Post #37: ...Go With All Your Heart

Macbook storing well over one thousand pictures from nearly seven months of traveling; check. Five bottles of piedmont region wines including two Barberas, a Nebbiolo, a Barolo, and an Asti Spumanti; check. A jar of pesto, a gourmet Italian Olive oil, and a Bialetti espresso maker with a can of Moka espresso coffee grounds; check. A small shoebox filled with over fifteen maps, tokens of places we’ve been; check. All of the above packed comfortably into two bags with the rest of the things I brought out here in September; hmmm... So I'm not quite ready yet, but I'm getting there. 

It’s funny the way time works. How one day can feel like a lifetime, and how, months later, that same day can feel like it passed by in only a second. Time collectively feels shorter once it’s gone. I look back on nearly 75 single-spaced typed pages of this blog, for instance, and I’m astonished at how much has happened in what now feels like the blink of an eye. How distinctive moments meld together into collective memories. And those memories, though lacking in the detail of the original experience, are still accompanied by the same feelings.

Surprisingly, considering the amount we’ve traveled and the amount of Italian wine and food we’ve consumed in the past five months, I’m happy to report as self-designated family accountant, that we came up only a little short to our savings goal. We decided early on in our stay that we didn’t want to miss out on opportunities to travel because of rigid expense-guidelines. We didn’t want to look back on this experience and have regrets about things we didn’t do because we were watching our money. At the same time, we acknowledged that at some point we will probably want to achieve the American Dream of home ownership. With this in mind, we designed a loose spending plan. We didn’t budget, necessarily, but we did monitor that our spending was in check. Depending on what we valued, we moved ourselves along the spending spectrum as necessary between the extremes of Frugal and Frivolous. We moved closer to the former in apparel purchases and hotel selection, but closer to the latter in travel expenses that would inevitably provide us with new experiences.

Now, looking back on the season, I believe this approach to finances paid off. (No pun intended.) We saw more than I could have hoped to see in what now feels like such a short time. Every trip, big and small, was worth it. But the interesting part of my retrospection is realizing that the biggest part of the year wasn’t the traveling.

Thinking about the year, I remember that the majority of my time was spent, not in Verona, Rome, Venice, Florence, Paris, the Italian Riviera, Valle de’Aosta, Milan, Sestriere or Como, and not in the company of visiting family. Instead, the majority of my time was spent in the little towns of Luserna San Giovanni and Torre Pellice. And, except for a few new friends, American, Canadian, and Italian alike, it was just me and Kevin. And I realize that those days, no matter how homesick or jobsick I was, were just as memorable as the rest. I think that’s because the whole time I was here, it felt like I was in a new place. And I don’t know what it is about new places, but it seems that you take more in when you are in them. It is as if the power of observation is increased by the build-up of expectation about a new destination.

And this was something I experienced on a daily basis here. Every day for almost seven months, I heard a voice in my head telling me enjoy this while it lasts. It’s the voice I heard on my wedding day, family vacations, and all the happiest days of my life. Days where I paused to appreciate the fact that I was living in a moment I’d remember forever. I always knew I had such a wonderful collection of these memories, but I never really appreciated that every day was a candidate for such happy recollections in the future. 

And I think that’s what is the most wonderful part of this year. The every-day reminder I was given as a result of the novelty of my situation to take everything in. All the time. Because now I’ve grown accustomed to this mentality. And I’d like to think that when I wake up in the familiar setting of my childhood home or my family cottage where I will be spending the off-season, I’ll do so with same mindset as I had here. And that, work-days, vacation days, rainy days, and sunny ones alike, I will have the urgency to make that day a fulfilling one. Sure, it felt glamorous to add “… in Italy” to such mundane activities as going for a walk (in Italy), reading a book in coffee shop (in Italy), and so on. But, it wasn’t Italy that made me enjoy those activities. It was the simplicity of the activities themselves. And, like my memories, I can take simplicity with me everywhere.


Post #36: Casa Dolce Casa

It’s always weird waking up the day after the season is over. It’s the same sensation as waking up on the first day of summer vacation from a school year. You feel a mixture of relief, exhilaration, nostalgia, and of course your mind settles upon the inevitable question of “now what?” For some reason, even though you are aware that it’s going to come to an end, when it finally does, it always feels like a surprise. The 2010-2011 hockey year ended a week ago today. And I am still processing the fact that my seventh season is over!

Though Valpellice was swept in the semifinals, their efforts in the four games were better than their 4-0 record in the series would suggest. Each game was lost by only a goal, two of which ended in overtime finishes. Referee favoritism was an unfortunate component to at least one of those decisions. (This is often just a lame scapegoat in athletic competitions, but, in this case, was an undeniable problem for Valpe.) Players were hurt, and bounces were bad. And in a few periods, they were straight-up out-played. But at the end of the day, all of these obstacles are as much of a part of playoff hockey as the underdog victories that categorized the quarterfinals. While the players were obviously disappointed, at least they can say that they did all that they could. And for the fans and management, this was more than enough. The crowds stayed well after the Saturday night loss to applaud the team on a job well done.

Which brings us to last Sunday morning, where I woke up with the mixed emotions of another season gone by. But this time, a whole new dimension was added to the hang-over (literal and figurative) of the last night of a hockey year. Because this time, the end of the hockey season marked the beginning of the end to my time in Italy.

The week that followed was a whirlwind of gray rainy days brightened by team dinners and farewell visits with new friends. By the time the sun came out on Friday, our flights were booked for the upcoming Tuesday and I was officially excited about heading to our next home. Seven months ago, I had a similar feeling. Except, then, I was excited about experiencing something new. Now, I’m excited about returning to familiar faces in the settings I’ve always known. Just as I was excited to see the little Italian villas when we set out for Italy in September, I’m now looking forward to the seeing a little yellow house at the bottom of a dead-end street. A day of skiing with Kevin in Sestriere, another of packing and cleaning, plus one more full of travel, and that’s where we’ll be!


Post #35: This is Playoff Hockey

Despite a disappointing finish to their regular season (losing 14 of their last 20 games), Valpellice made it to the playoffs with a fifth place finish in the league. Once there, they were seeded against the fourth place team for a best-of-seven quarterfinal match-up. The odds were against them. Not only had they just completed a rocky stretch in their schedule, but they were also now paired against Renon. And, well, they hadn’t beaten Renon in any of their previous five meetings. So while there was only a one-place finish separating the two teams in the league standings, it felt like a lot more. Not to mention the fact that the Valpe squad had been plagued by injuries since the middle of the regular season. They were lucky if they had 12 healthy guys on the bench to battle against Renon’s overflowing roster. Sounds like the making of a Mighty Ducks film, doesn’t it? Where, miraculously, the underdogs arise triumphant against their nemesis. Which is exactly why I worried as Kevin headed out the door to catch the bus for game one. I knew that this wasn’t a Disney movie….

When Valpe lost 4-2, everyone was disappointed, but not necessarily surprised. The team hadn’t won at Renon’s rink in seventy-six years. Which made it all the more important that they win game two at home.

Which they did! And it was an overtime win to boot!! (This in itelf was an accomplishment seeing as it was their first OT win in the season.) The town went crazy! A series tying quarterfinals win had fans celebrating as if Valpe had won the Stanley Cup. While the players knew that the work was far from over, it was clear that the victory would give them some momentum for the next game on Renon’s turf. But would it be enough to bring them a long-overdue victory on Renon’s ice?

That question was answered with a resounding yes as yet another 4-3 overtime win was recorded in the books. Another game-winner for Valpe’s top-scoring defensemen, 70 saves for Kevin, an all-around incredible effort by the rest of the team, and a first-time-in-a-long-time win at the Renon arena!

At this point, two more wins seemed like a lot to be asking for. Especially when, for the sake of the exhausted players, we were asking for two wins in two games. But, game four at home ended in a 4-2 victory. Things were looking good….

For game five, over 200 fans boarded buses for the seven-hour trek to Renon. The team needed another win to follow up their unprecedented win there less than a week before. But they weren’t going to do it alone. Valpe supporters outnumbered the Renon ones in the stands. And when Valpe earned their third overtime win in the series, the crowds erupted! It didn’t matter that there were still 8 wins separating the team from a playoff championship. Afterall, Italians are about the here and now. And there and then, fans had something worth celebrating! After losing all five regular season OT games, they’d won all three in the playoffs. For the second time in over seventy-five years, they won at Renon (twice!). And for the first time in Valpellice’s Serie A history, the team was headed to the Semis!

So, no. These five games didn’t make up a story-line to a Disney movie. But it certainly had a Disney-worthy ending! Since last Saturday’s exciting win, the Valpe team has had a much-needed week of recovery. But let’s hope that they’ve replenished their energy and refueled their adrenaline for another winning series. Because, even though everyone will look back on the season as a success if it were to end tomorrow, it would be so much fun if it didn’t. And sure, they will be up against the league’s best team. And, sure, winning four games against Brunico will be a daunting task. But as I witnessed in Valpe’s wins over Renon, none of that really matters. This is playoff hockey.