For some reason I started snapping the churches as we cruised around the lake. There were plenty of them!
I recently spent a week in a villa on Lake Como in the Italian Alps. On our last night we had a local chef come in to cook us dinner. He was the brother of the villa’s owner and worked for a restaurant in Bellagio. He suggested a menu made up of local foods and, with a few adjustments to our group, we eagerly agreed.
Lake Como is in the Lombardy region of Italy and is known for its risottos and polentas. They boast a wide variety of cheeses and the fish in the lake is abundant. We watched people fishing just outside our villa and it took them less than a minute to catch something. Normally fish would have been on our menu but some in our group couldn’t eat it.
We started with a typical Antipasto of meats and cheeses including mortadella, salami, mushroom pate and local cheeses accompanied by a local white wine “Le Calderine” from the Angelinetta Winery in Domaso.
The next course, we were told, was a local peasant dish called Pizzocheri. It was a pasta made with buckwheat flour. The chef and his sister hand rolled it into fat wormlike noodles. These were boiled and finished with cream, herbs, walnuts, and cheese. This was the dish we all liked the least. It was heavy and a bit sour. We all thought it might have been better if it was cooked a bit longer but having nothing to compare it to, we couldn’t be sure. Most of us could not finish it.
Our main course was roast pork shank with porcini mushrooms and a polenta cake. The pork was magnificent. It fell off the bone and melted in your mouth and the mushrooms were the perfect accent to the dish. We asked if the mushrooms were fresh, they were so delicious, but were told they were not in season. They had been preserved locally in jars. A “ca del Mot” red wine from the same local winery accompanied this dish.
For dessert we had frittelle stuffed with apples and raisins. These are deep fat fried yeast risen pancakes similar to a doughnut and sometimes called Venetian Doughnuts. The frittelle were served hot, dusted with sugar and cocoa and drizzled with honey. They were quite good but kind of heavy on top of a heavy dinner.
The grand finale was the Grolla. It originated in a region to the west of Lombardy also on the Swiss border, the Valle d’Aosta. It is a drink that requires a special container, or Grolla, the cup of friendship. It is carved out of one piece of wood and has openings for each person at the table to drink out of. The saying goes that the people who drink from the same Grolla will be united in eternal friendship but everybody must drink from their own opening and the entire contents must be finished.
The traditional recipe is one cup coffee and one cup hot grappa and a spoonful of sugar per person, add an orange peel, a lemon peel and light. When the flame burns out, let it cool a bit and start drinking. I’m not sure this recipe was followed exactly but the drink was delicious and we enjoyed it very much.
(I am reposting this from my Eclectic Global Nomad blog)
A couple of months ago I took a trip and found that my boarding pass said “TSA Pre-check”. I didn’t notice it until the official at security told me I could take the fast lane. It meant I didn’t have to take my shoes off or pull anything out of my bag and I could wear my jacket. I breezed through security. It made a difference. I had known about it for a while but people told me I had to apply for it and it took forever. For some reason they just gave it to me without asking. I didn’t question it but I did wonder why.
When I was sixteen I went off to boarding school in Switzerland. My parents were living in Nigeria. My roommate traveled from Tanzania. My best friend’s parents were living in Tokyo. Walking down the hall in my dorm there were people from Saudi Arabia, Germany and various US cities. In a couple of weeks I will be going back to stay in the new dorms of my old school for a big reunion. I will see several of my old dorm-mates. We will haunt the old stomping grounds reliving old memories and making new ones.
One of my tasks for this reunion is to write a speech. I am having trouble sitting myself down and focusing on this task. Do I draw on the memories of particular events from those days?
The time Kelly saved my life at the Duomo in Florence. I didn’t know I had vertigo but turns out I did and he took my hand and guided me through it. The trip to Dachau and how quiet everybody was on the bus home. Leaning to drink warm beer at the HofBrauHaus in Munich. The other great thing about Munich was we saw our first McDonald’s in Europe and became “American” for a weekend. In Venice we got around on water buses and discovered a small disco. Plus a pigeon landed on my head in St Mark’s Square. Hiking up the side of a mountain just to lie in the grass and stare at the sky. Instigating “all school skip day” that stuck as a tradition.
Traveling through Greece having to hear about every single ruin by the side of the road and never getting to listen to rock and roll music. Taking a cruise through the Greek Islands and being bombarded by wet toilet paper rockets in the hallway outside the girl’s cabin. Listening to boring lectures about the mosaics of Ravenna and Giotto’s Chapel. Wishing there were horses in the square in Siena.
Or do I talk about the overall experience of living with an exceptional group of people, teachers and students alike who influenced the rest of our lives.
We were taught to be independent, curious, adventurous, supportive and respectful. We were only 16 or 17 and we traveled the world on our own without thinking twice about it. We would seek out art and architecture wherever we went. We enjoyed each other’s company, had fun together and sometimes tolerated each other. We became a family.
And now many many years later, we are still family. We have a unifier that brings us all together. That time in Switzerland made us all different. We experienced something together that other people could never understand. It was our unique world and we came out of it as a unit. So when we meet each other now, even if we didn’t know each other then, we immediately have a connection. We have a common ground to work off of. In some cases it was a jumping off point to forge new relationships. Even now the family continues to grow.
Or do I just tell a story and thank everybody for coming. Of course all memories are subject to change and embellishment. I could probably make something up. But I won’t. I will keep it simple and short. Who wants to listen to a speech when you are sitting eating French food on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world?
On another note, I am going bi-coastal. My Baltimore Post Examiner blog, Eclectic Global Nomad has been picked up by the Los Angeles Post Examiner so you can find me in both.
When I was five, I was in a plane crash. After that I was terrified of planes. When I was six we had to travel from Burma to the US and then a year later we moved to Mexico City. I did not get on another airplane until I was twelve.
My first plane trip in many years was in the first class section on a PanAm flight from Mexico City to Guatemala. We were the only ones in first class so I got to be kind of chummy with the flight attendant. Toward the end of the flight he asked me how I liked the flight and how I felt about it. I thought that was kind of odd and didn’t know what he was talking about. Apparently my parents had briefed him on me and my troubles with flying, and so he had made a special effort to distract me. By that time I had blocked out the whole thing and had no recollection of there being any problems. I just wondered why didn’t fly more and why we took such long boring road trips everywhere.
In Guatemala, we rented a car and drove up the mountain to Lake Atitlan. Volcanoes surrounded the lake and the lake itself was a collapsed volcanic cone. Since I am off to Lake Como, Italy in a few weeks I want to add this quote I found from Aldus Huxley – “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.“
On the way up the mountain to the lake, we saw people lying by the side of the road. We didn’t know if they were dead, passed out or taking a nap. It was very odd. We later found out that the previous day was payday and they had done their celebrating and not quite made it home. Apparently it was a familiar site in the countryside. We also went to Chichicastenango and to Antigua. This was major earthquake country. Antigua was the original capital of Guatemala but in 1776 there was such a bad earthquake they moved the capital to where it is today – Guatemala City. Antigua was surrounded by three volcanoes.
There was a new part of Antigua and an old part. The old part was all ruins. It was an eerie place. It was once a major city that tumbled down and was left there like a memorial. We stopped at a small restaurant and ate our meal in the yard. There was a group of musicians that wandered from table to table. We could see laundry hanging at the end of the lawn.
From there, we continued to El Salvador. I don’t remember much about it except one night in San Salvador we were staying in a high-rise hotel and I was sleeping on a cot. The building started to sway and my cot started moving across the room. All I could do was laugh. I was used to earthquakes in Mexico so it was not out of the ordinary. It wasn’t any laughing matter really since earthquakes can be devastating but being twelve and riding around on a cot, there really wasn’t much else to do. One thing I realized years later was earthquakes are very loud. They made a noise like a truck or a train. I don’t ever remember hearing that as a child.
I am featured on “My Gutsy Story” this week. Check it out!
Stepping off the airplane the air was thick enough to cut with a knife. She choked on her first breath, faltering for a moment, the second one came easier. She was dressed in white linen, fitting for the tropics. Or so she thought. She had not taken the dirt and grime of an African city into consideration. She was not going to a vacation resort but one of the bustling capitals of the Dark Continent. Having never been in this part of the world before, she had no idea what she was getting herself into. She was to find a completely alien world.
As she saw everybody pushing and shoving to get through immigration, she began to realize it would be some time before she arrived at her destination. Passports were being waved in the air and the rank smell of people who were obviously unaware of soap filled her nostrils. She tried to keep her composure but decide she must stand her ground if she ever wanted to get out of the airport.
Finally the immigration man took her passport. She smiled at him using all her charm hoping it would speed up the process. It did not. He tediously filed out the necessary forms and stamped everything several times and then he leaned down and gruffly said, “Make your way to the Health Counter”.
There being no through passage, she had to fight her way back through the crowd and around to the next stop. Her vaccinations were in order and again she fought her way to the luggage area. There, young boys descended on her asking to carry her bags. Being laden down with a coat, a carry-on bag, and her purse, she agreed to let them. They had to dig through the pile but finally all her luggage was accounted for.
As she approached the gate, an official asked if she had anything to declare. She could not think what he meant and said “No”.
On the other side of the gate, a mob was stretching to see the people inside, looking for a familiar face or an easy mark. Several men asked her if she wanted a taxi but she paid no attention as she was also stretching to see a familiar face.
Her dark brown eyes relaxed as a man in khaki shorts and sandals came up to her. He kissed her on the cheek and asked about her trip.
“Long and crowded” she answered, “I am exhausted. And I can’t believe this stifling heat! How do you stand it?”
“You will get used to it, ” Ian replied.
“And the smell?” Karen asked.
“You will get used to that, too”, he said, laughing.
She hadn’t seen her brother in two years. He looked well. Tan and thin. He was a little taller than she was but not much. They shared the same brown eyes but he had lighter hair. Maybe from the sun.
Ian was living in the bush, working on some contract related to the US Embassy. He was probably some kind of spy. She did not really know what he was doing. But he seemed to like it.
They piled into his rugged white Peugeot sedan and headed off into nightmare traffic. It took them five hours to reach their destination, a large village north of the city. Getting out of the airport was a challenge. The road was thick with traffic. The piles of trash along the way were fermenting in the sun and the smell of urine and rotting garbage was strong. She could see the open sewers, green with slime and naked children playing along side them. Music was blaring and people were shouting and singing. It was a noisy crowded mess of humanity.
She was glad to finally arrive at Ian’s bungalow and unwind with a glass of wine on the porch. Her time was so messed up she could not really think. She just went with the flow.
“Sorry but I have accepted an invitation for us to go out tonight.”
“What?” Karen asked, surprised.
“It is the Christmas Pantomime and then a light supper at the a friend’s house. It will be fun. You can sleep through the pantomime.”
Karen had left the Boston winter behind. It was December and she should have stayed to spend the holidays with her boyfriend, Josh, but she could not bear another day in that city. She needed a break. She had worked hard for two solid years to receive a Masters Degree in journalism. It was her dream to travel and write. Then she spent the next six months looking for a job with no luck. The market was saturated and there was no interest in somebody with no experience and no real conviction. She knew she wanted to write but she was not sure what she wanted to write about. Not politics. Not crime. Not flea markets and farmer’s markets. She wanted to write about exotic people and places. She was a dreamer.
So she told her boyfriend she needed a break and was going to Africa to visit her brother for a few weeks. He was not happy about that. He accused her of being cold and heartless. She thought he was probably right. She should have been more caring and attentive but frankly she did not care. She wanted to move on. To get on with her life. Not sit in Boston making babies the rest of her life. She had stored her few belongings with a friend and she doubted she would go back.
There was a small expat community in the village where Ian lived and many of them were British. Hence the Christmas pantomime. As a girl, she lived in India and was very familiar with the pantomime. Pantomimes were musical comedies usually based on children’s fairy tales. Expat communities around the world would write their own scripts incorporating individuals in the community in the jokes, sometimes off-color ones. She was looking forward to it. It would bring back fond memories.
They arrived just in time to take their seats before the curtain rose.
The story was Jack and the Magical Palm. It was very funny, full of twists, turn and innuendoes. Many of them, Karen did not understand but she fully enjoyed it anyway.
As they were getting up, a young man came up to greet Ian.
“This is my sister, Karen, who just arrived today from Boston for a few weeks. Karen, I would like you to meet my good friend, Alex.”
Karen stood transfixed. It was not that he was the most gorgeous man she had ever seen, although he was handsome, but he had such a presence, she was immediately drawn to him. She had to ask Ian to repeat his name.
“Hi, nice to meet you”
“Nice to meet you. I know Ian was looking forward to your visit. Will you be staying long?”
“I am not sure, a couple of weeks.”
“Good, then we will see more of each other, I am sure. Sorry but I have to run, I volunteered to help with clean up.”
Ian introduced Karen to a couple of other people who did not register with her at all and then they left for their dinner party at Ian’s next door neighbor’s house. They were a young couple with a young child and were not up to going to the pantomime. Karen and Ian arrived a little after nine and the child was sleeping so all was quiet.
“Hi, this is my sister Karen. Karen this is Sarah and Joe. Joe and I work together.”
“Welcome! It is great to meet you. We have heard a lot about you. Come in!”
Sitting on the screened-in porch, Karen enjoyed the cool evening breezes. The supper started with humus and pita bread. Karen was delighted as humus was one of her favorite foods. A comfort food. She was tired.
I often see articles in magazines and on the web about people who have “reinvented” themselves; or articles about how to reinvent yourself at 40 or 50. I recently came across one titled Reinvent Your Life at 30, 40, 50, 60. I found some of the stories boring. One was about a woman going from fashion designer to designing art and yoga retreats for women. Okay, I’m a little cynical. It just seemed too easy.
The 60 year old was the most interesting. She started raising money by climbing mountains. Good thing she was able to connect with a lot of generous people who sponsored her. She raised $160,000 for multiple sclerosis. Then she lost everything to Bernie Madoff and had to go to work for real. She started a catering business and then went into real estate. A real survivor.
I keep thinking I want to reinvent myself and go off on some new adventure. But when read these types of articles, I realize I have been reinventing myself my whole life. Every move was a new start. Every new school a clean slate. I could be whoever I wanted to be and do whatever I wanted to do.
It carried over into my career as well. I applied for a job in publishing production because I thought it would be cool to work in the glamorous world of magazine publishing. I ended that career as production manager for a small magazine nobody ever heard of. Then I had a brief career in the printing industry. I’m not sure what I was doing there but it wasn’t my calling.
After I got married I followed my husband around, first to Florida where I worked for a questionable insurance company doing data entry because I could not find anything else. Next move was Washington DC where I went to work for the Federal Government, doesn’t everybody? In Moscow, I worked for the British Embassy as a secretary where I had to re-learn to spell properly. Then I ran a translation company doing everything from training to payroll. My last job was printing visas for Russian businesspeople at the US Embassy.
Back in the US I did data entry for General Electric and finally found a job with a social research organization back in Washington DC, in the IT department of all things.
I had to be able to adjust and evolve to fit into my surroundings. To be flexible. To survive.
And I did survive.
When we moved to Bogota, I switched my accent from Mexican to Colombian. No problem. In Nigeria, it took me a while, but eventually I could fake some good Pidgin English and understand what people were saying. No problem. When I went to college in the US and suffered severe reverse culture shock, I figured it out and learned to blend in. No problem. In Moscow, I learned to keep my mouth shut so people wouldn’t know I was foreign. And I learned to read Cyrillic. No problem.
As I get older, I keep thinking there should be a next phase. What will come next? But then I remind myself, I have already started down that path. My blog is almost two years old, I write for an online newspaper, and I have published two books. It is my new direction, and I am loving it!
Re-posting from Eclectic Global Nomad – read about Lisa’s one woman show….
By the time I was 18, I had only lived in the United States for a total of three years. When I started college in California, I experienced severe “reverse” culture shock. At the time I had no way of understanding it or preparing for it. Because I had grown up overseas, I had a completely different experience than American kids my age.
When I arrived for my freshman year in college, I talked about traveling around Europe, hiking up Swiss mountains, and living in Africa. My college peers talked about football games, high school proms and television shows I had never heard of. I could not relate to them at all and they thought I was bragging about all the places I had been. It never occurred to me they would think that; to me my life was ordinary. To them I was like an alien landing in their dorm room and talking about visiting the rings of Saturn.
It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s, married, and living with my son and husband in Moscow, that I discovered a group called Global Nomads. Global Nomads are also called Third Culture Kids (TCK’s). The definition of a TCK is someone who grew up in countries other than their passport-country due to their parents’ jobs. I spent my whole life thinking there was something wrong with me and the founder of the group, Norma McCaig, described me in a detail nobody could have known. McCaig felt everything I felt. She had the same experiences I had. I didn’t think there was another person on earth who understood how I felt. It was truly my “ah ha” moment.
Years later I returned to the US and met Norma McCaig. Through her I learned about an organization that was just getting started called Families in Global Transition (FIGT). This organization, now 15 years old, “promotes the positive value of the international experience, and empowers the family unit and those who serve it before, during and after international transitions. FIGT believes in the capacity of the expatriate and repatriate family to transition successfully, and to leverage the international experience for all of its human and global potential.” (www.figt.org)
- Continue reading at: Eclectic Global Nomad
NOTE: the MIT venue has changed to a classroom: #6-120, and it’s at 7pm.
Arrived in the Hague. Went to the Keukenhof Flowerfields at the end of the tulip season so a lot of them were leaning and fully open, still very beautiful. Drove to Haarlam and had lunch at the Napoli.
Tuesday morning we boarded the TEE for Paris. The weather was much warmer in Paris. We walked down to the Trocadero and the Palais de Chaillot that sits on top of it and then across to the Eiffel Tower in the afternoon.
Millions of people and lots of traffic. Paris was so romantic, I don’t know what it was but it breathed romance. It wasn’t as beautiful as I remembered it but it was good to be there.
We went out to dinner and I ordered pork with mustard sauce. It was like a sausage with thin meat rolled inside. I didn’t know what part of the pig t was and it’s probably for the best. As I thought back, it seemed I had it before someplace. The meat in Europe can be strange.
After dinner I watched a Henry Fonda movie in French.
A lot of women wearing mini-skirts but mostly young girls. People were wearing absolutely everything. I always thought it would be fun to live in Paris.
Next day we must have walked about 20 miles. Walked all the way down the Champs Elysees, over to the Madeline and up to the Opera. Lunched at the Café de la Paix and walked from there to the Louvre. We saw the Mona Lisa again but this time it was encased in glass and the glass was reflecting everything in the room so you could hardly see it. I decided I wasn’t going back there.
In the evening we saw the Kirov Ballet perform some modern dances along with some classical pieces. Beautiful. The men just lingered in the air. Our seats were good, right in front. At intermission people came around the audience selling ice cream.
The next morning we strolled through the Jeu de Paume to soak up the Impressionists and then headed over to Gallerie Lafayette for some shopping. It was one of the biggest department stores I had ever seen jam packed from wall to wall. I bought a scarf.
Next stop was the new George Pompidou museum. It was an ugly structure with its guts hanging out. People congregated outside on the stone plaza to see fire eaters, magicians, musicians and weirdos. We spent three hours going through the museum. It seemed to have almost everything imaginable in it.
We managed to hit Notre Dame just as they were having mass so all the lights were on and the candles were lit and you could hardly move there were so many people. The rosettes were still there. They were still impressive.
The metro cost two francs anywhere in the zone.
The day we arrived back in the Hague it was a holiday. We went to the Gemeente Museum and saw a doll house, lots of Eschers, Van Goghs, and Mondrians. They had a musical instrument section with Asian drums, gongs and mandolins.
Downtown there was a small museum called Prince Willem V Gallery. It was crowded with the paintings the royal family owned but didn’t want to keep in their house. Some true masterpieces were on exhibit.
I took a trip to Marken. It used to be an island and was often flooded. They built their houses on piles in case of flooding. The island was isolated for many years which resulted in inbreeding which made it an interesting place for ethnographers and physical anthropologists. One old woman opened her house to visitors. It was cluttered and small.
Another day we drove to the Ijsselmeer, a man made lake with a sixteen mile long dyke at one end. We drove across it and it was impossible to tell you were on a dyke. We stopped at Sneek for lunch and then at Enkhuizen to watch all the big sailboats.