Monday, December 31, 2012

The Province of Wanderlust

I was born into a family of travellers, or more likely a travelling family.  My mother delights in telling the stories of her 8 pregnancies, each one ending in a different location to where it started, thus was the moving spirit of my family in their early years.  We changed schools and towns/cities so often when I was growing up, it was almost difficult to keep track.  Now adults, most of my siblings have chosen to stay put, some have lived in the same locations that they did when they were in their late teens.  The rest of the family moved on, and if they were old enough they stayed on their own.  But me, I have not stayed put, I was gifted with a healthy dose of wanderlust.  Not that I am not content, and nor do I feel I have never put down roots, I like to think I have, or at least planted seeds in the places I have gone.

It is funny, I look back fondly on the places I lived or travelled as a child, I remember places, stories and the images play in my head like a digital photo frame.  However the places I have visited as an adult have burrowed a space in my heart, etched their memory in my brain and refuse to just sit as fond memories.  Italy and Australia call to me, my memories are vivid; sounds, smells, tastes and friends.  These are things I just have a harder time moving to the shelf of distant memories.  Some mornings I wake up missing one place so much, and I don't know why.

I should note, I am very happy.  I was also blessed with the gift of Pollyannaism.  And this is why I like to think I have set down roots.  Like a talented camper who can set up camp easily and quickly, I set up 'home' quickly and easily.  I have been very fortunate to have made amazing friends where ever I have lived which can mean the difference to loving or hating the place where you are.  And I believe friends are what hold your heart in a place you have left behind.   And perhaps it manifests itself as the memories of sounds, tastes, smells, but I believe it is the friends who you hold dear, are what make it hard for you to fully move on from a place you have left behind.

The downside to all this travelling is having to leave good friends behind, no matter where you go.  I think we are lucky in this time of email and facetime and facebook and texting and the list goes on, we are able to keep in touch easily and quickly with friends the world over, but there is just something like sitting down over a glass or cup of something and just really enjoying each others company.  Though I miss the art, museums, food, architecture, coffee and warm sun in Australia and Italy, it is the friends I shared all of those wonderful things with, that I miss the most.

Now as embark on yet another move, I will be leaving behind another group of friends.  Friends so dear I think of them as my family by choice.  I know I will have mornings where I wake up missing Victoria, yearning for a Fernwood Coffee or a Mount Royal bagel, or a walk on Dallas Road and the friends with which I have shared these things.  But I know that I will be with some old friends and creating new friendships, and quickly and efficiently setting up 'home' for myself and my family, for this is the way I am.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Memories of Christmas Past

Christmas Tree at Piazzale Michelangelo, Firenze

I was just reading a lovely little blog by a young girl who is traveling in Italy with her family, and it reminded me of the wonderful holiday we spent there last year.  Italy really loves Christmas, the celebration is so wonderful, there are lights, people everywhere and just such a wonderful feeling at this time of year.  After reading Phoebe's post, I decided I would write down some of my favourite things about Christmas in Italy, many of the traditions that have followed us home to Canada.

I was always taken by the abundance of religious iconography around Italy, such as the roadside Madonnas, and at Christmas the main theme was the precepe, or nativity scene.  They were everywhere, some small, some large, some truly spectacular. Some of my favourites are posted here.  I loved how people would set them up on large tables in front of their houses, complete with star covered foil paper, and some were just tucked into a small window sill.

This was set up on the lawn at a house in our village.

This one in a nearby town was life sized stuffed figures.

The lovely coffee shop in Monte San Savino, made of marzipan and profiteroles.

This was on the windowsill of a house on a busy street in Arezzo.

One of very favourites was the one in an old Fiat 500.

This was a beautiful precepe at our good friends, she has carefully collected the figures over many years.  All made by the same craftsman.

This one in a church in Arezzo ran on a sound and light loop that lasted 10 minutes.  There was even flowing water.

In Tuscany they call Santa Claus, Babbo Natale (Father Christmas).  And it seems he is the same as what we have here, but for me, the big star of the holidays was Befana.  I wrote a post about her last year, but as she is pretty fresh in the minds of my children, I decided she could use another mention.  Befana actually doesn't show up until the Epiphany, she flies around Italy on her broom, (but she is not a Witch), taking candy to the good children and 'carbona' or coal to the naughty ones.

Last year we made a felted Befana and the lovely woman in the newsagent where we lived gave us a Befana stocking so we could hang it to be filled on the eve of the Epiphany.  When we went through town on the evening of January 5th, there was one of the village ladies dressed as an old woman, as Befana, riding through town in a cart pulled by a donkey.  The children loved it.  I had one of the children at the preschool even come in the following week with a big container of 'carbona'.  The 'carbona' seemed to be some sort of black honeycomb like candy, I regret now that I didn't try it while I had the chance, and as I had been good, the Befana only left candy for me;)

I am happy to be home and celebrating Christmas and the holidays with friends and family here.  I am happy to bring back some of the great traditions we learned, and I really do look back fondly on our holiday season last year, it was such a wonderful experience.  The lights were amazing.  Oh, and the most amazing Cannoli I have ever tasted.....

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Home again, home again Jiggity Jig

Well, a lot has happened since my last post.  It has been nearly 3 full months and here I am back in Canada.  I am planning on blogging about some of the fantastic things we did in Italy in July and August, but today I am discussing being home.

At the end of July we decided it was time to come to a close on our Italian adventure and to return to Canada.  Italy had always been an open ended year for us, and if the opportunity and desire to stay had arisen we would have followed that path.  But it didn't so we said our goodbyes, crammed in as much sight seeing and travel as we could and boarded a plane.  We were sad to say goodbye to not only Italy but to all the wonderful friends we had made, but we were excited to reconnect with our friends and community here.

We have been home nearly a month and we are all settling back nicely into a routine.  I am still unpacking boxes and trying to locate items that I am pretty sure I hadn't sold off in the pre-Italian yard sales.  The children are all settling into old and new activities and are thrilled to be reunited with friends.
We still have no pictures on the walls and many of the windows are in need of curtains, but already it feels like home.  Funny enough it felt like home the moment we arrive back in the city.  It was like slipping into your favourite cashmere sweater.  Familiar and warm and all embracing.

I love to travel and I love to see and learn new things.  I love the warmer weather that has been offered to me not only in Italy but also when we were in Australia.  I loved being a foreigner on the journeys we have taken.  I have always had positive experiences with travel, but there is just something about coming back to the place that deep down inside your heart is home.  That inexplicable quality of the place where you know and it knows you,  where you hold a history with friends and family, people know you, like really know you, and still like you.

We were greeted by a beautiful late summer with warm sunny days resplendent  in the colours of autumn.   I saw beautiful sunrises that began days where the colour of the sky was deep blue and free of even a single cloud.  The evenings are crisp and now we have had rain, the streets are littered with golden leaves and I am yearning to begin new knitting projects.  And as the weather grows colder and we head towards Winter, by far my least favourite season, I am surrounded by the warmth of friends and family and what can only be described as home.  And I think often of Dorothy and she is right 'there is no place like home'.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My New Best Friend

When we first arrived in Italy, it was recommended to me that I go to the local bar each day, learn the language.  I thought it was also a great way to meet some people, maybe make a friend or two.  So, I would go to the bar and while enjoying my delicious and ridiculously inexpensive (by Canadian standards) cappuccino, I would scan the comers and goers in search of 'my new best friend'.

One Sunday morning, a particularly busy day in the bar, I saw a woman, I guessed to be similar in age to myself. She looked fit and healthy, she was wearing running shoes and exercise pants.  After drinking her coffee, she left with another patron and I later saw them returning from a walk or run.  There was something about her, and I thought 'here she is, my new best friend!'

The next time I saw 'my new best friend', she entered the bar wearing full make-up, sky-high heels and some sort of fur collar.  Nothing wrong with that, shouldn't judge by appearance, but perhaps, I may not be her type.  I thought I would give her another chance.  Oh, and I think she smokes.

Our beautiful dog.

Let me just clarify a picture here, we live on a beautiful property on the edge of a small town.  It is only a 500 metre walk through the olive orchard to the main road into the village. 10 minutes and I am at the bar.  Tuscany is covered in a beautiful thick clay like soil, which when wet sticks to your boots like cement.  So each morning, I would dress in jeans, blundstone boots and a rain coat, I would then take our lovely dog on a walk and end at the bar for a cappuccino.  I am pretty certain that the village folks thought my sense of style was limited to jeans and blundstones or wellies!  If I was walking off the property in winter or spring, it was dressed this way.  There was no other way to escape the mud. But, in Italy, even in a small country town, people are pretty well dressed.

My daily walk 'uniform'.

So, one morning as I returned home from my walk, a man I had met once pulled over to say Buon Giorno, not unusual in a small town.  In my limited Italian and his limited English he proceeded to tell me he was going shoe shopping in Firenze.  I am fairly certain he even asked me to come along.  Perhaps he thought he could save me from the shoe hell he surely thought I was living in.  I politely refused, but later found out he was a shoe designer, perhaps I should have gone.

One day I am in the grocery store, which is really an experience in Italy. I could do a whole post about it. While I am weighing my avocados, I see 'my new best friend', and she sees me and she says 'Ciao', I am making progress, perhaps there is hope.  I say 'ciao' back and she disappears into the crowd.  I am excited by this event.

Fast forward to another morning in the bar.  I walk in to see my 'shoe' friend.  He greets me warmly, I order my cappuccino, and as I wait, in comes 'my new best friend'.  She greets my 'shoe' friend with a warm 'Buon Giorno Babbo'!! My 'shoe' friend is 'my new best friend's' dad, this is awkward!

As the weeks and months go by, I see my 'new best friend' often, she says 'ciao' when she sees me, she waves from her car. I feel this is moving along swimmingly.  I see her father often, he too waves and greets me warmly.  Then the big break through.  I stop to get gas and I see her at the station.  I am not wearing my regular uniform of jeans and boots, it is now spring, so I am wearing a cute skirt and some super cute sling backs, they are not however, high heels.  We wave we exchange buon giornos, and I am very excited about this forward move in our friendship.

Parking outside the bar, notice they are all parked in the bus stop,
and yes, that silver car is 'parked'.

The next time I see 'my new best friend' I have just finished a walk with Mark, we are sitting outside the bar, me with a cappuccino, Mark with an orange juice, and she pulls up.  Apparently I am one of the few people who actually walks to the bar, which may explain the whole rain boots versus high heel phenomena. As she glides across the street, she smiles when she sees me, she then says 'Ciao, come va?', I am soooo excited, I stumble over my response which comes out something like 'Bene,? ?anche? tu?', please note my total question of the right words, all mumbled like I had a mouth full of marbles.  The smile evaporates from her face, she sort of answers 'si?' and proceeds right past us into the bar.  I am mortified, I think she realizes I speak no Italian and our friendship is over.  Better yet, I realize I speak poor Italian, she likely speaks no English and that our friendship is over, and I never even knew her name.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

So many places, so little time....

I feel I have been quite terrible at keeping up on my blog.  Some posts I start and they either never get published or I keep having to change the beginning sentence from 'the other day', to 'the other week', to 'last month' and so on.  So, I think it best if I write a little about each place and then just stick in some photos and hopefully I will have greater success.  So here we go.

Last month we decided to go to the beach, something we had been trying to do for a couple of months ever since there was a warm spell in the early spring.  We had planned originally on going to the Giostra in Arezzo and were working on tickets, when good friends called and asked if we wanted to go to the beach.  I decided to check with Molly as it was her birthday that weekend.  She said beach and the more I thought about, the giostra would be hot and crowded, two things Molly does not like.  So, beach it was.  We booked a 'mobile home easy' at a place called Puntala Camping, our friends had been there numerous times and it was a great way to stay at the beach.

We arrived late at night, with everyone a little tired and cranky.  The mobile home was a little tiny but very clean.  We quickly made up the beds to get everyone to sleep and I slipped out the door to join friends at a nearby restaurant.  Mark stayed with the children, knowing I would be more useful helping our friends finish a bottle of wine.  He was right.

Breakfast alfresco.  Before the beach.

The next morning we got up, had a coffee and some breakfast.  Mark made pancakes as it was Molly's birthday and then we all headed to the beach.  It was a beautiful sandy beach with crystal clear water, waves that were fun for the children but not big enough to keep the parents on edge. We had a lovely blue umbrella to park ourselves under and we spent the best part of the two days we were there, on that beach.

The camping place was pretty well equipped with two restaurants, a bar, a grocery store, a clothing shop, a newsagent, and many activities.  One activity that Mieran and Finn decided to try was an adventure climbing park.  All in all it was a great weekend, with friends, beautiful weather, a beach and the sea.

The whole group having lunch at one of the restaurants, 9 children and 6 adults, at a separate table.

Finn high in the trees tests out his balancing skills.

Mieran about to zip through the trees.

Sunday, July 22, 2012 is about the only description I can use.

Last month we went to Pennabilli, a lovely town in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.  Each year it holds a festival of music and art.  There is music or performances spread around this lovely hillside town in the piazza's and gardens.  Some friends asked if we would like to go and we thought it would be a fun experience as well as a great way to see more of Italy.  It is only a 2 hour drive, but the difference in landscape is really quite remarkable.

We started our weekend with a trip to Urbino, a walled city in the region of Marche.  It is a beautiful city renowned for it's arts, especially renaissance art.  It is surrounded by rolling lush green hills.  We spent the afternoon their and toured the Duomo, the Palazzo Ducale and then went to see Raphael's house, (he wasn't home).  Casa Natale Raffaello is actually the home where he was born and now houses Accademia Raffaello, a collection of artworks some by Raffaello, some by artists of his time or those influenced by him.  It was wonderful to see this house and to be able to walk through the rooms, imagining what it must have been like in the late 15th Century.  There was a beautiful courtyard in the back, where Mieran accidentally dropped her necklace down the well.

Palazzo Ducale had a wonderful collection of art and was great to see.  It had a beautiful garden and some grand rooms.  One tiny room was all done in inlaid wood and there was an image of a flute that appeared to move as you walked by.  The Duomo was beautiful and we were able to see the beautiful 'Ultimo Cena' (Last Supper) by Federico Barocci.  As we stood admiring the duomo we noticed a crowd beginning to gather and realized there was a funeral about to begin so we quietly snuck out the door.

We drove a beautiful and windy road from Urbino, through the Riserva Naturale del Sasso di Simone, through Pennabilli to the country house we were staying in, near Sant'Agata.  Everything was so lush and green and fresh.  The views were amazing.

On Saturday morning Finn and I got up and went for a walk.  It was down a windy hill and we saw lots of cyclists.  It was a beautiful morning and we walked to a nearby castle in Petrella Guidi.  On our return, we were served breakfast by our host and he recommended seeing Sant'Agata (we found out later her was the Mayor) and San Leo.  We went to Sant'Agata later that morning and it was beautiful.  There is an amazing little theatre in the town that was like stepping into a jewelry box.  Teatro Angelo Mariani was built in 1605 and is the oldest theatre in Italy built completely of wood.  It has 3 rows of box seats that surround the main floor, with a total capacity of 90, the ceiling is ornately decorated and painted with images of patrons.  It was truly spectacular to view this beautiful building, and I would have loved to seen a performance of anything there.  The fortress was closed for refurbishment and when we visited one of the churches, it had had damage from the heavy snow fall in February.  Sant'Agata saw 3 metres of snow, the worst winter in 50 years.

We spent Saturday afternoon and evening at the festival and wandering around the town of Pennabilli, a beautiful hill side town.  The festival is well organized with activities and performances for all ages and interests.  We spent quite a bit of time in a sculpture garden with magical puzzles (the type that stump you at the Science Centre), while listening to music and the children worked on crafts.  Finn and his friend learned to weave while the girls made puppets.  It was a rather wonderful backdrop for music and arts and the weather
was warm and sunny with interspersed showers of rain.  Mark, Molly and Mieran headed back early for a dance performance and I stayed on with our friends and Finn and Pippa.

On Sunday morning, after breakfast and coffee, we packed up the children and headed to the town of San Leo, a town build atop a rocky out crop on the border of le Marche.  It is reached by a winding steep road and is noted as one of the most beautiful towns in Italy, it was used as a setting by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy.  At the very top is an old fortress with a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside.  It had been used as a papal prison.  The churches near the town centre date to 9th and 12th century.  We had lunch in the centre and then after a walk up to explore the fortress we returned for a gelato and coffee before beginning our drive home.  It was a lovely way to end a lovely weekend in such a beautiful area of Italy.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tonight we are Italian!!

This evening we joined our good friends on their garden to watch Italy vs Germany in the European football championship semi-finals.  They threw together an impromptu festa.  They took the TV outside, and set it up in the garden. There was an amazing feast of salads, grilled vegetables, fresh fruit and veg and 'carpaccio con rucola e parmesan'.

Upon the promise of a late night victory swim, the children cheered loudly for Italia.  My beautiful neighbour from downstairs looked at me and said 'we are one', and tonight we were, tonight we were Italian, win or lose.  We tried to sing the Italian national anthem, we yelled Viva Italia! It was a great experience for our children to experience not only this enthusiasm for the sport, but the national pride.

These are the experiences that bring meaning to our journey.  I remember when we were first in Australia and my cousin asked me who I would bet for in the Melbourne Cup.  I had never bet on a horse race, generally only gamblers bet on horses in Canada.  But in Australia, they set up special betting stations for Melbourne Cup, parties are arranged, fancy dresses and hats are picked.  And on the first Tuesday of each November, the country nearly grinds to a halt as people celebrate and watch the cup.  It lasts only a few minutes, but the parties last a few hours and the memories for me have lasted years.

When the clock ran down this evening and Italy had won 2-1 over Germany, we could hearing cheering from the village, and squeals of delight as are group jumped into the pool.  A win for Italy and a win for the children.

Being a part of something special to a country, like horse races, medieval festivals and football matches enriches the experience of the place we are in, it is a window into what makes that country what it is.  As I type I can hear voices from the village still singing.  I hope that someone visiting Canada could have a similar experience when watching hockey, enjoying a tailgate party at a CFL game, eating a pancake breakfast during Stampede or watching our national sport, lacrosse.  And I hope that visitor enjoys for that moment being Canadian, as I have enjoyed being Italian.