Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I miss you all a lot. Thinking of the memories of Christmas' past and feeling a bit sad, but grateful to have them and for Ray who makes new ones for me.

We are heading out on the 27th, Andrea's 50th birthday, to the termes in Tuscany. We are staying at an old palace ( - love the English translation on their homepage-cute) for two nights and visiting the hot springs nearby where one can take advantage of naturally warm, sulfer baths from the nearby volcano (I suppose - I have to read up on that one). We will then head over to lower Tuscany and then arrive in time to celebrate New Year's Eve with the Hoddell's at their house in the Marche. We decided, with all the stress over housing recently, to not try and push our way down to Puglia at this time, but perhaps over Easter vacation.

It is 7.30 Christmas morning and Ray has yet to wake. I better write that note from Santa before he does so, telling him to continue to be a good boy and especially to listen to his mother and give her lots of hugs. Merry Christmas everyone. Lots of love for the New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The House is Ours!

Christmas came a day early this year.

So far so good - the owner of the mountain house signed our offer this morning and if all goes well, we should move in this summer. I didn't want to get excited knowing how things can fall through, but he was a very nice, older man and was only a little disgruntled about accepting our low offer. I told him that I love old houses and that we had looked at so many, and this one was particularly well done (he replied, "I know") so at least he knows I appreciate the work and planning he put into it. He also agreed to leave the curtains covering the lower spaces in the kitchen so that is one less thing I have to worry about. Ray will finally get his sprinkler and blow up pool this summer. The owner also said there are wolves, deer and even a falcon nest in the backwoods. A hike, anyone?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas time

We made an offer on the house and will have a reply by Tuesday. If it doesn't work out, we will go back to the original house we offered on as the owner has decided he is ready to let it go. I will keep you posted.

Visit Florence and come visit me in 37 minutes by highspeed train Bologna-Florence, or I will come and see you. (OK, so this article is outdated but maybe prices are even lower now. Nice Christmas present!)

Snow has hit Bologna big-time and the cold temps are hindering any melting. I am making stinco today (pork shanks slow-cooked in wine with herbs - love the name) and Christmas cookies. We have yet to dig out the car but will try to take a ride for some air this afternoon. Here are some photos I took yesterday. Nice view from our window.

Godfather Alberto came to visit us from Providence last weekend. He will stay with his family in Rimini over Christmas then return to Esther and baby Giocamo the days after. We have yet to plan our trip to the Puglia region. We will probably just take off and go where the warmer winds blow us.

I have to add this article on renting a scooter in Rome. A real risk but what a blast.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

December, lovely December

It has been a long time between posts these months. Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. We celebrated with Andrea's students and several professors at a nice restaurant that makes the turkey with all the trimmings. I took a ton of photos which Andrea failed to download before clearing my camera disk and I am sorry I have nothing to show of it.

I am exhausted on the house search. We found a lovely place on a mountain that we really like, but we hash over the commute to Bologna and Ray's future schools. But the price, since we expressed interest, has come down almost 30% so it is a tempting choice. However, the offer we made on the house a while back has resurfaced but in the form of a four year rental contract with then possible option to buy (while the owner tries on a new life in Milan with mistress and baby) which initially sounded awful to me, but the offered flexibility has now made me think it is not a bad idea. But I am a little gun-shy of this guy since he backed out an hour before on the signing the original contract ...

Anyway, we are all fine and preparing for Santa. One week left of work at school, the off for three weeks. Wish we were planning to visit the US but instead we will take off for a trip to the Puglia region to celebrate Andrea's 50th. Woohoo! Here are some house photos of the mountain home,with friends Philippa and the girls, in a village called Tra Sasso (translates to "between stoney hills"), and my favorite elf.

(The house is a renovated barn and the brick columns are the original area where the cows were kept - it is now a kitchen with sitting area, and the loft upstairs has original beams. It really is quite unique though it still only has 1.5 baths and the two loft bedrooms would have to be walled in (or curtained, or glassed)- there is another bedroom we would use as Ray's. The views are beautiful and the closest town, Monzuno, is quaint. Oh yes, a photo of Ray with the Monzuno Santa - he was a sad sack who then got teased by the local dudes. That is spiced wine in the copper lined barrel - vin brulè -a yummy treat this time of year.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

When I posted this photo from a chestnut festival last month, I commented to my sister that it was unfortunate that I didn't realize how cute this guy (the one on the left) was when I snapped his photo, and I only noticed after downloading it at home. Well, Paula thought he looked familiar, and here is where she saw him before.

So the deal with the house offer - we made it, it was accepted, then an hour before signing the goon pulled it off the market. So today we are going to look at another place, and have a few more lined up for the coming week. We have decided to refocus and concentrate on finding an independent house, which means it could be a bit isolated, but we will cross that bridge if and when we come to it.

Last weekend we saw the Bologna "basket" team, Virtus, play (they don't call it basketBALL here) and had the opportunity to see up close and personal the owner of the opposing team - Giorgio Armani - who is looking quite elderly and frail. The players for teams in Italy are often recruited from the US, so their kids end up going to English speaking schools so we, the staff, often get to know them quite well. I wonder if the players on GA's team dress better than others?

On a boring note, we have all been incredibly sick - I really think the swine flu swept through our house. Quite a few people in Bologna have been diagnosed with it and there is really nothing one can do except treat it like any other flu - as long as I don't start oinking.

We are gearing up for our formal Thanksgiving dinner at a local restaurant. The students will attend and a number of special guests. This year I will leave Ray home with Nonna so I can sit and have an adult evening. I just hope none of the students start getting homesick and break down crying. Thanksgiving seems to be the most family-focused holiday so it can be difficult. Even for me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Advice on moving to Italy

Before I made the big move, I received some advice from an expat living here. I just found it on my computer and thought it might be helpful even if you plan to come for just a visit.

You have so little time to learn all the info you need to come on prepared.

1. there are no clothes dryers
2. get used to wearing clothes more than once before washing
3. you can buy 100% cotton nothing shrinks here
4. Olive oil goes on all food, no salt – that is used in cooking
5. Pasta is served before the main dish and salad is last
6. Use a cell phone all the time (including playing with all the sounds it makes) in public = cool.
7. look to the right and left before crossing, and even behind you cuz you never know where the cars are coming from or at.
8. Find where all the americans hang out, irish pubs are, and xpats...because you will miss BSing.
9. Learn how to cut in line before the italians do.
10. Say "Non parlo Italiano" all day till you learn it.
11. Hand towels are used after you wash your ass and not to dry your hands and face.
12. Your DVD and VCR do not work here buy it when you come.
13. Teaching english is what you will do till you get tired of it.
14. Walking more than you have to because the bus you planned to take is too packed to get on.

That should be enough for now....if I think of anything else I will let you know....Maybe someone can add more to it.

Don't think that what I wrote is negative and trying to get you not to come......Remember that Italy is a better place to live than the USA!

Italy vs. USA

1. If you are robbed you will not know about it here till you get home. Beats getting bashed in the head for your wallet or have a gun pointed at you.

2. You can walk the street late and will not get harassed by some bum...he will only ask for money

3. Italian men do not beat their wives if unhappy, or divorce them. They find a lover that makes them happy.

anything else?

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Before I started working at the International School, I studied for a TEFL certificate (teaching English as a Foreign Language) and then taught English privately for a couple of years. It is a great thing to do when you have a tiny baby at home who sleeps a lot, but it is really stressful in that the preparation takes a lot of effort so the high fee one can charge per hour isn't so great once you add in travel time and missed appointments (and I didn't have my Vespa in those days). But you meet and get to know very well many Italians and I made some nice friends along the way. Anyway, one of my favorite students was Daniele. He wanted to learn an American accent to prepare for his launch in Hollywood where he enrolled in acting school and we would spent hours reading over movie scripts. Fortunately, not "Streetcar...". Here is his website -

Friday, October 30, 2009

Julia Zarankin and White Ragu Recipe

Julia Zarankin was a graduate student in Comparative Literature at Princeton and I met her when I was the manager of the Slavic Department. With her background as a Russian-Canadian and a dissertation advisor in Slavic, she was often in my office and I got to know her as a very gentle, incredibly sweet being – always with a smile even during her most high-stressed moments. Her father, noted pianist, Boris Zarankin, came to perform Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata (partnered with a violinist - the wife of Julia's advisor) on campus, performed after a short reading of Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata by distinguished Tolstoy scholar (and my then boss), Caryl Emerson. A very impressive performance and we had expected a handful of attendees and instead had to resort to standing room only for some.

When I left Princeton to move to Italy, Julia gave me a cookbook, Bologna Mia (by Loretta Paganini), as a parting gift and this book has been an invaluable source of not only wonderful recipes, but tips on where to buy ingredients in the food markets of this city, and I often (in cooler weather) make the following white ragu recipe for guests. Even the hard-core Italian palates are impressed with it.

Thanks, Julia, for this gift and also for the recording of your father’s music. I think of you often and look forward to a visit from you one day! (beautiful to listen to, though a dated version - without those mentioned above)

Bolognese White Ragu – Christine’s slightly altered version
Make this when you have a few hours to spend in the kitchen and want the house to smell like an Italian kitchen. Friends Marsha and Tom have been waiting for this one.

For 8 people as a primo, 4 -6 as main course
Ingredients are not exact - use slightly more or less of anything

1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (I chop each of these separately in the food processor).

I.5 pounds of ground pork
1 - ½ - ¾ “ hefty slab of prosciutto, finely chopped by hand (you can request this at the meats department at Wegman’s and they may put it through the grinder for you)

½ bottle of dry white wine (sip the other half)
3 cups of chicken stock
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 (or slightly less to use to heat up leftovers) pint of heavy whipping cream
2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1.5 teaspoon coarse or sea salt, or sale grosso
½ teaspoon ground white pepper

In large stockpot, cook the carrot, onion and celery together in the olive oil until the onion is transparent. Add the pork and prosciutto until brown. Add the wine, reduce the heat and simmer until wine evaporates – up to one hour – stirring regularly. Do the same with the stock. When the meat has become heavy on the spoon during stirring, add the tomato paste and cream, season with salt and pepper. On the lowest heat possible, stir occasionally for at least 45 minutes to keep meat from sticking.

Serve with fresh garganelli pasta (go to the fresh pasta section of the supermarket- buy enough to feed up to 8 as a primo, or 4-6 as the main course). Boil the pasta in heavily salted water and mix with ragu in a bowl before serving. The author recommends boiling the pasta with asparagus tips but I haven’t tried that yet, and the flavors are enough and should be enjoyed as is.

Note – Americans tend to drown their pasta in sauce. In Italy, they know to coat the pasta in the sauce and make a greater effort to blend the two together. A tiny bit of sauce can go a long way.

Another note – the red Ragu Bolognese sauce still maintains great consistency and flavor when frozen. If you have leftover white ragu sauce – I recommend that you eat it in the following day or two and add additional cream when heating to restore the consistency. Because of the cream, it does not freeze well.

Buon appetito!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Italian Autumn 2009

Our region of Italy, Emilia Romagna, had the loveliest fall weather - it had been very warm until last week when the temps finally dipped into the 40s at night, though it is still sunny and high 50s in the daytime. Here are some photos of the season - the chestnut festivals are in Scascoli (the first 8 photos, where they also hold a American style western riding competition and where we hope to be living this time next year) and a neighboring town which is so small they roasted the chestnuts in a parking lot. The night photo is an aperitivo on a friend's property that overlooks Bologna. Ray is ready for Halloween... oh, and oranges are in season.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Blogging has become so popular - here are a couple from Andrea's students. I asked Sky if she would make our audition tape for Househunters International as they have been emailing me frequently asking for one. They must have a shortage of Americans abroad who are buying real estate. With the dollar at €1.47, I can understand why.

If you can believe it, we still haven't made an offer on the old farmhouse. We plan to do so just after the weekend. I am having to drag Andrea through the mud to do this. Thank God he wasn't stuck in this way before our wedding. He just needs to come around, which seems to take longer the older HE gets. (Or maybe I am losing my powers of persuasion as I get older. That makes sense, hagnag that I am.)

Fall still hasn't come to Bologna. Sleveless tops and sandals are still the rage. Hitting the chestnut festival in our (hopefully) new hometown this Sunday. Missing the colors of the NE corridor.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nobel Prize Chemistry

Good luck, Uncle Koji. May this be your year. The Nobel announcement comes this week. (...a famous and talented magician....ummm, I remember a show at a Thanksgiving dinner in Ringoes a lifetime ago...)

Follow up: maybe next year. :-

Saturday, October 3, 2009

We're outta here - good bye Bologna

We accepted an offer for our apartment last evening. We are very happy! We had spent the afternoon at the house in Scascoli (my flavor of the month) and then after receiving the offer took a drive out there to see the property in the full-moon light. This is the house I really want and it is a 30 minute drive to Bologna and so would not be a drastic change of life for us (the little white door you see above the light fixture is where a small statue of the Madonna is supposed to sit - we will have to go to a convent shop to buy one).

I hope we can make an offer on Monday that is acceptable as real estate in Italy is quite different than in the US. First, if you are looking to buy a house, you have to contact the listing agent as there is no such thing as multiple listings. So you meet a lot of agents and some are good, some are great and some are a disaster. As a seller, you only have one agent that shows your house, and we used a professional gentleman that we bought and sold from twice before. But now we have to deal with someone new for the place we want. The hitch is, you can set the closing date any time and waiting 12 months for one is quite common. So our buyer wants up to a year to close on our place. Now we just have to get the seller of the house we want to agree to that, with the hope that it comes much sooner. But we know he wants to buy a new place and will be less than happy with such an agreement.

So the flavor this month is an old farm house with an attached barn that has been converted into a loft space. There is a nice old, part with small rooms and old, wavey brick floors, a guest room and three baths, all redone very nicely and even combining old ceiling beams with steel ones. The barn has been converted to a loft and dining area - a funky layout with a nice combination of old and new. The exterior still needs to be done and we would have to put in a terrace and plant the 2000 meter garden. The house is a bi-familiare and so attached in the back to another residence. We met those owners yesterday - a retired couple who use the house only for the summer. The village itself (and this is where Andrea hesitates) is small - perhaps 100 residents, and not even a coffee bar in sight. But the bread man comes with his wagon (er, van) every day so at least we know we can get some fresh rolls if we don't want to drive out of town for food. This Sunday is the chestnut festival that we attended exactly one year ago and posted on my blog - who'd have thought we would have come around to actually wanting to live in a place where we once went to for the quaint break in the countryside.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

ok, too much time

when I am surfing for ancient but great music. This one brought a chuckle. It is for you, Patty, and your "patient" Amanda (a man, duh).

Lou Reed

and NYC = perfect together
The days are getting short though the weather has been holding out with mild temps in the 70s and lots of sunshine (hence the haircut by good friend Ermanno). We have been looking at several houses for sale in the hills outside of Bologna. We are still hashing over the desire for more space vs. the commute into Bologna. Coming in by car is a nightmare as it takes as long to get through Bologna as it does arriving from 50 kilometers away, though the greenery of the hills has a LOT of appeal. The big question now is Ray's education as Bologna is one of the more diverse and sophisticated cities as far as education goes (after all, it does host the oldest university in the world), and to move him to a very small school in the provincia could be a dramatic step back in time. Part of me feels that as long as he gets to the US regularly and his mother takes him to cultural events and the theater (which would be more for me I suppose) in the city, and I keep a close friendship with my best friends (from Barcelona, London, DC and S. Africa) who all have kids, he won't grow blinders and will be just fine. Here are some photos of a recent lunch outing we all went on in the hills of Bologna, a trattoria that was once a monastary. Ray and his "cousins".

I rejoined the board of the International Women's Forum after a two year hiatus. We held our first welcome back aperitivo of the new year this week. The number of English speaking women in Bologna has increased tremendously - the group had 40 members when I joined back in 2004 - now it has 150 with a lot of lurkers who haven't joined yet. The italians make up perhaps 30% and there are members from about 15 different countries.

My job is going really well this year. This class of kids are really great and we have a lot of fun. We are studying celebrations and here, Miriam, the art teacher (originally from England), had Mendhi patterns painted on their hands for the Hindu holiday, Diwali - the festival of lights.

Today Andrea is in Urbino with his students, so I took Ray for a picnic in the hills with Philippa and her girls along with Agnes, Philippa's dear friend from London who is visiting this weekend. A real hoot - Agnes - who is an attorney and has lots of colorful stories to tell of men and single-hoodom. Three bottles of vino bianco between us kept the topic flowing.