Sunday, June 24, 2012

Class Paper -- Bicycle Thieves: Study of a Neorealist Film Italian

Bicycle Thieves: Study of a Neorealist Film
Italian 454
Apr 6, 2012

Being new to the study of film, I would like to view and analyze the film Bicycle Thieves, a film of Vittorio De Sica (1948), using Mary Wood’s 10 points of a neorealist film, which were cited by

“Mary Wood (1996) quotes a French film journal, Films et documents from 1952 and its “Ten Points of neo-realism”.

1. the message;

2. topical scripts inspired by concrete events – great historical and social issues tackled from the point of view of the ‘common people’;

3. a sense of detail as a means of authentication;

4. a sense of the masses and the ability to manipulate them in front of the camera;

5. realism;

6. the truth of actors, many of them non-professionals;

7. the truth of lighting;

8. the truth of decor and the refusal of studio;

9. photography, reminiscent of the reportage style stressing the impression of truth;

10. an extremely free camera, its unrestricted movements resulting from the use of post-synchronisation.”

1. The message:

To me, the film seemed to be a morality play, which is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “something which involves a direct conflict between right and wrong or good and evil and from which a moral lesson may be drawn.”

Upon re-watching the film I witnessed Antonio not to be a totally honest nor very likable person. He was not dishonest, but he was not a beacon of character for his son Bruno. To be fair, under the circumstances of his struggle to maintain his dignity and support his family, perhaps he did things outside of his normal character.

• At the Employment Office, he lies about having a working bicycle to take a job which requires a bike.

• He hopes he can pull his wife Maria away from paying what she owes to the “holy woman.”

• After the loss of the bike, with impatience, he broke into the bus line to board a bus home.

• He tells his son Bruno the bike is broken, when actually it was stolen.

• Suffering from frustration and a feeling of hopelessness, he verbally is unkind to his wife and at one point slaps the young Bruno.

• With a sense of self importance, Antonio goes straight to the front of the line to obtain advice from the “holy woman.”

• Throughout his search, we see Antonio repeatedly grab, threaten and verbally abuse various people as he searched for his stolen bike.

After a weekend long search, Antonio and his young son Bruno, finally see Alfredo and they pursue Alfredo. Although the film viewer knows with certainty Alfredo is the thief, it should be noted when the thief stole Antonio’s bicycle, neither man saw each other’s face. Antonio’s face was hidden as he worked to hang a movie poster. Alfredo wore a distinctive German cap, which may or may not have been unique in all of Rome. Alfredo could not have known the identity of his pursuer and rightfully ran from Antonio, to the safety of his neighborhood in “Via Panico.” The film’s message is clear: “Stay out of Via Panico!” If Antonio’s actions are motivated by pure panic to find a means to support his family, can we justify all his actions by saying he was morally compelled to act this way?

2. social issues tackled from the point of view of the ‘common people’

After the war years in Italy, there was financial hardship for all social classes. During the church service scene we are reminded to “Embrace the trials of our lives.” Later, a policeman tells Antonio, “We are all thieves.”

After being pursued by Antonio, Alfredo denies he has taken the bike and is defended by both neighbors and his mother. They attest to his good character and innocence. We know nothing about Alfredo. Perhaps his action of stealing the bike was also motivated by good intentions, such as supporting his mother and sister. But as film viewers, haven’t we already made a moral judgment about Alfredo? He is the bad thief.

Later at the film’s finale, when Antonio also steals a bicycle, we as film viewers, think of Antonio’s good intentions and ask for his forgiveness in his lapse of morality.

3. a sense of detail as a means of authentication;

The film was almost a documentary, in that we are able to see real pedestrian traffic, along with and cars and public transportation on the streets of Rome. The Sunday morning street vendors at Porta Portese Flea Market, along with local architectural landmarks give the film its authenticity. During one scene, a distant but curious woman looks across from her window into the “kitchen apartment of Antonio” and promptly shuts her shutters.

4. a sense of the masses and the ability to manipulate them in front of the camera;

Both the market place scenes and the large street intersections gave a feeling of authenticity with hundreds of citizens, going about their normal daily tasks, unknowingly taking part in the film. We walk right among them and they take no notice of us.

5. realism;

The scenes filmed in real rain presented a feeling of steamy uncomfortable wetness. Street scenes showing traffic, bicyclists, public transportation, and the full soccer stadium with crowds of fans and bicycles were definitely real. The barbed wire fencing outside the water distribution point was telling. It seemed to serve no purpose to the film’s story, but instead was probably leftover from the recent war.

6. the truth of actors, many of them non-professionals;

Neorealist films favored filming non-professional actors in their normal places of employment. In the film, we can see real women collecting water at the faucets. The police station scene also seemed to be an authentic place, with real office workers milling about in the background. People strolling along the riverbank at dusk were most certainly not extras. Using non-professional actors gave the director a vast array of faces with character. The church scene was filled with interesting faces and clothing and gave those moments inside the church a feeling that we really were witnessing a church service.

7. the truth of lighting;

Natural outdoor lighting can be seen throughout the film, during early morning and dusk scenes. The tunnel scene, where Antonio first pursues the thief, is filmed in natural lighting.

8. the truth of decor and the refusal of studio;

Even scenes shot inside apartments, seemed to be done with non-studio settings. During many scenes, we can see outside activities, which are not part of the story taking place.

9. photography, reminiscent of the reportage style stressing the impression of truth;

Bicycle Thieves makes the viewer believe we are actually following Antonio as he looks for his bike. We don’t feel we are watching a drama or fairy tale, but living with him in his space. The viewer finds himself involved in looking for the bicycle.

10. an extremely free camera, its unrestricted movements resulting from the use of post-synchronisation.”

The camera acts as our eyes. We feel as if we are seeing everything, that nothing is hidden. The camera moves with our eyes and our eyes move with the camera. We have stepped back in time to witness a poor man’s search for his bicycle and we are spell-bound.

Class paper -- Cinema Paradiso: The Theme of Time Italian

Cinema Paradiso: The Theme of Time
Italian 454
Feb 20, 2012

The opening scene of Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988) stays on the screen for two full minutes, giving the viewer a peaceful scene of the sea as seen from the balcony of someone’s home, with white curtains softly fluttering in the breeze. The focal point of these two minutes is the sun dial, representing time. I think the director stays on this scene to catch our attention before the story unfolds back into the apartment of an older woman. He might be asking: “What is time and what part does it play in our lives, with regard to seeing the world from a point of view, based on one’s age?” As time passes, children grow up, the adults in their lives mature, people follow dreams or experience hardships and past memories mingle with present day life. As the world constantly changes individually, culturally and technologically, time is the common thread through each change.

Opening scenes of the film set the time theme:

A sundial is overlooking the constant presence of the sea.

Time is set in a conversation between the mother and daughter: 30 years have now passed.

In Salvatore’s apartment, the first thing his current girlfriend asks: “What time is it?”

Salvatore responds: “It’s very late.”

The girlfriend states: “Someone has died. The funeral is tomorrow.” Someone’s time has come to an end.

The sound of chimes takes Salvatore back in time and the film presents the passing of time in the small Sicilian town of his childhood.

In the opening flashback, the priest states: “Better late than never.”

The church bells ring out the time in the first scenes of the village, as it was many years ago.

The time of Toto’s (Salvatore) early childhood (around 1942-1949)

Technology: The films being screened at the Cinema Paradiso are black and white. The time is roughly set by the Casablanca film poster in the projection room (1942). The theater sits at the side of the piazza where horse drawn carts and sheep pass through the piazza. The film is highly flammable and Alfredo speaks of how he used to hand crank the projector. Toto’s home is lighted with kerosene lamps. His mother tells him it takes years to get to Russia and years to return. Both Italian and American films are shown. As film posters outside the Cinema Paradiso change, we witness the passage of time.

Culture: Alfredo, who has been a projectionist since he was 10 years old, takes his job seriously. He brings the outside world to the isolated village. The theater provides a place where mostly the males of the town go to escape time and their own lives. The balcony houses the better dressed upper class citizens, one of whom spits his dislike down onto the common people. The naïve Catholic priest cuts innocent kisses from the films, attempting to mark and control the moral boundaries of that time period. An older man and a man half his age both find they share a common trait when written words scroll on the movie screen: illiteracy has transcended two generations. Another man states: “Twenty years I’ve gone to the movies and I’ve never seen a kiss.” The town crazy man has taken ownership of the Piazza. When Toto takes his Grade School Diploma exam, older men of the village also take the exam, hoping to make-up lost time when they were not educated.

The time of Toto’s (Salvatore) adolescence (1949-1956)

Time is set by screening of the film “in Nome della Legge” (1949) and “I Pompieri di Viggiu” (1948)

Technology: The films signal it is post war, which is reinforced by a news reel, which states: “After six years, the return of Spring Fashions.” We see war damage to the buildings in the village and we know war has come and gone. After the Paradiso is destroyed by fire and rebuilt, by the winner of the lottery, the lion’s head remains to let the film shine through. The theater is now modern, glitzy and renamed Nuovo Cinema Paradiso. Money has allowed the new projection equipment to be state of the art. Film is now non-flammable. Some movies are shown in color.

Culture: The Paradiso reflects the changing times in several layers. The innocent outlook on sex which accompanied the small town’s censorship is eroding as the priest still tries to protect his flock from the outside world. The priest is losing his battle to hold back the decadence of the modern world. We see more visible sexual behavior taking place in the darkness of the theater. A lower class man, who had been flirting with a woman in the balcony, has crossed society’s boundary and now sits with her in the balcony. The town crazy man still takes ownership of the Piazza, which is changing but not dramatically.

The priest now plays a lesser role in the village life. He blesses the new theater, but he has lost his power over censoring the films. The films show nudity and provocative behavior. Organized prostitution is taking place inside the theater. While watching a violent film, a Mafioso is shot and killed. Communism has arrived in full force and we see the hammer and sickle symbol on an inside wall of the theater. The outside world now has a foothold inside the theater.

The social layer is still shown by the upper balcony, which separates the classes. The man, who had always shown his disdain, still spits on the lower audience, but this time the lower class fights back and throws a tomato in his face. The couple, who had challenged the class division, have left the balcony and are now back on the main level. The social class system is evolving.

Elena, Salvatore's girlfriend, is wearing a watch on our final glimpse of her before Salvatore leaves for his military service. His face, with the town clock tower is superimposed over the present day Salvatore.

When Salvatore returns from military service we see the new projectionist who does his job without joy or passion. Alfredo tells Salvatore, “Sooner or later the time comes...” They have a serious talk on the seawalls, surrounded by discarded anchors, Alfredo tells Salvatore he needs to escape and not repeat Alfredo’s own life “…living here day after day.”

When Salvatore takes the train and leaves town, the priest arrives late saying: “I was too late. What a shame.” The priest himself was also too late to change and lost the power he had to help the town navigate changing times.

The town crazy man still takes ownership of the Piazza, amongst encroaching cars and buses

The time of Salvatore’s adulthood (1986) (30 years after leaving the town)

The Paradiso represents the old way of life and Salvatore’s memories travel through the stages of the past and its innocence, how it provided escapism from a hard life, enforced class separation and welcomed the advancement of technology. He sees the Paradiso tried to survive, by falling to the level of being a showplace for X-rated films. The old lion’s head lies defeated on the floor of the theater. The Paradiso has finally closed due to the arrival of TV and video, its innocence taken by the advance of time and technology. The Paradiso, destroyed a second time, permanently loses its life to become a parking lot. The tears of the older people, show us our memories have not been destroyed. Due to their age, the young bike riders do not share these past memories. They cannot see the memories time has left with us. We each see the world from a point of view, based on one’s age during the passage of time.

The town crazy man, undeterred by technological changes and time, still takes ownership of the Piazza, which is now packed with parked cars, motor bikes and billboards.

Alfredo saw real life, looking out through his lion's head perch in the theater. After the loss of his eyesight, he becomes more focused on ensuring Toto's future would take place outside the village. He sent Toto out into the world, thinking to free him from the bonds that would bind Toto to the village. But as we all know, it's impossible to totally escape our past and the things which bind us. We should learn from our past, embrace it and integrate it with our future.

The film with its transitions from goatherds to one hour flights from Rome, from donkeys to Mercedes automobiles and numerous references to time, clocks, bell towers and watches, shows the passing of time. At the FINE, first watching the demise of the Paradiso and then watching Alfredo’s film gift of lost kisses, the theme of time merges with a theme of love. Salvatore smiles and finally begins to understand. Time passes, bringing with it hardship, joy, friendship and love along with technological and cultural changes. Time cannot take away our love for each other. It only reinforces it, if we don’t hide from our memories.

Afternote:  A cameo role is played by the director, Giuseppe Tornatore, as the disinterested projectionist.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

University Class Spring 2012: Italian Cinema 454

I have just completed an amazing class at California State University:

Italian 454 (Italian Cinema) taught by Dr. Enrico Vettore

I have a collection of over 150 Italian films. I use them to study Italian culture and to improve my Italian. I buy these DVDs in Italy, each trip I make. I have an international region DVD player.

After Leo's death in September 2011, I felt I needed to do something positive. I had been so involved with Leo and his university students. I wanted to remain in a learning environment. I spoke with an acquantance of Leo's at CSULB. She suggested I audit her Italian evening class, which I did during the Fall 2011 session, for 6 weeks. It helped me deal with my grief and loss.

In the Spring of 2012, I attended as a paying, for credit student, under CSULB's Open University program, each Monday evening, after my work day. Class consisted of two sessions, from 5-6:30 and 6:30-9 pm. The most stress was caused as I struggled to find metered parking. Cost: $10 a night for parking. Class cost about $900.

The class was a surprise to me. The surprise was that I have missed so so much in watching film. Italian films have hidden and not so hidden meanings. I am grateful to Enrico for opening my eyes. I did not aways like the film I was watching, but during the class discussion, I always learned something positive.

It was also an inspiration to be present in a class of young, future film makers. I now have positive hope for our future after being exposed to these contemporary intelligent students. I hope to continue taking more University classes. I encourage everyone to go back to school!

Neorealistic films document the Italian world as it was during the period 1944-1952. Some of the current films deal with the heart-breaking issue of immigration. I now have an greater appreciation for Rossellini, De Sica, Fellini, Antonioni and current Italian directors. They haven't just been making films, they have been making statements.

The class was presented in English. Dr. Vettore speaks perfect English. I prefer classes which are taught by native Italians. The cultural perspective just cannot be taught by a non-Italian.

We discussed Italian neorealism: (
"Italian Neorealism (Italian: Neorealismo) is a national film movement characterized by stories set amongst the poor and the working class, filmed on location, frequently using nonprofessional actors. Italian Neorealist films mostly contend with the difficult economic and moral conditions of post-World War II Italy, reflecting the changes in the Italian psyche and the conditions of everyday life: poverty and desperation."

These are the films we viewed in class and then discussed. We had both a mid-term and final exam. Both tests were a series of questions, which required analytical answers. Three written papers, class participation and on-line discussions also were included in our final grade.

We viewed, in this order:

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Cinema Paradiso) Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988

My Voyage to Italy, Martin Scorsese, 1999

Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City), R. Rossellini, 1946

Mediterraneo, Gabriele Salvatores, 1991

Il conformista (The Conformist), Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970

Ladri di biciclette (Bicycles’ Thieves) Vittorio de Sica, 1946

I vitelloni, Federico Fellini, 1953

Viaggio in Italia (Voyage in Italy) Roberto Rossellini, 1954

Lamerica, Gianni Amelio, 1994.

Quando sei nato non puoi più nasconderti, (Once You’re Born You Can No Longer Hide) Marco Tullio,  2005

La notte (The Night) Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961

Fellini 8-1/2, Federico Fellini, 1963

Professione: Reporter (The Passenger) Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975

Il postino (The Postman) Michael Radford, 1994

Pane e tulipani (Bread and Tulips) Silvio Soldini, 2000

Giorni e nuvole (Days and Clouds), Silvio Soldini 2007

Helpful Hints for Train Travel in Italy 2012

~.~.~.~Guide for train travel ~.~.~.~

Wear a watch, which shows the correct time.

Have a small notepad and pen handy.

I like to carry a small bag, containing everything I need for the trip: tickets, water, maps, reading material, snack, several small kleenex packets, individual hand-wipes.

While traveling, don't get distracted rummaging through your purse or luggage.

Carry your passport, money, credit cards in a hidden waist money belt.

When purchasing tickets, write down town arrival time and departure times.  If purchasing at an automated machine, take a picture of the screen with your cell phone.

Know how much time you have between connections. The arriving train may be late. The departing train will never be late.

The name of the train will most likely not correspond to your destination city.

Arrive at the station 30 minutes early, when starting a trip.

Learn by watching other travelers.

Watch for pick pockets.

Find the correct binario number by checking the Partenza listing. In your notebook, write down the cities which precede your stop.
Check the video display panels at the binario to be sure there has not been a last minute change of tracks.

Check tickets and stamp the correct one if you are carrying several. You only need to stamp the ticket at the station of departure. If you are transferring, the second and/or third tickets need to be stamped at the station of their departure. If you do not get the validation stamp, tell the conductor as soon as you can. You may be fined if you wait until he comes to you. Ignorance of the Italian language is not a good excuse for a missing validation.

Store your tickets in an accessible place. The conductor will come to check tickets.

This ticket is for car 11, reserved window seat 96 on May 28, from Firenze S.M.N.
to Bologna Centrale

Locate the binario and start walking. Some trains load at the end of the binario. That is there may be one train waiting behind another.

Binario ovest (west) or est (east) are usually side platforms.

Before boarding a train, always verify its destination with the conductor or a passenger by saying: "Per NAME OF CITY?" (Per Milano?)

If you have a ticket with a reserved seat, on the platform look for the carrazza/carriage indicators. If you are stressed for time, just get on at any door and walk through the interior aisles. Carriage numbers are indicated on the doors.

For regional trains, most inside doors say 2, which indicates second class. All trains in Italy are now non-smoking. You'll see smokers jumping off the train at the stops, for a quick cigarette.

Board the train and note whether doors are functioning near your carriage's exit. You may need to leave the train, using a door in an adjoining car.

Know how to open the outside door, should you need to open the door to exit the train. There are several types of door releases. Some are red manual handles while more modern doors are button operated. On the newer trains, the doors open automatically at each stop.

Know where you are and where you are going. Take a regional map. Watch out the window and note were you are at each stop. Even the smallest train stations have the standard signage.

Be alert as if you were driving this route for the first time. Be attentive. Be organized. If you feel sleepy and you're traveling alone, set an alarm on your cell phone.

If you miss your connection, check the Partenza paper schedule. They're located on every binario. The capostazione (station master) is normally out walking or standing on the binario. Ask for help if in doubt.

Make sure you know the exact name of your stop, especially if you're traveling to a larger city, which may have several stops. Firenze Compo di Marte is not Firenze Santa Maria Novella (SMN). It's common for the city name to precede a neighborhood name. When in doubt, ask someone before you leave the train.

If you transfer from a train to a bus, check on the front of the bus to make sure it is going to your destination. Ask the driver.

La prossima = the next stop

Subito = right away without delay

Carrozza = carriage/car

Binario = platform

Biglietto/Biglietti = ticket/tickets

Partenza/Partenze = leaving

Arrivo/Arrivi = arrival/arrivals

Posto/Posti = seat/seats

E' occupata? = Is this occupied?

Finestrino = window

Data = date

Ora = hour (military time)

Servizio = class (1 or 2)

Never forget to validate the train ticket at one of the bright yellow boxes. These boxes are not always on central binarios.  They are in the station and in the tunnels between platforms.  These yellow boxes are being replaced by another style validation machine. The new ones are grey, with the Tenitalia striped colors of green and red.

Carry 5-20 Euro in change in an accessible pocket.  This change can be used to tip gypsies who may offer to carry your bag up and down the stairs.

Machines sell bottled water at most stations for 1 Euro coin.

Carry a snack, although most trains have snack cars. Prices are reasonable.

Be polite and nice.

Friday, June 22, 2012

28 November 2011 Traveling Cremona to Firenze

The train for Cremona to Parma/Fidenza is easy, as long as one looks gets to the station early and then sees that Binario 1 is really Binario 1 Ovest, which is hidden on the far side of the station. The automated sign is clear, but I couldn't see it from the main entrance. Mornings, all the platforms are crowded with students and businessmen.

Mario arrived at 7.15 to pick me up. I was totally packed and ready. He dropped me off in front of the train station and will be continuing on to his workplace, a drive of 20 minutes by car. His childhood home is the also the seat of his family business. His mother is happy she can prepare him lunch every work day.

Mario can fix anything! This weekend, I noticed Marina, his mother-in-law, had put a broken serving dish aside, along with a package of superglue. Mario was busy repairing it last night.

Marina always seems surprised I wake up at 6.00 to get ready on my traveling days. We have this discussion every time. I cannot bear to travel without clean hair and clothes. My Italian is better now and this time, I could explain this is my normal work schedule in the US. She gave me a sack lunch of pizza, fruit and a big piece of the chocolate-apple torta which Mario's mother sent over to us last night.

The transfer from Fidenza at Bologna was not easy today. My information was wrong, even though Marta and I checked at the station yesterday. I couldn't find the Napoli bound fast train which makes a stop in Bologna and then SMN in Firenze. I asked a train employee for help and he said 'Binario 6, subito!' as he made a hand gesture to go down the stairs and through the tunnel and back up to platform 6, where I could see a EuroStar train sitting.

Subito means right away, urgently right away. Dragging a 50 pound bag up and down two flights of steps cannot be done, subito. I missed the 10.26 train. I think I would have missed it even if I had just been running without a bag to slow me down.

I checked the schedule and found another EuroStar bound for SMN via a train heading to Napoli at 10.45. Here in Italy if one misses the train, there is no one to come to your rescue. Italians know how to find another solution. No need to panic. Another train, another route. It's the traveler's responsibility to figure it out.

I decided I needed to buy another suitcase today in Firenze. I've been passing the same vendor since last week, looking and comparing prices. I only need something cheap to transport once. It was closing time today and he sold me a nice large bag I've seen for 35€ for 20€. I repacked at the hotel this afternoon and everything fits.

Tomorrow I'm spending the day in Arezzo with two of Leo's students. It's a one hour trip. I arrive there at 10.15am. Cost of the ticket 5.90€ each way. Laura is taking the bus from her village and Sara works in Arezzo. I'm excited we can all have lunch together. The last time we were all together was a trip to Death Valley with Leo.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

November 27, 2011 Cremona

Sundays are always quiet days in Cremona. I slept in until 9 and was just barely ready to leave at 9.55 to attend 10.00 mass. Mattia had already left for another long day at work. I sat with Marina, Primo and Rosa.

The church looked almost back to normal this morning. The workers' tools and building supplies had been cleared away. In Italy they often drape the scaffolding with either a cloth picture of the covered item or with a plastic mesh to protect from falling objects. Behind and to both sides of the altar were white meshed drapes covering restoration work.

Because today is a special day for the Advent season, young catechism students took part in a ceremony. They each approached the altar and were given a just lighted small red candle. At the end, about twelve boys and girls stood in a line on both sides of Don Attia. He then said the Padre Nostro (Lord's Prayer) for them. Afterwards, the students returned to their pews, leaving their flickering candles lined up on the altar. I love going to church here. I took some recordings of the singing with my iPhone.

After mass, we walked home and both Marina and Rosa started ironing. Primo watched a golf tournament being broadcast from Australia. I love to walk so I put on my jacket, scarf, hat and gloves. It's cold in Cremona, especially with the dense fog. No snow for me this year.

I found the usual Sunday morning small mercato set up on the Stradovari Piazza. I samples cheese from Sicily.

One stand, selling organic cotton items, is always here. This time I took pictures of huge grapefruit sized bulbs, already sprouted with greenery. Smaller bulbs were 10€ and the larger ones 15€. A large basket packed tightly with over a dozen bulbs, I calculated to be very very expensive. In the spring when they bloom, they will be impressive. I need to research these flowers.

I found the children's toy shop open and bought a small made in France mouse for Marta. Usually on Sundays, in non tourist towns, one can find only bookstores, bakeries, ice cream or coffee shops and museums open. All that changes during the Christmas season. I found other random stores open. Mostly I'm out just looking to take pictures. The chestnuts a vendor was roasting smelled so good.

At home we had roast, polenta and salad for lunch. Marina then started to make the dough for tonight's dinner: pizza. They have a machine which uses both the gas stovetop fire, combined with an electric filament to produce perfect restaurant quality pizza.

I packed my bag for tomorrow's 8.00 trip back to Firenze. Even though I had purchased tickets in my purse, Marina wanted to check online. She's worried my tickets do not reflect reality. She decided I need to go back to the station today to verify or change my tickets. When Marina has an idea, it's best to follow through. She's usually right!

I was watching golf with Primo when suddenly everyone was up and getting ready to go...somewhere. I'm always happily ready to change gears.

What a nice surprise! Primo needs to talk to his brother, a retired emergency room physician. I'd known Zio had purchased a new home several years ago. I had heard it was in the country and it needed some work done.

Never judge a house by its exterior in Italy. We pulled up to a stand alone smallish compound and parked on the shoulder of the two lane road. Walking through an open old wooden set of doors, we entered a what looked like a work area of a small farm.

I heard dogs barking and when Zio opened the door, I understood him perfectly when he said, 'You're not afraid of dogs, are you?'. I replied in Italian instantly, 'I adore dogs!'. These dogs are beagles or a beagle mix I think.

Rosa took me on a room by room tour. The kitchen is small, modern and uncluttered, done in stainless steel. They've inserted a 36 inch grill on short legs, into the original kitchen fireplace. The kitchen table is a long wooden and practical, covered with a floral tablecloth. I notice a pan of raw chestnuts sitting on the counter.

The laundry room has a washer and surprisingly also a dryer. Due to both cultural and electrical cost considerations, one rarely sees clothes dryers here. But still, I see one of those fabulous European style clothes drying racks, which can be folded up, when not in use.  I want one!

The house is not cold due to heating tubes under the flooring, Rosa tells me. All the ceilings are beamed. I notice each beam is unique in size. Most of the beams are big round tree trunks of varying circumference, although I spotted one square beam.

The family has taken seats on the two couches in the small living room. I notice an Apple power cord resting on a side table. A nice fire is burning in a fireplace. A big screen tv. Simple and cozy. I love the floor.

There is some tense family discussion taking place here. Marina is unusually calm and quiet...which sends me a strong signal. She is seriously worried about the current situation. Primo is on his feet, not pacing but tense. Mario and Marta have now arrived. This is a family pow wow.

I can see it's a good idea for me to continue the house tour while the family discussion continues. Zio has a sweet office with a leather easy chair and fireplace. On a bookshelf is his hobby, an open accordion!

We peak upstairs at the master bedroom and another bedroom where one 30 something son still lives. I love this house! We find a sleepy cat curled up on a chair.

The dogs calmed down, but want to go out. We look out the back door. There's a patio, but behind that is an enormous plot of land. I want to go outside with the dogs to look around..but sadly we stay indoors.

Those chestnuts are now in the fireplace roasting. The smell is heavenly. Chestnuts are not my favorite food, but I do enjoy buying a small envelope of them in Firenze. On a cold day, they warm your hands too.

When the chestnuts were cooked, we all moved into the kitchen. Zio dumped the chestnuts into a large ceramic bowl. We sat at the table and helped ourselves, peeling each chestnut with our fingers. I noticed he handed some peeled treats to the dogs who had been patiently awaiting their share.

The family discussion continues. Suddenly it's over. I think Primo is done talking and listening. Marta gets in our car, while Mario heads home, to watch sports, I think. We spend a very quiet 20 minutes, driving home. But instead of arriving at home, we stop at the train station. Marta has been nominated to come with me. Marina is still worried about my train tickets.

It's Sunday at 5.30 and there are lots of people in the Cremona station. We waited in line and spoke to the ticket agent. He needs my identity papers to give me a refund before he can reissue the tickets. He is satisfied to use Marta's papers. I have my driver's license which I think would be ok, but he doesn't want to wait for me to fish it out of my hidden, under my clothes, secret pouch.

In the end, the ticket agent decides my tickets will be just fine. Although the computer said I change at Parma, I need to change at Fidenza, the station before Parma. It's the same connections I had arriving here, but in the reverse order.

Ok, I asked Marta, what are we going to tell your mother? She said, you must not be afraid of her.

When we got in the car, Marta announced 'Tutto a posto!' and there was no further discussion. Everything is in order!

We went home and had a quiet dinner of yummy homemade pizza. Mario joined us later and brought a chocolate torta his mother had sent home. The chocolate cake had a layer of thinly sliced apples running through the middle. I love torta of any flavor. They're never frosted, but instead dusted with powdered sugar.

I brought out the little French mouse I bought today.  The toy store was open on Sunday!

I said my goodbyes to everyone before going to bed. It was decided that Mario will come by at 7.20 to pick me up and deliver me to the train station.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

November 26, 2011 Cremona

I did nothing except eat, walk, nap and watch Argentine, Mexican and American soap operas with Marina on Friday. It was cold and foggy all day, so it felt good to have nothing planned.

Saturday was a wonderful day. Primo and Marina left early to go to the gym. At 9.00 Rosa came to get me. She said Zia, your face looks different, it's glowing

I had had an incredible night's rest. I had thought I was dreaming of Leo. But when woke up several times, I still felt his presence. He told me I wasn't dreaming, but to rest and sleep and he would stay with me all night, which he did. In the morning I knew I had a message to give to the family. He wanted me to tell them, he was sorry he hadn't realized how much this family loved and cared for me. I told Rosa this. She said she felt goosebumps.

Rosa and I had made plans to take the car and do grocery shopping at IPER COOP, a discount version of COOP. She knows I love to go there with her. She is a slow shopper, which suits me perfectly. I love to look at everything. Once I went with Marina and she flew breathlessly through the store. We were in and out in 15 minutes.

With Rosa it's a 2 hour stroll. She filled her shopping cart to the brim. I took pictures, hoping no one would tell me to stop. I love love looking at all the cheeses, the salame, the prosciutto. 

With luggage weight always on my mind, I bought only one large bag of goodies. The prices are really reduced here. I bought a bag of Baci chocolates for 5€. I saw the same sized bag in the tourist section of Firenze for 14€. At home this same bag costs $25.  I did find a box of Tartufo Nero in the frozen food section! Leo introduced me to these often non-advertised dessert treats when we traveled and ate out.

We rode down the escalator with the shopping cart.  Rosa let me return the cart and retrieve the money she left with the machine.  I need to ask her if she gets back what she inserted.  I see three types of coins are accepted.

When we arrived home, Rosa had a message from Mattia, asking that she bring another pair of shoes to him, at work. Yesterday he fell off a ladder while working and today he's sore.

I walked to meet Marta at the Saturday morning Mercato near in the piazza. She was wearing a beautiful coat...Gucci. She too was glowing. I took a picture of her coat, not aware I was also taking the first picture of our precious baby boy.

I love looking for pictures at the Mercato. The setting, the colors, the foods, and the merchants are all gifts to my eyes and add to my feeling of well-being. Here, one experiences the art of living well. Marta tells me she never comes to the Mercato. She doesn't like the crowds. As I study the men's faces here, I don't see features of Leo's face, as I do in Firenze.

In the late afternoon, Rosa, Marta and I meet in Marina's kitchen. Primo is out golfing. I hope it relieves some of his stress.

Marta has news! She's incinta! Pregnant! She took the home-test a few hours ago. She's already called Primo and a close family friend Antonino, who will now be her obstetrician. I've had dinner with him and his family. Such a nice jolly sweet man. He is a good choice for her doctor. It's odd, because yesterday I went into a baby shop and was touching tiny infant toys. I need to go back and buy that French made mouse I saw!

We went out to celebrate with hot chocolate and freshly made whipped cream. The foggy view from the Cioccolateria made our chocolate even more special.

We then visited our favorite trinket shop, run by a young woman in her thirties. We were buzzed in and she greeted me with 'Ben ritornata!!'. She is also about 7 months pregnant. I bought a silver heart which dangles from an oblong safely pin like holder. I can use it alone or to keep a scarf in place.

At 8.00 at their home, Mario and Marta made pizza. We had four huge pans of yummy pizza and a calzone. We devoured almost everything. Rosa and I walked home around 10 pm carrying still warm pizza for Mattia, who had to work late again. Primo and Marina will be out late, attending a dinner party.

At 10.30 we watched Mattia eat. He was so tired. His work with rescued immigrant street boys requires him to have unusual work hours. He has already returned to school to pursue another degree. He wants to be a licensed counselor.

I am always glad see it reaffirmed. The girls have chosen good men for husbands.

The Tarfutto was delicious!  I ate one and left the other in Marina's freezer.

Monday, June 11, 2012

November 24, 2011 Cremona

Today I left Firenze on the 7.00am train. I should arrive in Cremona at 10.19.

There are two connections to make on this trip: SMN-Bologna then Parma-Cremona. I packed one big bag last night. At 6.00am I locked my room, leaving behind one newly purchased carry-on and two shopping bags in my hotel room. No one was wake so I let myself out of the hotel and pushed my bag down the two flights of stairs. I could have rung the bell for Alessio, but I decided it wasn't necessary.

At 6.00 the streets had some traffic and the train station was busy with travelers and businessmen.This morning I put on my mover's back-brace to make it safer to get my bag on and off the train. I made the easy connection at Bologna, catching the 7.52 train to Parma on the same binario.

This trip, I wrote in my notebook the exact departure and arrival times. Having this written schedule has been a big stress relief, letting me see exactly how much time I have between connections. When one arrives at a station, unless this is a trip you make on a regular basis, it's impossible to know which binario to hurry to. People are always crowded around the posted paper schedule, which is organized by the hour.

When arriving at 8.00, it's necessary to look under the 8.00 section. There, each train which stops at this particular station, is listed separately. The trains are labeled by destination city. Under every individual train, one can see each city that train stops at, along with the time. Trains here run on time! Don't believe those Italian train jokes. The real problem is, the train connections are so close together, that even a 4 minute delay can cause one to miss a connection.

I didn't know which train would take me from Bologna to Parma. Since I knew its departure time, I checked under each north bound train on the Departures Schedule, for a train stopping at Parma at 9.03. Today I've determined this is the Milano bound train (the slow one which makes perhaps 10 stops between Bologna and Milano). I took a picture of the connections with my iPhone. I'll be better prepared with this.

I had 10 minutes, plenty of time to make the connection on Binario 1. When I boarded, I choose the jump seat in the area almost between two cars. This seemed convenient at the moment, but I later regretted it. A group of six teenagers made numerous trips back and forth, boys and girls flirting and fidgety. Each time they passed by, the inner door slammed.

The capotreno (conductor) passed by to check my validated ticket. He took an extra long look at it. He told me during this season, there was no train between Parma and Cremona. 'Get off at Fidenza instead. There, you can make the connection to Cremona.' I understood him perfectly.

I thanked him for his help and immediately called Marta. "So, do I trust the conductor or the computer which printed out these tickets?" I asked her. And, if I get off at Fidenza, I wondered, how much time did I have to make the unknown connection to Cremona. Marta was at home thankfully and told me she would check the Internet. She agreed, the Internet did show a connection in Parma.

After some discussion, we decided to trust the conductor. Fidenza is the stop directly after Parma. Marta found its arrival would be at 9.17 with a connection directly to Cremona at 9.47 and arriving at 10.30.

I love the feeling of adventure on these trips. There is some stress but I now have no fear of being hopelessly lost. I sat and enjoyed the countryside pass by.  When I see the trellis of the bridge over the Po River, I know I'm almost home.

When the train came to a stop in Cremona in the center binario. I pulled my bag from the car and looked around. Umm, no one in sight that I knew. I started descending the marble steps, the suitcase wheels loudly clicking on one step at a time. My Italian phone began to ring. There was no way I could answer it. I passed through the underground corridor and noisily clicked back up the steps to ground level, the phone insistently began to ring again. I knew it was Marta trying to find me.

Cremona has its own distinct earthy smell. I love it. I'm home. Walking toward the station office, I looked again for a familiar face and I saw not one but two! An always smiling Marta, with her happy mother, Marina!

What a nice surprise! We three walked home, speaking Italian then English and again Italian. On the way, we passed Anna, on her bicycle. Each trip, I always seem to see her as she's bicycling around town. Anna helps Marina deep clean house several days a week. In the past Anna was also a big help for Nonna, who now needs 24 hour care in a nursing home for the elderly.

I gave Marina an oven mitt and potholder and a pink spatula. For Marta, Williams Sonoma kitchen treats, a cheese knife from Holland, a grammar book, Hershey's milk chocolate chips, maple syrup and a puzzle showing New York doors.

Marta rushed off to her classroom and I went to COOP grocery store where I made a shopping list for later. Barbara wants to shop with me after school is out. I enjoy grocery stores as much as museums.

My list:
Star Tea
Novi nutella
Book by Benedetta parodi 13.51Ruro
Book by Erri di Luca --I Pesci non chiusono gli occhi,  10.20
Le fregole pasta 2.29 (Sardegnian pasta)
Dadi da brodo (bouillon cubes)
Lievito (leavening)

Primo was waiting at home when i arrived home for lunch at 12.45. I received more hugs. Primo looks stressed and tired. His brother and business partner passed away unexpectedly a month ago. Primo is feeling a huge weight on his shoulders as he tries to sort through this unforeseen tragedy. I gave him a current golf magazine, almonds from California, which he loves, See's candy and some just pressed olive oil from Toscana.

For lunch we had yummy chicken cutlets (pound chicken breasts until thin, dip in beaten egg, then bread crumbs and sauté in oil until crispy), polenta and green salad.

Marina began cooking turkey for tonight's dinner because today is Thanksgiving Day in the US. She bought three pieces of organic turkey, so we can break her no turkey rule. She's never trusted its origins and turkey is not a popularly eaten poultry in Italy.

She placed the turkey in a pan and sautéed it in olive oil. Then add two sprigs of fresh rosemary, one whole clove of garlic. Add white wine and cover. Cook on low heat for two hours. We'll have mashed potatoes, called creamed potatoes here.

Marta and I shopped at COOP and then walked to her apartment. It's been over a year and the newlyweds have created a cute comfortable place for themselves. She has made a crostata with a jam filling for tonight's dinner. It looks exactly like one I saw in the window at the famous Cremona Duomo Pastisceria.

Before dinner, we walked all over town taking pictures of Christmas lights. The town looks enchanted. The medieval buildings are decorated with strings of white lights. It's afternoon, but already dark.

When we arrived home (Primo's), no one was at home. Rosa should have come home from work but she too was gone. We were locked out.

We decided they were probably attending Mass. We too went to church but there was no one sitting in the pews. It looked like an area under construction. In fact, the church is undergoing some restoration. I followed Marta to the back side area and into an adorable bright chapel, barely large enough to seat 20 or 30 people. The tiny wooden pews lined up on each side wall only accommodated two people each. We found Primo and Marina standing at the back wall, where we quietly joined them.

I saw Mattia and Rosa sitting near the front. Rosa, Mattia and I had a happy reunion with hugs after mass. At home I gave Mattia his Wired magazine and the comic books I've been collecting for him since May. For them I also had See's candy and a puzzle showing colorful candy. I was still holding a 'Hot Rod' magazine for Mario and See's for Anna.

Unknown to me, I was also still holding Marta's See's candy too. That sweetie-pie never asked 'and Zia, where is my See's?' Dinner was enjoyed by all. We were only missing Mario, who had to work until 8.00 pm. After dinner, the girls and I walked through the old town center. It's Thanksgiving and I am so thankful to be home amongst this loving family.