An ironic thing has been puzzling me lately, as I continue the struggle to find balance between all the elements in my life (parenting, working, writing, travelling, to name the most prominent at the moment). That is the seemingly necessary, yet difficult, relationship between doing creative work and then using social media, as we are directed to do, to promote that work; create a ‘platform’, gain ‘followers’, develop a ‘voice’, etc. And by 'creative work' I am referring to the old fashioned kind, as in creating something new from scratch, not launching an ad campaign. The need to draw the distinction is real, as the word 'creative' has been co-opted and morphed to refer to everything commercial, including new ways to appeal to consumers.
My forays into social media, aside from connecting with old friends on Facebook and sharing embarrassing photos from the early 1980’s, and using Twitter to promote my blog, have been less than stellar so far. It’s not that I am some kind of Luddite who disputes the value of the whole enterprise. Inarguably, people have used it for both good and bad – to start social revolutions or spark looting, to promote a book or project. It’s just that, well, maybe I’m not very good at it. When I log onto Twitter, the temple of all things uber-current, I am always overwhelmed by the detritus of insipidness that confronts me.
Some weeks I just don’t know what to write. It’s not that nothing is happening, but that what’s happening just doesn’t seem blog worthy. In the scheme of things, I’m still pretty new at this. And I have some old fashioned hesitation about ‘over-sharing’ my personal life and thinking that anyone would find that worth reading about amidst the information overload that is already every day life.
Our adventures have plateaued for the moment, as we are staying put in Vicenza for a while. I am trying to navigate the Italian bureaucratic requirements in order to enroll L in school while we are here. I’m also trying to sort out more insurance requirements so he can practice with the local football club and we’re both studying Italian.
I have found a wonderful indoor pool just down the road where I can swim laps while L is at football practice or with his new friends. I have continued to swim my laps (my personal sanctuary) in whatever country we have been in. So it is with this cross-country perspective that I do just have to note how much I have been struck by the fact that the majority of both men and women I see at the pool – of all ages – seem to be incredibly fit. The difference between what I have observed in Germany, the UK and of course, the US, is stark enough to make one pause and ask, “Where the hell if all that pasta going? Because it does not seem to be sticking to most Italian’s thighs, ass, hips, etc.!
It really is quite astonishing. I am tempted to attribute it to all the cigarettes that most of them still smoke. At a dinner the other night of 10-12 people, at one point I noticed I was the only one in the room not smoking – I am not exaggerating.
More likely it comes down to portion size. Italians will have a small serving of pasta of some various form, followed by a meat and vegetable. Bread is available but never served with butter or even olive oil, like some trendy American restaurants like to provide, for dipping. Or maybe it is still the relative scarcity of fast food available. It’s there – even in Vicenza there is a McDonalds (but no Starbucks) – but good, home-cooked food is still deeply embedded in culture and tradition here.
However, the highlight of the week for me was a lazy Sunday lunch at a trattoria on a hillside outside of town. Gnocchi with shrimp and porcini mushrooms, followed by an assortment of grilled meats, and of course, plenty of prosecco. For L, the highlight was a guided tour of my friend’s pharmaceutical factory (see above and below) where they make, package and ship everything from suppositories to high end skin and beauty products. It was a treat for L to get to see up close how everything works. Meanwhile, for me it’s back to the pool to work off the gnocchi as I am not so confident I am going to absorb the Italian’s Teflon girth-fighting ability!
Beautiful church on the way to Da Vittorio
And now for a little food diversion. Yesterday we went to a pizzeria here in Vicenza that lived up to its reputation as serving the best pizza in town. With L being a veritable pizza addict, we have already had a fair bit here to compare it to, and Da Vittorio did not disappoint. L and I mapped out its location and rode our bikes to the south end of town, down near the steps leading up to Monte Berico. It was on a non-descript little side street that I would never have found without knowing about it.
As soon as we walked in, I knew it was going to be good. The checkered tables bunched closely together were filled with Italian business people on their lunch breaks. The menu was simple – only Neopolitan pizza on offer and the prices were great. From 4 Euros for a Margherita to 7.50 for a Siciliana, this was a deal compared to the more touristy places near the center of town.
The walls were decorated with old photos and drawings from Naples and various kitschy memorabilia. The guy making the pizzas in the kitchen, half visible to the dining area, seemed to know most of the customers. His young son delivered cokes to the tables that ordered them.
The server tantalized L with arriving pizzas that weren’t yet for him, by passing them under his nose on trips by our table. He also tried hard to get me to order a beer, but as I contemplated the bike ride back in the hot sun, I safely opted for the Coke Light. The pizza arrived quickly and met L’s exacting pizza criteria: a thin, almost bubbly crust, with just the right amount of cheese and sauce, comprising the Margherita. I went for the Siciliana pizza. I should really branch out, but I never seem to get tired of the combination of anchovies and capers. This version came with fresh, lightly cooked and sliced plum tomatoes as well. Two pizzas (quite large), two drinks, and an espresso came to 15 Euros. Definitely my idea of a great value for money and a little bit of pizza heaven. Da Vittorio, Via Borgo Berga, 52, 36100, Vicenza, Italy.
My pace of progress
I realize that I subtitled this blog ‘Adventures in Parenting, Traveling & Creativity’ but I have not really even begun to touch on the creativity part. It would probably come as little surprise that between traveling, parenting, working, and homeschooling I have had little time for my own creativity. This is a problem, but one I’m used to. In my laptop I have two screenplays that need major overhauling, one chapter of a young adult novel completed, and several plays that I should be sending out to try to find production. I am lucky to get two blog posts in a week though right now.
While the limits on my time are plenty, I don’t think that is ever not the case as a writer, or just a person alive today, plain and simple. Believe me, there is always something easier to do than to sit down and write! If I were on home turf my time would be equally filled with things to do. In my ongoing battle with time and procrastination, I have become somewhat of an expert on the Creative Process and reading everything I can about it in order to inspire, understand, conquer, and of course…procrastinate.
One of my favorite things to do in any foreign country is to go food shopping at a local supermarket. I thoroughly enjoy pouring over and deciphering the every day food options that I can take home and attempt to perform some sort of alchemy with. It is sometimes more successful than others. Yesterday my friend Marta took me to the Auchan to buy food for the week. Auchan is actually a French supermarket chain, which has expanded into Italy and probably far beyond.
It is as overwhelming as any American megastore chain and they sell everything from houseware products to foodstuffs from Croatia. It was also a late Saturday afternoon when we arrived and we were both quickly overwhelmed by the number of shoppers. Marta informs me that it is now considered trendy for Italian husbands to go and do the weekly shopping. They make ‘shopping dates’ with their friends and go for a coffee or apertivo after the groceries are loaded into the family car. So nice to know that progress in the world of domestic duties must come with a little back end bonus.
The view from our apartment
The first thunderstorm we’ve experienced in weeks is raging this morning. Early October winds are blowing the wooden shutters back and forth on this grand, old Italian house. We are living in the top floor flat of my friend’s father’s house in Vicenza, Italy. Her ninety-something year old aunt lives in the ground floor apartment, her father on the next level, and now, L and I, on the top. My friend and her family live next door in their own house, yet to be divided by family needs. And then there is Ralph, the young, enormous and slightly scary German Shepherd, who belongs to her father and lives mostly in the front garden and his doghouse. We use the side entrance to avoid being overcome by his….er….affections.
A few days ago we said goodbye to Berlin, earlier than expected, and entered into Phase 2 of our journey by arriving in Vicenza, Italy. Sad to leave Berlin, but some opportunities came up in Italy, both for living and working, that were too good to pass up at the moment. Vicenza is in the Veneto region, about an hour west of Venice, at the foot of the Dolomite mountain range. The architect Andrea Palladio, considered to be one of the most influential individuals in the history of western architecture, put Vicenza on the map with the many formidable buildings he left behind here and in the region. It is an extremely lovely and navigatable small city. The remains of the city wall the Romans built snake throughout the town, which now leaks far beyond its original borders. To get here, we took a high-speed ICE train from Berlin to Munich, and then what was allegedly another fast train, from Munich to Verona. In reality, it chugged through the Alps, making every conceivable stop, as the train emptied out on its way down. Not that I’m complaining. The scenery was of course stunning and we sat in the dining car, sipping an overpriced Fanta and the last German beer.
We have mostly spent the last few days just getting settled, gradually finding odds and ends with which to further kit out the flat that hasn’t been occupied in many years. My friend’s 11-year-old daughter comes home from school at 2pm, eats her lunch (they don’t feed them at school here), does her homework, then she takes L with her out for the rest of the afternoon – down to the gelateria or to one of the nearby soccer pitches. Having a built-in friend here for L is a very good thing! He has been meeting kids and once again, the lack of Italian is not a barrier to a pick-up game of soccer. And there is my friend’s daughter to translate for him as necessary.
Since I first came to Italy when I was 15, to this very house and very friend in fact, I have long nursed a dream to live here. For many years I put that dream to bed, as nothing but the overly romantic idea of someone too young to know any better. After all, I knew well enough that the reality of living in another country was often quite different. And Italy, of all places, was a land full of mindless, archaic bureaucracy, bad, glitzy TV, and men who spent their lives living with their mothers or visiting their mistresses before coming home to their families, right?
Yet, and perhaps because I have returned several times over the years, it feels both comfortable and familiar to be here. Like I could stay awhile. And somehow I find myself almost surprised to be back here again. I can’t help but think that sometimes, when you are almost not looking, life has a way of granting your wishes. Or else you make those long held dreams happen behind your back. Because now, indeed, finally and for however long, I am living in Italy. And I may just be cursing my son with a long love affair with this country of his own. Allora, adesso dobbiamo imparare l’italiano!
actor-writer-director, improviser, mother, traveler, general renegade and rabblerouser.