Last venerdi (Friday), Sara e Patrizio had some friends over for dinner – a thirty-something couple with a little boy Leonardo’s age. The husband spoke perfect inglese, with hardly any accent, and the wife could talk with me just fine in her less-perfect English. We all ate outside (Sara and I got more mosquito bites) and once again, I tried new foods and loved them. My parents will be shaking their heads as they read this because I was a notoriously picky eater as a child – and have continued to snub certain foods as a young adult too! Well, what can I say? I have at long last seen the light! That night, Patrizio made another salad for us – cured prociutto lined the bottom of the plate, with little funghi, green olives, greens, and olive oil on top (yes, mia famiglia, I ate mushrooms and green olives!). On a separate plate were patate fritte e zucchini, which I also enjoyed. The whole time we ate, Ginevra – who was sitting at my right – kept reaching over and picking the little mushrooms off of my plate and popping them in her mouth like they were rightfully hers!
After trying a new type of vino rosso and my first sampling of limoncello (which was so strong that I felt the warmth in my nose, ears, and sinuses!), we had gelato … which was, amazingly enough, my first gelato since I have been here. It was so delicious: swirls of white and regular chocolate gelati with curls of shaved cioccolato sprinkled on and throughout the mix. And, to my delight, Sara e Patrizio serve gelato the way that I do – in grande portions (molto grande!). They also eat with their elbows on the table, a habit I have always enjoyed very much but consciously avoided in the United States for obvious reasons.
After dinner, the men took the kids to the front yard and played kickball. I took Veronica from Sara to give her the chance to talk with her friend without the little squirmer in her lap, then proceeded to bounce la bellina on my hip as I walked around the yard, through the house, etc. It’s so funny, because every time I take Veronica from Sara or Patrizio to hold her or feed her (or whatever), they thank me like I am performing some incredible sacrifice, or doing them a huge favor, when really I am being as selfish as can be – because getting time to hold and play with Veronica is such a joy for me!
I also got to meet Sara’s parents, whom I had met before when I was in Sansepolcro with Meredith (although they did not remember me since I was with twenty-odd girls that time!). They were both so kind to me, and I look forward to spending more time with them too.
Once the guests had left, Leonardo wanted to play me a song (he kept saying, “Conosci!” – “You know!”). After Patrizio found the right disc and pressed play, Queen’s We Will Rock You came on and “Nardo” started dancing – it was so cute! Later that night, I took him into my room and played him the same song on my iTunes, which made him laugh.
Sabato was a nice, quiet sort of day. I spent the morning coloring and playing calcio with Leonardo, chasing and tumbling with Ginevra, and cuddling and cooing at Veronica. Nardo helped me feed Veronica after pranzo, and it ended with much of the food going down her front and all over her clothes – Sara and I couldn’t help but laugh at the state of her afterwards! She was quite the sight! There she was, happy as could be, even with green baby food and applesauce everywhere.
That afternoon, la mia amica, Sam Cibelli, made her way to Sansepolcro after spending a month of study in Siena and a few days of sight-seeing in Firenze. I walked down to the bus station to meet her, but of course, her bus came later than expected so there were about three false alarms (other buses that I thought were hers) before I actually saw her smiling face through the tinted window. She was very tired, not only from the long rides on i treni e l’autobus, but from the go go go of the past month, so a couple days in Sansepolcro was exactly what she needed.
As I walked her back up the hillside to Sara e Patrizio’s house, we began the long process of catching one another up on all the happenings that had taken place between our last good talk (the night before she left for Italy) and the present. It was very hot, and carrying her smaller (but still surprisingly heavy) backpack carried my mind to memories of last summer when it seemed like I had one on more than off!
We came back home to Sara enjoying a nice, quiet house – Leo and Gigia were with i nonni (grandparents) for the afternoon and Veronica was still sleeping. Sam and I disposed of her bags, then joined Sara in the kitchen pulling out food for Sam (who, of course, said she was fine and just needed water, so I jumped in and informed Sara that she was in fact quite hungry and needed a snack!). A few minutes later, the three of us were chatting in the kitchen when Patrizio came in from biking, dancing into the house with his helmet and all his biking gear still on, and singing “Carolina Girls” (the song performed annually by Meredith students for the Italian host families at the closing dinner in June). Sara laughingly shushed Patrizio and chased him back outside with a wave of rapid fire Italian and a playful near-kick in the pants. Sam and I were laughing all the while at their antics, trying not to choke on our drinks or wake Veronica with the noise.
When she did wake up, Sam and I were still visiting with Sara and Patrizio in the kitchen over drinks and fruit, so I ran in and picked up the little bambina so that she could join in the fun too. One of the sweetest things about Veronica is her winning smile (that consistently appears mere moments after waking up, which is more than I can say for myself), and the glowing look she bestowed on Sam was every bit as lovely as always.
Thus began Sam’s happy but all-too-brief stay in Sansepolcro. She got to stay through Monday morning, but of course the days flew by in the busyness of talking with Sara about all things Italy, eating Patrizio’s excellent dishes, playing with the kids in the house and yard, laughing at Ginevra’s table manners (the best free entertainment – every night!), and of course, talking late into the night about her time in Italy and trying very hard to catch up on absolutely everything before our time ran out and it was time for her to leave.
Domenica began with Sam sleeping far later than anticipated (she woke up around the time that the family got back in from church and took off for la casa dei nonni). Then, having the house to ourselves for the afternoon, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, took our own sweet time getting ready, and then took off down one of my favorite haunts outside the city walls. The weather was absolutely perfetto, and made for some beautiful pictures of the Tuscan landscape around us, but it was also quite hot.
By the time we made it to the river and back, we were parched and slightly baked (though thankfully, not burned!), so there was nothing left for us to do but crash on the couch, pull out my laptop, and watch Pride and Prejudice. Best way to spend a hot afternoon really – we had Patrizio’s leftover panesanella to fill our tummies, the shutters closed to block out the caldo sun, and handsome characters with British accents and dashing blue coats to make us (or in reality, mainly me) sigh on occasion.
Then the viewing took a humorous turn, because Patrizio dropped by to pick up his bike (he is currently training for an event in agosto). The movie had just started, and so Sam and I tried to explain what we were watching and the main storyline as the action unfolded. Since our vocabulary is still rather limited, and the fast pace English – Briton-style – too hard for him to follow, we resorted to the following sort of explanations: “Il uomo rosso piace sorella bionda e la sorella bruna non piace il uomo bruno,” which translates roughly to “the red (haired) man likes the blonde sister and the brunette sister does not like the brown (haired) man.” He only had time for about the first ten minutes or so, but his face was priceless! It was clear that the facial expressions and tones (as well as the reactions Sam and I produced) were getting across the main idea, but, true to form, Patrizio was also trying to grasp what they were actually saying too, and the result was lots of furrowing of the brows and confused looks in our direction. After about fifteen minutes he called it quits (for now) and went biking. I think that it might go over better next time if we make sure Sara is around to help out a bit. Then, about halfway through the movie, Sam had also deserted me by falling asleep on the spot, so I ended up watching a good forty-five minutes or so by myself. Thankfully, she woke up in time to enjoy the happy ending. So all in all, we had a perfectly wonderful day.
The next morning she had to make an 8:46 bus to Arezzo, and owing to two realities (her procrastination in packing and my lack of directional capabilities) she almost missed it! Her last minute packing had us out the door at 8:36 (instead of the 8:25 departure I suggested) and then, because I only know the straightforward but long way down to the center of town (i.e., it contains one turn, not four or five), we had to run most of the way there (with backpacks on, mind you!). We ended up at the stazione right at 8:36 and no bus was in sight. Sam pronounced that we must have missed it, but I assured her that this was not the case.
And I was right.
At 8:37 the Arezzo bus turned the corner and opened its doors to take my Cibelli away, off to southern Italy and the relatives that waited. We gave each other quick bear hugs and then she was on her way. I was sad to see her go, but was still so grateful that I got to see her at all that the sadness of saying goodbye was almost niente to bear. All semester long we had talked and talked about seeing each other in Italy when we figured out our visits would overlap, but never actually thought it would work!
Lunedi was another nice day at home. I played with the kids outside in the morning, then helped get them out the door around 11. Sara had to take Veronica to the doctor for a checkup and Patrizio took Leo and Gigia out and then over to the grandparents for the afternoon. So while I had the house to myself I enjoyed a nice shower, straightened up, and then waited for lunchtime to roll around again. Veronica went down for a nap after her appointment, so Sara and I started getting the kitchen ready for Patrizio. When he arrived, preparation of an amazing lunch followed, as is the trend in this household.
One thing I especially like about the Italian lifestyle is their lunch hours – yes, hours. Plural. It allows people to actually go home and make, then enjoy a really nice lunch with friends or family, and I just love it. There is rarely any rush, and it even allows for a nap if you are prompt about eating.
Well, that particular lunchtime it just so happened that only Sara, Patrizio, and me were home to eat – no children (expecting little Veronica of course, who was sleeping)! What followed was yet another set of some of the most enjoyable hours I have had here. See, because I am still struggling to comprehend fast Italian dialogue, and Patrizio is the same with English, we try to meet in the middle sometimes when the three of us are talking: I talk in Italian as best I can, he in English, and Sara in both, helping the two of us out as needed. The result was probably the slowest and most relaxing lunch we have had so far, because so much thought was going into the talking that the eating had to take the backseat sometimes! Sara is always so patient with me, and offers gentle corrections without making me feel stupid or inarticulate. And there is so much good natured humor in these bilingual conversations too, because Patrizio and I are trying so hard, but still make all sorts of funny mistakes. They really do the most incredible job when it comes to making me feel like a part of the family and seeing to it that every possible need of mine is met above and beyond what I could want. I am so thankful for the chance to get immersed in Italian in the midst of such an amazing family!
That night, we had dinner guests again (as we more often do than do not!). Sara laughs and says that since Patrizio does the cooking, she can never say no when he wants to have people over for dinner. We have started calling him a “social butterfly,” a concept I had to explain since it doesn’t translate with the same meaning (Patrizio immediately wanted to know if it was a good thing in America for men to be “butterflies!”). Anyhow, this time around the visitors actually shared my native language, though they were also fluent in Italian too. Maureen Banker, a Meredith professor of art that has retired in Sansepolcro, came with her husband, Jim, to visit and eat with us. Over the years the Bankers have become very close with Sara, Patrizio, and the children, but they had been on vacation in Firenze for a month, so there was much catching up to do! I enjoyed the time with them as well, and it was fun to talk about Meredith again, and the mutual people that we knew from back home. I’ll never forget the change in look and tone when I told Maureen I was studying English at Meredith (“Ohhhhh, an English major,” she replied – in other words, “You’re one of those!”). Indeed. And rather proud of it too!
That night we enjoyed one of the most delectable dinners yet (see below). Oh, did I mention that Patrizio is a gourmet chef? Probably not. I didn’t want to let out all the amazing details of my life here all at once and risk of rampant cases of jealousy breaking out among my loved ones. I think it goes without saying that I am eating remarkably well every single day!
The dinner was accompanied by another happy surprise for me – a new vino dolce to try. Sara’s father had been given a bottle of sweet, white wine as a gift, but since he is not a fan of sweet wines, and knew that I very much am, he gave it to Patrizio and said it was especially for me! Can you see why I can’t stop talking about how wonderful my Italian family is? Sara’s parents come over on a regular (pretty much daily) basis, and I have become fast friends with both of them as well. Her mother is every bit as patient with my slow Italian as Sara is, and her father does the sweetest little things for me – he even tracked down some contact information regarding an evangelical church when he found out I was a Protestant!
Then, to top off my prima settimana in Italia, I got to spend the day in Assisi with (l-r) Chiara (Sara’s younger sister who lives in Milano), Sara, Leonardo, and Patrizio:
Assisi, home of the much revered saint, Francesco, is a hill town about an hour or so from Sansepolcro. We visited three belle chiese (churches), including the crypts below where we saw the remains of Santa Chiara and San Francesco himself.
The spectacular views of the Tuscan landscape went on and on, with the shadows of mountains looming in the distance. I tried to capture them on my camera, but I’m afraid my shots hardly do them justice.
As the day wore on, Nardo got tired and kept asking us to carry him. It was so hot that no one could oblige for very long, but you can see by the look on his face just how pleased he was when he finally got his way for a while.
We also got to see the college of culinary arts that Patrizio attended, walked around the beautiful city and took in the lovely architecture, then picnicked on the side of a mountain. Lunch was promptly followed by a universal nap – do they know how to live or what? Camping mats were rolled out on the happy slant of the hillside for the ladies and a not at all sleepy Leonardo, while Patrizio stretched out on the picnic table’s accompanying bench. The trees protected us from the heat of the day and the much needed rest was exactly what my body wanted.
After we all woke up (whereupon I discovered no fewer than four mosquito bites on me, one the side of a half dollar – yes, they love me here too!), we loaded back into the van and rambled through the beautiful hills until we came to another Francesco visiting area. It was a quiet, outdoor oasis intended for prayer and meditation, so most of the time was spent with we adults trying to take in the soft spoken beauty around us while constantly telling Leonardo zitto, zitto, zitto (“Zip it!”). The frequent signs reading “Silenzio” have absolutely no effect on nonreaders, who are usually the ones actually needing the admonition, yes?
The ride home was a relatively quiet one, so before long Leonardo and I were both asleep. When we got home Veronica was promptly picked up from one set of grandparents; picking up Ginevra from the other grandparents was put off until after dinner – and the house was much quieter as a result! However, we were very happy to have her back later that evening, and she provided no end of after dinner entertainment for the adults.
That night, Patrizio stuffed us with homemade gnocchi that was out of this world, and, as usual, he invited company over to enjoy it with us. His friend, named – ironically – Francesco, had lived in London for five years and spoke perfect English, but after we had gone through the preliminary questions that follow most introductions, the language of the evening was almost entirely Italian. I was actually surprised by how much I could follow though, and when Francesco talked to me in Italian (clearly and deliberately, but not what I would consider slowly), I actually grasped what he was saying with very little difficulty. I really enjoyed talking about London with him, and it was interesting to note the Briton slant to his accent. And then, of course, the four of us (Sara, Patrizio, Francesco, and I) ended the evening talking outside around the picnic table, with Ginevra and Veronica for entertainment (Leonardo was busy playing in the front yard with his friend, Ricardo, so he missed out). After Francesco left, I showed Sara and Patrizio the pictures I had taken at Assisi that day, as well as more pictures from home, a few from my younger years, and then snapshots of London and Ireland.
And that brings me to mercoledi – whew! I’m beginning to wonder how many of you are still with me! Yesterday we were mostly just in and about the house, playing with the kids, eating more good food of course, and trying to stay cool. Yet though Sara and I didn’t take them anywhere, by the end of the day we were both positively spent. Patrizio did not get off work until 8:30 or 9, and by the time he did, Sara and I were both on the verge of meltdown (the kind where one laughs uncontrollably out of pure exhaustion). He came in the door and started to tell us about his day (in English), saying that it had been a quiet day at the hospital, so he had done nothing but study English and practice past tense (which he then preceded to demonstrate for us), but try as we might, Sara and I could not listen with straight faces. I think it was because he used the phrase “I did nothing tonight,” which, of course, made us a little bit angry at him since we had been chasing down Ginevra, breaking up fights, getting spit up on, etc all day long!
Tired Bekah? Si! :)
So there we were, bursting into giggle fits while poor Patrizio tries to tell us about his day with his newly refined past tense. Before long he started laughing too, thinking he had said something wrong and thus funny in English, and we had to keep telling him that we weren’t laughing at him – it was just that we were tired. So, considering our state of mental exhaustion, you can imagine how we reacted when he told us a few minutes later that he was taking Leonardo and Ginevra out for a bike ride about Sansepolcro … “GRAZIE, PATRIZIO!!!”
Later that night after the kids were in bed, Sara and I pulled out my laptop and started watching more of Pride and Prejudice (we had gotten about thirty minutes into it on Monday) while she was ironing. Before long, Patrizio came in and joined us under the pretense that he was eating and had nothing better to do (though, he stayed and watched it with us until we all turned in for the night). We had the subtitles on to make it easier for them to follow and made it up to the point where Lizzy gets the letter about Lydia and Mr. Wickham. Sara was saying that she really wanted to get an Italian version, which would be great practice for me too!
One thing that I found particularly interesting came up when we were talking about Donald Sutherland. They recognized his face, but Sara explained that this was the first time they had actually heard his voice because all the films she had ever seen with him had been dubbed. It is kind of amazing to think about really – that they know all these famous American and British faces in TV and movies, but have never heard their real voices? And the crazy thing is, there are many actors, like Sutherland for example, that I love specifically for their voices. And then there is the inverse for me – watching an American film that has been dubbed – which is also quite an experience. At the end of August, Prince Caspian is coming out in Sansepolcro and we are going to go see it! I can’t wait, and I am really hoping my listening comprehension will have improved significantly by then.
And that brings me to today: giovedi. Sara and I had another busy morning with the kids, but this afternoon is a quiet one for me because I now have the house to myself. Sara went with her dad and sister (with Leo and Gigia in tow) to visit a great-aunt that lives out of town and has wanted to meet Ginevra. I had Veronica for a while, but after Patrizio got back from the supermercato he took her over to Sara’s mother for the afternoon and then took off to bike and run. So here I am, typing up the last of this very long account, shaking my head at how much more I could tell you if there was time! Thus, as a parting gift, here are a few random sketches of happy and humorous moments that did not make it into the previous rant because I either forgot about or overlooked them during the first run through:
This is a task that, despite its daily nature, never gets old for me – probably because my subject goes about the ordeal with such animation. One would think the bambina had not eaten in a few days instead of only a few hours! I have also fine-tuned the best method and can get her through one bowl in roughly five minutes. The key? Three simple steps: scoop, deliver, swipe. First, I scoop a smallish glob of baby food into the spoon. Then, the spoon is delivered with intention, carefully avoiding the grasping fingers when this proves a problem and lifting the spoon deftly upon delivery to insure that all of the gloop makes it into her mouth. But the job is only complete upon conclusion of the swipe. Think about a squeegee, and then imagine that the edge of the spoon is the instrument and Veronica’s mouth the glass surface. It works (almost) every time, and I can now complete all three actions in about 4.7 seconds. Prunes are more difficult because they lack a thicker consistency and Veronica has a propensity to splurt them everywhere, but for the most part, I am basically a pro.
Although I am not the only one that is adored by mosquitoes – Sara and I are the dynamic duo – I tend to attract them away from most everyone else. My theory is, they like foreign blood because it makes them feel exotic or something. The funny thing is that even when Sara and I take pains and wear long pants to avoid an itchy evening (as the kids run gleeful in shorts and Patrizio enjoys a cool, shirtless existence), the stupid pests still make a beeline for us! One evening in particular this point was markedly made, for, when the mosquitoes discovered my legs – and arms! – were protected by pants and long sleeves, they went straight for my forehead. Awesome. Sam swatted one away before it had done too much damage, but a few minutes later I felt the itch creep on and knew it was too late. I turned to Sara, mute but on the verge of erupting into laughter, and just pointed. At my head. And the bump. It was too much – she broke out into hysterical laughter and then pointed to Patrizio – still untouched despite wearing shorts and nothing else – and said, “It’s not fair, is it?”
Leonardo is quite the talker, but a lot of the time I have absolutely no idea what he has just said. He goes off on tangents (happy ones) that generally end in a question, and then looks at me expectantly as Sara and Patrizio laugh at my helpless expression. So, in lieu of these tangents that I rarely understand, he has begun to frequent one-worded commands. His favorites? Vieni (“Come!”), tieni (“Hold [this]!”), and prendi (“Take [this]!”). As a result, I have taken to calling him Prince Leo. The little principe has also had to learn that per favore is a required add-on to his requests …
Ginevra also has a list of frequently used words, “no” and “basta” (stop!) being among those primarily used. The funny thing is, the way that she says basta is with a bit of a lisp (bahth-duh!), and, to top it off, sounds a lot like her version of “Bekah.” So, half the time I can’t tell if she is yelling my name or telling someone to stop. Her name for Veronica is equally confusing: “Lo Lo.” No one is sure where that came from, since there is no “lo” sound in “Veronica,” or an “L” either for that matter (our best guess is that it came from sorella, which means “sister”). However, whenever she says “Low-LOH!” everyone knows exactly who is being referred to, so in the end, it works!
In other Ginvera news, I have discovered that she prefers being upside down more than right-side up, and have been promoted to a happy existence among the ranks of those lucky enough to receive morning kisses from “Gigia.”
Thus, my very happy life in Sansepolcro goes on with me continuing to love it more and more each day. I hope that all of you are well – many thanks to those who have emailed me! If you have not received a response yet, you should soon. Thank you for your patience! A dopo …
much love and molti baci – Bekah