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Friday, May 04, 2012

European Vacation Part III - La Famiglia in Italy

Visiting relatives in Gubbio, Italy was actually the first leg of our trip in June of 2010, before going on to Macedonia and Greece. Somehow I missed posting this particular segment until now. It's been so long, I'd nearly forgotten the details. So, without further ado, and nearly two years later, here's the rest of the European Vacation story, Part III ~TR

Our trip to my ancestral home of Gubbio and Mocaiana, Italy was everything we expected and more! We landed first in Rome, and spent a night and half a day just wandering the small streets around the Colosseum. This was our warmup for the meet-up with all the relatives in Gubbio. I was able to get used to the language, try out a few key phrases I had practiced at home, (dove l'hotel?) and get acclimated to the new surroundings. We then took the train, and a bus right to the main square in the Umbrian hill town of Gubbio, where we found our lodging for the next few days: the Hotel Tre Ceri.
The Hotel Tre Ceri in Gubbio

Exploring the streets of Gubbio
The Palazzo dei Consoli
(Consuls Palace)

View of lower Gubbio from the Palazzo


I shouldn't have worried about the language barrier, however. Even though I speak very little Italian, and Steve speaks none—he's a little better with Spanish, which became a humorous roundabout way for him to sneak in a few words here and there—we were immediately welcomed with open arms and hearts! We had such a wonderful time getting to know all the relatives in the countryside hamlet of Mocaiana, and touring the historical medieval town of Gubbio.

Cousin Liviana Bazurli Selvi and her family
picked us up in Gubbio for a visit to
Mocaiana, and to meet more of the
Bei and Bazurli families
Terry meets cousin Stefania for
the first time in 44 years!

Young cousins in front of their apartment
in the Bazurli family house.

Greeting the Bazurli family: (L-R) Norina,
Liviana, me, Lilo, and Alessandro
And we were able to communicate after all; cousins Stefania and Liviana spoke very good English. And there were times when I was able to pick up meanings because I had been around my Italian-born grandparents so much as a child.


As warned by my Aunt, we were taken around to all the relatives' homes in Mocaiana for a short visit and a taste of each families' homemade wine. That's a little more vino in one day than I'm used to! We even got to see my grandfather's youngest brother, Pasquale—laid up and largely unable to respond to our presence, but getting excellent, loving care at home. He has since passed away, but he looked so much like my grandfather it was uncanny! It was a bittersweet greeting, but at the same time, I'm so grateful we got to see him.

Oh mamma mia! Homemade pasta!!

Just a simple lunch with family!

Alessandro and Annalisa had just heard
that a new baby was on the way

Granddaughter and her Nona

Nona Norina with her grandchildren
Many of the cousins had messages to pass on to my Aunt Betty. Cousin Noemi wanted me to tell her that her back is now much better since the last visit when she was hunched in pain like an old woman. Now she’s healed and lively as ever. Steve loved her energy and smile! Indeed, I saw no evidence that she had ever looked like a hunched old woman. Haha!

After open-heart surgery, cousin Lilo was looking great too, greeting us outdoors and showing us their renovated house. The house is now longer in length than I remember, and has been divided into three separate but attached homes, housing he and his wife, and the families of his daughter and son. Each apartment has two to three stories, with the smallest one reserved for the older couple, who no longer needed so much room. Lilo was able to join us with his family at both dinner and lunch the next day.
Nadia Bei, Lidia & Enio Bei
with me, and Nena Bei
 Then, we drove down the road to our other cousins' houses; Adriano and Giuliana, Guerriero and Betta, Oliviero and Noemi, Claudio, Enio, Fabio,  … the names are so familiar to me because I met them when I was ten on a visit with my grandparents.
The Guerriero and Betta Barzurli family

Lorenzo goofs it up with his cousin
Liviana and father Marco

Liviana and Guerriero flank me in front of
Guerriero's priceless view of Gubbio

The Bei Cousins –
Oliviero, Noemi, Claudio

The Bei home


All the cousins made us PROMISE to come back in five years! We had already promised cousins Adamo and Enio we’d go to Italy to visit while they were in America for the wedding of our cousin Katie in 2007—a promise which we kept. So now we’ll have to keep this promise too. Adriano and Lilo cried when we said our goodbyes despite our promise to try to return. They said they’d probably be gone and would never see us again ... apparently this is a common theme in much of the Italian countryside. I've heard the same lament many times myself. Of course, they're still around upon return, none the worse for wear!
Bei Family Tree for the
Adriano Bei branch (Giolivio Bei,
my grandfather, is one of
13 apples below Pasquale!)

Also duly noted: these people love to bestow gifts! After Stefania heard us talking about Steve’s love of American Indian pottery and ceramics, she gifted us with a large replica vase made in the ancient Etruscan style called "bucchero," which had belonged to her mother. And when cousin Alberto found out Steve was a stamp collector, he sent a collection of stamped and posted Gubbio Tre Ceri post cards from years past. We were generously offered vino, grappa and other gifts to take home too, but we had to decline. We told them our bags were full of things we were taking to our eldest daughter in Macedonia. (And that was truth!)

Visiting Il Teatro, an ancient
Roman colosseum in Gubbio
Emperor Steve tries his
interpretation of the signal to
finish the fight

Il Teatro


We learned a lot more about my grandparents' hometown:  The town of Gubbio takes pride in it's Roman and Medieval roots. Cousin Stefania, who is living in her parent's home in the old part of town, was planning to renovate her house. We were quite surprised at the amount she was going to have to spend in order to comply with the strict regulations and standards for renovating medieval buildings. Steve was blown away when she told him the house was probably built in the 13th century. There are no structures that old in the USA except the cliff dwellings and ruins in the Southwest!! When we jokingly mentioned investing in the house’s rebirth, she estimated no less than $200,000 US dollars would do the job. That's quite an HOA she has to answer too!! I know that, now, much of the work has been started, and I can't wait to see the final results in another few years!
The Bazurli house, now divided
for three families

The homes of all the other cousins in Mocaiana are no less historic. Like Lilo's home, many have been renovated and added to many, many times. All have beautiful "bones"; structures build of local stone and marble, that have been expanded to house more than one branch of a family comfortably and with grand style. I loved seeing the past gifts of American relatives proudly and prominently displayed alongside of local family heirlooms. The ties that reach across the ocean are profoundly felt. We sometimes forget that though we live our daily lives in quiet ignorance of our own heritage, those who were left behind have never forgotten their long lost relatives.
The three patron saints of Gubbio:
San Giorgio, Sant'Ubaldo and
San Antonio


One of the most ironic mistakes we made in planning our trip was that we missed the town's biggest cultural event of the year by just a couple of days! La Festa Dei Ceri was being held that next weekend. If only we'd payed closer attention to local events—we had to meet our daughter in Macedonia on a specific date and couldn't change our plans. La Festa Dei Ceri is huge in Gubbio—some liken it to the Superbowl in America. In fact, some years the attendees number in the hundreds of thousands. It is an 800 year old festival held in celebration of the lives of three of Gubbio's Christian patron Saints, yet has roots in Umbrian/Etruscan culture dating back before the birth of Christ. It is so big, that descendants of Gubbio who emigrated to America in the early 1900's have their own version of La Festa Dei Ceri in Jessup, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania WVIA public TV station has even made a very nice documentary about it—of course I ordered four copies!

Since Steve is naturally a team oriented kinda' guy, he got all excited about the friendly competition amongst Gubbians and their three patron Saints in preparation for the Festa. Colorful standards were hanging from all the windows of the homes announcing allegiance to that family's favorite Saint. Steve headed out to one of the little boutiques one morning and came back with a five-foot standard for San Giorgio, patron saint of crafts and tradesmen, and the family favorite of cousin Stefania.

When cousins Liviana and Guerriero heard about this, it was immediately suggested that we should change our allegiance! They of course, follow San Antonio, patron saint of farmers and students. But, Steve felt San Giorgio fit us better—he has built a few small dwellings in his time, and laid a brick border in our yard! We suggested that our daughter—who was planning a visit a few weeks later—could be a follower of San Antonio. She’ll be a student of something all her life! And she grew strawberries and tomatoes once, and has the greenest thumb amongst her roommates—this qualifies her as a farmer, no?
Sant'Ubaldo - patron saint of Gubbio


But of course, the main guy—the Saint who always gets to the finish line first—is Sant'Ubaldo. A saint in life and a saint in death, Bishop Ubaldo Baldassini's "miraculously" well preserved body sits in a glass coffin in the church on top of the hill of Gubbio. I saw him when I was a kid, and thought it was some sort of Disney-like trick. But it's not: Steve and I visited the church and saw him again in his glass case! I don't have a theory on why he's still there and not dust by now, but whatever the reason, the people of Gubbio get pretty worked up about him once a year! On May 15, they form into three groups of men and run with three 900 pound "candles" (ceri) on their shoulders around the town and up the hill. It takes many hundreds to do this in relay-like shifts, with the remaining onlookers cheering them on. The celebration is rich with tradition and meaning and the townsfolk are very passionate about the race up the hill. It's no wonder that other people in Italy looked at me funny when I told them I was headed to Gubbio! There's even a tradition that says if you run three times around a special fountain you will be certified crazy by the local consul, with a signed document to prove it upon your return back home.

The Festa dei Ceri pre-festival dinner for San Giorgio
Me with Alberto Panfili, his wife Maria,
and his daughter and grandson

A very fuzzy photo of me, Stefania
and Lina Panfili

More cousins - Alberto and
Fancesca Pinna with Viola and Fagio
We didn't skip out on the entire crazy event, though. One evening we gathered at cousin Stefania's house in Gubbio for a light snack including my two favorites, prosciutto and crescia (how did she know?). Then we were taken to a pre-festival gathering of many hundreds of people crammed into the small streets of the ancient town. Food was being served in little paper boats, and the mood was very upbeat! Being that it was May, the weather was cool and pleasant, and we didn't mind the crowds at all.

Adriano locks me in a choke-hold hug, with
Fabio, Daniella, Adamo and Giuliana Bei
Our stendardo di San Giorgio
will fly the entire month of May

In fact, both Steve and I felt an immediate affinity for these people, though we didn't understand everything that was said. We met lots of nice, welcoming folks everywhere we went; many were related but many more were not. In fact, that was the overriding theme for our entire stay in the countryside of Umbria—we received welcoming, warm embraces everywhere we went! It's hard to say no to these people, and, if the stars line up in our favor, I'll bet we'll be going back very soon!

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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Steve's new herb garden

We can tell Fall is coming to Arizona, even though it doesn’t feel like it yet. Shadows are shifting and nights are finally cooler--Hallelujah!

My husband Steve has decided to plant an herb garden. There's a bare spot where the old Palo Verde tree was, and we've been staring at it wondering what to do with it since last Fall. I told Steve it should be a project of his choosing. He was thinking of putting in a Zen Garden, complete with raked sand and a little tiny temple for meditation, until we took in a new puppy who loves to dig any bare patch of earth she can find! That suddenly seemed like asking for disaster to strike the same spot twice. So, it became a plant garden, which he would fence off with chicken wire until the puppy grew old enough to know better (ha! when she's ten, maybe!)

He wanted to start small and go with some plants that are easy to grow, since he’s just a newbie to planting and tilling; he can mow a lawn and install sprinkler systems and dig holes for bushes and trees like any good homeowner, but he has never planted anything on his own. So, I let him choose his plants with only the smallest hints here and there. Not all will thrive; not all will turn out to be "easy."

His little garden is on the west side of the house. With some nudging, he got a drip system going so he wouldn’t have to go out there with the hose all the time . . . this is the hottest side of the house in summer!  It didn't take much to convince him of this while we were already making repairs to the drip system for the rest of the yard.

What was most surprising to me was to find out what he didn’t know about planting!

After watching me, his mom, his sister and even his brother do it for so many year’s I’d have thought he’d have picked up a few basics. But the poor guy didn't know even very simple concepts; like how to mix the garden soil deeper into the ground (he had just spread some on top, haha), and not knowing that the young nursery plants needed to be watered before and after they’d been put into the ground (it’s still over 100º here! The poor things were wilting before he got the holes dug!)
The hanging tomatoes

Plus, he also doesn’t really know one plant from another if I don’t tell him--I'm going to have to make some tags for him. He's like a little kid with a packet of seeds and no experience whatsoever.

Football Break!
After a trip to Home Depot, another to Lowe's, and then a final pilgrimage to a REAL nursery--where he proudly proclaimed you could get EVERYTHING THERE!--his garden was nearly complete. He planted Early Girl tomatoes, (wanted them to hang like he saw in a picture in a catalog); sweet mint; thyme; two kinds of basil--cinnamon and globe; sage; red bell pepper; jalapeño pepper; green globe artichoke; spanish red garlic and oregano.

Afterwards, the creative juices just ran out and he had to get back to his football. Tomorrow he’s going to get some marigolds in because he wants it to look "filled in" while he waits for the other stuff to grow.

If this new "hobby" is anything like the last couple of hobbies--stamp collecting and grilling--he'll be busy for quite some time. This is going to be interesting! I’ll keep you posted.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On the Subject of Aging in Place

I’m over 50, and face it, time doesn’t move backword. My mind has been occupied for some time now on what to do when we get to the age where we can’t take care of ourselves, or when we’ve passed the point of being able to decide what to do about it. The subject comes up often with my friends and family. It has been thrown in my face on several occasions now with three sets of parents needing emergency assistance on a long term basis in the past five years.

Obviously, the way our parents and grandparents have handled the subject (denial, procrastination, zero planning, etc.) is not often palatable or reasonable to us. But the current crop of solutions are no more appetizing. I’m not sure I want to move myself to a traditional “retirement” community. I like having a varied population of neighbors; young and old, families and singles, retirees and professionals. Call me judgmental, but many of the folks I’ve met who’re living in retirement communities have lost their perspective and patience—they are the grumpiest people I’ve ever met! Sure they’ve got a right to have complaints about their aches and pains, but rude, cranky aggression is just not pretty. I keep thinking there’s got to be a better and more dignified way to age out!

Recently, I read an article, in my AARP magazine (I said I was over 50), about a fairly new grassroots trend for establishing a helping network of neighbors in an existing community. This group has become a nationwide organization at the Village to Village Network website. As a solution to the question of what to do as we age and can’t care for ourselves, this probably won’t take us all the way to the end of life. But it could be a way for those who wish to stay in their homes to get the additional help and resources they need for many years longer, (at least if they’re still willing to share and reach out to their neighbors.) Instead of reaching out to extended family, who are often far away, the idea is to reach out to willing and able neighbors, and begin the process while you can still return the favor.

The site indicates that there are only two “villages” in my state of Arizona, however, they’re competing with a well established retirement living industry here. Lot’s of people come here for the ease of living in a temperate climate, well established retirement health services, and cheaper cost of living. I can see why there's not yet a demand for this here.

But, for my generation things are changing. Many of us Boomers are looking at losing our abilities to transition to older age in the manner in which we had planned—loose as those plans may have been. For instance, home equity is now zero for many of us. Many Boomers count themselves lucky to have some savings and investments, however, they’re not worth nearly as much as they were 5 years ago. Factor in rising costs of healthcare, cost of living increases, and longer lifespans--our expectations have got to come down.

So, a fancy-schmancy retirement community palace in the desert is not in the cards. Many of us need to look at something closer to home, within our means, and on a community level. Forget the lone wolf attitude of “I can take care of myself, then in the end someone will swoop in and take care of me because I’m worth it.” I can say from experience it doesn’t work out that way. And even though many of us may be lucky enough to have a living will, a funeral plan, and long term care insurance, those things are reserved for the very last, most incapacitated stage of life. What about the stage leading up to that?!

The Village to Village Network is an interesting, grassroots effort worth looking at. It doesn't rely on the government. They've established a model for other communities to follow for establishing their own Village, leaning on the people in that community who have a vested interest in making it work. I’m going to keep my eye on them. If you have any experience or know anyone who is a member of a Village like this, I’d love to hear what you have to say. Or if you have other thoughts on the subject of aging in place, this dialogue isn't over yet!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Red wine, red rocks: wine tasting in Arizona

This past Saturday promised to be a perfect day for a road trip, so we decided to explore Arizona's wine country for wine tasting.
The Cornville exit is the best way to get
to Wine country from the I-17 highway

It's been a while. We first took a drive to the area way back around 2004, and before that we enjoyed our first wine-tasting trip to Southern Arizona in the very late 1990's. According to a recent newspaper story, however, our state's burgeoning wine industry is finally beginning to mature. I think I remember reading about some crazy dude first planting vineyards back in the late 1970's, but I didn't take it seriously then. I didn't even take it seriously again until a night at the then 4-star restaurant, "Mary Elaine's" in 1998, where we were offered exceptional wines from a Wilcox area winery called Dos Cabezas! Mary Elaines is no more, but the wineries are still here, thank you very much!

Now that it's time to start touting our local vintners to out-of-state friends and family, we thought it would be a good excuse to try out the most recent vintages — just to see if there has been any improvement, (wink wink, nudge nudge.) And because my grandfather kept a few barrels in production all the time, and most of our nearest family comes from California or Oregon, we want to be able to say we're well worth a visit not just because of our cool cacti and canyons, but because we have delicious local libations to offer, too.

We hit two wineries: Page Springs Cellars and Oak Creek Winery. We weren't disappointed. Of course, part of the magic is the trip and the locales, so we can't vouch for your experience if you just find a bottle on a shelf and take it home. Though some of the wines we tried won't be able to stand up against the very best of the best around the world, none were slouches. Not a one was unpleasant or hard to swallow ; ). All were unique, very pleasant to the palate and tasted of top-quality production standards.

Personally, we were in the mood for something rich, flavorful and reminiscent of the Fall harvest — our favorite for the day was "Sedona Woman" from Oak Creek Winery in Page Springs, a rich spicy blend that really went well with our cheese plate. But, having only tried two wineries, we're going to have to hold out our final votes for more trips north — and south!
Also, we didn't want to risk being under the influence while driving on this impromptu trip; I didn't trust myself in my usual role as designated driver because I'd be driving one-handed on curvy mountain roads. So, we decided that next time it would be fun to do the wine-tasting Bus Tour. Yes, they've got one here, too. That way we could DRINK the wine, instead of just TASTING it.

As a nice finish for our day trip, we headed over to Sedona for a hike at beautiful Red Rocks State Park. The scenery in Sedona is never disappointing, but on this day it was extra crisp and clear. The red striped bluffs were absolutely breathtaking from our vantage at the top of the trail. Wow, how I love the geology of my state!

Treat the following photos as a pictorial tour, sans narration, because this area surely speaks for itself. We started off at the state park visitor's center, hiked up to Eagle's Nest Viewpoint, then back down to the riparian area at the base of the bluffs, across Oak Creek and to the meadow. After burning off the wine and cheese calories consumed earlier, we treated ourselves to gourmet pizza pies in Sedona. Steve had just enough energy to drive us back to Phoenix, but really, it was a perfect way to end a perfect Saturday. (Click any photo to make it larger. Click your browser's back button to return here.)

What a great new way to top a wine-tasting trip. With the combination of some great wineries and the beautiful scenery of northern Arizona, our west coast friends and family should have plenty of new treasures worthy of their exploration next time they come for a visit. I can't wait to show them!

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