Friday, September 30, 2005

New look

Not so much an identity crisis as look. We're still writing those formal tomes from our omniscient lifestyles (Allora, aspetta!), just the look has changed. I would never be mad, Jackie! I like the more reader-friendly side bar of this look and enabling comments is fun (even if they're from anonymous genre fiction writers or music advertisers). :-)


Thursday, September 29, 2005

Identity Crisis

As you can see, the face of Allora Aspetta has changed. Corrie--please don't be mad! This new page is actually just a test (unless someone likes it! comment if you do (or don't)!) so that I could get comments back. Somehow, the other template decided to completely eat all of the comments. Anyway, please be patient with us (er, me. This isn't Corrie's fault at all!)! We need to add links up again as well.

BUT, comments are back! :)


Easy as...Pie?

First off, I'd like to say that whoever came up with that expression has never actually made a pie. I, instead, have struggled through four pies, and they are not easy at all. The first pie, a Thanksgiving pie made for our Italian caving group last year, went okay. It was an apple pie, and while it wasn't the prettiest pie ever, it tasted reasonably good. Okay, so the bottom was soggy, the crust was falling off, and I almost dropped the pie as I took it into the caving meeting. But still, the apple filling tasted like it should.

The second pie was a complete failure, and I am still not sure exactly what went wrong. It was a peach pie that I decided to make for my friend Karoline and my ethnic bake sale in her town of Sant' Angelo in Pontano. Yes, Canadian and American food is considered ethnic here, so we signed up for a booth at the first annual Multicultural fest. After having spent most of the evening baking brownies, lemon cookies, chocolate chip, and more, I set out to make a peach pie. The bottom crust was not a complete disaster, but the lattice top was. I gave up on that and, instead of cutting nice strips to basket-weave over the pie, I decided to roll up long pieces of dough into a makeshift lattice top instead. It was a failure. It never baked all of the way through, and the rolled up dough tasted horrible.

That was when I made my third pie, a quick, thrown-together keylime to compensate for my missing peach pie. The crust crumbled way too much, and the meringue top was thin, lopsided and sticky. Still, I sold it at the bakesale anyway, and, to my surprise, unknowing Italians bought it. No one came back for seconds, however.

So yesterday, when I sat down to peel apples and restart the process of pie making this year, I made sure I had a complete day's time to bake my hopeful masterpiece. Wednesday is currently my day off, so I spent part of the morning and much of the afternoon at work in the kitchen, slicing up apples and rolling dough. I was determined this would work, and I took my time rolling the dough just right, cutting the apples finely enough, and reading the recipe--carefully. Twice, I almost panicked but resolved it by calling my mother to ask her advice--how do I make the crust look nice? Why is the pie so sickly looking--do I need to brush it with egg? My mother, patient as always, helped me through these tough situations, and eventually I had baked my fourth pie.

And while I was tempted to cut a piece of it immediately, to taste it and, if neccessary, throw it out and cover any evidence that it once existed, I decided to wait. That night was our weekly caving meeting, and I had been impressing new cavers with my American desserts (oatmeal cookies and lemon bars!), so the pie would make its debut there. But I kept thinking--what would the Italians think if it tasted all wrong? How could I cover up my current dessert-making success? Still, I waited, eyeing the pie for the rest of the afternoon, wondering if anyone would miss just a sliver.

The caving meeting arrived, and as the lesson portion concluded, I went back to begin cutting the pie. Various cavers, curious at this strange looking cake, began asking what it was. "Apple pie," I said, not even attempting to translate it.

"Hepple pie?" they responded.

"Yes," I said, wondering what a hepple was.

Still, it went over quite well. Some people had heard of pie, and some people remembered last year's Thanksgiving attempt. As I handed out slices of pie (Antonello's cousin, and new caving student Daniele even asked in (almost) English: "A piece of Hepple Pie please?"), I heard people happily munching away, enjoying the American treat. I had done a better job this time--the pie was a beautiful golden brown (egg wash), the crust was pinched and twisted into a pretty shape (mom's advice), and the bottom crust was not too soggy. Some people wanted the recipe, others were delighted by the taste of cinnamon, something not common in Italian desserts, and I, after tasting it, was particularly happy with the flavor of the apples, since I had been worried that I had not added enough sugar. This was the best pie I'd made yet, I thought, taking another bite.

Then Daniele said, "It's really good. I like it a lot." And as he shoveled a messy piece of it into his mouth with his fingers, he added, "one thing though--it's kind of a mess to eat."

"Oh no!" I said. I immediately began to pass out the forks.


Cyndi and 'The Italian'

The other day, I got an email from my friend Cyndi, an American (actually from Indiana like me) who lives in Emilia Romagna. In her email, she included her new blog: Reboot, A New Life in Italy. She is good at keeping a blog, as this, her (almost) daily blog details her adventures with her cats (Opus and Roscoe) and her husband Danilo, who she affectionately dubs 'The Italian.'

Enjoy her new blog! While Cyndi lives relatively close to us (about three hours), we don't see Danilo and her as often as we'd like. Hopefully the blog will be a good chance to keep up with her life, and all of the 'ordinary Italian things' which, from an American's perspective, take on a whole new light :).


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sotto Terra

It's still amazing to me that I have been a part of Macerata's annual spelunking course for three years now. It was four years ago that I took the course myself, as a new student, fumbling my way through introductions, geology lessons, practical information, and eventually, hours in Le Marche caves, climbing up and down ropes in pure darkness, wondering exactly what I had gotten myself into. In those days, my Italian was fortunately bad enough that I didn't know the difference between thirteen and thirty meters of rope-climbing, and my complete ignorance made me up for anything. I remember, as instructors would describe in detail the complexities of an upcoming caving excursion, the rest of my classmates watched on in horror as they described gravity-defying drops and endless black tunnels and the lakes of water that we'd have to trudge through. I, clueless, would raise my hand half-way through and say, stumbling over my italian, "do I need to pack a sack lunch?"

Last year I felt I really got to know the caves, since finally my Italian was good enough to actually follow the lessons. I would sit through all of the lessons which I had sat through before, but this time I would look on, fascinated, as the other instructors explained geologic formations, photographic techniques, the history behind the caves in Italy. At the end of the evening, when Antonello and I were driving home, I would say, "That was really interesting. I didn't know that caves were formed like that." He'd turn to me and laugh. "But you learned all of this already, didn't you? You took the course before!" I would just smile. Apparently my complete lack of understanding had gone relatively unnoticed the first time around.

Now it's my second year as an instructor's helper, and I feel like I have a certain amount of authority when it comes to caving in Italy. I have survived many a caving trip now, and I have caving gear, a helmet and caving suit that are good and muddy--a sure sign that there is a bit of la grotta flowing through my veins. I've come far enough as a spelunker to know my weaknesses and strengths, to know the difference between the different rock formations, to understand what I like about caving, and what I don't. Each year, as the caving course begins again, I always find it a bit of a pleasure as students approach me and ask me for help suiting up, help learning how to use this bit of gear or that one, help moving from one rope to another. I, the American of the group, have learned how to cave in Italian, and my caving vocabulary is limited to Italian words, gear that I only know the name of in Italian, even techniques that I can't describe for the life of me in English.

Sunday was our first cave, Cinque Laghi (Five Lakes) up near Fano, and even after three years, I found things in this rather basic cave to be challenging. But it was my first time in months returning to a cave as a spelunker, and hopping into the coldest waist deep water, shimmying through tunnels the size of the trunk of a car, and climbing up slippery, muddy limestone rock made me feel like I was a part of something special, something bigger than me.

Afterwards, when we had clambered out of the cave and into a sunny meadow in the mountains, all of the new students taking the course gathered around with our resident psychologist and discussed their first cave. I listened along with them, interested to hear their experiences: those first feelings of being in pure darkness, of claustrophobia, of bats and bugs and sticky mud, of something brand new and different. The psychologist, in his deep wisdom, said, "And isn't this true with caves--that you can't really compare them to anything. They don't exist in our every day world. The sensations you feel in a cave don’t happen anywhere else."

Maybe that is true, I thought, having never entertained the idea before. I hugged my muddy knees and rested my helmet on the ground. It had been a long day, and I was tired, yet happy. I felt like a beginner again, after three full years.