27 June 2015

25 steps to driving me nuts in Ireland

We've made it home from our long, fun, memorable journey.

Dublin was of course our last stop and I'd say our day was enjoyable overall.  The entire clan took a morning tour to see Malahide Castle just north of Dublin and then a swing through the seaside town of Howth (which really just amounted to a 20 minute stop so we could buy fish and chips to go from a restaurant - not a bad arrangement for them).

The tour was interesting if for no other reason than we got to ride atop an open roof double decker bus and could really see the surrounding area of Dublin quite well.  The drive took us past a few historical interests as well as cultural ones.  We drove right past Mount Temple school which is where the band U2 was formed in the 1970s.  We saw historic churches, rolling countryside, seaside vistas, and an interesting island of silt formed over time from a harbor breakwater that was originally built by Captain William Blygh (he of Mutiny on the Bounty fame).  The wall was built in the bay to prevent the bay from silting in as this was an ongoing issue.  The wall did its job and an island was formed on the backside of the way as a result.  It is now quite large and serves as a habitat for many aquatic birds, etc.

Malahide Castle was interesting, dating back to the 1100s and lived in by the same family spanning 800 years.  Sadly the castle was turned over to the state following the passing of the last descendant in the 1970s - a sister inherited the castle and lands from her brother at that time, but lacked sufficient funds for the taxes and upkeep.  So she donated the property and surrounding acreage to the government and moved to a family estate in Tasmania where she eventually died in 2009.  So it is kind of weird - you learn about this long, storied history of the Talbot family who took ownership of this land in the 1100s as a gift from King Henry II of England, survived hundreds of years of wars, monarchies, British or Irish Rule, plagues, religious reformation and executions, etc and in the end it was taxes that did in the family.  Death and taxes - two certainties of life.

When we arrived back in Dublin, the girls split off taking advantage of the Hop on/off bus tickets we all had and went to the zoo.  My folks and I ventured into the sights of Ireland - shopping of course took priority.  So off we went to find Irish souvenirs.  I managed to sneak in a stop at St. Patrick's Cathedral - built upon the site where St. Patrick himself reportedly began converting Irish to Catholicism in the 5th century.  The cathedral itself is of Gothic architecture and bears resemblance to many of Englands more notable cathedrals.  It was much smaller than I figured, but then again Dublin itself is not a large city by any means.  Still the church was interesting and featured some amazing stain glass work.

We got back on the bus and saw a few notable sights - mostly having to do with drinking or revolting or both.  The Guinness storehouse and brewery were featured prominently on the route - the Guinness property is hard to miss while driving around Dublin - it takes up a good amount of the western portion of the central city.  We also drove past the Jameson distillery which is not as large as the Guinness property, but impressive enough.  In between the two are dozens and dozens and dozens of bars.  The Irish love to drink.

So it was a fun day - a good way to see the city and its highlights since we only had the one day.  I could see myself going back to Ireland and Dublin.  The people were certainly friendly and chatty and they have a lot of pride in their heritage.  You hear them talk about Dublin or Ireland and its like one big county here in California - where all know all and if they don't, they soon will.

The next morning brought an early flight home - a repeat of the route we took to get to Europe but in reverse of course.  Dublin to Charlotte, NC to San Francisco.

The process of leaving Dublin left something to be desired.  When we arrived all were smiles and cheery and welcome to our lands and where are headed (standard immigration questions).  Leaving was a far different story.  Here is a rundown of all we accomplished in the 2 1/2 hours between arriving at the airport and boarding our plane.

1) arrive at 7am
2) walk 10 feet to the US Air/American desks - am greeted in line by a gentleman who would like to ask a few simple questions before we check in...including have we checked in online, and wanting to see our passports.  He also asks general questions about the contents of our luggage.
3) walk 10 feet - another gentlemen offers to help us through the self serve kiosks to check in, although we have checked in online.  The kiosks generally fail so we proceed to the desk for check in
4) walk 10 feet to the desk for normal check in.  Produce passports, boarding passes, answer questions about luggage, destination, where we came from, how long we've been there, etc.  We check our luggage at this point.
5) its has been 25 minutes so we must all use the bathroom
6) done shitting, we all walk 25 feet and go upstairs to security
7)  BUT FIRST - Immigration form fill out station
8) walk 10 feet past the immigration form fill out station and a lady asks us questions about or visit, where we've been, the contents of our luggage, how long was our stay, checks passports, smiles a lot, and instructs us to proceed.
9) Bathroom time - its been 25 minutes
10) done shitting - we all walk 10 feet and go through security - but as we do please show passports and boarding passes
11) we survive security and of course since it has been roughly 25 minutes, you know what that means....
12) bathroom time - because it has been 25 minutes
13) done shitting - the group decides (not me) that we should all stop and eat because we are not yet at our gate and we have a lot of signs overhead telling us that we are headed towards "U.S. Pre-Immigration" and that doesn't sound like it will take long at all.
14) we stop and eat.  (not me)
15) we head to U.S. Pre-Immigration - essentially at Dublin you can do all the US Customs there, so when you arrive in Charlotte, you're good to go.  I think they do this because they realize that no one actually cares to stay in Charlotte and all are just using the airport as a jumping off point for other more interesting locations.
16) before we get to US Pre-Immigration, we get to go through.. yes, security.  This time US Security, not Irish Security.  Irish Security is basically your carry-on bag going through an x-ray while they make sure you aren't stealing potatoes or four leaf clovers.  US Security is of course a full cavity search.
17) mind you we've walked 10 feet so we must show passports and boarding passes, discuss our vacation, reveal the color of our underwear, talk about our luggage, and ensure that we have NEVER let our bags out of our sight even though we have not seen them since we checked them in at the check in desk a good hour or more ago.
18) fresh off our anal cleansing thanks to security, we walk 10 feet and are greeted by a lady who has an Irish accent but is wearing a homeland security uniform.  She is standing in front of a sign which tells all US Nationals to proceed to the right while non-US citizens proceed to the left.  She instructs my parents to go to the right and tells us to go to the left with all the non US citizens because we have kids.  Apparently US Citizens are not allowed to have kids per Homeland Security.  This is of course questioned by Jule and I and she assures us she is doing the correct thing.  We point at the sign, discuss America, do figure eights with arms extended in a confused, annoyed posture... and then go stand in line with all the Non US people.
19) My parents proceed 10 feet to self serve kiosks which stonewalls them completely.  These things are giant smart phones.  My parents are looking for the dial.
20) a taller, more confident lady who has no Irish accent yet is wearing a homeland security uniform including a blazer with shiny gold pins on it approach us and tell us we should be in the other line.  We try to explain....ah never mind, off we go to the self serve USA kiosks where my parents are now clapping at to try to turn the thing on.
21) the kiosks scan your passport (haven't shown those in at least 30 feet, so we are overdue) and then has each member of your family take a selfie.  You also answer the same questions that you have answered on the Immigration form which is still in your hands.  But this one is on a giant smart phone so it must be fun and cool.  The kiosk spits out a boarding pass with your selfie photo on it.  You're now holding your passport (which does still include a photo these days), your boarding pass, your immigration form, and now your US Customs selfie kiosk printout.
22) We walk 10 feet and spend time visiting with an immigration officer/homeland security officer.  He takes our passports and hmmmms a lot.  He also takes the immigration form we filled out, doesnt look at it one bit and tosses it into a pile of immigration forms and then asks us questions about where we were, how long, where we stayed, what was in our luggage, did we have $10,000 (or more), did we purchase over $800 in goodies, the nature of our visit, etc.  He then compares the US Customs Selfie photo to our passport photos and then has us look at the screen where we get to see pictures of our luggage from when we checked in the bags.  Are those ours?  Have they been out of our sight?  You mean since we...
23) We are told to enjoy our flight.
24)  as we are now headed to the gate, we are told the flight is already boarding so we need to rush.  Its been 2 hours and 15 minutes since we arrived at the airport.  I've shown my passport at least 5 times.  I've answered questions about my trip, my luggage, and my shoe size at least 5 times.  I've had two trips though security xrays.  I've been disowned and then repatriated by the US Customs people.  I took a selfie.  We've visited almost every bathroom in the Dublin airport.  And now I have to rush onto the plane.  But first....
25) I must show my boarding pass and passport to get on the plane.

Ho-lee-schnickies - is that an absurd process or what?
Its been 11 years since I traveled to Europe and we went in and out through Rome so I don't have much to compare with.  But I will say this, if we screened all people coming into the US like we do in Dublin airport, we may still have terrorists arrive, but they'd have very clean buttholes thanks to the repeated cavity searches and we'd have driven them (more) insane with the line of questions.  Plus we'd have selfies of all of them which is good for the news reports.

I'm still astonished at the process.  I am not joking, there was at least twice where we presented passports, boarding passes, etc and then walked to the next station which was within easy eyesight of the previous station and had to do it all over again.  We would leave one security check, walk down a doorless, windowless hallway with no vendors or otherwise and get checked again.  But it provides jobs, in Ireland.

The flight was long - I had a guy who looked like Kosmo Kramer sitting in front of me and of course he leaned his chair all the way back and was generally annoying.  But I did get to watch 2 free movies (Selma and Foxcatcher).  Our layover in Charlotte was extended by 45 minutes because US Air lacked sufficient flight attendants and they overloaded our plane with mail, so they had to dump the mail that they were carrying to balance the weight limitations.  Still we arrived in SFO on time - which they said was because we rode a jetstream or something - I just think the pilot had A's tickets and he cranked it up to just below Mach so we could land on time.

Bags were gathered, parking shuttle was hailed, we retrieved our vehicle, loaded our bags and drove to Sacramento...arriving around 1030pm.  A day which began at 6am Thursday in Dublin (which is 10pm Pacific time) ended at 11pm Thursday in Lincoln.  25 hours in total.  There is no real way around it all...especially in Dublin because they stop to talk to you every 10 feet.

I have a few more thoughts on the trip and will try to post those soon.  Hopefully some amusing insights to traveling to Europe in 2015.

And photos..yes photos will be coming.  Internet speeds in Europe were not very conducive to loading photos.  More will come soon.

24 June 2015

The Gift of Gab

Whoa, man... the Irish love to talk.

'Nuf said.

3 Memorable Signs of Europe

As we wrap up our trip with a few days in Ireland, it is time to recap some memorable moments of signage.  I took many random photos placed randomly along roadsides, train stops and airport terminals.  Let's get started!

Red and Black Car Roulette

Traffic circles are great except when you're approaching one and you see this sign. Think quick!  Am I in Ireland, London or Italy -- and am I on the right side of the road today?    It means those driving red cars are dangerous and fast, or I should not pass on the left if my car is red and I am in Italy.  Well, since I'm in Italy, maybe I'll just stop for gelato before entering the roundabout.

Two Planes Below Ground

This little gem appeared in London City Airport as we were walking along the nippy corridor to get on another plane.  Good thing we are walking to the next terminal and there will apparently be two planes waiting for us below ground level.  Excellent! Because I was certain the City Airport would not have the same level of service as Heathrow.  No worries.

Caught Between an Axe and a Fiery Place

Found upon exiting a plane directly on the runway and entering the "terminal" on the ground level.  I wondered if it was safe to go to the left, but everyone else was going there.  Seemed better than turning to the right and finding someone wielding an axe.  At least I know how to use a fire extinguisher.  But I'm not sure I'll make it that far because the sign indicates a nasty blow to the head is coming soon.

I do imagine that someone has thought long and hard to produce these universally confusing signs, so next time you see one, do pay some respect.  Too many signs, not enough time to blog.  Must be off to stuff everything in the suitcases now, and get ready for the long trek home.  Europe has been fun, signs and all!

-Jule Rizzardo

23 June 2015

Rental cars in Europe

Renting a car in Europe has proven to be quite the exercise in patience.  When we arrived by train to Padua (Padova) a week ago, we had a van reserved through Budget Rental cars.  The pick up location said "Padova Central Train Station" - knowing which train station is important.

So we looked near and far and far and near and all points in between.  We asked the guys at EuroCar and Hertz where the Budget office was, they pointed to the supermarket.  The tourist info lady told us to go under the bridge and down the street.  That was a parking garage.  Those guys told us the street we were looking for was over the bridge, across the tracks and into town.  Finally we hired two taxis and found a Budget office about 2 miles away, yet they were closed.

So back to the train station we went.  Finally the tourist office lady agreed to call only to find out they did not open until 3pm because it is Italy and nothing is open between Noon and 3pm.  The world could be ending, but Italy would pause for 3 hours.  This is how it is.  Yes.

Okay fine so we finally get our van....uhhhh ....that is not a van.  That is a wagon with an extra row.  Okay, I know it is Europe and I know larger cars are just not an option, but when I choose the option that says "mini van" and it gives me "Chrysler Voyager or similar" I would hope that the "similar" part goes beyond having 4 wheels and a steering wheel.  I mean, saying this VW Shalan (or something like that) was "similar" to the Chrysler is like saying a tiger is similar to a house cat.  They are both cats, like to climb, and sleep a lot.  But the similarities begin to fail not too much beyond those simple metrics.

So this meant figuring out how to shove all of our luggage and the 6 of us into this car in the pouring rain at the Budget car rental office no where near the central train station.  I'm glad we took all that effort in making precise reservations.  But at least we had a car - and Maria really didn't mind the hour long drive from Padova to Liedolo in the tunnel of suitcases.

So as it turns out, we survived a week in Italy in our VW "van" - the car was actually pretty cool except for the fact that we had to jam everyone and their luggage in just to get to B&B Luisa and back to Treviso airport.

Today we left Italy by taking Ryanair from Treviso to Dublin.  This meant leaving the car at Budget's rental office and catching a flight around 330pm.  This also meant refueling the car (not always easy) and of course finding the rental car office.  So as expected, there was not one single sign pointing to a rental car drop off/pick up/etc.  So we dropped off the kids and the elders and figured it out.  Finally we found where to drop the car, but no one was around, except of course the EuroCar and Hertz folks (and our lesson for today is...).  Those guys showed us where to park and said to leave the keys in the car and take off.  That didn't seem correct.

Eventually we left the car and hoofed it the short distance to the terminal where our kids and elders were still waiting (they had not budged.)    I found the Budget counter in the airport itself which does a lot of good for someone returning a car and they were quite happy that I did not leave the keys in the car as instructed by the Hertz guys.  All seemed well, they took my word for it that the car was where I said it was, that it had fuel, that I did not steal rims or tires, that we did not replace their VW Shalalalala with a Fiat Panda, etc.

Now, contrast this of course to renting a car in America.  You spend 4 hours filling out forms with information that you already filled out online.  They ask you if you are interested in no less than 37 types of insurance coverage or if you want a GPS unit.  Once you agree to whatever, they hand  you a bunch of copies of forms, a useless map that doesn't even explain how to get out of the airport terminal, and tell you that  you get the car "as is" with the idea being that if you don't point out the smallest scratch or dent to them upon reception of the car, they'll be amazingly observant in finding those same nicks and scratches when you return the car and thus try to charge you for it.

Now, when you return  your car, there will be no less than 333490 signs pointing you to the car return whereupon you are greeted by a guy with a clip board and a little device that he immediately starts typing numbers into.  As you roll down the window to make sure you are in the correct place (as if the signs led you astray) I believe they take skin and blood samples while giving you a full retina scan and then I believe after donating lockets of hair from your first born, you are good to go.  Well except for turning over the keys and and doing a small Irish jig.  Then you are done.

Lets put it this way, Americans love their cars and ain't no way in hell someone is taking a car from anyone else without a fight...or an overabundance of paperwork to show for it.

I'm in Ireland now, if I drove somewhere, I'd hit all the cars driving the wrong way and I'd scoot out the side of the car thinking I was safe to do when in reality I'd jump into oncoming traffic, and that would not be so good.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

22 June 2015

Ciao to Elida and Nico - and some time with Papa Grappa

Today was our last full day in Italy.  Tomorrow we fly to Ireland and then eventually home.
This morning we took care of some business and went to a small market in Fonte.  Had I more days in Italy, the cheese and meat vendors would have most of my money.  Fresh and straight from the people who make them.  Mmmm.

My dad went up to Monte Grappa with Francesca's father and had a great time.  There is much left over from World War I and World War II - the battles always occurred here.

After lunch, we paid one last visit to Nico Sartor (his father and my grandmother Maria (Sartor) were siblings).  Nico's friend/partner Elida lives part time in Australia (where she lives) and part time in Cavaso (where she was born) but at her age - 81 - she thinks she may not keep returning to Cavaso each year as the journey is too rough on her.  In fact, this time she has come with her sister.  So unless we visit Australia in the next several years, this may have been the last time we see Elida.  In 2004 we met many family who are no longer with us.  Within a few months of our visit then, we lost Elio Salvestrin (cousin Nica's husband) and then Bruno (cousin Bianca's husband - he of the not so desirable wine) - then my dad's Uncle Angelo (my grandmother's brother) and eventually cousin Beppi.  If Jule and I are lucky to return in less than 10 years, then perhaps we'll see many of the Sartors again - but it has been difficult to meet the younger cousins who are very busy with work and family.  For this I am happy to have met so many Rizzardos both young and old who have email and facebook and many ways to keep in touch.

It was hard to leave casa Sartor.  Nico will not travel.  My parents may not make it back.  This is life.  We are happy to have these experiences and are blessed with all that makes it possible - good jobs, good family and friends who watch our houses when we are gone, good co-workers who cover us while we are away.  You are all in our hearts as we have a wonderful time.

After saying goodbye, we returned to Luisa for Jule and I to spend a few hours with Davide Rizzardo and Francesca in Bassano while the girls played with Maggie the dog and my parents relaxed.  We had such a fun time.  Davide and Francesca wanted to take us to the museum of grappa next to the famous Ponte della Alpini in Bassano Del Grappa.  Here you learn many things about the making of grappa - all which I am sure is a very specific, scientific, controlled process.  But instead we made up our own story including the name of the guy who must have started the Poli story or the story of grappa hundreds of years ago.  I call him "Papa Grappa".  There is no doubt he was simply drunk one day and then made a mistake in making wine and ended up with grappa instead and a special liquor was born and now we sell it for a lot of money and call it "unique".  This is how history goes.  Dumb people stumble across something, it becomes famous, they are rich.  We are follow.  I present to you the Pet Rock, the Chia Pet, and of course the person who created Choco Tacos.  Grappa is just part of a long line of mistakes that made people rich.

The Poli museum of grappa has a some interesting displays, but the best of all is the smell room.  Poli makes at least 20 styles of grappa, some just plain clear grappa which can be used to cure cancer, clean the chrome on your car, fuel a rocket to the moon, or blow up your neighbor's house.  But to make grappa more palpable to a wider audience, they have learned to infuse grappa with many flavors - cherry, apricot, black berries, you name it.  They have learned to blend it with cream and eggs to make a creamy style liquor flavored like vanilla or chocolate or strawberry.  And they have different ways of finalizing the distilling process.  For each of these, you can push a button and a noise like Darth Vadar's breathing announces the arrival of a cloud of vapor smelling like that particular grappa.  The longer you push the button, the more steamy grappa is pushed in the air.  Davide, Jule, Francesca and I all pushed many buttons and I even used some as a deodorant to see how effective it would be when walking outside.  We had a lot of laughs but bought no grappa.  I am fresh out of chrome and rockets.  If you like, take a trip to Total Wines and buy a bottle of Poli grappa.  Then you can smell it like I did.... or clean your chrome.

We topped off our evening passagiatta with a walk over the Ponte della Alpini, we stopped in a ceramics shop, and had a spritz at a local bar before Davide had to get to work.  It was a great evening.  I will miss Davide very much - he will stop by in the morning for a quick hello, but our visit was too short and I hope we can see him soon.  He and Francesca promise to visit.  Maybe we can convince him to open a restaurant in Lincoln.

Then we can make our own grappa museum and tell the story of Papa Grappa and make people smell grappa steam.

Buona Sera

Revisiting Cartoons

Alyssa may have caught the cold that both Jule and I have had over the past week.
So tonight our last in Liedolo she and I stayed in the B&B while all went to eat because she is feeling a bit under the weather.

After medicine, I told her to lay down and maybe watch a little TV to rest.

She has not stopped laughing once.

I am to assume this is because of cartoons again.

I am wrong.

Mr. Bean rules.  No language needed.
Cartoons still work too.

Sunday lunch at casa Rizzardo in Crespano

When we were in London, we met with our cousin Anna Rizzardo and her fiancee Eduardo.  That had been the plan until Anna's parents Franco and Mara surprised everyone except Eduardo with a visit to London while we were there (and their friends Loris and Fiore).

When we spent the day together in London, we made plans to meet again in Italy at the Rizzardo house.  The day finally arrived.  Franco (his full name is Gianfranco Rizzardo - his grandfather and my grandfather were brothers) drove down to B&B Luisa to meet us and help drive us back to his house since it is a little hard to find.  He arrived as promised at 11am with a cousin - 13 year old Marta Rizzardo (his niece).  Marta and Alyssa were exactly the same height.

Franco and Luisa had a nice conversation, a business card was exchanged because Franco was interested in coming for a Saturday dinner (I don't blame him), and then off we drove, me following to Crespano del Grappa a few miles away and zoom zoom zoom up the hill, under some bushes, over a hill, down a path and finally to the street that the Rizzardo family lives on.  What a beautiful place.

Mara was waiting of course and as promised in London, Loris was cooking various meats on a rotisserie oven out in the garden.  Marta took Alyssa and Maria and they bonded over games on iPhones and tablets.  We gave Marta some Ghiradelli chocolates and she said she'd take them all and not show her older brother because he would eat it all in a minute.

We came bearing gifts - a bottle of Prosecco from San Gregoria in Valdobaddiene which we had purchased the day before, a bottle of calvados from Normandy, and because Franco is a fellow Milanista (I had learned in London) we brought him a hat from Casa Milan and a Milan scarf.  Mara had told me she was a Juvenista (a fan of Juventus, the current champion of Italy and runner up in the Champions League final) so I had purchased her a Juve scarf as well.  Franco and Loris both loved the Milan stuff and we took many photos to celebrate the team we love, even if they are bad right now.

Also arriving for lunch was a lot of family.  Franco's mother came which was very nice.  Franco's sister and her husband Stefano Dal Bon (I missed the sister's name) and their son Federico who is studying economics at the University in Padova (he commutes from Crespano to Padova on the train as this is cheaper for him than the cost of living in Padova, plus he says that Padova has a lot of crime).  Federico spoke excellent English and was very interested in how the economics of California is tied to our water, so we had a lot to talk about.

Sporting his cowboy had, apron, and a white t-shirt, Loris was rotisserie grill master - using a similar heating technique as the Ceccato family.  He'd pull warm coals under the rotisserie while keeping the main fire going.  I am going to build one of these for the back yard.

Meanwhile a quick whistle from Franco got our attention and he proudly showed us his latest gadget - a pizza oven for the outdoors.  This was a small oven which could hold 3 racks - and it is heated by a drawer under the oven where you put wood or coals to burn.  A fan can be used to circulate the heat - vent on the top allows the smoke to escape.  Mara had made three little pizze Margherita (cheese pizza) for an appertivi while we waited for the main dish to cook.

Just before the pizze were done we were told to grab a plate and were sent over to another table FULL of all kinds of food.  There was salad, grilled vegetables, marinated mushrooms Franco had hunted up the hill, something like a quiche, a cheese and spinach bread (oh my was that good), and a cold rice dish that was amazing.  Nothing was greasy, too filling, everything was fresh and perfect.  It is so hard to pace yourself when everything is so fresh and good.  Of course this all comes accompanied by the perfect wine to match the course.

Loris hopped up at one point and got excited and spoke loudly to himself which I think meant that the meat was done - and next thing you know, we were seated again and large dishes of chicken and rabbit and pork and it was hard to tell which was which - but I ended up with chicken which was fine by me and delicious.  Loris had good reason to get excited and jump around.  He knew it was time to mangia forte!

More wine, more food, more conversation - the girls ate inside with Marta and went from pizza Margherita to pizza Nutella.  Yes, Mara had the girls each make their own pizza down, roll it out, bake it in the pizza oven, and then cover it in Nutella.  They were all quite happy, talked about how yummy it was, and then went back to playing games.  Whatever bonds little girls is fine by me.  We did get Marta's email address so Alyssa and Maria can keep in contact.

Photos of relatives were passed around - Franco had very old photos of the family from when my grandfather was in his 20s and they included pictures of my great great grandfather and great great grandmother.  Federico got a quick lesson from me on the population centers of California, the types of industries in the state and where they are located, and where the mountains and snow and water and deserts and ...  it was fun.  I think he is interested in coming to California at least for a visit, but the jobs pay so little here in Italy and the taxes so high that he said for the young people in Italy, it is hard to make a living.  The economics of Italy and the rest of Europe are pretty screwed up.  Germany and France especially are doing fine - Greece is the worst and Italy not far behind in terms of economic struggles.  But that is a different discussion.

The dolce arrived - a wonderful chocolate cake and fresh fruit.  Oh I was so excited about the fruit.  My cold had turned to a fever and I was trying very hard to stay awake, not be rude, not drink too much wine (they think wine or even better grappa is what cures all).  But I was using all my energy to make it through lunch...which goes 4-5 hours by the way.

My dad was meeting family and learning more about his aunts and uncles that he never knew or heard about.  Franco and Mara kept telling us how much this has meant to them to meet us - the miracle of meeting Anna (their daughter) over facebook which lead to all of this.  I wish I had felt better.  But I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

I have to mention the view from Franco's place. He sits high enough on the hill above Crespano that he has a wonderful view of the entire valley down to Venice.  You could make out the buildings of Venice on the horizon and all over the coastal plain leading up the the hills around Bassano, Crespano, Liedolo, Cavaso, etc.  It was a tremendous view and gave me an excuse to get up once in a while to get some fresh air to help stay alert enough to make it through the next round or two of food.
During one of my trips to take in air and a view, I noticed a tail moving through the tall grass - which I figured was a cat.  Suddenly the tail stopped, it flapped around excitedly, and then a small black cat pounced out of the grass and back down...followed by a big scurry, a head popped up, dove back down, scurrying, pouncing, over and over - and then finally the cat popped its head back up above the grass in a look of defeat.  Whatever it was after had won - escaping the death the cat was to deliver.  At this point the cat noticed me watching, gave me an odd look, did an acrobatic mid-air flip and ran back to the woodshed it must call home.  The caper of the cat.  I wonder how often that cat succeeds.

Despite how horrible I felt inside, it was a great feeling otherwise to get to know family, to see how they cook, how they prepare for guests, how happy they are with family and friends and fresh fruit.  It may be hard to explain to folks why I say I could live here - I realize the grass is greener - but there is something to be said about the lifestyle here, the quietness of the small town, knowing which town on what day has the market.  From B&B Luisa, we can walk to all we need for the week - church, the small grocery store, the bar and pizzeria for a meal out.  A short car drive will get you to San Zenone and even more options for larger markets, banks, postal needs, services like auto mechanics, etc.  What you need is here - what you want may not be.  But then again your house won't be big enough to fit all that you want - it is sized for what you need.

Franco has a nice business - he continues the work of his father - building stoves, ovens, pizza ovens, fireplaces - all for both heating and cooking.  It is a very popular business around here - most everyone has some type of wood burning oven (forno) and with weather typically very nice, outdoor kitchens are very popular and used (much like California).  Mara is a photographer and focuses on family photos, baby photos, etc.  She does not do weddings - too hard and too much trouble.

Today is Monday as I write this.  Tomorrow we leave Veneto and Italy to head back to Dublin for a day and then back home.  I am sure Dublin is nice.  I am sure there is an element to Ireland that I will not experience that would rival what I feel here in Liedolo and Cavaso and all the towns in between.  But it doesn't matter.  This week will be the highlight of our trip.  Of course I knew that before I left.  Now it is just a matter of how long before we come back.  I hope within 5 years.

Today has been nice and quiet.  I was supposed to take my mom to see Ripafratta and Pisa, but I had no energy to do so and we had a nice talk about it yesterday.  I needed the rest.  Instead we've had a quiet morning, mailed some packages, and will see a few family members and otherwise have a quiet day.  Oh, that's good for vacation too.

21 June 2015

Saturday dinner at Luisa - a community ritual

B&B Luisa has been a dream.  Francesca's family - her mother and father especially - have literally invited us into their home and made us part of the family.  We have had opportunity to wash clothes, we've played in the yard, we've dined with them, drank with them, taken drives up the mountain with them.  When we arrived Tuesday, we were told about dinner on Saturday - apparently a weekly thing that draws in quite a few folks from the surrounding area.  The dining room at Luisa is large, but not huge.  It can probably seat 35 people with more seating outside if need be.  The place is full every Saturday and not just one round of people, sometimes a second round comes by later.  There is no such thing as running out of food - this is not an option.

Dinner began around 8pm - we were greeted in the dining room with lots of different types of meat grilling on the fireplace.  A very deep fire place where a grill sits on the hearth while the fire blazes behind it.  Coals are rotated in and out of the fire under the grill to give an indirect cook to the meat.  Its a slow process, but everything ends up perfect.  I was told by Francesca that we had to try everything.

First course (Primi piatti) was bacon (yes, some awesome bacon), bread, and plates of pasta.  One type was pasta with a flavorful meat sauce, the other was pasta with a red sauce and peas (less of a bite, but very smooth).  Secondi was salad, grilled vegetables, and the many types of meat (ribs, veal, steak) all which were cooked to perfection, none requiring a heavy dose of sauce to drown in.  Just meat and some spices all cooked to perfection.  With secondi we were served a great red wine which complemented the meat, not overpowered it.  The dolce arrived - first a course of local asiago cheese which went perfectly with a bottle of prosecco naturale that Jule and I had purchased earlier in the day over in Valdobaddiene (the home of prosecco).  We had offered the prosecco to our hosts in appreciation for the dinner which was "on the house" and the adjusted in stride and served some cheeses meant to be eaten with that particular wine.  We shared with a family from Tuscany who now lives nearby.  I was told the prosecco we purchased was "va bene!" - approval from the locals!  The real dolce arrived - a cherry tart and a lemon cake both made fresh by Francesca earlier in the day (you can guess how many of each of these she had to make with 35 plus people coming for dinner.
A different bottle of prosecco arrived to compliment the cakes.  Italians really understand wine pairing to bring out the best in the foods.

Eating the cakes was fulfillment of a joke/promise to Francesca.  As we connected on Facebook years ago now, everytime she'd post a photo of the many desserts she would make, I would always post the comment "save me some!" which she liked.  Finally I was able to enjoy desserts made by Francesca.  It was a special moment...a funny moment.  Of course I took a photo of the dolce and posted it to facebook tagging Francesca with "save me some!" written in the comments.

Coffee and grappa and digestivo drinks (those meant to settle your stomach after such a feast) began to arrive.  Unfortunately the illness I had been fighting was starting to win second by second.  I used the excuse of putting the girls to bed and retired to our room.  Yep, I was ill.

But this could not take away from a wonderful night at B&B Luisa as part of the Ceccato family.

Oh I nearly forgot.  One of the guests was a local doctor who does a lot of favors for the family who in return host him quite regularly.  They are very close friends.  The doctor's daughter was to be married on Sunday (today as I type this).  So this was a special dinner for them the eve before the wedding (I guess there is not "rehearsal dinner").  We had been told that some musicians may arrive in her honor - and yes, suddenly we heard guitar music and singing outside.

This was described in the previous post - the groom singing with his friend playing guitar.  He stumbled through traditional Italian songs and it was really a sweet moment.  Mind you, we had all finished our dinner for the most part when this occurred.  After the initial serenade, the groom and friends all came inside and dinner began for them.  Poor Francesca and her family - the work was not over.  Then the butcher arrived - he had selected the best cuts for dinner and came to see how well it was cooked...and of course his full dinner began (oh around 10pm).  Much later when I was upstairs, another group of wedding party friends arrived and service started anew for the Ceccato family.  Their generosity is amazing and they openly welcome rounds and rounds of friends.  I am proud to be Italian for many reasons, but this way of treating family as friends and friends as family is chief among them.

What a great experience - the singing went until midnight.  Early for them.  Luisa knew we were upstairs not feeling well and trying to sleep.  She's a mother for all.

20 June 2015

Episode III: Alla Venezia - In Pictures

Here is our day in pictures.

Episode 2: Alla Venezia - the plight of San Polo, the beauty of the Frari, and the Polizia

Episode II

When we last left our heroes, Guy Fieri was buying produce and greeting fans.  I snapped a lot of pictures which I will post after this.

Time at the market was over and we began a search for a recommended Venetian mask shop where the owner makes the masks in the tiny shop behind the store and greets you and talks to you about his masks, etc.  The value of this cultural experience was of course completely lost on my parents who wanted no more than to know how much further and why the $3 masks made in China would not do.  Half way to this shop, we changed plans.  I left my parents with Jule in Piazza San Polo - sight of the oldest church in Venice dating back to 900 AD and I took Alyssa and Maria for a walk through some narrow streets to the mask shop.  This may not have been fun for Jule (sorry sweetheart, but as they say, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, in Piazza San Polo with your inlaws...). 

The mask shop was cool - a very mysterious place with masks staring at you from every inch of the walls, ceilings, and hanging down at every space in between.   The shop owner requests no photos which is odd, but maybe because there is hardly a space inch in his shop to spare.  Frankly, my backpack did not fit, but I managed.  It really did end up being a cool place and the owner was happy to show us his craft, talk to me about some of the masks I was interested in, and price out shipping options for me so we could ensure our masks made it home safely.  The girls both picked up masks and I got one which will be ideal for the game room and we were quite happy.  Expensive, but a true Venetian memory.  

We reunited with the elders and Jule and they had of course gone to the bathroom, bought gelati, and found more shopping options.  On our way back to San Polo, the girls and I found a great little store that sold more souvenir style masks and trinkets that the girls could pick out to bring to friends, etc.  So I told my mom about that store and off she went to spend spend spend!  The guy recognized Alyssa who went with her Nonna and he "gave a good deal" accompanied by a kiss to his fingers and the air.  The French do this a lot, which I used to think meant a good thing, but now I realize it is French code for "hey tourist, go climb up the ass of a whale just before he farts".  (no where close to "in boca al lupo").

Much later we were still in Piazza San Lopo and I suggested a plan.  Mom, Jule, and the girls would take a much desired gondola ride to Piazza San Marco (the main square in town) while I would walk to the Frari Church and my dad could choose what he wanted to do.  He chose walk, although I am not sure either appealed to him.  My desire to see the Frari Church was that it is adorned with works from Titian and Donatello as well as many other Venetian masters.  It also includes a pretty awesome monument to Antonio Canova, the celebrated sculpture artist from Possagno (home of the Pastega family for those who knew Bianca and Mario and their family).  If you do not know Canova, look him up and you will be amazed.  His work is in the Vatican, the Louvre, and all throughout Italy.  While he may not make the history books like Michelangelo, Rafael, of Da Vinci, his work is very much on par if not superior.

Anyway, I may not come off as the biggest art enthusiast - at least for museums, but when you place me in the historic church, completely adorned from top to bottom and on the ceiling with works of art commissioned by some of the best known and best skilled artists, their students, and other lesser known artists influenced by their contemporaries.   They call this "in situ" if you do not know the term and the reason why I love this is that the art is in the place it was meant to be - the lighting, the wall, the shape of the building, the color of the walls and floors, etc are all as the master artist had figured into the equation of what he created.  This is seeing art as it was supposed to be seen.  Not on a bland wall in a museum.  Again, I am not trying to sound snobby at all, just articulating why I find this such a fun thing and special thing to do.  The Frari Church, while not the most spectacular I have ever seen, was gorgeous and as usual, I got that feeling of spirituality that comes from such an experience.  I think my dad liked it, but his toe hurt so it is hard to look past that.   I have been to Saint Mark's Basilica a few miles away and it is well worth the crowds, but if you have a second day or so in Venice, check out both the Frari Church and San Polo.  The 3 Euro admission is worth the the fact that you'll have these treasures all to yourself (minus a few other people). 

Since we had a time to meet the ladies at Piazza San Marco, we had to hoof it.  It is very easy to get lost in Venice, at least for a few moments, because streets spring up in the smallest spots that do not show up on maps and you must pay close attention to whether or not your next street is before or after a bridge, at the edge of a piazza or just beyond it, etc.  Mix this in with the fact that one wrong turn and my dad questions you - the pressure was on to get to the vaparetto (bus) and make our way to San Marco (which is not all that easy once you find the vaparetto because you have then pay close attention to the direction, much like a subway).

We made it to San Marco and stood at the base of the campanile as agreed with the ladies.

We interrupt this posting to bring you a special message:

We're here at the B&B and just had the most amazing home cooked feast with several people from town and an entire wedding party (yes, a wedding party) all cooked by the Ceccato family (our hosts).  Earlier the groom arrived with his friends and serenaded the bride on the eve of their wedding.  We all joined in on "Volare" much to the surprise of the Italians (Francesca looked at me and said "You know this???")  Of course.  It was a very special night which I will talk about in another post, but I interrupted this Venice post because the wedding party has apparently tripled in size and the singing has started again much louder and more enthusiastic - the groom is no longer alone in his serenade.  We had come upstairs to get the girls to bed and I am feeling a bit of a cold coming on, so we thought the party was over.  That was a mistake.  I want to go down and join, but if I do, they'll drown me in prosecco or grappa or both.

Back to Venice - the ladies finally arrived, thrilled from their gondola experience, but a bit annoyed that the gondolier dropped them off too far from San Marco.  We grouped up and headed for the vaparetto.  

As I said in the previous post, it was not hard to hear people everywhere saying "Obama...Obama" so quite frankly I was ignoring a lot of Obama talk now that we were in in San Marco because I figured she was probably going to go there or already had.  As we walked toward the vaparetto, the Obama talk seemed to intensify and suddenly as we approached a small ponte (bridge) where the canal that the bridge of sighs crosses, the polizia seem to come out of the woodwork and waved people away from the canal, polizia boats arrived, and the excitement built.

We paused for a few moments, but had a vaparetto to catch so we could catch our train back to Bassano.  So no, we never saw Michelle Obama, but it turns out from reading the newspaper this morning that we saw the build up to her arrival from the airport.  I think she arrived in San Marco probably within 30 minutes of us leaving.  Oh well.  I saw Guy Fieri and works by Titian and Donatello.  So there.

Oh man, the singing is awesome right now.

As we approached the train station on the vaparetto, the rain really started to come down.  This of course freaks out my parents.  I mean, what are you going to do?  My mom always has layers, so she was fine with umbrella, coats, ponchos, kleenex, and a pontoon boat just in case.  My dad brings nothing (like me) to handle the rain, but then stands in it and complains.  The distance from the vaparetto to the awning in front of the train station is minimal.. a minute walk.  The world nearly ended right there. 

The train ride back was quiet and a bit cold (finally a train with air conditioning, when not needed).  I dozed for the hour knowing that arrivals at trains stations mean panic and complaining.  Not much longer we were back safely at B&B Luisa and shortly thereafter went up the street to the local pizzeria for a tremendous dinner.

Our day in Venice was something special as it should be.  The girls were thrilled, mom shopped, dad met a life long friend for 30 minutes, Jule got a gondola ride and some shopping done, and I had moments in art ecstasy.

It has rained nearly every day here in Veneto, but not really enough to disrupt anything we've wanted to do.  Frankly, I welcome it because I missed having rain this past winter.  Plus it is better than the alternative which is dying heat.

The drinks have kicked in for the boys - the singing is now more yelling, but still quite festive.
I love Italy.

Episode 1: Alla Venezia - Un Giorno del market, Guy Fieri, Michelle Obama, piove, e il Doge di Venezia - la famiglia Rizzardo

Ciao amici

Yesterday was a fun adventure for all.  We got up early (relative to the past week) and made the 930 train from Bassano Del Grappa to Venice for a fun day out.

The train takes about an hour and stops at many locations along the way picking up a lot of commuters working in Venice.  There are a lot of construction trades in Venice because the city is one big ongoing fix - a city where real estate is too expensive, historical/cultural designations make modernization and new construction impossible, and so life of a Venetian palace is one repair after another - applying band aid after band aid.  Its really too bad because this is one of the most mysterious and romantic cities on the planet.  A day or two in Venice may be enough for a single trip, but you find yourself drawn back over and over for good reason - down every calle and around every corner is a new adventure.

Our trip to Venice was especially interesting.  We had heard for a few days that Michelle Obama was to be in town.  We thought maybe it was Thursday, but indeed it was to be Friday.  I guess she was either on her way or coming from the Expo in Milan.  In any event, even on the train we heard others "Obama..."... "...Obama...".   American politics, culture, etc really does impact the rest of the world beyond ways we can comprehend.

Well, Michelle Obama or not, we were on a mission to enjoy a day of Venice with little or no real goals other than to see what we could see and maybe get lost among the many small canals, calle (small streets), and bridges.

The Rick Steves book (or mini book that he now sells) actually came in quite handy for today.  I could fit the book in my pocket (and thus became a pickpocket barrier) and it included not only a map and some suggestions on shops, etc - but it had some suggested walks through neighborhoods that got you away from the crowds and helped you discover some gems about Venice that are off the major tourist agenda.  Don't get me wrong, if you have never been to Venice and you have one day, then you should prioritize Piazza San Marco and the Basilica, a trip up to the top of the campanile (bell tower), maybe a peak at the Palazo Ducale (Doge's Palace), a hop over the Rialto Bridge, etc. etc.

We've done all of that - except the kids and they could probably care less about most of those.
So the suggested walk from Rialto to the Frari Church (Franciscan church) was ideal.  We hopped off the vaperetto (water taxi) at the Rialto, made our way over the famous bridge, and immersed ourselves in a thriving market - first of trinkets and souvenirs and aprons featuring exposed body parts.  Then the market evolved into a lively produce market and the smells of fresh fruits and vegetables was amazing.  Beyond the produce markets was the indoor fish market, which could be smelled well beyond the walls.

At the market, my mom and dad were shopping from a vendor when one thing led to another and my dad was in full embrace with the guy.  Turns out, if I understood the Italian, the guy is married to a Sartor from Cavaso and the name Maria Anna was brought up several times (my grandmother's name).  I think promises for visits were made, an agreement may have been made to marry my niece to someone, etc.  It was interesting, fun, and just plane weird all at once.

As my dad was being adopted, I walked from the market towards the produce area to snap some photos and possibly snag a peach or nectarine to eat.  As I was snapping photos, I notice a little mini entourage approaching with obvious Americans including one full of tattoos in a UNLV basketball jersey.  I did not really pay it much attention until more people gathered around and gawked.  Turns out it was Guy Fieri, the famous chef on TV.  He does a variety of shows if you are not familiar.  One features dives, drive ins, etc.  (white trash places).  I've seen him do other shows on Disneyland cuisine, etc.  Apparently there will be a Venice episode forthcoming.  I'm probably in the background shots of him picking out veggies.

Guy was a nice guy.  Once the filming stopped, he chatted with the Americans and apologized for having to be brief and ignore comments while filming.  It was nice to see him embrace folks who clearly watch his shows.  He darted off by wishing everyone a buon giorno.  I was chatting with his assistant who said it was the TV networks that push him - otherwise he'd probably invite people into a bar for a drink and talk.  Nice to know Guy is a genuine guy.

Well, we are off to the market in Bassano today (Saturday) so I will finish up Venice later and post a lot of photos.  All are doing well.  My momma was in shopping paradise yesterday.


18 June 2015

The life of a rooster

I've never spent much time thinking about chickens.  Sure, I've spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how best to prepare them for lunch or dinner.  I've watched a number of Fog Horn Leghorn cartoons (in multiple languages yes).  But otherwise, chickens don't usually take up a lot of my brain power.

Life in Liedolo is rural, nice, and relaxing.  10 minutes and we are in Bassano with any shopping we want and trains to anywhere.  But otherwise its a quiet town - Luisa knows everyone as Jule wrote about.  A walk around the block is a walk around half the town.  Everyone has a dog or a cat or both.  Many have other animals as well.

A neighbor to B&B Luisa has chickens - and in particular a rooster.  How do I know?  Well, this rooster does what any rooster is supposed to do each and every morning - he crows like there is no tomorrow.  Well, after about 4 straight days of hearing Mr. Rooster start up his crowing around 430am, I began to wonder the roll of this crowing.  (Yes, I am this relaxed, and yes, I would like to move here).

So I pretend to be a rooster.  Its about 423am.  Am I fighting the urge to crow already?  Is the blood pumping inside me to crow and I'm just waiting for the right moment?  I wonder if a rooster is minding his own business..you know sleeping or checking out some hens or maybe playing some playstation and then suddenly they just start crowing for whatever reason?  And what reason does the rooster think is so important that they crow?  If the rooster did not crow, I think life would go on just fine, but maybe I am wrong.  God provided a natural alarm clock - a bit early for my tastes.  If the rooster did not crow, then I wonder if all would go to hell?

So noble rooster...crow to your heart's content.  It no longer bothers me.  In fact, it makes me quite philosophical.  But one last question Mr. Rooster - does it piss you off that the guy who rings the church bell does so at every hour of the day, every day, every hour, night and day?  Because Mr. Rooster, yee of piety, the campanile is part of a church - God's house - and if he had such faith in you Mr. Rooster, then why did he have us build towers with bells that require a person to ring?  Maybe that's what all the fuss is about.  Either way, its 5am, I'm going back to sleep.

Driving the Provincia of Teviso

I recall back in 2004 being asked upon my return from Italy if I was scared to drive and I confidently said "no".  My reasons were simple:  Italians drive smart - if you drive smart you'll be okay.

So how does one drive "smart"?

1) Don't drive in the centro storico of the main cities - that is dumb.  In fact, don't drive in the big cities pretty much anywhere.
2) Know what kind of car you have - a Citroen, Lancia, or Fiat Punto will not beat a BMW - so give way
3) Use your signals, mirrors, and those things called eyes to look around you before you jet out into a roundabout or switch lanes, etc.
4) Signs.  They help.
5) Arrows - they point the way
6) yes, pull over.
7) the motorcycle will pass you
8) no cyclists don't seem to value their lives

Today was a great test for me driving around the Treviso province being the family taxi and courier.  First was to drop my parents by our cousins in Cavaso and stop for a yummy lunch.  Then as promised, I turned around and headed back past Liedolo and south of Bassano to a Parco Animale (zoo) in the town of Cartigliano.  The girls have patiently been through 4 straight days of either train rides of visiting with older family.  It was due time to give them a day doing something they'd love.  I have to admit, the zoo in Cartigliano was pretty good for the price and of course the size of the tiny town.  I personally think it kills the Sacramento Zoo.  Or at the least, I'd rather be in Cartigliano than Sacramento and I think the animals would too.

Anyway - with no navigator and limited recollection of these road, I killed it.  Why?  I drove smart.
For instance, every day as I drive away from B&B Luisa - I simply take note of more and more landmarks and signs, so my recollection gets further and further away.  Second, I've slowly started identifying the subtle differences in the church bell towers, the direction they face, and other architectural nuances.   This means I can use bell towers in the distance as a homing beacon.  Lastly, those signs that eff up the scenery certainly don't waste my time.  In fact, they point where to go.  This afternoon we were driving back from the houses of Anto and Graziana as well as Elida.  I took a quick detour through Boca di Serra which is the neighborhood where my grandmother Maria grew up.
My dad, eager to find a restaurant because it is almost 6pm and we cannot eat past 6pm asks if I knew where I was going (He noticed I had put the maps away).

I said "kind of...we are in Boca di Sera".  My dad then asks if I know how to get back to our B&B.  Of course!!  "How?" - I point to a sign telling me the direction of Castelcucco which is in the direction of Paderno del Grappa which is near Fonte which leads me to San Zenone and then Liedolo.
So I know if I head towards Castelcucco...I'm headed towards the first dot in a curvy, rural line of roads that will take me back to Liedolo and our B&B.  He seemed unimpressed.

Earlier today on our way to Cavaso he noticed a sign on the side of the road indicating that the roads can be icy/snowy in winter.  He says to me "I wonder if they require chains here?  Probably not."  I said "yes, they advise it."  He looks at me in bewilderment - "how would you know that?"  I said as nice as I could "Dad, it was on the sign PRIOR the one telling you that the roads may be icy or snowy".  Oh....

Not to throw my dad under the bus, in his day he was as observant as can be - its how I learned to be the same.  The rules applied to driving, fishing, yard work, etc.  Be observant.  I am.



Note to self:  tighten smooth leather belt while getting dressed THEN apply lotion to dry hands.  Opposite way really doesn't work well.

Hello and Awesomeness from Alyssa

     Today (Thursday) was very fun.  We met two cousins today, both five.  And lots of relatives too. First, we got to meet most of our relatives.  One of them was named Elida, (I'm not sure how to spell all of the names, sorry) she was very friendly and cooked us a wonderful lunch, delighting pasta, freshly baked bread, and splendid apple peach juice!  At first I wasn't hungry, but once I tasted the pasta, my stomach was growling!  The two other relatives (sorry, can't remember the names) were also very nice and welcoming.  They gave us a little snack, chips and a drink of your choice, and had a confusing conversation in Italian with us.

    The two little cousins were Elisha and Aurora.  They also spoke Italian, so it was very hard trying to teach them how to make a bracelet.  Since we got bracelet kits for them as a gift, (which they really enjoyed it) we had to teach them how. We got their addresses so we can mail them gifts for Christmas, Easter, Valentines, and any other holidays.  They felt very spoiled.  They were very nice and also very cute trying to speak our language.  They eventually got to "Bye, bye". We also tried to speak some of their language.

La Passeggiata

Today I am staying at Luisa's Bed and Breakfast all day because I am on day 2 of a nasty cold.  The kids are out with Dave going to the zoo and then to visit their cousins.  I did take a short walk to the local market this morning to get some soup, risotto and bread.  And whatever they gave me at the Farmacia yesterday is starting to kick in -- it's some strong stuff -- probably banned by the FDA.

Luisa, the owner of the B&B is an amazing woman.  When we first got here, she took us on a passeggiata, an evening stroll, showing everyone who lives in each house and briefly stopping to chat where people are sitting in front of their houses.  She knows everyone in town!

Today, Luisa takes me on an afternoon stroll to get some fresh air.  While I am disappointed I cannot join the rest of the family in the visiting and sight seeing, I am a believer that everything happens for a reason.  Luisa picks some fresh flowers and says, "Viene qui", as she walks down the beautiful pathway from the B&B to the cemetery.  As we approach the grave site of her parents, she explains her mother passed just a year ago and we discover how much we have in common.  As she places the flowers on the grave, we talk about family and life.  I explain that I was an only child until I had 2 half brothers and discovered I had a sister.  We reflect together about however your family is formed, it is family.

We walk along the same path as the first day, but in the opposite order, and it is a test of my memory to remember which cousin, uncle, brother and sister lives where.  We stop at a pond behind the house of one of her brother-in-law and it is filled with the most amazing, giant water lilies -- and a blue heron who is fishing in the pond. There is also a picnic table and a hiking trail that goes over the hill to San Zenone.  I will have to bring the kids back here.  We pass a cousin who is cleaning vegetables in the front yard.  We round the corner and pass the school and Luisa says she will be leaving to vote soon.  There is a measure to keep the local elementary school open, and everyone here is in tremendous support.

As we return to the B&B, I think about the kids and I'm hoping they are getting a chance to visit their cousins -- it's just after 3 pm and school should just be getting out here.

I am thankful for my chance to talk with Luisa about our mothers, family and life  --
ricorderĂ² sempre la passeggiata.

-Jule Rizzardo