LIVING HERE AND THERE

↓ gina from Bologna, Italy ...

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

 

Friday Night Dinner 22

What We’re Eating and Drinking: Pasta at Bar Giuseppe on Piazza Maggiore with a Brunello di Montalcino

Tonight, we may either be at the beach (Cervia) or back out on Piazza Maggiore to enjoy another classic film under the stars! In the middle of Bologna, the evening might look a little like this:

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Dinner with Oliver, Melissa and Brian as a re-mastered Charlie Chaplin short from 1915 plays on the big screen.

Christine: We walked through that square when it was 40 degrees. I think we were looking for mittens? And maybe a wine festival? It looks fab now. And fun. Hugs to all!

 

What We’re Talking About: Classic Movies in the Piazza

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(My three, literally on the edge of their seats, as the watch the conclusion of Lady from Shanghai, just after midnight.)

Cineteca Bologna does a brilliant job with this summer movie series. Last night, we were on Piazza Maggiore to see one of Stefan’s favorites, Lady from Shanghai by Orson Welles. Under the stars, with good friends, a plate of pasta and a bottle of red, this is pretty ok. Wish you were here! Happy 4th of July!

Christine: Wish we were there, too. Happy weekend to you!

 

 

Happy 1st Anniversary!

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I’m sitting on the floor of the living room of this old farmhouse built in 1836 by the Modrone family for their workers. The beautiful evening light of the sunset is streaming into our backyard, my decaf caffè lungo is next to me on the table, and a strong feeling of home pervades. We’ve only been here a year? How is that possible? It feels much longer, certainly more than a year’s worth of events have transpired (trips, lessons, plays, visitors, a book, an album, more trips, more visitors, a blog, a graduation, a recital, etc, etc…).

Before assuming this very comfy position on the rug, looking out onto the sun-filled porch and the garden that’s just been soaked by a quick summer shower, I was in the Centro of Bologna, where I returned to Orea Malia hair salon for a new short haircut, with the very amiable Marco. About 12 months ago, to the day, I wondered into that same place, fed up with my long hair, and looking to mark myself with some outward sign that I had just uprooted myself and my family to start a new adventure in a galaxy far away from New York City and Garrison, NY. Since tattoos aren’t so much my thing, I settled for shaving my head.

Today, a smiling Marco greeted me warmly, and quickly got to work on a less severe looking short ‘do. Within a few moments, I learned that his daughter was now the person at the front desk, and that his very dashing son, who was clipping someone’s hair just a few stations away in his tan shorts, button-down shirt, and suspenders, was about to become a Papa. “Auguri! Tanti auguri Marco!” rang out around me. He was about to become a nonno and his daughter, a zia, and they were all buzzing with anticipation. Like so many here, this is a family business and their joys, dramas and troubles are shared with employees and customers alike, with no apologies and no pretending that their personal lives don’t intertwine constantly with their work lives, in the way we tend to do in the U.S.. On the way out, the soon-to-be auntie confessed that at first she was unnerved by the news that her younger brother was beating her to the child-having years, but that now, she was so very excited, never mind that we had only met a few minutes ago. She had created an instant intimacy between us in the way only people from Latin cultures (and possibly the Irish!) know how.

Happy with my new cut and buoyed by the joyful family, I floated down the marble stairs of the old building and down on to Via Ugo Bassi, a main shopping street in the center, and head toward the Palazzo, which dates back to the 1500s, on Piazza Maggiore. From there, I walked around to a small cobblestone street where Stefan, the kids and our good friends, Melissa and Oliver, who are visiting from NY, were waiting for me at a French cafe. The children munched on Croque Monsieurs (when they weren’t stealing pieces of my Quiche Lorraine) and the adults nibbled on their Salades Niçoise, a welcomed menu change since we mainly stick to the food that dominates our surroundings – salumi, pasta, pizza, tigelles and piadinas (both kinds of sandwiches), roasted potatoes and steak – partly because it’s everywhere, and partly because it’s so, so good.

From there, Stefan walked back towards the kids’ school, to grab two of Zoel’s friends who live in the neighborhood, and then head back home for a dip in the pool. Melissa and I decided to stay around the Centro to visit some shops. We had only been in Bologna for a month when she first visited, and I remember telling her at that time, how annoyed I was at not knowing where anything was or which way to go to get anywhere. I wanted to be able to download a map of the city directly into my head, along with a lifetime’s worth of Italian vocabulary and verb conjugations. The stress of the move had all but immobilized us, and we reacted by barely leaving the house during that first visit.

Today, instead, I move around these streets without thinking, by foot, bus, taxi and car, happy to share the few shops that I’ve found that suit our New York City-groomed tastes, cutting through a piazza here or down a side lane there. We have our favorite fish monger, butcher, grocer, our preferred trattorias, and the guys at “Two Brothers” cafe never fail to wish us a Buongiorno as we walk by. The language too, is no longer anxiety-provoking. I’m far from fluent in Italian, but might solidly be labeled proficient, and no longer feel that someone speaking to me is cause for alarm.

I know that these challenges are exactly what we came seeking when we decided to change country, culture and language, but it’s also clear now that they have sometimes been much more difficult to deal with than we had expected, especially over the first 8 or 9 months. For me, the biggest one was the initial uncertainty about EVERYTHING, although I was able to enjoy some of it as it was happening (See this post about early visits to the cafe bar), the newness and constant re-discovering of how to move about daily life was energy-depleting and sometimes, downright depressing. For Stefan, it’s been the inefficiency and arbitrary nature of Italian bureaucracy that’s almost driven him nuts. He’s returned from the post office or city hall many times, just about ready to pack up and “get out of this #$@^% third world nation pretending to be an actual country!”

The kids have probably made the smoothest transition, proving that old adage about the adaptability of the young. Together, our biggest test has been being an ocean away from our family and close friends. Their visits throughout the year, have undoubtedly helped us make it through this significant change relatively unscathed. They’ve brought news of home and products that don’t exist in Italy (see here!), but their presence has been the most needed thing of all. It becomes more obvious that there are certain conversations that you only have with particular people when they’re 2000 miles away, and those talks have to wait six months because Skype or the phone just won’t provide the level of connection you need in order to get going. You try out the topics on some of your new friends, but the reactions just aren’t right, so you wait.

And then there are Friday nights. Oh man, we miss our gentle giant, Ray, and his stories of kayaking and biking adventures, his tales of crazy clients and past travels; getting our groove on with Noah or cooking with him in the kitchen or hearing about his week and his thoughts and opinions about everything; conversation with Christine, time to sift through all the week’s events or contemplate the minefield that can be the life of a mom/wife/creator/worker, while drinking delicious wines or consuming a beautiful meal. You just can’t re-create that chemistry, so we’ve stopped trying, and look forward instead to our visit in August!

Despite those initial challenges though, we’ve definitely found another place on the globe to call home. Although we’re still growing into that relationship with Bologna, I already have no doubt that when we leave, we’ll always feel an attachment to this city. I’m curious to see how the children will relate to it as they grow older… Bologna might be that town I lived in when I was 7, or it might be much more than that. Stefan may continue to think of it as a place where nothing #$^%&$* works or maybe he’ll soften with time. Regardless, he will  miss Bolognese foods for the rest of his life. As for me though, I love living in this Latin culture. It reminds me of my Cuban upbringing in so many ways. The language is, of course, very similar, but it goes beyond that. There are so many intangibles, like the warmth of the people, and the familiarity that comes quickly in a society that transitions from formal to informal instantaneously when a connection is found. There’s the ridiculously dramatic, but oh-so-heartfelt pop music that fuels my rides around town, and there’s the fact that there’s always “a guy”, and if you can get to the right guy, anything is possible! In addition, there’s the tribe of international families that we’ve met here, who believe whole-heartedly in multiculturalism, multilingualism, travel and exploration, just like us.

At several turns this year, I’ve been left wondering how my parents ever chose to stay in an Anglo world, when all this Latin goodness exists, but then I spend 3 hours (or days!) trying to get an appointment to have some ailment seen, or the young men at the shipping office are bewildered by a request to include a return-address envelope in my express mail package.  In those moments, I remember that stuff actually works in my home country, and really, really well. I know we’re very lucky to have been raised there, but I am now, more than ever, acutely aware of what my parents lost when they had to change homelands and cultures. And I’m happy that my young family gets to experience a piece of this world, kinks and flaws included, at least for a little while longer.

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Running

Today is launch day for my talented and thoughtful husband’s book and music! (Auguri tesoro!) And no, he hasn’t paid me to type these words… You can check out more about him and the projects at theconsideredlife.com or stefanboublil.com, and make a purchase at  Amazon.com (book) or iTunes (music) or iTunes (audiobook)!

ORDER

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With that exciting piece of news out there, my son and I had an interesting conversation the other day that has had a most unexpected result… running. I’ve never been a big fan of running for sport. Sure, if zombies are chasing you or you need to get out of the way of a collapsing building, I could understand why you might want to pick up the pace, but otherwise, aren’t you just running to nowhere for no good reason? Of course, running friends and family have always extolled its virtues, telling me its good for heart, body and mind. One of my first roommates out of college even got me running around the reservoir in Central Park for a few months, but only an invitation from my 11-year old could have gotten my butt to even contemplate doing it again.

He’d be the first to tell you that he’s not a sports guy, despite trying out baseball, soccer, tennis and a little basketball. None of these have ever been all that much fun for him, despite encouragement and support from the 11-year old living over on the right there, who does enjoy many of these. Since moving to Italy, going to numerous soccer practices with a close friend, and experiencing some World Cup fever, I think he’s definitely understood and maybe even appreciates how much hard work goes into playing that game or any sport well. But it isn’t sports, friends or his parents that have motivated this guy to run, it’s dreams of boot camp! Yep, boot camp. Who knows who’s boot camp (I’ve heard something about the U.S. National Guard) but he’d like to get in good physical condition so that it doesn’t kick his butt. Maybe living across the river from West Point for 4 years did this? Books about Roman soldiers?

Whatever the case, we’ve started by downloading the Nike + Running app (Thank you Lena!), and it’s the perfect motivator for the pre-teen with a mild screen addiction problem. It has smart tracking tools (how much you run, your time, calories burned and Nike Fuel points earned), a built-in coach (with which we easily started an 8-week training program), social media sharing (Instagram and Facebook friends here we come!) and the ability to hook up with friends or your mom so that we can challenge each other for the top spot each week.

Out on our hilly gravel roads, the running is not as easy as it might be in a city, but so far some fun is being had, our bodies are definitely being challenged, and it’s easy to see all the life lessons that this running to nowhere has the potential to teach, lessons momma probably needs as much as her son. We’ll see where all this takes us. If all goes well, maybe we’ll even try running a 5k in August!

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Friday Night Dinner 21

What We’re Eating and Drinking: Whatever Teresina Has on the Menu!

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When the house is full of people and we are ten eating every meal together, sometimes, you have to go out! So this evening, we’ve booked a garden table at Teresina, a restaurant whose menu changes seasonally, but that always offers traditional Bolognese fare like Tagliatelle al Ragù and Tortellini in Brodo. Just off the main plaza, Piazza Maggiore, it’s a pretty walk from the Centro’s perimeter (where you have to park if you’re a non-resident) through Bologna’s archways and over to the restaurant’s garden, just beyond La Fontana del Nettuno. 

Christine: Looks delicious! Now I wish I could just smell it. I’d like two of each–do they deliver to New York?

 

What We’re Talking About: Finding Quiet and Space for Yourself over a Busy Summer

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It’s easy to get carried off by the current of constant activity and lively conversation that has become the standard environment of our summers. It’s a joy to spend time catching up with the people we don’t get to see during the rest of the year, and exploring beloved or totally new places with them. I also cherish spending time with the smalls in the lazy, meandering way that’s only possible when school’s out, and that usually leads me to some undiscovered part of their personality or a glimpse into their current loves. Then there’s all that cooking and meal time preparation, that often involves a group of us gathered in the kitchen, talking and making and drinking. But as wonderful as all of this is, I need time away from all the buzzing, a time to retreat to quiet spaces for meditation or reading or yoga or work or creation. I failed miserably at finding them last year and as a result I was twitching straight through October. That’ll be the quest this summer. Already, finding a slot of time to write here, on LHT, is providing a little guidance on how this might be done. Hopefully, I’ll keep stretching out this time and space in the coming week!

Christine: What a great intention to have at the beginning of summer! I’m glad you’re already finding a bit of time each day to write here–a crack in your schedule that will most certainly allow more ‘you’ time to follow. It’s such a difficult balance to keep–spending time with those delicious kids and that (delicious) hubby, talking with all of your fabulous guests, needing to clean and do laundry and cook and then trying to find space and quiet for yourself–to do yoga or write or, even, to do NOT something highbrow–like watching a Lifetime movie or catching up with old friends on Facebook. I have faith in you, Gina. Paint! Write that screenplay! Play your guitar! Read! I can’t wait to see you fly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bouvarez Countryside Inn is Open for Business!

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(Click to enlarge photo.)

The pignoletto frizzante is appropriately chilled and bubbly, wedges of cantaloupe are topped with prosciutto di parma, mortadella, salame, and bresaola are arranged on platters, the cheese plate is full and the fresh bread is cut, one of Stefan’s summer salads is tossed in his delicious vinaigrette, and music fills the house and yard. It’s summertime at the Bouvarez house, and our first group of guests arrived this morning. We had our test run for the summer season last weekend when our very good friend/soul sista, Natasha, came for a quick visit. But this week, our Caribbean cousins took the overnight train from Austria, childhood friends ventured onto the continent from London, and our unofficial godchild and his momma made their way from Brooklyn USA via Amsterdam. And once again, every room is filled with people and things, and one long, satisfying meal, enlivened by the kind of  conversation you can only have with people you know well, seems to stretch into the planning and making of the next meal.

Along with their belongings, these friends and family bring their tales of far away lands and people, their first person accounts of what’s happening in the old neighborhood, stories about the dramas and comedies unfolding in different corners of the world, descriptions of travel and discovery, and news about the ideas and events captivating those around them. I suppose therein lies an unspoken transaction… countryside for conversation, fresh air and foods for connection, nature’s beauty for news from outside the boot. Frankly, I think we might be getting the better deal, but don’t tell them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Friday Night Dinner 20

What We’re Eating and Drinking: Pepperonata and Rosé

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This pepperonata (white onion, red and yellow peppers and peeled tomatoes with a bit of salt, sugar and pepper, cooked down for about 30-40 minutes until it’s sweet but still peppery!) really deserves a hearty glass of red, but it’s warm, our pool is full of kids and the summer holidays have just begun, all of which cry out “Rosé!” There’ll be toasted farro bread along side the pepperonata, as well as lentils with broccoli and a little turkey for the kids.

Christine: OK, I don’t really care about the pepperonata (first, because EWW…and second because peppers make me barf–literally.) But have I told you that I discovered this whole world of ‘nightshade’ vegetables during one of my cleanses this past winter and realized that peppers aren’t actually intrinsically gross, but that I’m probably just allergic to–or at least have an adverse reaction to–these creepily named foods? Nightshades are a category of eatable vegetables that include tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes, eggplants & peppers–most of which make me hiccup-y and feel icky. But it’s fine. I don’t care about this dinner tonight because WHAT IS that gorgeous colored bottle of wine on your table? Holy goodness that looks refreshing. Is that the real color or just the light?

Have fun with the kiddies and save me a glass and some toasted farro bread….I’ll be along soon.

 

What We’re Talking About: The lazy, hazy days have begun.

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Wizard of Oz or Stand by Me?  Zo and friends set off to explore a brook on the other side of the vineyard.

These last few weeks have been consumed by end of school year activities. This week alone, we had a Elementary School Graduation (Congratulations ZOEL!), a end of elementary party, a mini-musical (Leeloo danced, Zoel sung and acted), an end of unit/year party for Leeloo, as well as teacher presents to buy and give. One faculty member said to me today that she was starting to wonder if Stefan and I were on staff and if not, maybe we should be. Ha! Somehow, Stefan has also managed to give hours and hours of time to the release of his book and music. I, on the other hand, have gotten a little work done, but not much else, certainly not any writing other than the short entries for this blog, which I can’t even remember now. I’m looking forward to our summer schedule when there’ll be a lot less running around, although I’m a little terrified that these not-so-small people will suck up more of my time than I’m anticipating, or should I say, I’ll let them suck up my time because they’re kinda fun. I’m actually more than a little proud of how they’ve handled they’re first year living abroad. They’ve both grown and changed in many different ways, too many to list on a Friday Night, but maybe deserving of a separate blog post re-capping the year. If I had to pick just one thing to tell you about each in the meantime, I’d say that our once reserved Zoel has come clean out of his shell, and is known around school as a funny guy that’s really good at performing at assemblies and special events. (We’ll see how that evolves in Middle School when there’ll be all those older folks around!) And for Leeloo, I’d say that she’s as effervescent as ever, but she’s also developing a self-awareness that’s helping her figure out when it’s better to dial back the bubbly, and sit still. It’s just a beginning, but it’s a joy (and sometimes totally frustrating) to watch her trying to figure it out.

And before I go, Happy 20th! Before you know it, we’ll have done half a year of virtual Fridays together!

Christine: First the ‘Congrats': To Zo–a big milestone!…graduating from elementary school certainly is one of the big ones. (If only because middle school is, indeed, a beast.) Was he fine without all of us waving to him from the audience rows of folding chairs? Or without your parents there? (Were YOU?!) Congrats To Leeloo, too, for all of the performing (and the thinking about dialing back–and hopefully tempering the dialing back). And of course To Stef for the book and music. But, also, To YOU for keeping everything scotch-taped together–maybe the most difficult job of all.

That sucking-up-time thing is something I, too, was thinking about today as I weighed the (emotional) cost of fewer summer camps against all the weeks that Noah will wake up and be looking for me (to me) for SOMETHING TO DO. I guess what we have to do is try and carve out some sacred space for ourselves–which sounds way more Oprah-y than I mean. What I’m suggesting is that just because it’s summer, it doesn’t mean that we, the mothers (the stay at home mothers of older children), continue to need to spend all of our time listening to and following the whims of our OLDER CHILDREN. Even though that’s what is easiest. Even though that’s what we think *might* be best. EVEN THOUGH WE LOVE SPENDING TIME WITH THESE CREATURES. Listen, Noah is trying to convince me to get us season passes to Splashdown Beach…(do you remember that place? Stef & I spent a cicada-filled day there just before you guys left for Italy…it sucked!) and I am not going to cave in and do it. I love spending time with him more than I can describe in words, but hate it there, despite the fact Naoh loves it…and it’s not that the needs of my child don’t matter, but more that we’re not getting a season pass to something that only ONE of us finds fun. It’s time to understand that my needs matter–at least–or just as much as–his.

Which means, Yes, we’ll go to Splashdown once or twice this summer and YES we’ll go to a movie that requires 3D glasses…but not every day of the week. We’ll also take the train to NYC and find some obscure poetry reading to attend and some totally weird street art exhibit to take part in and a library to whittle an afternoon away at. Yes…I’ll drive Noah to the camps that make his eyes light up, and YES I’ll make sure that we have watermelon and ginger water at snack time, but I’ll also make sure that I also have a pitcher of nettle tea and ginger cookies (for me and my mommy friends) and that I make time to get through at least of a third of the books that I’ve reserved at the library and that Noah and I get to spend at least one night of week watching the sun set at the river’s edge…together. It’s a circumstance easier described than insisted on.

…I don’t really think I can do it, but I like to dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Sprouts on the Farm

As the sun shines brighter and the skies turn a deeper shade of blue, it becomes an even greater pleasure to live in the middle of planted fields. As I think I’ve already mentioned a few times, it seems like something new has grown every time I step outside. This week the scent of fragrant flowers fills every room of the house, especially the second floor bedrooms, where the smells mix with the cooler evening air and create the most delightful sedative. Here’s a brief photo tour of the nature surrounding us this June in Casalecchio di Reno, Bologna.

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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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Friday Night Dinner 19

What We’re Eating and Drinking: No idea!

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Summer friday dinners are quickly becoming someone else’s responsibility and I’m okay with that!  This Friday is another busy end-of-school day for all of us, but the plan is to meet up with friends at a cocktail inaugurating for our art teacher’s latest exhibition around 6:30pm. Afterwards, we’re heading to the friends’ place for dinner in Centro. These lovely folks have been here for over three years, and plan to stay for a few more, so I look forward to hearing more stories about how their Bolognese life has unfolded thus far, and what journeys they’ve taken while living here.

Christine: Sounds great. Having someone else cook for you is always the way to go. I love that you have an art teacher! You’ll have to report back about the food–seems like dinners with friends  there are always great adventures–with so much food. How do they find all that time and energy to cook?

 

What We’re Talking About: Ballet, Art and New York Real Estate

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This week continued with the end of various classes including my semester of painting and Italian, as well as Leeloo’s year-long ballet class. The ballet classes have been a pain in everyone’s butt all year because they’re long, late in the day, far away and happen twice a week (including Fridays!). We’d all vowed to skip them next year, but then the class started rehearsing and working hard to put together their final performance. Strangely (or maybe not so strangely), Leeloo seemed to prefer the intensity of these last few weeks, explaining to me one night when I asked if she was having fun, “It’s not really fun, Mom, but I like it a lot.” Cool. You could definitely see all the extra practice the night of the recital. These 6- and 7- year olds memorized and performed a pretty complicated set of synchronized moves without any hints from the wings or from a teacher at the base of the stage miming the moves for them to follow. At dinner afterwards, Leeloo said that she had glanced to the sides to look for someone during the performance, and thought she might be “in trouble” when she spotted no one, but she proudly explained that in the end, she hadn’t needed the help after all! Now… we go back to convincing her that she’d really rather take a nice little  hip hop class, close by the house.

I can’t say that I ever worked all that intensely on Italian or painting this semester, yet I too liked them a lot! I wrote a bit about my Italian professor here, and my art class here. It would be very easy for me to exist in a foreign bubble, with kids in an international school where so many people speak English, and living out in the country instead of the bustling center,  but these two places have given me a foothold within the real Bologna, spaces where I’m immersed in the Italian language and culture, and am so thankful to have had them over this first year.

Lastly, our apartment is going back up for rent and dealing with these damn New Yorkers is really exhausting! Talk about intensity! A dozen emails with all manner of posturing and peacocking are kicked up in a matter of minutes, over the tiniest issue.  How is that more of  these people don’t die of heart attacks and bleeding ulcers!? I say that with love NYC, but really, calm down. The thing is, I know I was occasionally one of these people during my couple decades there, and I’m wondering if you can go back, but avoid getting sucked back into their crazy. I’d have to dial up the meditation and yoga way up high I think!

Christine: I’m so bummed about missing Leeloo dance. And Zo’s exhibition. And Stef’s book & music launch. And looking at your painting live in front of me and listening to you describe the process of making it in grammar-perfect Italian (not that I’d know the difference). I wish there was a worm hole between Cold Spring & Bologna for weekends like this! I hope you have video of the dance to share and photos of everything else. I LOVE Leeloo’s attitude, too. One that can’t be taught but must be embraced in order to master any skill. (But can she teach me?) ALSO, I can’t believe that you have to deal with renting your apartment from 4,000 miles away. It seems like you were JUST dealing with that angst a couple of months ago. (Was it last year? Two years ago? Jeez!) From what I hear, rental demand in NYC is at an all time high so hopefully it will be a swift process. As for living in NYC again—hmmmmm…. I just don’t know. I haven’t lived there since 2006 and I feel like that city reinvents itself so often it would be like moving to another planet if I went back there now (and one that I might not necessarily feel welcome on). That said, I certainly miss many elements of being in the epicenter that New York is, but I’ve gotten to the point that whenever I go into the city I’m utterly exhilarated for the first few hours (and start looking at apartment listings and trying to figure out how to move back) and then, after about five or six hours of the smell and the lines and the pushing and the flagrant consumerism and the NOISE, the adrenaline wears off and the noise becomes nothing but screeches and coercion and the energy doesn’t seem exhilarating as much as manic and, by that point, even the best ethnic food in the country (and some of the best art in the world) can’t replace the serenity and peace of mind and kindness I’ve found here at the river’s edge. The thing is, I KNOW that I’d get sucked back up into the ‘crazy’–which is why my anxiety level starts to rise after a few hours of watching myself coveting shoes and jobs and cars and dinner reservations. I don’t like myself very much when I’m like that and I need to get out before I relapse! That said, I am sure that yoga & meditation help the 9 million folks who happily (mostly happily?) call that grand city Home. 

 

 

Friday Night Dinner 22

What We’re Eating and Drinking: Flag Cake & Tullia Sparkling Brut RoséScreen Shot 2014-07-03 at 7.30.03 AMHappy Fourth of July! I’m the least patriotic person I know but growing up, my mother always made this flag cake for the fourth of July, and since this year the 4th falls on a Friday night–an occasion I’m happy to celebrate–I figured the least I could do was recognize America’s independence with sugar-covered fruit. Noah’s at an age that resents such outward signs of parental goofiness, but since since we’re heading to Michele & Dan’s for the day I figured that Walker would appreciate my efforts. (He still thinks I’m cool.) It’s a super easy cake–you can use any flavor (or a mix! shhhh….)–just bake the cake in a rectangular pan and then decorate the top with blueberries and raspberries (or sliced strawberries if you prefer). My mom always used whipped cream in place of frosting (if you do, keep the cake in the fridge–which makes it deliciously refreshing and cool) but we’ll be using (dairy free) whipped coconut milk which is just a delicious. Paired with some sparkling rosé (this wine was featured at the Artisian Wine shop in Beacon a few weeks ago and I discovered it is yummy) will help put us in a celebratory mood (before the fireworks begin and Luca spends the night under a bed). Cheers!

Gina: I think I’d love your patriotic cake! Enjoy the day and the fireworks… I think I remember that there’s a beautiful view of them from Michele and Dan’s back porch! Cheers to you all. 

 

What We’re Talking About: the Dreaded Bullseye

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Sorry for the graphic photo, but that’s a deer tick bite on Noah’s belly. He woke up last Saturday morning feeling fine, but when his shirt lifted up as he was playing with Luca, I caught site of a giant red blemish on his left side. At first we weren’t sure what kind of bite it was–there are a thousand spiders that live in this house and it’s mosquito season after all. And deer-fly season. And Noah’s skin has always been sensitive and marked easily. So since, on that first morning, the bite was just a red circle (about the size of a nickel) and it didn’t hurt and we didn’t find a tick, I was hopeful that with some TLC (and maybe if we ignored it) the thing would just go way. No such luck. After 24 hours the red area had doubled in size, warranting a Sunday morning call to our pediatrician and a panicked day of Googling and dreading the worst. We were told to look for the formation of a bullseye pattern and rash (not all deer tick bites leave this tell-tale sign, but many do) and if it looked like that’s what was happening, we needed to come to the office Monday morning at 9am.

Diagnosis: Bullseye; probable exposure to Lyme Disease. Needless to say, Noah is now on a regimen of Doxycycline (an antibiotic that, because we caught this thing early, should cure him and help him escape any side effects or long-term problems associated with the disease) but a bummer, nonetheless. He’s got to be careful in the sun and get lots of rest so he can beat this thing back. I’m very grateful for Noah’s doctor and with how quickly I was able to have the prescription for the magic medicine in hand (we left the doctor’s office in Garrison and the bottle of pills was waiting for us at Drug World in Cold Spring). In other news, we’ll be spending the remainder of our summer evenings doing tick-checks, combing over one another like monkeys in the jungle. Ugh.

Gina: OH. NO. Not the deer tick! I dreaded spotting those little buggers or this bull’s eye while we were in Garrison, and I was always amazed when we made it through the summer without a bite. I’m so happy you caught it early. How long does he have to take the antibiotic? There are deer around the farm here too, but they don’t seem to run through our yard. At least, that’s what I’ve been betting on.. I can’t say that I miss the nightly tick checks! Keep us posted. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Us Eat Cake

“The first year was like icing. Then the cake started to show through …”
― John Ashbery

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When Gina and I decided to write posts marking the one year anniversary of their move to Bologna (we started this blog about half a year later), I thought that all I’d have to say about the matter was that I was lonely and that I missed them and that I wanted them to PLEASE COME BACK, and while I am sometimes lonely and I do miss them fiercely, these are not, surprisingly, my only thoughts on the matter. (Wanting them to come back is simply an unfluctuating state of mind that requires no explanation or justification.)

It’s strange, from the perspective of this side of the blog anyway, to write about their move as if it happened to me; as if the new life they’ve made for themselves on the other side of the world has anything to do with me at all.

Over the past year I had the good fortune of landing at its airport and strolling around its narrow streets and hearing, peripherally, about its quirks and quaintnesses but Bologna, in all the ways that really matter, remains as foreign to me as it did a year ago. I mean, Boise remains as foreign to me as it did a year ago, too–but what separates Bologna from Boise in my life at this moment of time anyway, is that I haven’t given the latter city a minute of thought over the past twelve months and sometimes Bologna, the intimate stranger that it has become, seems so close that it visits my dreams.

Gina and Stef moving away from here changed my life in ways that I’m just beginning to notice now, one year out. There are obvious ways of course, like the reality that fewer conversations take place between us and we have less knowledge of the day-to-day goings on in one another’s lives. Sometimes I worry that I’ll be replaced by newer, cooler friends or harbor concerns about being forgotten altogether. The Bouvarez clan moving out of our town also means that Leeloo has lost teeth that we didn’t celebrate and that Zoel grew a mop of hair (and cut it off) before we were able to run our fingers through it and that Noah had fewer fans cheering him on at the Middle School play. Most conspicuous, of course, are the many, many Friday nights that have passed–that will pass–when we’re not sitting at the same table together breaking bread.

My perspective is not as simple as labeling myself as a Friend Who Was Left Behind. The truth is their moving had NOTHING to do with me. I’m not a victim of their circumstance any more than I’m the victim of my own life. This situation, the Here and There configuration of this blog and of our friendship, is simply the context within which I am (we are) living life right now. That I am choosing to spend several hours a week highlighting the disparity (and the homogeneity) of our daily existences has forced me to bring many moments of this past year into focus in a way I might not have if our friends had stayed here and our lives had just continued on as they were. The digging deeper into my life that this kind of constant scrutiny entails, in me calling the details of my thoughts and actions to the front of my attention so they can be examined and understood…this move, their move has, stealthily and steadily transformed me as well.

The whole premise of this blogging endeavor was predicated by the different trajectories we realized my and Gina’s lives would be taking from the juncture of their flight to Europe forever onward, but the truth is our lives were going to follow different trajectories even if they had stayed in that house a mile down the road from us. The other-ness of other people’s lives (especially those of our loved ones) might be less obvious when we are all are painting with the same verb conjugations and a similar culinary palate, but there are a million ways to be American or a New Yorker or ‘From Garrison’, too. If we don’t pay close enough attention to what’s going with ourselves in relation to the people around us (which we usually don’t when our lives appear pretty similar on the surface), we miss everything the contrasts and convergences and the fact those differences are always, always there, can teach us.

Relationships, long-distance or next door, must always find their way around obstacles and impediments if they are going to survive and thrive. This year the Atlantic Ocean and five time zones proved challenging to the intimacy of my relationship with my friends (luckily love and connection and the want to stay in touch are present in both camps) and, sure, it’s been annoying (sometimes) and inconvenient (all the time), to drive by their old house and have to stop myself from pulling up their (old) driveway when I need a talking to and a healing cup of tea. Instead, I call or I email or I take a walk by the river and imagine the conversation and their advice and I feel better. Stef and Gina are still here in my life, they’re just not Here.

Geography, I’m learning, is not the insurmountable adversary to intimacy that I once thought it to be.

Here’s where I’m going to get polly-anna-ish, but bear with me: what if changing the perspective of a relationship can, perhaps, bring to light qualities (delightful qualities), in the other person that you weren’t able to discern from your original, up-close vantage point? Most certainly if you, ahem, consider the situation of friendship and togetherness diligently and then closely investigate the experience of being separated from someone you love, you will, at the very least, bring to light unexplored qualities in yourself. And that’s not nothing.

Increasing the physical distance between two people has proven to be the downfall of many friendships and loves (especially when paired with a wandering eye and anemic efforts to connect on one or both persons’ behalf), but it is my hope that the opposite result has the potential to be realized, too.

As Gina and I enter this, our second year of long-distance friendship and prepare for the second birthdays and holidays we’ll spend apart; now that our memories of “last year at this time” already allows for her absence at my kitchen table (and me at hers), I’m hopeful that the deeper elements of our connection–and a more profound appreciation of one another’s unique situations and sensibilities–will emerge from under the delicious but sugary glaze of honeymoon-love and the necessary but not always profound fondness and adoration that’s present at the beginning of a relationship.

I always scrape the frosting off slices of cake–the good stuff lies beneath it.

 

More Pleasant Adventures (by John Ashbery)

The first year was like icing.
Then the cake started to show through.
Which was fine, too, except you forget the direction you’re taking.
Suddenly you are interested in some new thing
And can’t tell how you got here. Then there is confusion
Even out of happiness, like a smoke—
The words get heavy, some topple over, you break others.
And outlines disappear once again.

Heck, it’s anybody’s story,
A sentimental journey—“gonna take a sentimental journey,”
And we do, but you wake up under the table of a dream:
You are that dream, and it is the seventh layer of you.
We haven’t moved an inch, and everything has changed.
We are somewhere near a tennis court at night.
We get lost in life, but life knows where we are.
We can always be found with our associates.
Haven’t you always wanted to curl up like a dog and go to sleep like a dog?

In the rash of partings and dyings (the new twist),
There’s also room for breaking out of living.
Whatever happens will be quite ingenious.
No acre but will resume being disputed now,
And paintings are one thing we never seem to run out of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paddling

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First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to Stefan on this, the LAUNCH DAY for his book and music projects and the official introduction of the considered life to the world! I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of witnessing a few moments of its development over the years and I promise you, neither the book nor the album should be missed.

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In other news, summer is here! I think I’ve mentioned this a few times already, but I’m just so doggone happy to be puttering around the house in bare feet with the windows open, the sloshing of boats on the river the soundtrack echoing through our house as the people and animal who live here settle into the rhythm of the season.

A change like this often comes with moments of bewilderment and it was during one of those murky mornings late last week, when Noah and I were bumping into one another in the kitchen and Ray was trying to get out the door to catch a train and Luca was whining because he wanted to go for a walk that I decided we needed to do something different–you know, in an attempt to flow with the slower pace and the looser structure of the day and not, ahem, paddle against it. Noah and I talked about finding a movie to see or going to the mall or, even, hopping on the train with Ray and heading into the city for a museum visit and lunch, but the sky was crystal blue and the breeze was gentle and warm and it wasn’t a day to be inside. So, I made the rare choice to go kayaking. You know, without our resident water expert around to guide us.

It’s not that I don’t ever go out on the river without Ray, but often it’s just easier and, to be honest, more palatable to have him with us. For safety and security reasons and because it’s obviously more fun, but also because he’s good at dragging the kayaks around and warning us about the changing tide and keeping Noah and I, two starry-eyed neophytes, focused on looking out for motor boats and tankers and other detritus that must be avoided whilst splashing about on this giant body of water in a plastic vessel the size of a bathtub.

Noah, ever the adventure seeker, was thrilled and did not miss a beat. Of course we could do it alone! No worries! He wanted to pack lunch. He wanted to find a swimming hole. He wanted to try to take the dog in the boat with us, too.

Luckily, I was able to keep my wits about me and made the executive decision to leave Luca home, but after making Noah promise to help me with the dragging-of-the-boat-down-to-the-beach and the paddling-up-the-river and the paying-attention-to-the-tide, we packed some snacks and a few jugs of water and headed out onto the Hudson.

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Happy.

We were treated to calm waters and beautiful scenery and we had a truly magnificent afternoon. It’s so interesting to visit places you’ve seen a thousand times before, but from an alternate point of view. We are lucky enough to live at the river’s edge and we watch it, awestruck, every single day. Our viewpoint, though, is always from above. We look down at the river and across at the mountains, perspectives that give us a sense of dominion or, at least, of safety over all that water and land. But to see everything looming above us, except the water of course–which itself seemed far more copious and deep once we were floating on top of it–made both Noah and I silent with appreciation. For the day and for one another.

 

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Our gazebo, seen from below.

Our house is perched up on a rock wall and even during the most violent storms (Sandy, Hurricane Irene) we never feel like there is a threat of danger or flooding. Once you’re down on the river, though, that certainty starts to shift. Sure the water in June is warm(ish) and the gentle lapping of the small waves against the boat seems comforting, but you also realize the river’s power and potential peril. When you’re depending on that water to keep you steady and moving, when the mountains form a bowl around you, when you are surrounded by rock walls that seem impossible to climb, you can get to thinking that maybe a storm could come through and send waves in through the back door.

You paddle on. Not afraid, but reverent and still. And curious.

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Our fellow travelers on the river–like these big tankers (we passed four or five) carrying everything from other boats (the one above is loaded down with yachts) to cement and gravel and oil–demand respect as well. While we enjoyed playing in the waves of their wake, we mostly stayed away and admired them from a distance.

Combing the riverfront we were treated to features of the shoreline we don’t usually get to see: driftwood structures built by campers or teenage revelers who find solace (and sometimes trouble) at dusk along the narrow beaches;

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and marooned logs and uprooted tree stumps, battered and smoothed down by water and sand.

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Even our beloved village’s waterfront, a place where we regularly walk the dog and eat ice cream and sit on one of the benches to read or write, seemed unfamiliar and exotic and strange.

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I’ll end today with a quote from The Considered Life:

“Escaping our familiar contexts seems to me one of the better and more tangible reset buttons that life, in its wise wisdom, has seen fit to make us believe was our idea…Such migrations do not necessarily have to mean visa-stamping and language-learning…The foreign-soiled experience can be had anywhere that feels alien to whoever you think you are or home to whoever you want to be…For I know that the crossing of borders and the changes in points of view, literal and metaphorical, supply me with a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of what has come to mean so much to me: the quest for quality of life.”

Yes.

It’s going to be a good summer.

Friday Night Dinner 21

What We’re Eating and Drinking: Garden Bounty and Chilled Beaujolais

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The bouquet of kale on the left is from our garden! Isn’t it pretty? Almost too pretty to eat, but we’ll find a way to incorporate it into our meal tonight. It’ll just be the three of us in the gazebo this evening and we won’t be getting there until after Noah’s All-Star baseball game (did I tell you that he made the All-Star team?) so we’re doing something simple. We’ll grill some asparagus and hangar steak, boil up some corn on the cob–from Adams, via Georgia, which is sacrilege for a girl like me who grew up with cornfields in the backyard…corn doesn’t come until AUGUST–and a simple salad made from the Red Russian Kale above and a little lemon, olive oil, some shaved parmesan and ground pepper. Ray is already tired of rosé (blasphemy!) so I’m going to chill a light red wine to go with the meat. It’s been pretty warm here so it will be refreshing after a long night of Little League.

Gina: All Star! That’s awesome. He must be so thrilled! Enjoy the game, the grilling and the homegrown kale. I’m pretty jealous about that last one! 

 

What We’re Talking About: Last Days of School and 7th Grade

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So, how did this happen?

 

I’m not one for sentimentalizing, but this year’s last day of school got me all choked up. Maybe it’s because Noah being a 7th grader now makes him seem so grown up–even though 6th grade was supposed to be the milestone because it marked, technically anyway, the transition to middle school. The truth is his past year of 6th grade didn’t seem all that different than 5th…Noah still had a homeroom group that he moved through the day with and his teachers still sent homework reminders to parents and, well, 6th grade is still part of elementary schools in some school districts around here. 7th grade, though…SEVENTH GRADE…now THIS seems like real change. At an annual end-of-school-water-gun-and-slip-and-slide party yesterday I was chatting with some other parents and we got to wondering if this was the Last Year that our boys would want to get together and run around in their shorts whooping and giggling and spraying each other with water. Already the girls had decided it wasn’t an activity for them anymore (for the first year since kindergarten not one of them showed up). We heard they had decamped for a day of more grown up activities…I don’t know: hair braiding and talking about fashion? But…we pondered aloud, by next year will our boys be reluctant to be so obvious in their joy, too? How about in their affection for one another? By next summer will they have fractured into small cliques, playing video games in a dark basement or wandering around the river’s edge all surly and mute?

One of the dads at the party–a sweet, soulful, retired NYPD officer–was teary at the very thought of it. As the father of two older boys, in addition to his now 7th grader, he knows all too well that a parent cannot, despite his most fervent wishes, halt time’s relentless march. It seems silly, we all agreed, to get misty-eyed over something that is really cause for celebration. In this case, the healthy development and growth of these divine beings who we’ve been feeding and loving and urging forward since the moment they tumbled into our lives.

“I guess I just wish we had a few more kids,” the father/sage chuckled as he gazed over the field of half-naked adolescents, their skin still, for a few more fleeting months anyway, as hairless and slick as a newborn’s. “But I guess no matter how many there were, I’d have to get used to saying goodbye eventually.”

At his utterance of that word goodbye, a word that had been dangling on each one of our tongues as we thought about all the little goodbyes of seventh grade that would eventually, inevitably, on one similarly hot and humid June afternoon like this in the far but not so distant future, give way to the big goodbye of high school, we took in a collective short breath.

I think I’m still holding mine.

 

Gina: Wwwwwaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I see these small changes happening here too, and try to avoid thinking about what will happen when all of these small changes are piled up together. Who will I be facing at that moment? Will I recognize the 11 year old boy that lives with me now in the 18 year old face that will be here before I know it? Even now, as I think of describing to you some of the evolution that I’m witnessing, I’m stopped by thoughts of invading the privacy of a young man who maybe doesn’t want his mother talking about some of the recent conversations we’ve had or experiences he’s had, or the kinds of questions he’s asking. Makes me even more thankful for the slower days of summer!

 

Staying Inn

While Gina and other members of the Bouvarez clan ready themselves for visitors galore, I am pleased that summer has arrived in the Hudson Highlands and that Noah’s school obligations are over so that I can tend to the cocoon of privacy and alone-ness I’ve been cultivating here at the River’s edge for the past year (and longer) and Stay Home Alone. I mention the past year because that is when our friends left for the hinterlands of Italy–more about that next week–and longer because it has taken me almost 44 years of living on this planet to realize that I’m an introvert at heart.

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It’s not a realization that I’ve taken to comfortably. It took more than three decades and a serious conversation at an ungodly hour of a brand new year to help me even recognize that being alone, and quiet, are the states that I covet most.

I come from a family of talkers–on my mom’s side anyway. My grandmother is from Sicily and she holds the stereotypical Italian disposition of being temperamental, easily angered and loud. Love comes easily to her, too, which is illustrated in her steadfast loyalty and support of her grandchildren, some who have gotten divorced, sworn at God and gone to jail. Still, she thrives on togetherness, on the charge of noisy conversation and sharing a room, and a meal, with her children and their offspring (and their lovers–though she publicly calls them ‘friends’). At the age of 90 she lives alone, happily most of the time, but it’s no secret that she prefers occasions when every chair in her house is occupied and the television is switched to Sports Center and the grand-dogs are begging for meatballs at the kitchen door.

My mother’s extroversion is even more developed. Her want to be out in the world, along with her ability to keep a conversation going, is legendary in the small town that she and my father live in upstate. Joining her on errands to the bank or the supermarket promises to take far longer than the time needed to complete the tasks on her list–there are tellers to talk to and check out girls–former students of hers–who she’ll need to catch up with. Last weekend I went home for a large family party and watched my mother work the room. No matter that it wasn’t a party she was throwing (it was her brother’s wife’s birthday), she took it upon herself to make sure each person was sated and content. She moved from table to table with anecdotes and queries about new babies, deftly sipping her drink and nibbling cheese between bursts of laughter. I watched her from my seat at our table, re-checking the door for the quickest route of escape, and marveled at her energy and her endurance. When I had arrived with her an hour earlier I said hello to my Aunt (the guest of honor), my cousins (the actual hosts) and my grandmother and then hightailed it to the bar. When my mother got to our table (convinced to return only by the announcement that dinner would be served shortly) she was glowing and happy and charged. If I had talked to that many people in that short of a span of time somebody would’ve needed to administer oxygen.

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Our quiet, empty table in contrast to Gina’s…though sometimes it gets filled with very close friends.

I seem a bit delayed in the knowing thyself department, so for a long time I thought that togetherness filled me up too. I’d throw parties and apply for jobs that required small talk and social skills. Whenever I tried to work a room I’d end up tongue tied and exhausted, but I persevered–thinking that triumph could be found in chit chat and charm but I was miserable and unsuccessful and I had no idea why. It also felt like a failing to not pass the torch of all that gregarious mojo on to Noah. He learned early that whenever we attend a school play or concert to flee to the car as soon as the curtain comes down and, at his baseball games, not to look for me in the crowded bleachers behind home plate, but under the tree beyond first base, alone.

This summer, as Gina’s house fills to capacity and friends and strangers enjoy witty conversations over breakfast and rowdy dinners under the stars, I’ll be here–a world away–(quietly) envying the party, but hopefully, finally understanding that my much more understated visit with her later in the summer will be just perfect for us. I’ll try to take solace in knowing that during those few nights in that gazebo in August we’ll be mesmerized not by the crowd, but by the hard lock of friendship and love and that while I might not be teaching Noah the art of social networking, I’ll be sharing with him the first sprouts of authenticity and what’s it’s like to live as yourself.

As for the big Cuban birthday party, I’ll let you know.

Pondering Popcorn

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I make popcorn the old-fashioned way—in a pot on the stove, rather than in a bag in the microwave. A benefit to this technique (in addition to producing a snack of vastly superior taste and texture) is that it allows witness to a transformative process from start to finish. What begins as a canister of pebble-like, inedible seeds can become, in just a few minutes, a bowlful of fluffy, salty, satiating goodness.

Generating the conversion is simple—add a quarter cup of popcorn to a pot slick with simmering oil, cover and wait. Tiny bubbles and pale yellow kernels begin to dance in the swirling puddle and a few of the seeds pop immediately, bursting into white clouds that ricochet against the steel (or anodized aluminum) walls. Others resist for a minute or two, but soon roll over and yield to the greasy catalyst. Still, a few hold on until the end. Buried by their more eager compatriots, they wait until the heat is extinguished to rupture, emitting a muffled hiss from deep within the mound of exhausted casings.

Always, there are a handful of rogue seeds that do not pop. Some singe and shrivel into asphalt-like specks of gravel, a couple more crack—exposing a hint of their white innards. In the end, there are a few that prove impervious to the high temperatures and boiling oil. They remain unaltered—latent, salt-covered embryos that refuse to change at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Night Dinner 20

What We’re Eating and Drinking: ‘Raw-violi’ and Rosé

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 7.36.36 AMSome of the food changes we made during the cleanse a few weeks ago have stuck. Both Ray and I have been craving raw vegetables with our meals after returning to our “old” way of cooking and, after consuming a few meals of cooked vegetables and a salad, feeling like everything tasted bland and unsatisfying. We’ve started to incorporate a raw side dish or two into the cooked meals that we typically make. Often I whip up some kind of raw soup, which is super easy. Just put a bunch of veggies and fresh herbs into a food processor and voila!–cold soup. But tonight, on account of it being Friday and all, I’m going to take a little extra time to put together one of the more exotic appetizers I really enjoyed during the cleanse. It’s called raw-violi (yep, bad pun) and it’s made from thinly sliced beets and un-cheese. I know, I know, as a big cheese fan myself I was dubious about eating something that was supposed to mimic cheese (how do you mimic a most perfect thing?) but wasn’t cheese at all. The trick is to not call these raw foods anything other than what they are. Once you realize that the food you are making will have neither the taste nor the texture of the food it trying to imitate, it’s much easier to appreciate it. (I’m ready to rewrite all of the raw food cookbooks without the cute attempts at impersonation: i.e. zucchini “fettuccine”, “german chocolate cake” (made from prunes) and yam “noodles.”)

For the raw-violi, layer the thinly sliced raw beets with any kind of vegan cheese (here’s a link to several recipes for ‘cheese’), put a dollop of ‘cheese’ on top and serve as a side dish or appetizer. Coupled with a glass of rosé in the gazebo, it’s a perfect and healthy beginning to the weekend.

Gina: Despite my every inclination, I’ll admit that sounds kind of scrumptious. I am not a big fan of the beet, and you know how I feel about soft cheese (or pseudo cheese), but something about the combo sounds good. It may be because the couple of times that Michele has taken my to raw food restaurants in New York, things that I usually wouldn’t mix or that I’d shy away from, have ended up being delicious. I think you hit upon something when you said that you have to stop expecting these dishes to taste like other foods. They have their own flavors, and often it’s all about the combination! Bon appetit!

 

What We’re Talking About:

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(Am I using the French correctly?)

Tonight, the limitations of virtual friendship are particularly evident, but I’m going to try to talk things out here. This conversation seems like one of those long ones, best had in somebody’s backyard because it necessitates eye contact and gestures and maybe a hug; because we’ve had similar talks over the butcher block in your old kitchen and next to river here and around your giant table in Bologna and afterwards I’ve felt hopeful and light.

There isn’t big news to share, I’m just wrestling with the stuff of life, issues and worries and shortcomings and patterns that I find coming around and around, again and again but that I’m trying to LEARN FROM this time around. I’m trying, you know, to get things right. For me, one of my worst habits is coveting that which I cannot have; OR: wanting that which does not want me. What’s that famous Groucho Marx quote? “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

My thing is kind of like that, but not exactly. When I look back on decisions I’ve made through the years I can see, very clearly, that I’ve forced a lot of things: friendships, jobs, lovers, moves. I can see that as I persisted, unblinking, towards certain goals (desires? are they one and the same?) with an unrelenting, almost blind desire (to be friends or lovers with a particular person or to get hired for a particular job or to live at specific address), I was hitting roadblocks every step of the way. And while I appreciate the need for hard work and understand that the path to victory is very often tiresome and an arduous, long journey, I think that I’ve wasted years trying to force circles into square holes; by mistaking my reluctance for challenges and overriding my own instincts (to say no?) in the name of sacrifice. Incidentally, after years of pushing and driving and browbeating, the elements of my life were often in shambles: friendships, marriages, careers–all which have bit the dust.

Recently it’s been suggested by more than one person that I lack street smarts, that I just don’t see the forest for the trees and maybe that’s true. It does seem that at times I lack common sense (the difference between common sense and prudence being a vast and broad one).

The thing is, I’m in a bit of a quandary like this now. There are two jobs in town here that I’m circling around–one sexier and more glamorous, the other secure and safe with the potential to be…boring and conventional and solid. Guess which one I’ve interviewed for and which one is leading me on with suggestive emails but no solid commitment to talk face to face? Guess which one I WANT?!?

I feel like it might be time for me to put my desires aside and stop trying to date the captain of the football team and accept my fate as the girlfriend of the treasurer of the debate team…but I can’t help wanting the glory. Maybe it’s a lack of street smarts or maybe I’m just greedy.

Ugh. I can’t wait to see you. August can’t come soon enough!

Gina: Nope, this can’t be hashed out in ten (or fifty) lines of commentary, but I understand what you’re saying and feeling. It reminds me of an article, that’s I think is at least tangentially related to your quandary!  It was by a woman who had always dreamed of creating and tending to a beautiful elaborate garden. She had made dozens of plans, read tons of books, had many false starts, bought seeds and plants that never made it into the ground, and spent years, decades even, feeling terribly guilty about how she wasn’t getting around to using  her talents to make that damn garden happen.

But then, she had a revelation. She was never, ever, going to be a gardener, great or otherwise. She was never going to plant anything. She had been choosing other things over gardening for years because she liked them more, because they were more necessary, because they flowed better with the rest of her life, etc, etc., and yet, she had spent all this mental time on the dream of gardening.  Instead of accepting her reality and concentrating her energy fully on the things she’d chosen, she had let herself be nagged by and then later, really weighed down by, the disappointment in herself and the guilt she carried. On that fine day when she finally made the decision to accept that she’d never be a gardner, the guilt and disappointment fell away, and she got on with it, “it” being the things she was already good at and doing.

When I first read this, the over achiever in me was not having any of it. How do you just decide not to do something that you had hoped to get to for years? How do you say to yourself that’s never going to happen? Never?! I’m still trying to accept that notion fully, but I am starting to grasp that you squander an enormous amount of energy beating yourself up about not getting to (or about not having) whatever IT is. And then all the disappointment in yourself, and the resentment and anger you continually direct at yourself (subconsciously or consciously) because of this “failure”, further poisons your life. So now, your resources are depleted and you’re sick. Better to let go of that thing (whatever it is), accept it’s never going to happen and live your life. The person who does that has a much better chance of doing something meaningful or living fully, than the one lugging around all that garbage. Make a choice and then let go of the mental garbage. So easy to write, yet…

20+ lines and probably not much is solved. We will tackle this one in person soon. x

 

Invincible Summer

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Screen Shots of my phone weather app from March 1 and yesterday.

2014 has been a year of weather extremes and the recent change to the climate here seemed to come overnight. After a very long, very cold winter, summer entered swift and fierce. Not that I’m complaining. That May and June arrived bearing copious amounts of sun and above normal temperatures (tonight we have fans running all over the house–a necessity that doesn’t typically occur until mid-July) is just fine with me. Sure, it means that Ray & I will start arguing about air conditioning sooner than usual (he’d live in a climate-controlled environment 365 days of the year, I like fresh air–even when it blows through the window at the temperature of a dryer exhaust), but an early, hot summer also means that our basil and tomato plants are already thriving and that I get to wear sundresses for a few extra weeks.

On my hikes these past days I’ve marveled at the rocks that I climb and and the groves of trees I pass through and the river I admire–astonished at how just a few weeks ago (really, like less than a dozen weeks) the scenery around me seemed to be from an entirely different world. Last night when Noah & I took Luca for his last-pee-of-the-night-walk in our lightest-weight pajamas we remembered, without regret, that same walk in January…when one of us had to put on mittens and boots and a hat and a heavy coat, just to walk to the tree at the end of the driveway.

The expeditious arrival of the new season has made me covetous, too. Especially because of the glacially slow changes happening inside me and around me–the way my writing aspirations seem stuck and it feels like I will never, ever get a job. Why, I’ve been supposing in the back of my brain, do some things seem to take so long? For today, I’m feeling buoyed by the warm air around me, hopeful that if I marinate it in long enough I will internalize some of the transformation I see happening around me. Until then, I’m pretty delighted to enjoy it just for what it is.

(Click photos to increase their size.)

 

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Our backyard and the gazebo. We eat out there almost every night, which seemed impossible–which WAS impossible–just a dozen weeks ago.

 

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One of the paths I follow on my morning walk with Luca. Today I wore sandals and a tank top; the memory of my ankle length down parka and wool-lined boots was far from my mind.

 

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Storm King Mountain during one of last winter’s blizzards…and not.

 

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Foundry Brook, which runs through the West Point Foundry Preserve, in late winter and then in late spring.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”

~Albert Camus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Night Dinner 19

What We’re Eating and Drinking: Zucchini Quiche & Carpineto Dogajolo RosatoScreen Shot 2014-06-12 at 2.21.00 PM

Dinner on the go has been the way of things here this week. Noah’s been in final-rehearsal mode for the middle school play (see below) which has meant four days in a row of being at school from 5pm – 9:30pm. Since 9:30 (really 9:45 by the time we get home) is a bit too late for him to eat dinner on a school night, I’ve had to improvise and make a meal (in the late afternoon) which can be stored and then delivered to him around 6:30. Tonight is opening night and Noah’s call time is 5pm which requires another lunch box dinner, so I made a summer-staple in our house: Zucchini Quiche. This recipe comes from my mother and reminds me of the pool parties my parents used to have when I was a kid–weekend long, rather raucous gatherings of my mom’s college friends and their families. The women (who did all of the cooking except the grilling because, you know…men) always put this dish on the menu and to this day I think of them, in all their bell-bottoms & feathered-hair glory–whenever I make it. This is not a quiche with a crust, so it’s easy to cut up and hand out to hungry kids (with hot dogs and a side of watermelon). Yes, Bisquick is an ingredient and, yes, this link to the recipe sends you to the Betty Crocker website, but trust me when I tell you that it is a perfect one-dish meal and relatively healthy to boot: chock full of zucchini and eggs (for protein) as it is. (I’m also pretty proud of myself for not throwing pizza at Noah for a third night.) Toss together a nice side salad (or some cut up veggies and fruit) and it’s perfect for a meal on the run. I’ll opt for mine with a glass of rosé after the show.

Gina: Bisquick and bell-bottoms! I love it. We had to do one of these lunch dinners for Leeloo on Wednesday because of her early evening ballet recital. I ran out of time to make it myself though, and ended up getting her a piadine (traditional sandwich of this region) with “cotto”, cooked ham, not so interesting, but it did the trick, and kept her going until we reached the Trattoria around 8:30pm. There, she and the rest of my clan, devoured 3 very rich plates of pasta alla Bolognese (read: with lots of cream, butter and/or prosciutto, pancetta or other cured meat), then went for some scrumptious gelato to celebrate a beautiful night! Nothing but veggies and fruit smoothies coming up this weekend…

 

What We’re Talking About: Midsummer/Jersey

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So, tonight’s opening night! Oh how I wish you guys were here to see the show. It’s going to be a riot and quite the production. I know we’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but this little village can really hold its own when it comes to talent in the theatre department. There are 47 middle schoolers in the play–out of a pool of about 165–and while not all of the actors are going to end up on Broadway, that’s a pretty impressive accumulation of interest in performing arts. I spent many hours this week backstage, sewing together fairy wings and shortening pants and listening to middle-schoolers dramatize everything from the fit of their shoes to make-up that wasn’t complementing their eye color. I’m no seamstress, as you probably are scratching your head at the idea of me with a needle and thread between my teeth, but the wardrobe people were desperate enough to accept any set of helping hands so I offered to put the finishing touches on a few things. Being at school during rehearsals also gave me the opportunity to get a peek at the show–and it promises to be a high-energy, fun production. The show itself is a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream set on the boardwalk of a seaside town in modern-day New Jersey. The musical numbers are loud and catchy (think Pharrell, Justin Timberlake & Beyoncé) and though Noah’s role is on the smaller side, he’s thrilled to be a part of the production. I’ll take lots of photos and post more about the performance next week.

Gina: OH! I don’t like missing these moments…It would be awesome to be there and share this special night with Noah, you and Ray.  Someone please take a few minutes of video, so we can at least get a glimpse of his first middle school play! At least lots of pictures please! I’m having a hard time picturing you sewing backstage, but it seems like… fun?… and a wonderfully non-intrusive way to plug into Noah’s world for a little while. Please tell him to have an excellent time and in bocca al lupo from all of us! Break a leg Noah! Can’t wait to hear about all your adventures later in the summer.