Thursday, April 30, 2009

E' Arrivato, il Mio Passaporto Italiano !!

It is in my hands. My Italian passport just arrived.
It has been a beautiful journey.
I am no longer Barbara Barrett.
I am once again Barbara Masefield, which is my maiden name.
That's the way they do it in Italy.
I am now a dual citizen of America and Italy.
A new journey has just begun!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Does it Rain in Heaven?

When I was a kid, I imagined heaven to be this place where everybody had wings and halos, and wore long white gowns. I envisioned people all flying around in bliss, high above the clouds where the sun was always shining, and the sky was always blue.

Today, as I was walking through Piazza Annunziata, it started raining. I didn't have my umbrella, so I stopped in the church for protection. Mass was being said, so I participated.

When I left, the clouds were gone. It must rain in heaven because I really believe that's where I am.

San Gimigano's Gran Fondo

Today was another dream-come-true, participating in the Gran Fondo San Gimignano with several team mates, riding through the very best roads that Tuscany has to offer. Lorenzo drove us to San Gimignano. Even though this was a timed race, Rebecca and I rode the course together and we did not race. How can you possibly race through such a wonderland? We rode the 62k rolling course, oohing and aahing the whole way. The day ended with an amazing pastafest after the race, and returned home with another fascinating cyling memory in Tuscany.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Week Ahead

In the past couple of days I did alot of reading, caught up on the news, and took a test to determine what class I'll be attending when I start school again next Monday at Istituto David. When I was in San Clemente, I applied for and received a scholarship for an intensive one-month Italian language course. I will probably end up in an Intermediate class. So, I'm really looking forward to studying again. I really need it. My Italian really suffered through abstinence while I was away for 3 months.

Last night I met up with Leif, who's a member of the team. He is a sommelier and works for several tour companies, developing and leading bicycle and wine tours throughout Italy. He is one of the great people that I have met here in Florence. We had a great reuinion and caught up on each others' lives. We also spoke about some upcoming possibilites for me to do some bike tour guiding.

I am getting ready for a weekend trip with 18 members of the team to Lake Como where we will climb the Madonna del Ghisallo (pictured left). This important and exceptionally scenic climb is one of the classic climbs of Italian cycling, and part of the course of the Giro di Lombardia. Our course will be over 100K and 2,000 meters of climbing. I am very excited. We'll also have the opportunity to see the Ghisallo museum of Italian cycling. The club has rented a van which will transport all of the bikes and I will catch a ride with someone who has room in their car, all TBD on the day-of. All the women cyclists on the team are going....Rebecca. Rhiannon, Natascha and I. The drive up to Lake Como takes 6 hours, so it will be alot of fun. The weather outlook for Saturday's ride is excellent. Sunny, between 14 and 25C. Can't wait!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lunch with Barbara's Family

Florence is such a compact city, you don't need to walk very far to find anything. But as I start to reach beyond Florence, I have to learn the bus system and get myself a city bike. Then I'll be more mobile and spontaneous.

Today I went to Barbara's house for Sunday dinner with her family. Our scheduled bike ride this morning was rained out (which was fine with me, being tired after yesterday's Gran Fondo) so instead she invited me over for lunch with her family at her home in Gavinana. It's too far of a walk in the rain, and I don't have a city bike (yet), which would have been I have to take the bus. The ATAF website doesn't make it easy to find out what bus takes you where, but I figured it out. I went to the tabaccheria to buy a bus ticket and waited in the rain for the bus. I was there in minutes and felt good to have learned a way of getting around in the rain.

(I can't wait to buy a used, old ugly city know, the kind you can ride in the rain. The kind you keep locked-up on the street overnight with wide tires, fenders, a chain guard, one gear and a basket on the front. You buy the oldest and ugliest bike you can find, otherwise it won't be there in the morning. It will make life a little easier).

Lunch with Barbara, her 2 children and Alfredo was a great opportunity to get to know her off the bike. We shared a quiet and enjoyable afternoon. After dinner, she helped her children with their homework. It was a family affair, the way it used to be when I was a kid, and they were actually having fun. Despite all the criticism about the Italian school system, the size of the classrooms and the lack of government support of the teaching community, they still teach subjects here that are no longer valued in the American school system. Like history, (real history, like before Christopher Columbus) literature, culture, geography and Latin. Ask any American kid what Latin is and I'm afraid what they might tell you. I think I was the last generation of American students who studied Latin until college. And to me that is a shame. It gave me a profound appreciation of culture that influenced me throughout my life.

On the way back from Barbara's all the tabaccherias where closed so I had to get on the bus without a ticket and nobody stopped me, but I had no choice. I guess I'll have to buy a book of tickets to keep in my purse.

When I got back home to Piazza Salvemini, there was an antique flea market going on where I bargained for some very old pieces of lace that I'm imagining to use under some flower vases and on my kitchen table. I thought about how lucky these children are to be learning Latin. Buona sera.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Gran Fondo Chianciano Terme

Today I rode my first Gran Fondo in Chianciano Terme. It was the most exciting single-day cycling event that I've ever experienced. I've dreamed about this day for years, and today was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Gran Fondo is an Italian institution, which is making its way to America with some modifications. Gran Fondo means long distance or great endurance. These races are usually 160 - 225km long, and usually include a Medio Fondo, which in today's case was 88km. Today's fondo was a licensed, competitve race with a field of thousands. You wear a riding chip around your ankle, you are timed and the results are published. Some Gran Fondos calculate points for time, which then count towards an annual series such as the Granducato. Regardless of the format, all the riders are all skilled, experienced, competent racers.

So, Gran Fondo has some attributes of a century, some attributes of a USCF Race and some attributes of an American long-distance endurance ride. For the most part, American road events are either licensed USCF races (including amateur and Pro categories), amateur centuries and double centuries, amateur endurance rides (such as the Breathless Agony), brevets and ultra-marathon rides. Put the best of these together.....and you've got Gran Fondo.

Most Gran Fondos are as competitive as a USCF road race because they attract dilettanti....elite, pros and ex-pros. There are great rivalries between teams. Unlike a USCF race but more like a century, the field is enormous, there's a mass start, and all categories are mixed together, except that the ladies are permitted to start in the front. But like a USCF race, you have to be licensed, unlike an American century ride which is open to all types of riders. Unlike a USCF race but more like a century, there's a pasta party at the end including wine, prosciutto, cheese, dolce, a free "pacco gara" (goodie bag) including a bottle of local wine and many other local specialty items. And unlike a USCF race, nobody warms up on their trainers before the race and everybody eats and laughs together under the chestnut trees after viewing their results. Doesn't get better than this.

Then you top it off with some of the most stunning scenery in the world and roads that weave through ancient hilltop towns like Pienza and Montepulciano. Thousands of people, excitement in the air, high adrenaline, and the most animated cyclists that I've ever seen anywhere.

It was an extraordinary race start with an energy and atmosphere beyond description. Us women were up front, just behind the starting ribbon. Being my first Gran Fondo, I did alot of observing of how things are done, but you can't really do that when you're up front. Well, being up front was only a momentary experience! Lorenzo warned me that the race starts at a furious pace, and with thousands of riders behind you, I was cautious of making any lateral moves. I was maybe was a little too timid, but having thousands of frenzied cyclists trying to pass you at 25 mph was a pretty new experience for me. I paid strict attention to keeping my line, as those in front are "carrots" for the rabbits... At the top of the first hill, I had a technical problem with my rear number was wrapped around and was strangling the brake cable. I tried to loosen it while on the bike, but had to stop to fix it. I lost alot of time, and ended up riding solo until I saw Lorenzo in the distance waiting for me.

We rode together for the rest of the race through fantasyland. Being way in the back isn't a fun place to be, but the territory made that feel totally irrelevant. Going through Pienza, Montepulciano, through quintessential wine country, in this, the country that I love, was intoxicating. We showered, changed, returned our chips, checked our results (ugh!) refuled at the pasta party under the chestnut trees eating local cheese, hams and wine, and talked all the way home. I slept well.

Now I know what Gran Fondo is all about. I didn't perform well, but neither was I mentally prepared. Racing is 40% mental attitude, 50% physical conditioning and 10% luck, as one ex-pro used to tell me. I know I can improve a little bit on the physical aspect, but it's the mental conditioning that I know will make all the difference. The next time I will put on my best race face, be more tenacious, and more willing to grit my teeth and endure pain.
Isabelle Drake, my dear friend and very accomplished ultra cyclist will be my insipiration.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reunion with Filippo

Today Filippo and I reunited over lunch at Cibreo. We became friends last September through school. We used to meet every week to help each other with my Italian and his English, and we kept in touch while I was back in San Clemente. We had a great time catching up with each other over lunch today. We both struggled a little for words, since my Italian had become rusty in the last 3 months as did his English, but we ended up only talking Italian.

Later in the day, Filippo invited me to his uncle Tom's house in Mantignano next week to feast on a dinner based only on baccelli (beans that grow inside of pods) and pecorino. It's the season for baccelli. They are almost at full sprout. His best friend Andrea and his wife Sandrine, their newborn infant Anais, Michele, Tania and her children, his sister, brother-in-law and nephew will all be there. I met them the last time that I had dinner at his uncle Tom's in November, when we ate an extraordinary dinner of fresh killed cinghale roasted on the fireplace, made into sausages and used as a soup base for the most glorious minestra I've ever had.

The rest of the afternoon was spent reading a history book on Tuscany, and then in the evening I met Lorenzo at Piazza Beccaria with my bike, so that he could pack it up and have it ready for our trip tomorrow to Chianciano Terme for the Gran Fondo which goes through the heart of Tuscany, through Pienza, Montepulciano, Chiusi, Sarteano and Cetona.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Door is Wide Open

Being back in Florence is so much easier this time, it really feels like home. It was easy for me to get settled again because I didn't have to learn everything from scratch like the first time around. I know where everything is and how the basic things work or don't work, except that I still can't understand why it takes a month for an Express Mail envelope to get here from the U.S........ And why do they have numbers on the houses, if the numbers are totally out of sequence?

I don't know where I got the patience and endurance to learn and adapt to a whole new way of life the first time. But it all just felt so natural. I must have really wanted it, because nobody in their right mind would have tackled this enormous life transition by themselves like I did. When I look back on how difficult it was the first time, I don't know how I did it, but it was very fulfilling. I made so many mistakes and had to learn by trial and error. I just threw myself in, and learned as I went along. I trusted my instinct. I had nobody to help me or show me the ropes. I didn't read any books. I just took baby steps and allowed each learning experience to lead to the next. And it all worked. And it's working even better this time. I have alot more mistakes to make and things to learn, it will be endless. But each day I grow and learn, and new opportunities open up. As I look further through every doorway, new doors continue to open up. The Door is Wide Open. "La porta e spalancata".

Today, Lia visited me for coffee and dolce and we talked for hours. She taught me some things about serving dolce which I really appreciated. Like you don't serve cenci on the same plate as fragole, which I did! Instinctive, but over time, the artist-cuoca in me will manifest because it's just needs time to be resurrected. Lia works for Florence by Bike and she is the organizer of team ride and social events. She's been a great support to me in finding my place on the team and making my move to Florence a welcome and easier experience.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Language of Cycling

I realized today that there are no language barriers in this emotional sport of cycling. If you have a passion for the sport, you can ride with almost anyone. Cycling is a language in itself. Maybe that's why I am finding it easier to assimilate into the culture and make new friends, despite my elementary command of the language. When you're riding with a group, body language talks. Stlye talks. Etiquette talks. You can read alot about a person just from the way they ride. You can tell if they're happy, sad, aggressive, mad. Whether they're having a good day, if they're tired, angry, greedy, timid, stressed, sharp, shy, tenacious, extroverted, selfish, considerate, genuine or friendly. Regardless of what language you speak, when you share the passion of the open terrain, when you sweat together, work together, sprint against each other, try to outskill each other, you are simply talking a common language that has no need for words. The group dynamic is something you feel, and cannot describe. You just have to be there. The commuication is invisible. Sometimes you only get a chance to talk to each other at the begining of the ride and at the espresso stop. But that doesn't mean that you aren't talking. That's one of the reasons why I love so much to ride. It is a happy and healthy way to develop a cameradie with people.

Today I rode with 8 team members to Borgo San Lorenzo, for about 56 miles. It was the first time that I saw again David, Giuseppe, Zanobi, Massimo, Filippo and Chris. We rode north through a headwind at the begining...the pace was brisk and the company quickly disappeared, but what could I expect? I was dust in the wind. Lorenzo and Zanobi appeared at the summit to coach me on. Had I known where I was, I would never have expected them to wait for me, but they did. I can't expect to keep up with them, no matter how hard I train. It would be like trying to keep up with the Tuedsay Renegade Ride. For now, I will be happy to roll out with them at the start, and use my Garmin to get me back home.

On the way back I heard someone calling me from the street! "Barbara!!!". I was astonished to see Barbara Livolsi on her city bike, riding home from work at Euro Pass. I met Barbara last year and no sooner did we start becoming friends, that I left here for California. She admitted that she had wondered if I was really coming back to Florence. We immediately made plans to ride together this Sunday. Barbara is a native Italian from Florence. She owns and directs a private Italian Language and Arts school here named Euro Pass. In January she took me for a tour of her school, which attracts foreign students from all over the U.S. and Europe.

Also, today Leif and I talked about some upcoming multi-day bike tours that I might be interested in guiding, including itineraries to Radda in Chianti and Siena. I am thrilled to have this opportunity and will be speaking to him further in the next few days to discuss training and logistics!

I am looking forward to my first Gran Fondo this Saturday.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Concerto per l'Abruzzo al Mandela Forum diretto da Zubin Mehta

What a switch. 6 days ago I was wearing plaid shorts, a tee shirt and flip flops in San Clemente. Today I wore my boots, jeans, leather jacket, scarf and umbrella. It seems is has been raining here since I left. Good news for the porcini and chestnuts this year!

It's Monday. I've been back in Florence for 3 days and I'm quickly acclimating. This morning I met Lucia, who was my language tutor here last year. We chatted over a caffe, and I started to feel my Italian starting to flow a little easier once again. We caught up on each other's lives and then we walked to Esselunga, where I familiarized myself with another local supermarket.

Tonight, Rebecca and I attended the Concert for the earthquake victims in Abruzzo, which was quite a touching experience. We had a good long walk there and back, and enjoyed getting to know each other better.

Rebecca is one of the ladies on the bike squad. She, another woman Rhiannon and I are planning a 3 day trip to Sorrento with our bikes, to follow Stage 19 of the Giro d'Italia, up Mount Vesuvius next month.

Today I spoke with Lorenzo and arranged to participate in my first Gran Fondo, which is coming up this Saturday. Click here! GRAN FONDO CITTA'DI CHIANCIANO TERME I will probably do the Medio Fondo, since it's my first time around! Can't wait!

I don't want to get into this habit, but on my way home from the concert, I Ghibellini was still open, so I took home a pizza Margherita con basilico. My excuse is that I hadn't eaten all day, except for a pannino and surely earned the calories, walking back and forth to Campo di Marte twice today.

Buona notte.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More Nesting

I woke up at 12 noon to the sound of the Duomo bells. It is Sunday in Florence. I was up all night arranging my clothes, books, supplies. Moving furniture around this way and that. Deciding what kind of curtains I might buy for the 4 enormous windows in my bedroom and kitchen…..I think white lace would be soft, romantic and yet transparent enough to allow the plants on the terrace and the sun to shine through.

I've woken up late, so now I get to prepare my first macchinetta di espresso. How simple, yet elegant it feels to prepare the macchinetta and wait for the pungent aroma of the espresso to fill the air.

I am amazed how quickly my Italian is all coming back to me. I can't wait to start school again on May 4th. I took a walk through Santa Croce and visited the chiesa.

Angella and I had dinner together at Ristorante Natalino where we got to know each other better….I had a delightful Spaghettini con gambieri e carcioffi and we shared a bottle of Morellino di Scansano.

When I returned to my apartment, I realized that I had forgotten to buy witch hazel to remove my makeup. So I gazed in the mirror, wondering what to do. Olive oil!! The cupboards are still empty…..but there's plenty of olive oil.

As I turned on the lamp next to my bed, the fixture shorted out, causing the circuit to blow. I was in the dark. I tried to trip the switch on the main fuse box, but it didn't work. No light. So I went to bed and decided that I'll figure it out tomorrow. Buona notte.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Homecoming Ride

As I opened the shutters to my bedroom window, the gray clouds hung low in the sky and the pigeons were flying above, suggesting rain. If this was San Clemente, I might just wait until the following day for a bike ride, but here, you take a gamble, your windbreaker, and "si fa gli scongiuri" (keep your fingers crossed). You might not get another chance to ride for days if you wait for the perfect day. I was excited to ride with my new group again. I called Rebecca to make sure that the pending rain would not stop her from riding, and set out to meet her.

The streets were quiet and empty on an early Saturday morning. Everyone sleeps late here, digesting their late-night dinners and wine. As I navigated the shaky, dangerous, uneven cobblestone obstacle course, I felt that same thrilling sensation akin to dodging taxis and busses in New York City. There's something about that feeling that you can't really explain. Kind of like being a sneaky little kid on a skateboard.

I headed through Piazza Santa Croce to Ponte alle Grazie (the bridge next to the Ponte Vecchio) and rode along the Arno to Piazza Poggi….and there I could see Rebecca awaiting me in the distance. We shared homecoming hugs and smiles and I felt animated and happy to see her. A minute later, Lorenzo appeared with Niccola, and together we climbed the ramps to Piazza Michelangelo and headed for Tavanuzze to meet the rest of the squad. A half hour later upon arriving in Tavarnuzze, the clouds had become increasingly threatening and nobody else showed up. So we played it by ear and modified the course to try to avoid the rain clouds.

We climbed up to San Casciano, through the vineyards and magnificent Tuscan landscape. I was feeling strong, but was afraid that my jet lag would soon take over. I knew my body was exhausted, but my passion drove me excitedly up every hill. As I gazed at my Garmin, I realized it was still set on Pacific Time and displayed miles, not kilometers. It was hard to believe that it was just a few days ago that I was riding my last ride with dear Susan in San Clemente.

We added an extra climb and then headed back to Florence, for a total trip of 53 miles, where we stopped for a caffe at Piazza Michelangelo. Seeing again the glorious sight of Florence from the top of the hill sent chills up my spine. As Lorenzo rode back home with me, I stopped by the outdoor flower market to say hello to Giovanni, the animated little flower vendor who often gives me free bunches of sunflowers. It felt great to see him again…another familiar face on my street.

The moment I entered my apartment, the sky opened up and it started to pour. Perfect timing. And a good excuse to spend the rest of the day nesting, unpacking and cleaning, while watching the ongoing news of the aftermath of the Abruzzo earthquake. Then I watched my favorite show, "L'eredita" with Carlo Conti.

My wireless internet, which was not working when I got here yesterday, suddenly came back to life.

I did a wash. It continues to amaze me that Italian washing machines are so small, yet it takes 2 hours to accomplish a single washing cycle. Then I hung my clothes to dry on the drying rack in my bedroom, since it was raining outside.

It is evening. I have spent the whole afternoon unpacking and nesting. My fridge is quite empty, I am hungry, it's almost 11pm, and Standa, the local supermarket is closed. I guess I have no choice other than to take a short 20 pace stroll to I Ghibellini to order a pizza Margherita "portare via" (to go). The street side tables are outside again, not the way I left them in January, all stored inside for the winter. The restaurant owners recognized me and we talked about the soccer game as I awaited my pizza. It was raining and the air was filled with the smell of cigarette smoke. Whoever thinks the Italians have stopped smoking is wrong.

My legs got a good workout today. The ride was hilly, and the 4 flights of 52 stairs to my apartment is a workout in itself. Especially when you're carrying a bike.

I stayed up very late…until 3:00 AM, unpacking, sorting, organizing…..getting settled…..feeling like only good things are in store for me here in Florence!

Buona notte.

Friday, April 17, 2009

First Day Here

I woke up early. I know that I'm jet lagged but I was too excited to sleep. Besides, Charlene just happens to be in Florence just for today, and I wanted to see her right away.

After Charlene visited me this morning, I turned on my TV (all 6 channels worth) to observe the sad, dominating news detailing the aftermath of the earthquake in L'Aquila. The Italians are disappointed by the lack of financial support from both the government and the Vatican. The destruction is partly blamed on the lack of adherence to building codes, driven by bribes and inside pay-offs….such corruption is widespread in Italy. Only a week after the disaster, the 3 Mafias are already driving in their construction bosses in an attempt to dominate and control the restoration process. I hope they can be squished out.

Monday night there will be a fund raising concert for L'Aquila, at the Nelson Mandela Forum (Florence's equivalent of Madison Square Garden), and I'll see who wants to come with me. The orchestra will be conducted by Zubin Mehta.

I then hurried off to the bike shop to say hello to Lia, Andrea and Filippo,and to pick up my club jersey and racing license. It was a great reunion! While in the shop, Niccola called, anxious to see me, and we agreed to meet at my apartment an hour later. I hurried home to see him. Another happy reunion with big hugs and welcome sentiments.

Then I went to the market to stock up on light bulbs, paper towels and other supplies. The streets felt so good and so familiar.

On my way to dinner with Charlene I gazed at the shoes in the stores and realized that I had taken about 20 pair of shoes with me, yet not a single one could compare in quality and design. I had dinner with Charlene and Kelly, it was great to catch up with such a good friend.

When I returned to my apartment, I received an e-mail from Roberto…he received my dual passport and is sending it to me today!

Excited about tomorrow's ride, I dusted up my Colnago which has been sitting, unused, in my apartment for the last 3 still looks as classic and elegant as it did 14 years ago and with its triple ring, it will carry me well up the Ghisallo and Vesuvio next month. I pumped up the tires, lubed the chain, checked out the brakes and shifters. Glossed her up a bit with furniture polish and rubbed olive oil into the saddle. And then dreamed of riding tomorrow among the Tuscan hills in Chianti with my new Italian cycling friends.

I went to bed and set the alarm. I draped Bren and daddy's rosaries on my headboard next to the "contra malocchio" that someone had given me in Calabria 2 years ago to ward off the evil eye! I peacefully fell asleep while thinking how good it feels this time. I am feeling a real sense of home here. And I’m happy….I say a prayer for my friends who I miss tremendously. And I fall asleep. Buona notte.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

On My Way Back to Florence

Like a whirlwind, my three months in San Clemente flew by. Again, I allowed the magnets of life to determine my direction. No pretenses, no preconceived ideas. Just let it happen.

Returning to San Clemente was in fact traumatic. It took me almost a month to bounce back from the abrupt change in the energy, the landscape and the mood. I was stunned, almost frozen. It took me a while to defrost.

I had worried during my absence if my dear friends from home would still be my friends….would they still be there? Or would distance and time prove otherwise? Is it true "out of site, out of mind"? Would I be disappointed? In the process, I achieved more clarity. My relationships became more defined, more selective. The good ones got better. The other ones melted. This helped me to understand myself and my alliances better, to become more certain and directed about my own identity and my own future. I bonded more strongly with certain special friends and lost some others that had been ambiguous. I achieved the clarity I needed to return to Florence without doubts.

And what did fate have in store for me?

Little did I ever expect my Italian dual citizenship to materialize so quickly. What should have taken at least 2 years to happen, happened in record time. It was simply meant to be. With all 14 documents in hand, 3 weeks ago, I went to NYC to obtain apositilles, and only days later Roberto called me with the exciting news…..Department of Homeland Security….INS verified that Great Grandpa Mazzella never became an American citizen.

According to Italian immigration law, this means that I've been an Italian citizen since birth, but never knew it. That simple.

Like a spreading fire, the rest happened within the 2 following weeks. I filed my application for citizenship, and despite a 9 month waiting list for an appointment with the Italian Consulate, I was "slipped in" for a meeting on March 31st. In the meantime, I hurriedly changed my name, got a new American passport, produced the Supreme Court Order Name Change document from 1932 that was uncovered through a relative of a relative, and on the afternoon of March 31st, Roberto called me from the 5 Freeway with the joyous news that my application had been approved!

Now what? I am a dual American/Italian citizen. I'm stunned, I'm shocked. I’m packing my bags. I'm saying my final goodbyes to my precious friends. I'm riding my bike one last time in San Clemente and it's environs. I'm gazing at the beauty of the southern California landscape as every possible shrub and flower and mustard plant are bursting with life in the foreground of the endless blue Pacific Ocean whose waves are furiously crashing in front of me. California has never looked so bright, so splendid, so colorful. Why am I leaving this perfect, predictable lifestyle for a life that's emotionally and physically arduous, simple, humble, difficult?

Easter at Brenda's….8 couples and Barbara! My friends from OCW….who have seen me through ups, downs, happiness and trouble….were all there, just like before. Was this to be my last American Easter? If I were in Florence, I would be spending la Pasqua at Niccola's villa in Siena against the verdant Tuscan landscape, feasting on a whole lamb cooked on the fireplace in his cellar. I received a shocker of a quilt from Donna and Kent to keep me warm in my Florence bed, and rosary beads from Brenda to keep me in God's hands. My friends saw me off with love. Much love.

And then Tuesday night I spent with my dearest girlfriends. Why am I leaving this? I love them so much. What mixed emotions. And here I am packing my things…. with no idea of when I'll return.

As I pack my bags, my return to Florence takes on a more serious note. What to do? Just let the flow predict the outcome.

My bags are packed. Why did I take my winter clothes? It's not even summer yet. Meg and Harry take me to the airport, but we first stop by Donna and Kent's for one last hug. Meg gives me rosary beads that used to be daddy's.

I am wondering if this time Florence will be different. The last time there were no expectations….and everything fell into place. This time I know what to expect. Now I am a citizen. Now I belong. Now I have to find my place and my work.....and perhaps start a business. I'm not a student, not a tourist. Florence is my address. This is not a dream. Will it work? Or is this just a fantasy?

I boarded my flight on Air France. It was a little disorienting to fly to Italy while listening to everything in French for 18 hours. I started reading Gomorrah, but after 4 chapters, decided this is not the Italy I want to read about. I closed the book, went to sleep, woke up in Paris and changed planes to Florence.

A couple of hours later, as my plane descended, it was dark and raining in Florence.

As I went through customs, an official asked me what was in the heavy box. I tried to explain that it was a bike trainer. He didn't really understand, but he said with a confused smile "Vai...Va bene!".

Angella was there, waiting for me outside customs. I was tired but excited. We drove to my apartment and dragged all 200 lbs.of my luggage up 52 steep stairs. I opened the door. Wow. I was back in my apartment and everything was just the way I left it in January. The first thing I did was to try to get my computer up and running, but wireless internet was down. And come on, it's time to go to bed. I'm pooped.

Will I be happy here again? I am tired. Buona notte.