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, December 27, 2007

Christmas 2007

Christmas was good this year--but, then, isn't it usually? Some years though are better than others and this was one of those times. Perhaps, because we weren't here last year, there was a sense of something special in resurrecting our traditions and "ways of doing things." It was comfortable and nice.

We always have a large tree-8 feet/2.5 meters or more and finding the perfect one is always the quest. Usually we settle for less than perfection--after all, perfection is hard to find. But this year.........there it was, standing tall and straight and beautifully formed. We spotted it instantly among all the other preening trees and knew that one was meant to be ours. And so it was.

Now, you must know that I am not Martha, never have been, never will be--nor, do I ever aspire to be. Given this, Ken took over tree decorating years ago--back in the days when trees were lovingly bedecked with silver, shiny tinsel. He not only would put it on strand by strand but then would take each strand off, wrap it around the cardboard and put it away for next year. I think no one misses those days.

But, if you look closely you will see that he still does an excellent job of dressing a tree in Christmas finery. And, in doing so, provides all of us something lovely to enjoy and savor during the Christmas season. Somehow a tree decorated with the shimmer of lights and ornaments collected over many years and from many places invokes the treasured memories stored within. A special glow seems to fill all the nooks and crannies of the house.

By Christmas morning, after Santa and Rudolph did their thing the night before, gifts were piled high under the tree. Clearly a child lived here. So gift opening was a fun time.

This part of Christmas is clearly made for a child and for adults to enjoy the child's wide-eyed excitement as each box and bag reveals its treasure. Erector sets, legos, remote controlled dragonflys, and...and...and. Then there were his not so favorite things such as books and puzzles. Except--he loved the Italian book on the life of Leonardo da Vinci. He loves all things Italian and all things da Vinci for whom he has developed quite a fondness--along with Giotto, Picasso and Michelangelo.

The rest of the day was filled with laughter and fun. Jeff, our grown son who can not imagine Christmas without legos, spent the day building a 900+ piece Star Wars vehicle. His friend Sally and her very loveable, unforgettable dog Bear joined us for the day--Scratch finally had a play date but wasn't at all sure what he thought of sharing his space with a non-human. He certainly was not going to share his chewy.

Casey's mom, our daughter, came for the day. It was nice that they could have the day together as Casey enjoyed seeing her and spending time together and I am certain she enjoyed it, too. It had been a while since they had a chance to do that.

We toasted with prosecco and sparkling cider. And then joined around the festive table set up in green and red and china and silver.

Dinner was yummy and conversation filled the air. And so the house was full of good cheer and laughter.

And we remembered the real reason for the day and the gifts and the fun and laughter--the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The one who came to earth as a humble baby and left it in a glorious ascent into the heavens.

Friday, December 21, 2007







Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It's Fun To Be Nine

What does a kid do when it is winter and no one wants lemonade? Well, sell snow, of course. But, then.. if you live in San Diego that is problematic. Quite a quandary for two motivated, imaginative 9-year-olds.

Or what if you are two motivated and imaginative 9-year-olds and you find a gigantic cache of styrofoam packing material and peanuts just sitting in the side yard, begging to be smashed beyond recognition? What fun to get bats and brooms and sticks and beat this pure white treasure into billions of little snowflakes.

Soon you are covered with clingy, non-removable, non-recyclable earth destroying detritus. You have become a snowman that doesn’t melt. And you are having mountains of fun as your laughter erupts throughout the neighborhood.

Gramma and papa might want to be mad at you because surely you are making a mess that you won’t clean. But how can they be when you are so adorably and completely being kids.

The challenge then facing such motivated, imaginative kids is what to do with all this magical substance? Why—sell it of course. Develop entrepreneurial skills. Surely there is a market for people wanting front yards of snow. So—find boxes, pretty metal ones, cardboard, whatever. Dump out what may be in them for surely gramma won’t care. Now, fill with snow—make a sign—beg to go down to the park and set up your stand.

If you are lucky and truly loved, gramma will agree to accompany you, knowing that sales are not going to soar but that children must explore experiences that they create. How else are memories stored for future years?

So, off the three go--two imaginative, creative 9 year olds and one intrigued gramma.

Ah ha! the workout bench in the park--perfect for setting up the wares. The sign--"Christmas Snow for Decoration"--which has been taped to a garden stick pushes nicely into the ground. Boxes are arranged, rearranged, and then arranged again as each child has a vision of how they should look. And then we wait.

No one is in the park. We wait. Suddenly a couple enters at one end so we perk up, smile and wait some more. But---they leave before reaching the store.

Swings and monkey bars begin their siren call. The grassy slopes are great for rolling down. No one wants snow today. Maybe tomorrow.

So our imaginative, creative 9-year-olds, pack up, gramma closes her book and all go home. It has been fun. Who cares if pockets are no heavier? These hours have been a success.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Restaurants In and Around Greve-in-Chianti

I must say and admit--this does not truly qualify as a blog entry--at least not of the kind I usually write, but..........maybe it will be useful to those of you who will be traveling in the area we called home for a wonderful year.

We ate out a lot! Often it was for lunch when Ken and I explored the countryside while Casey was in school. I can not tell you how relaxing and freeing it is to just drive white roads and lanes and then find some place to stop for a good pasta and glass of vino. No worries in the world follow you on such ventures. What a year it was!

As a result, I have compiled a list of restaurants in the greater Greve area. Hopefully this information is for you--because that means you will be there.

I put this together for the Slow Travel website which focuses on a type of travel which allows for greater immersion and understanding of cultures and lifestyles. If you are not aware of this site, you may want to check it out.

So, now, travel to Restaurants in Chianti. The truth is that this is not a complete list of our culinary year--as time permits, it will expand to both more restaurants in the Chianti area and then to other areas within Tuscany and Italy. As I said--we ate out a lot! Enjoy.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Tonight We Had Tacos!

Yes, it was taco night and we had them last week, too. That equaled the total number of times we had them all last year--as Casey dutifully pointed out. Somehow Mexican food, that which we thought we could not live without, faded into the culinary background when competing with the delicacies of Italy.

I so often write of what we miss which isn't quite fair as there are things that we treasure here--now, if I can think of some of them. Let's see--
  1. Tacos, burritos, red curry, kung pao, huge artichokes and......corn on the cob.
  2. Our church fellowship--somehow Baptist churches are few and far between in Italy-or actually in most of Europe.
  3. Our friends of years. New friends are wonderful but can never replace those that have traveled life with you.
  4. Scratch--our dog--or rather Casey's dog.
  5. Being able to talk with teachers sans interpreter.
  6. A big, big refrigerator and freezer.
  7. Meat cuts that I understand.
  8. Finding clothes that fit my non-size-6 frame.
  9. Spending time with our son.
  10. Browsing book stores which have books I can read.
  11. $'s not €'s.
  12. Target for Casey's clothes and Costco jeans for me.
  13. Canned music (scherzo).
  14. Air America.
  15. The desert.
  16. Dungeness crab.
  17. Ability to read and comprehend directions on soap boxes--or anything.
  18. Having groceries bagged for me.
  19. Freeways rather than toll roads. (I do miss the Auto Grills).
  20. Big Christmas trees.
  21. Heated swimming pool.
  22. Honey Bunches of Oats
  23. Heat or a/c that isn't on a schedule.
  24. And............how about some suggestions from fellow travelers?
  25. A fellow traveler addition--and rightly so: The beautiful Pacific Ocean
So, have I redeemed myself in the eyes of those who think I spend too much time remembering and wishing? Probably not, as somehow a list doesn't really equate with narratives. But, the simple truth is, Italy demands the rhapsody that the USA has not yet found.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Old Man and Gelato

Surely on a shelf somewhere exists a book outlining requisite ingredients for books about Tuscany....romantic moments, rapturous flinging open of shutters to morning dew and golden sun, lush purple grapes bursting with future vino, country lanes and charming, smiling "locals." And, of course, the quaint renovation of an ancient farm structure where the pigsty becomes the kitchen and the wine press grows flowers.

It must seem strange to Tuscans that the rest of the world, particularly the English speaking portion, elevates this Italian corner of earth into a synonym for paradise. And--they must laugh at the innocence and naivety of such thoughts. Yes, the beauty is real and the people who have grown up with it do still see it and count their blessings. Yes, the sun does shine golden and yes, people do fling open shutters in the morning and breath in air scented with roses and herbs and grapes and history. Yes, farm houses that once were walls around poverty and hunger now surround riches and banquets. And, yes, Tuscany is magical and wonderful and unlike any other place.

And...life is normal there--pharmacies, butcher shops, supermarkets, book stores, shoe stores, ATM's, gas stations doctors and lawyers. The post office runs everything and is hated by all. Buses always run on time. The telephone company answers to no one and TV is Burlusconi's cultural wasteland. Life passes day-by-day just as it does in China, Canada, Chile and Chicago. And--paradise is still confined to the heaven in the skies.

So--what about The Old Man and Gelato? Well, they are right up there with the things I miss after realizing the dream of millions--a year in Tuscany. And yes--they do fit into that "book of Tuscany" that has been written and rewritten so many times. And I can add these things and more to my I Miss list and would include if I were to write a book of my love affair with fair Toscana-- which I am not going to do.

Sometimes I stand at the sink and a visual flashes across my eyes--unbidden and puzzling--but always bringing a flutter and a smile as I momentarily transport across the sea.

I see girls, children and teenagers, holding hands as they walk down the street, laughing and sharing secrets. I see Casey and Camilla hand-in-hand walking through Sunday market. I am reminded of innocence and purity.

I see women of many decades, arms entwined, walking hills whose every turn and detail they know many times over. They have walked these very hills hundreds of times during 20-30-40-50 years. They talk about I know not what but I imagine it to be children, husbands, crops, dinner, local gossip--probably the same topics the men are covering in the barbershop or on the benches in the sun.

I remember that everyone greets each other, stranger and friend alike, with "buongiorno" as they pass on the sidewalk or enter a store or have unexpected eye contact. This always accompanied with a smile--sometimes broad and sometimes shy. I remember how much I loved this.

And then, as I daydream at my sink, I cut myself on the thumb and reach into the cupboard for one of the treasures I brought back with me--bandaids that really stick and stay on through shampoos and showers. I love them and will bring back lots of them next summer.

Finally for this trip into nostalgia, we come to The Old Man. Every book, every movie about Tuscany features him. It is the tear drop moment. It is the quiet elderly, endearing neighbor man, seemingly untouched and unreached throughout the movie or book, who finally in the denouement offers a shy wave or wink or smile. He is saying "yes, I recognize you and maybe we have a future."

We had our man--from the day we arrived until the day we left. We drove by him day after day as he walked along the river walk. Within a week or two of arriving at our new home, we started sending him a smile and wave each time we passed. He would give us a quizzical look and then continue his walk or go on chatting with a companion. We really expected that someday he would fulfill his obligation and wave to us and share his smile but that never happened. The last day, on the way to the airport was his last chance and we left without it. Our hope was left unfulfilled, leaving room for a new experience when we return.

And gelato? Well, isn't that at the top of everyone's list? Maybe even the Old Man's.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Growing Old

I would like to grow old-really, I would. In the cycle of life, that is what I am supposed to be doing now. So, there are days when I think of these things:
  • Downsizing: What would it be like to move into a nice, new condo where the maintenance fee pays for everything? With a bathroom that doubles as a spa, has special shelves for candles and toilets that flush themselves. With a white on white decor to match the requisite little white fluffy poodle--with a bow on her head, of course. And, finally, a kitchen worthy of my friend Palma.
Problem: We would first need to sort through an accumulation of 45 years of "stuff"--a commodity which I learned during our year in Italy we don't need. Why I ever thought we did, confounds me. It seems that a good solution might be to rent a large container and just toss stuff in. But.............what about the art? the mementos? the silver that seemed so important for our wedding registry? the..................? Oh, it is just too over-whelming. Guess we'll probably stay put and let our son deal with the stuff....later.
  • Letting my hair become its new natural color-grey. Think of the money and time that could be saved. I could really be "me." Wonder what that is?
Problem: Casey thinks I am 51--until last year he was convinced it was 35, a year younger than his mother. He believes Ken dyes his hair (not true) but that my hair naturally changes color every month or so all by itself (true).
  • Forgetting that I used to be a size 6 and learning to love the new look--after all, double is better, right?
Problem: I hate the mirror these days. That surely isn't me looking back. Or maybe, as a practical joke, it has been exchanged for a fun house mirror. And--somehow now if "it" fits in the waist, it hangs on the hips or if the hips fit nice, the buttons don't work right. I had thought the problem was with Italian clothes--not so.
  • Traveling at will when seeing great deals to exotic destinations: Myanmar, Thailand, Fiji, Turlock, Disneyland...Bella Italia.
Problem: A 9 year old who needs someone to make sure he does his homework and who feeds him dinner. Plus--no clothes that fit the destination--or anywhere for that matter.
  • Moving to the countryside where night skies are black and roads only have two lanes--this way and that way.
Problem: Refer to #1 and... can we really recreate our idyllic, paradisiacal Italian hilltop vineyard home with its views of castelli medievali? Somehow Paso Robles doesn't quite do it.
  • Living life as a senior rather than as a parent. This two-hat existence overwhelms sometimes--as well as being confusing. What would it be like having a house not overrun with transformers, legos, and time machines. Most of all, what is it like to "send them home" at night?
Problem: Not being able to imagine life without our boy--his loving arms and endearing ways. Not knowing that Pokemen evolve into weird and wonderful creatures. Not discovering that it is possible to wet your hair and present yourself as having taken a shower.

And finally, I count my blessings that age has brought me youth rather than illness and pain or poverty and helplessness. Yesterday I was explaining to Casey the meaning of viewing one's cup half full rather than half empty.

My cup overflows--Most of the time.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sophie Rose

In Greve in Chianti, at the end of Piazza Matteotti, is a small artist's studio, L'Inganno, which many people never find and therefore never know that they missed something special--a place where they just might have found a unique Italian treasure for their home. This is where Sophie Rose creates beautiful pieces of art--not the ceramiche, oils and water colors that seem to dominate purchases in Italy but exquisite Trompe L'Oeil inspirations.

Sophie's talents are known to Italians who commission her to decorate the walls in their homes or doors or furniture or wall pieces--whatever they want, Sophie is able to meet that vision.

Just about every Saturday when Ken and I reached the end of the market stalls, we would find ourselves drawn to the little shop--which was frequently closed as Sophie would be off working in the field. We would stand, looking in the window, admiring her work-- eventually deciding that we had the perfect place in our home for something of hers.

We wanted a painting for our kitchen that would integrate the designs of our Italian dishes. When we finally met with her, she asked many questions about the space where the Trompe L'Oeil would hang, the direction from which it would be viewed, the colors of our kitchen and more. We gave her photos of our dishes and wall paper. Sophie creates with purpose, specific to the client and the commission as opposed to having a ready made gallery from which to pick and choose.

Our dishes

We have been waiting for our treasure ever since we left to come back home. Sophie had other commitments to fill before starting ours. Eventually she faxed us a sketch for our approval. We knew it was perfect.

Now she has completed it and it is perfect. We are happy.

Beautiful--Isn't It?
Grazie Mille, Sophie.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Viva Viagra

What a title! Guaranteed to get a click! But it's really not what you think it might be--whatever that is. It's about none other than Casey, KZ, KC, K or what ever he has titled himself this month. And, he truly has no idea what viagra is.

The topic--TV commercials.

Since I have only one 9 year old in my life, I have no point of comparison. Hopefully someone can enlighten me as to whether ours is normal. He so often seems to be--not abnormal--but, minimally, marching to his own drummer to a beat a little off kilter.

Casey becomes mesmerized by commercials. The world stops, he enters into an unbreakable trance and this boy, who finds it near impossible to focus on anything for more than moments, becomes captive to the sights and sounds of the latest pitchman.

Did you know that you can desecrate a white shirt with chocolate, berries, and other wild concoctions and that the magic of Oxyclean will make it like new? Being quite adept at tuning out television in general and commercials in specific, I did not know this--which may be why I have white things that are not spotless. Anyway, as Casey inspected his red sweatshirt emblazoned with a large, magic marker drawn Spiderman image, he patiently gave a "did you know" explanation of the wonders of Oxyclean and that "it really is true" and that we should try it on his sweatshirt. Evidently he has grown tired of Spiderman.

Then there are "the" Green Bags for only $9.99." He not only stands transfixed each time he sees the advertisement, he impatiently tells me that I should hurry and order at that moment so that we can get 20 bags rather than just 10. At the dinner table he has educated Ken to these marvels and that gramma needs to get some. And--best of all, he can apply this knowledge to real situations, proving that he really does belong in the class for high achievers. Yesterday, or was it the day before ?, as I muttered about moldy strawberries, I was reminded, with the self-righteousness that only a 9 year old can conjure up, that this would not have happened if I had the green bags--they not only would they have saved me $'s but they would save my life.

The first time I became aware of this strange predilection was in Italy where demonstrations of a product can go on for a full half-hour or more as a pitchman and his scantily dressed female cohort extol the wonders and capabilities of the "must have" product of the day. This was when we saw Casey stand at attention for minutes at a time, absorbing the magic and wonders of the newest in toilet and drain plungers. You could have waved a bag of Skittles in front of him and he would have been oblivious. Red dye running through a transparent tubing would have blinded him to his most favorite of foods. And, of course, he was sure that we needed to have one to bring home with us to San Diego. (We didn't.)

Now--back to Viagra. The final proof of Casey's addiction to the brain mushing inflicted by Madison Avenue came the other night at bedtime. He and I usually spend a few minutes talking and playing before I am required to sing a little song--the sillier the better. All of a sudden, I hear "Viva, Viva Viagra!" After stifling my laughter, I asked him what that meant--what he thought viagra was. To my relief, he had no idea. I guess that concept is a little more difficult than green bags, Oxyclean and plungers. I don't want to even think about a recital of the advantages and results of this modern-day pharmaceutical wonder. But, I am sure that is just around the corner.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I'm a Country Boy

Sometimes, and if we listen, experience teaches us truths about ourselves. If we are wise, we let these truths help form and mold us into what we become. So, the question I have is: When a child offers insight into his soul and reveals something about who he is, what is the responsibility of the adults in his life to respond to that self-knowledge?

I ask this because Casey, with the innocence of a child who in odd moments blurts out important insights, claims that he is "a country boy--not a city boy." At nine he not only senses who he is but can verbalize it. I fear that life as it unfolds will take this knowledge from him--that it will be smothered by daily life, forcing dreams to be put aside-- crowded out by the need to adjust to the environment he is captive to.

Casey lives in a city--an urban environment with houses on either side and behind, with busy crossroads, no room to explore and the constant, common fear of danger which keeps children tethered close to home.

Our children grew up in the same house that we now live but in "those days" kids walked themselves to and from school, explored nearby canyons, easily rode bikes to homes of nearby friends and had the freedoms that we associate with youth--the same ones that I experienced as a child. That has changed. Fear has displaced spontaneity and innocence.

Now parents drive or walk their children to and from school, canyons are off limits, seldom do kids ride their bikes from one street to another and the little park across the street does not promise safety unless kids are supervised. So, Casey participates in organized activities--soccer, Little League, flag football, karate, church activities and maybe chess (his latest thought)--but, he doesn't run free, discover hidden places or wander at will to where ever his feet lead. And I am sad for him.

He loved last year and thrived on being free. He and his friends would wander up the road, finding "crystals" and then bring these treasures home to break apart, looking for the riches they were sure they would find within. Woe to me if I threw any of this away.

After dinner on the piazza, he would go out and find friends and wander and play while we sipped our coffee, enjoying the ambiance of night in our small Italian village.

He was not afraid and we had no fear for him. It was a place for children to be and he loved it. "Gramma, I'm a country boy--not a city boy." And I understand him.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tomorrow's Corner

Is there an adult who hasn't dreamed of life in retirement? I would guess that such dreams revolve around freedom--freedom to do and be what ever way the wind blows on any given day. My revelries were of no alarm clocks, travel by the whim, minimal accountability, freedom to "be" me. Certainly the dreams did not include PTA meetings, Little League snack stands, parent conferences, children's pool parties or, most of all, parenting.

But, life, if any thing, is unpredictable. We never, ever know what lies around the corner of tomorrow--unexpected joys? undeserved trials? unexplained sorrows? unanticipated pleasures? Clearly God plans our lives and we experience its unfolding. Certainly understanding His way falls outside our limits of understandings.

So, Ken and I wonder why around our corner we found a blessing, an unexpected joy, an unanticipated pleasure. Why did God smile on us?

We retired several years earlier than we needed to, wanting to indulge our passion to travel as much of the world as we could--before our bodies would begin to fail us. Being aware of how often people wait to retire only to have tragedy strike, we hoped to beat that outcome. And...we took this goal by storm.

We treasure experiencing other cultures, having brief glimpses of life beyond the comforts of the United States and Western Europe. In our wander lust over the years, we have seen amazing sights--Cappadocia in Turkey, the Himalayas in Tibet, the pyramids of mysterious Mayan and Aztec cultures, the vestiges of Communism in Central Europe, the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, small mountain villages of Greece and, of course, the "normal" places in much of Europe. All of this accompanied by sharing life with people along the way--people different from us and yet, really, much the same. But, there remained so much more of God's world to see and marvel at and wonder how, why, when?

And so, in our first year of retirement, we gorged ourselves on this obsession, going to five continents in less that twelve months--North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. It was a wonderful year. God took care of us and let us live our dream on His timeline. He knew that around the corner of that year, He had something even grander planned for us--an unexpected journey--one we would not have chosen. But he gave us that year to indulge our wanderlust.

Then, He pulled us out of retirement--so to speak. He had a job for us to do and trusted us to do it well. He gave us Casey--our grandson who needed his grandparents to love him, raise him and tell him he is the most special boy that ever was. He needed us to start parenting all over again--hopefully with the wisdom of years and lessons learned. So--we are now on the journey into the soul of a child with all the laughter, tears, joys and hurts that reside there.

Now we do go to those parent conferences with teachers--even in Italy where we needed a translator, have pool parties where our "peer" group is the age of our children, sit through Little League games which we were so glad to put behind us years ago, listen to children, against all our rules, bouncing on the beds upstairs, wonder why taking showers is a form of punishment and try to avoid those sleep-overs which mean no-sleep.

We teach him right and wrong, kindness, respect, loving his God, how to pray, what being a friend means, why he must learn, that life is more than having fun--all those things we wish we had found more time for the first time around. We delight in his laughter and his smile. His kisses and hugs and "I love you, Grandma" in the middle of the grocery store aisle give a meaning beyond compare to these retirement years.

This has become the best corner of all. Now--God must continue what He has begun and give us a life long enough to raise this joy into manhood. I think He will.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Malls Still Scare Me

We’ve been back in sunny San Diego, the vacation capital of Southern California, for a few weeks now. It is lovely here and contrary to what I remembered while in serene and beautiful Greve in Chianti, we do have blue skies—just not the angel beds that seemed to be always present there.
Blue Skies in San Diego
Angel Beds in Greve

Ken spends hours each day working in the yard—pruning, planting, rearranging fountains, climbing shaky ladders while trimming palm tree branches, tending to the fruit trees and puttering. In Italy he read books and books and books—now he seems to have put that aside for a while—exchanging mental workouts for more laborious physical labor. He sleeps well—but, then, sleep wasn’t a problem in Greve, either.

I spend inordinate amounts of time not getting much done—or at least that’s the way it seems. Focusing is difficult, being productive escapes me. My brain shuts down at the thought of “mall time” even though I’ll be clotheless pretty soon and then won’t be able to go out at all.

What I have done is spend too much time on computer stuff which now involves unsuccessfully trying to figure out why my main computer is so slow that I clean out desk drawers while waiting for a document file to load. At this point I have taken off many programs, downsized by 90% the start up programs, run virus, spyware and registry checks, transferred most of 10,000 photos to an external drive and deleted and restalled programs which I thought might have been corrupted. And—I can now report—none of this has helped. Maybe tomorrow a flash of insight will fill me and the problem will be solved—or maybe one of the earthquakes we are having will shake it up.

When not compulsively attacking the “darn machine,” there are 4000+ photos from the last year to tackle. Fortunately, they are nicely organized, labeled and tagged so my job now is deciding which to order.

Of course, as each picture glows on the screen—looking very beautiful and triggering memories, the selection process goes sl-sl-slowly. I sometimes think I should just put the project aside but—the compulsive person that I am overrules—gotta get the scrapebook/album done for Casey’s memories.

Shutterfly, the on-line company I use, prints comments on the back of each photo so each picture must be documented. When Casey grows up he will be able to flip a picture to see why it was important or to learn something about himself. “You really liked swimming with Camilla.” “You wanted to go to the Uffizi to see this Madonna by Giotti.” "Tommi was your best friend."

Then there is-----still trying to find a tutor for him. I can tell that he is already losing some of his language; locating a karate program so that he can continue the shokotan style he had in Greve; finding a guitar teacher because he wants to learn how to play the guitar--contrary to my wanting him to play the piano; supervising homework; helping with his blog and having his friends over for play and swimming. All this makes a pretty full life, after all, for nonna here.

In Italy Casey went to school from 8:30 to 4:30 which gave us time to do things but here school is from 7:45 until 2:10 and so the day is short--no more of the late lunches while sipping glasses of Chianti, we enjoyed so much. Of course, no little trattorias around each corner here either--lots of Burger Kings and Roberto's Taco Shops. Is that an even exchange?

So-till now, I've stayed pretty close to home with the daily forage to the market--a remnant of last year. I am sure though, that the day is coming when THE mall will beckon and I will go. Maybe.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Settlin' In--Movin' On

Yes, that's what we are doing--becoming San Diegans once more.

When we exchanged our comfort level here at home for a year in a different land and culture, we knew it would be enriching but we didn't understand how deep in the psyche the experience would burrow. Now the transition is slow as we seek to blend our two lives into a richer whole. Sometimes these days I feel as if I'm neither here nor there--I've always known who I was but now I don't seem to be quite that person. So transition involves not only the physical and environmental but also the emotional and psychological.

During this process I have thought about another indelible year in our lives--a year like our last one, leaving memories that seem far too many for a mere 365 days. This was the year we lived in University City on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri.

Although we weren't leaving the country, it seemed as if we were as we pulled out of our driveway in Southern California, following the moving van to the "border state" between the two halves of our country. In our minds we were headed towards a great culture divide--the North and the South. In our inexperience and young naivety, we had a strong sense of embarking on an exciting adventure--as a biracial family what would it be?

That year became a treasured part of the fabric of who we are. We loved St. Louis as it was wonderful in every way we could want our life to be. This "border" state provided our children-black and white-with the healthiest, most accepting living experience of their growing up years.

During that year we became actively involved in the pulse and life of University City with a circle of friends from multiple races. Politics and public service were easily penetrated, providing ways to volunteer time and energies. Even today I regret that we could not stay there and call it home for many years. But--as all of us know, life tends to interfere with our wants and to change course on us--with or without our compliance.

So I know that leaving life's great and special times inescapably involves a sense of loss but I also know that new experiences and interests surface--that there is an unknown corner ahead of us with something new and exciting around the curve. It is the anticipation of that which moves me through the missing Italy phase-allowing me to again become a San Diegan--just a little different person than I was before our year away.

Tuesday school starts and I'll have time to search out that corner. I'm excited!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Time Travel

Children empty themselves in unexpected ways--finding creative avenues to express and release emotions and dreams. We big people must watch closely for the message being sent and the heart that is being exposed. I relearn this almost daily.

Casey makes no bones about missing Italy, friends and all that was. In fact his latest blog entry again makes this plain Here and There. At night in bed, much as it was a year ago when he would ask to return to San Diego, he asks "Can we start packing? I really want to go back."

Spoken words and overt revelations are easy to read. They can be discussed quietly and sadness softened. But, there are more subtle ways of expression, too, and some of these can bring a tear or two, knowing that there is a private grief that needs to be left alone to find private solutions. Such is the time machine.

Casey's Time Machine
This takes Casey back in time to where he wants to be. He has developed quite a process for activating it--complete with sounds and movement. The machine has been housed in the middle of the office, the TV room, his bedroom, the kitchen and other places. Now it is ensconced in a spare bedroom which has temporarily been converted into a play room. If he goes upstairs and is quiet, we know he has gone traveling.

If you look closely, you can recognize all the little odds and ends he has drawn together to make this--a clock, the globe, levers, a mobile phone for commands, a radio, the core being the mind of the computer and then it all lays on the Fiorentina banner--symbolic? I think so.

He has introduced this glorious machine to some of his friends, and, being 9 year olds, they are easily entranced with make-believe and join Casey in making it real. It becomes an outlet for him and by sharing it with friends here, he begins to blend the parts of his life. The process is fascinating to observe and maybe learn from.

Ken and I are doing much the same thing--in different ways. We are reconnecting with people --something we needed time to do. We are resuming a life that was put on hold for a year but we are being selective about what we resurrect. We have become very aware of the consumer driven society of the US; the millions of things to make life easier but in reality make it crowded and sterile. The road to an easier life, we have learned, is in many ways the absence of things--not the proliferation. We are still overwhelmed by our house and belongings--more than we need and now more that we want.

We are different people--not necessarily better--just different. And this is a problem because there are 10 lane freeways here, big box stores galore, blazing neon on every structure, fast food establishments 3 to a block, strip malls and the revered Walmart. We can not change these things and so we must adapt--to all but Walmart.

We find that the skies we loved so much in Tuscany are here, too. The colors are different but the beauty still reflects the creator.

Friends are true and waited for us. Saturday we joined with many of them for food, laughter and reflections on the greatness of our God's magnificent universe. Thursday I am "doing" lunch with two good friends who add strength to my life. One of them babysat my plants all year, turning each of them into a virtual jungle. Had I stayed here I know they would have been long dead.

Casey and Ken are at the movies now and Ken can enjoy it along with Casey as English is his cup of tea--although, Casey would prefer Italian.

We have Thai and Chinese and Mexican and Peruvian and Vietnamese and Moroccan and more to choose from when we go out at night--although, strangely, our love continues to be Italian. As with our travels, we may occasionally branch out but always return to Italy and pasta.

Our pool is cool and refreshing and we play with Casey. He rides his bike in the park across the street and practices his karate.

Tonight we are having tacos--with chedder cheese and fresh tortillas--a treat delayed for a year.

So, as with Casey, we are learning to reenter a life that has always been ours but look forward to the next time in our other life--using our time machine--a United 747.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Italy on £8 a Year

Remember Frommer's series? Europe on $5 a day? Well, I have him beat--fair Italia on just £8 a year--a whole year. In all truth--that is what I did--honestly.

All it took was grapes and pasta--daily--for 364 days--almost a year. Sounds good? It was! Too good!

Last week I went to the doctor. But before I could see him, came the nurse. The one who ferrets out little secrets such as blood pressure, heart beat, etc. The first moment of truth was when I was forced to step on the scale and watch little weights slide back and forth until finding the perfect place to stop. Bravely, I then asked what the scales had said a year ago--and that is where Italy on 8£'s a year was born.

Since I had 20 £'s to lose before arriving in Italy, that now puts the total at 28 £'s. Intelligently, I have decided that the only thing to do is attack the 8 before even considering the 20. Of course, as I write, Ken has brought me a bowl of ice cream (not gelato.) What should I do? What am I doing? Guess.

The good news is that I don't feel as big as I did in Italy--the land of no female over a size 4, flat tummies and sexy bodies. There is no doubt that, in general, people from the United States are weightier than their counterparts in Italy.

Then grown son--approaching 40--said that I shouldn't worry about a little weight--a person my age, has earned the right to enjoy life without sweating it. Now, I am not sure how I should take that. Was it love? Am I that old? Am I on my way out? I am sure that it was confirmation that there are too many £'s.

Finally, Grandson Casey assures me, with all the finesse of a 9 year old who loves his gramma a whole lot, that I am not fat--just squishy and he likes squishy. Followed by "squish, squish, squish" as he gives little pinches. More confirmation, to be sure.

Now, I hate to think of disappointing Casey and leaving him with nothing to squish. What kind of gramma would I be? Should I just give in and enjoy my waning years? What about all the clothes I see which I really would like to wear--and look good in while wearing? Maybe Casey doesn't really need squish.

I do have a dream which may serve as motivation. We are returning to the place Casey now calls home next summer. I would love to be slim and trim then. Isn't it nice when we hear such things as "wow, you look so good!" Yes--28£'s it is.

Note: This is an entry with no illustrations.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Missing the Bidet

A common question asked of us these days is: "What do you miss about Italy?"

There is so much and it is so total.

But......today I realized that I do miss the....bidet.

Most Americans wonder about this bathroom fixture. What in the world does one do with it? Why do Europeans find these so important that they are even in the Autostrada bagni? Does anyone really use them there?

However, today was leg defuzzing time and I realized how convenient the bidet is for this--far better than any option available here. It's the perfect height, the water is nicely warm--it is easy and comfortable. I need one.

This plumbing marvel is also very useful for soaking clothes and watering plants. Casey's greyed karate uniform looked new after a few hours in the bidet and the plants thrived and grew. I wish I had the foresight to photograph this fixture for illustration purposes.

Another thing I miss is one found in all Italian kitchens--in fact, most European kitchens. This is the over the sink draining cupboard--a brilliant accoutrement. For the uninitiated this looks like a cupboard but in reality is a hidden place to drain the washed dishes and store them until their next use. Even with a dishwasher there are things we wash the old-fashioned way--by hand. The draining cupboard is such an improvement over the counter drain where one must either dry dishes right away (a real bore) or let the kitchen be cluttered and disfigured (which I hate). With this cupboard it is truly out-of sight-out-of-mind until you next need that pan. I would definitely have one installed here except that I have windows above my sink--no room for a cabinet.

What else do I miss?

Well, the vast variety of toilet flushers is a possiblity. No two are alike. Sometimes it takes several minutes to locate one in the current room of use. Is it high on the wall? A chain to pull from the overhead? On the wall at the side? On top of the toilet tank? On the floor? On the side? Where? The creativity in designing clearly requires a Lego builder's mind.

Another candidate for nostalgia is the glove that one must wear when selecting produce at the grocery store. In Italy, you may not casually pick up a tomato with nude fingers. When entering the produce section, the first thing that must be done is don one of the cellophane gloves found in a little dispenser. It is always easy to spot the newcomer who naively picks over the onions or broccoli with uncovered hands. People in the know look askance at this faux pas.

The top box

Along with the gloves, also comes the weigh-in. As you bag your produce, you weigh each item by pushing its number or picture. Out comes the price tag which is then affixed to the bag. All the checker needs to do is scan the code. We could really benefit from this technique.

See How Easy?
And--trash pickup--or absence of such. Italy is extremely environmentally conscious. Recycling is a priority with schools having major units on the need to respect land, air and water--Casey is horrified if we so much as throw a plastic bottle cap in the general refuge container.

But--door-to-door pickup is not common. Instead, huge containers are along the sides of the roads--green for bottles/tin/plastic, grey for general kitchen type garbage and yellow for paper products. People must deposit their items in these bins. I can not tell you how often we took our garbage with us in the trunk only to arrive back home with it--having forgotten to dump it. Our consolation was that our Italian friends often did the same thing.

The fact is that I truly do miss these things. They are part of who I am now. Of course, in traveling to Italy over the years, I was aware of these things--nothing was new to me--but having lived them for a sustained time, they are no longer a novelty. They are part of an everyday life that was mine.

Today I find myself hesitant to touch produce at the grocery store --it just doesn't seem right. I look for the glove and cringe to see carrots being picked over. Today I was at a fast food place (yes, I admit that) and the flusher was a very European knob on the top--I smiled. However, the bidet was missing--the room seemed incomplete.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

No More Domani

We are home now—home in San Diego, that is. It is strange here and Greve seems very far away.

Did I really, truly live there? Did I really fling open the shutters each morning to the quintessential Tuscan countryside of rolling hills, lush vines and old farmhouses dotting the landscape? If I squeeze my eyes tight and play memories on my eyelids, will I be there?

Opening the Shutters

Casey, the night before we left, cried and sobbed and held tight to furniture saying he wouldn’t leave. I wanted to do the same but had to be the grown-up, providing the pain of reality. Sleep was hard for all of us that night.

That morning we left at 7:15. The Viticcio truck was loaded with our 700 lbs of belongings—9 32 kg duffels and 6 carry-ons. Alessandro drove Ken, Casey and I in the SUV. Camilla and Casey played and laughed during the drive into Firenze—too young to grasp what would happen in just a short while. Children are such creatures of the immediate present.

Before Leaving Viticcio

Look Close--How High Can You Count?

I was afraid that we would have problems at check-in with our four luggage carts in tow—each piled high. Although I had checked several times with both Lufthansa and United, I still thought the check in person would not understand the rules. But—we were pleasantly surprised when the young man who waited on us had no problem. We needed to pay for two of the pieces but that was cheaper than shipping.

Beginning of Awareness

Check-in Line

Once that was done, it was time for goodbyes—that instant when it all became real. Saying goodbye to Alessandro was hard for Ken and I but nothing compared to the pain Casey and Camilla were experiencing. They are so young that they haven’t had experience in hurting. They stood with the widest, most forlorn eyes—just staring into the other. I thought my heart would break watching them. They hugged tightly—just squeezing the other close. It was an emotional moment.

Then we turned and walked to the gates and they left for their car and the drive home—without us. Casey repeated over and over—“Please tell me that I’m dreaming. Pinch me so I’ll wake up.” This was his mantra throughout the 26 hour trip to our front door here in San Diego. As for me, in the dark of the plane, I found unbidden tears rolling down my cheeks.

So—our tomorows are over. We loved them. What will we do domani? Where shall we drive? What will we see? What’s going on in the piazza? What flavors of gelati will there be? How will the vines have changed? What will the sunset be? Each day was new and different—something to anticipate and enjoy. But, now they are no more.

Ken asked me yesterday if I was ready to go back. If it were easy to do, the three of us would be on the plane—domani..

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Saying Goodbye

This is a difficult week for us. The apartment looks forlorn and not ours anymore. Our “stuff” is either packed away in duffels awaiting their trip to the airport, strewn around the floor seeking a place in an unfilled duffel (hard to find), in boxes being left here for next year, in piles to give to friends or in bags to take to the Catholic charities.

But—the hardest part of the week is saying goodbye--to people, most of all, but also to places, drives, things we haven’t done and wanted to, the piazza, our favorite restaurants and a pace of life that suits us well.

Tears are being shed or held inside wet eyes. Hugs and kisses and inadequate words spill out with friends and shop keepers, with waiters and cooks, with grocery checkers and the gelato ladies. And we say parting words with the dear people with whom we have lived every day—Alessandro and his family, Sara who really runs everything, and all the men who work here, making this a lively, exciting place--making it our home.

And then—there is our tree. The one we have watched through the seasons when it was rich with leaves and when it was barren except for that one brown leave which stayed to welcome the new buds. Now the tree is just as it was when we arrived a year ago—green and full and the perfect landing place for new baby swallows leaving their nests in the eaves--testing their wings. Soon those nests will be empty--just like our apartment.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Photo of the Week

Click on Picture

Memories of Casey and Camilla throughout this past year.

The first picture was the first day and the last was taken last week. The others are just jumbled.

Casey gave this collage to Camilla so she can remember their year together.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Meeting of Friends

Thursday was a special day for us as we went to what on Slow Travel is called a "get-together" or GTG. These are held frequently in venues all over the US and other countries as travelers find they will be in the same place at the same time.

This one was unusually rich as somewhere over 35 people came--travelers, ExPats and Italians. It was held in a lovely villa on the slopes right below Assisi. While many of us already knew each other, others we were meeting in person for the first time. But, as with all our Slow Travel relationships, we had "known" these others for long periods of time via conversations and sharing on the web.

It was incredible fun to get together with so many friends during our last days here in Bella Italia. We were able to say goodbye to many people we had spent time with here and meet new friends from the United States here on vacation. Many of these we will see again as they pass through San Diego or we go their way--and at future GTG's.

Of course, there was lots of good Umbrian food specially catered for the event--porchetta, prosciutto, stuffed vegetables, grilled peppers, pastas etc. etc. etc.--oh so good. Friends from Naples brought a mountain of bufala mozzarella balls. And then there were the desserts--of course, not a calorie in them.

Being Italy, there was a lot of wine but the day was so terribly HOT (+42ºC/+107ºF) that the beverages of choice were water and juice. The pool served as a welcome diversion for Casey and a few of the "bigger" people but since it was in total sun the rays beat down on the water and bounced right back up causing most of us to stay under the sheltering Italian style large umbrellas-- which, by the way, I would really like for our pool area at home. They would be quite nice with our Italian ceramic table being shipped to us sometime in August.

Casey showed a streak of entrepreneurship as he went around offering to fan people while holding out a hat for contributions--clearly he has seen too many street performers this year. Part of me was amused by his industriousness borne out of his desire to buy more Dragonball Z cards while the other part of me worried that he was being too pushy. When we returned to the hotel that night, I was nonplussed by the fact that he had €5.20 in his pocket. It seems a friend who lives here in Italy explained to him the concept of running a tab and so at the end of the night he went back and collected €3. To Valerie--I offer a public apology!

Grazie mille to Corinna and family for opening up your beautiful villa and providing a wonderful time with wonderful food. It was the kind of day and night which make memories. Thanks also to Janet who was staying at the villa and shared it with us and to Pauline, the brains behind Slow Travel and the person who makes all of this happen.

Because this was so close to Assisi, we went over a day early so Casey could visit the St. Francis Basilica with the Giotto and Cimabue frescos and to see the city where St. Francis was born. Casey has been fascinated by St Francis ever since we went to La Verna, the mountain top sanctuary that he loved. Casey's relating of that trip makes a pretty entertaining read-- My Time at Poppi. Among other things he explains why he does not want to become a monk.

His strange for a 9-year-old attachment to Giotto and Cimabue is a gift given to him by his friends at La Cantinetta di Rignana. At the basilica he particularly wanted to see Giotto's fresco of St. Francis "receiving the stigmata", a concept that has puzzled him since seeing another fresco at La Verna.

This was the final outing for our year in Italy and it was a good one--Casey visited a new place for his memory bank and we laughed, played and ate with friends--what a perfect ending!

My apologies to good friends whose pictures I did not get-particularly, dear Judith.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A New Love

Dear Toscana,

I have loved you but perhaps the time has come to move on. Piemonte, maybe I am yours!

We have just returned from three too short days in the hills and countryside of Piemonte--a land where snow covered Alps serve as backdrop to vibrant vineyards and rich green fields, where sun flowers nod and wave at the passerby. It is truly a land of unspoiled beauty--when away from Milano, Genova and the autostrada. We were awed by what we saw.

Unfortunately, my camera battery died dead, really dead--and so I have no pictures of the countryside. However, a quick web search brought up hundreds of beautiful shots--far better than my little camera could capture. Pictures of Piemonte. I want to go back for weeks.

We stayed at the Baur B&B (where I was able to get some photos before the dead camera) created by friends of ours--Diana and Mischa, who left high stakes international corporate existence to settle into the role of innkeepers. Together they have created a beautiful new life that tells of risk taking and following a dream.

The word created is perfect because that is what they have done--created a place of beauty, fantasy and serenity, encapsulating a sense of joy. Diana is a potter and an artist. She has used quietly vibrant colors to turn the walls, inside and out, into art. Splashes of flowers cover century old wooden barn doors. Breakfast (more accurately called a feast) is served on her own pottery designs.

Misha has learned how to use powerful equipment to do such things as cut down 300 trees to open a view that encompasses Liguria and far away mountains. All that happens there is a partnership.

And--there is a third member of the family--Max. Max is the dog you want to take home with you even though he is large. Like his owners, he adds ambience and affection.

One night, a couple from Norway who were also guests prepared a wonderful dinner for all of us. She is a chef and so the meal was quite special--much better than what I can do--trout baked in mountains of salt, roasted vegetables, pesce crudo. We sat outside on the mountain side, drinking in the view; enjoying wonderful food and stimulating conversation. A memorable evening.

Below are a few pictures of the B&B--taken before the dead battery.

Already we know that next summer, when we return for 6 weeks to allow Casey to use his italian, we will return to Piemonte and Diana, Mischa and Max. But, dear Toscana, we will save some time for you.

Tua Amica

Friday, July 06, 2007

Sheena, Cracker and Palma

Now you wonder who or what these three are—right? So, I’ll tell you about them—three of my special friends.

This is Sheena.

This is Cracker AKA Mary Pace.

This is Palma.

And, with them are their chauffeurs—Terry, Tommy and Brad. In Sheena's picture, Terry is standing next to me--we switched men for a while.

But, first, a diversion: I have mentioned my favorite travel website before—Slow Travel and its companion message board Slow Talk. This duo was started by another friend of mine, Pauline, 6 years ago as a fledgling hobby. Now it has become the premier website for people planning trips to Italy—a source where travelers help fellow travelers. This means the information is honest, on-track and reliable—hard to find in these days of hype and hyperbole.

Because of Slow Travel, our year here in Italy has been enriched immeasurably with opportunities to meet people whom I have “met on the boards” —people who became my good friends without ever having met in the conventional sense—live and in person. The astonishing fact is that not one of these real life meetings has been a disappointment. Ken and I can honestly say that we have found enjoyment and camaraderie in each meeting—which usually includes enjoying a fine meal together—lunch or dinner. I have written of several of these people in the course of the last 365 (well almost) days..

Sheena, Cracker and Palma are the most recent treasures. With each of them, conversation and laughter came easily—just as I anticipated they would. We were “old friends” who finally met—a paradox isn’t it? Each of us shares a love for this country with which we have no real ties.

We return here after trips to other places—this is our kick-back, “I’m at home,” corner of the world. Is it the food? (well, yes), the culture? (by all means), the people? (most definitely), the shopping? (ask Palma), the unmatchable beauty and its diversity? (absolutely!), its history (of course.) The lure of the ancient draws those of us from Canada, Australia, the USA—new countries with little history. We become mesmerized by a land that counts a 250 year old structure as new.

But, my friends carried with them touches of the new world—taking precious suitcase space to bring treasures—Trix, Fruitloops, Skittles--and vanilla for cookies. Yes indeed, our countries are making cultural and cuisine contributions to the world and history marches on.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Beaches--Italian Style

Written June 28
Maremma—the beautiful coast of Tuscany. We had our own lounge chairs and umbrella in true European style. Vendors patrolled the beach, selling purses, jewelry, towels, fresh coconut and massages. It was picture perfect and just what one seeks when wanting to kick back and let the world roll by. The water is shallow enough that kids can play easily; there are no stones to pierce delicate feet; lifeguards patrol making sure bambini stay within safe territory. Each night the beach is combed and cleaned and so the next morning there is a pristine scene awaiting a new day.

This week we are on the northwest coast of Sicily where small beach and fishing villages scatter themselves along the coast. Here black lava rocks spill into the sea, covering what may have been sandy beaches and leafy trees centuries ago. And—here is where people flock on weekends and when the weather becomes unbearably hot.

They bring umbrellas--finding crevices in the lava in which to secure them, inflatable water toys for the kids, coolers of soft drinks and picnic supplies and then lay towels across the hot, jagged remnants of Mt. Etna and sun bathe. It is in such contrast to the shores of Maremma and yet, the water is just as cool and inviting; kids play in the lapping waves; snack stands thrive and everyone seems content and happy. There is a sense of community as people join together for a day at the shore.

Two different styles of beach life, both providing escape from daily life, chores and worries, both rejuvenating the soul. After a day of sun, play, and fun with friends and family, life seems different and tomorrow has a new color. After all, it isn’t the soft sand that matters but the newness that the sea offers, time spent with the greatest of nature’s phenomena.

Whether on the soothing sands of the Maremma or the sharp stones left by a volcano, pleasure is found in equal measure.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Villa Praiola—The Oasis

Written June 24

Today the usually sparkling Ionian sea hides under a blanket of shimmering, undulating heat. It is hot here on the east coast of mystical Sicily. Even dozing Mt. Etna is hard to see except for her smoking top. And—we sit in an oasis of beauty, with large shade trees cooling us after quick dips in the clear, cool pool. Surrounding us are petunias, bougainvilleas and myriad other flowers of all colors decorating walls and stairways. Birds fly from lemon tree to lemon tree and big fat lizards climb the walls looking for a cool corner.

We are at one of our favorite places—lovely Villa Praiola, perched between the Ionian Sea and Mt. Etna. When we were last here, we watched lava flow down the mountain, but this time we are not so lucky. The fire god is quiet for a while—but maybe domani? From the veranda we look over fields of trees—lemon and palms--all the way to the sea.

Today we went early to Taormina to again wander its charm and enjoy its beauty—with thoughts of buying another piece of unique pottery. I am glad we have been there before so that today we could pick and choose what we wanted to see rather than feeling the need to discover it all.

It was not long before we found an air conditioned trattoria before running back to the cool of the villa. I would have really liked to go on up to charming Castelmola but the pool and fans beckoned. I did find the ceramic piece but will give it a day’s thought before buying; it will need to be hand carried home and, after a year in bella Italia, there are already a few other things in that category—but, surprisingly little, actually.

Yesterday we did nothing—except for a short drive along the coast. When we were here before it was in October and the beach areas were shuttered ghost towns. The scene is quite different in June, particularly on a Sunday when people carrying umbrellas and multitudinous other necessities jaywalking streets to get to the beach side.

Plus we either have forgotten or habits have changed but by all appearances most drivers here have clearly not been to driving school—yesterday there were several hair raising near catastrophes —fortunately not involving us. I will say, today wasn’t bad at all-more like what we recall, a cross between San Francisco and, say, NYC.

Casey is now down at the pool with Lucio, the caretakers’ son—his friend from two years ago. The beauty of children is that friendships pick up where they leave off—particularly true of young boys who share the wonders of such things as Pokeman, Dragonball Z and transformers. I think for Lucio having another boy here for a week is a rare treat. And Casey loves being somewhere that offers a break from gramma and pappa.

Villa Praiola is a special place because of Vera and Francesco, its special owners, who take pride in offering strangers a beautiful place to live for a week—or more. It is decorated with marvelous taste but remains comfortable and enjoyable—totally relaxing.

It was a wonderful serendipity event which found us here in 2004 and now in 2007 the property has only grown better—a/c in all the rooms, an old building in the pool area has been transformed into an open air rec room with cooking facilities; the antique traditional winery below the villa has had lighting added which makes it much easier to absorb. Many such places have been long destroyed and so seeing this one, cobwebs and all, is like stepping into the past—huge, decaying wine vats, crushing screws, stone fermenting basins and more—everything but the contadino.

In 2004, when I was still keeping a travel website (which I may resurrect when this blog is finito), I wrote a lot about Villa Praiola and provided many pictures. If interested—check here. This is a 2007 photo update.

Created with
Paul's flickrSLiDR.

Now—I am off to join Casey and Lucio in a swim. And the sea is opening up—the blue shows and glistens like diamonds—the haze has lifted and I see a sailboat. Beautiful!

If you are interested in the villa, their renting agent is Ville in Italia. My experience with them is that they service clients well and are a business which values integrity.

Since I am writing this and whatever follows with no internet connection, it will be several days before entries are posted. So—travel back in time to catch up.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Cinque Terre

Nestled along the coast of the Ligure di Levante Riviera are the villages which have been known since the middle ages as Cinque Terre--The Five Lands. These small, doll house like villages are totally picturesque and lovely and today are the scene of mass tourism. Those that live in the villages still fish the sea and carry on age-old traditions--as well as manning businesses that cater to needs and whims of countless visitors--day in and day out.
The largest of the villages is Monterosso--which seems to be cleverly modeled after the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney Land--or is that vice versa? Really--only one thing comes to mind upon entering the narrow streets with their tall, vibrantly colored, narrow buildings--pirates--this must be where they pillaged and hung-out between forays on the open seas. It is so "piratey."
Lemons in Monterosso
Each of the villages is a little different while being the same. For all of them, except Monterosso which is the largest and most developed, the mystery is "why?" Why are they there? Why were they created in the first place, centuries gone by? They must have been self-sustaining as contact to the "outside" was difficult at best, impossible much of the time. The obvious answer is for fishing--but then, for whom did they fish? Where were the markets? Most certainly people did not drop by to buy the day's catch. Today the idea of totally closed, self-contained groupings of people is most often seen in strange sects and cults, making it difficult for the rest of us in the third millennium to understand places such as the Cinque Terre.
There are three ways to experience these villages--hiking the trail that runs between them, taking the ferry or riding the train. But--for the beauty and uniqueness of the villages to be realized, they must be seen from below as they inch up from the sea to the mountain.

My suggestion is to take the ferry from a starting point in either Levanto or Porto Venere, stay on the ferry the entire way to the last of the villages so that you can have an uninterrupted introduction to them. After that you can backtrack via the trail, the ferry or the train to each of the other four.

It pretty much takes all day to explore these villages--even though they are small. Of course, you will lunch at one of them, have gelato on another, enjoy their ambience as you stroll the lanes, maybe shop for some gifts or souvenirs and then have the timelines of ferry and train schedules. While lunching, you can watch fishing boats being hoisted in the water or ripples lapping the rocks and stones of the beaches.

Good Gelateria in Vernazza
I had cinnamon and banana-kiwi--delicious!
Another thought I had as we enjoyed the day is that it would be fun to spend a night in either Monterosso or Vernazza--to experience these villages at the close of the day when all of the rest of us tourists are gone, would be nice. We stayed in Levanto at a lovely place--Villa Margherita--but, if we go again, one night will be earmarked for a night with the pirates.

If you have never been to Cinque Terre and find the literature to be confusing as to how you visit the villages, know that it is very easy to do. It is not any more strenuous than visiting hill towns of Tuscany--less so than for many of them. It is not necessary to hike if that is not your thing. You disembark either the train or the ferry at the foot or in the middle of a village.

One caveat is that the ferry does not stop at Corniglia--you have the option to hike there or to take the train. If you take the train and don't want to walk up 300+ stairs, there is a park bus that will make it much easier on the legs--so even this highest of the villages is easy to reach.

We found Levanto to be a perfect staging point for the Cinque Terre. It is easy to get to--no city traffic to fight in order to get to its heart. It's easy to walk around in; there are good restaurants and a free beach--along with the regular European type beach clubs where you rent lounges and umbrellas. The Villa Margherita is very nice, away from noise and traffic, has its own parking, serves breakfast and is owned by very nice people. I would go back there in a heartbeat.