Post #14: Happy Election Day, America!

A special-edition, non-Italy related post in light of the looming election, issued to admonish the politics of politics...

Everyone can make a difference. This motivational poster-worthy phrase is one that I honor as a personal value. It is the reason behind my decision to become a teacher and the influence behind my daily recycling efforts. Whether it be a friendly smile in a stranger’s direction or a small monetary donation to a Humane Society tin at the grocery store, I believe and appreciate the fact that, for every single person, no act is too small for contributing to a greater good. When I pair this fundamental belief with my background in statistics, you can understand why I believe in the importance of voting and why, on the usual election day, I am excited for the opportunity to, in some small way, have my voice heard.

But this is not the usual election day. This time, my enthusiasm for voting is replaced by cynicism. In a non-mathematical sense, I feel like my vote doesn’t make a difference after all…

The origin of my cynicism about this upcoming election lies with the politics of politics. I can’t help but to feel that my vote doesn’t matter because, no matter who wins, it’s a lose-lose situation for America. If Democrats maintain the majority, Republicans will continue taking the opposite side to every issue brought to the table, spitting in the face of compromise and dismissing all solutions presented by the opposing party while failing to present any real solutions of their own. If Republicans regain the majority, the Democrats will sit back and hope the Republicans screw up while building a case against their rivals so they can get themselves back in power when the next election rolls around. It’s all about what’s best for the party when it should be about what’s best for our country. Beyond this mentality being extremely detrimental to anyone’s hopes for productivity and growth, it’s downright scary…

In an article I stumbled upon in nytimes.com, economist Paul Krugman references the mindset of current Senate minority leader/potentially soon-to-be Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. According to Mr. McConnell, his party had it all wrong while President Clinton was in office for the first term. He suggests that, during that time, his party focused too much on the issues and not enough on ruining the President. But, good ole’ Mitch reassures us that they learned from the experience. Regarding this time around he states, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one term president”. I’m so reassured to see that our nation’s leaders have their priorities straight! Here I was thinking that they were on the same team. You know, Democrats and Republicans working together to build a better America. Two parties with two perspectives, working cooperatively to develop the best policies for our economy, education, energy efficiency and national security. I lost sight of what was truly important in the realm of United States government… party-preference.  

All sarcasm aside, this, to me, is a truly terrifying declaration. To shamelessly admit that your ideals and the ideals of your party are so selfishly twisted is appalling. Are the issues not pressing enough for you?! Are you serious that the SINGLE, MOST-IMPORTANT item on your agenda is un-seating the President that you have not even tried to work with over the last two years just because he maintains a different party affiliation than yourself?

I don’t care who you are, but if your single-most important objective in the Senate is to demolish the influence of the opposing party on policy development, you should be fired. In fact, I would go so far as to say that perhaps you should be deported. You do not deserve the privelege of representing the American people and you certainly don’t deserve the power to make decisions on their behalf.

This is not about being Republican or Democrat. Both parties are at fault for turning politics into the semblance of a high school popularity contest. This is about being American. No matter who you are or what you believe, you should be infinitely more concerned about the well being of your country than the well being of your political party. There’s no time for pouting and bad-mouthing and the government offices are the last place we need to find sore losers.  

So, as they say “Get out and vote”, America! But, as we complete our ballots, understand that our contributions are made in vain until politicians start focusing on the actual issues as opposed to the whims of their parties and the bids of their campaign contributors. Realize that, unless they start working together despite the balance of power, what was once regarded an act of patriotism is just a lost cause in the name of democracy.


Post #13: From Jim Beam to Genepy

This week was made up of a few “firsts” for me. I had my first bottle of wine… as in this was the first time I single-handedly polished off a whole bottle in one night. I might suggest they add a cautionary label to the wine here that says Warning: cruelly delicious enough to inspire accidental overconsumption. Also this week, I experienced my first earthquake. Though it was a mere 3.4 on the richter scale, the three second vibration through the apartment was my first exposure to seismic activity of any kind. And, on Saturday, I participated in my first true Italian feast… all five hours and six courses of it. Since the first two of these firsts will hopefully also be lasts, I will use this post to elaborate on the third, which I hope is only one of many to come…

With nine teams in Kevin’s league, it works out that each one has a Saturday off every fifth week. These few weekends are a blessing in the schedule, not just for the players (like Kevin), but also for their respective traveling companions (like me!). Two days off means a weekend getaway in Europe. Florence, Pisa, Le Cinque Terre, Venice, Nice, Monte Carlo… the possibilities are endless. Needless to say, when an autograph signing for the team was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, I was disappointed. Rather than lounging at a Bellagio trattoria eating Apertivi and admiring the view of Lake Como, we would be in an electronics shop in nearby Saluzzo. Have a good weekend without me in Como, George Clooney! Maybe I’ll catch up with you in five weeks, and you can buy me one of those Italian coffee machines that you rave about to Americans… Americans who, by the way, would probably scowl at you for even trying to market such a small serving of their sacred morning brew if you weren’t voted the World’s Sexiest Man every year for the past decade. Phew… I got THAT out of my system. THAT just about sums up my initial reaction to the news of our weekend getaway being plucked mercilessly from our agendas.

Luckily, my disappointment was short-lived.

Perhaps to increase the appeal of participation in the autograph session, a team meal was scheduled for the end of the event. So, at 7:30, along with the generous Valpe owners and their families, the players and their wives boarded the team bus and headed to Cuneo for dinner. I will be the first to admit that I was a touch critic. Even considering Friday’s beautiful hike through the Valpe Alps and memorable evening at Cele with the Valpe crew, I was still not convinced that any dinner could top-off a weekend more fulfilling one than the one we had originally planned elsewhere. But I should know by now… any time I do anything here, I should just expect the unexpected and unbelievable.

Sure enough, an hour after leaving Saluzzo, we arrived at a beautiful restaurant perched atop a steep hill. Inside and out, the dining venue maintained an appealing balance between rustic and modern. The lacquered, rich brown wood of the U-shaped bar in the main room was accented by the exposed beams extending from the high ceilings. Warm yellow lighting complimented the maroons and oranges that are so characteristic of Italian décor.  Ivory damask linens on the tables were adorned with understatedly elegant china. After years of watching HGTV, I finally understand what designers mean when they say they are bringing Italian inspiration to a room.

The waiter led us to a large dining space extending to the left of bar area. A DJ was situated at the intersection of the two rooms. All 40 of us were seated at the lavish tables and, without adieu, were served our first antipasti of the evening. I know I am doing this italian delicacy a disservice when I say that it was simply a thin, raw filet of meat covered with a balsamic sauce. Yes. Raw. And yes. Delicious.

When the first plates were cleared, we all ate our share of fresh breads and sipped on Nebbiolo D’Alba wine. Surrounded by good company, everyone relaxed under the influence of Italian culture. The DJ, getting a feel for the vibe of the dinner experimented with an array of different music. Bryan Adams, classic rock ballads, a few Italian classics, and, of course, Michael Jackson.

The second antipasti arrived. Roast beef with a mayonnaise-based sauce and sautéed mushrooms. Sensing the growing enthusiasm of the crowd, the DJ worked a little dance music into the rotation. A few guests took the bait, leaving their seats to dance in the space available in front of the DJ. The team owners and their young children, accompanied of course by the team’s notorious dancer.

By the time the roast beef dishes were cleared away, the DJ was gaining confidence. The crowd was cheering on his song choices and singing along to Billie Jean. And then something amazing happened. A few stanzas into the next song, I recognized familiar chords. I looked around at several of the players to see if what I thought to be true was actually happening. And, oh yes, from the expressions on their faces, it definitely was…

Flash back to the previous night. Along with several of the players, we were out at Cele, the only bar in the Valpellice region that just so happens to be around the corner from our apartment. There, much to my amusement, Kevin found himself dancing on the bar to uphold his end of a losing bet. In his defense, it was a really safe bet. After all, we are in an extremely small town in northern Italy. What were the odds that the DJ would randomly play Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A? This is why I’m not a gambler.

Back to the Cuneo restaurant, where the freshly placed dishes of potato, green bean, and pan-seared squid sat before us. That’s when we heard it… the unmistakable opening to Springsteen’s ballad. Everyone who witnessed Kevin’s performance the night before started laughing… and they wanted an encore. The group started clapping along to the beat, chanting my husband’s name harmoniously. (It still feels weird to say husband.) The rest of the crowd joined in. Kevin, though not characteristically a solo dancer, is also not one to let down his teammates. And so, he took out his air guitar, headed to the front of the room, and paid homage to his birth country. Fumbling for an appropriate description of his routine, it will suffice to say that he did Bruce proud.

And so, the night continued. Our primi dish of creamy mushroom risotto arrived. This technically translates to first plate though we were technically three appetizers into the meal. It was followed up with the secondi which was, as it is traditionally, a meat dish. This time it was slivers of grilled meat that were so tender that my mouth waters just thinking about them. As I ate plate after plate, I kept waiting for my pituitary gland to make the signal that I was stuffed. But, it never came. Throughout the entire meal, the longest one of my life, I was completely satisfied and comfortable. I suppose that’s the secret… petite portions served over an extended time period. What’s the big rush anyway?

As the empty bottles of Nebbiolo collected at the center of the tables, more dancing commenced with more and more contributors until a full-out disco exploded in the center of the room. From 5-year olds to 45 year-olds and 25-year olds that act like 5-year olds, every one was dancing to everything from bad wedding music to Shakira and Grease. Yes, the YMCA made the playlist. This is humorous to me seeing as Italians don’t have a “y” in their alphabet.

In case the first five courses weren’t enough to solidify this dinner as the best one of my life, the dessert sealed the deal. A sliver of thick nocciola mousse, full of nuts and slathered in creamy hot chocolate sauce.

Before boarding the bus, glasses of genepy were distributed from the bar. Genepy is an Italian after-dinner drink that supposedly aids in digestion and has an alcohol content that would probably be illegal in the U.S. Although I’m not yet able to non-chalantly sip the drink from it’s little cup, I agree that it is far more tolerable than Jim Beam, my dad’s substitute for the concoction. It’s sweet, herbal, and to follow it with a chaser would be a crime.

Several times prior to the weekend, I wondered what I would be missing from the Como weekend that never was. But on Friday, as Kevin and I hiked above the clouds in one of the jagged mountains in Valpellice, I was undeniably content. And, on Saturday night, I never thought twice about where we should be or who we should be with. No offense, George. The best part is, I don’t think anyone else did either. Despite all worries about the sacrificing one of the few full weekends off, this one evolved into one that will be amongst my favorites from Italy.

Hiking in the Valpe Alps 1700m up


Post #12: Lost and Found

I apologize in advance for the touchy-feely nature of this post. Although I am a quarter Greek with a pair of late great uncles named Socrates and Plato to prove it, I am by no means a philosopher. However, a recent drive through a mountain road got me thinking metaphorically…

The drive started out innocent enough. I dropped Kevin off at practice and took a backroad out of Torre to head back to Luserna. This path is part of one of my favorite runs, passing by expansive green farmlands. The days of driving on this road are numbered… once snow and ice become an element of the weather, it is closed to cars without chains on their tires. I wanted to clock out the distance of my run, and, with the sun making its appearance for the first time in weeks, I couldn’t think of a better time for such a leisurely drive. I took a left off of the main road and followed it as it curved right. Two kilometers ticked by and then, rather than continuing straight ahead where I usually run, I took a left towards Angrogna. What possessed me to jeer off course, I couldn’t tell you. I just did. To counteract my subconscious decision, I made a conscious one. Seeing as I love loops, I decided to turn my spontaneous detour into such a route. I followed the narrow stretches of road, turning as necessary onto whichever street I thought might take me up and back to where I initially drove off course. The problem is, with all of the steep switchbacks, the unfamiliar roads started to all look the same. Already four songs into my mixed CD and at least 5km off of my running course, I became disoriented. Turning around wasn’t an option because the streets were too narrow to permit even a one thousand point Austin Powers turn. And the banks of the side of the road were too threateningly steep to even risk an attempt. Not that turning around would have been helpful… I don’t think I could have found my way back in that direction if I’d tried. Rather than worry like am inclined to do in such situations, I just turned up the music, rolled down the windows, and drove.

No sooner had I succumbed to my state of being lost did the road open up to spectacular panoramic view of snow-capped mountains framed by autumn-colored trees. Mountains and foliage and snow, oh my!  I pulled the car over as much as possible, shifted it into neutral, and pulled up the emergency brake. Like a little girl on Christmas day rushing over to my stocking, I hurried across the street to admire the sight, an unadvertised gem along a quiet mountain road. Michael Franti’s “Sound of Sunshine” blared from the car stereo while my eyes worked diligently to register the color palettes of the canvas before me… blues, purples, oranges, and greens. I snapped a few pictures proudly as if I were the Lois and Clark of Angrogna, discovering the beauty of this mountainside destination for the first time. Returning to the car euphoric about my accidental discovery, I drove on greedy for more. Much to my delight, each subsequent bend of the road afforded me new views. I stopped several times to snatch up the images to the best of my novice photographer abilities. When I eventually reached a widening of the road, I turned around and headed back a different way than I had come. Before long, I arrived at an intersection that I recognized. I was two turns ahead of where I had turned left off my running course!

And this was where I started thinking…

Whether a person is looking for a job, a soul-mate, or the perfectly stylish-yet-functional winter jacket, people often say “you find what you are looking for when you least expect it”. There have been times in my life where I have found some truth in these hope-inducing words. I have even offered them as consolation to friends, with faith that they will eventually find what they are looking for. But, what if, as it happened to me when I turned off the course, you don’t know what you’re looking for? What if you get lost? Well, then I guess you are S.O.L. You are on your own on this one… here’s a little pity shrug and a good luck pat on the back. Just kidding!

Piggybacking on the “If you least expect it, then you find it” philosophy, I think getting lost can have a similar conclusion. Only, rather than finding what you were looking for, you are finding something you never would have looked for in the first place.

I know what you’re thinking…

Sarah, what has happened to you?! Six weeks in Italy and you are going crazy! At this rate, you’ll be using the next post to preach your idea of the meaning of life!

Please do not jump to conclusions.  I am not saying that this little drive was a life-changing experience, nor do I feel enlightened by the outcome of getting myself a little lost on my way home. I am just documenting the fact that, in this particular case, a potentially worrisome detour brought me somewhere unexpected and beautiful. Take from it what you will, but I think there might be literal and figurative interpretations to finding something wonderful when you are a little lost.

One of the many turns along the road...


Post #11: Che Cosa Fai con Tuo Tempo?

On September 4, 2010, I was the recipient of an incredible gift. The gift was something everyone wishes for, but that few people receive, especially in their young adulthood. Poets write about it, musicians sing about it, it flies by and it can’t be turned back. The gift was Time… free, unrestricted, and promising Time.

Having never had such a large quantity of this precious gift, I was overwhelmed by it’s potential. I had won the lottery, and I knew it. Unfortunately, understanding the value of Time is not the same thing as knowing what to do with it.

At first, I felt burdened by the enormity of the gift that fate had temporarily bestowed upon me. I wondered if it should have been left in more capable hands. The question that came at me from all angles was, “What do you do with your Time?" The seemingly harmless inquiry left me flustered. I panicked… What do I do with my Time?! What should I be doing with it?! Did this gift come with a user’s manual? I imagined a metaphorical re-gifting where I was wrapping Time up in a little box, tying it shut with a satin ribbon, and passing it off to someone else… someone who knew what to do with it.

In retrospect, I think this initial panic was a by-product of my Type A personality. I was more or less stressed out by my lack of stress. I am a chronic multi-tasker and without multiple tasks to address in my day-to-day life, I could not function. I am very familiar with having a lot to do and only a little time to get it all done. Suddenly, I had nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it! No deadlines, no appointments, nowhere in particular to be and, being an ocean apart from all of my loved ones except Kevin, no one in particular to see. My agenda was a clean slate. The only person that would be adding things to the empty pages was me! That’s a lot of freedom. Even my “free” time back home was more structured than this new type of Time. I used to fill my weekends, for instance, with the things that I couldn’t accomplish during the week. Once in Italy, I found that there was nothing I had to accomplish during the week, and thus nothing that I couldn’t finish during the week to do during the weekend. It was like I was stuck inside a movie set. The cobblestone streets and earth-toned houses were all props, and the smiling passersby were all actors. But unlike the traditional Hollywood movies sets, this movie didn’t have a script. And I was the director….

Fortunately, my state of bewilderment was short-lived. After a few deep breaths and a couple shots of espresso, I was able to convince myself that I could handle this new job of being jobless… in a foreign country… surrounded by people who speak a different language. I am a creature of habit. I just needed to adjust to some new habits. I would start with the basics, and build my itinerary from there. And so I did, and five weeks later I am finally ready to address the question that I have been avoiding for so long.

So, here goes nothing. I know I have kept you waiting in suspense for long enough. Drumroll please… what do I do with my time? I floss. And I don’t just quickly pass a minty flavored string between my central and lateral incisors in a lackluster effort to appease my dental hygenist at my next scheduled cleaning. I really give my teeth and gums a thorough flossing, extending the coated thread into all crevices, and ridding problem areas of the day’s tartar build-up.

Alright, I am being facetious. I apologize. And well, I actually do floss now that I have the Time to do so.

The fact is, besides the obvious pastime of becoming acclimated with my new surroundings and learning the language, the majority of my days this month have been spent doing things that, like flossing, were previously designated to the bottom of my priority list. For example, I sleep for more than 6 hours a night. I walk instead of drive. I go to restaurants for Apertivi, a glorified version of cocktail hour where you buy a glass of wine and get a free spread of snacks. I eat gelato, savoring each little spoonful and making the little cup last as long as possible. (This agenda-filler will need to be replaced come November when the gelato spots close for the winter season. It’s devastating, but I will compensate for the looming six month deprivation by putting in double sessions through October.) I volunteer at a day-care two mornings a week. I run. I take pictures. I work on little photo projects on my computer. I go to hockey games. I accept invitations from new friends to visit nearby towns. I learn new things every day. For instance, the other day I learned that I had been washing our laundry with fabric softener, not detergent. I think this oversight cancelled out the functionality of our only regularly working appliance.

Another outlet for my newfound Time has been cooking. Prior to coming to Italy, my idea of a good dinner was a bowl of cereal with my signature addition of extra milk. It was quick, easy, and satisfying… the perfect trifecta for a busy schedule. And, as I decided when I first tried operating our stove, it would have been the safest option for our nightly menu this year as well. The oven component is broken and the stovetop burners have one level of flame, VERY HIGH. The appliance has the destructive instinct of a two year old boy, though it’s objective is not to divebomb the floor or throw a toy ball at an unsuspecting target. It’s intent is more malicious… Burn, scorch, cremate, KILL!! Thankfully, I overcame my fears of using the stove and have since learned to tame the monster enough to concoct some delightfully delectable meals. Sausage and peppers, Chicken with honey-roasted pears and green apples, Steak Bolognese. Much to my surprise, I actually enjoy cooking! I can’t wait to expand my efforts in this terrain when a new oven lends me more options than pan fry and boil! Rachel Ray look out…

To anyone reading this post, I understand that my described escapades may seem disappointingly trivial. I have not saved the world (yet), but I did make some delicious homemade pasta sauce and I did learn over 100 verbs in Italian. I don’t feel the pressure to fill my schedule just to say that I am being productive, and perhaps that’s my biggest accomplishment so far. Finally, after five weeks of living in Italy, I am feeling comfortable with my possession of so much Time. Like my engagement ring that eventually molded into an extension of my finger, Time has gradually become an unimposing accent to my daily life. I know it’s there, but I don’t notice it and I don’t constantly worry about losing it. Because the truth is, if I leave here with nothing more than a couple extra kilos around my waist, a healthy smile from all my flossing, a few new recipes, and a scrapbook of pictures and memorabilia from a year abroad, that is more than fine by me. And, who knows? Maybe more awaits… Rome wasn’t built in a day. These things take Time, and Time is what I’ve got!


Post #10: The Garden of Via Monte Friolant Part II

Domani, domani…

The day after our delicious feast of chicken with rosemary potatoes, I ventured downstairs to return the bowl lent to me by the little woman residing in the apartment below us. I rang the buzzer from the corridor and waited while no fewer than five deadbolts were unlocked from the inside. When she finally opened the door, a cloud of cigarette smoke billowed out into the stairwell from behind her petite silhouette. After a brief pause where she was registering who I was, she launched into a ream of salutations. I handed her the bowl and offered her a brioche I purchased from a corner pasticceria as a thank you for her generosity. “Di niente” she waved her hand in response to my verbalized gratitude. She then explained that she cannot have sweets because of her diabetes. Apparently, she keeps a very careful watch over her sugar intake but sucks on cancer sticks like candy. I kept this irony to myself figuring that in Italy, having diabetes is about as cruel of a punishment as having a wheat intolerance. If she can’t have cannolis, gelato, tiramisu, brioches, NUTELLA!!, should I really be criticizing her supplementary vice?

She invited me inside, or moreso pulled me inside and beckoned me to sit for a minute. These two commands I understood and complimented myself for doing so. At this point, I was seated at one end of her rectangular table and she was seated beside me along it’s adjacent edge. She took my hand, and started talking.

She talked to me for a solid ten minutes, stopping only to laugh, smile, or give my hand a little pat midsentence. I smiled and nodded, as she excitedly discussed, among many other things that I did not understand, the following:

·            She is 84 years old. This is very old she says. (I agree because in smoker-years, this is equivalent to at least 97 years of age.)
·            She has a bad leg as a result of a fall. Una gamba rotta, she called it. It causes her much pain, but she is still happy.
·            She has bad hearing. (We had our suspicions about this fact. Refer to the previous post and my reference to her fondness of “Chi vuol essere milionario?“)
·            She is sorry about the loud television that compensates for the previously stated hearing problem. To this, I responded that we are not bothered by the volume and that she shouldn’t worry. (Afterall, our apartment feels so holy on Sunday mornings when the background music for our breakfast comes from the weekly televised mass airing downstairs.)
·            She is happy that Kevin and I are enjoying ourselves in Italy. She thinks Kevin and I are so young and sweet.
·            She has lived in this apartment for 30 years.
·            Her husband died 20 years ago.

This accounts for about 5% of our one-sided conversation. The other 95% of what she said, I did not follow. I have yet to determine whether my poor comprehension was the result of my still novice experience with the language or the fact that she was talking a different dialect of the language altogether. Many of the older inhabitants of Luserna speak Piemontese, not Italian. Whatever the case, there is one thing that I took away from this conversation that is universal between all languages and cultures, something that can be said without using any words…. my little elderly neighbor is lonely. Most of the older people that I walk past on the streets are arm-in-arm with a familial companion be it a son or daughter or grandchild. I know she is very popular among the other apartment dwellers, as she is constantly in their company. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder whether or not this sweet fragile woman has relatives to care for her. Sure, her leg may prohibit her from going for an afternoon stroll. But, does she have a person that visits her for an afternoon sugar-free caffe?

On my way out the door, my new friend thanked me for my company. I did my best to explain that the visit was mutually appreciated and that I would stop by again sometime. She asked if I liked wine and then prompted me to wait a second while she scurried back to the kitchen. She came back with a bottle of Vino Rosa and handed it to me. I knew that no matter how much I refused, I was leaving with that bottle of wine. Rather than go through that routine, I simply accepted it graciously. She was very pleased, said I was “bellissima”, and gave me a kiss on both cheeks.  As I headed up the stairs to my apartment, she gave a wave and a “salute a tuo marito”, before closing the door.  I grinned at the sound of the maximum security deadbolts being returned to their locked positions.

Once back inside my apartment, I reflected on the pattern of events that had just unfolded. I brought her a brioche to thank her for lending me the bowl. She refused my gift but gave me another one. Well, little lady, two can play this game! I will find a suitable thank you for that wine and your little bowl too. You have not seen the last of me!

* Yes, mom. The fact that smoking is permitted in this apartment indicates that there are NOT smoke alarms in the building. Please do not worry. The balcony offers a sufficient escape route in the case of a fire.


Post #9: The Garden of Via Monte Friolant

I am not a thief. I have never stolen so much as an extra sticker at the dentist office. Once, I bought a binder at Walmart and got home to see that a $2 Carebear notebook was stuck inside. I went back the next day and returned it to the shelf. Despite my clean history, the other day I found myself on the fringe of robbery. What could have inspired such a conscientious young lady to commit a criminal deed? Rosemary.

If you recall, I was seated next to a girl on the plane over to Italy that I happened to know from New Hampshire. She is currently living in Torino to conduct research on organic farming in Italy. Since our arrival, we have kept in contact and coordinated a couple visits. We went to a Rice Festival a couple of weeks ago in a small town two hours east. I ate arancini for the first time and consequently decided it would definitely not be my last. Most recently, she interviewed a farmer in Bibiana, a town 4 km from Luserna. She used this work trip as an excuse to visit my neck of the woods. I accompanied her to the farm, and then brought her back to Luserna to show her my apartment. She was very impressed by the garden in the backyard. Anyone who’s anyone has a garden out here. Whether it be a couple potted plants on a balcony or a thriving fruit and vegetable enclave, people love their gardens. It’s fascinating sitting on my balcony and watching no fewer than three little old men tending their respective lots. I watch them harvest fruits and water plants with hoses extending from large buckets that collect rainwater. (I could dedicate an entire blog to the do-it-yourself irrigation systems of Luserna, but I’d like to keep you at least mildly interested in what I have to say!) Kevin and I have always been impressed by the grape, lettuce, and tomato plants that occupy our backyard. But, apparently, there is even more to our garden than we’d thought! As my farm-knowedgeable friend informed me, plants that I had dismissed as decorative bushes were actually the blooms of oregano, sage, and rosemary. And there it was. The forbidden fruit. Potatoes were on the menu for that night, and fresh rosemary was taunting me from just outside my balcony window.

After dropping my Torino pal off at the train station, I headed to my backyard to do the unthinkable; steal. And a twig of rosemary was my object of want. I casually sauntered into the backyard and readied myself for a quick loop around the garden where I planned to inconspicuously snatch a branch of the flavorful plant.

No sooner had I entered the back yard did the balcony door to the first floor apartment pop open. So much for being inconspicuous. Out came three of my building neighbors. One was a man who occupies a third floor unit. He once fixed our hot water heater and is the master gardener of this establishment. The second was a woman who also lives on the top floor, though I cannot decide if she is the man’s wife because her first name is on two different doors up there. (That’s what happens when seven names are recycled across generations in a town small enough to be a high school). Whatever her relationship to the man, it’s evident that my detective skills are as weak as my criminal ones. The third occupant of the balcony was a woman who resides on the first floor below us and watches “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” every night at 7. I know this because she blasts it loud enough for us to be a lifeline for one of the contestants without the host even reading us the question. As you probably expect from my previous posts, all three of these neighbors are in the latter portion of the age bracket. I would estimate that, in the States, the first two would be at least 15 years into their AARP memberships. Compared to their game show-watching pal, however, they looked like a pair of teenage kids!

As I turned to greet the group of onlookers, I was startled and mortified. Had they entered the scene two seconds later, they would have caught me in the midst of a criminal act! Much to my relief, the smiles from the trio confirmed that they had not suspected my intentions. Instead, they were genuinely excited by the opportunity to say hello. I think they are very happy about us being here. Our Americanism and youthfulness make us somewhat of a novelty to their little community. I regained my composure and followed up my hellos with a compliment on the beauty of the garden. They all tried to speak at once, which is extremely difficult for me seeing as I can barely understand one Italian speaker at a time. The man’s voice overpowered the other two. I focused on his words “Prende la uva”. After a pause, my brain returned the translation “Take a grape”. What an awful person I was trying to steal rosemary from a man who is offering me the most prized fruit in Italy! I declined his offer, thanking him profusely, but he insisted. And so I finally gave in, plucking a small green grape from the vine and popping it into my mouth*. “Che buono!” I exclaimed. I wasn’t just saying that to be kind… it really was delicious! Usually, I cannot eat grapes with seeds, but this grape just exploded with juice and seeds passed seamlessly by my tongue. He prompted me to take more before huddling with the other two in the group and disappearing from the balcony. A few seconds later, he joined me in the backyard, holding a large bowl. He asked me to follow him as he retrieved a pair of cutters from the shed and he showed me around the garden.

When we arrived at the grape vines, he snipped four large green clusters, and put them in the bowl. He lifted his arms to retrieve more, but I explained that it was just me and my husband up there and we would never finish all those grapes. He winked and threw one more in for good measure. And that’s when he showed me the bushes. He ran touched a twig of Rosemary and put his hand to his nose, encouraging me to do the same. I cupped the bristles in my palm and smelled the aromatic residue. And this is when I did what I should have done in the first place. I asked for a little Rosemary. He cut more than a little and added it to the bowl.

As my generous gardening neighbor and I completed our rounds, he told me about how he’s lived here 20 years. He used to work for FIAT, but is retired now. He has a son and granddaughter in Torino. I told him I would bring down the bowl in a few minutes. He said not to worry about it, waving me off with a smile and a “domani, domani”. During our excursion, the two on the balcony observed our garden stroll happily. But my smile was definitely the largest of them all. I thanked them excessively, before disappearing from view on my way to the front door.

* Yes, mom. I did not wash the grape! But, there’s no need to pick up the phone and pay the international calling rates to express your concern. I promise that it was pesticide free and therefore will not harm your unborn grandbabies.