“Il Mondo è Una Famiglia”


Before I begin this last post about our trip to Europe, I have to preface it by saying that in a million years I could never have been as warm and kind as the people I’m about to describe.

I know myself. I love having guests, but I need to know they’re coming first. Also, I like it better if I have a clue about who they are.

With that, let me tell you the miraculous and wonderful story of our day in Roccabascerana, province of Avellino, Italy.

My paternal grandparents came to the United States around a hundred years ago. Growing up in our big family, I knew that they had married in the little village of Roccabascerana. I knew that my grandfather’s brothers married my grandmother’s sisters, and that all of them came to the Boston area.

I have always wanted to go there, to see the place where our family has its roots. At last, a few weeks ago, that wish came true.

Now, I have to tell you that I had reached out on Facebook to try to find relatives still in the area, and I had connected with one man who thought it possible that we might be related. But he didn’t speak much English, and I definitely didn’t speak much Italian. We exchanged a few messages, then lost each other.

So when I got to the village with my husband, my sons and their girlfriends, I didn’t plan to try to find any actual living relatives. I was content to see the streets, the church, the piazza where my family had once walked. I took pictures of the war memorial where the family names were inscribed.

Avellino

I was happily crying my eyes out as I thought about my Dad and his parents, and all of my family who have gone. I hugged my boys and listened to the church bells in the peaceful air of the town. The only living thing other than us in the whole village, it seemed, was a sweet little street dog who came to greet us.

As I was thinking of heading back to Pompeii to process my experience, the kids noticed a building that seemed to be the local Town Hall. “Let’s go in!” they said, “We can ask about the family.”

I didn’t want to. I didn’t want the embarrassment of my bad Italian or the bad manners of showing up on someone’s doorstep unannounced. But as I was trying to back out, the kids and my husband kept pointing out much I’d regret being so close to my family and not meeting them.

We were in a little tug-o-war when a car drove up and parked. A well dressed, dark haired woman got out and looked at us. There I stood, sweaty and tearful, surrounded by my kids.

“Prego?” she called, opening the door to the building. She gestured me inside. So I stepped in.

When the woman turned to me with her perfect dark brown raised over her brown eyes, I stammered out the fact that my family had originally come from this town. I told her my last name.

“Si,” she answered easily. “Antonio.” She named the possible relative I’d found on Facebook so many months ago. She lead us all into another room, where she explained to another woman that “This woman from the US is a cousin of Antonio.”

“Ah, si!” said the second kind woman. “His family lives in the village of Squillani.” I had heard this name my whole life, too. It was where my grandmother’s family had lived, I thought. “His mother was Maria Domenico. Who was your grandfather?”

Then she picked up the phone and dialed without even looking up a number. My kids were delighted, as was Paul, but I was still internally thinking, “Wait!!!!!”

Antonio didn’t answer his phone, so the kind woman (who kept speaking rapid fire Italian as if I might learn it if she tried hard enough) indicated that we should all get in our cars and follow the two young men who worked with her and who were sitting wide eyed over the whole thing.

So off we went. The boys didn’t speak English, either, so we weren’t exactly sure where we were headed. I was hoping that we were going to the village of . Squillani, where we could look around, have lunch and take photos. I was both thrilled and afraid that we were actually headed to Antonio’s house.

And you guessed it, I bet.

After ten minutes of hairpin turns over beautiful, tiny, mountain roads, we stopped in front of a lovely big house and the boys hopped out. As I cautiously got out of my car, I saw them knock, and heard them tell the young woman who opened the door, “The American cousins of Antonio are here.”

Yikes!!

I was really embarrassed to be banging on the door of a total stranger! There were six of us, none of us fluent in Italian, and all of us nervous and excited.

With a show of grace that I could only dream about, the woman smiled at us all, thanked the boys, and invited us in. She called to her husband, who came in with a puzzled look on his face. We stumbled through introductions, apologies and welcomes.

The next three hours were an amazing, life changing and really fabulous affirmation of every stereotype you’ve ever heard about Italians. It was proof of the power of family, of food, of shared laughter.

I could never, ever, ever have pulled off what this family did for a group of strangers on their doorstep.  Antonio and his wife, and his brother Mimo and his, took us in as if we had known each other all of our lives.

They sat us down, gave us cold drinks, offered coffee. We looked at pictures, finding similarities in our faces and in shared stories. We got to know a bit about each other.

At some point I realized that the women had disappeared, and being Italian myself, I suspect that there was a meal being prepared in spite of our attempts to assure them that were not here to disturb them or to drop in for a meal.

I was right. As predicted, after about a half hour a door opened, and Antonio’s beautiful wife, Angela invited us upstairs to eat.

And we shared one of those meals that you know you’ll dream about for years. Without any plan or preparation, these amazing women put out a “lunch” of spaghetti with homemade sauce, sausages, zucchini frittata, olives from their property, a bowl of bread the size of a bathtub, cheese, salami, wine, fresh figs, watermelon, home made lemon ice and delicious sweet esspresso that will haunt my dreams forever.

We met Antonio’s daughters, who are charming, funny, interesting and who speak English! My sons played with his young son. We all laughed, we shared jokes somehow.

We all friended each other on Facebook.

It was amazing. Amazing and humbling.

We found out, Antonio and I, that we share the same great-grandfather. We are indeed cousins.

But before we knew that fact, this family welcomed us in just because we were there. At one point, when I was once again trying to explain that I hadn’t intended to bother them, Antonio asked in a gruff, no-nonsense voice, “Why? What are you sorry?”

“I didn’t mean to bother you….”

He gestured around the table to where our families were eating, laughing and drinking together.

“Do we look bothered?” I think he said.

He raised one finger, and both of his slightly pointed eye brows. Exactly the gesture that my Dad used to make. Exactly the same expression on his face.

“Il mondo è piccolo.”  Yes, I agreed, the world is small.

“Tutti una famiglia.”  We are all one family.

I can never express how profound and moving it was for me to see my sons laughing with some of the cousins who never left our home place. My deepest wish now would be for some of them to come here to visit us, so that I could cook for them, and tell them how my connection to them and to that beautiful place has shaped me for my whole life.

 

 

 

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Is This the Border?


Traveling to Europe a few weeks ago was an amazing and eye opening experience. I learned so much.

And I have so many questions!

For example, when we took the train from Innsbruck to Milan, we had to cross the border between Austria and Italy. Austria is a financially stable and thriving country, while Italy continues to struggle with a weak economy, an unstable government, and an influx of immigrants that it can neither house nor feed.

You’d expect the border between the two countries to be pretty secure, wouldn’t you?

You know what?
It’s completely invisible.

We boarded our international train in Austria and got off in Italy. The only way that we knew we’d changed countries was that the signs at the first station were in German and then Italian, and at the last they were in Italian and then German.

There were plenty of business people and other types of workers on our train. They were speaking German as they entered Italy to work for the day.

In the station we saw people with briefcases or work uniforms waiting to go from Italy into Austria to work for the day.

I was astounded.

Where were the armed guards? The passport and visa checkers? Where were the fences and gates and drug sniffing dogs?

Wouldn’t Italians be trying to get into Austria to have a better life, given the differences in the two economies?

When I asked about this, people were baffled.

“Well, we are Italians and we live in Italy, but we go to work in Austria. Then we come home at the end of the day.” The explanations were given with just the slightest hint of “what the hell don’t you understand about this?”

What a concept.

An open border. And it doesn’t mean that millions of poor, struggling Italians are infesting Austria to rape and pillage.

Nope.

It means that people on both sides can work where there are jobs. Presumably, both economies benefit from the connection between workers and work.

At night, everyone gets back on the train, or the bus, or into their cars, and they drive across the invisible borders to go back to their families, their towns, their languages and their respective soccer teams.

Wonder what my country could learn from this situation?

the border

Somewhere along the border. I can’t tell you exactly how far on either side of the line this was.

Immigration…and Emigration


For my entire life, I have thought about the idea of immigration. I was raised on the stories told by my grandparents and great aunts and uncles. Stories about coming to America. Coming to the land of education, opportunity, promise.

I have always, for all of my 62 years, viewed my heritage through the lens of immigration to the United States. Growing up in a middle class suburb of Boston, I was aware that my grandparents had raised my parents in far grittier, far poorer, far more crowded areas of my home state.

I knew that my grandparents had left Italy in the earliest years of the twentieth century. I knew that they came here because they wanted to find work. They wanted a steady income. I knew that they came because they wanted their children, my parents, to have an education and a chance to escape the endless pressure of poverty that had marked their own lives.

As a child who came of age in the 1960’s, I was raised on the idea of the American “melting pot.” I grew up with the image of Lady Liberty holding her torch aloft. I imagined my grateful grandparents arriving in this country.

I never thought about those same grandparents leaving everything they had ever known and loved.

It wasn’t until my just finished trip to Italy that I stopped to think about the leaving part of immigration.

Last week I traveled with my husband, our two sons and their future wives to the small village where my paternal grandparents were born. I had always heard about the little town in the “hills above Naples.” I had always heard about the difficult agrarian life, about the lack of opportunity.

I wanted to see that little village because it was the place of my roots. I wanted to see it because my father always talked about it, and because I have missed my Dad every single day for the past ten years.  I had a romantic image of what it would be like to walk on the streets where my ancestors had walked.

But when I got to the little town, winding up its narrow streets, my husband and I were with our sons and the women they plan to marry. I didn’t expect the rush of emotion that struck me when I came into the tiny town center. Getting out of the car in the blistering heat of Italy in July, I felt as if I was carrying the weight of my father and his parents on my aching back. I walked to the small stone monument dedicated to those who had died in the World Wars, and there I read the names of ancestors I would never know.

I was sobbing when the church bells rang at noon, holding onto my youngest child, but thinking of the thread that tied him to my great grandparents. Did my grandmother and father hear those same bells every day? Was this the church where they were brought to be Christened as babies?

The day went on, filled with more blessings than I can name. I met loving, gracious, kind relatives that I had never know before.  I stood on the terrace outside of the little local church, with the most gorgeous valley spread out below us. I heard my sons and their loves talking about marriage. I hugged my husband of 40 years, knowing that he understood how precious this moment was for me. After all this time, to be standing in this place…..

“It’s so beautiful,” I kept saying to myself with real surprise. “It’s so peaceful and so rugged and so beautiful.”

Later in our trip, Paul and I went to Sicily. The kids had gone home, but we had more time and we wanted to see the home place of my maternal grandparents. These were the grandparents I knew best, and I felt my Grampa with me every step of that trip. We got to Augusta, where my Grampa had grown up and where my Nana’s parents had lived.

I smelled the sea and the orange blossoms and the dry wind, and I was struck right in the heart with how beautiful it all was. While I was in Sicily, I ate seafood, I swam in the Mediterranean, tasted the wine, saw the olive trees.

And one thought kept going through my mind, “How did they ever leave this place?”

We had hugged our kids goodbye as they headed back to Massachusetts, to jobs and friends and lives. I was truly sad to see them go, and there were a couple of tears when they left.

But now that I had begun to think of immigration as “emigration”, all I could think about was the leaving that my family was brave enough to endure.

How did they do it? What desperation, what fear, what sorrow could have pushed my young grandparents to leave behind their language, their food, their music, their parents, in search of something better?

What desperation, what depth of love, what deeply held hope could have given my great grandparents the courage to hug their children goodbye as they boarded the ships that would take them across the world forever?

I thought about the beauty of the sunsets in Sicily. I thought about the light on the mountains of Avellino. I thought about how hard it was for me to give up the sound of English for three short weeks.

And I thought about kissing my children goodbye, knowing that I might never see them again.

I’ll never think about immigration in the same way again. Those who leave behind all that is known and secure must be powered by a hope that I can only imagine.

 

What I Think of Italy


Wow.

I have waited 62 years to finally set my feet on the soil of my ancestral home. Finally. I have breathed the air of Rome, walked the streets of Naples, toured the history of Pompeii. I have bathed in the waters off of Sicily, eaten octopus and giant shrimp grilled in small local cafes. I’ve had the wine, ridden the trains, busses, subways and boats.

I think I’ve finally gotten a sense of where my family was born.

And it was nothing like I expected, while it was just what I had hoped.

I don’t know how to describe it, but I’m going to try. Because, you know, blogger, writer….that’s what we do.

Italy has a lot of delicious fruits. One of them is a funny looking, yellow melon. It’s kind of bumpy, lumpy and odd looking from the outside. I have no idea what we’d call it in English.

But when you cut into it?

The fruit is sweet, soft, delicate and full of flavor.

That’s how I think of Italy.

From the outside, there is a lot to feel creeped out about. There is a definite problem with trash and litter. Even the most scenic roads are lined with smashed beer bottles and unwanted wrappers. While there are trash containers in every city and town, it doesn’t seem as if they are ever emptied.

The buildings are uniformly old.  Some are truly ancient, and many are simply left to crumble into the landscape. Others were probably built during the second world war, and have stucco facades that are peeling and broken. Some are newer, but even those often have a look of neglect.

The ground is dry and the plants are brittle. Weeds encroach often on small vias and byways.

But.

If you are lucky enough to be invited into one of the dry stucco homes, you will be amazed and overwhelmed by the beauty. Everyone seems to have floors of marble. Walls are painted in bold and beautiful colors. There is art on those walls. There are little touches of charm and beauty.

We have stayed in some very spartan places on our trip. In some cases the faucets were a little loose and shower doors didn’t close all the way.

But every single one of them had lovely decorative touches. Vases, glasses, tablecloths in vibrant colors, pots of flowers on the balconies.

And inside of every house, it seemed to us, there were people who were the very embodiment of kindness and warmth. Even though we speak little to no Italian, people tried to communicate with us. They used words, gestures, facial expressions, more words. The seemed to believe that if they just tried hard enough, everyone would understand each other.

What a wonderful concept!

People we didn’t know helped us to pump gas, to check out in the grocery store, to buy items we needed. People were patient when we repeatedly explained that we couldn’t understand. They laughed with us, not at us, when we made mistakes in Italian. They applauded and complimented us on our meager attempts to master their language.

Italy is like that funny yellow melon. On the outside, you aren’t really sure you want it. But once you cut into it, and taste the sweetness inside, you know that you’ll be craving it forever.

canary-melon-3

Molto delicioso.

The Missing Purse


Manarola

La Cinque Terre

If you had a chance to read “Nonni On a Train,” you’ll know that I found myself in the beautiful town of Riomaggiore without my purse, license, credit or debit cards and minus about 150 Euro.

If you’ve ever met me, you’ll know without my even saying it that I had a full on panic attack standing in the train station.

Many swears were spoken in more than on language on that platform. I think I even made a few of them up.

But while I was having my heart attack, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by calmer heads. My husband the saint never once asked how I could have been stupid enough to forget my purse. My sons assured me that everything could be replaced and that money is only money. My future daughters-in-law came up with several good ideas of how to proceed. All would be well, they all assured me.

My first thought was to find a police officer. So I ran into a little restaurant and asked in my broken Italian, “Where can I find the police?”

The two women who worked there looked at me with pure horror. “Polizie?” one asked. The other put her hand to her mouth. I realized that they were both thinking, “Holy shit, someone got stabbed/raped/beaten and it was right outside our door!”

As quickly as I could, I reassured them. With a mixture of hand gestures (pays to be Italian by birth), broken Italian and simplified English, I explain that I had left my purse “con documenti i carti” on the train. I was a wreck, shaking, sweating in the 90 degree humid air, my heart pounding. The older woman said, “Ah, capito! I help.” and grabbed the phone. She motioned to her friend, a younger waitress and told her to get me some water. They sat me down, poured me a cold glass of water (the best water I have EVER tasted) and got in touch with the police in the town of La Spezia, where the train was headed and where my family and I were staying.

I don’t speak much Italian, especially when I am in the middle of a complete emotional breakdown, but I understood that the local cops told my rescuer to call the train security people. She did just that, talking to them for more than 20 minutes. The younger woman kept an eye on me, saying, “Oh, my God” and “What a mess” or something like that. Every now and then she’d pat my shoulder, squeeze my hand, or pour me more cold water.

Meanwhile, my husband was trying to check on which documents he was carrying and which were with me. My sons had gotten the number on the front of the train and were thinking of ways to quickly get back to La Spezia. The girls were talking to locals and asking for advice while all of them waited for me to reappear.

Finally the woman in the restaurant asked me for my phone number and name, which she passed on the person in train security. She told me “Tomorrow….morning….go to…(pointed to a word on a paper)….” In Italian she said, “Maybe they will have your things.”

I was so overwhelmed! In one of the busiest tourist towns in Italy, right at the dinner hour, she had stopped everything to help a complete stranger who she’d never see again. I was teary eyed as I hugged her and her compassionate friend. “Grazie, grazie mille, grazie!” I made my way out the door to find my family, wiping tears away.

We took the train back to La Spezia, with the kids joyful energy keeping my spirits up. When we got there, we found two train security people. One was a tall (handsome) guy and the other his short, pretty female partner. We told them our story, and they said that they had already heard about it (yay for my heroic woman friend!) They asked if I wanted to “make a report.” I had no idea what that meant, so I asked if they’d do it in my situation.

In true Italian fashion, they shrugged. I got the impression that they figured it was a lost cause. So did I.

When we were about to leave, I pulled out the last of my remaining humor and asked, “Per favore, dovi il vino?” (“Please, where is the wine?”) They laughed, and we said goodnight.

So.

For an hour, Paul was on the phone trying to cancel my credit cards. He managed to do that, but he also inadvertently cancelled his. That meant that we were down to half of our cash and one debit card.

Merda, as we say in Italy. Merda, merda, merda.

The next morning we planned to take a ferry to the “Gulf of Poets” to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and swim in the Mediterranean. We decided that it was pointless to go the to train security to look for my purse. Who would find a purse full of cash and cards and bother to return it? Even it had been returned, wouldn’t the local police take the cash? I mean, come on, we’ve all heard about the corrupt Italian police. And the cards were no good anymore anyway.

We did our day trip. We came back to La Spezia and had dinner. We went to bed.

The next morning we were heading to Rome. We all decided that we had just enough time to hop back on the train for one last visit to the Cinque Terre.

We boarded the train, and just before it left, the doors opened. In walked two police officers. I saw them come in, and saw the taller one glance at my kids and then lock his eyes on me. He pointed. He strode toward me.

My heartbeat went to about 524. I think I squeaked.

I was sure I was headed for Italian jail.

“Tu! Tu sei la signora!” (You! You are the woman!)

I squeaked again, then my girl Jessica said, “It’s about your purse!”

“Si!” the tall cop said, and I suddenly recognized him from the other night. The good looking one (Jeez. I am getting old). “You come with me! Now! We have your things!” He grabbed my hand and Paul and I ran off the train with him and his partner.

It turns out that he was watching the security cameras, and he recognized me! Holy amazing.

He took us to the office of the train security officer, a big, jovial guy named Luca who even had the kindness to flirt with me as we were introduced.

I was truly dumbfounded by the whole thing. I hugged the two officers who had taken me off the train with about 50 heartfelt grazies. As I turned to follow Luca, the man asked, “Signora, il vino era buono?” (Was the wine good?)

So.

It turns out that in this scary, supposedly corrupt country, a woman can drop her purse in a tiny train bathroom, have it ignored by countless other riders, and then it can be picked up the train security. Those security people can ignore the 150 Euros in it and bring it to the head guy, who will not only leave every cent inside of it, but spend hours trying to find its owner on the internet and by phone (mine had died when he’d called.) A guy just doing his regular job can see a familiar face on his camera, rush onto the train, and save the whole situation.

I started the day calling myself “La Signora stupida,” but ended it by calling myself “La Signora fortunata.”

 

Nonni On a Train


FlowersWhile I have lots of moving and touching stories to share with you, I feel most compelled this morning to share my misadventure on a train the other day.

Why?

Because in retrospect, it’s freakin’ hilarious.

On July 4th we woke up in our beautiful, comfortable guesthouse in the little city of LaSpezia, just outside of Italy’s famous Cinque Terre. Side note; if you ever come to the Cinque Terre part of Italy and want to save a bundle on a room, book yourself into La Branda. The kindest hosts on earth and very comfortable, pretty rooms. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Anyway, our two sons and their girlfriends were with us, and we all headed into the  Cinque Terre. It was as magical as everyone says! While we were riding the train, we were going through gritty little towns, then a tunnel, then a town. Suddenly, we came out of a tunnel and onto a wide open view of the Mediterranean. The whole train burst into applause and cheers and all the locals smiled. Magic.

We started our day at the farthest village, called Monterosso al Mare. We had read that it was the best place to swim, and we were more than ready to do that.

At first we just took in the sights. We strolled, we people watched, we went into shops, we took pictures. It was hard to decide where to look next! In the early afternoon we found the local beach, and threw ourselves into the clear blue waters of the sea.

Beach

It was Heaven, I tell ya, pure Heaven! We floated for so long our fingers turned into prunes. We found beautifully colored stones and sea glass, as smooth as polished marble. We had ice cold beers on the shore, then went in to swim some more.

When it was finally time to head out of the water and back into town, I wasn’t sure of where to change. My bathing suit was soaked, and I didn’t want to put my clothes on over it. But this chubby middle aged American was not about to follow local custom and change on the beach.

Bathrooms in the Cinque Terre, it turns out, are as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth.

So I put on a gauzy, flowy shirt that covered me to about mid-thigh. I was a little bit faked out to be walking through town with so much of me on show, although the ladies all around me were unfazed to be eating dinner in bikinis. Even the chubby, gray haired ones who it seemed should know better.

I tried to just go with the flow, pulling on the hem of my colorful shirt every third step. I could just picture my flabby old thighs, complete with various scratches and bruises. I wanted to apologize to everyone walking uphill behind me.

After a while, we took the train down to the village of Manarola and walked all through the streets.(Yep. I was still in my bathing suit and flowy thing.)

It was really beautiful! We ate dinner and drank Prosecco.  I had the most delicious octopus and fresh lemon cured anchovies.

Also approximately 14 pounds of fresh Italian bread.

anchovy

 

At this point in our adventure, Nonni here had consumed several gallons of liquid, including beer and wine. It was time for some relief. But remember the part about the rare bathrooms? No matter how I searched, I wasn’t able to find a place were I could a) put on some decent clothing and b) prevent the embarrassment of peeing myself in public.

So I clenched my….teeth….and kept walking.

At last, we decided to get back on the train and head down to the last town, Riomaggiore.

“Aha!” I thought to myself, “The train has a bathroom!”

As soon as we got on, I ran to the bathroom. OK, I probably didn’t actually “run”, since my knees were locked together. But I sure as hell scuttled as fast as I could go. I had a bag with my clothes in my hand, planning to pee fast and get changed at the same time.

All would probably have been well, except for two small problems. We were only going one stop on this very fast train, and it was going to take a while to let go of all that liquid buildup. Nevertheless, off came the suit, I wrangled me into my bra and took care of business. Sighing with painful relief, I got into my undies and had one foot in my shorts when the train very suddenly lurched to a halt.

“Bam!”

Back went Nonni, crashing into the toilet. Luckily, the bathroom was only about the size of a shoebox, so there wasn’t far to fall. I ignored my injured backside and yanked on my shorts, grabbing my sandals in one hand and the bag with my bathing suit in the other. As I opened the door, I saw my family getting off the train so I rushed to the door.

For some reason that is probably known only to the Italians, the train stopped partway down the tunnel. We had to walk in the semi-dark between the train and the brick wall. I was still barefoot, and pictured myself stepping on a rat or something. So as I made my way down the narrow tunnel, I was hopping on one foot and pulling a sandal on the other.

I was laughing though, in spite of my aching cheek. We were all laughing and talking about our fabulous day.

Right up until I suddenly realized that I had left my purse on the now departing train.

Holy panic attack.

I’ll tell you what happened in my next post.

Time For Some Sweeping Generalizations


Munchen

Isn’t it funny when your broad generalizations and assumptions are proven to be true?

And isn’t it funny when they aren’t?

Having spent three packed days touring the beautiful city of Munich, I have some broad and sweeping generalizations to share. Feel free to shake your heads or just laugh at me. Feel free to agree!

  1. Germany is just as organized, clean, orderly and proper as I always thought it would be. Of course, we were here a couple of years ago and saw Berlin and part of the North, so we already had an idea, but holy standardization! The gardens are all neat. I am not kidding. Every little Bavarian house has window boxes filled with pink and red geraniums. Every lawn is trimmed.  There wasn’t one fallen tree or broken branch anywhere.  Even the dogs are orderly and polite. People bring them to restaurants and cafes, they go into stores. They walk sedately on leashes and sit down when their owners think the word “sit.”
  2. Schnitzel is as good as it sounds. Really. Seriously. Ever since the “Sound of Music” first came out, I have yearned for “schnitzel with noodles.” It is crisp, crunchy, tender and yummo. Last night we had it at an Austrian gasthouse. The serving we were given will last us for days.
  3. People are people. Some of them are old and some of them aren’t. They come in all colors, sizes and shapes. I have seen the most gorgeously dressed women, with gleaming brown skin and dark, deep eyes, dressed in swathes of pure white gauze, smelling like a garden of jasmine. I have seen tiny white-blond toddlers in pink shorts chattering away as they skipped along beside their mothers. People have exchanged smiles, and people have looked away when I sent them a smile. In general, I find native Germans and Austrians to be helpful, polite, friendly but not intrusive. I like them!
  4. I love German showers. I know, it sounds stupid. But they are so…..clean! We aren’t staying in pricey places, believe me. But the bathrooms are all equipped with these fabulous glass sided showers. No tile anywhere. Some kind of floor that looks like wood or wide slate and the glass sides and door (when there is one) are firmly attached to that floor. A small drain is along one side. The shower heads are big “rain” style things and I now yearn for one in my little home bathroom.
  5. As I feared, people here are in complete horror about the President of the U.S. They understand that he is interested only in the well-being of his own country, and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about what happens to the rest of the world. They’re afraid that his lack of understanding (also referred to as “his stupidness”) will mean that he doesn’t get the fact that we are all interdependent and that if they fall, so will we. They no longer trust the U.S.  To quote one very intelligent and highly informed friend, “But how could so many Americans vote for this terrible person? We hear his words about women, about immigrants. How could even one person vote for this person?” Good question.
  6. Home is where the heart is. I miss my dog. I miss my grandchildren like a lost limb. I miss the smell of my own woods. But the world is a beautiful place, and the people who live here are fascinating creatures. Tomorrow I will be able to move on to all those cliched perceptions of Italians when we take the train to Milan!

Auf Weidersehn!

 

One Last Thought Before I Go


I can’t stand Donald Trump. He is a liar. I hate liars. He is willing to turn us all against each other to achieve his own power and his own gains. I hate that kind of selfishness.

But I love a lot of his followers. I love my relatives who have come to every birthday party for my kids, sent graduation gifts, danced at family weddings, made me dinners just for fun. I love my neighbors who kayak with us, go out to dinner with us, share perennials, gripe about the lousy weather and sit through endless town meetings with us.

I despise the media moguls who control our thoughts by following the orders of their corporate overlords. Fox News is a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump and his Corporate organization. They’re ridiculous. They aren’t news. I would never look to them for news.

CNN is less obvious, but “Breaking News” every hour on the hour for the past 10 years? Seriously, dudes? One big story per week, with endless repetitive talking heads pretending outrage and tears? That’s your idea of news?

Come. On.

I hate the ugly words that are being hurled around by people who disagree on the latest core issue. I hate seeing people berated for their beliefs, their life styles, their religious choices, their sexual preferences. I hate it. I hate the swears, the offensive remarks, the name calling, the hatred, the plain old meanness.

I don’t love my country, because I don’t know what that means. Am I supposed to love the dirt? The trees? The highways? Am I supposed to love the flag, no matter where it waves or who is holding it or how it is used? I don’t know if I’m expected to love my government? The bureaucracy of it? The big money that owns it?

I do love my countrymen. I love them because they’re also trying to make sense of the struggles we face every day. They want jobs, they want some financial security, they was to know that if they work hard they will be able to provide a safe life for their families.

I love my countrymen because they are humans. I love my fellow humans. I don’t hate the ones who are different from me. I don’t hate or fear the ones who have different colored skin than mine. I don’t hate of fear the ones who are more or less religious than me or the ones who call the divine by a name I don’t recognize. I don’t fear or hate my fellow humans if they are richer or poorer than me, or if they speak a different language or if they live in a different part of this earth.

And I don’t hate or fear my fellow humans, my fellow Americans, my fellow community members because they disagree with my views on gun control or border safety or trade or taxes.

I hope that I am smart enough to find some truth in all the complete bullshit that is filling our world. I hope that I am brave enough to listen when people have different ideas than my own.

And I hope that I am kind enough, evolved enough, thoughtful enough to grant my fellow family members, neighbors, coworkers the right to their own opinions.

I will still work as hard as I can to move my country and my world in a direction that seems the best to me. I will still work as diligently as possible to bring a positive, loving, kind world into being.

But I will try my best to do that without screaming at my friends on the “other side.”

I don’t know if my plan will work. I just know that it’s the only way I can proceed and still feel proud of myself as I look in the mirror every day.

I wish more people shared my view.

It might make us all a lot safer and a whole lot better informed.

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Trying to be my best self.

Leaving On A Jet Plane


Paul and I are about to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary in the most wonderful way imaginable. We are about to jet off to Europe for a three week vacation, the longest we have ever taken.

We’ll start in Germany, spending a week with very dear friends. There will be laughing, eating, drinking, music and a lot of catching up on each other’s lives after two years apart.

From there we head South into Italy, my home country, where we hope to connect with distant relatives and learn about my family’s pre-immigration past.

I am SO excited that I can’t even stand it!!!

But.

I’m wondering what I will say when we are asked about the current situation here in the US. I mean, I know that I’ll assure whoever it is I’m talking to that most of us did NOT vote for Trump and despise his policies.

But my bigger worry is how to explain the way Americans are behaving toward each other these days.

How do I explain that half of us think it’s absolutely fine to mock and berate the other half? What do I say about one side refusing to serve food or bake cakes for the other half?

Is there a reasonable way to explain the curses, the vulgarities, the insulting names that each side is using on the other?

Can “Well, they did it first!” be translated into German or Italian without sounding like the absolute lamest excuse given by any kindergartener ever?

What do I say?

I can imagine myself trying to explain. “Well, I know it sounds like we Americans absolutely hate each other, but……”

But, what?

Do we hate each other? Do we really want each other to be humiliated, to be denied hospitality, to be spat upon?

How far away are we from violence in the streets, as rival groups hurl both insults and stones at each other?

How did we get here?

What do I say?

“I don’t know what has happened to us,” I might begin. “I remember when we used to argue at dinner, but keep on passing the dessert plate.”  Maybe I’ll point to the obvious issues with corporate media, and how that has lead to opposing viewpoints replacing factual news.

“I remember when we used to turn on the evening news, knowing that we’d get the same information no matter which channel we picked, but watching our favorite news reporters.”

Sigh.

How do I explain the sheer ugliness and vitriol and rage that has engulfed us all over here in the “land of the free”?

I don’t know.

I share that rage, and in some cases that ugliness and vitriol. There have been a boatload of moments in the past two years when I’ve wanted to strangle the life out of someone in the news.

How do I explain that to people who have lived through the violence and horrors of fascism and World War? What do I say? How do I describe my fervent desire to oppose what I see as immoral, without losing my own moral center?

I don’t know.

I truly do not know.

But before our plane lands on distant shores, I promise that I will have learned to say, “I love my fellow citizens” in at least two languages.

Maybe we should all be memorizing that phrase in English.

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Remembering “My” Kids


I went into my daughter’s classroom for a visit last week. She teaches a loop, so she has her students for two years. Now it’s June of her second year with these lovely sixth graders, and everyone is tired, emotional, and ready to move on. I brought Kate’s kids in to the classroom to say goodbye.

Naturally, just stepping into the school building where I taught for more than two decades had me nostalgic.

All the way home that afternoon, I thought about “my” kids from over the years. Here are a few of the stories that have been on my mind.

The Bombs Below

One year I had a boy in my class who had spent about half of his ten years of life in his native Pakistan. His family had moved back and forth from the U.S. to Pakistan a couple of times, and were intending to return again. My student went through the year with one foot here and one over there.

In the early fall of that fifth grade year, we all went on a three day trip to the mountains. The trip included environmental studies and team building. It was hard work for this old teacher, but it was fun! One of the best parts was a hike up to a small mountain peak near the camp. We would all scramble through the woods for an hour or so until we came out to the summit, where the students would gather and gaze down at the camp, far below. Part of our tradition was to call out a greeting from the summit to the camp below. The kids below would hear us and call back.

That particular year, there was some construction going on at the camp. From the summit, we could hear distant hammers and faint booms as piles of wood were unloaded from trucks.

I stood with my Pakistani student, asking him if he could hear the kids calling up from below. He frowned behind his large glasses, squinting at the lake in the distance. “Listen carefully,” I told him. “We’ll yell and the kids on the athletic field will yell back.”

The kids gathered around me, giggling and clearing their throats.  “How, How!” we yelled. We waited, and then it came, “How, How!” from below. I turned to my student with a smile. “Did you hear it?”

He shook his head.

“All I can hear is those bombs down there.”

That’s what it’s like to leave a war zone. This poor kid heard distant hammering and simply assumed that bombs were going off.

He didn’t even react.

What grade am I in?

Many years ago, before I became a classroom teacher, I was the speech/language specialist in our school. I worked with kids who had communication disorders due to learning disabilities, hearing impairment, intellectual impairments and other challenges.

One year I was asked to evaluate a student who had recently immigrated to the U.S. from Brazil. The boy was tall, gangly armed in the way of pre-adolescent boys. He had a huge grin and sparkling brown eyes. Everything made him laugh.

His English was poor, but growing rapidly. He had a quick wit and warm charm that made him instantly popular with his classmates and teachers. He had very few academic skills, which was why I was doing my assessment. We weren’t sure if this young man had an underlying learning disorder that had held back his ability to read in his native Portuguese. We needed to find the best way to help catch up.

Although this student was old enough to be enrolled in our fifth grade, he had been placed in the fourth grade to give him time to catch up.

When I began my language assessment with a casual conversation, I learned why he was struggling so much.

“What grade were you in when you were in Brazil?”

“What grade? I don’t know. How do I know what grade I am in?”

“Honey, how many years of school did you do?”

“Oh. I don’t know.” I remember that he shrugged and grinned, looking up from beneath the brim of his cap. “I would go when there was a teacher. Sometimes I would go but there would be no teacher, so we just played or went home.”

I found out later, through an interpreter at a meeting with his Mom, that this boy had never completed a single year of school. There was no set curriculum, no continuity of lessons from year to year. Most troubling of all, teachers would come and go all year, often missing weeks of teaching time without replacements.

“This is why we left our country,” the Mom explained. “We wanted him to go to school.”

That handsome, charismatic, bright little guy was at our school for only a year. After that, we lost track of him as his family struggled to find a place to settle safely.

I think about him often.

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In honor of every single child who needs safety, education, and love.