Tag: Italy



Hello there, July. For the record, I do not condone summer’s refusal to wait for my go-ahead. I’m still wandering wobbly-kneed through the second week of June, and I really would have appreciated all the school closings and triple digit temperatures holding off until I could collect myself. About that last one—Did you know that we don’t have air conditioning? The Italian strategy for surviving summer involves 1) nudity, 2) napping, and 3) nude napping at the beach, and while each is worthy in its own right, circumstances occasionally dictate that I be dressed and/or conscious. Maybe the heat’s just getting to me more this summer because my head’s still back in strawberry season.

I’ve barely touched my computer over the last three weeks except for busy work, and I’ve felt this kind of sad, longing, tired push-pull every time I’ve walked by its closed lid. Between a string of emotional anvil drops and a rejection notice at the tail end of a heartwound publication process, my ability to string words together seemed to drain right out of me. One of the ways I traditionally deal with word-bereavement is rock solid stoicism. I decide our relationship was never meant to be and that it’s about time I embraced my true calling as a housecleaner. And then I cry into the mop water. And the dishwater. And the tonic water. I’m a real heavyweight.

But even in all the crumminess and confusion of the last few weeks, I never felt truly disconnected, and I want to thank you from the dregs of my heart for that. Your notes and prayers after our friend’s death sat with me at his funeral and shared the dinner table with his grieving family, and I’m a kind of grateful that can’t be articulated.  I’m also deeply thankful for your encouragement to be here, to value my own writerly heart enough to ditch the mop water (our seasonal infestation of ants thanks you too, btw) and rescue my blog from solitary confinement. Thankthankthank you.

It’s better to start summer late than never, right? Here’s to more connecting, less mopping, and nude napping on the beach.


How are you welcoming the summer?


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:


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


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.



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.


The Valley of the Shadow of Expat Taxes

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
~ Benjamin Franklin 

Life in Italy isn’t always a Hollywood montage of accordion-infused wine and Gucci models on Vespas. (To that point, Sara Rosso of Ms. Adventures in Italy recently summed up some of the least glamorous details of expat life in “Those Lucky Bastards…right?”) True, there is more than enough glamour and romance and adventure here to make putting down roots into Italian soil worth every bureaucratic migraine, but… well, consider these two horrifying words: tax season.

We are American citizens with residence in Italy, which means we file taxes in both countries. Now, Italian tax law is like a mile of yarn twisted into an intricate ball. While modern lawmakers recognize that the yarn has become discolored and frayed over time, they can’t begin to think how to unravel the mess, so they simply tie new wads of legislature to the outside. The universally accepted solution here is to hire an accountant and pray that he knows what he’s doing.

American tax laws, on the other hand, are laid out in such exhaustive accessibility that I can never bear to pay someone to do in one hour what I could figure out myself in one hundred… million. Plus, I get some kind of demented thrill by entering numbers into financial forms. The weeks leading up to April 15th each year are a lot like those centrifugal force carnival rides—painful, nauseating fun that is always more endurable in retrospect.

I’m not to the retrospect stage yet this year. In fact, I’m feeling thoroughly green around the edges. However, while I convert euros to dollars and look up obscure self-employed-expat tax limitations and throw up occasionally and pray harder than ever that our Italian accountant knows more about his country’s laws than I do about mine, those Hollywood montages help more than anything. A little starry-eyed perspective goes a long way here in the valley between international bureaucracies, I’ve discovered. Especially the part about wine.


How do you feel about tax season? No, really?




When we enrolled Natalie in first grade last September, we opted out of religion class. Even though we share some fundamental beliefs with the Roman Catholic Church, we weren’t comfortable with her learning doctrine as an academic subject. Frankly, I find it incredibly dangerous when any religion is painted in the same black and white lines as grammar or algebra—right versus wrong, subject to a grade—and I’d like to think that we would have opted out of the class even if it had taught our exact beliefs. (Sunday School is a whole ‘nother ball of wax, but it’s easier to discuss what the girls learn there without having to discredit the entire academic system.)

I was at peace with our decision until we picked Natalie up after her first Friday at school. She was as cheerful as ever, happily recounting how she had gotten to go out in the hallway during religion hour and watch the other teachers have their coffee. I was… less cheerful. Bit by bit, Dan and I uncovered that Natalie was the only child in the entire elementary school in the entire course of its history to opt out of religion class, and the teachers didn’t know what to do with her other than send her out of the room. My heart thudded straight down onto our granite tiles.

I know all too well what it is to be the odd child out… the only kid at the grocery mid-morning, the only girl in our homeschool group wearing a jumper, the only teen not pledging for True Love Waits. I remember the icy sense of exposure and the sharp loneliness, and I’ve never, ever, evereverever wanted to subject my daughters to them. However, that’s exactly what I found myself doing that Friday, wielding religious principles that banished my six-year-old to the hallway.

I hurt all over for her, but Natalie was clearly not bothered by skipping class, so Dan and I didn’t push the issue. Instead, we talked to the teachers and arranged for her to join the other first-grade class while hers was doing religion. Some of the other parents overheard us, and the next Friday, Natalie was joined by a little boy. For all the countercultural drama we were putting her through, at least she was no longer alone.

The subject of religion class hasn’t really come up in the months since, but this morning, the little boy’s mother caught up with me after school drop-off. “Guess what I found!” she chirped, taking my arm as if this were the seventy millionth instead of the very first time we’d talked. (I immediately wanted to kick myself for not introducing myself sooner. Or, you know, at all.) “Looking through my son’s workbook, I found a little note he had written during religion hour: ‘Dear Natalie, you are beautiful!’” We laughed together, and I felt a little like crying and a little like skipping all at once. She asked about our church (evangelical), and I asked about theirs (Muslim), and it didn’t matter a single bit that some members of both our religions dedicate energy to hating each other. Our faiths didn’t affect our ability to be friends.

And yes, I know I’m realizing things all the time on this blog that are probably common sense to most people and it’s got to be irritating by now, but I realized in those three minutes of conversation that this is the lesson we’re teaching Natalie with our lives here. She and her classmates might not attend the same church, but our families’ homes are open to each other. We share meals and swap recipes and give each other’s children rides, and if I hadn’t been bracing myself so hard against alienation, I might have noticed sooner that there was no need. Our differences don’t prevent us from loving each other well. Our separate journeys with God don’t make us enemies. That this is even possible makes my soul giddy with hope, and I find myself grateful in a way I couldn’t have imagined last September that my daughter gets a front-row seat.

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