Monday, January 4, 2016

LA VIE EN ROSE?




Today, on the brink of Christmas
and my 69th birthday
I find myself looking out
not through French-style rose-colored glasses
but through my Italian windows
the ones that bear the signature,
la firma, the leitmotif  of this house that we brought back to life.

That signature, even at the age of six and a half, continues to reveal
multiple possibilities:
Could be a butterfly, but a rare one like Nabokov's Karner Blue
Or a flower? A four-leaf clover?
Or four bodies with a head and curvy linked arms--an Italian-style
Family of Man?



Unlike a coat of arms that one is born into
this logo was the one we chose--
a design inspired by what we saw
on the gates, the "cancelli"
of our adopted country

I'm not even sure of the Italian equivalent of "la vie en rose"
"Ottimista" is all that I can think of
or the oft-used "magari," that oh-so-hopeful "maybe"
How can one not love a country that has a verbal tic like that?

I need to check the origins of "firma" whose solid sound radiates feet-on-the-ground permanence
like the head-on-shoulders interpretation of my window motif.

And what about those "cancelli"
that mark our entrance and exit
from this property?
Is something being cancelled out?
Welcomed in?
Ushered out?

Usually at war with ugly prepositions, I see that I have embraced them here, and
ditto for those gerunds so pesky in English or French
but that are full of positive energy in Italian.

In three short weeks I will exit these cancelli
re-don my French and American hats, fly like a butterfly across the ocean, and magari land on terra firma, having kept my head on my shoulders, keeping in mind that my butterfly-adorned cancelli will be waiting for my May return.

And magari, to think in those terms will not be
Looking at life
through rose-colored glasses.











MEETING AT OUR "DENTAL SALON"



"So which one of you has the appointment?" As usual, the staff looks a bit puzzled to see us cosily making ourselves at home in the waiting room. Let me explain. 

My very dear writing partner and I share many things, including our dentist. She lives closer to his office (where I spend much of my life--see TAKING MY NEW FRONT TEETH FOR A SWIM ) than to my isolated house that is reachable only via unspeakable roads. So we often choose to meet at the office when I come for my dental appointments. That our wonderful-and-well-worth-the-wait dentist always runs very late doesn't hurt our plans to have our own little visit. 

Although I have written on the subject before, in July 2013, (ON THE COMFORT OF HAVING A WRITING PARTNER   ), I don't think I really explained very well what it has meant to me to have, at long last, a writing partner. With a writing partner there is always someone "nearby" who can be trusted to give great critical advice or a second opinion about whatever I am writing or mulling over. Today, it being Wednesday (the only day he comes here from Rome), I will be there, and E and I will have a chance to catch up in person, in addition to our constant cyber meetings.


And because she is so modest and discreet about her own multi-talents, I feel privileged to be an extra set of eyes for her. Her poems, drawings, photographs, and varied examples of her skill as a wordsmith deserve a wider audience than me. Some day I, along with her many friends, would like to see an exhibit of her own works of art. But in the meantime, we enjoy our dental salon and
find encouragement in showing each other whatever we are working on. 

I'm reminded of my favorite quote from "Charlotte's Web":

"It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer." 

I am so lucky to have found her!







I couldn't decide which one of these pictures to use, so you are getting them all. I like the fact that I fell in love with these Italian-made glass pens long before I dreamed I would be living in Italy. This one currently resides in my desk in the States. Would she rather come back home to her native Italy? Maybe not just yet. For the time being, her owner enjoys being able to hold her while stateside, as a touchstone of her adopted country.  




Wednesday, December 9, 2015

THANKSGIVING SLOVENE-STYLE




Where did these five days go? I couldn't exactly say, since I've been in the timeless land of grandparenthood. Thanksgiving happens to coincide with our son's birthday, so we tried to bring this most American of holidays to his home in Slovenia where turkeys, except for us, are in short supply. To round up the ingredients was a challenge. Lots of flexibility and many substitutions were necessary. Just try finding "corn syrup" in the Slovene dictionary. (We ended up with something called "Dick Juice." I am not making this up!) 
Other untranslatables: buttermilk, vegetable shortening, and sour cream. A few more examples of cultural difference:

1. Turkey? Shmurkey! A leftover-loving family, when in America, we usually get the biggest bird available. Slovenia does not know from Butterball, but our son was reassured by the village butcher that a turkey would materialize. And so it did, but with all due respect, it looked more like a not-so-big chicken. Could that little thing possibly feed nine adults?

As Spencer Tracy said about Katherine Hepburn in "Pat and Mike":
 "There's not much meat on her, but what's there is 'cherce'!"


2.Pecan pie? Oops! No Slovene has ever seen a pecan, so make that walnut, instead.

3.Ready-made pie crusts? Huh? OK, Jim who, when in his own kitchen makes his own pie crust, needed a short cut. He found a packaged dough that looked good, but his Slovene wasn't up to reading that it was filo (not pie) dough. Double oops! (Definitely not a recommended substitution!)

4.And no pie tins, either? Well, we tried a cheesecake pan. Triple oops! We ended up removing the entire burnt crust and serving the whole thing in a mug. We threw some ice cream on top, thereby turning it into sort of a walnut parfait, and calling the resulting mess an American custom. To our surprise, everyone loved it and asked for the recipe! 

When in doubt, just throw some ice cream on top!


There were plenty of linguistically comical moments, too, given that in our daughter-in-law's wonderful family, English is in as short supply as turkey and cranberries, but it all worked out fine. A very useful Slovene phrase to know is “Sem cist nabasana,” which means “I am stuffed!”  Or the equally useful, “Prevec sem pojedla” (“I ate too much!”). With two adorable granddaughters to oggle over, and three generations of really nice people in relatively good health, we have a lot to be thankful for. I really like the blessing that offers thanks "for permitting us to reach this hour."

THIS NEXT BIT IS A QUIZ

The day before the big holiday feast, here's what we ate for lunch:

A Pain Killer
An Overdose
2 Steak Beets
A Boston Butt

What could all that be?

If you guessed American-style hamburgers, you're right! Slovenia may not stuff a lot of turkeys, but the little burger stand in the local shopping center parking lot turns out some super-exciting burgers! For some reason, I keep forgetting the name of the "Overdose Burger" (a triple burger with cheese, bacon, barbecue sauce, lettuce, tomato and more).  I seem to want to call it the "Overindulgence Burger." But then again, I'd never order that. Just give me the Steak Burger with beets and I'm thankful.

CODA
As a precaution, before posting this, I sent it to our cousin who has a way with words and a good sense of humor. She gave it a thumbs up, but added, “I am sure that you carried off the Thanksgiving Attempt (TA) with much aplomb, I just hope that the master chef HIMSELF was not too abashed. Serving everything in a mug is sure to catch on in Slovenia, but we should name it something to give it the panache it deserves. I don't believe that you should have high hopes for 'Dick Juice.'"