Friday, August 3, 2012

Grazie Mille

We started this blog with a long list of thank you’s to all the people who helped us get to Italy.  Now that our time has ended we want to thank all the people who made our time there so meaningful.

First and foremost grazie mille to our friend and former Italian teacher Federica.  It was her suggestion that we visit Arezzo.  Without this encouragement, who knows where we would have ended up!

Federica and Henry at Lago Trasimeno

We needed visas to go to Italy for nine months.  To achieve this we needed to find a place to live and have a signed lease BEFORE we got there.  We accomplished all this with the help of the internet and a real estate agent we found by chance.  Clotilde did everything possible (and more!) to make sure we were perfectly situated.  Thanks to her we ended up with a wonderful apartment and a great friendship.

From the very beginning our landlords, Daniela and Giancarlo, welcomed us more as guests than tenants.  Not only did they provide us with a fully furnished apartment (including bathrobes!), but they immediately took us under their wings, introduced us to their friends and family, invited us to their home for meals together, taught us about Arezzo, and converted us into avid followers of the Giostra del Saracino.  We are very grateful for all they did for us and for the friendship we now share.

Daniela and Giancarlo

A huge thank you to everyone at Cultura Italiana.  Monica was our incredibly patient, supportive and just plain wonderful teacher.  We already miss not having class with her and are deeply in debt to her for all that she taught us.  Paola has run the school for the last 10 years, and as of March is now the owner.  She has created a very friendly, open atmosphere where students from all over the world come to learn Italian.  If you want to go to Italy and learn the language, and have a rich and meaningful experience of the city and the culture, you can’t do better than enroll in a class at Cultura Italiana Arezzo.  We can’t speak highly enough about the school.

Paola and Monica

To really learn to speak Italian you have to practice actually speaking.  When we realized this fact, we found Cristina and Gino with whom we did a language exchange.  We helped them with their English and they helped us with our Italian. What we didn’t expect was that they would become dear friends.  Our experience of Italy and Arezzo was so much richer because of them.  The one thing that made our leaving a little easier was knowing that Cristina will be coming to visit us in Seattle in August!

Cristina and Henry in Chianti

Gabriella and Gino in Castiglion Fiorentino

One of the things we wanted to do while we were in Italy was to help with an olive harvest.  We somewhat randomly selected a farm near Arezzo where we could volunteer.  The gods were watching over us on this one.  The family at Il Bellini welcomed us with open arms and hearts.  As we’ve already written in earlier entries we have now been informally adopted as part of the family.  As a farewell gift they prepared an elaborate multi-course meal for us, and invited the entire extended family to come say their good-byes.

The whole family was so generous, including their son Alberto who surprised us by inviting us to visit him at his studio where he makes gold and silver jewelry.  He spent an entire morning showing us the complete process of producing a necklace, from the conceptual design through the various stages of production.  Then, at the end, to Gabriella’s great astonishment, he presented the resulting work of art as a gift to her.

Gabriella (wearing her new gift) with Alberto (the artisan)

Then there’s Eva, Simone, Sofia, and their dog Tosca.  Eva and Gabriella met during our first outing with the school and immediately bonded.  It was a few weeks before we met her husband, Simone.  We both loved Eva already and were curious to know what he would be like.  We had dinner at their place and it was a love fest from then on.  Little did we know that Eva was pregnant.  Our 9-month permanenza (stay) exactly coincided with her pregnancy.  We carefully monitored Eva’s growing belly over the months until we were able to welcome Sofia into the world and hold her in our own arms. 

Our deep gratitude also goes to Alberto and Lidia Mazzoni.  Three weeks after we arrived in Arezzo we entered their store looking for lunch and a bathroom.  Signore Mazzoni was kind and patient and curious about us.  Even though his store and osteria were at the far other end of town we were so grateful for his kindness we went back regularly to buy groceries from him or to eat in his restaurant.  Over time we developed a deep fondness for one another.  Signore Mazzoni showed his affection by refusing money for many of our purchases, thrusting wine and cantucci into our grocery bag, and inviting us to eat with him in his restaurant sharing a meal of foraged mushrooms his son-in-law had just brought back from the forest.  The night before we left we went to say good-bye.  We shed many tears together, and as we left he said (more as a command than a suggestion) “I recommend you call us at Christmas.”

These are just a few of the many people we met in Arezzo who now have a firm hold on our hearts.  We have been truly blessed by all the people we met. 

While we are now turning our attention to re-settling ourselves in Seattle we miss all our far away friends dearly.  Non vediamo l’ora di rivederli! 

Un abbraccio grandissimo a tutti!!

Gabriella & Henry

Farewell to Italy (for now)!

What a wonderful experience we had!  Our last month in Arezzo was filled with many memorable events, all of which involved food (surprise, surprise!).  In early June our friends Daniela and Giancarlo invited us to join them for the CamminMangiando (literally “walking and eating”), an event that involved a walk through the countryside with stops for food and wine.  At the start of the trek we were each presented with our own wine glasses complete with a nifty around-the-neck carrying pouch!  The Italians know how to organize a hike!

Giancarlo with his wine glass and carrying pouch

Each stop for food was an elaborate affair.  We dined at tables under awnings at beautiful Tuscan farmhouses.  At each of the four stops we were served successive courses of food: the first stop was antipasti, the second was pasta, the third was grilled meat, and the fourth was dolci.  To our amazement we spent the entire day conversing casually with the other hikers, as though it were normal for us to be speaking in Italian.  Such a contrast to those first few weeks after we arrived in October when we were literally petrified at the thought of having to speak to someone!

On another weekend we had lunch with our friend Anna, the fruttivendolo, and all her family.  We had developed a friendship with Anna simply by virtue of buying our fruits and vegetables from her.  Anna took most of a day off work in order to give us a tour of the surrounding countryside and prepare a huge meal for us.  When she invited us we had no idea what we were in store for.  We just showed up at the appointed hour ready to welcome whatever she had in mind for us.  Nine hours later we returned home.  This is how we ended up having most of our most rewarding adventures: just by showing up!

Gabriella with Anna and her family
Also in June we made trips to Pisa, Perugia and Castelfranco di Sopra to have farewell dinners with friends, and we rooted for our quartiere at the Giostra del Saracino.  

The crowd cheers for the winning quartiere!
Our final weeks included shedding a lot of tears, making cards and gifts for all our friends, and most importantly welcoming Eva and Simone’s new baby, Sofia, into the world.  June was busy!

We had lots of expectations before we began this sabbatical, and amazingly we have found that virtually none of them was met.  For example, it was not a quiet time of just the two of us taking long walks, reading and contemplating.  Almost from the beginning our time was filled with school activities, classes, volunteer work, hosting visitors, meeting people, and organizing social events.  We also thought that we’d be traveling a lot around Italy and Europe.  However after we got settled in Arezzo we realized that we really didn’t want to go anywhere else.  We wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to stay put for nine months and set roots.

The biggest surprise for us is that we have formed wonderful relationships with many of the people we have met, all of whom were remarkably kind, generous and patient with us.  We remain dumbfounded by the degree to which we were welcomed into their hearts.  This, above all, is what we carry home with us to Seattle.