Saturday, December 24, 2011

24 Dec 2011 Christmas Eve

I have been reading an Italian book, written for pre-teen girls. It's named "Buon Natale, Valentina." Today was a extra special day, which is nice, since it's Christmas Eve.

Since I first started studying Italian many years ago, I have purchased books in Italy to bring home to California. My first books were from the children's section. I found a series about a girl named Valentina. I choose this series, primarily because I did not want to read American/British children's books which had been translated.

The author of the Valentina series is an Italian, Angelo Petrosino. In my quest to learn the Italian language, I have found that one needs to also study culture, families, traditions and history. This information can be found in children's books.

The first Valentina books (2001) follow 10 year old Valentina, her family, school friends and her dreams, questions and thoughts about her world. I now have over 20 Valentina books. Each trip I make to Italy, I buy a few from Edison Libreria in Firenze. It's my special indulgence.

Until 6 months ago, I was unable to read these books with ease. The first books took me months to get through, with a pen and dictionary always by my side. My books are marked with notes about grammar, customs and everyday phrases I want to remember.

The books are numerically numbered.  Two weeks ago, I jumped from number 4 to number 11 "Buon Natale, Valentina" (Merry Christmas, Valentina!). I have been reading it each day during my 30 minute van pool drive to work.

Yesterday, I finished this fabulous little book. It may appear to be written for children, but it is definitely more ... Yesterday I knew I had to write a thank you note to Angelo Petrosino. I pulled together my best Italian and sent an email, expressing my appreciation for everything I find in his books: grammar lessons, life lessons and an insight into the mind of a modern young Italian child.

I received an early Christmas present this morning. I found an email from Angelo Petrosino in my Inbox. WOW! A kind, thoughtful man whom I would love to meet. I didn't tell him that of course, but I would. He understood exactly what I said or meant to say. He's been an elementary school teacher for 40 years and understands children. He has been known as the Story Telling Teacher. He told me he learned the art of story telling from his grandfather. This skill, he used to create his Valentina books.

If you love the Italian language, you will love the Valentina series. Each book is a treasure.

"E siccome quel personaggio dice le cose che anche io penso, vuol dire che nelle pagine di un libro sta parlando anche per me. Di conseguenza sono io che, alla fine, dialogo con le mie lettrici e i miei lettori."
"And since that character says the things I think, means that the pages of the book speak for me. Therefore I am, ultimately, in a dialogue with my writings and my readers."

Interviews with the author:

WebSite: Angelo Petrosino

Thursday, November 24, 2011

12 Nov 2011 Cooking Class at the Italian Cultural Institute

Michele is such a wonderful Italian teacher. He's changed the format for the cooking classes. Now we bring in our own recipes to cook and then eat. We're allowed a $20 cooking allowance per class.

For the class two weeks ago, I brought this cake, which I made at home. The Italian teachers sent word down to the kitchen that they would LOVE to have a piece of this cake. Word travels fast, when good food is involved. I went home with an empty dish! I was so happy to have received the taste approval from everyone. I try so hard to recreate Italian food here.

Italian Hazel Nut Cake with Orange Glaze


4 eggs
½ C granulated sugar
1 C hazel nuts, toasted, peeled and chopped (See note for toasting hazel nuts)
(may substitute almonds for hazel nuts)
½ C flour
1 t baking powder
2 T orange zest
1 T fresh orange juice
1 t vanilla


2 C powdered sugar
2 ½ T fresh orange juice
½ t almond extract
½ C chopped or slivered almonds, toasted until golden

Preheat oven to 350 F

Butter a 10 inch spring form pan and dust with flour.

Beat egg whites with the orange juice and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together egg yolks and sugar until almost foamy. Add hazel nuts, flour, baking powder and orange zest. Gently fold in the egg whites.

Pour batter into pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Remove cake from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack.

Make frosting: Combine ingredients and frost top of cake. Frosting should drizzle down sides of cake. Top with toasted slivered almonds

How to toast Hazel nuts

Preheat oven to 350 F
Place nuts on a cookie sheet and bake 10-15 minutes or until skins are blistered.
Remove from oven and immediately wrap the nuts in a wet kitchen towel.
Let steam for 1 minute.
Roll the nuts in the towel to remove loose skins.
Don’t worry if not all skins come off.

For the second cooking today, I prepared this yummy dish, copied from the Academia-Barilla website. Michele likes to "approve" recipes before we bring them in. He told me he didn't like olives and didn't want me to cook with olives. I asked him to trust me, he would love this pasta...and he did. He was impressed that it was authentically easy and delicious.

Pasta with Olives and goat cheese

Serves 4

1 lb mezze penne (400 g)
7 oz goat cheese
1 oz extra virgin olive oil
3 oz Italian black olives (similar to California black olives)

Preparation time:
5 minutes preparation + 10 minutes cooking

Pit the olives and chop finely.

Put the goat cheese in a bowl and, using a fork, pour in the oil, mixing continuously until creamy. Then stir in the chopped olives.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Check the box for the cooking time. When done cooking, drain the pasta and toss with the sauce.
Serve immediately


Sunday, October 9, 2011

September 17, 2011 Angels come for Leo

This week, Leo has been given stronger and stronger pain medicine, as the morphine has not given him pain relief. He has been sleeping almost all the time, but sometimes waking up in great pain. One day I felt him calling my name for a few moments.

A nurse comes daily to attend to Leo, being very gentle with him, I am told by his friend Andrea. I now know that Andrea and Leo were childhood friends, who had not seen each other since their respective marriages. When Leo became ill, Andrea was at Leo's home weekly and then daily to help him. When I was able to travel to Italy Andrea brought Leo to me.

On September 3, Andrea, had texted me a message from Leo. "Don't call or send Leo text messages, because his wife controls everything now."  I am to contact Andrea only. I understand Leo's son could not bear to see Leo in this condition and has not visited often.

Andrea has been sending me daily updates since then.

On Wednesday night, September 14, I had a dream. Leo and I were in a crowd of people, going through a dim tunnel. We were being jostled about. Leo stopped and said, "You can't go any further with me. You need to make an excuse to go back. Tell them you need to find a bathroom." I woke up. I understood the message.

Friday night, September 16 in California at 9:15 which is 6:15 am Saturday morning in Italy, I posted on FaceBook this thought:

"Dear ones. I believe the angels are approaching our sweet Leo."

I fell into a deep sleep at 9:30, unusual for me on a Friday night. I was dreaming when I suddenly woke up. It was 11:10. I grabbed for my cellphone and there was a text message from Andrea:

"Alle 7 Leo e' stato portato via dagli angeli
"Leo was taken away by the angels at 7 am."

I spent the night on FaceBook, writing to each student.

Funeral arrangements apparently had already been made.

I continued to inform our friends, using FaceBook to post, as I received information.

At 5:30 am I fell into an exhausted sleep.

In the morning I found this picture in my email. Rosa had gone to our church in Cremona and lit a candle for Leo, right in front of my favorite saint, Santa Rita.  So sweet, she sent me the proper prayer too. I love my Italian family so much for their constant support, thoughtfulness and love.

Questa รจ una preghiera per i defunti.
L'eterno riposo dona a loro o Signore, risplenda ad essi la luce perpetua, riposino in pace amen.

September 7, 2011 Leo's clothes

Two years ago, I packed Leo’s suits, ties, shirts and casual clothes in containers with moth balls. The idea was to make sure insects would not feast and the clothes would be ready for his return.

It is clear now, that Leo will not be returning. I spoke to him about what to do with his belongings here. He told me, they belong to us, so anything I decide will be ok. He asked me not to give away his favorite off-white jacket nor his treasured metal detector.

A few weeks ago, I donated a dozen pairs of his shoes to a Japanese Tsunami charity. I held back his slippers and four pairs of his most worn (and loved) shoes.

This weekend, I decided it was time to let his clothing go. I spoke with a friend who mentioned the LDS charity van was in Newport Beach this week. For the first time since I packed, I went through the clothes, pulling out items I just cannot part with: his white terry robe, which he loved wearing after a long hot shower. T-shirts purchased during our American adventures. I remember he never felt comfortable wearing those shirts, unless they were ironed. Yes, I ironed them. It was a matter of “bella figura” meaning it was impossible for him to dress in wrinkled or just out of the dryer clothes.

I kept some of his favorite ties. The alligator belt, stamped “Made in Italy” I adopted as my own. On a hook in my closet, his casual tan weekend jacket still hangs, just where he left it in May 2009. I shake the dust off of it every so often. I’ve starting sleeping with the pajama top he used in the evenings when he was ready to relax. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but I can still smell him on it, even though it’s been laundered. His slippers are still in the closet.

It would have broken my heart to sell his things at a garage sale. Instead, I’ve decided to donate to charity.

Italians have an innate distrust of charities so I’m trying to do what Leo would like.

I received a call from a friend early in the week. She knew of a man, whose x-wife, in anger, had cut up all of his clothes. My friend thought Leo and this man were about the same height and weight. Yesterday morning, before leaving for work, I loaded my car with various bags and tubs of clothes.

When I arrived at 5:30 to drop off Leo’s clothes, I suddenly became overwhelmed. The instant I had unloaded the car, I tearfully headed home. Only 15 minutes had passed, when I called my friend and asked her to pull out Leo’s hiking boots. I can’t bear to give them away. He had so many wonderful adventures in those shoes.

Last night my phone rang. There was a man on the line…the man without clothes. He called to say thank you. He said the clothes were heaven-sent. The clothes fit him. But the style, I asked? Are they your style? Yes, he answered. I told him Leo would be glad then. I didn’t mention “bella figura” last night, but today I can smile and think, Leo would be pleased. The style was right.

Getty Museum, 2009

September 1, 2011 Leo's last days

Leo spent a good part of the 2011 summer at his sea-side home. Unfortunately, his legs became paralyzed during this period. He was transported by ambulance back to Firenze last week. Whether because of the movement and long trip to the city or just the results of the ongoing attack of the multiple myeloma on his body, he has begun a slow downward decline.

It has been difficult to be excluded from his life during his last days. Two weeks ago, the doctor gave him the sad news that he has entered into the final phase of this cancer. Leo called me after the doctor’s visit, but he was overcome by emotion and unable to talk.

I have mixed feelings about his medical treatment in Italy. He has had no family advocate to ask questions and seek out the best treatment. I guess I am still a good percentage American.

On the other hand, his personal doctor does make frequent house calls. That is unheard of here in California. Last night finally, a morphine IV was started by the doctor. Leo has been in increasing excruciating pain as his spine deteriorates.

The grief counseling I attended for the past two months was a help. She listened to our story and was touched by it. She said what Leo and I had, was a rare occurrence. Leo and I were fortunate to have had the time we had together. We had wonderful adventures. We shared ourselves with each other, without barriers. We really did find true love and we taught each other.

We both learned from it. I learned to trust and love a man. He learned to trust and love. He told me last week, his heart was opened to love, because of our relationship. He tells me his wife is working exhaustively now to care for him. He sees her dedication and her love for him. No, it’s not romantic love, but I can now accept there are different forms of love between a man and a woman. I try to let the anger go. She does not give him emotional support. I see his son, so disconnected from Leo’s illness.

Last week Leo told me our relationship opened his heart to see love, everywhere.

I recalled our first argument, almost 10 years ago. It was during his first trip bringing students here. He told me I was acting too familiar with them. I had greeted them at the airport with bottled water and fresh fruit and chocolate to keep in their motel room that first night. We had invited them to my little studio apartment near the beach and had prepared a barbecued steak dinner for them. When Leo told me I was being too familiar, I asked him to explain. I was hotly angry as he explained his rationale.

Culture clash! As a professor, he expected to be treated with the respect and admiration he deserved. They, being college students, knew their place. I was confusing them, treating them as if I was their loving aunt. I went into a chilled quiet zone, too hurt and angry to counter argue. How could I argue with culture? Then I began to really look at my anger.

The day is clearly set in both our minds. As the students roamed Venice Beach boardwalk, Leo and I broke down the facts, line by line. I told him I am a kind, mothering person. My own children were not available to me and had shunned me in anger. I thrived in nurturing other people. It was my nature. For him to tell me to stop my behavior toward the students, was to tell me to stop being myself. Our relationship was at a pivotal point that day.

I asked him how it was possible for him to travel and live with these students for 3 weeks with the Prof/Student barrier rigidly in place? We worked out a compromise. I would continue to freely be myself. He would not ask me to change. I would not try to break or change the relationship between Leo and the students. They addressed him in the formal “Lei” when speaking.

As the trip passed and other trips with other students occurred, I noticed Leo began to change. As he changed, so did the students. A new Prof/Student relationship emerged. The changes occurred both here and at the University in Italy. Leo became a sought-after advisor and instructor at the University. The students adored him and he returned their affection. He was and continues to be an inspiration. His goal was to show the students how to follow their own dreams and achieve their goals.

Past students have now transitioned into being Leo’s friends. Students, past and present, have visited him during hospital stays and in his home. They have continued to seek his advice on work projects and life decisions. Leo thrives on their attention.

Leo has asked me to post health updates on his FaceBook account. He trusts me to help maintain his dignity as a man and as a Prof. The students leave sweet loving messages which give him emotional support. We are all devastated to know the end is coming.

I suspect his family is unaware of the vast number of friends Leo has in both Italy and the USA.

I think the time has come to bring Leo out of the shadows. Here is a picture of Leo as he looked just during his last and final trip here. One month later, he was hospitalized and in frail health.

The Grove, Los Angeles
May 2009

With his last group of students on a study trip to California

Monday, September 5, 2011

May 9, Cremona to Firenze


On the Pisa train to Fidenza and then a transfer to Bologna. There was a truck accident on the tracks this morning so we need to go to Piacenza, wait 10 minutes and then reverse course and head back to Fidenza.

We mostly said our family goodbyes last night. I set my alarm for 6.30 and Primo had already left for work. Next Mattia, outfitted smartly in his Vespa riding gear, came to give me a goodbye kiss and hug. Rosa was next, taking a plate of pasta offered by Marina and tucking it into a carry-bag. At 7.50 Marta rang the bell at the gate to let us know she was waiting with her bicycle to walk me to the train station.

This morning Marina and I talked about Leo's health. I'm in a difficult situation. She encouraged me to speak to a travel agent to arrange a tour of Roma and the areas around Napoli and Pompeii. It's so expensive to arrange these tours in the US. Marta suggested I ask this week at an Italian Agenzia di Viaggio. I'm going to take her advice and do this tomorrow.

Leo and I planned to meet today but he is too weak with anemia. He received two pints of blood on Saturday and felt better. I am very concerned he is feeling weak so soon. I had trouble sleeping last night.

On the train toward Ancona which stops in Parma, Modena and Bologna.

In the countryside near Cremona I saw corn plants only 6 inches tall. Outside of Parma it smells of freshly cut hay or is it alfalfa? There are fields and fields of freshly cut grasses still laying on the ground were they fell when cut. Other places the grass has been racked in to neat mounds. Some fields already are cleared with neat rolled bundles. I saw some of these field being cut last week.

Bright red poppies thrive amongst the rails of the train tracks.

Oh another first for me. My fellow passenger is a well behaved blond poodle. It's sitting serenely in its travel bag, its big brown eyes looking at me curiously.

May 8, Sunday in Cremona

There was an emergency during Sunday mass this morning.

Around 9 am, I walked with Martina, Primo, Rosa and Mattia to church. It's just a five minute stroll from home. The family prefers a pew nearer to the rear of the church and I always take a seat on the inside aisle of the pew, to better see everything and I like to record the singing interludes, using my iPhone. Rosa was sitting next to me.

Halfway through the service, I saw an older woman fall sideways, right off a pew and onto the center aisle. Her head hit on the stone floor, with the sound echoing throughout. There was a collective gasp and immediately two women and two men were crouched down to assist. They were careful not to move her and the priest stopped his sermon. He called out to someone in the room behind the altar. Rosa whispered to me that an ambulance had been called.

The priest (the same one who performed the marriage ceremonies for both Rosa and Marta) came down from the altar area to check on the elderly woman. He knelt down and kissed her forehead. He then returned to the altar and resumed the services. I could see she was moving her hands. Rosa told me later that the woman said she was okay and she only wanted to go home.

The services continued, even as three ambulance attendants, dressed in bright yellow uniforms, brought their stretcher down the aisle, gently placed her on the gurney and quietly whisked her out. As they passed by, I tried to send good thoughts. Her eyes were closed and her coloring was chalk white. We could faintly hear the siren as they drove off.

I am remembering one Sunday, when Leo and I attended mass in Palm Springs, with three of his students, two girls and a boy. The boy's mother was American and each summer, he spent several months a year in California with his uncle's family. He felt comfortable being here in the states.

It was June and we had been spending a three day weekend at my family's condo in Palm Springs. It's a simple, comfortable place with a shared pool on the condominium's grounds. Leo loves it there.

On Saturday evening we had barbecued steaks on the outdoor charcoal grill and introduced the students to s'mores. After dinner, the young man had checked on-line, found an address and mass schedules for the nearest Catholic church. He asked permission to be dropped off on Sunday morning. It evolved that we all decided to go together. It was the only time we ever attended mass with visiting students.

During the mass, the Italians were impressed with the orderly emptying and filling of the pews, one pew at a time, during the sacrament. Leo leaned to me and whispered, "In Italy, everyone just crowds up at all once. Here, as usual, Americans have their own unique way of organizing even the mass. This training comes naturally, this American trait of working together as a team, without direction."

I was impressed today with the Italian calmness I saw in the church. I have had interesting discussions with Martina after her parents passed. Perhaps it's the Italian Catholic philosophy of life, death and acceptance of the natural order of life's events, along with the faith of believing what comes afterwards. This lifelong religious training, nurtures a feeling of hope for the living.

Santa Rita, my favorite saint.  I always take a moment to say hello to her.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

May 7 Salsomaggiore Terme Spa Experience

After finding street parking, it was just a five minute walk to this ornate building, which resembles a theater. We all carried or had on bathing suits under our clothes. The Spa was constructed in 1924, over naturally salty thermal waters. I stopped to read this information:

I found more facts in a brochure: "USP Salsomaggiore Terme is famous throughout Europe for its natural salty thermal waters, rich in iodine, bromine, sulphur and calcium. Here, water is the master. It comes direct from artisan wells up to 1,200 m deep at a temperature of 16°C and with a salt density three times higher than that of the Dead Sea."

We approached the check-in counter, where our reservations were confirmed and we paid our fee of 36 Euro.

We were each given a folded white terry robe and a locker key. An attendant led us up a grand staircase. I had not imagined the spa would be this elegant. The walls were filled with huge paintings and stained glass windows. Sparking crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling.

On the next floor, we were directed by an attendant dressed in a white uniform and cap, to a pristine white, clean, large dressing room. Men and women to the same area, although I didn't see exactly where our two guys went. We were given clean slippers as we entered. (Spogliatoio translates to dressing room.)

There were separate baskets for soiled foot booties, towels and robes along one wall. Along another wall were small cabana type changing rooms with doors.

In the center, were several rows of enclosures, each included a tiny bench and crisp white privacy curtains. Just outside the changing room, I saw a long table with mirrors and electric outlets. Women can bring their own hair dryers and makeup for use after the spa experience.

We each privately changed our street clothes for bathing suits and covered with the white robes. We locked our possessions in individual long cupboards. Not knowing what exactly was in store for us, I left my camera too.

Carrying only our keys with us and dressed in our white robes and slippers, we exited this area to the corridor where the attendant lead us back down the staircase and toward an elevator.

Just to the left of the elevator was a large bathroom, with a sink, radiator and private toilet area. The tiled room was very warm, very humid and sparkling clean and the fixtures looked to be from the early 1900s. We each made a stop bathroom stop here.

I had butterflies in my stomach as all six of us squeezed into the elevator and rode down. I'm not sure how many levels we descended. I felt fear overtaking me. I told Rosa, "Don't worry if I get too scared to do this. Just carry-on without me." Rosa smiled sweetly and said, "Don't worry Zia." Big strong Mattia looked about as enthusiastic as I did. But, there was no way he was going to chicken out.

We cautiously stepped from the elevator into a warm humid atmosphere. Another attendant greeted us and we entered into large solarium like area. Behind a waist high wooden counter, three uniformed attendants were ready to take our locker keys for safe-keeping. We were all given hair covers (loose shower caps) and towels. The towels were not terry like our robes, but heavier, dense cotton. These towels felt more like a blanket, which is what they turned out to be.

To the right of the counter were 3 or 4 large pitchers of water and fresh juices: orange, grapefruit and tea. There were also bowls of pretzels, potato chips and peanuts. Clean glasses, small dishes and paper napkins were set to the side of these snacks. Across the room were cushioned wicker chairs and tables, arranged in groupings of four, for a total of perhaps 20 chairs. Each table contained a small stack of magazines.

We were directed to enter another room, though two large swinging doors to the left of the counter. This was new experience for each of us and we entered duckling style, one after another, cautiously stepping on the wet tile, our feet in the oversized flat slippers, which did not slip! This area was warm, humid and noisy. It sounded as if we were on the back side of a waterfall. What a nice surprise awaited us!

In a loud voice, Rosa told me the area with wall hooks was where we were to leave our booties, robes and towels. Wearing our bathing suits and shower caps, we stepped down into a gently lighted room, containing a big shallow pool of bubbling, swirling warm water. There was no odor of sulfur, as I had expected. We stepped down again into the pool, which had a uniform depth of about five feet.

Here are some pictures copied from the Terme Salsomaggiore website (Terme di salsomaggiore)showing each room we experienced:

Mari d'Oriente (Eastern Seas) (Name of the area we were experiencing)

Room 1 (Sea of Harmony) for 35-40 minutes of hydro-massage.

There are four stations in this pool. The whirling waters or waterfalls could be manually turned on by touching underwater rubberized buttons. The waterfall station was heavenly. Tepid water fell right onto the shoulder area for a wonderful massage. We were all surprised how tense we had been. Everyone found their favorite niche and just relaxed in place to de-stress. The water was noisy but we were mostly silent because it felt so soothing and relaxing. We exchanged station locations every 10 minutes.

Room 2 (Sea of Energy)-- We frolicked like children, in constant movement though this maze room for 30 minutes! The combination of cold and water waters caused a lot of happy shouts. The room required walking or floating through all the stations. My feet were pleasantly surprised by bubbling cold water while at the same time, a warm whirlpool of water hit at the waist level. Not seen in the picture is a walk-in part of the maze, which consisted of cold then warm showers. We were all smiles.

Room 3 Sea of Music (20 minutes) -- We each found a spot and just floated quietly in this paradise. Wonderful music could be heard coming from under the water. The pool was a perfect warm temperature. The outer walls lightly dripped cold rain onto us. We spent more than 20 minutes here and left only because another group arrived.
Room for Relaxing (20 minutes) -- This room was pleasantly a shade dimmer than the other rooms. Before entering, we all went to our hooks to retrieve the special towel-blankets we had been issued. Unfortunately, at this point I was too relaxed and jet-lag was threatening to overcoming me. I was worried I would fall into a deep sleep. I put on my white robe and exited to the large solarium, where I read and snacked on peanuts and pretzels.

Since our reservation was for three hours, Rosa and the others repeated all the rooms at least one more time. Meanwhile, I fought to stay awake with reading magazines.

The first thing I noticed when our group joined me in the solarium was everyone had a ruddy complexion with relaxed faces. After they had their 30 minutes of snacks and juice, we all headed back to the dressing room and changed into our street clothes. Several of the girls had hair dryers.

In that special Italian style of bella figura, everyone looked ready to go "out" after changing back to their street clothes. Italians do not generally wear sweats or gym clothes in public and changing rooms are provided at gyms. Service people and shop girls may also wear uniforms at their place of employment. Changing rooms are provided at the work place.

We were all starving and ready to find pizza but we declined. Marina had planned dinner for us and we were expected to be on time for the 8 pm dinner. Mattia, Rosa and I walked to the car, while the others walked on foot to find pizza.

As we drove out of town, I saw a number of hotels. I can see why it would be a prudent idea to just stay overnight. We were so totally relaxed. Home was nearby and Mattia is a careful driver. I felt myself dosing off in the car, but fought to stay awake.

Marina had a wonderful dinner waiting for us, which we devoured.

After dinner, Rosa and I collapsed on the couch to watch "Italy's Got Talent." Our faces were ruddy and I still could taste salt. Mattia said his good nights and retired to their apartment, which adjoins that of Primo and Marina.

Italy's Got Talent, in the Italian way, broadcasts a combination of truly awful performances, along with silly amateur acts and some other, very talented participants. As Rosa and I struggled to stay awake, Marina suddenly jumped up from the couch. I could see her rummaging through a trunk.

That trunk contains old family movies and I was hoping she would find what she was looking for. Back she came with a VHS tape. She took control of the TV and began fast forwarding, stopping, fast forwarding. I was disappointed to not see more than a few seconds of this and that. I was definitely fading away.

At last, she decided this was not the right tape and at the same moment, Rosa and I decided the day had ended for us. Marina promised she would have the correct tape ready for Sunday night!

I fell asleep instantly in my comfortable bed and had a peaceful wonderful rest.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

May 7 Arrival in Cremona and drive to Salsomaggiore Terme Spa

I’m on the 7 am train, from Firenze (SMN) to Bologna, dizzy with lack of sleep.

Last night I had planned for a quiet evening to relax and sleep. Instead, I had to call the bank in California regarding my ATM card not working. At 9:00 pm Italian time I used my iPhone and placed the call.

I explained my issue and told the girl I was making a very expensive phone call from Italy. She seemed impressed with my 'vacation' location, but was totally clueless as to the cost and the need for some quickness to help me. I was put on hold 3 frustrating times until a technical technician found a programming error on my account. My stress level kept increasing as the line went silent for a total of twenty full minutes on hold. The phone fees will be so costly!

Traveling abroad should be a requirement for all high school students. Everyone needs to be extracted from their comfort zone to experience the world and gain an appreciation for life, cultures and the gift of time. I was so stressed by that call. Add jet-lag to the mix, plus worries about getting up early to take a 6:30 taxi to the train station and I just couldn't fall asleep.

It was easy catching the train this morning with only one bag, weighing just under 50 pounds. I left my carry-on bag at the hotel, filled with the books and DVD's I bought yesterday. I also left behind See's candy for Leo along with the corn tortillas, longhorn cheese and a chocolate Easter egg I brought for Asumi and Alessio, owners of my hotel.

Last night, at the tiny store next to my hotel, I picked up a nice salame from the Tuscan countryside to take to my family in Cremona.

I am wearing my new Ferragamo shoes. I believe we don't pay USA entry customs taxes on worn items, plus I want to add some memories onto these shoes. I decided against a Louis Vuitton bag. The VAT (tax) is 30% and I can purchase one in the US. Yes, I know one can get that tax back, but after trying it once, it's not worth it. The items need to be kept new to get the tax refund when departing Italy. I know from experience, the California Franchise Tax Board will send a tax bill, so you have to pay it anyhow.

I need to stay awake on this train! I didn't realize when I bought the tickets, but this is the new super fast direct train which runs from Roma to Milano, with just a few stops in between, including Firenze and Bologna. I'm so glad I bought a watch in Paris. I've also set my iPhone alarm, just to make sure I don't sleep through my stop in Bologna.

What a nice transfer I made at Bologna! I didn't have to cross over to another track and I had an easy 20 minute lag before the train for Fidenza arrived. Then at Fidenza, there was an elevator and plenty of time to change to the train for Cremona. I arrived on time, at 10:20 in Cremona.

It was wonderful to see Marta at the station waiting for me. She walked her bike and I pulled the one bag and we walked home. I was really thrilled to see Marina in curlers. She gave me permission to take this picture, as long as her face is hidden!

I love the informality that welcomes me back home again. It's Saturday morning and Primo is out playing golf. Mario is at work. Rosa and Mattia will be returning soon.

While waiting for Rosa to come home, I unpacked the goodies I brought. I had maple syrup for both Marta and Rosa, comic books requested by Mattia, 3x5 cards and some teaching aids for Rosa, cute Easter tea towels for both girls, baking powder, chocolate chips and California roasted almonds, which Primo loves. I also had makings for tacos: two dozen fresh corn tortillas and longhorn cheddar cheese. This time I had magazines for all and they turned out to be big hit.

Marina: Soap Opera Digest
Primo: Golf
Marta: Brunch Ideas
Mario: Car and Driver
Rosa: Recipes
Mattia: Wired

Rosa arrived home and we all raced over to Piazza Roma to buy bread at the Pane in Piazza (Bread in the Piazza) event. The girls explained that this event showcases young apprentice bakers who are learning the art of bread baking under their "Maestri Fornai" (Teaching Bakers. We each bought several bags of hot hand sized foccacia and pizza breads and began to munch. There is nothing in the world as good as hot out of the oven bread!

Cost was three pieces for 1 Euro. We're coming back tomorrow, Sunday to buy more bread. Today we need to get right back home for lunch. I really want to watch the whole process and get more pictures.


Lunch was so yummy! Marina had made gnocchi in the morning and served them with three sauces: Pesto, tomato and gorgonzola. Tri-color, like the Italian flag I told her. It is so fun to be able to talk to Marina now. I understand mostly what she says to me and she is a great teacher. She gently corrects me when I speak badly. I love love being back home. I even resumed my old job of shaking out the tablecloth over the balcony railing, after lunch. I like having this chore.

No time to take a nap today! Rosa tells me we have an appointment at the spa. At 2:00, Rosa, Mattia and I loaded our towels and bags of fresh clothes into the car and headed to the town of Salsomaggiore Terme. Three friends followed in a second car. Mattia used his Garmin to navigate the one hour drive.

It was the first time for all of us to visit this spa. Mattia was a little reluctant, but supportive of Rosa, his wife. I was afraid, but I trust Rosa and her instincts. "Don't worry Zia, it will be fun!"

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 6, Firenze and the Mostra Internazionale dell'Artigianato


I slept nine hours last night and was out the door by 10 am this morning. Still no word from Leo and I am starting to worry. He had a blood transfusion last week to control anemia. Maybe he's in the hospital again. I sent another SMS text message again this am, along with an email.

First stop was the Bancomat ATM to pull euros to pay my hotel bill. I can budget my money better when I pay them in full for all nights.

I had a sinking feeling when the ATM returned one of my bank cards with the message "Please contact your bank." This has happened to me before. Now, I always divide my money between two accounts I can draw from, plus I have a credit card and some cash when I arrive.

Happily, the second card did work. I already had plenty of spending money with me because, as a habit, as each trip ends, I bring home about 500E to be used at the start of the next trip.

Before I left the USA, I had called to make arrangements with the second bank. The polite but not very experienced girl told me she would mark the account available for travel to Italy. In error, she had ok'd the credit card portion but not ATM withdrawal.

I walked back to my hotel and did some window shopping at Ferragamo. I saw some darling shoes which had originally been designed for Greta Garbo. I decided to enter.

Only cream colored Greta Garbo shoes were available in my size 38. Divinely comfortable, but not pratical. They would too hard to keep clean. The sales lady allowed me to test my Italian which was very nice.

The elegant relaxed atmosphere of the shop makes one want to try on shoes for hours. Surrounded by boxes of shoes, I made my one choice: a black soft leather flat, based on a design for Audrey Hepburn 1953 when she filmed Roman Holiday.

Now I know my future holds some new Ferragamo shoes. Cost was 400 E for this pair, because they are part of the older collection. How many other shoes have I bought and tried to wear, suffering through break-in time? I have been converted by happy feet.

I left my new shoes at the hotel and walked 10 minutes to Santa Maria Novella train station with a guilt free conscious. I bought tickets from the automated dispenser choosing, as Rosa had suggested, the Saturday, 7 am departure from Santa Maria Novella (SMN) to Cremona, with transfers at Bologna and Fidenza. Cost: 27 E for one-way, second class.

I sent Rosa and Marta a confirmation text message. Years ago, I had a bad experience with a missed transfer at Bologna. I feel confident now. I can do it. There is plenty of time to make each transfer, even if we run late. I will arrive at 10:20 in Cremona and Marta will meet me at the station.

The Fortenza da Basso is just 10 minute walk from SMN train station. I paid 3E for entrance to Mostra Internazionale dell'Artigianato. I researched the dates of this event before I purchased my plane tickets. This will be my third visit to this yearly fair.

What a nice surprise to see my ticket gives me an 8 E reduced price for the Picasso Exhibition next week!

I wandered about for four hours enjoying all the exhibits. I saw Italian home furnishings, kitchen displays, lamps and lighting fixtures, hand painted dishes, soaps, candles, clothes, jewelry, leather goods, lace, spices, condiments, wood products, rugs, linens, toys and puppets. In the international pavilion, vendors from all parts of the world displayed their goods.

I never heard a word of English spoken. My Italian is improving. I can now understand some conversations going on around me. I bought a iridescent lime green silk purse (from Milano) and a sterling silver - fresh water pearl bracelet.

I saw several older women selling their lace work. I secretly captured one picture of lacework still incomplete. I bought something I've been looking for: a handmade decoupage of a famous Medici villa and grounds. 20E. I attempted a conversation with the pleasant older woman who had made the decoupage and she understood me.

I was really famished after not having dinner last night and only a piece of chocolate for breakfast this morning. I choose a 3E panino (sandwich) of salami and cheese from a stand inside the Mostra.

After visiting all the exhibits, I found more food stalls outside, including a Tunisian village setup. Their food looked interesting, but 10 E was too expensive and the servings were too generous for my small appetite.

Instead, I bought fresh sliced strawberries with chocolate gelato. The weather was perfect and I was comfortable in my dress, leggings and sandals. It was warm enough to melt the gelato rather quickly.

As I was leaving I saw three men carrying a giant pan into the Spanish pavilion. I followed them to get pictures.

I left the Mostra around 3 pm and on foot, headed back to the central area of Firenze. With my shopping list in hand, I searched and found Italian stockings, books on tape, films on DVD and at the tiny little market, right next to my hotel, I found the perfect bread board, made of olive wood from Chianti for 39E. Feeling hungry and a little tired, I decided to leave all my treasures at the hotel and venture out for an early dinner and picture taking.

I had dinner at Trattoria le Antiche Carrozze, across from Ferragamo. At 6 pm, it was far too early for the normal Italian crowd, so I had the entire restaurant to myself. I had actually come here last night at 10:30, but the waiter said it was too late to begin a meal. Tonight, concerned he asked if I had eaten dinner last night. He apologized when I told him no, I had only eaten chocolate in my room. I'm speaking Italian and being understood. I am very pleased.

I choose something I've observed here on past trips, but have never eaten: Linguine al cartoccio di mare (13E) . It was heavenly, so I splurged with dessert too: Profiterole (5E)(filled with custard and topped with hot chocolate sauce). I ate every morsel.

After dinner, I walked until after 9, just enjoying the feel of the city. I finally received a text from Leo The doctors made a house visit today, so he's been occupied. Relieved, I texted back that maybe we can talk on Sunday. Tomorrow I'll be traveling all morning and then spending the afternoon doing something super special with Rosa. We're going to the Salsomaggiore Terme, a spa or something like a spa.