Sunday, August 29, 2010

Leo and I -- Have we each sought refuge in another culture?

Leo has been discharged to home and has been concerned about remaining totally calm and without stress. He has firmly set his mind to not think about anything relating to his illness or the implications it has had on his life.

He had a scary anxiety attack yesterday. The doctor explained to him that these attacks can happen, even if you think you have the situation under control. The medicine the doctor gave Leo, knocked him out and he slept all day.

I believe that in Leo's life, he has dealt with stress in ways, not available to him now: working obsessively, avoidance and occasionally living a different life with me, in another culture.
This cultural freedom, along with a true love for each other, allowed us both to create a safe place where love thrived. We worked hard on communication skills and balancing work with fun.

When Leo called today to relate the attack of yesterday, I thought to myself, “I know why this happened.”

I only offered the broadest advice:  "Just because you are telling yourself to be stress free, your subconscious is still pondering stressful thoughts."

Isn’t it human nature to think we can see so clearly the cause of other peoples issues and how quickly we offer solutions to them?

But then I looked at my own last night, packed full of nightmares, paralleling Leo’s panic attack.

Today I researched panic attacks. I see a similarity between what Leo is experiencing and my own nightmares: An inability to effectively deal with an issue.

I found a great website:

I like this quote:

“Anxiety disorders are not caused by a medical condition. Most are a result of repressed ulterior issues and angst, so learn to understand yourself....”


I need to deal with my own stress more effectively and take this advice myself!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ponte Vecchio and Puccini

The first time I saw the 1985 movie "Room with a View" I fell madly in love with its title song: O Mio Babbino Caro, from the Giacomo Puccini (1918) opera Gianni Schicchi.

I eventually sought out a little music shop in Firenze which specializes in opera music and there I purchased a DVD of three staged Puccini operas.

O Mio Babbino Caro is a love song in which a young Florentine girl pleads with her father to buy her "the ring," which would signify he gave his blessing to her engagement.

O Mio Babbino Caro
 (translated to English)

Oh my dear father,
I like him, he is very handsome.
I want to go to Porta Rossa
to buy the ring!

Yes, yes, I want to go there!
And if my love were in vain,
I would go to Ponte Vecchio
and throw myself in the Arno!

I am pining and I am tormented,
Oh God! I would want to die!
Father, have pity
Father, have pity

In Italy, I have had several encounters with this aria.

July 2009 dairy entry:

"Ohh I feel like I'm in the movie "Room with a View!" I'm all packed and I'm enjoying 30 minutes with nothing to do in Room 1 at Hotel Cestelli. It's 9 am and I'm standing at the open window, enjoying the little courtyard below. Someone nearby is listening to opera music! Gianni Schicchi by Puccini. I thought I heard O Mio Babbino Mio Caro earlier. Only here in Italy..."

I had an incredible, never to be repeated, personal experience with the song in the Fall of 2008.

It was a Saturday night and the evening was pleasant and clear. Leo and I had just walked to Ponte Vecchio to enjoy the fresh air. I never tire of visiting the bridge nor capturing pictures of this lovely old place. Each picture is unique, depending on the season, time of day and lighting.

During the autumn months, the jewelry shops on Ponte Vecchio are shuttered up at night, with their solid wooden doors and the tourists disappear off the bridge.

The time was just after 9 pm, which is considered early for an Italian Florentine evening out.

Leo and I were leaning against the wall of the bridge, almost alone, looking out downstream onto the Arno River. It was after dark, but the night was pleasantly well lighted and the water sparkled with reflections.

I noticed a handsome foreign couple, just to our right. It is a romantic setting for those in love.

Suddenly, I heard a sort of gasping for air and sensed some movement. Just as I turned to see what was happening, I saw a woman step back from the wall and face her male companion. And then, she began to sing.

She sang with her heart. There was no doubt, she was an experienced opera singer.

I tightly clasped Leo's hand and we watched, spell-bound. All movement around us ceased, as other strollers stopped and quietly observed the scene.

She sang in Italian, a capella. The couple only had eyes for each other. This was a private moment but her voice was full and strong. Tears flowed from my eyes as I watched and listened.

When she finished, she turned to me and in clear Italian apologized to me! I answered in Italian and said, "Oh no!! Please, it was lovely and this is my most favorite song." She told me it was their wedding anniversary and then they slipped away.

The moment I had access to a computer I searched the Internet and I found her.

Leo and I had had the pleasure of hearing the South Korean opera star, Sumi Jo, serenade her husband that night.

This You-Tube video shows her singing O Mio Babbino Caro in concert.

Wiki: Sumi Jo Bio


Aria from the opera Gianni Schicchi (1918)
Music: Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Lyrics: Giovacchino Forzano


O Mio Babbino Caro

O mio babbino caro,
mi piace è bello, bello;
vo'andare in Porta Rossa
a comperar l'anello!

Sì, sì, ci voglio andare!
e se l'amassi indarno,
andrei sul Ponte Vecchio,
ma per buttarmi in Arno!

Mi struggo e mi tormento!
O Dio, vorrei morir!
Babbo, pietà, pietà!
Babbo, pietà, pietà!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Recipe: Marina's Minestrone Soup

Marina makes this soup so easily and now I make it often.  Before joining my Italian family, I disliked Minestrone Soup intensely.  The variety I grew up with, was from a can and never homemade.

The soup tastes slightly different every time it's made, depending on the vegetables used.  When using butternut squash in the Fall, the soup has a wonderful autumn color. From start to finish this soup is done in less than one hour.

One can vary the vegetables used. Use what seasonal vegetables you like.  The soup freezes well but do not freeze with pasta added.

Minestrone Soup (4 servings)

3 quart saucepan
1 zucchini
2-3 fresh tomatoes
1/4 cabbage
2 large leaves of collard or other green leaf (pull leaf off the center vein, discarding vein)
1/4 red onion
1 carrot, cut into 4 pieces
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 sprig parsley
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1-2 small dried peperoncini (tiny red peppers)
1 T olive oil
salt to taste

Pipette Rigate pasta – 86 Barilla or any small pasta or broken spaghetti
1 cup canned cannellini (white beans) or barlotti beans (fagioli barlotti), drained and rinsed
Alternate vegetables:  1 leek (white only), 1 cup butternut squash, green beans, 1 stalk celery, fresh basil


Lightly place vegetables into a 3 quart sauce pan.  You will know you have enough vegetables when the pan is filled.  Just cover with cool water. Cover with lid and simmer for 45-60 minutes. 

When the carrot tests done, remove the pan from the stovetop.  Purée the mixture for 1 minute or until it reaches your preferred consistency.

I use a Braun 200 watt immersion blender and purée it right in the saucepan.

One can add either pasta or beans to the purée.

For pasta: in a separate pan, boil pasta of your choice in boiling salted water for its normal cooking time.  Add the cooked pasta to the soup just before serving, otherwise the pasta becomes waterlogged.

Top with grated Grana or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a bit of cut parsley for presentation.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Leo is hospitalized July 2010

Leo is ill and has been for several weeks.

Two weeks ago, in July while at his seaside home, Leo felt chest pain and was having difficulty breathing. He was taken to the Emergency Room. They could not find the cause of his distress and sent him away. He decided to return home to the city. The next day, he was admitted to Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Firenze. They have aspirated fluid from his lungs and heart four times, 1 liter each time. The doctor’s are running tests.

We talk by phone every day and we send each other text messages throughout the day. I have been able to somewhat follow his progress.

Last week, I could hear from his voice, they had given him morphine for pain. We’ve been down this road before. At first he sounds groggy, then giddy and I think this time, he was given too much. Text messages became a series of letters which made no sense. Then, when texting became more difficult, we worked out a plan. He would call me, but I would not pick up the call. I would then use my calling card to return his call.  I know his mind is clear and he understands me.

I have taken to sleeping with my phone and I never am without it during the day. When he needs to have contact, it must happen at that moment. He has also needed comfort during the long lonely nights. Often, he can’t sleep or he’s worrying. When his breath was so tight he could not speak, I told him stories about my day. I could hear his breathing slow done, as he relaxed. Sometimes, I wanted to say the Lord’s Prayer with him, but he hadn’t the strength to stay on the phone.

When Leo is at home with me, we always, without exception say the Lord’s Prayer together just before sleep. Several nights this week he was able to stay on the phone with me and I read the prayer in Italian and he silently said it. At Amen, I made sure his eyes were closed and he seemed more relaxed…I said, Amore, just turn off the phone when you can sleep. I know you can’t talk..good night and I love you. Moments later, the phone would click off.

For 24 hours, on Friday through Saturday, I had received no news. No phone calls, text messages, email. Nothing. I was worried he had died. I called Leo’s phone during non visiting hours and a woman answered. I hung up. Not a nice thing to do, but I could not add to whatever was happening in the hospital room. In Italy, they allow family members to attend the bedside only when death is imminent. I was scared and alone with my worries.

On Saturday, I attended Italian lessons at the Italian Cultural Institute (ICC), as usual. I find comfort just being there. During class I was distracted and teary. Michele, such a nice instructor from Rome, put his arm around me and told me to call him if I had news. Leo is well known and liked at the ICC.

A friend has asked how I can tolerate this. The truth is, I have no option. Firstly, I cannot be in Italy and this is a fact. I have no money to retire and be where I want to be...there, near my Italian family and close to Leo. Secondly, Leo has chosen to not disrupt his family and I need to respect his wishes. Thirdly, the love we have for each other means Leo and I do what we can for each other, knowing it's the best we can.

What Leo and I feel, transcends space. When I cannot sleep at night, I return to my memories of how he sleeps next to me, always holding my hand. He always knew and still knows when I’m having nightmares, a curse that has followed me since childhood. When he’s here, he comforts me, knowing that waking me won’t work. When he’s there, he sends me text messages, sending his thoughts to me while I sleep.

Leo and I relax when we’re with each other. The gift of relaxation is something I’ve rarely felt. I am always on guard, even when sleeping. Leo relaxes too. He, being a kind and caring person, is attentive in Italy to the neediness in his family.

I feel selfish in wanting Leo to fight for his life. Several times, I’ve wanted to tell him, go if you need to, if it’s too much to bear, stop fighting, but then the small quiet voice tells me, this is not for me to decide nor influence. This is between Leo and a higher power.

I thought I had a good relationship with Leo’s son. Two weeks ago, I asked him to write me updates, but they have been slow to arrive. Sometimes I feel an anger toward this man-child but then I recall conversations about him with Leo. The boy does not want to deal with losing his father. We all have our own private burdens we carry and this also is not for me to judge. But I have suffered not knowing. I need facts but I only have what Leo can give me, when he has the voice to tell me.

Yesterday I received a letter from another source. He tells me Leo has not been eating. Why has no one told me this. This is a death wish. The depression is taking over. And then shortly thereafter, the ambulance, with a doctor in attendance, moved Leo to a better hospital. I received an email from the son when this was happening. I believe, Leo asked him to send this.

Last night, I received a text from Leo. I responded bluntly: Do not leave me. I plead with you to start eating...Non lasciarmi! Ti prego, mangia.

Early today, another letter, but not from the son. Leo’s spirits have risen. He is eating. Leo has used his computer to communicate with his friends on FaceBook this morning:

It’s been a brutal period of time. The fight has been really serious this time. I don’t know when I can give you good news, but for now know that I am not letting go because I want to see you all again. Best wishes to you all and may God be with us.
 (Leo Leone)

I immediately translated his message from Italian to English and forwarded to our American friend.  Within minutes these responses came back:

Oh – my dear friend!!!! So heartfelt, so poignant….thank you for sharing! Hang in there; and in so doing, you’ll help him. (from SP)

Such wonderful strength! His words are very positive, so I know he’ll pull through! Probably because he wants to see you so much! Hang in there and thank you for sharing.  (Debbie)

How are you surviving all of this? Obviously, this is all VERY difficult for you – and terribly frustrating being so far away from him. (MF)

And sent from Joanne:

La Nuova Diodati (LND)
Salmi 138

1«Salmo di Davide.» Io ti celebrerò con tutto il mio cuore, davanti agli dèi canterò le tue lodi.

2Adorerò rivolto al tuo santo tempio e celebrerò il tuo nome per la tua benignità e per la tua verità, perché tu hai esaltato la tua parola e il tuo nome al di sopra di ogni altra cosa.

3Nel giorno in cui ti ho invocato tu mi hai risposto ed hai accresciuto il vigore dell'anima mia.

4Tutti i re della terra ti celebreranno, o Eterno, quando udranno le parole della tua bocca,

5e canteranno le vie dell'Eterno, perché grande è la gloria dell'Eterno.

6Anche se l'Eterno è eccelso, egli ha riguardo degli umili, ma il superbo lo conosce da lontano.

7Anche se cammino in mezzo all'avversità tu mi conserverai in vita; tu stenderai la mano contro l'ira dei miei nemici e la tua destra mi salverà.

8L'Eterno compirà l'opera sua in me; o Eterno la tua benignità dura per sempre; non abbandonare le opere delle tue mani.

La Nuova Diodati (LND)
Copyright © 1991 by La Buona Novella s.c.r.l.

Psalm 138

Thanksgiving for the LORD'S Favor.

A Psalm of David.

1I will give You thanks with all my heart;
I will sing praises to You before the gods.

2I will bow down toward Your holy temple
And give thanks to Your name for Your loving kindness and Your truth;
For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name.

3On the day I called, You answered me;
You made me bold with strength in my soul.

4All the kings of the earth will give thanks to You, O LORD,
When they have heard the words of Your mouth.

5And they will sing of the ways of the LORD,
For great is the glory of the LORD.

6For though the LORD is exalted,
Yet He regards the lowly,
But the haughty He knows from afar.

7Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me;
You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my nemies,
And Your right hand will save me.

8The LORD will accomplish what concerns me;
Your loving kindness, O LORD, is everlasting;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands.


Leo Leone, I believe in the power of true love, a gift which has been given to us.

Io ti amo per sempre

I took this grafitti picuture and sent it to Leo.
 He colored in the backgound and sent it back to me.