The exceptionally rainy weather we've had so far this summer has delayed our house maintenance works - all those little and bigger jobs that a stone house over three century old needs on regular basis. To be honest, the only person here itching to get going on that maintenance was me, because my kids seemed quite happy to spend hours keeping the sofa company instead. But this weekend the weather forecasts predicted no rain, and so I bought paint to do the terrace. Years of winter weather had washed away the nice white paint that had adorned the terrace when we moved in, and after some works on the leaky roof and the cracked wall this spring, the terrace needed a paint job urgently.
The boys worked in turns, and applied a first coat of sealant, and then two coats of paint. Not without some teen-grumbling and hinting that keeping company to the sofa was far preferable. As you can imagine I was truly shocked. Because given the option, I would have chosen to keep the sofa AND my knitting company.
But we were all so happy later on, when we had a first meal al fresco surrounded by sparkling fresh white walls.
The trip I took with my boy last weekend was a very special event for both of us. We traveled together just the two of us, and had some adventures - the kind of adventures you have when you travel by rail in Italy, which involve inexplicable delays, and extended encounters with all sorts of people.
Then there was the magical combination of family (my sister's family in Florence) and Renaissance art (the gorgeous Magi Chapel) to make our weekend away even greater.
But the crowning event was in the evening, when we took our places on the marble seats of the Roman Theater in Fiesole, where in the the Tuscan sunset, the orchestra and choir where my sister sings rehearsed the concert for that evening, Mahler's Das Klagende Lied.
Finally, after nightfall, the old Roman stones sang again, filling the valley, the sky and our hearts with music.
A melancholic feeling is weighing on me today, on the first of July. As if this summer was slipping through my fingers, and nothing of it was left in my hands. "Where did this summer go?" I'm asking myself this morning, tired from too little sleep, the house morning-quiet except for the continuous sound of a child coughing and coughing away, and the heavy breathing of a boy with a high fever. We have sickness in the family, and sickness in summertime, on the first of July, never seems quite right. The sky doesn't feel quite right either today, as big clouds move across it, leaving only the tiniest scraps of blue sky here and there, and too little space - again - for the sun to filter through and drench the garden, which is looking anemic these days, even though it's summertime, the first of July.
"Where is summer going?" I'm now asking myself this morning, tired from too little sleep and too many thoughts. But then one special thought surfaces, and on this cloudy, sickness-filled first of July, and I'm slowly feeling warmed up by the memory of a beautiful weekend I just spent away with my big boy, on a trip together for two days, something that in the past should have happen more often than it has - these one child-one parent spells of time away - but that did just happen this weekend, and I have that, that precious time with my boy, firmly in my hands. And nothing can take it away from me.
We'll probably remember this as the summer of the card games - good fun for all, and good for practicing arithmetic when you're seven years old. We've gone through a poker spell, scopa is always a favorite, and we're now looking for some good new games to learn. Tom proposed bridge, but I'm leaning more towards cribbage. What is your favorite card game?
Like most women, I got my first gray hair too early: before I was ready for them. But that wasn't a problem: I colored them, forgot about the gray hair, and faced all the other more serious health problems that Graves' disease had brought me.
One of the ways that my body reacted to the loss of our first baby was to develop Graves' disease, an autoimmune disease that affected my thyroid, my heartbeat and my hair. I lost so much hair that I had to vacuum the bed every morning, and much of the hair that did not fall out turned gray. To keep Graves disease symptoms under control, I was put on several strong drugs, some of which gave me a skin rash for which I had to take more strong drugs. It was a miserable time: I'd lost my baby, my heart was so broken that I'd became ill, I was on drugs, I wanted to have another baby, but I couldn't get pregnant again because of Graves' disease and all the drugs. The gray hair? In the scale of things, the gray hair wasn't a problem at all. Besides, it was totally in my control, while the rest of my life wasn't.
This was twelve years ago. For twelve years I colored my hair. I also got twelve years older, and grew even more gray hair, so I had to color my hair more and more frequently – every two weeks or so – because one thing did become a problem with gray hair: those pesky roots. There's nothing uglier than gray roots showing under your "brown" or "red" hair!
Then one day I got tired of it. The hair color that had freed me from my gray hair was now enslaving me, forcing me to spend a couple of hours every two weeks coloring my hair. I started to resent that process, and wanting free myself of it. So I stopped dying my hair.
Not that I embraced the gray hair – not at all! If I could just press a button, and not have to fiddle with mixing and applying hair color, I'd have brown hair again, this instant! Also, I didn't opt out of chemicals on my hair for health reasons, or to advocate a more natural look: for years, hair color was fine for me.
I just said no to hair products and their baggage, which I'd carried for twelve years, but eventually decided to unload. By doing that, I chose the freedom of letting my hair grow the color it is now: gray(ing). And, surprisingly, this is how my hair feels right now: light and free.
Serendipitously, school ended last Saturday, and on Sunday, summer weather began. Dripping swimsuits on the clothes line, bare feet inside the house and out, late dinners on the terrace, sand on the floor, in the car and on the feet, gelato and peaches, evening games of ping-pong in the garden, novels left open on the sofa (and more often than not on the floor), a warm breeze through the house ... thinking about this first week of summer, these are some of the things that come to mind. Thought if you asked my kids, they would undoubtedly add "no homework". And so it is. Welcome, summer!
photo by son (yes, the same over-zealous son - when it comes to garbage - below)
I didn't remember Rome being so crowded, and I've lived there for four years. Granted, that was close to twenty years ago. But I have visited since, including just before Christmas a year and half ago, and Rome wasn't so bad. But all this was before Pope Francis, whose immense popularity has, I suspect, moved more and more masses to Rome. In fact, we had the (bad) idea of visiting a friend in the Vatican City on Wednesday, the day of the Papal Audience, and found that even several hours after the morning audience, St Peter's Square was still jam-packed with people. Large herds of people, many of whom led by someone waving a flag, later trooped across the Tiber River near Castel Sant'Angelo, poured into Piazza Navona and from there to the Pantheon, where they all squeezed inside. This was precisely the itinerary we'd had in mind, before we saw the sea of tourists moving in compact and relentless waves.
But only a few kilometers outside Rome are some of my favorite Roman ruins, and a welcome respite from tourist crowds. For about seven century (3rd century BC to 4th century AD) Ostia Antica was an important port town, and today is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Italy.
There one can walk for hours along Roman streets and explore the remains of Roman buildings - houses, shops, temples, theaters ... all surrounded by somewhat unkempt nature that gives the site the appearance and the feel of a garden. A garden filled with Roman ruins.
(As you know, I don't normally write tourist information stuff, but as a bonus tip, I will share that if you travel with teenagers, and one of them happens to have thrown away the pizza you'd bought for lunch, mistaking it for a bag of trash (!!!), then you should stop for a panino or a focaccia with porchetta, a local specialty, just outside the archaeological site, at La Fraschetta del Borgo, Viale dei Romagnoli 761, Ostia Antica. This is an amazing place, filled with high-quality local and regional foods, and run by extremely hospitable people. The perfect conclusion to a wander through seven centuries)
Nellie Oleson of Little House on the Prairie fame must be one of the meanest girls in history. But she did at least one good deed: she taught us about "name cards".
Those of you who read the series may remember the story, in the Little Town on the Prairie book, when Nellie sneers at the other girls' "outdated" autograph albums, and brags about the name cards that are all the rage back in the glamorous East. The other girls, Laura Ingalls included, start coveting name cards too, and one by one go to the print shop, chose a personalized design, and have them made. As a special and rather unexpected gift, Laura too receives the twenty-five cents from Pa for a dozen name cards.
What all of you don't know, even those of you who did read the series, is that the story doesn't end there. From the pages of a seventy-plus year old book about life in the Midwest of the United States in the last century, it continued on in our contemporary rural Italy home, where thanks to Nellie Oleson, another little girl began to covet name cards.
And she made herself an even dozen.
I have been places.
I've lived and worked in London for years.
I've studied in Paris.
I've traveled throughout South America - by canoe in the Amazon, by bus (north American school buses!) in the Andean countries, by train in Peru, by boat in the Pantanal, by plane in Brasil, on foot in oh so many places - and visited all countries in the South American continent except for Uruguay.
I've spent months at a time in the US (always under three, as all Alien citizens), and visited ten states.
I've lived in Rome.
I've traveled extensively in my own country, from the northern Alps to the southernmost tip of the boot and to the islands.
I've traveled fairly widely in Europe.
But the most wonderful journey started seventeen years ago, when Tom and I became father and mother.
Happy birthday to Nicholas, our big boy.
Family life at the edge of an ancient rural community near the Mediterranean
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