Just a girl rambling around the globe and writing about it.

Musings from around the block and farther.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Just Another Day in Cortona

Today is our last one in Cortona.  Tomorrow, we'll hop a bus, then a train to Rome.  Although we had tentative plans for our last days in Cortona, what we've found is that we really just want to hang out.  Sleep.  Eat. Read. Write. Walk down to the little store and buy olive oil.  Get a few onions for tonight's frittata. Drink some coffee. Enjoy the way the sun glows on the back balcony before it begins to set.  Bundle up in a hat, scarf, gloves and sweater just to sit on said balcony with mugs of tea, discussing everything and nothing.

I have found that most travel guides will help you find every "hidden gem," monument, landmark, trattoria, gift shop, etc. And I love that stuff as much as the next traveler.  But you know what I've loved most of all during this trip?  Washing our dinner dishes in the carrera marble sink, plunging my hands into the soapy water and scrubbing the pots, rinsing our caffe cups. Trust me, I love staying in hotels and not worrying about cleaning up after myself, but I have truly enjoyed the feeling of normal life that doing dishes and hanging laundry can provide.  

Behind Casa San Marco, there is a giardino d'infanza - day care.  Today, as I stood on the back balcony admiring the expansive view, I watched the mommies and nonnas drop their bambini off, shuttling the precious little darlings -- each and every child clad in puffy coats, puffy boots and knit hats with big bobbing balls on the top -- along the cobblestone alleyway.  I saw an older woman in sensible shoes and a scarf tied around her head as she hung the laundry out to dry in the cold breeze. I heard the downstairs neighbors greeting the construction workers down the lane. Normal lives. This is not just the town where tourists flock to absorb some sense of magical realism per the autobiographical accounts of an American ex-pat.  It is a town where generations of families have lived and worked and had babies and died for centuries.

And now, in a very small sense, I am a part of it, too.  As we've run our remaining errands around town -- shipping home heavy items and unnecessary clothing to lighten our suitcases before going to Rome, buying last-minute souvenirs, purchasing vegetables for our last meal at Casa San Marco -- each shopkeeper has asked, "When will you be back? Prossimo anno?"

Perhaps. I would like to think that once a place gets into your blood, you somehow seep into its soil, too. I don't need to live here full-time, but when I'm here, I need to live fully.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's All Good Before the Sugar High Sets In...

Yesterday, Christine and I were having caffe and chatting in the kitchen of Casa San Marcos when a friend of the owner dropped by.  As she left, she mentioned that it was the Festival of Santa Margherita, which happens every Feb. 22 in Cortona. "Go up to the church," she said.  So we did.  
There were lots of vendors, mostly selling candies and balloons (which isn't exactly what I had pictured to honor a saint, but hey, we all have our own process, don't we??).  After Christine and I went into the church and paid our respects to the remains of St. Margaret (her 800-year-old corpse is viewable behind a glass case - no really, it is), we toured the candy vendors until we settled on one.  

Now, you must know that in the US, I would never even consider nougat as a candy option.  I am a die-hard dark chocolate lover and have always shied away from the sickeningly sweet, hard-as-a-brick nougat candies, no matter how adorable the packaging is.  But here, where nougat is known as torrone, they were presented as huge mountains of nougat enveloped in thick slabs of chocolate.  There were different enticing flavors, too, like nutella, straciatella, noci (walnut)... And they were presented alongside similarly large mounds of fudge (in flavors like tiramisu and limoncello... really!).  

I think it was about 10:30 am.  I think we'd had yogurt or eggs for breakfast and likely a lot of espresso.  I think we probably could have waited another hour or two and eaten a nice, light lunch. But you know what happened next.

We bought two huge chunks of candy - for about 15 euros (just over $20).  Now, if you know me well, you know that I tend to avoid large quantities of refined sugar.  I'd like to report that I had a small sample of the straciatella nougat and spat it out on the parking lot of Chiesa di Santa Margherita.  But I didn't.  It was light, airy, sticky-chewy like a just-made marshmallow, and encrusted in a dark chocolate shell.  The fudge (we bought a walnut version) was equally stellar - melt-in-your-bocca delicious.

I'm not proud of this, but we proceeded to gorge until... well, until my blood sugar was at a rollercoaster high.  I was nearly hallucinating that the lichen-covered stone wall on the path around Cortona was just a large, delectable hunk of nougat.  I laughed and ate nougat and laughed and ate fudge and laughed... 

We hiked down around the hill, back up through Cortona proper and up a steep cobblestone hill to Casa San Marcos, where I spent the rest of the day rehydrating myself and waiting to sleep.  I finally passed out on the couch during "Napoleon Dynamite" and woke up to the bells of San Francesco and the glittering lights of Camucia below us.  With the promise of a new day, I vowed to ignore the remaining chunks of nougat and fudge.  

Until I reached the kitchen.  

Ah, to hell with it.  When in Italy...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Piazza Della Signoria

Piazza della Signoria from Erin Shachory on Vimeo.


Dead center, right above the glowing ring of street lamps is the moon.
Here, it looks like a tiny speck, but in real life, it was so huge, it stopped me in my tracks.

My mom and I had huge crushes on Nicolas Cage in the late 80s, spurred by his turn as a hang-dog sexy Italian baker in Moonstruck.  I've thought of that movie several times since I've been in Italy because the moonglow has been so bright and intoxicating that it consistently rouses me at 3 am, when the moon hits my eye like a big pizza pie of astral formaggio.

The first night we were in Florence, I begged Christine to go to my favorite trattoria.  The thing is, I never remember the name correctly and I never remember the exact location.  It's more like threading my way through the streets and busy pedestrians, licking my finger and holding it up, seeing which way the wind blows me.  The odd thing is that I've found this particular place in the same fashion every single time I've been in Florence.  So, in that way, I felt fairly confident that eventually we'd find it.

Armed with a map and a vague idea of the location of the Duomo, Christine and I set out.  "It's called the Wolf and the Cat, I think," I said.  "I think it's this way."  At each corner, I scratched my head and pointed.  "Or that way."

"Well, we can see if we find it and if not, I'm sure there are other places," Christine said patiently.  And there are other places, but I was determined to find this one.

"I think it's near the Bargello?" I said, without much conviction.

Somewhere along the Proconsolo, I stopped and shrugged.  "Maybe we'll just go one more block," I said, "and then I'm cool with just stopping anywhere."

"You sure?" Christine asked.  I nodded.  "Okay then," she said, "wanna turn down that next block?"

I looked left down the small alley next to us and said, "Hey, look at the moon!"  It was like a giant orange harvest moon, and it beckoned me toward it.  "Let's just go this way 'coz the moon is so pretty," I said, "then we'll turn at the next corner."

And wouldn't you know Il Gatto & La Volpe was right there, waiting for us. 

Thank you, Cosmo's moon.  La bella luna...

Icche c’è c’è

Icche c’è c’è means "whatever there is, there is."  I love it because it implies the changeable nature of life and how we just sort of need to go with it, no matter what happens.

Icche c’è c’è took Christine and I to Florence a day earlier than we'd planned.  When we hiked down to the bus stop at Piazza Garibaldi on Saturday around lunchtime, on our way to buy a few veggies before pranza, we'd planned to simply check the bus schedule and pick out the time we needed to meet the bus on Sunday morning to get to the train station in Camucia, then we'd buy our tickets at the local tabaccheria for the train to Florence the next day (Sunday, for the flea market). But Sunday in a Catholic country means family, prayer, resting... and no buses to and from Cortona.    

"Wanna go today?" I asked.  She shrugged.

Perchè no?

And so, a few hours later, we raced toward my favorite city as the sun set over the Tuscan countryside, no idea if we could get a room at the hotel we'd booked for Sunday night and really no plan other than to trawl the flea market at Fortezza the next day.  Freedom.  Liberty.  Whatever would be, would be.

I'll post a quick video about our first night's accommodations - that seemed to be the only hiccup in an otherwise flawless weekend that wouldn't have gone off in quite the same way if we'd planned it. And isn't that what travel is all about?

Isn't that what life is all about?  Whatever there is, there is...

Talkin' 'Bout Albergo d'Inferno

Our 1st Hotel in Florence - Low-down & Dirty from Erin Shachory on Vimeo.

Why I'll Never Hook Up With An Italian Guy, Part 2

At the San Lorenzo street market, adjacent to the Medici Chapel, I was admiring the stalls of scarves and leather goods, Italian tchotchkes and hats as we took a shortcut to the Duomo.  I had just put my camera back in my coat pocket and as I passed one young, scruffy ragazzo, he smiled sheepishly and uttered, "Ciao, bella."  

I remember when I was a kid living in Naples that many southern Italians would forego the "buon" part of buongiorno (which means "good morning" or "good day"; on a side note, after lunch or pranza, you switch to buona sera, or "good evening," even though it's only about 2 pm...).  Another thing I like to do is stretch out any "r" sound I have, rolling the "r"s and then just sort of hanging out on that syllable like I own it. And because Naples has such a mafioso rep, this sort of utterance is like the equivalent of wearing a full-on gold grill over my front teeth.  Aw yeah. So I got all street on this dude and showed off my street cred, Napolitan style. 

" 'giorrrrrrrno," I said, not pausing as we passed his stall.

"You dropped something!" he called.

Whiplash-like, I turned to look on the ground, which was clear.  The guy smiled back.  "My heart," he said in English, nodding.

"Oldest trick in the book," Christine said, shaking her head at me.

Well-played, signore.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Diane Lane Moment

Just a little sunshine on a stem.
I'm lucky that one of my celebrity "look-alikes" (well, hint of a resemblance, I think) is Diane Lane.  I've known people who hear stuff like "You look just like Rosie O'Donnell," which sucks and wasn't at all true, so having Diane Lane as my "if you squint in the mirror, you'll see what I mean" celeb look-alike is a boost to my ego.  Especially if they mean the Diane Lane of "Unfaithful" who gets it on with the hot French dude... but I'm digressing.  

Anyway, I identify with Diane Lane's character in the Tuscan movie, and I realized when I looked at these pix from our walk yesterday that yeah, I do see a little resemblance.  Lucky me.  

Next thing you know, I'll be buying a horse and winning the Triple Crown.  All in good time...

Reaching for the Cortona Sun

Cortona is the beautiful little hilltop village where Frances Mayes, a college professor, and her longtime love (and future husband) Ed fell in love with a run-down house on the outskirts of town.  Through patience, hard work and careful negotiations through a foreign culture and language, they transformed the property a lush Italian homestead for themselves and their family and friends.  Though they no longer live full-time at Bramasole ("reaching for the sun"), their legacy -- and Mayes' well-loved rendering of their journey toward a life as ex-pats in Tuscany, Under the Tuscan Sun -- has inspired thousands of people to travel to Cortona to see if it's really as magical as it sounds.

My first time in Cortona, it was 2004 and I was 4 months pregnant with Marlowe.  That solo trip to Italy was one of desperation and could be considered a pre-"push" gift.  I had been very clear about not wanting more children and already had my perfect duo (Emme was 3-1/2 and Serena was 2-1/2), but the events of late 2003 had changed my mind.  My father-in-law Isaac had been hospitalized for liver failure; meanwhile, Max and Ali had gotten married and I'd been at the birth of Amy's son Donovan.  Something about the fragility of life had changed my mind and I had called Raf on the way home from Donovan's birth, saying, "I think we should have another baby."  By the time I came to my senses, one thought occurred to me - and remember, I was mired in the chaos of small children who were just about out of diapers, so I was really "in it" - and that thought was, "What if I never get to Italy again?"  So I made one crazy request to Raf: I didn't want to have another baby until I went back to Italy.

Wanna know what he said? "Book the trip and we'll start trying to have a baby when you get back."

And so I booked the trip.  But obviously I was feeling generous about this "gift" from Raf... and so I was already pregnant by the time I got on the plane.

Cortona is a labyrinth of small passageways and steep, steep hills.  For a pregnant woman who was constantly out-of-breath to begin with, Cortona was a tough place to visit.  My hotel was in Pienza, so this was a day trip and I mostly stayed on the flat Via Nazionale and ducked into the tiny, touristy shops, my well-thumbed-through Rick Steves guidebook in hand.  I remember the magical feeling I got from wandering alone through the gorgeous Museo Diocesano, filled with golden works by Fra Angelico, Lorenzetti and Cortona homeboy Luca Signorelli, but I couldn't relax enough to really enjoy the city.  I kind of just wanted to go back and take a nap.

In 2006, I returned to Cortona to take an art workshop and was offered the chance to stay here at Casa San Marcos, a renovated 500-year-old home near the Chiesa di San Francesco. Renovated by an artistic woman from Portland, OR, Casa San Marcos is a blend of American comforts (washing machine, dishwasher, heat) and rustic Tuscan style (frescoes on the walls, pizza fireplace, crisp white linens on comfy beds, handmade pottery).  On that trip, I met Christine, and we wandered the streets and hills of the town with our workshop compadres, soaking up the sunshine and local flavor.  We all watched the DVD of Under the Tuscan Sun, starring Diane Lane and many of the local shopkeepers, and we walked past the house that launched a thousand dreams.  Lucky me, too: I ran into Frances Mayes and Ed TWICE on that trip, once in Florence and again in Piazza Repubblica.  It was a good sign.  You're on the right path, Erin. You're supposed to be here, now.

This visit, I'm moved by how easy it was for me to assimilate into the Cortonese way of life.  Sure, Christine and I have spent an inordinate amount of time cackling and chatting, spewing American pop culture, watching our favorite SNL digital shorts on YouTube via the magic of WiFi.  But we have also stocked the kitchen with fresh produce from the store and have "made do" with what we have for our meals, a very Tuscan ritual from which many delicious local dishes have originated (the thick tomato soup ribollita, made with day-old bread, comes to mind).  If we need something, we hike down to Molesini market and then hike it back up the hill, so we only buy what we need for each day.  You may know that at home I'm very attached to my Chevy Suburban, which wouldn't even fit between the houses on the lane, and so this is a very different kind of thinking for me.  But I'm cool with it.  It's not supposed to be American here - it's Italy!  I'm the one who must adapt... and I'm happy to do so.  If my time here is limited, then I must adapt even faster.  

This morning, Christine stopped on her way up the stairs and said, "I've noticed that you glow in the mornings here... I'm surprised you're not all jet-lagged." Much of that has to do with taking a Tylenol PM each night before bed to be sure I'm not up all night, but I'd like to think it also has to do with my desire to wake up and inhabit Cortona as fully as I can on this trip.  I don't have to see the museums or churches.  I don't have to buy up all the Cortonese goods that I see so that I can "bring Italy home" with me.  I don't have to eat up all the rich food that is in front of me (though I would be hard-pressed to decline a fresh espresso with perfectly formed crema on top).  But I do want to wake up at 3 am, as I did last night, with the glow of the full moon shining in my face, and turn over happily, knowing that I'll be waking up in Italy again in a few hours.  And I want to step onto my balcony at 7 am as the bells of St. Francis call the faithful to worship, and inhale the freshness of the air that wafts past me on its way from Lake Trasimeno to Florence.  

I tend to live this way in Agoura Hills, too: mindfully, with purpose and intention and gratitude.  It's not a new way to feel, thankfully, and I know that when I return home, I will be able to recall these gorgeous sensations gratefully while I go about my days on the coyote trail and at the softball field.  But I do have a strong affection for Italy and I will always have an adoring heart for Cortona.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Why I'll Never Hook Up With An Italian Guy

I'm not saying they aren't hot in a primal, musky sort of way, but Italian dudes aren't for me.  Not straight-up guidos anyway, and not those gorillas from Jersey Shore.  A quarter Italian?  Maybe.  But no one from the home land, that's for sure.

Why?  Case in point: Alessio, the contractor who was here at the house yesterday morning, "overseeing" the work on the bathroom floor (meaning: he chatted Christine and I up, talked on his phone, looked at our Facebook photos with us).  He's kinda cute, reminded me of Jason Segal from I Love You, Man and Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Christine was emailing and he said, "Ahh, Facebook?" 

"You have Facebook?" she asked, quickly pulling up the FB website.  "What's your name?"

He spelled and she typed, and up popped his profile, resplendent with a Euro-chic pic of Alessio in super-short hair, tanned face and aviator glasses.  I pointed to his marital status and Christine clicked on the name of his wife.  When her profile popped up, Alessio made his best puppy dog face and shook his head.  "Oh, she -- she's kind of my ex-wife."

Christine and I howled.  I said, "Yeah, as soon as you're out the door, it's -- " and I pantomimed licking my ring finger and forcing my wedding band over my knuckle and into my pocket.  

Alessio said, "Tu?"

"Married," I said.

"Perhaps," and here he did a great Italian male shrug, "you need a... ah, new, husband...?"

"But I like mine," I said, and pulled up my FB page.  The other workers crowded behind Alessio and watched as I scrolled through pix from our visit to Versailles.  Sensing the virility of Raf, even in photos of him bicycling with small girls through the French countryside, Alessio and Mirko faded back to their work, leaving Christine and me to wade through more photos of my family. 

I'm not saying they're not attractive, y'all.  But it ain't gonna happen.  Not up in he-ah!

Jewels in Cortona

This is my friend Christine and the Cortonese jewelry artisan Antonio Massarutto.  Christine showed me a few rings she'd bought from him and, after seeing him strolling his baby through the Piazza Repubblica, insisted that we check out his shop.

I expected a few old-fashioned-looking, hand-hammered rings with tiny stones, but that's not at all what I discovered.

Antonio, who is also a sculptor, uses unusual metals -- white and rose golds, for example -- and gems and stones like fire opals to create clean, modern pieces.  I tried on several, including the gorgeous, hard-angled gold ring at the bottom of this post, with onyx pave-cut gems encrusted on the sides like stars scattered in a constellation.  He put a bronze ring on my finger, which I quickly took off again and pointed to a gold ring.  

"Gold," he said.  "Why always gold?"

"Oh, I'm sort of into the 1970s Carly Simon, big hat, flowy dress, barefoot thing lately," I said.  "I love silver, but I'm more into the gold vibe lately." Christine nodded in agreement, but Antonio, who didn't grow up with American pop culture, obviously, was at a loss.  

"Cah-rrrr-leee Simon?" he asked.  Christine and I shrugged, shared the moment, continued gaping at the jewelry.

Finally, I chose these two delicate simple rings that can be worn together or separately.  "These are for everyday," Antonio said.

What he means is everyday fabulous.


So, this may be TMI (* Mom, if you're reading this, that means "too much information" *), but most of the time when I travel, my stomach is upset. For example, even at my yoga retreat, an hour away from home, I find that my stomach gets nervous and I have a tough time calming it down. I planned ahead for this, buying medicine that can either speed up or stop any intestinal difficulties should they arise.  Nothing ruins a trip like doubling over in pain before you're even through a museum line.

But there's something so different about this trip to Italy.  I have been telling friends that it's a purpose-free journey; meaning, I've been to many of these tourist spots and museums and cities before, so I don't have any "must-see" items on my list, just a vague "well, if we get there, that'd be pretty cool..." feeling.  No expectations.  Just hoping to soak up some of the culture.  Kinda low-maintenance. 

Five years ago, Christine and I met here, in this house when we attended an art workshop, and so there's an easy familiarity in "living" here together.  We both have some food allergies and are very sensitive to certain foods, so having our own kitchen is a great relief.  Since we only have to feed ourselves - I don't have to forage for kid-friendly options or abide by anything but my own hunger patterns and caffeine requirements - it's super easy.  Scramble some eggs.  Cut an apple and some parmesan.  Peel a blood orange. Mix some ricotta, cashews and ground flaxseed into frutti di basco yogurt. Saute some gorgeous veggies -- mini zucchini, arugula, heirloom tomatoes, cipollini onions, baby carciofi (artichokes) -- in some fresh olive oil from the bottle on the marble counter.  

Yesterday, we went to the tiny family-owned trattoria in Cortona where a grandma cooks in ancient pots in a home-style kitchen and ate steaming bowls of pasta.  I never eat pasta at home, but this (photo at the top of this post) was a bowl of egg tagliatelle, freshly made and topped with a ragu that, yes, your Italian nonna would make. As we ate, one of the owners' daughters arrived with a stroller and her 4-month-old baby boy Andrea, a couple of Cortonese businessmen arrived for lunch and then an expat redhead with her auburn-haired son, everyone making a fuss over the baby with the big eyes and chewable cheeks. The last time I was here, I had to squeeze through the tiny kitchen, navigating my way past the two grandbabies in high chairs eating their lunches, to get to the bathroom.  It seemed like a good sign to me: there's no way a nonna would feed her grandkids anything less than the freshest, most delicious ingredients.  Not being an Italian by birth, this was the next best thing to having a traditional family meal in my Italian grandma's kitchen.

And I feel good.  So relaxed.  My body is happy and well-fed.  Abbondanza indeed!

Caffeine in My Veins

And so I arrived and my friend Christine helped me lug my heavy baggage up a few crazy steep hills and through tiny cobblestone alleys to Casa San Marcos, then up a steep flight of stairs to my room, which overlooks Chiesa San Francesco, a 13th-century church where swallows gather to dip and soar and sing in the springtime.  I tossed my luggage in the corner and took off my boots, then met Christine in the kitchen, where she was busy making the first of what would be several pots of espresso.  Which we drank in mugs, not the thimble-sized caffe cups that the Italians use.  "I know you're wiped," Christine said as we chattered the hours away, "but you have to force yourself to stay up so that jetlag doesn't kill you."  

At 7 pm, I waved the white flag and begged to go to sleep.  Christine ran a hot bath for me in the newly renovated bathroom - I'll have to take pix of it later, you'll drool it's so gorgeous - and after a half-hour and two Tylenol PMs, I was passed out, which seems counter-intuitive considering that I'm a lightweight American coffee drinker.  I awoke at 5:30 the next morning, so by the time Christine and I gathered in the kitchen at 7 am, I was ready for more caffe.  

At 8 am, the contractors arrived to finish the bathroom floors and Christine put on another two pots of espresso while I nursed a "palate-cleanser" of American coffee (made with Starbucks Via coffee powder).  "Caffe?" she offered to the three men, who looked at us suspiciously.  

"Caffe Americano?" Alessio, a dead-ringer for the I Love You, Man actor Jason Segal, asked, nose curling up, eyes squinting. Christine, who spent a year in Rome studying fashion, speaks very passable Italian and assured him that it was strong enough to drink.

The other two guys, full-on back-country Neapolitan dudes from the south, wandered in and grabbed a cup, taking a quick shot from the first pot and gesturing comically at the 2nd one, which was too light (the color of watery mud rather than a thick soupy brown).  Mirko asked if he could smoke.  Between the smell of the cigarette and the warm aroma of the espresso and the loud carrying-on of the Italians, I could swear I was home again.  I swigged back my dull American coffee and went back into the fray, filling my mug with espresso, knowing that it will be a long road of coffee rehab when I return to the US.  

But what the hell, right? When in Rome...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Church Bells Outside My Balcony in Cortona

Cortona Church Bells from Erin Shachory on Vimeo.

The Journey

In recent years, I've found myself snapping quick self-portraits with my packed bags before I leave on a trip.  I'm not sure if it's the idea of capturing the moments BEFORE a life-changing trip that moves me, or the attempt to stop time before it speeds up, but it is like a reflex for me now.  I took this one before I left for Italy on Tuesday morning.

After leaving LA, I had a fabulous, easy flight to Philly, then a quick layover and another flight to Rome. Because it's the off season (I mean, really, why would anyone be traveling to Italy when it's cold and rainy???) and we had a ton of airline miles to use, I wrangled my way into getting first class seats for my trip.  It wasn't as though the aisles were paved with gold or I felt like a celebrity or anything cuckoo like that, but it was really a wonderful experience, starting with a complimentary glass of champagne as I sat down.  

Anyway, I'm telling you this because I was able to take advantage of that part of the journey being an end to itself.  I settled into my seat and watched a Glee marathon on my iPhone - seven episodes in a row, nearly a whole day's worth of show tunes and teen drama - happy as a clam.  It was sublime.  Just that - the ability to be a "captive audience" without distractions or phone or email or kids or anything - was such a gift. 

The second picture is from the 4th leg of my planes-trains-automobiles journey toward Cortona, taken as the train sped quickly away from the Roma Termini (main train station in Rome) toward Tuscany.  I had suddenly remembered the last time I was at the Roma Termini... I was 17 and going with a school trip from Naples to Paris.  We'd changed trains in Rome and, as the train left the station, I was making out with my boyfriend, the steel and chaos and noise of the trains and rails and travelers on the platforms fading rapidly as we raced away from Rome.  

I hadn't thought of that day for years, but now I sat on the train as a woman in her late 30s, wondering how life had wedged so much time and distance between that memory and the current scene. I wondered how it was that I could remember so well what it was like to be that girl on that long-ago train, could empathize with her insecurities and desire to be grown up already damn it, and yet be so far from her.  I thought of the book "A Wrinkle in Time" and the concept of time as a tesseract, a line that connects point A with point B in a nonlinear fashion; instead of being a long line between the two points, it is like a strand of yarn that dips down in the middle and the ends meet each other, so you don't need to cross the entire strand of time to get from one moment to another.  That's what I felt like, sitting on that train listening to Florence & the Machine's "The Dog Days are Over": like I was touching my hand through the window of time to the girl that I was the last time I was here. 

Even the first part of my journey illuminated the difference between now and then - the girl who would sometimes dodge the train conductor and get off the train as soon as it stopped rather than buy a cheap ticket and the woman who had enough airline miles to travel first-class and boarded a train with a pre-purchased rail ticket.  The dog days are over, indeed... but sometimes they are missed.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Oh, the nail-biting suspense of a trip that is only hours away.  I'm eating breakfast, then will board a shuttle, then go through security, then find my gate, then get on a plane and hope to sleep or watch a few movies... just trying to contain my EXCITEMENT about going to Italy again.

Sure, I've been making light of this trip, which literally knocked on my door and invited itself in.  

"You can stay in Cortona in a friend's villa," Opportunity said, settling onto my couch and sitting back, gazing carelessly at its nails.  "I'll bet you've got airline miles you could use..." and here Opportunity stopped and looked up at me, smiling sheepishly, "...an upshot of your (ahem!) advanced age."

I was about to feel insulted and show Opportunity the finger, then the door, when it presented the prize: two weeks in Italy.  My favorite city (Florence) and the one I've been wanting to see again (Rome).  It's been five years since my last Italian journey and every time I return I feel like I'm home.  I love Italy and I've been saying that I want to go for my 40th birthday for years... not realizing the power that an idea has once you've set it free, that sometimes these magical words can search for a way to make dreams real while you're going about the business of the "real world."

Seeing my shock and the wheels turning above my head like a halo, Opportunity snorted.  "Not so concerned about being 39 anymore, eh?"

"I suppose I could work it out... No, no, I can't..." I stammered.  "The kids, Raf... Who'll walk the dog?" 

Opportunity shrugged, waited.

"...My cat's a nightmare, the laundry piles up, Emme's got so many 5th grade activities... It'll be February for chrissakes, freezing and rainy..."

"You done?" Opportunity asked.

I nodded.  

"The offer stands," it said, suddenly standing up, putting its coat and hat back on.  Winking, it said, "Consider it."

But by the time Opportunity reached the handle of my front door, I'd already shouted, "I'll take it!"

And here we go... Two hours til flight time...