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.