Cycling and Golf

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One of the biggest differences between life in Bellevue, America and our year in Perugia is how much time our family spends together, most notably, how much time Matt and I spend together.  It’s working out well; in fact, it’s even better than I expected.   However, we each came with a list of individual goals and intentions to cultivate these separate interests.  For Matt, these activities revolve around exercise.  His first purchase in Italy was a used Cannondale road bike, and his first cycling destination was to Antognolla golf course, just 13 miles outside Perugia.  Since then, he takes up to three trips a week through the back roads of the Umbrian hills and past the tiny country towns.  After 10 months of hearing about the peace and beauty of these mornings, this week I decided to followed Matt and see what his “alone time” is all about.

He starts at the apartment, right in the heart of Perugia.  From there it's one giant downhill cruise for at least a mile.  It seems like a great way to start, but must be pure hell coming home.

He starts at the apartment, right in the heart of Perugia. From there it’s one giant downhill cruise for 6 miles. It seems like a great way to start but pure hell coming home.

Outside Perugia, the roads are very quaint and quiet and the hills are gently sloping.  This time of year, there is green green green in every direction.

Outside Perugia, the roads are quiet and the hills are gentle. This time of year, there is green in every direction.

Every couple of miles there is a new town to pass through.  By the time Matt gets to the golf course, he has wheeled through San Marco, Cenerente, Canneto, Colle Umbero, Maestrello and San Giovanni di Pantano

Every couple of miles there is a new town to pass through. By the time Matt got to the golf course, he had wheeled through San Marco, Cenerente, Canneto, Colle Umbero, Maestrello and San Giovanni di Pantano

Following the road to the golf course.  The last sign reads "Antognolla."

Following the road to the golf course. The last sign reads “Antognolla.”

When he arrived, he changed out of his bike gear, got an coffee at the bar and headed out to the course.

When he arrived, he changed out of his bike gear, got a coffee at the bar and headed out to the course.

Teeing off on hole   .  (The ball is sailing off the top corner of the frame.)

Teeing off on hole 17. (Look, the ball is sailing off the top corner of the frame.)

On the putting green with some crazy beautiful medieval castle in the background.  Matt's best score ever at Antognolla is a 94.

On the putting green with some crazy-beautiful medieval castle in the background.

Heading back to the bike for the ride back home.

Heading back to the bike for the 12-mile ride home (and 700 feet of elevation gain).

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My Two Days (written by Ray)

by guest blogger Ray

Sitting by Lago Trasimeno

Me at Lago Trasimeno

Last Tuesday, Tom went with his class to Pompeii.  (It’s a city that was buried a long time ago from ash when Mt. Vesuvius erupted.)  So for two days, it was just me, Mom and Dad.

Waving goodbye to Tom's class

Waving goodbye to Tom’s class

Tom left on a bus at 7am, and I went to school like usual from 8-1.  I like school. I’ve made lots of new friends this year.  Some are boys and some are girls.  My least favorite class right now is Italian.  We just finished a unit on journalism.  Italians don’t have a “W” in their alphabet, but they still use “the 5 W’s” when studying newspaper articles.  They pronounce it like, “oo, wat, were, win and wyee.”  We had to read and write lots of articles.  I’m glad we are finished.  My favorite class is Math.  I got a 9 out of 10 on my last test.

Anyway, after school my parents took me to Lago Trasimeno.  This is a huge lake in Umbria that’s close to Perugia.  When we got there, we found a little pebbly area near the water and skipped rocks for a while.  I can skip a rock four times.  My dad can skip a rock at least eight times.  But my mom can’t skip at all.

Me and Dad skipping rocks

Dad and me skipping rocks

We drove further on until we got to a restaurant called Faliero.  This is a popular restaurant.  Sometimes you have to wait more than an hour to order your food.  We got there at 7:30 which is early for Italians, so we only waited 10 minutes.  This place is famous for its “torta al testo” which is a triangular sandwich filled with sausages.  That’s what I ordered.  My mom and dad split one and had a plate of gnocchi too.

Torta al testo

Torta al testo

After dinner we drove home and watched an episode of Modern Family that we bought on iTunes.

The next day after school, we took another trip.  This time we went to a city called Città di Castello.   This is a small city about one hour away.  First we went to a museum that was in an old tobacco drying warehouse.  The whole building was full of paintings by an artist named Burri.  He was an Italian captured in WWII by the Americans and put in prison.  That’s where he got the idea to do art.  His paintings are big and very different than other paintings we have seen in Italy.  Most of them were very plain.  None of them looked like anything I could recognize.  We tried to find faces and heads in the paintings.  One of the paintings looked like a human and the face of a dog, but it was hard to tell.

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After the museum we started to walk around the city.  First we went to a church.  Then we walked past an old hospital.  Next my legs started to get tired so we got gelato.  My favorite flavor is still chocolate.  Then we went to another church.  It was more interesting than the last one because they had some candles to light.  Right outside the church I saw a park and I played there for a while.  I liked the swings the best.  But my favorite part of the city was climbing the bell tower.  There were a lot of stairs and a view on top.  We were the only ones there.

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At the top of the bell tower

At the top of the bell tower

We had dinner in Città di Castello and then had to drive back to Perugia to pick up Tom.  His bus got in at 10:30 at night.  We stayed up late because the next day was Liberation Day in Italy and we didn’t have to go to school.

I liked the trips we took.  It was fun to see the lake and another city.  But one of my favorite parts of Tom’s field trip was being able to use Tom’s Husky plate while he was gone.

Go Dawgs

Go Dawgs

Arsenal and Pickpockets, London and Paris


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Last week we met one of our favorite families for our first and only trip outside of Italy.  We stayed together in a stable-turned-apartment near Hyde Park.  During our four days, we boated down the River Thames, spent a morning in Kensington Gardens, spun a loop around the London Eye, took a peek at the Crown Jewels, and ate at several pubs with names like “The Dog and Duck,” “Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese,” and “The Queen’s Arms.”  We also rode a double decker bus over the Tower Bridge and past Big Ben.

Build for the 2012 Olympics, the Eye of London is a half hour Ferris wheel ride high over the city.

The London Eye is a half-hour Ferris wheel ride over the city.

Ray and the Tower of London

Ray and the Tower of London

The kids with Peter Pan.

The kids with Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

The most memorable excursion was an evening at the Arsenal vs. Everton soccer match.  After an all-day search and a shady rendezvous with a scalper, we finally held what we hoped were eight tickets to the sold-out game.  We rode a packed subway and arrived at the stadium full of fans wearing red and white.  The weather was good, and we were in England watching real football.

Outside the gates

Outside the gates of Emirates Stadium

waiting for a goal

waiting for a goal

Despite the final score of 0-0 and the surprising calm of the crowd, this was a fun night.  We bought Arsenal scarves, we cheered, and we ate dinner in our seats.  At 10 minutes before the end of the game, we decided to get a head start on the return trip.  As we left the stadium we were surprised to join throngs of others running to the entrance to the Tube.  The urgency was contagious.  We each grabbed a kid and took off sprinting.  It was pretty exciting, and at one point, Grace said, “It feels like we’re running for our lives!”  Eventually finding a pocket of space to stand on the subway gave us the feeling of victory we had been looking for all night.

The next day we left London (several hours before Margaret Thatcher’s funeral).  Our apartment in Paris was hilarious.  There were just two rooms, each with a tiny loft.  There was a kitchen too, but it was in one of the bedrooms.  We decided right away that privacy was not much of an option. We put the kids in one room and the adults in another.  The tight quarters were the basis for much of the humor during the rest of our stay.

Lynn find a place to sit on our bed while Deac finds space on the ladder

Lynn find a place to sit on our bed while Deac hangs out on the ladder

Paris was all about short stops at big sights during the day and long dinners in small restaurants at night.

Another great view of the Eiffel Tower

Another great view of the Eiffel Tower

Joining hundreds of others to glimpse the Mona Lisa

Joining hundreds of others for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa

Lynn and I near Notre Dame

Lynn and I near Notre Dame

Starting off another French feast with a kir royale

Starting off another French feast with a kir royale

The most fascinating aspect of Paris, and the one that left the biggest impression (especially among the kids) were the pickpockets.  In fact, the week before, the Louvre unexpectedly closed for a day because the problem was unmanageable.  We were further warned by many:  Always hold your belongings close.  Watch out for people holding a “petition” and asking for signatures because while you peruse the paper and write your name, hands will be busy underneath the clipboard empting your purse.  Sure enough, on day one, in the middle of a busy square, we encountered a hoard of young women looking for unsuspecting victims.  Our tour guide, Jacques, spotted them first and reminded us to be careful.  We watched the attempts from a distance.  Later, Jacques showed us all his protective measures.

Jacques has two cell phones and a wallet chained to the inside of his long jacket which covers his pants' pockets.  He only uses the cheap phone when in a public area in Paris.

Jacques has two cell phones and a wallet chained to the inside of his long jacket which safely covers his pants’ pockets. He uses only the small cheap phone when in a public area in Paris.  The iPhone is kept hidden when inside the city limits.

If things get ugly, he also has this for protection.

If things get ugly, he also has this for protection.

Ray, Tom and Matt carefully maneuver around the alleged pickpocket

Ray, Tom and Matt carefully maneuver around the alleged pickpocket while another passes in front.

During the rest of the day, the kids tried to weasel belongings out of the adults’ bags and pockets.  I was horrified when they later offered me back my wallet, my lipstick and my sunglasses.   The only defense I had for being such easy prey was that I allow my kids closer than I would a stranger.  Still, Matt said he would be more comfortable carrying my valuables.

Ray tries unsuccessfully to rob Deac.

Later, one of the kids tries unsuccessfully to rob Deac.

The last morning in Paris started at 3am when we all woke up and caught rides to the airport for an early morning flight.  The Halls returned to Seattle and we came back to Perugia.  The first thing we did when we got home was stop for a gelato where some of the other customers were speaking French.  Later that afternoon, we noticed a new crepe stand on the street outside our apartment.  And for dessert, we ate meringues. It felt good knowing that some of Paris followed us home.

Pasta ‘Ncasciata

Last week with my parents

My dad and mom during a day trip to Spoleto

The best vacations need some continuation, something to take away;

something to unpack when the missing of those good days is heavy;

something to connect the rhythm and pace of the trip with the patterns and predictability of home;

something more than a souvenir.

The best vacations need to come home.

Last weekend, my parents left Perugia.  The day before their flight, my dad made a request.  He wanted to learn how to cook pasta ‘ncasciata.  This was his favorite meal in Italy, and he wanted it to be his “take-away.”

Pasta ‘ncasciata is a Sicilian specialty given to me by my friend Giulia.  Her family is from the south where eggplants are reportedly the most delicious eggplants in the country.  The name “’ncasciata” is a Sicilian word that may translate to either “cheese” or “pan.”  (There is some disagreement among Sicilians.)  Guilia says that both translations make sense since the pasta is cooked with cheese and baked in a pan.

This is Giulia,

This is Giulia, a keeper of traditional Sicilian recipes and culture

So on the evening of my parents’ last day, we shopped, chopped, fried, simmered and layered until we had made a beautiful pan of pasta.

Begin with the following ingredients.

To make four big servings, begin with the following ingredients:

1 tablespoon of butter for greasing the pan

250 grams (8 ½ ounces) of pasta (macaroni or short penne)

3 tablespoons olive oil plus 2/3  cup

1 clove of garlic, chopped

1/3 diced onion

150 grams (5 ½ ounces) of sausage (remove casing)

150 grams (5 ½  ounces) ground veal

125 grams (4 ½ ounces) of peas, fresh or frozen

½ cup of red wine

500 grams (18 ounces) of purred tomato

125 grams (4 ½ ounces) of fresh ricotta

2 hard boiled eggs, sliced

50 grams (2 ounces) of diced or grated provolone

10 basil leaves

1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1.  Grease an oven-proof pan with the butter

2.  Slice the eggplant lengthwise and sprinkle with salt.  Then let it sit in a colander for 20 minutes so it can release its bitter juices.

cutting the eggplant

My dad cuts the eggplant into thin, even slices.

3.  Sauté the garlic and onion in three tablespoons of olive oil until onions are translucent.

4.  Add the sausage and ground veal and cook. Then add peas. Then wine.  Cook until the wine reduces (about five minutes). Then add the tomato puree.  Simmer slowly for 15-20 minutes.

While I fry the eggplant,

While I fry the eggplant, my mom stirs and my dad pours the tomato sauce

5.  In the meantime, rinse the slices of eggplant and pat dry with a paper towel.  Then fry them in 2/3 cup of olive oil on medium high heat until  golden brown.  Set aside on a plate lined with paper towels.

6.  Cook the pasta for half the time it calls for.  (It will continue cooking later in the oven.)  Drain the pasta.  Add it to the tomato sauce.  Add ricotta and mix well.  Tear the basil into pieces and stir in.

7.  Layer:  Begin with a third of the pasta and tomato sauce.  Cover with half the eggplants.  Add half the provolone and one of the sliced hard-boiled eggs.  Then add a layer of everything one more time saving a third layer of pasta for the top.  Sprinkle with a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.

layer the pasta

layering the pasta with all the ingredients.

8.  Cook in a 350 degree oven for 1/2 hour or until hot, bubbly and slightly brown on top.  Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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. . . I just got an email from my dad.  The trip home was long.  They are tired.  The transition isn’t easy.  However, the first dinner they made after unpacking their bags was pasta ‘ncasciata.

Tourists in Perugia

My mom and dad are ready for the tour of Perugia

My mom and dad are ready for some sighseeing.

We’ve had 20 guests over the last nine months, the latest being my parents and my brother’s family. During the past couple weeks, we devoted several mornings to long walks around town and a tour of our favorite sites.  Our must-see list is always changing; we have new favorites all the time.  And while there really isn’t any required stop in Perugia, there are lots of little interesting things to do and see.

For a little dramatic punch, I like to start at the eerie, 2000-year-old Etruscan Well.  It’s right around the corner from our apartment, and it only takes about five minutes to see.  Once you enter, you can walk down a dark, damp, stone path to a bridge which crosses the base of the well.  The air is warm and humid.  It looks and smells ancient.

My dad and mom wave from down below.

My dad and mom wave from down below.

More Etruscan feats are found all over the city.  The enormous Etruscan Arch sits nearby.  When Caesar Augustus defeated the Etruscans, he carved the new name of the city on this arch, “Augusta Perusia.”

Oliver under the arch

Oliver under the arch during his visit in February

And even more Etruscans ruins: five minutes outside the city is Ipogeno dei Volumni where 200 tombs are on display.  The best part is the walk into the dark underground chamber where the largest tombs lie.  On both sides of the stairway sit the carved stone urns which held the ashes of the dead.

Mom, Dad and Matt head below.

Mom, Dad and Matt head below.

Back in the center of town, some important sights are found around the main square, Piazza IV Novembre.  First, there’s the Cathedral of San Lorenzo.  San Lorenzo is one of three patron saints of Perugia.  He was grilled to death by the Romans when Christianity was illegal.  Inside the church sits the wedding ring of Mary.  Yes, the actual wedding ring of the actual Virgin Mary.

My parents in Piazza IV Novembre.  Behind is the city's biggest fountain and the Cathedral of San Lorenzo.

My parents in Piazza IV Novembre. To the left is the city’s biggest fountain and behind is the cathedral

From the main piazza, one can take Corso Vannucci to the other side of town.  On the way, there is the National Museum of Art, which is okay.  It’s a far cry from the Uffizi; however, if you like paintings of the Madonna with child, Tom and Ray counted more than 75. Next door is the Collegio del Cambio, a small room that was frescoed by Perugia’s most famous Renaissance artist, Pietro Vannucci, known as “Perugino.”  This is a more efficient stop for art.

Mom and Dad outside the doors of the Collegio di Cambio.  No photos allowed inside.

Mom and Dad outside the doors of the Collegio del Cambio. The frescos would make the top of my list for art in Perugia.

Corso Vanucci stretching across the historic center of town

Corso Vannucci stretching across the historic center of town

Further down the street sits a piece of the Rocca Paolina, a huge fortress build by Pope Paul III to assert his dominance over the rebellious Perugians.  On it is the inscription, “To curb the audacity of the Perugians.”  We always take visitors down the escalators (underneath La Rocca) to see the remains of Perugia’s medieval city that Pope Paul destroyed. The Perugians later destroyed much of the fortress.

A corner of the Rocca Paolina

A corner of the Rocca Paolina

One of Perugia’s assets is its location high on top of the hills.  The benefit is a great view in every direction.  To simutaneously see the countryside and the city, we walk down Corso Garibaldi to Porta Sant’ Angelo.

The boys take in the view with their cousins last week.

Last week, the boys climbed to the top of the tower with their cousins.   In the distance, we can almost see our apartment.

And on the other side of town, in Piazza Italia, we can see two of Perugia’s most important churches, San Dominica and San Pietro.

My mom and I in Piazza Italia.

My mom and I and a great view.  San Dominica is the huge church to the left, and the spire of San Pietro rises further in the distance.

Finally, whether for coffee before the sites or an glass of prosecco after, we like to visit the oldest and most distinguished cafe in Perugia, Sandri.

Matt and my mom at the bar

Matt and my mom at the bar in Sandri

A Tuscan Cemetery

The graveyard of Cortona

The graveyard of Cortona

It’s impossible to visit a city in Italy without facing centuries of death.  It seems that every town is filled with crypts, catacombs and necropolises.  Some of the most compelling sites in this country are the graves of illustrious Italians.  We’ve seen the tomb of Michelangelo, Julius Caesar, St Francis of Assisi and Galileo Galilei among many others.  Even when the dead aren’t famous, their graves sometimes are. They are everywhere.

We visited the underground “Ipogeno dei Volumni” with our guests in December.  This is one of the best-preserved Etruscan tombs in Italy.  It dates back to 200 BC

We visited the underground “Ipogeno dei Volumni” with family in December. This is one of the best-preserved Etruscan tombs in Italy. It dates back to 200 BC.

Inside the ancient Pantheon rests the body of Renassaince artist Raphael Sanzio and two Italian kings, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I.

Inside the ancient Pantheon rests the body of Renassaince artist Raphael Sanzio and two Italian kings, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I.

There are three popes buried in Perugia.  This is Pope Benedict XI's tomb in San Dominica.  His bones are in the box on the wall to the left of his monument.

There are three popes buried in Perugia. This is Pope Benedict XI’s tomb in the Basilica of San Dominica. His bones are in the box on the wall to the left of his monument.

Beyond the famous burial sites, Italy is filled with cemeteries.  There is a “monumental” cemetery in Perugia that Matt and I visited a couple months ago.  Some of Perugia’s most important families have erected ornate (and fanciful) mausoleums here to house their remains.

These small apartments can hold lots of bodies

These small apartments can hold lots of bodies

Yes, a pyramid tomb in Perugia

Yes, a pyramid tomb in Perugia

Last weekend we were in Cortona, Tuscany.  As we were taking in the view from the top of this small hill town, Matt saw a big beautiful cemetery in the distance.  We decided to visit it on our way home.

Italy does cemeteries well.  The grounds are bright and colorful.  Nearly every grave or slot on the wall is full of flowers, flickering electric lights and framed photographs.  There is nothing creepy or ghosty about them.  The atmosphere is soft and the souls seem tangible.  The people look at you from their pictures, and you can’t help but want to know more.  I can imagine them once living and eating pasta, making wine and gesturing.

We arrived through the main gate with my parents (who are here for a few more days).  Once we entered, the six of us separated and wandered through the rows.  During our visit we admired the old names and we admired the elegant photos. We tried to find someone who had lived for up to 100 years (with no luck). We found the most recent date-of-death (February 23, 2013). We saw graves of kids.  We saw tombstones for entire families, and we discovered many parents who outlived their children.

My mom and Tom figure out the age of someone in the wall.

A wall of past lives

Dino and Ida, among others

Dino and Ida (RIP), among others

"He lived for three happy years.  The son of Atilo and Ginetta.  He was Little Francis.  Now he is an angel."

“I lived for three happy years. The son of Atilio and Ginetta. I was Little Francis. And now I am an angel. December 3, 1913-January 12, 1917”

I just couldn't wrap my head around the fact that this couple had to bury TWO young children in their lifetime.

It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that this couple had to bury TWO young children in their lifetime.  Mario was eight and Lidia was just four

This was our favorite - the absolute surrender to the sadness and desolation of death.

This was our favorite – the exhausted statue draped over the coffin in absolute surrender to the sadness and desolation of loss.

We finally left the grounds when the wind picked up. Despite the sunshine, we were freezing cold.  As we drove away, we talked about the graves and the people who died. Tom and Ray both said that this cemetery was way better than a museum or church.

Then we talked about what we wanted to do with our own remains.  The boys are undecided about cremation or coffins.  Matt wants to donate his whole body to research, so do my mom and dad (then they want to be buried near Eugene or at their farm.)  I think I might want my ashes to be gently tucked away in an Italian cemetery like this one.

Easter (and Easter Monday)

Easter Sunday with my parents in the courtyard of San Pietro

Together last weekend with my parents in the courtyard of San Pietro

Easter lasts for two days in Italy.  There is Easter Sunday (Pasqua).  And then there is Easter Monday (Pasquetta) which is equally important as far as holidays go.

This was my second Easter in Italy.  The first I spent in the region of Campagna 23 years ago with my dad and brother.  I remember it well.  That afternoon as we were walking throught the streets of Naples, a moped sped by me and ripped the backpack off my back.  (It contained our passports, our train tickets and all my money.)  I was able to hold on to the strap and run after the driver for a little ways before using my last ounce of strength to yank it back.  The force of my pull knocked the thief off balance. He started to topple before letting go of the backpack and speeding away.  I had rescued our goods.  It was my first ever sensation of bad-assness.
This year was also memorable but in a much less dramatic way. In fact, by Perugian standards, we had an ordinary Easter.  But that was my goal: to celebrate with local traditions.
We started Saturday night with a little visit to the nearest church.  We brought lots of food because Perugians get their Easter meal sanctified before eating it.  When we arrived, the priest was busy in the confessional, so we decided to bless the food ourselves.  Since my mom knows the most saints, we figured she should do the honors.  Using the holy water and wand from near the alter, she sprinkled a prayer and benediction on our groceries.
Here's my mom with priest tools giving our cheese bread a proper hallelujah

My mom uses the priest tools to give our cheese bread a proper hallelujah

The next morning, we arranged the spread.  Once a year, Perugians sit down to more than just a coffee for breakfast.  On Easter, tables are filled with capocollo (a cured meat), hard boiled eggs, cheese bread, wine and a cake called ciaramicola.
picture:  once a year, Perugians sit down to more than just a coffee and cigarette for breakfast.  On Easter morning, tables are filled with capocollo (a cured meat), cheese bread, hard boiled eggs, wine, and a frosted dessert called a ciaramicola  The boys also ate a giant chocolate egg with a toy surprise inside.

Breakfast

The boys also got giant chocolate eggs with a toy surprise inside.

The boys also got giant chocolate eggs with a toy surprise inside.

Then, of course, we joined the Catholics and went to mass.  Out of the 20 or more options in downtown Perugia, we chose the Church of San Pietro, an ornately decorated cathedral near the edge of town.
My mom and I spent the afternoon preparing lamb and artichokes.   Not quite sure how to cook lamb, I decided to fry it.  The Italians say that even the sole of a shoe tastes good when fried.  It worked.
My mom talked Ray into trying lamb.

My mom talked Ray into trying lamb.

The next day was Pasquetta.  Our friends Milena and Sergio invited us to their house in the country.  They wanted to meet my parents and introduce us to some of their relatives.  We joined them for a grand lunch starting with champagne, capocollo, cheese bread, wild asperagus and pecorino cheese.  This was followed by two platters of cannelloni, four types of grilled meats, artichokes prepared two ways and another big ciaramicola.  
A walk on the rolling, green, olive-tree-covered hills of Umbria

A walk on the rolling, green, olive-tree-covered hills of Umbria

Milena's mamma serves cannelloni.

Milena’s mamma serves cannelloni.

My parents pass around a bowl of meats

My parents pass around a bowl of meats

"Ciaramicola" - the rainbow sprinkled, meringue frosted Easter specialty of Perugia.

“Ciaramicola” – the rainbow sprinkled, meringue frosted Easter specialty of Perugia.  It’s red inside because of the bright liquor used to color it.

We ended the day with a walk gathering wild asparagus from around the trunks of olive trees.  Pretty cool.

For the first time since 2007, I’ve been enjoying holidays.  Distancing ourselves from past traditions, we get to peer into those of the Italians and participate as students of culture rather than as emotionally rooted members.

It’s true what they say about holidays being the hardest days.  When you lose the person with whom you celebrated, you lose the meaning as well.  Holidays have really sucked since Luke died.  Our family’s traditions faded away, yet we were still surrounded by everyone else celebrating the same old way.  This year, the physical distance from our culture’s customs, as well as having the distraction of another’s, has brought objectivity.  Discovery has replaced menacing compulsions; novelty has replaced stagnant etiquette; and the freedom to experiment has replaced the sense of obligation to assimilate with past traditions. Instead of running from the holidays, this year, I feel more inclined to step into them.