Monday, July 17, 2017

Soggiorno a Seattle

We are in Seattle for a week, staying in a magnificent house-sit, perched high atop the eastern side of Magnolia, facing Queen Anne and the Cascades, with a sweeping view of the horizon, from Mt. Baker and North to Mt. Rainier and the Port of Seattle. This situation was thoughtfully sourced for us by my old friend Ginger, who loves close by in Magnolia, and with whom, when our family was smaller, we would stay in her generous basement apartment. 

Cascade sunrise
I was never really into Magnolia in the six years I lived in Seattle (reasons: older population, too quiet, far away from everything, you can't get there from here) but it has really grown on me in the last five years since it has been our de facto home base for our jaunts in and out of King County. But, much like Firenze, the reasons I did not take a shine to Magnolia in my twenties are the same reasons that it seems just right in my forties. (Different reasons per each city, but the flip in common.) I appreciate the slow traffic, older people, gentle younger people, parks and quiet side streets. And everyone loves a sweeping view.

My feelings about Seattle were complicated from the start. I moved here nineteen years ago tomorrow, when I was 24, for pretty sketchy reasons - let's call it an April-August relationship, fortified by a ton of art (him) and a fair amount of writing and publishing (me). But I was stubborn and I loved the place, and I made it work. I left Mr. August in 2000, but stayed in Seattle. 

I remember at first how cold the summers seemed, how wet and dark the winters waned. I had just come from another fairly haphazard career and life situation in Manhattan, and fled for the literal greener grass of the Pacific Northwest. Oklahoma's hot summers quickly faded into memory, and 80 degrees felt sweaty to me; the garbage stench of New York became a faintly remembered detail rather than the nasally-stinging assault that I struggled with each day as I walked to the Spring Street station for my subway commute to Midtown.

But Seattle slowly began to reveal her secrets, and I came to know her like a sister. She is the only place that has ever welcomed me with open arms, and who loved me back in the way I wanted to be loved. Thoughtfully, quietly, deeply. Darkly. With rain, and bookstores, and espresso in the winter, and sun, endless water, and ferries in the summer. With art at every corner, and literate conversations to be struck up in public in spades. The Seattle Opera. Seattle Arts and Lectures. Museums everywhere. Freelancing travel writing for magazines. Working at the corporate offices of first Microsoft, and then T-Mobile. The trees that stretched high above ten-story buildings. Ferries lowing in the early morning - I could hear them from where I lived. Weekends on Lummi Island with family. Where I made dear friends, many of whom I am seeing this week.  Where I found professional independence and success based on my merits, without the grimy feeling of an inside network. It was my community, made from scratch.

I left Seattle for a still greater love when I met Jason in 2004. When we first met in 2003, our mutual attraction was exponentially fortified, in a geographically O. Henry way, by an initial conversation that can be summarized something like this:

Me: You're from Portland and you have direct and personal knowledge of living in Norman, Oklahoma? and OU? and Pickard Street?
Him: You're from Oklahoma and you chose Seattle and live there now?

I sobbed on my bed in my apartment as he packed up my boxes for me. I knew I would have mixed feelings about leaving Seattle for the rest of my life. Jason grew up in Portland, and his family is there, and has been there, for generations. I'm not quite so lucky, and had no similar guarantee that I would be able to repeatedly return and be welcomed. He has an enviable confidence that he will always be able to return to Portland. We honestly thought we'd be in Oklahoma a year, turn it around quickly, and come back. He wanted to return to the Pacific Northwest. I had my affinities, my expansive network, my ability to find decent employment, as he puts it, "while wearing pajamas."  

But that was not what life had in store for us. One thing led to another, four years of Faculty in Residence on campus, a year in Arezzo with OUA. Two decent career options on the tracks of our choice. Four pregnancies, two babies, some serious heavy lifting in the newborn months. Sure, we tried every year to come back up north, but it's not always so easy. And as it turned out, it was easier for us in the end to move to Florence last year than it would have been in almost any case to move back to Seattle. Or Portland. San Francisco, in someone's dream. Twelve years had sped by.

I marked countless milestones in Seattle. And it pains me that many of my milestones since then took place not in Seattle, but in Oklahoma. Because, you see, Seattle still loved me back. I wish we had gotten married here, honeymooned here. I especially wish I had been pregnant and had my babies here. I don't know about wanting to be a working mother here, on the commute with daycare, but thousands of families do it. I am sure we could have made it work.

St Mark's Cathedral
I returned to St. Mark's Cathedral, high atop Capitol Hill, for mass yesterday. I was an active member when I lived here, and was confirmed here at Easter vigil in 2001. I had not been back for mass since I moved away; we are typically in town for just a day or two, not a whole week. My Google navigator routed me across Mercer Street, which I would have never taken when I lived here as it is eternally the Mercer Mess. I arrived late, nervous, after mass had begun. I sat in a pew in the middle section, on an aisle, and looked around for a familiar face. None. No one. Not a single one. In my active years I was part of a cohort that was under 40, who have doubtless all moved on, as have I. I am sure some of the older people were there during my years, but I did not know them then.

The priests now are almost all women, which is a definite positive in general. The building is under heavy renovations and wrapped in plastic sheeting, concrete rolled over with new sealant. Donations are clearly up. It is a thriving community of faith. As the hymns began, the woman to my left really owned that music. The woman to my right, one pew up, also. A man came late, and stood right in front of me. 

Garrrgh, I thought. I cannot see anything now

He was straight out of Seattle: Central Casting. Middle aged, very late, graying hair still wet from the shower, small earring, silver ring, slim in Patagonia pants. My resentment at his blocking my view evaporated as soon as he started singing. The voice of an angel, on key, singing in perfect harmony. He heard me behind him and angled to face me obliquely, the better to blend the parts. It was electric, even though I hit a few false notes because I don't know the hymnal by heart, yet, although almost every song is familiar to me. We sang three hymns like that. 

The woman next to him apologized after mass for being flat as she sang. 
"Feels like I am sitting in the crypto-choir section," I quipped, leaning forward.
"He's in the real choir," she said. 
"I believe it," I responded.   
"He has the most beautiful smile," she added, glowing.

Seattle makes me feel there are no strangers to me here. And, like a true great love, even though I miss her, I know I am enriched immeasurably, and am the person I am today, thanks to the years I lived in Seattle. She is always with me.

Just me and the Needle at Volunteer Park last night.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Firenze: Il Centesimo Post/My Hundredth Post

Not much time to blog here, what with Victor home sick today, and likely tomorrow too (diagnosis: pale child in Italian climate), our regular babysitter headed out of country on Wednesday so this week is catch-as-catch-can with two full-time jobs and our lovely backup babysitters, an impromptu apero out with Maria, our friend from the palazzo family...

I just really felt like I should mark this day. Today, a year since we flew back to Washington state after our month in Firenze, ironing out as many wrinkles as possible. How far we've come! How we are here now, in an apartment, with two small children and two parents and two careers, and a huge babysitting line-item to make this all work. How we have made our network so that we can actually bump into a mutual Italian friend after work in our foyer and invite her out to a apero with us - and she comes!

Mercato dei pulci + skyline da serata
June 26, 2016: flying back to Spokane and thinking, wow, okay, so it is done. We are flying back to our new home, and Sharp, you'd better call it home. Because that's what it is , and you will make it so, and yes it's lovely, but most people who think of Firenze think of a five-day soggiorno at the most. You are going to have to work to make it home.

We gave up a lot, but we got so much also in the equation, and that doesn't happen every day. Even more rarely at this stage in life. This, some days, feels like a risk resurrected from the graveyard of 22-year-old ideas, And it has worked, against many odds. A lot of luck. A lot of hard work. A fair amount of frustration. And liberal daily doses of straight-on beauty.

I don't have pearls of wisdom here, just a short list of things I find amusing in Firenze:

Carrefour: try to not shop here if you can. Because, if you think about it, isn't IperCoop so much better? Better quality. Higher value for money. And you know why? Italian business. Doing things the Italian way. Just look. Better. So much better.

Mosquitos: Don't even mention them. Everyone deals with them. Best not mentioned in polite company, like all facts of life.

Politics: Always appropriate to invoke. Italians very emapthetic on this point. Especially lately.

The Florentine accent: It's strong. Who knows what they're on about. It actually sounds a bit gallego, what it all the dry gargling lost deep in the gola.

Apero: Best consumed in a repurposed 17th-c. prigione.

Le Murate, just add americani and spritz.
Groceries: Back to groceries. If you have very generous friends, you will come home from a day in the country with canned tomatoes of varying sorts, fresh produce (cucumbers), homemade wine, with explicit verbal instructions and commentary on each. I still cannot believe this. This would never happen in the US. Right? I mean, this is terreno kilometro zero.

Come with me, down vigneto way: Paterno.

Later topics: i 'fochi' di San Giovanni, a day in Paterno, Tourists versus Heat.

Side note: If I ever own a sports franchise, it will be named The Tourists. Because, how funny. The Tourists Versus Away.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Firenze: I Fuochi di San Giovanni

Midsummer all over Europe retains its pagan flair for fire (bon-, -works) and drink, but in almost every country it was Christianized and renamed St. John's Feast, an homage to our locust-eating, sackcloth-wearing holy hermit.

A quick review of St. John's festivals I know:

In Finland, they'll be wrapping midsummer poles with bright ribbons, matched in the flaxen braids of little girls. Finlandia vodka, and Lapin Kulta.

France - what do they do? They're godless, or maybe I was when I lived there. Ok, quick research shows I was the godless one, and also that it is maybe more of a thing in Paris.

In the UK it is a quarter day. I want to say I have been in the UK for St. Johns, but can't really remember.

In Spain, there will be bonfires on the northern beaches, as nets of pescaditos are brought in to be promptly fritos on huge metal grills and devoured. The wind will blow cold as the night wears on and finally goes truly dark a bit before midnight. Estrella de Galicia and vinho verde.

In Firenze, it is an even bigger celebration, as San Giovanni is their patron saint. Fireworks galore. I fuochi di San Giovanni are set off at 10 pm from Piazzale Michelangelo, and stream over the Arno.

Of course Firenze is languishing in a puddle of humidity and heat under a severe weather advisory, so we have been scrambling to find a place to watch the fireworks from.

Traffic will be limited, parking impossible, security high. The bridges over the river will all be packed with tourists and locals (and mosquitoes).

It's still going to be hot even at that hour. I know this because our apartment is no longer cooling down after dark. There is no relief from open windows. Only biting bugs borne on stuffy still air.

Enter the Dutch reinforcements, late of Rome, originally from Amsterdam. Our friends from the kids' school, parents of two beautiful and pale little girls who are the same ages as Victor and Eleanor. They live in a house up the Via Bolognese, the old road from Firenze to Bologna with a view high above the city, looking straight down into the valley at a city that suddenly seems cast in miniature.

The view from the Dutch estate.
The mom messaged us yesterday to invite us up. JA JA JA we are coming! There will be grilling. Sprinkler running and a trampoline for the kids. Jason's at the store right now buying white wine and beer to chill.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Firenze: Midsummer

I spent the better part of the past 24 hours in a fevered fog, which was also alarmingly interrupted by a colossal toddler nosebleed. Most of the my morning was passed laid out on the floor in the living room. Lunch and a garden visit with Miss Busy followed.

Our sitter arrived after lunch and took Eleanor out to play, along with her own 8 year old daughter, who is adorable. I crawled up to Victor's top bunk and immediately rolled over into a dreamless sleep.

After dinner we all agreed that it was the perfect time to head out to the park. Eleanor got her sandals on before Victor, so I wanted behind with him while Jason and Miss Busy headed out first. I begged Victor to join me for some medicinal gelato. He was an easy convert to my plan, and we walked up Carducci to the ATM for cash. Victor is very good at cash withdrawals. he probably has all our pins memorized now. In fact, I am sure of it.

We walked to Procopio on Pietrapiana.
"Get me some gelato," Jason texted me.Victor selected fragola/panna, with sprinkles on top. I went for caffe bianco/baba rhum. Jason would be enjoying fragola/limone e basilico.
"Come on,Victor!" I urged him as we trotted along the street in a race against time with the extra coppa of gelato for Jason. I stopped to manage minor drips and to proactively like the sides.
"Come on! Come on!"

We arrived at the park in Piazza d'Azeglio and Eleanor was now on the slide. We quickly transferred the third coppa to Jason, and I went to the big kid swings to oversee our two sweaty, sticky charges. I looked around and quickly noted that were were well into Expat Hour: 8:30 pm, a decidedly unsalubrious hour for any Italian child to continue playing in the park. (Plus, ORA DI CENA.) I noted southeast Asians, many pale children, a handful of Africans in the calcetto mini arena.

I ran to throw my refuse away in a trashcan nearby, and saw out of the corner of my eye that a much bigger boy was trying to take the swing from her. I could tell in her initial whimper that she was gearing up. I walked faster back to the swing.

The boy's mother, however, beat me to it. and immediately knelt down and started speaking to Eleanor, who was still miffed and fussing. I walked up and greeted her. She was in full hijab.
Are these your boys? I asked her.
No, no Italian, she said.
You... Italian?
No, I said. Americana.
Wow! she said, her eyes widened.
Umm, grazie? I said. Not so great at the moment, but ok.
My sister USA.
Dove? I asked.
No English... no English.
We were unable to determine the location of the sister.
We worked out that the woman was from Egypt.
Cairo? I asked.
Yes, yes, she nodded.
She was really nice.
Her boys, aged about 3, 7, and 10, eyed us.
You.. Arabic?
No, not really, I said. Shokran, afwan, merhaba, mumtaza, la.
She laughed with obvious pleasure.
Umm, not really but thanks. You ... tourist?
Furrowed brow.
Poco tempo? Tourist?
No English, no English.

Her little boy had to pee so she took him around to the back hedge where everyone does this. Victor and Eleanor begged to play squirt guns, which I had brought in a large cloth bag from the apartment. We all went to fill them up with water from the fountain.

The two older boys looked with longing from the edge of the playground. They were handsome; the middle one had a small scab on his nose where it looked like it may have taken a direct hit from some sort of flying toy. Jason, Victor, and Eleanor started hosing each other down. The Egyptian boys smiled. You could see their hands itching to play. The oldest boy wandered off, but the middle boy stayed. Jason finally turned to him and offered him our SuperSoaker.

Here, take it, he said. Go get him, motioning to Victor.
That little Cairene boy's evening suddenly got 100% better, He and Victor whooped and hollered, chasing each other around the pavement, freely squirting each other. Victor was totally cool with dad handing off the SuperSoaker to another boy - in fact, he seemed overjoyed that another boy was squirting him back.

The mother came back from the pee excursion and began to take video on her phone of the squirt gun festival. The games continued. Eleanor appeared to be writing her name on a wall with her little squirt pistol. She eventually squirted a few dirty pigeons but wasn't really feeling it. Soon, it got darker, and the mosquitoes came out, so we asked the Egyptian boy for the squirtgun back, and poured the remaining water into the drain.

Shokran, shokran, the mother said.
Buona notte, we said. Buona notte.
Eleanor waved from my shoulder, Ciao.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Returning from La La Land to la Bella Italia

After a 24 hour trip to LA on Sunday followed by five straight days of nonstop work, it was time to head home: Italy. I continue to train myself to consider this internally as "back to the US" and "home to Italy."

Travis and I took a cab from the hotel to LAX, which on a Friday in summer was a complete zoo. (Fare: $75.) He disembarked at domestic departures, while I stayed on until the international terminal. Once in the cool, air conditioned hangar-like ticketing counters, my check-in was another breeze, taking all of two minutes.

Security also ran very efficiently (no wonder the grumbling Yanks at the start of the week in Rome), interrupted only by an amusing K-9 sniffing up everyone's pant leg while an American mother shrieked that the dog should not be let near her children.
"Don't worry about it, lady! If he wasn't fully trained he wouldn't be doing this job!" the TSA guard snapped.

I had three hours before my flight was to leave, so I indulged in some Very American Food (fish tacos, spicy guac, Modelo draft), and got a blowout and a foot massage at the Xpress spa. Feet were seriously throbbing after a 90-hour workweek. How do medical interns do it? I ask my parallel life. My flight boarded and again I was seated next to a petite Italian woman (this one from Mantova; outbound was from Pescara) who was delighted to debrief about NAFSA and American culture with me as we waited to take off. The flight was not full (shock), so I settled into my window bunk for a long nap.

BONUS: The movies worked! Ok, so still no wifi or charger but MOVIES. Wow a LOT of movies! Yay Alitalia! Including a backlist for nostalgic old people like me - let's re-live "Notting Hill" before Hugh Grant got creepy, or "Bridget Jones Diary".....  when was the last time I saw a feature-length film?! I don't even know. Something with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler wrecking a house. Lost in the fog of pregnancy and post-partum sleep deprivation of the last 6 years.

I opted for "La La Land." At first, meh, but then I was pulled in, and by the audition scene I was crying in my seat, then reduced to complete puddle of tears by the flashback. The perfect film to cap off my week - I am still humming all the tunes. Then I watched "Manchester by the Sea," considerably more scarring but just as good. Wow when was the last time I just got to LOOK at something that I liked for FIVE STRAIGHT HOURS. This is the perfect flight.

We landed late, and had to do the "here in Italy we do not have jet ways" rigamarole. My connection was about 45 minutes. Bus bus bus. Bus. Sweat. Sun. Crap, I picked the second bus, as I watched the first bus pull away to inch toward the terminal.

Rome, again, packed. I ran at top speed to immigration, and got bumped to the front of the line when I showed my boarding pass with its 2:15 departure. I ran ran ran to the gate. At gate, no information at all on my connecting flight. Only the fact that it existed. Boarding? Gate number? who knows? I was pouring sweat and so stood in line to buy a somewhat less warm bottle of San Pellegrino. I stood around and continued to monitor the screen for the flight update. Then I realized there was a set of stairs to the flight, behind the cafe! MERDA. I hustled down the stairs only to be informed the flight had closed.
It's not even 2:15! I protested.
Flight closes fifteen minutes before departure, she responded. Mi dispiace. Go get rebooked. Desk is like 2 miles back.
Good thing I bought that water.
Or assumed that those German tourists were also gawking at the monitor for the Firenze flight to post a gate number or boarding status.
So tired.

I trudged back up the stairs and towards Senza Assistenza. The next flight was at 10 pm.
I am not waiting here for eight hours, I said. I have small children at home. I have been gone a week.
The two stylish Italians looked at me from behind the counter. Their eyes widened.
How old? one asked.
Two and six, I said.
People always miss the connection from LAX. That's all we do here, pretty much. Rebooked missed European connections for the LAX flight. Oh yeah. All the time.
What should I do? is there no earlier flight?
Take the train.
Is Alitalia seriously telling me to take Trenitalia?
I left, and walked about 50 feet..
My bag! I have a checked bag...Where is my bag? I asked.
Go to this other Assistenza desk where they will help you.
I reported to that desk, where I was told to go to Assistenza Bagaglio. They should have your bag out in about 10 minutes, she said. Go.
I went to the third Assistenza and held up the line for a good 45 minutes with a customer service rep all to myself. I felt pretty Italian by then. I didn't lapse into English. I am not yet at Jason levels of official sangfroid, but I am getting much, much better.
I cancelled my re-booked boarding pass, and was told to go wait for my bag.
Nastro 16. I'll never forget it.
I sat there for two hours, in between getting to know everyone working at Assistenza Bagaglio, plus a few tour guides, and a woman from the airport who said she was conducting a customer service survey.
Please, don't talk to me, I said. I am very dissatisfied right now. I am so upset that I cannot speak Italian, I said in Italian.
She was undeterred.
She eventually wandered off to pester other international arrivals.

I finally got my bag and purchased train tickets at the baggage claim kiosk, then ran to the airport platform. I hopped on to the airport shuttle rain seconds before it pulled out.

It was packed. Hot. Standing room only.

I got to Tiburtina and found an ATM for the Firenze taxi, then dragged my huge bag over to Binario 6. The fast train I'd reserved pulled in minutes later.

Hmm, early, I thought, checking my watch. The door popped open and an Italian conductor grabbed my bag and hauled it on to the train. I followed.
The train immediately lurched forward.
Merda, he said, wrong train.
Che!!?? I said.
This is Italotreno. Privato. You are booked on the Freccia.
Let's go talk to the capotreno.
Capotreno looked me over with a sad, sad face.
Got confused, huh?
Your colleague here pulled me onto the train, I said.
I waited to see what sort of official recrimination I might be subject to. A fine? New ticket? 200 euro cash? Crap, how much money did I get out. I tried to think. Not that much. By now I had been in transit for 24 hours.
Nothing. They were going to do nothing, Signore Capotreno waved me on to Carozzo 11. Just go there, he said. Please go. There will be a seat there. He gave his coworker a look.
So I rode Italotreno for free, in very fast, in air-conditioned, leather-upholstered comfort to Firenze.
No one ever came to ask me for my ticket, or who I was.
They have a nice magazine.

When I arrived home Jason was shocked.
Henry did that last fall, he said, and had to pay a fine plus the ticket. He eyed me curiously. What did you do?
Nothing really. Said I was sorry, and that the man had pulled my bag onto the train before verifying my ticket.

I sent about 4 customer complaints to Alitalia for all the broken movies, no wifi, delays, bad food, Rome connection, bag wait. They're only responded to the movies so far. Maybe the other ones are getting escalated up to the capo.

I was very, very happy to be home. I had missed my tribe - this was the longest I'd ever been away from Eleanor.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Week in La La Land

I say this only out of affection. I love LA.

What do I love about it? Everything, as a visitor.

But I also remember this glowing feeling when I had only ever been a tourist in Manhattan, and when I actually moved there it was far, far different. It Did Not End So Well. But NYC and I made up over and over again in 2002 and 2003.

I do not think we have any imminent plans to move to LA. But, much like a crush at far remove, I am just going to enjoy this feeling of Crushing on LA.

Dreamy SoCal sera

When I was growing up, LA held the following sort of place in the imagination: Den of Sin. State of Crazy People. Loonies and Hippies. So Expensive! Those People Are Crazy.

Look at the performer. No soul! She left it at the door, clearly.
Note: these are my people.

The PR in my childhood about LA was horrendous. It extended to California in general, a cesspool of lost morality so deep and so murky that one might never hear again from loved one should they there venture. Who moves there? Just give them all your money at the door, and maybe your soul too, while you're at it. Just cut to the chase. It will happen eventually.

And yet. Since 2009 I have taken three trips to LA, twice for the same weeklong conference downtown, and once for our friend Jack's wedding. Maybe the common thread of Jack is what makes LA sparkle so? I would not be in the least surprised.

The NAFSA conference each year draws about 10,000 attendees. It is a madhouse of international education. My workweek was no walk in the park. Up at 7, at expo hall by 8, presenting and client-ing until 5, evenings full of receptions with more prospective clients and clients.

Slipping into my professional Yank persona
And yet. The fresh air, those trees, her gentle buildings, the feeling that there are things happening here, this is a growing place. The ocean, public beaches, the fresh-squeezed juice and carnitas, the people everywhere, all kinds of people just doing their thing! Little Tokyo and mochi and amusing retail; the garment district and its swarms of buyers picking over bolts of bright fabric on the sidewalk in the sun. Rooftop events looking over the skyline into hills. Mission churches and people eating food that I was ready to swipe from them just for the spice. I was just downtown that whole week, plus a few excursions as mentioned to the beach and Little Tokyo thanks to local friends, but I slurped it up and soaked it in.

Little Tokyo
 I love the type of personality who works in my greater field. International educators are expansive thinkers, people wth experience, the type of person who will challenge your assumptions and later check in on you to see if they've changed, congratulating you if they have or listening if they have not.

Satu the Texas Finn

Regina, friends since 2006

The inimitable Bill, who heard my cry for MORE JAPANESE CULTURE
and within hours rolled up in his green Tonka truck!
My colleagues: bar none, a witty and ebullient lot, definitely the sort you want to keep company with if the workdays are 17 hours long. Or more.

Jack, who just makes LA more more

My colleague Travis
Ritually slaughtering Tim - good fun 
Interesting note: my journey with Terra Dotta, this long and fruitful association, began eight years ago at this conference, when, in 2009 with my then-colleague Alice, I met the founders, Garrett and Brandon. I was a ride-along on a client hello (OU Study Abroad had recently purchased and implemented the software, led by Alice), but I remember thinking then, cool people, bookmark for later.

Back in America: wow, this is so easy in English! Wow, I am hearing like 100 languages. I love accents in English and everything else. I spoke Italian every day; they were all over the place.

Italians. They see my frames, they talk to me.
The sheer diversity of people, all kinds of people, everywhere. A LOT of people. A few moments in our corporate suite: who ordered the abomination called BBQ chicken pizza? what is this salad? A moment of cultural patience (thank you Italy) at the hotel as clerks shrugged their shoulders, unable to locate my package: oh well.

with former colleagues and new friends

Each year I half dread this conference for a couple months beforehand, but when I am at it, it is easily one of the highlights of my year, each time.

Alighting in Rome, Late May

The first hay harvest
rolled up into blocks and balls
Dotting those eternally-tilled fields

Portly Americans gulp Coca-Cola
instead of coffee in the pre-dawn

Albanians sport interesting shoes
New Yorkers wearing summer's cheap straw fedoras
Indian grannies in fleece and bare feet
The New Yorker fedoras dispute with an Albanian family
Albanian mother: large protruding moles
Albanian daughter: nascent moles, same neck location
A towering outdoorsy American father
Entertaining his three small copies

Everyone on edge
The line is too long! the tourists cry
The uniformed Italians sigh and give up
While all of America mutters in line
They need organization
This should be better
This is all wrong

May 28, Rome - Fiumicino

Italy to La La Land: My First Trip Back

I traveled back to the US for the annual enormous NAFSA conference the first week in June. I'm segmenting this story for ease of conveyance. (And apologies for the hiatus, but life has been slammin'.)

I was nonchalantly not at all checking my flights the Friday before my Sunday departure. Suddenly, my phone pushed an Alert Traveler notification about an Alitalia strike. On Sunday, May 28. The date of my departure. My flight, leaving from Rome at 10:10 am ... the strike, starting at 10 am. Super. All ground crew and air traffic control. I did some quick internet research and saw that yes, this was actually A Thing. 

I called Alitalia, who confirmed my flight was operated by KLM, thus not affected by the strike. Alitalia never messaged me or email me about the anticipated delays and cancellations, not to my phone, not on email, not when I checked in at the counter in Firenze. Nothing. 

My early hop to Rome got out on time. Arriving in Rome, the place was mayhem. Huge lines, cranky tourists. I wrote a quick poem about it I will post in a follow-up. It was the same weekend as the British Airways system meltdown, so there were a lot of people who had been milling about the airport for most of the weekend. Tempers were short. Lines snaked on for ages. Airport staff appeared to have given up.

In the terminal, I saw that the strike was impacting many flights, as about half of them looked cancelled, which did not at all corroborate with my interweb research from home. But I felt forearmed with patience as I had known this was a likelihood for a few days before I started my trip.

So many cancellations.

I headed to my gate and settled in with my best effort at a zenlike demeanor. The direct nonstop was delayed again, and again. People insisted on remaining in line even though no boarding was happening. I momentarily became the news bureau for my section of the line as I shared the information from my Alert Traveler app, and nosily pressed the front desk for details. A woman from LA who had been bumped from a cancelled BA flight the other day was near hysterics. I advised them all to take a seat, I was going to go get my second breakfast. They laughed, but I wasn't kidding. I'd been up since 4 am.

Fortunately the coffee and pastries in Fiumcino are excellent.
When confronted by disorder and grouchy travellers, see to it you obtain treats for yourself to manage.

Pretty Fiumicino. Lovely recent reno.
More beautiful FCO.

I returned from my seconda colazione just as the desk announced the flight would be boarding soon, to loud applause (oh, Italy ....) My new friends looked at me in amazement as asked me how I timed my coffee so well. I replied there was no way I would pass up my last macchiato for a week, and that the cornetto integrale alla frutta di bosco was fresh out!

I was in a row at the window (of course, this way I can always sleep in-flight) next to an Italian woman who was also headed to NAFSA. On her other side was a chicano man from Santa Barbara, coming back from a European trip with his older mother. The Italian and I immediately hit it off. I thanked her for also being small so that I did not have to share my seat with some huge person's spillover, which happens to me a lot. 

The plane was in a right state. Filthy, pitted out before we left. But we are going direct nonstop to LA from Rome, so this is awesome, right? Right?

No wifi on plane.

No charging outlets in seat.

The final straw - a thirteen-hour flight with my entertainment module broken. Yes, just in Row 36. All of our screens busted. No music, no news, NO MOVIES. No movies. Good thing I brought an analog book. I read the whole novel. Then I outlined it in my notebook and analyzed it for plot and character. I got bored and went into the aisle where I chatted with a lovely couple over the airplane swill that passed for wine. I gave one of them a ton of free opinion about midcareer and working remotely. And not going to law school. He was being laid off from a large biotech firm so had many concerns and ideas to review. What are you going to do when there's no movie at your seat? Go find some people.

The food was awful. Poor Alitalia, to have sunk so low. 

But on a plus note, the flight crew looked cracking in all their Diego dalla Palma couture.

I did get a bit of sleep too. Travelling west - far far west - is so much easier than travelling east. The body can deal with a long day far better than a missing overnight.

Seriously - no wifi on a 13 hour flight? why? why?

I arrived in LAX and was quickly processed through US immigration, where I was given a receipt for entry in spite of my passport. This is weird. Why do we do this? Did the US seriously just introduce MORE paper into an already cumbersome and lengthy process?

The CBP official who stamped me back in was a congenial African-American muslim man. I felt instantly reassured by that. So it hasn't all changed overnight, I thought. Wow, people are friendly here. Wow, we are diverse.

Receipt not valid for cash return. 
What 20 hours of travel from Firenze will bring you to.
My friend Janice, superstar traveler and UCLA PhD student, picked me up at baggage, where she immediately drove me to a beach, per my request, to get a nice eyeful of the Pacific, my favorite ocean and lungsful of fresh salty breeze.

We were instantly rocketed into LA car culture, Parking was impossible. Fortunately, we had just picked up a nice, vitaminy fresh squeeze on the way. Janice paid $13 on a credit card so we could park for about 40 minutes. We got pedis after the beach, and hit a CVS so I could buy everything on the family import list. I knew I would have no time to do this during the insanity of NAFSA week, so wanted to knock these tasks out first. Fortunately I had fantastic ground support to aid me in the completion of these items! I count myself very lucky that this is almost always the case for me. And conversely, I have been happy to be that support when it was my turn.

Next segments: NAFSA week, and returning home. More pictures included, and a lot to cover.

Meanwhile, amusing life has recommenced in Firenze.

Poem coming right up.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Further Linguistic Considerations: or, My Mind Has a Mind of Its Own

Today I finally got to be the parent to accompany Victor to Mondobimbo, which reasonably sounds like some sort of bordello, but in Italy it is Baby World, which is not at all insulting for boys and girls under the age of ten who want to go to a repurposed-ice-rink-meets-Denver- International-Airport with no air conditioning and lots of stored gardening supplies behind the trampolines, and various other OSHA violations liberally strewn about the place.

It was the birthday of a little girl named Giorgia who is in Victor's class, and a fair number of his classmates showed up to toast her in the ball pit, playing air hockey, and jumping on assorted inflated furnishings.

The Spanish family from his class is leaving Florence early next month for reasons related to Fiorentina's season finish (this is a European football [soccer] thing). The dad, coincidentally also named Victor (I LOVE THIS NAME FOR OUR KID), must now look for coaching work elsewhere as the entire coaching staff has been let go in a fit of fan-fuelled community pique.

The parents are lovely people, outgoing and lively, and I am sad to see them go. But every time I try to talk to them my brain shorts out. It happened again at Mondobimbo with each of the four of them in turn. I think I would like to see a neurologist because there is so much language in my brain at this point that my mind can't keep it straight.

I was explaining to Victor-dad a variety of things about our schedule here, when we moved here, what we think of the school etc., and words were spilling forth from  my mouth, but in alternating sentences between Spanish and Italian, without conscious effort. Like, it is just happening on a software level.

I recognize that Here Is a Spaniard, Engage Spanish, but also the awareness level for You Are In Italy is permanently switched. My brain is not reaching for Spanish in a fumbling way. I know how to explain any of this calmly in either Spanish or Italian: basic conversational discourse.

So I am laying all this out to the catalán football coach, and our conversation is smooth and he is understanding me just fine, until a third message flashes on the marquee of my conscience which says You Idiot What Are You Doing Pick a Lane and Stay In It.

After this linguistic buffet of a conversation that bizarrely also inserted some English here and there, I am running after Victor yelling at him in Mondobimbo in Spanish, ¡Victor! Ya hemos terminado, ¡ven pa'ca porque nos vamos pronto! ¿Me oiste?

The Italian parents are looking at me curiously trying to figure out what just happened, isn't that the American mom, why is she yelling, ¡Victor, mi amor esc├║chame! like a Spanish lunatic?

The short answer is: I just don't know. I have no idea. I miss my Spanish, receding on the horizon, lost on the Italian sea.

This never happens with French here in Italy. Yet I remember when I was in France as a student in 1995 and 1996, I routinely (and inconveniently) experienced something similar with French and Spanish, happening most often and embarrassingly with prepositions as I subbed out "avec" ("with") for "con" ("with" in Spanish, but "bastard" in French, as in "t'es gros con.") In that year also my Spanish came as quickly in the service of expressing my thoughts, as my native English always does.

But alas, Spanish is much more erratically attending me here, when I am able to rouse it from its dreamy lazing and felt impressions tied to gut memories.

My mind has a mind of its own.

In other observations, however, this is great news for my writing. I am 43 and getting real sick of my own thoughts. How wonderful that I can have small chapters where I just can't even control intellectually what goes on upstairs, or in the attic, or the storage unit.

Victor on trampoline, while the part of my brain that controls language is doing something similar.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Italian Language Considerations

In language class last week, Marco had us reading an article about modern art, full of specific vocabulary and scientific terms. "The glass-emulating plastic deteriorates over time, meaning the art is not only impossible to preserve, but is so by design." My retired Austrian classmates squinted at the words.

Martin, the retired economics professor from Vienna, raised his hand. He speaks slowly but deliberately, with impressive vocabulary and hesitating conjunctions. "Spalmare?"

"Oh, yes," said Marco. "To spread, like butter or jam, or fegatino for crostini neri." A further digression followed about spreadable cheese as a snack and its relative merits.

"And ... palmare? What does palmare mean?"

Marco's generous eyebrow furrowed. "Palmare?"

"Yes, palmare," continued the dogged Austrian. "The verbs that are created by adding 's' to mean their negation."

"But what would 'to smear' or 'to spread' be the logical negation of?"

Now Martin's brow furrowed. "To not spread? To unspread?"

"Yes," said Martin firmly.

I thought of unspreading a bunch of peanut butter off of a piece of bread and putting it back into a jar, crumbs and all.

I thought of the negation of spreading, and its related adjective, and the inherent logic of language. I spread it. I unspread it. It is spreadable; it is unspreadable. What is the nature of something unspreadable? This is unspreadable cheese.

I suppose it's solid, or crumbly. But solid cheese cannot be spread, so - there's no verb for the negation of the action.

I love language class.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Certaldo: Boccaccio, Sagra del Cacciatore, and More!

We've been on such a sagra roll, to everyone's pleasure, that we began late last week to sort out the sagra excursion for Mother's Day. There were a few to choose from, all short drives, and featuring, to briefly review, strawberries, woodland pests, wild bear, and mushrooms. And more fried dough balls.

We took a pass on the fried dough balls - no sense in unnecessary repetition. The strawberry sagra appealed, but was a bit of a drive toward Pisa.

We saw that the woodland pest sagra (la sagra del cacciatore - of the hunter) was being held on its final day in Certaldo, a moderate and scenic drive from Firenze.  Also, Bocaccio's hometown. The die was cast. (For those unfamiliar with Jason's professional specializations, when he is not talking about Dante, he is taking about Boccaccio, Dante's contemporary). I invited our friend and Jason's colleague Aileen, who also maintains a strong professional interest in Boccaccio, and we all agreed to pile into our used station wagon with Victor and Eleanor on Sunday morning at 11 am.

Featured woodland creatures who slip down from the hills and into Italian vegetable gardens often include hare, boar, and deer. This sagra had no deer on the menu, but the other two would be.

We met at 11 am in front of our palazzo. The drive was every bit as fresh and green as anticipated.
Victor lobbed questions from the backseat toward our panel of experts:

  1. Who is in Boccaccio's house now? (A: Petrarch's cat.)
  2. Does the ATAF 1B Boccaccio go all the way to Bocaccio's house? (A: No.)
  3. Where is Boccaccio now? (A: In a marble box in a church we are going to see - what's left of him.)
Eleanor: Panel, panel!

We arrived in Certaldo approximately 15 seconds after Eleanor fell asleep in her carseat, parking in front of a warbling carousel which Victor of course immediately wanted to ride. Rousing Eleanor from her reverie, we made our way to the funicular station to inch up the steep hill to Certaldo's medieval urban hilltop.

The funicular was charming and alarming by turns. Victor liked the automated gates and the ticket turnstile, but everyone was startled by the Blitz-like shrieking alarm, upon liftoff and landing as the car moved up and down, up and down, on its expeditious round trip. It creaked and squeaked and featured a slatted wooden bench along the perimeter of the wall, which reminded me of a Carson McCullers train.

We ground to a creaking stop at the hilltop. The town was of a sort we've often seen in Italy, but which never fails to please - sunny, flagstones underfoot, Roman bricks and romanesque churches; walled up windows evidencing where buildings have been made and remade for centuries.

The back of la Chiesa di SS. Jacopo e Filippo

Where Boccaccio swigged his espresso, surely.

We walked up the main street leading to the Palazzo dela Podesta, stickered with ceramic coats of arms, and stopped in at the church of Sts. Jacopo and Filippo, where Boccaccio found his final rest. Victor lit about 5 candles and was careful to not step on the marble slab atop Boccaccio's tomb, but commented on the carved marble pillow under his marble head. Eleanor did tread on the slab a bit, to Victor's hissed horror. Victor begged to light more candles, after he saw that there was a rack of actual candles next to the shine to Beata Giula di Certaldo, but I was out of change. We watched a caretaker dispose of the used tealights and straighten up the iron candle rack, then showed ourselves back out into the mid-spring sun.

The sanctuary of SS. Jacopo e Filippo
Up at the Palazzo della Podesta we admired a few large paintings of lions which appeared to have been bayoneted (after our year in Arezzo, I am a bt of an expert in enduring wartime damage, but when did these ones happen? Napoleon or Kesselring?), and counted the shields on the outside wall. The medieval prison was not open, to Victor's disappointment, as it was undergoing renovations. Eleanor ran a few cobblestone hills (the same one, numerous times) and we meandered back down the steep street to the funicular station. We saw a portly black and white cat that we claimed was Petrach's, but he quickly disappeared into a shaded alley as we approached.

The line to board the funicular was long, due in part to not one, but two groups of tourists with guides needing to creak their way back down the hillside. I watched the first two trips from the side with the kids. When we got back in to the waiting area, Victor said he hoped that we'd have it to ourselves. Then we saw the Russian bride whom we'd seen up by the palazzo, followed by two photographers. "Oh!" Victor exclaimed. "Pretty people." And she was, a tall, slender redhead with her hair up in a simple cream dress, with a rope of red coral at her neck.

We quickly realized, after a chat with two Italian red Cross nurses who were closing up a booth remaining from a morning festival in the borgo basso (lower town), that we would have to get back in the car to arrive at our sagra.

We pulled into a gravel lot in an industrial area surrounded by fields, and also the site of two large bouncy slides, which the kids immediately wanted to jump on. The people running the sagra were initially perplexed that we had not reserved for Sunday lunch, but it is not the way of Italians to ever refuse food to anyone for any reason if food is at hand. After a short wait we were seated in a hall with about 200 other people. We marked off our choices on a small list that would be familiar to anyone who has ever ordere sushi. And then we waited. And waited.

The wine and bread and water came out.

We waited. The kids were hungry. Eleanor's allergies literally went haywire. Vic disappeared into iPad world.

Hungry Victor

Eleanor successfully moves straight to gelato course.
We waited. And waited.

The nonni must have been tired; the kitchen was swamped.

We waited.

Our pasta finally arrived. It was delicious, but wow. Even by Italian standards it was a long wait, because the nonno apologized and said we'd been too patient.

Jason went to the gelato bar to get the kids their gelato. We were still waiting.

Finally our french fries (standard) and mixed grill (superb) and fried artichokes (ok) came out. We ate them and quickly packed up. Everyone working at the sagra looked exhausted as it was the last Sunday of a three-week fundraiser.

No getting out of town though until the bouncy slides were conquered. Thirty minutes of that, and we were truly on our way home with the two little sweatballs, back to Firenze and the 1B Boccaccio.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Firenze: Torno a scuola/Back to class

I have been on a six-week hiatus from my Italian language classes. They'd originally asked me, at the end of my initial ten weeks, if I would mind taking a break. Of course not, I said. You have been more than accomodating to me.

And so they have been, in a language school whose model is dilettante tourists with euros, Argentine pesos, and roubles to burn (there are hardly any Americans), I am a total outlier.

An American professional with a full-time job, settling in as an expat, who does not wish to take 6 hours of intensive Italian a day, who is reluctant to be charmed by the earnest weekly cooking classes in the school's tiny kitchen at the end of a dim corridor whence emanate various scents, who smiles tolerantly at itinerant tour guides hawking weekend trips to Chianti or Cinque Terre or Siena. Whose children enroll in Italian schools and speak fluent Italian at home, whose husband is practically Tuscan,; she who moves, if awkwardly at times, through centro and its many shades of Florentine, Tuscan, Italian, Euro culture. I have made that risotto before, I know ravioli, I have been to almost every possible side trip in Italy, and if I haven't, I am so annoyed by hearing about it all the time that I'll let you know when I feel like going.

[Disclosure: I have never been to Cinque Terre, or Urbino, or, properly, to Naples. Worse, within Firenze, I have never been to the Accademia, or the Palazzo Vecchio, or inside the Battistero, or up to the cupola of the Duomo. As for those last two, they seem easy enough to do, and boy, do they run the numbers on the gathering tourist throngs. These places locally are now all, from the outside, part of my daily circuit and commute; I no more think about paying money to enter them than a lifelong DCer would think about scheduling a tour of the White House.

I could write another piece about all the places I have never been to, in cities where I lived or frequented, including Paris (Louvre, Tour Eiffel), New York (Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty), Barcelona (I moped around the outside of the Sagrada Familia in 1995), Seattle (Space Needle, EMP). Bookmarking for later.]

Finally, the week before last, as I paid my monthly fee for use of office space, I asked the business office staff, what if I want to take more class?
They looked at me with surprise.
I want to take more classes, I persisted. Is Franco teaching?
Well, yes, he is, they hedged, but my dear, he began the new course two weeks ago, and in any case it is too basic for you. Would you like to try Marco's class?
Of course, I said, when can I try?
Leonardo looked at me for a moment, then said, we owe you one more class from your last package, is that right?
I was floored. Even I only figured that out after a lengthy calculation on paper while consulting a calendar. We rarely signed in, and I had missed a few classes at the end due to schedule disruptions, sick kids, and the like. Franco felt that the sign-in sheet was a sort of affront to in-country civil liberties.
Sure, I said, You do. When can I go?
This Thursday, they said. Same time as Franco's class. Come at the break to do the second half of the morning.

Marco is about my age, perhaps a bit older, trim, always well turned out in a suit, Elvis Costello glasses, but his defining feature is a shock of hair so black it looks blue, and which appears to be one giant cowlick even though the front must be at least two inches long, waves like seagrass when he talks in his high-animation state. Groucho eyebrows wiggle above his frames. He is full of energy and very well-humored, and spends a lot of time with a handful of change in front of the espresso vending machine in the lounge, being happily harangued by Leonardo.

I already liked him, so I was well disposed to enjoy his class.

Thursday morning, I took my seat at the break. The other students slowly filtered back in. A retired Austrian couple sat next to each other on the corner of the conference table, and a young Colombian woman named Daniela sat on the same site as the husband.

Marco asked me to introduced myself. I pattered on about my family and job for a few minutes, while Marco made notes on a whiteboard about various verbs I was throwing around. I stopped talking.

Why are you in this class, the Austrian wife said in a monotone.
Yes, your Italian is very good, the husband added.

Well, there's always something to learn, I said. There is a lot I don't know.

They looked at me skeptically. The Colombian maintained a very diplomatic expression.

We continued to talk and introduce ourselves. The Austrian wife was a retired schoolteacher; her balding, bespectacled husband had been a well-placed functionary in Vienna, also now retired. They did not like their apartment in Careggi. They had one grandbaby and another on the way, which they hoped would be a girl because the wife already bought all the gifts for it.

The Colombian woman was in a gap year from university and aspired to be a child psychologist. She explained her career choices, as well as the cultural differences between Italy and Colombia (few, minus a torrent of comments about the bland food here), and Italy and the UK, where she had also lived (many), and how she anticipated with pleasure her upcoming sojourn in Nice. I was delighted to hear her Spitalian - it was so easy for me to quickly grasp. We covered:

The noise level in Florence
Italians: distracted or focused?
Commuting to Firenze
Public transport in Firenze
Trying to get Wi-Fi fixed in Firenze
Italian food: bland
Colombian food: tasty
Top Indian takeout restaurants

Marco started in on the familiar Italian refrain of how hobbled and backwards Italy is, which I listened to with what I hoped was a straight face. I didn't want to appear judgemental, but ...

They just don't get it, I always think. They love to talk about how things don't work in Italy. Everything here seems pretty functional to me, and when it doesn't work well, there is always commisseration, espresso, pastry, a solid sense of humor, a fresh lunch and delicious dinner, apertivi, omnipresent aesthetics in general ... what can we reasonably expect to function smoothly atop more than 2000 years of infrastructure, and the unseen infrastructure of history and government and shortcuts?

Daniela said something about the hardships of being a child psychologist, and Marco jumped on it: disagio. What is a disagio?

Matrimonio, moaned the Austrian. Il matrimonio e un disagio. 

Marco looked at me. You understand here is here with his wife?
Why is he explaining this to me? It is very clear to me.

We portaged through that very awkward moment and continued on.

Midway through the class, a knock at the door announced the arrival of a new student. Wow, I thought, so they just drop them in like this.

Our new friend was another retired Austrian from Vienna, this one a former professor of Economics. When Marco asked him to introduce himself, he labored on in decent if halting Italian whose speed I attributed to his advancing years. His introduction was strictly monologue, and when Marco asked him politely if he was finished, he responded with a sincere, "No," and kept on. We all looked at each other from across the conference room table as he meandered and fumbled for words.

He finally finished, and class was done.

There was a moment in there too at the end where the Austrian wife commented, Everything is easy for Monica. I do not know what we were discussing that prompted such a remark from her. I awkwardly replied, No, c'e molto che non e facile per me, but she looked totally dubious.

I'll be back. There's always something to learn.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Firenze: Update + Sagra Report/Notizie

Some quick updates.

I'm back on Instagram. You can follow me there, if you like, because I take far more pictures than I could ever possibly use in my blog posts, which, due to vagaries of hardware, Google logins, and my daily and weekly routines, prove themselves increasingly difficult to regularly post. Some of my pictures have contextual comments, but most of them speak for themselves, since I am spoiled for beauty in Firenze.

No one's been sick at our house, and I can't remember the last time someone has thrown up on me, which is saying something when you have a two-year-old and a five-year-old traversing the commute between home/preschool/daycare. Caveat: I had a sinus infection two or three weeks ago, which we caught immediately and blasted with steroids and a Z-pack.

We've been in a work-travel lull, which starts again next week as Jason heads to Rome, then Assisi, with the Gonzaga group of summer students. I've taken a page out of Cory and Fran's book (my brother and his wife in SFO) and have been scheduling all manner of birthday parties, open houses, bus rides, and more. Provided, as outlined above, that no one is actively throwing up on me, this will be just fine.

The sagra is on its way tobecoming a standard fixture of our weekends. We'd been to one or two when we lived in Arezzo, four years ago. But now with two kids, they are the sociable family lifesaver. Sagre are a huge thing in Tuscany: part fundraiser, part social event, part excuse to eat a lot, part wondering if those waitstaff aren't maybe breaking some child labor laws, even though they are volunteers?

Pre-sagra hunger, before we found Monteloro.

Seasonal irises.

They are often in picturesque locales, and if you're lucky, REALLY picturesque locales that feature an impromptu playground is a fresh-mown pasture, and an outdoor coffee bar, and a mercantino (little market). We have most recently been to the Sagra del Cinghiale (wild boar ragu and stewed meat and whatnot), in Monteloro (insanely perfect, nestled into the hills high above Firenze, and featuring all optimal add-ons).

Feasting in Monteloro

Monteloro playground action.

Burning off some more calories after a decadent lunch.

A couple of weeks later, we hit the Sagra della Ficattole (fried dough balls) in Borgo San Lorenzo, which was more rustic but none the less satisfying. We did not understand the menu, and so WAY overordered our fried dough balls. No one so much as said, that is a lot of food for a family your size with kids those ages ... is a fifteen-year-old boy joining you soon? But it was all under 40 euros, and who were we to say that their fried dough balls were not super special in some mysterious Italian way?

Multiple muddy puddle trips in Borgo San Lorenzo.

After we sat down, they delivered 16 fried dough balls (accompanied by strips of pig larg, ham, and full-fat strachino cheese), and two plates of ravioli, and a plate of grilled ribs and sausage, plus a half-litre of wine.... the waitress did proactively bring us a to-go bag with a knowing smirk.

A grandpa across the aisle at another table watched us closely, then offered us a room at his hotel in Florence. A young couple at our table regarded us sympathetically.

Jason and I took multiple turns running around outside with Eleanor, who found puppy after puppy to coo over. It was a cloudy day and the playground and its surrounding grass was too wet to play in.

Eleanor fell asleep again on the roading winding back down the hills through Vaglia, which Jason knows well from his cycling.

Sagra publicity

Work is going well - I'll be on the ground in Los Angeles in a couple of weeks for work - the NAFSA conference, to be exact, that international education extravaganza.

The Sprachcaffe staff continue to treat me like family. More about that in my next post as I am off the language class hiatus and back in a course again, with a new teacher.