Friday, December 30, 2005

Buon Natale! (and How Do I Deal with Invasion of Space!)...

Our little village "comes alive" in summer and holidays as the good portion of the homes here are owned by weekend visitors from the more wealthy cities in the North. Below us, we have Adriano, a famous butcher from Modena who also greets us with a smile and gregariously welcoming words. And above we have, GianCarlo #1 and above him, GianCarlo #2 (a full-timer here in Solaro). GianCarlo #2 resembles a man who may have been very handsome at one time, but has turned too many times to the bottle and now spends his evenings playing his guitar into the wee hours of the night. He's actually pretty nice, but there are swirling stories that ever since his wife committed suicide in their home (?!), he's been one step from jumping out the window himself (which would have him landing in our garden). Whenever the guitar is really loud, I try not to look out the window.

The real problem here is GianCarlo #1 and his rather robust and rowdy family who comes to visit on such occasions as Christmas and New Year's and quite possibly Befana (but it's too early to tell). It all started when we first moved in last April. For 5 nights straight, we were kept up until God knows what hour by the sound of GianCarlo#1 moving furniture above us, talking/yelling at himself and playing the guitar like GC#2 (only one floor above us). Eventually, Luigi invited him into our house and gently asked him if he could keep it down after midnight. Well, GC#1 did not take this well and basically stormed out. We put up with it after that as we were new and did not want to offend anymore further. Then August and the rest of the GC#1 family arrived - for 5 weeks. I don't know if it's the fact that they use bamboo in between concrete in these buildings giving it orchestra like acoustics, but for those 5 weeks, I did not sleep through one night! The worst of them all was (is) the 2 year old granddaughter who walks like a hippotamus. It would be one thing if it was just every once in a while, but this child is relentless in running across the house floors screaming - and it usually starts about 10:30 at night. Best of all was the time she ran and screamed non-stop for about 5 minutes and then "Vai a funcula, Mamma" (which is about as disrespectful as one can be to one's mother).

They arrived Christmas Day and have continued their usual antics despite my occasion protest with the broom on the ceiling. (Oh and they have just arrived home as I hear the furniture moving - what do these people do with their furniture!?) 2 days ago, I awoke one morning to hearing sweet Adriano below us singing some song and wishing "Auguri" to a local. And then I heard the windows above us slam open. It was GC#1 who yelled down at Adriano "Don't you realize some of us are trying to sleep?"

Adriano answered, "And what tie might it be?"

GC#1 answered, "10 to 10."

Adriano answered, "Well then, at 10 to 10, I can pretty much talk and do as I want."

GC#1 replied, "You come here from Modena with your big mouth and wake us up."

Adriano responded, "Well, if you didn't get drunk and fight and play your guitar until 4 in the morning, maybe 10 to 10 would not seem like such a ridiculous time for me to sing a song or chat with my friends."

GC#1 replied, "I ought to come down there and tell you exactly what you can do."

And the fabulous Adriano answered, "Come on down and I'll make coffee!"

The windows to GC#1's home slammed closed.

So nothing has changed or even been accomplished, but it was nice to know we aren't the only ones suffering from lack of private space. All I can do is hope they leave after the New Year's weekend instead of Befana (January 6) and don't return until the spring!

On a better note, it was my first Christmas in Italy. I did not expect the spectacle we make in the States, but was pleasantly surprised by the holiday cheer and not so surprised by the abundance of food.

Christmas week has been beautiful, sunny, crisp and clear. It dipped down to about 15 degrees at night, but you could see all the stars in the sky and hear the whistling of the olives trees. We ended up buying a fake tree (my first) as Luigi said "mi fa penna" at the idea of killing a tree. I was really against it at first, but there are a couple of upsides to the plastic thing. 1) You don't have pine needles to pick up after, and 2) you can bend the branches however you want to place the decorations just right. I have yet to send over all my Christmas ornaments, so the majority of the tree was decorated by the Christmas cards we received (photo attached). I was actually quite satisfied and pleased with my creativity with this Christmas tradition!

My biggest introduction to the Italian holiday season was that of the Christmas cake known as Pantone which has several myths surrounding its origins. One 15th century legend from Milan credits the invention to the nobleman who fell in love with the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. To win her over, the nobleman disguised himself as a baker and invented a rich bread in which he added to the flour and yeast, butter, eggs, dried raisins and candied lemon and orange peel.

Another legend says the cake was when the cook of the court of Skouzas had no dessert to offer. So the guests were given a sweet bread baked by a mere kitchen boy, called Toni, which won general praise. Rather than steal the praise for himself, the cook congratulated his assistant and named it after him.

Whichever might be true, I managed to enjoy my fair share of Panttone, although limiting my intake to only one piece a day (for 7 days). Did you know there are over 50 different types of Pantone that come out at Christmas? And that they stay good for over 5 months? Frightening but true. My favorites so far are the one with chocolate chips and one with vanilla filling. My "suocera", Rossella, bought 18 of them in total and 11 are still sitting in her cantina waiting for a hungry owner. She has insisted I take one to my parents when I visit them at the end of February. Scary enough, it will still be good!

I hope you all enjoying your holiday season - no matter where you are and no matter who might be making noise above you. Enjoy the food, the drink, the fun and most of all, the time with family. "AUGURI" and see you in the new year...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

"Freezing Fingers & Calcio Fever"

There are seem to be two ever present subjects in my Ligurian Life at the moment (besides the subject of food which never goes away in this country) – THE WEATHER and SOCCER, otherwise known as Calcio in Italian.

The Weather first...
I returned from a family visit to California about 3 weeks ago. I knew I’d be returning to winter weather, but was not prepared for the blistering, tundra like wind that wraps around our little borgo making noises that I can only describe as “pis%ed off” ghosts. The howling, the shutters banging and the occasional piece of furniture that lands on our small terrace makes me want to hide under the covers all day. We’ve also had an unusual amount of rain for this time of year. The other day I was typing away on my computer when I looked out the window to nearly pure darkness. I could make out what I thought was snow (but was actually hail). But beyond that completely “buio”. It was 2:30 in the afternoon!!!

But on the flipside, there are days like today: sunny and bright, crisp and clear as can be – perfect for a good “power passagiata with Lucy along the beach promenade. And the sunsets can’t be beat, they are just spectacular as you can see by the photo attached. That’s when the southern California girl in me loosens up and realizes, “Would you really want to live anywhere else?”

On to Calcio…
There is a saying here that “Calcio comes only second to religion”, but in this day and age I am beginning to wonder if at least in Italy, soccer has overtaken Catholicism??? I am a sports fan, so I can appreciate it and enjoy it fairly well (and civilly I might add). I grew up in a family where UCLA football and basketball was considered sacred and where my father might possible be in a bad mood for a few days after the USC/UCLA game – But my soon to be “suocero” (father in law), Francesco, is another case all together.

Our team is Juventus from Torino who happened to be the #1 team in Italy at the moment and is very entertaining to watch. But days before a game begins, the “preparation ritual” comes into place. It usually starts with the 6-7 calls a day (for 2-3 days beforehand mind you) asking whether or not Luigi and I will be there. Then what time and what we will be eating: no less than an hour before the game starts and never anything that might upset Francesco’s stomach. And during the entire meal, Francesco has to get up and walk around several times and in between bites in order to calm his nerves, all while muttering some “bestemia” (bad words/curses) about the other team. Once the game starts, all hell breaks loose. Francesco is a ball of fire, screaming into the TV demanding what is happening, jumping up and down if a call is made that he knows is wrong. “Ti lo dico io!” (what did I tell you) over and over again. Poor Lucy, a fairly sensitive dog who loves to sleep at Francesco’s feet while he watches normal TV, shivers away trying to find peace and comfort for her 65 lbs. body in the lap of her Nonna or me. And by the way, I should mention this is usually a fairly mild mannered man with a heart of gold who would harm no one – unless maybe you are a player for Milan or Inter.

What I have come to learn is Francesco is not alone. The majority of men here in Italy have this insatiable need for calico and all its aftermath of replays, gossip and feuds. I have seen grown men some to blows over a bad call, seen them crying like a blubbering child when their beloved team has lost and I even know one man who closed his butcher shop for a week in mourning after his team failed to qualify for the Italia’s Cup. Best of all (or should I say worst of all?) every Monday night there’s “Il Processo di Biscardi” (which I lovingly refer to as “Bastardi”). A 3-4 hour program dedicated to dissecting each pivotal moment of each soccer game played over the weekend with a minimum of 10 replays, then a few computer generations of the play from several angles, all followed by a congregation of grown men who protest, pontificate, scream, cry and often walk off stage in disgust. It’s like those FOX and CBS pre and post football shows with a bit of Jerry Springer and Court TV throw in the mix for a little drama. And I do believe it is the number one rated show in Italy…

I can deal with this phenomena of Calcio most of the time, but some weeks it just gets to be a little overwhelming, suffocating and above all, plain stupid. This week was just that. Monday morning Luigi took me to the doctor’s office for a check up on some allergy problems. We waited (as is the case in most socialist medicine) nearly an hour and a half before getting in to see our doctor, Massimo – and no sooner had he taken out my CAT scan results, he takes a long hard look at me and then Luigi, lets out a sigh and whispers, “Che grande Juventus, avete visto la partita?” (How great is Juventus. Did you see the game yesterday?) Luigi responds with, “Turn on the radio so the other people who have been waiting over an hour don’t hear and kill you.” Massimo does as told and then goes into a monolog about the how he has been following this team for 40 years and never have they been as strong and dominating as they are now. Twenty minutes later, he suddenly slips out the phrase, “Megan , your medicine won’t do you crap. You need an operation to clear your deviated septum. We’ll have it done in the fall when the weather is better and you aren’t likely to catch a cold”. Then he returns to his one-way conversation with Luigi about the grandeur that is Juventus. 45 minutes later we walk out completely drained of all energy and a 9 Euros prescription for Zyrtec (which does beats the $75 I paid in the states) and more knowledge about Juventus and the Italian Soccer League than I care to know…

It’s mid-week now, so all is calm in terms of Calcio Fever. It had also warmed up a bit, so I have the windows open a bit and can smell the fresh Mediterranean air and olive trees. Lucy is sleeping on my feet and I am about to start my work for the day. And so is the life in Liguria…

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Finally a beautiful, sunny (but very crisp) day in Liguria. Having returned from a visit to the states one week ago, I was already getting some cabin fever due to the torrential downpours that have invaded my little spot of paradise (as well as the rest of Italy). Anyway, this is my first of hopefully many blogs about living in Liguria, marrying an Italian, running a business here and trying to sane as an American in a very Italian world!

My fiance, Luigi, our dog, Lucy, and I live in a 17th century borgo called Solaro which overlooks the seaside village of Lerici, the Gulf of Poet's and on to the Mediterranean Sea. Our house was originally the watch tower for the borgo (hence the great views!) and hasn't changed all that much over the 300 plus years it's been standing. Ok, yes, we have electricity, heat, cable, even DSL, but the day to day life in the neighborhood and the building, I imagine, have stayed pretty much the same for centuries. The village has what I refer to as a "cast of characters" all passed 60 years of age, that meet and greet, take their daily "passagiata" (walks), play cards at the local communist club (yes, you read right), drink local moonshine and gossip. We being the new, young couple (and one of us being an American blond, mind you!) are often the topic of conversation. I should mention I do speak and understand Italian quite well, so when I pass by and something is said, it doesn't exactly go over my head! Anyway, these people are a part of our daily life and I am certain will come up from time to time in my blogs...

Many people ask me, how did you end up in Liguria instead of Florence or Rome or Tuscany? I fell in love with a village called Portovenere (, then with a boy from La Spezia, then his family, and then the rest of this fabulous sanctuary known as "Il Golfo dei Poeti". Sure, Florence, Rome and certain towns in Tuscany might have been a little easier to manage as an American. But for me, this part of Italy has be an excellent teacher in learning the language, the culture, the lifestyle and as much more. So with that introduction, enjoy the view from my garden and stay tuned for more...