Finalmente!!!!

Finally!

I have been in Italy for an entire week, but it is only today that I have found the energy to post my first blog. My personal recommendation for travel would always be to NOT get really sick and then fly, but sometimes it cannot be helped.  I manged to contract whatever was plaguing the local elementary schools just prior to departure.  Compound that with 10 days of intense preparation for the bakery helper extraordinaire, Bonnie,  in my absence in order to keep you Wasillians in scones and cinnamon rolls and you have a tired, worn down, stressed out Nonna who needed to go to bed for three days but was actually headed for the airport.  Team Worrell/Larson mustered their resources to get me pharmaceutically propped up, delivered to the airport and launched. Sam the Magician, showed up at my house to help me do the final chores that I was simply too exhausted to complete – like getting all the plants in the same room and watered, getting the dishes out of the sink and I don’t remember what else, but it was critical to departure.

I crashed so hard on the first leg of the trip I don’t remember anything beyond buckling my seatbelt and then waking up feeling absolutely puny.  Now, here is something that I have never done before but had a most impressive effect. I pushed the light for the stewardess, asked for help to get down my suitcase, and simply looked exactly as I felt.  The result – she called for a wheelchair for me to leave the airplane.  I couldn’t believe I looked that bad, but apparently I did.  The real surprise came after that, as she set up assistance all the way to Milan!   I was just sick and miserable, not dying, and I didn’t ask for any help except to get my bag down, cause I was sure I just couldn’t manage it. I must confess, it did not seem like overkill to me, it was just right.  I would no more have been able to hike the Serengeti that is the Seattle airport to my connecting flight than have pushed a PeopleMover bus up the Butte.

A charming addition to wheelchair assistance is being moved to a better seat, first on the plane, and no waiting in line for Passport approval.  Pretty slick.

Once in Milan and reunited with my baggage, which you are not allowed to take on board if you cannot handle it yourself, and was checked for free, I was wheeled out to the correct bus to get me to the Milan Central Train Station by the lovely Signorina. I had enough Italian to compliment her on how strong she was pushing my “grande coulo” around (big behind)  She was tickled by my Neapolitan dialect and completely too familiar expression. But, it was a great icebreaker and we chatted while we waited for the Italians who were obviously out roasting the beans for their espresso before they finished unloading the second half of the luggage.  A pleasant 20 minutes.

One final note on cultural differences in wheelchair assistance between the US and Italy – the size of the wheelchair.  The first unit that awaited me in Seattle was a little like a snowmachine trailer that had backed up to retrieve me. It was WIDE and there was room for me, my purse, my carry on and probably  a miniature horse.  The wheelchair in Milan was a delicate, narrow affair; upholstered, not plasticated, and possibly no armrests, I don’t recall.  it was only a few inches wider that the big-wheeled, cargo van was folded up. It made me feel less like a Wide Load traveling down the highway than the Seattle affair. Always a nice touch.

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On the Road Again.

It has been a LONG time since I have posted anything. A strange two year interval while my life was realigned for me by the Powers that Be.  There is much to catch up on, but mostly there is what lies ahead……and that is my upcoming trip to Italy.  I think I am finally close to getting my restaurant up and running, more on that later.  For now, stay tuned because it will be a short trip, about 3 1/2 weeks but will include some interesting stops.

 

Here's a reminder that in Italy, pizza can have ANYTHING on it, even french fries and hot dogs.

Here’s a reminder that in Italy, pizza can have ANYTHING on it, even french fries and hot dogs.

HOwever, this will always be the Classic!

However, this will always be the Classic!

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Boun Natale

This morning I woke up at 7:11 AM, a big improvement over the typical 3 am or 4 am departure from slumber that I have been experiencing for the last week and a half. The real joy was I woke up, and then got up. That is a combo that has not happened since the day I returned. Don’t know what exactly was going on but I feel like I just woke up from a coma, or stepped out of a bell jar from which I could see the world but not feel much of it. Jet lag, depressive dark, mini flu, I don’t know, and I don’t care. It is gone now and that is what counts. It could be that I have had a big dose of babies and grandbabies in the last few days – that is pretty much the best medicine there is!

I had such wonderful adventures in Italy and I did not share nearly enough of them with you. I am going to give you a mini slide show that will cover a broad range of experiences, just to make you smile.

My welcome in Asti hotel

My welcome in Asti hotel

The Hotel Lis was in Asti, near as i could afford to Alba, the seat of the white truffle harvest.

Chestnuts

Chestnuts

or aliens??

or aliens??

Chestnuts. Gathered, salted slightly in VERY thin shells and roasted.

Chestnuts. Gathered, salted slightly in VERY thin shells and roasted.

Yummy - and different from any I have tasted before - which include - roasted, smoked, burnt, and over priced (Milan)

Yummy – and different from any I have tasted before – which include – roasted, smoked, burnt, and over priced (Milan)

That whole “chestnuts roasting on a open fire” thing, is really very good.  They use chestnuts to make a candied sweet, dry them into rocks which they then recook with water and sugar, make into a filling, add chocolate, grind into flour which they use to make pasta, etc, etc.  The part I love the best about eating them while walking around town is the double bag they come in.  One side holds the warm chestnuts while the other side holds the shells. Very efficient.   The further south you go , the more likely you are to simply get a piece of rolled up paper to hold your nuts, sans the fancy sidekick.

Pasta lesson

Pasta lesson

In Bologna – with Maribel Agullo

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The best!!!

The best!!!

Learning to roll with the mattarello

White truffles of Alba

White truffles of Alba

Truffle Hunter

Truffle Hunter

About $2,000 per pound.  🙂

Wines of the Laghe

Wines of the Laghe

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What an opportunity to learn!

Order a glass of wine at  pm, and this is what comes with it.

Order a glass of wine at pm, and this is what comes with it.

THIS is what steak looks like in Florence.

THIS is what steak looks like in Florence.

Are you seeing this Kent- These are the tomatoes I want for Nonna's

Are you seeing this Kent- These are the tomatoes I want for Nonna’s

Not bad, huh.

Not bad, huh.

Truffles with eggs – the most I could afford.

N'duya - Calabrese hot sausage packed into a stomach - good stuff!

N’duya – Calabrese hot sausage packed into a stomach – good stuff!

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THIS is porchetta. If you get ANYTHING else than this, it is a fake. Be looking for fakes at Nonna’s while I work my way up to spit roasted whole local pork.
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When you are surrounded by excellent provolone you forget how amazing it is.
Who has this much Parmiggiano-Reggiano?  Hopefully, I will at Nonna's

Who has this much Parmiggiano-Reggiano? Hopefully, I will at Nonna’s

Oops! I think that is actually Grana Padano.

THIS, THIS, THIS - is an espresso.  If it is not this, than it is not an espresso. See why I keep coming back here!

THIS, THIS, THIS – is an espresso. If it is not this, than it is not an espresso. See why I keep coming back here!

About to taste some amazing wines at the Salon del Gusto.

About to taste some amazing wines at the Salon del Gusto.

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Why are you not coming with me on my next trip??  Get your piggy bank and your calendar out – looking at January 2014.  About a year from now. Start putting your pennies away.

Ciao for now.

Marian

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Two Hills and A Neck.

Some of you may wrongly assume that I can speak Italian based on the fact that I have not only been here a few times, but have managed to find my way back – in one piece.  If you have not gathered from my previous blogs how incompetent I am in Italian, let me spell it out for you now.  M-y   I-t-a-l-i-a-n   s-t-i-n-k-s!  It is better than nothing, I have taken multiple classes and I can read cookbooks without the aid of the dictionary, but really, how many times do you get to use the phrases, “beat the egg whites until they are mountains of snow” or “put it in the pan with the garlic” in a sentence?  Also, reading is easier, since I have time and visual recognition going for me, speech is less good, but at least I get to put the phrases together using the nouns I know and keeping verbs in the infinite.  Listening, on the other hand, is a high speed cluster.

 

First of all, they speak fast, perhaps not faster than I speak in English, but to me it is impossible to get every word, more like 2 -3 per sentence, maybe.  Also, they don’t use just a subject and a verb and add tense, gender and direct objects with hand gestures the way I do.  They actually conjugate their verbs, and, frankly, I don’t recognize them.

 

Having been the recipient of the behavior described below, I rehearse how I will not do this to foreign speakers when I get the chance.  It goes like this.  They babble something, I screw up my face in a special way that means, I don’t know what you’re talking about, perhaps, shake my head slowly and add, “no capito”.  In response to that, the Italian, anxious to have me understand them, repeats the same words again.  Then, receiving no visual clues that I am getting it, they hone down their sentence to one or two key words which they then repeat several times in rapid succession.   This does not actually help in much the same way it does not help a deaf person hear if you shout at the top of your lungs.  If it is a gentleman, the older he is, the greater the likelihood he will quit on the conversation adding both a particular hand gesture (one hand only) and a particular grunt which both translate to, “It’s hopeless, I give up.”

 

My experience with women has been different.  Often they speak to me in line at the bread bakery, or in fruit market, not usually in the supermarket as they all seem a little out of sorts and in a big hurry there. It is an idyll comment, like you might say to someone in line at the grocery store.  However, I rarely know what the heck they have said (again, facial expression, head shaking).  They don’t seem to care at all that I don’t understand them, they get it, they look at me, and then go right on ahead talking to me as though I did.  I think it is a social interaction that does not really require comprehension, just acknowledgement.

 

Now, with my landloard, who is old and male, it is an entirely different story.  We have a bond that cannot be waved off with a grunt; I am his tenant, for the second time.  He speaks the Calabrian dialect, see below, he has teeth, although they are not all next to each other and they are predominantly gathered on the top.  I say this for two reasons, one – I suspect this may be part of my difficultly in understanding him, and two – due to his particular way of communicating I have had ample opportunity to have a really close look at them.  Mr. Landlord, dear soul that he is, is very hard to understand, and a request to slow down does absolutely no good whatsoever.  His method is similar to the typical older male, repetition, but not with truncated sentences.  He repeats the entire thing, over and over. Since we are not on the street somewhere, but rather I am in his apartment, sitting in a chair, at his kitchen table (where all discussions take place), with his wife across from me observing intently, leaning in, and occasionally repeating the sentence for him, as if a feminine voice might crack the code, the dynamics are different.  He is persistent and I am captive.  He is not a particularly tall man, but he remains standing and as he repeats his sentence, over and over and over, he leans in just a bit more than the time before.  This is how I became so informed of his dental pattern.  I think he somehow hopes I will get it if he just – gets – close – enough.  I, on the other hand, am more and more aware of my incapabilities which in turn switch my brain to mush mode.  I am sweating slightly and praying that he will use one new word, just one word that I can grab hold of, swing on it and fly through the air of verbal discourse grasping the next trapeze and getting myself the heck out of there.  After a particularly long session, Mrs. Landlord announces, “No capite”  She doesn’t understand.

 

And a word about dialects. They have dialects here, seriously, dialects – NOT accents.  Yaw’ll might be a strictly southern contraction, but it is the same language.  Buhjularu is not guanciale.  They are two completely different words, from different languages, for the same thing – pig jowls.  For now, don’t focus on why this came up.  I was schooled up last night by Romina, on the significant differences between Calabrian and Italian, with a multitude of examples.  The whole thing got started because I asked Rosetta, the cook, what she was making and she said brasciolini, which, according to Romina, they were not. Brasciole was from meat, and these were from rice and that makes them polpettini, not brasciolini.   I chose not to bring up the seemingly obvious fact that a polpetini is a meatball, but in case I was wrong on this translation, I let it lie.  Besides, she was on a roll.  I have seen this in action before, between my mother and my father.

 

My Dad was always full of Italian expressions.  I am guessing they are Neapolitan, as that is where his family hails from.  The scenario unfolds like this – every time.  Dad says something in Italian that is rhyme-y or sing-songy.  I know it is an expression begging for translation.  I say, “Dad, what does that mean?”  He says, “I don’t know, ask your mother.”  Now, first of all, of course he knows, he said it, so, why bring my mother into this.  But, since I have been down this road before, I ask my mother, who is eternally in the kitchen.  “Mom,” I barely have to raise my voice because Dad is eternally at the dining room table, a meatball’s toss from the kitchen, “what does that mean.”   Mom’s response, “I don’t know that’s your father’s language.”  That much of the scenario is always identical.  It is then followed by a translation, “in his language” followed by a translation in real Italian with the regular footnote that that’s the way it is supposed to be said, but then it wouldn’t rhyme.   This is capped by a brief, third person chastisement of the Neapolitan dialect and a reminder that she speaks PURE Italian.  My father utters no words throughout this diatribe and I never noticed before, but I bet he was smiling to himself.

 

When it comes to dialect, the difference are real.  The same word in dialect is unrecognizable to me and also to many Italians who don’t speak that particular dialect.  Romina pointed out, in much the same tone as my mother, that Giando speaks Calabrian, a little like it was a case of herpes – not curable, but manageable.  And this is why I depend so heavily on Google Translate!

 

While in the US, I subscribe to several Italian websites and try to dope them out myself.  I go to Italian conversation meetings on Saturday mornings and read my Italian cookbooks, even rent an occasional Italian film.  However, this is like going to Lamaze class, all fun and touchy feely but bears as much resemblance to actual childbirth as Tang does to orange juice.  Here, in the vaginal canal of verbal intercourse, it hurts.  Giving birth to a sentence with five words is a major contraction and a conversation that absolutely must happen is the definite of transition.  Nothing feels better than when it is over.

 

Here, I can only take so much Italian before I yearn for English, or at least American.  Here, I turn on Google Translate and let it decipher all my websites for me.  It is enough that I have to learn how to ship olive oil from Italy to Alaska while taking into account Italian law as well as the FDA, USDA and the IRS, I don’t have the energy to do it in Italian.  Since I have an Italian internet connection it assumes I want Google.it, no matter what I want.  It translates everything, English to Italian, Italian to English, until I tell it to stop.  Sometimes it gets into a loop from one language to another and I can’t keep up.  Such a thing happened last week when my friend and I were checking how much baggage British Air would allow us to check for free.  I was sure it was two bags, so civilized of them, but we wanted to be sure.

 

While we had BA.com up, we were approaching from an Italian ISP, apparently that matters, because it was in Italian.  I clicked the translate button and it would shift in a lazy, delayed fashion to English, just before it translated English back again to my supposed native tongue, I tried to find the correct button to push to get us to Baggage FAQ’s.  We really tried to stay ahead of the translator so we could fine hone our question down to how many bags if you are flying cattle status.  Unfortunately, between not being completely sure if we were World Travellers Y, or World Travellers Eco, and because we did not recognize the Italian translation of those categories, we simply has to trust the in Y class you get two hills, but in Eco you only get a neck.

 

Ciao for now,

Marian

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“Baby, don’t take my Vodafone away”

Things can get frustrating sometimes. For example, when I am in the middle of a halting, monosyllabic, sentence fragment and I cannot think of the word or use an adequate hand gesture to make myself understood. I then frantically dig out the pocket dictionario and scan the tiny pages while my poor Italian counterpart is rolling his eyes and wondering why he didn’t become a pharmacist as his father suggested instead of getting in the tourist business.

Trains can be a source of frustration also, like when I can’t find the correct platform during a train change because they don’t bother to print it on your ticket.  So, while I am going to Catanzaro, I in fact, must take the train to Naples. How this is determined is a much longer lesson. It is enough to say that when I finally figure it out and run to the platform, toting my luggage first down 25 steps across the hallway and then up another 25 steps, I see my train pulling out of the station. Frustrating, yes, but in Italia there is always another train, and there is always a coffee shop in which to wait. A little frustration – but resolution. It is OK.

Frustration with Vodafone, on the other hand, is its own special brand. Vodafone is the company from which I purchase internet time. It is very simple, you give them 20 euro, they give you a little card and you put it into a little key and plug it into a USB port. Done. If I recall correctly, they, like TIM and WIND the phone card companies, even ask you what language you would like to install. I always pick English, just for fun. Of course, I have never gotten a message in English, not a text message, an audio message, or any type of written instruction that actually arrives in English, but, you know, I hope. The first few times I made an unsuccessful to call to American it was followed by a very pleasant mechanical voice speaking in perfect, albeit high speed, Italian explaining to me the exact reason for my failure to connect with my family. I have no idea what she has said and unlike America, there is no option to “Push 2” for English.

But, the internet is my connection to the outside world, my peek into FB, my email to family (when the phone won’t work), my SKYPE with the grandbaby, not to mention my train scheduler and my hotel reservation-maker and my Mapquest to find that hotel when I arrive in a new city. So, when it gets recalcitrant, I get crabby.

I worried a little when I decided to down load a movie. The last of my visitors was gone, I forgot to load any movies before I left, and I don’t have TV or a radio. I needed to insure I would hear at least a little English in the last two weeks. Last time I was here I spent a little too much time listening to some American music on the internet and after that a true nightmare began. The connection got slower, and sloooower, and sloooooower….and sllooowwweeerr. Eventually, I received nothing, though I could see that I had a good connection. With nothing but time, three months in Soverato with a 6-midnight job, I dove into the problem. It is important to understand, that while I always carry my tiny dictionary, I rely quite heavily on the Google Translate. So, when messages came up from Vodafone explaining something to me, I was unable to go to Google to translate it. It required hours of word by word translation, without the benefit of tense, gender or adjective forms. When I finally had a rough idea of what they were saying I decided to fix it myself. Depending on how well you know me you will be able to gauge the absurdity of this endeavor.

Armed with the basic translation I opened my C: drive and dug in – into the device drivers, the cookies, the ISP settings, and I even reset my computer back to sometime in 1975 to undo the mess I had made previously. After about two days of complete frustration, three trips to the Vodafone office, packing my computer and an attitude, the non-English speaking salesperson suggested it was my computer and NOT Vodafone. I honestly don’t recall how I found a computer repair person, but I did. I brought him my computer on day four, leaving it over the weekend because his connection was soooo slow that downloading took hours upon hours. I feared for what the actual cost would be and that all my data might be gone, but happily it was only 20 euro and it worked.

On my way to work, working computer safely in my tote bag, Dansko-esque shoes on my feet, I walked an unfamiliar street while looking someplace other than the road ahead. Of course, I stepped on something uneven (note the Dansko reference), lost my balance and took a spectacular fall that was preceded by the particularly ungraceful maybe-I-can-save-myself vaulting steps accompanied by the flaying windmill arms that actually launched the computer from the tote sending it skittering down the asphalt three feet ahead of me and I landed with a thud right on my face. Fortunately, there was an entire veranda full of young people drinking coffee just slightly elevated from my streetside performance. Several young ladies rushed to me aide asking me if I was OK and shouting updates to their ringside friends about my status and my country of origin. I was up, embarrassed, shaken, worried about my computer and late for work. I packed up, thanked everyone, and pressed on until I was out of sight. Then I found the first seaside bench I could and had a look at my skinned knee, bleeding fingertip, torn tote bag and somehow perfectly intact computer, shed an involuntary tear or two and then headed to work.

With this memory a mere 18 months old, you would think I would have hesitated to download a movie, but things had been going so swimmingly. The first sign that something was amiss was the fact that the bonus item with my movie wouldn’t download. That was followed by a message, strikingly like the one I received last time. Every detail of the last fiasco flashed in realtime. I spend an evening and the next day trying to download emails, open FB or even get Google to respond. I simply couldn’t face that fact that this was happening again. That night I gingerly checked every item in the Vodofone repertoire before I even contemplated opening my C: drive.  I found a little box labeled Time. I don’t recall this box being there before. I opened and it said I had used my 5 gigabytes but I still had 10 days left on my contract. Actually, it didn’t say that, but there were charts and graphs and quite a few Italian words, some that I recognized. I closed it and reopened it, three more times, to assure myself I had not fallen down the rabbit hole. Yup, sure enough, another 20 euro and a new SIM card and I am back in business.

Ciao for Now,
Marian

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Beyond Description

I don’t how I will even begin to tell you what today was like, and it is not even finished yet.I came to Italy this time with the express purpose of participating the raccolte, olive harvest. That did not work out when I arrived in Terlizzi to find my friends no longer made their little castle available for overnight stays and we wound up in a different place. The harvest never came up, our communication is minuscule and we opted for other adventures. BUT, 3 weeks later i have spent the entire morning and afternoon following the harvest from tree to nets spread on the ground for harvest, to hand pickers, to the fattoria for crushing, through the centrifuge and finally, pouring thick and green and opaque into a small pitcher and then watched as our host poured it onto our waiting slices of Calabrian bread. Calabrain bread that is equal part bread and holes, so the oil dripped to the floor below until I cupped my other hand under it to save every precious drop of the beautiful oil. I wiped what i could of the oil up with my bread and when I had finished I rubbed the remaining oil right into my skin. Gianodomenico encouraged us to wipe our lips with it as well to keep them soft.

After 6 hours of traipsing around the hills, seeing the baby sheep in the corral, the adult sheep grazing in the olive groves and having a stupendous lunch of homemade Calabrian meats, cheeses, wine, olives and pickled eggplant, spread out on an overturned olive basket. That basket was at least 4 feet by 4 feet and lunch arrived with a small cutting board, a tablecloth and plastic glasses. No need for plates of any kind, we simply put it all on our trenchers of bread. WE were dropped off at our door, in the pourig rain for a good nap, but will meet for dinner at the restaurant in a few hours for olives, anchovies, oil and pepperoncino fried up together and eaten on bread. I can hardly believe this man spent the entire day educating us. It was an experience of a lifetime.

I must nap, more later and pictures also.
Ciao for now,
marian

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BFI and Pepe in Scatola

So who is Pepe, what is he doing in a box, and what is BFI? I think you are all familiar with BFE, just change out Egypt for Italy and you have it. Pepe is the voice in the box(scatola) called Garmin and everyday we remind ourselves what a good investment he was.

I met up with my friend Rene in Bari after both of us had had long travel days, hers much more taxing since she had zero Italian and had to navigate from the Rome airport to the Rome train station and then get a train across the country to Bari. That is no small feat. My trip was merely long, very long, 12 hours long, so since I was traveling on the fly this time (instead of planning it down to a gnat’s eyelash) and I hadn’t bothered to see just what the travel time was from Torino to Bari, pretty much from the top to bottom of the country, I decided to fly, which sounds easy, but nothing really is and I will spare you the details (mostly because I cannot remember them).  Well, I do remember one detail, the plane was late – surprise!  No direct flights from Torino to Bari, so a stopover in Rome was essential and if I missed it I had no idea when the next one might be.  As it was, I wouldn’t arrive until about 10:30 pm.   So, I anxiously waited and watched as the time slipped away and the agent at the gate calmly and earnestly lied to us at regular intervals about what time we were departing.  I can’t imagine he expected us to believe that we were departing in 20 minutes when the previous guests on that Alitalia flight were still sauntering off the jetway like there was nothing but time.  When he called us to board finally, there was a semi-polite crush of businessmen and luggage.  Everywhere I saw signs that stated that there to be only a single small carryon, and everywhere I saw two and three bags apiece, which was good, because I had my suitcase loaded with cheese, my good ole breathing apparatus, and a bulging purse.  The medical device doesn’t officially count, but it is real and I hoped it would sail through.  The stewardess of course, wanted to help me load my luggage in the overhead compartment-poor old Nonna’s need help lifting bags- however one tug and she called for help.  She communicated to me that it was too heavy for her and I should have checked it.  There was a weight limit, 8 kilos.  Really, a weight limit.  Why wasn’t that posted somewhere?  I had 8 kilos of cheese alone, forget about socks and underwear.  OK, scolded and a tiny bit regretful I sat down in my middle seat and wished the plane into the air.  The pilot took over for the gate agent lying to us about our arrival time.  There was nothing to do but take a deep breath.

When we finally approached Rome the truth came oozing out over the PA system.  “Well dear passengers, it seems we are a little late in arriving (like it happened all of sudden while they were in the air).  We know that you all have connecting flights, but unfortunately we are parking the plane a little far away from the main terminal.  Actually, we are parking in Greece, but don’t worry, we have a bus that will meet our flight and take you to the main terminal.   So, we are in the air for an hour, we departed over 30 minutes late, and they KNOW they need buses to meet us – but the buses are late, really. All these business men and women and me are toting our luggage down the narrow metal stairs to the tarmack, running for the buses, squeezing in and hanging on while the bus rumbles past a dozen gates and finally drops us off.  Those under 30 literally ran off the bus into the terminal, I assumed I would miss the flight because it was taking off in under 10 minutes and I had no idea where the heck it was, but the running youth gave me hope. I doubled checked my ticket for the gate and ran like hell. I followed the bulk of the crowd but started to lag behind. When I got to the foot of the stairs and called out “B gate” to the calm fellow directing traffic he simply pointed to a staircase wide enough to grace an Italian museum flanked by two escalators.  I saw others going up a flight of stairs further down but he pointed right in the direction of those stairs so up I went.  Pause here for a mental picture, CPAP machine slung over my right shoulder (10 pounds), purse in hand (4 pounds), suitcase lifted off its wheels and being lugged in my left hand (35 pounds).  Hold that picture and then see me running, yes, running, up the stairs, three full sets of 20 something stairs each.  You would think that the fact that the two escalator were going down would have been a clue to me that the up escalators were somewhere else, but I was pretty committed to my current path.  I reached the top, kept running, already amazed that I did not have a heart attack, saw the B gates, followed the path to B-19 – of course  it couldn’t be B-1 or 2, could it.  Down the hall, hang a right, still hoping I could make it.  I arrive and they are still boarding, what incredible luck!  Eyes glance at the gate number -B19- check, glance at the destination- uh, what? That does not say Bari.  It says Catania.  Catania is in Sicily.  What the heck. I run back a bit, find a flight board, my gate has changed – it’s B-4.  Well, that’s good because I know where B-4 is, I f-ing past it to get here. I turn and run back, yes, run.  I have not run this much since they made me do the 440 in high school. A woman with my breasts does not run. I could hear my own breathing and I thought I sounded like an exhausted bull in a fight for his life in the ring.

Believe it or not, the plane was still there, waiting for me. I was the last passenger on moving as quickly as I could to my row where I just watched an Italian business woman make a switch from her middle seat to my aisle seat. I must have looked like that pissed off bull because I didn’t say anything but thrust my ticket towards her to indicate she was in my seat.  She scurried out of there so quickly that the stewart came over to see what was the matter.  I heard her say, “Niente, a sbaglio”.  “Nothing, a mistake”.   He then proceeded to assist me in loading my bag into the overhead compartment, which I had already scoped out and thought was particularly small.  Wherever he manged to put my luggage he returned to tell me politely that next time I would have to check it, it was too heavy. By that time the woman next to me had apologized, I said I didn’t understand Italian and waved off any ill will, which was good because when the steward came to scold me she came to my rescue and explained I didn’t speak Italian.  I sat regaining my breath while wondering if perhaps I had a career in track and field still ahead of me since I had run that course without dying, but focused instead on the funny flashing light in my right eye.

After an 8 euro cab ride to a hotel that was supposed to be 500 meters from the trainstation and a grateful night’s sleep, we went down to the most magnificent breakfast I have ever had at a hotel. Well, OK, there was that one down in Naples that was spectacularly broad, from fresh dates to Swiss chocolates, but this one was absolutely homemade. Everything on the tables, from the cakes, and crostatas to the breads, sundried tomatoes and eggplants in vinegar (worms to us, as kids) and every bite was delicious.

There is emerging scientific evidence that taste preferences are genetically passed (which explains why Italian babies happily eat bitter greens while American children would spit them out of their highchair like ballistic projectiles and probably be scarred for life that their parents were practicing infanticide. This genetic programming might explain that while I have eaten broadly over Italy I really love Puglese food, which is the homeland of my maternal grandparents. I will, of course, be hitting Napoli, on my way home for sfogliatelle, caffe’ and pizza, which not surprisingly is the homeland of my paternal grandparents.

Every bite of the food I ate at this Puglese hotel was such a treat, even though I didn’t actually touch the sweet table and went back a second time to the bread, salami and handmade mozzarella.  On the other hand, my friend who is somewhat uncertain of her heritage, but her blonde hair and blue eyes suggest perhaps it is not Sicily, was also completely enamored with the food.

After that 9 euro breakfast, which was lunch as well, we headed out to find our car. Since I carry my laptop and buy an internet key for connectivity everywhere, we were able to have a peek at a map of downtown to see where our AVIS shop was.  This was not as helpful as you might think.  Our first surprise was getting from the hotel to the train station and discovering that it was truly only 500 meters, but 400 of them were straight down and straight back up.  With a suitcase that had already been packed with a huge piece of extra old provolone, chunks of Parmeggiano-Reggiano and a a kilo of flour that was gifted to me by a vendor at the Salone del Gusto (more about that in another post), lugging that thing down and then up again was a serious chore.

Eventually, we found the rental shop, right where it was supposed to be, and got our car. That is when we made the excellent decision to add the Garmin to the package. Rene dubbed our car the Rollerskate, I dubbed the Garmin Pepe and as we edged our way out of medieval Bari’s narrow streets midst honking horns, fearless pedestrians with the undisputed right-of-way, and drivers who take the game of chicken as a birthright.  Pepe in scatola was paying for himself already.

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I’m Back!

It’s good to be back…but it was a series of putts rather than a swan dive into the pool.

An early departure didn’t do me much good since the flight was three late.  Close call on the connection, but close was good enough, AND, Alaska Airlines is giving me 2,000 bonus miles for the inconvenience!

After about 8 ½ hours in the middle seat I was wondering why exactly I thought this was such a good idea – I could be home in my cozy little house and be horizontal if I wanted to, as opposed to being restricted to minute head and foot movements and unable to raise myself up for butt re-positioning via the armrests without turning something on, off or changing the channel. But, then, I remembered my $759.00 fare and all was well.

London’s Heathrow Terminal 5 is so complicated it must be the culmination of a Global Security Summit on Terrorism Prevention Through Architecture.  On the other hand, when I asked the British version of the TSA agent if my shoes needed to be scanned, he asked me to hold up my foot so he could have a look – then pronounced them, “probably safe enough”.  Meanwhile, the battalion of uniformed ladies at the head of the security line were absolutely frantic that we put our 3 oz bottles of liquids into a Ziplock bag that they provided. Apparently, clear & resealable is not adequate.

After a layover in London we boarded a much smaller aircraft for Milan (no dance floor on the upper level).  That was when it all became real.  Suddenly the only ones speaking English were the British Air Stewarts.  Italian passengers were flipping through English magazines, just scanning pictures but not reading the type. All the announcements were followed by an Italian version.  Then there was the gallantry factor.  It is not as if no one offered to help me with my bag on the plane, because they did, but generally I say, “I’m fine thanks.” and they go about their business.  This is not the case in Italy, or apparently on a British plane headed to Italy and full of Italians. Here the thought of a Nonna hoisting her bag into the overhead compartment seems almost offensive. “Please, let me help you.” One fellow said as he already had taken hold of the luggage.  Their sensibilities are somehow offended that a woman should even have to consider hauling her bags around like a mule. They must assist, it is the only proper thing.

Nothing can make me regret a pair of jeans and a pair of Keens faster than setting foot in the Milan airport. The fashion capital of Italy- gals really dress up. This is not like the changes from an Alaskan airport to Seattle or to Chicago, it is a completely different thing to land in the fashion capital of Italy.

Looking good does not only pertain to the ladies, but to all facets of the population.  As I edged my way to the Customs counter a uniformed Milanese agent went walking by. It was the Italian walk.  Not a saunter, not a swagger, but something that expresses everything about being a young Italian male. Tall, thin, erect posture, perfect shoes and a stride that is more like a dance than a strut – eyes forward.  A walk to be seen, not a walk to take a look. When my turn arrived and I was face to face with the customs agent I could hardly pay attention to whatever he was saying as I was mesmerized by the assortment of brass buttons, epaulets, badges and pins. There were matching scabbards on each lapel that were so large and ostentatious I couldn’t take my eyes off them.   Lots of professions wear uniforms, all of them are showy, but this one was clearly sending a message.  I think the weight of the brass alone could change his BMI.

If I wasn’t fully immersed in Italian culture after customs, the trip to the bathroom finished the job.  I noted as I approached the ladies room that the international symbol of stick figures of men and women were replaced by much more flattering pictographs, three dimensional, more Rubenesque, and from a more flattering point of view.  I smiled as I walked passed them and…..it’s marble.  White marble floors, large and spotless with white glass stalls, opaque of course, with pristine, angular and beautiful, polished stainless steel hardware.    🙂

Welcome to Italy!

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Nothing’s Changed – Except Me.

There were many times in the last few weeks of my trip that I saw myself kissing the ground when I landed in Alaska. I just wanted to see home again. It was not that I was particularly homesick, as much as I was heresick, just too much Italy, too many Italians. But, when I arrived in the airport all I did was kiss the grandbaby and the kids who met me there, followed by kissing the kids and grandteenagers who met me in the CARRS parking lot in Wasilla, at practically the midnight hour. A five-year old holding a sign that says, “Welcome Home Nonna” pretty much obliterates any other thoughts and emotions.

After a journey with enough legs to build an octopus, I am finally here, but in a daze. Everything looks familiar, just like home, just like I left it….10 minutes ago, like I had never left. A strange sensation. How could such an intense, long, emotionally thrilling and difficult trip simply disappear from my mind? After much kissing and hugging and talking I was finally handed off to Lizzy who was taking me on the last leg home. It is summer in full bloom here and it is usually the absolutely best time of the year, surrounded by everything green and lots of it, but it evoked a very different feeling in me, like I was being crowded and a little overwhelmed by all that green. Too many trees, too fluffy with leaves and looming over me. After so long in new and ancient cities on both sides of the Atlantic with their concrete, cobblestone, asphalt and over head wires I had somehow forgotten what it was like to be surrounded by the wild and for the very first time that I can ever remember in my life, it felt like too much. As we descended onto the flats where you can see the valley open out in front of you and know that you are almost home I heard a question in my head to which I had no answer. Am I coming home or coming for a visit?

Once we made the Wasilla or Palmer decision at the fork in the road the travelogue began. Lizzy pointed out the new developments along the Parks Highway, Red Robin opened, Mocha Moose moved and expanded, the old movie theater closed, the new one opened, but you can’t see it from the road and yes, it has several screens, but no, it is not part of Century 16 theaters and she doesn’t know how much it cost because grandpa bought the tickets but the food is REALLY expensive. CARRS got a whole new facelift and the inside is all fancy too. It is supposed to look just like the new CARRS in Palmer. After the meet up in the parking lot where hugs and kisses were exchanged with the rest of the family we headed to home, my home, finally, where I anticipated a big, excited, tail-wagging, circle-spinning welcome from good ol’ Cindy. I was mildly disappointed when the reception was not only toned way down, but unequally divided between Lizzy, her Mom for the last seven months, and me – in Lizzy’s favor. It was actually three days before she forgave my absence and came over in the morning to wake me up and get her butt scratched.

It took nearly ten days to complete the Transporter process but I am now completely beamed into place. While passing through dematerialization and rematerialization a few of my molecules were slightly reconfigured. It would not qualify for an actual Transporter accident, but I definitely arrived different then when I departed. Mostly, it was psycho-social realignment whose presence I have noticed over the last few weeks; things like believing that no one has the right to be mean to me, that I am good at what I do in the kitchen not just in the bakery, that isolation isn’t serving me the way it did in the past, and that I really would like, and am ready to actually have, a relationship with a man. (schoooo, that was hard to say out loud)

OK, I’m back now. I had to go outside with a shovel and a pitchfork and dig up weeds wholesale to process the anxiety that making THAT ♂ statement brought up.

I noticed that I really don’t want to eat the food that is mostly and easily available here, that I like the way I feel when I cook for myself, and that I don’t drink enough water. I learned, truly experienced, that I can have what I want in life and it is OK to want it and have it. Also, TV and radio are overrated and even the news is just mostly blathering and incredibly repetitive. I get the highlights from my friends’ Facebook posts, like Osama Bin Laden is dead, there was an earthquake (followed immediately by its magnitude), and when the President makes a speech, but frankly, I am going to minimize my news search to the horizon and when I see a mushroom cloud, I’ll know it is time to duck and cover. I think I became indoctrinated to the belief that I had to watch the news to be up-to-date on what was happening, and to be considered one of the intellectual elite, or fully informed. I learned, however, that you can be better informed about the middle east crisis if you read Arab newspapers, historical works, or talk to people from Israel and Palestine and that being “fully informed” via the media doesn’t come without bias so by its very nature isn’t truly informational.

I have looked at the evidence of my previous life and know it is time for a few changes, like a second, more acute decluttering, noticing the non-existent furniture that needs to exist in my house, the old stinky carpet that really needs to go, NOW, and that there is so much iron in my water that if I drink a glass of it without wearing rubber boots, I can get an electric shock. I’m sure there is more, and I’ll happily report on it, along with catching you up on the things that happened during the Blog blackout of May and June, but right now I have to go cook for myself.

Ciao for now,

Marian

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Goodbye to the South

Goodbye Cannoli

Goodbye to cappacollo and spicy flat sausages. Goodbye to olive oil so dark and delicious that you put it on everything, including bread. Extra virgin olive oil so tasty, with a little back bite, that it is all you use to dress your salad and a sprinkle of salt. Goodbye to piccante flavors of Calabria, goodbye weird looking creatures from the sea cooked in olive oil, garlic and pasta water, whatever you are. Goodbye to bitter greens (I won’t miss you that much). Goodbye to the flat, hard homemade bread cooked in wood fired-ovens that has such a short shelf life that there are more recipes about what to do with hard bread than there are recipes for sea creatures. Goodbye to the sea and all the things that I ate from your bounty. Goodbye to pizza, mozzarella di buffala, sfogliatelle and the fabulous coffee of Naples so smooth and rich. Goodbye to cannoli.  Goodbye to smoked scamorza grilled on lemon leaves and lemoncello and lemon Fanta. Goodbye to almond paste everything, including marzipan fruits so real you want to pick them up and take a bite, to almond paste frosting on cakes, and almond paste cookies with just enough flour to hold them together, and almond paste layers in tortes and in baked fruit tarts. Goodbye to eggless pasta with your oh-so- many-shapes and special sauces for each one of of you. Goodbye to Percorino, fresh, semi staginato, and staginato, with peppercorns or spicy hot peppers, made a few miles away. Oh, a sad, sad goodbye to sheep’s milk ricotta, how I will miss you. Oh, I will miss you all!
But, hello to tortellini, and tortelloni, and cappalacci and all manner of fresh egg-y pasta made and eaten on the same day. Hello to ravioli and other filled pastas. Goodbye to calico on every channel, every day, and hello to Ferrari racing, watched by all even if it is just watching the rain come down and the sweepers sweep it away from the track and nothing more. Hello to butter and cream and veal and beef and parmigiano-reggiano, prosciutto San Daniele, balsamic vinegar. Hello to Mortadella, sliced paper thin from sausages 15” in diameter. I don’t know what kind of bread you have in store for me yet, but I am anxious to see. I know it won’t be the saltless, solid loaves of Tuscany or the braided crunchy crusted breads of Naples with chewy tender innards, but I can’t even guess what you will be like.

Sea Creatures, about to be fried

 

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