Dec 31, 2008

New Year Experience in Italy

I won’t have the pleasure of ringing in the New Year in fine Italian style this year as I am enjoying it, rather quietly, with my family in California. And missing A, I am thinking of the past New Year's we spent together.

On New Year’s Day, I am sure if I don’t pick up a good movie, I will get roped into watching yet another parade. Who thought this up anyway? Why do Americans celebrate just about everything with a parade and floats? I am not one for crowds…don’t enjoy being in them and surely don’t care to watch them. My mom on the other hand….

Having said that I don’t care for crowds, I have to admit that I was very willing to squeeze my way into the very thick of things in Italy last year AND the year before, when I wanted to have the New Year’s Eve experience, Italian style.

Where California restricts the purchase and use of fireworks, it appears to grow on trees in Italy and even little ones have some kind of sparkler in hand. Which translates into … RUN!

Heavily packed squares would suddenly surge and part like the Red Sea as someone would set off a firecracker – smack in the thick of things. Since that was so much fun, they would grin and then do it again.

I saw yet another responsible citizen prepare to set off his fireworks. This time those close by were duly warned and they stepped back, waiting for it to shoot up and break into its glorious and colorful beauty.

It never looked better as it speedily whizzed horizontally through the surprised crowd, briefly lighting up eyes and mouths that were testing the limits of their extension. Miraculously no one got hurt.

And close to midnight, church bells tolled and corks popped off the bottles that were brought to the piazza. Fizzy fluid filled up tall champagne glasses and loved ones were pulled near, waiting expectantly for the final note when kisses would be planted, and toasts made filled with hope for the New Year.

In the gloom that 2008 has managed to spread over us all over the world, we need to have these magical minutes where for the moment we can believe and hope for a better future. So just a little early for some, depending on where you are in the world…Here’s to having good things in 2009.

Buon Anno!!!!!


Dec 25, 2008

Multiple benefits of giving

I can thank my mother for being a procrastinator. When I was a kid I used to do everything "NOW" but some things were limited by my mother's permission. She'd say "later, honey" and later would never come. It took years for me to realize it was just another grown up way of saying "no".

So now I am maimed for life and it's Christmas eve and I am only now thinking of her gift that I am yet to wrap. I snuck it in when mom was still sleeping this morning but before I could wrap it, she was up and running.

Then while I occupied myself re-arranging the sewing room, where I burrow when I come to visit, she decided to settle into my bed where she could comfortably bark out orders. She's a pro at this... "Put that on the table, turn it on it's side, move this, move that" and suddenly my project was no longer mine. My good nature was starting to take a sour turn.

But more importantly, I was afraid she'd discover her unwrapped gift hiding among my things and the surprise would be spoilt. At one point I even moved it right under her nose, hidden behind a large picture. Not wanting to risk it again, I rather unceremoniously told her I needed her to leave with all sorts of reasons tumbling out that sounded stupid if not selfish. I suppose "So you won't see your gift" would have worked the best but .... well, you understand.

My mom and I are like night and day and it has only taken a lifetime to learn how to understand and be understood. The thing is, I derive an incredible pleasure from surprising my mom with something she wants but doesn't expect. I learn about these things in everyday conversation and then when she least expects it...it's in front of her. Her eyes light up, her smile reaches from lobe to lobe and our differences can take a back seat for the moment.

I'd say that is definitely one benefit I like about giving.

Merry Christmas to everyone and I hope you enjoy all that you get, and get even more from all you give.

Dec 20, 2008

Bev notable cultural differences between Italy and California living

This list includes all those nice little things I've come to take for granted in the States and I notice do not exist in Italy. Although it's not complete, I'm sure it will be growing as time goes by. I am sure I am not alone in many respects - let me know what you've experienced.

For the holidays, I've come back to California to spend it with my folk. This also means that I've stepped back into the stone age - otherwise known as "dial up". Hmm, in many ways they are just like many Italians I know.

The Bev list:

1. Back in the land of DRYERS!!

The first big difference I noticed. Thank goodness in Italy we live in the middle of nowhere and outside a rather small town. After hanging out my laundry for the world to see in all kinds of weather and sometimes waiting for DAYS for a T-shirt to dry, I have a greater appreciation for this invention. Not to mention, I now iron when I was able to get away without this little pleasure before.

2. Traffic laws -- Red light? No problem, go ahead and turn right.

Well, I won't go into the whole Italian driving thing. But this one I love to do and it was weird at first, making the turn on the red when I got back to CA. I felt I was breaking the law! That feeling quickly faded as I left the line of cars still waiting to go straight or left.

3. Vege and fruit perv

It's so normal in the States to reach out and touch your produce, fingering it to make sure it's not bruised or spoiling, maybe gently squeezing to make sure it's a nice young thing.

Well, I almost had my hand amputated at a small grocer's when I thought I'd choose my own food. You are safe if you go to the supermarkets, just put on one of those plastic gloves so you don't contaminate all the fruit you leave behind. Personally, I prefer the small grocer - it is one of the romances with Italy that I have, all the little family owned shops. Now if I could only get used to the....

4. Working hours

I am still in that adjustment mode where I just can't remember that stores in Italy close at noon for a long lunch and then open until later in the day. I'll be caught running an errand around noon right when stores are shutting down or already closed. Interestingly, just the other day in CA, I realized I had to call a business about my car and it was a few minutes after 5pm. They were already closed. I heard myself saying "If we were in Italy, they'd still be open". (sigh..so difficult to please me)

5. Gas stations with service attendants, gasp, at 10pm

It Italy, the latest I've seen attendants manning a station is around 7pm but that is only ONE service station. The others close much earlier. Thankfully, on our way home from the airport in California, we needed to stop for directions - and there was no better place than the good ole' station, with goodies for sale in the Food Mart to help out. At 9:45pm, directions and a bag of chips is a comfort.

6. Gas station service. Period.

Okay, so they close early in Italy, but I have to say this girl didn't have to pump gas, didn't even have to leave the car for over a year when I needed gas. I admit I had to pause to think "Do I know how to do this?" when I had to fill up my car in CA. It's a no brainer in Italy - stop, say how much fuel you want, pay the attendent and off you go. In CA, unless you go to a full service station (almost completely extinct now), you have to also figure out if you pay first at the booth, pay by credit card right at the machine by your car or if you can pump first and pay after (a RARITY these days). Oregon might still have good ole service. Anyone know?

7. The medicine man

Bleeding Espresso expressed her feelings about the difference between the pharmacies in both countries in her blog post. You can properly drug yourself with over the counter drugs in the States, but you have to talk to a doctor at the "farmacia" in order to buy some of the most mundane medicine, including cough syrup. Seems like a drag?

8. The medicine man again

I think the States has the key to bleeding you dry when it comes to health care. One nice difference I ran across was when I needed to refill my contact lens prescription. Now, I know that in the states, I would have to take another eye exam after a period of time, so after two years, I was sure I'd have to sit for an optometrist. In Italy, imagine my surprise when the doctor took my glasses, read the strength from a machine and proceeded to give me a couple months supply - no test, no hassle, nothing. And being the responsible person I am, I will of course go for an exam when I can't see a thing any more....

9. Size - Roads, cars, houses...

It goes without saying that with all those nice, narrow roads found frequently in Europe, the cars will be made to match...or rather a smaller car would be a popular buy. On a short errand to the grocery with my folk, as I waited in the car, each vehicle that passed by was a pick up and each one seemed to loom larger and larger. Surely it was primarily because my folk live near Salinas which is mostly agricultural, so the pick-up truck ratio is definitely higher....along with the truck itself.

If you are ever in the Smokies you can go for a ride on this beast.

10. Different Breakfast Plan

I realize that every country will have their own way of eating and their own tipical foods. In Italy, they start the day with a pastry and coffee in the morning; throw in a juice every now and then. I, on the other hand, like the option of having a HUGE breakfast.

Check out that selection.

Dec 16, 2008

Bijouxmania, Laura De Galeazzi

Jewelry made with a Passion

It's comin' up to Christmas day but there is still time to buy and even mail gifts to someone special. Last year, a friend of mine sent me a package --no, an enormous box of little goodies she knew I liked just to make sure I didn't feel too homesick as I had just come to Italy. I can't express just how happy that made me feel. Thus my thought on mailing gifts...

So check out this website at bijouxmania.it for something beautiful to send to someone. The artist, Laura De Galeazzi, has an energy that bubbles over. Her enthusiasm is contagious and the light dances in her eyes when she talks of her creations. You will love her if not her pieces of art.

Here is a photo of one of Laura's pieces "Domiziana". With all that fine needlework and time that is necessary to produce something of this caliber and size, I think I would be batty. She instead smiles that much bigger. Look on her website at the "Seraphine" and tell me what you think.

Photo of Laura De Galeazzi's "Domiziana"

I know I always get excited when there is mail for me (not bills!) and even more eager to open a package. But to be honest, I think we are all happiest with what our friends and family give us, the gift of themselves. It's nice not being alone.

Dec 13, 2008

Christmastime thoughts

America and Italy are different in so many ways and it is for this very reason that Italy appeals to me and frustrates me at the same time. It depends on my frame of mind at the moment.

Christmas is one of those times when I love/hate it here.

I already complained about not hearing enough Christmas carols, even at the Boca Christmas market.

Now I wonder why people have Christmas trees on their balcony instead of inside their house. I personally like to sit, with a glass of wine or even better with a spiked Christmas drink, and stare at the lights and the sparkling ornaments. It's magical and dreamy. My friends and I have traditionally spent a day getting the tree itself. We'd drive to a forest, get a permit for a tree and hike around looking for the right size, shape, type and then cut it down ourselves. After all that work, you can bet your bottom dollar I want to look at that tree!

This year I was given a pair of knitted socks with padding underneath in celebration of St. Lucia's day. I had no idea. In Italy on the 13th of December, St. Lucia's day is celebrated with the youngest daughter in the household donning a crown of candles and waking everyone with hot buns. My mind just cannot stop thinking of a little four year old teeter-tottering up uneven stairs in an old italian home with a head of blazing candles. Perhaps, not so much now in this day and age of battery operated candles, but I am sure in a traditional country like Italy, there must be mothers freaking out every December 13.

I am more familiar with the celebration of January 6, even in the States. This day is the 12th day of Christmas also known as the day of the three wise men and also Epiphany. In the States, I've been to a home where family and friends were invited over for the blessing of the house. In Italy, I was at home when the evening was briefly interrupted when the local priest made his rounds to each home to make the blessing. He arrived with his young helper and a doll representing baby Jesus. We placed the doll in each room while the priest blessed.

It is also on this day that Italians exchange stuffed stockings, while we finish it all in one swoop in December. They know how to extend a good thing, don't they...

For more tidbits click on Italian Christmas traditions

Whatever the reason for the celebration, St Lucia, Christmas Day, Epiphany, I think it's just a good reason to be together with people you love. It is precious time well spent.

Dec 9, 2008

Boca Italy, Christmas Market

Boca is a small village nearby that made its way on my radar due to a very nice big, red banner announcing it's December 8 Christmas market.

looking over the booths on one street

Christmas, outdoor market, small village = a pleasing outing in a little Italian village looking through some fun stuff.

I've learned that Christmas in Italy is quite different than the experience in America. Stores are not decorated or playing carols until about the second week of December. The 8th of December was the magic day for Christmas to begin in Italy, when lights appeared in store windows, and trees usually only covered with lights, sprouted from balconies. Stuffed and blown-up Santa's are now hanging out of windows and over railings, obviously having forgotten where the chimney is located and that there will not be cookies and milk until the 24th.

I’ve missed hearing Christmas carols. They are not yet on the radio, not yet in stores, so I’d hoped to hear some blaring on the streets of Boca.

No Christmas carols.

But at least there was a piper, dressed in traditional garb, blowing with gusto into his instrument. I looked behind him for children or rats. Nothing. If you are not familiar with the fable of the Pied Piper, click the link for one of the many versions.

If I was disappointed by the lack of carols, I was amazed at the handicrafts: jewelry, paintings, regular roof tiles transformed into facades of little homes, stoneware, and pottery. They were all hand-made and so many beautiful items were on display that would have looked great in my house if not passing the time in an art show or gallery.

Stained glass

Stoneware and machine with bowl in progress

Model of a church made out of small pieces of stone

the typical stone construction of the north

No market is complete without its share of food and wine. Boca is situated in wine country and local wines were set out for tasting. Cheeses and chocolates to stimulate taste buds were also in abundance. For those looking for something substantial at lunch time, the alpinists (an Italian military regiment) served up a steaming plate of polenta and deer, or donkey. Yep, I imagine only the hard-working mules are safe.

After walking around looking at the glitter and glam, and chatting with vendors about their work, their passion, I was lured into a quiet alley when I saw an enormous rusty iron gate. It closed off a courtyard. Silently commanding one corner near the house, three statues wordlessly brought back to mind what the reason for the season was all about.

The wise men

All the gifts in the world will never match the one gift given to mankind in the form of a little baby in a manger. And I feel a little ashamed of myself for objecting to an Italy that has refrained from celebrating with meaningless trees and lights, but has clung to commemorating the priceless gift of love.


Dec 5, 2008

The Power of Words

I have an small but incredibly amazing group of friends. Each person nurtures me in their own unique way and I am grateful for their years of friendship.

Maybe it was my vivid and scary dreams last night that made me wake up this morning feeling completely hopeless and afraid of I don't know what. I know I am not alone with this experience. That foreboding and despair that seems to come from no-where for no apparent reason. And even if there is a reason for it, the "feeling" is still the same.

I opened my email and there was a message from a friend. She was passing on a prayer of hope, that couldn't have been more timely for me.

  • It made me remember that I am not alone, even if there are times I am physically alone.
  • I saw that distance is no barrier for friendship, especially in this day and age.
  • There will be times when we can't have the benefit of touch, but the appropriate words can many times adequately take it's place.

Thank you to my dear friends back home who have been a fountain of strength and support over the years in so many ways. And thanks to the new friends I am making online who through their blogs have given me another community, another place to belong.

Dec 3, 2008

Levano, Lago Maggiore, Italy

Our last motorcycle trip took us to Levano on the shores of Lago Maggiore. I donned my regular motorcycle pants and jacket and seeing the sun washing everything into paleness, I added a couple layers of a regular turtleneck and sweater under my jacket and thermal wear under the pants.

How could I be so wrong?

Rays of sunshine, deceptively bright, barely succeeded in warming anything it touched once the wind chill factor cruelly laughed it away. It was not long before the cold, adept at finding any small opening, crept in and made itself at home. By the time we arrived at Levano, I was all too happy to take the collar wrap and make it into a makeshift, and therefore unattractive cap. Warmth was now more important than being fashionable.

My first view from the piazza...

...whatever breath the biting wind had left in me was now taken away looking toward Switzerland. One has to love living on or near Lago Maggiore.

Saw the round tower on the hill and knew I had to go look for it....

...but first we were going to take a little stroll along the waterfront. I love how something as mundane as the railing to the wharf would have such a lovely design. It adds twice the pleasure to hang over it. And steps with cobblestones....

I am always curious about where open doorways lead....so I am especially curious about an archway leading to a narrow, secluded alley.

...that happened to be hiding a little treasure around one corner...

...I had to resist the urge to sit on it, not knowing just how many curious eyes were peering out from shuttered windows, minding my business.

A little further along Magiore's waterfront, sat this intricately designed but commanding house, closed for the season. The doors however, will forever be inviting....

Further exploration had to wait until after we had filled our tummies with something,
and preferably piping hot. We settled for this restaurant, but after perhaps 5 minutes sitting in the covered (and heated) patio across from the entrance, we decided it was still too cold for comfort and headed inside.

where their artwork reminded me of american country....

...so innocent and different from the semi-nude photos from some wild party that took place some time ago. Um, no, I didn't take a picture of that wall.

The pizza was quite good, but the lasagna that I ordered was not that great...and I am not a fussy eater.

After lunch, I left the guys who were not eager for a walk, and went in search of the round topped church on the hill. It was with great pleasure that I found the path took me up a narrow, cobblestoned street. It was with great displeasure that I found I am really out of shape and was soon huffing up the little hill.

No, no, no, THIS part is flat, but it really goes uphill around the corner.

At the top, another world awaited me of old homes and peeling paint, brick and what I think is gothic design. I was in a little piece of heaven and glad I was alone -- it gave me a freedom to completely enjoy something others might think boring.

The reward from the top... almost par with the church steeple in Levano

Now that the sun was lower in the sky I knew I would be clenching teeth as well as fists in an attempt to generate some warmth. I was glad when M offered to lend me his cobalt blue fleece. I managed to squeeze the extra-large sized sweater under my hip-length jacket and stretched it to its full length. It reached mid thigh. My style was going downhill faster than the setting sun, but at last, I was warm and as a result, the ride back home was incredible.

It really goes without saying that when our base needs are met...food, warmth, love....it sets the foundation on which we can enjoy the people and things around us.

Note: Two days later, I bought a Bev sized fleece to wear under my jacket and two days after that, snow arrived.


Nov 30, 2008

Tango update...

I had high hopes for Borgosesia. I think I am spoiled from the cultural lifestyle in San Francisco and expected a different level of performance and well...a different performance entirely. But no, I think anyone going there with any hope of seeing Tango would have been disappointed too.

If I had wanted to see ballet, I would have chosen a ballet. The two, tango and ballet, do not mix at least not if you want to do justice to one or the other, or even to the music. Tango is a sensual and passionate dance, a couples dance....where each move seems to caress the floor, and legs convey their message as they wrap around, slide slowly up and down, flick here and tease there. The essence is in the embrace, the look, the movement of two bodies as one.

Where was all that as the dancers flew through the air and skipped lightly across the floor, barely touching one another. Yes, I was disappointed. Why advertise tango and then do something else?
An artist's liberty? Well, I know they are entitled, but I was still displeased and couldn't wait to leave. I found the dancers too thin, too pale...thought maybe they didn't eat enough...dwelt on silliness like "they are going to have to wash that nice white suit now that he has dragged himself around on the floor with it."

This is what happens when we have expectations and set minds. It's becomes harder to be flexible. I realize that if I didn't have set expectations I probably could have enjoyed the damn interpretation. ('scuse me). But we can't be expected to go about life without any desires or pre-conceived ideas about things and people!

Well, no or else we won't have standards and hopes. But we can learn how to be accepting of the way things are, tolerant of people, stepping outside of our minds to see what others are seeing and perhaps appreciating something for what it is and not what we want. This particularly applies to people...learning to appreciate people for who they are and not what we want them to be.

I failed miserably at all this on Friday night and missed an opportunity to just enjoy an evening at a dance. However, as long as I am alive, I am sure I will have ample opportunity to test my open mindedness and acceptance in the future.

Nov 28, 2008

Tango show in Borgosesia; Tango lessons in Novara, Italy

Borgosesia and tango? I didn't think I would ever see the day. But tonight, at 9pm, there will be a performance at the ProLoco Theatre. I am going!!! I am still not sure what I am going to see because the poster was not very clear but I am assuming it is just a dance performance and not a milonga where I can get to dance too.

Nevertheless, I bought shoes to dance in yesterday.....JUST in case.

The poster shouted BOLERO and TANGO a combination of classical and latin. What will Robert North, the choreographer do with a mix like that? Will he showcase footwork that becomes more intricate and complicated, increasing in pace to match this incredibly beautiful piece of music by Ravel? And is this the American Robert North? I see an update will be forthcoming.

Italians love tango and some of the well known musicians of Argentine have italian ancestry. A european favorite and one of my own, is Libertango, composed in 1973 by Astor Piazzolla. It's another one of those pieces that stimulates a sense of urgency, conveys a promise of things to come, of restrained passion that finds blissful release with its abrupt final note.

Hopefully they will play it tonight as I was thrilled to note that dances will be performed to music composed by Piazzolla. Since I didn't notice a name of a band, I doubt there will be live music which is a pity. It is entertaining to listen to the particular sounds of the bandoneon as well as to watch it being played.

Novara is not that near to Borgosesia but 45 minutes is the closest I seem to be able to find milongas in this area. Since I will be in Novara more frequently, I might take classes...nice thought. The Accademia di Tango Argentino has lessons in Novara on Friday nights, although it seems they have a regular term that runs from June through September. Milongas are usually on the first Saturday of the month (in Novara). Classes are package priced but they offer free incentives to encourage participation in the different towns they teach to nurture the tango community as well as better a dancer's ability at a faster rate. Clever, I say.

I am not that great at dancing tango as I haven't danced in years but it is still another form of expression for me...not in the sense of saying something but a way of letting out the happy or the sad that is inside. I also found the same freedom of expression through music, playing the piano, but also from listening to music that spoke to the emotions that were inside. And I find it when I ride my motorbike.

I've noted that the things that we are passionate about are usually things we end up doing well. Piazzolla discovered at an early age what he loved to do and excelled at it. He was lucky.

I would like to hazard a guess that each of us has something that we are passionate about, whether we've discovered it yet or not. Something that brings us a joy that most other, or nothing else does. When you find the spark, fan it, make it grow, do what you need to feed that fire, even if it is "off the path" and I'll hazard a guess that life will be exceptionally fullfilling.

What is your fire?

Nov 24, 2008

The arrival of winter

"When you change the way you look
at things, the things you look at change."

Wayne Dyer: Self-development author and speaker

Fall wasn't as cold as it should be. My hydrangea and wisteria are still in full leaf outside and it's late November. A year has flown by so fast! When I first arrived last October, the hills were becoming bare and there was a nip in the air. Leaves were turning red or beginning to rain down with every gentle breeze. There was no spring to mention, just one long winter. I spent my first whole summer in Italy in Calabria and came back north for the fall. A completed cycle. Then in one day, temperatures plummeted, fall passed on, and another winter is here.

Funny how the year is all a blur. Time really does fly.

Good thing just this past weekend we stocked up on the wood pile. I liked being bundled up with a nice warm fleece and gloves, lugging armfuls of chopped wood that fell one by one as A sliced the chainsaw into old posts.

I can see why children seem to have so much pleasure in little things. When an experience is new, it is exciting and they have so many new experiences! If only we had selective amnesia for some chores, it would always be like a first time experience. Or perhaps it is better to wish for the eyes that always find a fresh perspective in something old or mundane.

And now I realize another reason why I like the snow so much. I look outside at this view everyday and previous points of interest have sunk into different depths of oblivion. This morning it is again magical, a new look, a different feel, another perspective.

I guess I should be thankful too for the things that change in my life; they may make me beautiful, or humble, or stronger, perhaps tolerant, forgiving and loving...depending on how I deal with it. It's the change that keeps us growing, not always in directions we desire, but there is one thing for sure, there will always be something changing that will give us opportunity to become who we want to be.
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Nov 19, 2008

Picking olives and the power to choose....?

November is olive picking season!
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be
content whatever the circumstances. Phil 4:11

If someone told me that one day I would be sitting on a Calabrian mountainside, in a crude yet sturdily built shack of galvanize sharing bread and wine with the locals, I would have smirked, "Yeah, right".

But my life has brought me to this very point. From a previous post you'll discover that I love music and art and hopefully I am cultivating an appreciation for opera. But as with all of us, we have many sides that make us diverse and interesting. The other side of me loves what is wild and standing on the hill on a stormy morning, with a cool wind whipping my hair around my face, I felt an overwhelming freedom.

Looking off into the distance toward Greece, the horizon was blotted out by the dark grey cover of pelting rain. The almost black clouds were often lit up by flashes of sheet lightening and the occasional fork that stretched its fingers toward the sea.

It didn’t take long for large, heavy raindrops to compel us to search for refuge. Another couple, picking olives in their field below us, beckoned for us to join them in their hut. We crammed into the small galvanize hut built to store tools and buckets for the work at hand. We sat on crates and pieces of chopped trunks around a small fire near the door. Since there was no proper outlet for the smoke, it poured out the gap between the walls and the roof, and escaped out the open door.

Southerners are very friendly, hospital people and share what they have even if it is not a lot. They were all concerned that I eat well and pretty soon a crate, covered with ricotta cheese, a delicious red tomato, raw bacon, hot peppers and cheese appeared in front of me. Bread was passed around and broken, soon followed by a bottle of wine. I love eating like this; simple, nourishing, and tasty and washed down with wine.

Five faces deeply etched from years of hard work, sorrows and joy were at this moment creasing with laughter as they bantered back and forth in the unintelligible language of the Calabresan. The soft light barely reached the corners to illuminate them, but I felt the contentment that radiated from each; the acceptance of the day and the pleasure of each others company. And considering the pouring rain and unusual hail that pounded the soil, halting a perfectly good day’s work, their peace came from the lifelong habit of accepting what comes, and adjusting themselves to doing something else. It’s usually a tough or losing battle to fight against nature.

I walked outside, my shoes sinking silently into the softened soil. With the rain gone, the only sounds, other than a distant chain saw, were from the birds who had resumed flitting from branch to branch to sample an olive or two and singing melodies of contentment. They flew by, different species with their own unique flight pattern.

The thought came to me that each of us have our own pattern in life, the things we like, the things we do, the way we behave. If we try to be something else, we aren’t truly happy or peaceful; we need to discover ourselves, be happy with how we are and live life that is most natural for us. Then we won’t have an internal battle that weakens us when we are faced with the attitudes and opinions of other people.

If we were born like the birds we would instinctively know how to live but we would not have the power of choice. Like these five, we need to choose to accept things as they are; choose to focus on what is positive; and only in choosing to find the good in whichever situation we are in are we truly free.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2Cor 3:17

Nov 17, 2008

"I Love Your Blog" Award

Thanks to Ann from "My Life In Italy", I am a happy recipient of the "I Love Your Blog" Award. It's nice to know that someone else is taking an interest and following along with the ins and outs of life...and then tells you.

So I am easily persuaded to follow along with the trend of this award -- to link back to the person who awarded me and then to express my appreciation for seven (7) blogs I love.

Thus Ann... a great big "thank you!"

And to the following great blogs...."I love reading what you write."

One woman's idea of what it is like to be a motorcyclist.

Naturally I love this blog because it is about a woman rider and a fellow soul. I love her adventurous and "there are no obstacles" spirit. Her blog reminds me that neither culture, tradition, danger and sometimes not even weather can stop a person when he or she sets her heart on something.

Tina Tangos
A Tanguera between two lands

Another interest of mine. Tango. Tina has followed her dreams and now lives in Argentina where it's not hard to find a place to put on a pair of dancing shoes and while away the evening hours. I love the feel I get from reading about her life there.

Creative Structures

A potter and innkeeper working and living a splendid life in Piemonte.

I love Diana's blog. She is creative and expresses her talent in her pottery and in the way she decorates and runs her inn. I love the stories of her renovation as it strikes a cord with me. I too would love the challenge to renovate a SMALL property so I live vicariously through her stories.

Bleeding Espresso
An American finds love, her roots and a coffee addiction in southern Italy

She lives in Calabria....I love the south, the people, the food, the warmth. And I find all the things I love about the south in her blog.

Over a Tuscan Stove
From the market to the stove....Celebrating the seasons

You can't be in Italy and not get caught up in the food. I enjoy the recipes and the photos and the insights into another part of Italy that I would never really see on my own. The pleasures and the art of cooking....Italian style.

Windmill on the hill
Man of a thousand voices, talking perfectly loud, nobody ever hears him.

Just the name says it all - compelling me to read...and I found a very interesting read about life in the Pacific that I would otherwise have not read. Glad I found it.

Take a look and let me know what you think. Perhaps some will become your favorites too.


Nov 11, 2008

Tosca Puccini Opera, Teatro Coccia Novara

So you think Tosca is heavy, tragic, depressing? Nuances in the performance just might tickle your funny bone and even dramatic operas must have bloopers.

If you are thinking that I must be desperate to get out of the house, if I’d go to an opera…you’re right. I miss the arts that I took for granted in San Francisco, mostly the symphony. It’s usually when you don’t have something that you realize just how much you want it.

I’ve discovered that Italy IS opera and her citizens have a deep love and appreciation for this music. My friend pressured me in early September to choose the performances I wanted to attend during the season so we could get our tickets right away. What was the hurry? On Single Ticket Day a line snakes out the door and down the cobblestoned pavement with people waiting to gobble up available seats for the operas, resulting in sold out performances from day one.

In contrast, if I walked up to the box office on the night of a symphony 1 minute before the performance, I could still choose a seat from all over the hall! It usually is practically empty.

I read the synopsis Tosca before going. By the time I reached the end I was laughing; not because I am sadistic, but because I couldn’t believe I was about to spend the afternoon absorbing a tragedy. Heavy, tragic, depressing!

Note to self: always do your homework before buying the ticket. (Plot synopsis here)

If you don’t know the story of Tosca, here is the very, very briefest of summaries, I’d tell you now, ALL the principals die. Angelotti commits suicide, Scarpia is stabbed , Cavaradossi (Tosca’s lover) is shot to death, and Tosca leaps from a very tall building. Good stuff.

Puccini, Tosca
Puccini, Tosca

The lights dimmed, the music started and then began a beautiful, riveting, amazing opera. The set was elegant, well made and I loved the architectural design. The lighting was perfect; I even loved Tosca’s voice. The costumes were beautiful and the devious, corrupt Scarpia was wonderfully evil. I loved him.

And the love themes wound their melodies around our hearts and squeezed. When Tosca anguished on stage, the hair on my arm stood straight. Cavaradossi expressed his love with such intensity I held my breath. I felt what they felt and I loved it.

All was not magical though. When Tosca murders Scarpia, stabbing him with his dinner knife, I struggled to stifle my laughter. NO, I am NOT a bad person! Scarpia stumbles away from Tosca, suddenly jerks as if shot, leans against the sofa screaming for help, then tumbles to the floor landing on his back like a dog with all four paws in the air. It was brief, but the image stuck in my head. You would have chuckled too.

As if that was not bad enough, Tosca moved defiantly past his body only to trip on her skirt, wind-milling her arms to keep her balance. And the scene lost its tragic effect. She came back in the next scene with her skirt lifted, tucked in at her waist.

The rest of this opera went smoothly but there are stories from other performances of Tosca that I feel must be repeated. The last act where Cavaradossi is executed has racked up blooper after blooper. These are excerpts from Giovanni Christen’s article:

“From the front-page headlines in Italian newspapers: "Cavaradossi has been shot!"... At the Macerata summer festival on 30 July 1995, the tenor (Fabio Armiliato) was shot in the 3rd act - as usual. But this time when Tosca (Raina Kabaivanska) rushed to him she heard a whisper: "Call an ambulance!...", and then she fainted at the sight of his blood.” The blanks, used as Puccini would have wanted, to achieve a degree of realism, was overcharged and drew blood, thank goodness in his leg.

The bouncing Tosca: Tosca as usual jumps from the walls of Castel Sant'Angelo. But the stage workers had improved her security by replacing the mattress with a trampoline, so that Tosca appeared 2 or 3 times from behind the wall...

The collective suicide: the stage director was giving last-minute instruction to the supers hired as soldiers. There had been no stage rehearsal, and he gave them the usual instruction "exit with the principals". When Tosca leapt from the parapet, seeing no other principals left on stage, they all dutifully jumped after her, giving a Shakespearean greatness to the final tragedy.

Playing with fire: From Tito Gobbi’s memoirs comes this story -- Maria Callas was Tosca, and during the 2nd act she came too near the candles burning on Scarpia's desk and ignited her hair (or wig). Gobbi immediately improvised a raptor-like motion: he jumped on Tosca, embraced her and extinguished the flames. Tosca rejected him with disgust, but then whispered him a "thank you, Tito"... just before killing him.

If you want to read more of the background of Tosca, the history, the characters and so on, go to http://opera.stanford.edu/Puccini/Tosca/backgd.html

If it is said to “look for the silver lining” I think I found a huge vein.


Nov 10, 2008

Favorite bikes at Milan's 66th International Motorbike Exhibition

This last week Milan hosted the 66th International Cycle and Motorcycle Exhibition and motorcyclist enthusiasts from all around flocked to see what was new and upcoming.

I don't need a new bike. I just I want another one. I think it is human nature to want more, more, more. However, a shrinking pocket book will put these babies clear out of my reach.

The new BMW F 800 R, sleek, comfortable, more powerful than the one I currently have. If 'new' didn't scream expensive, then 'BMW' takes care of it all.

And then there is the Moto Guzzi Grisio. This one is a bit big for me, but I have a connection with those colors.

The Suzuki Gladius was supposedly designed with women in mind - easily manageable and for novice riders. I didn't find it comfortable so perhaps they were thinking of tall women. I like the colors though. Choose from green, metallic blue, cherry red (looks like fuchsia) and black.

And these helmets were just adorable.

What interested us this time were the intercom systems. We looked at Cardo systems, Cellular line and Midland. Of the models on display, the Midland BT2 intercom was the most attractive. It seems to be the only one with a stereo feature. Plus, all functions are available for both pilot and passenger. Sweet... because in this case, sometimes the passenger rides her own bike!

Why do I think riding is so important in my life? Because it fulfills me on a level that other activities don't. I think each of us is designed with a desire for something that we need to do, to follow, to make....something. And when we do whatever that is, we start living as we are meant to live and feeling life is full.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 (NIV)


Nov 7, 2008

Bellinzona castles, Ticino, Switzerland

I would never have thought have going to Bellinzona, (Ticino) Switzerland had it not been for Ann who wrote about her visit in her blog. Check out her photos of Bellinzona as my camera died and I took these with my camera phone. They aren't great, but thank goodness for tech today!

There were so many reasons to not go; the grey fluffy stuff that blocks the view of a blue sky, the 10 o'clock hour saying it was too late to go that far, last minute plans that bother a 'plan ahead' person. (That would be A, as I can pick myself up and take a trip on the drop of a dime).

At the very last moment, after we were both dressed to go by car, we decided to go by bike (based primarily on A's intolerance for waiting in line because he is encumbered by being in a car). Just as well, as we lost our way and spent about an hour trying to disentangle ourselves from the clutches of the town of Varese.

Once in Bellinzona, it's not hard to find the castles as the town itself is built smack dab around one of the defensive walls. In an instant you "feel" what life would have been like in a protected city.

The streets are lined with colorful and intricately decorated homes, in sharp contrast to the somber gray, moss covered stone walls. We followed the signs to the highest castle, the Castello di Sasso Corbaro, which was considered the weak point in the stronghold. Interestingly, the Dukes of Milan who polished and fortified the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, also had a hand in building the fortifications here in Bellinzona when they were in power in the 15th century. Today, the castle has been renovated and houses a museum and an extremely expensive restaurant. Well, certainly by my pocketbook anyway. The chef better be worth a 42 euro plate!!

Winding our way back down the narrow road, we headed to the middle castle, Castello Montebello. It sits on a rocky hilltop with large expanses of greenery within the fortified walls. We crossed two drawbridges before entering the castle itself. Time, weather and perhaps a few canonballs had taken its toll on the original stonework and red brick, purposely buried in the walls, marked the positions where the structure had been restored. This castle although small in comparison to many, would be perfect for a Robin Hood film.

Surrounding the castle is the large open space, framed by the outer walls running towards the town itself. A large stout door exits to this area and is flanked by an enormous tree that has no doubt seen the comings and goings of different eras. It's beautiful in its solitude, but also sad in a way as it is the only witness of the lives that passed within this now empty space.

The last and probably best fortified castle is the Castelgrande sitting safely upon a rock with the northern side almost vertical and the southern part a steep climb. Because of our late start, there wasn't enough time to visit this space so it goes without saying that Bellinzona will beckon again.

In addition, there are a number of other monuments in the area that may be interesting to see. Bellinzona has always been in the enviable position to be situated where many passes converge. It is easy to reach by car or train and you can hear the frequent rumblings and screech of brakes as trains stop in the center.

As I visited these old castles the thought occurred to me that it is my imagination that fills the empty space, envisioning life as it once was in its hey day and the walls, courtyard and the different structures regain a short-lived vitality, invisible in my photos. It's not like the Medici villa that I visited in Poggia di Caiona where the decorated and still furnished rooms gave a visual idea of Medici life. And yet, Bellinzona's castles intrigue me and I spend time walking the walls..

I am tossing around the idea that it's how we view something that gives it its value. As they stand, the castles are only empty shells and abandoned spaces. But because we view them as a declaration and witness of times that have had an impact on our present day they have gained importance and value and are restored, maintained.

Relationships are many times empty shells and abandoned spaces, waiting for restoration and maintenance. I am a loner by nature and I know many of my relationships with friends or family have fallen into ruin because of the way I am. Yet even for me, relationships are necessary.

If the walls of the old castles of Bellinzona tell me anything, it's this:

if we will take the time, energy and resources to preserve the lifeless remains of an ancient castle, how much more important to take the time, energy and resources to preserve the vitality of current relationships.

I will certainly be connecting a whole lot more with the people who are important in my life.

More info at:

Nov 3, 2008

Sagra della Trippa, Passerano M., Italy

Passerano M was a pleasant surprise. We took our motorbikes out, riding in no particular direction and ended up in the midst of their tripe festival. It's nice when life does that; plunks something unexpected and pleasant into what could be mundane.

It was early and the roads were still quiet as we headed toward the valley, winding our way through miles of harvested rice fields. The occasional white ibis stood solitary and still waiting for its unsuspecting prey.

The sound of the passing wind roared in my helmet but failed to wrap its frigid fingers around my body, clad in protective armor. It didn't hurt that my black clothes absorbed the gentle warmth from the morning sun. This small pleasure was soon gone as we sped deeper into the valley and the rolling hills slowly disappeared into cottonwool fog.

There is something about fog that makes the world silent and unearthly. Tall, ancient trees lose their majesty, reduced to a dim dark blur and definitive edges become smudged. The yellow fields framed with evergreen in the distance paled as if under an artist's wash in white. Everything seems closer.

The stone outer buildings of Monferrato slowly loomed into view. The streets were peppered with people wrapped up snugly against the cold. This was their weekend to celebrate their truffle festival.

After a brief stop at a cafe for directions and a dose of burning liquid to warm our insides, we headed for one of the hilltowns in the area. We hooked a left and followed a narrow road, climbing past gorgeous homes that claim beautiful vistas of the valley below on a clear day. The one laner snaked through the hills, finally opening its mouth to pop us out.....on the road back to the cafe!

Finally, our noses emerged from the thick valley fog and we arrived at a little village covered only with a thin layer of mist. Cars lined the streets, a promising sign of another festival underway; we were in the middle of Passerano M's celebration, Sagra della Trippa.

Local artisans displayed their artwork and wares; intricate leatherwork engravings, handles for knives made from marble, copper containers burned and hammered into shape. The square was dressed with booths laden with food and folk lined up eagerly waiting their turn to take away a steaming plate of food. Hungry stomachs can not wait in line and we headed for the nearby cafe turned trattoria.

As I went inside, I noted that the haze was gone and that the sky was once again beautifully blue.

On reflection I realize that the events of this day mirror what my life is basically like. In general it can be one big drift as day passes day, busy, but perhaps without substance. No clarity of purpose...foggy. Even when I decide to go in a particular direction, I don't always succeed and find myself back at square one. But persistance pays off and I finally find myself in a position where I want to be.

I know it's hard sometimes to figure out what to do, where to go, how to do things. But I think that once a choice is made and we go in a particular route, we are on a road of discovery, learning not only new things along that way, but if the direction was right for us. We take another turn at each crossroad or point of assessment and eventually we will arrive at our destination. It starts with a choice and continues with persistence.

When I think of these roads that I love in Italy, I like to think that they are very much like the road of my life; up, down and around, through tunnels and ambiguous crossroads. The trip is sometimes dark, or confusing, sometimes a tight squeeze, but in my mind it is always interesting, surprising, worth the effort and definitely beautiful.


Nov 2, 2008

Halloween in Italy is America's fault?

October 31 comes around and out pop the witches and goblins of all shapes and sizes. In America it's not just a celebration for kids anymore. They trick or treat the streets, but adults get dolled up for grand parties at night too.

I was with my friend at the Celtic festival the other day, when she pointed at one of the knarly old witches with the pointed black hat, long bent nose and flowing black robes. A true beauty.

Then I heard her say "We can thank you guys for Halloween". A small "humph" punctuated her displeasure which was quickly followed with "And for McDonalds".

I know we have "celebrated" Halloween in the States for as long as I can remember, abut I didn't think we came up with the idea. After all, Americans from a long, long time ago were really European transplants.

A little reading confirmed my suspicion. We can blame the Celts. The Italians I've talked with about Halloween don't look upon it with favorable eyes. I really think they resent it, from a religious point of view I suspect. And they point their fingers at the States for spreading the bad vibes.

I object of course.

For one, the Celts had a huge hand coming up with the idea in the first place. They dedicated this day, the last day of their calendar year, to honor the dead. Since they believed that the spirits of the dead still roamed the earth, and that some spirits weren't always nice when you ran into them, gifts were left out to appease them. It's like giving a bad dog a nice juicy slab of meat so it will eat that instead of you.

America took it and drained it of its meaning and each year it just became one big party, with all the spirit stuff left out. But to say that America caused Italy to start observing Halloween bothered me when next door neighbors, France and Britain up north have had their Halloween practices forever.

Then I started to see things from a different point of view.

Romans conquered the Celts and mixed in their observances. In order to 'christianize' the ritual, November 1 was declared All Saints Day...a day to honor the dead. Hmmm, sounds familiar but with a twist. There are no bonfires to burn sacrifices and the dead are all "saints", the spirits of loved ones - no bad spirits involved.

With the spread of Catholicism and christianity, it is understandable that there would be a desire to wipe out the old pagan rituals and of course a country like Italy, a country with a long religious history would not encourage an observance like Halloween...until the watered down version popped up in America.

I can't say we did anyone any favors though. I for one don't believe the spirit of my dead friends are around and watching what happens to their living friends and family. I believe there is a life after death, but not right away, so I have never participated in the observance for All Saints Day. The dead have no knowledge of my comings or goings and if I visit their graves or not.

I know a lot of people believe otherwise, evidenced from the lines of cars jamming the already small Italian roads, filled with people coming to leave flowers and candles, in the traditional red glass holders, at local cemeteries. Do you visit too? And what do you believe?

Returning at night from our jaunt to Bellinzano in Switzerland, I passed cemetery upon cemetery lit up like christmas trees adorned in red, the lights of the candles flickering peacefully on a very quiet and windless night.

Interesting links:
The Real Origins of Halloween
Halloween History and Origin

Filed under Lifestyle

Oct 31, 2008

U Comment I Follow

Curious as what U Comment I Follow means? Give back to those who are giving!

I Follow

Basically, there is a code included in blog platforms that discourages crawling bots from following comment links. Remove the code and everyone commenting also gets to benefit.

The code was placed to help prevent spamming but there are now other ways to moderate spamming. Check your blog settings and click on your options for comment moderation.

I recommend reading the following links for further information and for instructions on how to remove the offending code thus supporting your blogging community. I also like Dawud Miracle's informative article. Check it out.

Oct 29, 2008

Another view of Castle Sfozesco

Many of the walls of Castello Sforzesco have stood the test of time. Since its initial construction it has changed hands several times, been destroyed and rebuilt and has been used for different objectives. But one objective has always remained the same through every change; security.

The walls loomed above me, yet still getting taller as I got closer. Surrounding its feet sat an empty moat, now covered in green.

At the entrance a large round fountain danced in delight as it welcomed visitors coming to the castle to glimpse a life and style of many a bygone era.

Castello Sforzesco fell in French, Spanish and Austrian hands and each contributed somewhat to its design. The Spanish added outer walls in a star shaped form that gave the most security and also provided an area for livestock. Ingenious...another good use for cow crap.

All that is left today is the square inner shape.

No. 1 --Piazza d'Armi. Entrance view from the street.

The Filarete Tower from inside, standing in the Piazza d'Armi, an open space.

During the French domination, "the Castle survived delicate historical events: battles, occupations, sacking and destruction. In those years, the Filarete tower was used (by some idiot) as an ammunition storage area. During a stormy night in 1521 a lightning rod hit the tower and made it explode causing casualties and damage to the whole structure."

I love this story!

No. 2: Rochetta. Although the castle was used mostly for military purposes, it was at one time lavishly decorated with ball rooms and game courts. The Rochetta was transformed into party central.

Entering the Rochetta...

No. 3: The Corte Ducale held the luxury apartments. The U-shaped design allowed the intricately designed windows to look out upon a green garden courtyard.

Corner entrance...

No. 4: The Bona Tower: Another bid for security is buried in the history of the Bona Tower. It is named after the widow of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, who was murdered in front of the St. Stephen's Church. In order to be able to see all the goings-on around her, the widow had this tower built.

At the back of the Castle, the towers were square in shape...two round in front, two square at the rear.

On the round tower in front, the Sforza coat of arms was built into the side.

Countries defend themselves in times of war, against invasion and sometimes against themselves. Individuals, especially in this day and age, defend themselves and search for ways to be more secure. Our homes have alarms to keep us safe. We build up our own personal defenses to keep off unwanted company or attention, or even to cope with society and/or life.

I can think of many ways in my life where I've either built walls, or burned bridges, to "protect" myself. I know that many people do the same thing but my security has always been short-lived.

I came to Castle Sforzesco with the idea of seeing another culture, the Celtic Festival, and was pleased to also view the Castle. I thought I'd learn a little about the history and life of the people who walked the courtyards, danced the halls and died un-natural deaths.

Instead, these walls made me think how futile it is to build up material defenses. So many times what was built up bigger and better than before was torn, blown (or struck down).

I have a belief that there is Someone who gives me an assurance that walls like these will never give me. We all need something to believe it, something that makes us strong when times are hard. Do you have an anchor, a foundation that will hold you up?

Psalm 31:3
Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.