Oh, why or why, does it have to be so good? Italy, are you just out to get me? I should seriously get a medal for the amount of discipline I exercise (is there a calorie burn in that?) on a daily basis as I walk past Mega Gelato and somehow manage not to stop in for a few scoops every time.
This little piece of heaven on the north side of Vicenza is run by the husband-wife team of Stefano and Jessica and they daily create such mouthwatering offerings as Ricotta & Fig, Crema Durando (orange cream & chocolate chunks), Menta (mint that taste like mint buttercreams melting in your mouth), or any of their insane variations involving nutella, coffee, and Baci chocolate, to name a few.
The list goes on and it is all made with incredibly fresh ingredients, no preservatives or artificial flavors, and using local fruit. This past spring, when we had to go back to the States for a couple of months, we stopped by to say goodbye and order a final ice cream. They were clearly sad to see us go. I actually hadn't realized, as they pointed out, that we had been in to see them and, you know, sample a few flavors, almost every day for the past 5 months. Yikes! Bad mother alert?? Nah! I decided we earned it. We bike and walk everywhere we have to go. Anyway, good customers get preferential leaving treatment. I'm going to have to leave more often. ;)
un cafe lungo macchiato caldo nella tazza grande
I’m sure I’m not alone when I suggest that a day seems somehow incomplete without a cup of strong coffee in the morning, rounded out by a glass of red wine in the evening. Thank God I’m living in Italy where both are cheap and plentiful. As a writer on a budget, this seriously enhances my quality of life.
As many words as Eskimos have for snow, there are coffee drinks in Italy. OK, well maybe not quite as many, but more than you’d think. And none of the Starbucks variety, thankfully. I like my Starbucks back at home as much as the next person but there really is no place for it here – for good reason.
At the bar, which here means a café where you can get a little something to eat, wine, cocktails or coffee, it’s easy to feel a bit intimidated sauntering up to the serious-coffee-drinking marble counter where everyone stands to have a quick cup, before being on their way. I admit, I am a very experienced traveler, I even speak Italian, but I stuck to my safe and easy cappuccino for a long time, with the occasional wild and crazy café (espresso, with 2 sugars, Italian style) thrown in. Because frankly, there’s never a convenient sign to tell you all the different coffee drinks available (because everyone already knows) and let’s be honest, no one ever likes to look like they don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to ordering a cup of coffee.
I recently discovered an essay my mother wrote for an anthology in the early 1980’s about the challenges of balancing late motherhood (I was born when she was 50, after having had three sons in her 30’s and thinking all childbearing was behind her), and what she viewed as both her wifely duties and civic commitments. The local anti-nuclear and feminist groups counted on her to lead the next march or campaign, or host the monthly potluck dinner. She had a great dedication to community activism but at times, felt trapped by responsibilities and either resented them or her own inability to say no to others, and yes to her writing.
Jean was the kind of woman that men, women and children easily fell in love with. She had an infectious charm and she epitomized the adage of ageing gracefully. She was talented at many things – cooking, sewing, organizing people into action, writing – which perhaps made it harder for her to focus on one thing as our culture so often wants us to do. With an innate sensuality, a mane of white hair and a throaty laugh that belied her 5’3” frame, she was everyone’s savior but her own. Our Thanksgiving dinner table invariably included an assortment of lonely hearts and stray souls. She came from a generation where the idea of putting your own needs before others was unheard of. Perhaps not that much has changed for many women.
You can make out the words of her poem in this photo of the 'antique' compass.
I have never owned a compass, and I definitely don’t have a GPS, as I can usually rely on my innate sense of direction. Until recently when I came into possession of an antique compass unlike any other: it has a poem written by my late mother, a little known poet, engraved on the back of it. Only it was not a family heirloom passed down to me and no one in my family has any idea how the poem got there. And I bought it on Ebay. The story goes like this:
My oldest brother, Jon, is a sculptor, a builder of large-scale stainless steel, geometric shapes that stand stalwart and otherworldly in parks and public spaces around the globe. One in particular is more earthbound and is called, funnily enough, “Compass.” It is made of mirror polished stainless steel tubes with four different blocks of Wisconsin granite at each node. He tells me it was inspired in part by an ancient Chinese jade disc called “bi,” symbolizing unity, peace, and wholeness of heaven and earth. It was also inspired by the Lakota Sioux story of the discovery of the four directions of the compass, each direction designated by a large stone. The sculpture sits on a ridge in Milwaukee overlooking Brady Street Bridge and Lake Michigan.
The last few days I found myself in Marseille, France. No, I didn’t happen to wake up there after having my apertivo spiked at an Italian bar, I assure you. It was a planned detour, by train on the way back to Italy, after having delivered my son for a 2-week holiday with his father in the UK.
I was lured by the southern Mediterranean delights as laid out by my fellow traveler and blogger Tanja Bulatovic, enthusiastic advocate for the unsung arias of this notorious port city. The French government has been pumping money into Marseille’s regeneration as the city was chosen as the “European Capital of Culture” for 2013. Consequently, the famous Vieux Port is being dug up and a wide pedestrian plaza installed and facelift construction seems to be happening everywhere.
We are back in Italy after a 3 month hiatus in the US to obtain my work visa. The Italian is rusty but words keep popping up that I'd forgotten I knew, so all is not lost. Nothing like try to learn a language to stretch brain muscles you never knew you had. Luc and I have spent the last several afternoons at Vicenza's Parco Aquatico. It is baking hot and there is really nothing else to do but hole up inside until it's time to make a beeline for the pool. Thank God there is one! In this case, quite a deluxe public version that makes our beloved local village pool in Ohio look like a neglected and distant aquatic cousin.
The Parco Aquatico has two ginormous twirly slides, a sculplturesque pool with fountains with underwater 'tanning beds' -- places to recline that I can only suppose are meant to increase your tan, a main pool with a huge floaty 'mountain' that kids can climb with ropes or handholds and slide down the front. The pool is so big there are always two lanes roped off for lap swimming cross the width of it, which is the same as the length of most pools I've been in.
actor-writer-director, improviser, mother, traveler, general renegade and rabblerouser.