Post #8: Alpi Cozie

After last season, Kevin and I promised ourselves that if we returned to northwestern Italy, we would take advantage of the hiking afforded to us by our location. Just a couple hours away, there are mountain ranges that rival some of the most beautiful in the world. Mont Blanc, or Monte Bianco from our side of the mountain, sits eloquently on the border of France and Italy. Briuel-Cervinia, a town two hours north houses trailheads to some of the most beautiful excursions through the Swiss Alps. Given the plethora of trekking opportunities available, it is somewhat embarrassing to admit at the end of last season that we had not taken a proper hike during our stay. But, in our defense, the weather in the region only permits hiking for a few weeks at the start of hockey season. October is a warm and pleasant autumn month in Valpellice, but it’s a snowy and unpredictable one in the higher altitude regions of the north. Before we knew what was out there, the small window of opportunity had closed. We weren’t going to let that happen again.

This time around, we were determined to make our way through a couple stages of Via Alta Una, a Valle De’Aosta trail with worthwhile views of glacier lakes, Monte Rosa, and several mountainside villages. So as soon as I arrived in Italy, I plotted for our adventure. I read about the rifugios that offer shelter and a warm Italian meal at the end of each day-long stage. I learned the meaning of trail signs and, just to be safe, studied the rescue signals of hikers in distress. On Kevin’s next day off, the family was heading north for a dose of the Great Outdoors. At least that was the plan. But, as it goes with even the best laid plans, there was one tiny problem. The weather.

It had been a particularly beautiful September here in Peimonte. The sun blanketed the region in a clear and bright warmth every day… until, of course, that day off we were waiting for. The next week, weather in Valpellice was fine. But, in Valle D’Aosta where we were headed, they were predicting clouds and, sniffle sniffle, snow. We were looking straight in the face of a “fool me twice” scenario.  And it was a ugly sight! But, you know what they say: when one window closes… a balcony door opens. And, in this case, our balcony door revealed a skyline of mountains that we had been underestimating all along in our quest to reach Valle D’Aosta. Instead of Monte Rosa, we had Monte Viso and handful of other hike-worthy ranges all accessible from good ole’ Valpellice. Rather than mope about how we couldn’t make it to the mountains up north, we hit the trails in our own backyard.

Since arriving and accepting that Valle D’Aosta’s season had passed us by, Dylan and I have had the privelege of hiking on two separate occasions, first in the company of my butcher shop friend from last season and later with Kevin. Both times, we were in the very mountains that we see from our balconies. According to my Italian pal, this mountain range is considered Alpi Cozie while other segments of the Alps bear different names.

The first hike led us from Villanova to Pra. My friendly Italian guide drove the dog and I up the first portion of the mountain. I was grateful not to be traversing the narrow, pot-hole ridden “road” in our Valpe mobile, as I cannot attest that it would have made it to where we parked. Having driven around switchbacks through puddles more like streams and over scattered rocks that more like boulders, the half hour journey ended with three nearly carsick passengers grateful to take the rest of the trip on foot.

Throughout the two-hour hike, I practiced my Italian, pausing my friend whenever she said something I couldn’t understand. She knows as much English as I do Italian, and so the hike doubled as a tutoring session. She told me about the special blue stone that is indigenous to these mountains and taught me past-tense conjugations of some irregular verbs. I explained the meaning of such phrases as “catching your breath” and, when she pointed to goat droppings and asked the English word for them, I happily provided several synonyms. The last and most explicit, I explained, also doubled as a single syllable of frustration. To this anecdote, she seemed thoroughly enlightened, having heard but never having understood the expression before. 

The trail passed beside a river and the sight of waterfalls landing in pools of turquoise water offered a pleasant peripheral for our trek. Once at the top, it opened up into valley with splendid 360 degree views. We stopped for lunch at the rifugio before beginning our descent. And by the time I made it back to the apartment, I had fallen in love with Alpi Cozie.

The next weekend, Kevin came along on a second trail nearby. This time, we were just passed the neighboring village of Villar Pellice. We drove up a smoother road than the one leading to Pra, and parked up at Rifugio Barbara. We had taken a trip up this road in November of last year, but our hiking was limited because snow had already covered the majority of the trail. We got there in the early morning this time, and spent several hours exploring the trails in that section of the mountains. We were much higher than I’d been on the previous trek, and I could feel the difference in my lungs. While this path was less decorated with lush greens and cold mountain waters than the last, it offered more magnificent views of the valleys for the entirety of the walk.

Throughout our hike, I marveled at how quiet the mountains really are. As we stopped for lunch on a trailside boulder, I thought about how I was hearing silence for the first time. Unlike Pra’s trail which was speckled with hikers, this stretch of trail was virtually empty. Just me, Kevin, and the pup. We did spot a few eagles on the way, and there was no shortage of grazing cattle on the angular slopes. But thankfully, we didn’t run into any wild boar. (The thought of encountering any animal with tusks in the wild is not particularly comforting).

When I returned to the car, I was once again throroughly content (not to mention considerably tired). We didn’t make it through two stages of Via Alta Una, but I did get to experience two days worth of hiking in Alpi Cozie. And those served as an excellent substitute to our planned trekking adventures in Valle D’Aosta. 


A Mayonnaise Jar and Two Beers

Most mass emails that I receive make their way into my trash bin before they've been read. This one, however, is different. Throughout the years, I've received several versions of it and read them all. I cannot take credit for the brilliant analogy, but I can share it with those of you who haven't seen it at least once before...

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 Beers.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous 'yes.'

The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

'Now,' said the professor as the laughter subsided, 'I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.The golf balls are the important things---your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions---and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else---the small stuff.

 'If you put the sand into the jar first,' he continued, 'there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal.

Take care of the golf balls first---the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, 'I'm glad you asked.'  The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.


Post #7: Ancora

We made it! And, while Dylan might disagree, I found that the process of flying with a canine companion was far less traumatizing than I had anticipated. Much to my appreciation, he remained out of his crate throughout the entirety of the check-in and security procedures. He pranced along happily in the airport, stopping frequently to receive generous back-rubs from passengers who had dropped their carry-ons and halted foot-traffic just to say hello to the happy pooch. An airport is always such a stressful and hurried environment. Funny how the oddity of a dog sauntering through the crowds and playfully stealing his owner’s neck pillow is enough to inspire a swarm of smiles. While I can testify that these first hours of the journey were more or less pleasant for both parties involved, I can’t say that Dylan enjoyed the post-security segment of the trip. The important thing is that he was waiting in Oversized Baggage when I landed at the airport in Milan. And, as I spoke in broken Italian to an associate waiting nearby, I heard his tail thumping excitedly against the plastic wall of his crate at the sound of my voice.

Almost a week since that day, I’m happy to report that I’m quickly remembering the language and gradually adjusting to the time change. Even Dylan is adapting to the move! The stress of the flight certainly exhausted him, but it wasn’t anything a few days of lounging on our sunny balcony and exploring his new surroundings couldn’t fix. While I still can’t believe I’m back in Italy, it somehow also feels like I never left. But I think that is just how it goes when you return to a place you’ve been before; Time is like a magic trick, making illusions out of memories made elsewhere and pulling old place-specific ones out of a hat. As quickly as a quarter can disappear, I am right where I was a year before… an ocean away from home.

The decision to return to Valpellice wasn’t a particularly tough one to make. The community of Italians was incredibly welcoming and the fans made it an exciting place to play. We knew we would be, strange as it is to say about a foreign country, comfortable here. I know when to go for groceries, where to find good gelato, how to speak Italian (sort of), and how to properly engage in the double cheek kiss greeting (an awkward exhange for any unsuspecting American, but a formality to which I have grown accustomed). The last of these bits of knowledge has been particularly important since I have already been greeted warmly by handfuls of our Italian friends from last season. The brother-sister butcher duo, our “host” family, CafĂ© owners, and team staff, all issuing the exuberant kiss-kiss before sharing stories of their summer travels and expressing their enthusiasm about our return.

Though this comfort factor certainly makes the transition to Italian living an easy one, it was simultaneously my one reservation about coming back. Comfort is obviously a good thing. But, there is also something to be said about doing something for the first time. I was worried that last season’s adventures set the standard too high to be achieved a second time. I mean, movie sequels don’t have a great track record for matching up to their predecessors.

Fortunately, one week of being back in town has been enough to eliminate my concern. There are a lot of “new”s this time around: A new apartment, new neighborhood, new opportunities to travel with our dog. And let’s not forget all the new friends to be made. With six new ladies added to the wife/girlfriend squad and three of us returning from last year’s roster, we make up a hockey team all our own!

Just as the new elements of this season have shown promise for months to come, my perspective on being too comfortable has undergone a significant transformation and further diminished my uncertainties. As it turns out, the very feeling of sameness that I was worried about essentially makes this year different. We are already a part of the community with a network of friends that we didn’t have at this time last year. We can strengthen those relationships to add a new dynamic to our lifestyle. We can relish in this experience more as natives than strangers, and revisit places to find things we overlooked before.

Clearly, there is still a lot to look forward to as we move on to Chapter 2 of our adventures in Italy. Though we have graduated from the days of mistakenly ordering French Fries on our pizza, there is still a lot of life, love, and gelato that awaits. (And I mean A LOT of gelato considering we actually have a freezer this time around.) 

Dylan lounging on the balcony

The Foyer

Kitchen looking left

Kitchen view from balcony

I am excited enough that our appliances are life-size, but that fact that our refrigerator is built-in is extra fancy!
Please take a moment to appreciate the size of our freezer. 

An ingenious space-saver common to lots of kitchens out here is the above-sink dish drying rack.

Balcony with kitchen window to the right

Balcony with kitchen entrance to the left

The view from the balcony

It's clear given the ornate furnishings that this is the master bedroom. What's not so clear is, who is the master?

Bathroom with a small balcony entrance for hanging laudry at the back

A showerhead mounted beautifully to the wall.

Some fine china

A cool little teapot

Another fun little trinket... looks like a liquor bottle/shot glass stand

An up-close look at the lavish wallpaper and tin wall clock

The second bedroom

the formal dining room from the entrance

The formal dining room from the balcony


Post #6: Go!

Tomorrow I am leaving to join my other half in Italy! Though I won't have time to publish my usual Wednesday post, I imagine the morning will look something like this…

I will be dragging a fifty pound (and not an ounce more per airline regulations) bag down the hallway of the home I grew up in. Dylan will be following close behind. When I drop the bag by the front door and return upstairs for another, he’ll stay seated beside the first. He’s witnessed the process countless times over five years-worth of our joint New England travels… and once preceding an International relocation where we left him behind. Recently, he’s shown that he recognizes the association between packed bags and an impending move. When those bags make their way to the door, he stations himself beside them as if to ensure that he is not ‘forgotten’ again. As I bring down each of the remaining two bags, he will stay in this position of high alert, trying to guess from my expression if I’m taking this trip solo or if he’s accompanying me.

On my fourth trip down the stairs, I’ll be carrying the enormous airline-approved crate that’s been functioning as his bed for the last few weeks in preparation for the flight. At this point, he will start to wag his tail ever so slightly. It’s the clue he will be waiting for to show that he is coming too.

Once the car is loaded, we will be on our way to JFK. Dylan will be in his signature position, resting his upper half on the center console and his bottom on the back seat. Rather than lying comfortably across the back, he prefers to practice this awkward balancing act just so that he’s not excluded from the conversation in the front. And he’ll stay in that position until we pull into the airport…

When we finally arrive in NY, well, I can’t say exactly what will happen when we’re there. After all, I’ve only flown across the Pacific once, and it was out of Boston and without a pet to deliver to cargo. I can say, however, what I hope will follow. First, I am hoping for a painless airport check-in. This will entail that I choose a check-in line with a dog-loving associate who kindly overlooks the fact that Dylan is two pounds over the weight limit for pets traveling as checked baggage. Despite his diet and exercise regime to prepare for this day, he is still 75 pounds. Add this to a 24-pound crate and 3 pounds worth of bedding, food, and water, and we are above the 100 pound restriction.

Usually, given my inclination to worry about potential airplane disasters, I would say that the flight itself is the most stressful factor in travel. But, this time around, Dylan making it past check-in will be my primary concern. Of course, some good in-flight movies would be nice, and a free upgrade to first class wouldn’t hurt. Just kidding! All I really need is to land in Milan to retrieve a very safe, probably confused, but otherwise happy Retriever. And then we can be on our way to Kevin, Torre Pellice, and Hockey Season Number 8. Wish us luck!


Post #5: 10 Years Later

This picture shows my youngest sister, born 9/11/90, with my grandpa during a family trip to NYC. It was taken in late August of 2001 to capture a moment between grandfather and granddaughter. We wouldn’t realize the significance of the snapshot’s backdrop until three weeks later...

It was an event that altered the course of history and claimed 2,983 innocent lives. An event that turned September 11th from a date in the calendar year to a stand-alone title of the most devastating act of terrorism to take place on American soil.

How many people can remember where they were when they learned about the 9-11 attacks? Most of you, I am sure. I was in my Physics classroom. I don’t remember many of my high school days, but I will never forget that one.

Today, 10 years later, I look back on the tragedies. I listen to the names of those who died as they are read by the family members they left behind. There are mothers who lost sons, men who lose their wives, children that never met their fathers because they were born months after the towers fell… and the list goes on.

Whenever I remember that fateful day, I remind myself of this: it was hate that inspired the attack, but it was love that came out of it. Love for our country and love for the heroes within it. Some of these heroes wore uniforms while others did not. All risked their lives to save others, and far too many ended up making that ultimate sacrifice. I feel incredibly proud to live in the country that such extraordinary people called their own. And to be a part of a community that never forgets, forever honoring those who died 10 years ago with nothing less than love. 


Post #4: Ready... Set...

As of last Wednesday, Kevin’s back in Italy! Besides Hurricane Irene delaying his departure by two days, and the airline losing his sticks at the London layover, the trip was smooth. He was met at the airport by the same duo that greeted us last September. Except this time they brought a flat-bed truck as opposed to the small hatchback they brought last year. I still cannot believe we managed to fit four passengers, six bags, and a set of hockey sticks into that vehicle! Even though it was obviously made by the manufacturers of Mary Poppins’ handbag, our faithful transporters decided not to push their luck this time. A flat-bed truck offered more than enough room for Kevin and his bags this time.

Since then, Kev’s days have been made up of double sessions, team appearances, pre-season games, and the gradual adjustment to the six hour time change. He’s been busy to say the least, but he reports that this year is off to a more organized start than the last. It could be his familiarity with the area or it might be related to the fact that he never lost communication with his homeland. Unlike last year where we were car-less, phone-less, and internet-deprived for weeks, he started out the season with his phone from last year. And, since our apartment isn’t ready yet, he’s being put up at a hotel that amazingly offers free WIFI.

While he continues his Italian transition, I’ve been finalizing details with insurances that needs modifying, subscriptions that need cancelling, gifts for our Italian friends that need buying, this weekend’s party that needs planning, and paperwork that needs endorsing. All of this plus packing because, in one week, I will be joining him! 


Post #3: Buon Anno Nuovo

Happy New Year!

For the majority of the adult population, the start of a new year corresponds with the commencement of a new fiscal one. The date is January 1st, and the ceremonious occasion is celebrated with champagne, a ball-drop countdown, and resolutions for the year to come.

For teachers, however, the start of a new year is marked by the first day of school. The date is different than the January “new year”, but the excitement, anticipation, and sleeplessness leading up to it are the same. It happens somewhere between the end of August and the day after Labor Day and the event is celebrated with teacher workshops, lesson plans, and back to school shopping. (Like students, teachers love back to school shopping! I guess you never truly grow out of the love for new binders and pens, or for the carefully selected apparel ensemble that gets laid out the night before the first day.)

As I have learned by living the hockey life, the teacher’s year coincides with a hockey player’s year rather nicely. The season begins, in most leagues, around the time that school starts. In the weeks leading up to it, players hit the ice to prepare for pre-season training. They organize their work-out schedules like teachers do lesson plans. And they do their own version of back-to-school shopping. Skates, sticks, and, for Kevin, goalie equipment. Pads, gloves, blockers, chest protectors, and helmets, and he awards the same meticulous attention to choosing the color scheme for that protective gear as I do when selecting color coordinated school supplies for my classes.

Though I will not be teaching this year (school year, that is), I appreciate that my life still revolves around the same schedule. Many years of operating on the school year calendar make me look forward to September as a month of new beginnings in the same way that most people look forward to January. And I’m glad that I can still experience the excitement I would normally feel this time of year even though I am not returning to the classroom. Because, while I am not prepping the classroom and planning original ice-breaker activities for a new crew of math scholars, I am packing for Italy. And as much as I will miss being a part of the school community, I am excited to see what the year will bring.