God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

An Every-Day Day in Greve

A month ago today we entered our new home in Italy; since then time seems to have both collapsed and expanded--as time seems to do. We have had longer "trips" in Bella Italia but this is different--perspective has changed as now this is home--not just a short term destination.

Daily we answer the question that would fill our minds each time we boarded a home bound plane--"What would it be like not to leave--to continue under the spell of this old-yet-new country of musical language, vibrant relationships, aromatic, sensual, beautiful to behold, delicious foods, history reaching back into time forgotten, art by which all other art is measured and--the land of gelati and vineyards and bouganvilla draped villas--what would it be like to live here?"

To be fair, it should be added that this is also a land saddled with overwhelming beauracracy; not just a little corruption and an aversion to changing what has always been--even when "what has been" doesn't work very well in the twenty-first century. Sweat and toil have often not been replaced by the machines that can work faster and harder--and make life easier with more time to laugh and play.

Speaking of which--as shameful as this is to admit--I don't remember ever having a clothesline in my grown up days; although, I must have since I do remember plastic clothespins replacing the wooden ones of my youth. Anyway, Italy is a land of clotheslines--rain or shine. So, each day we do a load or two of wash. Since it takes almost 2 1/2 hours for the cycle to complete, we start this first thing in the morning so that we can hang the clothes amidst the vineyard in time to dry. Truth be told--I enjoy this routine as the air is fresh and the landscape surrounding me is picture perfect--but, when the cold weather comes, I know I will dream of the dryer tucked away in the garage in the United States.

I did have one small problem which I will share--one born from my neophyte language skills. For some reason, when a friend took me shopping--she who speaks Italiano perfectly--,I ended up buying two different brands of fabric softener--thinking one of the bottles was liquid detergent. So--------for the first several washes, our clothes were washed in two cycles of softener and no sapone (soap). I wondered why a couple of the items just didn't seen to lose their spots but decided that it was just an inferior brand of detergent. On the other hand, we were very impressed with how soft our clothes were after being hung out to dry.

Then one day I asked a friend a question about detergent amounts. She looked at the bottle, read the label and proceded to laugh--after which she informed me of my somewhat colossal mistake. At this point I had a choice, either be embarassed and humiliated or join the laughter. Having long ago--as part of the maturing process--learned that it is to one's advantage to be able to laugh at yourself, she and I laughed together--and I am still chuckling each time I do laundry (daily.) And--it is no longer quite so soft and snuggly.

After laundry--or between cycles--a trip into the village is usually undertaken. This can be for a variety of reasons--or no reason at all except to check things out, make a few rounds of "ciao" and, perhaps, take in a gelato. The market in town is a small COOP--an Italian chain which ranges from quite small to enormous. Our is in the "almost small" category.

For the most part, I like going to one of the green grocers for frutta e verdure (fruits and vegetables)--a green grocers is a little store with fresh produce from local growers

--then, I go to the forno for pane (bread). Sometimes I go to the macelleria for meat

but often go to the COOP for that, milk and other basic supplies such as the mundane but necessary carta igienica.

And then there is my favorite place, the one where Bruno presides--the gastronomia with its salamis, cheeses and hodge-podge of other goodies.

There is one little store that I love and quickly browse often. It has beautiful linens and other handmade items--aprons, night gowns, hand towels, bathrobes and more. But!--they are quite costly--€45 ($58) for an apron! So--I look, appreciate, say grazie and reluctantly leave. Maybe, before we return to the US, I will buy a table cloth for our dining table. It will be like bringing a little bit of our home here in Greve to our home in San Diego.

Some days I stop in the flower shop

or the little housegoods store that in its tiny quarters seems to have anything one might want or need for the kitchen--stacked in piles on and under shelves, along the floor, in the window, flowing out the door--every nook and cranny is put to use. Tomorrow I think I will invest in a new pasta pan and maybe an oil cruet.

Nearby is the town park. This is where the children congregate to trade cards, kick the calcio palla (soccer ball), and do whatever kids do when they get together. Sometimes Ken takes Casey down there so that he can begin friendships and maybe meet some boys from his class. These forays meet with varying degrees of success. But,he is making himself known and so won't be a stranger at school. He also is getting much better at handling the soccer ball. In September the soccer season starts and so he will be on a team and his skills will be important. Boys in Italy seem to be born to love calcio.

Today I stopped by the lavanderia to introduce myself and drop off a couple of things I didn't want to entrust to the washing machine.

Right across from this is a little shop that sells eco-friendly toiletries--bath gels, creams, soaps, etc. It smelled so good that resistence was impossible--I will enjoy the new shower gel that came home with me.

No day is complete without Casey having fun in the pool, followed by a few hands of a family game--Old Maid, anyone? There is also UNO, Go Fish, Rummy, Yahtse, Battleship and Scrabble. This is after he works on his matematica and lingua summer workbooks which must be completed when school starts in two weeks. And--how could I forget Camilla? Casey has waited all day, checking the car port every 10 minutes to see if she has returned from the shores of Egypt.

So--now you have a glimpse of a typical day--with much left out, I'm afraid. Then--how many days are typical? Deviations are sure to occur on a regular basis--some that just happen and others we plan. For instance, yesterday we returned from 4 days in the Maremma region of Tuscany and next week we will go to Firenze for two nights so that Casey can "feel" the city rather than just go in for the day. Actually, the truth is that Ken and I want to pamper ourselves with a couple days and nights in one of our favorite cities of the world and, where we go, Casey goes--lucky child that he is.

Reporting next from Firenze--or maybe a little bit about the Maremma.

A Maremma Village Street

Saturday, August 26, 2006

So Much to Tell--So Little Time

Well, that isn't exactly true--we have lots of time; it's just that it so quickly gets away from us and then we don't know where it went or what we did with it. The truth of the matter is that Casey takes inordinate energy and time--both Ken and I look forward with great anticipation to September 14 when school begins and we have a life of our own once again. Now--tell me--should I feel weighted down with guilt? Nope--we love him dearly but separation is sometimes delightfully freeing.

Playing on a Sunday (finishing up the last entry, as promised.)

After our excursion to delightful Panzano and dropping a fortune at Dario's (as my friend Judy commented when I told her what all we bought there), we came back home and entertained some new friends from Impruenta, a town down the road from us on the way to Firenze. Richard, Deborah and daughter Elena are from Northern California and arrived here in April--beating us by a few months. Richard was-is flying high because he was just granted his Italian citizenship which opens all kinds of doors--including the right to hold a job here. Lest you think that one must give up US citizenship to be granted citizenship in another country, let me assure you that is no longer true. Ken and I would love to find a way to obtain citizenship in any EU country as life becomes much easier when you have that. But--you need to show a family connection with all kinds of records to achieve this.

So we had a good time with these friends--our first entertaining in our home here. I fried up some delightful, light zucchini blossoms and carrots-which were so good. And then we had salami, cold meatloaf with sauce from Darios, prosciutto crudo and melon, cheeses, etc. A very typical tray of appetizers in Italy.

Casey and Elena had fun in the pool, kicking the soccer ball and playing games. She is eleven but seemed to do OK with 8 year old Casey.

Moving On

The next morning we got up fairly early (by our new standards) and left to visit Guilia, a friend in the Le Marche region of Italy--where you find Urbino and Urbania. Guilia owns a farm agriturismo there Locanda Valle Nouva. Casey was in heaven for 3 days with cows, bulls, horses and, best of all, puppies and kittens. Tearing him away to come home was very difficult and, of course, there were multiple entreaties to bring a puppy back with us. I was a little surprised that he hadn't smuggled one into his suitcase.

We had a simply great time here with Giulia who is a warm and caring person--plus being very smart, knowledgeable, fun and special to us.

If you are ever in Urbania--which may not come to pass as the Le Marche is not a region that pulls in the number of tourist that other regions do--which is too bad as it is very unique, beautiful and interesting--Giulia sent us to a marvelous restaurant. It is one of those "real finds" that sometimes happen when traveling and one that stays in the memory as being a unique experience. It is Osteria del Cucco--9 Via Betto Dei Medici--0722-317412.

This place is not easy to find, even though Urbania is quite small. There is no sign with its name; we ended up asking a barber who, with that famous Italian spirit, led us to it and announced us to Georgio, the owner. This is an old tavern, wooden benches, brown paper on the tables and no menu--you are served what ever has been prepared that day. And--it was all absolutely delicious. There were several plates of antipasti brought succesively--these were not at all what is served in other areas of Italy. We had salad covered with black truffles, black rice (delicious), cheeses, vegetables, tarts, and much more which I can not remember now. This was followed by 3 pasta dishes and absolutely wonderful home made breads--again nothing like we have had elsewhere. We were there for lunch but for dinner there would have been meat courses (secondo piatti). At the end Georgia poured a small apertif. For those of you who know what this is, the Osteria is a Slow Food establishment.

We hope to return to the Locanda before our year is up but--there are so many places to go and things to see and being restricted by Casey's schooling, a return may not be possible.

Tomorrow we are going to the Maremma region along the coast of Tuscany for 3 nights. This is supposed to be a very beautiful, untamed area (at least the parts that are not beach resorts.) I would like to be staying at another friend's B and B but Alessandro, our landlord, arranged lodging at some Italian family resort--we will see what that is.

One last note: Today I went into the village and had a haircut at the salon in the piazza. Since the hairdresser's English was no better than my Italiano, it was interesting. After having my hair washed, he began spraying it with mousse and hair spray--which I thought a strange thing to do before a cut. Then he began combing it and getting out the dryer--this really didn't seem to be right so I said I had wanted a taglio. Oh, he said, as he understood--you want a cut. It seems that many of the women here do not wash and comb there own hair--they come in once a week to have it done and then it is sprayed to last the week. Since I wash mine at least every other day, that thought is troubling!

Anyway--I did get a cut and I will know tomorrow after I wash and blow dry it just what I think. My hunch is that I need to either 1. Improve my italiano, 2. Find a hairdresser who speaks English or 3. Take an interpreter with me when I go. I found it hard to say I wanted heavy texturizing and couldn't find the word in the dictionary. I will probably have a bush on top of my head!

Well, time to fix dinner--almost 8 P.M. Tonight we are having tacos with tortillas, cheese, salsa and beans from home. I have a very limited supply of these things and this is the first time we have tapped into it. Ken and Casey are both salivating! We will see how well cheese freezes--there is not chedder cheese or an equivalent here in bella Italia.

Ciao--A Presto

Monday, August 21, 2006

Sunday in Greve--Worship--Market--Play

Sundays are very important to us as this is the day when we worship God in the special setting of church; it is the day Casey goes to Sunday School, learns Bible stories and about who Jesus and God are. It is a day set aside from the others--a time when we fellowship with friends who share our beliefs. So--a question for us as we planned our year in Italy was how we would continue this part of our lives.

At this point we do this by having our own, private worship time on Sunday mornings. We make it a family affair with each person having a special responsibility and opportunity to contribute in meaningful ways.

Using our IPOD, where we have downloaded all of our CD's, we listen to worship music before beginning with a prayer by Ken which is followed by a short devotional led by Casey. He currently uses a book which focuses on patience from the Just for Kids series. It has 31 lessons so will take a good portion of our 52 weeks. This is a good topic for all of us as patience is sometimes a virtue we all seem to have in short supply.

After this, Ken reads the day's scripture and then Casey and we go separate ways for a while. We go to our church's website and download the Pastor's sermon from the previous week--but since it lasts about 40 minutes, it is much too long for Casey (and sometimes for us too when there is no visual stimulation). So--Casey either watches a DVD such as the Miracles of Jesus or a Sunday School type lesson we have downloaded from the web. When the sermon is over, then I close with a prayer. This is a good time and experience as we focus together on the Word of God; however, we continue to pray that we will find other people with whom to worship.


After this time, we went up through the hills to the little village of Panzano where Sunday is market day. The market is in the small piazza and is centered around the piazza's fountain where older men of the village congregate daily to discuss whatever commands their attention day in and day out. I often wonder what the talk is from day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year. I suspect world affairs, local gossip, past histories, and much reminiscing fill the days.

The market was small but charming and very much a community affair. A fund raiser for the local school band was in progress--with a lot of hoopla surrounding it. For one euro, one could buy a paper rolled up in a very small scroll. If when it was unwound there was a number on it, you were rewarded with a matching numbered bottle of wine. So, wanting to support the local kids, we bought 7 tickets and ended up with 3 bottles of very mediocre wine. I suspect much of it will end up being discarded.

Casey made his first market purchase--a Christmas apron for me. At first he was a little timid, but now that he has done it once, I suspect there will be no stopping him in the future. Soon he will feel totally at home with the vendors and in the little stores of Greve.Already, Bruno, the gregarious owner of the very nice gastro- nomia (delicatessen) on the piazza has kissed his forehead and held both cheeks in his hands while pinching them -just like a scene one might see in many movies. Now all I need do is put my head in the door and Bruno shouts a bellowing ciao.

Back to Market Day in Panzano--No trip to Panzano is complete without a stop at the very famous Antica Macelleria Cecchini--where Dario reigns as king. Dario is the unique, one-of-a-kind Italian butcher who has been written about in New York Magazine and other international publications. He is what is commonly referred to as a true character and his meats are legendary. Dario. Of course, we did not leave empty handed. We bought wonderful sausage, meatloaf, porchetta, a great sauce for the meatloaf--or for cheese--or for whatever suits us. And, since Panzano is just up the hill from Greve, Dario's will become a favorite haunt.

Across the street from the Macelleria is a very colorful cow--in front of Dario's new restaurant, Solo Ciccia--which like the macelleria is unique. It is communal dining with one table that seats about 10 people. There is A menu with 5 meat courses and more. All of it is from Dario's kitchen. Of course, we will go sometime--sans Casey.

It is now quite late and I am not going to finish this tonight--but, we leave early in the morning and will not return until late Thursday. We will be visiting a friend in the Marche area of Italy. Casey is excited as there are cows, horses, kittens and puppies--a little boy's best dream.

Anyway, I have not completed what I promised in the title but will post this now and then share the play portion of the day next time. In the course of our saga, it is important as it was a day where Casey and Camilla really began to bond.

Ciao and Buonanotte

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Palio

There are so many things I am wanting to share about daily life, Casey, wonderful people, mistakes, grocery stores, washing machines, detergent and softener and how dumb I can be and more. But--the pressing entry right now is Siena, the Palio and the last three days.

(You can click on pictures to enlarge.)

Siena--an amber city of Tuscany--is rich in history. For centuries, along with Firenze, much of the surrounding area was under its dominion. Little hilltop towns were fought over by the two major cities, always ruled by one or the other. Battles, intrigue and betrayal defined the relationship between the two powers with Firenze the ultimate victor.

Siena now retains much of its medieval and renaissance heritages--not just in colorful reenactments, carefully maintained ambience or tourist kitch. But, unlike many European cities of historical importance, Siena passionately continues and lives its traditions--they are as alive today as they were centuries ago. Rivalries born in years past, with the memory of "why" lost in the intervening centuries, continue to be nurtured and acted upon--there is no need for reenactment. These rivalries remain fresh and real.

And it is is in the Palio where this living history becomes most apparent and inescapable. The Palio "rules" the citizens of Siena in a way that outsiders can not comprehend. My friends have explained it to us and over the last three days we have witnessed it--but, the best we can do is recognize the intensity, the passion, the absorption of the soul that surrounds this event--we can not feel or comprehend the why or how. As one friend expresses it: "Next to giving birth, nothing is more emotional than winning the palio."

So--what is the Palio? Most people will say that it is a horse race around the Campo in Siena--perhaps the world's most famous horse race. And this answer would be wrong. The Palio is the prize--the banner that is won by the winning contrada. The banner that each contrada "lives" to win and once won is its' forever. A new banner is created for each palio. Cristina, a friend of mine, has written an excellent explanation of the palio--its history, its significance, its sway over the people. If you want to know more--what a contrada is? how the race is formed? what the dynamics are? and more, read The Palio.

Because we have friends in Siena, we were privileged to experience the palio more fully than many or maybe even most outsiders. Monday night Cristina invited us to her "casa" for dinner and so we immediately had a sense of belonging. Cristina has two daughters about the same age as Casey and so it was special for him too--not just adults sitting around talking!

Cristina is a member of the Selva contrada (more about that later) and so the palio is very important to her. But--to prove that life is indeed full of surprises--I have known for a long time that her family owned restaurants in San Francisco but not until Monday did I discover that one was the Blue Fox--which for many years reigned as one of the most prestigious, famous dining establishments in The City. One of my most treasured memories is sending my parents there as a surprise celebration gift. Life is full of serendipity!

Back to the palio--
The expression wall-to-wall people finds its full meaning at Palio time--tourists and Sienese all crowd the streets and alleys. The air is festive and alive. People begin filling the campo early in the morning in order to see a race that may begin at 7 PM and which will last 90 seconds or so. (We were not one of these people!)

Other friends, Alessandro and Colleen, own an ancient Sienese house right along the contradas' parade route from the duomo to the campo. They invited us to join them in leaning out their windows, watching the parade go by--just as people have done from those very same windows for years and years and years. The feeling was rather unique and magical.

Cristina's Contrada Selva (the Rhino)

The Masses Following the Parade

The race was scheduled to begin at 7 PM, but there is quite a "dance" preceding the actual race. This contest is definitely not a model of integrity!! There is a great amount of deal making among the jockeys--all done with the blessing and expectations of the contradas. It has happened this way for hundreds of years and, evidently, the Palio race would not be the Palio race without it.

We watched the race on television from the comfort of Colleen's and Alessadro's home. Most of the Sienese see it this way. However, Casey actually went to the campo with our hosts' teen age kids. They know how to go down right before the race and actually find a position to see it. Casey's comment was that he spent "a lot of the time with a lady's butt pressing my face." (His words--not mine.) Guess that is the reality of being 8 years old. Fortunately one of their group held him when the race started.

Casey had bought a Selva banner and scarf earlier in the day as he felt an affinity with that contrada since that was the one his new friends were in. So when they won, he was excited to be wearing the winning paraphenalia.

Now if you read the article on the Palio in the link above, you know how Cristina feels about the Palio and then try to imagine her incredible excitement when Selva, her contrada won. At once the parade around Siena began with the members of the contrada chanting, singing, crying, sobbing, laughing--all at once. The jockey was carried on shoulders, banners were waved with total abandon.

Two minutes after the race, Cristina called to ask if we were going to the duomo and so we went. All the contrada members push, shove, cram inside the Siena cathdral--hundreds and hundreds of people. Our friend Colleen took us in--had she not we would just have stayed outside with the other tourists. We ended up almost to the front of the cathedral, in the first row of the path the processional would take. Old men were truly crying and sobbing as they hugged and clung to each other. Bodies were so crammed together that there was no space between us. It was beyond incredible.

Soon the big contrada banners began coming down the aisle, followed by the jockey being carried on shoulders.

The Jockey Being Carried into the Duomo

Finally, the moment of moments--the Palio arrived. The noise was deafening. A chanting count began uno, due, tre.....quattordici (14)--the number of times the Selva (Rhino) contrada has won since WWII. Tears flowed from every eye and we felt that we were intruders in a private scene.

The Palio in the Duomo

When the blessing was over, there was a mass exodus from the church. All I could think of was "this must be what the stampedes at rock concerts and calcio (soccer) games are like." It was total relief to get outside and be able to breath.

From there we went back to Colleen's where Alessandro had a summer dinner waiting for us in the garden. As we ate and enjoyed the atmosphere, fireworks began shaking the ground and air, the night lit up with yellow and green and blue and red. The party had begun!

Finally, Cristina, Colleen and Alessandro--if you are reading this--Grazie mille per una volta

Friday, August 11, 2006

A Picture is Worth............

So much to tell but I promised pictures so these are they....
(you can click on pictures to make larger)

Entrance to Our Front Door

Back Entrance--Flowers in Front of Doorway

Looking in from Front Door Toward Fireplace

Dining/Sitting Area Down Stairs


Stairs to Loft Area

Casey's Room

View Out Casey's Window

Our Bedroom

Stairs to Loft

Sitting/TV Room in Loft

Casey's Play Area in Loft

View up to Loft

Downstairs Storage Area

Upstairs Storage Area

Now you have an idea of where and how we live. The two storage areas are huge and unusual for an Italian apartment. We are very fortunate to have these. So--we are very content. There are exquisite views from every window--I particularly like the one in the kitchen that I become lost in as I work.

This morning we went to the Saturday morning market in the piazza. Market days are fun--each village has a day each week when the traveling vendors set up their wares in the local piazza. People come for fresh vegetables, clothes, house wares, fish, meat, cleaning supplies and a myriad of other commodities. Next time I'll take pictures so you can share in the experience.

Ciao for now.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Through the Window

I started to write this entry quite a while ago—so much to tell—but instead I spent the minutes mesmerized by the blue skies, green hills, amber roofs and golden light right outside the window. The Tuscan scene that remains indelibly in the vision of any visitor is now our daily existence. The dream has for a short while become the reality. I would love to have words to truly share it with you.

We have been busy and yet at a slow pace since our arrival. Greve is a little village where basic needs can be met—groceries at a small COOP (name of a large market chain), several macelleria (butcher stores), farmacia, ristoranti, hardware, cinema, limited clothing etc—but for major shopping both groceries and other kinds we need to travel into either Firenze or Figline (a neighboring town).

In order to do this we need to plan our days as most businesses close for several hours during the afternoon and then reopen between 4 and 5 PM. Of course, once we are in a store, we are there for an extended period as we try to read the labels and signs which at this point are all in the proverbial "Greek to me" format. And then many of the products that we are so used to either don't exist here or come in a different form. (Example: For sour cream the best alternative is a Greek yogurt.) Fortunately there are other expats here who can share this type of wisdom with us newbies. Some of the shop owners are very friendly and work with our very limited vocabulary while others become quite brusque and not very helpful. I suspect that this is exactly what the foreigner in the U.S. experiences--maybe more so as we are such an nonbiligual country. In Europe a good portion of people have, minimally, some English skills. I know that I will try to be a friendly native when we return.

Casey and Camilla continue to build their friendship but they are each hesitant to make forays into the other's language and so now it is mostly playing UNO, being in the pool or other non-verbal activity. Then there are two children here from France who speak fluent English and so they and Casey spend a lot of time together. Right now Casey and Jack have walked to the little park nearby to play some calcio (soccer)--hopefully with some local boys.

Sunday night our families went to dinner at a lovely place in the San Michele Nature Park. The view from there is spectacular as the restaurant sits on top of the hills overlooking the luscious Tuscan countryside. The property was orginally a monastery with peasants working the surrounding land as they lived in great poverty and deprivation. There was not much livelihood to be earned from the land and then fifty percent of all they harvested and the wood they chopped went to the church. Now the property is owned by the state and is a park to be enjoyed by all.

We had a great time together--our landlord and his family of 5, the family of 4 from France and our little family of 3. As you can see, the children were having great fun playing UNO and hamming it up for the camera. Camilla is the little girl in front with the pink shirt.

Monday morning we needed to get up very early to catch a 7 AM bus to Firenze in order to go to the questura (police station) to apply for our Permisso di Soggiorno--the document that allows us to live in Italy. Without going into the details, let me just say that this is a rather trying experience as there are several hundred people in line for the same thing. Most of the people are from eastern Europe, Africa or other countries where people are leaving for better lives. Once the doors opened, numbers were handed out much like at a deli. Fortunately, we had a low number and so we were out of there in an hour. Without question, many would be there all day waiting their turns.

All of our documents were in order--a feat that no one ahead of us in line had mastered--and so it was just a matter of having them reviewed, stamped, being given our receipt and told to come back September 5 for the final document. Now we need to go the comune in Greve to apply for residency so that we can get our Carta d'Identità and be eligible for the health care system and other stuff. With all this we should stay for 5 years just to take full advantage of the efforts expended!

Ken just came in from the pasticceria with some wonderful aroma seeping from the bag he is carrying--so guess I will close this now and indulge in some dulce italiano.

Next: Pictures of our cozy, little apartment--which seems to be plenty roomy enough after all.

Ciao, Ciao

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

We Did Arrive and It is Real!


We entered our new home and greeting us everywhere—in the kitchen, under the bed, in the toilet, in the bathtub—everywhere— were balloons of all shapes and sizes.. And—they held messages—Ciao, Casey; Welcome, Benvenuti, and more—others were decorated with faces and designs. As Camilla had intended, Casey was enchanted and we felt most welcome. She had prepared a perfect beginning from an 8 year old to an 8 year old—the one she had been waiting to meet for months. And—it was the perfect ice breaker for the two of them as they began thumping each other, communicating in the common language of giggles and laughter.

So we are now here in our apartment in the vineyards of Greve in Chianti and it is lovely—even though we have been so, so busy getting settled in—too much to do right at the beginning and it is very, very hot!!

Our trip over went perfectly in all aspects—except that Casey decided not to sleep on the plane and ended up being awake 30 hours with just one small hour of sleep—not surprisingly, he slept almost 13 hours when he finally hit his bed in our new home.

Each of our connections worked as it was scheduled—no frantic last minute rushes through airports to meet the next plane, etc. We had real concerns about being over the limit with carry-ons on the last leg with Lufthansa City Line—we clearly had too many pieces and each one weighed well over the limit. But—again prayer was answered. I spoke to the gate attendant in Frankfurt whom either took a liking to us or pity on us—whichever. “Don’t worry—I’m the one who will be boarding you so there won’t be any problem.” Then the plane was only about half full and so there was plenty of overhead space for all we had. This was when Casey finally fell asleep for the hour or so between Frankfurt and Firenze.

In Firenze we were oh, so happy to see each of our 7 large duffels spin out on the baggage carousel. We had arrived! Pushing 4 carts piled high with luggage, we navigated our way out of the luggage retrieval area and there was Alessandro-our wonderful landlord--waiting for us. A perfect ending to a seamless trip—a promising beginning for our new adventure.

Outside he had his company van and our new-to-us car—a 2001 Megane station wagon. Between the two, all our belongings found corners in which to fit—plus the three of us, Alessandro and Bernice, Alessandro’s older daughter. We hit the road!

We finally wound our way through the Viticcio vineyard to our new home in Tuscany. And—there was Camilla, waiting for Casey. As soon as the balloon greeting ran its course for a while, the two of them went running off to make real their long distance friendship of many months. Soon they were in the pool, splashing and laughing as children do. In fact, two days later they still seem to fully enjoy and understand each other in some mystical way that belongs only to the young.

Monday night, Nicoletta prepared a delicious welcome dinner—bruschetta, a wonderful lemon chicken, vegetables, salad and gelato—it was a simple gastronomic treat absolutely affirming my goal of learning to cook italiano from Nicoletta. The problem being that my other goal is to lose weight—so maybe I will cook and not eat—do you think?

We finally hit the beds around 10 o’clock—31 hours after getting out of bed in San Diego. Nicely, we slept well, all of us seeming to totally avoid jet lag. We are now on night three and well acclimated to the new time zone.

(Since we are not yet on line, you will be reading this installment days after the fact but, at least the adventure will have had a beginning!)

The View From Our Apartment

Coming: Part II-The First Days and Nights