Thursday, May 17, 2012


One of the things about the word arrivederci is that most people who use it and who are not Italian don't really know what it means, which is quite literally until we meet again.

I am moving on. I started writing here five years ago and need to change. I feel so transformed from the person I was five years ago. So much more self aware. This website took me through so much. If you have read here from the early days you know what I mean.

If you are interested you can still find me writing at Il Prossimo Passo. If not I won't say goodbye, which like most English words sounds anything but poetic.

I'll say arrivederci.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

dropping out

on a mountaintop in the Himalayas, no keys in those pockets

Last night I watched a movie, not particularly good. But it was one of those dark dramas set in Europe, which I love and pine for and can't wait to go back to permanently. Funny how life turns around and slaps you in the face every now and then. And funny how things work out exactly as they should. I am now so eternally grateful that we decided not to sell our house in Italy, even though the ensuing poverty these last few years has nearly killed me!

Back to my movie. I am watching this movie and there is a scene of a young woman alone in Berlin. She is a bit dirty from her adventures and from escaping the evil people chasing her across the Continent. Her clothes are worn and her jacket has a hood pulled up over her head. She is walking fast and gracefully, and she has nothing. No purse, no wallet no phone. She is on the run.

At that moment I was so struck by the feeling washing over me, the palpable, intense feeling that I just wanted to be her. The momentary thrill of having nothing and no one. Of total freedom. I have had that experience a few times in my life. No more keys in my pocket. The hiatus of having children and dedicating every breath I take to them has meant that I have had to give that up. Temporarily. I am once again so grateful that I had children while I was still so young!

It won't be long now. Dropping out and being the stranger. Nothing in this whole world like it. Not for me, anyway.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

a walking enigma

You would think that one of the greatest joys for a parent would be having their three year old child pick up the newspaper and read aloud. A child who has not been subject to early pounding of the alphabet into his head. A child who spends his days covered in mud from his escapades chasing the hens around the chicken coop, with no other love in the world except his older brother. You would think that this moment would be exhilarating, and for me it was, in a certain sense. My son did just that, with an Italian newspaper, at the age of three. This was followed by surprise mathematical calculations based on the car odometer, which I still cannot even imagine without a calculator, as well as an ear for music, a hand for art, a knack for languages. You would think that this would be a thrill for a parent, imagining this child with his straight A's, his prowess on the debate team and the science club and in the math Olympics. His ├╝ber achieving. Imagining the road rising up to meet this child, who not only possesses a brilliant, lightening fast mind, but is exotically beautiful, with broad shoulders and almond shaped eyes, and huge dimples.

But the reality is something else all together, and the road to the present with my younger son has been nothing but potholes and detours. Perhaps the problem with a mind like his is that he sees the superficiality and inherent wrongness of the system that surrounds him, and often totally refuses to play the game. Boredom has been his worst enemy, and injustice of any kind, even the most mundane, like being forced to sit through a lesson when he got the point in the first five minutes, has been his biggest challenge. My son was expelled from the last few months of middle school. Albeit a sort of voluntary expulsion, jointly agreed that he had gotten all he could get out of the school as far as learning went, and that he could no longer torture the science teacher by asking her to explain quarks, or the theory of everything, if she could (she couldn't). When we went to the hearing to remove my son from the school, the president of the school board at the time, a church lady bouffant of a woman still in 1980s shoulder pads and frosted blue eyeshadow, who is now in the state house of representatives, asked my son what his vision would be of the rest of the year at school. Basically expecting an answer explaining that he would stay out of trouble, stop badgering the teachers, blah blah blah. With his mother squeezing his thigh under the table to inspire the right answer, my son looked church lady in the eyes and in the most respectful, polite tone, told her he envisioned himself at that school bored out of his mind, learning nothing, being forced to conform, staring out the window. And eventually getting right back into trouble. He was 12. His mother let go of his thigh then. If you have seen the movie "Social Network", there is a scene where Mark Zuckerberg tells the fancy lawyer exactly why he is not paying attention to him. That is my son. Anyone who knows him and sees that movie can't believe it. I sent him to private math lessons for the rest of the semester.

My son is now a sophomore. The potholes and detours are still there, but becoming less and less frequent. He has a math teacher who is the ultimate nerd and the most feared teacher of the school. My son loves this teacher. He recently told me he is inspired by my son's mind and ability to ask "scaffolding questions"... um, OK. About calculus. Now if he would just do his homework... My son thinks English is basically "stupid" and Shakespeare was a loser. His grades are average. He is taking college statistics next year and still can't figure why anyone thinks Biology or Spanish or Physics are even remotely hard. The hardest thing he has to do in school is shut up.

If you meet him and don't know any of this, you might think he is a bit of a turd. A dude. An effortlessly beautiful teenager at six feet tall with a bit of smirk and a skulk, whose family probably loves too much and spoils, until you get close to him and he smiles, genuinely and beautifully, and he asks you how you are doing and really means it. Really wants to know. Tell him the truth if you are not so great, if you thing the world is shitty and meaningless sometimes, if you thing things really need to change, if you think you are miserably misunderstood. He will look you straight in the eye and nod and smile. He will understand. He will get it. He will listen.

And for a moment you will see the ticker that is his mind, spinning so much faster than everyone else's. How tired that must make him most of the time. And how grateful I am that he is ever closer to his future, which I can only hope will be filled with people just like him, as smart or smarter, people who get it. Or understand why he doesn't get it. He is my greatest challenge and mystery, and the barometer of my days. He loves me and his father and brother unconditionally, and is loyal to a fault. He doesn't lie and doesn't fake it. He is not lucky, but he is special. A walking enigma.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

thanking my lucky stars still

Met my adorable, honest, genuine, earthy, funny, beautiful , oh so generous husband 20 years ago on Christmas day, without a clue why he would turn my way and still be here after so many years. A man who is the sun of so many people's orbit, who always has a kind word, who will give you his jacket if you are cold and cook for you if you are hungry, so loved and admired by all who meet him. The kindest of the kind and the realest of the real. A Buddha.

Thanking my lucky stars still.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

from the archives ~ the secret life of Jenny

A post from several years ago I was reminded of when I spent a few days on Lake Garda last July. I have so very much to be thankful for.

The Secret Life of Jenny

As I've written in all my posts dedicated to Jenny, Jennifer has often remained a stranger to the many people I have known during my fifteen years in Italy. I've grown to miss Jennifer so, to dream about wearing her shoes again that I often forget the nostalgic love I feel for Jenny.

Last week I met a dear longtime American friend that I grew up with. She was in Italy on holiday, and I decided to take an entire day off (no small task... I leave in 20 days) and meet her in Sirmione, on the shores of Lake Garda. Sirmione was the backdrop for the first four weeks I spent in Italy, and was were I fell in love with the man who would be the catalyst for abandoning America.

Each time I rattled off something in Italian to the waiter or the ice cream vendor, I realized how strange Jenny must appear to someone who sees me as Jennifer. I've been here so long that much of Jenny has permeated me forever. When I return to the US, people often comment on how animated I have become, and how I talk with my hands. My mother loves the way I break my bread open right on table, and worry about cleaning up the crumbs later. My boys sit just like their father, with their long legs gracefully crossed in a pose that seems feminine and awkward on an American man, but that is unmistakabley European and beautiful on an Italian. And even though I am always in jeans and a tee shirt, you can bet my accessories match! It just happens that way over here...

My longing to finally return home and excitement/dread over my upcoming trip had so overshadowed everything else, that the attack of utter, weepy, mushy nostalgia I felt as I turned my car onto the peninsula that is Sirmione bowled me over. There was the first Italian supermarket I had ever set foot in, where I bought a fiasco of chianti for the first time. There was the little restaurant, still going strong, where my husband and I had dinner almost every night at midnight. He was working as a chef in those days, and would finish his shift at 11:30 and run back to our rented room to fetch me for dinner. I almost always ordered the same thing- spaghetti allo scoglio.

I parked my car and walked down the same sidewalk that I had walked everyday so many years before. And when I came upon the castle, I could see myself perched on the drawbridge (that's right, there's a real drawbridge and a moat) waiting for my husband to arrive. Our courtship was a scene straight out of a fairytale, mind you, and coming back to this one spot brought it all rushing back.

Back then as I waited, I would usually have a bag of bread or cookies to feed the swans.

As I entered the archway into the old town, I saw the restaurant where my husband was the chef during those years. It's the only restaurant located right in the castle.

My friend and I took a ferry to the far side of the lake. The weather was cloudy and gray, and I could just make out the shores of Gargnano, the so beautiful that you've fallen to sleep and are dreaming that you are walking around in a picturebook town where I spent my wedding night.

Even though I spent the entire day reminiscing my former life as Jennifer with my friend, I came away from that day with the memories of Jenny taking her first steps.

I smiled all the way home, and I am smiling right now as I write this.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

a prayer wouldn't hurt

One of my most important clients is located in northwestern Italy. In my line of work, you always try not to put all your eggs in one basket, but sometimes it is inevitable. I have many clients all over the world, but this client is special. The company is a large multinational that deals with power generation and gas turbines, and they are lovely, professional, exquisite people. I feel like they are family.

Last week this area of Italy was hit by intense flooding. If you have ever visited the Cinque Terre or dreamed of doing so, you should know that the cinque have become quattro. Monterossa was practically obliterated by the flood and ensuing mudslides. When last month I heard on the news that there was a satellite falling from space that would hit the earth, all I could hope was that it wouldn't hit Italy. I imagined it falling on Assisi, or the church on the hillside above our old refuge in the mountains, or even on our own house with its thick stone walls. I also imagined it falling on the Cinque Terre, and what a tragedy that would have been. The beauty in Italy around every corner is no myth. It's real.

My favorite clients have gone silent for the past week. My finances are shot, which just goes to show that I shouldn't have put my eggs all in one basket. I am fretting and frayed, and wondering how I will pay for the zillion payments that I somehow must spit up every month. What a mess I have made.

My pleas were finally answered when one of the project managers I work with there wrote me that their offices were buried in a tomb of mud, and that they only now had any power or Internet access. She also wrote me that they were all feeling lucky that no one in the company or in their families had been killed, since many have been. She was afraid. It had started to rain again.

Pain is relative, and the tremor in her e-mail gave me pause long enough to gain perspective. Money is nothing. My business will rebound, as will my favorite business partners. Those northern Italians are funny that way. They always, always bounce back. Hard core.

But still, a prayer wouldn't hurt.


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