Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday, Firenze

I bought two contemporary films yesterday at Ricordi Media store. I have to pay full price at this shop, but it's nice to have several newer more famous movies. I have a frequent buyer card good here and at Feltrinelli book stores. That's it for my buying. I have no more room in my suitcases. The books and films will last me until my next trip.

The films I bought:

Il Commissario Montalbano:  La forma dell'acqua
Il Commissario Montalbano:  Il cane di terracotta
Il Commissario Montalbano:  La voce del violino
Il Commissario Montalbano:  La luna di carta
Il Commissario Montalbano:  La pazienza del ragno

(Federico Fellini) La Dolce Vita
(Gabriele Muccino) Baciami Ancora
(Paolo Virzi) La prima cosa bella
(Frederico Moccia) Scusa ma Ti Voglio Sposare
(Rocco Papaleo) Basilicata
(Paolo Virzi) Tutta la vita davanti
(Francesca Archibugi) Lezioni di Volo
(Valerio Mieli) Diece Inverni
(Cristina Comencini) Bianco e Nero
(Gabriele Salvatores) Happy Family


(Puccini) Gianni Schicchi
(Puccini) La Boheme
(Puccini) Il Tabarro
(Ruggiero Leoncavallo) Pagliacci

I am hoping hoping I don't have to give up the Nutella at the airport. I have three jars and they are so heavy. Too too bad.

I walked to the Mercato Vecchio (The Old Market) and as I entered I saw a stand selling panini with trippa. I was ready for lunch but I held off another hour while I browsed and took pictures. I love this market. There are so many colors of spices, oils, meats, breads, pastries, fruits and vegetables.

I searched for and found a small bottle of white truffle oil for my friend Velma. I saw a display of fresh truffles, both white and black. Prices were not posted. I guess if you have to ask, you can't afford them! They are very very costly. In Italy, specially trained dogs search out these edibles, which grow underground.

At the cafe counter paid 3€ for my sandwich. I took the receipt to the area where a man was slicing and chopping cooked meats. I asked for trippa with a spoonful of both the green sauce and the hot red sauce. He prepared and wrapped my panino (sandwich) as I watched.

I carried my delicious treat back to my hotel room to enjoy. When Alessio saw what I had he said 'oh! You are a true Florentine!'

I met Leo this afternoon at 3.30 at our normal meeting spot. It's a close drive from his house. When I got into the car, he was sucking on a white cigarette like stick...pain medicine. Right away, he said 'Che brutto tempo!!' (what terrible weather).

I've done some research on cancer patients, so I was not surprised when he began to talk about his pain and the bad weather. My hope, however, was to draw him out into some positive discussion of other topics. I had brought along an article about why people travel and how it changes them. We sat in the car for several hours, talking. Then, we went into a local 'bar' to enjoy a snack.

We found a comfortable nook and ordered a cappuccino for Leo and hot milk for me. We decided to take pasties too: a glazed donut for Leo and a small slice of apple strudel for me. Cost 11€.

We sat and talked right up to 6.15! During that time, I watched his face relax and his mind was active and alert, as we discussed various topics. He quickly transformed into the Leo I love the most.

This Monday, Leo used his Air France frequent flyer miles to reserve a flight in business class to California in June 2011, with complimentary handicap help. Cost was 350€ to pay airport fees. The tickets are good for one year. The fee is refundable if necessary to cancel.

He told me his wife was not pleased with his decision to travel. But he needs to have something to look forward to! Several months ago, he told me she was supportive of his wish to return to California. I had my doubts at that time.

We talked about how she enjoys taking care of him and she only makes short trips out to the market. She is very good at making sure his medicines are taken on time and preparing meals. I am more than a little concerned that she actually enjoys him in this dependent state. He told me she is a 'mamma' and this is a big help to him. A 'mamma' is not a wife. He knows how I feel about this. Nothing can be changed at this point. I can only support him with love, from a distance. It's not easy to be separated from him. We never ever intended to find love together. Love is good and positive.

I look into the faces of so many older Italian women and I am saddened to see so much unhappiness. I asked Leo, why it is so. He tells me, yes he notices this too. Why why? Perhaps it's a thesis topic for one of his students ...

Leo paid our bill and walked back to me with a big smile, holding a bag of chocolate Baci (kisses) candies. He had chemo therapy on Monday, so I'm afraid to kiss him and transfer germs. We're kissing on the face and with chocolates instead. Nothing has changed between us. After so many years, our connection is as strong as ever.

Leo drove off in a very very good state of mind. I hope he sleeps well tonight.

Monday, Cremona to Firenze

Mattia and Rosa drove me to the station at 8.10 for an 8.40 departure. I validated (time-stamped) my ticket immediately.

An attendant passed by and told Mattia the train to Pisa had been cancelled, apparently due to an accident between a car and the train. We got in line at the ticket counter.

The attendant was not happy to see my ticket had already been stamped. These 'used' tickets cannot be refunded.

With Mattia's help I was re-ticketed to Piacenza and then to someplace called Faenza, where I was to get off and take the train to Firenze, 11 minutes later. I requested Bologna instead of Faenza but the attendant said 'not possible.'

I strapped on my mover's back brace to move my luggage but Mattia insisted on helping me. He asked a train attendant to assist me in Piacenza and was assured 'oh yes'

As the train left the station, I knew the nice attendant would not be helping me. He was the train engineer! Here, people are always quick to offer help but unless it's family, I have learned from experience that the nice expressions of help don't always lead to any action. They mean well and want to be of assistance.

I always carry a map of Italy in the outside pocket of my luggage. I could tell by the size of the print that Faenza is not a metropolis. I also noted I needed to get off in Piacenza and take the train marked to 'Ancona' a city on the opposite coast from Pisa.

I turned on my iPhone. It's expensive to use here, but indispensable when there's a need for information. I knew for certain the 'Ancona' train stopped in Bologna. I checked the website for trenitalia for the scheduled Bologna to Firenze run. If I exited in Bologna I would be in Firenze at 12.30. If I went on to Faenza I would arrive at 2.15 in Firenze.

On the platform in Piacenza I weighed my options. The Bologna to Firenze train was actually the train going onto Rome..the really fast train. It still seemed a better choice to me, but why did the ticket agent tell me it was not possible to take this train?

I boarded the train to Ancona. About 20 minutes from Bologna, Leo called. I explained my quandary. Without hesitation, he said get off in Bologna! He could not understand why I was headed toward Ancona and Faenza was way out of my way.

Just before I exited in Bologna, sweet Rosa texted me to make sure I was on the train to Faenza. I texted back..'getting off in Bologna.'

In Bologna I checked the schedule on the platform once again. Within 10 minutes the train to Rome arrived and I got on. I stayed standing with my bags, in the baggage area, located near the doors. When the Capotreno checked my ticket, I politely explained why I was an unscheduled passenger on his train. Perhaps because I had not taken a seat it was ok. He didn't seem displeased with me.

We arrived in Firenze within 30 minutes and two hours earlier than my original ticket.

Marina called to make sure I had made the connection in Faenza. I told her I was already in Firenze.

It was a clear nice day, so I walked and pulled my bags to the hotel. Alessio and Asumi had left candies and fresh tangerines in my room, along with my three shopping bags which I had left last week.

I spent the afternoon repacking my bags, purchasing Pinocchio for my mother and washed my clothes at a nearby laundromat. I strung my laundry to dry in my room, using a sturdy cord which I always pack.

Then I relaxed, had Clams and Spaghetti for dinner and took an evening walk around town.

Sunday, Cremona

We all went to Mass at 10.00 on Sunday. Mattia wasn't in the pew with us but then Rosa pointed to the front and there he was, accompanying the choir with his guitar! I used my iPhone to record the musical parts of the service. I want to enjoy this day again on Sundays in California. I love our local church! Don Attila smiled a greeting to me when we entered. Just at end of Mass, Rosa told me I could go forward and film Mattia. I thought I was being discrete, but afterward Mattia told me everyone wanted to know who was taking his picture..

The Nativity scene was under construction in the back of the church. I've been lucky to have spent one Christmas here many years ago.

With my new camera, I took a better picture of my special saint, Santa Rita.

We had a restful day at home. I was hoping for snow and lots of it. Marina was wishing for only rain. It did snow but there was no accumulation.

Rosa and I tried to make grissini (breadsticks) using a recipe I brought. I've made them in California and they were really delicious. In Italy they were a failure. I learned something new about leavening. Here there are two types used for bread: chemical and natural. The natural one is yeast, exactly like I use. The other does rise the dough but it's without the fresh bread smell we associate with homemade bread. Secondly, I learned that we could not use Marina's oven as a warm spot to let the bread rise. When I suggested this method, Rosa told me the oven goes into an automatic self-cleaning mode after it's turned off.

Our sad looking breadstick dough did not rise. We rolled it out anyhow, hoping some (chemical) leavening action might take place during a slow bake. When I applied the thyme-olive oil-parmigiano cheese onto the dough, Rosa declared the grissini American not Italian. Still persevering, we baked them. There was absolutely no odor of baking bread. We pulled them out and declared them crunchy breadsticks. I noticed Marina steered clear of them and I was not surprised. They were not taste tempting, although the men did bravely try them.

After our breadstick dough was made, I was already feeling doubtful. When Marta arrived to make pizza for our dinner, she pulled real yeast from the refrigerator and made her dough. She carefully made 8 individual mounds of dough and placed them inside of a plastic box. Then, she secured the lid.

A few hours later I noticed her dough was not rising quickly but it was rising! Our dough just sat there. It was a cold cold day and the dough was not much warmer than we were. We snuggled under quilts and watched TV in the afternoon.

Homemade pizza for dinner was fabulous. A few years ago, they bought an unusual appliance which sits in top of the stove (as needed). It uses both gas and electricity to cook one pizza in about 5 minutes.

Italian pizza is the best!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Saturday, Cremona ( Piacenza)

Today Rosa needed to attend day two of a course from 9-1 in Piacenza. Mattia, Rosa and I left the house at 8.15am to arrive there at 8.45. During the drive on the A31 autostrada, I noticed snow capped mountains in the distance, on both sides of the highway. Alps to the right and the Appenines to the left. We zipped right through the Telepass checkpoint with a transponder similar to the one I have in my car in California.

We dropped Rosa off and headed toward the shopping mall, which has free parking on weekends. I've been to this small two story indoor center before. It's located right next to the Piacenza train station.

Since I had no train ticket for my Monday trip back to Firenze, Mattia and I parked first, then walked to the station. We stood in one of two long ticket purchasing lines. Suddenly, while we were just four people from the front of the line, the ticket agent put up his 'closed' sign. Except for a persistent woman standing in the second spot, the line dissolved as everyone moved to the second line. I politely kept my culture in check but I heard Mattia murmur 'it's not fair'.

A few moments later a new ticket window opened and again, everyone repositioned. After buying my ticket for Monday, Mattia and I had fun practicing his English in the mall supermarket. He's picked up quite a lot English since I first met him. His interest in American comic books has given him an interesting way to study, in the same way I use cook books and films for learning. I'm in my element in the grocery store. We filled up his small notebook with new words.

In the school supplies aisle, I again looked for index cards. They do not seem to be available nor used in Italy. I need to bring some to Marta for her classroom. She loves the idea of flash cards.

Mattia recalled I had used the word 'spooky' several days ago. This study of language is amazing and one never knows in what direction a conversation might go. Mattia and I had a fun, laughing discussion on the word groovy. We turned on my iPhone and found this great song on You Tube and studied it.


In the cool of the evening
When everything is gettin kind of groovy
I call you up
And ask you if you want to go with me and see a movie
First you say no, you've got some plans for the night
And then you stop, and say, all right
Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you
For my studies, this trip I have bought four audio books plus their printed version. Books on tapes are not widely available in Italy. I was very pleased to find some contemporary Italian literature in audio format. I want to increase my vocabulary, improve my accent and pronunciation.

By Andrea Camilleri:  Il nipote del Negus
By Andrea Camilleri:  La Luna di Carta
By Gianrico Carofiglio:  Ad Occhi Chiusi
By Moony Witcher:  La bambina della Sesta Luna

Non audio:
By Alessandro Genovesi:  Happy Family
By Andrea Camilleri:  La Scomparsa di Pato
By Helena Frith Powell:  Ciao Bella

Mattia and I continued our exchange of new words, as we strolled through the mall, window shopping. We paused outside a Romanian ethnic shop. I wanted a picture but he told me photographs are prohibited by mall security. This small market had a low counter containing meats and cheeses. On the far left wall of the shop, Romanian goods were shelved, as in any market. We observed it was impossible for potential customers to reach or touch any items due to a barrier created by a single small freezer (also inaccessible) and a saw horse. The shop was empty, except for two very stern looking counter women. Mattia said, 'They must know their customers very well.'

We passed a pastry shop.  These window displays always make me want to go in and buy one of everything.

We walked a few blocks to Piazza Cavalli where we found a crowded outdoor 'mercato' taking place. Mattia wanted to test his new camera today, but he told me his hands were too cold.

I took pictures of the Basilica of San Francesco and some interesting facial expressions on the sculptures.

Later that afternoon, Rosa and I researched the differences between a Basilica, a Duomo, a Cathedral and a church.  We also discovered information about holy doors. More later when I have time to translate it.

After a late lunch, Rosa took me along while she did her weekly shopping at the CremonaDue supermercato, I walked up and down every aisle. I bought my usual: Perugia powdered chocolate and two big 9 packs of KitKat candy (made with Swiss chocolate).

At home, Marta surprised me with a gift from her and Rosa! The newest cookbook by Benedetta Parodi.!

In the evening, with Mario driving, the five of us went out for pizza. I turned on my iPhone and used the check-in. Very cool!

The pizzas were huge but with thin crust and cooked in a wood burning brick oven. Wonderful! We had no room for dessert but I did peek to another table and saw pan-cotta drizzled with chocolate sauce.

I was the only one to carry a doggy bag home.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in Italy

It's 9 pm on Thanksgiving Day and the girls have gone off with their husbands. Primo and Marina are relaxing by watching TV.

Tonight, we seven enjoyed a delicious dinner together. For one of the courses, Marina made lentils, which are traditionally served on New Year's Eve. They bring money and of course good luck. Dinner was completed with a layered dessert, topped with homemade whipped cream.

Primo has just prepared a hot water bottle for me! Just what I need to warm up my bed. I'm sleeping in Marta's childhood room this trip. It's cold but I really prefer sleeping in a cold room. I sleep deeply without nightmares here. It's a blessing

At the hotel in Firenze I keep the window open at night. I remember several winter trips I made to the Veneto Alpine area with Leo. At first Leo thought I was eccentric with my need for fresh air at night, even while ice sickles hung from the eaves of our hotel window. Later he understood my need for cool fresh air at night and my sweetheart slept with a scarf wrapped around his neck.

I never realized I have asthma. Now I understand why dry, warm or cigarette tainted air, shuts down my airways and makes for sleepless painful nights.

There's a nice down comforter on my bed here and the temperature is about 37 F. outside. The weatherman has changed his forecast and it will not snow tomorrow after-all. I am a little disappointed for the beautiful pictures I'll be missing.

Today while everyone else worked, I broke-in my new boots by waking all around town, looking in all the shops, food stores and markets, with my camera in hand.

I walked up and down every aisle in COOP, a grocery store in operation since 1854. There is a Ipercoop we sometimes visit, outside the city. Ipercoop is a hypermarket, which is a combination of supermarket and a department store.

Today I bought a supply of oregano, hot pepper flakes, Nutella chocolate spread, cacao and trofiette pasta (specialty of Liguria). Rosa and I shopped at Zara's (clothing) before dinner. I found an adorable wool plaid short cape, perfect for use in California beach weather.

I'm reading myself to sleep with a new book. Marta and Rosa really surprised me tonight by gifting me with Benedetta Parodi's newest cookbook 'Benvenuti nella Mia Cucina' (Welcome to My Kitchen) plus an adorable miniature Panettone box.
I bought Benedetta's first book last night after falling in love with Marta's copy. I read 100% better than I can speak.

I am thankful for my many blessings and for the 15 years I have been welcomed into this Italian family. Grazie mille dal mio cuore

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cremona Wednesday Mercato

This morning I went to the 'Mercato' which takes place on Wednesday mornings until 1pm. I had almost two full hours to take in every part.  It's setup mainly in Cremona's Piazza Stradivari but overflows out onto the side streets and ends in the Piazza del Comune with a large flower market which offers plants, cactus, cut flowers and seedlings. The brightly colored tulips I saw today were still in their wrappings, marked New Zealand. 

I took lots of pictures of crated fruits and vegetables, cheeses, salami and dried meats.

The traveling vendors have elaborate refrigerated trucks which unfold into full service counters.

I bought three pairs of cotton socks  (5€), a soft wool/cashmere scarf (10€) and a pomegranate (3€) for Rosa. I was surprised to hear she has never tasted one. This week, I'll show her how to easily peel it and if we have time, we'll make a recipe I brought her for a rice salad with pomegranate. 

I made it home by 12.00 and four of us had salad, cheese and bread for lunch. 

At 1.30, Marta and I left to walk to her house and run errands.  When we returned at 3.30, three trays of fresh ricotta-spinach ravioli were sitting on the table in a spotlessly clean kitchen. In that short time Marina had done it all herself. 

At 4, Marta and her mother, Marina made cheesecake topped with a thin layer of raspberry jam. 

Tonight seven of us devoured all but ten of those feather light ravioli and most of the cheesecake.  I am getting a refresher course in cooking and in eating.  (My ravioli pasta definitely needs to be thinner.) 

Here in this family, we come to the dinner table hungry and we eat our fill of wholesome, unprocessed, delicious food.  The grazing and snacking habits in the USA do not foster healthy eating. I always feel hunger when I'm in the US and I know it's not a hunger of the stomach. 

When I arrived yesterday, Marina had a long serious discussion with me on the topic of Minestrone Soup. I need to correct my recipe (which she had read on my Blog) and remove the reference to the herb timo (thyme). It is not her recipe if it calls for timo. 

Rosa and Marta have chosen their husbands well. Before dinner Mattia, Rosa's husband of two years, walked into the city center with us. During the hour we shopped, he was such a pleasure to be with. 

I bought torrone candy and mostarda, a hot dried fruit compote, from the Sperlari shop.  A sign in the window proudly states the shop has been in business in this location, since 1836. 

Tonight I was pleased to see Mario, Marta's husband of six months affectionately greet her when he arrived here for dinner. 

Primo and Marina have been excellent role models for all of us.