Self-isolating in Bali

I live a charmed life. But I have to admit that last week in Italy was challenging. I wondered if my flight would be cancelled, or if I’d be denied entry into Indonesia – the country was closing its borders – or if I’d get too close to someone en-route who was already infected and…

None of the above happened. I arrived home to the humid, chewable air, the familiar scents, sounds, and sights, and went immediately into self-quarantine. It was easy to stay home, I was jet-lagged after all. I ate, slept, and read the news…and read the news…and read the news…

Fourteen days later when I ventured into the streets of Ubud it was hard to believe the world was in the grips of a raging pandemic. Tourists clustered in cafes. Locals sat in groups chatting. Drivers touted taxi services and practitioners offered massages to all who passed. Didn’t they know? Was nobody taking the threat of this rapidly spreading disease seriously?

I went home and didn’t emerge again.

Then the wild Ogoh-Ogoh parade that ushers in the Balinese new year was cancelled and the traditional Day of Silence that follows was increased to two days. March 25th and 26th people were not allowed out of their homes. Police and regional security guards patrolled the streets to ensure there were no trespassers.

Following those days of absolute lockdown, the governor of Bali instructed residents to remain at home as much as possible, study at home, work from home, and only go out for groceries or emergencies. Authorities explained social distancing, an utterly foreign idea in this communal culture, and urged compliance.

Immigration posted a notice there would be no more visas issued in Indonesia. Anyone wishing to travel here must procure documents from the Indonesian Consulate in their own country with an attached certificate of good health. In the space of three days, the complexion of the island did an about-face.

Today the entire world shares a common crisis. If ever there was a chance to unify, this is it. At the community level, people are pulling together to help, often at immense personal risk. I’ve had many messages from friends, Do you need anything? Are you managing okay?

As days go by with no end in sight I find ways to busy myself. Then I came across a quote by the Dalai Lama that made me think:

The way through sadness and grief that comes from great loss is to use it as motivation and to generate a deeper sense of purpose.

The deaths of so many are a great loss. The restriction of freedom to move about is a great loss. The disappearance of jobs, of savings, of the fragile security that tomorrow will be a mirror of today, are great losses to name a few. How do I use sadness and grief as motivation? What can I do while confined in my home to generate a deeper sense of purpose?

In Italy I managed to write a post almost every day while exploring the length and breadth (and height!) of Praiano. When I stopped there were people who told me they missed reading about my adventures over their morning coffee. That was even before we were confined to our houses. Perhaps my deeper purpose is to continue entertaining my readers, to offer a moment’s distraction to laugh, or to ponder a different perspective.

I’ve found it difficult to write. It seems there’s so much content pouring forth – something for everyone – what could I possibly add? The answer that came was so obvious I hadn’t seen it. You do what you’ve always done. Tell the stories, your experience of these unprecedented times, your self-discovery. That alone is unique. It doesn’t matter if nobody cares. You do it for you.

So I’ll do just that, with huge gratitude for the internet that still connects us.

Question to ponder:

Is it possible for you to use this time of sadness and grief as motivation to discover a deeper purpose for your life?

Travel surprises in a COVID-19 world

Travel is stressful under the best circumstances. But add a global health crisis to the mix and intensity escalates.

Packed and ready for the long journey home.

Even though I couldn’t have been more isolated if I’d stayed in a monastery in Mongolia, the fact that I’d just spent a month in Praiano was like having ITALY tattooed on my forehead. I felt vulnerable.

So I was surprised to find how absent any mention of the caronavirus was in airports and on planes. If a person hadn’t read the news there would be little indication that anything was amiss with the world. No one employed by the airline industry wore a mask. Everyone was exceptionally engaging, smiley, and helpful.

On both flights seatmates offered me sterile wipes and we all dutifully wiped down our tray tables, movie screens, armrests, safety belts, etc. Convinced we’d disinfected our surroundings, we plugged in earphones and tuned each other out.

Usually I’m a serial movie-watcher on long flights. After the sanitizing ritual I selected Ford vs. Ferrari with Matt Damon and Christian Bale. I loved every minute of it, Then fell asleep and didn’t stir for seven hours.

That was a first. I’ve never been able to sleep on a plane. It was my shortest 12-hour flight to date.

The layover in Singapore was just long enough to stretch, check in with WhatsApp and Messenger, take my bags through security and board for the final leg. Nobody mentioned the C-word.

Once in the air, flight attendants distributed a yellow slip of paper from the Indonesian Ministry of Health. Anxiety prickled in my chest, what questions would it ask that I didn’t want to answer? The form was as basic as it could get: name, flight number, passport number… At the end were two boxes with this inscription: Is your present condition sick or healthy, check one.

Efficient. Maybe not terribly effective at detecting illness, but definitely efficient.

Upon landing in Bali, I joined all incoming passengers in line with our yellow forms. Here I assumed my temperature would be taken and they’d ask where I’d come from. As I approached the end I couldn’t see any of that happening. Then it was my turn. A person with a mask exchanged my declaration of ‘healthy’ for another slip of paper, also yellow, with COVID-19 stamped in bold block letters. In small print it said to keep this in my passport and if I got sick to contact the nearest health facility immediately and bring along this card.

That was it.

I proceeded through immigration, no questions asked, handed in my ‘nothing to declare’ form in the customs line, and sailed out into the chewable night air.

I breathed in the moist, incense-laden, warmth of Bali and tension left my body. The long journey was over. Ketut was at the airport to meet me with a bottle of water and his 2000 watt smile.

I’m home.

Thank you all for coming along on my 70th birthday adventure. You’ve been great travel companions and have made my experience even more enjoyable by sharing it with me!

I’m in Italy — So is COVID-19 — Am I afraid?

Shall we ignore the elephant in the room?

I think not.

The coronavirus in Italy had a 25% surge in the past 24 hours. The Local it (Italy’s news in English) reports there are now 520 confirmed cases and the infestation has spread to the south with the area of Puglia reporting one and Sicily with three.

According to Sergio Matalucci out of Milan, eleven towns have been quarantined. Schools, universities, cinemas, clubs, and museums are closed. Events have been cancelled. Supermarket shelves stand empty as people panic-buy groceries, unsure of what’s ahead.

He goes on to write that grocery owners say they don’t lack stock in their warehouses. They just need to get it to the stores more quickly – a timing issue, not a supply issue. That’s good news.

It was slim pickings in my fridge. I climbed to Tutto per Tutti market this morning and found that even here in sleepy Praiano, in an area in the south of Italy as yet unaffected, shelves had empty spaces that hadn’t been there on prior visits.

Nicola, my host, told me people who had booked his rental properties for March have cancelled. He’s concerned for himself and his town. The economy of Praiano hinges extensively on tourism. Economic consequences are being experienced worldwide. Some types of businesses will profit. Many more will not.

So what’s actually happening? How much of the reporting can be trusted?

We’ve been bombarded for several years now by cries of ‘fake news’ from the very top of the power pyramid in the United States. Media giants have the ability to sway the thoughts and actions of the entire world population by choosing what to allow on their channels or what to suppress. I highly doubt, highly highly doubt if they even know if their sources are valid.

As I read article after article, these are the thoughts uppermost in my mind. Frankly, I don’t think we have any idea what’s really happening. We have limitless quantities of information at our fingertips. We can click ourselves down rabbit-holes and wind up light-years from where we began. But we have absolutely no way of knowing truth from lies.

Yet I’m addicted to that stream of information. Some part of me still trusts, or desperately wants to.

So I’ll keep reading the news. I’ll take precautions. According to the WHO more than 80 percent of patients infected with the virus have a mild reaction to the disease and recover. I’m here in Praiano until March 6th. Nobody can predict what will happen in the coming eight days but if planes are still flying, and I’m still healthy, I’ll leave Italy from Naples on that day and head back home to Bali.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful that the sun still rises. The sea is still blue. And this town of ancient stairways and kindness is mine to explore.

La Scaletta – A Personal Tour of My Praiano Hideaway

I made coffee.

Watched the sunrise…

…and took a lovely, leisurely day at home.

Speaking of which – would you like to see the inside of my Praiano life – where I get to be when I ‘stay home’?

One of the dear people who reads my articles commented early on how it was fun to see inside the house. In the Domestic Goddess post there were snippets of appliances and a drying rack set up in my bedroom. I can do better than that.

Welcome to La Scaletta – come along…

First of all, a disclaimer. The decor does not reflect my aesthetic. Felicia, whom I love, who gave me the cooking class and put me in a food coma, owns this home. It has her flavor everywhere which makes it even more special to me.

No need to take you up the 112 steps to the front door – we’ve been there done that. Nicola hauled my suitcase all the way up and unlocked the door when I first arrived, February 3, 2020. It seems like yesterday.

I feel like my house is high above the water, and it is. But it’s only about 1/10 of the way up the mountain. There are dozens and dozens of houses higher than this. The lovely home just above me has an orchard of lemon trees. I’m a bit enamored of the cliff-dwelling life!

I’ll begin the tour with the journaling corner I’ve set up in the master bedroom. I sit with the blanket over my legs, sipping coffee and jumping up every other minute to open the French doors and shoot the sunrise. I may be here for an hour, maybe two every morning depending upon what comes up as I write. Everything I need is here, the pens, the tablet, the woven hotpad for the coffee cup, earbuds in case a daughter calls…and the view.

Here’s the rest of the master bedroom.The handstitched quilt with tiny pink rosebuds? Purple roses on the sheets repeated in the pillow cases? It’s like a hug from grandma. I pull the covers up to my chin and sleep like a princess.

There’s a tiny second bedroom with twin beds, a chest of drawers, and a closet. It’s excess space. I leave the door closed.

The bathroom is efficient laid out with a toilet, bidet, sink, and shower. I don’t understand the bidet. Someone please explain that useless piece of porcelain. I’ve purposely left it out of the photos. It’s beside the commode.

Master bedroom, spare bedroom, and bath are off this gracefully arched hallway. All the doors are solid wood.

The open plan living room, kitchen, and dining area utilize the space economically and the French doors that open onto the terrace and the sea make the room feel limitless.

The lace doily? Tchotchke on the shelves? Pink damask draperies? Ladderback chairs? Ummm…no. But here in Praiano, in this house? Yes.

I’m curious. Does IKEA sell complete sets of art, plus matching sofa slipcover, plus pillows that perfectly, I mean PERFECTLY pick up every color in the art? I noticed the cookware is from IKEA – that made me slightly suspicious. It’s just too, too, too…coordinated! I do love the red sofa though.

Glassware, glass shelving, tiny figurines like the ones my mother collected that I had to dust individually every Saturday…uh-huh. Not me.

But oh! The terrace! The coup de coeur. It stretches across the entire front of the house and it couldn’t have a more splendid view. I watch ships and sailboats. I can monitor the traffic on the Via Roma. (There is none.) I can see Sandulli’s tower and Angela’s shop. And did I mention the sunrise?

One end of the terrace has two loungers like this. A majolica dining table with lemons and oranges – what could be more Italian – and wrought iron chairs anchors the other end.

I give myself credit for getting up and out of this cozy place to explore. I could be very very comfortable with my books, my writing papers, the sun on the terrace, the view…

And the wine. Here’s the one I picked up yesterday. A crisp pinot grigio that I’ll be pairing with caprese salad and farmer’s bread in about two seconds.

I hope you enjoyed the tour. I’ll tell you about farmer’s bread another day!

Hiking the Amalfi Coast in Cute Shoes

Today I unlocked the blue gate and headed west on Via Roma, past Angela’s shop and Sandulli’s tower. Past Via Miglina – the farthest point I’ve been on foot in this direction – and kept going.

When Nicola took me to the winery I’d cranked my neck back and forth ooooing and ahhhhing as one magnificent scene after another sped by too fast.

So I set out today with no other purpose than to photograph this stretch of the coast for as far as I could walk and still walk back.

The road hugs the cliffs. I never lost sight of the sea…except in the tunnels…

There isn’t much of a margin for error. I hugged the side and flattened myself against the wall if two cars tried to pass next to me.

I’d just cleared one tunnel and could see the next across a ‘sunken’ village. It isn’t really sunken – just another fisherman’s inlet.

I marvel at the engineering of these soaring bridges.

Can you see them – Roman soldiers crossing on horseback, armor flashing in the sun, banners waving, lances piercing the sky?

That’s a strange-looking rock formation…from a distance (above) and up close (below).

So much of the architecture seems free-form, whimsical almost. It has to be to cling to the irregular edges of rock cliffs.

A plunge to turquoise waters far, far below.

I love the stucco and I love the stone! I love the cliffs and I love the sea!

Still not crazy about tunnels…but I’m getting better!

During the 10th-11th centuries, Praiano was the summer residence of the doges of the Duchy of Amalfi. I have to believe that some of these grand structures were once royal homes.

Italy has fjords. Who knew? This one is called Fiordo di Furore (Fjord of Fury) and it doesn’t look anything like the fjords I sailed on in Norway. But according to the Oxford Dictionary definition: a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs, it fits.

A stoplight! I just happened to arrive as all the testosterone you could wish for came roaring to a stop to wait for the green light!

There are two types of towers built on outcroppings of rock along the coast. The round ones came first. They were strictly watchtowers. If danger was approaching by sea a huge fire was lit so the people of the town could assemble, or run, or whatever they needed to do back then.

The square towers, like this one, came later. They housed artillery actually used to shoot at enemy invaders.

Notice the church sitting high on the ridge.

I’d reached the Grotta Dello Smeraldo, the Emerald Grotto.

Across the street from the steps leading down – which I’ll save for another day – was a ceramics showroom. This is a far different quality product than I’ve seen in the little souvenir shops. I drooled for a while. It’s probably a good thing the shop was closed.

Did I mention everything was closed? Sunday morning, of course. Although knowing what I know now I expect maybe they’re all closed Monday through Saturday, too! Many of these places won’t see the light of day until April or May when tourists again begin to flock to the beaches.

I checked the clock and the map. It had taken me 1.5 hours to walk 2.25 miles stopping every other step to take a picture. Hopefully I’d get home in half the time. I was getting hungry.

Plus, my ballet flats do great in town on the steps, but this highway hiking – I should have worn the New Balance shoes I brought along for just this purpose. What was I thinking?

Actually, I know exactly what I was thinking. These are cuter. Oh, Sherry!

As I started back I realized the road sloped very gently downward. I’d been walking uphill the entire way and hadn’t realized it.

The water was on my left for the return and I saw things I’d missed going the opposite direction.

All along the coastal road outcroppings of rock like this one, hang over the highway. An elaborate net system is used to hold them in place. Nicola told me rock slides still happen and when they do, the road may be impassable for days.

Arches. They’re everywhere in Italy, and here’s why. From study.com: The Roman arch was the foundation of Rome’s architectural mastery and massive expanse of building projects across the ancient world. It allowed the Romans to make bigger buildings, longer roads, and better aqueducts. The Roman arch is the ancestor of modern architecture.

Now this…this must have been a royal residence at some time. I want to believe it!

Only one more tunnel after this one. That’s Praiano in the distance.

And on the other side of the tunnel, Paulo Sandulli’s tower. I’m almost home!

I read the news every day so I know in some ways this exquisite experience is a make-believe bubble. Yet I’m grateful, so grateful to be here. To see the beauty and share it. To feel the utter joy of being alive. I don’t want to send more doom and gloom into the ether. There’s an overabundance of that already. I believe we need to do our part to alleviate suffering wherever we can. But still we must celebrate what can be celebrated and not feel guilty about doing so.

As though to put an exclamation point on a perfect day, the leftovers of sunset on the other side of the mountain hung for a few breathless moments in the eastern sky. A benediction.

Path of the Gods – Let’s Talk About Legs

I pity night owls. Really, I do. To miss a masterpiece that lasts moments then is gone seems like a terrible waste. I think that’s why I’m obsessed with photographing the sunrise. I wake up at 5:00, make coffee, then sit, and sip, and wait. The fiery splendor this morning dazzled me.

Today is day twenty of this fabulous Italian adventure and I have a plan. A dot on the map indicates Sentiero degli Dei Praiano – Path of the Gods. I want to go to the dot. I’ve been told from that point it’s another 2000 steps up to the actual trail. Today, the dot. Tomorrow…?

I chart my course. Fortunately, even though I don’t have data here, if I add the route to my phone’s home screen and turn on location it tracks me. It’s essential in this maze of unmarked paths and stairs.

But before we get on our way, lets talk for a minute about legs. I’ve always had muscular calves, embarrassingly muscular. A gym teacher in high school told me I had legs like a Roman gladiator. Not what a pubescent teen wants to hear.

I do a lot of walking so I’ve maintained leg-strength as I’ve aged. But let me be perfectly clear about Praiano. If you have weak knees, weak hips, weak thighs, weak lungs, weak heart, or a weak mind, don’t bother. Strong calves are not enough. Good intentions are not enough. Determination will get you far, but not far enough.

My limits were tested today.

It began innocently. I took the trail I discovered the other night coming home from the bus stop. The slope upward connected to a road that took me to Tutto per Tutti market but cut off half the steps I normally climb to get there.

I passed Tutto per Tutti and took the next switchback up to La Moressa, the restaurant where I had pizza a few nights ago. There was a narrow stairway to the left. I stopped to check my location. That was it.

Up, up, up. Panting and winded, I rounded a corner. San Luca church rose high above me, white against the cloudless sky.

The next time I saw the church it was below me, its backdrop now the brilliant blue sea.

At one point I wondered, imagined, that this MUST BE the 2000 steps to the trail, and when I got to the end I would BE ON the Path of the Gods. The thought motivated me to press on.

At the top I once again checked the map. Still another vertical line to ascend.

In a few more strides I was standing at the base of a flight so long and steep I couldn’t see the top. I almost turned around. But, Sherry, I told myself, this is the last leg. At the end of this you may be on The Path. I charged onward. (Charged may be an overstatement.)

My heart pounded. My thighs burned. My calves were fine.

At the top I collapsed against the rock wall to catch my breath and saw the sign.

I moved up close and read the small print. Another 1 hour 30 minutes of steps and trails to the actual Path of the Gods.

At that point I may have taken one of the names of those gods in vain. There was nothing else there, not a vendor selling bottled water. Not a ‘last stop for coffee’ shop. Not a ‘take your instagram photo here’ posting. Nothing but rock walls and more and more and more stairs.

I photographed the sign, sucked air into my lungs, blew it out long and slow, and started down.

And down…

And down…

Finally, just ahead was the welcome entrance to Tutto per Tutti. Buongiorno said the two men who own the place. They smiled as I walked in. They know me now.

Buiongiorno. I smiled too, picked up a basket, and selected my groceries as though I’d been shopping there all my life.

Emmental Bavarese cheese, carrots, tomatoes, a red onion, bananas, apples, strawberries, canned lentils and chocolate covered orange slices.

That’s $18.20 in US dollars

Of course there were still the 228 steps down to Via Roma. And 112 steps up to my house carrying a heavier pack. After what I’d just accomplished, it felt like nothing.

Cooking in Italy – I Love You Felicia!

It was a three-hour meal. A three-hour, gourmet, how many courses I don’t know, Italian, homemade meal. Thank you Felicia. I love you Felicia.

I was told to come at twelve o’clock. I’d been to the house a week ago for a brief introduction but Nicola sent a picture of the doorway to ensure I would find it again.

I was certain it was somewhere on the same stairway that I travel almost every day. Ten minutes should be plenty of time to get there. I labored to the top passing many doors but not THAT door. I must have missed it…how? Impossible! Back down. Still no door. Back up to the top. Breathing hard. No internet. Cannot call for help. Panic. Maybe it wasn’t this stairway.

It wasn’t.

At 11:58 I found the right stairway. At 11:59 I found the door.

Nicola greeted me and I followed him to the kitchen where Felicia was already hard at work. Moist air, heavy with the scents of Italy, wrapped around me like a mother’s hug. Then Felicia gave me the real thing with the two-cheeks kiss that is customary here and cooking class began.

First it was totano – a variety of squid caught in the rocky depths close to the coast. Nicola explained the totano found near the shore are red, but those caught farther out to sea where the bottom is sandy are white and the flavor isn’t as good. These, he said, were red ones.

Fresh from the frying pan into the mouth. Hot and…oh, my! The flesh was delicate, so tender and sweet. “How many totano does it take to make all this?” I asked. Nicola translated my question. Felicia opened the fridge and pulled out a monster.

“Grande!” I said, backing up a few steps. They laughed.

Nicola had to run an errand. Suddenly Felicia and I were on our own to navigate the language as best we could. I connected to her internet and brought up Google Translate. I’d come prepared with a list of questions, first in English so I’d know what I was asking, then in Italian so I could practice the language.

It was great. She got every question immediately, even though I stumbled and bumbled and massacred the words. Her answers were long, emphatic, emotional – even Google couldn’t follow. Nonetheless, we managed, and had good laughs in the process.

When the last tentacled leg of squid had been fried, I was moved out of the kitchen to a table on the terrace set for four and told to sit. The plate of crispy totano was set in front of me followed by a bowl of buffalo mozzarella, then salami, pepperoni, prosciutto, bread, and wine.

Mangiare, my hostess said. I started to ask if others were coming but she interrupted. Mangiare! Mangiare! and disappeared into the kitchen. Like it or not, I was to eat regardless of three empty chairs awaiting other guests.

I nibbled on a leg of squid. Love that stuff. Helped myself to one of the smaller balls of mozzarella and a strip of prosciutto savoring the contrast of the salty meat with creamy cheese. Every so often Felicia made an appearance to re-issue her command, Mangiare, mangiare!

When I couldn’t mangiare another bite, I ventured back into the kitchen.

Tomato sauce bubbled on the stove. I asked her what ingredients she’d used. Pomodoro, olio, acciuga, origano, basilico, acqua. She ticked them off on her fingers. I’ve been grocery shopping often enough now to know all of the words except acciuga. She spelled as I typed and up popped anchovies. Is that the mystery ingredient that makes Italian tomato sauce a culinary triumph?

I pointed to another pot. Melanzana, she said but this time didn’t let me Google it. She went to the refrigerator and pulled out an eggplant then motioned me to the windowsill. Mozzarella, parmigiano, and pecorino cheeses waited in majolica bowls.

Basilico, she said, laughed, and flung open the window.

Basil doesn’t get any fresher than that.

It was time for pasta. As she poured it into the kettle I asked what kind it was. Scialatielli, she said. I’d never heard of it. She showed me the label.

I decided to throw in a few more questions while the pasta cooked. “Where did you meet Rafaele,” I asked. She looked confused. I tried again. “Where did you meet your husband?” I understood the word for school in her answer and the sparkle in her eyes told me the rest.

“Did he chase you?” Oh, the laughter.

“All the way from the school to the sea,” she said, motioning the trajectory down the mountainside with a sweep of her arms.

“What did Rafaele do for work?” Again she looked confused. “Rafaele, your husband,” I said.

If I thought she’d laughed before, this time tears squirted from her eyes. I double-checked the the word for husband. It appeared correct. When she was finally able to speak, she said, “Rafaele is my brother. Gaetano is my husband.”

I was shocked to my toenails. I thought the old man sitting with his walker was her father. Come to find out, she’s seventy-nine and he’s eighty but he broke both hips this year and is housebound. She takes care of him.

“I’m sorry, Felicia. That’s hard.” She agreed.

Just then Nicola returned from his trip to Positano and joined us. Out came the pasta, biscotti, and wine. The empty chairs were filled and we had our translator back.

I’d been a wee bit skittish about the anchovies – I’m not a fan. But they did their job. The pasta was magnificent.

When I was certain I couldn’t eat another morsel, out came Felicia with an enormous bowl of fresh fruit, chiacchiere, and a pineapple upside-down cake.

The slab of cake she cut for me could have served four people. But did I eat it? You better believe I did, then drank the little cup of Neapolitano mocha espresso which guaranteed I would stay awake to finish this post even in a food coma!

Image result for napolitano mocha espresso]

What an amazing day. What special people. What spectacular food. “Now you can go home to Bali and make this dinner for all your friends,” Nicola said as I bid them farewell.

You know what, friends? Don’t hold your breath!

Food is Not a Four-Letter Word

I heard a rumor. A pizza restaurant reopened for the season just above Tutto per Tutti market.

I waited until noon, then grabbed my jacket and – did I say above the market – the market that is 228 steps above me?

I’ve learned to do twenty steps then rest. Twenty more then rest. That way I make it to the top without exciting my heart to the point of beating itself right out of my chest!

I ascended and found the road that took me higher. At the top was La Moressa, a white-washed cafe with tables overlooking the sea. I went inside and greeted the man behind the counter.

“You’re open,” I said.

“Yes, the door is open,” he replied.

“Do you have pizza?”

“Yes, we have.”

“I’ve been waiting for days to have pizza. Everything is closed. I’m so excited! May I see a menu?”

“Yes, Signora, but perhaps you will come back. We don’t serve until five.”

I’m not dismayed. I’ve found a restaurant that serves pizza and it will be open tonight at five. I don’t have to go through any tunnels. It’s literally directly over my head. I’ll be there!

On my way down I stopped at Tutto per Tutti. I wanted pepperoni. It’s a meat I recognize.

I had big plans for this sausage…

…and the oven I’d yet to touch.

Has a pan ever been watched so closely? Was the heat actually on? Patience paid off. Soon the cheese was bubbling and turning a light caramel color. I sat down to an open-faced sandwich fit for angels: focaccia bread base, tomato sauce laced with juicy chunks of green and black olives, thinly sliced pepperoni, fresh tomatoes, and buffalo mozzarella.

I took my plate and wine to the terrace.

The flavors romanced my tongue. I groaned with pleasure licking my greasy tomato-stained fingers. The Remole Toscana provided a perfect balance of bold yet subtle support to the rich meal.

Then, holding true to my latest intention (which you’ll hear about shortly) I opened the package of white chocolate covered figs, poured a little more wine, and exponentially upped the ecstacy factor.

Warm Mediterranean sun and lapping waves, birdcalls, soft breezes, felt like all the dreams I’ve ever dreamed of paradise.

So what’s going on with the sudden focus on FOOD? Sit back. It’s a story.

Several months ago I was gifted an astrological reading. But this wasn’t an ordinary birthchart recap. This one centered around Ceres, an asteroid that represents food, nurturing, relationships, and all the phases of a woman’s life.

It was, as readings should be, affirming, uplifting, and had ah-ha moments that astounded me. Beauty, the practitioner said, played a huge role in my life. But the planet Saturn maintained a strong presence which indicated starvation.

Starvation, she continued, can be other than food. Neglect by parents, not enough approval, not enough love are all forms of starvation as understood by this reading. It may also indicate harsh dieting. Fasts. Self-inflicted restrictions around what is eaten, how much, and when. What she said resonated.

At the end of our session she summarized. I had a healthy relationship with food. I didn’t live to eat, I ate to live. I wasn’t ruled by food nor did I use it for comfort, distraction, or as a substitute for pleasure. I had low expectations for food unlike much in our modern culture, she said.

I felt pretty good about myself after the reading. I’d basically been given a green light to keep doing what I was doing.

When I landed in Italy, on the shelf in my house was a book: The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister. It was the only one in English besides a guidebook.

Strange title, I thought. It will either be superbly boring or, with a title like that, quirky.

About one-third of the way through I started getting uncomfortable.

At the half-way point awareness lights were flickering on.

I cried at the end, something I haven’t done with a book for a very long time. Yes, the characters were intelligently and lovingly portrayed. Yes, the writing was beautiful to the point, almost, of poetry. Yes, the story was compelling and the plot nicely resolved. But that’s not what brought me to tears.

In contrast to the author’s voluptuous, tantalizing, reverent treatment of food I saw my starvation.

But it went far beyond that. The connections were heartbreakingly clear. My hostility toward food had drifted over everything in my life and cast shadows where sunlight should have been. I’d held myself too tightly for true intimacy. I was far too regimented to let loose and love. I hated to grocery shop, hated to cook…and, Play? What was that?

I remember my mother coming to visit me at one point in my mid twenties. She opened the refrigerator to a lone head of lettuce. Turning a worried frown toward me she asked, “Honey, what do you eat?”

“Lettuce…?” I shrugged.

Since moving to Bali eight years ago, I’ve been happy. Insanely happy. Food has become more interesting and I’ve developed an obsession for nachos, probably because good ones are next to impossible to find. A cafe in the rice fields has amazing black rice pudding and coconut gelato. I order it with Vietnamese coffee.

But after reading Essential Ingredients, I’ve gained a broader perspective. Food is life, and if I want to experience all life has to offer, I need to radically change my relationship to food. I want to invite food to take its honored place in my life. I want to take time to prepare delicious meals and then to eat mindfully, submerged in flavors and textures and the joy of sustenance.

Is it any accident that Erica Bauermeister’s book was on my shelf? That I’ve come to Italy to gain clarity for the path ahead? That food would show up as a central issue in a place where food and love go hand-in-hand? And that I’d be so ready?

Ah! The magic. The synchronicity.

Ahhhhh! Italy!

So…before you ask…yes. I went back to La Messaro tonight and had a PIZZA!!!!!

Gorgonzola and walnuts. With wine. And tiramisu for dessert.

And then…

I walked home. Down all those stairs. In the dark!

It got darker

and darker

and darker

until there was no light at all. Yikes!

A Hot Tango With Heartthrob

It was an absolutely stellar morning.

After 880 stairsteps yesterday – that was the actual count – my body said, Please! Not again! So I gave myself a slow start, basked in rays on the terrace, did my nails.

But it was just too beautiful, and the forecast for tomorrow said rain. ‘Listen up, body.’ I had to be firm. ‘We’ve got to take advantage of this glorious sunshine. We’ll stay on flat road – no stairs – I promise.’

What a bare-faced lie! Simply getting out of my house and to the street requires 224 steps – 112 down and, upon return, 112 back up again. But I seemed to have forgotten that – was busy thinking about tiramisu and another chat with Piccoletto.

So off I went with a plan. First stop, Alimentari Ripoli gourmet grocery to buy a Valentine treat for tomorrow. Then tiramisu and coffee. Then to Angela’s shop to check the bus schedule. I’m strategizing for the winery tour. Angela sells bus tickets.

I’ve mentioned how sleepy Praiano is right now and how many places (most) are closed for the season. I’m also discovering that open ones tend to shut down for a few hours mid-afternoon.

The grocery store, even though its website said it was open, wasn’t. And Piccoletto’s cafe, come to find out, is closed on Thursdays. Today was Thursday.

Cafe Novanta Quattro of Americano coffee and croissant fame, was open. The drop-dead-gorgeous silver-haired owner, aka Heartthrob, remembered me with a huge smile and hearty Buongiorno! The cafe suddenly felt like family. I ordered my Americano then pointed to a miniature pie dusted with powdered sugar.

“What’s inside this one?”

“Cream vanilla and cherries,” he said.

“Yes, please.”

I’d forgotten customers at this order-at-the-counter establishment pay after the dining experience.

My host reminded me. “You sit. I bring.”

I scurried away, chose a table outside in the sun and took off my coat, it was that warm. The treat arrived.

I have many definitions of happiness, but an Americano and this cream cherry tart is the current one. Heartthrob caught me mid-orgasm. “It’s okay?” he asked.

“It’s magnifico! Where do you buy your pastries?”

“I make them, signora.”

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. My heart was dancing a hot tango, and not alone.

I savoured every morsel then sat for a while, daydreaming. A woman arrived. Young. Dark-haired. Gorgeous. She nodded, acknowledging my presence so I asked her if she spoke English. She shrugged. Poco, she said.

From a great distance in time and memory, the phrase, poco a poco, floated to mind. Somehow I knew it meant little by little. So…she could speak a little English. Encouraged, I asked if she lived in Praiano.

“No. Sorrento.”

“What do you do there? Do you have a job?”

“Ingenere,” she said. Uh-oh. That one was not rising to the surface. She saw my vacant look, murmured, “Un momento,” and grabbed her phone. In seconds she showed me the English: engineer.

I would have loved to know what kind of engineer, but just then a man joined her and staccato conversation commenced. I pulled on my coat and went to the counter to pay. “Grazie and caio,” I said, a woman of few words, few Italian words, that is. I’d used them all.

It was a gentle slope downhill to Angela’s shop. By then I’d decided it was time for another bottle of wine, white this time. Something crisp and tart. Two reds in a row are utter decadence.

There was her doorway and what do you suppose?

Closed.

I turned around and went home, the steps weren’t that bad, waited two hours then tried again.

Open.

I found a white that looked intriguing then asked Angela about the bus schedule from Trimonte. You would have to have been there. It was one of those Abbott and Costello, Who’s on first, what’s on second type exchanges, partly because of the language. Correction. All because of the language. I got absolutely nowhere and left laughing, more confused than when I’d arrived.

Who cares if I end up in Trimonte, have a fabulous tour, taste spectacular wines, and there’s no bus back to Praiano? That’s all part of this extraordinary adventure, isn’t it.

The Wild-Haired Women of Paulo Sandulli

Paulo Sandulli creates art in an 800-year-old medieval tower.

Assiola was built as a defense lookout in 1270 when Praiano had a thriving silk industry and marauding pirates were a constant threat.

The curious round structure was the first thing I noticed from my terrace when I arrived. You really can’t miss it. I Googled: Tower in Praiano, and Signore Sandulli’s name popped up. I read about this multi-talented artist and knew I had to meet him.

Today I did.

The rugged approach was challenging after the 2,966,843 steps down from the street. I exaggerate, but not much. It’s rumored that Sandulli has goats. I didn’t see them, but the terrain would suit.

The door to the studio was open. He motioned me in. Oh, please converse in English, I prayed.

He did so with eloquence.

As one would expect, the circular space was a visual cornucopia. Sandulli has been working his magic here for thirty years. Right now he’s madly pumping out product preparing for the summer onslaught of tourists who flock to buy his pieces.

“Do you ever get tired of creating?” I asked, wondering how anyone could maintain that level of productivity over such a span of time. He raised his eyebrows, no doubt surprised at my cheeky question, looked around to ensure we were alone, then nodded the affirmative.

He was obviously able to power through whatever boredom might plague him. The room, bursting with torsos and busts, attested to that. He told me the figure beside him with glasses was a likeness of his father. I could see the resemblance.

On shelves and tabletops were rows of women sporting hair in a riot of colors. “Sponges,” he said. He removed one elegant lady’s updo and handed it to me. It was light as cotton balls.

For the next hour, the master himself treated me to a personal tour of his studio – a workplace magical and enthralling.

He excels in every medium: clay, oils, watercolor, acrylics. I paged through reams of charcoal sketches that prefaced his creations.

Unfinished busts sat drying, works in progress, and the blue box in the background is his kiln.

Mermaids cavorted in bathtubs…

Scantily dressed teams played tennis…

Nudes rode sea creatures. He told me the name of this fish…grouper maybe?

And in their private glass case, a group of fishermen played cards.

Sandulli’s muse Eleonora, “…was born in a tower overlooking the sea not very different from this one,” he said of the Aragonese princess, who in 1473 sealed a dynastic union by becoming the wife of the Duke of Ferrara. A picture of her hangs on the wall.

Paulo’s process is a study in economy and brilliance. He has only a few molds he uses for the chest and hip portions of the body. Then he attaches the head and limbs and assigns different positions to make each character a unique individual. For those that ride sea creatures, the hips spread wide for stradling broad backs. On some he attaches a mermaid’s tail.

It’s similar with the busts. The basic head is the same, but while the clay is still malleable he varies the shape of the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and gives each one a personality.

The terracotta figures are flamboyant and fun. But Paulo’s paintings tell deeper stories.

As my visit drew to a close, I thanked him for sharing his time and he grew contemplative. “This tower was used to defend Praiano from people who would have destroyed her,” he said. “With my paintings I also wish to defend this place. Make a record for future generations before it is lost.”

It’s a noble cause. Thank you, Signore Paulo Sandulli. I wish you well.

Oh, and by the way, please keep that painting for me, You know the one. I’ll be back.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: