Monthly Archives: August 2014

Re-entry

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I thought we had made it over the proverbial hump when we eased through customs in the Chicago airport.  We declared our sun-dried tomatoes and dried porcini mushrooms and even admitted that we had spent a week on a farm petting Italian pigs and donkeys.  After a 10-hour flight across the Atlantic during daytime hours (meaning each boy only slept a few winks), we were finally back on American soil.  Local time read 3:00 p.m., but our Italian clocks told our bodies that it was 10:00 p.m.  We had to retrieve our enormous mound of luggage, re-check it on our next flight, and go through security one last time before we could finally hunker down at our gate and wait for our plane to St. Louis….just an agonizing three hours away.

At first, our plan was to just let adrenalin take over.  We bought the boys a smoothie at Starbucks, let them lean on the windows and watch planes take off, and derailed their exhaustion with Garrett’s cheese popcorn, pure Chicago gold.  But after about two hours, the boys were totally bonkers.  Louie would crawl across the airport at a frenetic pace, while Everett emitted peals of high-pitched laughter and chased after him.  They were wild animals running blind and would not be muzzled.  The airport hummed with afternoon business travelers, giving us that look that says, “Why the hell can’t you control your children?”  I wanted to wear a sign that averted the gazes of disapproval.  “Hey- we’ve been traveling abroad for over a month, just got off a ten-hour flight, and it is about four hours past their bedtime…so please, just smile and look back at your laptop.”  We weren’t going to last another hour.  My watch, still set on Roman time, said midnight.  I scooped up Louie, much to his disapproval, forced him in to the Ergo and headed for a dark hallway near the elevator that was mostly unpopulated.  It was not a pretty fifteen minutes, but he eventually gave in to my sleeper hold.  When I got back to the gate, Everett was crumpled in to the umbrella stroller with the iPad, zoning out to a Sesame Street episode. Only 45 minutes until we board, a quick one-hour flight, and then we are finally home.

At last it was time to board.  We squeezed on to the tiny propellor jet, got the car seats installed, and attempted to get fastened for the short state line hop.  Everett folded right in to his seat and passed out.  Louie, on the other hand, would not have it.  Hysteria erupted.  I had no choice but to just keep him in my arms, shielding his eyes from the bright, artificial airplane light and trying my best to bounce and shush him back to sleep while the flight attendant prepared us for takeoff.  I finally got him back to a silent slumber on my chest when the flight attendant tiptoed back to our seats. “I’m so sorry,” she began and then proceeded to tell us that we had to move seats.  The new employee at the check-in counter had seated us in the row behind the emergency exit, a no-no for tiny travelers that can’t maneuver doors and levers.  Commence another fifteen minutes of semi-conscious psychotic screaming, back-arching, and wrestling.  Luckily, Ev transferred rows without a peep and went right back to sleep for the duration of the flight.  Louie woke up in hysterics and required intense mama-manhandling about four more times before we landed.  The flight was closer to 90 minutes due to thunderstorms in St. Louis, but we finally made it to Lambert at about 8:00 p.m. local time, 3:00 a.m. Italian time.

The next three days, we did the jet lag jig.  Louie had the hardest time, waking up at 2:00 a.m. demanding breakfast and play on the first morning, 3:15 a.m. the second morning, and 4:00 a.m. on the third.  The fourth day brought us a 5:45 wake-up with the sun, which was magical.  Today is our 6th morning home and both boys are still snoozing as I drink my coffee and type away.  It is 7:35… mama friends, you know what a rarity this is!!  I finally feel like we made it.  We are home, sweet beautiful home.

There are still boxes to be unpacked here, which is making it a little more difficult to soak in the “home” aura.  Ben hit the ground running with orientation on the two days after we got back and then day one of his new job yesterday.  It’s amazing how quickly the routines of real life can take hold.  I am already scrambling to knock things off the to-do list: doctor appointments, finding a dentist, hairdresser, veterinarian, getting new license plates, driver’s license, etc.  Ugh.   Instead, I decide to just clean out the garden bed.  A little rosemary, basil, and arugula in the ground and I am feeling our roots take hold.

The boys are awake…. time to wrap this up and start the day!  A dear friend of mine is bringing her girls over for a play date and we will likely hit up the park down the street.  Not a shabby agenda at all.  I am feeling so much gratitude for the adventures we had and also so much gratitude to have a place to call home.  More reflections to come on our “lessons learned” from traveling with tiny people, but for now–I’ll leave you with a couple action shots from our first few days back in MO.

 

Louie- eating breakfast and ready to play at 2:00 a.m. on our first morning home.

Louie- eating breakfast and ready to play at 2:00 a.m. on our first morning home.

Already loving playtime with our cousins!

Already loving playtime with our cousins!

 

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When in Rome

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And the train stops here.  Literally.  We arrived to Rome via the bullet train from Florence on Saturday afternoon to spend the last four days of our grand excursion.  As expected, Saturday was the most harried travel day of our entire trip.  Ben dropped Louie and I off at the Florence train station where we camped out with all of our luggage, while he and Everett went to return the Fiat to EuropCar.  For a little over an hour, Louie used my arms as trapezes as I worked to convince him that crawling through the mobs traversing the dirty train station floor was not in his best interest. After circling Florence and finally entering a forbidden traffic route to get to the rental car return lot, Ben and Everett made it back to the station and we loaded up our ridiculous load of cargo and made our way to the platform.  Despite the fact that we waited for the platform sign to post (so we knew where to board), we just barely made it on the train with both boys and all of our stuff before it pulled out of the station.  Ben was still desperately searching for crannies to stuff all of our luggage in when the train began to move.  Whew.  We thought we were through the worst of it.

When we got to Rome, we crept through the station like the ghosts of Christmas past, dragging suitcases like heavy chains, pushing an unsteady umbrella stroller, and wearing toddlers on our backs.  We finally made it to the curb and looked for a taxi large enough to house our mule pack.  After turning a few small Fiat taxis away, we finally hailed a handicap-accessible van.  The wheelchair lift in back folded up to afford enough space for all of our stuff and the cab had space for two adults and two kids in car seats.  The boys fell asleep within minutes of being strapped in to their seats.  It was if they had been simultaneously tranquilized.  The taxi driver did not speak much English, but had a general idea of how to get us to the apartment address that we showed him on our iPhone screen.  After a short but chaotic drive through the people-packed narrow streets of Rome, the driver stopped and wedged himself in the middle of a mob of tourists and said, “Street closed,” and motioned that we had to get out.  He pointed to the street of our apartment on a map–six blocks away.  We pulled the boys from their slumber, unloaded the van, and began our urban trek through the blazing afternoon concrete heat.  I carried the sleeping dead weight of Louie in the Ergo across the front of my body, a stuffed backpack on my back, pushed a rickety umbrella stroller carrying Everett along rickety cobblestones, and then carried the travel crib with three of my fingers looped through the handle while trying to keep the plastic wheels of the stroller straight with the other two fingers.  Ben lugged an enormous duffle across his body, a backpack on his back, two car seats dangling from their seat belts in one hand and then dragged a huge roller duffle with a smaller duffle perched on top with his other hand.  There was construction on the main drag, so we shimmied through orange plastic netting, storefronts, and masses of sightseers until we finally found Via Laurina.  Whew.  We really did try to pack lightly in anticipation of these very moments of our trip, but with two small children and a four and a half week stay…we did the best we could.

Our pile of luggage in the Florence train station.

Our pile of luggage in the Florence train station guarded by the woman in the Italian ad.

This travel day was absolutely insane, but we made it to our small upstairs apartment perched in an old building in the heart of Rome’s bustling shopping district.  Wow–what a gear change: from the serenity of the Tuscan farmhouse to an urban plot lofted above storefronts like Gucci, Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana.  While we are certainly in a busy, tourist-laden district, we are actually in a pretty sweet spot.  We are conveniently planted right between the beautiful Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps, two prominent Roman gathering places.  Cafes, gelaterias, and enotecas abound–and stunning architectural views of churches, statues, bell towers, fountains, and antique artisan storefronts are a constant.  The pace is a bit frenzied here in comparison to the rest of our journey, but I’m trying to just roll with the Roman tide for a few days.  When in Rome….  Here is what we have done in the first two days:

When in Rome…

Romp through the ruins.

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Ancient Rome was not built in a day, but we pretty much hammered out most of the major ruin exploration in a single day.  We wandered through the Roman Forum in the morning and then hit the Colosseum in the evening after the boys had a good siesta.  Everett was mostly interested in the wildflowers growing amidst the open squares of ruins at the Forum.  For some reason, Italian flowers are all “coconut flowers” or “vanilla flowers” to Ev and he is enchanted with gathering them at every corner.

Louie has still refused to take his first independent steps, despite wanting to scale every raised surface in sight.  I made the mistake of letting him walk while holding my hand through the Colosseum.  There are raised surfaces and staircases everywhere in the stadium, so he made a beeline for some climbing fun.  When I put the kibosh on that, there was a Colossal Colosseum tantrum.  This is what it looks like to tour ancient ruins with a one-year old and a three year-old.  Exhilarating and exhausting.

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A cute pose just before the tantrum.

 

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And there’s the Colossal Colosseum tantrum in full force.

Sample the local delicacies.

Today we tried porchetta at a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint acclaimed for this pig panacea.  The unassuming shotgun storefront of Er Buchetto has been roasting and slicing this pork candy since 1890.  The owner singlehandedly roasts, slices, and serves the pig to hungry locals and tourists alike that squeeze in the narrow doorway for a quick lunch. Porchetta is a whole roasted pig, deboned and stuffed with enough fat and spices to create a pure and non-pulverized “meatloaf” of sorts.  The bones are the only thing removed before cooking, slicing, and slathering on crusty bread, so it is best not to examine or think too closely about exactly what part of the pig you might be sampling before you bite.  The meat was tender and tasty and I tried to focus on that, rather than overanalyzing the different textures that erupted in my mouth.  It is served with house wine.  Ben had the rosso, while I tried to stave off the hot sun with a bianca.  It is poured from spigots that literally come out of the wall.  Basic but beautiful in its simplicity and perfect for a quick lunch with tired toddlers.

See the porchetta in the case, just hanging out in the storefront window.  I don't think it's refrigerated.  Again--not thinking too much about it.

See the porchetta in the case, just hanging out in the storefront window. I don’t think it’s refrigerated. Again–not thinking too much about it.

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House wine spigots.  I wonder if I can install one of these at home.

Live life by the Roman Numerals on the Clock.

We have finally fully succumbed to the European schedule on this last leg of our trip.  The boys have not gone to sleep before 9:30 p.m. on any of the nights since we’ve arrived.  We are going on full morning explorations, stopping for a few-hour afternoon nap, feeding them a “primi piatti” before leaving the house again, and then having a “secondi piatti” of PBJ’s while we are out on an evening stroll through city streets.  We are usually turning back up in our apartment as the sun is setting around 9, but given that the boys are sharing a room in our tiny Roman rental, they are giggling and squealing well into the 10:00 hour.  Will this make jet lag recovery easier or harder?  Only time will tell.  For now, we try to make the most of our whirlwind 4 days here, soaking up as much historical and gastronomic enlightenment as we can each day.  Ben and I have discovered some incredible fresh pasta joints that make for perfect takeaway late lunches while the boys are napping, a beautiful bakery serving cannoli bliss, and a few solid gelato stands.  Tonight we try the acclaimed Brunello di Montalcino wine and eat a porcini mushroom risotto that Ben cooked up for a 10:30 p.m. dinner.  Only two more days until we board the plane back home, a couple more days to Carpe Diem in the city of Caesar and toss our concepts of normalcy to the wind… “When in Rome!!” 

 

 

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Mementos

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I have been contemplating what I want to tote back as my souvenir from this adventure. While there will surely be bottles of olive oil and wine mummy-wrapped in dirty laundry in our suitcases, I wanted to bring back something enduring, something that would capture the essence of our experiences, without being hokey or trite.

I almost bought a bronze bell in Cannobio. Each morning the old man who worked the small shop would fasten his metal goods to wires strung along the stone wall outside his storefront that faced the lakeside promenade. Each day I walked along the cobblestone stretch, I eyed the bell and gently clanged it ever so softly as I leaned in closer to inspect the handiwork. I wondered if it was an antique, but the fact that it was only 20 Euros made me doubt any historical significance. It was not ornate, just a small bronze bell affixed to a black iron hanging post. Still, I developed an affinity for this bell. I have always wanted to have a dinner bell. A bit silly, I know, but I picture myself ringing it from the porch of our new house to call the boys in from play. Everett and Louie would roll their eyes in embarrassment when they heard the obnoxious clamor, which would secretly make me all the more amused. And ringing it would remind me of Cannobio with its bell towers that have been ringing every 15 minutes since the 12th century. Everett and Louie have both been enchanted by the bell towers of Italy, so on our last evening in Cannobio I had finally justified hefting the metal mass of the bell throughout the rest of our travels and back to St. Louis. But my indecisive nature had gotten the best of me… as we strolled back towards our apartment on our final night in Cannobio, there was no trace of the old man’s random assortment of bells and lawn ornaments on the promenade. While the cafes were still buzzing with people sipping apertivos and espresso, the proprietor of my bell shop had decided to turn in early tonight. Needless to say, I’m still thinking about this bell and am determined to find a different one on another adventure.

As we wrap up our week in Tuscany, I set my sights on another relic. The farmhouse restaurant is adorned with these beautiful paintings of Tuscan landscape. They are colorful and a bit impressionistic, capturing the inviting soft lines and shapes of our views here. I have never bought art before, so I am intimidated. It seems like such as “adult” purchase and an investment and to do it without the comfort of my mother tongue…hmmm- I almost just decide to bag it. But my regret at not having that bell stowed in my luggage urges me to take a risk. Ben actually deserves credit for a lot of the initial “tongue”work, broaching the subject with Anna, the owner of the farmhouse. It turns out that the creator of these beautiful paintings is her husband’s brother, Giacomo Tinacci. He has a studio in Montespertoli, the nearest village to the farm.

After a few phone calls, she arranges for us to meet him at his studio. She has to go in to town to the bank any way, so she leads the way. After a few twists and turns through rocky roads, we arrive at a quaint farmhouse with a matching studio in the back. Giacomo is in the driveway, waving and awaiting our arrival. Anna introduces us and promises to swing back by after her trip to the bank in case we need any translation assistance. Giacomo does not speak any English and as embarrassing as it is, after a month of being here, we can really only eke out the basic Italian greetings and a few gelato flavors. Despite this fact, we take turns speaking to each other in our respective languages, comfortably and with lots of gestures. He walks us through his life’s work, pointing to dates on paintings, explaining the progression of technique and style. His studio is lovely, more of an authentic working space than a gallery. There is a painting on an easel, half-finished—only the Tuscan pines and farmhouse rooftops pop in color while the bottom half of the canvas sits patiently, awaiting its day of adornment. The easel is perched in the loft facing an arced window, shutters open to actual views he refashions with his brush.

It’s lunchtime and naptime and the boys are squirmy. We don’t have much more time to peruse and gesture. Giacomo quells a near-tantrum by arming the boys with white paper and colored pencils. They create their own little landscapes that spill off the paper to his wooden floor, but he assures us that he does not mind. Meanwhile, we choose a favorite in a modest size that we think (hope, pray) we can both afford and get back to Missouri in one piece. He gives us a discount for paying in cash at the studio. Being virgin art-buyers, we have no idea if we are truly getting a deal, but we are confident that the colorful recreation of our Tuscan farmland experiences will make us smile for many years to come.

Everett was still talking about “Jack-a-mo, the painter man” at bedtime this evening. I smooth my hands over the painting wrapped in stiff cardboard and brown paper and look forward to unwrapping it like a present when we get home. Tomorrow, we say goodbye to our Tuscan farmhouse and head to Florence where we will catch a train to Rome. We anticipate that the process of returning the rental car, getting our obnoxious load of luggage, two boys, and car seats on the train, and then catching a taxi to our apartment in Rome will be our most stressful travel day yet. For now, I linger on the patio with my glass of Toscana, savoring the stars for a few more moments. I know it sounds cliché, but I feel a sense of connection to this place. The land features soothe, the night air cools your sun-drenched skin…or maybe this ardor is really just the wine getting to my head. Either way, I already long to return to Montalbino.

The view from Giacomo's studio.

The view from Giacomo’s studio.

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Everett coloring on the floor of Giacomo’s studio.

Everett making his own pizza at the farmhouse restaurant tonight.

Everett making his own pizza at the farmhouse restaurant tonight.