Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Update on Leo's health and love

April 2010

I woke up suddenly out of a deep sleep two nights ago. It wasn't by chance -- Leo had at that moment arrived at his family home at the sea's edge. After over a year of being hospital and house bound, he comfortably made the 90 minute car trip, with his brother-in-law driving.

Leo and I have a strong bond, even with the absence of regular phone contact. He has, in the last eight months, gone into remission with the cancer. His back is healing. He takes daily walks, weather permitting.

He has forced himself to make these walks. His doctors have told him, with exercise and activity, his back will recover from the cancer damage to his vertebrae. He wears a back brace during the daytime.

Leo has been fighting another battle these days. This invisible enemy can be seen in his eyes. I saw my nemesis, during our last visit in November: depression and anxiety. I have been hesitant to write of our two encounters because he reads this blog.

In November, I arranged to meet with Leo on a park bench. We had not seen each other since June.

I arrived first. I was both nervous and excited. As he walked toward me, I was happy to see he looked good. He was bundled up for the cold weather. I could not see the back brace as he approached. He was walking without assistance.

He seemed a little anxious, which was very unusual. He sat down beside me, but made no effort to touch me nor did he look at me. I felt a wave of panic rising up in my stomach. I thought, oh no, bad news. But then my heart looked at him.

Instinctively I knew what was wrong: deep depression. His beautiful brown eyes had no sparkle and he would not look directly at me. I was also certain, it had taken great courage for him to come to meet me. I could feel him ready to flee. I knew I didn't have much time, only a few minutes.

I calmed myself, took his hand and spoke quietly. I gently stroked his cheek until he turned to give me brief eye contact. It was fleeting, and I hoped that love would be able to bypass the depression and reach his soul.

After less than 10 minutes he was ready to leave me. He walked away, suddenly stopped, turned and gave me a stiff hug. I was not discouraged, but encouraged. He is a brave courageous man.

A week later, I returned to Firenze, after a trip to see my family in the north. Leo called to say he would like to see me again. This time, I was mentally ready. To my surprise, a smiling Leo meet me, with full sparkling eye contact. He immediately took my hand and didn't let go. We sat and talked for 20 minutes. Then we walked together for 10 minutes. His manner was loving but very quiet.

Five months have passed since November. As the pain medications have been reduced, Leo's mind has become increasing more lucid. He has occupied himself, by writing another book, a fiction novel. Leo has always been an artist, writer and a poet.

During this time, he also compiled his many poems to be print-ready. Last week he reached a big milestone. He ventured into the city, by taking a taxi to a meeting with his editor. He hopes to have both books published.

Over the past 11 years, Leo has written me poems, letters and emails. Even through this illness, we have emailed or talked almost daily. It's less fatiguing for him, so we mostly communicate in Italian, although he has retained his English. I send him a constant stream of everyday pictures of cooking, sunrises, city and home scenes.

My most precious possessions are the love notes he left throughout our little home. Even now, as I open the freezer or check the salt box, I find the messages he hid. Many notes are still in their original locations. As I re-find these treasures, my mood brightens.

I feel his love here with me, everyday.

Today, Leo and I spoke by phone. He is regaining his confidence and his voice sounds more normal. The love we feel for each other is strong and lasting.

This love is reflected in his poems.

La tua voce

La tua voce .... come il fruscio del vento
tra i fiori delle praterie, l'ondeggiare del verde
come il rumore di foglie
di alberi grandi e maestosi di un'oasi
come o scoppiettar di fuochi
di tutti i colori nel buio della notte
come il sorriso di un bimbo
mentre è in braccio della mamma
come l'eterno carezzare dell'onda
dell'oceano sulla sabbia della spiaggia !!

Your voice

Your voice .... like the rustling of the wind
through the flowers of the prairie and its waves of green
like the sound of leaves
of large trees and the majesty of an oasis
like the crackling of a fire
and all its colors in the darkness of the night
like the smile of a child
while in its mother's arms
like the eternal caress of the ocean’s
waves on the sand of the beach!!


Alla mia Musa

Naufrago nei tuoi occhi azzurri
che sono come oceano sotto il sole.
Sprofondo nell'infinito del tuo sguardo
come nel silenzio delle profondità marine.
Divento ... o mia Musa, come un maroso
che si allunga nella grande spiaggia;
salvo, come naufrago fortunato che
dopo lungo viaggio, vivo di nuovo!

To My Muse

Drowning in your blue eyes
which are like ocean under the sun.
Sinking into the infinity of your eyes
as in the silence of the deep sea.
You become ... Oh my Muse, like a breaker
stretching over the wide beach;
I am saved, like a lucky survivor
after a long journey, I live again!

TI AMO Leo Leone

Sardegna - Day 6

Under Construction - Breakdown at the AutoGrill

Sardegna - Eating and Dancing

The restaurants open at 8. We've been eating dinner every night at the restaurant associated with this hotel. On Saturday night we noticed the parking lot was full. Apparently this restaurant is well known for its excellent seafood. The fish is all sitting right there on ice and one can inspect it before it's cooked.

Saturday night is dance night.

The two man team of singers is setting up as we enter. The center tables have been moved to make a dance floor. Our table gives us a front row seat. The singers launch their pre-recorded music and begin to sing. They switch off singing solo, never singing duets.  I took a few secret pictures...

Leo whispers to me that some of these are older songs originated in Naples -- not his type of music. Also it's from the past. But the music has a great beat. My feet are tapping.

I could have stayed there until they closed! Watching the dancers was a real treat for me. The women were dressed to dance. The couples were of all age groups. The older women were really dressed to, great clothes, jewelry and great figures.

The men were also dressed to dance. One in a suit, tie and sweater vest. Another man had a pony tail and jeans.

As one of the older married couples danced, they were quietly singing the songs to each other. We noticed the woman's eyes were closed.  And every few steps they both kicked a leg back. It was one of the most romantic public displays of affection I've ever seen. They swayed and twirled.

Then several line-dances let the singles join in. Leo leaned over and told me they were doing the cha cha cha!!  At that point we decided he is not a dance expert. He also thought it was a dance class out for a practice night. I disagreed! These people knew both the steps and the words and it was a romantic night out for them. About four couples and a few singles, both men and women. I felt like I was visiting in another era.

Sardegna - Monday, searching for bells

During our short four day stay I was impressed by the generosity and helpfulness of the Sarde people. Saturday night several people stopped to give us directions. On Monday, in the pouring rain, I got on the bus to go to the Cagliari city center and the bus driver had no tickets to sell. (Saturday night we bought tickets as we got on). I asked him in Italian if it was possible to ride without a ticket. I had money in hand! The bus was moving too. He told me not to worry. As I went toward the back of the bus, a girl in her twenties, opened her purse and gave me a ticket. She wouldn't accept my money.

Leo later commented on the fact that these people were much friendlier than Florentines, who are a bit put off by tourists. They welcome their money but are also glad when off-season arrives and the city returns to a normal rhythm.

As I was riding this bus Number 1 for the second time, I didn't feel nervous at all. In fact, I saw a street market and got off the bus to take a look. Then I waited (in the rain) for the next Number 1 and resumed my trip. A bus ticket is good for 90 minutes.

The hardware shop was closed on Saturday night so we were unable to check for goat bells. On Monday I went there first and asked here, but go down the street to the Calciatore shop. I asked him to write down the name...oh's too easy to find...just go right out the door, head south and you'll see it. It's just a block or so.

Back out the door and not feeling totally confident because he was talking fast and it seems strange to think I really did understand him

I started walking. And there it was! The hunter's supply store. I mentally doubled checked my words.  Capri for goats. Campane for bells. I entered the shop. Three older men were chatting and quite surprised to see me come in. I asked my question and the answer was "certamente!" certainly! "Which kind do you want?"

I was so excited.  You really have them? In Italian, I explained I had heard the bells on Saturday up in the hills and I've been desperate to buy one. I told him about the farmer who offered to sell one for 100 Euro. The shop keeper told me the farmer was crazy! They only cost about 6 Euro.

He put three boxes of bells on the counter for me to test. I was thrilled. I'm sure they're still talking about the really crazy person who came in and rang about 20 bells to find just the right ones.

Then I decided maybe I should get a bell for my friend Debbie! She would really appreciate the sound of this bell. Then I picked out one for my brother, since he has 4 sheep and surely one of them is the leader. He has about 35 acres, and the bell might be a good Christmas gift.

I left the shop with quite a few bells. I want to string them together with a ribbon in my living room so I can ring them and recall that wonderful feeling I had in the natural hills of Sardegna. I'm really a country outdoor girl in my heart.

I had such an interesting Monday just walking here and there. I never opened my map. I went back to the bookstore where I had bought two cookbooks on Saturday. I saw Leo looking longingly in a book of aerial photos of Sardegna's coast and interior. After bells, it was my second and last must do for the day. It made a great Christmas present! 

I walked down to the harbor area to inspect a tall ship -- I could see its masts from the bookstore. They were loading up with water and provisions. I went back later with a take-out (kabob and potatoes--yumm) lunch from an Arabian place I found on a side street and watched the activity again.

The harbor master was checking papers of another sailing ship--that single sailor looked British or Australian. They were standing just 6 yards from me. There are no safely rails here. One could just tumble right in. I saw a sign warning of the danger of cars going over the edge. Careful parking at night here!

On another side street I found a cookie shop -- not a bakery. They had a large picture outside of a white-haired woman making cookies with a big oven behind her. I stopped to read the fine print and decided to enter with hopes to buy something. When I'm not sure about a shop being open, I always ask "Permesso??" (translates "May I enter?")

This is their story: The family has a bakery shop in another part of town. The white haired mother of the girl I spoke to was working over there. The mother makes hand-made traditional cookies, using a gigantic black and white oven. That oven, plus her marble topped working tables, and a big industrial mixer are here in the shop I entered. Plastic boxes of different types of cookies--perhaps eight or ten are spread out on one of the marble work tables.

On one side of the shop are shelves where little empty cardboard boxes showing a label with a picture of "Mamma" and her two daughters. The daughter I am speaking with had designed these cute boxes. Over to the side, are fluffy colorful balls of wool yarn. Off to the other side a laptop computer. This is their new business venture! To sell cookies via the Internet! Mamma has finally agreed to let her cookies fly off the island to be sold. I was in the shop for about 30 minutes talking and I bought a box with one of each type of cookie Cost: 8 Euro -- not too much at all. I have their card with the website address. So far they have only sold to a place in New York. I told her I would write later to see how much it might cost me to buy more. She told me the cookies are made the old way without fat. In the old days, fat was too expensive for a peasant and so they used the ingredients on hand: honey, dried fruits, plentiful almonds.

We had a nice talk about how the Sarde food is easy to digest and healthy. She told me older people can eat these cookies without having stomach pains.

Another interesting item I discovered were the houses are located on steep narrow streets. I saw what we call dutch doors with neighbors chatting to each other. The streets reminded me most of Cinque Terre, with the same slopes and pastel colored buildings and laundry hanging. But the laundry here was not across the streets, but parallel to the building.

Last night I took the bus back to hotel and made a quick stop to buy some local salt. Leo called me right in that moment and met me in the store a few minutes later. He thought local salt was a great idea too. He bought salt, cheese, a salami, and a bottle of fish roe. We had eaten pasta sprinkled with it the night before. Delicious!

I brought Asumi and Alessio (my hotel owners) some special pasta, a package of cookies and salt which are specific to Sardegna. Asumi has never been there. Alessio was thrilled, especially with the salt. They brought out a gift for me! A cookbook. I really like them a lot.
We had a long discussion about food, a favorite and serious Italian topic. Alessio told me the world's longest living people are on the island. They eat well, the air is fresh, the sea water is unpolluted so the fish for eating is nothing I've ever tasted.

Sardegna - Sunday


We drove out and found two pure white beaches. A wonderful wind was flowing...a wind from France says my "sailor man" Leo who also knows all about winds.

We found old fortress towers. One had an enormous rusted cannon inside. Nearby we found pieces of ancient pottery. I found a jug handle. This pottery dates back to before the volcanic eruption in Pompeii! Because of the recent rains, lots of pieces can be seen in the mud, in the water drains, if you look carefully.

The biggest surprise of the day was finding a surfer beach. At least 30 were in the water when we arrived.

 Leo talked to a group of surfers.  They said the beach (Spiaggia Campana or Bell Beach) is famous throughout Europe.

The surfers look just like their counterparts in Huntington Beach, California, with their wet suits, boards, cars and enthusiasm.  Apparently the sea is totally flat during the months of June, July and August.  But in November, it's agitated with high California style waves.
 I took my boots off and walked out into the water. Cold but not much different than Huntington Beach.

The sand was a very very fine, soft powder, but compacted. There is a protected sand dune area right behind the beach shoreline.

Surfers have to park and walk the designated path to the sea. There is no incline.

We took the long mountain route back to Cagliari, passing green pastures filled with sheep.

We stopped to ask an old farmer where I might purchase a goat bell.  He offered to sell us one of his goat's bell for 100 Euros.  He thought we were crazy for sure and so he gave a crazy price, according to Leo.

Late in the day, we arrived a tiny village which appeared to be deserted.  The local bar was open and we found it to be packed with men, watching the soccer game. Leo had cappuccino and I had a hot chocolate.

 My picture is blurry because I had to quickly take it quickly and secretly.  Even now, I can see my reflection in the big mirror on the far wall.

Sardegna - Saturday


I don't know what we would have done here without a car. It's off season and there are no tourists and most all the shops and houses along the beach are closed up for winter.

We decided to drive down toward the sea, travelling to the left today and then on Sunday, head to the right and up the coast.

Breakfast is served here only until 9.30 am and Leo didn't want to miss his caffe-latte. I wasn't ready in time, so he went alone and surprised me by bringing back a round tray filled with yogurt, juice, Nutella, jams, fresh bread and napkins. We also had a tray of cookies, which Leo had given me last night for a midnight snack.

What we couldn't eat, we packed in a lunch bag and took off for our adventure.

As we drove, I saw beaches with white sand and oh so many brightly colored Flamingos standing in the shallow water, some with their heads completely underwater. They are migrating from Africa, which is directly across the water.
We saw a huge basket filled with sea urchins, leftover from a party -- plus cups of tartar sauce nearby. Later, in a grocery store I saw the tool used to lop off the top of a sea urchin. They're eaten fresh and raw.

Several small turtles are swimming in a boat filled with water. There's a basket filled to the brim with discarded oyster shells. I was hoping my turtle friends were not also left-overs from a recent feast. They were alive and healthy but trapped in a wooden boat which also held an old terracotta urn.

They're just to add to the ambiance Leo assures me.

The beach here at Poetto also was littered with lots of unbroken shells. The sand wasn't pure white as Leo remembered it had been. He talked to a local Sardo and was told the government dredged sand from somewhere and brought it in to enhance the beach and the white color was lost as a result.

We saw lots of Sardi joggers, mostly male.  Several locals were enjoying their Saturday morning newspapers.

Further along the road we pass salt farms, estuaries with birds, snowy egrets and a flock of pigeons that were actually flying and acting like normal birds, not fat begging birds normally found on piazzas.

We left the coast and began the drive up into the hills. Leo is so patient and stops often for me so I can take pictures. The views were breath-taking. 

As we entered a marsh-brushy area, we passed three men gathered outside a small car off to the side of the rode.  Around the next bend...goats, lots of goats!! The men we saw are goatherds.

Leo pulled over, I grabbed my camera, jumped out and run across the two lane highway.

Each goat was a different size and color, with a leather collar and bell hanging around their necks. The sound was heavenly. They ran in every direction as I approached.

I saw other goats up on the hill and they followed their leader,  jumping right down a steep rocky slope, scampering deeper into the brush, all with the sound of bells ringing.

I decided right then I needed to find some bells to take home. The noise of all the ringing bells brought one of the goatherders running down the road. Those goats were so quick, I couldn't get a clear picture.

Leo told me one goat is the leader. It can be either male or female. I asked him if the bells are only for the goatherder's use? But no, the goats are intelligent and know by the chimes where their group is.

The brush here has a wonderful fragrance too. Leo broke off twigs to let me smell. He used to have a country home, stocked with a small herd of goats along with horses, sheep and a pair of white oxen. For this reason he is so knowledgeable about country life.

Now I am on a quest to find bells, today or before I leave Sardegna.  I know tomorrow, Sunday, almost every shop will be closed tight. I am on the lookout for a street market...any place to track down some bells to purchase.

We have hardly seen anyone today. Even the streets were empty of cars. But we did see lots of "Villages" which here means vacation resort. On the vacation beaches, I see rows of little attached changing rooms. Average cost 30 Euro a day, for the changing room only!

Here, the doors had been removed for the winter.  I was able to take a peek. Perhaps in season, they come with a bench,  mirror or table. They're tiny little closet sized rooms.

Going to the beach in Sardegna is not an inexpensive outing. Italians are very social and like to vacation in groups. According to my guidebook, some villages have catering services and discothèques. Leo once attended a work conference at a village and saw peacocks roaming the grounds.

One can take the big ferry over here with the family car. The trip takes 8 hours. My handy guidebook says one must reserve months or even a year in advance, as all hotels are booked solid during the summer season. We can calculate the size of the crowds by looking at an immense (now empty) parking lot near a large grocery store.

Saturday we were the only patrons in the supermarket near Capo Carbonara. We decided to get local sheep cheese and prosciutto, plus fresh bread. Leo bought a knife to make sandwiches later. I bought pasta which looks like rough large bread crumbs. The recipe on the package calls for fresh clams.

Leo could not find a sandy beach and we were too hungry to wait, so he made sandwiches on the car's hood and we ate in the car.

We checked our maps, drove a little further and found parking with walk-in access to the shore.  Leo showed me on the map that we are walking out onto a thin tongue of sand, which separates the Notteri Pond from the sea. I see signs showing this is a wildlife santuary, but today I see no flamingos or other birds.

We walked down a narrow gravel road, through a small eucalyptus wood, to reach our destination. This is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We are right here at the tip of Sardegna.

Out on the sand, there is a fierce unrelenting wind. Luckily I've brought my shawl and I wrap it around my face so I can catch my breathe. We are all alone here. Leo draws a heart for me in the sand.

It's heavenly.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sardegna - Friday night

Leo told me to expect the Meridian flight to be similar to Southwest Airlines. It's Friday night and quite a few people are here for this once a day flight to Cagliari. The inbound planes comes in about 10 am each day and departs again in the evening.

I see this plane has very recently arrived from the northern part of Sardegna. They were really delayed and so are we.

Since the rain has now stopped, I'm happy we had to wait.  At this small Florentine airport, the shuttle takes us from the terminal to the plane's uncovered, outside boarding stairs, rain or shine. We would have been drenched!

The flight over was full, including an entire soccer team! I saw them all again a few days later, on a big screen TV, in a bar in the mountains of southern Sardegna.  They were E series from Milano in town to play Cagliari. The soccer stadium is close to our hotel and Leo was a little worried we might get trapped in the middle of all the local fans tonight.

Leo met me at the very modern stylish airport just outside the city center and port.  As I went through the door beyond the arrival gate, there he was. I always feel a thrill, even after ten years.

No customs check here because I am still in Italy, although I did see an airport sign: Sardegna: Another Continent!

Leo already had reserved a rental car with stick shift.  He had maps too, but it was too dark to read them. Really really dark.  He tried to exit the airport but instead we re-entered three times. Laughing,  we finally got our bearings and off we went.

He had a business card from the hotel.  I put its address into my brand new Garmin to give it a test. The result was really a pleasant surprise.  Of course Leo was thrilled.

The Italian woman's voice from the Garmin guided us right through the darkness, telling us where and when to turn. It was almost midnight when we pulled into the Hotel Quadrifoglio Cagliari (Four Leaf Clover Hotel).  We were both very very tired.

Leo's class, taught through the University of Cagliari, consists of only two young men. They will be using this essential knowledge in their new jobs. He is exhausted after teaching, talking and answering questions for a full eight hour work day, not including lunch. He's found it to be much more intensive than teaching in a classroom full of students.

In Italy each hotel guest must present identity papers or a passport. Police have access to all names. The hotel xeroxed my passport so I felt relieved not giving up possession.   In the Italian spirit, I'm always given respectful treatment.  Italians love to see a couple in love.

Leo had already bought me milk, water, yogurt, pastries, apples and tangerines. Everything but the pastries were neatly lined up outside the glass door of our small patio-balcony. Leo is so sweet and thoughtful!

We laid out the maps to plan our weekend.