As I do almost year, as soon as my semester is over and I am free for the summer, I head for Europe and while I frequently visit other countries, my main target is Italy. This year, after a few days on the Greek island of Mykonos, I flew into Venice, picked up a rental car, and began a three week visit to my adopted home.
After a brief stay in the magnificent Dolomiti (Italy’s portion of the Alps), I headed for the city of Verona, looking forward to having dinner with my friend Luciano. Unfortunately, he texted me the night before saying that he was deathly ill with a raging fever, and sent a couple of photos of himself in bed and yes, he really looked ill! Poor guy! We were both disappointed that we wouldn’tt get to see one another, but who can foresee such things when planning a trip?
From here I headed south to Tuscany. Italy is such an interesting place geographically; it is about the same size as California and is equally diverse in terms of weather and scenery. But what is especially noticeable in Italy is how the prevailing culture and cuisine varies from region to region. Traveling around Italy is almost like visiting several different countries: cross a river, go over a mountain and you are in a different world. The Veneto, the area surrounding Venice and Padova, is a broad, flat plain crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers and canals. In the countryside the roads are narrow, one lane tracks that make you dread oncoming cars, though at least you can see them coming from a long way away. On clear days you can see the Colli Euganei, a series of volcanically formed hills that rise up out of nowhere in the midst of the Veneto plains and provide hot mineral springs for thermal resorts in Abano and Montegrotto Terme. And on even clearer days, looking north the usually snow-capped Dolomiti are visible like a shimmering mirage. The Veneto is a land of seafood and polenta, while the regions within the Dolomiti have a strong German influence and a cuisine featuring lots of game meats, noodles, beer and even apple strudel. As you head south and east from Verona, which is in the Veneto region, you cross into Emilia-Romagna, a long, flat valley that almost feels like the American Midwest, dotted with cities like Bologna, Modena and Parma, known for their culinary gifts like Parma ham and Parmesan cheese.
From Emiglia I crossed the rugged Appennine Mountains, descending into the classic Tuscan countryside which outside of the cities of Florence and Siena is dotted with villas, neat rows of poplar trees, grape vineyards, golden wheat fields, and shimmering greenish-silver olive groves. Here the cuisine features pici, a handmade pasta made of only flour and water, unsalted Tuscan bread, rich stews often featuring cinghiale (wild boar), and of course, beautiful wines.
On this visit to Tuscany I stayed just outside of the hill town of Montepulciano, near a village called Acquaviva (living water). I stayed at La Casa delle Querce (the house of the oaks), a small guesthouse situated on a hilltop farm and surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. It featured a friendly proprietor named Luca, a beautiful swimming pool and lots of terraces shaded by the mighty oak trees for which the farm is named. There was no breakfast service; however, every morning at 9:00 sharp, a van rolled into the driveway. It was the “bread lady”, selling homemade pastries, bread and pizza from the back of her truck. There was a large contingent of French families staying at the property and I tried to get to the van before they did, as they basically bought everything bread lady had in the truck and you don’t want to fight with the the French for a croissant!
One day as I was floating in the pool, I heard some folks approaching and the accent was familiar, but certainly not French. It was distinctly Bostonian, and sure enough, I met Brian, a retired Boston policeman and his companion Susan. They had stories to tell of the cooking classes they had taken at a local farm, and the great meals they’d been having and so we traded information and talked about Italy and Boston. Brian had some interesting stories about life as a policeman and explained that he opted for an early retirement, despite taking a somewhat lower pension because the stress was simply no longer worth the extra money. I could, of course relate to his story as I am pondering a similar plan.
My first night in Tuscany I went into Montepulciano to re-visit Pane, Vino and Zucchero, a wonderful restaurant I discovered on a prior visit. As I was walking to the place, I saw a group of burly bikers, dressed in full leather Harley Davidson jackets and pants. They were eyeing menus in some restaurants that really didn’t look appleaing, so I approached them and in Italian told them about the place I was going. They gave me a big smile and a “Va bene!” (OK!) and followed me to the restaurant, where they were able to get a table despite not having a reservation. I was seated by a delightful hostess who remembered me from the last time, and when I used the polite form of address with her, lei, she corrected me and told me to use the informal tu, which made me feel right at home. As I devoured a plate of salami, fruit and cheese, and a dish of pici with fennel sausage and apricots, I met a great couple from Kansas, John and Jill, who spoke Italian quite well, shared my love of food and travel, and were great conversationalists, so dinner just flew by.
They shared with me an interesting rule they have regarding dining out. If they visit a restaurant and have a stellar experience, they tend NOT to return for fear of being disappointed on a second visit. This illustrates a point I teach about in my Psychology of Travel class: novice travelers tend to enjoy their trips more than experienced travelers. On a first visit to Paris or Rome, a traveler is just so thrilled to be seeing the Eiffel Tower of the Colosseum that nothing else matters, whereas experienced travelers tend to want to go back to the same little café they visited before and have the perfect seat from which to watch the sunset, etc. All these added expectations can lead to disappointment if all doesn’t go according to plan. While I could absolutely see John and Jill’s logic, I think about how much I’d have missed had I not revisited many of my favorite restaurants over the years. Meanwhile, the bikers finished their dinner and before leaving, gave me a thumbs up sign to indicate that they’d enjoyed my recommendation.
Another culinary treat during my stay in Tuscany was a visit to a small restaurant near the town of Chiusi, called Tuscany Divine. Since I have already described it all in painful detail in my review of the place, suffice it to say that rarely have I had such tasty and plentiful amounts of food for such a low price. It was a real find. Unfortunately this was a case where I might have benefitted from taking John and Jill’s advice. I returned to Tuscany Divine the next evening. The host who’d been so friendly and attentive the day before was not there due to a friend of his being admitted to a hospital after an accident! Therefore, the sole hostess/waitress/chef was his daughter Luisa, and the service was painfully slow. Truthfully, I do not know how she managed to pull it all off, but at one point I waited almost 45 minutes between courses and nearly fell asleep at my table. Brian and Susan, my Boston folks, showed up for dinner shortly after I arrived, and I felt bad because the the service and the food were just NOT what I’d experienced the prior day. I actually went over to apologize to them, but as the Psychology of Travel research would predict, since this was their first time, they were thoroughly enjoying the whole experience and had nothing to compare it to, so I was relieved. I would still recommend this place highly, as I know the problems that night were due to the emergency situation faced by the staff, but it was certainly a let-down after my experience the night before!
From Tuscany I headed back to the Veneto for a three day weekend, staying near the towns of Treviso and Castelfranco at Hotel Relais Villa Cornér Della Regina – a very long name for a hotel. It’s housed in a palatial villa and I’d stayed there last summer. The place looks like the White House as you enter the gates, and features a huge, crystal clear swimming pool. It is a popular spot for weddings and in fact there were wedding parties both Friday and Saturday night, but amazingly, despite the presence of over 100 people on the property, everything was still quiet and serene.
On Friday night drove to Padova to meet my friend Claudia for dinner (without her husband Marco, who was cramming for a civil service exam that was coming up in a couple of weeks). She said she has been feeling like a widow, because Marco has been so busy studying for so many weeks. I made her laugh when I said I’d be her escort for the evening. She blushed and said that in Italy, the term “escort” has a stronger connotations about being a prostitute than it does in the USA! Matt, the American Gigolo.
We met our friend Christian, who moved away from Italy a few years ago, but by chance was visiting the area this week, and also our friends Anna, Tomasso and their son Alessandro. Christan had chosen the restaurant and made the reservation. A few years ago he became a vegetarian, and then a vegan, and so understandably, it is hard for him to find places that provide him with vegan options. Claudia and I both thought that while the restaurant he’d close featured vegan menu items, it also served meat and fish and a variety of pasta. Imagine our surprise when we arrived and discovered that this place was 100% vegetarian/vegan. There was no meat. There was no fish. There was only one pasta selection and it was vegan, with no cheese. One “appetizer” was a veggie and fruit smoothie! Claudia and I exchanged dubious glances as we looked for anything that sounded palatable on the menu.
I have complete respect for anyone who chooses to be vegan. All I ask is that they return that respect and don’t force their views on me. Unfortunately, Christian has become increasingly critical of meat eaters and it seems he will no longer even set foot in a restaurant that is not vegan because he refuses to be around people who are eating meat. Claudia told me that one time when he was visiting her and before she knew he had gone vegan, she offered to make a veggie omelet with eggs that were from “happy, free-range, all-organic hens”, but that didn’t go over well either. Christian will not go to a gelateria anymore: dairy products – “we are stealing the milk from the cows”. Mamma mia! I knew that when Tomasso saw the menu he would not be pleased, and sure enough, he scowled at the list and asked, “Why is there only one pasta with no cheese?”
I ended up with the vegan pasta dish, and truthfully, it was tasty, though very, very expensive, especially given the portion size. For a second dish I got some sort of veggie tart, also good, but also very small and very pricey. I whispered to Tomasso, asking him if we were going out for a pizza after dinner and got a big laugh. When Christian went to the restroom, I heard Tomasso interrogating Claudia as to what this was all about, and referring to Christian as a “nazi-vegan”. Claudia, ever the understanding and patient one, expressed her surprise about the restaurant, but said that given that Christian has few options of where to dine, it would not kill us to go without meat and eggs and dairy for one meal. But as soon as dinner was over and the group disbursed, she and I headed to a favorite gelateria, where I soaked up every delicious bit of dairy I could! If they’d had a bacon gelato I would have had it just out of spite!
On Sunday, Claudia’s parents invited me to their regular Sunday dinner. I was again Claudia’s “escort” while Marco stayed home and studied. Claudia’s parents are simply delightful and made me feel so at home. The meal consisted of a veal appetizer, pasta with either a meat ragu or fresh peas and butter (I had to try both!), and then delicious veal steaks with potatoes and more fresh peas. All I could think was that it was a good thing Christian wasn’t there to see this! Claudia’s dear aunt stopped by for a visit. She actually had a houseful of company, but when she heard I was in town, she had to come over to say hello. Claudia tells me that when her aunt finds out I am coming to visit, “It’s as if you were George Clooney! She gets so excited!” She had just celebrated her 80th birthday and I brought her a flowering begonia plant as a small gift, which seemed to tickle her. Flowers from George Clooney!
After that I went back to Claudia’s and she asked for some help with her homework. She is taking an advanced class in English for the Workplace, and some of the assignments were difficult for her. One of the exercises involved reading a sample e-mail and the instructions said, “You must find the 3 errors in this e-mail.” Claudia had actually noted 4 or 5, and as we started going through it, I found at least 10! I pointed all of them out to Claudia and suggested that perhaps she’d get extra credit for finding so many! Marco came out and visited with us for a short while and we got into a very funny conversation about the differences between thread, string, rope, and cord; they could not believe that in English we make distinctions between these things based on thickness and what the line is made of. Claudia laughingly shook her head in that “I can’t believe how hard English is” way that I have grown accustomed to seeing over the years.
As the work week began for everyone else, I returned my car and headed into Venice for the next few days. I stayed in a very cute and comfortable one bedroom apartment in a quiet area of town near the Academia Bridge. I love having an apartment; I went grocery shopping to stock my fridge, put a load of clothes into the washer, put on some music and relaxed on my sofa in blessed air-conditioned comfort.
For dinner that first evening I decided to try a new place I’d read about, L’Oliva Nera (The Black Olive). I didn’t have a reservation, but there was one table available, so I was lucky. I ended up getting an order of delicately fried zucchini flowers, and then pasta with black squid ink, a Venetian specialty that I have only had a couple of times. This one was magnificent. When it came time for dessert, the owner of the place replaced my waitress and on a paper placemat, she proceeded to draw a giant flower with several petals, and then filled in each petal with one of the dessert offerings as she explained each one. It was so clever, and she did this for every single table. There were many tempting offerings, but she strongly suggested the tiramisu. I like tiramisu and I know Venice is the home of this dessert, but it didn’t excite me. However, she convinced me that this would be like nothing I had ever tasted before and was a recipe from her grandmother. Am I glad I listened to her; this was perhaps the biggest tiramisu I have ever seen, and honestly, it was probably the best I have ever tasted. When she returned to see what I thought, I told her that her grandmother really had left a gift to us all. It was a very memorable evening, and as I was leaving they gave me a small bottle of their own olive oil as a gift.
The weather in Venice was totally schizophrenic. The day I arrived it was hot and humid and that continued into the next day. I decided to go to a nearby outdoor restaurant for a quick lunch and no sooner had the meal been served when from out of nowhere, gusty winds began to blow people’s wine glasses over, placemats and napkins were flying away like confetti, and the sky became very dark. Then there was thunder. As I took my final bite of lunch, it began to pour and everyone grabbed their plates and ran inside, many having to stand at the counter to finish their meals. I returned to the apartment and decided to have a nap while the rain was going on, only to awake maybe 90 minutes later to a glorious sunny day with much cooler temperatures. That night, having not learned my lesson, I opted for an outdoor table for dinner, and shortly into my meal, thunder claps started and soon it began to rain again. I was under a giant umbrella, so I was fine, but the wind was really chilly, and me – the man who is never cold – started wishing I had a jacket, despite the fact that I was already wearing a long sleeved shirt.
The next day was one of those glorious days that you wish you could bottle and save for another time. Sunny, but with cool, dry, refreshing temperatures and breezes, it was the perfect day to do what I love best when I’m in Venice: ride the vaporetto up and down the Grand Canal and walk until my feet say, “Basta!” (Enough!). For dinner that night, I dined at my go-to place, La Zucca, receiving a warm welcome from the owner. He had not been at the restaurant during my last two visits and explained that he’s getting older now (I believe he’s my age), and he decided it’s time to rest more. He bought a boat and now spends a lot of his time out on the lagoon and exploring the intricate waterways that surround Venice’s 118 islands. Sign me up! Dinner was as delicious as usual, with savory pumpkin flan, homemade tagliatelle with fresh asparagus, curried carrots, and a warm, delectable cherry cake that may now be my new favorite dessert at Zucca! Again, I was surrounded by friendly people and spent the entire meal chatting. On my left was a couple from India; she had been to Zucca 15 years ago and this was the first time she’d been in Venice since then and her husband said she had done nothing but obsess about getting reservations. She bashfully admitted that they had been there the prior day for lunch and had reservations for dinner the following night too, and her husband winked and said, “You have to work the system!” And he was right; the sign on the door said, “We are completely booked for the next 3 days”.
On my right was another couple, a German man and his American girlfriend. They were new to La Zucca and when they heard me talking to the Indian couple, they asked for recommendations as to what to order. As I started listing the things I like best, another American couple from L.A. two tables away asked if I could repeat what I’d been saying, as they needed advice on what to order too! The Indian couple started adding details to my descriptions and it was like a fun, food-oriented U.N. all night long.
From Venice it was on to Rome via a short flight on Alitalia. My friend Fabio came to the airport to pick me up after work, which was very convenient for me, though he fretted about not being able to find parking near his building at 6:30 PM. (He works near the airport, but normally takes his scooter, so to give up his parking space to come and get me was a true sacrifice). I assured him all would be well, and called upon my parking karma and as usual, it worked. There was a space open only a few feet from his front door. He just shook his head and laughed, saying, “But this never happens when you are not here!”
Rome was rather hot, but as evening fell it was just gorgeous out. Fabio lives on the 6th floor of a building and has a beautiful terrace decorated with lots of miniature Christmas lights,and amazing trees and plants: 8 or 9 foot tall palms, 5 or 6 foot tall lemon trees, passionfruit vines, a miniature plum tree… it’s an oasis high above the city below, and when the full moon made its appearance, it was breathtaking. He cooked for us and we ate outside on the terrace, and it was a great re-introduction to Rome.
The next day we traveled to a part of Lazio, the region in which Rome is located, close to the border with Umbria, where Fabio owns a small, very rustic country house on a hillside overlooking the gorgeous lakefront town of Colle del Tora. The house is a work in progress, but has a nice swimming pool. Fabio rarely stays there overnight, but it’s a nice place to spend the day by the pool and get away from the city. He’d brought a “picnic” lunch for us, but do not envision deviled eggs and sandwiches. This was an Italian style picnic: baked lasagna! Meanwhile, a local friend of his named Roberta came over to visit and brought us some local sheep’s cheese, salami and wonderful bread. I enjoyed chatting with her; she’s spent considerable time in Boston and loves it there. We got to talking about the lobster or aragosta, as it’s called in Italian and Fabio rolled his eyes as we enthusiastically sang its praises. It was a beautiful, lazy afternoon and I spent a lot of time in the pool, floating on an air mattress while Fabio sunned himself and took candid photos of me looking like a corpse floating in the pool!
I made a very funny language error that day. I noticed a beautiful, china-blue colored butterfly, and in my excitement to point it out to Fabio, I exclaimed, “Look at the pappardelle!” Fabio stared at me as if I were stark-raving mad, and in a second I realized why. The word for butterfly in Italian is farfalle, and farfalle pasta is named this because of its butterfly shape. Meanwhile, the French word for butterfly is papillon. Because papillon starts with a p, and because I knew the word for butterfly in Italian was the same as a pasta dish, my mind short-circuited and I called it pappardelle! Fabio said he was picturing long pasta noodles floating over the grass. He will never let me forget that one. I texted Claudia to tell her of her English tutor’s grave error and she was thoroughly amused.
On Saturday Fabio wanted to invite a couple of friends over for a “typical American dinner”. He asked if I’d think of a menu, so after some thought I decided that chicken breasts, stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, and strawberry shortcake were about as American as apple pie. First we went to the Saturday farmer’s market in Rome to get the strawberries. Fabio knows the vendors there and when we attempted to buy three baskets of berries, his friend took them to wrap them up for us, but came back shaking her head and saying that she refused to sell them to us because they were not perfect and were too soft! I told her that all we were going to do to them was slice and mash them up anyway, and she relented ONLY if I would accept 5 boxes for a total of 3 euros. What a deal! As we left she called out, “If your shortcakes turn out badly, tell no one that you got the berries from me!” I chuckled for the rest of the day wondering how many produce vendors would have sold me the 3 boxes of “bad” berries for 3 euro EACH.
We then went to a big supermarket to buy everything else, including a baking mix that had a shortbread recipe on the back. My only problem: there is no Stove Top stuffing mix in Rome, and I have never made bread stuffing from scratch. I e-mailed a few friends for tips and consulted google, and with some trepidation set out to put this all together. I used a loaf of bread, onions, fresh parsley and sage from Fabio’s terrace, butter, and celery, and then cut up a few fresh apricots and added that in. While that baked I prepared the vegetables and cooked the chicken breasts on the stove… hoping against hope that I would not dry them out. There were supposed to be 4 of us for dinner, but one friend cancelled, so we had a lot of food. I am proud to say that those chicken breasts were the most amazingly moist and tender pieces of chicken I have ever cooked, and the stuffing and potatoes were terrific. Fabio and his friend Andrea were a little taken aback by the American portion sizes, but they ate every last bite of everything, and were very complimentary. Then we all had strawberry shortcake with vanilla gelato instead of whipped cream. America meets Italy! We were all so full I thought we would all fall asleep in our chairs like the aftermath of a Thanksgiving dinner!
On Sunday Fabio had to work, so I met my old pal Tullio and his wife and daughter in Rome for a gelato. They were on their way to see Cirque du Soleil that afternoon, so I was glad we could at least see one another. His daughter Alessia is 5 years old now; they left 2 year old Massimo at home with his grandma. Tullio urged Alessia to speak English to me, but she was of course very shy. I spoke some Italian to her – I enjoy talking to kids because the vocabulary is easy! When it came time to go, Tullio asked her how to say “Ciao!” in English, and she came out with “Goodbye”, but with a wonderful Italian accent that sounded like GUDA-BYE. Italians just can’t leave a consonant like D hanging without a vowel sound after it! He chided her with “Not GUDABYE, Goodbye!”, but she giggled and waved and called out several GUDABYES as they headed off to the circus.
And then I had lunch at Trattoria Monti, and as always was greeted warmly by Enrico, the chef’s son and by Barbara and Gellion, the waitstaff. Daniele, Enrico’s younger brother Daniele had the day off and Enrico rolled his eyes and said that he was out enjoying the beach. It was a very hot day in Rome that day and the beach sounded good. At one point Enrico came over saying he wanted to take a photo with me and send it to Daniele with the caption, “One of your brothers is working and the other is suffering in the heat of Rome… where are you?” The two of them frequently refer to me as their red-headed brother and it’s nice to be part of the family.
From Rome I flew to Nice, France where I rented a car and drove 90 minutes west to Toulon to see my friend Gilles. He works for the national police in France and was stationed in nearby Marseille, so we managed to get together for dinner and he gave me a tour of the hard to pronounce town where he is living now: Ollioules. (I’ve finally mastered it: it’s pronounced like OH-YULE-ES. But I still think there are far too many vowels in that name! It was a very short visit, we were both glad to see one another.
The next day, after devouring some of the most beautiful breakfast pastries from a small bakery – the French REALLY are the masters of croissants and pastries – it was back to Italy. I drove the coast of the Italian Riviera and spent a very nice evening in San Remo, famous for its annual music competition that has put many Italian artists on the map. Then I headed south, past Genova to the Cinque Terre area of Liguria… another very unique region where pesto sauce was invented and where citrus fruits factor into many dishes, along with amazing seafood. I spent two nights at the wonderful Hotel Villa Steno, perched at the top of the town of Monterosso al Mare, a storybook town with a medieval clock tower, castles, and a little train that chugs through every few minutes, looking very much like it escaped from a child’s model train set. The owners, Carla and Matteo, always make me feel so welcome and when I arrived, Carla very carefully explained to me in slow, precise Italian – to be certain I understood – that they consider me a member of their family and how happy they are to see me again. It truly blows me away how many wonderful friendships I have developed during my many visits to Italy.
My time there was spent mostly in the sea because it was brutally hot and humid, but it was nice to totally relax and have no agenda. I had dinner at a favorite restaurant, Via Venti, and it was rather eventful. I was seated outside next to two sisters from Australia. We began talking and when they found out that I had been to this restaurant many times and how often I’m in Italy, they started asking for recommendations of what to eat that night and where to eat as they traveled Italy. They had only one night in Rome before flying out, so I recommended Trattoria Monti, but told them they needed reservations. They were very enthusiastic about it, and so I asked if they’d like me to get a reservation for them. In two seconds flat I was on the phone to the restaurant, where Gellion answered and chatted me up for a bit, wanting to know where I was and how my trip was going. I then secured a reservation for my new friends and they were excited and grateful and I was feeling like a travel guru: “let me call my people and we’ll get you set up in Rome.” By now an American couple from Oklahoma had been seated on the other side of me and before long they said that it seemed like I knew the menu well, and asked if I’d recommend things for them! By the way, the special that night was a house- made tagliatelle with shrimp and citrus that was just beyond belief. Then another American family was standing in front of the restaurant waiting to be seated and the father came over and said, “It seems like you know Italy pretty well. Can you explain the difference between the entrée, the primi and the secondi? And what is the custom for tipping? And do you have any recommendations for Venice?” It was truly like I had a tourist information booth set up at my table, and it was really a lot of fun. Perhaps it bodes well for me as I explore options for a career beyond teaching.
Mt final two days in Italy were spent in Milan where I attended a concert by the popular Tiziano Ferro. I’ve written about that in another blog post, so I won’t repeat myself here. I loved the concert, but I have to say I really struggled during those last couple of days because I was so sad that my time in Italy was coming to an end. I was in a bad mood from the time I got to Milano till the time I left, except for the three hours of the concert! Funny how rather than savor those last two days, I fought back against it and just felt upset. Sigh. The mind is a strange thing. As I hit the highway and headed back toward France on Sunday morning, I decided to stop for a last Italian lunch outside of Milan at a restaurant called Osteria del Laghetto in Arluno. The restaurant was in a delightful little house in a park-like setting and I was greeted warmly, the owner finding me a prime seat outside on the terrace. There was a cool breeze, lots of flowers and waving willow trees, and a slew of Italian families enjoying Sunday dinner. I loved watching the parents interacting with their young children, talking to them and asking them questions. Not once in all my time in Italy did I see parents playing with cell phones and ignoring their children during a meal, which I’m sorry to say has become so common in the USA.
The restaurant was offering a fresh asparagus risotto, but as in almost every Italian restaurant the menu indicated that risotto could only be ordered for a minimum of 2 people, which always frustrates me, because I love risotto and can never order it when I travel alone! On a whim, I asked if it was at all possible to have risotto and they said yes! And after tasting it, I can say that I would not have wanted to miss that for the world. For a second course I ordered an odd menu item called, Uovo Perfetto (the perfect egg). It was a poached egg that sat atop a base of fresh garden peas and a creamy cheese, and it was, well, perfetto. And then there was apple pie that was more like apple cake, but was warm and comforting, like a big hug. What a find! The owner came out several times to chat with me and when I got ready to go, he stopped me and said he’d like to talk to me for a bit more. He offered me an after dinner drink and a coffee and I sat at the bar and we talked. He was very eager to talk about America (he loves America) and wanted to discuss the politic scene. I have vowed that this website will be a politics-free zone because I have been dismayed by how Facebook has seemed to become a war zone these days. Therefore, I will not share what either of us said, but I will say that we had a very civilized, good natured conversation, free of any rancor, insults or arguing. How long has it been since that has happened to me in my own country? Overall, we shared many of the same views about the world, and I left feeling as if I’d made yet another new friend.
I drove out of Italy through the mountainous region southwest of Asti and Cuneo, and listened to the music on Radio Italia with a lump in my throat the size of the perfect egg. As I got within a few miles of the French border I couldn’t believe my eyes: here in the middle of nowhere was a Venchi outlet – the famous chocolatier that makes some of the best gelato there is. I of course stopped and got a cone with two kinds of dark chocolate gelato and enjoyed a last taste of Italia. And then, as I got higher into the mountains and approached the long tunnel that connects Italy and France, Radio Italia began to crackle and fade away, the road signs turned from Italian to French, and all I was left with were the memories of my time in this wonderful land that has embraced and adopted me. Several times a day when I am in Italy I think about how much I would like various friends and family members to see or experience certain things with me, and with all my heart I wish each of you reading this could know the Italy I love so much. Ciao… or better yet, GUDABYE for now!