Sunday, January 18, 2015

Animal blessings

Today is the feast of St. Anthony the Abbott, not to be confused with St. Anthony from Padua. Anyway, the Abbot St. Anthony was a hermit who lived in the desert in Egypt with only animals as his companions, so the story goes. And so on his feast day, domestic animals are blessed. How could Luca miss this?We bundled up, put Luca in his best sweater, and trundled off to church.

This is the outside of the church, known as Christo Risorto, or sometimes unkindly called the modern, ugly church. I don't think it's ugly, just different from the other churches. I have always had a soft spot for misfits.

I asked the Stoic One to take pictures of dogs and their owners. This is my favourite.
They are both so handsome and at peace in their world. This is macho at its best!

Not all of the dogs were peaceful. They greeted one another in peace but some had issues as we waited for the priests to arrive.

Some dogs were quite large:

Some dogs were quite small:

Some dogs were well behaved, such as Luca and Georgia

Others, not so much

We had a few horses show up

And the priests seemed happy.

All in all it was a successful day. No major fights. We all received a blessing as well as an individually wrapped roll, and we continued on our day. Hope you all had a lovely Sunday as well.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Come mai Umbertide?

Winter has arrived. We can see things clearly now without the leaves that have blocked our view. The Stoic One has been let loose again with his camera. This was Umbertide this morning. People, mainly Italians, ask us "Come mai Umbertide? How come Umbertide?" The Tiber River (Tevere in Italian) is one of the reasons.

This is our bridge that crosses the river and the the path we take Luca on for his walks is to the right, barely visible.

The stillness of the water this morning afforded this reflection as we looked across the river. It is this stillness, the "tranquillita'" as the Italians say, that makes us fall in love again with Umbertide.

I have always been fascinated with rivers. I grew up on a small island, Grosse Ile, in the middle of the Detroit River. The Detroit river is about 28 miles long and is between 1/2 and 2 miles wide. The Tiber, Italy's third longest river,  after the Po and the Adige, is about 250 miles long. Its width, not so much. The source of the Tiber are two springs that flow from Mount Fumaiolo. The river's major claim to fame is that Rome was founded on its banks 753 BC. When we look across at our river, it is hard to really comprehend how long it has been there with people living on its banks.

Yesterday we went exploring in the back country looking for new wineries. Our guide is Luther our sommelier for our adventures. He and Gary are both quite taken with the Sagrantino grapes of Umbria. Sagrantino is called "a beast" of a wine.  It can be laid down for many years..We have the cantina for it if not the life span or will power. If you come to Umbria, I recommend you stop in at some of the wineries along the back roads. The people are very friendly and the wine is excellent.
strada del sagrantino

Luther led us to the hinterlands of Montefalco to the Tabarrini winery.


This is Daniele, our guide at Tabarrini. Note how his shoes match his sweater. Don't you love Italian men?

Of course not all Italian men look like this. The wine maker there was a sweetheart, but didn't look like he was a fashonisto.

Even straight from the stainless steel barrels, the wine was good.

 This is some of their wine getting ready to be shipped to Los Angeles where you can drink it at high end restaurants for $25.00 a glass!

Or you can visit the winery and have a tasting for free.

After this adventure, we went to Bevangna for lunch at Trattoria da Oscar.

Great wine, great food, great friends, what could be better?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Cultural Adjustment

There are now three American couples who have retired here to Umbertide. Joseph and Paul arrived first. Joseph blogs about his life experience at "A Passage to Umbria": a passage to umbria
Nancy and Luther arrived this summer and Nancy has been blogging about her experience at "Nancy goes to Italy": nancy goes to Italy. I encourage you all to read their blogs for other points of view about life here.

All three couples have gone through various adjustments in beginning their new lives here.  All of us loved Italy before we arrived, had traveled here frequently and we had all studied some level of Italian. Each one of us wishes we spoke the language better and knew more before we came.

Besides the language, Gary and I have gone through our ups and downs of adjusting to life in a foreign country. In a former life, I was the wife of an Air Force officer. We lived in Libya, on Wheelus Air Force Base before it was closed. We used to say that military people only liked 2 posts; the one they just left and the one they were assigned to next. What does that mean for those of us who will have no "next post?"

I found this chart, which I think accurately describes some of the adjustments that we have experienced.

For most people who come to visit Italy, including yours truly, they are in the "everything is new, exciting and different" part of the curve. Think of the beginning of a love affair. A new love often equates to a better love, whether it is or not. At this stage, everything is fun, wonderful. We are enchanted with the new. And then, with time, things shift. The endorphins start to wear off, and reality starts to seep in. I have always hated it when this stage is over. I used to say when "the reality of Monday morning laundry sets in" you know the affair is over.  It just seems that one day the veils that were over our eyes are lowered and we begin to see reality more clearly.

Things that were amusing, are no longer so. Life in Italy is very inconvenient. As a tourist, I found this charming. Going to different markets for items was an adventure. As someone who lives here full time, not so much. It is draining to have to think where can I buy envelopes? Where do they sell furniture polish? Instead of "how charming" the mantra becomes "why can't they...."

Luckily, this state of annoyance doesn't last very long. We are jolted back to a happy state by reminding ourselves, WE LIVE IN ITALY! We are living many people's dream. So what if the plumbing is archaic, so what if you can't get any type of food other than Italian. We love Italy so what's the problem?

Unfortunately, this stage doesn't last for long either. Before you know it we are plunged into a real sense of the "Oh, my god, what am I doing here" feeling. The culture of the US and Italy are signficantly different, sometimes in ways that aren't so great. The three couples constantly hear Italians lament, "Why are you here? Our dream is to go to the US." Eventually we asked ourselves the same question, "Why are we here?"  This can be a very difficult and depressing time. It is easy for couples to turn to each other and say "Whose idea was this anyhow?" If our relationship with Italy were a marriage, the shoals of disillusionment loom large. Many marriages crash on these rocks. In Italy the rocks shows up as"nothing works here." The focus turns to all of the things that are wrong with the country rather than what is right.

Here is another chart of cultural adjustment. Note Stage 3, the Re-Integration stage. I think many ex-pats get stuck here. I have heard several ex-pats (not Americans) say, "Italy would be great except for the Italians". Huh?This sense of superiority is a dangerous thing. It can creep up on you when you are most unaware. I have been guilty of this in my frurstration about Italian's inability to market themselves and their products. But who died and made me Queen of Marketing?  Here is another look at the stages of cultural adjustment. You need to know that I am favorably biased about these types of charts. As a former organizational development consultant, I love models. I think they are helpful in bringing meaning to chaos.

I found that visitors were the antidote for me to move from stage three to stage four. It is hard to criticise the food, the people, the life, when one's visitors are swooning over the beauty of the place, the deliciousness of the food, and the simple and healthy life style we are living.

I think at year two we have arrived at stage four thank god. I understand where to find things. I understand how the taxes work. We all understand, more or less,  how the drivers will behave, and how to respond to them on the autostradas. (Gary says they drive either too fast or too slow and they are always unpredictable.) I now feel better equiped to face whatever Italian dilemma presents itself. My language is competent, if not great. I know I can talk my way into and out of most situations.

My friend Paul thinks we move dynamically back and forth between all of these stages, sometimes in one day, I don't know. It's too hard for me to think of it that way. I do know that I am very happy to have left the overall feelings of stage three and remember why I initially fell in love with this crazy country. I see Italy more clearly now. I accept that the country is both charming and frustrating. The Italians still make me laugh. The countryside continues to restore. The food really is delicious and healthy. The Italian culture feeds my soul. My neighbor recently asked me why I was here when she dreamed of being in San Francisco. I answered that Italy was good for my soul.  She looked at me and nodded, "Italy has a lot of soul." And that my friends, is the truth from my perspective.

So I am back on track. Not quite to stage 5 yet, I don't really feel like I am myself again, but I feel closer to myself than I have been for quite a while.

We are planning our year, with trips, guests and projects. I am taking on a major writing project to put together a guide of agriturismi in northern Umbria. I am rededicating myself to the language. I will speak better next year, and I will be more consistent in these posts, so you will have to put up with more philosophical musings in the year to come.

Italy is a heart breakingly beautiful place to be. It is a country with such deep flaws and such staggeting beauty and gifts that it is easy to be seduced here. We fall in love. We fall out of love, and then one day, we realize that our love is deeper and more abiding than shifts of time. And that is a good thing.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Christmas in London

One of the reasons we wanted to live in Italy was to be able to travel throughout Europe. Italy seemed centrally located and Umbria is in the center of Italy. We have travelled a lot within Italy this year, but for Christmas we decided to leave Italy and venture forth to London to meet friends from the US. I must say that London is stunning this time of year. The street lights were mainly white with some red and blue accents. The lights seemed cheery as opposed to manic.  

When I was a young girl, Carnaby Street was a famous, "happening" place. Photos of Carnaby street in the 60"s

It was fun to see it now with its charming shops and whimsical decorations.

If I had to sum up in one word the feeling of Christmas in London it would be "refined." Christmas is, of course, commercialized here, much more so than in Italy. Even commercialised, London is an elegant, walkable and delightful city.

We were very lucky to spend Christmas with our friends Tony and Erin. They had a good friend who is a professional chef, who invited us to her cottage for our Christmas dinner. It was so charming. It felt like I was in a PBS series. The weather in London was sunny and cold. It was also, by the way, filled with Italian tourists. London at Christmas should be on everybody's bucket list.