27 November 2022

 

It is, I think, impossible to describe the beauty of our pub, The Society for Mutual Aid, on a late autumn afternoon when nothing much in particular is going on -- the old men there, who have known each other forever, and their dogs; Alice having a long conversation about marmalade with one of the regulars; the light from the overhead bulbs illuminating everything inside while the sun, red as blood, drops into the sea unobserved outside. The World Cup is on the TV in the corner, but Italy is not playing so no one cares. Three goals were scored while we were there this evening and caused not so much as a murmur -- the marmalade conversation was more heated. Hams hang from the rafters. Daniele is installing another stove. We are given free snacks with our wine -- antipasto or pate and always bread and olive oil.

At night, from up here the lights on the plain glitter like jewels flung out on black velvet and sometimes I ache from the beauty of it and I don't believe that any of this is quite real except for Jonathan breathing next to me in our bed at night and then stirring in his sleep.

25 November 2022

 

This past Sunday, a few minutes before 8 a.m. our time, I was out in back of our house taking pictures of some big mushrooms I found out there. I heard some gunshots -- it is still hunting season and there are deer and game birds and even wild boar in the forests around here. I have seen four deer so far in our yard and Jonathan saw two pheasants one day. And we had some really delicious venison slow-roasted with chicory that Daniele cooked up down at the pub last week. People who eat meat cannot be squeamish about hunting. So I heard the gunshots and knew what they were. Hunters for deer or birds or boar.

At exactly that same moment, it was just before midnight in Colorado Springs and a gunman was opening fire in a crowded LGBTQ+ club -- Club Q -- in Colorado Springs. He killed five people -- Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Daniel Aston, Derrick Rump, Ashley Paugh -- before being subdued by Richard Fierro and other patrons. We heard about it Sunday afternoon here, first just garbled reports. We spent the rest of the day waiting for updates, refreshing our browsers, checking our social media. 

Each of these acts of gun terror -- and the United States has them constantly -- is horrific. And it shouldn't matter whether I know the victims personally or not. It shouldn't matter that this one happened in the place where I lived for 26 years. It shouldn't matter that every browser refresh comes with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that one of the names on these nightmare lists will be someone I know. They are all -- every act of murder -- heinous. 

But dreading to see the name of someone you care about on one of those awful lists nevertheless just makes everything so much worse.

On Tuesday, Jonathan and I had our first meeting with the immigration lawyer who is helping me with the process of getting Italian citizenship. "Why did you leave the US?" she asked me. So I told her the story of Club Q. 

She almost couldn't believe it because such things are incomprehensible here. They should be incomprehensible everywhere. But sadly they are not.

20 November 2022


I think that I can safely say that no one saw this coming down the pike. Fueled by the wild enthusiasm of Jonathan "I'm Allergic To Grass" Poritz, we are apparently going all-in as olive farmers.

We thought the olive harvest would be finished by now -- and perhaps it is on the big farms where whole crews of people descend like locusts for the harvest and pick the trees clean. But here at the rustic farmhouse where it is just the two of us, the trees are still bent under their burden and we find that we are once again in the olive brining business. It is simply impossible to walk past trees loaded with plump, ripe olives and turn away. Jonathan, in his zeal, has even gotten out the ladder that Mimmo keeps in the laundry room. I do not believe that even Mimmo himself has ever resorted to such extremes.

"Just look at these!" Jonathan says to me from his perch up among the branches. I go and look. And they are some very plump olives indeed.

Olives straight off the tree are unpleasant, inedible -- bitter-tasting and wooden. But brining olives is an old, old process, going back millennia, and requires nothing but water, salt, olives, and time. We have them all.

First, you wash the olives and discard any with worm holes or other weirdness. Then you soak the olives covered in salt water. We do this in big covered soup tureens, which this rental house has in inexplicable abundance. (Who has been eating so much soup? Who has been serving it in tureens? Who has been eating so much soup that it necessitates multiple tureens? Life here is very strange.) For the first two or three weeks, you change the old salt water for fresh salt water every day to get rid of the bitter tannins and soften the olive flesh. (Big commercial olive factories do this with lye because it is faster, but it also makes a much inferior olive. We are quite haughty in our disdain of such ersatz olive practices.) That is the First Brine.

For the Second Brine, you leave the olives to sit in a mixture made out of one liter of water and 100 grams of salt. You leave them untouched like that for two or three months. We do this in storage jars that we bought at IKEA for just this purpose because even this house eventually runs out of soup tureens.

 

Then after the two or three months is up, you add flavorings - spices, garlic, whatever -- and you are ready to eat them. We make them in batches as big as pretty full soup tureens. At the moment, we have four batches in their Second Brine sitting quietly on shelves in the cantina and three batches having their First Brine here in the house with a fourth batch gleaming in Jonathan "After All, New Jersey Is the Garden State" Poritz's eye.


What will will do with these gallons and gallons of olives when they are ready to eat next February is anyone's guess. Although nothing really says, "Happy Valentine's Day, my love!" like a meal made entirely of garlic-infused olives.

18 November 2022

Jonathan and I made a little video of the hair-raising drive from Pietrasanta up to our house in lovely Capriglia-by-the-Sea this afternoon. It is a thousand-foot elevation gain, but I'm not sure how clear that is. We sped it up some because, you know, people are busy (although not us, apparently.) 



The soundtrack was extracted from "La donna √® mobile" - Rigoletto (2016/17) by LiceuOperaBarcelona, released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Jonathan is down in town this morning -- third day in a row -- trying to renew his Italian passport. He is having an extremely Italian experience in that everyone is being really lovely and friendly and kind (and well-groomed) and he still doesn't have his passport.

The shortest version is that on Wednesday morning he went to the closest passport office (in Forte dei Marmi), was told he didn't need an appointment to be seen, was told that he did after all need an appointment, was told that he could only make an appointment by telephoning during the lunch break, tried calling but no one was there to answer the phone during the lunch break (because they were all at lunch), was taken in very kindly even without an appointment, and then was told that he can't renew his passport without first getting an Italian Carta Identita, which is not available in that office. He was told he could get it at the Commune Offices in Pietrasanta.

On Thursday, he went to the Commune Offices in Pietrasanta to get the Carta Identita and was told he could not get his Carta Identita in Pietrasanta but would have to go to Rome to get it (since that is where his Italian citizenship papers were issued 30 years ago) and then they very kindly said that they would do it here in town if it was OK with the boss, Maurizio. Maurizio was not in the office. "Where is Maurizio?" the office workers asked each other. "The usual place where he always is," they sighed and said to each other. This was not further explained, leaving Jonathan with increasingly alarming speculations. Where is Maurizio hanging out these days when he should be in the office and what is he doing there?

But Maurizio eventually showed up, had a stunningly well-groomed beard (according to Jonathan -- I am sorry that I was not there to see it, but we are keeping me out of the picture at the moment so as not to -- any further - complicate things) and agreed that they could issue the card here in town. But first they would need to see some Italian proof of identity, such as an Italian passport.

Then there was a longish period of time where everyone enjoyed the bureaucratic beauty of needing a Carta Identita to get a passport but needing a passport to get a Carta Identita. They were quite nice about it, commiserating even, and eventually decided that since Jonathan's American passport had been accepted and stamped at the border when we entered the country (by, as I recall, the world's most uninterested and blasé border official) that it would be accepted as valid proof of Italian identity. Then Jonathan had to pay the fee, which is not, of course, paid in that office, but is, naturally, paid in a tobacco shop.

This may seem baffling to Americans, but is absolutely true and is a regular feature of Italian life. It's like being sent to the nearest 7-11 to post bail or pay your telephone bill (another thing that we do in the tobacco shop.) So Jonathan hopped off the the nearest cigarette store, coughed up the dough, was given a series of official stamps (actual paper stamps with glue on the back) and went back to the Commune Offices were the printer fucked up twice printing out his card, a discussion was had about whether or not to call in Andrea, who knows how to fix the printer but who was apparently also in his "usual place," meaning that Maurizio got the chance to really show his skills by expertly peeling off all the official stamps and Jonathan's photo from the old version of the form and putting them on the new version of the form, perfectly lined up with the overlapping printing. Jonathan now suspects that Maurizio's "usual place" is not the brothel that he had originally imagined, but is instead a high-end art forger's workshop. This is why he is the boss.

By the time Jonathan left, they were all on a first name basis and using the informal with each other.

So today he is back at the Passport Office in Forte dei Marmi (stopping in first at the Post Office to pay the fee, which is not taken at either the passport office itself or at the tobacco shop, for some reason, and also to inquire if they have any mail for us that they are willing to release. I'm not holding my breath.) He has been gone a couple of hours now, which is probably a good sign.

(Oops! Jonathan is just back. They were out of the forms he needed at the Post Office and told him to go to another office. "Any other Post Office?" he asked. They stared at him and just said "another office" and made vague waving gestures with their hands. Apparently any type of office will do, but not the one he was currently in. Naturally. He went to a Pak-n-Ship Store and got the forms there. Then he spent a good long while waiting in line at the offices in Forte dei Marmi, only to be eventually told that the passport office is closed and he should come back Monday. Also, there was no mail for us at the Post Office.)

17 November 2022

 

Autumn has come at last to Capriglia-by-the-Sea, complete with mists and mellow fruitfulness.

I always thought this house was beautiful -- even more so in real life than it seemed in the pictures we first saw back in Colorado so long ago -- but coming back to the house after our Venice-Portugal trip, I was surprised to find that I was feeling not merely admiration for it, but affection. I am getting attached.

It's the goofy stuff that does this. 

The picture of a chicken on the living room wall.

The duck cup that was the only tea cup in the house before we went to IKEA to buy more and that I still sometimes drink out of.  

The farmer wearing a tie and his startled cow on the towel holder in the guest bathroom. 

The fact that you have to go up three steps to get to the bidet and toilet in there (and that, while seated, out the window you have a lovely view from above of anyone in the hammock and also of the shoreline.)  

The picture of the guy diving into water that hangs right above the bidet. 

The way you could (if you were desperate) walk out of the guest bedroom window directly onto the roof of the cantina and from there straight out onto the path up to the driveway. 

The way things keep appearing and disappearing -- yesterday it was a kumquat tree next to the cantina. 


The way the little lizards sometimes still join us for meals. 

It is easier to be charmed by these things, of course, now that I almost always know which light switch is connected to which light, I can light the burners on the stove first try every time, and we figured out how to turn on the heat.

Coming home in the dark from our travels, driving down the coastal plain with the sea on one side and the mountains on the other, we were glad and even excited when we saw the lights of Capriglia twinkling up above on the hillside. "That's our village," we said happily to each other in the car. And coming around the second-to-last hairpin turn, when the pub is suddenly on our right, we looked to see if it was crowded, if anyone was out on the terrace or if they were all inside in the warm yellow glow spilling out through the windows into the night.

We can see the ships out at sea from up here. Especially after dark, they appear as sparks of light surrounded by empty blackness and I wonder if the sailors, too, feel cozy inside their little home and warm and safe together, like we do up here? If I were on one of those boats, would I be able to see the tiny handful of twinkling lights that is Capriglia and think, "That's our village"?


13 November 2022

We have been away for a week -- first in Venice and then in Portugal -- seeing loved ones. And the point of seeing loved ones, of course, is to see them and not necessarily the background scenery, which is properly inconsequential.


But.

Having said that, if you are in fact seeing loved ones, you might just as well see them standing in front of crashing waves on the Portuguese shoreline or sitting next to the filigreed palaces of Venice.

Going on a boat through the Grand Canal one night, with the moon almost full and the lights glittering on the water and fleeting glimpses inside gold and red and crystal-chandeliered rooms, holding Jonathan's hand in the sway of lapping waves, Venice seemed like a fairyland -- like we had finally found our way through that small hidden door usually kept locked with a golden key.


It is impossible to photograph this (at least for me) because a flat image of darkness with specks of yellow light, though accurate, is not truthful. There are things that are never like the pictures of themselves. The pictures are only markers to help us remember what we saw with other eyes than merely the ones in our heads.

And so the best picture of our nighttime boat ride through the Grand Canal that I could think of is James Abbott McNeill Whistler's painting, Nocturne in Black and Gold -- The Falling Rocket, which is currently held in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Because I am apparently still in middle school, naturally this reminds me of "The Detroit Rule" for food, which is that putting any place name in front of it makes everything sound more delicious -- "Tuscan Sun-dried Tomatoes," "Viennese Pastry," "Maine Lobsters" -- with one exception.

12 November 2022

It was all lies!

We had so many financial worries about blowing up our lives in the US and moving to a villa on a hillside in Tuscany! The big question looming over everything was how we would ever be able to afford to live this life. We thought very carefully about our budget, trying to imagine what we would need to spend money on and what we would have to abandon -- what pleasures we would just have to learn to live without. The propaganda everywhere in America, interwoven with every thought of European life, was that a life of beauty, of olive groves, art lessons, cobbled streets, views of the sea, tagliatelle ai funghi, red tile roofs and wine and roses blooming in November -- all of that would cost a pretty penny and leave us, sooner or later, destitute and regretting our profligate grasshopper ways. Better to work until you die -- it's the American way. But it was all lies!

Here is a very boring post about prices:

Our internet service costs almost exactly one-tenth of what it did in the US. Our cell phone bill is a little less than $15 a month (and we have the Deluxe Plan). Gas costs about $7 a gallon, but the tiny cars are incredibly fuel-efficient. The rent for our car (insurance included) is less than just the cost of just our car insurance back in Colorado. Trash and recycling pick-up is free. A bottle of wine costs about $2 -- or you can go super-expensive and spend $10. An entire basket filled with really fresh and delicious fruit and veg (spinach, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, peppers, grapes, plums, oranges) usually runs about $4. Yes -- only about $4 for all of it. We pay for loaves of bread at the bakery -- still warm from the oven -- with pocket change. We don't eat much meat, but a week's worth -- chicken, sausages, fish, prosciutto -- usually runs us about $10-15. Espresso is a dollar a cup. When we go down to the pub in our village for a glass of wine before dinner, we get a half-liter of the house wine and a bottle of fizzy water and are given free snacks -- sometimes so many that we are too full for dinner later. Total cost is $5. The rent on the rustic farm house (trusted gardener included) is less than we could have rented out our house for in Colorado Springs.

The whole idea that life must be a grim treadmill of unceasing labor just to stave off destitution is a lie that capitalism uses to scare us into submission. It's all lies.

And I think it is related that the big thing we have noticed is the lack of anger around here. That violence always bubbling under the surface in the US just doesn't exist here. I think it's because there is no feeling of dog-eat-dog in this world. The dogs eat homemade lasagna with fresh pasta and a glass of the house red just like everyone else.

01 November 2022

 There are some bees here that are really very, very large. I live in danger.

30 October 2022

Chestnut season, you will be relieved to hear, seems to be ending here in Capriglia-by-the-Sea. We still get some nuts crashing down through the leaves, sounding much bigger than they are, but it is handfuls a day now rather than hundreds and we feel that we can once again go outside without fear or protective headwear.

On Wednesday, we drove into Firenze and bought an annual pass to the Uffizi. Now we can go in whenever we want without waiting in line or paying. On future visits we will perhaps stay longer, perhaps look at more. But this time we hightailed it straight to my favorite piece in the museum -- a Botticelli Madonna that no one ever pays any attention to because it is in the same room as The Birth of Venus, on the wall opposite so that the crowds are facing the other way, busy taking pictures of the goddess on the half-shell with their phones, and I have the already heart-broken Madonna to myself. She seems to know, even with the chubby baby still on her lap, the whole bloody story of what is yet to become of her child.

I cried, of course, standing there at the back of the sea of I-Phones. Jonathan and I stayed so long looking at her that a few people in the crowd even noticed us and wandered over to take a phone picture before walking off. Then we went to see the Caravaggios and then to lunch.

Firenze is filled with people speaking English, which sounds startling now when we encounter it in the wild. Many of them looked hot or tired or slightly annoyed and I suspect that many of them were not having a very good time. I remember the first time I came to Italy, when I was a teenager here with my family, not having a very good time and at one point -- in Venice -- finally rebelling and refusing to go on yet another tour-group excursion to see yet another required marvel that I didn't understand. I claimed not to feel well, demanded to be left to sleep in the hotel, and when I was sure the coast was clear, went out by myself into the streets near the Piazza San Marco and bought a basket of fresh cherries and ate them. I still remember those cherries fondly.

I also remember thinking that Italy might be a fun place if I wasn't with my parents on a forced march of tourist sites with the crowds and the heat, so perhaps I am projecting my own remembered feelings onto the beleaguered Americans snapping photos of Venus in the Uffizi to look at later, I guess, somewhere cool and quiet where they could sit down.

Back at home, we went down to the pub, where Daniele dished out helpings of risotto for all the usual reprobates on the terrace. Daniele and Alice give away so much free food there out under the tree leaves that I don't see how they possibly manage to stay in business. The risotto was made with gorgonzola and prosciutto and was one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth.


27 October 2022

 

It's another beautiful day here in Capriglia-by-the-Sea. Alice has been decorating for Halloween down at the pub. This makes us love her even more than we already did.

When we went down night before last, she was busy making a big spider out of a trash bag and some sticks. She had already made a dead body wrapped in a bag hanging upside down from a tree on the terrace with a sign saying "He Didn't Pay." We thought this was pretty funny, but she told us that the priest (the main employee of the only other place in the village that is open to the public) will certainly preach a sermon against Alice and Daniele because of the decorations.

Last Easter, she told us, they served a very playful menu featuring such dishes as "The Passion of the Tordelli" and "Lamb of God Chops." The priest came to eat -- and he ate deeply, with fortitude and vigor, enjoying his meal to the fullest. Then he went back to the church and wrote Alice and Daniele a very stern letter calling the menu "blasphemy" and threatening to report them to the Catholic Church Office of the Inquisition, which is a real thing that still exists.

In the end, Alice apologized profusely, took down the menu, and managed to mollify the priest with protestations of remorse and also cheesecake. But clearly there were no feelings of great love left between the parties.

It could have been very serious for Alice and Daniele. The priest could have caused them to be shunned in the village, forbidden the members of the congregation (i.e., everyone) from going to the pub. It would have been an interesting measure of the lingering power of the Catholic Church, though, to see if a priest's interdiction would have had any effect on the old men who sit all day under the trees drinking bottles of wine and gossiping. It is not clear to me which side would win in a contest between eternal damnation and having to go all the way to Capezzano Monte to drink wine with one's friends.

21 October 2022

On our way down the mountain (and from here, everything in the world is "down the mountain"), we pass a house. On the front of the house is a mailbox. In the mailbox is a letter. A big juicy letter. It has been sitting in that mailbox for days and days now, untouched, sticking out into the sun and the wind and the rain. It is taunting me.

We don't ever get mail. Well, last month we got three pieces of mail out of the four that my brother sent me. (He is very kindly receiving all of our forwarded mail in the US and passing on to us the things that are truly necessary.) The one piece that didn't come was my Criminal Record from Arkansas, which I need for my application for Italian citizenship. It is out there somewhere now, floating around and showing that in my early life, I was either very good or very sly.

But that has been it. Just three things to show us that they could deliver the mail here, but they choose not to. The box of books that we mailed ourselves from Colorado last August has not arrived. My subscription to The New York Review of Books, which was arriving with great regularity all summer long to Gabe's apartment in Zurich, stopped completely when I changed the address to here. The thousands of cards and letters, with which I am sure my many friends are deluging me, have yet to materialize.

Now, you might think: "But who needs physical mail here in the actual 21st century?" That is because you do not have a Visa card that you depend on that is due to expire very soon and for which you will need the actual physical replacement. I do. Actual physical checks for our insurance rebates, mortgage escrow payoff, book royalties, and some of the pay for Jonathan's consulting work are things that it would be nice to be able to lay our hands on. I could go on and on. (I'm like that.)

We check the mailbox here at the house every day because we live in a state of perpetual optimism (punctured diurnally by despair.) And we also go into town and enquire in the Post Office whenever we feel we are able to handle the emotional strain. We take a number from the machine and wait until we are eventually called to the service counter -- from where we can clearly see boxes and letters sitting on the Posta Ferma shelf right behind the counter -- and ask if there is any Posta Ferma for us. Once they looked through the things on the shelf and said "no." Twice they typed our names into the computer and said "no." But mostly a rather forbidding man behind the counter tells us that Posta Ferma does not come there (without so much as asking our names or deigning to turn his head to even glance at the Posta Ferma shelf which -- again -- we can see completely clearly right behind him) and tells us to go check downstairs behind. 

Downstairs behind smells strongly of garbage and appears to be some sort of loading dock. The workers there look at us like we are crazy and tell us that Posta Ferma doesn't come down there and that we should enquire upstairs. Twice we have actually gone back upstairs to say to the people upstairs who sent us downstairs that the people downstairs told us to come upstairs. The forbidding man then says "no" and waves us away. 

We go away empty-handed and just hope that whoever has our box of books is enjoying them (some of them are Jonathan's high-level math books and therefore will of course provide hours of amusement and pleasure) and that whoever has my Arkansas Criminal record is using it for good and not evil.

In the meantime, the persimmon tree is loaded with luscious persimmons, most of which we cannot reach even with a ladder, even by climbing. We get what we can and call it a day. (The chestnuts, as if in compensation or maybe in a warning about being wary of abundance, continue to be oppressively available.)

 Me in art class last night.