Thursday, August 28, 2014


I would have liked to continue the Ferragosto Holiday in Italy saga by adding  
STEP FIVE:WHAT TO DO AFTER DRIVING FROM ORVIETO TO TERONTOLA TO GET YOUR MRI. But my being a Technodunce has once again gotten in the way of my plan. 

I was also thinking that after not posting anything for so long, it kind of worked out well that the last post I had put up in November 2013 featured photos taken in the Sanitaria Surgical Appliance store where we were renting J's crutches and wheelchair in the wake of last Ferragosto's mishap. Husband J of the pinched nerve, who has no trouble understanding technology, says that EVERYBODY knows that blog chronology works backwards, so that what you see is the most recent, and there's no need to fret about what looks like goofy timing. OK, I'm going to try to set aside my antediluvian sense of proper order and just continue. As I said before in my two favorite languages, AVANTI! EN AVANT! 

Here we go.


So what's going on here? While waiting to get the MRI, J surfed around to find a good place to eat, which can go a long way toward making a pinched nerve more bearable. Now he should have been a little suspicious that the name of this highly acclaimed restaurant in nearby Castiglione del Lago was named Le Scalette, which translates as "Little Staircase." 

Because I am also driving challenged and can only try to point the car in the direction my skillful navigator says (and even at that, it's not always easy to stay on the road), we followed the GPS (which I do not know how to use) to the restaurant. When it said that we had arrived at our destination, it failed to mention the GIANT "scaletta" between us and a great lunch. 

Given the mystery of how far away that lunch might be and that I was the only one of us with working limbs, I was elected to head the search party. There was no point in making that climb only to not find the place, or to find it closed. It was good that I went ahead, because I had to go out of my way and ask two different people before finding it, nicely tucked into what was indeed a steep but "Little Staircase." 

I went back to the BIG staircase and looked down at handicapped hubby to see if he was up to making the climb. It's a tribute to those medicines and J's love of a good meal that he decided to go for it, and it was worth it to have had what he called "the best wild boar dish of his life." Whether you are having an MRI in Terontola or not, DO eat at Le Scalette! 

Was it a coincidence that this historic family trattoria had a prime view of the Casa del Mutilato? We're not exactly sure what that place is all about. After climbing all those stairs because you parked in the wrong place, will you be ready for the House of the Maimed? Well, not in our case. Maybe to eat wild boar even has more curative powers than a butt full of cortisone!

Undaunted man (Sisyphus?) with pinched nerve en route to a great lunch. This was the BIG staircase, not to be confused with the little one that will be the next hurdle. 

After the climb, this staircase was a piece of gateau, which is what you get to have after eating the best wild boar of your life (or in my case, roasted carp fresh from the lake) 

the view of the Casa Del Mutilato from the terrace of Le Scalette 

Full frontal view of the Casa where I don't think we want to reside, even if it is across from a superb restaurant

Whether or not you have a pinched nerve, need an MRI, or don't like climbing staircases large or small, DO eat at Le Scalette!

Delicacies made from the justly famous Cinta Sinese Tuscan pig 

Homemade cappellacci filled with perch in "sauce of the lake"

Best ever wild boar with truffles, balsamico, and glazed onions

Sublimely silken spinach

I am not usually a fan of the ubiquitous Italian crostata, but this one (pictured here, minus a few bites that I sneaked while my husband wasn't looking) of ricotta and wild cherries was a winner


Glass pen purchased in Italy decades ago, along with the peacock blue ink that I have loved since 5th grade.

THIS IS SO EMBARRASSING. YOU KNOW HOW YOU REALLY MEAN TO WRITE TO SOMEONE YOU TRULY CARE ABOUT,  but then life intervenes, too much time passes, and there you are, feeling very abashed?  In my professional life as a writing coach, I pride myself on being able to get anyone unblocked and over the hump. So how come I haven't posted anything since last November? It's not that I have not been writing; I do that all the time. But posting pieces on my blog site has been another story. My friend Susan who REGULARLY writes the great Half-Year Italian blog is inspiring me to get on the stick.

Now if a student presented me with what I just wrote above, I would gently say, "enough with the preamble, already! Life is short. AVANTI! EN AVANT!  I would also encourage the person to omit that entire opening bit. But in the interest of full disclosure, I'm leaving it there. Here we go!


Here is a little quiz to test what you know about Ferragosto.
 Ferragosto is: (Check all that apply)

1. a major holiday in Italy when most everything closes down and anyone who can, especially professionals, gets out of town

2. a very bad time to have a machine or car that needs reapir

3. a REALLY bad time to have a medical emergency

4. NO time to have a husband who had the right idea to flee the country for Ferragosto, but then managed to get into medical doodoo on Day One of our 5-day stay in the non-Ferragosto-celebrating country

If you checked all of the above, you are right! And on the subject of things in need of repair, it's not unusual in Italy to encounter the word "GUASTO!" (aka "BUSTED AND NOT LIKELY TO BE FIXED IN YOUR LIFETIME"), especially on elevators, escalators, toilets, and more.


Last year, for us, just in time for Ferragosto, it was J's "guasto" leg (See HOW JUST ONE LITTLE FRATTURA TERZO DISTALE PERONE DX CAN RUIN YOUR ENTIRE DAY, AND MORE  HOW JUST ONE LITTLE FRATTURA TERZO DISTALE PERONE ...). This year, it's a "guasto nervo" in the leg: one minute you're on your feet playing with your adorable toddling granddaughter; the next minute, to be upright causes excruciating pain, requires daily shots in the bum, and lots of driving from a wife who isn't meant for the open road. We're still investigating, Italian style, the cause of this pinched nerve contretemps, hoping that it's something benign and garden variety, like old age.

Although to be sick here in Italy will not bankrupt you, as it could in America, you might have a long wait to be diagnosed unless you've got the resources (what Arlo Guthrie calls, "the do-re-mi") to be seen privately.


STEP ONE: Try to see the really lovely family doctor to whom residents like us have been assigned. Do this by appearing during her office hours, taking a numbered ticket like at the deli, and waiting your turn. (See below for the usual way this works when the office is not closed for Ferragosto.)

 Oops! Since they're currently serving number 45, if you have 87, you better bring out all the toys and snacks you should have brought along.

STEP TWO: If your doctor, and all the rest of them are away for Ferragosto, drive to the Pronto Soccorso (ER) in a city known for good specialists in pinched nerves. Wait for three hours along with the other poor souls who got sick on Ferragosto, after which you get to see an excellent doctor who will try to treat the problem with heavy-duty drugs, and who will give you a referral to return to see a specialist any Tuesday between 10:30 and 1PM. But there's a catch: prior to being seen, you will need to find a place to get an MRI, for which there is often a long wait, unless you pay out of pocket.

We didn't mind the additional two-hour wait in the hall while the initial dose of the medicine was pumped into J's arm because he was seated in a well-worn but comfortable antique (?) wheelchair that had clearly served many decades of pinched nerve victims.

This well-loved foot rest has clearly seen a lot of action.

STEP THREE: To get the medicine the ER doctor has prescribed, try to find the pharmacy he insists will be easy to locate in this strange city. Never mind that it's a Saturday night at 7:30 PM and you are worried about driving home on the curvy highway before dark.

STEP FOUR: Abandon the pharmacy search and try to get the proper forms from your doctor's office that will allow you to get the medicines locally. Then either learn to give shots into your husband's south end, or try to find someone at local Guardia Medica who can do it. If it's a Sunday, you go there and a cheerful, spunky nurse will give your husband his injection, while pantomiming how she is able to give her flexible self her own injections in her own bum. We are relieved to know that we may be able to return here for the next five days' worth of shots.

Two days later, however, to our shock and disappointment, when we arrive at the Guardia Medica for J to get his shot prior to our long drive to the MRI site, the nice double-jointed, good-humored nurse is nowhere to be found. She's been replaced by a short, grumpy male nurse happy to LOUDLY inform us that NO shots can be given at the Guardia by anyone but a doctor, who is only there on weekdays after 8 "POST MERIDIAN!!!!"It was of no use to explain that this had not been our experience on Sunday, when Nice Nurse gave the shot without hesitation, once she realized that the very young Dottoressa on duty was covering five different towns and running late from one to the next. Mr. Officious, standing around with nothing to do, yelled that J's getting his shot there could NEVER have happened because it is ILLEGALE!!! He kept pointing to the locked door to the doctor's office, declaiming, NIENTE DOTTORE NOW!! SOLAMENTE POST MERIDIAN!!" It was hard to decide where to laugh or tear our hair out. Instead of either, I just asked which way to the toilet.

When we got to the exemplary MRI facility an hour away in Terontola, Instituto Andrea Cesalpino, I asked if there were anyone who could give J his shot, and they accommodated us senza problema, even though it was still ANTE MERIDIAN. 

Although this place also uses a number system, it runs efficiently and on time. And if you like looking at artistic male buttocks NOT in need of an anti-pain injection, there's quite a bit of cement statuary next door. 

THE BOTTOM LINE (pun intended)
The irony of that buttock-rich statue store being adjacent to the MRI place is priceless. Especially to those of us surfing the Internet for pearls like "How to Give a Shot in the Buttocks":"Start by dividing the target buttock into imaginary quadrants." 

These supposedly reassuring articles are definitely enough to make you want to put your husband's buttocks in the hands of even the most surly nurse.


The view from the parking lot of the Instituto Andrea Cesalpino:
healthy buttocks NOT in need of an MRI or an injection

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


While at the surgical supply store to rent Jim's crutches and wheelchair after he busted his fibula, I met this beautiful lady who was there to be fitted for some special shoes. 

She was adorable, impeccably groomed by her loving daughter, and eager to share some stories.

They did not hesitate for a moment when I asked permission to take their photo. It was a lovely interaction. Although to have to deal with the aftermath of a broken leg is no picnic, the opportunity to meet these very dear ladies was an unexpected pleasure. 

A friend who has known me for 46 years asked a simple question:"So how does it feel to be the grandmother of such an adorable little person ?" 

He realized what I should have:that I have taken hundreds of photos of the baby, but that I hadn't said what it feels like to be able to take them.

When we first moved to Italy, I used to only half-joke that I aspired to be one of those Italian grandmas in the black stockings who cut the homemade pasta on the kitchen table one strand at a time, and who continue ruling the roost well into their nineties.

I now see that this pipe dream is going to require a few adjustments. Even at 66, I have to admit that it's been a long time since I saw any little old ladies in black stockings. The grandmas and great-grandmas I know look pretty hip. They usually have their hair done regularly (not covered by a dark babushka), and have a spring in their step. They know how to make pasta, but tend to buy it fresh at the few remaining pasta fresca places that turn out a light, wonderful product with their modern machines that cut more than one strand at a time. Often continuing their career (our closest Italian friend is still a practicing architect), they know how to work and play with the grandkids.

Further, although my own mom turns 89 this summer, nobody in my family has ever made it into her nineties. But then again, she grew up in Minnesota, not Italy, where I see many of my neighbors still in charge at ninety-plus.

I recently found the 33-year-old first photos taken of our newborn son, and as new parents, my ecstatically happy son and daughter-in-law were pleased to see them. They show how much newborn father and daughter resemble each other, and highlight for me my own bumpy journey to grandma-hood.

As I write this, I am thinking of the blessing given on special occasions to mark a rite of passage --the one that offers thanks "for permitting us to reach this hour." 

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Looks like an ordinary mower, right? But let's take a closer look.

Still doesn't look that special. And what's that white tag on the handle? There's a sad story, here, since the tag says, "return to customer. We can't fix it."

Maybe it's defunct, but it still merits attention. After all, it was good enough for the Queen.

Not every mower comes with its own royal seal, complete with a coat of arms and French slogan. Even if it can't cut any more, it deserves to be immortalized.


The inevitability of endings has been leaving me bereft. But I am beginning to come to terms with them.

When approaching the end of our rope, we often hear
The end is in sight,
Buck up. You are close to the Finish Line.

After all the chromatic meanderings, think of the relief that accompanies a resolved chord.

And there can be some surprises. Today while mowing with the new mower and lamenting the passing of its predecessor, I looked up and saw in bloom for the first time in decades
my old French rose--
the one I bought from a now defunct company--a bush moved many times, now popped up in a new spot.

The tears roll down my cheek as I ask, how did it know that today was the day I needed to inhale its sweet perfume ?

Of brief season, it will soon be gone.  But next year?

Of my superior old mower, stamped with "by appointment to HRH the Queen," I'm thinking that the right hands could resurrect it. The gears reground. The blades refreshed. I always felt so proud and regal, pushing it around my plot.

When you are the Queen, you can probably carry on longer. Impermanence reigns more easily further down the line.

Even so, there are limits.
The Buddhists have got it right:
Remove attachment. Everything is going to change

Tuesday, August 20, 2013



(I see that I have previously written on this topic--DIFFERENT TEACHING STYLES AND ON BEING THE #1 CHILD--in a post from August 2011,

 I’m not sure about the significance of my returning to it just prior to heading back to yet another school year, my 30th at this particular institution, but here goes, anyway.)

 As every eldest child knows, it can be exhausting to be a know-it-all. No one got that more right than J.D. Salinger in his "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, " where #1 son, Seymour Glass's suicide remains unexplained. I'm thinking that the responsibility of being the first of these excessively wise Glass children might have gotten to be too much for him.

If he had moved to middle-of-nowhere Italy, things might have turned out differently.

When you move to a new country, especially at an advanced age, all the know-it-all years vanish, leaving you with the illusion of being almost as fresh as your newborn granddaughter--that is, with everything to learn.

(Whatever I just wrote also resonates with a post from December 2012, TOUCHING HOME BASE FOR THE 5TH AND 66th TIME:DECEM...
I like that in that piece I refer to getting ready for the grandparent stage of the life cycle, and now there is a new little person in our family who did not exist before. Amazing!)