Thursday, November 29, 2012

First Shall Not Be Last

As my time in Assisi is coming to an end, I can't help but reflect back upon my first time in Assisi and what a wonderful time that was, almost seven short years ago.......

As a gift to my husband for his 60th birthday, I rented a house in Tuscany, and invited four of our friends to join us in our 800 year old farm house which was buried in the woods of Radda in Chianti.  It was one very authentic home, barely modernized but charming and fun to be in for a week.  On the first morning, we all reported on how we managed to shower in what is known as a "hip" tub.  There were two of them in the house, each equipped with its own thin shower curtain that flew away and stuck to the body of the user as soon as the water pressure built up.
Jay and I were just reminiscing about that during his stay here last week in fact.  Each of us confessed to a different style and it was fun making mental pictures.

And so, back to Assisi Prima Volta....first timers.

Before I left for that trip, a friend at my place of work recommended that I contact a friend of hers, a nun from a New York convent who had been assigned to a few years in Assisi.  An older Irish lady who was here, along with eleven other sisters, to run a children's mission.  I emailed sister Catherine and told her we would like to visit and she emailed me back and the plans went on from there.  So, on the appointed day, along with our fellow travelers, Lynette and Rob, we set off for Assisi and the Saint Anthony Guest House, located at the convent, run by the sisters, somewhere in the center of the town......somewhere where we were not supposed to be driving.  The police in Assisi do not appear to have very much to do in the off season but in season, they are incredibly busy and this was the beginning of the season so how, in a nanno-second, it was determined that our car was not one that belonged here, still amazes me.  Buh...that's what the parking lots are for and park and walk we did....right up the hill to the most serene spot we had yet seen.

The sisters awaited us, two of us traditional church goers and the other two, fallen Catholics, we sat in their reception room and had the best cappuccino we had ever had.  I guess nuns take a class in how to make cappuccino because it sounds so much like a religious experience.

After a few very pious moments, our tour guide, equipped with umbrella, joined us and off we five went on our tour of every major church in Assisi.  Sister Catherine was a lively and personable guide.  She knew the ins and the outs.  We wove through narrow passageways, we climbed stairs, mounted hills and ran through rain showers.  It was a day to remember.....for two especially good reasons.....

Our tour was perfectly timed.  It was getting to be lunch time.  In Italy, if you don't have lunch between twelve and two, you get "snack", not lunch with that requisite glass of wine that you know you need.  So, somewhere in between Santa Chiara and San Francesco, we found ourselves on an off-the-beat route, walking right by a little restaurant on Via Metastasio.  From the Heavenly lips of Sister Catherine came the most exquisite description of the "view" offered by this restaurant and how she always walks by and sees through to the big window that overlooks the valley and wishes she could go in......Duh.  We were in like a flash, sister's dream coming true.  Who needs confession or absolution?  We were taking Sister to lunch and plugging up the hole in her list of unfulfilled desires that could have caused a few extra months in purgatory.  Didn't know until then that sisters drank wine but this one sure did.  She was a world-class expert.  God blessed us.

From there, we went on to the ancient "Temple of Minerva" which a very, very long time ago, became a Catholic (what else?) church and stands right smack dab in the middle of the Piazza Comune, not far from the scene of our car crime (you can't drive here!!!).  As in so many of the churches in Italy's small towns, the padre, dressed in his black robe (as opposed to the monks who dress in brown garb, carry back packs, wear Birkenstocks and woolen ski hats), stood outside HIS church, surveying the Gomorrah that his world has become, a way of inviting some of the lost souls into HIS church.  I have a feeling that this practice gives Father a better vantage point as the penitent Mammas walk by his front door......

Father, spotting Sister Catherine and her little entourage, beckoned us all in.  He was proud of the church and his assignment to it.  He gave us a personal tour of this beautiful treasure, built in the first century BC, restored in 1539 as a church dedicated to the Blessed Mother.  Wow.
He spoke volumes before we left and sister was delighted and cordial throughout.
As soon as we had descended the steps of the remarkable portal, much of it today underground, sister had to share her little inside story.  In her sweetest little Irish brogue, and with a little look of the "deevil" in her twinkly eyes, she told us......"I've been coming to this church for Mass and confession for the past seven years and this is the first time that Father has let me know that he speaks English!!!".  That little Deevil.

Since that time, Joe and I have returned to Assisi for visits twice and we were unable to locate that little restaurant with the view.  Sister Catherine has returned to the states.  Her plum assignment in Assisi is over and it's now some other sister's turn to be here.  Father no longer hangs out in front of the Minerva.  It's off-season when we come and very different from the in-season scene so he must be hibernating or maybe he too was reassigned, perhaps to an even prettier place, the deevil that he is.

So, it's my time to leave now.  I'm ready.  The Assisiani want their town back.  They don't want to see stranieri on their streets.  The woman in the Information Center makes that abundantly clear. She's had it with answering dumb questions.  They need their time to perform their rituals and to get ready for their winter. There is a sign in the window of the Restorante Metastasio that tells that they are closed now, for their own vacation. As soon as the winter ends, they will once again lose their town to thousands of thoughtless tourists who march through as if this were Disneyland Italy.  Tourists who drive through town, ignoring the signs, thinking they will be unnoticed......until.

Rest in Peace Assisi.  They'll be baaaaaaaaack.  And so will we. Thank you for your patience and your love.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Tribute Across the Sea

Via Padre Giovanni Principe starts at the base of Assisi, a few feet off of the Piazza San Pietro.

The first time I walked the 4 kilometers from the old comune of Assisi to the lower service town, Santa Maria Degli Angeli, as I looked down onto the terra cotta path, my breath was swept away.
From almost the very beginning of the path, each rectangular paver bore the name, age and home of what I quickly realized were World Trade Center victims.  The sober finding had me walking slowly, brushing fallen leaves aside with my feet to reveal each one until I became dizzy from the experience.  New York, New Jersey, Connecticut......strange names, "stranieri", strangers in this town.  How did they get here?  Do their loved ones know that they are here?

The path goes on as far as the eye can see and eventually, after thousands of names have been passed, older pavers bearing names of thousands of others who are remembered, continue to line the way to Santa Maria.  Are they war dead?  There aren't any signs telling what or why these pavers bear names.  One can only wonder and one can only feel that each had a life of meaning once upon a time, in their own countries, their own cities and towns.
But none were as precious to me as the names of the innocent loved ones who gave their lives in a war that they were totally unaware of.  People, who from the information on their paver were young, perhaps at the start of a career.  Some who might have been looking forward to a retirement soon.  Some who were related, perhaps two or more leaving parents with heartbreaks running so deep that they will never mend.  Wives, husbands, children left behind only to remember a day in history that shook the world and changed all of our lives.  Pavers now, bearing witness to the life that no longer exists on this Earth.

I've made the trip to Santa Maria on foot several times.  It's a long walk.  I love the walk. I feel that each time I am doing it, I am honoring all of them, the people on the pavers.  I stop, brush leaves, notice more people from my home town, my birth place, my current home.  They're all very real to me.  I remember that day.  I was in New York City, working on that day.  I am sure that some of those very people passed me as they exited trains in Grand Central Station on their way to work for the very last time.  Perhaps some rode the train into the city with me.  It was the right time and place for such a coincidence.

But, here they rest in memory now and it is so fitting that they are here.  Really, no explanation is required for they rest in peaceful memory in Assisi. A place of honor, in the city of peace and goodness, just the way Saint Francis intended.

Rest in peace, you are not forgotten.     

Monday, November 26, 2012

Well, Well,Well

In a few short days, my stay in Assisi will be coming to a close.  It's hard to believe.

I came to Assisi with an agenda.

I came to close a hole in my heart, or at least to mend the frayed edges left by the memory of my mother's illness and death.

I am still profoundly saddened by my loss but I have learned that my relationship with my mother was deeper than I had ever imagined.  That she is still so very much alive in my heart and mind and that she was truly instrumental in my decision to come here and to get something special out of every moment here.

I know that my mother sent me to Assisi this time as a present in appreciation.  I know she sent me because she still loves me and wants me to live a life of meaning and she wants me to be well.

Wellness is not simply the absence of disease.  Wellness has parts to it, parts that when integrated become a whole that sustain us as human beings.

To be well means to have a spiritual life.  I have been surrounded by a spirituality that I could not escape, even if I tried.  I came to Assisi last year, knowing that illness in the family was inevitable. I came to pray, not for a mother's return to good health, but for the strength to be the person who I needed to be during the time that I knew would be physically and emotionally the hardest time of my life.  So, my prayers were for that strength and the spiritual guidance that would allow me to be the best of me in the months ahead.  And my prayers were answered.  Again, I came with new prayers, that I would find peace and that peace would bring me patience and understanding, especially of my role in the life ahead.  A father and a mother-in-law who are both in their nineties, both depending upon Joe and I for our assistance in the not-too-distant future.  And, now, I understand their loneliness and accept my role in their lives.  I understand that, just as in the past, my prayers will be answered and I will be spirited on with the strength required for doing a job well.

To be well means to have social contact, to be part of a community.  I have been blessed over and over with companionship since I arrived.  Friends, here, waiting for me.  Friends, new and old, who have shared time with me and shown love and understanding.  Friends who made me feel connected and part of their communities, their lives.  Friends who, if they don't hear from me, take the time to call or email, just to "check in", no strings attached.  Friends at home who show that they care and understand why I chose to come here.  Friends who are waiting to hear my stories and rejoice along with me in the good that has come of this time.

To be well is to be physically active.  I must have walked a hundred miles since I got here. I quickly adopted a little mantra....."what goes down, must also come up" as I approached stairs and roads.  I never took the easy road or the easy way out.  I am so proud of the fact that I met these challenges.  I may not be a thin or trim person, but I am a fit person, healthy and capable of meeting physical challenges, at times simply offering up my discomfort as I took on a new set of stairs or a new hill.  If people who are living with the everyday challenge of cancer can do it, I certainly can.  Please Lord, accept this and ease suffering.

To be well is to be emotionally happy.  With the exception of a few dreary days, I have been happy and have let my happiness spill over into everything I have done here.  I have not allowed myself to have a bad night's sleep and have only done things that have made me happy.  I have learned that it is not a bad thing to say "no" and that I only have myself to please.  If I keep myself happy, so I will keep others happy.

Being well is an active process. It has so much to do with making choices and keeping sacred what is meaningful to one's life.  I am so much "more" well now but I still have so much more room to grow, so much more to learn.

I'm readier than ever to be weller than I've ever been and this has been an incredible journey.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

To the Home of a Friend........

After a very long but beautiful day, my friend Jay finally arrived in Assisi.

Imagine ME, giving directions to Assisi via train from Leonardo Da Vinci airport in Fiumicino!

When I set out three weeks ago, three weeks that now feel like a lifetime ago in fact, I was scared, uncertain, and overwhelmed with the fact that the directions given to me by my good friends here, actually brought me to my final destination.  I arrived at the exact same spot at the exact right time, into the loving arms of Giselle and Mark Stafford.  So, when it came my turn, I mapped it all out.  Over and over.  Emails.  "Do this Jay" no, "Do that Jay" no, "Ignore everything I've told you so far Jay and do it this way......."  JUST-GET-TO-ASSISI and I'll be at the station.

The appointed time came, the train Jay.  The anxiety poured out of every one of my veins like bad wine.  Quando??  My little lifeline, Helen, begged me to calm down, relax.
"He'll be on the next train.  The train schedules have been mixed up all day" offered this sweet little wonder woman pal of mine.  Breathe, relax.  Breathe, relax.  Feel much like being in labor?  Yeah.
What if he got on a train going in the wrong direction?  Breathe, relax.  "Another train will be along at 5:15.  He'll be on it."

When my kids were young, I held the world title for Worrying Mother.  I made sure that they were equipped with our names, our phone numbers, their address, the name of their doctor, his phone number, the name of who to call if these numbers were busy, the name of our lawyer who kept a copy of our wills.....all within easy spotting should someone find them on the side of a road.  When Sara went off on her first adventure, to London at the tender age of not quite 13, she calmed my nerves by telling me that "there is no way I can get in trouble in an airplane Mom".  The Jody Foster film in which she loses her daughter during a long distance flight, had not come out yet so Sara sweetly put my mind to rest if only for a short time.  Subsequent to that successful away from home escape, she's made lots of trips across the ocean and until she became an adult (okay, until she was married), I sat up all night, glued to the T.V. knowing that should there be a plane crash, the Johnny Carson show would be interrupted for the news.

So, the arrival of one of my other most precious possessions, my alter-ego, friend for life and beyond, Jay Shemwell, signaled an episode of expectation mixed with anticipation.  Jay and I have spent time together in Italy before, we've also spent lots of time together in other wonderful places where we have had fun and made memories by the ton.  But, I've been alone here for the past three weeks, thinking about life, beauty, friends, family and the absolute,rock-bottom beauty of Umbria and most especially, Assisi.....and I can't wait to share it all with someone who has many times over passed the test as the second-most easy to be with friend.

So, the second train arrived, just as Helen, honorary "labor nurse" more push and out popped Jay and the wonder of watching a kid on Christmas morning has begun.
Next week, Joe arrives.  Thankfully, he will come via car with me in it from the airport to Assisi and I can't wait, simply cannot.  He loves Assisi but will love MY Assisi even more.

I'm so happy now.  Delighted in fact, to have Jay here.  It's an honor to share a highlight of one's life and he has honored me in a big way, proving again what he has so well in the past that


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks


It's early in the morning on Thanksgiving Day.  I'm thousands of miles away from home and my loved ones who lie still sleeping so the hush that time and distance have afforded me is time that I can now use to reflect and give thanks.

I have so much for which to be truly thankful and I think about these things every day, not just on the national holiday.  Sometimes, when I have trouble falling asleep, I really do count my blessings.
As I grow older, I recognize that not all blessings are what some might consider happy or joy-filled.
Some blessings are simply opportunities.  To learn. To grow. To appreciate. To understand. To be able to live a life filled with "moments".  Blessings come in many forms and sometimes we miss or don't recognize them.  Sometimes, they are obvious and sometimes, we just don't accept them.  But, they are there and I have many of them and for that, I take joy in making this little list of those things for which I am personally thankful.

So, I am thankful for......

Parents who were always present.  Their ears and eyes were open to my heart and while I may not have always liked the answers, they were there.  Lifelines were thrown, tears were mopped up, joys were shared.  A father who is grief stricken with a heart that will remain forever broken...a blessing for those of us who are privileged to help him through the rest of his life.  A mother who, as she struggled to transition from this world to her next, took precious moments to tell my father that he was the bravest man she ever knew and to her son in law, the words, "I love you Joe". A mother who, during her life, took the time to teach us tolerance and acceptance of all people at all times, good or bad. She was a woman of substance, a woman way ahead of every curve.
Blessings, even in our darkest hours as a family.

A husband who loves me but more than that, a husband who is all who meet him.  I know I have been blessed in a very special way.  Oftentimes, I wonder why I have been so fortunate.  We met in college and have been together ever since.  A good father.  A good man.
A loving son to his own and my parents, one who has always done the "right" thing and never failed his family.  A proud man who never boasts but holds in his heart every accomplishment, large or small, that his family makes.  A strong man, a role model for all of us. My dearest friend in all the world, now and forever.  The only husband I will ever have. Blessings, too bountiful to bear.

Two children who have grown to adulthood.  Two adults who have a sense of self-esteem that has been their guiding light.  Two beautiful bodies and two amazing brains.  Each with talent, each with wisdom, each with their own personality, vastly different but strong and free in their expression.
Two lovely children-in-law, each perfect for each spouse.  Productive, proud of their accomplishments, supportive of their mates and loving extensions of our family.  Lifelines to our own children, time and again.  Blessings, thanks to their parents.

Two of the world's most incredible granddaughters.  If there were such a thing as "perfection" these children would certainly personify it. But, alas, perfection only exists in God.  Healthy.  Smart. Compassionate already.  Wise.  Full of grace.  Each has already contributed to my list of things to be grateful for in too many ways to possibly count.  Thank you Sara, for the highest point in my life after the birth of you and your brother, the invitation to be present for the birth of your first child.  Blessing beyond compare, burned into my memory, still vivid as if it were yesterday, almost seven years ago.  Bless you.

Sunsets on Cape Cod. Sunsets in Umbria. Friends here, there and everywhere.  Beach days with my Joe at my side.  Seashells. A brother who understands.  My feet that take me wherever I need to or want to be.  My best girlfriend, Cam.  My best other "girl friend" Jay. Unconditional loves. My blue bathrobe.  Lavender.  Glitter. Knowing Saint Francis, walking in his footsteps. Doctors who listened to me and helped me find peace. Dr. Jones, a special gift from God.  Dr. Gleason, who totally "got it". Hospice and the angels who guided us and our mother on her journey to the other side of life.  Tau.  My writing class. The Cape Cod Playhouse.  The Chat Room. The Cultural Center. My Cpap machine.  Benadryl. My Jetta. Hundreds more........

I fill in the blanks with every breath I take and never take a breath for granted.
My faith.  My faith. My faith.

Pax e bonum.

 Buona regrazimento a tutti!

Cuppa Joe

Today I started speaking Italian.  Not very, very well, but I did it.  Full conversations!!!  This is a banner day.  All those classes, tapes, books and when the time came, I would freeze, total shut down.  But today, I met Sandra, born and raised in Calabria, and my mouth opened and my ears opened and I spoke Italian.  My Calabrian grandfather is smiling in Heaven.

I feel like I imagine my granddaughter Lucy felt the day she stopped playing with one of her favorite toys, looked at me, pointed to herself and said "Lucy!!".  It was a moment I will never forget and today, thanks to Sandra, her big smile, her sweet face and her willingness to teach me and learn from me,  io parlavo Italiano!

Now, don't misunderstand me.  I am not exactly what you would call "fluent".  I have years to go before that happens if it ever does but, I am learning that the only way to recall all that I have learned is to relax, get over my fear of making a mistake.  After all, the Italians who speak English make mistakes and mis-pronouncements and we forgive them!  There are so many other things to get upset about in this world.

Later, our mutual friend, Jack made a major contribution to today's little learning session as we sat around drinking American coffee......

"Sandra, do you know that Lynn's husband's name is Joe?"

"Do you know what they call coffee in America Sandra?"

"Cuppa Joe"


Si Sandy, si.  Ci vediamo amica.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thoughts on Italy.....

Yes, Virginia, there is something called "boredom" even on a holiday in Italy.  Can it be true?

I've been here since November the fourth.  I arrived on a Saturday, part of an Italian holiday weekend.  People were everywhere, it was festive and I was thrilled.  Since my arrival, I've been on field trips, overnight visits, social gatherings where the food was to-die-for and have had lots of lovely time to myself with no one to feed, quarter or talk to if I did not care to. Lovely, especially after the recent months of having to be on a schedule, worrying about so many people in my family, and caring for a dying mother.  And now, here I am in the land of Pace e Bonum, all by myself.  No matter where you go, there you are.....

There are a lot worse places to be alone in.  Most people I know would cut off a hand to be in my situation now.  "Oh, to be in Italy", I think that's the phrase.  Well, I can tell you "Oh, I AM in Italy" and, yes it is the stuff that dreams are made of but, and here's the Big One, time is so much nicer when spent with another person or persons.

I'm sure my daughter would like to challenge that idea at this point in her life.  I can remember, as if it were yesterday, how I longed to be alone.  Two children, constantly in my presence, rarely a moment to myself made me utter these words more than once...."I've changed my name from Mommy and I will not tell you the new one".  But those days quickly passed.  The early days of parenthood fly very fast and leave us strangely wanting more when it is too late to get more.  I never thought that would end.  I never thought I'd be a senior citizen.  I never thought I'd have this much time to be alone, alone in Italy.

There's a point to all of this.  First of all, it does not take long for the glow of something new and exciting to die down to the reality of everyday life.  In Italy, especially in Umbrian hill towns, everyday life isn't easy.  La Dolce Vita was a movie, far, far from the reality of today.
There is a pall over this country, a feeling that is deep and somewhat disturbing.  They're in an economic crisis and it does not look good for the future.  Goods and services are not cheap.  The business owner must pass on the rising costs to the consumers.  The consumers are hanging on by threads with job losses and failed businesses becoming common concerns.  The price of fuel for their cars has impacted on their ability to do some of their favorite things.  With a gallon of gas costing ten euros, one thinks twice or thrice about extra trips to visit friends, all who live miles from the centers of their towns.

I've met a number of new friend since my arrival.  Most of them are ex-pats.  Some came because they married Italian men and others, because they were seeking adventure, escaping something or, for the beauty of it all.  Not all have remained blissful as they were when they arrived.  Those who have purchased houses are having a rough time of it.  The costs of maintaining their homes are escalating and the fees that the government demands of them as "immigrants" are enormous.  A driver's license costs a thousand dollars or more and is not easy to come by even at that price.  There are taxes, fees, penalties and threats associated with home ownership and the right to live in the country.  I was at a dinner party shortly after my arrival when an Australian woman who I had only just met implored me..."please promise that you will never consider buying a home here!"  She has been through the ringer and does not want to see that happen to anyone else.

So, what's left after one realizes that wine is no longer inexpensive, cappuccino is part of the "let's suck the life out of the tourists" and there are very few "made in Italy" items to be found in shops?
What remains is what one sees when not looking at things as a "tourist".  Times here, as at home, are tough and uncertain.  Italy is not the adult Disneyland that the travelogues portray it to be.  It still has its charm, its beauty and its spirit.  It was a land that was blown to pieces in a war.  The people here remember that and it has fortified them.  They've risen from ashes and have found sources of pride in doing so.  They are and have always been brave people.  It's just sad that they have been turned into frightened people once again.

I've had time to think, to study people a bit, to make some good observations.  I'm ready to come home but before I do, I have to host a friend from the states who has spent only a short time in this country on a previous trip.  I'll happily show him the sights, some that can only be found in small Umbrian towns.  We'll drink the wine, the best we'll ever have.  We'll eat the food and remember those meals for years to come.  When he leaves, the best part of this journey will be meeting my husband at the airport.  Together, we'll travel for a few days and we'll savor all the beauty and goodness of this beautiful country.

I'm not bored, I'm just waiting.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's Raining Men

I came back this afternoon after an overnight stay at the home of an American friend who has made her home in Italy for the past seven years.  A brave woman, she sold her home on Cape Cod and packed it all in for a three hundred year old Umbrian farm house.  Her house is located in a small village called Pesciano di Todi, miles into the hillside from Todi.

During our weekend together, we discussed at great lengths the present Italian culture as well as the past.  I had many questions about her house, it's original owners, its current owner and her impressions of life, Italian style.

I returned to my apartment for early afternoon and took my usual afternoon passagatta.  This being a Sunday, there were many more people in town, most of them I observed were Italian families.
It was time for me to personally observe "the culture" of today, first hand so I sat down on a bench on the side of the busiest of piazzas in Assisi, the Piazza del Comune, and had a look.

There were young couples with babies, fathers pushing baby carriages, not strollers.  Here, babies are "babies" until they are bigger babies.  Infancy is the time when a baby looks, acts, and is dressed in soft pastels, not "Baby Gap".....more like Baby Nonni.  The young moms, all fit and healthy looking in their skinny jeans, make up perfect, walk alongside with Papa proudly pushing the pram.  Never a peep is heard from the Bambini.  Everything seems under control.

The next group I noticed were the little groups of "older" couples, out for a day trip with friends or family members.  Walking, talking and shopping together.  Nothing I've ever seen at the mall....,  Here, it seems to be a normal event on a normal afternoon for normal people.

As I watched the constant parade, my eyes met a sight that was totally unfamiliar to me.  A large group of men, backsides toward me, listening attentively to a tour guide.  For the longest time, they seemed to be paying attention to every word.  Not a woman in sight.  From my vantage point, I noticed their uniformity....their "uniforms".  All had jackets that were exactly the same length.  No hats,  White hair.  Strong looking legs.  Sturdy shoes.  Interesting.  The Italian man.  I bet these never pushed baby carriages.

Times have changed and are changing more rapidly than ever.  Italian women have become liberated.  But there's something about those Italian men that I hope will never change.......

Let's hear if for the men!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Venerdi and All I Can Do is Cry


I have to start this day with a blog.  Nothing special, just a series of thoughts.  I've chosen to be here, alone, in think.  I'm also here to observe and to react to what I see and feel.

My friend Cam questioned my reasons for having to come to Italy to work on my transition from grieving person to "My Old Self".  "Why Italy, why not somewhere in the U.S.? "  She's a practical person, and practical people think of things like "being so far in case something happens" and "why not spend less money by not losing it in currency exchanges".  But then, she spends countless hours working on her plans for retirement and her retirement funding while I don't and never did.  Blind faith.  I'm not going to live forever.  Complete stupidity.  Feel free to place whichever label you'd like and stamp it on my forehead.  So far, I love living in the world of freedom from all of this planning.

So, I've come to Italy this year to learn things.  Every day, I look for new learning experiences and try to better understand how and why a culture such as this one works so well for its inhabitants and defies the laws made by the Retirement Planning Association.

My husband has long said that he is truly amazed that Italy "works".  Even the Italians say that they have no idea of why and how things eventually get done.  It always seems that chaos prevails and that there are laws and rules that only "sometimes' apply and nobody seems to know to whom they actually do apply.  For instance, my landlady posted a sign on the front door of this apartment, advising that it is a private residence and therefore, there will be no parking in front of the door. I'm thinking that she probably did that as a courtesy to me.  There's a never-ending construction project going on right next door and of course, since she posted the sign, a car or a truck is parked right in front of the door steps each and every day, all day.  Frankly, I would rather she had called the owners of the construction company asking that they don't start work until at least 8AM but that would be so far removed from the realms of possibility.  Forget about the "getting a rest" part of why I came to Assisi!

So, why? how? what? come it doesn't all fall apart at the seams and how come the culture goes on its beautiful way, untouched by the stress of ridiculous rules and regulations, total disregard for some things and total regard for others?  The big "others" is actually an "other".

The Italian regard for family, la famiglia.  That's what makes it all work.  Complete, absolute, total loyalty and esteem for something that is and always will be there for them.  Mother is the keyword.  Father is the husband of Mother and therefore has a special place in the heart of every child, no matter what age.  Family ties that bind it all together.  That's what I see.  That's what I miss.

I came here to mourn the loss of my own mother.  I am asked often by  people I meet about why I am here, why alone? As soon as the word "mother" comes out of my mouth, an instant understanding and a wave of compassion and understanding arrives.  Sometimes, mutual tears flow, sometimes it's simply a hug, but it is always acknowledged.  I'm not alone.  Just yesterday I met a lovely friend of a friend of a friend who came all the way from Australia on a two month journey as she mourned the death of a dear husband.  Another friend spoke of her own mother's death and said that it was the MOST profound and difficult of all the emotional work anyone has to do.  Different from any other loss.
I agree.

I am in the right place at the right time.  My own husband would be heartbroken were he to hear me crying as I still often do.  No, not sniffles.  Childlike, complete breakdowns as babies do.  I allow myself to wail out loud, fearlessly as ancient thick walls and marble floors provide my barrier from the judgement of neighbors.  I would never have been able to do this at my own home. Concern for the feelings of others would have thwarted me. I need to keep doing this until I have done it all.  I miss my mother but so much more.  I miss my own children.  I miss the fact that I am not part of their lives.  I hardly know them any more.  I knew my mother, I knew her very well. And that is why it is so hard to get to the other side of grief.  I am sure she would not want me to be as sad as I am, but I am also sure that she would be comforted in knowing that her passing made me sad, that her life was that special and that I miss our daily conversations, as trivial as the topics might have been in her later years. Somehow, I doubt that my own children will spend as much time in mourning my passing and that idea adds to my daily tear flow.

For now, I will continue to allow myself the time and the energy that it takes to complete this journey.  So much good has already come of it.  I speak to my father every day and he's always so happy to hear my voice.  I know it comforts him and makes him feel secure and that is a gift in itself.  My husband has been able to spend time with his own mother since I have been away.  They are completing two weeks of time together, something that they would not have had.  I know it has been good for both of them, another gift.  Joe was and still is supportive of my parents, a loving son to them, especially during my mother's illness and death.  His own mother should be proud of his conduct.  He's a fine Italian Man.  He lives the tradition.  His mother, and mine, were right up there with the most important things in life.  Together, he and I are a Family.

And that's why it works.

A.B. Cheese-Man

Brent Zimmerman is an American, born and raised in Michigan.  Now, he's a goat farmer, living on his farm "Valle Di Mezzo" in Anghiari, Italy, not far from Arezzo. Today, along with a group of fellow cheese lovers, I visited his A.B. Cheese (ahem, play on words for the first 3 letters of the alphabet in Italian) Company.  Yes, that is correct......I actually left Umbria for a day out in Tuscany and it all worked out fine.

Brent is one hard-working but incredibly happy man.  He raises goats (geese, rabbits, cats and a dog too) on this beautiful farm in the middle of the most gorgeous countryside and he gives tours of his farm, explaining the life cycle of a chunk of cheese.  And what a cycle it is.  He now has 65 goats from whom he gets the milk for his cheese.  But, this is only one tiny piece of the story.

With a great deal of patience, pride, humor and energy, Brent explains how painstaking the process of making goat cheese(s) is and how from the moment a baby goat is born (and there are many goats giving birth all at approximately the same time), it is hard work for the farmers from early morning to late each night.  His goats are bottle fed for several good reasons, all of which go into the making of happy mother goats and equally happy babies.

We started our morning with coffee and gorgeous pasteries.  We ended our tour with a goat cheese tasting.  Gorgeous bits of THE most incredible products were offered for our tasting delight.  Just when we thought we had tasted the world's best goat milk product, we were treated to a sample of freshly made goat milk caramel........You will never find anything like this at Baskin Robbins, or anywhere else for that matter.

Tummies full of cheese?  What could we possibly do next?  Back in the cars and off to lunch of course.  En caravan we drove off to the Castello Di Sorci Locanda in Anghiari for a lunch of traditional Tuscan cuisine too wonderful to describe.  I will say that there were a variety of bruschette, gnocchi, taglietelle with a meat sauce, a selection of grilled meats and potatoes, wine, wine, wine, cake dipped in vin santo and coffee.

Its time to get out and take a walk now.  There is a quiet beauty about Assisi in the evening.  Church bells chime, lights dot the horizon as if they were little jewels.  It's a good time to think and to be thankful for blessings like this day.

Buona notte.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Another Day, Another Surprise (?)

This morning I set out for my daily morning walk.  I'm usually out of the apartment by 10.  For some reason, that time works.  I'm up a lot earlier but take my time getting ready, take a shower, eat breakfast and tidy everything back up again.

I have absolutely no idea of where I had intended to go today.  All I was sure of was that I had a bag of trash that I wanted to put into the local refuti container and from there?  Who knows.

Before I even got to the refuti area on the street, I stopped in to see my new favorite local artist, Josephine, AKA, the "scarf lady".  As we embraced, three women peered into the open doorway of the shop and of course, I could not resist....."come in, see her beautiful work".....which of course, they did.  Three lovely ladies on their way somewhere.  Three ladies who I soon learned were also artists, one of them an American who now lives not too far from the center of Assisi.  We spoke for a few moments about the whole creative experience and I told my little story of why I am here with all of them understanding and supporting me.  This time, I did not cry.  Instead,  I sold a scarf to one of the women.....and, as I started out again on my way to somewhere, I had a new website in my little notebook,  Dana, the sweet American who told me that she saw in me a creative person, is the founder of The Academy of Art, Creativity and Consciousness here in Umbria. I think my "Creative Studio" teacher, Kristy King would have been very darned proud at that moment.

My morning ruminations took me up a steep (what else?) and narrow (of course) set of steps that twisted to the right and then up and up and up and to the left to a little church I have been eye balling since I arrived in Assisi.  I call it the church where the wooden maddonas hang but it is really called Santa Maria Delle Rose.  It's situated in the upper reaches of the town, not far from the Piazza San Rufino.  I had heard about the beautiful collection of hand carved, free formed wooden maddonas and so wanted to see them.  As luck would have it, I was a few weeks too late. The church is closed and is being repaired at the moment. Sooooooo.....I kept on walking.

Until I came to the most beautiful (okay, I know, I keep saying that about all of them) vistas of the mountains and valleys that surround Assisi. A turn to the left and up some more and, to my complete amazement, I was approaching Rocca Maggiore, on foot, alone, without anybody coaxing or daring me......the highest point in the entire town of Assisi.  We have done this by car on previous visits and Joe (my husband, the personal trainer) has done it on foot, but never in MY wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would be making the trip and loving every minute of it.  I passed wildflowers, butterflies, even a fence that I soon realized was completely covered with chewn-up pieces of gum, hundreds of them, until I reached the very top.  Me, guarding the town from enemies, me and my camera.  Brava!

There is a museum in the Rocca Maggiore.  I always take a pass but might return when my history loving friend arrives next week.  Instead, I opted to walk around the inside of the wall, shooting photos through the centuries-old openings in the walls through which anything and everything to do with medieval defense was carried out.  And then, I found what I am sure was the catalyst to my big, tough hike up to the clouds, the resident cat, sitting on the lap of a nice young man who offered that her name was "Camilla"

Ah, "Camilla" does one say in Italian that "Camilla is the name of my best friend"?

Camilla è il nome della mia migliore amica. Lei mi dà la fiducia necessaria per fare tutti i miei viaggi più facile

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ogni Giorno

The Italian day has two very distinctive parts to it.  It at least appears to me that there is a purpose for this.

Mornings start slowly and build up to a crescendo.  Chores get done, people scurry here and there, even if the there is the local cafe or bar where a cappuccino awaits.  The chatter of school children on their way to their early morning start of classes, can be heard as they proceed to the bus stop or their mother's car.  Workmen arrive at their places and start to contemplate what they will accomplish on the given day.  Some actually start their labors early.  Women who are not rushing off to jobs outside the home will use this morning time to begin lunch preparations or to shop for the ingredients for the lunch they will share with their families when the children return from school shortly after one o'clock.

The lunch time breaks the day into the two parts.  The day stops and everyone takes a breath.
Gates come down on the shop fronts, employees exit and go to their homes for a few hours every day, playing out again and again an age-old tradition of pausa.  Very few shops remain open and it is rare to find a small alimentary that has not followed tradition.  After all, despite the fact that the employees are surrounded by food all morning, they need to take leave to be back where the food is at its very best, a casa.  Just like everyone else.  No business at lunch time. Time to rest.

I found it very easy to harmonize with the "day's way", this time more than ever.  It took a few days to get out of the traditional "tourist" way of thinking that every moment had to find me on some sight-seeing route, that I had to collect things to write home about.  When I let that go and simply accepted the fact that my visit here is different in so many ways from all of my previous visits, I found myself naturally embracing the rhythm of the day.  Mornings are very different from afternoons which are very different from evenings.

Shops re-open sometime around four in the afternoon.  La pescheria, l'alimentari, il negozio di frutta e verdura e negozi di souvenir, all of which appeared to be out of business forever, turn the lights back on, uncover the goods and re-open for the second part of the day.  Once again, people return to the streets and employees to their posts.  A new kind of liveliness is in fashion as the best part of the day, in my opinion begins.....sunset.

Ancient oil lamps, now outfitted with electric lights, turn on and a quiet hush arrives.  Locals return to the shops to purchase their fresh ingredients.  They have time. Dinner will not be on the table until at least eight o'clock and it will be much lighter a meal than lunch.  Perhaps they are shopping for the ingredients for an aperitivo....some cheese, fresh Umbrian bread for a bruschetta made simply of toasted slices, rubbed with garlic and topped with doses of fresh olive oil.  Italians never drink wine without a little bite to eat and rarely just sit down to drink a glass of wine without a friend or an occasion, contrary to belief.

In keeping with the flow of the day, I find myself refreshed around four o'clock, ready to take another walk, sometimes to a favorite destination, sometimes to a place I've not yet discovered.  Always with my camera and my eyes and ears wide open.  The sounds are different now.  Pet owners are calling and shaking containers of food as they attempt to coax their charges homeward.
This is the time the older women seem to appear, always in grey skirts it seems.  Not yet time for their passagate, the evening strolls, often taken arm in arm with a husband, a grown child or a good friend. Now its time to return home from an afternoon visit with a friend or to shop.  In all the streets and passageways, you hear exchanges - "Ciao Maria!"  "Buona sera" as friends who have known each other since birth, pass in the street.  Every day, its the same lovely chorus.

I can't stop talking pictures. I already have hundreds.  When I return to the states, I'll sort them but now, I just keep taking them with my lovely little camera.  I have morning shots of  beautiful fall days and afternoon shots of what appear to be jewels everywhere as the sun sets and the Umbrian valley turns into the most beautiful palate of twinkling lights.  And oh, the aroma.  There is nothing that smells better or more comforting to me than that which fills the air when a fire is lit in an umbrian fireplace.

The wood here, it's different and the flames produce the smoke that fills my heart and reminds me that life here is different and the day here is filled with life.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Weekend Part Two.....and Monday Morning

Chiesa Santa Chiara at daybreak

I could us this space to further document the wonderful weekend, to talk about the kindness of friends, the friends who had an unfortunate experience on Thursday, their home having been broken into.  I could talk about the curry dinner that my friend Giselle and I prepared for us and their two guests, my new friends Roberto who makes his living studying food and Max, the professional opera tenor, and how we all sang "itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini" not once, but several times.  I could go on forever about the next day and the lunch that Gis, Mark and I had at one of their favorite local restaurants.  Food, too good to be real.  A fire in the fireplace, a true example of an Umbrian restaurant and the best of Umbrian food and wine.  I could tell you how wonderful that meal supported my efforts to take my friends from their aftershock to feeling once again secure and happy in their home......but, I want to tell you about 6:45 this morning and how I started my week.

Chiesa Santa Chiara is one of the major churches in Assisi.  Built in honor of the best friend of Saint Francis, it occupies a beautiful space in a piazza that is not far from the apartment.  The church, for all its importance in the religious world, has a simple interior.  No statues, very liittle adornment.  To one side is a small chapel and it is in this small but sacred space that the Klarisen, the sisters of Saint Claire, start and end each day in song.  At 6:45 they sing morning song, followed by Mass and again, evening vespers at 18:45.

The sisters can't be seen.  They are cloistered, they live in the convent adjacent to the church.  They are behind a glass wall to the side of the altar, but.......they can be heard.  Clear and sweet, welcoming the day in prayer as they have for centuries.  Unchanged, unhurried and magnificent in their humility.  I was moved and grateful to be there.  

For one half hour, I was in the company of angels.  I did not need to see them to know that they were real.  I heard them and my heart stopped and I needed very little else to make me as happy as I have ever been.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weekend Part One

My weekend started early with a knock on the door.  Good thing I was up and about after having an unusually good night's sleep. I looked out the window, and there was my landlady, Rita who I expected at some point in the day.  Next to her stood a little elderly nun.  Okay, so Rita brought one of her relatives.  It would not surprise me.  The ratio of clergy to non-clergy is pretty interesting here.  So, Rita is here to change the light bulbs in the bathroom ceiling fixture, drop off a drying rack, and then take Sister to the dentist....perhaps?  As I opened the door to greet my morning guests, Sister started her Italian.  "Please senora, may I use your bathroom".  Rita shot me a look.  I shot one back.  Sister put her had across her belly and told us that she was a long way from the nearest public restroom and she really had to go but she would understand if I did not want to allow her entry.  I looked again at Rita and we spoke in English."Your call Rita, it's really your house"....."It's up to you Lynn, okay by me, but up to you".  By this time, Sister was about to burst.  Okay, sister, come on up.
As I helped her up the stairs - she probably was pretty uncomfortable by this time, she smiled and spoke in English. "Are you from America?  I have a friend in Brook-o-linny".......
Rita and I shared a good shoulder shrug and went about our business as did Sister who promptly left without killing anybody.  You've heard of the "singing nun".....well I hosted the "peeing nun"and did my good deed for the day.

Having recovered from my "this can only happen to ME" moment, Rita and I went for a cappuccino in the part of the town called the Commune, the lively center where, en route, we ran into my new friend Josephine who greeted me with a big set of kisses and asked if we wanted to join her for a cappucho.  Okay, hang on Rita, there's more fun to come.  Three woman with their capps.  Yakkity, yakkity, yak......I'll see you later Josie.  A presto!  Bye bye Rita. A presto.

My next stop was the ATM and then back to my apartment to get ready to pack up some clothes for an overnight at friends Giselle and Mark's house in Fabbri after a noon meet up with a friend of a new friend who thought we should meet.  On my way back, there's Josephine, with her own nun.  I told you, high ratio.

                                               Josephine and her nun!

My new friend, Pietro, was right on the money when he suggested that I meet his friend, Elna Breinholt.  She's a self-taught artist, a beautiful woman from Denmark who came to Assisi seven years ago and has been painting the most delicate and beautiful icons which she sells in Pietro's shop.  We had a bit of lunch, some great conversation, and a visit to her apartment and her studio from where you can see for miles.
In addition to her icons, Elna works with seashells, most of which are of the same species as those I pick up on the beaches near my home.  She's found something to actually do with them and she inspired me.
Elna totally inspired me.  A spiritual, creative woman who left me with a few words of wisdom.  She was not surprised that I had bought myself a few presents since coming to Assisi last week.  In Assisi, you learn to love your self so it's easy to treat yourself well.

                                                       Elna Breinholt

Elna was kind enough to drive me to my next destination, the train station in Santa Maria degli Angeli.
Santa Maria is in the valley.  It is the service town for Assisi.  There are flat streets, sidewalks, shops where you buy practical items and groceries a train station and......a MacDonald's.  I was on my way to the train station to catch a train to Trevi.  Before leaving, I allowed some time to visit with my friends Helen and Jack, the hard-working founders of the children's museum which is located at the station, aptly named "Discovery Station Assisi".

Okay, there's much more to the weekend but I'm tired now and will continue tomorrow when I have more time and energy.

I promise, the next part of the weekend update is nun-less. Just some curry, a professional opera singer,one amazing lunch with some equally amazing friends.

A presto.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Time, on This Side

Each day, I decide that I will meet a new objective, challenge myself, stretch to new heights.  So, it was today, another glorious one in Assisi, that I chose as "Find the Post Office".

A few days ago, I bought an Advent calendar for my granddaughters.  This was a tradition, started by my mother when my children were born. Every year, a new Advent calendar.  Being in Italy at this time, my choice was simple, the Basilica of San Francesco.  Done.  Ready to go.  Time to get it into the mail so that the first door can be opened on the First of December, coming up in about three weeks if I am correct.
I've lost track of days - I don't have a calendar.  I've lost track of time, I just have my wristwatch, not a clock in the apartment.  It's a very strange new way to live and frankly, I'm not all that sure that I like it.

Back to the little story.......So, off I went, calendar in hand, to the Comune, the center of the city.  Surely, there would be a post office in vicino.  Certainly, one was not visible. After spotting a traffic officer, I asked, in my finest Italian, directions to the post office.  Now, there is an unwritten rule in Italy. Everything is within walking distance, no problem, dritto....straight ahead, under two arches, turn left and up the stairs.  Grazie.

As I paraded along, very proud of my ability to ask and receive directions, I kept reviewing the route until I did what I usually do, I forgot what he said.  Hey, it was a long walk. I finally arrived at the staircase and ascended.  This does not look like a post office, it looks like a bus stop and maybe the sign that read "Posta" means "place where buses park when not in use".  I was looking for L'ufficio Postale, not a bus warehouse.  So, down the stairs, back on the sidewalk and up the hill where I once again asked for directions.  Back down the hill, first turn on the right.  Finally, I was there.  At the sign that said "Posta" and the building that looked like anything but.  By now, I had logged on another half mile.

If you spend any time in Italy, you understand the term "Italian Time".  It simply means that the Italians have their own time and most of the time, it wildly differs from "your" time.
It didn't hurt to know this when I approached the window, the only window that was for postal business.  The others belonged to a bank where customers were experiencing their own version of Italian Time.  Nobody in any particular hurry there.

As I walked up to  the postal window, the clerk, who was sorting mail and placing pieces, one by one, in wall slots informed me that it would be "cinque minuti" so I took my place at the head of the line and waited, and waited and did some more waiting.  Other postal patrons entered.  I held my place.  To each I turned and said "cinque minuti" until finally, maybe fifteen minutes later, my turn came.

For some reason, I the new "Post Mistress of Assisi" have some doubts about that calendar arriving much before the start of the new year.  After all, it was mailed in Italian Time and will arrive, in Italian Time.

Cinque Minuti!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Let the Stories Begin

I came to Assisi for a number of very good reasons.  Not least of all these is my need to have my "stories".  I needed to meet the challenges of traveling alone and spending lots of time on my own.  I knew in my heart that, in reality, I would never be alone for very long.  I knew that as soon as I became re-grounded after my journey, the stories would begin.  And, oh yeah, right on target......they have started.

Today, I have two stories to tell.  One is of a chance meeting and the other, a meeting that has been in the making for a few years.  Three women, two stories.

Allow me to begin where all good stories begin, as I stepped out the front door of my rented apartment and started off for a morning cappuccino, a stone's throw away.

Since my arrival five days ago, I have been walking past a small shop that has in its windows, the most exquisite silk scarves.  Today, approaching the shop, I slowed down to get a better look and decided that I would make inquiry.  The shop owner explained that her scarves were works of art, and within minutes, we were exchanging stories and crying together.  She told me that she NEVER opens the shop this early.....that there was a reason why she was compelled to do so and that she knew instantly why. 

Her name is Josephine Comodi.  She was born in Cannara and moved with her family to France from ages three to fourteen.  She has a degree in Political Science and worked in the business world before she discovered her creative side and has been making the most exquisite pieces of hand painted silk ever since.  Her scarves have "life", filled with color and emotion.  Most of them have little stories written on them in thin, thin streams of silver glitter.  We shared our stories of loss and our love of life.  Over and over she repeated her belief that destiny moved her to an early opening of her shop.  Hugs, kisses and more hugs.  Her philosophy about her creations is simple....she starts out with a white piece of silk, stretched out on a rack and she allows whatever happens with color to happen.  On her website she sums it up this way:  "the exit is quite astonishing and I am filled with emotions". 

I will see Josephine again on Saturday when she once again comes from her home in Perugia to open her shop.  Hugs, kisses and more hugs I'm sure.

After lunch, I made my way down to the Porta San Pietro, a convenient meeting place not far from the Basilica de San Francesco.  It was there that I waited for Letizia Mattiacci, a friend of so many of my Umbrian friends, one who I have been wanting to meet but have missed on previous visits.  Letti is a true "Umbra".  She was born and raised here and has a love for all things Ubrian.  From our meeting place, we traveled to the school bus stop to collect her lovely eleven year old daughter, Thea and then, a long drive up to the home of Letti and her Dutch born husband, Ruurd.  Letti is a busy woman, she runs an agriturismo where in addition to providing the most beautiful of accommodations to her guests, she operates a cooking school known as "Alla Madonna Del Piatto"".  She is a very busy woman.  She is also kind, sweet, and sincere.  A most genuine person.  I felt as if she and I had been classmates since kindergarten. We talked about so many things and shared one very lovely afternoon.  The sun was shining and the views from her windows were spectacular.  The Umbrian country side, so aptly named "the Green Heart of Italy", stretched before us as Letti shared her love of her home and her country.  She knows she is fortunate. She and her husband work hard but they have produced a lovely life. 


Two different women, one spectacular day.

Yes, the exit was quite astonishing and I am filled with emotions

Thank you Letizia and Josephine.  A presto.  Again and again and again, I hope!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Whicha YOU like better?

There is no such thing as a simple walk in Assisi.  Nor should one ever consider a brisk walk. There is something special about every single inch of the town.  Ancient streets, built atop streets that are even older.  Homes built side by side, stone facades, pan tile roofs and beautiful doorways.  Flower pots, vines creeping gracefully up alongside a doorway, all the most common of uncommon sights.  Everything up a hill or a steep incline.  A StairMaster salesperson would go completely broke here.  The only ones who seem to find it to be a problem are the unsuspecting tourists who huff, puff and complain as they pass in little groups.  Every time I have observed the ritualistic huffing and puffing, it has come from folks who appear to be with a tour group.  "A Day in Assisi" is what they were sold.  They come to see the "cute" little town, the "churches" and have a limited amount of time to spend.  They've also probably spent a day in Rome and one in Florence. 

Oh, I'm sure that the tour guides provide a lot of useful and interesting information.  I know the level of difficulty involved in becoming a licensed tour guide in Italy.  It isn't easy.  But, I've learned that the best guide oftentimes is one's heart. 

For me, Umbria is a state of  mind. Assisi is a remarkable gem in the middle of the province of Umbria, best known as the birthplace of Saints Francis and Clare. While there are many, many ancient, important and beautiful works of art everywhere in Assisi, I am finding that the truest treasures are those I find while walking by myself.  Sure, I find the steep grades challenging and I am always grateful when I hear the hum of an approaching car.  The streets are narrow so I stop and step aside rather than share the road. Good excuse for catching my breath without having to be thought of as one of the huffers and puffers.  I'm taking my time.  I am lucky, I have lots of it.  No real agenda for now, no special place to be or chore to get done.  I'm on a personal retreat, one that I hope will allow me to discover more about my self.  One that will convince me to slow down, take more deep cleansing breaths, and move forward.

Life is an assortment of steep inclines.  I was reminded of this today when I encountered these two elderly ladies walking together on a little side road. They walked, they talked, they didn't seem to be bothered in the least by the fact that they were only at the beginning of a very steep grade. They were enjoying each other's company, perhaps on their way home following a visit to a mutual friend. I laughed to myself as I remembered my Aunt Tina who was being taught to drive by my father at the same time he was teaching my mother.  Aunt Tina and Mom were sharing their views on learning to drive and it was Aunt Tina who asked Mom "which do you like better, going uppa the hill or downa?".  We never forgot that.

It's nice to remember that following an incline, there usually is a nice, easier decline.  Along the way, there are some beautiful sights.  It might not be necessary to huff and puff our way through the uphills.  I think that if we are prepared for what's ahead, we can get up there a bit easier, unlike the tour grouper who hadn't a clue. 

So, I'm here, learning again to drive and I'll bet that I lika going uppa the hill just as much as going downa!!
Buona notte

Monday, November 5, 2012


I never thought it was going to be so difficult to compose a blog from Assisi.  I simply do not know where to begin. 

Perhaps, for all of my friends to whom I promised "updates" on a regular basis, I should start out slowly.  After all, I am right, smack, in the heart of the "slow travel" center of the universe.
Slow food, slow travel, slow.....piano....piano....piano.  And that so far, is wherein the problem lies.....Haven't had time to slow down yet.

I left my home on Cape Cod on Friday morning, driven to the bus which would get me to Logan Airport in Boston, by my dear pal, Lois.  A smooth ride, an uneventful check in and on to Step Two.  Logan to JFK.  On time.  One hour delay getting wheels up from JFK.  Full plane due to the cancellations from Hurricane Sandy doing catch up.  I passed the time in the company of two women who were traveling together, enroute to a cruise ship in Rome.  Both transplanted New Yorkers, now residing in Delray Beach, Florida.  I just knew one of them would be named Terry.  My instincts never fail me.

JFK to Rome.....nice ride, even got some rest.  Leonardo da Vinci to the train station.  By this time, I had already pulled a lot of heavy luggage and I was getting tired.  So, I forgot my friends instruction to buy a ticket to Trevi SENZA Roma.  SENZA ROMA!!!  Slight detail.  "Vorrei un billetto a Trevi via Orte per favore".  Nice railway clerk says " here, I'm saving you money, hurry up and get on that train on Platform 3......."

I made it to the train which made it to Tiburtina Station in Roma.  No senza Roma here.  Sono qui, en Roma.....okay.  Maybe I'll be able to send a carrier pigeon to tell my friends that I might not be arriving in Trevi afterall.  No cell phone.  No time. "Hurry Senora....Platform numero tre".  Obviously, she had not heard of Slow Travel......But, the folks driving the train from Tiburtina to Orte did....delay, delay, delay.  Thank you God, for all the years of training in New York City.  I'm a good waiter and a great train spotter.  I just like standing in a cloud of second hand smoke and really, if it's all the same to everyone, I try to stay away from gypsies......

Orte-bound train finally arrived.  After a nice hour long ride....oh great, I get to SIT at Orte to sit and await the train to Trevi.  On Trevi train for another nice long sit down....and remind me to tell you about the man who tried very quietly to walk off the train at Terni with my suitcase....."I don't think so,'re mistaken, that's MY suitcase".....Whew!  He was slow traveling and boy, would he have been surprised to find only clothes and my mudante inside.  Stupid, I'm not.  I wasn't sitting this one out.

Train arrived at the exact appointed time and place that we had planned so many days ago......Giselle, Mark, and I in the biggest hug fest.  Miracle? 

Nah, just the start of what is turning out to be the most incredible time of my life.

How does Assisi do it?  Each time I visit, she gets more beautiful.  I'm ensconced in a gorgeous apartment, steps away from the center of Assisi, with a view that takes my breath away.  I've already spent a remarkable day with friends, old and new, at a lunch party in Umbertide yesterday and today, with friends who helped me further with the from the supermarket, a mobile wi-fi gizmo that I never knew existed, and some affirmations that everything is going to be just fine. 

I'm now ready for some of that slow travel stuff.  Ready to continue to walk and take it all in.  Ready to make every minute better than the next and ready to get on with the business I came here affirm my belief in miracles.  My mother had a hand in all of this.  She's here with me.  Together we're slowly traveling an we'll take all the time we need to get it done.  Were it not for her, I'd still be on the platform, trying to spot the train.......

To Mom.  Va bene?

My street..........

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sono Qui!!!!!

I'm here and there's lots more to come.......tonight.

Right now, as I am in the Capital of Prayer, I am headig out to find some quality time at a local church.  It is Sunday morning after all and I have NO excuses.  Not that I would want to make any.  I am eternally grateful for all I have so far, quirks and all.......

A presto!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Io Sono Confused

I have one more day to learn what I have been struggling with for no less than ten years now.  Not mastering a new language in it's entirety, just nailing down two very simple parts of an incredibly complex web of grammar....the verbs "to be" and "to have".  Easy, no?  So what's my problem.  In English, "to be", in Italian "Essere".  In English, "to have", in Italian "Avere".  And that is where I jump from the simple side of the Good Ship Grammar into the dark and murky waters of Conjugation Ocean..........

I sono
I am a fairly educated middle-aged woman
I am happy
I am preparing for a journey

You are.....tu sei
You are probably reading this
You are wondering where this is leading
You are wondering why I am finding the memorization of the conjugation of a simple infinitive so difficult, that's because you are my friend....after all, I used "tu"

He, she, is......egli, ella, Lei, esso, essa e (with an accent over the e.....)
He, she, he, she......whoever is starting to make this complicated and they insist that the e have an accent lest it mean something completely different like "and" instead of "is".  (I need an Italian keyboard for my computer!)

We are.....noi siamo
We are Americans
We are past our "stage of readiness" for leaning this stuff by the time we are 65
We are happy with speaking English and find even that to be confusing sometimes

You are....voi siete
You are, if you are Italian and speak the language, so much better at understanding why we just can stop with "tu sei" when we want to say "you are"
You are so much smarter as a group, when it comes to speaking Italian if you were born there and live there

They are......esse, essi, Loro sono
They are, once again, taunting me but I like Loro sono so I probably will over use it.
They are, the Italians, a group of folk who understand why "Loro" always starts with a capital "L" and the others don't.

Now, a little bit from Il verbo Avere.  Avere is another infitio del verbo.  Hey, I'm already sounding smarter!

I ho
I have less than one day to get this all straightened out
I have great anxiety about using the wrong conjugation at the wrong time
I have no idea what will happen when I open my mouth and say I have something and let's hope I'm not calling for medical assistance!

You have......tu hai
You have got to be there when I say tu hai and mean something completely different, especially if in a medical situation......Oh, no, that's right, I'm retired so I won't be doing much of that.

He, she, has......egli, ella, Lei, esso, essa. Lei ha
He, she and whomever else will be rolling in the aisles and there are a lot of aisles in Assisi! Ha ha ha...get it?
He, she and whomever are the only ones who understand why Lei is capitalized

We have.......noi abbiamo
We have nothing like some of this stuff in the English language and we have not learned most of the parts of grammar that the Italians take for granted....what the heck is the passive mood anyway?
We have no idea of why Dante thought the language would be so much nicer after he fixed it

You have.......voi avete
You have been addressed in the "formal" conjugation of the verb avere.  If I knew you better, I would say "tu hai"

You (the whole lot of you) have......essi, esse, Loro hanno

You  (all) have totally confused me, made me feel like a pre-schooler, scared me, but have added confidence to my life and a desire to learn more.
You (all) have stolen my heart and a lot of my brain cells and given me something to which I look forward year after year.

La mia bell'Italia di amico, vengo per spendere il tempo con lei presto. Sono eccitato molto e felice e ho molte aspettative. Lei è lì, mi aspetta. Avrò un tempo meraviglioso e sono eccitato preparare ed avere l'opportunità per crescere ed imparare. Per favore di essere paziente con me ed insegnarmi tutto che lei deve offrire. Ringraziarla,
Io sono Lynn