Back in 2008, I was invited to speak at an Early Childhood conference in Moscow, Russia. I drug my feet in answering the call because Daddy was at death’s door and I didn’t want to leave him. In mid-April that year, he passed away and I was just numb. Mack encouraged me to accept the invitation to Moscow, knowing that a change of scenery is sometimes the best way to begin to come back to life.
Hating to go all that way for just one week in Russia, I looked for another adventure to add on. So, (being a geographical genius and all) I saw that Italy was right on the way back from Russia (well, kinda). (BTW, I found out later that my plane actually took a northerly route over Greenland…but I didn’t know that at the time…so it’s not my fault:))
Anyhow, I had a great time in Russia then headed out to Italy for cooking school. It was exactly 9 weeks after Daddy died (I know this because I clearly remember a conversation that I had on the people ferry in Russia with a girl who had just lost her mom that same week. We became fast friends and actually exchanged letters for a while).
I was still feeling funky and while they were all very nice, I had a hard time bonding with the other aspiring chefs on the trip. I just didn’t feel like making new friends, which is usually my favorite part of a trip.
Oh, we had fun, though. We went to some really off-beat Italian sites (for example, an ancient church in the countryside, where there were HUNDREDS of skeletons in the basement; interestingly categorized and carelessly displayed in sets of full skeletons, skulls alone (jillions of them), piles of appendages, even stacks of fingers. Yikes! We just walked around down there like we had good sense. That felt particularly creepy when I returned to my 13th century fortress-turned-apartment, by myself that night after we ate the pizza we baked in the 300 year old pizza oven located on the teacher’s ancestral property.
The cooking classes were great. I can make some mean marinara and whoop up a batch of gnocchi in a New York minute. The tours were quirky and interesting and definitely something that I will never have an opportunity to do again.
But, the best times for me were the early mornings and late evenings, alone on the square in the medieval town of Soriano nel Cimino. In the morning, I would trek down the steep, narrow, cobblestone alleyway from my 13th century apartment to the cafe across the street from the village church.
Even though I knew that I would be cooking up an Italian feast each afternoon, I treated myself to a chocolate croissant and cappuccino every morning (I don’t know why I can’t lose weight!) as I sat and watched life unfold across the street on the church steps. I did the reverse each evening upon my return from the countryside where the cooking classes were held. I’d have biscotti and Vin Santo and once again, watch life’s parade across the street.
From my perch on the ancient stone terrace, I witnessed weddings, funerals, christenings, family gatherings, and Sunday morning services. I heard the church bells ring and watched as the priests and altar boys lined up for their procession to the altar. It was healing for me.
Of all of the solo adventures that I’ve had (which, by the way, Mack cheerfully funded), the only thing that he really wished he could have been a part of was the cafe terrace experience in that beautiful village of Soriano nel Cimino.
Well, after almost 10 years of talking about it…we are headed there this morning! I’m so excited to finally sit with Mack on that weathered terrace and watch the world go by. It is a very special place to me. In one of the saddest seasons of my life, it took something as simple (and as complex) as observing the progression of life from afar to bring me back to it.