Tag: Globetrotting

20Apr

Beauty in the Rough

Easter 2012 Part 4 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

It’s been one of our rougher weeks here at the Casa di Bassett, and as I’m sure most bloggers can attest to, writing anything can feel impossible when you’re not at liberty to share the circumstances weighing on you. Thus the silence around here, heavy with words unwritten and whisperings of failure. As always, though, beauty heals. I’ve spent a lot of time this week watching clouds shift and meld over church spires, strawberry blossoms bob in the wind, and my daughters’ eyes sparkle with imagination. Noticing the duet of art and grace in the world around me has a unique way of lifting the weight from my lungs, and this, beyond anything else, is the reason we returned to the Amalfi Coast this Easter.

This was our third April to camp under the lemon trees, and though lugging our summer home up a mountainside is the stuff that expletives are made of, the view from our tent… well, you can see for yourself:

Minori from the parking area

The way those four elements—sky, land, village, and sea—interact together along the coast, beautiful in equal and dizzying measure, fills my capacity for happiness to the brim. We all seem to find better versions of ourselves in between the blue of the sky and the blue of the water… even when both turn to gunmetal gray and thunderstorms burst open above our heads. “Can we go swing?” the girls begged once the thunder had rumbled away drawing a thick curtain of rain in its wake. Me At Home wouldn’t have even considered it. Me At The Amalfi Coast zipped up their waterproof jackets and called “Have fun!”

The girls taking a break from hiking

That’s the Me I’m conjuring up today when life seems to have a big fat F stamped on it. Not that it’s as easy as pulling up a few photos and exhaling stress into the pixilated sky, but the beauty still soothes what’s raw, lightens what’s dim. It helps. And so if you’re having one of your own rougher weeks (or days, or decades), then this is for you and me both:

13Apr

Rain Check

Easter 2012 Part 3 (Part 1 here, Part 2 here)

You should know up-front that I did not anticipate liking Naples. From all the stories I’d heard, I was imagining a giant trash heap teeming with mob bosses, and while I know better than to take stereotypes at their word, I was really only looking forward to the second half of our trip on the Amalfi Coast. Turquoise sea and lemon groves, they fill my soul… but now I’m getting ahead of myself. You see, Naples absolutely refused to let me leave uncharmed.

Mom and Sophie in Naples

Sophie’s holding up a plucked dandelion for a drink. Yes, we went in the drizzle. Yes, she is every kind of precious.

We spent the whole of last Thursday in the city with only one agenda: take the girls on the funicular. Perhaps you’ve heard the famous Neapolitan song Funiculì, Funiculà? It’s in the girls’ personal Top 5 of all time ever, so we couldn’t miss taking them on the cable car which inspired the masterpiece. Okay, so the famous line going up Mount Vesuvius was destroyed in the 1944 eruption, but we pretended that the modern carriage swaying us up the city’s underbelly was worthy of Pavarotti, and the girls treated us to their own rendition of the song for the rest of eternity. 

Singing Funiculi Funicula

Their lyrics are as follows: “Yummy, yummy, yummy yummy yummmmmm! Yummy, yummy, yummy yummy yummmmmm! Funiculì, funiculà, funiculì, funiculààààààààààà! Yummy yummy yum funiculì, funiculà!”

Naples is its own brand of gorgeous chaos—tenement buildings piled against each other like favorite cousins, mozzarella vendors on Vespas weaving around double-parked cars while shouting hello, laundry and gelato in every color of the rainbow and then some. It was so free of inhibitions, so different from our own city where making a good impression is the highest social calling, that I had more fun than I usually do while sightseeing. I didn’t feel the need to shush the girls (“YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY YUMMMMM!”). I didn’t grimace self-consciously at my walking shoes. (Women in our city wear high heels on hikes. Forget the language barrier; we have irreconcilable footwear differences.) I didn’t fret over looking like a tourist; instead, I unabashedly snapped photos like this so you could hear the symphony of car horns and smell the pizza margherita and feel the vibrant camaraderie that is Naples. (Do you?)

The Spanish Quarter of Naples

We stayed until dusk rolled over the bay, thick and brooding with rain. Even then, we had trouble tearing ourselves away from the seaside castle where the girls were climbing antique cannons and I was memorizing the cut of sailboat masts against water, volcano, sky. Local couples perched on the walls making out as if it were a competitive sport, and I harbored a fleeting wish that Dan and I could just sneak out after the girls were in bed. Then the clouds cracked open above our heads, and proper goodbyes were abandoned for umbrellas and take out. It’s okay. Naples had already made her point, and I would have just asked for a rain check anyway.

Naples harbor

12Apr

Earning My Hippos

Easter 2012 Part 2 (Part 1 here)

I woke up this morning feeling like a hippopotamus had plopped down on my head at some point during the night and promptly died. I wouldn’t have woken up at all had my husband not groaned for me to look at the time. The clock said 8:38—precisely 23 minutes after the final bell for Natalie’s school. I said a bad word. The hippopotamus said nothing. I never feel precisely energetic in the mornings, but this was a whole new category of tiredness. Post-vacation tiredness, I suppose. Post-THIS-vacation tiredness. In fact, I would bet that this morning’s mammalian fatigue started last Tuesday when I brilliantly decided to take the kids to the zoo. In Naples. By myself.

As with nearly all our vacations, we planned last week around one of Dan’s work trips, which meant the girls and I had a couple of days to kill on our own. Seeing as how the city zoo met my one stipulation—must cost less than a cheese pizza—and the owner of our Airbnb rental offered us a ride there, my decision practically made itself. After all, I had a lot of fiscally-rejected zoo trips to make up to my girls, and what better way to while away a free day together?

Skeptical Sophie

As it turns out, the zoo was only really large enough for whiling away an hour, an hour and a half tops. Anything beyond that took imagination, patience, and snacks. Even little Sophie, experiencing the grandeur of tigers in cages for the very first time, remained underwhelmed, and every last snack was gone by 11:00. Fortunately, we still had imagination and patience. Even more fortunately, the zoo was overrun with peacocks. I’m talking dozens of them, gloriously free-range.

Peacock introductions

We introduced ourselves to peacocks. We adopted peacocks. We chased peacocks from one end of the grounds to the other. We imitated peacocks. We probably would have provoked every other family at the zoo to wrath had we not been, well, the only family at the zoo. Come to find out, the local schools let out later than ours for Easter Break. I’m not sure if it was more liberating or more unsettling to be the only humans in sight, but we certainly took advantage of the space. When the peacocks became old news, we played hide ‘n’ seek in the shrubbery and hunted for four-leaf clovers and swept the sidewalk with palm fronds. The advertized attractions of the zoo—read: animals—barely held a candle to the fun of its vegetation.

Hide and Seek

However, by 3:00 in the afternoon, we had exhausted our combined powers of self-diversion. The zoo was set to close a few hours before Dan would be able to come pick us up, and we were a good half hour’s drive from the city center. My grand plan for the day suddenly seemed much less brilliant. However, I had a smartphone, and my husband was working with helpful souls, and a new plan was hatched to get the girls and I across the city to him using public transportation. Now, I didn’t grow up with public transportation. When we first moved to Italy, carless, five years ago, I was terrified to take the bus; something about the unfamiliar streets whisking past the windows and me without a brake pedal turned my confidence into quivering mush, and I still exhale with relief each time the G2 deposits me safely in our neighborhood. Being asked to cross an enormous, unfamiliar tangle of a city on a succession of subways and buses with two little girls in tow felt like being told to bungee jump off an uncharted cliff. But my other alternative was… um?

Driving by Napoli

Some days, being a mom requires more than snacks and a few hours’ worth of imagination. It requires bribery (Ice cream for anyone who can walk a whole kilometer without crying on their own legs at all!), speed (“The tickets will be €3.40, signora, and I believe that is your train about to depart from the farthest platform up the highest flight of steps”), and strength (not to throat punch every last man who casually draped himself over an entire row of seats while watching me struggle to balance a sleeping four-year-old on the train). It means repainting my own anxiety as adventure and letting one child swing from the bus handles while I cuddle the other back to sleep and pray I’ve understood the driver’s thick accent. It means scrounging up my last few cents for a bathroom stop, steering my girls safely around a street fight, and delivering us all exhausted but intact to my husband’s waiting car.

Public transportation

It also means waking up more than a week later to a condemning clock and a deceased hippopotamus on my skull and, instead of going for my old self-flagellation routine, remembering that I have earned this tiredness and earned it well.

10Apr

Unplugged

We were supposed to have Wi-Fi. It was one of the two features I insisted on for last week’s vacation rental. Number one was a parking spot—every car deserves at least a fighting chance of surviving Naples intact—and number two was connection with the outside world. I know it’s healthy to unplug every once in a while, but I’ve learned a few things about myself and isolation over the years, and… well, let me just turn you over to the post I wrote last Monday. In light of the following seven Wi-Fi-less days, I’m titling it Irony.

~~~

Monday, April 02, 2012

Late-afternoon sunbeams sprawl through the open doorway and across my toes, painted a sugared lavender in honor of these first barefoot days. I’m starting to think, however, that I should have gone with orange. It’s everywhere in this Neapolitan villa—tangerine curtains, sunburst floors, goldfish prints swimming across mango walls—and I wish I were unabashed enough to do the same in our own home. This color, it’s the only invitation I need to waltz wholemindedly into Easter break.

Orange in Naples

In the absence of orange Neapolitan villas, I’m notoriously bad at vacation. This will come as no surprise to any of you, but it’s easier for me to leave my toothpaste than my productivity complex back at home. Even my usual blogging hiatus turns into a form of obligation, a must carpe every damn diem teethgrit no matter how far behind my self-awareness starts to lag. So this, lounging in tandem with the sunlight and letting my fingers stretch long on the keys, is my highest form of rebellion for the week.

Our vacation rental is nestled in a maze of farm roads on the slopes of Vesuvius, and from the living room sofa, I can see past the tips of lightly fuzzing peach trees and across the rooftops of Naples to where ships weave silver tracks in the bay. We’re high above clamor and hurry, time trilled away by birds flitting through a bower of wisteria blossoms just off the terrace. I never thought I could feel so completely relaxed in a city whose streets jolt the afterlife in and out of focus, but here I am. Purring.

 Room with a view

~~~

Oh yes, there is more to come. See you tomorrow, same time, same place?

P.S. – It’s crazy good to be back.

24Dec

Of Stupidity and Love

This week has taught us two things above all:

  1. Don’t be stupid.
  2. God’s got our backs.

Perhaps I should back up. The expat life comes with a unique set of challenges, and probably the biggest of these is getting all the right permissions to live and work legally. It’s never easy navigating Italian bureaucracy, but the change in Dan’s work situation this year put us in a particularly complicated spot. To make a long story short, we were given until this past Tuesday to leave the country… preferably after figuring out a legal way to return.

The last few weeks have been insane in a way I couldn’t really write about here. At any given time, we were trying to coordinate with at least three government offices, each of which had limited and arbitrary opening hours, and none of which would cooperate with the others. It seemed impossible that we would have everything we needed—documents, official approvals, and money for plane tickets—by this week, and we had to learn to live in the tension between frustration and hope.

But last weekend, everything merged into the fast lane of divine intervention. Dan got some last-minute work that paid for our tickets, the government offices moved at a speed we’ve never seen before to get everything approved and stamped, and at 9:00 Tuesday morning, we picked up the final document we needed to get our new visas. By 11:00, we were packed and on the road over the Alps to Munich.

Reading lessons in the back seat

It might not make much sense to drive a full nine-hour day (much less a full nine-hour day through snow storms) just before a transatlantic flight, but we’d found an amazing deal on tickets departing from Munich, and we had friends there willing to let us crash for the night. And as it turns out, there was a third reason to fly out of Germany that someone bigger than us knew all along.

We discovered it at 6:00 the next morning while checking in at the airport. “I’m sorry,” the check-in attendant said kindly, “but I can’t print your boarding passes. The little girl’s passport is expired.” Dan and I answered simultaneously—“No it isn’t!” After all, we had both double-checked the passports, so there had to be a mistake. The attendant was right though; Natalie’s was expired by a few months. Our hearts sank into our shoes as the woman recommended we find an embassy. Even if the embassy hadn’t already closed for the holidays, an expedited passport would still take a few weeks, and we couldn’t even legally return to our home in Italy for Christmas. It seemed like all of the miniature miracles of the weekend had been for nothing.

But another attendant overheard what was happening and went to make a phone call. When she returned, she told us, “There is one condition under which you can leave. If you are trying to return to your home country and have never been residents in Germany, we are not allowed to keep you here.” I barely restrained myself from jumping up and down  in the wave of pure, giddy relief. If we had tried to fly out of Italy, we wouldn’t have been allowed onto the airplane, but since we just happened to be in Germany… wow. Just wow.

Waiting on our flight

The expired passport did cause extra hassles during boarding and again for our transfer flight (and this is where I reiterate the “Don’t be stupid!” moral of this story), but in the end, we were allowed to return to the States, our carry-ons overflowing with a sense of the miraculous. We were then able to pull off the surprise of the year knocking on my in-laws door. Getting this chance to be with family for the holidays is what we wanted above all, and I’m under no illusions that we pulled this off ourselves. Our being here is a gift—a crazy, intense, gorgeous gift that leaves no doubts as to the giver’s love.

Natalie loves every minute at the beach

Happy holidays from Florida!

16Dec

Room for Wonder

We are in Venice, a land of fairy-tale opulence—gondoliers and palaces, masks and museums—but we stop for the honeysuckle. My barefoot Texas days come flooding back in muscle memory as I show the girls how to ease out the stamen and catch the tiniest drop of nectar on our tongues. It tastes like July. Natalie and Sophie are enthralled; drinking from flowers is a purer magic to them than St. Mark’s Basilica would be, so we linger off the tourist path to pick summer, and this is it: motherhood, nostalgia, travel, joy, LIFE.

[Continue reading over at My Topography!]

22Nov

This Calls for an Apéritif

Once upon a time, my husband suggested we pack up our preschoolers and drive to Ireland, and I made the mistake of laughing. Several thousand kilometers, one hurling match, and a collection of impossibly beautiful memories later, I had to concede—the man knows a thing or two about dreaming. (He also knows a thing or two about teasing his pessimistic wife until she can’t remember what she was protesting in the first place.) The next year when he suggested we pack up our kidlets and drive to Scotland, I remembered not to laugh, and I hardly blinked when Portugal showed up on our road trip radar this summer. We wouldn’t have experienced any of our family adventures to date without Dan’s creativity and optimism, and I’ve learned better than to doubt his big ideas.

Not that I don’t still try.

For example, when he recommended I give notice at work so that I could devote the first half of the new year to writing a book, I laughed. After all, we’re a two-freelancer household now, and as delightful as it sounds to trade in teaching for typing, we wouldn’t last long on a one-freelancer income.

And when he suggested raising the funds to make it possible, I rolled my eyes. I mean, we’re barely a month away from 2012 (!!!!) , and these things—if they are actually possible and not just hopeful delusions—take time.

And when he insisted that we could launch a website and a Kickstarter page the same weekend we were hosting Thanksgiving dinner for a houseful of friends, I choked in an extremely dignified and ladylike way on the cheesecake batter I was swiping. Because……no. Just no.

Evidence A: 31 lb. turkey

Evidence B: Chronic fear of taking risks, relying on others, and/or getting my hopes up only to have them dashed against the cold hard face of reality

It turns out that the moral to this story is the same one which Dan has been gleefully reminding me of since Ireland: “Thou shalt not doubt thy husband.” For all my skepticism and worry and spontaneous freak-out sessions, I am completely thrilled (and probably more surprised than anyone) to be announcing…

Aperitifs and Sippy Cups

(I’ll wait while you check out the video; can you tell it was a blast to make?)

In case you’re not familiar with how Kickstarter works, we have until the evening of December 23rd to raise $10,00 in support. ($10,000 because that’s the minimum I’ll need to replace my current income for half a year, and December 23rd because we’re insane.) If the total pledges meet our financial goal by its deadline, our book will be funded, each contributor will receive rewards and lots of warm fuzzy feelings, and creativity will live long and prosper in our household. The mere possibility of it is buzzing like caffeine through my veins. I am so excited about writing this book that I’m having trouble focusing on other, less important concerns right now… such as food. And sleep.

I’ve already waxed epic about the book’s background and content on the Kickstarter page and our shiny new website, so I’ll let you head over there in a second. I just wanted to end by thanking all of you who have relentlessly encouraged my writing over the years, all of you who are willing to pre-order a book on Kickstarter (or simply spam everyone you know with constant and increasingly annoying reminders to check out our project), and all of you like my husband who see awesome possibility where I would just roll my eyes and continue eating cheesecake batter. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And now, it’s about time I started getting my hopes up.

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