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?

You have old skin? Wear a shawl!

I thought yesterday would be my last post from Praiano. I’m sorry. There’s too much magic. I have one more story to tell.

Three days ago I stopped at Centro Market for this and that and who did I run into but Felicia. You may remember her from the Cooking in Italy post. We greeted each other like long lost sisters and I caught one word: coffee. I frantically sought help but no one spoke English. What about coffee?

I apologized. By now you probably know my one Italian sentence as well as I do: Mi dispiace, non parlo Italiano! She left and I continued browsing.

A few minutes later I heard, “Sherry! Sherry!” Felicia was back. She handed me a bag with a bowl of something warm inside and made eating motions. I scolded her and thanked her, then rushed home to see what she’d given me.

I pried the lid off. Water spinach. I’d know that veggie anywhere. Along with it, potatoes and ribs. Felicia had evidently run to her house, scooped up a bowl of her dinner, then returned to deliver it while I was still in the store.

I’ve eaten a lot of water spinach in Bali and I can’t say it’s the most exciting dish. But the flavors in Felicia’s combo woke up my mouth. Olive oil, lemon – what else? How could water spinach taste so good? I polished off the meal with gusto but the coffee question plagued me.

I texted Nicola, told him I’d run into Felicia and she’d said something about coffee but I hadn’t understood what she wanted. He explained it’s customary when you meet a friend you invite them in for coffee.

“You mean immediately, like right then?”

“Yes.”

Oh, darn. I’d blown that opportunity.

But there was still Felicia’s bowl. My mother taught me never to return a dish empty. Oh, Mom! Your words still ring in my ears after all these years. I had to return the bowl filled with something and time was getting short.

Felicia’s house is about ten steps from Centro Market. I’d noticed the market had a kilo (2.2 pounds) of Himalayan pink salt for $3 U.S. That’s much cheaper than what I pay in Bali. I wanted it and a box of goji berry tea. It was my last day in Praiano. I could kill two birds with one stone.

With the translation app’s help, I wrote a note in Italian telling Felicia how my mother taught me never to return a dish empty. Then I heated a pot of kale/carrot/sausage/lentil stew and spooned it into Felicia’s bowl. I’d stop at the market first, pick up my tea and salt, then I’d drop the bowl off at Felicia’s.

As I entered Centro Market, there was Felicia chatting with the owners. After a boisterous greeting I took the bag out of my purse and handed it to her. At first she said No! No! Then she read the note and laughed.

Another volley of Italian and – there it was again – coffee. This time I was ready.

“I don’t want to disturb…”

Non disturbare! Non disturbare!”

I left with Felicia. As soon as we were seated at her kitchen table with steaming cups and tiny anise cookies – because you never JUST have coffee – I whipped out the translate app on my phone and the chatter began.

I was commenting on her fashionable outfit when she stopped me mid-sentence and jumped up. “Un momento,” she said and disappeared. She came back carrying clothing: a spaghetti-strap dress, a filmy red scarf, and a silver camisole.

She talked fast. I thought she was telling me she worked with a resale shop in Positano, that she brought donated clothing home, washed and ironed it so it was cleaned before offered for sale. When she sat expectantly waiting for my response I knew I’d missed something.

“Felicia, per favore.” I handed her the phone. She spoke and I read the translation. Whoops! How could I have been so mistaken?

The clothes were for me.

“But Felicia,” I spoke to the app. “I have old skin! These are beautiful but they show too much!”

She read the Italian and made a very unlady-like sound, grabbed the phone and said: Hai la pelle vecchia? Indossa uno scialle.

I took it from her and read:

You have old skin? Wear a shawl.

I howled with laughter.

There’s a distinct similarity between Italian and Balinese women. They’re both extremely hard-headed and refuse to take no for an answer.

It was time to go but Felicia had one more thing to show me. She rents her house next door to tourists.”Prego! Prego!” she said. Italian spaghetti sauce? No, it means after you, or please, or you’re welcome, or just about whatever you want it to mean! I went in.

She pointed out the new patio garden. Lovely. We toured three bedrooms, two baths, and a large eat-in kitchen. Then she picked up a book and motioned me to the terrace.

For the next twenty minutes Felicia flipped page after page of food images in full-color. Her picture was featured on many of them with her famous recipes. She pointed out her brother’s contributions as well as those of restaurant owners up and down the Amalfi Coast shown with their best aperitivi, antipasti, primi, secondi, insalati, and desserts.

This woman never ceases to amaze me. I could hardly wait to get home and google it. Sure enough Amalfi Coast Recipes is available on Amazon.

There are used copies for sale. They cost just over $20. A new one is $894.94 U.S. dollars. Used is fine. The recipes are in English.

Cookbook under control, I tried on clothes. Felicia wanted photos. I wrapped the scarf around my neck and slipped into the dress. It fit like skin. The cami, too. Surely there’ll be an occasion…?

It’s surreal, like a dream-state. I’ve moved from one unlikely event to the next as though they were pre-planned to happen just so. But they weren’t. Nothing was. What a thrill!

Okay. That’s all. I promise. This really is the last post for a while.

Wish me luck with flights and some interesting travel bans that have just been announced back home. This adventure isn’t over yet.

Whiskey, the singing dog of Praiano

There’s an unassuming little ceramics shop in Praiano called La Bacheca. I was told it would be open from 10:30 to 1:00 today. And by the way, my friend in Florida texted, they speak English.

At this point in my communication-starved state, that’s all the reason I needed to stop by.

After yesterday’s wind and rain, the warm sun was a welcome companion as I strolled Via Roma through the tunnel to the San Gennaro side of Praiano. It really is like two separate towns. People have asked me, Are you staying on the San Luca side or the San Gennaro side? referring to the two major churches. I’m on the San Luca side.

As usual, I was staring at the ever-changing sea and almost missed the shop across the road. When I twisted the handle to enter nothing happened. I peered through the glass and was about to leave when the door swung wide. Buongiorno, the woman said.

“I’m sorry, are you closed?” No, the shop was open, but it was immediately apparent that this person did not speak English. I made apologies for my lack of language skills with my one Italian sentence, Mi dispiace non parlo Italiano, and stepped inside to drool over the merchandise.

I’d made two full circuits of the store and collected a small pile of must-have items on the counter when a gorgeous young woman walked in. Buongiorno, she said. A minute later the door opened again and a second beauty entered. There was a flurry of Italian, then their attention turned to me. They both spoke beautiful English.

The questions began. Where was I from? How long had I been in Praiano? Where was I staying? When it was my turn I found out that Carmela and Lucia were sisters and the woman who had let me into the shop was their mother, Anna. By this time a bottle of limoncello had come out of the back room and a shot was poured.

“Mmm, delicious,” I purred.

“It’s made here in Praiano. Have you been to the factory?” I had not. “Do you like Bailey’s?” Strange question, I thought. Limoncello was nothing like Baileys.

“I do, yes.”

“Then you must try this.” Another bottle appeared. It’s contents had a greenish tinge. “Creme di Pistacchio,” she said. “It tastes like Bailey’s.” She poured. She was right – like Bailey’s but a thousand times better.

“Carmella, it’s a good thing I didn’t know about this a month ago!”

“Here,” she tilted the bottle toward my cup. “Have some more.”

I laughed and told her no thank you, that I’d be too drunk to walk home. That’s when she offered to have her father give me a ride. How do you not fall in love with these people?

I was able to convince them that I enjoyed walking and needed the exercise. By then my items had been professionally wrapped.

I paid and was about to leave when a little dog walked up and sniffed me. “Oh!” Carmella said. “Whiskey wants to sing Volare for you.” And so Whiskey did.

I’d be hard pressed to choose the highlight of this trip. Amazement has greeted me at every turn. But I’ve never before been served fancy liqueurs in a ceramics shop, nor have I been serenaded by a dog. Thank you, Carmela and Whiskey. Today was very, very special.

*Note: if the video doesn’t work, here’s the link: https://youtu.be/MpAn-TIPxQQ

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.

2/20/2020 Only Comes Once

There’s a lot going on in my head. There often is, but my thoughts are taking a detour from the usual these days. It’s little wonder. Italy isn’t Bali. Praiano isn’t Ubud. A change of scene opens up mental space to imagine.

The timing is perfect. December ends the twelve-month cycle on the Gregorian calendar but Pisces, February 20 – March 20, marks the wrap-up of the solar year. Tomorrow, 2/20/2020, the sun enters the sign of the fish to complete the last thirty days of its journey through the zodiac.

For months my friends have been muttering about feeling unfocused and edgy, as though they’re waiting for something without a clue to what that something might be.

I’ve felt the same.

Of course, turning seventy has a certain shock value. Even though I knew for 365 days that I was sixty-nine, and I’ve known for much longer than that how to count, actually becoming seventy years old surprised me. It compelled me to look back at my life and ask, “What have I accomplished?” And to look ahead and say, “What’s next?”

I’m happy with the past. That’s a good thing because it’s too late to change it and I wouldn’t if I could. It made me who I am.

But this moment in time feels pivotal, like stepping out of one reality and entering another that’s cleaner, clearer, and shorter than what’s gone before.

On my terrace, gazing at the vast horizon where water and sky collide sometimes with no line of demarcation to indicate where one begins and the other ends – breathing air salty and moist – hearing the lilt and staccato of a language I don’t understand but am growing to love – lifting my face to be kissed by the sun, it suddenly doesn’t matter that I don’t know what lies ahead.

I’m filled with a sense of release, letting go of everything I don’t want to carry with me into this new cycle that’s about to begin. It feels like a time of rest and patience. Of slowing down the outer world and focusing within. Of making new choices.

As I wrote that last line, butterflies came to life in my stomach and my arms sprouted goosebumps.

Making new choices…

Tomorrow, to give special attention to 2/20/2020, I’m choosing to accept Sig. Gaetano Bove’s invitation to visit Tunata San Francesco, the winery he co-owns with three associates.

Whether I write about the experience immediately or at some future date will depend upon how enthusiastically I taste the samples on offer.

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Welcome back, Pisces, it’s been a long eleven months!

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!

She’s Old But She Likes Chocolate

So, we’ll go no more a roving
   So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
   And the moon be still as bright…

Lord Byron’s poem, sung like none other by Leonard Cohen, is probably descriptive of my feelings about roaming the ink-black stairways of Praiano after dark. Once was a scary thrill. Twice won’t be necessary. Not when there are sunrises like this, and days bathed in gold.

As luck would have it, this February has been unseasonably warm and sunny for Praiano – a walker’s dream. And I am, dear friends, a walker! Not the White Walker Game of Thrones type – just an ordinary, past-middle-age-but-still-young-at-heart woman who loves to walk. And today I’m taking you with me to the Piazza San Gennaro where I hope to see the inside of the church with the beautiful blue dome that has captivated me since I arrived.

But before I go, I want a bit of background. The Encyclopedia Britannica says: Saint Januarius, Italian San Gennaro, (died 305?, Pozzuoli, Italy; feast day September 19), bishop of Benevento and patron saint of Naples. He is believed to have been martyred during the persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian in 305. His fame rests on the relic, allegedly his blood, which is kept in a glass vial in the Naples Cathedral. Of solid substance, it liquefies 18 times each year. While no natural explanation has been given, the phenomenon has been tested frequently and seems genuine.

Until today I didn’t know there was a saint for my birthday month. Nice. I mapped my route and was off .

The photo hasn’t been touched-up. That water is really as turquoise as it looks. But it’s a lot farther down than it appears and diving is not recommended.

As soon as I could, I abandoned Via Roma and ducked into Via Rezzola, a series of stairs and pathways for pedestrians only. I passed one. I could tell he was a local man by the way he said Buongiorno with a nod and the curl of sound around the o-r-n followed by the slightest lift on the ‘o’ at the end. I’m becoming a connoisseur of this melodic language.

Of the paths I’ve trod so far, this one is the prettiest. Bright painted ceramic pots line the wall. I love this depiction of my sun sign, Capricorn, the sea goat.

It was unmarred tranquility until I heard something coming toward me that sounded like children beating on wooden bowls. It wasn’t children. This time I didn’t miss my opportunity.

There were four of these lovely creatures. I think they’re mules, longer manes, nicer tails, more shapely legs. They’re the only vehicles allowed – the only vehicles that can do steps without assistance. They’re the haulers, essential for any construction that happens on these cliffs.

And then I was in the Piazza. Two young boys were using the massive square as a playground. A couple sat on the side sharing a picnic.

I walked the circumference then sat in the sun, watching.

There are three entrances to the church: the doors in the middle and one on either side. Nobody was going in or out and the metal gate was closed. A woman, beautifully dressed in a fuschia coat and scarf, with a crown of white hair, walked in my direction. She smiled, “Buongiorno,” she nodded then said something that must have been wonderful if I’d been able to understand.

Mi dispiace, non parlo Italiano, I said. I’d practiced all morning to get that down. If I learn nothing else I need to at least be able to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian.”

My new friend walked over to me and beamed. “It is beautiful day, no?” she said.

We talked.

No, you don’t understand…we TALKED. Together. Communicated. She owns the hotel by this square and interacts with guests so she speaks English.

Over the course of conversation I asked her if the church was open to visitors. She said of course, I could just walk in. It was always open. Had I not met her, I wouldn’t have gone inside.

Thank you beautiful lady in the fuschia coat.

The interior of the Church of Saint Januarius did not disappoint.

Image result for the tile floor of san gennaro church
The tile work on the floor is spectacular.

There were people praying so I didn’t take pictures of the Rococo and Renaissance style art, sculptures, niches, and stations of the cross. But one stood out: a woman serving her breasts on a plate. I found a picture on the internet. The one in the church was similar to this:

Image result for Renaissance painting of woman serving her breasts on a tray

I looked her up. She’s St. Agatha, patron saint of rape victims, breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, bell-founders, bakers, and (her name is) invoked against fire, earthquakes, and eruptions of Mount Etna.

Church bells pealed as I left the square.

I took the road uphill to Tutto per Tutti with a quick detour to check out Che Bonta. It was open! I spoke to Claudio, actually, Claudio spoke to me, holding his hands cupped together in front of him the way professionals in the service industry often do.

He explained it was only their second day so the menu, which was on the chalkboard in front of us, had the specials. He apologized there were only eight options. But I could also order off the regular menu which he produced for my perusal. I’m guessing there were at least another fifty possibilities there – pizza, pasta, panuozzi, antipasti, salads, and a dessert of the day. Oh, and they deliver…

Claudio, Claudio – you rock my world – you and the lady in the fuschia coat.

Tutto per Tutti was closed.

But Centro Market was open and I needed chocolate. Tomorrow at noon I will go to Felicia’s house to watch her cook. What a privilege to spend time with an Italian family. The chocolate is a hostess gift. I asked Nicola if she likes wine. “Not so much,” he said. “She’s old. But she likes chocolate.”

What does being old have to do with liking or not liking wine? I didn’t ask. I’m quite certain I’m older than she is and I have no problem with wine.

I found assorted chocolates. Here they are, wrapped and ready. That’s the Che Bonta takaway menu. And the Rosamundi is my latest wine-tasting trial. It passed – I couldn’t wait for 5:00. I think that rule is only known to Minnesotans. The rest of the world tends to pour a glass whenever they want.

I’m a quick learner.

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!

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