Tales of a wandering lesbian

Into the snow

There is snow in the mountains. You can see it from the balcony in the morning. My friends in Oregon are starting to talk about the ski season, and my mom is writing with snow updates.

Ryo, Luigi’s father, asked if I’d like to go with him and André, Luigi’s little brother, into the mountains to check out the snow conditions. I’m always up for new terrain, so I put on 4 layers and packed up everything warm that I brought with me to Italy (I came fairly well equipped – we’re talking the Alps here).

We started in Barga and wound our way up from 400 meters to 1500 (I think). Through quiet stands of poplar and along mountain ridges we wound, chatting about Italian driving and life in the mountain towns. The landscape was striking and, at times, startling. It reminded me very much of the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho where I grew up, except that in Idaho, you would have had to hike for an hour or so to reach a mountain ridge like the one we were casually driving along.

Driving in Alps

André, who is something like 20 months old fell asleep on the ride up the mountain, tranquilly dreaming as we drove.

Sleeping Andre

We reached a village perched astride a steep ridge, and Ryo pulled over. “This is San Pellegrino. Want to have a roam around?” He stayed with the car and the child and I struck out toward an old archway and a sign to the sanctuary.

I stopped inside the church that was tucked inside the rocky tunnel, but missed the mummy (evidently there’s a mummy). I left an offering and took a holy card then headed back down the passageway that lead from the streets of the small town out onto the ridge. I fell in love with the view from the tunnel and spent quite a lot of time trying to capture it.  By the time I emerged, my hands were nearly numb.

Arch View

I turned to look at a cat sitting in the alpine sun, when a little Dachshund came running up behind me. She sniffed my pants and ran up ahead into the snow on a mission of her own. My attention was captured by a placard that explained the history of the place. I walked over to it and began reading, but was interrupted by a shrill and persistent bark coming from just behind the placard. The little Dachshund was suddenly barking at me and did not appear to have any intention of stopping. Her ears were flapping as she jumped with each bark.
Dog friend

There was nobody around and she was raising quite a racket. So I did the only thing I could think of: I bent down and put my bare hands in the snow, made a snowball and tossed it in the air for her to catch. It was exactly what she was looking for. She ran and jumped and pounced and champed. Ball after ball I threw as the little dog danced around in utter delight. After maybe 5 minutes of this, I said “ciao, ciao” and continued along the path to look at the shrine perched at the furthest point out on the ridge.

I took pictures, admired the scenery and pondered the complex in utter silence and solitude. Until my friend reappeared. She came from below the trail and started barking again. So, my hand finally thawed from our earlier game, I reached back down and started again. She was absolutely transfixed. Every snowball was magical to her, worthy of total exploration and attention. She would thrust her face into the indentation left by a missed catch, searching out every last bit of fun. We played our way back to the arch, me tossing increasingly shorter throws to reel her in, her short legs carrying her through the snow. Before I left she chanced a tentative poke at my hand and then ran a few feet away waiting for another toss.

The cats came over to see what was up and I bid them all “ciao,” heading back through the arch, past the church and out into the town where Ryo and André were both asleep in the car. We stopped for a quick cappu and headed down the mountain to the ski slopes that were our real destination. As soon as we crossed over the ridge at San Pellegrino, there was snow everywhere, the landscape completely transformed.

Snow driving

Down the mountain we wound, the bare tracks of the ski slopes sliding in and out of view as we drove. It became increasingly clear that we would not be skiing this weekend. The parking lot at the bottom of the slopes where we stopped the car for lunch was completely bare, and the tennis courts below were green. Still the trip to the slopes brought us to a lovely place for lunch, where we had pasta frita (fried pasta dough) and gelato with blueberries. Fantastic.

Pasta frita Gelato con Mirtilli

And I learned the valuable lesson: even if the waiter says it’s pasta with funghi, confirm that it’s not also with meat. Bastard meat sneaking in places it doesn’t belong… Anyway, Ryo was kind enough to share, and André liked the meaty mushroom pasta, so it all worked out. Then we headed up the mountain for a hike to check out the snow.

Once again, my Vasque Blur Gore-Tex shoes were awesome, if a bit unnecessary. The snow, at deepest, was about 4 inches – not so good for skiing but just right for a hike and breathtaking scenery.

Ski slope

We headed back, collected ourselves, and started the descent from the parking lot to Barga. Along the way, Ryo brought us to Sasso Rosso , a notoriously beautiful town set into the side of the mountain, and built out of the local, pink rock. It looks like a giant grabbed a hunk of the hill, crushed it and then rearranged the pieces.


On our way from the pink town, André started to melt down. It had been 5 exhausting hours of excitement in the mountains, and he had had enough. We tried singing and little piggies. We tried peek-a-boo and cookies. Nothing worked. Something would hold his attention for a short time bringing a smile to his little face, and then the smile would fall into a tragic, gaping pit of despair, wailing about his boots, always his boots.

André has a pair of yellow wellington boots. They’re perfect for going to the horse arena, or into the mountains. He loves his boots. He loves that they are yellow. “Lello.” He calls them. Today it was:


There’s something about a child crying – I mean really crying their heart out – that has an effect on people. I think it can go one of two ways, usually. 1. A person will want to comfort the child, in order to make them stop crying. 2. A person will want to kill the child, in order to make them stop crying. When it’s a child I don’t know, it’s a toss-up for me, comfort or kill. When it’s a child I do know, though, I just laugh. I know it’s not helpful to the situation. I know it won’t make them stop. But the honesty with which a child will cry when they are truly melting-down is amazing, and André was crying with complete honesty.

We had taken his boots and socks off when we got in the car. It was warm, he had wanted them off earlier, and there was really no need for them now. Or so we thought. After the initial 5 or so minutes of negotiating about the boots staying off, we thought the situation was solved. He was grumbly and obviously tired, but so was I. We drove, sang, talked. And then it hit. Full on tantrum. It took us at least another 10 minutes to figure out that he was still upset about the boots. After some excellent kiddy translation by Ryo, he reached down, tugged a boot off the floorboards and handed it to André. Quiet. Then “two.” So I reached back, picked up the other and handed it to him.

He clutched the boots to his chest and a great, shuddering sigh came out of his little body. Ryo and I chuckled. There are times to put your foot down with a child, but this was not one of those times. If he wanted his boots, that was totally fine with us. The next 10 minutes was quiet. André flirted with sleep, his boots pulled to his body, his breath coming in great heaving gasps.


Ryo and I looked at each other and smiled.

We were fools.

“ONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONON.” Ryo was first to reach back and pick up one of the fallen boots. He had it on André’s foot in about 2 seconds while maintaining perfect control of the car on a mountain road. “Is he saying ‘on’, or ‘no?’” I asked, fumbling for the other boot. “On, I think.” André was definitely awake, and the presence of the boots was no longer enough. I jammed the other boot on his bare foot thinking how difficult it would be to get it off later.


I tried to tell him softly that they were his; that nobody would take them from him. I imagined him in therapy years later, clinging to a pair of yellow boots, talking about vague memories of a stranger in aviator glasses taking his most favorite thing in the world and how is dad let it all happen.


There was nothing for it. Ryo comforted his son as best he could, and André did his best to scream himself out of the car. I just laughed to myself.

There are times when we can communicate our wants and needs so clearly that, with a single bark, a stranger knows to throw a snowball for us. And there are times when we want something so terribly much that we want to scream ourselves to sleep. Even after we get it, the wanting is so intense that its memory won’t let us go.

When I dropped Ryo and André in Barga on the way back home, I was ready for some quiet. And I was happy for the invite from earlier in the day. “Want to come to dinner tonight?” “Sure, Ryo, that would be great. Thanks. What can I bring?”

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November 13, 2009   3 Comments


It’s noon here and already I’ve had a great day.

I got back from Lucca last night to do a bit of house sitting for Deb and Sandra while they’re on vacay.  Their son, Tom and I chatted a bit, planned for tonight’s meal, and went to sleep. I’m amazed at how quickly I’ve come to think of my little mattress as home.  I had a fantastic visit to Lucca, but I felt a sense of quiet as I climbed into bed last night.  The sounds and smells are familiar now, and I know where I am when I wake up in the night.

This morning when I woke, I started the laundry, fed the dogs, warmed a brioche and made my best cappu yet.  I even managed to get out of the house with keys in hand (if you forget the keys, you’re sol, as many Italian houses don’t seem to have doorknobs, requiring the use of a key to enter.  One morning spent in the cold in my pj’s taught me that lesson.)

Looking around at the scenery, I saw what I had been unable to take-in the night before.  While I was away, the mountains had been coated with a brilliant snow.  Beautiful.

Fornacci mountain view

On my way down the stairs, I heard Berti calling my name (or something like it).  “Giorno!”  We then carried on a 10 minute conversation in Italian during which we understood each other probably 60% of the time, planning who would be looking after Tommy today, whether the dogs had eaten, and the status of the tubo.  Wow!  Apparently,my time in Lucca did quite a lot for my vocabulary and confidence.

Then I headed out the gate to the Micra.  My first test of Italian driving.

Micra Mia!

It’s me, no?

So, I popped in my new Noemi CD (as far as I can tell she’s the Italian equivalent to Adele), put on my driving glasses and headed up the hill.

First, I want to say that the Italian conception of what “good driving” is is a little different than what you might experience in the US.  While in the US, stopping distance is important and almost everyone will talk on their cell while driving, in Italy, a 6 inch to 6 foot stopping distance is considered adequate, while the idea of talking on the phone without a hands-free device is considered completely unsafe.  As I backed out of the driveway, I wondered if I’d make it up the hill without pissing off half the residents of Barga and how I’d handle parking once I got there.

As I pulled away from the first stop sign, the little Micra peeled a little rubber – surprising, given how much Deb makes fun of the little car’s lack of pick-up.  Frankly, I felt like I was in a race car.  I see now why Deb uses the parking break instead of the foot pedal.  I’ll have to practice more to get that down.  Winding my way up the hill, I felt completely at home, even becoming irritated by the slow van in front of me (I say slow, but I really don’t know how fast I was going.  Like the Euro, the Km is so foreign to me that it all seems like pretend denominations).  I did not, however, pass the van, risking a three-across situation on the road as I’ve experienced a number of times riding with Deb.  Evidently, this is common, but I’m not used to it yet.

When I got to Barga, I found the little street where we park every morning.  Unfortunately, a larger car had totally screwed-the-pooch (That’s a terrible phrase, isn’t it?  Which is worse do you think:  screwed-the-pooch or shit-the-bed?  I like shit-the-bed, honestly.  Either way, that’s what this guy did) for all of us by parking over the line.  After about 10 mins of psyching myself up, I put my big-girl panties on and made an attempt at the already too-small space while a nice man sitting on a bench across the street directed me from afar using hand signals.  It’s so fun to have an audience for things like this.

In the end, I actually made the car fit without scraping, rubbing or bumping anything.  I’m not sure how I got out or how anyone else will get in, but I’m sure we’ll work it out.

Micra Park

After figuring out which key opened the studio, and turning on the lights (bonus) I sat down to write and bask in the glory of my morning.  Then I walked to one of my favorite places for pastry:  Caffe Lucchesi.  It’s a great place (I think) where they make pastry and chocolate daily (I’m basing that on the smells that come from the inside when you open the heavy doors, and the overhead flat-screen tv that shows someone working away on a vast stainless steel surface somewhere out of sight.)  The only problem with Lucches is that they are so eager to help me that I have to force us all to speak in Italian, me pointing and them patiently talking me through the pastries.

This morning it was cappu and a pasta con pera (pear pastry).

Cappu and Pera

The pastry is light and lovely and the pear seriously melted away when I bit into it.  Amazing.  For 1 Euro 90 I have a practically-perfect second breakfast that would easily cost twice that in a busy coffee shop in the US.  And a view of the mountains.

The Italian word for “happy” is “contento/a”.  I like it very much.  It doesn’t have the connotation of manic expectation that “happy” has for me.  Just easy contentment.  Sitting there at an outside table with my coffee, pastry and Harry Potter book, I let myself be still,  awash in the feeling that has crept in over the last week.  There is nowhere in the world I would rather be than right here right now.

One of the hazards of being someone who looks toward to future, toward an ideal construction of whatever it is I would like to see in the world, is that I often lose sight of the beauty of what is around me and within me at any given moment.  I’m working out the next move, the next manipulation in order to bring about that which I would like to see in the world.  One of the great gifts I am receiving is the ability to experience right here, right now and to let go of my expectations; to let things evolve and unfold naturally.

That leaves me time to think about just how long I can live on my savings.

Sono contenta.

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November 11, 2009   4 Comments