Change of Scenery

Taking this party to the beaches of Isola d’Elba, off the coast of Tuscany…because sometimes you just need to change it up.

Cavo, Isola d'Elba, Tuscany, Italy

because sometimes you just need to change it up

Who says the Golden Years?

Joan LeMasters

Joan LeMasters
December 27, 1933 – July 8, 2014

It’s been a rough week for my family and me. On Tuesday, my grandmother lost her battle with lung cancer, which she fought gracefully and with a clever wit that only she had. It’s hard being far away and that’s making it seem unreal. This sort of thing is/was my worst fear when we decided to move to Europe: The thought that I wouldn’t be able to be around my people in a time of such sadness. Dave is a champ, dealing with random bouts of tears; it just doesn’t seem real.

I’m lucky. In my 31 years on this planet, I’ve never had to mourn the loss of a grandparent. I say that, with the hope that I will begin to feel lucky, that it’s taken 31 years to experience this. My head knows it, but in typical fashion, my heart is slow to catch up; the feeling of loss seems to overshadow my good sense. I know she is in a better place and the physical pain her disease caused is no longer a burden to her and for that I’m grateful, but I still can’t seem to wrap my mind around the fact that no one will have to pick her up for the next family dinner and take her home before the sun goes down. Towards the end of her life, she often asked (only half-jokingly), “who says the golden years?”

She was a classy woman, never leaving home without “her face on” (a routine that must have paid off, because her face was always flawless; she was just about wrinkle-free until the end of her 80 years). But Grandma Joan certainly wasn’t afraid to tell you what she thought, too. And she wasn’t one to sugar-coat it.

She was proud of her six kids and they people they had become. She loved to go out to lunch or dinner and hear about what was going on in the lives of her children and grandchildren, possibly over a glass of white wine, if the occasion called for it. You could take her picture, but only if you got her “good side” in the photo. She also loved any sort of petite serviceware…pitchers, utensils— if it was miniature and used during a meal, she thought it was darling. I think of her every time I stir my coffee with the tiny spoons they use here in Italy.

She had the best sayings— the kind that made her memorable (in a good way!) to people outside of our family. Personal favorites included, “oh hon, you couldn’t get me to do that/go there to see Christ ride a bicycle!” Or, “oh he’s so crooked, they’ll have to screw him into the ground to bury him” (most likely in reference to a politician). There’s many a story I could share that would bring a smile to the face of anyone that knew her.

My dad says there’s nothing to be sad about, because she lived a full life, passed as peacefully as one can and was surrounded by her children.

But I am sad.

Last night, I was started to drift off to sleep and my thoughts circled to her mannerisms and things I don’t want to forget, like her voice when she called someone ‘hon’ or ‘doll,’ or the way she said ‘Long Island’ which was more like ‘Lung AYE-lind’. But then I tried to remember her laugh and for a minute, I couldn’t hear it, and my eyes shot wide open until it came to me.

But I’m also grateful. Buried in the grief that comes in the wake of such news, I’m so grateful. When I went home in April, I did so with the purpose of spending time with her because that seemed a much more desirable option than going home for a funeral. I got a chance to chat with her, share stories and write down her recipes. I got a chance to let her know everything in my heart while she was around to hear it, and that’s more than most, I suppose.

She will be missed and not a “little dish of chocolate ice cream” will be served without me thinking of her.

A Weekend Staycation

My cousin and her boyfriend drove over to visit Dave and me this weekend for a mini weekend staycation. On Saturday, we got “lost” in the Italian countryside as we tried to make our way to a winery (apparently Google doesn’t realize that the most direct route, if through an unpaved dirt road near someone’s corn farm, is NOT the most most desirable route). We did, however, spend the afternoon tasting different varietals, like schioppettino and tazzelenghe, among others, at a winery near the Slovenian border.

We continued the adventure on Sunday, as we headed to San Daniele, for a festival celebrating prosciutto (!!) where they served not only prosciutto, but sides of montasio cheese and melon…and of course beer and wine. We dined under a grove of trees that shielded us from the mist of the rain, but not the constant stream of hard rain that eventually came our way. We huddled under overhangs of the city as we made our way back to the car, damp but not worse for the wear.

It was a good weekend— of impromptu plans that led to fun, good food and great memories.

Batten down the hatches

One of the (many) things that fascinates me— a California girl living elsewhere— is the summer rain, and by extension, thunderstorms.

The past two nights have been quite the adventure for me.

We’ve had some overcast days, even with temps in the low 80s. Eventually, the sky gets ominously dark and the rumble of thunder in the distance is the warning to head indoors. But nothing (so far) has been quite like last night. The previous evening, we had lightning that was almost constant, but not much thunder.

But last night?

That was something.

Around 9:30 or so, the rains began, followed shortly by a light show. We were seemingly surrounding by lightning and it went on for at least a few hours this way.

The video doesn’t even do the lightning justice, of course, but imagine those flashes going on for hours on end.

Around 11pm, I got out of bed (again) to watch the storm from the bedroom window. The rains were torrential, the lightning was almost constantly illuminating the night sky as if it were afternoon, and the winds…the winds began with a vengeance. As I was watching, amazed by such a storm, we noticed the large tree outside our window really begin to sway…then bend…significantly. I put my hand to the window and could feel the winds pushing against the glass and Dave said he’d feel a lot better if I stepped away from the window (at which point, I wasn’t feeling so keen on going out on the balcony to snap photos and video).

We both agreed that it might be time to close up the house…as in put the storm shutters (I guess that’s what you’d call them?) down on all the windows. They are essentially vertical rolling shutters that do a great job of darkening a room, but apparently, they can also protect windows in severe storms. We scurried through the house and “battened down all the hatches” (rolled them all down completely), with the exception of our room, where we left them open a sliver, so as to watch for lightning.

By this time, the thunder had arrived, with low rumbles building into loud roars that made the windows rattle. By 1am, everything was quiet again, with the exception of the flashes of lightning from time to time (this lightning was seriously never-ending). I hadn’t ever seen anything like it! The trees, blowing against a backdrop of golden street lights and flashes of lightning, looked like highlights from The Weather Channel’s newsreel.

In California, I don’t ever recall getting a summer storm…at least not like these. These storms come on hot days where I’m wearing shorts. If it’s raining in California, chances are that it’s chilly rain. And thunder and lightning? Well, that’s just not something this California girl is used to experiencing. When we were visiting Dave’s parents in Long Island last summer, the skies opened up and I learned to the true meaning of “gully-washer.” I was in awe of how quickly the water came down. To Dave and his parents, it was nothing out of the ordinary, and I think it amused them that I said I should go photograph/document such a sight. I’ve even seen similar storms living in New Orleans, of course— a steamy August afternoon, broken open by a midday rain— it was a welcome respite from the hot, sticky air. New Orleans and Long Island storms were not the norm for me, so they intrigued me and I was happy to watch out a window. Last night was the type of storm where you don’t want to fall asleep because you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen next (and not in a cool way). Dave loves a good summer storm, though even last night might have been a bit much.

The storm passed at some point in the middle of the night (I had long fallen asleep with no thunder to wake me) but I don’t know that this kind of summer weather will ever seem normal to this California girl.

Thursday Things

A few highlights of life in Italy as of late:

  • This week, I have been working on logos for a new client. In part, that means I’m playing with fonts and combinations of fonts, which I love, so this gig is basically the best ever. When the internet was still new (and by new, I mean, you still heard ‘geeerrsh….ding-ding-ding…..geeerrsh‘ to connect), I began collecting them— downloading them wherever I could find them online. I had them on diskettes.

  • When Dave is gone, I don’t sleep well. He’s on a field trip to Tuscany at the moment, so last night sleep evaded me until about 2:30. Thirty minutes later, I was up again, thanks to a Comune (city) worker who came by with a leaf blower. They do that in the middle of the night here, about twice a week. So I sat up, wondering if my shower wand would be long enough to reach out the window and douse the leaf blower, as he made multiple passes up and down our street. Our street is very residential (apartment complexes abound) so I’m perplexed as to why the Comune di Udine thinks this is a smart plan, to clear leaves in the middle of the night. (This is why the Italian bureaucracy has a bad wrap. Because they’ve earned it) It’s not even hot during the day. Do it then. And take the street cleaner, who came thirty minutes later and “cleaned” just as long, with you.

  • One of the things that made me panic the most in France was when I had to speak French. I would pray that the cashier at the grocery store wouldn’t ask me to tell someone behind me the line was closed after me. My palms would sweat and I would ultimately just sheepishly point to the red X that indicated the line was closed. Italian is easier for me, but it still doesn’t roll off the tongue. Still, at the grocery store yesterday, I made small talk with the cashier and even rattled off a joke when I couldn’t make change properly. The lady behind me laughed. Victory.

  • For every victory, there is a comical misstep. Like at the gym earlier in the week when I was getting ready to leave. I was gathering my things from my locker and noticed a girl fiddling with her locker and key. Hers wouldn’t latch, so I tried to offer my locker key, since there is no rhyme or reason to them. Only, instead of offering, I showed her my key and literally asked her, “do I want this key?” Stupid conjugated verbs without pronouns.

  • With summer approaching, the days are getting longer and the sunsets are pretty spectacular. We have a lovely view from our apartment window. Except that, between our window and the pretty, fiery-pink evening sky, is a building with about eight satellite dishes and twenty radio towers on it. Technology is killing my moment.

  • Tomorrow, I’m going to watch Italy play in the World Cup at an Italian bar. I have VERY high hopes for soccer spirit from the patrons tomorrow. Normally, I’m not really into soccer, but I’m intrigued at the idea of watching a national team while living in said national team’s country.

    Forza Azzurri!