Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thoughts on turning 66

Today is my birthday. I am 66 years old today. As I sit in my bed in Umbria looking out at the beautiful green hills in front of me, I am reflecting on a life of 66 years. What forces shaped my life?  Being born American has influenced my world view in ways that I am still discovering.  I am American.  I don't want to become an ex-pat who self flagellates their native country.  Americans are just as good as, and no better or worse than, Italians.  We all have our national drawbacks and our cultural limitations.  At 66 I wonder what were the other cultural forces that have influenced who I am?

I am a true Baby Boomer.  Born in 1946,  I believed that all was possible for me if I worked hard enough.  That proved to be somewhat true.  Being well educated, upper middle class and white helped more than I ever understood, while being female proved to be more of a drawback than I ever acknowledged. Still the mindset that all things are possible, has stood me in good stead in my life. First you must believe it, then you can do it. I still believe this and so it is self reinforcing and is still true for me. I have been successful in my work life and after years of struggle, also in my personal life.  Work and Love, Freud says, is what we all must face and master during our lives.  I can say at 66 I have learned to feel comfortable and at ease with both.

As a baby boomer, I was taught it was our duty to challenge authority, to speak truth to power, to challenge the status quo.  This was easier said in slogans than done in living and working.  At the beginning of my career, I found these things impossible to do.  The authority loomed so large, seemingly in control of my very being.  Eventually, I learned that the power I gave to the authority was really in my own head and speaking the truth was essential to my sense of integrity.  I do not want to say it was easy because it was not.  For those of you out there who are still in work relationships that are difficult, I empathize.  Authority has a way of co-opting our behavior that is often unconscious.  Still I would challenge everyone to speak truth to power when given the opportunity.  It is essential in this time in history that those in power hear the truth.  It is so very easy to be deluded.  Our ability to self-deceive is a topic for another post, but I assure you that self-deception is alive and well in all parts of the world and all levels of the power structure.

As a baby boomer I was taught that history was always progressive, in other words, that the future is always better than the past.  I think this is clearly an American idea because in our brief history that has been, for the most part, true. Our standard of living has improved with each decade.  In the history of other parts of the world, clearly it is not true.  Technological progress and standard of living is not the same as progress of humanity itself.  More and more these days, I see that our technological landscape changes at an astonishing rate, but our human landscape has not changed in thousands of years.  Why is that?  I haven't a clue.

As a baby boomer, I wanted to be different than my parents' generation. Mad Men may be an entertaining TV series, but living as a child of that, was not! In some ways my generation became the generation of "no". In that way I can identify with the Republican party.  The problem in only representing the negative is that the next generation has no idea what you really stand for.  What were our values? What did we want to pass on to our children or the next generation?  These were things I never heard people discuss.  It was always about working, accumulating, and working some more.  Somehow there was an embedded belief that the accumulation of things would lead to our ultimate freedom from suffering.  Our possessions were supposed to protect us from the vagaries of misfortune.  For many of us, 9/11 changed that.  For many of us it did not.  We are after all, the generation of nonconformists except when it comes to the generation that follows us and we expect them to be like us.  Weird.

As a baby boomer, I was taught to be skeptical of religion.  My generation is "spiritual but not religious." That saying now irritates the hell out of me.  I mean what does that really mean, particularly in regard to our own materialism?  I think for some people it means a child like belief that there is something larger than the human spirit that drives things.  I wonder in 10 years if my generation will spend more time thinking about this and quantifying their belief?  I hope so.

Another thing that was in my social context is that self exploration is a good thing. Most of us went to therapy when we weren't happy.  We got divorced when we weren't happy. We changed jobs when we weren't happy.  We changed career when we weren't happy. Yes, I see a theme here myself.

Now about retirement.  This is a difficult topic for my generation because it means putting down all that we have created that has given us meaning in life.  We don't want to "be retired".  We don't want to "be seniors"  How we all will handle retirement fascinates me, as I am struggling with this concept myself. We want to be forever young, not work so hard, and die without ever experiencing any illness. I read where a majority of us believe that we will die peacefully in our sleep.  So be it.  I'm all for that.

So here we are.  I have 2 nieces; one who is in her mid 20's and one who is in her mid 30's.  What would I tell them about my life standing where I am today?  So many cliches come to mind that are partially true, but not totally true.  Take care of your body with the same attention you would give your most treasured car. Our bodies won't last forever without maintenance and regular check ups. Pleasure is not a bad thing, it is just not the only thing. Turn off your electronics and get outside more. I guess the most important thing I would pass on is to give the other person a break.  We have no idea the load each of us carry, if we did we would have more kindness toward one another and less judgement.

Reflections from Umbertide, June 29th, 2012.

Antico Forziere; Deruta

If ever you are shopping for pottery in Deruta and find yourself hungry, stop at this hotel restaurant.
This blog is for all of my food loving friends, this post is especially for you.  We discovered this restaurant quite by accident.  We saw the large sign from the autostrada, and decided why not.  OMG.  This is truly one of the most creative, delicious restaurants we have tried. They are 3 brothers, two of them are chefs. How they produce such artistic, delicious, inventive food is beyond me.  Here are some photos.
Antipasti; homemade saffron crackers piled with tomatoes, cheese and mushrooms

The most delicious pistachio encrusted lamb chops

And for the Grand Finale; Dessert...note the spun sugar a Picasso painting but delicious.

This will be the last of the food posts for a while as I have told the Stoic One we are eating salads only!

Cortina versus Umbria

These are two areas of Italy that I love.  The mountains that surround Cortina, and the gentle, green rolling hills of Umbria.  They are both in Italy, but the fact is they might as well be different countries as they were up until about 100 years ago.

First Cortina. (I must be influenced by Italians here for I feel compelled to say these observations are "seconda me" or my opinion.)  Corina is not the modernized world of Milan.  It is still old school, but that means something very different than old school Umbria. There is a formality in Cortina, a way of holding oneself that is a bit stiff at first glance. Their posture seems better.  Very upright, shoulders back, firm steps, firm handshakes ready to meet whatever hardships life or the weather dish out.  They are very accustomed to tourists, but not particularly to American tourists who speak Italian.  Every time I spoke Italian they seemed flabbergasted and asked where I learned it.  When I told them my grandparents were from the Cadore area, they totally changed.  Big smiles, how wonderful, where did they live, when did you come back, etc.  Very different reaction then when I tell Umbrians I am from the North.  In Cortina, I am greeted as their long, lost child.  Cortina feels competitive with the modern world and feels that they are on the losing side.  What does that mean?  So I had on a pair of Nike light shoes.  If you have never had a pair, you must try them.  OMG.  They weight about 3 ounces.  Anyway, I took my shoes off in a shop in Cortina, the woman examined them, and then said, "Oh.  We always get the fashion after everyone else."  I guarantee you, no one in Umbertide would even think such a thing, it is so far out of their milieu.

Another major difference in Cortina and Umbria; food, my favorite topic.  The food in Cortina often contains, game, which sometimes you get here.  Polenta is in the place of pasta.  You can get pasta but it is really not "of the region".  The biggest difference, however, is in how it is served.  Your meat and vegetables come on one plate, like the US. You get a primi, and then your secondi comes plated.  This never happens in Umbria.  There is also a formality in how waiters wait on you.  In Cortina there is a always a maiter d' who not only takes you to your table, and takes your orders, but he (always he) orders the wait staff about.  This happens even in the cheaper restaurants.  This doesn't happen in Umbria that I have seen, maybe in very large restaurants, which I don't go to.  Then I must say, sadly for my Umbertidese, that the bread in Cortina is so much better.  They also serve it with butter, which we never see here.  As a matter of fact, butter is often used there where here we use olive oil in most things.  Also the desserts in Cortina are excellent.  I think it is the Austrian influence.  There is also a much larger variation of cheeses.  The wines are all from that region and ones we don't know, but were equally delicious.

The food in Umbria, as the photos attest, is delicious.  Simple food, always in season, and always seasoned properly.  We have grilled meat, ravioli, spinach and now, in season are green beans. Vegetables are always served on a separate plate. There is fish on the menu here...I don't always no where it comes from..sometimes from Lake Trasimeno...other times flown in I suppose.  I eat fish here with caution, always asking about it first.  Umbria is known for its grilled meats: lamb chops, sausages, young roosters (called cockerels,) which I have never seen on a US menu. Desserts here are plain, Italians usually go out for ice cream during the day.  The bread, as I have described before, is difficult for an outsider to enjoy; without salt, and to our taste buds very dry.  It does make lovely crostini!

In Umbria, people might seem standoffish but it is because they are shy or they don't speak English. Once I speak Italian with them they don't seem surprised, they seem relieved. There is a sweetness to the people here.  Simone says it is because they were protected by the church for so long and never really had to fend for themselves. Could be.  They are a bit like children, more carefree, more irresponsible. People in Cortina hop to.  I can't imagine anyone from Umbertide hopping!

I commented to the man at the desk in Cortina about how many hours he worked.  He said it was necessary.  He said in the old days they could take time off, but now no.  They must work like Americans!  This concept has not made its way down to Umbertide for better or for worse.

The one thing that people from Cortina and Umbertide have in common is a caginess, a distrust of ALL institutions (government, church, press). In Cortina, I asked the owner of one of the shops about the financial crisis and if it had effected the area.  He said yes it had, but he thought it was overblown by the media and one more way for the government to raise taxes.  I said yes that it was governments are for and he said yes and that is why we as Italians must be smarter!  A similar attitude would prevail in Umbertide. Another thing that unites all Italians besides love of food, love of Mama and language is soccer or futbol.  It is an obsession.  They are playing Germany tonight and I can only imagine how the piazza will behave. The Italians I have met believe the Americans are naive and potentially dangerous in their naiveté.  Still, for some reason, people from Cortina and Umbertide are delighted by Americans.  Once you say you are American, their faces light up.  If you say you are Italian American they may hug you.  Once you say you are from California they turn wistful.  Their faces get a look of far away longing, as if what would it have been like for me if my family would have immigrated to America. They have no idea...really they have no idea.

Cortina Flowers

Waiters in Cortina.

Sea bass with skin on (Adelle requested it that way) and spinach on the plate!

Back in Umbria, and our lovely ravioli; pinenuts, spinach, filled with a little burrata cheese and very thin slices of pancetta.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Italian Ironies

So last we met, I was on my way up to the mountains to escape the oppressive heat of Umbertide.  We drove 6 hours north into the Dolomites that surround Cortina d'Ampezzo to find....yes it is hot and no they don't have air conditioning because we are in the mountains and we don't need it.  But it is hot today, I say.  Yes they say it is hot but that is unusual. It isn't usually hot.  The mountains are refreshing and we don't use air conditioning.  Sigh.  We looked at one another and couldn't face the fact that we had driven 6 hours to a place that was hot with NO AIR CONDITIONING!!  These 3 spoiled American tourists have been hoisted on our own petard.  Well not exactly.  The good news is that hot here is 85 not 101 and it will cool down tonight and tomorrow is supposed to be in the 70's.  That's what they say anyway.

Some words about Cortina and my love affair with it. When I was 14, in 1960, I came to Italy to visit with my Italian side of the family.  My father's relatives are from the "Cadore" part of Italy that is quite near Cortina.  My Italian family drove me up to the mountains and it was love at first sight.  Speaking of sight, here are some pictures from the Stoic One.

This is the view outside our window.  A little cloudy, but the mountains are beautiful.  There have been many movies filmed in Cortina, the most famous was the original Pink Panther with Peter Sellers.  In 1956 the Olympics were held here after the Olympics of 1944 were cancelled because of the war.  There is still a well maintained ski jump, ice skating pavilion and beautifully maintained ski and hiking trails. It is a beautiful city to shop, walk, eat and drink the local wine.  All of our favorite things.

We stayed at the Hotel Rosapetra which is a little outside of the Centro.  It looks like a Swiss Chalet on the outside but is extremely modern and chic on the inside.  During the high ski season,our rooms listed for 600 E. but we got them for less than 150E a night.  We were very happy with the deal
Rosapetra hotel

The shower was made of the most fantastic stone from the local mountains.  Who ever designed this hotel was in love with natural surfaces.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On to Cortina D'Ampezzo

Well, the Italians won the match which we could tell by the silence and cheers.  2-0 over the Irish.  The town is happy.  Today is market day, and so the old men have been shuffled off to the side, and the women are out checking out the goods.  It will be 101 degrees here today, more than I can bear.  Since I was a small child, I have not been able to abide the heat.  My face turns into a purple ball, my skin is itchy, I seem to lose focus, and then I lose all energy.  One time when I was in the Tunisian desert, I thought of Camus' book The Plague and thought how easy it would be to just lie down in the desert and die.  The sun has that effect on me, as if it is just not worth going on.  Luckily before I reach this point I get extremely cranky, and the Stoic One gets me into an air conditioned place, such as our apartment.  It is cool here but we are rather held hostage by the weather, so we are heading up to the Dolomites, to visit Cortina d'Ampezzo.  One of my favorite towns in Italy, it is quite near the area of my father's family.

I have been thinking again about the whole retirement thing.  We met a lovely Englishman yesterday who is an architect.  He said he came here from England 3 years ago to retire, but after one week here he was bored, and began to work again.  This sounds much like my story.  I keep planning to retire, but I seem to leave one profession only to pick up another. I love the executive coaching that I am doing now and I am extremely ambivalent about leaving.  Every time I am here, I think can I do this life here 24/7?  I don't know.  I have become much more interested in writing.  I would like to put together a book on retiring to Italy, and do it by provinces..that way I get to explore each area and then comment on it.  We'll see.

My Italian teacher told me that my Italian is much better.  It is so much easier to pick up the cadence when one is here, but I am still a long way from fluent.  I was making our hotel reservations for Cortina and had to give my credit card number.  At one point there were 5 0's in the card's number.  I said, five zero which of course he wrote down as 50.  Another Alfonse routine ensued, in which Ms. Adelle began laughing hysterically, and finally he said, "let us try in English".  We were both very relieved to get the numbers done.  I am quite sure he will recognize us when we show up.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Italy vs Ireland

Tonight at 8:00 Italy will play Ireland in soccer. There are Italian flags flying in unexpected places, such as the bars.  We were told that everything in Umbertide this evening would be "bloccato"  this is not a happy word in Italian but it is a useful one.  It means not is used for traffic jams, printer jams, the Bancomat (ATM) that ALWAYS eats Adelle's card, and any other thing you can think of that doesn't work in Italy.

The card playing men have been moved to the side.  It is very, very hot here, near 100 degrees. (Remember when the Stoic One insisted we get air conditioning?  Thank you darling!) Anyway, there are now plastic chairs set up in the piazza for the men to watch a big screen TV in the piazza. This does several things.  It gets them out of the house, they have a sense of camaraderie, and they can drink to their heart's content.  Are there women down there?  Did you forget where I am?
The TV screen will be set up right beneath me.  I hope they win.

We have had a major day of accomplishments today.  We went to the bank to pay our property taxes and every thing went through without incident.  Our tax was E185 for 6 months. Such a deal compared to California.

Then we went to the mall.  I should have taken pictures.  It is so strange to find a mall in Medieval land but there is one there.  Adelle wanted lip gloss and I needed a bathing suit having forgotten mine at home.  There is an H&M at the mall and I bought a suit for 24 E. such a deal.  Hope it lasts through a few swims.  While standing in line at the bank to pay our property tax (today was the last day, 4:00 the last hour...people were lined up to pay.) we ran into our English friend Sally who has a villa up in the hills, so we will go visit her on Thurs. hence the bathing suit.

We went off to lunch at one of our favorite places outside of Perugia.
There was a round table of about 15 men sitting in the dining room.  They were being given a lecture on salt...I of course butted in when our waiter came by and asked about the salt.  He told me salt was a passion of his, and the men were restaurant owners that went to each others restaurants once a month.

There were 9 different types of salt; Himalayan, red and black; Hawaiian; Maldon, from England; lightly smoked; heavily smoked; Malaysia; Pakistan; Italy.  We were told how to use the salt, with appetizers, fish, meat, grilled meat, fish soup etc.  They we were given the most delicious home made rolls and olive to dip, then the salt. Some tasted quite different, others were more difficult to distinguish one from the other.  Very interesting.
I had stragozzi pasta with fava beans, tomatoes, pancetta, and a tiny bit of cream and olive oil.  Scrumptious.

When we got back to the apartment, we had news that our lot in Lake Almanor, which has been sitting doing nothing for 5 years, has an offer on it.  Whoohoo.  One more step on the trip to retirement and to Italy. Hope Italy wins, unless your Irish, otherwise I will have a very unhappy piazza.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Italian heat and citizenship

Well, there is that kind of heat, but I am thinking about the weather.  It is only June, but the summer heat has already started.  If you stand in the shade, it is about 20 degrees cooler than in the full sun.  Actually, the Stoic One says it isn't 20 degrees cooler, but it sure feels like it.  As luck would have it, if you want to go anywhere, you need to move from the shade into the sun.  It is awful.  I hate the heat. I have been thinking about walking around with an umbrella to see if that is cooler.  I have seen Asian people do this at home.  I wonder what the Italians would think if they see me walking around with an umbrella over my head in full sun.  One more nutty thing the Americans do.  I don't know why the sun here feels so much hotter, and forget about the dry heat thing.  It is hot!  I totally understand why everyone sleeps in the afternoon, shops close and we eat dinner at 9:00.  Schedule adjustments are needed here in the summer.

My Italian continues to be a struggle.  A note of success for me is when I call to make a dinner reservation over the phone and they don't switch to English.  I am making improvements.  I can tell because I am now being corrected by the Italians.  They used to just smile at me at give me encouragement to continue.  Now I get corrections.  I was told the puppy was "contento" not "contenta".  I said, oh are all dogs masculine?  She looked at me like I was a nut and said of course not, this one is a male. (FYI, my Italian teacher told me all dogs were masculine grammatically...just in case you thought the heat had gotten to me).  Anyway, it is a Maltese puppy that showed up in town yesterday afternoon, and he looks happy no matter the sex.  His name is "foofoo" god knows how they spell it.  Everyone on the piazza admitted he was "carino" very cute.  He is 8 weeks old and was ordered over the internet. He came on a train from Ancona.  Everyone on the piazza thought he must be very tired to make such a trip especially in the heat.  His little black eyes did look tired and a little shell shocked.  The town was very excited to see him. Welcome to Umbertide little dog.  He is the first Maltese in the town. In a year, he will be a good play mate for Luca.

Speaking of Luca, our adorable golden doodle dog, we now have a date when we will move to Italy permanently.  I have been worried about the long flight for Luca from California to here.  We decided to drive our car from California to Philadelphia, stay with our good friends Donna and Michael and then take the Queen Mary 2 over.  They have 12 kennels for dogs. We called one year ahead and were told all of the kennels were booked.  Apparently moving dogs across the ocean on a boat is big business!  Anyway, we finally got ourselves, my sister and her husband, and Luca booked for Sept. 22, 2013.  The boat leaves New York and docks in England.  Then we have to find a way to get Luca from there to Italy.  Plenty of time for me to obsess about that.

Good news.  I received my letter confirming my Italian citizenship.  Gary can now make an appointment to apply for a family visa to come to Italy.  He then can apply for Italian citizenship...we'll see.  The process of getting Italian citizenship was arduous.  I applied for it under Juris Sanguinis...this is the rationale that is used to attain this type of citizenship.  My father's father was an Italian citizen.  My grandfather came to the U.S., married and had my father before my grandfather became an American citizen.  My father never renounced his Italian citizenship.  He probably would have, but he was never asked.  I never renounced my Italian citizenship, so voila' I am an Italian citizen.  It isn't that you apply for citizenship, it is that you apply for the documentation that verifies the citizenship you never renounced.  Oh, these clever Italians.

Proving this took me four years of documentation.  I had to document my grandfather's birth from Italy (the easiest part), his marriage to my grandmother (fairly easy), his American citizenship (very easy since I had my grandfather's American citizenship papers), my father's birth certificate (very difficult).  My dad was born in Detroit, and I couldn't get a copy of birth certificate.  Since he wasn't alive to request it, they said I couldn't get it...lots of people in Detroit seem to want birth certificates for nefarious means.  Anyway, after a big struggle, and the intervention of a government state representative, I got the birth certificate.  Then I got my mother's birth certificate, their marriage certificate, my birth certificate, my marriage certificate, (3 of them!) my divorce papers, (2 of them) and then had them apostilled.  Don't even ask about that. If you think it was amusing to talk to people in Tennessee about an apostille, you would be mistaken. After all of that, I received a letter from the Italian consulate saying I was an Italian citizen.  Now I need to make an appointment and get my Italian passport, while keeping my American passport, and I am fully documented and don't have to worry about this type of Italian paper work again.  What a process.  It took me 4 years.  I thought it would take 6 months.  I did it without the aid of an attorney...

So when we retire to Italy next year, we should have all of the paperwork we need.  Now if we will only have the apartment next door so I don't have to have my clothes stored in boxes under the bed, I will be happy.

Here is a photo of last night's dinner. When you cut into the noodles, the whipped egg, and parmesan cheese, oozes out.  There is pancetta and asparagus that is on top of the noodles.  Sublime dish! We are off this morning for another food adventure.  There is a place in Cortona I have been wanting to visit.

Mezzaluna carbonara

Friday, June 15, 2012

Welcome Back Susan

We arrived with the least amount of troubles.  For those of you who don't travel a lot, flights that actually take off, land on time and in the correct place, are unusual.

We picked up Adelle within 5 minutes of our arrival.  Although she went through Paris, she did not fall or otherwise harm herself.  She was a last minute addition to our trip and we are very happy to have her.
Simone was at the Rome airport to greet us, our luggage arrived, intact with no problems.  Other than the fact I dropped my MacBook Air, which now has a black moth like structure in the left hand corner of my screen, the trip was without incident.  A miracle.  We used the Clear Card to go through the TSA fiasco in San Francisco.  For frequent travelers, it is great.  You bypass everyone, put your card in a machine, it reads your irises, and you cut in line in front of everyone going through the xray machine.  We didn't need to show passports, drivers license etc to the TSA. Slick.
Saturday Organic Market
It is beautiful in Italy.  Sun is bright, there is a slight breeze coming through my window.  I always forget how noisy these Italian birds are.  They are out there communicating that the crazy Americans
have usurped their space once again.

We are unpacking.  Guess which pile is the Stoic One's?
I need drawer space.  This leads into the buying of apartment number 2 story.  By the time I leave her in July, we will either have bought the place, or I will find another apartment.  The Italian bureaucracy is not something to engage with if you are impatient by nature.  I have now learned the term "factual need."  This means what is the reason you need something.  Note the verb want is not even considered.
So my factual need for closing on apartment 2 is that if I don't I may start bopping unsuspecting bureaucrats on the head.  Do you think that will work? Any ideas for a factual need for closing on the apartment will be well received by moi!
Off to look for more boxes for my clothes.