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.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

White Roads of Chianti

Often I speak of pleasures in traveling white roads and then someone will ask “what is a white road?” I forget that for me the concept was unknown until spending time here a few years back. Since then, my life and love for Tuscany and Umbria have been enriched by following them.

Look at your map. You see highways, autostradas, roads, smaller roads, very skinny roads and then, focusing harder, you will find white lines. These lines seem to meander, flowing between places like river bottoms. Usually you do not see destinations marked along their ways.

Travelers often ignore these lines and that is their mistake; for, it is as you bump and turn along these dirt, gravel, ravined rutted roads that discoveries are made. It is in these explorations that you will find future memories more evocative than the storied places you have been to—the “must sees,” as they are called.

A mystery of these roads and something to keep in your mind as you decide to take the step and follow one is that they always lead some place—well, almost always anyway. Eventually you will bump your way back onto a paved road with directional signs to somewhere.

Along the way you will find even smaller paths to turn into where at the end will be an ancient farmhouse now restored, lived in and with a sign for olive oil and wine. You wonder what happens to these people in winter; surely cars can’t make it “there and back” in snow and rain. And then the bigger question: Who finds this place to taste and buy the oils and wines?...People who follow white lines, of course.

We spent a year exploring these roads that beckon and yet there must be hundreds more to find. Today was a new one with a delightful reward along the way. After passing by a lovely but mournful wooden cross bedecked with flowers, held up by rough stones at the base—a memorial to some tragic accident, peering into woods where the wild boar roams, hearing the strange calls of unknown birds somewhere in the tree tops and glimpsing small hilltop villages in the distance,


we eventually found ourselves in San Giusto in Salcio--a very small old grouping of stone houses, a church and a towering tower with bells announcing the hour--a borgo of the past but lived in again now.

The parish church was built in the 1200's, restored over the years, fell into disrepair and last renovated in 1926. It is small but clearly in use--not decommissioned as so many of the old chapels here have been. And, in it was this quite lovely treasure that gleamed within the rough hewn walls and scarred pews of the building--a not unusual find when traveling white roads.

Wending along further was one of those even smaller "roadpaths" with a sign indicating a reward of a winery if we followed it. So, we did and stumbled upon another special place---Poggio Antinora. Here one can sample their wines but even better is the exhibition of wonderful fotographia from the early 1900's. Taken with an old box camera by the parish priest are the faces of rich and poor, vineyard workers and children. It is a rich and provocative glimpse into the history of yesteryear.

Alongside these rooms is a small museum of vineyard/winery implements and equipment from days long past.

video
A Look At Poggio Antinora
Retreating back along the rocky roads, we eventually found our way to the paved 214A which led us back through Radda and to Lucrelli and the Osteria di Panzanella--our lunch destination.

A Delicious Goat Cheese Salad with Lots of Other Good Stuff
Our day ended by traveling our most favorite white road of them all--one that we return to again and again because of the treasure found at its end--La Cantinetta di Rignana. To find out more about Casey's most favorite restaurant in all the world, just do a search on this blog or on KZ in Toscana.

In this picture, they are holding the San Diego Pot Holders he brought them per la cucina.

Tomorrow we go to Castello Meleto where there will be a medieval festival. Each day offers its own pleasures to enjoy and the treasure hunt is fun!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Sleepy Day at Viticcio

Things are quiet here today. The sounds of the vineyard are muted, the air is quiet, the birds seems subdued in their calls to one another and Casey is taking his first nap in six years. The children spent their energies yesterday and last night.

Their birthday party was the success it was meant to be even though Camilla’s day was last November and Casey’s is not until next week. The reunion with classmates and friends from last year abounded with laughter, joy and just plain fun. Watch for Casey’s blog entry complete with pictures and a slide show—coming soon. For now, enjoy this sneak preview of some of the fun in the sun.

video

Ken and I have spent the day so totally lazy that I am bored—a state of being I didn’t think possible here in the land of dreams. Maybe a trip into town for gelato will help—I think so.
It’s worth a try—don’t you agree? Time to round up Casey and Camilla, giving an excuse to go….

********

We’re back and yes, gelato helped—a lot. I had albicocca and fiordilatte, quite good! Of course, since the children came with us a stop at L’Edicola was necessary in order to inspect Gromiti and animal cards which in turn meant spending vacation money—his not ours. For the uninitiated, these are Gromiti—previously only in Italy but lately migrated to the US. These, of course, are Italian.

I read today that creative, imaginative play is vital to growing up healthy. Clearly, Casey has no problem in this area and, with such criteria, will grow to be a very, very healthy man. I can relax.

Tomorrow he will spend the day at his friend Tommy’s house. This gives Ken and I time to do what we spent so many days doing while he was in school here—aimlessly driving, just to see. We have traveled many kilometers in such exploration but there are still a multitude of white roads to explore, little borgos to investigate and, of course, new places to find for lunch. This time I think we will go to Osteria le Panzanelle, a little place in Lucarelli, loved by many but, surprisingly, escaped by us before. This is good as "new" always holds anticipation. And..I will have another place to add to my Chianti recommendations of fine eateries.

Tomorrow will be another domani--a new day with much to stir the heart and share. I suspect there will be a country chapel, maybe some sheep, an evocative shrine, a curve with a surprising treat, something wonderful. Till then......time for a glass of chianti, fresh pasta and music.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sunflowers, Roses and Butterflies

I have neglected to mention the warm and welcoming gifts from special friends—gifts that gave a little extra beauty to the songs our hearts were playing. I really would like to say thank you to them in a way that the world hears and so…….

I am so happy that you are again here with us! I hope that next time you're coming will be forever!! Bentoranati! Un Abbraccio, Sara


Bentoranati a casa!! Welcome "Home" !!! Valentina

Nicoletta and Alessadro.

Alessandro gave Casey a silver nomination charm bracelet with his name bracketed by the Italian flag. I hope that he will treasure this gift and never lose it. Often children simply don’t understand how very special some things are until too late. Of course, I tell him but then...I tell him many things that seem to not find their way into his ears or memory bank. After all, he's a child with other things to think about.


Of course we came laden with gifts also. And, as others know, it is hard to be creative in gift giving when trying to offer something special from home.

  • First, it must not be a tacky souvenir that becomes a burden to the recipient.
  • Second, it really should not have a “made in China” tag or stamp on it.
  • Third, it can’t be too bulky to pack.
  • Fourth, it should be specific to the person—not some generic, one size fits all gift.
  • Fifth, it should somehow relate to where you are from or someplace you have been.
  • Sixth, it is nice if it can be something not available in the place you are going.
  • Seventh, and maybe most importantly, it should provide a good memory of a friend who treasures their relationship.
  • Eighth, I would welcome any comments with more ideas of shoulds and should nots.
So we brought spices, meat rubs and special mustards from Napa Valley--wine country--so appropriate here, pretty dish towels from Napa for everyday use and thoughts of us, Ghirardelli chocolates for our chocolate lovers, macademia nuts from Hawaii, notecards made from photos I have taken in our travels and dolls and books for Camilla. It seemed like Christmas around here for awhile.

And butterflies? What about them? Well, yesterday while Casey went to Siena with Camilla, Ken and I drove to delightful Florence--this time with a mission. We ordered our new ceramic table from Giotti Ceramiche. It is being specially made to match the one we splurged on last year--that one is rectangular, this new one is round. It was fun to see Paolo and Daniela again--they seem to be friends although we really are just customers--albeit, profitable ones. Butterflies? The tables are enlivened by and graced by butterflies and lady bugs and bees and dragonflies--a whimsical garden touch.


Our days are passing; we use them to revisit memories and to make new ones, carrying them home to San Diego for times of reverie and quiet contemplation.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Saturday in the Piazza

Greve Piazza Matteoti


Saturday is market day in Greve—time to shop for life’s essentials, decide Saturday night’s dinner, check out the latest fashions and, mostly, time to socialize, to catch up with friends. We did these things yesterday.

Walking down Via Roma, where an old medieval lane of Greve leading to the piazza once was, gave us a chance to see what shops were still there and where empty windows stared out at us. The lady in the laundry ran out to say “ciao” and give Ken a hug—he made friends with her as he jogged past her shop every morning. Supposedly, he will be doing that again this year—time will tell.

Cinzia, whom I met when I was here in 2005 looking for a perfect home for the next year, works in Roberta’s, the leather store on the piazza. When I walked through the door, the exclamation of surprise and the big smile were all that were needed to lead to inquiries into each other’s life this past year. How was Tommy, her son doing in school? Had Casey grown? The hope that we were moving back here. The disappointment that we were not.

We discussed the slowness of business this year. Americans aren’t coming and the Europeans aren’t buying. It isn’t looking very good for small tourist oriented shops. Cinzia asked if I knew how she could sell her collection of AndrĂ­ carvings in the US. It is sad to know that times seem to be worse here than at home. The world economies are hurting. Alessandro’s bookings are coming mostly from Germanic countries not the US.

Next was Bruno’s gastronomia—our dear friend whose embraces are truly bear hugs. He talks at me a mile a minute in Italian, of course, and I just smile and say “si, si, si” as any good Italian does. His enthusiasm and vitality is contagious and I always feel the day is a little better after seeing him.

Then came Luca, my hairdresser in the piazza—Studio 20. When I first went to him, Judy of Divina Cucina fame, told me how to say that I didn’t want to look like a pumpkin (I easily turn orange.) A relationship that begins with a laugh is sure to be a good one and that is what Luca and I have. I poked my head in to say ciao, assuring him that I would let him work his magic before we go back home. Luca is also an accomplished photographer having published several “coffee table” books of Italy and presenting one-man shows in one of the comune buildings. Of course, we have one of his books and several photographs of lovely Chianti.

In Antica Macelleria Falorni (a famous butcher shop), we found Flutera. In Albania she had her degree in engineering but here in Italy, was our housekeeper as she wound her way through the labyrinth of achieving legal residency. She made it through and now is employable in higher paying jobs. Speaking Albanian, English, Italian and French makes her sought after in a tourist area such as this. Another face lit up when she turned around to see who was poking her shoulder and more hugs and kisses European style. It is sad that she will never be able to use the education she worked hard to obtain but life is better here than in Albania and so choices must be made.

A stop in Il Portico, our comfort restaurant in the piazza—another venture of Bruno’s family—brought more hugs and making a reservation for dinner at our favorite table.

And there were more—Casey’s teachers Maestre Agatha and Anna Maria and English teacher Susan (don’t ask about why that), stopping at the hardware stall at the market for wine stoppers, Roberta in her other shop… Then there were the ones we missed today but will most certainly see as the days pass.

We picked up our produce—tomatoes, green beans, asparagus, zucchini, carrots, garlic, melon and apples—at the same stall we always patronized; next checked out the fresh seafood but didn’t get any—now I wish for some of the large, fresh prawns for tonight but it’s too late so will settle for asparagus pasta; then to the little green grocers shop for fresh zucchini blossoms to fry up for a wonderful antipasto along with carrots and zucchini before dinner tonight.

Later in the day was a trip to the COOP for basics—olive oil, 00 flour, milk, eggs etc, etc, etc. Stopped in the beauty store (I needed some) for the gel I forgot.

And, of course, what’s a day without gelato? Not having to twist arms, Casey and Camilla joined me with yet another trip to town—well, sort of town. Casey was so happy that they had After Eight—his favorite. I settled for melon and coconut. For all who love Italy, you know that this is the final stop in coming home.

A Year? Really?


July 2007

June 2008

Well, this is long so I'll wait for dinner with friends Valentina and Riccardo and Casey's friend Tommaso till next time. Ciao, Ciao

Friday, June 20, 2008

Home in Greve-in-Chianti

As I write this, I sit beside a sparkling pool, surveying the beautiful, green, vine colored hills of fabled Tuscany. We are home! And nothing has changed. Life transforms slowly here, sometimes taking generations.

Yesterday we were greeted at the Florence airport by friends and a big Snoopy balloon being wildly waved by Camilla as she welcomed Casey’s return. The two children haven’t parted since then—except for the 12 hours Casey slept last night. My fears that they would be shy at first were totally unfounded. As predicted by others, they took up right where they left off—in Italiano--Casey speaking with the musical Toscana accent, considered by many to be the pure language of Italy. Have you even been jealous of a nine (almost ten) year old? It’s a humbling experience!

It is so right to be here and as if we never left. In the past we have gone back to places where we have lived and found that returning was not possible—we were different, the place was different, relationships were different. We were once again strangers, left out of a place where we belonged.

Not so here. As I walked the property in the quiet of late afternoon, the months drifted away and the day became just another day in our life here—the same as the days before. The sense of belonging was complete and unchanged. Signora Franca and Sara hugged tightly and we hugged back—it was so good to see their faces and smiles once again. As we run into the workers here--Mario, Danny, Adrien, Andre, and others--their faces light with recognition. They are as happy to see us as we them. I marvel how a single year can run so deep but it does. Returning to our “real” home last year took weeks before adjustment took hold. Yesterday took seconds and, already, the thought of never wanting to leave permeates our hearts.



Last night we had a simple meal with “the family,” Nicoletta, Alessandro, Signora Franca and Camilla. It was good. In the afternoon, the children swam, roller bladed and laughed a lot, as no time was needed for reacquaintance. Casey was running on adrenalin after the long flight here and so collapsed once his head hit the pillow. Today I haven’t seen him since he ran out the door three minutes after climbing from bed. It is pure joy to see him so happy.

Later today we are going into Greve to see old friends and enjoy lunch at one of our favorite places, the small Enoteca Fuoripiazza. It will be good to see them once more. Tourists sit outside; people who belong sit at the tables in the cool, small inside. We will sit inside.

Tonight we will eat again with our Italian family—a time of good wine, good food, laughter and catching up. And tomorrow?---------it will come.

The Airplane Experience

Traveling is not what it used to be but this trip to Italy was not too shabby. Perhaps because we experienced the new United business class configuration on their international 747’s. Each seat is its own little universe with seats that lay down into full beds long enough to fit six foot Ken. Each person has a private entertainment console with options for movies, audiobooks, games, audio, Berlitz language lessons in multiple languages, TV shows, children’s programs and stuff I forget. All the programming is “on demand” so you can do whatever you want whenever you want. The selection of movies is extensive as are the audio options—you can even program your own playlist with any combination of music and artists you chose.

All of this is nice to relish if you have miles with which to upgrade or can cash in for a full ticket. Paying for it would be an altogether different matter—unless one has money to burn.





We did have one real scare when it looked as if we were parted from all our electronics, including computer, GPS, IPOD speakers, jewelry and all of our data for our two months here. We were on the upper deck of the plane where there is a little cubby hole to store carry-ons. When Ken grabbed ours, it was the last little black case there. Then, as soon as we deplaned, I opened it to get our passes for the flight from Frankfurt to Florence. It was the wrong suitcase!

As would be expected, we panicked. Without going into all the commotion, the highlights are:

After what seemed like a lot of time (which we didn’t have as the connection time to our next flight was brief), UAL/Lufthansa staff found which connecting flight the owners of the bag we now had were headed to. Unbelievably, it was to Florence—the same flight as ours. Coincidentally, the people were from San Diego.


We rushed to the boarding area which had a long, long, long line of people waiting to go through security. We knew that the people with our bag had to have discovered the switch up due to our computer but had no idea if they had already gone through security, were someplace trying to find their bag, what?. We were clueless.


We spoke with a man who was supervising the security line. He let us cut to the front and go right through, but he didn’t have any knowledge of the situation.

We rushed to the gate just as the plane was boarding. Standing at the agents’ desk was a couple being issued passes and a security guard holding the tag from our case. This was the couple who sat in front of us on the plane from San Francisco and who had taken our bag. Ken identified who he was and the security guard took him to a room where our case was being held. The other people were very relieved to get theirs back and so all ended well, including making our connection on time. But for a short while, things did not look all that good.


We view this as a true answer to prayer. Casey, who is a bonafide worrier, was becoming a basket case so I stopped with him and we prayed for God’s help in finding the suitcase. A minute later it all came together. Casey took no time in proudly telling the woman that he had prayed and so that was why it all worked out. He is a true child of faith.

The plane ride from Frankfurt to Florence is a short one and so very quickly we were where we wanted to be—home with friends.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

We're Off to Bella Italia--Again

Home is beckoning and we will be there soon--real soon.

We left this morning from San Diego to San Francisco to Frankfurt to Firenze. Ken and I are excited but it doesn't compare to Casey's anticipation. His friends are calling to him. He doesn't know that Camilla will be waiting at the airport--what a reunion that will be. Although, I expect that after all the anticipation, e-mails this year, snail mail and little packages, they will find themselves a little tongue-tied at first.

When we first arrived for our wonderful year, they did not have a common language and so they interacted by hitting the each other with balloons--ones that filled our apartment when we opened the door. It was a great welcome making us feel wanted and at home immediately. The balloon relationship continued for quite a while.


July 2006

Now I think all it will take is a dip in the pool and they will pick up right where they were last July. Two children with shared souls.


July 2007

So--we are in the air now..dining on wonderful plane food, lulling ourselves to sleep with muzak, pretending to sleep.

Hopefully all the flights will connect, our luggage will arrive along with us, anticipation will be over and we will be back on the vineyard in Greve-in Chianti--our home.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Imports/Exports Parker Style

The prevailing thought regarding treasures to bring home from bella Italia involves:

Wine-of course,

Olive oil-newly harvested/cold pressed,

Ceramics of all kinds—mostly expensive,

Pashmina-a cashmere stole,

Leather—jackets and purses,

Spices—for pasta and bruschetta,

Art books—where to stop? and

Pictures by the thousands.

But, eventually the draw of all these things fades or at least becomes resistible—except, maybe, for olive oil and ceramics.

When we returned after our wonderful year there, we not only brought home less than we filled suitcases with on previous shorter trips, but for the most part what we brought was slightly odd. Let’s see there was:

00 flour—the key to light, crisp fried vegetables

Forno paper—similar to our parchment paper but better and cheaper

Sheets—far nicer and comfy than Bed, Bath and Beyond

Shoes—wonderful sport shoes, not sexy Salvatore Ferragamos

Coffee candy—espresso filled

Tomato seeds—Sicilian and others

Band aids—they actually stay on through a shower

Odds and ends—that remind me of our home there as I use them at home here.

Memories—magical slideshows at unexpected moments.

Ceramics—a beautiful bowl that graces my kitchen

Plastic wine stoppers—everyone wants one, far better than the fancy ones.

Gifts—for friends and family

Pictures—by the thousands.

Oh—yes!. We did have one very big, major, expensive purchase--one that gives constant pleasure and not a moment’s regret.—an exquisite, painted for us, ceramic table from Florence. We had eyed these for years and so decided to take the plunge.


So, what’s on this year’s export list?

Powdered sugar in a shaker—Casey’s request for pancakes

Forno paper—I love it

00 flour—yummy veggies

Wine stoppers—from the Saturday market

Shoes—maybe another pair of sport shoes

Pictures—by the hundreds (it’s only 2 months this time)

Memories—to last until next time

Oh—yes! Another big, major, expensive purchase—a round table to match last year’s acquisition. It will make our back yard complete. The butterflies, bees, dragonflies and lady bugs that grace it are from fairy tales.

And then---what are we importing?

Pancake flour for Casey’s friend Tommaso

Ziplock baggies for my friend Nicoletta

Surprises for Sara

Oven gloves for Casey’s friends at La Cantinetta di Ragnana—with scenes of San Diego

Treats and party favors for Casey and Camilla’s big birthday party

English books for Casey’s Italian friends

Gifts for others of Casey’s friends

Chocolate chips, liquid vanilla and brown sugar for much sought after cookies

More…….

Actually there is one suitcase with nothing but gifts and “stuff.” Do you suppose we will fill it on our return? Give me your odds.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Bet You Didn't Know!

Quick: Be the first to know this before it hits tomorrow's airwaves....

Last night we had a baby sitter for Casey (which, by the way, involves a lot more than the 30¢ per hour that I used to make.) When we came home, she began telling us how really, really smart Casey is. Of course, we already know this but were curious as to how she found out as they watched Ratatouille--not exactly a documentary.

Baby-sitter: He knows so many interesting scientific facts.

Me: Yes, but he tends to make up quite a few, too. How did he enlighten you?

Baby-sitter: I never knew that you can cough up your spleen.

Bet you didn't know this either.

Friday, June 06, 2008

One Week—Four Days

1985 was our first trip to Europe. Before that, such far-flung travel had a mysterious allure seeming to belong only to other people—certainly not to us. We were campers.

Then came an “a-ha” moment when our world turned and changed forever. Suddenly we were planning a trip to Germany and Austria and taking my mother-in-law with us. So much of the magic of that trip revolved around giving this wonderful woman something beyond any dream she had thought to have—a memory I treasure.

Twenty-three years later I still remember every detail of those three weeks as we fast tripped from Berlin, seeing the incredible sight of the Wall and crossing Check Point Charlie into East Berlin, to a production of The Student Prince in Heidelberg, to Bavaria and Neuschwanstein, to Garmisch, to Innsbruck, to the salt mines of Salzburg, Vienna, Gratz and so much more. Today I am amazed by how much we saw and did in such a short time. I remember following the night-crier in Dinkelsberg as he stopped at each inn for his draught. I remember…. And so began our travel addiction.

In eleven short days we will be flying to Italy once again—the country we have visited over and over. Not that we haven’t been to other places—China, Tanzania, Peru, Ecuador, Turkey and many countries throughout Europe—but Italy entered our souls from our first encounter. It is vibrant; it flows with color; its kitchens apologize to no one; its people are warm and welcoming and...then…there is the art and the duomos and the piazzas and the wine and the sunflowers and the history and, and, and…..

Packing this time is difficult when it should be easy. Last time we went for a year and had mountains of luggage as we moved our life to another country. So now we just have 9 weeks to worry about and I can’t get started. It is simply too simple.

At this point, I have a duffle filled with gifts for special people and birthday party stuff—Casey and Camilla are having a joint party with their school friends. We know we’re bringing roller blades and accompanying paraphernalia. There are the books and electronics—computer, cameras, DVD player, GPS, phones, IPOD and speakers—requiring their own carry-on.

But clothes--I have Casey's laid out and am certain that there is way too much. He will live in his bathing suit and will wear the same shorts for days on end--guess I need to put 90% of that pile back. We must not leave Nike, his stuffed dog, behind. Nike is Casey's Velveteen Rabbit--all the fur loved off long ago, a best friend, a necessity for sleep.



Find Nike?

So--eleven days left--now ten--one of the tomorrow's will be time enough to pack. And...unquestionably, we will bring too much.