AN ITALIAN EXPERIENCE - Journal Archives - 2002

MAY 2002

May 23, 2002

Welcome to our website, L'Avventura - our adventure in Italia, brought to you from the picturesque village of Mugnano in Teverina, Italy.

Following a festive "arrivederci" party and bocce ball tournament in San Rafael, California on the 25th of May, 2002, Roy and Evanne (that's us) have relocated here. Please do stop by this site from time to time to learn of our latest adventures.

JUNE 2002

June 26, 2002

Bravo Roberto...
USA does not have the lock on people in space. We have our very own Roberto Vittori, of Bomarzo (Mugnano is a piccolo paese of Bomarzo). Roberto's parents work the asparagus field at the end of the road heading out of Mugnano. In April, Roberto was sent up in the Marco Polo space mission as Italy's first man in space. Joining the Russian spacecraft, he was quoted in Italy Daily as saying that what he found missing in space was a washing machine. Now Roberto knows how to set his priorities, eh? A week ago we attended a grande festa to celebrate Roberto's triumph. We arrived one hour early in the church to get good seats. All the women were sitting in the back and the front of the church was empty. When the Polymartium Band struck their first few notes, a rush of volunteer police swept the church, sending us out so that local dignitaries could sit in front. Is that what they mean by "down in front"?

Mariani's trench
For years, we have eyed the property between our house and San Rocco. Roy dreams of a bocce court, ee just dreams....In a manner of minutes on Tuesday evening, the owner agreed to sell it to us at a very simpatico price. So the transaction is in the hands of a notaio (a notaio is a cross between a lawyer and a title company) and this notaio, Fabiana, is quite lovely. She even speaks English. So because the depth of the Mariani trench is Bob Kalsey's favorite bit of knowledge, and because the owner of the land is Signore Mariani, we are calling the land Mariani's trench... June 20, 2002
This just in! Pictures of the new dog's extended family! The dog's name is Nemorino, Nemo for short, and royanee will pick him up on Oct 1st. Nemorino is a character in an Italian opera, The Elixer of Love. The name translates to little nobody! In the opera, Nemo is the hero and "wins the girl in the end" because he has great faith in himself.

JULY 2002

July 14, 2002

Faking it in church
Each Sunday, we dutifully take our Sunday missal, translated into Italian, with us to church in our village. We sit in the back, to watch everyone and follow their leads when we can. We have no idea what is being said, except for "Amen." Even though we have just completed two weeks of intensive language school in Perugia, the solitary words that come out which are familiar to us are like flies darting around the room, with us holding invisible fly swatters to try to catch them before they escape.

The first hymn sounds like a Calvanist hymn from childhood, but we have no idea what it is, so one of us stares blankly ahead and the other hummmms with his mouth open.

At a certain point (Italians love this phrase, especially when giving directions) the congregation sings the Lord's Prayer in Italian. The priest looks us straight in the eye. Roy hummms and I freeze, then think that if I recite the Lord's Prayer in English I will be all right. What comes out, however, is the Pledge of Allegiance. omigod I am so confused. where am i...o phew we're at the part "forever and ever"...

Dino puts 5 euro in the collection plate, and it is the only bill in the wicker tray...everyone else gives coins...are we making up for not knowing what to do? When it is time to greet those around us, Roy says "Pace" to each one and I smile quietly, thinking I have done enough damage for one service. I do not look at Don Luca when he puts the eucharist in my mouth. As we walk home a fine mist appears and then rain to clear the air. It feels heaven-sent after two weeks of near 100 degree temperatures. Later at home over plates of melon, Roy said, "You turned your head this morning when I leaned over to kiss you at the greeting. Was there a problem?"

It was time to confess...I was so confused by everything that was going on that I did not know if it was the right thing for him to do to kiss me, as he had for years in church.

"So did you think that if you kissed me you would need to kiss everyone in the church?" I felt so silly and then we both laughed.

In time, we will know the words to the hymns in Italian, and will be able to follow the service. For now, we are just faking it. But God knows we're there because we want to be there. And that's enough for us, and we are confident that's enough for Him.



August 2002
They all ask why we are here. One answer is easy. That is the answer that does not mean much, but it usually satisfies them. It is only when we have lived here for three months as our permanent home and a small tear in one spot of the night starts to peel back to reveal a translucent moon full to the brim does the answer slowly seep out of the maronne tufa stone behind our casa.

In the cucina we open the laptop on the rush seat of a chair fashioned out of castagno to read her emailà

"do you come to listen to the wonderfull concert tonight in Orte? the director is from Santa Cecilia Music Academy...we wait for lili" An hour later, after the flesh of the bright orange squash is cut into small pieces and folded into the rice and oil and butter and onions and broth made from dried porcini and added spoon by spoon, and the local wine poured into a glass pitcher is served by the last nub of the candle dripping over the ever so slightly tarnished stick onto the old wood table with broad carved legs at the top that tell its own story do we speak about it silently with our eyes. We answer in unison.

Over the sink on a cutting board, I take Roy's mother's mezzolune out of the knife drawer for the first time. I pick apart the flat leafed parsley for the best leaves, discard the stems and think about whether we will plant parsley and at what time of year will we be able to use it and rock the sharp edge back and forth, turning the fragrant leaves darker and darker as they are cut smaller and smaller. The mezzolune is old. It has one handle, not two as the newer ones do. I imagine dear Iolanda chopping over another sink thousands of miles and tens of years away, laughing and cooing and making her home warm with the sounds and smells of Italy gliding around the room.

And then it is only for an instant. "Of course we should go." The heavy door shuts soundly and we are out in the inky black night. Crickets and the sounds of people in the street surround us, light reflecting from the hallway through the transom glass turning the boxwood framing the front terrace into silent watchers, their shadows all bent at the same angle to the night as the sunflowers bend toward the sun in the day. The grass under foot on the path below the terrace is fragrant and wet from a quick summer rain earlier in the afternoon.

We drive on the back road to the medieval town of Orte twenty kilometers south of our village. It is nine-thirty and the concert will begin soon. There is no place to park. Roy leaves me on a main street and we agree to meet in front of the medieval museum. I walk up to a bright light on the corner and dream with my eyes open, feasting on the layers of paint and patina on the walls and curved iron balconies and smells of the street and the cucinas behind closed shutters and dark rooms. Roy arrives behind me and we hear the echos of our feet on tiny crooked alleys as we are drawn to Lili's square in front of her centuries old restored house-built-into-the-tufa wall.

Ahead is the glorious sound of someone playing the violin. Could it be Tiziana, my beloved friend and violin teacher? How wonderful! A shadow of a man, his bow moving like satin over his violin, and it is not Tiziana but a musician rehearsing. Beyond, the little square is filled to the brim with people, sitting with anticipation as the concert is about to begin. On the left are Lili's marble stairs, and she makes a place for us, right next to the musicians.

Our silent answers speak of sights and smells and sounds of thousands of years, brightened by a lemony sun and softened by an earth-washed patina. A flute sounds less than ten feet from us to begin Nemorino's love song to Adina in Donizetti's L'Elisir D'Amore and our breaths rise and fall in time with the caressing notes.

August 01, 2002
"We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

August 05, 2002

There's always something to celebrate in Italia...
It's past mezzanotte (midnight), actually 12:35 am, and the cannon sounds across the Tiber Valley wake me up. It is early Tuesday morning, August 6th, and some nearby town must be having a festa. Looking out the south-facing bedroom window, bursts of color appear southeast in an inky-black sky...Penna? Giove? Bassano in Teverina? Orte?

All throughout the year, towns and villages across Italy celebrate their saint's day, or a significant historical event of the place, culminating in a huge fireworks display.

Our village has two a year, the first weekend in May and Ferrogosto (August 15th), and collections are taken up during the year to help pay for for festa events. The most expensive by far is the fireworks display. Even the poorest town has fireworks. It is a point of pride. The event in our village is a grand affair, and we have a front row seat from our terrace. Seated in sloping lawn chairs under the huge persimmon tree, friends gather here to watch the display right in front of us while drinking spumante or the local wine and sharing prosciutto and melon or biscotti.

Our good friends on the hill below us are located right under the fireworks. One year, Karina was taking a bath when she was almost shot out of the tub like a cannon with the "boom" sounding overhead from the first fireworks. The truck parks right behind her land and aims skyward, cloaking her property in a smoky-haze.

Tonight another town is proudly ending its celebrations. And now it is silent, except for the creaking of the crickets and Roy droning away in dreamland, oblivious of the sounds of the night.

Buona notte. Dorme bene.

August 11, 2002

Until the floods come... I don't know where you are tonight, but the thunder and lightning all around is the most amazing sight. Roy and I walked up to the village at around ten o'clock. Of course almost everyone in the village was outside on the streets, deep in conversation within their special enclave of neighbors. We went around back, to the northeast corner of Mugnano, near where Francesco the Vigili Urbani lives, and peered over the stone wall. I was sure back at home that someone was shining a big spotlight from one of the hill towns. And now we saw flashes of lightning tear across the sky, lighting up the night like our neighbor's dirty grey cat. Every direction was the same...Orvietto, Lugnano, Penna, even towards Viterbo.

We were able to try out our new Italian when we rounded a bend and came upon Felice, his lovely wife and their neighbors. I don't know his wife's name, but she sits most evenings on a tiny child's wooden chair. She stood up to ask if I would sit there. How sweet she is. I look forward to having long talks with her. Felice said the noise of the thunder was like a bottle of spumante popping its cork.

How could I forget? An hour before our walk, Roy and I sat outside on the terrace enjoying the evening air. A loud pop from inside the kitchen sent us scurrying inside. Someone gave us a bottle of homemade wine last year, and it chose that very moment to pop it's cork in the wine rack, literally shooting spurting rosy red liquid all over the armadio, chair cushions, walls and fashioning a blood mark all the way to the sofa. Well, we don't know much about barometric pressure, but surely this was a harbinger of weather to come. Could you imagine what would have happened if we were not in Mugnano and the wine had had a few weeks to ferment without us?

Mugnano was surrounded by a thundering herd. These are the storms that made Noah famous, and we walked back home quickly, not hearing a bird on the whole trip. Crickets don't know better, but the birds are definitely in hiding. No way they can protect their turf in a major storm. And now we wait quietly for the thunder to pounce on dear Mugnano.

Buona notte. Dorme bene. Sleep tight.

August 19, 2002

Maybe you should just stay at home Italians are so curious about our decision to settle in Mugnano, a tiny village with no cafés or stores and almost no one who speaks English. We knew we were ready to live here when we could nod our heads, "yes!" in agreement to every one, well almost every one of the guidelines in International Living, an email newsletter for expats and budding expatsà..

What do you think?

„You know you're not ready for a new life in à(the Italian countryside) if:

1.) Your umbilical cord is connected to your keyboard or telephone. In many countries, telephone service can be unreliable. Your cell phone probably won't work. And your Internet connection, if you have one, will be slow and painful.

2.) You must have a three-minute egg for breakfast. Can't abide a four-minute egg? What about a two-minute egg? Or a 20-minute egg? Do you expect your waiter to set a hot cup of coffee in front of you within minutes after you've sat down at the table? What happens if the people at the table next to you, who came in after you, get their food before you have even ordered? If these things bother you, you should cross Italy, and most European countries, off your list.

If you must have Hellman's Lite Mayonnaise, Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, Ballpark Franks, or any other particular name-brand product, bring your own supply...or, better, learn to eat like the locals.

3.) You don't know nord from sud. You may expect that, in most places around the world, you will be able to find someone who speaks English. We say, don't count on it. In some places, yes, you'll be able to get by with little or no Italian. But part of the fun of moving to a foreign country is learning a new language. If you can't read the menu at the restaurant, how will you ask the waiter what it says...and how will you understand him when he tells you? Will you be able to ask for directions if you are lost or tell a doctor what's wrong with you? You will never penetrate beneath the tourist level of a place until you learn to speak the language of the locals.

4.) You own a watch. OK, maybe we're exaggerating here. But, the truth is, if time is money to'll go broke in most Latin countries...and many other places besides...where you can spend an entire afternoon standing in line waiting for an ID card, a driver's license, or your car registration...only to be told at the end of the day that the office is closing and you'll have to come back tomorrow. If you can't stand waiting...and you don't like the idea of slipping someone a five-euro bill to move you to the front of the line...then maybe you should keep your Timex and the arm it is attached to at home.

5.) You don't like to be patronized.
Will the Internet server be up later today?
Can you fix a 3-minute egg?
Will the office be open tomorrow so I can finally get my driver's license?
Do you speak English?

Americans are among the only people in the world who don't mind telling you no if that's the answer to your question. Outside the U.S., and especially in Latin cultures, people are extremely polite and don't want to disappoint you. They simply are not capable of telling you "no" or "I don't know", even when they absolutely have neither the ability nor the intention to follow through. They are not intending to mislead you; they just want to make you happy.

By the way, this applies to giving directions, too. In Italy, you will often stop a half-dozen times to ask directions to your hotel. You will be given, with confidence, six entirely different answers and pointed to every corner of that city. If you are resourceful, you will finally find a map...and make your way to the hotel on your own.

6.) Barking dogs keep you awake at night.
The U.S. is heavily regulated...Latin countries are not. This is one of their big advantages in many ways...but it comes with some downsides. If your neighbor's dog bothers you, and your neighbor isn't interested in doing something to stop the barking...who can you complain to? No one. Why do you see one-room shacks alongside million-dollar mansions? Because there are no zoning laws. Why do jackhammers sometimes operate at 3 a.m.? Why do the locals set off firecrackers at all hours of the day and night? Why do cars drive on the roads with no brake lights and no operating turn signals?
Because they can.
For two nights this past week, I could not sleep because a dog was barking; barking all night long. What to do? I mention it to a neighbor and she raises her shoulders and hands to say, "It is not my dog, I don't know."

I don't mind being awakened by the sound of weed-wackers or tractors in the fields below us. It is the sound of that barking dog I will have to work on.

And Roy misses his super chunk Skippy peanut butter. We did wait in line for two hours last night for a Baroque concert of Handel's Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks at a castle in Vignanello, a nearby medieval town. Held in a 16th century garden under the stars, the musicians stood throughout the concert, playing actual Baroque instruments with uncommon grace.

While they played the Royal Fireworks, the sky lit up with actual fireworks, shrouding the castle behind them in a red haze before it disappeared from sight. The smudge pots placed in perfect symmetry on the roof of the castle were the only lights in the sky, except for the moon. Not a sound from the audience until a gasp in unison at each blast of firework, set in time with the music. Twelve strategically placed sprays of white firey foam shot out of their drums at one chord, and a few minutes later bursts of lightning shot up like cannon fire in rapid succession, in time with the drums and horns.

We exited forward through the famous garden, Ruspoli, a perfectly groomed Italianate garden, over a moat into the castle, and then out into the street. Met by bright lights, traffic, and hundreds of townspeople watching us, we followed the road down next to the castle, peering over the wall back at the perfectly lit garden and silhouettes.

That's all for 2002.

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