Friday, July 31, 2009

Another Great Ride Today!

Today, a refreshing ride up north again to Bvigliano, Monte Senario, Polcanto and Fiesole. Got a call from Dominick while riding, asking me if I could guide a tour on August 8th, so I have 2 tours coming up in the next week. Chilled out under the pine trees and enjoyed the panorama from Monte Senario. Enjoyed much the rolling hills of the backroad to Polcanto. Did about 4,000 feet of climbing in 48 miles. Very memorable ride. Later on, heard from Dario, who wants to talk to me about guiding a week-long tour for his company in September. Lots of fun coming up! Ended the day taking a spin on my city bike to San Frediano and watched the sunset from the Ponte Vecchio.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Am Officially a Fiorentina !!!!!!!

This was a very special day. Today I went to Palazzo Vecchio to pick up my Carta d'Identita'! I almost started crying as Signora Moscatelli handed it to me! Not only am I officially a "Fiorentina", but now I have the I.D. to show it. The "Carta d'Identita" is significant in Italy. You only get it after a thorough investigation. There's no American equivalent. Essentially a national identity card, it authenticates your vital statistics, including residence and citizenship. It was a long process involving many steps of verification, a visit by the vigili (police) to verify my residency, and many meetings with the local officials.

Equally exciting is the fact that my town hall is the Palazzo Vecchio.

As I left Palazzo Vecchio with my Carta d'Identita', I followed a class of art students and a passionate art professor who was lecturing them on the 4 most significant sculptures in the Piazza Signoria. I learned so much, and in particular, I developped a deeper appreciation for my new favorite, The Rape of The Sabine Women, Giambologna's masterpiece.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hot Ride

In spite of the 120 degree heat today, I ventured out on my bike, heading south to Greve and Panzano. On days like this, the Chianti hills are empty and serene since many residents have already escaped for the coast to enjoy their August vacations.

One very delightful pleasure about cycling in Italy, is that seemingly every village that you pass through during your ride no matter how small, has a water fountain in the main piazza. These fountains are in many cases unique and beautiful works of art which match the personality of the village. You always know that you can refill your water bottles and refresh's only a village away. Today, these fountains saved me from dehydrating. I had to go "piano, piano" because of the heat, but was able to appreciate the beauty around me all the more.

Having heard what "scorchers" the summers are here in Florence, I had braced myself for the worse, and even dreaded it. Living for the last 5 years in coastal Southern California, I thought, had probably thinned out my blood. But now that I'm experiencing a real Florentine summer, I'm realizing that my real reference point is New York City, which cooks you like an oven, and I was expecting worse than that. Definitely difficult as compared to San Clemente, but nowhere as bad as NYC. And those "zanzare" (mosquitoes) ??? Not sure why, but I haven't been bothered by them yet. Perhaps it's the swallows that keep them under control.

I am amazed at how efficient these 600 year old buildings are. They were built to keep the heat and sun out. As long as I close my windows and shutters during the day, my apartment stays cool. With the help of a fan, so far, I've been fine. Nothing like good old A/C, but I can do this.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On My Way Home From Work

Today was the first time that I "led" a tour by myself and it sure didn't feel like work. I did a "Meet and Greet" for a Self-Guided tour. This means that you meet the clients at the bike store, fit them on their bikes, give them safety advice, review the maps, routes and highlights of the tour, and then you guide them out of the city. A van transports their luggage to the hotel, but that's it. Then they're on their own for a few days. But how you define "out of the city" is up to you. So, I took the opportunity to ride with them to Impruneta, a route that I've come to know well. Then they went on to Greve and Radda on their own. It really was something very special and gratifying to "work" with people who are on vacation, having fun and to be a memorable part of their experience. I also really enjoy telling people about Florence and Chianti, and to share with them some of the special secret places that I've discovered on the road. These clients were from South Carolina and D.C. and we really enjoyed our hours together. I feel like today I was baptized into this job....doing it solo without anyone else's help. The photo above was taken on the way home at Santa Croce, just a few minute walk from my house.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Duomo and The Dipper

Some of today's precious moments:
  • Waking up to the sound of the Duomo bells
  • Red poppies along the road during this morning's ride
  • The old lady downstairs who returned the blouse that fell off my clothesline onto her terrace, now a new friend and neighbor
  • The vision of Convento Monte Senario at the top of today's climb
  • Discovering a Dilletante race happening in Bvigliano while passing through this tiny village on our bikes
  • Little Giovanni's smile and his persistence in asking me on a date
  • The smell of cyprus and pine in the mountains during my descent and the endless visions of unblemished tranquil roads that surrounded me on my ride today
  • The 3 new cycling buddies that I found on the road
  • Watching the Giro di Francia in real-time, as I've been doing daily for the past month. But enjoying it so much more than ever before. Narrated in Italian, with Italian perspectives, with the focus on Italian riders, in the same time zone, watching it as it happens, kilometer by kilometer. Not just highlights. L'ottimo!
  • A ride on my city bike at dusk through the Piazza Signoria while listening to a symphony in the background
  • Admiring Giambologna's mythical bronze statues surrounding La Fontana del Nettuno
  • Buying zucchini flowers at Piazza delle Cure on the way back from my ride
  • Chianti, bread, salami and salad for dinner
  • And at the end of the day, before I went to bed, I opened up the window to look at my view of the Duomo, as I do every night, to say a prayer of thanks....and there above the Duomo, in the night sky, shining brilliantly above the cupola, was the Big Dipper, creating a brilliant semi-circular frame directly above the curvature of the Duomo. The universe and I are truly in sync.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Finally Found Some Manubri !!

After having abandonned the idea of joining a palestra (gym) I decided that with a little bit of imagination and some alternative equipment, I could accomplish my own workouts in my own apartment. The heavy, solid coffee table in front of my sofa is the perfect height and width to double as a workout bench. The mirror in my bedroom is perfect for watching my form. So I bought a yoga mat, and then started searching all over Florence for a sports store that might sell manubri (dumbells). After a 2 month search, I finally found one today! Except that the store is located some 10K away. Transporting the manubri would be a problem, since the baskets on my bike cannot hold much weight. Also, there are some hills and my bike only has one gear. So, today I made 4 round trips to the store, to transport the manubri home. So now I have a standard set of dumbells to get me started. Only won't be long until I'll have to search for heavier weights, probably a barbell set. But I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. In the meantime, I will really enjoy working out with weights again and getting more lean.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cycling with Todd from California

Today I rode with a cycling friend from San Diego who I discovered at the last moment, is in Italy this week on business. I spontaneously arranged to rent a bike for him, delivered it to his hotel, and determined the ideal itinerary to fit his timeframe. We met early this morning and I led the way up to Convento Monte Senario. Needless to say, he was fascinated. We had a great ride.

Although he's in Italy on a regular basis attending to his premier wine distribution business, this was his first opportunity to actually ride here. I was thrilled to be the one to introduce him to cycling in Italy, and to take him to such an inspiring destination. It was great to see someone from "home".

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Where Are The Swallows?

Last Friday was the hottest day of the year. The heat wave had reached a high of 105 humid degrees. You could see that people were avoiding being outside during the heat of the day. That doesn't apply when you have a bike, because you create your own breeze, and it doesn't take as much effort to ride a bike to the market and just put all your purchases in the basket and ride it home, instead of sweating it out in the heat.

But I also noticed last Friday, that the swallows didn't wake me up in the morning like they've been doing for the last couple of months. Then Saturday the same thing. It is now Tuesday and the swallows seem to have vanished.

I miss them. They must have decided it was getting too hot here, and headed for cooler territory. I will miss them. They used to sing with the Duomo bells in the morning and as the sun set behind the cupola every night. But now they are gone. I guess I have to wait another year to see them again next spring. Swallows are like poppy flowers. They're only there for a short time, paying homage to the world, making the world happy, so you have to appreciate them fully when you can...because you never know when they're going to disappear. Kind of like most things in life. We really need to live in the moment and absorb every little beautiful thing that God gives us,while we have it. I was blessed with the swallows and will appreciate them even more next year.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Discovering Northern Tuscany

Having finally accomplished some importanat goals, such as establishing my official residency and starting to work, this week I allowed myself the pure indulgence of getting re-immersed in adventure cycling. For the past several days, rather than going south through Chianti, I've been escaping the heat of the city by heading north on my bike to ride at the much cooler altitudes, and in the process, have discovered another wonderland that I didn't realize existed so close to home.

I had already cycled some of these roads before with a group. That was before I had established my own clear sense of direction. But this week, everything changed and it all "clicked in". A tremendous sensation. I really got my bearings while navigating these roads by myself, and felt them so much more intimately than before. Everything looks and feels so different when it's just nature, the road, and you. I feel like I can finally say that these roads are mine.

The most awesome destination of all was the heavenly treasure of Convento Monte Senario, which surges from a commanding, secluded summit at an altitude of 800 meters. I could see the convent in the distance as I started climbing towards it from 20K away. It was a heavenly vision. I could really imagine saints and angels living up there as it looked like a little piece of heaven. The road twisted and turned, and climbed towards the summit through rolling green pastures and climaxed through a stunning thick forest of towering evergreen trees which emitted an intense perfume of refreshing pine that penetrated my entire body. At once, my spirit felt like it was being lifted into the sky and finally, the vision of the convent appeared in front of me. It was an intense experience. This is now my favorite ride. I am sure I will do it many times in the future. But the experience will never be as sensational as it was this first time, discovering it alone in the solitude and peace of a perfect day.

Some additional itineraries of the past week included Borgo San Lorenzo, Pratolino, Vaglia and Bvigliano. One day I flatted and some local cyclists going the other way stopped to help me, and I made some new cycling friends in the process!

I am entirely in love with my new home here in Florence. One minute I'm in the city center with all the possible art, culture and electricity I could ask for, and yet only 5 minutes away on my bike, I'm in some of the most peaceful, historical and spiritually uplifting countryside in the world. I can't imagine how I would be able to experience my new home in Florence without the freedom and perspective of riding a bike. I can escape the city so just a few miles I'm clear out of the city, in a different world.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ride to Borgo San Lorenzo

Today I woke up early and met Leif at 7am for an 80K ride through Rufina and Dicomano up to Borgo San Lorenzo and back through Fiesole. A caffe' halfway through, and by the time we got to the climb, I was pooped. I had forgotten to put on sunscreen and I really suffered as I felt the heat going right through my skin. However, the long downhill that weaves back to Florence through Fiesole is always a refreshing ending to a ride going north.

In the afternoon I went to Tavarnelle where Luca attended to my dental problem, and fixed the bridge that had fallen out. It's doesn't hurt to have a dentist "in the family".

On my way back, 2 tourists asked me for directions. I guess I must look like I belong here!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Residency Approved !

Today, after a week of dealing almost daily with the Ufficio Anagrafe at Palazzo Signoria, I finally received a phone call while I was guiding a bike tour, advising me that my residency application had been approved and that I can go to the Comune to get my "Carta d'Identita"! I am officially a resident!

Applying for residency required my landlord to vouch for me with much legal documentation...a complicated process in itself and I am very thankful to him, since he didn't have to do that.

In addition, it was a circuitous 2 month process that required several trips to the Comune di Firenze to submit basically the same information to the same people multiple times. As an American Ex Pat, you must have patience, or you die. If one doesn't buy into that before deciding to live here, one doesn't belong in Italy. It takes a certain desire and a certain mental attitude, but moreso, a real understanding and appreciation of the culture. You have to overlook the bad to appreciate the good.

And finally, the Comune di Firenze had to perfom another step, since this is my first residence in Italy since becoming a citizen. They had to consult with the Comune di Lacco Ameno in Ishcia, to ensure that all of the birth, marriage and death certificates that I had to produce for my citizenship, had actually been received from the Ministero Italiano and that they are on file in the village of my great-grandfather's birth.

Forever, my lineage will be recorded in Lacco Ameno. A beautiful conclusion to the chain of events of the past year that have resulted in the unforseen but destined attainment of my Italian citizenship.

Another Great Day at Work

A great experience today, guiding a bike tour to Regello, along the beautiful Val d'Arno, with a super team....Rebecca, Dominick and Roberto. I'm looking forward to more of this!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Early Ride Followed by Red Tape

Leif and I met up for an early ride on the flats along the Arno and heading towards Lastra a Signa. Getting out early in the morning to ride really beats the heat and the traffic, and energizes me to make the most of my day. We stopped for a caffe on the way back.

Then I spent the afternoon dealing with the Comune di Firenze regarding my residency application. It's been a long and arduous process, but today was productive and it really seems like I am finally geting somewhere. I will skip the details, as it is too dizzying to explain.

I have a final meeting with the chief anagraphe at Comune di Firenze at Palazzo Vecchio tomorrow, and hopefully it will be the last!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ready for a "Fidanzato"?

Today I had a great ride with Rebecca, Rhiannon, Leif, Moreno and Andrea. We rode through Greve to Panzano to Piazza and then back from San Casciano. It was a beautiful day and we had a fine group. After riding a couple of weeks ago in Piemonte, the hills of Tuscany seem so much more gentle and forgiving.

I always get chills upon ending a ride, coming from Porta Romana to Piazzale Michelangelo and then descending down the gentle switchbacks to the Arno. Seeing the magnificent view of Florence extended in front of me while I'm on an adrenaline rush from my ride, is something straight out of heaven. I can't believe I live here, that I'm a citizen, that I'm almost a resident of Firenze, and that this is my view on my way home. I don't ever want to take this for granted. I think Rebecca feels the same way, because she wanted to stop too, to gaze and suck it all in.....with a gelato

Continuing my way home, I passed through Piazza Sangemini to see the cute, charming, flirtatious little Giovanni. He's always there selling flowers, 6 days a week, 13 hours a day, just as he's been doing for the past 15 years. He's an integral part of the neighborhood and knows everyone. I see him everytime I leave or enter my apartment, several times a day. We always chat, he always flirts and gives me little bunches of flowers. He's adorable.

After my rides, I always stop to tell him all about my ride, and he always checks my computer to make sure I'm not exaggerating the distance, as he can't believe it. This time, he invited me to go "al mare" with him the next day! I made an excuse, saying that I have plans to ride the next day. He disapproved and told me that I shouldn't ride so much, it's not good for me, and that I really need a fidanzato (boyfriend).......and that he's ready when I'm ready.

I think he's right about the fidanzato.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Aida at Boboli Gardens

Nobody understood my passion for opera as did my ex. Perhaps I drove him crazy with it. As much as I loved it, he did not. No matter what my approach, I could not inspire him. He was an outstanding football coach, but forget opera. I tried everything. The more I tried, the more he hated it. I had to let it go. It deeply saddened me. It took years to realize that I was better off going alone rather than to piss off the whole Met audience as he snored through Vissi d'Arte. Not to mention the pressure on our relationship. After moving out of New York City, the world of opera was no longer at my doorstep, so a part of me had died.

I never really found anyone to go to the opera with, who could get the same goose bumps at the same time. It's kind of like having fabulous sex. During the last years of my marriage, before I took up cycling, I would escape for long weekends to places like Verona and Milan, just to see 2 nights of great opera. I would plan business trips around which houses were showing which operas in which cities near which clients. And then I would get tickets for all of us. They loved it, I loved it, and JPMorgan loved it.

Living in Italy has opened up more widely than ever before, the doors to this passion. Since living here, I've taken every possible opportunity to attend local performances, and it's everywhere to be had. From the small local opera at St. Mark' the Puccini and Rossini Festivals, to La Scala...the very best is within touching distance. Now, God, just let me live long enough!

So, 2 days ago I told Angella that I was going to Boboli, to see Aida. She decided to come with me. She's not a seasoned opera fan, but she's really interested in learning. So, last night we went to Palazzo Pitti, and watched an exquisite performance of Aida in the stunning outdoor setting of the Boboli Gardens. And remember last night's full moon over the Arno? Well, during Act II, as Radames was appointed leader of the Egyptian army, the same pregnant moon popped out and rose over the stage, dazzling the audience. It was mystical. Like everything else here in Florence.

Thanks, God.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dental Disaster Averted

In spite of all my efforts to make sure that my teeth were in excellent condition before leaving the states, today an almost brand-new bridge broke, and I found myself without 2 teeth! Lucky that my good friend, Cynthia and her husband Luca, are in the business of making dental prosthetics. I called Cynthia and she immediately took care of everything for me. She called one of her dentist clients who has a business right around the corner from me, and within 2 hours, my bridge was reinstalled temporarily. This will hold me over until next week, when I will ride my bike out to Tavarnelle to see Luca, who will personally make any permanent repairs that are necessary.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

High Fashion Cycling

I've been reluctant to betray my image as a serious road cyclist, but the time has come. For the sake of both function and fashion.

I am now the proud owner of an old ugly beat-up city bike that makes so much noise, that people know I'm coming from blocks away. My bell, which is loose, rings by itself every time I hit a bump. So they know I am coming. I finally got the guts to wear a pretty mid-length ruffled skirt with 2 inch heels. I either looked quite ridiculous or quite cute. The bikes are made with chain guards and fenders, so nothing gets stuck! Perfect. So you can get somewhere and still look good without breaking a collar bone.

In the process I discovered something. A new feeling. You know, it really feels breezy and very feminine to ride a bike wearing a dress. I think I'll always do it. It's pretty cool.

Leif invited me to come to San Frediano for what he said was the best pizza in Florence at Vico del Carmine. Most places claim to have the best. But this place won my own heart. The cheese was the best buffalo mozzarella north of Napoli, and the sauce was perfectly sweet. The menu was in Napolitano dialect and they definitely used ingredients straight from Napoli.

Breezing through Florence wearing a skirt on my bike is a really cool feeling. There are so many new feelings that I am feeling here in Florence that I never felt before. I didnt' know that feelings come in such unusal shapes and sizes. The pizza was the best and I got a chance to see San Frediano with a good friend, and taste yet another great gelato!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Little Revenge

Last night Rebecca and I finally caught up with each other since we had both been traveling these past couple of weeks. We went to Il Pizzaiuolo in Sant'Ambrogio and then took a walk through Firenze.

The streets are empty for this time of year. The crisis has hit hard here. So much of the local economy depends on tourism, which is at an all-time low. I wonder what it's going to be like in August when all the shops close down and everyone fanno le ferie, goes on vacation. I think I'm going to be the only one here!

When we headed back along the Arno from Borgo Ognissanti towards the Ponte Vecchio, we were in for a big surprise! The moon was gigantic, beaming, fat, full and orange, as it broke through the clouds over the river, shooting beams of light on the city. It was a special sight that only lasted for a few minutes, after which the moon slipped back inside the clouds.

When we got back to my house, we were in for another big surprise! Someone, who couldn't find a parking space for their bike, decided to block up Rebecca's bike and locked up his bike in the same space, making it impossible to get her bike out. We tried everything to release her bike, but the other bike was locked smack in front of hers, to the same post. We were downright angry that someone could be so inconsiderate to do this. After struggling and getting our hands and clothes filthy, we gave up. Since Rebecca needed her bike to get to work the next day, I lent her mine.

But not until after we smiled at each other and released the air from the other bike's front tire.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fixing Things Up

First thing this morning, I gathered my documentation and went to the Comune di Firenze (the town hall) to speak to the Anagrafe (person who processes the residency records) to find out why my application for residency was denied. I didn't have an appointment. I walked through the entrance, past the front desk, when one of the clerks asked me where I was going. I continued walking and said "Vado a vedere Gianni" Luckily, she didn't stop me. The building was empty and quiet. I walked up to the 3rd floor, hoping that Gianni would be in his office, and that there wouldn't be a line! There he was, sitting at his desk. He jumped out of his seat and said "Barbara! Tutto va bene?" I was surprised that he remembered my name from 2 months ago.

I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Gianni remembered me well. He read the letter, made a phone call, told me not to worry, and helped me to fill out some new forms to be faxed to the central office in Florence. He told me that should do it, and that hopefully the "vigili" wouldn't even come to my apartment to see if I really live there. But he couldn't predict how long it would take to receive my Carta d'Identita'

He was curious to know how I am adapting to life in Florence and we talked about my recent experiences here. It seems that every time I speak to a native Florentine, we always end up in a conversation about the differences in the conditions in America and in Italy. Everybody here wants to go there. And everyone there wants to come here. "L'erba del vicino e' sempre piu' verde".

After leaving his office I went to the Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio. The peaches looked luscious. The zucchini were bursting with flowers, the San Marzano tomatoes were bright and plump and the peperoni from Calabria were all irresistable. As usual, when I asked for some basil and parsley, they threw it in for free. Then all of a sudden, thunder cracked in the distance and within seconds, it was pouring. Having only my bike and no umbrella was a good excuse to hang out in the market until the rain stopped, and try some new things. I went to a macelleria (butcher) and bought a small portion of tripe salad, which I had never had before. It was pretty good! After buying some fresh lavender and eliantos from the fioraio (florist), the sun came out again and I headed back home.

My sister Carol will be arriving back tonight from her "side-trip" to Rome, Pisa and Venice. She's been going non-stop. Being her first time to Europe, she is busy trying to see everything! She's talking about going to Paris and Amsterdam while she's here. I wish I could go with her, but I'm also anxious to start working and there are some opportunities that I can't pass up! And I think she is really enjoying her freedom.....perhaps for the first time in her life.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

July 4th Celebrating Dante

Last night I had the option of attending an American July 4th picnic celebration at Villa Demidoff with the Tuscan American Association, or instead, attending a new musical interpretation of La Divina Commedia in Piazza Santa Croce. It was an easy choice. Dante rather than burgers and dogs. Fireworks for the soul.

It was indeed a spectacle within a spectacle, set outdoors under the stars in the Piazza, against the imposing backdrop of the Basilica. Although it was a very basic Broadway-type rendition of Dante's voyage into the beyond, it touched an audience of all ages and portrayed with minimalist symbolism, the universal message of the Commedia. As has been said, "You're not ready to start reading La Divina Commedia until you have just finished reading it". As someone who was deeply inspired by my studies of Dante in college, I can appreciate this.

Although no interpretation of Dante could ever do him justice, it was a dramatic introduction to this great literary work of art. I think it achieved its purpose of shaking the audience into a more profound state of mind, and that it will inspire many who haven't previously studied this masterpiece to learn more about Dante's literary genius. Another dream for study Dante again.

I've really found my place here in Florence.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Residency Denied

This morning I found a notice in my mailbox which informed me to pick up an official letter from the Comune di Firenze. I was scared, because after 2 months upon filing my residency papers I still had not been visited by the Vigili to verify that I really live here, and had been worried that maybe something has gone wrong. I was afraid there might be some bad news in the letter, so I hurried to the post office and held my breath before opening it up and reading it.

The letter was written in strong authoritative legal language, and had a threatening tone. I felt like some kind of criminal upon reading it. My heart was beating rapidly and I broke out into a sweat, rushing home to pull out my dictionary to figure out what exactly is the problem. I was very nervous and afraid. I immediately called Cynthia and read the letter to her.

Cynthia explained to me that this is just a typical, standard letter from the Comune, advising me that the Vigili tried to visit me to verify my residency, but I was not home when they came.

I wondered why then, couldn't the letter have just said that in friendly terms, rather than with such threatening language.

So now, I have to start all over from scratch again. I was hoping to receive my Carta d'Identita' so that I don't have to carry my Italian passport with me all the time, and to take advantage of the resident privilege of receiving free entry into the museums in Florence this summer, but it looks like I'll be lucky to get it in time for the fall, since everything will close down for August.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Cycling in Piemonte

The last time I cycled in Piemonte was in 2001 when I followed the Giro d'Italia with Ciclismo Classico on a cycling tour. At that time, I was more interested in the race itself, and didn't really capture the feel of Piemonte as I did this past week during a brief hiatus from Florence.

After taking 3 trains last Saturday, I arrived in the small village of Arquata Scrivia, which is so tiny that it barely makes the map. Piemonte is a different world than Tuscany. It is less developped and still maintains much of the old world purity that has disappeared from other regions of Italy. For this I loved it.

We cycled during the days, covering territory in Piemonte, from the gentle rolling vineyards of Barolo and Barbaresco country in Alba, to the more ferocious climbs of the Appenines around Gavi. We ascended the very steep and unforgiving Passo della Bocchetta, (which is one of the climbs of the Giro dell'Appennino). It was one of the more difficult climbs that I've ever done, due in part to the oppressive heat and humidity of the day.

We passed through several solemn sites of interest that were startling reminders of the tragedies that occured there during WWII.

During the evenings, we joined his friends and neighbors outdoors at the Ballo, (a place where people traditionally meet to dance), the main gathering place for the village. There, the kids played soccer while the men played bacci ball and cards, and the women gossiped while keeping an eye on their children. It was a vivid reminder of those sweltering, hot summer nights growing up in Brooklyn, waiting for the Good Humor truck, catching fireflies, as our parents would sit out on their folding chairs keeping comfortable with lemonade and mosquito repellent.

Having met some of Claudio's childhood friends, it became clear that most native Italians, upon first meeting me, wonder with downright confusion, why an American would want to move to Italy. Many are disenchanted with everything here from the pope to the president and they can't see why someone from the American democracy would be willing to live and cope with Italy's conflicts and weaknesses. I try to explain why I am here, and all the things that have drawn me to Italy over the decades. But my feelings about Italy are perhaps too personal to explain.

We had dinner at a fattoria in Gavi one night, and on the other evenings, cooked at Claudio's home. We enjoyed some very fine wines from his wine cellar, including Barbera, Gavi di Gavi, Barolo, Barbaresco and Dolcetta.

I learned alot about Piemonte and its fine wines and typical foods, such as agnolotti and vitello tonnato and had an opportunity to explore some itineraries for future bike tour guiding.