Deadly Earthquakes in Northern Italy…kind of

Just so you know, 17 people are confirmed dead and I know that, for the families of those who have died, it’s 17 too many. For a family member or close friend, even one is too much. However, context is important. I live in the ‘grey’ area of the map above and have yet to feel a single jiggle in my 3rd floor apartment. That said, friends as far apart as Milan and Venice have said they felt the quake and it’s aftershocks. I’ve heard about both quakes from concerned friends and family in the U.S. who’ve watched newscasts like this one on National television: note the title for this news segment “KILLER QUAKE SHOCKS ITALY”


Since this is in small towns and villages it will be hard to know how much DEATH AND DESTRUCTION this quake has wrought!

You’d think it were the Apocalypse. 17 people have died since the first one last week (which is terrible) but an average of 8 people per day die in traffic accidents in Texas* and, in that big one in Aquila in 2009, they lost almost 300**….sigh, context is everything and the news media distorts to fit their needs like a wet sweater.

My heartfelt condolences to the 17 families who have lost loved ones in these latest Italian earthquakes and to the likely 72 Texas families who have lost loved ones in traffic accidents over the same 9 days.

* Based on 2010 statistics from this government website:

Flowers…and more flowers!

portrait of a lady 
Jan Joseph van Goyen

Had a great birthday weekend in Milan! The city has so much to offer even if it’s spread out from one neighbourhood to another. After our trip to the Pinacoteca di Brera where I got an eyeful of wonderful paintings. Matthew did most of the  girl wrangling so that I could look in peace while she had a tour of fancy chairs with velvet cushions. Some of the most engaging paintings were the smallest; I loved the portraits by an unknown Venetian painter that were over to the side of the door in room 20. Trying to look at a notebook sized painting by Brueghel, I had to keep slipping my glasses up and down to see it, I really felt like an old lady! Next to it was this jewel of a Dutch seascape:

After the museum we stopped for a glass of wine and then went on to see our friend Renato at Mint Market, the beautiful home/beauty/flower store for which Matthew designed the furnishings. Renato was just finishing up with some customers so we ordered aperetivi from the bar down the street (one of the pleasures of the city is that, if they know you, the local bar will deliver cocktails down the street to where you are). While we were waiting, Matthew said, “Did you see that bouquet of white flowers?” pointing to a stunning arrangement of roses, broom, miniature lilies and fresia that was as big as our daughter. As we walked over to admire them he said, “Those are for your birthday.” I felt like an actress who’d just won an Oscar without having done anything to deserve it!

My birthday bouquet from Mint Market

 As a testimony to the quality of the flowers at Mint Market, these survived being carried through the very crowded Milanese metro three times, a night in a warm apartment and a 2 hour train ride before I took this picture!
Mint Market’s owner, Renato Baldini, is a truly lovely person. He gave my daughter Robin Kay a splendid bouquet of sunset coloured runculus so that she would feel special too:

Robin’s Runculus and my Cake

Then he let her help carry the flowers in before closing the store. He also gave me this elegant hyacinth so that now the whole house feels like spring right in the midst of winter.

Hyacinth bulb waiting to open

Got hot?

It finally got to 95 degrees today! I’m sure that doesn’t sound like much to my Texas friends and family (yes, Dallasites, I know, 105/105/105/105….all week long) but, I have no AC. Not because it’s busted but because there is none. Still, it feels good to close the thick wooden shutters in the house, feel the still air and the stickiness of my skin.
The southern wall of the house is soaking up the heat, in preparation for winter. Sometime in January it will all have leached out and the cold seeped in, weaseled through the brick, mortar, and plaster so that I can feel the winter pushing in the house and the little wood-stove pushing back.

For now I’m enjoying the brief summer here in Northern Italy, especially the light….

I gave my love a cherry without a stone…

Spring has arrived in Lombardia. This is the cherry tree in blossom that I see on the walk back from taking Robin to school in the morning. The cornice of the house that you can see on the right is the house where we live and I can also see this tree from my kitchen window. Lovliest of trees

I’m in love…with the lake

This is the web cast from Cerro-Laveno…if you want to know what my sky looks like you can click the reload button on your browser or (go somewhere else like HERE and then come back) and the sky will change…it’s in real time. Now, I have an, albeit lo res, view of lago maggiore. I’m enchanted….

The Anarchist Seed Swap

The anarchist seed swap was cool. A town up in the hills a ways past Luino had a get together at the recreation center where people came and exchanged seeds. Just showed up and put a chair next to a long table with piles of seeds and scraps of paper. Some, like me, showed up with seeds wrapped in a paper towel and stuffed in their jacket pockets. Then, in order to trade we had to…well, talk to people, people we didn’t know. That was the cool part, talking to people about what worked for them. There were lots of folks younger and some older and kids and dogs. While I was chatting with some ladies in their 60’s with a table full of bulbs, beans and zinnia seeds I overheard someone asking, “so how can I pay you for them?” and the laughing response, “you don’t, we’re doing it for love.” I went by that table tended by 3 young men, dreadlocks and tie-dye but with tidy beards and polite. The table next to them was full of leaflets and brochures…I recognized some from a pretty militant environmental group, Earth First!, that I hadn’t heard of since the 80’s. There were refreshments: tea, coffee, homemade baked things and dried fruit.
Robin had been taken in hand by an 8 year old boy who (while I watched from the window) took her over to see the deer and baby goats behind a fence at the edge of the park adjacent to the rec. center.
Then the group of people who were gathered on one side with musical instruments pulled themselves together in a group and everyone kicked back to listen to the music. They sang beautifully, the songs were…songs about anarchists in Lombardy or Switzerland who’d been imprisoned or killed and something like the anarchist anthem that they sang at the beginning and again at the end.
It was all in Italian, some of it in dialect…Matthew whispered in my ear, “Have you noticed that they’re anarchists? Not exactly what anyone in Texas would expect when you say ‘Anarchist'” It is true that a very tall fellow with a lovely baritone voice was wearing a black shirt with a hand-grenade on the front, and I’m sure that a lot of people, like us, were just there to swap seeds…
But, if you’re wondering, anarchists in Lombardia are nothing like this:

Meanwhile, I finally got some seeds for Cavolo Nero (fabulous tuscan ‘black cabbage’ that makes a wonderful sub for collard greens) and a few of the oregano seeds seem to be peeking up down in the garden. We also left with a pamphlet that one of the tidy young fellows gave to Matthew. The first article inside was entitled: “You may already be an Anarchist” I think Jeff Foxworthy may have a new tag line…

Sunday Morning Schubert

It’s a relaxed morning listening to Franz Schubert (String Quintet in C major D. 956)…the movement I’m listening to now is about as I am: Allegro ma non troppo. Robin is happily taking a bath. Yesterday was a big day for her; she took her first turns around the rink on ice skates. She started to get the hang of it (which is to say, able to stay up over her skates about 60 percent of the time) at about the same moment that she was to tired to keep going. Matthew went up to Sacro Monte for an appointment and Robin and I along with our friend Fabio (no our Fabio is not the Fabio) wandered through downtown Varese and she had 7 go-rounds on the carousel followed by the purchase of a helium balloon of Clifford the Big Red Dog (which continues to make a languid tour of all the ceilings of our house), a bag of roasted chestnuts (the remainder of which I’m munching on as a post-breakfast-of-fresh-bread snack) and a sit down in the bar to have hot chocolate with whipped cream.

Today is a day full of sun and blue sky, Matthew has finished the really fancy cabinetry he has spent the last month working on, Fabio is the kind of dream house guest who cleans the kitchen after every meal and leaves the moka ready to make coffee the next morning, the work that awaits me tomorrow is the review of next half of the english translation of Cesare Bedegonè’s novel “Blaw, Blaw, Blaw” which is like getting paid to read a book that I’d enjoy anyway. Life is good.

Sunset on Sacro Monte in Varese

Every cloud has a golden lining – Light in December

I’m not particularly fond of the cold but I love the way it makes the landscape look. I woke up yesterday thinking about light. I was writing an essay in my head that I’m still writing about passion, poetry, and

the pleasure of talking about all of the whys and wherefores of art / writing. To me there is a certain tone of light that I connect with different writing or even with individual poems: The dry desert light of Montale’s Syria, and the thick fog-laden light of Shakespeare’s Richard III (which I did start reading last night). I was thinking about how round the images in those poems are, even if I don’t remember all of the words exactly and thinking about how pleasurable it is to wake up in the morning and have that to roll around in my mind.
The unfortunate thing is that in the evening when I have time, I’m too tired to string my thoughts together coherently and all those connecting threads that were so clear first thing in the morning are broken or muddled by the time it’s 11 p.m. One day I’ll learn to get out of bed in the morning and write it down but that’s hard to do in pre-alpine December…though the view is beautiful and sometimes even I get it right.

Two things I love about my kitchen

This is my kitchen counter, I love it. It’s a 2″ thick slab of bardiglio marble that we brought with us from Cararra. It’s polished on one side but the surface was straight from the big cutting machine so it undulates a bit. The piece is a scrap that was left over from the memorial fountain that Matthew carved for Angelo Frammartino in Caulonia. The colour has darkened over time as we’ve used it to kneed bread and roll out pie dough and biscuits. It’s scarred from the cutting of myriad things and I have written my biscuit recipe on the edge with wax pencil.  Every time I use it, even every time I look at it I find a rich surface full of memories that reflects the story of our family and our connections to different parts of Italy.

Another thing that I love in my kitchen is the cutting board. This is a slab of olive wood that was left over from a spiral stair case that Matthew made for a cabin belonging to the family whose house we
lived under while I was pregnant with Robin Kay.
The edge is uneven as it’s the exterior of the tree itself with a knot on the leading edge. It’s a beautiful golden-red wood that’s perfect for any cutting or slicing and brings back memories of that tiny apartment under the mill and my pregnant belly full of kicking baby. This chunk of wood has trailed along with us for the last 4 years and should last for many, many more.

My kitchen looks nothing like anything I’ve ever seen in a magazine but I love these rich, worn materials that work perfectly for what we need and carry the story of our family in their luminous surfaces.

In the office of Dottore La Sala

Just got back from my first visit to the local doctor. He’s been Matthew’s doctor for some time now and has the office just off to the side of the piazza as you turn to go up towards the city hall from the church. He’s a soft-spoken fellow and didn’t blink an eye when I said that I’d got through last night by breathing the steam from and drinking a tea made of rosemary and cloves for my cough because they were both good anti-spasmodics and the rosemary a good antiseptic for the respiratory tract. In fact, he agreed that these were good things to try asked me about the allergies I’d had in Texas, shook his head at the mention of ‘ragweed’ and then sent me along with a prescription for Zithromax and Cortizone to take care of the bronchitis. My neighbor loaned me her nebulizer so I can breath the cortizone and I picked up some cream for her daughter at the pharmacy on my way. Three kinds of medicine including antibiotics (I opted for the generics) less than 15 euro. Visit to doctor, free. Another positive experience with the public health system in Italy.

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