There’s so much content running through my brain as well as content already contained. I’d like to invite you, dear reader, into my world of Busted Flip Flops. We’ll explore observations of life, musings about becoming Mom, Cherry Pearl the snorting pug, weird dreams, recipes, movies, ’80’s nostalgia, picking up strays (the furry and the non), and unfeigned poetry. Watch for weekly upcoming posts as these beach reads begin to build and form like, well, a castle in the sand...
Green tea and almond cake
two cappuccinos and a cream-filled croissant
ordered in broken Italian
among the bright white cosmetic lights
of the Milan airport
Breakfast before our flight back home
Your happy-go-lucky smile
trumping my usual pre-flight nerves
I ordered you another brioche
and they understood.
Cleaning my kitchen back in Florida I am reminded why I love traveling so. Even in the nicest of destinations you are stripped away from your comfort zone. And your routine, whether mundane or solid, is put on hold.
I just got back from 16 days in Italy, accompanied by my 13-year-old son, who had never been out of the eastern U.S. This was my third time to Italy, staying with the same beautiful and gracious people I met there so many years ago. Three different trips, all unique. Each during a different phase in my life.
It’s quiet here now at my desk. The usual Florida summer humidity holding steadily outside. The weeds in the cracks of the lanai having grown a foot in my absence. There is laundry to be done, floors to mop, bills to pay. There is work to go back to, alarms to set, exhaustion looming in the distance. Although I helped out in my Italian host’s kitchen (they cooked, I cleaned) it did not feel like a chore. Their lack of air conditioning use drove me insane a few times but my open window was a gateway to sounds I do not usually hear. The cooing of pigeons, lively conversations in Italian, the undeviating church bell song– became welcome melodies to my late nights and early mornings.And those early mornings. Determined not to come back with extra wobble, I jogged with every sunrise. In the peace of dawn a little world was at play– feral kitties hiding in the long grasses on the edge of fields of lavender and tomatoes. Hefty black and white magpies sitting stately on top of hay bales. Jackrabbits as big as raccoons scurrying across the skinny roads and farm landscape. The meals we shared will forever be etched in my memory, both the company and the food itself. Believe me, I have a photo of every dish I ate! There was the torta fritta, an appetizer of lightly fried pockets of dough wrapped with the freshest prosciutto, so good all our Italian friends tried to either duplicate it or find it at various restaurants and markets. There was the pasta of course, not really my favorite because it blows up my belly, but the way they cooked it with various fresh sauces, like real carbonara with egg, and spinach and pumpkin ravioli, melted in my mouth. I had to refrain from gulping my wine and coffee as the Italians are sippers. Plus you can’t really gulp espresso, not if you want any dignity.
My son finally experienced what the fuss was all about regarding real Italian pizza. He even requested it as our last meal there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him finish a plate of food like that. And the few desserts we did have were totally worth the carbs—lemon, rich chocolate and tangy yogurt gelato, a pastry called a Susanna with ricotta cheese and dark chocolate surrounded by a biscotti type crust, a pistachio cream-filled flaky croissant.Two of my very favorite meals happened at restaurants we hiked to, enjoying the views and meaningful conversations and laughs along the way. And ah yes, the views! Everywhere my eye rested during those sixteen days there was something amazing to see. Medieval castles dotting the hillsides, Romanesque paintings on cathedral ceilings, vineyards and fields of wild flowers for miles, and white, rugged mountaintops against a clear-blue sky. Possibly our favorite part of the trip occurred in a little town called Sesta, which really deserves its own story here. It’s the tiniest coolest town I’ve ever been. Nestled in a hillside surrounded by the mountains there are only 12 full time residents. Winding cobblestone streets take you past their mortared walls, which are elegantly and eerily marked with various paintings, some chipping away from weather and time. An old fountain rests at the edge of the houses, flowing forth cold, fresh drinkable mountain water. At night the paintings are softly illuminated and the neighborhood children play hide and seek among the shadows. I sat on a wooden chair and watched them as my Italian host’s father tried to communicate with me in broken English. We only stayed there for a night but that town will always be with us. Neither of us wanted to leave it behind.
Traveling, being away from home and away from all the things you think you have control over, is a lesson in self-reflection. There are things you come to both revere and loath about yourself and/or surroundings, as well as learn about yourself and other people, cultures, places. I appreciate American coffee and air conditioning and strangers who smile and wave. I revel in my goofiness, independence, and sense of adventure. I do not appreciate the loneliness I sometimes feel when the house is quiet and empty. Or the loud suburban noises reminding me of consumption and perfectionism and competition.
I do love my own neighborhood and my comfortable living space and my sometimes mundane yet solid routine. But I am mourning the flat and mountain houses back in Italy where my son and I could casually hang in that small space together without distractions or the pressing of time. Lazy moments reading. Dinner being cooked for us. Spontaneous games of Frisbee. Conversations with old friends making new memories. The promise of another day of adventure and enrichment and relaxation and effortless bonding. We must go back. Soon. And until then make time for such moments within the realm of our working days and fleeting weekends.
I am ever grateful for the space in time and circumstance in which we have to travel. Whether across the globe or down the road, everyone should have that space, too.
So I’ve spent the last 8 days in Italy with my son and some dear Italian friends of mine.
The last time I was here was in ’95 and before that, ’89. I did some dumb-ass things back then. Like burping aloud whenever the urge arose, even at the dinner table as the respected elder sat at the head, grimacing in disgust. I was young, had never been to a foreign country, and being from Antioch Tennessee not the most worldly person on the planet.
Coming back 22 years later I have life experience and maturity on my side, despite the fact my country’s president is an embarrassing bafoon. But the Italians laugh about it and say, “Well now it’s your turn to have your Berlusconi!”
That aside and maturity and being somewhat of a world traveler and all that, there are still things I just don’t get. Being in a foreign country you find out real fast you’re not as smart as you think you are.
I have always had a battle with keys (and Saran Wrap and ironing) but with my condo’s simple door lock and keyless entry into my Prius I haven’t had to battle it out with these little demons of metal in years.
When my Italian house hosts casually showed me the three keys I would need to enter their home I listened carefully and confidently, all the while knowing a screw-up was on the horizon.
The next day after my morning jog not only did I fail in opening the first gate but was unsuccessful in reaching any of the housemates. So like some weirdo creeper I jumped the gate (which really is only waist-high) and successfully opened the next entrance. But trying to use the ages-old style key into their door was like watching, well, an idiot American girl trying to open a European lock. There was clicking and clacking and cussing for what seemed like hours. Finally the man of the house opened the door from the other side as I nodded apologetically, mumbling, “Me and keys do not get along.”
A similar incident happened the next day with the garage door. I had to go back downstairs and open it because I’d left my phone in their car. They handed me the garage door key and I happily took it as if there would be no problem opening the kind of garage door I’d never used my entire life. I’m sure the neighbors were shaking their heads as I clicked and clacked and shook and banged and cussed.
On the fifth day of my visit I finally opened each and every lock with one try, patting myself on the back as if I’d won a major award.
Espresso machines and other European-style kitchen gadgets
The only time I ever owned an espresso machine was in the ’90s and the one time I used it I turned the kitchen into a caffeine and milk froth murder scene. So imagine my hesitant attempt at making an espresso on my own as a guest while the rest of the house slept. Except for my son who was nervously sitting at the kitchen table. “Oh god Mom you’re gonna blow up the house.” Thanks for the confidence, kid.
Well I did NOT blow up the house. But as usual there was clicking and clacking and cussing. This also happened with the gas stove (which I’ve never owned or used) and the microwave (which in my defense is a special one made by Barilla and only available in Italy).
I am now able to use the stove and make an espresso, although I still seem to spill water out of the base of the thing every time. And I gotta be real. I miss my big ass cup of American joe.
I’ve popped a squat in some odd places in my days, especially on camping trips and traveling and outdoor concerts. I’ve done the peeing in a hole in the floor thing in Japan, watching the flushed toilet water go the opposite direction in Australia, and held my nose in various Port-o-johns around the southern U.S. But nothing quite prepared me for the embarrassment of honestly NOT KNOWING WHERE THE HELL THE TOILET FLUSHER WAS.
In my host’s flat it is fairly simple. There’s a big “button” on top of the toilet tank that is pushed on the right to flush and a ‘stop’ to push on the left when I suppose there’s been enough water and force to expel whatever it is that was just, well, expelled. I felt pretty smart for figuring that out on my own the very first time.
But then fast-forward a couple days in un bano in a very nice restaurant. We’re talking white table cloths and errything. After doing my biz, and thank god it was only number 1, I searched the top for the flusher. Nothing. The sides? Nothing. The floor. The ceiling. Niente. But wait a minute… What’s this cord dangling down from that box on the wall near the ceiling?
The intelligent part of my brain told me that was not the flusher. The dumb and impatient and desperate part said, “pull it”.
A piercing alarm began ringing throughout the bathroom and into the entire restaurant. I hurriedly washed my hands and shamefully scooted past the kitchen where one of the chefs looked at me knowingly. And I’d never seen him before in my life. Needless to say I did not go back to that bathroom, even after countless glasses of water.
One day we took a day trip to the seaside. Seems as though they also adopted the hole in the ground toilet philosophy. No worries. Been doing my squats. But then this happened…
Oh yeah, there’s this…
At dusk’s glowy light
as the moon began to rise
and the summer sun slowly sank gracefully into the horizon
I rode an old but sturdy bicycle
to a field of flowers
A dream this was in my mind
many a time
And I stopped for a moment to let it in
to feel the breeze on my face
and watch the white daisies sway
Could I live here forever
I calmly asked myself
Could I bask in country’s earthen simplicity
I surely am not a big city girl
Could I keep my hands dirty
and ride this bicycle for miles in solitude
The black horse in the distance neighed and I dreamed for a moment that I could
In a field of flowers
as evening settled in.
As the rooster crows
the hidden sun shines behind murky grey clouds
But the air is not murky
as tepid drops of rain fall and gather like pools of light on pink pedals and green leaves of oak
soaked right in an early summer festival of storms
I watched as they rolled in quietly then came bursting in loud and quick as foxes
Then leaving in a rumble rumble want of repetition
The morning does crave the rooster’s crow
as pale silence beyond rainfall waits for its decision to bring about inference of breath
A gentle stirring of the day
Some work, some play
And a space to curl up and ponder
Set forth creative endeavors
Basking walking smiling dreaming
As the rooster crows.
Among your heart’s desire
be there space for which to retire
Not in suffering resolution
but in courageous absolution
Contentment here as well as there
but something amiss in our breath’s air
And in between all feelings of woe
a dormant shimmering glimmer of hope
Destiny’s will come forth and received
a space to reshape the before besieged
Through clouds of storm and hurricane
among sorrow, forgiveness, exaltation, pain
Within your soul amid the muck and the mire
wholly a place to make a fire.
Because I last wrote about 5 songs that move me, and I am having trouble coming up with an interesting prompt, I’ll cover another list of favorites.
Smells, scents, aromas. Old man cologne will NOT be on the menu here. Don’t you hate when you hug someone who has way too much cologne and the smell transfers to your own hair and clothing for the remainder of the day? But I digress…
This is probably my very favorite smell. I love to say the word, love to put it in my coffee every morning, love the spicy, sugary scent of it wafting through a kitchen or market. It reminds me of the tasty treats of autumn and the freedom of summer. It correlates to home, family, cooking, festivals, parties, cozy nooks, sweetness. When a rat died in my attic space and the pest control guy couldn’t find the body, the first scent I scoured the candle aisle for was cinnamon. But you can’t cover up the stench of dead rat, only suffer through its depressing and repulsive cloud with the strength of a thousand cinnamon sticks.
I could inhale this lily white beauty for hours. I’m envious of those in my neighborhood who have a gardenia bush. I’ve thought of stealthily plucking a bloom while no one is looking but then my conscience prevails over my olfactory. You may see me in someone’s side yard with my face buried within the pedals. Gardenia’s scent is not overly sweet and smells as fresh as clean sheets, baby skin, a cold spring after a cool rain shower. I’d wear them everyday in my hair if I could, and disperse them in my various little vases and jars in every room in the house.
When I was pregnant with my son I couldn’t stand the smell of coffee. I chalked it up to nature’s way of telling me I should nix the caffeine for about 9 months. When the baby gloriously arrived into the air of the Universe so did my admiration for coffee bean. Every night when I prep the coffee maker for tomorrow’s brew I have to stick my face into the coffee can. It reminds me of breakfast (my favorite meal), my grandfather and his cling-clingy-cling-cling of the spoon against the mug as he mixed in the sugar. Nutty, robust, and warm, coffee in its various forms and flavors signifies both energy and relaxation. Add two Stevia and a dash of vanilla almond milk and my eyes are shut and I’m making that mmmmm sound along with a quiet “thank god for coffee.”
Not only do I get a high from purchasing a new pair of shoes (can I get a Yay-uh from my fellow shoe lovers, meaning all women?) but there is something about the smell of new shoes. I’ll walk into a shoe store in the mall, even if I have no use or money for purchasing a new pair, just to breathe in the scent of new shoe. I bet the employees there don’t even notice the smell anymore. Kind of like those people whose houses smell of cat yet profess rather matter-of-factly that see, “you can’t even smell Twinkles.”
There’s an old book I keep on my bedside table. I don’t particularly love the writing but I love its worn leather cover and the brownish pages inside. I’m one of those weird people who sniffs things in grocery aisles or antique shops and bookstores are no different. Some of my students look at me in bewilderment when I inhale a book at school, but then they will also come at me with their finger pointed, demanding “Sniff this!” and then I am doing the wincing. Old books not only tell the stories within them, but the stories from all the places they’ve traveled, the shelves on which they waited patiently, the hands of those who sifted through their mellowing pages.
So these are some of my very favorite smells. Also good are bacon, newborn baby, fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies, lemon, fresh basil, funeral home (because of all the flowers), the familiar and intoxicating scent of someone you love (who obviously smells really good to you). What are yours? I’d love to know…