Thursday, January 30, 2014

A sense of community Italian style

When I talk to different Americans about why they love Italy and or why they would like to live here,  a common answer is "life style."  I also love the Italian life style. But what exactly does life style mean to people? As people discuss this topic further, they talk about life being at a slower pace, which means that they live at a slower pace.  What makes the pace slower here, or to think a bit differently about it, why is the pace in the US so fast?  One reason, which I have talked about ad nauseum, is the difference in our understanding of the value of time.  Coming from Silicon Valley, there was a sense that time was a precious and finite resource.  To not value time, brings up the idea of profligate spending.  Italians, as opposed to most Americans, have a much broader sense of time.  I think that it is based upon living in a place that has been inhabited for more than 2000 years. I am still struggling with the idea that time is something to be enjoyed rather than segmented, and accounted for in a total reckoning at the end of the day.

Life style is a way of living that reflects our values, habits and attitudes.  My life style here in Umbria is quite different than my life style was in Oakland, California.  It is not only that I am in a small town.  I have lived in small towns in the US and trust me it is not the same as living in this small town in Umbria.  For me life style also includes a sense of community; the emotional experience of community; a sense of belonging, of identification, of feeling emotionally and physically safe; a feeling that I can influence others and they can influence me. I feel all of these things in Umbertide.  I know that part of this is because we are retired, and so we can take the time to integrate into the community here.  Part of this is that there are not many Americans in town, so the citizens here still have patience and interest with foreigners.

We had lunch here the other day with a mixed group of Italians and Americans.  We talked about how you can never really "belong" in a small community like Umbertide.  I said I belong here as much as I want to belong.  Quite frankly any more feeling of belonging would feel very invasive, but that is just me.

I have a very simple example to show how a sense of community works for me here.  We were leaving town for a few days, and asked our friends Joseph and Paul to watch our dog Luca.  Before we took him to their home, we had Luca bathed and groomed.  (He came back with a bit of a short hair cut.) When two of the Italian women in town saw Luca, they almost had a heart attack.  "It is too cold to have the dog in such short hair."  "Luca will surely catch cold without a coat. What was Susan thinking?"  So far this might seem like criticism rather than sense of community.  What happened next seems like it could only have happened here.

Clementina and Simona decided that Luca needed a sweater. so they got him one and put it on him!  It looks a bit like a horse blanket to me.  They were so sweet to do it.  They thought I might be mad, but I was touched that they noticed him, were concerned for him and took steps to fix it.  That to me represents a sense of community.

(When I got back in town, I did return the pony blanket and got him a proper US sweater.)

A sense of community Italian-American style.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Having McDonald's and a hot dog in Florence

Sometimes guests who are visiting us, have a longing for American fast food. I think it is difficult for people to totally change their diet, even if the new diet is delicious and healthy.  So for those readers out there who are visiting Italy and have a hankering for American fast food, here are some comments from my guests.
The McDonald's in the train station has a regular American menu and the food tastes like it does in the U.S.  The store is clean,  the bathrooms are free and the security guards forcibly run off the gypsies who ply their trade. 
Hot dogs, with mustard, (sorry no relish) can be had at cafes. The cost is about the same as it is in the US.

Any comments from others who have eaten American fast food in Italy?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

January in Venice

In the winter Venice is like an abandoned theater.  The play is finished, but the echoes remain. (Arbit Blatas)

Venice is a slippery, mysterious, seductive city. Its narrative is one of romance, longing and escape from the harsh technological drama of the 21st century. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called drama "that willing suspension of disbelief, for the moment, which  constitutes poetic faith…"

Can you enter this city and for the moment, suspend your disbelief? Your logic tells you that this is a city that can not survive.  It is feeding off the mortal majesty of generations past and its history is not sustainable into the future.  Other than artifacts, we believe that the past is not worth preserving if nothing new is added to complement the thinking. And yet… in this place, in this heavy laden city, we preserve and revere the past and do not ask what we can add, or change or supplement,  only how can we keep from destroying that which has been done. That desire to be connected to something larger than our own lifetime, our own generation, creates within us this poetic faith of place, and hope. If ever a city emblemetizes poetic faith, it is Venice.

Look past the poster charm of this photo.  What do you really see?  A canal of water where there should be a street alley.  What does this mean?  Why does this charm us? What is the narrative of this place behind the stillness of the watery reflection.  Do you see what Colerideg meant by poetic faith?  There is a poetic faith that this stillness, this captivating scene evokes more than the reality of a polluted body of water and a city that is slowly sinking into the ruins of its moors.

That is what you must look for when you visit Venice. Just take a moment. Only for a moment, to look past the reality, and perhaps you can catch the shimmer of light that can break through the cold realism of our scientific heart. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

January in Asocli Piceno

January is the perfect time to travel in Italy, as long as there is no rain or fog.  On sunny days it is almost impossible to sit quietly home.  The urge to explore comes over us, and off we go.

The first place on our agenda was Ascoli Piceno. We went there with our guests after January 6th to explore the sales.  I love to shop in this city. First the city is absolutely gorgeous, second they have the nicest sales people, and finally they have great clothes, all within walking distance, with no car needed.  Driving to Ascoli Piceno from Umbertide we pass the wildest looking territory. It is hard to believe that there will be a town in the mountains, much less one as stunning as this.

Saldi is the word for "sales" in Italian.  January is the month. The sales start on January 6th and continue til the end of the month.  Everything in Italy, by edict, is on sale! This is when I buy my winter coat, sweaters, etc.  I try to contain myself during the rest of the year.

In case you think all I do is eat and shop (not too far from the truth), we also did some sight seeing with our friends.  We discovered the reopened crypt in the town Basilica  that we hadn't visited before.  It is stunningly beautiful.

I am not Catholic, so theses saint stories fascinate me.  Anyway, this is the crypt of Saint Emygdius.
There are restored mosaics on the ceiling, travertine marble on the floors and elegant columns throughout.

The actual crypt of the saint is also down here, but I am not too much into the relics and dead saint bones thing. I think the protestant strain of the family knocked that out of me.  It just seems creepy and weird, but this place was bright, and comforting. I could have stayed down here for a while, but the Stoic One was pushing on.

The piazza in this town is one of the most beautiful in all of Italy, in my opinion.  I love it. The decorations for Christmas was out these shooting stars coming from the tower.  Very dramatic.

I love Italian children in the abstract.  These little darlings are waiting patiently for their ice skates to be put on.

Isn't this a great scene?

Have I mentioned that I love Umbria, Le Marche, Italy????

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Assisi at Christmas

One of the lovely things about having guests is playing tour guide, which means I need to do a little research myself, and when I do, I discover new things.  Adelle's friend John has never been to Italy before, so we are showing him all of the sites of our province hoping he will fall in love and return many times.

We decided to take him to Assisi, a town that is only about 30 minutes from us.  We had been there many times, but on this visit to Assisi, I decided to look up Rick Steves and see what he recommended.  He had a walking tour which I downloaded, printed and we followed.  It came with a map and was easy to follow, and he had very interesting comments along the way. Here is the link if you are ever in Assisi and would like to follow along.

A few comments about the history of St. Francis and Assisi before we begin the tour.  The town of Assisi has a population of about 24,000 people.  Its sister city is San Francesco, California. The history goes back to 1,000 BC and was inhabited by the Umbrians, Etruscans and the Romans. Without a scorecard, the back and forth fighting of these Umbrian communities is very hard to follow.  In modern times, Assisi is mainly known for the birth of St. Frances and for people who make religious pilgrimages to the site.  In the summer bus loads of tourists arrive and it is difficult to feel the spirituality of the place.  In the winter, it is much more serene and pleasant, in my mind, to visit. One can almost imagine St. Francis walking in the green hills that surround the town.

Now as to St Francis. He was born Giovanni di Bernardone in the winter of 1181.  His father called him "Francesco" the Frenchman for reasons that are still debated. One of the things that struck me this time, is the similarity in the life history of St. Francis and the Buddha. Both were born into families of wealth and privilege. As young men, they lived a hedonistic life style.  Both had an awakening, after years of isolation and prayer.  Both men have had a historic impact on people way past their life time.  They both taught by example rather than admonition. Interesting comparisons.

In the town of Greccio, between Terni and Rieiti, St Francis was the first person to use the nativity scene as a way to teach the story of the birth of Christ. This year I have become very interested in the "presepio" or nativity scenes.  They are an art form here and seemingly the principle way to celebrate Christmas. Most of them are so sweet, and detailed.  It is hard to imagine.

On the walk into Assisi, I saw a sign that said "Presepio" so of course we had to walk down the small alley way and view the nativity scene.  The sweetest man was there, by himself.  He was so proud of the town that he had recreated.  The Stoic One asked for his email so he could send hims picture, but he doesn't have an email account, cell phone, web site, etc. He said he started it 5 years ago as a project in his house, and he adds to it every year.  Needless to say, his wife was unamused and so he found this tavern to house his creation.  It is the Upper part of Assisi.  The photo really doesn't do it justice.

This was in one of the churches.

This was in a store window that sold carvings of olive wood.  So beautiful.

We walked into town following Rick Steves' map.