve been popping into his class, which is conveniently held at the library that I’ve become so fond of and that I wrote about here, once or twice a week. The course got off to a slow start, as our loquacious but well-intentioned professor figured out the right balance between telling us stories about his youth and work, and actually teaching Italian. Unfortunately for them, quite a few students dropped out before he got his groove, missing out on a pretty engaging and flexible class, where a little time was spent on grammar, but mostly the focus was on conversation about whatever tickled the group that day.

The charming Luigi decided to cap off the successful year by inviting our intrepid, if smaller group for a traditional pranzo (lunch) at his house last week. Never one to shun free food, especially free Italian food prepared by avid cooks in their own home, I was thrilled to accept their kind offer. And that’s how I found myself on Via Malcontenti, not far from the central Piazza Maggiore, in a well-appointed third-floor apartment, in front of a beautifully prepared four-course meal. We started with a deliciously fresh and frizzante white wine made by the maestro, himself, with grapes that Luigi grows at his house in the hills, north of Bologna. His lovely wife served it with cubes of focaccia and mortadella (the reason we Americans can spell B-o-l-o-g-n-a, even if Oscar Meyer wasn’t actually selling us the tasty real stuff!) My Mexican classmate had also brought a guacamole that we shared, not Italian food, but being that it’s next to impossible to find good avocados and cilantro in this town, I could have eaten the entire tray myself. Next, the primo piatto (first course) was a pasta, perfectly aldente, with a light panna (cream) sauce mixed with zucchini, prosciutto, onions and chopped fava beans. I left not one morsel, which I later regretted when the most delicious baked potatoes and roasted lamb was brought out for the segondo (second course.) There was not a centimeter of space left in my stomach, but I just had to have one. more. potato. Yes! Pasta and potatoes in the same meal. God bless you Italian people.

Luckily, there was a little breathing and digesting space after the main course, which was filled with lively talk, all in Italian, the only language shared by the five nationalities sitting at the table. I looked from the Polish faces to the Mexican and Colombian then back to the Italians, marveling at the fact that we could share this wonderful meal and share in each others lives, thoughts and opinions, all because we had made the effort to learn the same language. Simply being able to string together a recognizable set of sounds in the correct order allowed us to commune and joke and laugh and enjoy a beautiful afternoon.

Just when we thought the meal was over and it was time to go, out came a ridiculous dessert including a mango liqueur, fresh berries in a sambuca gelatin, and palle di Mozart (a chilled mixture of ricotta, almonds, amaretto cookies and coconut rolled into balls and covered in dark chocolate that our hosts had discovered in Salzburg.) Somehow… we all found just a bit more space for this sweetness. I wasn’t going to need to eat for a day, or maybe two, or maybe ever. After more than three hours at the table, it was time to say arrivederci, feeling profoundly thankful for having been able to share in a real pranzo Italiano, like the ones our hosts used to serve in the old days, when as they noted wistfully, everybody still came home for lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luca-issima!

We use superlatives in America, too. (See Gina’s post next door.) During political debates and when we’re yelling at men wearing tights who are throwing balls at one another at sporting events. Also, on our Match.com profiles. And whenever we talk about god.

The tenor of our extraneous sentiments in America, however, depends on which coast you live on. West Coasters look at the world through rose-colored glasses. Things are usually healthy and good (everything is really health and good), especially if they’re made out of chia or kale. On the East Coast, however, our experiences get filtered through glasses made of smokey-colored quartz. Things are never good enough (everything is really ordinary and mundane). Or, at least, we’ll never admit to it if they are. Satisfaction here is uncool. We see life from a glass-is-half-empty perspective, but with more snark. And really good shoes.

You know what has brought “a little flair, a little drama and added intrigue and fun to the mundane moments that life throws at us” at our house here in the Hudson Valley, though? Our dog, Luca. He’s ridiculously sweet and cute and super awesome and, though I realize I’m outing myself as a dog person by professing out loud my unfettered love for him, I can’t help it. In the way that only furry beings can, our once little–now GIANT–puppy dog has burrowed deep into my heart.

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My Luca. His lower lip pouts out when he’s tired.

Luca reacts with superlatives and unmitigated joy and excitment to everything. Going for a walk. Peeing. A piece of steak. Every possibility that comes across his desk he deems deserving of a body-wiggling tail-wag and a snort of satisfaction. When things are REALLY good (Leeloo or Walker come to visit, he sniffs his friend Tara on the street, the UPS man walks past him with his pocket full of peanuts and throws a few his way) well, then, all bets are off. It’s like Christmas and Mardi Gras and the fourth of July all rolled into one. There’s no containing this being’s joie de vivre. He gets so excited and emits so much joy that my shriveled little heart starts to soften a little bit. Born-and-bred New Yorker that I am, I’m not proud of this wussy-ness, but I’ve also submitted to it. Luca is just that convincing. He’s just that great.

Luca is happiest when he’s with Noah or with friends (and when he’s sleeping) so I’ve put together a little happy-dog-photo collection for you. I know the internet likes kittens and puppies so here’s my contribution to that trove:

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Noah & Luca.

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Hoping for a treat.

 

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On the beach. Cape Cod.

 

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Sigh…

Italianissimos!

 

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You might have heard that Italians have an impassioned way of speaking and arguing. Actually, I just saw this Italian stereotype used to sell ice cream on the U.S.’s HuluPlus.  A fight erupts over groceries between a couple – she in her Sofia Loren ‘do, red lipstick and low cut, full-skirt dress, and he, in his dark tailored suit, crisp white and unbuttoned shirt, and dark close- cropped hair. They yell in Italian (subtitled in English) in a dimly lit kitchen, she pouts, he comes dangerously close, they spot the gelato, all is better as they share the ice cream between pouts and whispers. I also get how this Italians-argue-about-anything stereotype could grate on Italians the way the hot-blooded (“caliente” if you will) Latina stereotype irritates me. Since moving, I’ve only witnessed a few of these heated exchanges over a meaningless thing, one between drivers on the road, another between a couple on the street, and one directed at me by a ballet mom (after Leeloo hid another child’s sneakers). There is another aspect of Italian speech that’s much more telling about the culture and that’s on display much more regularly – just about every time I speak to an Italian. It is the ubiquitous “issimo” or “issima”, a word ending tacked on to just about every adjective, that very effectively and dramatically elevates the thing being described to a whole other level.

For example, when asked how an appointment went, it’s not “bene” (good or right), it’s almost always “benissimo!”. After a performance, the child is not “brava” (good), she is “bravissima!” And your outfit is not “bello” (beautiful), it is “bellisimo!” I have to admit, the issimo can really lift your spirits, after all, the speaker feels so positive about the subject that she’s willing to add a few syllables to her words, and toss them up into the air with a smile. I was truly floored when I got my first “bravississima!”. Look at all those s’s and all those extra syllables. It’s hard not to feel honored, right? Based on who uses it, I get the idea that this level of exaggeration is the domain of the younger, hipper set, trying to one up the older generation, and keeping the dramatic nature of Italian alive and well for the future.

But this “issimo” can be used for evil as well as good, as I learned recently when I went to a routine ultrasound check of one of my organs. Firstly, it was odd that the specialist himself was also the ultrasound technician. In the U.S., the separation of radiology from the actual doctors, seems akin to the theoretical separation between church and state. You go to a special department for your sonograms and speak to a nameless, mute technician, who, for fear of being sued for incorrect diagnosis (I assume) barely looks at you, let alone says anything, even when you ask direct questions. Here, on the contrary, I’ve visited two different specialists who march you over to their own ultrasound machine and launch into detailed  conversations as they bounce sound waves against your body parts, sometimes sharing more information than you really wanted to know. This is where the “issimo” can take a nasty turn. One particularly gregarious and, perhaps somewhat callous, doctor launched into a monologue about all the things that could go wrong with a particular condition. He didn’t talk about it being “brutto” (ugly), while probing, he expounded on all the ways it could become “bruttissimo!” Oh no, not what you want to hear as someone is examining you! (By the way, I’m fine. He just felt that this was the appropriate moment to show me how knowledgeable he was about his field.) He went on about how it can cause you to become not stanca (tired), but “stanchisima!”, how it can become not pericoloso (dangerous), but “pericolosissimo!”.  Okay, that’s enough. Stop speaking. Time to go.

Luckily, the “issimo” is generally unleashed for the good, and not the dark side. But in moments like the one above, my Latin American upbringing (talk about over-the-top expression!) and the Spanish language itself, give me enough context and perspective to see  all these “issimos” for what they actually are. A little flair, a little drama to add intrigue and fun to the mundane stuff that life throws at us adults every day, all day long. So no hard feelings Italianos. Va  benississimo!

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Photo Tour of April in Bologna

The temperatures are also in the 70s here, (see across the page for more about the glorious shift in weather that’s occurring in the Northeast of the U.S.) so I thought we might take a walk around Bologna’s center.

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In the bright sunshine, Bologna’s rose- and terra-cotta- colored buildings look as if they’ve just been freshly painted.

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Gelaterias open their doors once again, and University of Bologna students take an ice cream break.

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Neptune greets us in Piazza Maggiore.

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The water fountain at Neptune’s feet again beckons residents and tourists.

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Mini-skirts swing and shirt buttons open on Via D’Azeglio.

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New Spring suits and ladies clothes dress the windows along the Via.

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Here’s a purchase I should look into, so I can get rid of my bulky bike rack!

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Someone I know and a group of friends are in Piazza Maggiore for snack-time after visiting the “Ciocco (Chocolate) Science Lab” inside the Palazzo, just as the scaffolding finally comes down in front of the San Petronio Cathedral.