Saturday, July 15, 2017


This is an embarrassed Donatella trying to get back on her horse. Could it be that a year has gone by without postings? How is this possible?

The short answer is that Donatella's academic alter ego was writing a book, retired from her beloved university posts of 33 years, and downsized after 35 years from her beautiful home. It has been a year filled with transitions, and you know how much Donatella loves those. But it's time to try to catch up.

There has certainly been no lack of misadventures to record. After all, this IS the Umbrian countryside where the returning homeowner is likely to encounter power outages, droughts, busted irrigation systems and garbage disposals and pool pumps, and riding mowers that have gone on the fritz. And that doesn't even include the espresso coffeemaker that gives Donatella's husband reason to live.

To resolve each problem requires a certain energy and patience, but the silver lining can be a good story and the cementing (or re-cementing) of a relationship with the lovely people who generously help us.

To add to the chaos of the settling-in process after a 4.5-month absence, why not order a swing set? The grandkids will soon be coming for their summer visit, and this should be a great surprise for them. Unfortunately, to get such an item delivered here can entail a few surprises of its own. I offer as evidence the following.

Below you can see the size of the truck carrying the new swing set that had to make its way down our terrible road.

When the driver called to say he was at the Casa di Riposo (Old Folks' Home) and could we meet him there, we thought it was gonna be a piece of torta. "That's just a few minutes from our house!" I told him excitedly.

When he asked on the phone how bad the road was, I kind of waffled and felt my nose getting longer as I said, "Well, we regularly get gas deliveries from a big truck that comes down that road." He said his truck was probably bigger than the gas truck. As it turned out, he was right to be suspicious.

When we got to our local Old Folks' Home we found a giant truck there alongside a guy bulldozing earth that he was depositing into it. Oops! With no swing sets anywhere in evidence, we realized that this was not our truck.

Then I remembered that our little town of Castel Giorgio is Old Folks' Home "central": there are at least 4 or 5 of them scattered around the town.

When we called the driver again to ask where the heck he was, he was starting to get impatient on this 94-degree day, with lunchtime approaching. Finally we sort of realized where he was, and thanks to Karen on the GPS, we got ourselves there. I went up to introduce myself to the driver and apologize profusely for all the confusion. When I asked him his name he said proudly, "Leonardo, as in Leonardo Da Vinci." I then introduced him to my husband, James Bond, after which we seemed to be starting off on a better track. That, of course, was before he saw the so-called road.

There were some tense moments during the journey itself, including meeting, coming from the other direction, a hysterical woman (who could have been me) who had to back up to let us pass. Leonardo hopped out of his truck to keep her from falling off the cliff, and we were temporarily back in business.

But that was before we encountered one hairpin turn just short of our driveway that looked like a deal breaker. Leonardo was not happy at all. He again hopped out, threw his hands up in the air, and proclaimed that there was no way he was going to be able to move anywhere ever again.

Because we've lived in Italy for nearly 10 years now, we recognize this as just the usual phase when all looks lost. The trick is to just wait it out. Sure enough, with a little guidance and encouragement from cool Mr. Bond, Leonardo managed to maneuver himself back on the road in the direction of our place.

By then, he wasn't trusting anything we said about how easy the rest would be. He stopped a few yards back from our gate, and hopped out again while gesticulating wildly in the direction of the overhead trees.

It was unclear if he would be willing to go any further. But trees can bend, and so did he.

The topper was when he finally backed up to our door and opened the back of the gigantic truck. There in one corner were the components of our swing set. The rest of the space was completely empty! Why they ever sent a behemoth that size with a load that small to middle-of-nowhere Italy is anybody's guess.

We offered Leonardo some water and our sincere thanks, but not before complimenting him for taking after his namesake by being a true genius.

These other photos are of our entrance driveway on which my tireless brother and sister-in-law, Jack The Wack and Susan, did so much work last summer. It had grown back with a vengeance, but was whacked into submission this morning by Francesco and Ricardo, our two new garden helpers. Even with their power tools, it was a big job that we are accustomed to doing ourselves with small hand tools. But it is good to see how the pros do it, and we will now try to follow their model.
The next adventure: assembling and installing the play set. Fortunately for us, another genius, Serghei from Moldova, will be coming to help with that. He has two kids who we hope will get to swing here, too. Who ever said that to be a swinger was going to be easy?


This is the sequel to "Geniuses to the rescue during this day of drama!")

It's lunchtime, and Leonardo was really happy to see the back of us!

(We reassured him that the other route outa here wasn't half as bad, and when we took it to town later in the day, we were relieved not to find him stuck anywhere. There were, however, plenty of downed branches along the way. Like his namesake, Leonardo had left his mark.)


As you can see, there's no attachment here. Bummer! I tried to include an 11-second video to illustrate this post, but supposedly it's too big to send. No make-o sense-o. But then again, technology never makes sense to me. By the way, this is being written on a brand new computer. While an improvement like that would bring joy to most people, it merely strikes terror in the heart of a techno-dunce like yours truly. But fortunately, my husband who understands these things is within screaming distance.   

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Everything was unusually calm and well organized at the airport. WHAT? Where was all the chaos that always tells us we're back in our adopted country?

Instead of having to run around like a nut in order to find a porter with a cart big enough to hold our dog's crate (which happens to be larger than some Paris apartments), we stumbled on a cute guy named Luigi who said he'd be back for us once our luggage and dog arrived.

The typical situation is that our dog Murray gets unloaded first and is plopped down in front of the "large and irregular baggage" department. It's usually no problem to find Murray because once he hears our voices, he starts barking very loudly, conveying the internationally comprehensible message, "GET ME OUT OF HERE!"

This time, before we knew it, the bags had all arrived, and lovely Luigi brought Murray to us, whisking our entire load to where our friend, Roy, was waiting to pick us up with our car. Could it be that we could get home without any misadventures?

Not so fast.... All was suspiciously copacetic during most of the hour-and-a-half ride to Orvieto. It felt like summer already, as we encountered our local shepherd (still bald and naked as ever from the waist up behind the wheel of the tiny car he uses to herd his sheep. I’ve often wondered if he’s wearing any pants, and have yet to find out.) But 20 minutes from our destination, our 2002 Honda CRV started bucking like a bronco.

This was familiar to us, since it had happened before and had supposedly been fixed. Hmm... Would we be able to make it home, the road to which is, under the best of circumstances, full of challenges? Roy remained unflappable, and we somehow managed to get there. Phew! But we're not out of the woods, yet. This car needs a doctor. We know whom to call--it's just that his repair shop is a bumpy 20-minute ride away.

We're naively thinking that by using our "reserve" car, the 1999 Renault--the one whose specialty is to dry fruit on its windshield--we might be able to drive to the mechanic in two cars, and leave the bucking bronco there.

But when my handy husband opens the Renault's hood, he gets showered with many of the acorns stored there over the past four months by some enterprising wildlife. Let's not even mention the nests of the wasps that enjoy setting up housekeeping inside the car's door hinges. We call our mechanic to let him know we're going to try to make it to his place in both of these over-the-hill vehicles, one of which has been driven nowhere for the past four months. Ready?

My husband asks which of these cars I, the least confident driver I know, wants to use for the twenty-minute jaunt ahead. The potentially bucking bronco? Or the untested, manual transmission Renault? It was a tough call, but I ended up going for the bronco, since that was the more familiar car. As it turned out, that was the right decision.

The plan was to follow behind my husband and flash my lights or honk if the Honda started bucking. All had been going fine with me when I saw J signal, stop and pull over in front of one of the few houses along our remote road--the very winery where we had stopped to deal with a similar problem before.

Oops! In our worry about the bucking Honda, J had forgotten to check the water level in the Renault. The temperature light going on and the flashing, red STOP RIGHT NOW OR THIS CAR WILL EXPLODE alerted him to his error.

He raised the hood, got clunked on the head by a few hundred more acorns, and saw the evidence. At this point, a car coming from the other direction stopped to see what we wacky non-natives were up to now. When I explained about the water problem, they were amused, asking questions in a dialect even more incomprehensible than what we’re used to. Realizing that we were hopeless, they joined J under the hood, pointed to the empty water reservoir, gesticulated wildly while exclaiming something like “aha!”,and kindly offered to bring us a few bottles of water from their place just up the road.

Why does this man look so stunned? Maybe because when he raised the hood, he got whacked by a shower of acorns?
Yes, indeed! There's no water to be found in here. Now what?

There may not have been any water, but there were definitely plenty of acorns.

When they invent a car that will run on acorns, we could be all set!

This is the beauty of life in rural Italy: we all became fast friends, and discovered we knew some of the same people, including P, the owner of the vineyard in front of which we had stopped. Just then, P came out of his house smiling, perhaps thinking, "Oh, it's YOU again??" (When this happened a previous time, he had kindly escorted J and the problem car all the way into town to be sure he'd make it there. Further, the nice father and son who stopped to help us this time were well known to P: they're the ones who had sold him the property where he now has his winery.)

So far, Providence seems to be looking out for us--not only did we make it to the mechanic's without further misadventures, but the names of our new father-and-son guardian angels are "Angelo Senior" and “Angelo Junior.” Viva Italia!

Monday, January 4, 2016


Today, on the brink of Christmas
and my 69th birthday
I find myself looking out
not through French-style rose-colored glasses
but through my Italian windows
the ones that bear the signature,
la firma, the leitmotif  of this house that we brought back to life.

That signature, even at the age of six and a half, continues to reveal
multiple possibilities:
Could be a butterfly, but a rare one like Nabokov's Karner Blue
Or a flower? A four-leaf clover?
Or four bodies with a head and curvy linked arms--an Italian-style
Family of Man?

Unlike a coat of arms that one is born into
this logo was the one we chose--
a design inspired by what we saw
on the gates, the "cancelli"
of our adopted country

I'm not even sure of the Italian equivalent of "la vie en rose"
"Ottimista" is all that I can think of
or the oft-used "magari," that oh-so-hopeful "maybe"
How can one not love a country that has a verbal tic like that?

I need to check the origins of "firma" whose solid sound radiates feet-on-the-ground permanence
like the head-on-shoulders interpretation of my window motif.

And what about those "cancelli"
that mark our entrance and exit
from this property?
Is something being cancelled out?
Welcomed in?
Ushered out?

Usually at war with ugly prepositions, I see that I have embraced them here, and
ditto for those gerunds so pesky in English or French
but that are full of positive energy in Italian.

In three short weeks I will exit these cancelli
re-don my French and American hats, fly like a butterfly across the ocean, and magari land on terra firma, having kept my head on my shoulders, keeping in mind that my butterfly-adorned cancelli will be waiting for my May return.

And magari, to think in those terms will not be
Looking at life
through rose-colored glasses.