Saturday, December 13, 2008

Back from the USA

Being gone for three weeks felt like three months. Not to mention the change of temperature. The weather in Firenze is typical for the time of year: cold, rainy, overcast, dreary. And I was met with a very chilly apartment since the heat had not been turned on since I moved in. There in the living room were the 15 boxes of American crap that had turned up while I was gone, only 18 weeks late. Thank you Charles for being the receiver of the goods. (Sounds truly felonious!) So a monumental unpacking job: the boxes, my suitcase and naturally a heap of stuff brought back with me. I never go "back" without some extra stuff, 'cause you can never have enough "stuff" (viz. George Carlin). I have nearly a year's worth of book club reading, pots, pans, linens, waaaay more clothes than I need, a few shoes, kitchen gear sufficient for an army mess, and the right salt. Just the basics.
I had a very nice visit to CA: completed the doctor visits I needed; survived my birthday with my dignity mostly intact (only one singing session); had two thanksgivings both delicious (Yea, Lisa's turkey and pies!!); a great visit to LA to see Aaron (complete with star sighting); lunch/dinner/chitchat with most of my pals and family; some "only in SF" events including a 49er win (actually "once in a blue moon" for this!) and a fabulous series of food memories. Now back to the unpacking of boxes. I should be done just before the lease is up.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Watching change

Spent last night with some friends at an alleged election night party that turned out to be a dark, loud, third rate rock concert directed at the binge drinking crowd. Had a pair of lousy g&ts and came home early only to find nothing of use on the computer. So I set the alarm for 5am because I knew that CA polls would be closing about then. Arrived on line just in time to hear McCain's concession speech. Found it heartfelt and sympathetic and he sounded like he really meant it. Then Obama's speech (in front of 125K crowd! How does he do it!!) which left most of us in tears. Missing only Al Franken victory, Ted Stevens repudiation, and Prop 8 failure. I was hoping we were going to see the end of the Abortion/Gay Marriage/Creationist distraction game but not yet. Dawn broke on a sparkling bright, shiny day where all's right with the world.
I'm not sure Americans know how much the people in the rest of the world cared about this election. Most countries I've visited love Americans even if they hate our government. And they really wanted to like us again. In my travels over the last two years, the third question asked of me, after where do you come from and how do you like Italy, is how we get rid of George Bush? And since January, I am nearly always the expert of choice: Hillary or Obama? I always said I don't care, any Democrat will do, but now I am really pleased that it is Obama because of his incredible "presidential temperment". The man seems unflappable! And I think the next four years will have molto flaps. I have heard many black Americans saying "I am so grateful I lived to see this!' Me too.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Italy bits: Berlusconi has released a CD of himself singing traditional Italian songs just in time for Christmas.
The Education Minister has introduced a set of new regulations to "improve" the schools and the students (high school level and college) have gone on strike and occupied the schools. They are milling about in front all of them and there are bedsheet sized signs hanging like wash from all the windows. This week and last there were huge demonstrations in all the major cities which included a sit down on the rail lines in Milan and a punch up between them and some hard line conservatives (read Neo Facisti) and the cops in Rome which drew the unions into the fray and last Thursday they called a general strike. I couldn't tell.
To endear himself with the aforementioned students, Il Cavaliere (Mr. B) went to a private school where there was no strike since they aren't affected, and told them "I only sleep three hours a night and I can still make love for three hours! You should be like me when you are 70 years old!" I'm sure they were impressed. (If it takes three hours, you're doing it wrong.) He won the election last April with enough members that they have passed the law excluding him and the top five members of the government from prosecution, saving him from any continuation of his trial for corruption. Interesting that he seems to have run for office to keep himself OUT of jail. Here you get three shots at a “get out of jail free card” and never see jail before the appeals are completed and never at all if the sentence is less than three years since the jails are completely full. Not because they catch and imprison a lot of criminals but because they don’t build any new ones. Life usually means 10 or so depending on your pull.
Lastly, November is white truffle month and there are festivals celebrating them all over. They are the food of the gods.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Had my first visitors this week. A childhood friend of my nephew came with his lovely lady friend for several days. They were delightful and we had a lovely time. I took them on a recon trip around the center the first day. They are pretty intrepid so I could set them loose upon the city to find their own way around. But together we went to the San Ambrogio Market on Saturday and bought a massive amount of food, in particular these yummy sausages that I love. Then we ate our lunch there and proceeded through town on the cute little electric shuttles that make it so convenient to traverse the carfree zone. For dinner we cooked lots of our loot and got truly stuffed. I will have leftovers through November! Then there was the wine thing: we drank lots. Dinner on Monday was somewhat accidental since we had planned a movie but they only had the Italian version of Vicky Christina Barcelona. We were forced to make do with a brilliant dinner at my fav here, Quattro Leoni. Our last adventure was an overnight to Chianti and Siena, stopping in Panzano for a lovely lunch and eating dinner on the Campo in Siena. The return trip took us for a short stop in Monteriggioni, an adorable tiny walled town, and San Gimignano of the towers. It was my best visit ever to this tourist mecca because they were mostly gone! We ate in a tiny restaurant and while they hiked around, I caught the fabulous view at the Punta Panoramica and drank an amazing Vernaccia (the local pour) which I naturally had to buy. They took of yesterday, with what I took to be a mixture of regret and relief. Looking forward to more visits.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Book Reports

Without much TV worth watching (Italian TV really sucks except for a quiz show that functions as a language lesson and old, dubbed, usually American movies) and with lots, AND LOTS of free time, I have been reading madly. Well, I’m not usually mad but some of the books make me a bit peeved: 13 books in six weeks. But it is pretty costly: about 15€ each for paperbacks in English. Of course, I should be reading in Italian but that is still incredibly slow requiring a dictionary for almost every sentence. So I joined the British Institute which has a large (largest in Europe, outside UK) English language library and also lectures, recitals, and movies. Currently they’re doing David Lean. Can’t wait for Lawrence of Arabia and the later ones. Anyway, some of the stuff I’ve read and a few comments:
The Passion of Artemisia, Susan Vreeland. A half biography, half historical bodice ripper about Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the few women to actually make it as a painter before the modern era. Aside from leaving out a whole lotta facts, Vreeland makes free with a lot of incongruous deep thinking that is just too Oprah for me. Ordinary prose and a single plot line that leaves her talking about her art as filler for a “search for love and understanding.” There are the obligatory descriptions of places and food to give it authenticity but it’s thin gruel.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessel. A mad murder mystery with more metaphors (or is it similes) than you can shake a thesaurus at. But fairly engaging and nicely convoluted.
The Betrothed, Alessandro Manzoni. The seminal Italian novel written in the 18th century about a couple in the 17th, in approximately the same period as Austin and the rest of the early romantics. Fated lovers spend way too much time trying to get married. Lots of evil lords and dimwitted clerics, saintly monks and gnarled rustics. Prefiguring Umberto Eco, whom I love, there are long discourses on many of the characters and of course they all live in castles and have names found on the streets around here. Must read for Italian students who hate it.
Julie and Julia, Julie Powell. A depressed writer decides to prepare all (ALL!) the recipes in the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Aside from my adoration for J. Child, the inventor of Good American Eating, and my own personal food goddess, this adventure is amusing and pleasantly tasty, kinda like a nice potato soup.
The Monster of Florence, Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. Well, this is a gimme: a) I’m in Florence (duh) and b) Tom Cruise just bought the rights to the book and you all know how I just LOVE Tom Cruise and those wacky Scientology folks. Well, no. But I was stiffed trying to get into the WORLD PREMIER of Miracle at Saint Anna and decided to eat dinner in the center hoping there would be a late show that I might get into. (There is this theatre that shows OV – original version sound = English) And I didn’t have anything to read and there it was, so I bought it. There was no later show, so I went home and the damned thing kept me up until 3:45 when I finished it. Pretty good stuff. Reveals the grimy underside of the Italian system of “jurisprudence.” Lots of dark forces influencing the path of justice and the freedom of the media. Cripes, sounds like the US. Now if only Tom doesn’t ruin it and put a cape on the American author.


It is truly hard not to emulate Frances Whatsis of Under the Tuscan Sun infamy and write up my food experiences since the food thing here is major. Outside the front windows in the pizza, there is one old woman (who am I to call anyone old these days?) who runs a little truck stand every day and she is usually joined by at least two others. She has mostly indifferent and tired veggies but occasionally there’s a prize winner. Then on the weekends there are often wine tastings (30 wineries last weekend Fri/Sat/Sun) plus some kind of organic fest or food party showing off slow or at least medium fast products. I can buy honey and jam and marmalade from adorable hippy dudes or smart cuties from farms within a hundred mile radius, and need to stagger only a few steps with my bundles to be home. Yesterday I got a loaf of lovely sweet smelling whole grain bread that went beautifully with the pumpkin (not your average JackOLantern kind) soup I’d made the day before. Spread with ricotta (which is not the grainy, tasteless US version) the bread was great, hard to say about most Tuscan bread. I was told that the reason they make the bread here with no salt is that one of the Lorenzo’s or Cosimo’s put a tax on the salt so the bakers said “Phooey, no more salt for you!” And so to this day the bread here is blahx2 and usually stale. Hence the need for various forms of schmutz to spread on this stuff. So finding a lovely soft FRESH loaf even one made of some unknown and unpronounceable mystery grain seemed like a real eureka moment. Today I ate more with risotto made with some of the soup, diluted , red wine and parsley. Now where are those hundreds of threatened visits or was that the gin?

October 1, Today is the day!

Today is the day!! And here is the TelecomItalia guy right on time. It could be that I will have telephone and internet and better tv by lunchtime. Sorry, pranzo! The whole project has only taken six weeks! And required me to schlep the bloody computer to the internet point a dozen times. I’ve learned the hard way that you have to connect to the internet pretty regularly and LET THEM DO THEIR UPDATES or things get rather clogged. And fiber doesn’t do it. Last spring when I was here, I had a partial meltdown because I had not been updating regularly and then some big update arrived and locked me out of my everything. Once I got home to the love and care of my gurus (that would be Matt and Karen), they put in all the updates and all was peaceful in the computer kingdom. But it was a lesson learned and now I make a point to put this thing on line regularly and CHECK FOR UPDATES. It feels a bit like being haunted or having a multiple personality disorder.
Well, not today. RATS!! Seems that by having the technico delay his install, (there was that floor thing) my internet order expired. He will be back tomorrow morning, he thinks. This is really not a huge complication except that it is all in Italian! Telephone and internet stuff is bad enough in the states when you can actually ask stupid questions in your native language, but in Italian. Bah. Well, we’ll just see what happens tomorrow.

Sunday in the Piazza

There was an organic food fair in the piazza yesterday. Thirty or forty vendors selling homemade organic wine, vinegar, oil, cheese, passato (tomato base for sauce), homegrown veggies, organic wool naturally dyed; a lovely collection of country products. The sellers were just the same beads and sandals, back to the land folks you’d find in Northern California except for the occasional German or French interloper. I bought some goodies including a ceramic plate for cheese. I need to be careful however. I still haven’t learned how to make just enough food for one person and typically throw too much away. The standard plan here is to buy for tonight only unless one is going to make their own soup or broth or sauce. The same old ladies appear every morning to buy their veggies from the same old vendor in the same old place as last week (or last year or last century probably). This is just the place to buy Christmas presents as long as you understand the shipping and weight issues. Almost everything I have bought to bring back to the states cost as much to send as the original price.

Economic Rant

The current disaster of the American economy and the European, Russian and Asian dominoes is not an accident. Daddy was right: this decade (actually three if you start with Ronnie’s lies about the “supply side”) of Voodoo Economics and its unmitigated greed and plunder WAS THE PLAN! The winners are those Ponzi players who got out of the game early enough to keep their loot. The losers are the “conservatives” dumb enough to choose leadership based on who they want to have a beer with and the rest of us. Distracted by shiny objects like abortion, gay marriage, and sex ed, these deluded voters didn’t recognize the game of three card monte being played by the likes of Chaney and his cabal. The Neo-cons (accent on the con) and their accomplices like Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, perpetrated the ultimate free lunch scam on every boob who bought the “free market” mumbo jumbo. All I want to know is when do we shoot these looters? At least the ones in most civil disorders are either hungry or poor. And the most egregious irony of all: they insisted we couldn’t have universal health care because A) it is too expensive and B) it would be “socialism” and C) it would put the government in charge of your choices. Do you want the same people who were monitoring the derivatives market in charge of your health? Actually I’d rather have the Italian (or Mexican) Post Office. Since we have now effectively nationalized the entire banking industry, I hope I never hear another idiot ranting about the dangers of socialism. Nothing in the financial sector will change until we have rules that are clear, fair and enforced and the looters are in the slammer. Has anyone seen Grover Norquist lately? He is surely all wet, not least from strangling something in the bathtub.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I Love A Parade

Well, the weather has finally changed. Last night and most of today it rained solidly. The sky is still overcast, the air cool and refreshing and it looks like it will continue for a while. I am very glad. I was really sick of the close humid heat, especially at night. My bedroom has been over 26 or 27 degrees most nights since I arrived and frequently 28+!

I credit it all to the Madonna of Lourdes who showed up here on Wednesday night. She was dragged through the streets at the head of a huge crowd, probably over 3000. She got to ride in a sled of course, with flowers at her feet and wearing new duds, natch, but they made her visit nearly every church in town while all 3K of them sang and prayed constantly. I spotted the line coming out of the Duomo on my way home around 9.15P and walked at speed to find the head of the parade. I passed nuns and nurses and brothers and monks and lay groups in costume (including those scary proto KKK hoods) and ambulance drivers (ambulance drivers?) and EMTs. There is some connection between Lourdes and physical debilities, as I recall. And when I got to the front of the 2 K line, there she was up on the shoulders of several monks on her pallet. All the followers carried candles with little paper wind shields and rosaries and each group has a tapestry identifying them and their city. Seems they came from all over. She’s very popular, you know. They even had bishops and monsigniors with VERY fancy outfits. There was a fantastic sound system broadcasting the prayers and songs and every 500m or so there was a set of portable speakers on wheels being rolled along so the latter saints could keep up. I left the group at my favorite short cut to go home only to find them in my piazza when I arrived. The church doors were open and the lights on and the bells were ringing. It was a lot better than the noisy, drum accompanied, drunken, litter festival that usually appears there most nights. But then she went to check out another of the branch offices in Piazza del Carmine. Thanks Madonna, for the visit and the cooling rain and all the fish. And for a more charming experience than that other Madonna.

The Concert

We went to a concert. My friends Andrea and Fawn have rented a house by the sea in Tonfano on the west coast of Tuscany. A friend, Claudio, organized a grand musical evening with dinner for a crowd of us, maybe 35. Everyone was commanded to dress up. We drove off towards the mountains. You can see the “caves” where the marble has been quarried but much of the area is green with pine tees and olives or scraped raw to the crags. The site was an old mill now a restaurant with all the old grinding stones still in place. We had bits of food out on a ledge with a view of hills and orchards and the tiny river that once ran the mill dribbling over the edge of a former dam. There was a woman singer and a guy with an electric piano. The music played and the sun set and we began to regret that we had dressed for the beach climate and we were in the hills. A bit of prosecco and more music and it got colder. And then we began to share jackets and collect car blankets and one even put on the hiway orange emergency road trouble vest required of all cars here. He even lined it with newspapers! Finally after almost 3 hours of music and long discourses in Italian about the origins of the songs and their meaning we were able to sit down for dinner. (Italians NEVER eat before 9PM!) But outside! I sat next to Fawn’s daughter-in-law Alexia, Luxembourgeois with French, Italian and English! She has an adorable 9 month old baby girl. We talked babies and education. The road vest guy handed out newspapers, David, the Italo/Brit, spent much time talking to me, we had plenty of food and coffee and dolce and sambuca and more conversation. The party was finally over around 12.30 and we rolled home. But I think I’ve had all the Burt Bacharach music I can hold and I don’t think I will ever get those songs out of my head.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Music in the Piazza

There’s a tango concert this evening with a flutist and a violin and a cello and an electric piano and the air is warm and there are dozens of people lounging in chairs and watching and the music is very nice unlike the last few concerts which were either loud or inharmonic or LOUD. I have a first row freebie seat for these concerts since my windows overlook the piazza. But when there is music, I prefer to observe the party from the square itself. More autentico. I think these concerts will continue for the month of September and possibly into October if the weather holds. We are warm and comfy just now but the man in the military uniform on TV says that the forecast for tomorrow is for changeable weather with a chance of showers. Actually I don’t mind if there is some variation in the clime since this resolutely bel tempo is getting a bit boring. Being from the SF area which changes weather from morning to evening, consistency is my hobgoblin. So soon I will order another G&T and dissolve into simple audience mode. It’s a nice night.
Music in the piazza v2.0. Last night a different group played. This time it was up tempo New Orleans style brassy jazz. Loud but good loud. The crowd was very appreciative with many more dancers than the tango group. Well, this music allowed a more free form style of dance. They even had some playful tricks with a balancing act and some schtick with water. Then one of the crazy denizens of the piazza accosted me and tried to lecture me on using a computer in the area reserved for paying customers (but I had a G&T, natch) and my Italian was no match for his fractured English. He sat with me for a bit and plied me with odd questions until the music ended and I went home. All the way to the other side of the piazza.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Well, things are starting to happen. It has been a dry week what with everybody away for the August holidays. I was caught between ennui and depression, starting to develop heroic buyer’s remorse. But. I was swept into the drama of a displaced Georgian violinist who is reduced to home healthcare for the aged, one Nino. “Is boy’s name here,” she said in her fractured English. I stopped at a particular bar on the Arno which has a lovely view of the Ponte Vecchio as it turns a lovely series of earth colors during the sunset. Then you can turn the other way and see the windows of the Palazzi turning gold and the upstream bridges mirrored in the now relaxed stream. And they make a great gin and tonic. She was smoking and NOT buying the pricey drinks. She asked me a question about telephone cards, a ploy maybe. But for the next hour and a half, I heard her story, long and desperate. A violinist, she plays an Amati, once for the Moscow symphony, now she feeds elderly Italians whose kids only call weekly, weakly. “Be my friend, my sister, you go to Georgia, you need only ticket, after, my family take care everything!” I could not help but be affected and I told her I would do what I could but I was new here myself, blah, blah. She showed me her credentials and her clippings and told me her story and we talked about music and opera and travel and as tragic as she was, I was glad of the conversation and the interest. Maybe it was the romantic venue or the sentimental atmosphere but I truly wanted to be of help. I just have to get my own thing going here.

Italian Rigmarole

Italian rigmarole is not a dance. It is the life blood of people with little else in their lives but making others' lives complicated. I have been to the Quaestura to report myself as required in all of the documents in my possession. After several hours in different offices, they aren’t interested. They sent me to the post office to fill out a set of forms which they freely admitted would only be returned in time for my departure. I have obtained a codice fiscale which is supposed to permit all manner of financial transactions except the ones I want to execute like resurrecting the telephone line which ostensibly lived in the apartment so I can install broadband (forget wireless, just give me a connection!). I have been advised by David, intrepid Italo/British pal, that I should install a targa (nameplate) on the array of bells at the downstairs door so the phone co will find me but I am concerned that the landlady will be compromised since she hasn’t registered the lease, so I pause, wondering. Do the post office types rat to the lease bureaucrats? Well, maybe it will get better when the entire world comes back from vacation tomorrow or Tuesday or Wednesday or whenever. At least tomorrow I can go to the school and take advantage of the expertise of the ladies there, even if I have to sign up for a conversation class to make it legit. Parlo molto Italiano adesso! But apparently I need to learn curse words.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Homeless at last

I got out of the house at last on the 31st of July. Homeless at last! But I did it the Mill valley way with a Mercedes, a computer and two cell phones. Of course I had a whole collection of drek that I couldn't get rid of so it lived in the car for two weeks. And now I fully understand why truly homeless people keep so much crap: you never know when you will need some extraneous thing. I kept trying to consolidate things: a recipe collection which only had ten or twenty heirloom recipes but buried in an hour's worth of paper tossing; an album project from years past that need thinking and glueing; a couple of boxes of ancient school papers with some blackmail material buried deep; crutches - a great sympathy ploy for the plane but try using them with three pieces of luggage!; an ever expanding compliment of luggage - I ended up shipping more stuff; Chinese scrolls that never sold; files to take, receipts to store, and bills to pay; a fur neck piece that was impossible to wear in SF without risking animal fan's wrath - off to Italy with you, if not there, then a ritual burial; miscellaneous gifts dredged up from the travels of years past - perfect hostess gifts. I learned that you can give stuff to people, they will be grateful, and if they hate it they can toss it later in the privacy of their own home. And sometimes you can either mail it or just abandon it on their doorstep. I did enjoy the "cousining around" as my mother called this kind of friend/family visiting especially since it allowed for a one on one experience with several friends even if I sometimes needed my schedule to remember where I was sleeping that night. My last spot was with Kristin and Dennis who marvelously took me to the shuttle and are babysitting the last two cases until they get shipped. Just bought stamps for the thank you notes. Now to find a fan for the nighttime heat.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Move Progresses

I have torn up every room in my house. There are books and boxes and furniture piled up everywhere!! My bed is on it's side due to rewiring of the reading lights. So I'm sleeping on the guest bed which is very high and quite firm and which is lovely and nearly new but doesn't want to sell. I should keep it and sell the other one but I love my soft, comfy bed. The renters have allergy problems so they don't want any of the rugs which also don't want to sell. And the books!! I had no idea that I had so many books. And I haven't opened most of them in years. Some in thirty years! Why keep any of them? Just the Italian history. Luckily a friend has looked them over and flogged a few for a nice bit of cash.

The packers/movers came today and are busily wrapping and rapping and packing away. They are a nice crew of part time musicians and artists with an interesting variety of hair choices. Groovy dudes all. But there must be some corollary to Parkinson's Law that states that the goods expand to fill the available pod. After packaging, my "stuff" was easily twice the volume I had expected. But after years of time wasted playing Tetris - which I recall is a video game - the boss and his vice chairman were able to perfectly fit it all into the 8x8x16 POD with a bit to spare so I saved the golf clubs. Haven't given up actually playing my age, but now I need to live to be 105.

Friday, June 27, 2008

On stuff

George Carlin died last Sunday. His comic philosophy was all over the news. Most relevant for me was his rant about STUFF. I am up to my eyebrows in 40+ years of STUFF! And George appears posthumously all over radio and TV, reminding me that it’s all just STUFF. I am pleased and only a little surprised at how easy it has been to eliminate so much of it. So how do you handle all your stuff? When I was sick in January watching dreadful TV, there was a program called Clean House where families with way too much STUFF are persuaded to get rid of lots of it so the bossy host and makeover team can fulfill the show’s mandate. Why do people accumulate so much STUFF? And why is other people’s stuff so dreadful? As George said “Other people’s stuff is shit and your shit is STUFF!” Glad to see the back of most of it. Regrets later.
Then in the NYTimes yesterday was a lengthy article about the tyranny of the HEIRLOOM! Melinda doesn’t want the mahogany table from Nana and Jonny doesn’t have room for the Deerfield chest. I am looking hard at all this STUFF. If you are going to spend real money to put it in storage it better be because you want it not because X left it to you. I have said goodbye to a lot of real drek. I just hope my children appreciate that they will not have the three week, four dumpster purge to handle when I die. But there’s still time and Italian STUFF is so much more interesting.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


I have spent two days and perhaps ten hours with Dennis, Kristin's husband making the ultimate slide show of our pictures from last fall's trip to Europe. She and I met in Berlin, then visited my friend Angelika in Koenigstein followed by a tour of the Black Forest and Lake Konstanz, flew off to Rome where we met up with her sister Charlene, then Firenze and Siena and finally Venice. The total number of photos taken was just short of a googleplex. Some of them were actually good. But the best ones were human interest shots, I think. Those of you in the Bay Area will be able to see this magnum opus when you come to my send off party; no soft restraints will be used, just a continuous loop with loopy dialogue to comment on the locale since it may not always be obvious where we are. However, one of the funniest is herein attached for your amusement. Sage advice: make sure your camera is turned off before you stash it in your purse.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Texas Two Step

I visited Baytown Texas with my friend Elsie. We went to see her sister Corinne and husband Raymond. They picked us up at the airport and drove us to their condo. During the ride, Corinne directed Raymond to "git on this lane, Raymint, git on that one" and he obediently did so. I asked it they were church goers and was told they had a pretty good new preacher but he "preached real hard." I would be welcome to come along.
They lived in a tiny space in a complex with a view of the refineries that dominate Baytown and give it the look of a space station parking lot filled with alien vehicles. The air is thick with the smell of the refinery and so hot and humid that leaving the AC in the condo you feel like you have been hit in the chest with a wet pillow. Corinne (Co-rene) took us to Galveston to see the beach. They let cars drive on the beach and the waves are no higher that 6 or 8 inches and warm as bath water. Quite different from your basic California beach experience. On the way home we stopped at a roadside stand to buy shrimp: the place was completely timed in bright yellow and blue with at least ten different sizes of shrimp. We boiled up the whole mess and threw it on the table to shell and eat. They were utterly delicious!
The next night was Saturday and we wanted to go listen to music so they treated us to the local dance scene. A huge space the size of two bowling alleys had only one of the three band stands occupied. We four sat at a tiny table with beers. Raymint finally danced with Elsie. While they were on the floor, Co-rene confided "Raymint, he cain't dance. I got to lead 'im." Then one of the locals asked me to dance: a tip of his stetson and "would y'all like to dance, ma'am?" A huge guy with a belt buckle the size of a football and high heeled cowboy boots. It was like dancing with Ferdinand the Bull, as he huffed and puffed and led me around in the Texas Two-step. More quiet waiting and then Raymint finally asked me to dance. And he could dance like Fred Astair!!! At the end of our trip around, he did a dip!! Imagine being married for 35 years and missing that.
On Sunday we went to church. It was a single story brick structure sprawling around a huge grassy lot near a woods. The place was jammed! They had 200+ children in the Sunday school! Standees lined the walls. And of course the preacher preached "real hard" and actually thumped the bible several times. I didn't follow the intense sermon which seemed to bounce randomly around the old testament, and the assemblage was quiet and solemn when I was hoping for enthusiasm and affirmations. But the whole trip was a visit to another planet and a true adventure.

Memorial Day

I am not a fan of Memorial Day. I always thought that the celebration of dead soldiers only led to more of them. I admit I liked having someone put flags on the graves of relatives many of whom served (Navy, Cavalry and proto Mash units). But today I heard a very nice Memorial Day story on NPR: it seems that a French woman has created an organization that is dedicated solely to decorating the graves of the American war dead near the D-Day beaches in Normandy. They come from all over France on Memorial Day to tidy and place flowers and flags on the graves in the American Cemetary at Colleville-sur-mer. The founder was interviewed. Her lovely French-accented English described how the group does their work and sends photos of the graves to the relatives in the states, many of whom are too old or distant to visit. But the part that made me really feel the sense of the day was the comments of a man who travels all the way from Paris to this place to remember the Americans and what they did and died for in 1944. He said "Excuse me for speak French. I never forget them. I thank them for their sacrifice. God bless America." Then they played the Star Spangled Banner and he choked up and made me cry. As a frequent traveler to Europe, I have never really encountered bias against me as an individual, but America as an institution gets a lot of gas lately. How reassuring that ordinary people still remember the things we did a long time ago that were so important and so hard.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Finding an Apartment

After two trips to the Italian consulate in SF, it was made clear that if I wanted a extended visa, I would have to have a rental contract for the period of my stay. I had learned from the lame website - needs a lotta help!- that I would have to provide my own health insurance and show sufficient income. I had almost everything in hand the first time I visited. The visa official looked at my stuff and asked about my income statement:
"This is your annual income?" With the rent from my house it looked fairly substantial.
"Are you married?" I thought he was deciding if it would cover two people.
"No, I'm a widow."
"Will you marry me?" he asked.
"Of course!" says I.
But then the rental thingy arose.
"You must have a rental contract for the whole period." Period.

So, I spent many hours searching for a standard rental on the web. Most of the available places were tourism sites with weekly rentals in the thousands. And all furnished, which I don't need since I want to cadge some stuff for myself. And nobody answered the e-mails I sent. And the phone numbers were often "not obtainable". And lots of them had been photographed with a fisheye lens, making assertions about space very unreliable. So I finally decided I had to make a trip for the sole purpose of renting something. I left on a Monday, arrived late on Tuesday and bright and early the next morning arrived at an agency that seemed to have the best selection. Nobody home. Finally arriving an hour late, the minder sent me away until 11 or 11.30 when the important people would arrive. When they showed up, we made arrangements to see two the next day, Thursday. Plus a spot offered by a friend of a friend, that made three. But minutes before the appointment the next day, the agency pushed it off to Friday and eliminated one!! Now we're looking at Friday afternoon and I am leaving on Monday AM. After a loud and animated conversation with these clowns, I pulled out all the stops and called everyone I knew to see what was possible. A second hand reference led me to a sweet aussie gal who showed me one that day: between Ponte Vecchio and Piazza Signoria, in the middle of the tourist parade, with a two burner imitation kitchen. Nope. But the promise of Friday was something in Piazza Santo Spirito, just where I wanted to be. On Friday at noon the agency dude, Aldo - all is forgiven! - showed me a nice place with a terrace, the holy grail of Firenze housing. Then Pza Santo Spirito. A big portone, wide stairs (think groceries in a carrello), a foyer, a dining room, large living room, a brand new kitchen, and a decent bedroom at the far end of the place away from the noisy (so what, I'm gonna be deaf eventually) piazza and two (2!!) frescoed ceilings. Crappy furniture a twin beds but I can do my own thing there. Took me all of ten minutes to decide: "I'll take it" Not more expensive than the others, but a fabulous place. Room for hardy visitors. A kitchen with an oven = eggplant parmigiano. Right over a cafe = morning coffee in seconds. Walking distance from Palazzo Pitti. Yea.
But then a mad rush before banks close to get the cash needed. Taxi to Citi branch, but whoa, they've been sold to Banco Di Roma THAT DAY! So more mad dashing to American Express for a huge cash advance, just in time to meet the landlady and aussie agent at 6. Signed and sealed by aperativo time. Actually had a whole day of down time before getting delivered to the Pisa bus and then the airport and the plane to JKF and luckily an upgrade from NY to SF and on the next Thursday, my application went in and yesterday Voila! a visa for one year!

What's the cat's table?

Last September I was in Venice and decided to take a boat ride up a river called the Brenta. This is the route that the upper crust took to escape the evils of hot summers in Venice; think malaria, typhoid, cholera. They built wonderful country homes along the edge of the river. This is the stomping grounds of the famous Palladio so the cruise offers lots of lovely vistas. I sat near a charming woman from Austria and we exchanged stories of grown-up ladies en voyage. Come lunchtime, the "organizer" , one of the least organized organizers I've encountered, seated us all at various tables in the restaurant where we stopped. I was offered a solo seat right in front of the kitchen doors. This is the classic spot for unaccompanied women "of a certain age" (=middle or better): it's the least desireable table in any restaurant because of the noise, the rather unsightly view and the likelyhood of being ignored by the waiters. I have been relegated to this spot in restaurants from China to Italy and everywhere in between. Do they think I'm deaf? Or an embarassment? Or likely to drop food on the floor? I never accept this spot! In the establishment nearest my home in California, when I objected, the snippy teenager who tried to stuff me in this spot basically left me standing in the middle of the dining room while she "checked" with someone about whether I would be allowed to sit with the grownups. In this case, I said no grazie and sat with my Austrian chum. She told me that in Austria, this location is called the cat's table most likely for its snacking opportunities. I decided to name my blog after this view of life: choice morsels dropped by the traffic of life, with a side of crabby observations from an occasionally invisible critic. Very cat like.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Moving to Italy

In March, I decided to move to Firenze. Sometime in the middle of the month, it occurred to me that I wanted to be there, not here. I asked a friend if he would go into business with me and he said yes and so it seemed to be a good idea. Then I wrote to my family with a-z reasons why and it seemed like an even better idea. (ex post facto reasoning is my favorite kind) Here's what I said:
I want to try living here. My financial situation means I will need additional income within a few years at minimum. I have avoided a regular job because it would curtail my traveling. I have been trying to find a way to do business with/in Italy for at least 4 years. People have suggested that I open a bed and breakfast based on my ability to cook and entertain and make them comfortable. One friend actually suggested that I could be helpful in showing him how to prepare his family home to become a bed and breakfast. I think I have found the perfect partner, someone who has experience and knows the territory. I have a good group of friends there, supportive and experienced in business. I stayed in California for my grandchildren but now they live a long plane ride away. That wouldn't change but I might be able to lure them to Italy. I have a lifelong goal to be fluent in Italian and it isn't happening in CA. I was offered work teaching English and giving tours to tourists three times in two days. There are many Italian American families who have shown interest in having someone to supplement the English taught in Italian schools as well as improving the language level of the parents. I am well qualified to do this. Life is short.
So my plan was:
1. Return to US (but a week late) home on the 8th instead of the 1st.
2. Rent the house for enough to at least cover the costs of this move, possibly for income.
3. Return to Firenze bag and baggage between August 10th and September 1st to stay for the at least a full year.
4. Organize my self (lawyers, accountants, stockbrokers, feng shui experts, and possibly wizzards) towards a business plan including a partnership to advance the plan of opening a bed and breakfast sometime after a year or sooner if things work out.
5. See the doctor, cut my hair, have my head examined, sell my car, put a lot of stuff in storage, work on the garden to get ready for the wedding, take Allison to France, visit Mineral King, attend Music Weekend, pack, blog, fly. So far everything is falling into place.