“It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.”
Even after spending a short time here, in our little corner of cyberspace, those of you who don’t already know will discover that the right side column of these posts will often provide a darker, drearier read than the left. One of the reasons I love Gina so much is because she possess an authentically enthusiastic (though decidedly NOT pollyannaish) view of life and of our world–an orientation which serves to temper my curmudgeonly and more cynical sensibilities. It’s a distinction that is evident in the quotes we’ve chosen for this, our first nature-photo-post.
The thing is, I’m not a fan of autumn. Even living where I do, in a part of the world where it’s Mother Nature’s time to show off as she does–staining leaves impossible shades of crimson and gold while scenting the air with campfire smoke and the fragrance of ripened crops of grasses and hay. There are days here in the fall when the sky is so blue and crisp that just standing underneath it can break your heart right open. Still, for me, autumn is mostly a reminder that winter will soon be here and that I’m going to be cold for the next seven months.
As I get older, though, I’m finding it harder to escape the beauty of this place–as well as its savageness (we’re in the midst of one of the coldest winters on record–but more on that tomorrow). Spending time with both of those elements, IN them, plodding through the nature of them wearing rubber boots and fleece gloves and stabling myself with a walking stick, helps assuage my orneriness about not being able to arrive quickly enough at the answer to those two ancient mysteries Ms. Ackerman speaks of.
Sometimes the savage and the beauty make it (almost) worth the wait.
“At a certain point, you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world: Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening.” –Annie Dillard
Contrary to Ms Dillard’s beautiful words (which the lady in that right-hand column over there sent me because we share a love of being outside), I find that I live in nature that can be so striking that it stops me in my tracks, commanding me to pay attention to it because it is ready. On Tuesdays, I’ll share photos of those moments when I have no choice but to stop, focus and listen.
To get started, here’s a look at how our countryside and town changed from September through December.
My grandmother’s 90th birthday is in a of couple of weeks. My Italian grandmother. My mother’s mother. The one from Sicily who taught me how to can tomatoes and make sausages and grow basil and parsley and green beans. My Italian grandmother who has never been to Italy—‘the old country’ as she calls it—but still drives 45 minutes to buy the only acceptable Parmaesan she’s found in upstate NY.
It’s the running joke of our family. This Cheese.
The only time you’ll see grated cheese on my family’s table is on a holiday. Christmas. Easter. The Fourth of July picnic (with the Bovees) at the Lake. Sure, cheese is served at almost every meal (and to clarify, when members of my family say ‘cheese’ they are referring to hard, Italian Parmaesan—everything else is given its proper name: mozzarella, cheddar, sandwich provolone) because there’s always an opportunity to put a dusting of it on something…soup, steamed vegetables, any variety of potato, scrambled eggs. But only on special occasions is it served grated. On most nights a greasy hunk of the stuff sits on the table in its more unspoiled form (on a plate next to an old metal grater) and folks are left to shred it on their own.
When my grandfather was alive (he was also Sicilian, also fond of cheese), he and my grandmother would to drive to Boston regularly so that my grandmother could visit her sisters who she’d left behind in Quincy, MA (a town just south of Boston, once heavily populated with Italian immigrants) and they always ferried back several pounds of ‘good’ cheese from their favorite shop in the North End. Once they got home, they’d divvy up the triangular wedges wrapped in white butcher paper and twine, among my mother and her two siblings. We had a special spot in the refrigerator for the haul, one that would become cavernous between those trips east, but could never be sullied with an inferior variety of a saran-wrapped American impostor from the grocery store. My uncle nicknamed the monthly voyage The Cheese Run and the name stuck, especially because of the time my grandparents drove back to Boston one night to exchange the cheese because my grandmother said it smelled bad.
Now that my brothers and cousins and I have made homes for ourselves in cities around the globe, we’re given care packages of cheese to take back with us whenever we come home. My brother, who lives in Colorado, tells the story of how once his luggage was inspected after he landed at Denver International Airport because the drug agents and their canine companions weren’t quite sure what to do with the plastic bag filled with aging goat milk curd they found packed neatly between his Christmas gifts. I have a spot in the dairy drawer of my own fridge that, when it’s empty, reminds me that it is time to plan a trip home.
Despite her allegiance to the highest quality cheese, my grandmother has no desire to visit Italy. Whenever I ask her why she never went back she says that she’s always been afraid to fly. That the trip was always too expensive. That the time was never right and then my grandfather got sick and now she’s too old. She says that, anyway, her family is her home, so wherever they are becomes her homeland and now that place is Johnstown, New York. A little city on the edge of the Adirondack Mountains that she moved to seventy years ago after she married my grandfather. She’s raised a family there. She’s buried a husband and his four brothers and her mother-in-law in a cemetery a mile away from the house she’s owned for six decades. It sounds like home to me.
Some days I think of her driving to a store 20 miles from that house so that she can replenish her family’s stash of Parmaesan and I wonder what keeps her going back. At her age, why not settle for the brand that they stock at the Price Chopper right in town? But then I imagine her mother as a young girl, roaming the dusty streets of a town right out of The Godfather (the only movie she and my grandfather ever owned on VHS) and I know that for her, this pilgrimage tethers her to an otherworld she can only dream about on nights she allows herself to sift through the stack of black and white photos she keeps in a box in the closet of her back room.
My grandmother’s family left Italy and came to America more than a hundred years ago. They stayed and made a life. And my Nonna is at peace with the lifetime she’s spent here, in the place she’s sprinkled with the very best fairy dust of her forefathers and mothers. The place that she calls home.
About a month after our arrival, Leeloo realized that her birthday was coming up in just a few weeks. Her face lit up like a carnival ride at the thought, and then just as quickly her whole face dropped as she also remembered that she knew No One in Bologna. What about my friends?! What about my best friends?! And Nana and Abuelo?! Who will come to my party!? Sensing that a total breakdown was coming, I immediately replied with a big smirky grin “Don’t worry. Papa and I have an extra special surprise planned for you!” Confident that moms have this kinda thing under control, she quickly recovered and off to the pool she bounced. My son, never wanting to be left out of a good secret plan, leaned in conspiratorially, and asked: “What is it? You can tell me.” I answered honestly. “I have absolutely no idea.”
I also had no reference point for what it’s like to be in her situation. As much as my sister and I would have liked them to, my parents had never moved. My friends (and my sorta-like cousins, and my real cousins and aunts and uncles and…) had always been there. But here we were in another country, in those fragile first months, when she was asking to face time her closest friends daily, and when she was just starting to piece together what moving across the Atlantic Ocean meant to her 6-year-old life. The excitement of packing and moving and settling into a new place was waning, and school life had yet to offer new friendships and adventures. What’s a momma to do? Flying everyone to Italy wasn’t an option, so I went for the next best thing, total and utter over-compensation.
We came up with a road trip to the beach, and planned a few days exploring the Adriatic Coast. Nana and Abuelo even joined us because, being way better planners than their off spring, they had had the foresight to organize their first trip to Bologna at the same time as their granddaughter’s birthday! But then after candles had been blown out, presents given and we had all packed back into the car, supposedly heading back home, Stefan took a few “wrong turns” off the highway, and we ended up at the entrance of… Mirabilandia – a huge amusement park right outside the coastal city of Ravenna. I should mention that we are not so much amusement park people, but even Stefan, who starts to sweat and swear at the thought of being in a crowded space with hundreds of people he doesn’t know, had agreed that an amusement park was the answer. The only answer for one homesick and newly seven-year-old. The day was spent riding just about everything in the park. Stefan patiently endured long lines of sweaty people, Abuelo went down a water coaster for the first time, and Nana and I road the rapids with the kids and raucous Italian teens. We sampled amusement park pasta, tigelles (a pita-like sandwich typical of the area), Italian beer and wine under the hot summer sun. The day came to an abrupt end (to the delight of the 4 adults involved) when the skies opened up around 6pm and a storm drove everyone off the rides and running to their cars. Leeloo proclaimed it: The. Best. Birthday. Ever. as she took off her sandals and splashed in puddles all the way to the exit.
Less than 3 months later, Zoel’s birthday rolled around, and we really had no choice but to go big again. He had dropped a few “Wow, I can’t wait to see what you come up with for my birthday since we did that whole thing for Leeloo’s!”, upping the pressure just a bit more. How do you top an amusement park in a soon-to-be 11 year old boy’s mind you ask? I racked my brain quite bit with that one, and then, luckily, asked the right new friend here in Bologna. She came back with the brilliant idea of taking the kids to a medieval castle called Castello di Gropparello, which belonged to the Count of Gropparello during the late Middle Ages, but that dates all the way back to 810. What made it even cooler for our history loving boy is that actors take over the grounds from April through November, and lead an audience through a play that takes you through not only the castle itself, but the enchanted forest surrounding it. We met up with wizards, fairies, beasts, knights and Merlin, himself, as we made our way up rocky hills and down muddy slopes. At one point the kids were invited to dress as knights and join the castle’s forces to find and slay 3 hairy black beasts who, just as we approached an open field, emerged from the foggy edges of the forrest. I kid you not. I had to stop myself from running. Zoel got right in the chase with his wooden sword pumped high in the air. He tangled with one of the beasts one-on-one and dealt him the blow that finally dropped him to the ground. At that moment, he looked older and much bigger than the little ones around him, on the verge of being too old for all of this, but thankfully, for this momma, he wasn’t just yet.
Place: Haldane School (a New York State public school)
Attire: Comfy-casual. “No tank tops, no flip flops, no gum, no hats.”
Setting: Brick, multi-level institutional structure built in 1936. The campus overlooks the Hudson River in the village of Cold Spring, NY.
Vibe: A tailgate party wearing your favorite team jersey and running shoes without the keg or grilled bratwurst.
Overall feeling: Nerves + Excitement.
In the run-up to the first day of school last September, it seemed hardly to matter that it was my son who would be starting the sixth grade. I was carrying around enough anxiety and dread for the both of us, plus three. There were supplies to buy and a new backpack to pick out. I had to be sure that each of the 376 forms that had come in the mail over the summer were filled in and signed and clipped together in a neat stack. I stocked up on organic fruit snacks and biodegradable waxed paper sandwich bags. I made a copy of Noah’s schedule and stuck it to the fridge. And then I realized my fervor was starting to sound quite similar to the chopping noise that helicopter rotors make.
It’s good parenting to pack a smiley-face love note in your first grader’s lunchbox. It’s ridiculous to consider doing it once his voice has started to deepen and crack.
But for many parents, Middle School in the U.S. serves as a zeitgeist for the very worst of adolescent behavior and development. We imagine lockers filled with drugs and booze and hallways brimming with sex, tattoo needles and bullying. I still remember the terrifying rumors about my own junior high school in rural upstate NY: tales of kids being dangled over the third floor railing for daring to wear a Red Sox t-shirt in Yankee country; speculation about why the tile floor in the tiny bathroom next to the boys locker room was always wet and sticky; the smell of Captain Morgan’s and Marlboros oozing out of the trash can by the pool. And that was the ‘80s! When the worst crime my parents could pin on my beloved Duran Duran Wild Boys was a mild concern that they might be gay. And they couldn’t even Google the band to find out for sure.
No doubt, middle school in America remains a precarious time for kids and parents alike. Readily available to adolescents in 2014: the internet, texts, sexts, free downloadable porn, violent video games, snorting Adderal, snorting Smarties, weapons for sale at Walmart and an abundance of fattening, sugary snacks that cost a quarter. And these are just the things that we have to look out for. What about the stuff that is missing? Classes focussing on character development & sexuality education, required foreign-language studies, (required) arts and music instruction, adequate physical activity and, maybe most important, unscheduled time so that those youthful, burgeoning imaginations can run free.
Luckily for Noah (and for me) our tiny village, along with its neighborhood school, are fantastically serene. From a safety standpoint, there’s really nothing for me (or him) to worry about (though we’ve both learned that even the most guarded innocence can be stolen in the blink of an eye). Sixth, seventh and eighth graders are housed in the same building as the elementary school kids (the high school is a bit further up the hill). Noah will have art class and music lessons and band and P.E. In fact, the middle school is really just a separate warren of hallways that are mirrored replicas of the ones the children have been scampering around since they were five.
Perhaps the one negative: the middle school day here begins an hour earlier than the elementary school. Class starts at 7:35am. Yep. 7:35. There’s nothing like kicking the day off with the queasiness of jet lag (and the near darkness that marks the frozen mornings of January). I cannot imagine the din of energy that trails a group of sleep-deprived, probably hungry (who can eat anything at dawn?) pre-pubescents as they rattle past and bang into one another every morning, fiddling with locker combinations and trying to find their math books. With warning bells and final bells and announcements sounding over the loud speaker at regular intervals it must seem like an air-raid at sunrise. It’s a good thing Noah had all that training with the helicopter last summer.
Even though it’s been several months, when I remember his first day of middle school I am happy to report it went, well, better than expected:
It was a bright Friday morning (don’t ask, something about state aid and snow days) when Noah and I made the short, silent ride up the hill to campus. En route, he checked his bag. I checked the lump in my throat (as well as my impulse to drive him, instead, to Chuck-E-Cheese). His knee bounced to the pop-rock radio station. I bit my lip and managed to tearlessly ask, “Are you ready?”
He said: Yes. Mom. I’m fine.
Great. Me too. I told myself.
When we got to the drop off circle, yellow busses were discharging hoards of kids onto the huge, impossibly green lawn. The sound of all those voices shrieking hello to one another and the sight of gangly, awkward bodies dragging huge bags of notebooks and folders behind them was enough to make me forget, for a moment anyway, my worries about the evils that might be lurking nearby. (I pointedly ignored the sheriff’s car that’s been tucked into a side parking lot since the day after Newtown as well as the ominous load of smoky teenagers roaring up the hill. I even made peace with the presence of the vending machine in the basement. One that dispenses bags of Doritos and cans of ice-cold Coca-Cola.)
Noah and I said goodbye and, as he got out of the car, his sweet face took on its countenance of nervousness, tinged with a brightening excitement I could see pulsing around his eyes. He slammed the door–his attention already immersed in that sea of friends and possibilities–and all there was left for me to do was go home. As I slowly drove back towards the river I felt, for that four minutes anyway, a sense of relief. We had made it. Inevitable though it was, Noah made it to Middle School.
There wasn’t a note in his lunchbox, of course, but he had tucked an extra copy of his schedule into the back pocket of his new cargo pants. In the corner, I had drawn a little smiley face.
Attire: Warm weather uniform, school polo shirt and navy blue bottoms.
Setting: The inner courtyard of an ex-abbey on a narrow cobblestone street in Bologna’s historic center.
Vibe: Friday cocktails at an outdoor terrace minus drinks plus 175 screaming children.
Overall feeling: Nerves + excitement.
Finally! After a long, hot summer in Bologna’s countryside, our 5th and 2nd graders started school at the beginning of September, in the city’s historic center. The school is an IB (International Baccalaureate) World School that teaches in English but includes daily Italian instruction for foreigners. This place was a big part of our decision to live in Bologna instead of somewhere else in Italy. We loved the fact that almost 70% of the kids are Italian, which we found out along the way is not the norm for an international school here. Most are filled, I guess not too shockingly, with ex-pats from all over the world. (Similarly, when we were scoping out places to live, Bologna stood out from the rest precisely because it’s a beautiful, historic city that’s filled with Italians, instead of millions of tourists and international folk. Despite it’s fame within the country as the culinary capital of Italy, it seems to be off the map for most travelers.)
For a few years, IB schools had been luring me in, with their focus on being internationally-minded, and their mission to develop people who are: “Inquirers, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open-minded, Caring, Risk-takers, Balanced and Reflective.” That seemed pretty awesome. Now, we have a chance to see if all this wonderfulness is actually possible or just a bunch of pedagogical hooey. Coming from a good New York public school, it will at least be very interesting to see what happens when you lose all those practice worksheets and some of that teacher-led curriculum, and let the kids take the reigns sometimes.
On this first day of school, alarms rang at 6:45am, which is not that big of a deal for my son, Zoel, the early-riser of our clan, but for the rest of us, OUCH. None of us had seen this time of day since June. It was 7:15 before we were out of bed (Zoel was already dressed and ready to go.) Nervousness, excitement and curiosity were on the menu for breakfast, and I was just as tweaked as the kids, partly because I knew it was a big deal for them, but also because I was/am so incredibly jealous of them and the opportunity to dive into a different culture and language within a totally new learning environment. (I’m a geek who would be happy to wonder the halls of academia for life, so this kind of thing gets me going.)
We managed to leave our house in Casalecchio early, fearing that if we got stuck in traffic, or couldn’t find a non-resident parking spot, we would miss the starting bell. (Only residents of the school’s neighborhood in Bologna’s ‘Centro’, which lies within the city’s 12th century wall, can drive and park freely in the area. Visitors to the ‘hood share a limited number of pay-to-park spots and can only drive on a few streets.)
Luckily, traffic was fluid and a parking spot was waiting for us, so we made our way over to the tiny cobble-stoned street where the school is with time to spare. As we turned down the block, we saw the large, red-brick facade and giant archways of the school building, which had been used as an abbey for centuries. Its solid nature and historical architecture made us feel like we were entering a very special place. The central courtyard of the building, which serves as the school’s playground, was packed with uniformed children and well-dressed parents, no sweats or yoga pants to be found! Perfectly coiffed dads and moms and fully made up faces greeted each other with wide smiles and happy, if incredibly loud, voices. My son yelled (to be heard over the rumble of Italian chatting) “There are too many children in here!”, and Leeloo hid behind one of my legs while explaining calmly that she was feeling a bit nervous, and that perhaps we should re-think this whole thing. Her momma was feeling the nerves too. For a second I thought maybe we were asking too much of these little people, but then I reminded myself that they’re tougher than they look, and that kids have the power to adapt to new things in a way that is difficult for us old people. I went to work reassuring them that all would be well as we checked out all the new faces. Soon, Leeloo, my daughter, was up on the chain link bridge with wooden planks surveying the scene from above. While I started thinking about the extra time I needed to start putting into my outfit choices in the morning.
We sprang to attention when an 8 or 9 year old girl with a head of messy blond hair, rang a big brass bell. Parents and children hustled to their proper places. Zoel lined up single file with the 5th graders and Leeloo with the 2nd graders, all behind their respective teachers. The whole scene reminded me of my 8 years at a fairly rigid Catholic grade school – sans nuns in black habits and prayers – which is not exactly what I expected from this seemingly more progressive learning environment. The teachers were all smiley and cordial, but at the same time, no nonsense. All the while, our kids looked a bit too serious, wide-eyed with a dash of anxiety, but holding it together. Just as we kissed them goodbye and wished them a good first day, another bell rang, and off they marched into a brand new world.
How’s the school year going for you? Anybody start at a new place? If you’re far from home or just changed schools close by, were your kids braver than you? Or was it a big challenge for them? Please tell us in the comments.
Just 6 months ago, my family and I made a big move across the ocean from New York, USA to Bologna, Italy. As we got ready to leave, my friend Christine and I talked about how we would keep up with each other’s lives, and just how different our experiences might be over the next 2 years. Trepidatiously, we agreed to start a blog (I know…that’s exactly what the world needs, another blog!) to catalog and compare our journeys. Although we had intended to start it along with the new school year, time and technology conspired against us, so instead here we are now. A little late but still willing and we hope, able. We’ll aim to post once a day from Monday to Friday in real time, but first, we have a little catching up to do! For our first 2 weeks, we’ll share the highlights of our transition and our first few months apart before getting on to what’s happening now. Thanks for joining us!
September 23, 2013
Pasta and parmigiano, good wine and salame, these are a few of my favorite things… That’s how the Sound of Music tune goes that Julie Andrews sings to the Van Trapp children as the storm rages outside, right? No matter. If my family sung it, those would be the lyrics. We’d probably try to add things like beautiful architecture, majestic nature, history, culture and foreign languages, although those words seem too long and a little pompous. Nevertheless, our love of these things is probably why we started thinking about leaving the good ‘ol US of A for a bit to explore other lands. Like other big life decisions, we sold ourselves the idea over a long span of time, getting used to the concept little by little in our heads, then taking a few steps in real life, then taking a few more, and a few more until momentum carried us straight into the thing that was once just an innocent thought in the recesses of our brains. WHAM!, we’d done it. We moved our family out of a beautiful small town in the Hudson Highlands of New York to Bologna, Italy, right in the middle of the upper part of the boot, near Venice, Milan, Florence, etc, etc…
But I’m getting ahead of myself as I tend to do. A few years earlier, we’d moved our family to the Hudson Valley from Soho, New York City as a test-run, to prove to ourselves that we could indeed survive without the City’s buzz after 20 years of feeding off of it. Right away, we fell in love with the open spaces between the tiny towns hovering over the ‘mighty Hudson River’, and with our mid-century modern home perched on a hill facing a Audubon Center Wildlife Sanctuary. There was unparalleled nature everywhere, and it was so ridiculously close to New York City that we could roll into town whenever we wanted or needed. In fact, we didn’t really want or need to all that much over the 4 years we spent in this lovely place. Instead, we all took to hiking and biking, got used to our weekly farmer’s market across the road, explored all kinds of classes without the waiting lists and exorbitant pricing that we had gotten used to in NYC, visited farms, festivals and historic places, met wonderful people and made great friends. Yet, the pull to explore something other remained, so from a short list of countries, we decided Italy would be a fantastic place to spend some time (see song lyrics above!)
Before we knew it, my husband had a found an incredible farmhouse on a 400-year old vineyard just outside the city limits, the kids were signed up for school, and our stuff had started it’s 6 week voyage across the ocean to our new home. It was time to pronounce, definitively, to family and friends, that we were leaving. My urge to dance around the direct questions of whether we were going or staying was unexpected. I suppose I thought if I didn’t say it out loud then I wouldn’t have to deal with the fact that I wouldn’t regularly see some of my favorite people in the world. Among them were Christine, Ray and Noah, who we had fallen for as soon as we arrived from New York, and with whom we had spent just about every Friday night during our years there, eating fresh foods, drinking good wines, sharing the week’s news, hashing out the world’s problems, and deconstructing our own.
Christine: “So is this move happening?”
Gina: “Uh… Err… It seems so… the movers come in 2 weeks and we have plane tickets.”
As soon as we started filling out immigration and school documents, Christine and I started to notice how different the lives of our two clans were about to become. One look at the next school year’s lunch descriptions for our two 10-year old boys seemed to say it all. Noah, Christine’s son, was excited to be starting 6th grade at our local middle school, but was less than thrilled by a note he received letting his family know that he should be preparing for a quick and early lunch (11am!), with 20 mins to eat either the cafeteria fare or his packed lunch, before moving quickly on to the next period. My son, Zoel, on the other hand, had received a carbo-licious school menu describing the typical Italian 3-course lunch, which includes an a primi (usually a plate of pasta or risotto) and a secondi (usually some kind of meat or fish with veggies, which sometimes includes, unbelievably, french fries or roasted potatoes after the plate of pasta!) and then fruit for dessert, all this to be consumed slowly over a longer lunch period designed for kids to socialize at tables with real silverware!
After building an almost brotherly relationship over 4 years of friendship, would this be the greatest difference in their lives after the move? Or would this be just the beginning? And what would be the impact of the next year on each of them? On our daughter? Us? Our families? Our friendships? Can you really eat pasta every day without gaining 300 pounds? Can 40-year olds learn a new language? Why do Italians know all the words to “Call Me Maybe”?
Curiosity about the answers to these questions and many, many others, (and perhaps the need to assuage an early mid-life crisis,) propelled us forward despite our sadness at leaving loved friends and family behind.
And so, now, we’re excited to see what comes next.
We hope that while we’re away, Livinghereandthere.com will be the place where:
we document our adventure,
we connect to the life we’ve temporarily left behind, and perhaps,
where, like-minded readers – those who have thought/are thinking about living “there” or have already lived “there” or are very happy to stay “here” but curious about “there”, or… maybe just my mom – can get a snapshot of the good, bad and brutto of our family’s little experiment in living.
Welcome and thank you for joining us for the trip!
Have you already been down this road? Please tell us about it in the comments!
Think we’re nuts. Please tell us about it in the comments!
Just 6 months ago, our friends made a big move across the ocean from our little town just north of New York City to Bologna, Italy. As they got ready to leave, my friend Gina and I talked about how we would keep up with each other’s lives, and just how different our experiences might be over the next 2 years. Trepidatiously, we agreed to start a blog (we know…that’s exactly what the world needs, another blog!) to catalog and compare our journeys. Although we had intended to start it along with the new school year, time and technology conspired against us, so instead here we are now. A little late but still willing and we hope, able. We’ll aim to post once a day from Monday to Friday in real time, but first, we have a little catching up to do! For our first 2 weeks, we’ll share the highlights of the transition and our first few months apart before getting on to what’s happening now. Thanks for joining us!
When my friends started talking about (possibly) moving to Europe last year I innocently encouraged them. You might even call my response to their idea ‘exuberant.’ I mean how sexy and exciting and modern and cool is the prospect of packing up one’s entire life and moving it to the Italian countryside? Visions of new beginnings and magical adventures for my friends danced in my head like sugarplums–alongside notions of spinning wheels of fontina and colorful terra-cotta bowls filled with the spaghetti a la carbonara I would devour when I’d visit them, often of course.
But when Gina and Stefan and their family actually moved to Bologna this past summer, my heart’s response to their departure was much less enthusiastic. Though I tried my best to cheerfully help them during the exhausting weeks leading up to their move, it was a bittersweet time. I was thrilled for them, to be sure. Bearing witness to loved ones realizing a dream is a rare gift of intimacy that can be experienced only when the connection between people is strong and true. Part of me, though, wanted them to stay here with me.
Over the past several years, their family had become a vital part of my family. Our eleven-year-old boys, Noah & Zoel, are almost identical in both age and their precocious natures and have discovered a comforting solace in one another’s quirks and crankiness. My friends’ ebullient, passionate daughter, Leeloo, delivers my husband Ray and me unending moments of delight in the way only the smarts and the songs of little girls can.
For the past three years the Friday-night dinners our families shared were the nourishment I depended on at the end of each long, task-crammed week. Over home-cooked meals and a bottle or two of Barolo we’d imbibe in decadent and utterly necessary conversation about jobs and kids and friendship and life. Sometimes our Friday night therapy sessions would bleed into Saturday morning excursions to the farmer’s market or afternoon-long Little League games or…brunch. After spending several holidays and long weekends with Gina & Stefan’s extended families and a few of their other friends–a multifarious and impassioned bunch of some of the finest folks I know–we had fallen a little bit (or maybe a lot) in love with them, too.
And now, it seemed, that because of The Move, they all were leaving us. What was to become of us and our ardent relations? How strong were the bonds between us, really? Would I know what would become of Walker and Ollie and cousin Milo? Would they have facial hair the next time I saw them? Would we ever spend time with Emmy and Avalon and Christian again? Would Adrien remember me in his Oscar speech? Or Natasha when she landed the cover of Vogue? And how about Françoise? And Daisy? And beloved Abuelo?
And if that isn’t enough angst and self-pity for my first blog post, I’ll admit I was a little bit envious of my friends, too. I imagined all of their shiny adventures in this foreign land–wholesome breakfasts at their new kitchen table, poetry lessons at the kids’ new school, the nervous and excited belly flops they’d feel as they navigated the streets of their new town and once they discovered the eccentricities of their new friends (employing all of it in a brand new language, no less) and it made my life Staying behind seem dingy and dull.
Noah would be going to the same school he went to last year. I’d be shopping for the same groceries at the same market I’ve been visiting for almost a decade. The dog would need to be walked so he could poop in the same spot by the same tree at the end of the same street every morning, rain or shine. Everything, except our friends living out the triumphs and trials of their lives next to ours, was staying the same.
Sometimes ‘staying the same’ can seem synonymous with stagnancy. Looking at my life through the lens of the thrilling (though, I know, nerve-wracking) challenge my friends had signed their family up for made me wonder if my life–and my family–was missing something: that us not making some big, bold move, that us not changing our physical perspective of the world or testing our emotional comfort zone was, at the very least, an uninspired way to live. At worst it meant that we were lazy and scared.
But we are here. We stayed. In our little house in our little village on the edge of the Hudson River. A town that we love, despite its Leave-It-To-Beaver tendencies and gossipy newspapers. Despite its ultra-conservative Catholic Church and the fact that the it’s the only politically conservative-leaning county in southern NY State. This village is our home. The local police officers know my son (and my dog) by name. My neighbors take in our mail when we are away and leave baskets of pears from their tree on our front porch. There is a comfort to be found in knowing what to expect when I walk the dog each day–perhaps freeing up my energy and, ahem, consideration so that all of that rich growth and change I am certain will happen to my friends across the ocean will happen to us here, too.
Staying can mean stagnancy. But so can leaving–if you don’t pay close enough attention to your life. My friends Leaving has forced me to start paying attention to my life in a new way; to start appreciating the people and the places that are here with me right now, instead of waiting for something new and different to come along and force me to realize what I might have left behind.
Day and night, the trains behind our house chase the mighty river’s tides, ferrying all manner of humanity in and out of one of America’s great (transformative) cities while my friends eat and sleep and laugh (and fret) on the other side of the world. Yes, I am sad that we no longer have time together each week. And I get anxious sometimes because my son is often lonely. My 3am worry-go-round now features a mount of concern regarding my friendship with Gina–that now that my dear friend has left her spot at my kitchen table, my relationship with her won’t remain rich and deep and true.
But as I swoon over email photos of her new house and the kids’ new school and my family Here makes plans to visit them There, I am comforted in knowing I have a first row seat in the theatre of their adventures. I am thrilled about the writing space and time that this blog offers the procrastinating writer in me–as well as its promise to keep Gina and her family close. I am hopeful that the prospect of sharing my thoughts with others, with YOU our readers, will keep my scrutiny of my life honest and steady and keen. I am eager to see what tomorrow will bring for all of us.