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.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Chianti in Hiding

This has been a wonderful year in so many ways. If I were a writer, I could put it into words and maybe have a best seller--but, it has been too visceral, too much touching of the soul, too much beauty for word pictures, too much of the wonderful.

One of the moments I treasure most came last autumn when we were engaged in a favorite pastime--driving the country side on the way to nowhere--or maybe it was to Firenze--it really doesn't matter. Suddenly I was seeing things I had not seen before--although the road was not a new one. I wondered--"How could I have missed that farm house? That crevice with its sparkling stream? That pond? That evocative cemetery? That charming, small village called a borgo--in its day a place of hardwork and toil for the landowner? That vestige of a life gone by?" Then I understood that all these things had simply been hiding behind lush green trees and vines; that they only show themselves after tourists go home. Suddenly emerged a whole new Tuscany that only Tuscans know is there. Secret places were laid bare. Roads we had explored in late summer and early fall suddenly were available for new explorations and discoveries. Tuscany with its clothes off became even more enchanting.

Now spring has come early, already announcing the hot days of summer. Pools are opening weeks earlier than planned; vines are growing so quickly that one almost stands and watches them happen; our maple tree, which stood naked and proud through winter months, now wears its clothes. And Tuscany is once again hidden.

Already I feel bereft as we drive, knowing that hidden beyond the road are treasures unseen, ducks floating in the shadows of a pond, sheep and goats grazing on low grasses, houses with left over piles of wood waiting for next winter, chapels no longer used or seen. Yes, vines are the life blood here in Tuscany and so they are welcomed with great anticipation but--they do not tell the whole story of what Toscana is under these Sunday clothes of green and red.

And I feel saddened knowing that next November I will not be a part of the cycle of seasons here in this special world when souvenir shops are shuttered, gelateria shades are drawn and life cycles on. When we come again, I would like it to be between November and April when life in Tuscany becomes more real and the camaraderie of neighbors and Tuscans is most felt. Or maybe--we will come back to live here once again--Casey wants that so we shall see. For now we have 3 more months to put aside thoughts of what we will leave and simply enjoy what we have.

The Vines Today

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Restaurants to Share

I don't know--Italy or Other Good Stuff--guess it's both.

We have indulged ourselves at way, way too many restaurants during our year here with most ranging somewhere between good and memorable. These four are the latest on our "go back to" list and so I thought I would share them with anyone who might be coming this way soon.

Antica Borgo: You probably won't stumble upon this restaurant unless you are like us, having the time and inclination to explore off the beaten track or someone has recommended it to you. It is located in an old, traditional small farm borgo with buildings that have been used for centuries. Today the old buildings hide apartments, a locanda and a great traditional Tuscan restaurant serving food with a flair. The hosts are congenial; the wine list impressive; the food delicious and the setting quite lovely. For nice weather dining there is veranda seating but choosing between inside and outside can be difficult as there is much charm inside.

The restaurant is located just beyond Lucolena, a small village off the road leading between Figline Valdarno and Greve in Chianti. Their website gives clear directions.

Dulcisinfundo: (no website, yet.) 21, Vicolo Deglis Innocenti San Gimignano 0039 0577 941919
We thoroughly enjoyed this restaurant. The owner Roberto del Zoppo, from Milano, is delightful, proud of his establishment and offers deliciously good food. It is located to the right along the wall as you head into the center of the village, allowing it to offer a beautiful view of the countryside beyond. However, we chose to eat in the nicely decorated, inviting inside. There is an attractive enoteca downstairs, below street level.

Osteria del Castello: (no website yet) Located at the entrance to Castello di Brolio; Loc. Madonna A Brolio; osteria@ricasoli.it;
GPS Coordinates Lat 43°24'55"N Long 11° 27'33" E:

39-0577 747277

We ate here several years ago and enjoyed it immensely; however, the previous owner has left and the osteria is now owned by the Brolio Winery. It is in the process of reestablishing itself and promises to be as good as it was in the past under the Irish chef Seamus. The menu is creative with many preparations that differ from typical Tuscan foods. There is a good wine list. The osteria is located in the midst of a calm and serene forest, providing a pleasant respite from a day of exploration and discovery. It is a time to relax and savor the day's activites.

Ristorante Il Vescovino: (no website) Via Ciampolo da Panzano, 9; 055 8560152; ilvescovino@mail.com. Signs to the restaurant are easy to follow. This is another restaurant that has existed for many years: however, a couple of years ago it was sold and the new owners are providing some creative cuisine along with traditional dishes--all utilizing typical Tuscan ingredients. I recently had a light lasagna with a duck ragu sauce which was outstanding. The owners are a young Italian (husband) Scottish (wife) couple. The ristorante has a wide veranda with incredible views over the countryside--beautiful on warm weather days. The inside rooms and tables are classy.

From time to time, I'll offer more dining tips based upon our year here. Always they will be places we feel are worth return trips because they provide something beyond the ordinarily good food to be found in most restaurants here in Tuscany.

Since posting this entry I have added a page to my website with information about many restaurants around Greve--some of the ones we sampled during our year. Restaurants Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

April in Paris

Not the most creative title but certainly très appropriate!

Paris is big, noisy, crowded and most definitely unique. It appears as a place that knows its own mind, propelling itself, day in and day out, along courses it has designed and created for its own pleasure and personality.

Neighborhoods with distinctly different characters--a few quiet and withdrawn but most bustling with energy and apparent purpose --merge into and through each other in maze like proximity.

It is a rich city that holds much history, bloodshed, intrigue, beauty and grandeur. It is unlike any other place I know. And--it is not my favorite place.

Florence draws even the stranger into its mystery and past. It has a history colored by centuries of turmoil, romance, intrigue and upheavals and yet it shares all freely with the citizens of the world. There is an openness and comfort with itself that enters into the soul of the visitor and traveler.

Paris does not do this--at least for me. That great city seems to "show off" its features--wide boulevards, regal architecture, enormous palaces, impressive cathedrals and churches. It is a place where you feel the outsider role rather than an embrace.

We have been to Paris before and I do not remember it this way at all. Perhaps because it was many years ago, before travel became everyone's obsession, when days could be spent in leisurely strolls, uncrowded museums and quiet window shopping. Or maybe because we did not have an eight-year-old in tow then.

Having lived in a very pastoral setting for the last many months, I wasn't prepared for the multitudes of yellow and red and blue open-topped buses possessing the streets, or so many tour buses disgorging so many people--tourists like us so I surely can't cast stones. Taxis cruise and fill the wide boulevards. People rush and run and hurry wherever they are going. And-lines, lines, lines.

We enjoyed the Louvre, the Musèe Orsay, the Picasso Musèe, the Jardin des Tulieries and walking--well, sort of enjoyed that part. For a brief review of our museum experiences, check out Casey's take on them in KZ in Toscana and see his budding artistic talents. It's a pretty good read.

I know that France values and protects its language--even having an official government agency to make sure it is not encroached upon or compromised by foreign intrusion. I know there is a great fear of the prominence of English world wide--the language of the rabble. But--in their zeal, the keepers succeed in keeping their history and richness to themselves--not taking the opportunity to educate the non-French speaking world citizens about their great past, art work and events. I do understand the argument that one should know the language of a country and if not, too bad. I just don't think it is a reasonable argument in a world with 1000's of languages.

Signs in front of buildings, in museums or other places of note are never in English--a language that many, many tourists can read regardless of nationality. If there is a common language today, it is English. So, although I am interested in the history of Paris, have read much and am at least minimally knowledgeable, I would have liked enlightenment about specific buildings or artists or places and events. I did not leave as enriched with a broader understanding as I would have in Florence or Rome. It is interesting, though, that English is utilized in the interest of money making opportunities.

With all this said, it was fun to watch Casey when he saw the Eiffel tower lit up at night and when he stood under it, looking upward in awe. He will always remember having fun and laughter with children of the world in the Tuileries. Seeing a place through the eyes of a child is very special--even when he gets to the point of "I'm bored." It seems that the Orsay is just a little too much--once through Cezanne, Van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec, the park sounded good to him. He loved the Picasso museum and now sees himself as a budding Picasso. The Mona Lisa, which was high on his short list of must-sees, disappointed terribly. The guards allow children to go right up in front of the ropes so that they can look and look. Casey tried very hard to walk in such a way that her eyes would follow him but, to his dismay, they didn't move.

We ate well for the most part. The weather was wonderful; trees were beginning to bloom and flowers in the parks were colorful and lovely. Paris is a city of parks and that is nice. Maybe next time, its magic will prevail for me.

And, finally, apologies to my good friend Ann, who loves Paris, and to others who, I am sure, profoundly disagree with me.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Au Revoir

Tonight we're off to Paris for 5 days. So Sad! I'll tell all about how wonderful the food was, how beautiful April in Paris is and what Casey thinks of the Mona Lisa when we get back.

You would think KZ would be excited about the Eiffel Tower but no---he wants to see the Mona Lisa and go to the Picasso Musèe. He was totally fascinated by the multi-colored eyed lady and the weird cats in the Picasso museum in Barcelona and so Picasso is his "favorite artist." Although he also fancies himself as a Michaelangelo and Leonardo man. What can I say?

And then--there is the food court at Les Galleries Lafayette that we must investigate--according to friend, Ann.

So, we will eat and walk and look and have fun. Not a bad life!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Yesterday's Domani

Well--as someone has noted--life can be strange.

On the tail of yesterday's frustration comes this.

Casey came running in today--quite excited and exuberant.

He got an OTTIMO on his math test (ottimo is the highest mark!).

I haven't seen it yet as the teacher keeps them.

But, when he does bring it home, it'll go in a frame and on the wall so when he doubts, he can just check it out.

And life goes on!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Italian Math--I Hate It

Today I am upset--because Casey is being demoralized, is in tears and I don't know what to do about it.

He is a pretty smart boy. Last year he scored 600 out of 600 on the California Math Test and at the highest giftedness level. I take that to mean that he has a pretty good grasp of mathematical concepts and processes and should do well academically. He came here with high self concept and confidence in his abilities.

Today he is feeling as if he is a failure, has little confidence, cries and lives in fear that his teacher will get mad and yell at him. The reason seems to be that there is extreme focus and emphasis on making numbers fit in the squares, the lines correctly formed and using the right colored ink for the appropriate digits. He spends inordinate amounts of time on each problem, erasing and redoing in order to have it "right." This slows him down and then the teacher becomes upset because he is slow and doesn't finish his work. At home with us, he can take 15 minutes to do one problem when he has 30 do to. At this point, he has forgotten his time tables, has trouble adding, and seldom understands a process. And he feels "dumb."

Left to his own devices and methods, he can do the work, do it well and do it relatively quickly. But, he won't do that. The answer is no longer as important to him as doing the minutia correctly. As a former educator, I understand the importance of process; math teachers should expect students to demonstrate an understanding of process. However, what this is about isn't process.

So--at this point we are stymied. Casey will not let us help him because he is afraid that we will tell him something that is wrong. He is petrified of not pleasing his teachers. I am worried that this particular experience will be a long time in being overcome as once self-concept is damaged it is difficult to repair. Fortunately, I know that he has a very caring teacher next year who is masterful with her students.

The irony is that Casey's teachers here are nice; they do care about him; they do write nice words on his work sometimes; they do tell him they do not want him to leave. They tell me how smart and quick he is. They are not mean or unloving. They are just teaching the way teaching is done here. The need for nurturing does not seem to be as recognized here as it is in the US.

Students who have had this approach since starting school, seem to handle it OK. But, Casey, who has always been sensitive to what he views as criticism, is faltering. It may even be that he perceives criticism when it isn't there.

I hurt when he does and for him. I wish I had an answer.

With this, it should be said, that when he is not overcome by this part of his life, he is fine, happy, content and full of vim and vigor. If you read his blog, KZ in Toscana, you know that. So--maybe this shall pass and once back in a system he understands, all will be well. The strangest part of all of this is that he is as likely to say he wants to stay here as say he wants to go home. I wonder what we have created?