PARIS!

Well, I barely slept last night.  Got maybe four hours of sleep.  I made sure I didn’t drink any caffeine last night because I wanted to sleep well so I could get up early for my train ride to Paris.

Instead, I tossed and turned, probably because I ate so much food at the restaurant where we dined.  Sergio, Erika and I each ordered a pizza and they were wonderful.  The restaurant was packed and is frequented often by Sergio.  Afterward, they took me to my hotel and I spent the next hour packing, shaving organizing for this morning.

Sergio picked me up at 6:30 and we had a quick cappuccino in the hotel restaurant.  It was then that I saw what I had missed the day before by oversleeping.  The continental breakfast had six different types of desserts, yogurt, fruits, any coffee you wanted, juices, rolls, jams/jellies, hams, salamis and cheeses.  Talk about frustrating.

Anyway, we got to the train station with time to spare.  It was a beautiful new station, perhaps one year old.  Immaculate.  The station incorporates the local metro train for commuters along with the high-speed train that travels to Lyon and, finally, Paris.  Sergio waited for the train to actually begin to move before leaving.  The train was so smooth that I didn’t realize we were moving so I missed the opportunity to wave back to him as he waved at me through the window.

The trip was very nice.  As I said, the train runs as smooth as glass.  It took perhaps 1.5-2 hours to get through the snow-capped Alps.  There were quite a few tunnels with perhaps only one or two that were a mile long.  I had always thought that the trains through the Alps went through tunnels that were twenty-five miles long!

We entered France quite quickly, after only two hours.  I hadn’t realized how close to France Turin is.  I should have figured it out when I saw signs on the freeway in Turin for Monaco.  After we got out of the Alps, farmland was spread out before us.  What looked like winter wheat seemed to be planted everywhere along with, of course, vineyards.  The woodlands had a healthy dose of fir trees, but nothing like the grand forests we have in the Pacific Northwest.  Most of the woodlands seemed to be scrubby-type trees.

The landscape was beautiful, though.  Farmland as far as the eye can see.  No mountains; I’m assuming the primary mountain range is the Alps.  It was interesting to see a clump of nuclear power plant smack dab in the middle of such an agricultural area.  An hour later, I saw wind turbines.

There were also quite a few rural communities.  I saw no real subdivisions on an American scale.  We all know how things work in America—a town gets discovered and suddenly hundreds of homes and several shopping centers sprout up.  Of course, there are several reasons for this, which I won’t go into.  Nevertheless, I always notice settlement patterns.  I have my degree in Sociology with a minor in Geography so I’ve always been interested in how people live in other areas.

I’m fighting a damn cold bug that started hitting me yesterday.  Woke up with that telltale tickle in my throat.  I was able to keep it at bay with penicillin, hot tea, etc.  Today it’s moved into my sinuses so my nose is running more than an Olympic hopeful.  I want to nip it in the bud again for tonight since I’ll be outside.

Now I’m in Paris across the street from my host’s apartment.  Twit that I am, I completely forgot to tell him I was taking an earlier train.  I have his phone number and have left a couple of voicemail messages.  I’ve also sent a couple of text messages.  I’m sitting in this pub, quaffing espresso to keep me awake, fervently hoping that there’s not been anything lost in translation, otherwise I’m gonna be looking around for an overpriced hotel room in Paris on New Year’s Eve.  Don’t wanna do that!

If he gets here soon, I’m hoping my host in Paris will be able to get us to the Eiffel Tower area to ring in 2014.

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Turin

So here I am in Turin.  Sergio and his little family left Ascoli Piceno yesterday and I came with them.  It was a five and a half hour drive from Ascoli which can be very monotonous, even in glorious Italy.

After arriving, Sergio dropped me off at my hotel where I could catch a cat nap and freshen up before dinner.  They picked my up around six and we went to his inlaw’s for a fantastic home-cooked meal of pasta with meat, a pork dish with potatoes and card (the phantom vegetable I mentioned a couple of days ago), bread (of course), wine (of course), espresso (of course) and a dessert that is still on my mind.  It was a baked peach filled with an amaretto/chocolate cookie mashed up and melted down.  It stopped me in my tracks.

I’m beginning to think that I get too emotionally involved with my food when I’m here.

Anyway, today Sergio and I trekked around Turin.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and the Italian Alps glistened in the sun.  The Cascades in Oregon cannot compare to these majestic beauties.  Their ruggedness is something we don’t have.

Sergio showed me the headquarters for Fiat and we walked for hours through several high-end areas of the city where the shopping rivaled that of Milan, ninety minutes away–Ferragamo, Gucci, Prada, et al.  He showed me beautiful piazzas and took me to an exclusive chocolate shop, the likes of which I’d never experienced.  Earlier in the day, we’d had hot chocolate.  I expected the American kind–hot milk with chocolate.  No, this was actually drinking chocolate which was sin in a cup.  I had had drinking chocolate in Beaverton, Oregon at a Moonstruck Chocolates store.  This, however, was off the charts.

We also attempted to visit the Shroud of Turin.  Turns out all we could see was, essentially, a mimic of the Shroud.  Because it is so old and so delicate, the Shroud is only brought out on rare occasion for the masses to see.  However, there is the “mimic”, as I mentioned, and a video of the history and archaeological evidence of the shroud purporting it to actually being the one used to wrap the body of Christ after His crucifixion.

Now I’m in my hotel room, rested and prepared for dinner tonight.  We are going to one of Sergio’s fave elegant restaurants that is popular with the Fiat crowd.  I’m concerned because I’ve got a bit of a tickle in my throat and I’ve been sniffling.  I DO NOT want to be ill when I leave for Paris tomorrow.  I want to be able to celebrate with everyone at the base of the Eiffel Tower.

I will be up VERY early tomorrow for the train ride to Paris.  I was fortunate because I almost didn’t get a ticket.  Color me dense, but I guess I just wasn’t expecting the train to be sold out between Turin and Paris at New Year’s!  I was able to squeeze into a first class compartment.  It wasn’t what I wanted to spend, but why not?  Most likely it will be my only trip to Paris and why shouldn’t I make it memorable?  Plus, it will be a private compartment which should mean that I can go into the dining car and not worry about my baggage.

I’m anxious to see Paris.  The host I’m staying with has said he is willing to show me around Paris–I told him I would pay for his meals, wine, etc.  I’m so glad for this.  I understand the Parisians are very snobbish and will make one’s life miserable if one doesn’t speak French flawlessly.  I don’t need that.  My host will be able to run interference for me and help with details and directions.  Plus, I’ll have someone to hang with me. Traveling alone can be a bit of a bummer.

Hoping that there is wifi on the train so I can write more.  Otherwise, it might be next year. If I don’t get the chance to say it, Happy New Year! 🙂

Day 6 — Sorry for the delay!

I am somewhat behind due to internet access.  Just been spending time with the family and enjoying life at a leisurely pace.  The feasting is over and I’ve taken in a belt notch.  I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m going to keep doing it.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that we have also been eating at a leisurely pace?  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I’m not eating lots of fattening, processed food?

The day after Christmas the festivities started around 1:00 p.m. and ended around 5:00 p.m.  We had essentially the same food as the day before, including a meat dish with carrots and peas that was fantastic that I forgot to mention.  As always there was a ton of sweets, too.  I think I’m truly seeing sugarplums dancing in my head.

I forgot to mention the gifts that I got from everyone.  My aunt’s one brother and his family gave me a Christmas-themed candy jar; the family of the other brother gave me a high-end umbrella.  Her niece gave me a pair of woolen socks with the treads that keep one from sliding on the floor and will keep me warm in Paris on New Year’s.  My cousin Maurizio and his family gave me a book for my writing along with an actual feather pen that I found to be exquisite and so apropos.  My aunt and uncle gave me a beautiful scarf.

As I mentioned, I’ve visited Italy for three different Christmases and I have to admit that I love the way everyone celebrates.  There is no over-the-top spending; everyone is content with simple gifts.  There were no 60 inch, flat panel televisions, no MacBook Pros, no appliances.  The focus is on the family and I love that.  I wonder what would happen to the American economy if we did the same thing?

Today my cousin Sergio arrived with his little family from Turin.  They also had a gift for me—a cap and a scarf.  And I had gifts for them—the same as I gave the others.  I also had two sticker books for Sergio’s young daughter, Lavinia.

I’m kind of glad things have wound down.  I guess I’m getting old, but too much celebrating wears a person out.  How many people out there my age feel the same?  And now I’m going to Paris for New Year’s?  Somebody slap me.

I have not had much luck pursuing the Italy move what with the holidays and all.  I think I mentioned earlier that I’ve been able to get a bit of info on cost of living, but that’s about it.  But, it’s okay.  I’m planning on coming back in June and I should have more information by then.

But you know, I’m having serious doubts about moving to Italy.  I’m missing home terribly.  I’m missing my routine.  I’m missing Oregon.  I’m missing my friends.  I’m wondering if I really want to move to Italy.  Have I idolized my family and lionized Italy to an unsustainable level?  Have I romanticized the family concept—a concept that used to be central in my life but no longer exists?  I have it here in Italy and I enjoy it but I also know myself.  I’m a creature of habit.  Would I find it too much work and sacrifice to move here and literally carve out a new life at fifty-five?

If I were to move here, reality would kick in.  I know I would be lonely.  I know I would miss everything familiar.  It would be a struggle to fit in, to communicate, to participate.  I would have to find friends.  Is there an expatriate community here?  I don’t know.   Would I find a protestant church where I’d understand the sermons?  I don’t know.  Would I make friends?  Would I possibly meet a special someone?

Sometimes life at home gets unbearably lonely.  Living in Italy would exacerbate that.  I’m having difficulty communicating because of the heavy dialect.  So many familiar words aren’t familiar because they are cut off which renders me incapable of understanding.  The local inflections are lost on me.  How long would it be to learn to communicate?  Would I learn?

As is usual, I’m once again over-analyzing.  I still have more research to do.  No answers are required immediately.  If I’m going to pursue this, I need to be methodical; I can’t just jump into it.  So I’ll do my best not to obsess and instead enjoy the trip to Turin and on to Paris.

Blog entries will probably not be a day-to-day synopsis for the rest of the trip.

 

 

 

 

Day 5–Buon Natale da Italia!

Wow.  And again, wow.  That’s all I can say.  This is my third Christmas in Italy with my family.  Maybe I’m getting older, maybe I can’t eat as much; I don’t know.  All I can say is “Wow”.

Let me start at the beginning of our Christmas celebration.  My family starts at 7:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.  Now, I’m not sure if this is traditional for all Italians or not.  Nevertheless, that’s when they start.  My cousin, Mauri and his wife, Daniela, live on the bottom floor of my aunt and uncle’s home with their two children, Stefano and Celeste.  For two days Daniela and my aunt have been cooking and baking.  Takes me back to when my precious mom would would bake for days.

Anyway, at precisely 7:00 p.m. my aunt’s family arrived.  They are a wonderful troupe, down to earth, fun, always upbeat and laughing.  They treat me like family.  I met them during my visit to Italy when I was introduced to my extended family for the first time. Obviously, they had been told about me and wanted to meet me.  I was very flattered. They have always been very accommodating and affectionate towards me which makes me feel like a king.

So 7:00 p.m. arrived and they spilled into the bottom floor of the house–Maurizio’s apartment–bundled up in coats and scarves and bearing bags of gifts.  Everyone was kissing everyone.  It’s the kind of kissing you see in movies with people touching or kissing each cheek, exclaiming “Auguri” (best wishes) or “Buon Natale” (Merry Christmas).

After pleasantries and chatting, we started to eat, beginning with breads and some deep-fried foods; I’m not sure what they were.  But they were good.  One item was a vegetable that I’ve never heard of.  It was very good.  Then a pasta dish, and then a fish dish.  Then a salad, which is totally different in America where we usually have salad first.  After that, it was desserts and sweets galore with several bottles of wine and a wine/liquor/appertif from Sicily that was excellent.  It reminded me of my grandfather’s wine.

The interesting thing about meals in Italy is that oftentimes there’s a pile of plates/bowls at your seat.  Each item is dished out separately and then the plate is taken away.  In restaurants this can be especially pronounced with upwards of six plates stacked up.  I’ve come to find out this usually happens on holidays like Easter and Christmas, not on ordinary days.  But I find it to be a better way of eating as opposed to the American version of celebrating which entails placing four pounds of food on one’s plate at one time and moaning in agony in the bathroom later.

Eating took about two hours; it was very casual and very relaxed.  Again, not like America where we inhale our food in no time like a bunch of Hoovers leaving one feeling bloated and constipated.

After eating we opened gifts–and this is where Christmas became magic.  Aunt Rosalba’s sister–in-law, Anna, started handing out gifts to everyone. She even had one for me–a Christmas-decorated candy jar.  She said she wanted me to think of them whenever I used it.  Did I say they are wonderful?

Each person opened his/her gift and cooed over the item.  Then the kiss/kiss, cheek touch/cheek touch again.  The interesting thing here is that, when someone gives a gift, it is customary to thank each person in that family–parents and children.  So everyone kisses everyone and, quite frankly, it’s a beautiful site to see.

Next, Rosalba’s other sister-in-law parceled out gifts–again, one for me–a very classy umbrella, something I desperately needed so I was jazzed.  After the gifts are parceled out, again everyone was thanking everyone, doing the kiss/kiss on each cheek thing.

Then it was my turn.  No one knew I had brought gifts.  Earlier in the day I had brought them down surreptitiously and placed them with all the others.  No one noticed because everything was so hectic.

First I distributed the gifts to the ladies.  They were surprised to find out that I had a gift for each woman, including Rosalba’s one niece who couldn’t make it because she’s nine months’ pregnant and is rather immobile.

The gifts I purchased were little crystal perfume bottles, each one a different shape.  Very delicate and very beautiful and they seemed to go over very well. The women were cooing and comparing.  I had something different for Aunt Rosalba because she is special–a crystal wine bottle stopper.  Then the kisses!

Next, it was the men’s turn.  Rosalba’s other niece had attended and I had a gift for her husband, too, which totally caught him off-guard.  I purchased scarves for all the men, which they thoroughly enjoyed.  I tried to pair each style with each man.  I also had one for the husband of the pregnant niece.  Then the kisses from all the men.  Men who are insecure with their sexuality would have a difficult time in Italy.

After the gifts had been distributed to the men, I approached Uncle Luciano.  I had jokingly told him he didn’t get a gift.  Uncle Luciano loves to joke so he just laughed.  I then went out into the hallway to bring in the huge box I had carried halfway across the world.  He had seen it when he picked me up at the bus station but hadn’t pay any attention to it.

The gift was wrapped tightly to absorb the shock of travel so I helped him cut the shrink-wrap and tape.  He started tearing apart the carton and pulled out the gift which was covered in bubble wrap.  He was busy ripping off the wrapping and not really paying attention to the gift.  Finally all the wrapping was off and he turned it over.  I told him I was giving him this gift because he was now the patriarch of the family.  It was one of the portraits from my father’s funeral in 2012.  Two had been made, each with a different photo.  One had gone to my brother and one to me.

Uncle Luciano looked at it and said, “Cazzo”, which is a cross-pollination of “My God”, “Oh, shit” and “Wow” all mixed together.  He ran his hands over the photo and put it against his forehead.  He kissed his beloved late brother’s face.  Then he started to cry and excused himself.  Rosalba ran after him.

The room went silent.  Everyone wanted to know what happened and I told them it was a portrait from the funeral, that there had been one for me and Tony and I felt that mine should go to Uncle Luciano, especially considering he had reconciled with Giulio right before Giulio’s death.  Rosalba’s brother said, “Bravo, Bob.”

I then went in the kitchen and put my arms around Uncle Luciano.

“Buon Natale, Zio.”

After he had composed himself, he went back into the living room and picked up the portrait, held it high for everyone to see and took it around the room.  It was one of the most gratifying Christmas experiences of my life.

Later in the evening the singing began.  Maurizio brought out his guitar and Rosalba’s nephew joined in along with Mauri’s son.  The singing lasted at least an hour.  The celebrating lasted until after midnight.

Today, Christmas Day, everyone arrived at noon.  I was unprepared to start eating so soon, but that’s what we did.  It’s now 9:30 p.m. and I honestly can barely remember what we ate–but we ate for three and a half hours.  I do remember some lasagna so wonderful that I wanted to crawl between the layers.  We had the obligatory olive de Ascolana, stuffed olives, which are my favorite.

One of the desserts was magnificent and was basically a deep-fried cream.  It was the kind of cream you would find in an eclair, but dollops had been dropped into hot water and fried.  And, dear God were they fantastic.  Afterward, aperitifs and more singing.  The party broke up about 7:00 p.m.

Tomorrow everyone returns for Day 3.  Stay tuned.  I hope I survive.

Day 4 — Villa Pigna

Well, today was rather uneventful.  But then, I don’t expect every day to be filled with tinsel and dancing.  Whenever I come to Italy, I am happy to just “be”.  To be with my family.  To be in my father’s neighborhood.  To be in Ascoli Piceno and wander.

I was thrown off a bit today by some unexpected issues from my latest surgery.  I found myself experiencing quite a bit of pain resulting in some needed bed rest.  Eventually, I remembered that I needed to do more walking to help with any pain and to move along the healing process.

So I walked around Villa Pigna.  I visited a small commercial area that held a family-owned bakery I had frequented a couple of times.  Unfortunately, it was closed.  It was 2:30 p.m. and would not open for another ninety minutes.  This is something that I will have to consider if I get the opportunity to move to Italy.  This is not a nation of convenience.  It is very much a laissez faire nation of la dolce vita.  Living life seems to be the priority with work a distant second.  If I’m wrong, I hope someone will tell me, but after ten visits, that is my observation and it continues to be verified.

Anyway, I was able to go back later and purchase a feast of pastries—a large apricot tart and two dozen handmade pastries of all stripes—fruit, cream, chocolate, sugar.  These will be added to the mountain of food and desserts that we will be indulging in during the next few days as we celebrate Christmas.

Tomorrow, the celebration starts around 7:00 p.m. when my aunt’s relatives begin arriving en masse.  My cousin Maurizio’s wife, Daniela, is already cooking and baking as I write.  I can smell the aromas of Italian cooking wafting upstairs to my room.  Ah, sweet ecstasy! We will each take turns distributing our gifts to everyone tonight.  Then we will dive in and eat like the Whos in Whoville.

It’s been kinda strange so far, though.  My cousin, Maurizio, is out of town and arrives tomorrow.  On the 27th he and his family leave for Barcelona so I will not have much time with them.  His older brother, Sergio, will arrive from Turin on the 26th and return to Turin on the 27th with me in tow.  I will get to see him a little more and we will have private time together which I treasure.

In considering this, I have realized that, if I were to move to Italy, this is the way things will be.  I will not see my cousins too much.  They have very hectic lives with careers, children, spouses and other responsibilities.  The same holds true for my aunt and uncle.  While I’ve always known that, seeing it in black and white during this visit drills the point home.

It tells me that I would truly be on my own.  Certainly my family would help in any way they could.  But I would be left to my own devices in many ways.  I do think that my aunt and uncle would work to pave the way somewhat because that’s the way they are.  Just yesterday Uncle Luciano insisted on paying for my bus ticket from Ascoli back to Villa Pigna.  Both he and my aunt seemed concerned that I might not be able to finagle my way back.

However, I did.  And that is another story which is also relevant to my desire to relocate to Italy.

I had spent the day in Ascoli.  It was Sunday and hundreds of vendors were out hawking everything imaginable—clothing, toys, kitchen items, shoes, etc.  Everything made in China, mind you.  I walked my normal circuit, making sure to have lunch in my favorite restaurant and espresso in my favorite café.  Maurizio’s daughter was to perform in a live re-creation of the Nativity at their church so I wanted to make sure I got back in time for that.

Eventually, I decided it was time to high tail it to the bus stop.  I found the stop I ordinarily use and waited.  According to my calculations on the schedule, I had some time so I naturally had another espresso.  I casually asked the proprietor if the bus would be on time.  He then proceeded to tell me that the bus didn’t stop at this site on Sunday.  I would need to go to the next site a mile away!

Well, carrying my laptop satchel, I ran down the street, praying feverishly that I wouldn’t miss the bus.  I arrived, drenched in sweat and noticed that the electronic sign said the bus would arrive in thirty-six minutes.  OK, gotta wait; no problem.  But at least I made it.

After FORTY minutes, the sign said it would still be another TWENTY-FIVE minutes before the bus arrived.  Frustrated beyond measure I ran into a café and asked the owner if taxis were available in the area on Sunday.  Turning around, I saw my bus pass the café.  I ran outside yelling, jumping up and down and shaking my fists, but to no avail.  The proprietor, feeling sorry for me, pulled me into his car and chased after the bus.  At a stoplight I jumped out and ran up to the bus, pounding on the door.  I had made it.  And I made it to the live Nativity scene with time to spare.

Whew!!  It’s a long, convoluted story, but it belies some of the many frustrations about Italy.  It’s not a terribly efficient society.  It’s not a society that thrives on convenience.  For a fast-paced American, accustomed to getting what I want when I want it in a society obsessed with squeezing out that extra dollar, will this ethic drive me nuts?

I know that it can be a lesson in futility to hire someone to do manual labor such as installing a new roof or putting in new windows.  The work ethic follows the line of: hammer a nail, drink a bottle of wine.  Hammer another nail, drink another bottle of wine, whistle at a beautiful woman.  Move a window, go to lunch.  What would it be like if I needed help on my MacBook Pro?

And then there’s the language barrier.  I’m finding myself learning more words with every visit and I think total immersion would benefit me fine.  However, I find myself trying too hard.  Too often, the obvious escapes me.  (Of course, that happens in my own language.)  The trick for me would be to relax and quit getting so worked up because I’m not immediately fluent.

I also still have to talk to my uncle about a DNA test.  A move to Italy could take as long as a year considering the notoriously glacial pace of an inefficient Italian government.  Having a DNA test to prove my lineage would grease the skids immensely.  According to Maurizio’s wife, there are several places in Ascoli where a DNA test could be done.  I want to at least try while I’m here.  Otherwise, I’ll have to wait until I hook up with my brother in B.C. next March.

But you know something?  There’s another factor in all of this.  And it frightens me.  What if I get here and I’m unhappy?  I know, I know, I can always return to Oregon.  (The flip side is “What if I get here and I’m happy?”)   I just have this fear that I’m searching for something that is unattainable—a sense of belonging.  Or perhaps I’m searching for something I already have–like I said in my book, This is My Lemonade–An Adoption Story (<–shameless promotion). I suppose this is something that I have to develop within myself, be it in Oregon or Italy.  I want to be a part of something.  I miss my mom and dad and I’m tired of being lonely.  When I’m in Oregon I miss my family in Italy.  Would moving here fill the void?

I’ve been more and more encouraged by the possibility of staying short term.  A year, I think, would be optimum.  It would give me a feel for what I could expect life to be like and give me a chance to see how I would do outside my comfort zone, away from my friends and from my familiar daily routine.

I’ve done some checking on apartments and have been pleasantly surprised at the rents.  The biggest challenge I’m facing is finances.  I’ve been blowing through money faster than I could have imagined.  Things have settled down, but I’m finding that I won’t have the luxury of taking two years out of the normal world of work.  Unless I can get some writing work, or my book starts to sell substantially, or I can find something here in Italy, this plan is not going to take off the way I had hoped.

If anything, this trip is going to be a starting point.  I’m coming back in June with my best friend, Barry, so I hope to have more of my ducks in a row to help with any decision.

Until then, I’m going to do whatever I can while I’m here while enjoying the holidays.

Day 2 & 3–Finalmente! ROMA! ASCOLI PICENO!

So I finally arrived in Rome.  It was 10:30 p.m. and I was wiped out.  Needless to say, I was a vegetable by the time I got to the Eternal City.  Waiting at the carousel for my luggage, I breathed a sigh of relief that I would soon be in my hotel room sawing enough logs to build a suburban subdivision.

So I waited patiently for my luggage and the large carton (containing my surprise for my uncle).  Eventually the luggage appeared.  But no carton.  I waited.  I waited.  After an hour, I refused to believe the carousel had evacuated everything.  I sat there with another stubborn, clueless person before I finally acquiesced and went to the customer service window.

When my turn came, I described the parcel missing.  The gentleman working next to the lady helping me suggested we look in “storage”.  This meant walking clear across the carousel area on the stumps that had replaced my feet.  The lady opened the storage area and, lo and behold, there was my carton.  Why?  Apparently, as Dutch-KLM was unloading all of us, the workers were so efficient emptying the bowels of plane that my carton made it before I did.  Not wanting to place a sinister box alone (with hundreds of other sinister pieces of luggage, mind you), they opted to store everything and then proceed to forget about it.

By this time, I was so freaking exhausted I just wanted my hotel room.  It was now after midnight.  I walked to the station for “Termini” the main train terminal, which would take me into central Rome, right near my hotel–hence my reason for choosing that particular hotel.

Termini was closed.  It would open again at 6:00 a.m.  I had walked perhaps one thousand feet through one of the largest airports on earth carrying an overstuffed briefcase (so I could pretend to be a writer while drinking espresso in Italian cafes), an enormous suitcase full of Christmas gifts and a 3′ by 2′ carton.  I was sweating, despite the fact that it was thirty degrees.  I was mouthing a few vulgar words which are diametrically opposed to the Christian faith I profess to espouse all the while believing God understands.

I had no idea what to do.  The airport was virtually empty.  Eventually, I went to the bottom floor and walked outside where I found some taxis.  A man offered me a taxi, I told him my destination and asked for a price.  He quoted 62 euros.  I didn’t care.  I would have paid one hundred euros just to get to my bed.  My head hit the pillow at 1:30 a.m. Italy time, after a total of one hour of sleep in thirty-two hours.

The next morning I reveled in a hot shower, clean clothes and a continental breakfast like only Europeans can provide–eggs, various juices, hams, cheeses, cereals, breads, pastries, yogurt, coffee, tea–all gratis.

After inhaling my breakfast, I rushed out the door to find the bus station.  I knew it was near Termini, which was another reason I had chosen this particular hotel.  Yet, despite all my prior visits to Rome, I could not seem to find the station.

It was getting late and I needed to check out of my hotel.  I asked the concierge where the bus station was for Marche, the region where Ascoli Piceno is located.  Naturally, it was five blocks in the opposite direction in which I searched.

I ran up to my room, packed everything and left the hotel.  Now, carrying so many parcels is difficult in an airport.  It’s next to impossible in Rome, on ancient streets, many of which haven’t been repaired since the days of Caesar Augustus.  It made for an animated appearance for this American as I tried to maneuver everything over broken sidewalks, cobblestones and voluminous dog poop.

It’s difficult to pretend you’re one of the locals when you’re trying to keep your coat from dragging in the sludge and losing control of the enormous suitcase you’re pulling.  It’s impossible to walk with aplomb the way the Italians do when you’re burdened with a thirty-five pound satchel, sweat dripping from your brow.

Every time I visit Italy, I always want to blend in.  After all, I’m Italian.  It’s in my blood, right? Well, I keep forgetting that I’m HALF Italian, therefore the persona that expresses itself is my eastern European part.  Or perhaps it’s the Salem, Oregon persona?  No matter, I’ve come to believe that only Italians have the Italian aplomb.  But that didn’t stop me from trying.  And my attempts were amplified even more feebly at the bus terminal for Marche.

I guess it started when I attempted to open the door to the office and the door refused to budge.  I hadn’t noticed the buzzer to push.  The office was full of passengers waiting for their departure.  I went to the window requesting one ticket to Ascoli Piceno.  I offered my card and she handed me a receipt.  I took the receipt when she grabbed me and pointed out that my card had been declined!  No reason.  Sometimes this happens in Europe; I had been using my card easily before this.  So I paid with cash.

Walking away from the window, I reached for my phone and my paperwork.  I’m always conscious of my flight itinerary, passport and mobile phone.  Fumbling around with everything, I managed to push a button on my iPhone unleashing ABBA.  Feverishly, I fought to turn off the warbling harmonies as the Italians broke out laughing.  I then opted to go outside and walk around since the bus wasn’t leaving for three hours.

I walked to the door and it refused to budge.  I continued to push when I saw a sign.  As I attempted to decipher the sign, a woman came up and pushed a button.  Gratefully, I thanked her and pushed the door.  Again.  And again.  Then I figured it out and pulled amidst much snickering from the Italians I was trying to emulate.

Now I’m in an outdoor cafe in the Piazza del Popolo in Ascoli Piceno.  Vendors are everywhere, hawking everything imaginable–all made in China, mind you.

I’m looking straight ahead at a seven hundred year old church; the bells are ringing. Christmas lights are strung over the piazza, the streets and alleys.  People are greeting one another enthusiastically.  The sun is blazing, but it’s cold here in the shade.  I’ve just finished a wonderful meal of lasagna and olive di Ascolana in a favorite restaurant here in the piazza.  I’ve spent most of my time this afternoon writing because, DAMN IT, I’m going to prove I’m a writer!  I might not pass myself off as an Italian, but I can feign being a writer!

I’m going to live the romanticized version of a writer.  I’m going to sit in Italian cafes, drinking espresso until I’m completely narcoleptic.  I’m going to eat pastries until I’m completely diabetic.  But I’m gonna write.  And if anyone engages in conversation, I will tell them about my book that centers on my Ascoli heritage.  I will tell them I’m an autore.

Day 1–Amsterdam, the Netherlands

As I promised, I am attempting to write a day-by-day synopsis of this European trip that will take me to my extended birth family’s home in Ascoli Piceno, Italy.

Today I’m in Amsterdam.  I left Thursday, December 19 around 1:35 p.m. and arrived around 8:40 a.m. on December 20.  It wasn’t until just a day or so ago that I realized the itinerary I had chosen.  Like a fool, I waited way too long to purchase my tickets–in this case, October of this year.  As a result, I’m now sitting in a Starbucks at Schiphol Airport awaiting a flight that leaves at 8:40 p.m. a full TWELVE hours after my arrival.

Fortunately, though, I’m in one of Europe’s most exciting cities.  I took the metro into central Amsterdam and started walking.  The sun was out but was obscured quite a bit by the buildings.  Nevertheless, every so often it would shine brilliantly between the buildings and accent the unique architecture of this canal city built beneath sea level.

As is my style, I just walked.  I generally don’t like agendas because they hold me back and the most exciting things tend to happen when you just wing it.  This time around, that did not happen.  That’s probably because I only had a few hours, my legs were killing me and I’m still suffering some discomfort from my recent surgery.  Next time, though, I’m sure I’ll run into royalty.

The canals give this city an identity all its own.  Houseboats line the canals and tour boats ferry tourists around the city to the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and the Amsterdam Museum.  They also provide a certain flair as a unique form of transportation.

Anyway, the city is truly interesting.  The Dutch are very environmentally conscious, more so than Oregonians, from what I can see.  Bicycles outnumber cars.  Everywhere are literally hundreds of bikes parked.  Near the metro station, there were THOUSANDS of bikes.  I was flabbergasted.

I was also impressed with the cleanliness of this city.  There’s graffiti to be sure, but it’s relegated mostly to freeway overpasses.  I saw no litter, no homelessness and no begging.  The Netherlands, as much of Europe, has a very generous social safety net and an affluent, educated and progressive population.  Every time I visit a place, I always wonder what it would be like to live there for a year to get a dose of every day reality.  Something tells me that Dutch culture is like this every day.  After all, it’s not like they opted to put on their best face because I was coming.

I walked by the Anne Frank House but didn’t stop in.  I’ve visited Amsterdam before so I’ve seen the museum.  Same for the Van Gogh Museum and the Rembrandt Huis.  Also had an opportunity several years ago to attend a concert at the Concertgebouw, one of the most acoustically perfect music venues in the world.

Now I’m back in the airport dying to get to Italy.  Twelve hours of waiting are eleven and a half hours too many for someone as impatient as I am.  How many times can I carouse the shopping mall and look at chocolates?  Oh well, I will be in Italy soon.

After radio, then what?

I’ve had my last radio interview. At least, as far as I know. I recently interviewed with KXL, the top talk radio station in Portland. A few days later I was interviewed by K103FM, one of the top stations in Portland. The latter is part of a media company and told me that my interview would air over a total of four stations–possibly more than once. I have to admit, it’s probably the best interview I’ve done so far.

Now, I’m trying to figure out what’s next. Do I pursue TV? I’ve tried to get a toehold and it’s not easy. Of course not. TV has greater impact. Video resonates more than just audio. As a result, TV ad rates are much higher and the demand to be on TV is much greater. Ergo, the competition to get onto TV is all the heavier.

I still have a few cards up my sleeve to pursue. It seems that, just when I’ve run out of hands to play, another card is dealt that changes the game. Or at least gives me another chance. And I have to play each card as intelligently as possible. This whole overall game is fascinating and a true learning experience. The on-air radio personality at K103FM gave me the number of a woman who apparently is quite successful in helping nascent (and not-so-nascent) writers get into places where they book can achieve more success. I’ve sent her an email requesting a meeting after Christmas. I wonder how much her service costs??

I do wish that I could see more results. I get tired of such meager outcomes. Sometimes there’s NO outcome. But I know I’m swimming upstream. The benefit of swimming upstream is that it makes my arms stronger. When I emerge, my arms will be huge, strong enough to fight to the next level, strong enough to hold the substantial success that awaits me.

Even though my radio interviews have resulted in minuscule sales, I have, nevertheless, sharpened my skills. I’ve learned to be comfortable being interviewed. I’ve learned to be comfortable being live on air. I’ve learned to be comfortable thinking on my toes and replying to unexpected questions articulately. Indeed, at least 3-4 of the radio personalities who have interviewed me have remarked surprisingly and complimentarily at my interviewing abilities.  Especially for such a neophyte.

I have to admit that I’m surprised. I expected to find myself babbling like a nincompoop. But I didn’t. I think that comes from three decades in the professional world, speaking in front of people, giving presentations. When I know my topic, I’m confident. And I know this topic–it’s my life. No one knows it better than I do. Hmm, what about my next topic???

I’ve had a number of people marvel at how easily I have gotten these radio interviews. It’s surprisingly easy since most talk radio shows are looking for interesting stories. I have been doubly blessed to have a good friend with contacts in media who helped open doors for me. Nevertheless, other doors I had to open on my own.

So it seems I’ve picked the low-hanging fruit. I’ve done radio and it’s time to move to the next level. As I said, TV seems to be the obvious choice, but I have to consider that there might be other options that will come first. It’s going to be a matter of turning over stones and finding what’s underneath. Each step, no matter how small, is a step forward. Indeed, each step backward is a step forward because it shows me what not to do.  And if I do get a TV interview, will I crumble?  Will I be intimidated by that camera?  I’ve always been self-conscious being photographed or videotaped.  I think I look and act like a dork.  Guess this is another mountain to climb.

In a few days I hop a plane for Europe–Portland/Amsterdam/Rome. Ten hours to Amsterdam, TWELVE hour layover–perhaps I’ll take the train into town and hit the museums–Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Depends on how tired I’ll be. Then it will be two and a half hours to Rome where I will spend the night, wake up and hop onto a bus for a two and a half hour ride to Ascoli Piceno. I’m going to be the Vegetable of the Day. It’s going to be a lot of traveling. I hope to be able to get SOME writing in for my next book during all this travel. I’m already getting requests for another book which is so gratifying.

I know I’m on the right track with this writing thing, even if I have to go back to the normal work world at some point. And you know? I can’t wait to start writing again. I really hope that I can pull a humor book out of my hat. Something whimsical, cynical. A commentary on the craziness of American society incorporating all the new aspects of society that have been embraced, no matter how ludicrous. Perhaps I can use this trip to do a comparison of America to Italy. So many options. I like that.

I will be attempting to make submissions to this blog each day I’m in Europe. They will include musings about my experiences, my family and my observations of our relationships. I wish I could figure out how to get video and/or photos on here, especially for those who don’t have access to my Facebook page. These, in addition to the culture and colorful extravagance of the Italian people are my goals. Of course, there will be ample insecure ramblings about my relationships.  Grab a snifter of brandy and stay tuned.  Same bat-time. Same bat-channel.

Five more days…

Five more days. Five more days. It will get here. It WILL get here.

On December 19 I leave for Europe to spend Christmas with my family in Italy. This will be the first time since 2006 that I have spent Christmas with them. To say I’m antsy would be an understatement. All I can think of is being with them, hearing the lyrical fall of the Italian language, feeling their embrace.

I can’t wait to wander through the piazza in Ascoli Piceno. Wrapped in an overcoat with a scarf, gloves and a cap, I will once again traverse the travertine piazza built nearly 3000 years ago. I will smile at the beauty of a few simple strands of Christmas lights strung across the square while Christmas carols play over the loudspeaker. I will once again visit my favorite cafe for pastries and a delectable espresso. I will savor and savor again.

Christmas will be magical. I have DVDs of my uncle’s visit with my father two months before my father’s death. This will be one of two surprises for my uncle. The other will remain a secret since my cousins know English and might read this blog posting. Everyone will have to wait until Christmas!

But Christmas will be magical–Norman Rockwell with an Italian accent. There will be more food than one can imagine. More pastries than one’s heart can desire. There will be singing and laughter and the family will be together the whole time sharing, enjoying, celebrating. I used to have that all the time. I miss it.

And I will be doing what I can in the few days I have there to look for work and discuss translation of my book into Italian. It will be a full journey before I travel up to Paris to ring in 2014. I can’t wait. In the past month I’ve had two surgeries, two crowns replaced and I’ve buried my father. I think I deserve to be spoiled a bit. Can I get an “Amen!”?

Five more days…

A fantastic fantasy

A bombshell was dropped on me recently when I was with my brother, Paul, in B.C. to bury our father.

Driving down the highway, Paul told me that our cousin, “Gretchen”, is in touch with our mother’s best friend. We do not know her name, just that she’s there. Somewhere.

It makes me wonder…why did Gretchen never tell me all these decades that she was in touch with this woman? Why did Gretchen’s mother, my beloved Aunt Maria never tell me? I know my birth mother had a best friend; they took trips together. They did everything together. I can’t help but think that my mother would have talked to her BFF without discussing her pregnancy and my adoption. I also believe that this woman, now probably in her 80’s, would have stories and viewpoints that would be different from my family. After all, it’s oftentimes easier to talk to friends than family.

So why didn’t Gretchen ever tell me? Why did my brother tell me just now? I told him he needs to get this woman’s name and number. I want to meet her. I want to talk to her. I want to know details about my mother. More details. Perhaps I’m obsessed but every little bit of extra information makes Gwen, my birth mother, less of a mystery.

I’ll be honest, last night after returning from B.C., I collapsed into bed after the rough, emotional weekend. And I thought. I thought about Gwen. I thought about her BFF. I fantasized about this woman waiting for me, waiting to talk to me. Waiting to tell me a secret Gwen told her to tell me should this woman ever meet me. I fantasized that this woman would have a tape recording of Gwen’s voice. Fantasy can be a heartwarming thing.

But fantasy can be destructive. If I meet this woman and she has nothing to say, I will be crestfallen. I will survive, but I will be crestfallen. I will wonder why I pursued such a fantasy. Why do I consider this fantasy? Isn’t it time I put everything to bed? After thirty-five years, shouldn’t I just move on? All this stuff has consumed me for three and a half decades. Yet still I think, why do things keep popping up? Is this a gift from God? Would I be remiss in ignoring it? God gives us options. I will possibly have the option to meet this woman. I will also have the option to decide not to do so. I will decided if and when the opportunity presents itself. But let’s be honest…does anyone who reads this really think I won’t seek out this woman??

Nevertheless, a fantasy can be fantastic. Until I meet this woman, IF I meet this woman, I can entertain myself with beautiful images of my mother. Images that I never had before. Thoughts that will comfort me. And if I meet this woman and there’s nothing substantial to share, she’s one more connection, however slight to the woman who did everything for me. The woman who put her life on hold and put my well-being first. This woman. This mother. This Gwen.