Countdown to Departure – 26 days left.

Only 26 days remain that I can call Italy our home!

So, during the time that we have left, I am going to wrap my arms and mind around as many places, friends and memories that I can and share them with you!

Italy is known for its cafe espresso (make mine a cafe machiatto) and one of the most spacious and comfortable places to sip a coffee and chat with friends is at Bar Stefano along Arezzo‘s Corso Italia.

The original cafe's name still is overhead, but this lovely welcoming cafe is now known as Bar Stefano.
The original cafe’s name still is overhead, but this lovely welcoming cafe is now known as Bar Stefano.

For the first year, the sign was there but the space sat empty – waiting for the beautiful remodeling to take place.  And since its doors reopened wide about two years ago, Lulu has enjoyed taking time deliberating over which of their delicious variety of goodies she is going to nibble on.

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This time biscotti won. But we’ve also tasted the cakes, the ice cream, the salads (okay, only I tasted those) and sometimes Silvia gives me a little piece of dark chocolate, or cioccolato fondente, for free.

Massimo even gave me eight extra chocolate eggs to tuck into Lulu’s Easter/Pasqua basket last month.

Simonetta is always behind the bar- ready to serve up whatever coffee-infused beverage – or freshly squeezed orange juice, spremuta, you prefer.

Their broad smiles make you feel welcome the moment you come through the double glass doors and look up at the giant chandelier and down at the black and white checkered floor.

I keep forgetting to ask Massimo who the “Stefano” is that the bar (they call coffee shops “bars” here in Italy, by the way) is named after, but once I did ask him who the owner was.

“The bank!” was his reply.

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So, with love and gratitude for everything during our wonderful stay in Arezzo, this one is for the gang from Bar Stefano.  Here’s to you: Massimo and Simonetta and Silvia!

Our Bar Stefano family!
Our Bar Stefano family!

Con ringraziamente! 

Baci, Gina

P.S. And don’t forget, while we may be leaving our adopted home, you are always welcome to visit Arezzo. Tell them, Gina and Lulu sent you.

@Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

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My Advent Calendar – Christmas ITALIAN Style! Too Much Pasta for Santa?!

Today’s delightful Advent Calendar Post features an excerpt from my bookBecause I’m Small Now and You Love Me —  just released this year and full of cross-cultural adventures in parenting and living in Italy.

This, from chapter twenty, is especially fitting for the Christmas season as it explores our daughter Lulu’s deep concern for what she believes is a potentially BIG problem with Santa Claus!

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Excerpted from “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me”

IN THE UNITED STATES, of course, he’s known as Santa Claus. When we lived in France, Lulu called him Père Noël, and now here in Italy, he is adorably known as Babbo Natale. I say “adorably” because the word “babbo” is a very special Tuscan contribution that doesn’t translate simply as “father.” It has a more endearing and intimate meaning, like “daddy.” Therefore, the Italian holiday gift-giver isn’t “Father Christmas,” he’s “Daddy Christmas.”

“He’s also “extremely chubby,” Lulu said one December day. And it was true.

As Arezzo shopkeepers started putting up their holiday decorations around the Corso Italia and other roads within the town’s medieval historic center, all the red-costumed, white-bearded Babbos’ protruded, paunchy tummies were just like the image of our American, jolly old elf made famous by Clement Moore, Thomas Nast, and the Coca-Cola company. We were standing outside of the Rustica Bottega Toscana watching a large, animated Santa Claus, er, Babbo Natale, play the saxophone.

“He must eat a lot of pasta,” Lulu observed. “And gelato.” I had been working on Lulu to try to get her to eat more “healthy foods,” and I admit I had mentioned that a daily diet of ice cream or spaghetti with butter and parmesan would not help her grow fit and strong, but could make her become soft and “chubby.” I didn’t want to give her a complex, but I did want to stress “you are what you eat.” With her observation about the apparent poor eating habits of this robotic Santa, it appeared she’d received the message.

“Mama, is it true,” Lulu began, “that if you are too chubby, your heart will get squeezed and you will get dead?”

“Well, yes, Lulu,” I replied, not sure where I was going to go with this. I mean, I had never said that being overweight made someone a bad person, just that it was unhealthy. But, how do I balance the conflicting concepts that an obese old man—who obviously has not been making good eating choices—was still wise and wonderful enough to deliver toys to all the good little girls and boys of the world?

“It’s true that it can be dangerous for your heart if you are too chubby, and so I think Santa, er, Babbo Natale, is probably on a diet.”

“That’s good, Mama,” Lulu looked visibly relieved. “I don’t want Babbo Natale to die.”

I knew it. She was afraid the old man might keel over before he could fly around the world and bring her her loot.

“He’s not going to die, Lulu,” I said. “Santa Claus, er, sheesh, Babbo Natale, whatever his name is, is going to live for a long, long time. I don’t think he’ll ever die.”

“He will if he keeps eating everything bad for his body,” Lulu said.

That night Scotty helped Lulu write Babbo Natale a letter. Lulu dictated and Scotty wrote. First, she requested that Babbo bring her a snake, and then she asked, “Are you eating anything healthy to help you get skinny?”

*      *      * 

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—- We’ll stop for now… but burning questions remain!! Will obese Santa die an untimely death? Will he take Lulu’s advice and go on a diet?!? To find out what happens to Lulu and “Babbo Natale,” please zip over to Amazon and buy my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me.”  Adventures in parenting – and Italy!

Buone Feste, Tutti,

Baci, Gina!

P.S.  If you buy my book, please let me know and I’ll mail you an autographed – by me and Lulu – bookmark! There’s still time to get them for thoughtful Christmas gift-giving! Grazie!!!

How to host a Perfect Autumn Picnic

The days are getting shorter and the weather is getting cooler.  But if you hurry, and take these handy tips I learned yesterday, you can take advantage of the last few remaining precious warm weekends to host a delightful outdoor lunch for you and your friends.  

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1.       Have each guest bring a dish.   You’ll save yourself the trouble of cooking for a crowd and get more variety and flavor if everyone  brings something to eat.  It helps if you have some gourmands in your group, like we did, who enjoy making pans of lasagna and roasted turkey breasts wrapped in pancetta.

Yes, that's a clean diaper in the foreground! It was a family affair..
Yes, that’s a clean diaper in the foreground! It was a family affair..

2.       Have each guest bring something to drink.  An assortment of beverages always makes a picnic more refreshing.  As you can see, our assortment ranged from orange Fanta – to a certain shade of red.

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3.       Make sure there’s plenty of seating.  If you don’t have a picnic table, no problem.  Have your friends carry over some benches or chairs.  And you can also spread out an assortment of blankets.

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4. Scatter some stone buildings about .   Even more than the weather, warm ambience can be created by adding in some ancient buildings. The converted farm and stall buildings here were more than 500 years old, so that’s pretty good.

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5. Fly to Tuscany.  The best picnics are in the countryside, right?  Here in Capolona, just a couple of miles outside of our adopted hometown of Arezzo, you’ll find a lovely verdant setting – complete with mandatory rolling hills and olive trees.

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Well, that’s about it! Hope you learned a little something.   Next time you’re thinking picnic, you’re covered.  Or, you can just call Carla Veneri, our gracious host from yesterday’s feast, and the terrific innkeeper at Il Pozzo – She can arrange it all for you as her guest!

Our terrific friend and host Carla! - and me.
Our terrific friend and host Carla! – and me.

Baci from Tuscany – Here’s to your next great picnic – wherever it is, I’m sure it will be great!

Gina

AREZZO’S GIOSTRA DEL SARACINO an insider’s visit to a little-known medieval festival in the heart of Tuscany

If you’ve ever imagined you were a princess in a castle or a knight on a galloping steed, Arezzo’s Giostra del Saracino, is for you!

It’s today at five o’clock and the city wonderfully has given us seats in the Stampa or Journalists’ section.  If you can’t make it, here’s what you’re missing!

The ominous sound of drums reverberates in the distance.  Soon a blast of trumpets joins the beat.   The powerful music, played by a procession of men wearing vibrant tights, short black boots, and long colorful tunics, heralds the arrival of La Giostra del Saracino, the bi-annual jousting festival in Arezzo, our adopted hometown, just 50 miles southeast of Florence, in the heart of Tuscany.

A Giostra musician stands under the clock tower in Arezzo's Piazza della Liberta. Photo by Massimo Di  Gorga
A Giostra musician stands under the clock tower in Arezzo’s Piazza della Liberta. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga

Every June and September, this medieval-walled town steps back into time to celebrate the Middle Ages when knights of the Crusades dashed off to vanquish the Saracini , otherwise known as Infidels or Saracens.

Tournaments were held frequently between the 16th and 17th centuries and then more sporadically during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Now, since 1931, the competition is a regular event that evokes powerful  rivalries among residents and visitors alike as four neighborhood  teams, or quartieri, aim to win the coveted Lancia d’Oro or Lance of Gold.

The "Lancia d'Oro" arrives in Piazza Grande at the start of Arezzo's Giostra Tournament.  Photo by Massimo Di Gorga
The “Lancia d’Oro” arrives in Piazza Grande at the start of Arezzo’s Giostra Tournament. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga

As an American now living here in Arezzo, I’ve been fortunate to attend the joust three times, once as a personal guest of Mayor Giuseppe Fanfani, as Piazza Grande, or Grand Plaza, is transformed into a spectator-filled joust field.  Each neighborhood 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.”

A knight from Porta Santo Spirito rides toward "Buratto," the score shield holding infidel.  Photo by Massimo Di Gorga.
A knight from Porta Santo Spirito rides toward “Buratto,” the score shield holding infidel. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga.

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.

The whites of Buratto's eyes with Arezzo's 13th century clocktower in the background. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga
The whites of Buratto’s eyes with Arezzo’s 13th century clocktower in the background. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga

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.

Knight from Porta del Foro charges toward Buratto. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga
Knight from Porta del Foro charges toward Buratto. Photo by Massimo Di Gorga

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.

The thrill of victory! Photo by Massimo Di Gorga
The thrill of victory! Photo by Massimo Di Gorga

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.  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 a rock concert than a prayerful service.

And that, my friends, is because Arezzo’s Giostra del Saracino Rocks!

See you next year here in Arezzo!

Let me know when you’re coming.

Baci, Gina

To learn more about Arezzo and its dramatic joust festival, buy my book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me.” You won’t regret it!