This Week Marks the End of Lulu’s Italian School Year

The school looked a lot like the preschool Lulu had attended the year before in Baltimore.  Brightly colored paint on the walls.  Miniature tables and chairs.  A hallway lined with hooks and smiling photos of preschoolers over each denoting whose backpack should hang where.

There was one noticeable difference, however.  Nothing was in English.   Paintings of colors were labeled: Verde, Rosso, Giallo.  The lunch menu read:  Risotto con parmigiano, prosciutto cotto, carote juliene.  Everything was in Italian.  Of course, it was.  We had moved to Italy and this was Lulu’s new preschool.

For the first few months, Lulu seemed like a little lost lamb arriving every morning to her lively classroom filled with animated children  — yelling and squealing in a language she didn’t understand.  She clinged to me as I dropped her off.  Sometimes in the morning, she would ask if she could stay at home.  One day, Maestra Chiara said that Lulu had pushed a friend, “Probably, because she didn’t know how else to communicate.” 

I tried to work at home with Lulu on Italian phrases. “Speak the language, I speak!” Lulu would yell at me, frustrated.

Scotty and I worried.

Finally, about five months into the school year, I noticed Lulu was talking more and more after school about her friends she had played with.  “Letizia and Allegra and I ….” The sentences would begin.  I came early to school one afternoon and saw Lulu and Allegra playing with each other and Lulu was saying a few words in Italian.

In the spring, Allegra’s mother asked if I would register Lulu for swim lessons so the girls could go together.  I agreed.  The girls chattered together in the backseat on the drives to and from the pool and also during the lessons.  Now, I could witness firsthand how much progress Lulu was making.  With swimming.  With the language.  With her friendships.

By the time, in early July, that Maria Bianca Bianchini preschool held its end of the year dinner, Lulu sang as loudly as any other of her native speaking Italian classmates during their corny song about morning in a garden full of bugs. As the sunset on the Tuscan countryside, Scotty and I watched our 4-year-old run and dance and play outside with her new friends. No, make that her old friends.  She’s been with them for the whole school year and in kid-years, that’s a long time.

What a difference a year can make.

P.S.  So much can happen in a year!  Look back on a year of your life.  What changes occurred?  Good? Bad?  What about this next coming “school year.”  Would love to hear from you!

Ciao, Tutti!

Baci,

Gina

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Pistoia, Lucca and a New Friend

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First, a quick rant: up ‘til yesterday, I have mostly hated Twitter.

I know I’m supposed to aim for tens of thousands of “followers.” But, short of buying them – as is so often advertised – I have a hard time trying to think of something scintillating to say in 140 characters that will be interesting, intriguing or inspirational enough to attract a crowd.  I talk about Tuscany, life and, of course, Lulu.   I do not talk about sex and I am not a celebrity, so right now I am content with my intimate following of about 200.

One member of my small group is a Pistoia-based Tuscan travel guide and concierge named Michela.  We exchanged a few direct tweets over the past few weeks and realized we had more than a few things in common. We both love Tuscany (of course), we each have one daughter, we enjoy exploring and traveling and most fun of all, perhaps, her favorite city is London and her favorite grandma was named Gina – just perfect someone named me!

So when we decided that it would be a great idea for me to take the train from Arezzo up to Pistoia to visit “Miky,” it seemed natural to us and a bit of a bewilderment to each of our husbands who asked, “Now, how do you know this person again?”

I packed a bag for Lulu and me and yesterday –  off we went.  First a train to Florence. Then change to another and  — whoosh – two hours later – we arrived in Pistoia. Miky was right there waiting for us at the platform.  Speaking almost only in Italian, she immediately became another zia, or auntie, to Lulu and a sorella, or sister to me.

She was gracious, lovely and kind.  First stop, the best pasticcheria in Pistoia for a new treat for me – ginseng cappuccino.

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Then she showed us all around her wonderful and beautiful home town.  The church where she was married and her daughter Francesca was later baptized…

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The fresh fruit and vegetable market that sets up every morning in one of the many piazze…

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And my favorite, the 15th century della Robbia statue of Mary and Elizabeth – one his largest.  When she was a schoolgirl, Miky used to pop into pray to the ladies to intercede on her behalf – to prevent her from being called in class when she hadn’t done her homework. Love that!

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Then, Miky drove us over to the famous walled-town of Lucca – with the largest walkable rampart in Europe.   This was Puccini’s home town, who brought us La Boheme and Madame Butterfly and so much more.   And while we didn’t have time to take in one of his operas, we did have lunch in one of his favorite cafes.  Lulu wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was.

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Finally, we ended our tour with a stroll through the town’s wonderfully round grande piazza.

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Encircled by cafes and boutiques, we lingered in Le Sorelle, an amazing store with locally hand-made prints, fabrics and other gifts. It’s run by four sisters, as its name implies.

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When we were visiting, one sister and the gorgeous mamma of them all were inside and fell in love with Lulu.  She charmed them by chatting non-stop in Italian, I found the perfect birthday gift for Scotty (which is next month, stay tuned), and Lulu came away with two homemade soaps – a parting gift from the ladies.

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“I’ve never had two free soaps before!” Lulu gushed, so excited.  (I don’t think she’s ever had even one.)

I was excited too.  We had had a splendid day with a terrific new friend.

Grazie mille Miky, and Grazie mille, dare I say it, Twitter!

Ciao tutti!

Gina

P.S.  Lots of people find friends and even spouses through virtual world, so it must be worth the trouble.  Who else has a good – or maybe cautionary – tale to share?

Different and yet the same

Lulu’s first trip to the beach was yesterday.  It just happened to be to a beach on the Mediterranean Sea in the shadow of an ancient fishing village complete with a small castle.  The town is called Castiglione della Pascaia which dates to pre-Roman times.

Castiglione della Pascaia

We went with her preschool buddy David and his wonderful mother Pavlina – who was gracious enough to invite us and drive us – past the sunflower fields and round bales of straw of the Tuscan countryside to reach the lagoon and then the hot white sand of the beach.

The sea’s water was warm and clear.  The beach was full – but not packed – with friendly families, energetic teenagers, and chatty seniors.  Lulu and David splashed in the waves, lounged in the inflatable boats Pavlina brought, ate pasta al pesto for lunch and made an entire sand village under our blue striped umbrella.

Lulu and David playing on the beach

Vendors passed by offering to sell bracelets and sunglasses and even knock-off purses.  I paid for a kind Senegalese woman to weave a strand of Lulu’s hair with three different colored threads into a bright streamer. All the little Italian girls seem to come back from a trip al mare wearing one of these as a sort of souvenir.

Lulu getting her souvenir weave

It was a lovely and memorable day.  And it made me think back to the beach where I had spent so much of my early childhood, Pine Lake in LaPorte, Indiana.  Not the vivid blue of the Mediterranean, Pine Lake was more seaweed green.  There were no vendors, no restaurants, no blue and white striped umbrellas and certainly no castle-fortressed villages looking down from above.

Instead, we had a small white clapboard house that my Aunt Neatie and Uncle Dick owned, a long wooden picnic table filled with homemade food and drinks.  Fresh lemonade from Aunt May, two kinds of potato salad from Great Grandma Stombaugh, macaroni and cheese and amazing baked beans from my Grannie and fried chicken from Colonel Sanders. My sister and brother and our cousins floated on rafts, swam and played like crazy.

They were also lovely and memorable days.  Different and so much the same. Because of love.

Lulu and the lovely day.

P.S. I would love to hear stories of your favorite beach days.  Or of those of your children.

Baci, Gina

The kindness of strangers

Lulu at the train station where she isn’t asleep.

I don’t have a picture of her, but I know her name was Anita.

It was about 150 degrees in the shade the afternoon Lulu and I were to board the train back to Arezzo from Florence.  After a busy day, Lulu had fallen asleep in her stroller and so I had to try to hoist her dead weight and her stroller together up the steps onto the train car.

Several people rushed by me, as I struggled, to climb aboard a different car.  Then just as I was about to buckle, an elderly woman came from above.  She was already aboard, but had seen me from her seat near the door, had come over and was reaching down to help me lift Lulu and her passegino up.

I pushed the passegino next to the woman’s seat on the train and we sat across from each other. She smiled and introduced herself.  She said she remembered and understood.  She had a daughter of her own who was now grown.  She then took a balsam wood fan that was carved into a lacey pattern from her purse and spread it out.  She handed it to me. She advised me to fan it toward Lulu who indeed had flushed pink little cheeks from the heat.   Before she got off at her stop, she told me to keep the fan as a regalo, or gift.  “For the next time.”

Grazie mille, Anita.  I am grateful for the kindness of strangers.

I look forward to one day passing along the fan to someone who could use a little help like I did.

Ciao tutti!

Love,  Gina