31 May 2009

An Italian Moment

My dear friend of 22 years, Annee, has been visiting with a mutual friend, Richard, whom we met in Antigua. She wanted to find her grandmother's town, Santa Croce, in the next province of Molise to apply for her birth certificate. We're into having adventures so off we went with our map, Annee's newly acquired Italian language skills (from 3 weeks at school in Sienna) and our hope. With only one wrong turn, which ended us on a narrow dirt road where we met a nice young man who gave us directions, we came to a town close to her grandmother's and took a break to get caffé. In the town, 2 men argued about the best way to send us to Santa Croce di Magliano while we waited for our marching orders. Italians like a good argument and they were no exception! We followed the directions of the man who won and soon reached what turned out to be a good size town in this remote, rural province. Repairs are still being made on the damage made by an earthquake 7 years ago.
It's always a toss up whether or not places are going to be open after 12 so we hoped for the best as we located the Municipio at 1 pm. Well, it was open until 2 pm so Annee went in to meet Carlo to make application for the birth certificate. Carlo loved his work and took immediate interest in Annee's request since his mother had the same name as Annee's grandmother. "Hmmm, a curiosity" said he and went to work searching the large, hand written ledgers from the late 1800's. He not only found the right pertinent details but gave them to her then and there with his official seal. No application necessary- the real thing quickly and easily. She was walking on clouds as she came out with the precious document in hand and the memory of time with this helpful man. We had a picnic in her grandmother's town to celebrate and listen to the story.
John, in his sweetest and most generous self, suggested we go to Annee's grandfather's town 8 kilometers away since we were in the area. Anne was reluctant to ask this but was thrilled and off we went in search of another adventure.
When we got to Colletorto it was 3 pm and everything was closed up tight, including the Municipio. Scaffolding was everywhere from earthquake repairs in this town as well. Anne had resigned herself to just seeing his town as enough when we saw an open bar in the square. It had a gelato sign out front which caught my eye and I suggested we go there before our trip back (we've been doing serious gelato comparisons all over!). Anne tried out her language skills asking 2 local men about her cousin first and then her grandfather. She did great and they were talking animatedly in no time. After the mandatory argument between the 2 men, they told her not only was her grandfather's house still standing but that a distant cousin was living in it with his wife and it was a mere 300 meters from where we stood! "Go see it" they urged. Off we went and read the address labels on the mailboxes. Some were faded, however, and we couldn't find her grandfather's name which her cousin shared. We met a young man and asked him where the cousin lived. "I'll show you" and he pointed out #7. Annee rang the bell and a woman answered asking Anne who she was. When she heard about Annee's grandfather, her eyes filled with tears and she invited us all in.
Annee's Italian was put to the test as she told her story to Maria. Maria had been awakened from her mid-day nap and went to awaken her husband to tell him the amazing news of the visit of his distant cousin from America. Giovani is a retired teacher and was obviously thrilled at this rare event. We spent 2 hours sharing stories, history, language lessons, chocolates and making sweet memories not just for Annee and her cousins but for us as well. What a special thing to witness, be part of and get to treasure. Their gracious hospitality and warm, welcome was evident as just part of who they are. It ended in hugs and kisses and tears and thank yous all around. It was an Italian moment to be retold and savored for years to come.
It also made me realize the magic of being able to speak the language well and I signed up for intensive lessons myself!

19 May 2009

Support Groups

I went to a gathering of women today who get together twice monthly to share caffé, ideas, pertinent info and general support. What a difference a support group makes! These women are from the US, England, Scotland and The Netherlands. All speak English and are fluent in Italian so they're great role models as well as potential friends. Made me realize for the umptieth time how important we women are to each other. How our support of each other enhances our joys and lessens our fears, both practically and emotionally.
I'm reading a book: "Grandmothers Counsel The World" by Carol Schaefer. It's an amazing collection of stories of 13 indigenous grandmothers who gathered in 2004 to teach, share their wisdom and reaffirm the right relationship of all things. It's so on point for my search just now and is speaking to me as another grandmother seeking my role as elder. These women, too, experienced the power of gathering together and speaking their truth to one another, supporting one another and directing their collective wise vision to their community.
This evening, John and I are dining with a "Slow Food" group that goes to restaurants that serve fresh, reasonably priced, local food served in traditional ways with local wines. It started here in Italy and has spread all around the world. What a great idea. What a great potential place to meet like minded friends.
Today made me hopeful, happy and grateful.

18 May 2009

An Amazing Day

Yesterday was an extraordinary day. I've been going with our friends, Emily and Enzo, on an outing each weekend to surrounding cities or towns to get acquainted with our region of Abruzzo. Yesterday we went to an ancient Romanesque church near Ortona, 1 hour south of us, named San Giovanni in Venere (Venere is Italian for Venus) which got its name because it was built in the 500's over an even older pagan temple dedicated to Venus. I could feel the spiritual energy as I joined the centuries of pilgrims before me. The sandstone carvings by the doors and its triple apse were awe inspiring. Hand painted tiles on the underside of the roof were simple but striking in design. Set among pine trees on undulating hills, the sea can be seen in the distance. The oldest olive tree in Abruzzo is situated on the side of the hill in front of the church in a grove written about by the Romans and is considered a monument.
While we were strolling the grounds we came upon some volunteers putting out lunch for a trekking group who were scheduled to end their hike on an overlook next to the church. They offered us freshly picked fava beans which can be eaten raw and peasant bread drizzled with olive oil. "No, thank you" quickly got turned to "okay, just a little" by their friendly encouragement to try this simple, delicious food and we ended up with cheese and wine along with the bread and beans. We shared introductions and stories about where we were from (with Enzo filling them in our our story) and had good laughs at their amazement that anyone would move from the caribbean or from America to Abruzzo.
There was a small group of traditional singers in costumes playing traditional instruments right next to them to provide the entertainment for the returning hikers. They played for us and danced and explained about their instruments. They spoke slowly when they learned we were Americani so we followed along fairly well. Even though they were confounded by our moving here, the combination of this historic and spiritual place, the beauty of the land, the warm friendliness and hospitality of the people, the genuine desire to share time, food, stories and their history with us made it clearer indeed why I moved here.

16 May 2009


On Wednesdays and Saturdays, our Paese (village) has an open market. It's part farmer's market and part flea market. They sell everything from fruits, vegetables, cheese to flowers, plants, herbs to clothing, shoes, handbags to all manner of household items- tablecloths, cutlery, pans, curtains, cups, bowls, coffee pots, pillows and plastic flowers. I bought a basil plant for the balcony, fresh cherries for tonight's dessert and a set of expresso cups and saucers for when we have a kitchen and company.
I met 2 of our neighbors in Paese who invited us to sit and have a caffé. We cobbled a conversation together with some Italian, some English with some translating and teaching thrown in. It worked somehow and I was warmed by their friendliness.
Taking time with neighbors and friends is very important here. Friends and neighbors stop and visit, sit and visit, eat and visit, drink and visit, work and visit. Everything takes more time as a result, even good-byes take a long time.
Schools are open 6 days a week so they can close at 1 pm each day and students can join their families for the all important mid-day meal. Business's close from 1 - 4 pm so workers can join their families as well. The structure of society supports the cultural value of sharing food and time together.
Marco, a workman, came today to install our showers. Our neighbor who knows him invited him in for caffé first. I was annoyed and wondered why she was delaying his work. Then I remembered, welcome him, spend time, share food and drink. We weren't able to do that yet so she did. He did a fabulous job then including some extra work we needed done.
Relationships matter most. Relationships take time. Sharing food strengthens relationships. It's todays lesson. It's a good lesson.

15 May 2009


It happened yesterday as my husband, John, and I drove to the beach for our morning walk/ run. It was over something small and inconsequential and had nothing to do with what was really going on. An argument ensued, of course, which got more heated until the real issues emerged.
I fell isolated when with Italian speakers (most everyone I interact with) and stupid not knowing the language except in a rudimentary way. I can't keep up any kind of conversation yet and I want to. I have so much to learn and these are the people who can teach me. I love talking and listening. I'm good at it, thrive on it. I miss it. How can I get to know my friends and neighbors? How can they get to know me? I have never had the experience of others communicating around me and me just being mostly silent. It feels so odd and lonely.
John said he saw an ad promoting living in Ireland and had the immediate response of "let's go!". I met a couple last evening from the US and they asked "why Italy?", "why Citta Sant'Angelo?". I looked at John as if to say "yeah, why?".
Through good talking with John and some writing, reasons emerged that are both true and that I decided I will share with those who ask (I haven't up to now): I'm called here for the next phase of my personal and spiritual growth and to craft my role as elder. Beyond that, I don't know and that's alright, however hard it is to experience. I'm where I'm meant to be and doing what I can to be fully here. It's all part of the work of this next phase, even if the reasons are obscure. I'm just where I'm supposed to be.

14 May 2009

First Steps in Italy

I meant to keep a daily journal of this move to Italy- that is after all the purpose of the blog about the journey! But, I was unable to write for the first month. I didn't have the energy to tackle it- not once. Four weeks later and finally in our own apartment, I want to start, have the energy to start. Today.
I sit on our balcony listening to birdsong and looking at the Apenine Mts. There's a haze at the base of the the Maiela Mt. portion of the range directly south so that the snow capped peaks look like they're floating in midair. The range continues 180 degrees around us to the west and north layered behind one behind the other. Grand Saso, due west, has the range's highest peaks that form the jagged outline of a sleeping woman.
The countryside spreading out from our home to the mountains is lushly green after spring rains. Vineyards are everywhere and sprouting new leaves. The silver green olive trees gather in groves that grace the hilly landscape. Farmhouses here and there with red tile roofs are surrounded by newly plowed ground and newly planted crops. Small clusters of homes and ancient towns are on hilltops in the distance.
East is the Adriatic, although the sea is indistinguishable from the blue haze today. It is quiet except for a neighbor's music playing and his occasional outbursts of song. Down the hill, a dog barks his warning at infrequent passersby. Jasmine nearby and the the next door neighbor's lavender, rosemary, basil and bay leaves scent the air.
We are in our own apartment now after a month of getting utilities turned on and in our name and our permit to stay (permeso di soggiorno) applied for. It seemed endless, confusing and frustrating going through it although friends here say it went remarkably quickly for Italy. The hoop jumping and the conflicting advice on which hoops to jump through and how left me bewildered and tired.
Our saving graces, our guides, our friends- Emily and Enzo! We met them once last November when we came to sign papers for the apartment. They offered us a place to stay until we had utilities, drove us here, there and everywhere to get things done and served as translators, advocates and all round angels enabling us to get everything done. I feel such awe and gratitude at their generosity.
It seems impossible that I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't even write. I wanted to chronicle it all, these first steps of the journey, but just couldn't. I could only put one foot in front of the other and take another step. So I start here, in my own home, in Italy, with a bed, 2 sets of shelves, an outdoor table and chairs and 2 good friends. Maybe it's not such a bad place to start from.