Saturday, October 20, 2007

Let's Go Exploring

It's kind of rainy and dark outside, but there's magic out there somewhere. Antonello and I are heading for the hills around lunchtime for a day and a half of exploring. We promised that we wouldn't pick out a destination until we were in the car, our bags loaded into the trunk, headed this way or that. It's a surprise adventure and, since I'm so good at getting lost in this country, I'm sure we'll have no problem surprising ourselves :) .

Here's to a good weekend of discovery and fun!


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

October Birthdays

This is a crazy month for birthdays, and this week is especially birthday-ful. Happy Birthday to my brother-in-law Sandro, who celebrated his birthday yesterday at our house. We ordered Chinese food and I made carrot cake, and we all watched episodes from the last season of Gilmore Girls which is just airing now in Italy--Una Mamma Per Amica--with my niece Valentina and our friend's daughter, Simi (the party was kinda big for a Tuesday night, I'd say!). Needless-to-say, we've got a ton of leftovers! I guess that's lunch for today. Anyway, happy birthday Sandro--I hope you enjoyed the celebration!

And--happy birthday today to my Aunt Jing, back in Indianapolis, and my friend Susan, who lives in New York! I hope that both of you have wonderful birthdays, and I wish I could be there to celebrate with you!


Monday, October 15, 2007

Macerata Monday: Study Hall

Macerata is a university town, and since it isn't a very BIG town, the university plays a huge role in the fabric of the place. As a teacher, many of my students are university students, and the nightlife is made up of university bars and hangouts. I studied here myself as a university student nine years ago, and the faces that I remember from that period, the Italians that I spent time getting to know--many of them are long gone, off to pursue greater careers, or perhaps, like many Italians do, return to their hometowns and look for work there.

I haven't taken many pictures of the University, but I really should, since it was my first connection with the city, all those years ago. This building, while I never studied there myself, held Italian lessons for some of my classmates when I was a student here. I remember this building most, though, as where I would go four years back to check email before I had a phone line (back when I lived in the "the cave."). Needless-to-say, it's one of those buildings I pass every day on my walk to work, and there are always students standing outside, or in front of nearby Bar Firenze, now that the University school year has begun.

Happy Macerata Monday! I am extremely tired after a long day of work (another 10-day intensive course has started up, and I'm having a hard time staying awake!).


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Falling for Autumn (and new cheeses!)

Autumn is not my favorite season in Italy. I prefer summer, sometimes spring, but autumn, no. It's kind of sad, really, since it is my favorite season in the states. In fact, it's a season I just love in Indiana, with the beauty of the changing colors of the leaves all around--in the middle of the city and in the hills further south. I love apple orchards that open their doors with fresh apple cider and caramel apples. I love the start of the football season. I love bonfires and hayrides, even if it's been years since I've done either of those things. I love the holidays, my favorite being Thanksgiving. The feeling of being around family, sitting down together to enjoy the flavors of the season. And I love the memories I have from autumns past. It's a wonderful season.

My autumns in Italy have always been a bit of a disappointment. Besides the obvious lack of American football, hayrides and bonfires, and holidays like Thanksgiving, autumn in Italy tends to be a rainy, foggy season, and the changing colors of the leaves tend to be mostly an ugly dark brown, no beautiful yellows or oranges or reds. Part of it must be the area we live in--I've seen beautiful autumn leaves in areas of Lombardia, and we've even driven around to find some of the mountains near us whose trees put on a little show--but I miss it just the same.

And so, walking the other day through the city centre after finishing work in late afternoon, I found myself all of the sudden enjoying the crisp air, the way the sky was just slightly tinted pink, ready for sunset, and the way the people were bustling through town, still daytime, but getting ready to change over to night. This was a time of day that I had always enjoyed--the hour before an early sunset--and it seemed to be so much better due to the way the air wasn't overly hot and stale, like summertime might be, but was just the right balance of cool. Rummaging through my bag of freshly bought chocolates from my favorite little Macerata chocolate maker, Marangoni, I was happy to be in October, in Macerata. I needed to stop comparing beautiful autumn in the states and this autumn in Italy. Sometimes good comes in various shapes and sizes.

And, as I munched away in my new good mood about autumn, I decided to head over to the newly reopened fancy grocery store Il Contadino, that just happened to be on this side of town. What a good idea that was.

The old grocer's had been one of those finds, you know? It was one of those places that you might not recognize as special, but once you got inside, it was clear that they had a great selection of foods and many hard to find items as well. Walking in this time, however, it was like discovering where the party was. This place was beautiful inside--completely rearranged (I couldn't find out how to enter, because they had changed around the door and put a fancy new one in!) and repainted, with a newly designed interior, all burgundies and brick. While the selection of vegetables seemed about the same as normal, and the local dishes were all there, just like before, the real surprise was the new cheese counter.

It was a cheese-lover's mecca. It spanned a whole wall, and there were cheeses piled up that I had never heard of before, much less seen. There were cheeses bundled in hay, cheeses made with wine, French cheeses that you wanted to buy just so you could hear how in the world the name was pronounced. I quickly took a number and found myself behind a man who was ordering loudly and pointing out cheeses here and there, sampling every once in a while. A geniune "cheese whiz" (sorry, I had to use that pun!). As he ordered hunks of cheese that I had never heard of, I payed attention, and at one point even asked him about some of the cheeses he was buying. When he finally finished his long order, it was my turn. I picked out a gorgonzola piccante that looked yummy (I prefer the firm gorgonzola to the soft stuff), a couple other things and, remembering one of the cheeses the man before me had chosen, I pointed at the big round of Castelmagno from the Piedmont region. I must've looked skeptical, since the woman taking my order assured me it was a good bet as she cut me a hunk.

It turns out, she was absolutely right. The cheese was delicious, the most unusual blend of crumbly and soft, and a bit of a chameleon of a cheese, seeing as it can sometimes be considered a blue. While it's definitely a strong cheese, I think even people who dislike "smelly" cheeses could really enjoy this one--it's got such a unique flavor to it. It reminded Antonello and me of the California cheese "Humbolt Fog."

Anyway, I'm so excited about new cheeses to try that I'm sure I'll be back there soon. I still have a bit more Castelmagno to enjoy, though, so I'm going to savor it while I can.

Happy Autumn!


The Sun Will Come Out...

Finally, my favorite Mexican Restaurant in my home town of Indianapolis will reopen after having closed almost a year ago. El Sol de Tala is not only a wonderful authentic Mexican restaurant, it is also the place where my husband and I held our wedding reception after our American wedding 2 years ago. It's got a lot of memories attached to it, and I've watched it grow from a small fledgling hole-in-the-wall Mexican diner into a true, honest-to-goodness award-winning restaurant, one of the oldest Mexican restaurants in Indy.

And, of course, it's got the best guacamole in town.

Yay for El Sol! They should be reopening at the beginning of November. I'll be home at Christmastime to visit! Anyone wanna go out to lunch?