Happy Easter – and There are no small parts…

I have a confession:  When my seven-year-old told me she had been given the non-speaking bit role of “Forest Dancer” in her school’s Easter festival play, my first inclination was to angrily protest.

Rockboro Primary  Easter Festival Play. School, Cork, Ireland.
Rockboro Primary Easter Festival Play. School, Cork, Ireland.

(Note! This is NOT merely the musings of a mother on her young daughter’s first school play, there is also a lovely lesson for business and life here, I promise.)

I imagined walking up to her first-grade teacher saying something like:  “What?! MY daughter deserves MORE than a puny role as ‘tree fairy who protects the princess’ which was clearly made up just to give every kid a part. Lulu should have been the princess herself, or at least a character with one line of dialogue! How dare you!”

Of course, I said nothing to the teacher. To my daughter, I smiled down said something supportive about how she was sure to be a great “Forest Dancer.” Still, inwardly, I worried about her sure-to-be-damaged tender self-esteem.

But, my daughter wasn’t upset about her small role at all.   She was actually excited about being a “Forest Dancer.”

“I am creating my own dance moves to guard the princess,” she happily told me one evening.

She applied twirls and flourishes she had learned in her after-school ballet lessons. Then she studied her face in the mirror and announced she would like to wear her hair swept into an up-do complete with a ring of flowers.  We shopped for an appropriate “tree dancer” outfit and came up with a leafy dress the teachers liked so much they urged Lulu’s “tree dancer” partner to buy a matching outfit just like it.

When the day of the Easter festival arrived, amid tables of hot cross buns, pastel-colored cupcakes and walls plastered with hundreds of pictures of bunnies and chicks, my little daughter proudly took to the stage.

Her little ballet moves were adorable and for a moment I thought of the background dancer in a recent production of The Nutcracker who hilariously upstaged the featured performers.

Lulu, aka, "Forest Dancer," guarding the princess.
Lulu, aka, “Forest Dancer,” guarding the princess.

Lulu didn’t go that far.  She simply brought to the performance all that she could.  She wasn’t envious of the girl who did play the role of the princess. She had a great attitude. She was encouraging and encouraged in return.

I was the one who needed to have my attitude checked.  When we’re offered something we may consider “beneath” us, how do we react? With frustration? Anger? Are we indignant or are we gracious?

The way Lulu handled herself, reminded me of the Stanislavski quote that:

 There are no small parts, only small actors.

So, no matter whether in an Easter festival play or in business or in life, remember all the world’s a stage. Give every role your best.

Fun and friends after the play!
Fun and friends after the play!

And Happy Easter!

Copyright 2015 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Countdown to Departure from Italy. 6 Days to go…Arezzo’s Antique Fair!

This weekend marked another of Arezzo’s awesome attractions: the monthly Fiera Antiquaria.  It is Italy’s oldest and largest antiques fair with the entire center of town – like here in Piazza Grande  – transformed into a gigantic open air market.

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Merchants sell everything from vintage jewelry, books, paintings, furniture and linens.

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We have never bought anything of substance really.  A Pinocchio wood-block print here, an antique toy there, a vintage deck of playing cards for Scotty. The giant armoires, tables and bronze statues will have to wait.

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Although yesterday, Lulu really thought she needed a spare part for a chandelier.  You never know.

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Maybe an antique mirror.  To reflect our new adventures.

Notice whose lower half is also reflected..? ;)
Notice whose lower half is also reflected..? 😉

Because, in life, as with chandelier bobbles, you just never know.

We love you, Arezzo.

Baci, Gina

Copyright 2014 Gina London.  All Rights Reserved.

 

Countdown to Departure from Italy. 11 Days to Go. Arezzo’s Amazing Joust Festival!

This morning on our walk through Arezzo’s stunning Piazza Grande, Lulu noticed that the buildings overlooking the square “are wearing their costumes for the Joust!”  This means that the city has hung a colorful array of noble crests on the 500-year-old stone towers – signalling the beginning of festivities for this year’s exciting Giostra del Saracino.” 

 

"Hey! The buildings are wearing their costumes for the Giostra!" Lulu said.
“Hey! The buildings are wearing their costumes for the Giostra!” Lulu said.

There are two medieval joust tournaments every summer, and the first one is set for June 21.  Lulu, Scotty and I will not be here; it will sadly and notably be the first Giostra we will miss during the nearly three years we lived here.

As Kay Thompson’s Eloise might would’ve said if she had ever left the Plaza to witness Arezzo’s thrilling Giostra, “I love, love, LOVE the Joust!” 

With gorgeous photos from our friend Massimo Di Gorga, and my article I submitted last year to The New York Times for a postcard on Arezzo, I now present to you one of the most dramatic spectacles in Italy – (which, to me, whoops a** on Siena’s careening free-for-all Palio horse race in terms of pageantry and skill – any day!)

 AREZZO’S GIOSTRA DEL SARACINO

AN INSIDER’S VISIT TO A LITTLE-KNOWN FESTIVAL IN TUSCANY

As summer flares, so too, do the resonant strains of Italy’s many Medieval festivals.  The powerful music played by a procession of men wearing vibrant tights, short black boots, and long colorful tunics is perhaps loudest heard in Arezzo, a town 50 miles southeast of Florence, in the heart of Tuscany, heralding the annual arrival of the  La Giostra del Saracino.

Comune

Since 1931, the competition has become a regular event in this ancient walled town celebrating  the time  when knights of the Crusades dashed off to vanquish the Saracini , otherwise known asinfidels or Saracens.

 As an American now living here in Arezzo, I’ve been fortunate to attend the joust four times as Piazza Grande, or the Grand Plaza, is transformed into a spectator-filled joust field.  Each of the city’s four neighborhoods enters two knights who take one turn riding a horse at full gallop with their lance pointed toward an enormous wooden mannequin named “Buratto, King of the Indies.”

Joust Santo Spirito

Buratto is mounted on a post that swivels.  He’s wound up tight as a top and holds three leather balls hanging from chains in his outstretched right hand and the score shield in his left.  For each run, hulky guards insert into the score shield a target sheet that’s divided by a red cross with a bull’s eye in the center.  Each quadrant of the sheet, including the cross lines, is worth varying numbers of points.  At five, the red bull’s eye is worth the most.

Sbandieratori WS

The knights charge toward the bull’s eye in a dramatic and dangerous contest of accuracy and dexterity. They must hit the center while at the same time avoid being walloped by Buratto’s menacing weapons when he forcefully spins on impact.

When the final run is complete and the winning quartiere is announced, a cacophony erupts as a series of cannon blasts combines with cheers and jeers from fans.

Boisterous celebrations spread out of the Piazza and up to the town’s duomo or cathedral where people congregate to congratulate the arriving victorious team and horses.  It’s quite something to be inside an ancient Gothic cathedral where, with brightly lit with electric lights and smiling and screaming sports fans, it feels more like rock concert  than a prayerful service.

Arezzo’s Giostra del Saracino is one of the lesser known festivals in Tuscany, but so filled with pomp and circumstance, it suspends time and bridges eras.

 

Thank you, Arezzo, for filling our lives with the excitement and splendor of your Giostra for the past three years. This summer we will remember it in our hearts.  As Lulu would say, “Aaii Colcitrone~!!!”

With love and admiration for Arezzo’s Giostra del Saracino forever,

Baci, Gina

Copyright Gina London 2014.  All Rights Reserved.

 

Countdown to Departure from Italy. 12 Days to Go!

La Nazione 5.25.14-page-001For those of you who read Italian, here’s the full-page of coverage the wonderful folks at La Nazione newspaper gave to me on Sunday.  And for those of you who don’t, below are my thoughts as a mother and a veteran journalist on our experience of living in the heart of Tuscany, Arezzo.

After nearly three years living in Arezzo, American Emmy-award winning veteran CNN correspondent and international communications trainer, Gina London, is preparing to leave her adopted hometown, for Ireland.

She took a minute to look back and ahead with La Nazione.

“Con Molti Ringraziamenti”

An American Journalist Reflects Upon Her Time in Arezzo

Here’s what brought us here in the first place:

My husband, Scotty Walsh, was enrolled in a two-and-one-half-year Masters in Fine Arts program at the Accademia dell’Arte, which is an American-affiliated school located here in Arezzo. (We arrived in July 2011.)

 What surprised me about Arezzo?

Everything!  The travel and guide books I consulted when I was still in the United States trying to research Arezzo, had very little to say about this town.  I was delighted to learn how important Arezzo had been during Etruscan and Roman times, and especially during the Renaissance.  From Vasari, to Piero della Francesca, there are many masterful works still here to enjoy.  I was also excited to learn about Arezzo’s incredible Joust of the Saracen festival – which we attended four times! To me, it provides much more skills and thrills than Siena’s Palio, but unfortunately is less well-known.

 Why do I think that is?

I don’t think Arezzo is actively engaged in reaching out to English speaking tourists.  For example, when I arrived, the English version of the Joust brochure was unintelligible.   I offered to re-write it – not only in proper English, but in an appealing marketing and conversational style – for free.   Then I volunteered to rewrite the English version for Benvenuti ad Arezzo’s updated website – also for free.  Unfortunately, for last year’s debut Icastica event, I learned its PR company based in Rome wasn’t planning to have any materials in English.   That is a pity.  Limited outreach, results in limited results.  I believe I wrote the only article about Icastica printed in an American travel magazine.   Arezzo is missing opportunities to reach out to a large group of tourists who already love Tuscany.  If these people discovered Arezzo, they would fall in love with it too.  To me, Arezzo is more authentic than many of Tuscany’s more-traveled spots.

 What can be done?

Tap known resources! As a communications consultant who managed multi-million dollar issue campaigns in the US, I would suggest Arezzo form a marketing-task-force that first identifies influential stakeholders and then targets them for their ideas and support. I have had dinner with Mayor Fanfani and coffee with the Press Officer for Arezzo Confcommercio, but unfortunately I was never been able to provide workshops or training sessions to provide strategies to key decision-makers. I wish I could have.

What else did we discover about Arezzo?

In spite of what some of them told me, I happily discovered that the Aretini are a warm and welcoming people.  While my daughter Lulu and I explored centro storico, we were surrounded by shop and restaurant owners who first, I think, were curious about the “crazy American woman who asked a lot of questions” (as a journalist, I am naturally curious about everything) and then, over time, have become friends and like family.  It would take too much time to name every person who positively impacted our lives, but needless to say, it is the Aretini spirit that prompted me to write the book published last year about our lovely adventures here, Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me. 

After three years, six-year-old Lulu is now fluent in the language but I am not.  However, I believe I became fluent in the Aretini soul.   I truly loved our time in Arezzo and I look forward to many happy returns!

Believing in Miracles.

I think you’re not a proper town in Italy, unless you’ve experienced a miracle. And, Arezzo, my friends, is a proper town! Its most famous miracle is celebrated every February 15 during a holiday named La Festa della Madonna del Conforto, so, naturally, Lulu and I joined in today’s festivities.

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The nexus is Arezzo’s duomo where hundreds of faithful climb the steps and line up for a glimpse of the miracle-worker enshrined inside the cathedral’s ornate chapel.

As Lulu and I ascend, we are almost step-in-step with the procession of white-cloaked clergy, including Arezzo’s long-time Bishop Gualtiero Bassetti, whom Pope Francis (or Papa Francesco as Lulu says) just appointed Cardinal last month.

Pretty impressive turnout!

The new Cardinal and entourage!
The new Cardinal and entourage!

 However, even more special and personal for us, is when, as I prepare to snap a photo of Lulu in front of the duomo, Arezzo’s mayor, Giuseppe Fanfani, snuck up behind and surprised Lulu with a Dracula-like envelope of his coat!

He’s a kind friend, who has graciously cooked and served us an amazing dinner at his home with his family, Zio Beppe (again, as Lulu says) takes a real shine to Lulu – and vice-versa.

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Lulu and Count Dracula, er, Arezzo’s kindly mayor, Giuseppe Fanfani!
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Lulu and Arezzo’s mayor, after an attendant has placed the ceremonial banner on him.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

But, as I mentioned, the main attraction lies inside the church, so inside we go.   The queue is a long-one and luckily Lulu has her sticker book which keeps her happily occupied.  

PicMonkey Collage

Finally, we near the flower-bedazzled chapel and there it is: a small glazed clay plaque with the likeness of Madonna, (Mamma di Gesu, as Lulu says) painted on it.  This is what all the fuss is about.

See the little glowing square in the center of the frame? That's her!
See the little glowing square in the center of the frame? That’s her!

The terracotta tile is Arezzo’s sacred protector, the Madonna del Conforto, or Madonna of Comfort.

The story goes that back in February 15, 1796, that plaque was just hanging out in some basement (directly above a stove that covered it in smoky grime) when a series of earthquakes threatened to damage the city.  A few people huddled in that very basement and began to pray. Then, the legend has it that the Madonna plaque suddenly began to glow brightly through its blanket of soot and those dangerous tremors ceased!

The plaque received a cleaning, polishing and place of honor in its prestigious current location, where today it seemed to glow again. The two times I quickly tried to snap a photo, I could never capture the famous face.

We're getting closer to the Madonna del Conforto, but my camera still didn't capture her face.
We’re getting closer to the Madonna del Conforto, but my camera still didn’t capture her face.

As we pass by the plaque’s flowerful shrine,  Lulu and I are sprinkled with holy water by the plaque’s presiding priest and we are each handed a little tract.

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“Okay, we did it,” Lulu says after dutifully crossing herself and exiting the cathedral.  “Now can we go get some candy?”

“Sure, let’s go,” I reply.

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Surrounding the base of Arezzo’s duomo are a ring of concession trailers selling an assortment of chocolates, nuts and Lulu’s favorites: gummies.

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“Yummy! I like the Madonna festa a lot!” Lulu exclaims holding her paper bag of chosen treats.

“But do you really believe that the little plaque glowed and stopped the earthquakes?”  I ask.

“It wasn’t the plaque, Mama, it was God,” Lulu sums up what I had apparently missed.

Because, more than the candies or the Cardinal, it’s that that brings the people here today to celebrate.

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Til next time, Gina

P.S. Got a miracle to share?  Made a pilgrimage?  Visited an inspirational shrine? Let us know! 

 Copyright 2014 Gina London.  All Rights Reserved.

Inspiration for the New Year!

Ciao tutti! – or since we’ve been in Paris for the past two weeks I should say -Salut!! Welcome to a BRAND NEW YEAR!

What resolutions have you made for 2014?  Or is this first Friday of the New Year already just another day?  Don’t let that happen!!  This year, I resolve to really cherish each day and focus on relationships: Business, family, friends, the grocery store clerk. Every relationship matters!

If you’re looking for a little inspiration this first weekend, I encourage you to carve out five minutes and watch this short video!

From Italian film-maker and dear friend Irene Cascini, it features a little girl (guess who), and her teddy bear in search of a dream.

If you’ve ever wanted to blast off to the stars in a hot pink rocket ship, this one’s for you!!

With love and encouragement for the best year ever –

Baci and Bisous, Gina

My Advent Calendar: Christmas ITALIAN Style

You know it’s Christmastime when the store fronts are covered in red, green, snowflakes, St. Nick (Babbo Natale here) and the like.

One of our favorite little family-run places on Arezzo's via Madonna del Prato
One of our favorite little family-run places on Arezzo’s via Madonna del Prato

All of our favorite restaurants, cafes and coffee shops are decorated with charming touches.  Coffee shops are really called “bars” here.  It never ceases to make me laugh to hear my six-year-old daughter say – like she did this morning before we walked to her school – “Can we first stop over at the bar?!?

I promise we’re only getting a pastry and sometimes I get a coffee – but never an alcoholic beverage – which they also sell – so the name really does make sense!  It’s all about the bar that you stand in front of to eat behind – not about the beverage.. Wonder why we Americans limit the word to the saloon-type establishments..

Anyway, you really know it’s holiday time when even the local butchers get into the spirit.  Here’s one of our neighborhood macelleria all festooned in holiday swag.

A meat cutter and decorator..
A meat cutter and decorator..

Time to get your Christmas on!

Buone feste, tutti!

Baci, Gina