Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Best Medicine

The gang's all here...the five of us in the piazza

Here are some pictures from last Sunday's day trip to nearby Recanati. We took Cyndi, Danilo, and Cyndi's mother Steph there with plans to see the local art museum and its famous Lorenzo Lotto paintings and spend a day in a medieval Le Marche hill town. We had a great time. From silly string in the main piazza (we decided to take part in the Carnevale festivities and spray school kids, and each other, with silly string) to a long walk through siesta-hour Recanati's charming streets, we got to enjoy the best of February's sunny weather in good company.

Like every time we see Danilo and Cyndi, we spent the majority of our day together laughing--from stupid jokes that only we would laugh at to funny stories to Danilo's great English puns (he dubbed me Yeky Doodle, for example). We split up after lunch--Antonello and Danilo being serious and heading toward the art museum, while Cyndi, Steph, and I bought our silly string at the only open store in town and headed for the main piazza to delcare carnvale war on 10-year-olds. In the end, covered in florescent green silly string and shaving cream (those Italian kids can be mean!) we met up with the boys in a coffee bar and headed back to our cars to say goodbye. The weekend--a fallen out window, a Mexican dinner, Mexican wedding cakes for breakfast, and a few hours wandering through Recanati--had flown by. We were tired and the sun was getting ready to set. We hugged goodbye and promised to meet up again soon.

And while we hope to show them more of Le Marche's crumbling hill towns and beautiful stretches of countryside in the future, Cyndi and Danilo have already offere that, next time, Antonello and I should head up north to visit them. Not sure if they are just afraid of our furniture falling out the window or simply want to avoid the five fights of stairs up to our house (both completely reasonable reasons, if you ask me), but we're happy to oblige. We look forward to coming up to your little corner of Emilia Romagna sometime soon, Cyndi and Danilo!

Four of us near Recanati's museum



Unlucky 13

Last Friday, the 17th, I mentioned to my fellow school teacher how superstitions in Italy are different from those in America. "For example," I said. "Friday the 17th is an unlucky day here, right?"

"Yes," she said. "And isn't the 13th unlucky for you?" I nodded that it was. She added, "For us, the number 13 is unlucky only for one thing."

"What?" I asked, interested.

"Dinners," she said. "If you have 13 people at a dinner, you should definitely invite one more person. You see, there were 13 people at the Last Supper in the Bible, making 13 people to dinner just plain bad luck."

Great, I thought. For, the day after, Antonello and I had a dinner party planned at our house. A big, Mexican fiesta dinner party. And there were going to be 13 of us. Hopefully, Saturday the 18th wasn't unlucky too.

The 11 guests we invited included our friends Cyndi and Danilo, and Cyndi's mom Steph (who is in Italy for the month visiting) from up near Ravenna, plus our Indian friends Sweety and her husband Ravin, plus their 10-year-old daughter Simi, and finally our friends Laura and Raffaella--Laura with her new boyfriend, and Raffaella with her husband, Rudi. Our 11th guest was Valentina, Antonello and my niece (Sandro's daughter), who wanted to come not just to sample the Mexican fare, but also to provide some company for her good friend Simi. I spent all afternoon preparing food, cleaning (with Antonello helping me!), and trying to rearrange our living room so that 13 of us could comfortably fit around our two tables. By 7:30 when our first guests arrived, I had made most of the dishes, but still had the mango margaritas, Spanish rice, taco meat, and flour tortilla crisps left.

Cyndi, Danilo, and Steph came early partly because I begged Cyndi to help me (okay, so I didn't really beg, but I was grateful when she offered to help!) and partly because they wanted to settle into the guestrooms a little early, since they were planning to spend the night. They came upstairs and we all greeted, happy to see each other and them grateful to have conquered five flights of stairs with their luggage in tow.

Everyone settled in, after a bit of confusion as to where the guest room was (Cyndi and Steph went straight to our bedroom to unpack, thinking it was the guest room--perhaps we had joked too much about asking Danilo to sleep on the balcony?) and then our unlucky, 13-people-at-dinner-curse came.

The bathroom window fell out.

Yes, I can joke with Corrie and Erin, of course, that instead of throwing bread out the window, we decided to just throw the WINDOW out the window, but the fact is, we didn't even know it happened. We got a buzz at the door with one our neighbors saying, "Um, we heard a noise. We think your window fell out. Or something." Antonello and Danilo hurried down to check, and, indeed, you could see our window--its large wooden frame and broken glass within--smack-dab in the middle of our first-floor-neighbors' garden. Cyndi, Steph, and I looked on in horror from the balcony of my bedroom, watching Antonello and Danilo gather around the window with our neighbor, looking at it with such awe as if an angel had fallen from heaven. After a bit, we decided maybe we shouldn't be on the balcony at all. Could it fall too? I didn't want to find out. We quickly went back inside.

After that, the evening went along quite well. Our unlucky broken window behind us, we went on cooking and setting the table, and getting things ready as the rest of the guests eventually arrived. While Steph and I manned the stove, Cyndi went ahead making delicious mango margaritas that even the kids wanted. ( Sweety, who never drinks alcohol, agreed enthusiastically to try our mango drink--apparently only realizing later that there was tequila in it!-- and she liked to so much that, as a result, she's going to teach me to make Mango Lassis!)

From Mexican cheese fondue to guacamole to cheese, onion and chile enchiladas, we ate and ate. I never know how these meals will go--some people aren't comfortable eating too many hot peppers, other people can't get enough. And sometimes Mexican food's complicated layers, taste upon taste of sauces and cheeses and crisp lettuce and spicy peppers, are too far removed from the simple elegance of a nice Italian meal, making our Italian guests less than satisfied. But that night, maybe it was the sweet start with the margaritas, everyone seemed happy and eager to try each dish that was brought out, even when it was clear that we were all full and barely capable of taking another bite. People tried things they had never tried before--avocados and jalapenos, even pickled cactus! The only unhappy soul was Raffaella's husband Rudi who, at the start of the meal, bit into a really hot jalapeno pepper--seeds and all--and almost cried. He was unwilling to look at anything spicy from then on. (I did succeed in convincing him to try an enchilada, but only after saying that it was quite similar to cannelloni!)

The evening ended with laughter, conversation and, of course, dessert: Mexican weddings cakes that Cyndi brought, Indian sweet cakes that Sweety brought, and chocolate-covered profiteroles that Raffaella brought. It was the right ending to an evening of people coming together to celebrate their differences. Rudi, ready to start anew, tried all of the desserts and, much to his relief, enjoyed them all--even timidly reaching for seconds--as he finally found something he could eat (no hot peppers in these!). All of the sweets were delicious, and we enjoyed them, and each other's company, together. The night felt perfect closing in the Italian way--letting the evening linger on until the latest hours of the night, drinking our espressos, chatting and laughing together. We said goodbye with yawns, and hugs and kisses, handing out leftovers and promising to make a habit of Mexican dinners in the future ("We'll make pasta for you," I told Rudi, before he could protest). As people went home that night and we began to clean up, I thought back on the night's events. Despite the fallen window, there had been many good things, and many good friends. In the end, the dinner party didn't feel unlucky at all.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Proud Sister

My brother Paul has taken to photography in the past few years, and just recently he got himself a professional grade camera (I want one too!). His photographs are artistic, interesting, and constantly getting better (for our 4th wedding, maybe we can just hire HIM to be our wedding photographer!).

On Friday, his photography was posted over at Gaper's Block, an online Chicago publication of Chicago-based news and events. Rearview is their photolog, with daily-chosen photos. Maybe we will see more of his stuff there soon?

Check out some of my brother's other photojournals over at The Long Trip Home, one of my favorites is this one.

Great job, Paul!


oh, if anyone is still wondering about the 4th wedding, that was simply a joke. Three weddings were enough!

Monday, February 20, 2006

I STILL have soup

Three guess what I did today... I made soup!

Tomorrow I'm headed to the 1840s farmhouse museum near Richmond for a hearth cooking program with local high school students. I know I thought bonnets were cool when I was in high school. Hopefully the kids these days will think so, too? Even if not, I have more than just soup to impress them. "I have rice bread and marlboro pudding...AND soup!"


Sunday, February 19, 2006

Thrilling, just thrilling

Daily happenings as of late have been thrilling, just thrilling. (Have they designed a :-) to signify sarcasm?) Filing taxes for a nonprofit organization, building databases for data entry projects, and updating virus protection software have been just a few of the recent high points.

So when Eric (the one-legged wonder who owns a possessed car) called with cabin fever, the most exciting offering I could make was, "I have soup!"

Having soup isn't an activity. The verb isn't even an active one. It's just a declarative statement. But it was the most exciting solution to cabin fever that I could muster. Sorry, Eric.