Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May 30, 2012 Day after the Parma Earthquake

a family heirloom

7.30 and Mario has just dropped me off at the Cremona train station. He told me there was another earthquake last night of 2.9. I didn't feel it. I slept all night and I'm finally feeling rested, as I always do when I'm here. Too bad I always have to leave, just when I acclimate into the pace of Italian life.

I'm on the platform waiting for the binario assignment to show for the 7.55 train, arriving in Parma at 8.53

I didn't see my train showing up on the board so I went looking. The train for Parma is on the 1 OE binario, way at the far end of the station. I should have remembered its normal spot earlier.  But they have changed all the schedules recently. Now one cannot go to Piacenza from Cremona on the train. It's close enough to drive, the reason given for its cancellation.

I had just lifted my bag onto the bottom step of the train, when I heard Signora! A nice policeman lifted the bag for me.

There are students traveling in every direction. Some arriving, others departing. Mario told me summer vacation starts in two weeks.

Yesterday, Marta worked until 11.30. It was her last day for awhile. She's now on maternity leave.

I slept until 9 and left at 10 to see the normal Wednesday Mercato on the streets and in Piazza Stradoveri. I walked and took pictures until 11.30. I bought a pair of silk pants and a purse. Then I found three beautiful plants with purple flowers. In Marta's garden there's a perfect spot for them. I stopped at the pasticceria to buy Baba to take to the US to my son.

I met Marta at home at noon. I setup her new purple flowers in her garden patio.  Being incinta, she does not want to touch dirt.  I'm glad she's taking care of herself and the baby who will arrive in a few months.

Primo and Marina joined us for lunch. The workmen were applying the varnish to the freshly sanded hardwood floor on the living room and dining room.

I had leftover risotto and then cotoletta di pollo, cutlet style chicken. Marina put on an apron and cooked them for us. With a green salad and yummy tomatoes, it was perfect.

Primo went back to work as he does every day after having lunch at home. Marina left too. Marta and I rested for an hour watching two tv shows. And the second show was, Cloe, MakeupMarta and I had a discussion about culture. Italians love these shows where they can ask questions and learn. So often they will also make suggestions to each other. Marta told me they installed chairs at the marcellaio shop because it takes so long to make a purchase. The marcellaio wants to discuss each meat or poultry choice and give suggestions on preparation.

When an Italian eats with family or close friend they feel comfortable critiquing the meal. This is not be be taken as criticism. It's honestly to be helpful. It was then that Marta laughed, realizing I always say the good is wonderful. From now on, she's going to ask me, what do you really think!

I had a recent conversation with Alessandro's son. I have to agree with him somewhat. When one is not just a tourist and when one becomes attached to another culture, it does add some anxiety to one's life. But it also adds an incredible joy and richness impossible to feel when one remains safely at home in a warm cocoon.

I told Marta my issue with the English restaurant menu. I always have to ask for an Italian menu.  The English menu is usually poorly translated.  She said but Zia you are not at all like the tourists! So true. I cook with Italian language cookbooks and I want to know what the menu really says!

Woow a feather just flew into my compartment and landed on the pant leg of the man to my right. I truly believe Alessandro sends these feathers to me as a message of love.

We made apple strudel and two batches of pizza dough. One will be made with Italian flour and the other with American flour.  I can't wait to see the difference.

 Mattia is on a restricted diet and cannot eat seeded items or spices until June.  For him, we decided to make waffles and top it with vanilla ice cream and simmered apples. I found a recipe on the Internet and prepared the dry and wet ingredients in advance.

We walked to the shoe repair shop and I left my favorite shoes which I bought in Cinque Terre about five years ago. The heels are worn to their nubs. 12 E and they will be ready next Thursday. I paid early so Marta just needs to pick them up and I'll be reunited with them in November.

Dinner was a great success.  The Italian pizza was so much better than the one made with American flour.  A big difference in both texture and taste. 

Castleguelfo .. I love the name of this station. The Guelfs were here! I need to refresh my history lessons.

A kind African immigrant carried my bag up the stairs here on Parma. He walked away when I said Grazie Mille. They never ask for money and I didn't offer. It didn't seem right although I would have liked to. The way he moved away from me so quickly to me meant he wanted to do it for kindness.

My University Italian film class this year was such a help to better understand these immigrants. Yesterday when I bought my knockoff bag, the seller was a razaggo from Senegal. I felt embarrassed to show Marta my find, but yesterday at the Mercato, the police office was happily walking around saying how to the vendors. The purse salesman didn't move from his spot. Later that evening I saw him again with his wares in the downtown shopping area. He greeted me. I was afraid to show my bag to Marina, but at lunch she congratulated me on my good find. With this economy, not many of us feel comfortable spending 1200 on a leather shopping bag. I paid 60€. I'm sure the Designer did not lose a sale from me. Now I advertise for him by carrying this nice bag everywhere.

Parma. The recent earthquakes have been centered in this area and near Modena. I saw and saved a copy of a photo taken in a nearby field. Primo says the Apennines are moving closer to the Alps. The deep crack in the picture really shows the strength of these quakes. Taking just a few seconds the earth's plates slid. The news showed slides of the plates of Africa and Europe moving toward each other. A geology lesson for us all. Now it's burned into my brain that Africa is on the lower left side of Italy.
Speaking of news, they are saying the Devil now has a presence in the Vatican. I need to catch up on the latest scandal. Apparently this pope has been debole or weak. The forces of power always want to overcome other less powerful forces. It's the way it's always been. I see it at work too. It's part of human nature. 
The gypsies are changing. A girl dressed in a vanilla orange t-shirt and sandals has just left the standard note. Hers were personalized with an orange drawn flower. I'm told each gypsy is paid 30€ a day by the government and they don't pay taxes. This I think is why they catch no sympathy from Italians.

These notes used to be hand written.  Now they are typed. The message is always the same.

I will pay them for carrying my heavy bag in the train station, but not here.  No eye contact is the Italian way of dealing with this begging.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May 29, 2012 Earthquake in Cremona

 Marta and Mario both went to work early today and I slept in. There was some construction noise out in the courtyard of this old palazzo which was reborn into apartments a few years ago. The original family still lives on site in one wing.

I was just waking up at 9 am when I felt that familiar California feeling..the earth was shaking. I knew the movement was not caused by the construction outside. It lasted about 10 seconds, which is a long time when you're counting during a terremoto or earthquake. I checked on my iPhone and saw it had been 5.8 and centered near Modena, south of Cremona and one of the train stops between here and Bologna. There were a dozen or more fatalities in those 10 seconds.

I downloaded these pictures later:

Earthquake damage in a field near Modena

Fissure from the earthquake

Many cheese rolls toppled from their holding locations in Parma

I got ready for the day. On the kitchen counter, I found a place setting, focaccia, biscuits and a sweet note from Marta. I warmed the focaccia and had a glass of milk. I love breakfast here.

Marta planned to be done with work at 10.15 today. Last night she showed me how to lock the front door. The lock is a 5 bolt dead bolt. The key is more similar to an old medieval key than it is to our American house keys. These doors are thick and secure.

The compound electric wooden gates swing open and wide for a car, to allow entry for parking in the courtyard. It operates with a remote control. Cut into the left gate is a small door for pedestrian traffic. One has to crouch down a bit to pass through. From the inside, no key is necessary to get out, but it has a tricky latch that I know know how to operate. So, I knew how to get out and get back in, but since I had slept in, I decided to wait in the house for Marta to come back.

We spent the morning until 1 doing errands. We did them all by walking. I took pictures. We went to the Notary (Notaio) first. In Italy, one can only be a notary if someone in the family has been one. Notaries have a long history in Italy.

I researched the modern notary and found:
" Italian notaries are public officers who play an official role in Italian conveyance."

" It may be more useful to recall that an Italian notary, according to our best traditions, is an artisan of the law and not a cold applier of rules. The notary is, by definition, a professional who is close to families and businesses, an artisan of the law who works with words the way a potter works his clay, creating suitable legal solutions for avoiding future argument and bitterness. Because this is the true task of the notary: to prepare solutions that at the same time satisfy the law and the intentions of the parties, thus discouraging any future litigation."

Notariato in Italy

I remember Leonardo da Vinci's father was a wealthy Notary. It is still a profession which has prestige and wealth associated with it.
We also went to the Post Office, which has a similar reputation as the US Post Office. It was organized by an electronic wait ticket system. One enters the ornate Post Office and at a machine, selects a wait ticket based upon the reason for the visit. An electronic board shows the next number and the window to approach. People wait on benches, watching for their number. We waited our turn for about 30 minutes. Marta was sending a package to Australia. Cost was 30€.

Next we walked to a therapeutic store. This type of negozio (shop) sells Dr Sholl's, Burkenstock type shoes and specialty undergarments. I bought an adorable pair of shoes, matching ones Marta has. We have similar tastes in shoes, sometimes.

We walked onto the Biologic (Organic) Store, specializing in organic products and foods. I bought Farina di Ceci (chickpea flour) to try to create a wonderful dish Nonno used to prepare in his wood burning ovens at his restaurant. It's called farinata. We had a lively discussion today over lunch. Primo thinks it can be cooked in their pizza maker. Marina shakes her it can't be done. Primo says to Marta, just call me and I'll come over and we'll try. Marina behind his back smiles like we are such dreamers. I love this family!

We made a stop at Marta's doctor's office. As I've seen before, there was a table containing some wire in-baskets and behind, an alphabetical arrangement of envelopes of different sizes. This table is where patients come in to pick up their prescriptions. They stop by and drop off a note telling the doctor what they Rx has run out, etc. then they return and pick it up. They can also fax in their requests. I saw one man come in with a sore throat. I heard the receptionist tell him to go wait in another room so no one in the normal waiting room would be exposed.

We walked onto Coop where Marta bought food for dinner and I ran off to pick up items on my list. Yesterday we drove to SuperCoop and I also shopped. What have I bought? Cookbook by Benedetta Perodi, Noci hazelnut chocolate spread, soup mixes, pasta, dried spices, laundry bags, biscuits, whole grain pasta.

Yesterday at the bookstore I bought four books. I'm trying out two new authors along with two favorites. My Italian reading skills are improving.

Before left Firenze I picked up two music CDs, Best of Laura Pausini and Best of Lucio Dalla.

Marina made Risotto with saffron for lunch today. We had just started to eat at 1.00 when I felt an earthquake. I was the first to feel it. Then the lamp started swinging and the copper pots on the high kitchen shelf were rocking. The quake was not a jolt but a gentle constant shake for a long time. It seemed like maybe a minute or more. No damage in the house, but there was devastation near the epicenter. We saw on TV news that one small village was 70% destroyed. Not all news is known, due to their isolation.

Dinner tonight with Rosa and Mattia was wonderful. We had chicken scaloppini, roasted potatoes with rosemary, steamed rice, salad, tomatoes. For dessert Mattia biked over with a tray of cream puffs, wrapped as they do normally here, in paper and tied with string. We finished eating around 9 and then I setup a new printer Mario was having trouble installing. Mario's sister stopped by to pickup some make-up supplies I had ordered for her. She gave me a bag! Inside were three big chocolate bars and a large gift box of individually wrapped amaretti cookies. She told me she had once seen me post a picture of these cookies on my Facebook page.

The days here in Italy have a different rhythm to them. I love every minute of these trips.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

May 26, Memorial for Alessandro in Firenze

I had not slept well, but I was up early and ready to be at Alessandro's memorial which started at 10 am. The location is at the new university building near Piazza San Marco. I brought three dress possibilities and at the last minute I decided on the simple, fitted knit black dress with black leggings and a white sweater with large black polka dots. I wore black and white checked Ferragamo flats. I also had my new silver Pandora charm bracket which I had bought on Friday. At 9.00 I went looking for Asumi to get her opinion of my outfit. Alessio came out and agreed with Asumi.  I was dressed just right. They both knew Alessandro and have been so supportive, though two years of hospital visits and illness. I always returned back to the hotel to their hugs. They also know what I will be walking into today.

Unless I'm going out of town, I usually walk everywhere around Firenze. I knew how long it would take to get to Piazza San Marco, about 20 minutes. I left myself 45 minutes, which was a good thing. When I got there, I walked down the wrong street, realized my mistake when the area didn't look familiar, so I had to backtrack. It was cool when I started out, but as 10 am got closer, I was feeling the humidity. Nerves too. I wanted to wear the sweater, at least until I left the memorial. I carried with me a bunch of sunflowers from a local florist and 4 half pound boxes of See's Candy in a Gucci carry bag, which I had bought Friday. 

 I've been to this University campus before, when Alessandro was still well enough to lecture on Saturday mornings. I walked in at 9.50, just in time to see Alessandro's son exit the elevator with Prof Peruzzi, organizer of this event. His son came right over and air kissed me on both cheeks, which is the normal informal greeting for friends. He told me not to worry.  I repeated the same to him. 

Diana, for whom Alessandro was advisor, during the time she was writing her thesis on artificial intelligence, was also there early. She will be speaking today.  I had become acquainted with her on FaceBook. But before that, I had listened in on her visits with Alessandro, at his home. He would frequently meet with students to give them advice on their projects for master or bachelor thesis. Sometimes he would leave the webcam or the Skype connection open so I could be with them.

The son, consulting with Prof Peruzzi, set-up a laptop computer in the ornate lecture hall, Diana organized through her talk notes. I placed the bouquet of flowers on the lecture table. I waited for Emiliano, he was scheduled to talk, but had to cancel at the last minute for illness. Another Prof, who I recognized, took his place at the lecture table. I looked for Consul Brasioli, but did not see him either.

It was 10.00 and I was the only guest to have arrived.  I choose a seat in the center of the front row. I took pictures of the room with its bright red, theater seats. On the high domed ceiling, was an ornate fresco of angels and clouds. 

As the guests began to arrive, I spoke with a friend of Alessandro's who was seated to my right. He practiced his English, while I tested my Italian. It always seems easier when using this arrangement. It levels the playing field and neither of us feel too self conscious about grammar mistakes.

The son brought his mother in from the back door and introduced her to me. We each said 'Piacere' to each other and then she walked to approach the lecture table.  Before continuing, she turned back to me to admonish me 'don't put any pictures of this on the Internet!'. She's recently discovered my Blog, I think, with the 'helpful' assistance of a friend. She was very unhappy with the Blog and wanted me to stop writing it.

She bustled up to the lectern to make sure everyone knew who she was. She then sat one seat away from me, to my left. Her helpful friend, came a little later and sat next to me on my left. She said 'Piacere' also to me, to which I replied the same but I then turned away from her. I was determined to prevent any emotional flare-ups from marring this event.

Prof Perruzi spoke to give a nice introduction and then read a 'Salute' from Diego Brasioli, who could not attend.  He was the Italian Consul in Los Angeles, and became Alessandro's friend.  He now works in Rome. 

A second professor gave an emotional speech and was teary when he finished. I recognized him as a close colleague of Alessandro's. I had a hard time understanding him.

Diana spoke, also with teary eyes. I understood a good portion of what she said. Then Alessandro's son presented a very very nice PowerPoint presentation. I think he put a lot of time and thought into it. I wondered if he realized most of the pictures he used were taken by me. I don't think the family realizes the deepness of the relationship Alessandro and I had. It's difficult to recognize what one has not experienced.

Another man, whom I recognized from pictures, spoke from what looked like hand written notes. He was a childhood friend, one of the two Claudios.  He was deeply emotional too. 

Prof Peruzzi brought the conference to its end and there was clapping from everyone, except me. I was busy filming with my iPhone, panning the audience so I can later see who was present. Then, immediately I went up to the speakers' table and handed each of the four a box of See's Candy, thank them and saying thus was Alessandro's favorite candy from California.

I left the elevated stand and approached Deborah and Chiara, two students who came with Alessandro on his one of his last trips here.  That last group was the largest group he ever brought. We needed two cars to travel.  The group was all girls and one guy. I need to find a group picture, He also had told them our whole story when they asked. So, I felt a real closeness to these girls. I last saw them here when we had a big reunion dinner in Firenze. I think that was November before his collapse. 

We three hugged and talked in Italian. An older man came up to us to say hi to me. He was Alessandro's brother-in-law. I had met him at the hospital in 2010 when Alessandro first was hospitalized. He told me his wife was unable to attend, due to poor health.

The girls and I left together to avoid an awkward scene. Just outside the door of the room, a large poster of Alessandro was taped to the wall. The girls helped me to quickly take it down and we left, rolling it up as we walked. 

We walked together to the Duomo and parted, the girls going toward the train station. 

I returned to Amando Poggi, where yesterday, I had purchased a silver charm bracelet. I bought two more charms of violet colored Venetian glass to remember the day. 

I had lunch at the restaurant near my hotel.  I ordered sformato, which I love, but this was the first time at this restauant. As I waited, a tiny feather drifted through the air and down past my shoulder.  It felt like Alessandro was nearby.

In the afternoon I decided I must do something constructive to overcome my sadness.  First, I went to SMN Stazione Santa Maria Novella) and bought train tickets to leave for Cremona on Monday morning. I passed by crowded stands for the Gelato Festival in Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Then for several hours, I visited an art exhibit at Palazzo Strozzi:  American in Florence (Americani a Firenze). The open-air courtyard also contained an art display.

Luckily for me, the Gelato Festival was taking place at various locations thoughout Firenze. Near the merry-go-round, I sat on a yellow bench in Piazza della Repubblica and enjoyed a cup with two scoops:  chocolate and fragole (strawberry), which was always Alessandro's choice.  Cost for this special event:  1E per scoop!

And then, I went walking for hours, looking for pictures and remembering walks Alessandro and I had taken together. My last stop was at the grocery store Standa, where I bought octopus salad for a dinner alone in my room.