Friday, June 30, 2006

Change

Thursday, 29 June was a crazy day but life changing.

We received word from Stan and Margie in Colorado that Stan’s daughter Wendy had given birth to a beautiful little girl named Grace, We wish Wendy a speedy recovery.

That same day we received the email from Margie we sold our car, the second to the last tangible thing remaining for us in this country (the last being our furniture in storage in Vermont).

I know what you’re going to say: on the face of it that doesn’t seem like terribly big news and certainly compared to the birth of a child it is clearly of lesser importance to be sure. Nevertheless, selling our car was one of the primary reasons we returned to the US, and we deemed it crucial before beginning our Paris phase of life. One less link removed from the chain connecting “there” with “here”. But what to do with all that “stuff” in storage remains the last question, to which there is no answer, at least not yet.

Take care Wendy.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Two Celebrations of change

We left dick and Dorothy’s house in Massachusetts Friday morning and headed off for Vermont.


Just outside of Ludlow, on the climb up toward Mt. Holly we saw a female moose just off the to the side of the highway; she looked a bit perturbed since she was faced with having to climb a very steep bank up to get herself out of the ditch she was in. Either that or head back tot he highway. But as we stopped and watched her she stopped and watched us – and soon we all went about our business; Sue and I to Rutland and the moose off to wherever moose go when they stop watching humans.

Soon after we arrived I dropped Susan off at the hospital and I swung over to drop my computer off with Bill Dugan at Computer Assistance. (It had been acting odd lately – which is only natural I suppose – but I was particularly concerned about my wireless card, which didn’t seem to be working properly.)

I picked up our mail – two USPS tubs’ worth I might add – and then returned to pick Susan up. I met her in the ED where several of the “A crew” were working so Susan got a chance to catch up with some of her friends in the “pronto soccorso”.

We then ran a couple of other errands and stopped back to find out what was up with the computer (operator error apparently: I had inadvertently screwed up the settings for my wireless card).

We said hello to my Apple laptop and goodbye to Bill and Phil, gassed up the car and left for the Maine woods to celebrate a niece’s transition from childhood to adulthood. It was an easy, uneventful drive to Orono, Maine and we arrived at Joyce and Carl’s in the early evening – just in time to have some leftover supper. (Joyce is one of Susan’s two younger sisters.) Susan’s mom had arrived earlier in the day and so we had a grand time talking about all the changes presently underway in so many lives. We spent the night with them but the next afternoon checked in to the Black Bear Inn. (The Bergmans were going to have a full house for the weekend and we had already scheduled ourselves to stay at a nearby hotel.)

Saturday was a day just to catch our breath and spend some time enjoying the wifi connection in their house (yeah!).


Sunday was the Big Day for our niece Rachel – her graduation from High School – an event she was eager for in no uncertain terms. She cannot wait to get off to college and is excited about the change presently underway in her life.

We enjoyed the ceremony that evening – the keynote speaker was a woman who teaches at the University of Maine; and although I have forgotten her name her speech was short and sweet. In fact she quoted from Thomas Friedman’s latest book, the World is Flat (he is an op-ed writer for the New York Times). The thrust of it all was how globalization and the quickening speed of technology is making the world an increasingly even playing field and how these graduates, these “adultids” (my word) will be faced with great opportunities but also unique challenges. Some important ideas were certainly cast over to the graduates that evening.

The rest of the evening’s presentations were the fairly typical “living your dream” sort of speech. The HS chorus sang a song and after the diplomas were handed out Rachel actually sang a solo. What a sweet voice, so full of promise and I cannot wait to hear it in another two or three years.

The next morning, Monday, we hit he road early and pointed our cart west, mid-west to be specific and drove for about 12 hours, stopping at a Hampton Inn in Amherst, New York, just outside of Buffalo. This was our first experience of having free Wi-Fi in our room, and as we continued our drive westward we would see that this has become the hot-button free feature in just about ever hotel/motel advertised along our route. Amazing and too cool – of course we are getting way spoiled so our return to Florence and the hit-and-miss broadband available there will hit hard.

On Tuesday we got another early start and got to Susan’s mother’s home in Grand Rapids by about 2 in the afternoon. We unloaded the car, relaxed and got ourselves ready to head off to Stan’s birthday party. In 2001 we were fortunate enough to be able to share in the celebration of our friend Stan’s 60th birthday and so we felt it fortuitous that we could be here in Michigan for his 65th birthday.


It was a surprise party of about 30 or so friends, gathered at one of the Heritage Hill homes in Grand Rapids, and our old friends from our Michigan days Dick and Kathy had come all the way from Pennsylvania for the event. The local Culinary School at Grand Rapids Community College provided the food while the wines came from Martha’s Vineyard in Grand Rapids. The group was a diverse collection of people who know the meaning of the word Fun (spelled with a capital F) and the entire feeling that evening was as if we were in someone’s home (which in a sense we were of course).


It was a grand evening, of toasts and roasts – we had no idea that Stan was going to run on the same ticket with Hillary Clinton; their motto as advertised on the bumper stickers handed out that evening was “Lower Morals, Higher Taxes and Better Food”. I think we can all live with that. It was a wonderful time of great comradeship – we met some wonderful people.

Our return to the US has been defined by a search for loose ends and tying them carefully; but must also be seen as a fortunate (for us) time to share in a celebration of not one but two transitions in two very different lives: our young niece Rachel and in Stan’s birthday. We feel ourselves lucky indeed.

After a breather in mid-week we are off to Illinois to spend a little time with my family in the Chicago area and in central Illinois (:the heartland of America”). We hope to be back in Michigan late Sunday afternoon and will bring you all up-to-date then.

Until then,

Wish we were there,

Steve

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Trip to the US, the Northeast phase


We took the 11:53 Eurostar from Florence to Roma on Sunday, June 4. After checking in to the very nice 2-star Hotel Stella, just a 5-minute walk from the Termini train station, we grabbed a map from the front desk and started off for the Borghese Gardens. Known in some circles as the "Central Park" of Rome it truly is an amazing place and this Sunday was filled with strollers just enjoying a beautiful afternoon. We then walked to the Piazza del Populo and found our way to Augsutus' Tomb. I had heard about the recent opening of the new museum dedicated to the Ara Pacis, a monument to Augustus built originally near the Pantheon shortly after the emperor's death but eventually moved to a location along the Tiber River next to Augustus' tomb. Anyway we were unsure as to whether it was worth the €6.50 entrance fee; there is little inside the very dramatic structure which now houses the Ara Pacis. But it was interesting to see a model of the entire "campo matius", the ancient open field where troops trained during the height of Rome's military power.

After we spent the afternoon wandering around the city we had a late lunch in the Piazza della Rotonda, facing the Pantheon. The piazza was filled with tourists so we sat outside to watch the waves of humanity surging passed us. Afterwards we spent the evening strolling the streets of the historic center, ending up near the Spanish Steps when it began to our rain.

Since we had 2 Metro tickets left over from our trip to Roma last November we decided that in this case discretion was the better part of valor and decided to take the subway rather than walk back to our hotel. We got off at the Termini train station Metro stop and decided to buy our tickets for one of the Monday morning express trains out to the airport. So we stopped at one of the fast ticket machines, checked out the train schedules for the following morning and purchased our tickets, as easy as 1-2-3, and then walked back to the hotel. (photo: street in Montmartre, Paris.)

The next morning, June 5, we packed up, checked out and walked to the train station where we hopped aboard the "Leonardo Express" which oddly enough goes to Leonardo da Vinci Code Airport, more commonly referred to as Fiumicino airport because, well, it is near Fiumicino. Anyway we had a pair of uneventful flights on British Airways, connecting through Heathrow for Boston, and got into Boston on time, as did our luggage. After we grabbed our bags off the carousel we zipped right through customs and out to the exit and a few moments later Dick, Susan's brother, pulled up to the curb. We loaded our bags into the car and traffic was light as we cruised through Boston and along the Mass Pike to their home in Douglas.

On June 6 we rested, sort of. Our first goal was to get a US “SIM” card for our Italy phone -- a pay-as-you-go plan really -- and we stopped at the T-Mobile store in Millbury, MA. Afterwards we had to pick up a few other odds n' ends for our swing through the US and so spent a relaxing afternoon doing just that. That night we had dinner with Dick and Dorothy and were joined by Dirk and Susan, friends of Dick and Dorothy's, who are planning a trip to Italy in the fall and who wanted to talk about just that. We all had a grand time. Susan fixed a delicious tart: the shell had a thin layer of chocolate on the bottom, then the pastry creme and topped off with the berries. What a blast it is to talk travel, about travel, and especially travel to Italy!

The rest of the week we just hung out in Douglas, MA, and caught our breath.

It was raining Friday when we left Dick and Dorothy's house in Douglas and headed north for Rutland ("Rootland"), VT. We dropped off the computer with our tech guy, Bill Dugan at Computer Assistance -- Bill is one of the most tech-savvy people I have met -- since I had a couple of issues that needed attention. In particular I was having difficulties accessing Wi-Fi spots and come to find out that somehow I had assigned my wireless network a permanent IP address. Anyway that got straightened out and all the diagnostics checked out just fine. So tidied up some loose ends in VT and pointed our car east for the Maine Woods, or rather Orono, Maine. We arrived in the early evening spending most of the trip in a light rain. But no snow so that was a good thing.

Tomorrow is “Graduation Day”, Rachel moves from her HS phase on to the college phase of here life, and we’re here to see it happen.

The end of May 2006


Although we spent much of the last week working on the details for our move to Paris in late July as well as getting ready for a return trip back to the US it we nevertheless had a grand time in Florence. The weather was fine, cool nights and warm days, just right for late spring in Tuscany.

After an inspiring Memorial Day service at the American National cemetery in Florence, the remainder of the week centered on two themes: food and visiting Susan’s former instructors.

On Tuesday we walked over to La Bottega del Cioccolato to see Michele, one of Susan’s teachers at Apicius and a whiz with chocolate. While Susan wanted to say goodbye we also had a bit of a surprise for him – Susan had made this scrumptious flourless chocolate cake. Well, actually we didn’t bring the whole cake – just a few slices. The rest we used for training purposes at home.

It was nice to chat with Michele – he is one of the most pleasant and congenial people we have met since coming to Florence and seems to be genuinely fond of Susan and obviously considers her skilful and talented. Interestingly, the Italians don’t seem to be as impressed by the Cordon Bleu as we are – and of course one wonders if there is some serious rivalry at work here. But still he has shown a serious interest in what Susan intends to do, pastrywise.

On Wednesday we walked over to Fabrizio Nistri’s bakery, or more specifically his “panificio” (bread-making) and “pasticcerie” (pastry-making) shop. Susan arranged via email for the two of us to come and see his bakery before we left Florence and we arranged to come by Wednesday afternoon while they were closed for the afternoon siesta. But Fabrizio apparently never sleeps, indeed his day usually begins at around 1:00 am, and although he puts in a full day baking he also teaches at Apicius of course as well as touring Italy giving seminars on breads and bread-making. One of his real strengths – and believe me has many – is a genuine fondness for a wide variety of regional breads, from Ferrara to Puglia to Calabria to Tuscany, he makes many styles and tries to make them using original ingredients and recipes whenever possible.

So we took a leisurely stroll – our favorite pastime it seems – over to Fabrizio’s bakery on Ponte Alle Mosse. Originally founded by his father – who Fabrizio claims taught him everything about baking and is still considered something of a maestro of breads and pastries in Florence – the shop is a typically Florentine operation: a bar, a small grocery section, an enoteca, and a full display case for the various breads and pastries.

Fabrizio let us in through one of the side doors and began our tour – and what a place it was.

The equipment was amazing, allowing one of two people to do the work of a half dozen in a fraction of the time. The machines are designed to allow efficiency in production while also permitting the operator to produce uniquely crafted breads, utilizing a wide variety of ingredients and in a diversity of styles, shapes and sizes. Most of the machines are fairly new, microprocessor-driven and appeared simple to operate – in fact Fabrizio easily demonstrated several processes, from making different bread dough to the shaping and forming of the loaves of different bread styles before they were put into the ovens to bake. This hi-tech bread-making room occupied a large portion of the “laboratorio”. As the loaves came out of the machine they were placed on long racks on rollers, which were then trundled to the next room which held the huge ovens – making it a breeze to move the tall racks of bread loaves to the ovens where they were easily transferred by a unique roller system.

After showing us through the bread- and then the pastry-making area we went out front and chatted for a while over coffee – the Italians cannot seem to do anything without including coffee. Quite civilized.

Before we left Fabrizio wanted to ensure that we had plenty of things to take with us when we left for the US so he loaded us down with a raft of his homemade chocolates, taralli, biscotti and crackers.

Thursday we met Melinda and Dave for dinner at the restaurant of another one of Susan’s teachers, Simone. At a little after 8 we buzzed the door at Simone’s “Club Canapone” and walked into the wonderfully decorated small dining room, seating no more than 30-40 people. As it was still early we were led through the dining room midway toward the back of the “club” and were ushered into the “bar”, which was more like someone’s living room really, where we were offered a glass of prosecco. Naturally we had to accept.

A few moments later Simone came out and after introductions – well OK I was the only one in the group who didn’t know Simone – we sat down for a grand meal. We all had fish. Melinda and Dave often go to Simone’s for his Wednesday Sushi night and knew what he was capable of doing. Melinda ordered the tuna (“tonno”) tartare, Dave had grilled tuna. After getting food poisoning from rare "tonno" last winter I still couldn’t shake the anxiety so I opted for just whitefish, as did Susan – and was it delicious! But here’s something to think about: as a starter Simone brought out to each of us a small plate of greens, with thinly sliced (lengthwise) zucchini, with a raspberry vinaigrette and finished off with thinly shaved pecorino cheese. So easy so simple and soooo good!

It was after midnight by the time we got back to our apartment. And did we sleep well.

Friday we met Warren and Gladys for lunch at the Golden View and broke the news to them about Paris. They were thrilled at the idea. They know, as we do, that it is going to be the very best thing that we could do right now in our lives.

But we are already starting to think that come late July we might just miss Florence.