Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rainbows and Transitions

I have been in Hawaii for the past week for work.  I have been working as an executive coach for the past 10 years.  As I move to Italy this is the work from which I will retire.  It has not been an easy transition for me.  I have worked most of my life.  My work has provided me with a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and has been financially rewarding and yet....

While I was in Hawaii, I had a dream that The Stoic One and I were on a boat and the boat couldn't quite make it to the dock.  He stepped from the boat to the dock easily, in one stride.  I was afraid that I couldn't make it, so I took a running leap, my coat filled up with air (probably hot air) and I was blown into the water and the muck of things close to the dock.  I looked up to where I had been and I realized the boat was huge, like a steamship not the little ferry I thought I was on.  It felt hopeless.  Suddenly I was pulled from the muck and shown a video of my mistake.  It was only one step to cross over. It was the preparation and running that had gotten me in trouble.  It doesn't take Freud to analyze this dream.

While I was in Hawaii The Stoic One was at a funeral for one of our best friends.  He was someone that I loved and brought great joy to my life.  In addition one of my dearest mentors resigned from his position, after many years, as a protest and an act of integrity.  These things have made me be reflective about my life, my contributions, my sense of legacy, the things that are still undone.  There is a book that is half written that calls to me to finish, and there is a life above the Piazza that I am hoping will be just one single step to get there.

Next week I will be 65.  It sounds so old to me, but inside it doesn't feel old.  The Italians often refer to this time as "the third stage."  I have heard these years described as the "go-go" years the "slow-go" years and the "no-go" years.  I guess I am entering my "go-go" years, and luckily I know where I am going.  We will be back in the Piazza in September.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Buying Apartment Number 2

Me again.  I thought I would keep you up to date on the new apartment in Umbertide.  When standing in the airport in Rome, we got a call from Mani that we had bought the apartment next door and he wanted us to be tranquilla about it as we went home.  Buying an apartment in Italy does not resemble buying one in the US except for the beginning of a desire and the end when the money crosses hands.  The part in between, like most things in Italy, is completely mysterious.  What could be mysterious you wonder?  Well the first thing is the price.  I know what the "stated" price is and I know how much we are supposed to put down for the compremesso, I am still unclear if these numbers are added together or are they subtracted if you know what I mean.  Someone is buying the apartment for us and then we buy it.  This all has to do with the fact that we are Americans and trying to get the best price.  Learning to trust the serpentine Italian process has been difficult but it has paid off for us.

So why are we buying apartment number 2?  The first apartment was quite small, around 800 square feet.  Buying the apartment next door will allow us to combine the two, and I will have a normal size bedroom where I can have a chest of drawers.  It is a small thing, but I thought pulling my clothes out from under the bed would get old after a while. We have a very good plan for getting the two apartments together, and thanks to my friend Sally, we will have a very good plan to separate them should we want to sell them in the future.

Here are some "before" pictures of the apartment.

Entry way.  Master bedroom to your right
master bedroom with enough room for drawers! (Bedframe goes!)
This had been the kitchen.  Note all the "kitchen" things.  Will be master bath
Will connect to current apartment through door on right

Love the tile?  All going.  Will be part of current kitchen

The floors and ceilings will be similar to our current apartment when finished.  This apartment faces the piazza with the same great views.  It doesn't have the same views out the back.  Will post pictures as work begins......god knows when that will be....I have learned we manage to cost and quality not time so this could take a while....

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rome and home with a black eye Part 2

We left our beautiful fairy land,  drove into Rome, left the car at the airport and then took a taxi to our hotel for the flight out the next day.  Fortunately the drive into Rome was without incident, although the closer we got to the city, the more it felt that we were reentering the 21st century.

We stayed at the Hotel Sisto, which we had stayed at before and had been recommended by Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor is great until everyone discovers a place and then it is time to move on.  This was the case for me with Hotel Sisto.  Large groups of American tourists.  It was so strange to see all of these Americans again.  The guy at the next table was pontificating about how he hoped we had a one term president, not my point of view, and how all of the people from California were clueless.  He said he had a son who was out there and how he went to visit him once and would not go back.  I said, "I bet that was the best news your son got all year."  Not really.  Thought it didn't say it.  I already had one black eye and didn't need another.  Next visit to Rome we decided we would look for another place to stay.  We really liked the Hotel 47's location and I love the Trastevere area.

Went out to a great restaurant got Osteria La Quercia. Our waiter was orginially from Mass. but family was Italian.  He talked English like a wise guy.  It was funny to hear that accent in Rome.  I made some comment about having fallen, and he looked relieved.  I said, I think Gary should wear I TShirt saying I didn't do it.  He said, well you hate to think that but..... So I realized that people think I have been beaten up.  It is so weird to walk into a room and have people's eyes slide away from you.  I promised myself that from now on if I see someone with a deformity I will look them straight in the eye.  It is weird to be avoided by strangers..........

Flight from Rome was delayed but we were upgraded.  Flight attendants were great on the 2 American flights we took.  One attendant asked me if I fell.  She was the first person to directly ask about the bruise.  She was kind of one of those in your face New Jersey girls.  I told her she was the only one that asked and that I thought people thought Gary slugged me.  She said she checked him out and decided he wasn't the type.  How weird we all are.

My Stoic One was not very happy having everyone look at him as a wife beater.  We are now home.  Our dogs were thrilled to greet us.
Miss Annie

Mr. Luca

It is quieter here than in the Piazza.  No men chatting out my window, no machines zigszagging to clean the Piazza.
In the airport we got a call that we bought the apartment next door.  We are very happy about that.  

It is good to be home and heart is still in Umbria.  We have many things to do here.  We will be back the first week of September and I will pick up with our adventures.  Ciao.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Rome and home with a black eye

As we were walking around yesterday to take more pictures of the festivities, I didn't see a curb and I tripped over it, and fell flat on my face.  It was Adelle redux.  The good news was I fell on my cheek not my mouth.  The bad news is that I fell on my glasses.  The good news is my glasses didn't break.  The bad news is I have a shiner this morning that looks like I have been beaten to an inch of my life caused by my glasses.  Ugh. I have been tripping all my life...unfortunately I mean that literally.  I think it has to do with weak ankles which I am working on. I have tried to be really careful here, and the Stoic One usually catches me, but...

So after I fell, I knew to get ice on it right away.  We went back to the apartment, and I couldn't believe my cheek literally had a huge goose egg on it.  I have never seen or experienced anything like this before. The Stoic One looked at me and said, "Oh, good.  Your body is doing what it is supposed to be doing.  Your cheek is swollen to protect your eye.  Get some ice on it."  Can you believe it?  Because of Adelle, we had ice packs in the freezer.  I was sure I had a broken cheek.  The Stoic One said even if I had a broken cheek, there was nothing they could do for it.  He's a guy and seems to know these things.  I said, when boxers have swollen faces they use a razor to cut the goose egg.  I have seen this on TV.  He looked at me closely to see if I had a concussion.  He said they do that if the guy gets hit in the eye so he can see.  I said, you don't think you should take a razor to my cheek.  He didn't answer.  I said look up broken cheeks on the web.  He did and said, even if you have a broken cheek you are supposed to put ice on it.  I knew going to "Pronto Soccorso" would not be pronto or soccorso, so we spent our last day here in the apartment with ice packs on my face.  I went to sleep worrying about me and Natasha Richardson meeting up in heaven somewhere.

Happily, I am still alive this morning.  The Stoic One is wandering around trying to decide what to pack.  Going back to Oakland feels like I am leaving an 18th century novel and being dropped into Silicon Valley at rush hour.  I don't know if that is how it will feel once I get there, I'll let you know.

I will probably post two more times. This is my first experience with blogging and it has been a very rewarding one.  I appreciate all of my readers and comments.

Before I leave the Piazza, I will share one more photo.  This is right next to our apartment building.  These flowers are legal!

Sunday Festivities

As we were out walking today to take pictures an Italian band, choral group and mini parade came by.  Italians love music, bands and dressing up and today they got to participate in all three.  Here are some photos of the event.
Umbertide band

Going to church
old timers

I think they were celebrating volunteers but who knows?

This is a painting on one of our alcoves. They call her The Angry Madonna.  I have never seen a painting like it.  I have my thoughts as to why she is mad.  What do you think?


I thought I would post some general pictures of our town.  Most American, as well as most Italians, have never heard of Umbertide.  This is hard for Umbertidese to imagine, but alas it is true.

The town is hardly mentioned in the tour guides.  Most people in Umbria think it is ugly because there is a lot of modern architecture which is indeed horrible. Photos of this later.

We do have some guide worthy things.  We have one museum in town and this is it.

Courtyard to museum Santa Croce
 Mary, this picture is for you.

Inside the museum, if you turn right, you end up in the church where there is a painting by Luca Signorelli a Renaissance artist.  I must say this is a little odd, because you can go directly into the church from the street without paying the 5E.  If you go left, there is a little exhibit.  Anyway, going right, which leads you back into the church, is the most famous painting in Umbertide. It is titled The Deposition and painted by Signorelli.  Signorelli is from Cortona, the town that Frances Mayes made famous in Under the Tuscan Sun. She is also a big fan of his paintings and if you read her books you will come across his name.  One of the reasons that this painting is so important is that it hasn't  been moved from its location since it was put there in 1516, about the time our apartment was started. You have to say one thing a about these Umbertidese, they stick with the plan.

Our next famous site is La Rocca.  It is a fortress that was finished in 1385.  The town started restoring it in the 80's and it now houses contemporary art works.  It is very interesting inside and has fabulous views of the countryside. This is the outside of the Rocca.
Outside of the Rocca

The inside. No Handrails!
Beautiful ceilings and restoration

Beautiful views of the countryside from the top of the Rocca

 View of the Collegiata

View of the bridge that goes into the Centro Storico

Italian Hairdresser and lunch

I finally got my courage in hand, and went to an Italian hairdresser.  Besides the name, parrucchieri, which is a devil to pronounce with 2 sets of double consonants, the place itself is intimidating to me. I must tell you I have the same feeling going into a new hairdresser in the U.S.  These places for women are like the piazza, in that once you are known, you are welcomed and treated differently, but going in the first time, I feel awkward and have that sense that everybody knows what to do but me.

Going into an Italian place was also weird.  First, the people in here speak no English.  I looked up the words I thought I would need but once inside I wasn't sure if I said I wanted my hair cut or did I say I wanted a slice of meat?  Hmmm.  They did look at me oddly but they didn't scrunch up their little eyes like they do when I say something totally off beat.

Armonie (harmony) is a very modern place.  When I told Antoniette I had gone there, she waved her hands in circles saying I had probably paid too much because it was new and modern.  I thought I would have a better chance of a modern haircut in such a place.  So after requesting either a cut or a slice, I sat down.  It felt familiar but different as so many things do here in Umbria.  They were buzzing around, joking, singing, carrying on with each other and the customers.

Ok. a side note about music in Italy, it is all in English.  I have only heard Italian music in homes and where there is a much older crowd, like plus 70.  The song that is constantly played here is The Lazy Song....slackers and Italians unite.  For those of you who don't know the song, I will put down only the lyrics of the first stanza, after that it gets rather ribald as he is home alone having sexual fantasies....

"Today I don't feel like doing anything
    I just wanna lay in my bed
Don't feel like picking up my phone, so leave a message at the tone
  "Cause today I swear I'm not doing anything"

This song plays everywhere.  Italians sing along happily to this stanza, fortunately they don't sing the rest of it.

Back to my haircut.  Anna finally comes to get me.  I ask if she speaks English she says poco, which means not at all.  We carry on in Italian, and hand gestures which is fine.  As I sit there I notice one big difference between these places and ones at home, there are tons of little girls coming in. In all my years of going to hairdressers, I have seen maybe one kid who came in to get a hair cut (are there special salons for this in the US?) but today there are 3 different sets of mothers with kids, I mean young kids.  One is about 18 months probably her first haircut.  She is adorable. They show her how it won't hurt.  They have special Shrek robes to put the kids in, and they all get scissor cuts with little bows in their hair.  This making of Italian princesses starts early.

Back to my haircut.  She puts me in the chair, after a nice shampoo, and musses it about like American hairdressers and then pushes it this way and that way.  She shows me how my hair should be longer on the side to help disguise my fat little face and she begins to snip away.
I am happy with the haircut.  It costs 20E
Here I am

The Stoic One also went to the hairdresser.  He only needed to say "corto" or short.

Now Lunch......

After the haircut we go to Nonna Gelsa's for lunch.  This is our "go to " place here. 

Delicious roast pork

Very good wine for 2.50E per glass
Capsico Rosso Abruzzo '02

Friday, June 3, 2011

Italian Mothers and their Sons

Some random thoughts I have as I look out the window of life passing in the piazza.  As those of you who know me know, my mother was a bit of a nutball.  I believe that she was manic depressive and in our age would have been helped by medication. Unfortunately, it was neither the right age nor was her character such that she could ask for help, even had it been available.  Her emotional situation left her angry, tense and critical of the imperfections of life around her.  This is not to say that there weren't times when she was happy or that her demons were cast aside, and she truly enjoyed life and those around her.  Generally though my mother was a person who struggled with giving and receiving love.

I am thinking of her today because of the relationship I have seen between Mani and his mother.  He is not only the only child, he is the only son.  In Italy this could be a huge burden but he wears it lightly, and he adores his mother.  She of course, also adores him.  They have a relationship that most of us yearn for.  She always has his back, and he always has hers.  He sees her good traits and overlooks her flaws and she does the same with him.  I think that this is the basis for love and it is hard to get to.

Their relationship between mother and son made me think about why it is so hard for us to love one another.  I think that there are some people who are born with a gift for love just as there are some people who are born with a gift of faith.  Italian mothers and their sons are a stereotype and yet I have experienced here a real and living example of how love can flourish in a parental relationship.

How little it matters really if our spouses or friends or children do not meet our expectations. The expectations are ours after all, not theirs. I believe to truly love one another, we must accept the other and put aside our expectations which can only lead to disappointment.  This is hard to do for we all have standards and models of how the other should behave.  Spending this time in Italy it is becoming clearer to me that focusing on the other and how they do not meet our expectations  is yet another way to keep us from looking at ourselves and taking the actions that we need in order to give and receive love more completely.  Would that we all could get to the type of acceptance that Mani has with his mother and she has with him.

Reflections on our differences

As I was at the festa yesterday, I tried to imagine the day in the United States.  It is impossible to imagine this in the Bay Area where I currently reside.  I can, however, imagine this type of festivity in a small town, like Chester, California, where we used to have a cabin.  June 2nd is somewhat comparable to our 4th of July, and Chester always had a big 4th of July celebration.

So what are the differences between a small town in Umbria and a small town in California?   First, we would never have gotten free food, water and champagne in Chester.  Perhaps there would have been a potluck or food fixed by a club, like the Lions, but we would have had to pay. I have never seen Italians do a potluck.  I'll have to ask if this happens.  In Chester each family would bring their own food to a public gathering.   For me, there seems something not quite right about eating food that is publically offered without paying.  This could be a result of having a mother who was germ phobic, I don't know.  (I did not eat or drink the free offerings yesterday. Not from an ethical or cultural viewpoint but because there were too many people waiting in line. At least I think that's why.)

Another noticeable difference is it would have been much louder in Chester.  Even though I have complained about the men playing cards, Italians in a huge group are remarkably quiet.  I think because they have lived closely together for so long, there are rules of crowd behavior that Americans don't have. We are a noisy lot.  We talk louder and we play louder. At public events it is as if we are all at a game of cards.

Another major difference is Americans are much more demonstrative in their enthusiasm.  This is odd because Italians readily access their emotions, in some ways, much more so than Americans, but enthusiasm, is something that they seem to reign in, except at card games and sporting events! At a festival such as the one we had yesterday, people in Chester would have been laughing, and carrying on.  There is a studied indifference that Italians wear even when they are celebrating.  They have this same attitude about their food.  Americans eating out, including yours truly, ooh and awww, and show outward enthusiasm about the food.  The Italians say "buono" or shrug.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons the Italians love the Stoic One, he is much like them in this regard.  I think Italians think most Americans are funny the way we carry on, we remind them of children, and they enjoy us as they would their children.

Finally a huge difference is the dressing up.  I was trying to imagine people in Chester wearing stilletos and tight, short dresses to a 4th of July event, and my mind boggled.  Italians change their dress for the occassion.  Americans used to do this, but now most of us wear casual clothes all the time, whether we are going to the market, a picnic, an outdoor concert, we all look the same.  Even though young Italians and young Americans tend to dress the same, I have not seen young people wear flip-flops here like in the U.S.  The Stoic One wants to do a photo essay on Italian shoes, we have seen some doozies in town.

As many differences as there are there are also similarities.  The pride of people in a small town about their specific places of interest is the same. People in Chester could make deprecating remarks about life at the A&W, but they are proud of the little town high up in the Cascades. It is the same in Umbertide.  There is a deep pride for all of us who live in this little city by the river.

The sense of community that one feels is the same in both towns. The bringing of the family, children in strollers, older ones being looked after.  Families stay with family members and then go out from the family group to greet others and come back.  Young people in both countries look like they wish they could escape, and they usually do. There is a sense that this is our town, our event.  

A final major difference is the piazza in Umbertide.  Life around this square is stabilizing, predictable and ongoing.  Every day I recognize the 2 little white dogs with red harnesses, one on a leash and the other off that wander by around 7:00..  I wonder about them. In large cities the anonymity protects our privacy and affords a wide array of entertainment, education and cultural events, but there is a lack of personal connection. The tradition of the piazza in Italy guarantees a connection to a base.  The market happens here.  Coffee is taken here.  Major events are celebrated here. The passeggiata, evening strolls, occur here. In the large Italian cities, this is not so. My Italian teacher has told me that older people in Rome, Milan and other modern cities suffer the same type of isolation and feeling of uselessness that many of our older people feel in the U.S. For the young, small town life can feel stifling.  For the older people small town life centered around the piazza can feel safe and welcoming.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

June 2nd Festa

These are mainly photos that the Stoic One took today during the celebration.  I thought you might be interested in some of the faces and activities of the people in our town.

The morning started with a Concorse D'Elegance of cars. What this has to do with the Unification day beats me.

We had all kinds of officials, carabinieri, religious ones and bands.

Band and their lovely white uniforms

Besides the 150th anniversary of the Reunification, we are also celebrating the completion of a river project that has intrigued the town.

Here is the before picture:

Here are the pictures from today.  The fact it was completed in time for the celebration was a miracle and a call for celebration itself.

We were all so happy when we were allowed to walk on the side walk.  It was one of those public moments in Italy.

Here are some faces of the people:

Did they just see that blond?

Note the shoes

A true face of  Umbria

The festivities concluded with free pork, water and champagne.  What could be better?

Italian BBQ

Since the Stoic One and I decided to buy this apartment, we talked to Mani about the need to have a balcony so that we would have a place to grill our food outside.  Grilling is a major part of our food preparation in California, and we can't imagine life without it.  The problem is, as I have been told many times, our apartment is in the centro storico (old part of town) and classified as an antique building, having been started in the 1500's and finished in 1602, and we are right next to the police department and the official offices of the mayor.  All of this means no balcony.  They are very strict about what goes on the outside of the building.

You can imagine I just accept this answer and go on.  Not.  So at first my plan was to get to know the mayor and begin making gifts to the Commune.  Francis Mayes did this to get her road in.  Mani was horrified.  The mayor and 18 out of 19 counsel members are communists.  Literally.  So, I am thinking, they don't take gifts?  The problem is Mani.  He doesn't think we should give them any money since they take everybody's money anyway.  Ok.  My next idea is to put the balcony on the back of the building where no one can see it. The first step in this plan was to get Mani to put in a french door where my current dining room window is.  Mani agrees this is possible after we receive the approval from the commune saying that our apartment is now habitable.  Michael, our engineering friend, explains that just because I have the window put it, it will not be so easy to attach a secret balcony because of the need for braces etc. attached to the old building.  I give up on the French door.  Sono delusa.  (I am disappointed). This time the pouts, sighs, and sad faces have no effect except to make Mani wiggle around uncomfortably and appeal to the Stoic One.  Naturally, the Stoic One agrees with Mani.  I am SOL as they say.

As a compensation for my sorrow, Mani invites us to a BBQ at his house to show us we can do this type of cooking without a balcony. Mani invites Simone, and his wonderful companion Simona, a friend of theirs, as well as Matteo, from whom we bought the apartment.  Antonietta, Mani's mother, who is in the background, takes charge of us, and we have a phenomenal meal.

Barbara, Mani's wife made home made pizza and we had delicious grilled meat.

The Italian BBQ'er

Grandpa and the boys

Mani, his wife Barbara, and the boys live together in the very large house with Mani's father and mother.  It is the job of grandpa to tend to the "orto" or garden.  It is the job of the boys to cause as much "confusione" as possible.  They are in a constant war.  When Mani told her father we were going to have the BBQ in the orto, his father asked with the boys?  When Mani said, "si" the father responded "Let's hope it rains."  Unfortunately for him, it did not rain. The boys caused confusion and we all had a wonderful time.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Market Day

Today is market day in the Piazza. All is calm before the vendors arrive.  The flags are hanging in anticipation of a huge festival this week end to celebrate the 150th year anniversary for the reunification of Italy.
Piazza pre-market

The early birds arrived around 6:30 am to get a jump on the other shoppers. Like many things in Italy it at first seems chaotic but on continued observation there are very strong parameters that are not violated.

The brothers Russo are always at the front of the Piazza.  This is who Antonietta buys from.  I misunderstood and I thought the produce was from Russia. She got that astonished look, like to check out if I were kidding then said no, they are from Naples. Their name is Russo.  Oh....

The market travels from town to town.  There are fruits, vegetables, herbs, fish, cheese and meat.  On the other side of the street there are clothes, kitchen things, a true flea market.
Cherries and apricots

Pears, watermelon, peaches

Cheese truck

getting ready for the garden

I notice my windows are open

the aftermath
Everything will be cleaned up and back in place by 4:00 so the old men can resume their card game.
Tomorrow's activities start at 11:00 AM and go on through the week end.