Bends in the Road: From Arezzo, Italy to Cork, Ireland to Lagos, Nigeria in less than a week!

It’s almost too easy.

For the last five days, since we first landed in Cork, Ireland, from our former adopted home-town of Arezzo, Italy – we have been greeted by helpful, warm and chatty people.  It was much the same way with the terrific people in Tuscany, but the language hurdles naturally made our adjustment into that region more complicated.

Our first neighbors in Arezzo when we moved there 3 years ago - and who drove us to the Pisa Airport this weekend! Grazie Famiglia Tanci!!
Our first neighbors in Arezzo when we moved there 3 years ago – and who drove us to the Pisa Airport this weekend! Grazie Famiglia Tanci!!
This week we arrived in Cork, Ireland.
This week we arrived in Cork, Ireland.

Here, if I soften my “a” when I ask for “to-mah-toes” or bring the American silent “h” to life in “herbs,” I’m pretty much all set.  Oh, and they take out the “h” all together and say “tank-you” instead of “thank you.”  “Tank you very much.”  But, really, it is almost strange to be hearing English everywhere again.   I miss Italian with its bright “Buongiorno’s” and “Ciao’s.”

Last night, Lulu turned to me and agreed.  “I miss speaking Italian,” she said.

“Well, you can speak to me if you’d like,” I responded in what I thought was a helpful way.

“I miss speaking  to my friends who can speak back to me properly,” she countered.

Of course Lulu,  after three years in Italian schools, has a point.  She and all of her friends spoke Italian every single day fluently.  Not the stammering version I utter.  It must be hardest on her.

That said, we enjoyed our week here in Ireland.  It was surprisingly quite sunny as we toured Scotty’s new university, Lulu’s new elementary school, and strolled along the Lee River that splits in two and runs through Cork.

University College of  Cork
University College of Cork
Cork and the River Lee and sun so bright Lulu could only squint!
Cork and the River Lee and sun so bright Lulu could only squint!

Cork’s residents are charming and rightfully proud of their heritage.   Lulu and I were even given a tour of the city by our new friend Fionnuala Mac Curtain.  Her grandfather, Tomás MacCurtain, was Lord Mayor of Cork in 1920, who was horribly killed by the British Army in front of his pregnant wife and their young son who later grew to become Fionnuala’s father.   She gave me a copy of the book she wrote about her grandfather. I am honored to receive it and plan to read it on the plane tomorrow to Nigeria.

A poignant book I am sure.
A poignant book I am sure.

Yes, Nigeria.  I am flying to Lagos tomorrow to conduct a series of communications sessions and seminars for the next six weeks (For more information, check out the Find Your Edge website!).

Many friends have urged me to keep safe as I travel to Africa.  I certainly hope to! I’ll be staying at the best hotel in Nigeria: The Wheatbaker (thanks Find Your Edge team!); All vaccinations are in order (thanks Scotty Walsh); and I am registered with the State Department (thanks US Embassy in Nigeria). I hope it will be a valuable experience for the participants, the team and myself!

These banners proclaiming my conference are now outside the Wheatbaker Hotel in Lagos!  Cool and humbling.
These banners proclaiming my conference are now outside the Wheatbaker Hotel in Lagos! Cool and humbling.

I said goodbye to Lulu and Scotty earlier today as they flew back to the US to be with his family in Washington State.  It will be the longest time I have been away from our daughter since she was born.

As we trekked to our hotel near the airport yesterday, Lulu stopped to pick a few little flowers growing along the sidewalk.

“These are for you so you won’t forget me while we’re apart.”

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I won’t forget you my angel.  I also won’t forget all the incredible people we met in Italy – and are now meeting here in Ireland.  I look forward to the people I will have the privilege of meeting in Nigeria, too.

Around every bend, and in spite of the differences, the world is filled with promise and adventure.

A warm embrace to you all!

Gina

 

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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. 8 days to go. Pazzi for Il Pozzo Pizza!

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Last night we went to one of our favorite places – the lovely Tuscany country inn – “Il Pozzo” for a pizza-making party – hosted by our awesome friend and the coolest inn-keeper in all of Italy – probably the world – Carla Veneri!

The one, the only, Carla Veneri!
The one, the only, Carla Veneri!

Of course, Italy is synonymous with pizza, but with Carla, you get more; it’s a real hands-on experience!

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Olivia, Mateo, Matilde, Eduardo, Ludovica and of course, Lulu were all provided wooden boards, flour, yeast, water and salt.  They dug in, pouring, stirring and rolling – as I marveled how those few simple ingredients combine to make such a tasty crust.

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As the children marched outside – carrying their rolled-out crusts over to Il Pozzo’s stone oven, (manned by their indomitable chief handy-man and chef, Carlo) I realized that maybe it’s more than the ingredients; it is also the smoky flavor and crisp texture the oven’s wood-sparked flames provide that make the “That’s Italian” difference.

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The final result, as you can see but unfortunately cannot taste, was perfect. Topped with tangy tomato sauce, cheese and whatever-other-delectables-you-can-imagine, we happily munched away!

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And, as with every gathering over which Carla presides, laughter and fun are always served up alongside.

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This was our last visit to this glorious, breath-taking 500-year-old farmhouse set among Tuscany’s rollling hills.  For this time around.  I know it won’t be our last.

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We love Il Pozzo. We love you Carla.

Un grande baccino!
We love you, Carla!

And we love Pizza!

Baci, Gina

Copyright 2014 Gina London.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Countdown to Departure from Italy. 22 Days to Go.

It’s no baloney, mortadella is something we will definitely miss when we leave Arezzo.

It bears a resemblance to our American Oscar Mayer type variety, but make no mistake, the Italian version is much richer, tastier and, I think, purer.   Lulu’s refined tastes go even further.  She often says, as she gets a free sample of the Italian sausage from our favorite butcher in town, “It’s not mortadella, if it’s not Alfredo’s mortadella.”

Lulu and Alfredo - and the mortadella!
Lulu and Alfredo – and the mortadella!

You can find mortadella and its delicious piggy sausage cousins, like salami and finocchiona – and this eye-catching and full-bodied roasted and stuffed suckling-pig known as porchetta throughout Tuscany.

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It took me a while to get used to being, er, face, to face – leg or snout – with so much meat.  In fact, seeing the sequoia- sized logs of pork – like this photo I snapped yesterday at our supermarket –

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– prompted me to write the following essay – as excerpted from my book about our adventures here in Tuscany, Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me. 

So, the day we walked into our supermercato and saw the grand-daddy of all salumi on display, I’m not exactly sure if it might also have been from the subset, salami, but Lulu and I agreed, it was HUGE.

To better paint this image, let me explain that I like to call this store “the Disco,” because invariably there is some old dance party music thumping through its stereo system. And on this particular day, “Super Freak” greeted us as the automatic glass doors slid open.

“She’s a very kinky girl. The kind you don’t take home to mother”

 Lulu was laughing as I began bopping and singing along with Rick James while I pushed our cart.  We first arrived at the pasta and bread aisles.

“She will never let your spirits down. Once you get her off the street”

Then we turned the corner to the fresh produce area to select some veggies.

She’s all right, she’s all right, That girl’s all right, with me, yeah”

And then.  Then it happened.  We rounded into our final stop.  The pork section.  And there it was.

A ginormous 12 foot by 2 foot long, brick-red shaft of cured pork was stretched out on a wooden table like a, er, telephone pole.  Customers were all crowding around it while a grocery store associate wearing a blue and white striped apron and a little white paper hat delicately shaved off thin slices and handed them out.

It was massive.  I had never seen anything like it before.  Clearly neither had Lulu.  She pointed to it and yelled at me, “Mama!  Look! A giant meat rocket!”

That was it.  Lulu’s innocent, yet illicit, innuendo, combined with Rick James’ freaky song blaring over the store’s speakers, was just too much for me.

“She’s a Super Freak, Super Freak.  She’s super freaky. Yow”

Lulu wanted us to get a sample, but I had turned into a junior high school student.  I was laughing so hard at the improbable combination of sights and sounds that I couldn’t bring myself to wait in line for a taste of the meat rocket, er telephone pole, er, straighten up, Gina –  salami.

But after almost three years here in Tuscany, I am more than used to the popularity of pork. I am fond of it.   And as we prepare to depart Italy for Ireland, I must prepare to have the pork make way for… er, potatoes?

With love of food everywhere,

Gina

P.S. What are your region’s specialties? Like ’em? Love ’em?

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

 

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.

Ah, Siena.

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The look up through the courtyard of Siena’s town hall museum to the country’s large clock tower. Yes. we climbed it!

Gorgeous bright blue sun-filled skies overhead greeted us as we arrived to Siena this weekend. Although our adopted hometown of Arezzo is less than 50 miles away from its Tuscan neighbor to the southwest, we had never made the trip. Probably because you have to get there by bus, rather than train.

We arrived in the morning and immediately set out to find the Piazza Campo.

Bar il Palio -named after the famous madcap horse race that zooms around this piazza twice a year.
We had coffee/Fanta at Bar il Palio -named after the famous madcap horse race that zooms around this piazza twice a year.

I had a macchiato (and Lulu had a Fanta) at one of the many cafe’s that surround its perimeter.  The impressive slanted piazza spreads out like an amphitheater toward it iconic clock-tower and town hall.

Then we bravely decided to climb the 14th Torre del Mangia clock tower – named after its first watchman who apparently spent all his money eating (“mangia” means “eat” fyi).

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Narrow, marble and slippery, the stairs seemed to go on forever.  But, Lulu and I both made it safely to the top where the magnificent views awaited.

Here's Bar il Palio as seen from the top of the bell tower!
Here’s Bar il Palio as seen from the top of the bell tower!

The clear skies allowed us to see for great distances,

Lulu looking out across Siena
Lulu looking out across Siena
..and here's her view
..and here’s her view

but needless to say since it is still January, it was quite windy and cold at the top.

We carefully descended the stairs, toured the museum next door and then found a cozy restaurant nearby.  After lunch, we went over to the duomo and stared at the incredibly animated carvings on the outside.

The photo doesn't do Siena's duomo (cathedral) justice. The animated carvings are non-stop!
The photo doesn’t do Siena’s duomo (cathedral) justice. The animated carvings are non-stop!

We almost didn’t go in. But I am soooo glad that we did.  Inside – with the striped columns and staring down at you busts of ancient popes – it’s Tim Burton meets Disney’s Haunted Mansion.

Honestly, I have been in hundreds of ancient churches. This one is like Tim Burton meets Disney's Haunted Mansion. Super cool.
Honestly, I have been in hundreds of ancient churches. This one is like Tim Burton meets Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Super cool.

I kept craning my head upward and waited for one of those sneering pope busts to burst into a song (or a sentencing) for me.

Yes, the tight shot is blurry. I couldn't hold the camera steady enough. But trust me, these leering popes are eerie and awesome at the same time!
Yes, the tight shot is blurry. I couldn’t hold the camera steady enough. But trust me, these leering popes are eerie and awesome at the same time!

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But none of the popes started singing.

We popped back on the bus without a moment to spare at quarter to four.  Having packed in everything we could during our day, I know one thing for certain:  One day in Siena is not enough.

Fortunately we live close enough that we can visit again.  And we must!

Grazie, Siena –

A la prossima volta,

Gina

Have you been to Siena? When? What special thing did you find? 

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

My Advent Calendar: Christmas ITALIAN Style!

Arezzo's Porta San Lorentino this week.
Arezzo‘s Porta San Lorentino this week.

Let there be lights!!

Arezzo, our adopted hometown here in Tuscany, like so many other cities around the world, is now awash in festive holiday lights.

While our little medieval town may not have the budget, say, of a New York or London, its light display gets an added boost simply by the fact that the twinkling orbs are framed by 500-year-old stone buildings or archways.

Above you in the photo, is the ancient gateway into the town’s historic center – or just the same old same old path that Lulu and I walk to and from twice a week to get from our house to her dance lessons.  Just your run-of-the-mill-Medici portal!!! 😉

So, even though there may not be a myriad of colors or dazzling animatronic window displays, Arezzo’s quaint sparkles charm both Lulu and me and remind us of the long-held and wonderful holiday of which we are celebrating.

Lights, Lights, Luci!  And Lulu!
Lights, Lights, Luci! And Lulu!

Buone Feste, tutti!!

Baci, Gina

P.S.  I remember back in the States queuing and waiting.. to drive through certain spandangled neighborhoods…  Any special warm holiday light displays where you are?