Archive for 2006

Remembering the Ghost of Christmas Past

I am a loyal reader of Petite Anglaise, and her December 13 post has been resonating with me for days now. Petite is separated from the father of her young child, and in this entry, she admits struggling to make Christmas special for Tadpole, as she calls her daughter.

If you’ve read my 100 things about me, you know that my parents were divorced when I was very young. And so, I’ve been in the shoes of Tadpole–having adults around me trying to make everything seem normal when, it turns out, I suppose it wasn’t (whatever “normal” means).

So the more I’ve thought about Petite and Tadpole, the more I’ve been thinking about my own childhood Christmases–and the more I’ve felt the need to write this post.

By Christmases (plural), I mean that we had two every year. If today were 20 years ago, this might have been the morning that I woke up at my Mom’s house, opened gifts, and then prepared for our Christmas dinner, which usually included my father and his family.

That’s because one or two weeks before the big day, we had “Mom’s Christmas,” a full celebration only a little early. More than the early gifts, though, the highlight for me was the unveiling of Mom’s cookies–chocolate chips, Michigan rocks, ricotta, kolaches, butter pressed, pizzelles. Of course, some time in the weeks before, we had decorated the cut-outs, which involved a couple of my girlfriends and a slumber party.*

Man I’m missing home (and childhood) right about now.

Anyway, some of the reason behind having two Christmases was that my mom is a nurse and always worked Christmas day; on actual Christmas morning, she usually came over to my father’s house for a little while.

But I’m sure the bigger reason was that with two full holidays, nobody missed out on a family Christmas experience. In fact, as kids, we were blessed to have to double the fun.

And the best part was that all of this seemed completely normal to me even though I knew the other kids at school weren’t having the same deal (suckers!). Now, as an adult, I see that this was the plan. And it worked.

Don’t buy it? My testimonial not enough?

Take Exhibit A, then, depicting what the two Christmas set-up made my normally curmudgeonly grandfather (may he rest in peace) do to himself one year:

See, Christmas miracles do happen.

*These are not the actual recipes my Mom uses. As you can surely understand, these are top secret and under heavy guard (in my Mom’s head). I did, however, try to find some that are close to hers.


Blogging Baptism

*Warning: Non-bloggers will most likely not give a whip about this rant. Neither will many bloggers. But it’s my blog, and I’ll rant when I want to.

Twelve days into blogging, and I’ve experienced my first bug. Actually two glitches, and they both happened early this morning. I think this means I’ve been baptized as a blogger. Maybe. Advice welcome.

The first problem was something I was readily expecting having read others’ blogs for months. My trusty Blogger in Beta (up until now) wouldn’t let me add pictures. How rude is that? But even more inconsiderate was that it didn’t actually say “We can’t add your pictures right now” or “Please try later.”

There was nothing out of the ordinary to even warn me. Instead, obviously in denial of its own shortcomings, B in B acted like nothing was wrong, like we were peaches and cream, like, well, you get the picture.

It let me put in the link, it let me click “Upload Images.” It even told me that the picture was added and that I could publish it to my blog by clicking “Done.” All the same stuff it normally says. Only there was no picture.

Can I add here that I’m on a dial-up connection, so it took a good chunk of time just to learn that I was wasting clicks? Because, of course, then I had to try sixty schmillion more times to be sure.

Even if it doesn’t seem so, I assure that I’m pretty much over this one now as things are back to normal. But this minor snafu *did* throw off my posting intentions. Now you’ll be a day behind forever! But moving on…

The other problem was much more disconcerting. I use Google Analytics to keep track of my number of visitors, where they’re coming from, etc. I clicked this morning and there was *no* data. I’m not just talking from yesterday or even the day before. All of the data that had been collected from when I started blogging was gone. Zeros. Donuts. My blog is a big fat nothing, and I have the columns of inadequacy to prove it.

Now, to be clear, I’m not very concerned with the number of visitors, but I do find it interesting to see where my readers are, where they’re directed from, and how many return. Thank goodness I now have that nifty map over on the right for partial backup at least. (Kudos to Katerina Fiore for the silent inspiration!)

So I emailed Google’s help desk or whatever, and I got back a form message of potential causes of the problem described in my message, which no one even read. One of the possibilities was that all those goose eggs may be because of routine maintenance, and that everything should reappear and be back on track within 72 hours.

Uh huh. Ci credo quando lo vedo.

So, fellow bloggers, I feel initiated now. I feel baptized as a blogger. But my question is this: should I? Or are there more “normal” problems I should be prepared for before I get my wings?

I don’t like to expect the worst, but I do like to be prepared.

For now, though, I just kinda feel like doing this:


Il Braciere: Warm and Toasty, Calabrian Style

E’ arrivato l’inverno.

Winter has arrived.

This was the topic of conversation around the piazza this morning. It’s suddenly overcast, damp, and chilly. I can’t say it’s actually cold as I grew up in the mountains of Pennsylvania; southern Italian winters just don’t compare. But for some perspective, I was wearing a turtleneck sweater and a light jacket, which means it’s considerably more wintry than it was last week at this time.

Even before I went up the piazza, though, I knew winter was here because my neighbor Anna Maria was out preparing her braciere, or brazier. When I first arrived in the village, I noticed Anna Maria storing coal in a little bin outside her house and asked what it was for. Remember, folks, I’m from Coal Country, so this was something that intrigued me.

I picked up a piece of coal and realized that it wasn’t what I was used to–this was much softer. But the innocent question did land me at Anna Maria’s that evening, and from then on, she and I shared many a serata around the brazier–she talked mostly in dialect as I struggled to find a stray word that I remotely understood.

So how does this ancient contraption work?

For some background, there’s a basin for the coal:

The coal, by the way, is bought from a car that drives down the main street blasting Calabrian folk music and announcing rather indecipherably, “Carbone! Carbone! Carbone!” over its loudspeaker. Emphasis on the loud. And the indecipherably.

Once the coals are smoldering, the basin fits inside its holder. On top rests an iron structure, slightly conical with a flat top surface, which is then covered by a woolen tablecloth. All together you get something that looks like a round table the size of a nightstand.

First, take the basin outside and scoop out some of the old ashes. They will be reused later, so don’t throw them away.

Next, add the coal.

Now add some dried twigs or other material to get the fire going, and light it up.

Be sure to fan the flames to get the fire going really well.

Then smother the whole thing with some ash you scooped out before, ensuring smoldering as opposed to flaming coals.

Now lug the basin inside and place the iron table on top.

Finally, do like Anna Maria, scoot up a chair, and rest your feet on the rim of the burner. If it’s particularly chilly, pull up the table cloth so it covers your hands and lap, and voilà!

Warm and toasty, Calabrian style.

P.S. Throw in some clementine peels and you have an air freshener too!


Love Thursday: How a Jean Jacket and Some Wind Can Change Your Life

Let me confess that I have a bit of a jacket/coat fetish. I love them. All. If I could afford to have a different jacket/coat for every day of the year, for every kind of weather, I would. Hooded, traditional collar, zipper, button, cropped, ankle-length, sporty, any color, any time.

So imagine my excitement when, the last time I was in America, I found a spectacular jean jacket at the Gap–on sale! Jean jackets are particularly difficult for me–must be the exact right length, right color, right level of fittedness. You see the issues. Well this one was it. So it came back to Italy with me, and I treasured it.

But then one exceptionally windy day in May of 2005, I carelessly rested it on my shoulder bag as I walked from the piazza to my house, about a three minute walk. In my defense, I was also carrying my friend’s cat, who I’d be watching that weekend. When I got to my house, I set down the little guy and took the bag off my shoulder. No jacket.

Now, when I say that it was exceptionally windy, we’re talking hurricane force gusts. We get powerful winds from all directions, but this one was the scirocco from the Sahara (they tell me), and it was ridiculously fierce. We’re far enough away that we don’t get the sand too, but my friends in Sicilia often aren’t so lucky (they tell me). I actually had doubts that my jacket was even still in the village.

I went back up to the piazza and began walking around kind of aimlessly, looking for cornered spots where the jacket may have landed. I was interrupted by one of the guys from the village. We’ll call him #1. I had seen him around and we had exchanged “ciao” many times, but we had never actually met. Next thing I knew, he had rounded up a group of young boys and they were searching high and low for my jacket; he even sent one down into the vegetation just over the ledge of the lookout point of the square.

In the meantime, another young man from the village–let’s call him #2–began chatting me up. A bunch of smalltalk, nothing special, but noticeably not even a mention of the missing jacket. So I’m standing there, and I’m nodding to whatever it was he was blathering on about, and what I’m really thinking is how unbelievably nice it was of #1 to organize a makeshift search team and actually *do* something for me rather than just hit on me. And wasn’t he kind of cute after all?

The fruitless search ended soon thereafter. Dejected, I walked home on the main street. About halfway down, I heard “Signorina!” from a woman on her balcony. Turns out she saw my jacket fly away, and she was keeping it safe and sound in her house the whole time. Reunited!

That evening after dinner, I put on my beloved jacket and took a walk into the piazza. I noticed #1 in the doorway of the bar and thought I should at least tell him that I found the darn thing. So I walked up there and did just that. He asked if I wanted an amaro (a digestive liqueur). Here I should mention that #1 had asked me if I wanted a coffee or other beverage, oh, probably 20 times before–but that’s not an usual thing here as even the old geezers are always offering. Or maybe I just always look thirsty.

Anyway, usually I respond to such questions with a quick “No, no,” wind up the conversation, and skadoodle. But this time, before I had chance to think, I had already accepted the amaro. And I don’t even like amaro.

We spent that evening walking and talking, getting to know one another, and have been together ever since. Yes, clever readers, #1 is the infamous P, and this was our first official meeting. It was love at first flight! Sorry, couldn’t resist.

But now you know the story of how a jean jacket and some wind can change your life. Or at least mine.

But if you’re waiting for pic of P, or of P and me, sorry to disappoint. He’s still blog shy and despite the fact that he doesn’t read English, pictures are the universal language.

Please note that Chookooloonks, the founder of Love Thursday, has ended her written journal, but you can find her photography journal (with a fabulous Love Thursday photo) here.

Happy Love Thursday everyone!


100 Things About Me

The obligatory blogger list so you can get to know me better:

  1. I’m 30.
  2. And I’m OK with that.
  3. Really.
  4. I think I would be slightly less OK with that if I weren’t in a serious relationship.
  5. That’s admittedly pathetic, but it’s the truth.
  6. I hear a slight tick of the biological clock.
  7. But not enough to go ahead and get knocked up.
  8. I’d like to have 3 children if it’s in the stars.
  9. All of my high school girlfriends got married waaaaay before I had my first serious boyfriend.
  10. And I’m OK with that.
  11. Really.
  12. My parents’ divorce was final on my 3rd birthday.
  13. I grew up in a house with my father and his parents.
  14. But I have an extremely close relationship with my mother.
  15. Seriously, we have that weird thing where we literally feel each other’s pains even though we’re an ocean apart.
  16. It’s freaky.
  17. I have one older brother.
  18. I didn’t know at the time, but now I realize that he shielded me from a lot of the chaos happening at the time of our parents’ divorce.
  19. I’ve never thanked him.
  20. My brother has created a lovely family despite our relationship role models, and I hope that I will too.
  21. I miss my niece and nephew more than words could ever express.
  22. I wish my family would visit me.
  23. Oh, I live in southern Italy.
  24. In my ancestors’ village.
  25. It’s on a hilltop that is charming, quaint, and all those typical “small Italian village” adjectives.
  26. It can also be annoying as all hell because nearly everyone is related.
  27. And up in your business.
  28. But I love it.
  29. And I love my life with my fiancé, P, and doggie Luna.
  30. Luna was a gift from P and is also called Luna Balloona.
  31. Or Sboopers.
  32. Or Luna Balloona Sboopiter Boppiter Boopiter.
  33. I like nicknames.
  34. I once had a dog named Maverick.
  35. A.k.a. Mavericka-Rony-Ravy-Doodle-Noodle-Bug.
  36. I never said I was normal.
  37. I love P because he plays along with these silly names.
  38. We have pet names for one another.
  39. Yes, it’s disgusting.
  40. No, I’m not going to tell you what they are.
  41. But I will tell you that we address each other as “Amore” or “Amò.”
  42. Yes, that, too, is disgusting.
  43. We only use our proper names in moments of displeasure.
  44. So far in making this list, I’ve only cried once, but smiled many times.
  45. I’ve become a drop-of-the-hat crier.
  46. I don’t know when it happened.
  47. I used to make fun of my mother because she cried so easily watching movies.
  48. Now I’m my mother.
  49. And I’m OK with that.
  50. Really.
  51. I’m writing this list before I even have a blog.
  52. But I promise it will appear in its original format (with any edits for age references) when I finally do take the plunge into the blogosphere.
  53. I have a law degree.
  54. But I don’t practice law.
  55. I did pass 2 state bar exams on the first try, though.
  56. So there.
  57. I’ve never wanted to practice law.
  58. I always wanted to be a writer.
  59. I wish I would’ve had the courage to pursue it from the moment I arrived at Duke.
  60. Ah yes, I graduated from Duke University (with honors, if you’re interested).
  61. If you went to UNC, you know where you can go.
  62. No, I still won’t wear crybaby blue.
  63. Even though I don’t really follow what happens at my alma mater very much.
  64. Except for the lacrosse rape scandal.
  65. I can’t believe that made it into my 100 things about me.
  66. I wish the Duke Gardens were still a walk away.
  67. But the Ionian Sea ain’t half-bad either.
  68. Before Duke, I was valedictorian of my high school class.
  69. Which is cool to say and all, but it means precisely nothing.
  70. Especially when your high school is in Podunk, PA.
  71. Not that I don’t love The Region.
  72. If you’re from there, you know what I’m talking about.
  73. If you’re not, you’ll never get it.
  74. Sorry der butt.
  75. I lived in Philadelphia for five years.
  76. I love the Phillies, the Eagles, cheesesteaks, the Art Museum, and the Italian Market.
  77. The rest I could do without.
  78. If I eat potato chips, I want a Hershey bar.
  79. If I eat popcorn, I want red licorice.
  80. I love peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but I’ve never tried peanut butter and pickle.
  81. I’m saving that for when/if I’m pregnant.
  82. I’m a pretty good cook.
  83. I have a knack for knowing what a dish “needs.”
  84. I’m also a pretty good baker.
  85. It was almost guaranteed that I’d cook and bake well as both my mother and paternal grandmother are/were excellent cooks and bakers.
  86. I read a real, real lot.
  87. This is an odd hobby in Italy because it’s considered anti-social.
  88. Reading has helped me learn Italian, as has watching crappy Italian television.
  89. Italian television often simultaneously annoys, entertains, and offends me.
  90. I came here knowing how to say only “ciao” and “buon giorno.”
  91. P speaks no English (except for “how are you?” and “wow”).
  92. This was a big incentive to learn Italian.
  93. I can now even speak the local dialect when pressed.
  94. But I feel kinda silly doing so.
  95. It’d be like a foreigner coming into The Region and asking if “Dey got dem dere haluski at da Ack-a-me.”
  96. It’d just be weird.
  97. I know I’ll never be considered a true paesana here.
  98. And I’m OK with that.
  99. Really.
  100. Because I’ll always be a Coal Cracker.

Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time.

 
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Recipes

 

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Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake