February 28, 2006

Blind Date

Ciana-Carlo, the owner of the local market wanted to play matchmaker with me so this morning at the very early hour of 7:30 (I only ever awoke this early for high school, crew practice, and training rides), he drove me to a small town nearby to meet a 40-ish guy who owned a market there. We had coffee together, four of us, and then CC left me in the market for a few minutes to chat with this local fellow. In ten minutes, I learned that he was born in Città della Pieve, had lived in Torino, and had just opened his market a month ago. He just moved two months ago to a tiny village where there are only ten houses, twenty denizens, and one tower, in which there lived an Australian, American, and German (I think). The American once worked for Coca Cola, his father recently passed away and left him with a lot of real estate in Manhattan, and he was renting a car for a year to travel throughout Italy. After all this, I figured out that heck, I really do understand Italian. Before we left, CC made plans for a bunch of us to go out and have pizza together. A second group date?

After picking up his daily purchases, CC and I stopped in the back kitchen of the bakery in town where an adorable older Italian named Lello makes all the bread we eat. Cool to see.

Since I was up early and the weather stopped being disgusting (schifosi), I actually watched the sun cross the plain from my back terrace. It was so clear out – after ten days of rain – that not only could I see my mountains again, I could even see the snow on top. After an hour of caramelizing onions for my French onion soup, I spent as much of the afternoon as possible out on the terrace, a relief from the indoors.


Silvano stopped by today to bring me an egg beater. Something was lost in translation and he brought me a blender instead. Of course, this could very well be because he thought blenders and egg beaters are the same. He hung out a while for my “Italian lesson.” We covered funerals and curse words tonight. There’s a funeral tomorrow in town. He says the whole town will be going, first to the church and then to the cemetery nearby. A young 67 year old man who was well known in town passed away after a two month long illness. Nam mo a di da Phat.

After extended conversation, and with no disrespect to the gentleman who passed away, we ended up discussing curse words. We covered what I learned from the Italians I worked with in New York, and then Silvano clarified a few others for me, and a few dialect words. Perhaps the mark of passable fluency is when others begin to teach bestemmia and parolacia.

February 27, 2006

To Fly

Much of the following two posts recap recent conversations I've had with JK while he was here. We spend a lot of time talking about love and life.

Uprooting yourself and discarding your residence is quite an unsettling experience. I've done it countless times over the last ten years of my life.

You're flying though you sometimes feel like you're falling – it's hard to tell – and you're not sure if there’s someplace where you can put your feet down. The first time you do it, you feel a little wobbly. You're not sure if you'll float, you can’t control your direction as acutely as you will later learn, you can’t understand everything you see from your new viewpoint, and you're a little nervous. It's shaky business. I'm lucky. I have landing zones all across the country. When I get tired, I find places that feel like home where I can rest for brief periods. No matter how far you glide, you always find that you want to be back among the people you love.

On the other hand, flying is fun. You get the hang of it after a while, where each take off is easier than the last. Your new perspective is inspiring, your soul liberated, and the impact you have on others, and others upon you, is diverse and powerful. My friend Dan once wrote to me: "I know you are always going to be sort of floating around in the stratosphere dropping in on everyone from time to time to dish out your special brand of love and joy before fluttering off again." If you choose to fly, enjoy it. You'll learn much about yourself, your surroundings, and the meaning of life. And then you'll land when you’re good and ready.

February 26, 2006

Standing in the Sunshine

Don’t believe people when they tell you that you can’t do something. Throw out all the reasons why you can’t, and start thinking about why you can. In 1996, after my first AIDS Ride, I figured out what it meant to do something I thought was impossible. But it turned out to be possible. I didn’t just step outside the box. I shattered it.

The same is true with food. After years of testing my taste for olives, in our three weeks together, JK has converted me into an olive eater, and I’ve turned him on to artichokes – every preparation possible. When we were in Rome, I suggested we order an appetizer neither of us ever would have ordered under normal circumstances. We chose the peperoncino con acciughe – mini peppers stuffed with anchovies and capers. A successful gastronomical adventure.

JK and I talk about stepping beyond our boundaries constantly. Forcing ourselves to do it, whether it means trying a new food, moving to a new country, climbing an unknown staircase, embracing new people into our lives, taking a leap of faith. And then landing on our feet.

I know I can do anything. I can go anywhere. And I’m always going to be all right. Once you break your boundaries, you open a world filled with acute sensations and grand opportunity. Living in your box – your limits – is like living in your state and never crossing the borders. Imagine all those Americans who have never left their state. Imagine all those Americans who have never left the United States. Imagine never moving beyond your boundaries.

Cross your fence.
You’ll find yourself on the other side… still standing… in the sunshine.


JK and Tracy left today and the house is sad and quiet. After ten straight days of rain and gloom throughout Tracy’s stay, the sun has finally reappeared, an hour after their departure.

February 25, 2006

Dinner for Four. Children.

Silvano drove Tracy, JK and I out to Fabro for our last dinner together. Tracy and JK are like kids. I can’t stop laughing around them. “Am I going to have to put you two together?” I scold. I think Silvano and I qualified as immature patrons too, once he started throwing balled up bread at me. Though he speaks no English, it was brilliant to watch how Tracy and Silvano’s similar sense of humor transcended any need for translation. Nothing was lost between them. There was one misunderstanding when Silvano asked me if I was going to cry. JK put his arm around me. “Not about you leaving,” I cleared up. “About the restaurant being out of polenta!”

February 22, 2006

Fancy Schmancy

Wish I could post pix, but you'll just have to imagine a bunch of silly Americans jumping all over Italy. JK, Tracy and I spent two days in Firenze, and we're in Venezia now; heading to Ferrara and Bologna tomorrow, before returning to Monteleone.

While food and views are great, music could use some help. JK and I took a bus to Perugia to the tune of "That's Amore" (imagine how surreal this experience truly is, to listen to Dean Martin singing that song on a bus in Italy), and while in a white linen restaurant having seafood, we were exposed to not the Bee Gees, but Bee Gees covers and "YMCA" among other selections.

Our meals have been fabulous, even when accompanied by a Mexican mariachi band. Tonight we head out to a fancy schmancy dinner for Tracy's birthday. Come se dice "fancy schmancy" in italiano?

ed. update: jump!
Jump Perugia Jump Assisi

February 20, 2006

be jealous

valentinesJK and I saw the most stunning red moon on Valentine's day. I woke up to a cute little handmade card he stitched together with paper arrows for me (we didn't have tape in the house) and we took a day trip out to Perugia. On the way back, this incredible moon appeared and followed us all the way home.

Here's his message to a friend:
Tonight we had one of the most amazing moons I have ever seen. It was so close and so big and so bright. I am talking enormous. As the bus carved its way through the foothills of the mountain on our way to the village, this huge, orange moon kept ducking behind the mountains and trees, at times making the forest look as if it were on fire. This truly has been one of those nights when you lie in bed and think "Christ, am I the only one in the world who noticed that moon?"


Ciao tutti... am in Firenze at the moment with Tracy and JK. Lots of wine and fun. Phone line and internet have been out for the month, hence, the lack of posts.

For your entertainment, here's a message from JK to a friend of ours:

Hey there, I think I've been abusing the wine opener. I went to open a really nice Nobile wine from Montepulciano yesterday and the corkscrew snapped in two! Hani and I just stood there, staring at each other with our mouths open. It took a minute as we both were thinking "oh shit, now what?". I ran down the street to the market to see if they sold wine openers. In the best sign language and broken Italiano I was able to convey to the shopkeeper my dilemma. She searched the store over and could not locate an opener for sale. After great intrepidation she decided to loan me hers. It is amazing how well you understand Italiano when it is explained to you without any English words "I will loan you this cork screw on the condition that you bring it back to me as soon as you open your wine. If you don't bring it back, I will hunt you down and gut you like a pig!" After which, she kissed me on the cheeks and sent me on my way.

Don't think for a minute I didn't run all the way to the house. Of course Hani and I had to decide if we needed one bottle or two opened that night. As soon as it was opened I high-tailed it back to the shop. The shopkeeper was pleased to see me but I think she was starting to sharpen her knives.

February 18, 2006

The More the Merrier

A day in Roma for food, wine, art, culture, long walks in the rain, and a bit of shopping was how we spent our Thursday. We woke up early the following morning to head out to the airport to pick up Tracy and onward to Monteleone. On the way, we picked up seven bottles of wine and a bottle of scotch… oh, and some delicious olives. JK has turned me into an olive eater.

Tracy makes enormous beautiful fires (JK thought I was quite the pyrotechnic before she arrived) and she makes me laugh so much, I think I’ll burn through all the calories I’m consuming from all the pasta I’ve been eating.

February 14, 2006

Life Doesn't Suck

Life does not suck
JK has been trekking me all over the Umbrian countryside by foot, bus, and car. We walked 5k to Montegabbione nearby and back. The next day we headed to Toscana by bus towards Montalcino. We didn't make it the whole way, but we did see the small town of Buonconvento and the walled city of Montepulciano. The next day, we walked 6k to Città della Pieve for the morning market. Yesterday, Silvano took us to Cortona (beautiful hilly town!). After that, Roma.

Free afternoons are spent soaking up the afternoon sun on the terraces and studying Italian with a bottle of wine. Me with my books, and JK with audio. He giggles when he gets one right. Evenings after dinner, we hang by the fire amid music, books, and wine.

Often, between our glasses of wine, in front of the fire, on the sunny terraces, or a tavola, JK reminds me: "You've made a nice little life here."

To quote him, I reply, "It doesn't suck."

February 13, 2006

Food and Wine

Dinner tonight was excellent. Fresh ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta which I sauteed with some butter, sage and truffles. JK pulled together a pear, blue cheese and walnut (freshly cracked from the shell, then sauteed) salad. Artichokes with a balsamic butter dip for our appetizer. We've gotten good at varying our diet although we do go through plenty of delicious tomatoes, mozzarella, marinated artichoke hearts, crackers, pecorino, and olives nearly every day. By the timne we're having our dinner, we're talking about the next. It's much more fun cooking for two than one, so I'm eating so much better with his company. I'm also drinking much more. "Would you like some wine?" he asks. And then justifies. "It's almost four o'clock."

The bottle opener broke tonight, so JK ran out to the alimentari to see if we could pick up a new one. Somehow, he and Maria were able to communicate that there weren't any left for sale, but we could borrow theirs for a minute. He came home and we opened a bottle. We paused. We were thinking the same thing. "Will we be having one or two?" Since we'd already started on another one earlier in the day, we figured one ought to be enough and he ran off to return the necessary gadget to Maria.

Two peas in an Italian pod

JK and I are having loads of fun. We've been covering a lot of ground, but today I wanted to simply relax at home. We picked up some bacon. Mine is sliced thin, JK's are thick. We picked up some wine. And whisky. He moved a bunch of logs for me (we figured I've moved my quota of logs for the year). We moved furniture, then moved it back. He sweeps, I mop. I cook, he cleans. We take turns reading Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point between browsing our Italy guides for more touring options. We're going on a day trip tomorrow. "Should be fun," I announce.

"You and I could have fun in a paper bag," he says. And it's true. Can't beat having good friends like JK in my life.

February 09, 2006

A Bold Bello

JK's first full day here, we walked into the local cafe. A little (littler than me!) old lady looked up as we entered. "Bellllooooo" she drawled, eyeing JK. She sized him up. "Due metri?" she inquired.
"Not quite," I answered. But close. JK and I are quite amused at how sassy the locals are.

February 06, 2006

Walking on the Rhythm Section

Gig in Bassano di Grappa At first, I felt like just a groupie. The host of the house party asked if I knew how to sing. "Badly," I answered. Later, he asked the band how he should introduce me to his guests. "Oh, she just walks on the rhythm section," Kirk told him.

Kirk took me out to Bassano di Grappa for a gig he was playing. Roberto, the sweet and mirthful drummer, tried to massage bassist Giacomo's sore back. I suggested I walk on him, so without hesitation, he plopped right on to the host's kitchen floor, and I walked. Not to miss out, Roberto claimed a turn as soon as Giacomo got up (after much cracking of joints). We decided I could at least qualify for my second requirement that I hold to all items I own: to be utile, and thus, I suppose, not a groupie at all.