Late January: The birthday report

Birthday self-portrait 2009
Birthday self-portrait 2009

Normally my blogs are a little more like essays…this one is lighter and more gossipy but I have to tell you: I had a really great birthday! Spent the morning being lazy around the house and then we all got into the car and went to Varese to run errands which we didn’t quite finish before noon (when almost everything in Italy closes for lunch). I decided on the spur of the moment that we should try the new steak house up the road. It’s funny, Italians don’t age their beef as a rule, so the meat may have a good flavour but the texture is, well, bleah! Besides that, they’re so good with everything pork and seafood that it’s rare for us to eat beef (oooh, bad pun…sorry!).

Anyway, lunch was a big whopping rare t-bone with a salad and a few french fries that I snuck off of Matthew and Robin’s plates. They brought little Robin balloons and she had the most fun moving peanuts from one little bucket to another although she did manage to eat three chicken fingers and five fries (which she kept calling ‘pies’). Thanks you mama, steve and G.G. for buying us such a delicious lunch! I had the chance to talk to them for a few minutes when they called while we were on our to Laveno.

View towards Intra from the harbour at Laveno
View towards Intra from the harbour at Laveno

It was a gorgeous day! Laveno is by the lake and with the sun out the alps were a postcard…covered in snow on the top shading into deep violet/blue of the valley’s. We went down to the ferry landing to let Robin feed the ducks, had some hot coco at the nearby pastry shop/bar, bought white flowers for our sculpture and came home, kind of.

Our little girl had had a bad cough for a week so I decided we should run up to the pediatrician’s office for a quick visit (in Italy it’s FREE! and the doctor is just open so we could walk in, that is so cool!) Good thing we went because he thought she had a little bronchitis and wanted her to have a mild antibiotic. Matthew ran up the street and to get the rest of the ingredients that he needed to make me a cake and then down to the pharmacy by the station to get the baby’s medicine. Living in the mountains is a leg toning experience!

Sickly baby is very tired.
Sickly baby is very tired.

We gave Robin her medicine, a little something to eat, and a bottle of milk and it took her about 2 seconds to fall sound asleep. I sat in the kitchen, sipped a glass of wine and watched Matthew making cake. He’d been hinting for a month that he’d found the perfect present and I was wondering what it could be. I knew that he’d bought me another 6 place settings of silver plate flatware to match my grandmother’s pattern that would come with his family in February; but, he’d said there was something else even better…what could it be?

Matthew had been text messaging all day so finally I asked if it had something to do with the film (he’s going to start building sets for a film in about 3 weeks). He looked up and smiled and said, ‘It’s your present. I’m having it delivered.” Now I was curious, was it a pizza or a piano? His phone kept buzzing and he kept texting, then after a while he said, “It’s here, maybe you should go look downstairs.”

At the top of the stairs.
At the top of the stairs.

We live on the third floor of an old palazzo built in 1908. Outside our door is a wide stone stair case with a wrought iron rail that descends around a square foyer. When I leaned over the balustrade I could see fabric cases with zippers…big square ones. Had he hired a masseuse? I saw the top of a blond woman’s head but didn’t see her face…voices, more cases. I started down the stairs. When I reached the bottom I saw my friend Lee with her little girl Dahlia and then her husband Marco carrying in a case for a stand up bass…Music! The square cases were for a big vibraphone belonging to Francesco who often plays with Marco. Matthew was giving me a private jazz concert for my birthday…but just for us, it seemed extravagant.

Where the band played on.
Where the band played on.

We shoved the furniture to the side so that Marco and Francesco could set up in our living room. The 16ft. ceilings and thick stone walls combined with the wood floor made a perfect room for the sound. I heard Matthew telling Marco that after they set up we’d all eat dinner…dinner, I’d thought we’d be eating left over risotto from the night before. Right about then the door bell rang. It was Annarita and Manuella with two big casseroles of Pasta al Forno. Then came Marco Chierichetti with flowers and a book of poetry by Fernando Pessoa, two of our neighbors, Graciella, Amy with a tray full of Turkish sweets that she’d baked and much later Rick…A surprise party. I was so deeply touched that more than once I almost cried. That and homemade lunchlady chocolate cake…Wow!

After awhile, Robin woke up. At first she was sure that the music was somehow coming from inside one of my birthday packages. As she helped me unwrap them she peered anxiously inside saying, “music? i-pod? music in package?” I finally convinced her that the music was coming from the two men playing instruments and she was more than a little nervous. Looking at the stand up bass she said, “Very, very awful violin, VERY toooo big.” Later, during a break she was excited when Francesco gave her two of his long mallets and encouraged her to bang away on the bars of the vibraphone. It was so fun for me to watch her respond to something completely new.

Music may seem like a small thing, a ubiquitous thing; but as anyone who is the parent of a young child can tell you, leaving the house to see a movie or to have dinner is already difficult, staying out late enough to see a concert or go to a night club is almost impossible. A live jazz concert during mid-winter in provincial Italy, forget about it. Walking through our house, the air in every room humid with sound classic compositions by Parker, Davis, and Coletrain along with new compositions by Francesco and Marco I was in heaven. It was the perfect gift: thoughtful, intimate, a surprise. The gift of an experience together with our friends which contains within it the future pleasure of recollection.

P.S. I wish I had made a video of ‘my’ concert but I did find the above video clip of the vibes player on youtube…

By bonniemcclellan

Mother, poet, american ex-pat from Texas living in Northern Italy.

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