NOTE TO READERS: The Rome 2014 trip begins with post #30. Posts #10—29 were Rome 2013. Posts 1–9 were Florence 2011. If you'd like to be notified of new postings by email, let me know at

Sunday, December 23, 2012

#9: The last weekend

December 2011

Okay, just when you think you've got all your ducks in a row, all things tied up neatly, and all those other unrealistic expectations, yes, there is always that one last lesson to learn. Here it is:

If you're ever tempted to carry three liters of water home in a flimsy plastic bag with 4 eggs, while carrying a six pack of water by hand, don't.

Fyi: Did you know that it's possible in Italy to buy 2 eggs? Yes, they come neatly packaged in little plastic containers. I needed 4. Two packs. You can also get a six-pack of eggs or a large pack of 10, all in break-proof containers, break-proof that is if the dang cheap sacks from Billa don't give way on the walk home. Even so, I only lost one. Well, didn't really lose it because then I would have had an uneven number, which would have ruined my sense of order. It was a terrible decision: did I honor my obsession with order or my obsession against the possibility of a germ finding its way into the egg? I took a chance.

Anyhow, Punto is back. Punto is a zanzara inhabiting my apartment. Mosquitoes I believe you Americans call them. Every morning for my first two weeks, Punto (the grammatical term for that dot at the end of every sentence) would buzz me. He had several nice meals compliments of me. Then he disappeared. I felt kind of bad, thinking I'd swatted him to death. But then I heard him buzz, and now I have two large welts below my left eye. Still, I'm glad Punto showed up again last weekend.  I'd gotten used to his little buzz.

About the Maratona di Firenze...Florence marathon...last weekend, I was there, standing on the steps of Santa Croce, for the finish. The winner crossed the line to a grand rendition of the Star Wars theme. It was quite festive. Two Italians came in shortly after the winner, and the crowd went wild.

But the grande momento came when the African who was, oh sixth or tenth or something like that arrived. He rounded the bend into the Piazza della Santa Croce doubled over, his face more like a death mask. He fell against the rail. Behind the rail, the crowd was shouting Forza Forza...Strength...Strength...  O Mio Dio, I thought, this man was going to die right in front of us.
The Misericordie in orange EMT suits rushed to his aid, pouring water over his head. The cheering crowd kept cheering, all eyes on the orange suits hovering over the runner. Suddenly, the orange suits parted like a poppy on a summer morning, and the runner sprinted to the finish. The crowd lost its mind with delight.

Finally, I kept saying I wasn't going to describe the art. But I must say this, even though there is no way to describe it. Last weekend I was feeling somewhat burned out, tired of working hard to listen to lectures about the art in Italian, tired of studying, just tired. So I became a tourist, wandering around looking for sweet things. I found a store with cioccolato senza glutine that didn't cost 6 euros a kidding, 9 dollars for a chocolate bar with or without glutine. Not a giant bar. But one that would have cost 5 cents when I was a child. As it was, this bar cost 2.5 euro, about $3.75. One does not rush through a bar like this. I do believe, I might have talked about the chocolate before, but what I didn't mention was that the marble in some places on the Duomo looks like lace when you are eating smooth, velvety, and molto expensive cioccolato.

The supermercato Billa continues to be the personification of the anti-Christ. I ended up with fizzy water instead of Acqua Naturale...they put the word naturale above the Frizzante and made it bigger. I'm sure this was done deliberately to annoy me.

Finally, as we know from history, Italians have survived one invasion after the other, along with the machinations of self-indulgent and ambitious rulers.  And by the way, it seems that the love affair with the Medicis here in Florence does not exist throughout the rest of the peninsula. In fact, the more I learned about the Medicis, the less enamored I became of the art. When I look up at the chapels, churches, and the palazzos, I don't think of the artists who designed them but of the average people like us who built them. Art is not what I thought it was when I came here. But that's a whole other story. 

A short part of that story: I was standing looking at the Palazzo Strozzi the other day and noticed that the massive...and I mean massive...blocks of stone used to construct the palazzo. Some of those rectangular bricks would, I swear, would take up all the space in my bathtub. maybe more. Yes, I continue to be obsessed with getting home to my bathtub.

In fact, on Friday after my final class, I would have made a bargain with il diavolo to be able to leave. On Saturday morning, yesterday, 48 hours seemed like an eternity. But after I packed, ho fatto un giro a Firenze...I went on a little trip around the city. Just for the heck of it, I stopped by the Odeon to see what the next film festival might me. Mamma Mia! An Indian film festival, and in just one hour, there was to be a documentary about Rabindranath Tagore, followed by a film adapted from one of his novels. Fantastico. There were both English and Italian sottotittoli...subtitles. Yippee. A great film experience with the opportunity to work on my Italian by comparing subtitles. Perfetto!

While I'd seen photographs of Tagore, I'd never seen him in film, alive and emanating the spirituality, wisdom and heart expressed in his work. That hour-long documentary was worth the stay of two days. Tagore and Gandhi were great friends, although they disagreed on how to solve the problems arising from British occupation and the partitioning of India. There was footage of the great men together. Tagore was the personification of the peace and wisdom of nonviolence that Gandhi taught. Gandhi was a great man. Tagore was a great spirit. I have never seen a human being that was more spirit than man. Words cannot describe the purity of emotion in his face and in the way he moved.

Following the documentary, the woman next to me asked in Italian if I were going to remain in my seat and if so, would I keep an eye on her coat and save her seat. Si Si, I replied and throughout the intermission had to guard the seat against rather aggressive would-be interlopers. Now this is a huge cinema with a balcony. But in Italy, people don't give you space. Everyone sits in the middle. So the theater could be 1/4 full but with nearly everyone crowded into the best middle seats. At first, I found this annoying. Mainly because in America, you're never sure if the person next to you is going to unwrap candy or crunch popcorn or talk. But in Italy, the silence is profound. If someone talks, there is a chorus of SSSSHHHH! and the person shushes.

So anyway, the movie following the documentary was over 2 hours long. The woman next to me,who returned just as the title started rolling, didn't move, literally, for the entire time. I felt guilty for crossing my legs in different directions on occasion. The movie was, like Tagore, both subtle and stunning, mystical and political. In short, the movie, entitled "The Home and the World," was the tragic story of a woman who learned the lessons of love and politics too late.

After it was over, the tragedy was so complete, the film so exquisite that I could hardly breathe. I looked at the woman next to me and could tell she felt the same. As we were both alone, it seemed to be a minute that needed to be shared. She said something to me in Italian about the colors in the film and how they expressed so beautifully the contrast of tragedy and insight. At least, this is what I thought she said. I wanted so badly to reply but just don't have the language for such profound ideas. I said simply, È lo stesso adesso. It's the same now. She replied Sì Sì Sì and looked deeply into my eyes with the same grief I felt. There seemed to be so much to share, but I couldn't. And so I put on my jacket and departed. 

Outside the theater, it was pouring rain. I had neither an umbrella nor a raincoat. As I turned up my collar and stepped into the rain, the woman stepped up beside me to catch my attention. "Buona sera," she said with so much feeling in her eyes. "Buona sera," I replied, and we smiled the smile of shared understanding. 

I will never forget that moment. Recalling it, I will always know that no matter how discouraged I get about the world, as Tagore was also discouraged, there was that moment shared between total strangers in which grief shared was grief transcended. This was also the spirit in the face and in the presence of the one, the only Rabindranath Tagore.

I arrived home wet but at peace, made a nice stir-fry, watched Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine talk Italian in Irma La Duce, and went to sleep.

Now to end my emails, really, this time, a story about ordering il riso marinara. One day, after a bus trip up the hill to the town of Fiesole, two friends and I stopped for lunch before checking out the church of San Miniato up another hill.  The restaurant was very small. Narrow and maybe thirty feet long. There were 3 employees. A cook somewhere in the back. The waiter: a short gray-haired man who would take your order in a voice that almost sang the words as a tender aria, after which he would remain by the table and shout your order to the invisible cook. At least, I think there must have been a cook back there behind some wooden bars and a veil of steam. Then there was...well, who was this man: He simply stood behind a cash register in front of the veil of steam. Despite the fact that the restaurant was empty, the waiter seated us at a table jammed up against the cash-register stand. The cash-register man just stood, staring down his long Roman nose at us. 

When I explained to the waiter in Italian that I was in need of food senza glutine, he and the cash register man did the Italian arm wave and cried Riso. rice. okay, good. but then they wanted to give me rice with meat. After we clarified that I don't eat meat, they replied with the famous Italian shrug and suggested Riso marinara.  Perfetto. "Riso Marinara," shouted the waiter as if the cook had moved across the piazza. But then I wanted to conform, "Solo pomodori in questa salsa?"  Only tomatoes in the sauce, right? The waiter rolled his eyes and shrugged at the cash register man who shouted at the veil of steam, "No riso marinara; riso americana." 

I looked at him. "You study the language, correct?" he asked. 
Si, I replied.
Allora, he said with grand disdain. "In Italia marinara means fish in the sauce. Mar. Sea. Therefore, if you want marinara senza the feesh, you go back to California."
I thanked him for the lesson. He smiled again with merciless disdain. And my friends and I whispered as we spoke our broken Italian under his relentless gaze.

The food arrived. It was fantastico. I said to the cash-register man. "Questo È più buono di riso della California."  Was my use of comparison correct. I didn't think so.
The cash-register man smiled, his disdain replaced by that special Italian machismo that excuses your American woman dust.

In Italy, the tip is included in the bill, so you leave a euro only if you're really happy with the service. We didn't leave one. We actually were quite happy with the food and service but felt the need to make a statement.

Finally, I have figured out the winners of the Hawaii 5-O contest. I decided the only fair thing because of time differences was to have west and east coast winners:  Laura Ingram and Kathy Chadsey. 1 euro each. There will be a runner-up award to Mary Karlheim for a good try: The Italian Virginian, which gave me a much-needed laugh-50 centesimi. 

Well, that's it. I'm now waiting for my landlady so I can pay my untilities. I will then meet my friend Yoko later for the last gelato, maybe go to another Indian film, and be unable to sleep, eager to get to the airport. It was every bit the grande avventura del spirito that I hoped for, but not at all what I expected. Now I'm ready to go home and so saturated with the Florentine experience that I don't ever expect to return here again. The only thing I will miss is hearing Italians talk. I'm already thinking about which language school I will pick in Roma. But not anytime soon! I've got cats to hug, a book to write, and a lot of Italian to study first. And it will be great talking to you up close and personal for a change.

Again, thank you for accompanying me.

A domani...until tomorrow,

Sent from my iPad

#8: Fourth weekend

                                                                                                                         November 2011

Well, the big news is that this last week Italian TV went digital. I believe I mentioned this. Forgive me. Everything is running together.

other news: yesterday was the Maratona di Firenze. The Florence Marathon

My TV is, oh, maybe a 12 inch screen, like the one I had in my first apartment back in 1968. In fact, it probably is that same TV and was purchased in the small Piazza dei Ciompi directly across the street from my apartment. The collection of tiny 20th-hand shops make Goodwill look like Gucci or Neiman Marcus (Nieman?). Oh, the ciompi were irate workers back in Renaissance times who rioted and won. Friday night, there was a demonstration protesting violence against women. I attended before meeting my classmates for a farewell dinner, as half the class is going home this weekend.

Following dinner, we went to an Irish pub with all sorts of American T-shirts hanging from the ceiling. It was very loud with American music, so we went to our favorite spot, Mastrociliegia. Tony is the waiter and speaks no English. One student, Yoko, is a tour guide in Japan and very outgoing. She organizes everything for us, and Tony always kisses her hands and listens to our terrible Italian as if we were reincarnations of Dante. I have not been out drinking that late since I was 20. Fortunately, I have more sense now so that by the time we got to Tony, I ordered a large bottle of acqua.

As an aside, yesterday I went down in the ritzy section: Armani, Gucci, etc. However, the only purchases I made throughout the day were cioccolato and gelato. Yes, it was the day I became a tourist, sitting in the piazza gazing up at the Duomo, eating chocolate and listening to a guy on an accordian play Pachabell's (sp.?) Canon.  Bellissima! Honestly, I was never a good speller but of late, I have English and Italian floating in my head. My thinking is a mixture of both, and I can't spell in either language.

Last night, I went back to the, Grom's for gelato...but this time sat where it is alleged that Dante sat gazing up at the construction of the Duomo. I believe I mentioned that there is the actual rock upon which he sat. I do not say the alleged rock because I totally believe in the story, as I also believe in Babbo Natale (Santa). Anyhow, this will always be a fond spot for me because recollecting the first time I saw the rock was in class the following day. Every day, we describe what we did the night before. This was the first time, I got a laugh -- for the right reasons -- in Italian when I said in perfectly grammatical Italian, I saw the rock where Dante sat and looked up at the construction of the Duomo and said, Mamma Mia!

But anyway, back to the digital age in Italian TV. The first program I watched was...okay, whoever guesses first by email will get 1 euro when I return—big stakes, dudes and dudettes!!! If I have any denaro left, that is!!!  So as I was watching this first program, I was thinking to myself, holy moly, I don't understand anything. This is pathetic. Then I realized it was dubbed. I later learned from a woman at the video store that dubbing is done in "grammatical Italian" probably by someone with my skills...yes, I might give up my day job...  As a result, much of what is said doesn't really make total sense.  OK, so here's the line to see if you can guess the show for one shiny euro...while also noting the bizarre translation:  Cool, it Dano became Pazienza, Dahnee. 
Think hard. What program? Your euro awaits you!

Last night, I watched a movie that was actually in Italian and understood the plot well enough to follow it. A who-dunnit...thriller...romanza gialla, I believe it's called.  and FYI, you haven't see a Tommy Lee Jones movie unless you've watched with him talking in Italian like the baritone in a Verdi opera.

Italian TV is just like the country. The programs start and end at weird times. Per esempio, the final credits roll at 8:53. And after a pubblicita (commercial) or two, the next program starts at 9:03. The commercials aren't loud. But as in the U.S., they are molto stupido. For some reason, English seems to lend itself better to the crass commericalism. It feels sad to me that the language of Dante is now given to the Italian version of MTV, Jerry Springer, and dish soap. I guess the beauty of Shakespeare and Jane Austen have already been so corrupted that we don't think about this.

Speaking of corruption, I have noticed in speaking with fellow students from different countries that people are aware of our terrible political problems, along with the dissolution of our education and health care systems. There's not anti-American sentiment but a kind of disbelief over the folly of the dissolution. A bright young politically active woman from Australia said that there are bitter fights there between conservative and liberal factions in her country but that there is a kind of stability there that she doesn't see in America. 

A very very general observation about the difference between America and Italy: In America, things work but don't last. In Italia, things work strangely but they last. My washing machine, per esempio. And television. 

FAshion here in Italia is interestante. (Oh, by the way, if you're cool in Florence, you're gonza.) There doesn't appear to me to be the obsession with boots and scarves, notwithstanding. Honestly, I don't understand how the entire Italian nation isn't crippled by wearing tall high-heeled narrow and pointy leather boots on these old stone streets.

As an aside, it is interesting to reflect on the fact that I am living in a building that is as old as the founding of least this is what I think I understood my landlord to say when he brought over the cable box. I believe that in downtown Peetsborg, the only thing lasting from the early days at the Golden Triangle is Fort Peet aka, the blockhouse at what was once Fort Pitt. I remember the day my father lifted me up so I could see out the holes where the soldiers put their rifles. Then we walked to the point where the three rivers come together, and Mom taught me to say their names. Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio. It was a very big and exciting day.

Yesterday on my big tourist day, I was happy to wander alone, going to a museum and reading the explanations of the art in English. The big outing of the day was to the Palazzo Strozzi for the exhibit entitled Denaro e Bellezza.  Money and Beauty: Bankers, Botticelli, and the Bonfire of the Vanities. It's an exhibit that takes the viewer through the history of the Medici family and the rise of the banking system along with the paradoxical relationship between money and art, money and the salvation of the soul--how money was used to impress by the acquisition of art and to prove by the exquisite expression of religious beliefs in the art that one was worthy of heaven. 
It was a fabulous exhibit with actual gold florins, items of trade, and the paintings that were commissioned to achieve salvation. The texts accompanying the exhibit were really interesting. The only problema was that there were many tours with as many as fifty people crowding through. It was like the sludge that one year in Pittsburgh, the environmental disaster that led to a the massive  gray and white sludge that crept down the Allegheny River and into the Ohio where I guess it gradually dispersed. 

I learned many handy phrases at the exhibit such as Tutto è monetizzabile. Everything has its price.

The Renaissance couldn't have happened without money. But in the end, the self-indulgence and acquisitive spirit of the wealthy led to the rise of the mad monk Savonarola. Even Botticelli burned his paintings, supposed expressions of his spiritual corruption and vanity. 

Liberal intellectuals v. Tea Party. La storia  continua? The old story continues?

Interestingly, for 2 extra euro, I got to see the exhibit called Declining Democracy. This was a collection of modern works—art installations, paintings, films, all from different countries—from America to Poland to German to Italy. The exhibit showed the importance of speaking truth to power. There was one room where a huge sheet of paper covered the wall and observers were invited to write something that meant freedom to them. Alongside this exhibit was an American film in which all sorts of executive-types were singing Bye-Bye American Pie. Kind of and MTV presentation full of humor but evoking the grief of a lost past. Gatsby. (a couple days ago, I bought Il Grande Gasby, my fave novel). Spontaneously, I picked up a marker and wrote what freedom means to me: "Gulliver and Netarts forever"

Accompanying one exhibit was the question: What did you do last week that made you a citizen.

I am looking forward to getting home. Although I am really going to miss speaking Italian. I can't wait to start writing. Waiting for Gulliver seemed to have stalled in my head. But just the other day, like Gabriel in the Annunciazione, the structure of the book came to me. I also realized the book had stalled because I'd never really asked myself what I was waiting for. Duh. Talk about stupido. I guess you could say I was waiting to figure out what I was waiting for, which I have luckily discovered throughout these last 3 weeks. I was waiting to understand what I could do that would make me a citizen. Something from the heart, not just the mind. And I was waiting to understand how I can express my affinity for the mystical that is at the heart of my being but antithetical to the country where I am a citizen.

I am very glad I didn't go to Venice or Pisa or Assisi this weekend or on the group trip to the Roman ruins. I have enough ruins within to observe. So it felt more sensible to stay here to reflect on what I have experienced these last three weeks, how I have changed. I'm glad my sore knee slowed me down. Yesterday, I realized that I don't miss America. My disappointment and anger remain deep and profound. However, I do miss very much what America is to me: the canyons of the Southwest, that old apartment in Shadyside when Shadyside was the Greenwich Village of Peetsaborg, the lives and graves of my parents, the sisters with whom I share the blood and spirit of my family. My family as it has grown and evolved over the years. My cats, living and departed. My bathtub. My woodstove. The fabulous red walls in my cucina and sala da pranzo. The loss of so much that led me to Netarts. The community of Netarts. And all the friends from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas to Netarts.

These friends and the members of my family are like exquisite stones, each beautiful and unique, gifts from the earth, paving the path in a garden I have been planting all my life. I did not lay the pathway. It was laid for me by the gifts of family and friends, gifts of themselves from the heart. I do not walk on these stones. To do so would be going backward. Rather I look back on the lovely path curving, climbing, wandering through—well, is it paradox or paradise? Both, I would say, even as the pathway stretches beyone us all, going all the way back through Eden to the sea where that first spark of life, whoever it was and however it commenced.

As I have tried to plant my garden, the weeds of injustice and corruption have made me molto arrabiatto. Anger in Italian is way more powerful. Arrabbiato. But so is mercy—misericordia (I love seeing this on ambulances.) As my sister Laura said to me not so long ago and my sister Mary has also expressed in sentiment: Most people see the rock rolling down the hill and move out of the way; you try to stop it. Well, I think now I will, like Dante, sit on my own little rock, look up at the wonders of creation, both human and natural, and simply say Mamma Mia!

Thanks, everyone. And I look forward to seeing you when I get back to the garden.

Meanwhile, leading up to the commemoration of World Aids Day on Dec. 1, there's a festival internazionale at the local cinema. So today, I'm off to the movies.  

Ciao, tutti.

#7: Happy Thanksgiving from Italia

                                                                                                                Thanksgiving 2011

Well, I'm all set: fare il mio compiti a do my homework. Thanksgiving is almost over here. But some of you are just finishing your morning coffee. This is my toast to all you, friends and family. 

Buon Ringraziando

I just returned from the Galileo Museum. The place was filled with all sorts of early instruments for measuring every type of natural phenomenon from the movement of the planets to changes in barometric pressure to the flow of electric and magnetic currents, things we all took for granted in eighth-grade science. Plus, there was a short video showing how they made all those old globes with correct longitude and latitude. Molto interestante.

On my walk home, Venus was shining over the statue of Dante in the Piazza di Santa Croce. And I thought the best part of the museum was that Galileo's right middle finger was encased in glass in one of the exhibits. It's pointed right up to the heavens. Right on, dude, the earth does revolve around the sun!

You want something to be thankful for? Did you know that in Italian supermarkets, you have to pay 1 euro ($1.50) for the use of a shopping cart?

And if you have a bathtub for a nice long soak instead of a shower stall the size of a cardboard delivery box for a refrigerator, give thanks, molto thanks. 

But hey, I've figured out how to shop and I'm clean. So I shouldn't complain. But I tell you, I would love to have...I crave...a piece of...I can hardly write the word without rushing out to buy...a piece of bread. BREAD. But tonight...great pasta senza glutine...and a toast to all of you...or youns as we say in Pittsburgh (Peetsboorg). 

In the absence of bread, I have turned to arachidi (ah-rah-KEE-dee). And before my sister Mary goes into a state of nervous prostration, this is not Italian spiders but peanuts. 

Meanwhile, (stay tuned for the story of il mio ginocchio (not to be confused with Pinocchio) and the German doctor and his molto uptight vife, and why I decided not to go to Venice. Or maybe I will, but probably not because I don't want to miss the farewell dinner for my Australian and Japanese classmates. 

Life is good. Mainly because of all of you. Ciao, and enjoy your tacchini.

Hey, Ross, notice on the above picture: la mia nuova borsa arancione on the sofa. 13.5 euro. A steal, if you ask me. And the shopkeeper didn't chase me down the street!

#6: Notizia cattiva / Notizia buona

                                                                                                                   November 2011

Bad news / Good news.

First the bad news.
Last night, my cell rang. Service!!! I heard...JOAHN   JOAHN.
It was Polma calling to say that her aunt in Toronto died, and that they (I am assuming her mother) are going to leave for Canada on Wednesday. There would be no one in Maierato to help me out in the investigation of il mio albero genealogico. My family tree.
She said she would call me from Toronto after I got back to Oregon.

So Ciao, Ciao to an nonrefundable $150 ticket.
I considered going because now I was all revved up to see the place. But what would be the point. Meeting Polma had become the biggest reason for going. 

The good news:
I now know that I have a good friend in Polma. She could have simply not called me or become impatient when I had a little trouble understanding because of the way she was using a verb that I didn't quite understand. She could not have wanted to call me from Toronto. She also seemed very eager to let me know she has a sister in Cleveland. Maria Cutuli. In short, the story is not over.

Also, I was able to carry on these two conversations with her entirely in Italian. This was very exciting.

And third, in the process, I found what I was looking for, or rather I understood what it was that I came here looking for. My courage. And my optimism. I realized after Polma's call that after having my career swept so abruptly and unjustly out from under me, I lost all confidence and courage. Confidence in myself, in life, in hope, in everything instilled in me by that one Joseph Conrad quote that I read my senior year in high school: Woe to the man whose heart has not learned while young to hope, to love, and to put its trust in life.
It was this quote that inspired me to study literature, this quote that always gave me the courage and confidence to fight my pessimistic nature. Actually, I find I am not, as I thought, a pessimist by nature. The pessimism was a result of never fitting into the right-brained sistema educazione. I never let the sentiment of the quote go, but I didn't really believe in it.

Immersed in the images of birth, death, and rebirth all around me here in Firenze, I now feel this constant process in the evolution of humankind, as well as in each person. Of all the art works I've seen, the one that mean the most to me is that bronze cross in Cortona, the one created circa 950 A.D. by an unknown artist.  The exquisite and beautiful grief on la faccia di Cristo expressed the grief in my heart. It is the grief of an unknown artist who came to terms with the unknown, the condition of all humankind. I felt a bond with that artist, as I now feel a bond with my parents, all my grandparents, and all of the past experiences that brought me here to Florence. The bonds are of a mystical nature, what connects me to all of the forces that came together to give me the remarkable consciousness of life. Existence. My existence. Feeling the enormity of this is profound. I do not have to go to a town to find it, although when I do go there, it will be great fun.
The connection I sought there is now in my friendship with Polma, a connection made through minimal language but with what I think are mutual desires of the heart.

The gifts I brought for her, I will take home and share with la mia famiglia a Peetsboorg e la mia famiglia a Nehtahrts.

I am looking forward to the next two weeks, but also to going home. Things here are old and magnificent. But the sea is older and more magnificent.

So anyway, on Friday, Gabriele, brought Marilee to my grammar class. Gabriele is one of the brothers who runs Scuola Toscana where I am learning Italian. Marilee is a travel agent of sorts, with her own business and an idea that people my age would like getting more out of travel if they could really live like a "real" person in a country.

She seemed like a nice person, and she was eager to talk to me about my experience at the school.  So I invited her over to my apartment for wine. Well, as I was pouring the first glass, I said the usual, "Say when," except she didn't.

And down the hatch the first very large glass went as we talked. She said how wonderful my experience sounded and that she wanted me to tell her all the things that I had to learn in order to get along, from from the planning of the trip to getting used to being here alone. She said she wanted her clients to experience the country, but without the hassles, so what did I have to suggest. 

Come Monday, she will be sitting in on classes to see how her clients might take one or two weeks to familiarize themselves with the language.

I studied on my own for about 18 months. I wrote letters to unknown Cutulis and built a friendship with Polma. I read dual translations of Italian poetry and The Divine Comedy and watched DVD lectures on the Italian Renaissance, Dante, and Rome. I discovered the week before I left that Bank of America people hadn't told me the full truth about using my credit card abroad so that I could have accrued finance that I would have been paying off for the rest of my life. Upon learning this, I was so nervous about what else I didn't know that for the rest of the time until departure, I depended on better living through chemistry aka Xanax. And when Ed and Pete were leaving me at the airport, I wanted to throw myself around their legs and beg them to take me home. 

Of course, the height of idiocy was that less than two weeks after ordering a global phone from Verizon, I was so stressed out over the impending adventure that I set the new phone on my wood stove, forgot it, lit a fire, and melted the damned thing. 

Would it have been easier if I'd had someone to guide me through the preparations and tell me to weigh my own vegetables when I got here? Most definitely. Would it have been easier if I'd just had someone find the right school for me and give me an orientation before I found myself immersed in a foreign language with no options for speaking English? Indeed. I think the worst thing about that part of the adventure was not being without an identity. It was being without a sense of humor. It's impossible to make a joke if you don't know the language. I suppose that's not so much of a handicap when I think of it because for the first week, nothing much was funny.

So anyhow, Marilee was on her third glass of not-saying-when to my very nice bottle of Bardolino and had devoured most of an apple, a few very good-sized chunks of my cheese, and a packet of my non-gluten crackers, when it occurred to me that if what I'd done had been easy or figured out for me, it would have been a vacation, not a quest. Vacations are great. The next time I come to Italia, I will be on one. But this time, I wanted a quest. I needed a quest. Next year, I'll be 70. Life is not a dress rehearsal. I wanted to be sure of the last act—the art, the direction, the motivation. I thought that getting away would give me perspective, insight, clarity. I wanted to write the final act for myself, not leave the motivation to chance. 

And speaking of age, this afternoon, I was walking home through the Piazza di Santa Croce. As always, tourists were gathered at the foot of the statue of Dante snapping pictures. It struck me that 700 years ago, Dante never could have imagined that on any given day, scores, perhaps hundreds of people would have arrived in airplanes and trains from all over the world and be having their pictures take at the foot of his statue.

There is definitely something to be said for being old. It's not wisdom one acquires but rather the rest one can enjoy from having outgrown the need for experience. 

I wish that the history of my country did not begin with Columbus as a hero of discovery.

Last night and this morning, a little old woman was sitting outside the grocery store on the cold cement begging. She was toothless, and her mouth was like the half-circle kids draw to show a frown. A smile is a frown turned upside down. Last night, I had a baggie full of coins I was going to use today for my gelato. But I dumped them all in her cup. Her story was not the tragedy of being old but of being poor and without opportunity in a country of priceless art and a world with plenty of food. And all those big empty marble spaces with tombs. What use do the nonliving have for all that empty space?

In Florence, the history of birth, death, and rebirth are everywhere. Yes, there's  something to being old. There is no need for activity to acquire experience. The sorting out process is way more fun and profound. All this being true If, of course, you don't have to sit on the cold cement to beg. The art and vast cathedrals seemed a little bit less in a country where an old woman has to sit on the street and beg. Or when anyone is suffering in a world where wealth abounds. I was suddenly very tired of looking at the art and visiting the grand cathedrals and tombs.

The next two weeks will be less emotionally harrowing. And instead of going on the exhausting journey Maierato, I will enjoy some time in Siena. 
Oh, yea, long with the bronze, Cristo, I loved seeing the tunic of San Francesco. I have a statue of him in my garden. I love all the stories of how he talked to the birds and convinced a cattivo wolf to mind its manners. I can't wait to get home and talk to the cats. Hopefully no one will have eaten them.

Only concern: I don't want to know how much cholesterol is in gelato.

#5: Va bene!

My mother would always tell me that it's always darkest before the dawn. I would pretend to be comforted while thinking that it's always darkest before the lights go out completely. But as things evolved today, things are looking quite bright for my trip to Maierato. 

È una cosa Cutuli preoccupare.  It is a Cutuly thing to worry.
Ma oggi, va bene. Today, it's going well.

Yesterday, I confided my insecurities to my conversation tutor. She said that Calabria has an undeserved reputation for danger. I would not be greeted upon descending the steps of the plane by i banditi with le pistole. In fact, by the time our conversation on the matter ended, I was convinced that I had enough Italian to explain to people in Lamezia why I was there and that as in so many rural communities, like my own in Oregon, people would be thrilled by the story and want to help me.

After class, I went to a cell phone place that rents phones to students. There were two men, typically handsome and distinguished men in their sixties, and I explained my story to them. While the more brusque man answered the office phone, the more gentle man suggested that instead of trying to rent me a phone, we try mine. We called his cell, and it worked. Then he punched in Polma's number. And the next thing I knew, he was handing me the phone. I heard a strange beeping and realized this was the sound of Italian numbers ringing. I flew into a panic as I heard, Pronto...PRONTO.  OMD  (O Mio Dio!), I had to talk. Questa e (no accent since I'm on the keyboard here) Joan Cutuli.  AAAAH Ciao, Joan, came the reply. I began launching into my the back of my mind thinking that these two men would be laughing at my pathetic Italian. I tried to step outside, but the traffic on the narrow street was too loud. 
Back inside, I just went for it.

Before I knew it, I was understanding every word Polma was saying, and she was telling me I had to take a taxi, not a bus from Lamezia...I could stay with them and decided if I wanted to come Thursday or Friday. I said I didn't want to be un problema. No problema!  It was all set. I clicked off the phone, and my eyes filled with tears.

I think that sensing I was an emotional wreck, they began speaking in English.

You are happy, said the gentle man, laughing.
Your Italian is not bad, said the brusque man, gently. Where did you study? he asked.

I taught myself, mostly, I said. 
You did a good job, he complimented me. I could understand every word. And your accent is not bad.

Grazie, grazie, I said. I have had no confidence to speak. But now it will be better with your compliment. 

Good, he said. You should have the confidence.

Which brings me to another lesson I learned. Part of my lack of confidence has been that many students chatter on while I...the Cutuli...wonder if my tenses and pronouns are correct. I confessed my insecurity to Francesca, my tutor.  I got one of those palms-upward EHHH replies, after which she said that the Spanish students who run on think they are talking Italian but are actually speaking a lot of Spanish. After two weeks of improving my listening skills, I hear now that people like Kathleen, who lives upstairs, is using atrocious grammar and tosses in English words when she doesn't know them in Italian. Francesca said that these people never really progress but that people like me and the Japanese students who study and are aware do raise the level of their conversation and comprehension.  Piano, piano, Francesca always says. Slowly Slowly. 

And so, I went to sleep happy last night. And peaceful because just before I turned off the light, I got a text from Kathy saying that she is not eating my cats.

Piano, piano,

#4: Grandpa, Grandma, and the hell of getting to paradise

                                                                                                                        November 2011

(pre script...all this may be way more than you want to read. The emails have become my journal that I'm emailing to myself so I don't lose it. I do apologize for the email clutter, which I send without expectation of your reading it or commenting. I suppose that in a way, sending this to all of you is a way of maintaining the illusion of security and connection in the face of fears and doubts expressed here)

When I used to go backpacking in the Southwest, we used to say that if there wasn't one point on the trip where the challenges were so difficult that you wished you'd never left home, the hike wasn't worth it. Well, I have arrived at the point of fear, doubt, and fatigue. 

First, to dispel unduly high expectations that I will be speaking fluent Italian upon returning home, no. When I say I'm talking with friends, it's very elemental stuff, the equivalent of those first college parties. What's your major  blah blah blah.

Yesterday, I said that I was going shopping to look for something with birds for the woman eating my cats. Then at the Billa supermercato, I was confident enough to get in the line where the cashier is quick but has the personality of a double-edged razor blade. For some reason I still can't fathom, she wanted me to give her 5 euro in coin for a five euro bill. Since it didn't make any sense, I had no idea what the hell she was saying or what she wanted. It's impossible to explain how utterly humiliating it feels to have a long line of people wanting to go home but are being held up by an idiot reduced to having a cashier picking coins out of your hand as if you were five.

However, the ultimate weirdness is that I finally got my plane ticket to Calabria. Ryanair is cheap but getting through the website was crazy. They wouldn't accept my first credit card. I thought I needed to print a confirmation which I couldn't do using my iPad. Plus the school connection is crap and very slow. So my conversation tutor and the secretary at the school were using the Italian website. They were clicking away in Italian all the AGREE boxes on pages that shouted out in red !IMPORTANTE!! I was almost relieved when the ticket was not confirmed.

Every day the prices go up. So I rushed back the apartment to get another credit card and went to an internet cafe where I didn't want coffee at 4:30 p.m. and the hot chocolate had gluten so I had to buy a fruit and vegetable drink for $8. It was great, but my iPad wouldn't connect. A guy who has an iPad tried to help but no luck. So I went to Internet Train, a wifi place where I paid another $4 for an hour to work in an environment of loud music that felt like the equivalent of Italian rap. The iPad is so small that when I selected things with my finger from the drop down menus, I would inevitably get the wrong info. It took half an hour to buy the damned ticket.

I fly from Pisa to Lamezia Terme in Calabria,  about Thiirty minutes by bus to Maierato. I had to leave next Thursday instead  of Friday an d don't get back to the Pisa airport until midnight Sunday. At which point I will take a train to Florence. It's really insane. 

Meanwhile, I can't call Polma because she either doesn't keep her phone on, or mine can't reach her. I did call in Italy and know the phone works, at least here in Florence. She could be dead for all I know. And here I am going to a rural town with minimal connections and no hotel, and where they speak a dialect that is different from  what I am learning and really can't speak.

It's a helpless feeling not to be able to discuss complications in English. Especially when someone at home may be eating my cats. Yesterday, I was trying to philosophize with my tutor about all this but couldn't think of the word for quest. My teacher, whose English is ok but merely functional, did not know the word. So I had to describe it to her as an adventure of the spirit. 

But to be honest, for the first time in my life, I have finally had enough of that kind of adventure. I think there really is nothing to know. The mystery is immense and grand and unknowable.  I have been thinking that my grandmother and grandfather probably left Calabria for the same reason I made this trip. They were looking for something. Something that probably doesn't exist except in the hearts of those who don't know how to be satisfied with anything. 

We speak of the immigrant experience in the abstract. They want a better life. Or in the case of my students who fled Cambodia and Vietnam, they wanted a life. Grandpa made two trips back and forth before he finally returned to America to stay. It's pretty certain that when he did stay, he never found what he was looking for. Or found it too late. Clearly, my thoughts are all fuzzy on this. I'm scared of going alone to a rural village and am wondering why I didn't take a guided tour of Rome instead.

The April before my grandfather died in August 1963, the family went to see him at Easter. He was sick and in bed. It was the first time I had ever seen him without his hat. His hat was just a man's brown hat with brim. The house itself was pretty much brown. If there was something that could be painted, Grandpa painted it brown. Even  the bathtub. When I stayed there as child, I hated to take a bath because the paint was peeling off the bottom of the tub and it hurt to sit down. Grandpa was educated by the monks. It must have been the more strident intellectual Dominicans, not the Franciscans whose leader was the popular and genial lover of nature and people. 

Grandpa was angry. Arrabbiato. I'm not sure about what. But probably because he was highly educated and deeply intelligent, but merely a shoemaker. My father told me that doctors, bank presidents, and professors adored him and gathered in his shoemaker shop to talk. But my father also told me that when he sat in the shop and tried to talk to his father, Grandpa behaved as if his son weren't even there. My father graduated from high school at 16, but Grandpa would never look at his report card with all A's. And he wouldn't allow Grandma to speak English. 

When we visited Grandpa, it was more like a ritual that a visit. He would answer the door, and we filed in to the brown house, always dark and cold. Even in summer. Grandpa had a white mustache, flawless skin on his face, and round pink cheeks so that in the dark house, he looked like a nightlight. We had to kiss him, and the whiskers bristled against the lips. Actually, as I think of him now, he looked like that little guy in Monopoly that tells you to go to jail or get out free. The visits were more like jail. Everyone sat stiffly at the kitchen table while Grandpa philosphized, usually about the state of the world. There was not enough attention given, for example, to math. Grandpa did complicated math problems for fun.

When I was nine or ten, there was a grand festival in the playground behind the house at 16 Shetland Ave. It was an Italian neighborhood, and in backyards aligning the playground, families gathered to eat, drink, and sing. Toward evening, strains of "Santa Lucia" rose toward the lavender pink summer sky. I'd had my first Neapolitan ice cream. Three flavors in one! What a miracle. But in my usual quest mode, I wandered away from the familial into the cold dark brown house. There was Grandpa working his math problems. I wanted to talk to him. He fascinated and terrified me, much like those mythological creatures we read about in Homer. I wanted to get to know him. As usual, Grandpa was working math problems and showed me how to balance an algebra equation. He asked if I understood. Wanting to please, I said yes. But then he handed me the book and told me to do the next problem. The search for the unknown was beyond me. He took the book, snapped it shut, got up from the brown sofa, and left me sitting there in the brown room.

When I was eighteen and in college, the first thing Grandpa asked me at Christmas was whether I was taking any math. I was not. I was studying writing and literature. Grandpa said my dress was too short and went on to discuss all the reasons why the Soviets were going to destroy us, the most important reason being our poor math skills.

Then he gave us all our Christmas gifts, the same thing he always gave us. Two dollars each in a holiday bank envelope inscribed with our names in that elegant script he had learned from the monks. Dad, Mom, Laura, Mary, and I — we each got two bucks. We gave him cigars and Old Spice, which he never opened while we were there.

I was twenty the Easter before Grandpa died. He was in hat. He looked very little. He reached out his hand like a child to my father and told him to get a box from the closet. It was one of those boxes that department stores used back then to send home dresses or suits. In the box were presents. Not envelopes with two dollars. Real presents. There was a wide tie with a giraffe on it for my father. For my mother, a big gold watch like Alice's white rabbit used. My sisters got a geography game, except it was so old that Oklahoma wasn't even a state. Nothing for me. It's not that I wanted a gift exactly. I just thought Grandpa was disappointed in me and felt sad.

That summer, before my senior year at Pitt, I went out west to work at Zion Canyon. Grandpa was in and out of the hospital. He asked one day where I was. Dad said I was working out west for summer vacation. Grandpa said I belonged in college and that he was going to save four dollars a week so I could return. When I got back from Zion, I went to Atlantic City to visit a friend working there. The day I got back, Grandpa died. 

A monk came to the funeral home. He wanted everyone to pray. But no one in the family knew how. My cousins and I fled the scene and found our way into the casket room where we lay in the caskets and laughed. When it came time to close the casket on Grandpa, Aunt Mary threw herself over Grandpa and wailed. She'd cared for him until the end, despite years of abuse. The stories were terrible about how she would get home from work as a teacher and stand in the doorway holding her books as he beat her. Aunt Mary was way ahead of her time as a teacher. She wrote to Colgate and got free toothbrushes for her elementary school students and taught them good dental hygiene. She had wanted to marry Mr. Didiano. But Grandpa said no. She never married.

When I was in my thirties and Aunt Mary was living with Aunt Carrie, Aunt Carrie was going on vacation to visit my cousin Sara. It was decided that I should stay with Aunt Mary because she wasn't well. During that week, we went shopping for the famous bread at Rimini's bakery. Across the street lived Mr. Didiano and his wife. They were all now in their seventies. Mrs. Didiano was all in black and barely spoke. She sat in a corner and sulked that dark Italian sulk. Mr. Didano wanted to show Aunt Mary and me his garden. It was wide and lush. I hung back, watching as Aunt Mary and Mr. Didano talked quietly. He would touch the leaves of the vegetables gently. Aunt Mary's toughened demeanor softened. I have rarely in my life seen anything at once so beautiful and so sad.

Another of those moments in my life was shortly after Grandpa's funeral. Aunt Mary found in his dresser drawer, a yellowed holiday bank envelope with my name inscribed in that elegant but shaky script. In the envelop were forty rumpled one-dollar bills. Dad recalled that Grandpa had said he was saving money for me to go back to college. They'd thought it the ramblings of a dying man. It had been ten weeks from the time Grandpa made that promise until he died. There were the forty dollars.

I used the money to buy the books for the first semester of my senior year. Yes, those were the days when a nice paperback of Moby Dick cost 95 cents.

And oh, on that last Easter visit to Grandpa's, we found that he'd covered up the brown with orange. Even the kitchen sink was orange with an accent of magenta enamel around the kitchen door frame.

When I first started writing this, I was thinking that if I can't get in touch with Polma I might just bag the plan to go to Maierato and lose the money for my nonrefundable ticket. Or I would go expecting the worst and after a day, I could just forfeit the return Sunday ticket and fly back on Friday.  I do know that I have at last lost my desire for adventure and the quest To Know. It seems that I have come all this distance away from my true home and spent quite a bit of money to discover the meaning of what was entrusted to me almost fifty years ago in that envelope with forty rumpled one-dollar bills. Grandpa would translate The Divine Comedy for fun...or was it the challenge. Or part of his quest to get through the dark woods Dante enters at the beginning of The Inferno? I truly believe his gift to me was the belief that I could make it through to Paradise.

Grandma didn't go to America with Grandpa. She followed him with Aunt Mary. I can't imagine her going alone in those days from Calabria to Naples where she boarded the ship to make the long trip to be with that troubled man with a mind dark and marvelous as myth. Perhaps she is the heroine of my existence. I wouldn't be writing this if she hadn't hadn't had the courage to take on the journey. Random or destiny? I suppose that's what I wanted to know about my life.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so afraid of finding my way alone with an auto-immune allergy to gluten to a remote rural village where Polma Cutuli  is only a letter with a promise to help me "find my origins" and a voice that phoned me from a far in a language I couldn't really understand except for the words,  "I hope you come to meet me." But I am scared. Really scared. 

I wish I were going home where I could watch a funny movie in English with my cats. But today I will continue to work on gammatical comparisons...stupido...piu piu stupido...,conjugate verbs and then go to the Uffizi to see Venus on the half shell.

#3: Insieme, il croccodillo, e Leonardo...and the secret passageway

                                                                                                                   November 2011 #3

Together, crocodiles in Australia, and Leonardo...and the secret passageway of the Medicis.

But first, a correction...avanti not avante...must proofread.

Did you know that in Australia, crocodile meat is regulated by the government but kangaroo meat is not. This sounded even weirder in Italian as Antonio from Australia explained it as part of our grammar class. Today we were joined by Gladys from Brazil. I am still the only person from gli Stati Uniti. It is fascinating to experience my country as basically inconsequential. 

When you follow the news in America, the United States is presented as the center of the known world. As I view the history and mingle in a world where I am the only American, I become aware of how isolationist America actually is, despite our presence all over the world.

The predominate thought I have about my country is that we are so new. So naive, in a way. We don't carry our history with is. America is the land of reinvention. But like Gasby, there's a tendency to worship the green light.

Yesterday, my art history class of 3 plus Caterina, the teacher, went to the Palazzo Vecchio where we were given a private tour through "the secret rooms." Previously, we'd toured the palace with Catarina, but this time...we entered a small wooden door and began our ascent up a narrow...maybe 2 feet wide...flight of stairs that wound round and round. All stone, cold and dark. This was the secret entry for the Medicis so that they could come and go without revealing themselves to the public. The stairs wound round into a small but elegant room with paintings on panels covering all four walls. The frames of the paintings were identical, except some opened into doors!

One was off the famed and magnificent hall adorned by the paintings depicting Florentine dominance, a massive room with paintings by Vasari all over the place. 
Up we went to another room where the paintings revealed the Medici interest in all the arts and sciences. Along the way, there were small windows where it was possible to look down on the streets below. What might Cosimo have been thinking when he looked down on a November day at the streets below? 

Beyond the secret passages, there is a painting of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Medici who followed in the steps of his grandfather Cosimo and brought the enlightenment of the arts to Florence. He died too young, in 1492, just as Columbus was about to bring death and destruction to millions of those who once lived peacefully in areas that we now celebrate as the birthplace of our nation.

In preparation for my trip, I watched a series of DVDs on the Italian Renaissance. A point that staggered my wits was that those who led the age of exploration were Italians: Columbus, Vasco Da Gama, Verrazzano, and Giovanni Caboto aka John Cabot. But they all worked for other countries because Italy had failed to move forward with R & R, as it were. Italy was still using those flat bottomed ships, for example, that were primo for trading in the Mediterranean but not seagoing vessels. Big mistake. It seems that the intellectuals had gotten too caught up in discussing ideas, and the government got bogged down in power struggles so that Italy was failing to solve its problems.  

But I'm off the subject...and how cool is this: What was that the secret passageway continued to wind around until we reached a space above the ceiling of the massive hall where the scaffolding of the building was laid bare. We were above the paintings on the ceiling below and could see the way the enormous palace had been constructed. It was quite exciting to think I was walking where the Medicis walked in their private moments, where no one else was invited.

On another trip, we went to the Medici chapel. hardly a chapel. The marble was exquisite...but I'm not talking about art since there is absolutely no way to describe it. I was moved touched when standing in front of Lorenzo's resting place. In the paintings of him, he appears reflective and was himself a poet. There was about him in this picture an air of tragedy. Like his grandfather, Cosimo, he ruled by walking among the people. Yeah, they bought power. That's what power is all about, isn't it. But there was a also a spirit of art and justice. A sense of leadership. When the Pazzi tried to kill Lorenzo in church (they got his brother), the people rose up against the Pazzi.

I kind of forget the actual event. But some powerful guy from Napoli was threatening Florence. In the dead of night, Lorenzo went off to Napoli, dude, this was molto discuss the problema. In the end, war was averted. Like, dude, way to go.

Alas, today, I missed a mini trip because I am once again struggling with the arrangements for Maierato.  Can you believe it...yes you can...Alitalia raised its rates 200 euro in 24 hours. Where is Lorenzo the Magnfico when I need him? It appears I will have to go to Pisa by train, to fly Ryanair...who the hell are they?...and then take a bus from Lamezio Terrme to Maierato. The return from Lamezio is at Pisa, at which time I will have to get a bus back to the Florence train station, one of the places where Rick Steves says pickpockets love to prey on elderly Americans.

I stand in front of my mirror and say, "You have to be crazy."

Tomorrow, I am going to see if my friend Yoko will let me use her rental phone to call Polma.

I feel very insecure going to a rural village on a short trip where there is no margin for error. If were confident with the language, I would not feel so vunerable.  I have always loved language. But because I was always good at it, I didn't fully realize how integral it is to one's security and wellbeing. I think it will all work out. 

My two new words of late that I use quite often in my thoughts:
confondere: to confuse
fiducia: confidence

So anyhow, I gave up trying to catch up with the field trip. Interestingly, I was able to get where I thought they were by going very quickly and with fiducia. But No luck. However, I did find that there is a kind of Occupy Italy thing going on in that piazza with tents. Of course there are big signs celebrating the departure of the Big B. and there's also a tiny area in the large piazza in support of the environment. 

Not finding the lecture group, I did however find that for some reason I cannot explain, I had cut my finger and it was bleeding all over my hand. I had wondered why my had felt wet but was in a hurry.

After wrapping the finger in a handkerchief, I gave thanks to my mother for making me always carry and handkerchief and decided to make limonata from limone. I therefore gave up trying to find my group and stopped at the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. I asked the woman charging me 5 euro if she had a bandaid. But how stupid of me. She was in charge. I already know what that means. She gave me the look. 

I rewrapped my finger in a clean piece of kleenex.

Leonardo. What a guy. All those gears and pulleys. Astonishing. a printing press, a small terrain tank, a room of mirrors where you can see all sides of an object simultaneously, and hey, for Tillamook, a dredging machine for the rivers. I have to say that after viewing the flying machines, I would not want to go off Maxwell Mt. in one.

On my way home, I stopped at Grom's for gelato. Bacio, of course, chocolate hazelnut, and who should see me there but my classmate Hyroko. She wasn't having gelato but saw me so thought she'd stop for some practice speaking Italian. So there I was with my new Japanese friend speaking Italian in Florence and thinking of my dear nipote (newphew) Brian and la sua moglie (his wife) Tammy since Grom's was a daily stop for them while they were a Firenze (in Florence). 

Oh -- the dinner last night with the class was so much fun. Our waiter Tony spoke no English, and there we were, Swiss, Mexican, German, Polish, Japanese, and American, all attempting to be understood. Kazu is very positive that I need to make Japanese rice bread part of my senza glutine life and spend many minutes on his Smart Phone, showing me the GoPan for making such bread...and the way less expensive process for making it by hand. I  had i fagioli con la salsa di pomodoro ed i spinaci...beans with tomato sauce and spinach...and un'insalata. A salad. This salad for the equivalent of $6 was about one foot by one foot in size. In America, you get a few leaves of lettuce on a saucer for $4.50 these days.

On the way home after my gelato this evening, I stopped at a store that appeared to sell Xmas ornaments. I was greated by an elderly woman. When I picked up a foot high tree in a packet with teeny ornaments...made in Cina...(no h in Italiano), she scooted over to me to point out the ornaments were tutti in legno...all in wood. Why would I buy ornaments in Italy that were made in China for more than I could buy them at Fred Meyer, so I left. I was reminded of The Stare, my sister Laura and Ross got when they left a restaurant in Italy. It can only be described as the stare of La Morte.

However, I remain alive and well at Borgo Allegri, N 66.

I am less homesick today. However, I know I will be very happy to back at 4540 Old State Rd.
I am very fortunate to be getting in touch with my inner Italian. But for whatever their reason, Dominico Cutuli left Italia, and Angela Serrao Cutuli, daugther of Rocco, followed him. They brought me to America in whatever their hopes and dreams might have been. 

Then there's the German Smoyer and Chalmers, the Scot. Last night, insieme, together, the class enjoyed dinner, people from around the world who would never otherwise be friends, except that for some reason they wanted to speak Italian. Clearly, there are differences in culture and national character. But when there's a common language, no matter how minimal, the differences vanish. I wonder if there will be a way for more people to talk with one another from the heart instead of through politicians?

Once the powerful here all built houses like towers. Bigger is best, kind of thing. But then the towers were abolished,all were one. Interestingly, leaders in the governing body were elected to serve for a couple of months to ensure that no one got too much power. What a concept.

This is long, and the night is getting shorter.
Tomorrow's special event is the Apertivo. I think this boils down to getting free drinks some some snacks at a place with a view. Hey, I don't care what the view is, it won't beat Roseanna's. Or, in fact, watching my cats napping out my garden.