Day 1 of the ‘New Normal’

Around eleven a.m. yesterday I heard the familiar laugh. Ketut came up the path lugging twice his weight in potatoes and squash. I slipped on my flipflops and hurried to help.

I’d photographed the grocery list the day before and WhatsApped it to him.


In five minutes I’d had his response.

“Ok.”

There’s a trait I’ve found that generally holds true. A man of action is a man of few words. Ketut’s no exception.

I knew he was familiar with most everything on the list, but the mei nasi vermicelli (which I spelled wrong) might have been a mystery so I added a photo.

A little later he sent this picture and told me he and his youngest, Komang, were stealing broccoli for me from his in-law’s garden.

As it turned out, it was both broccoli and cauliflower, perfectly formed bouquets.

After several trips back and forth to empty the minivan, I saw what my list looked like in real life. Food overflowed the bags on the table and the floor around it. We took inventory. There was one bunch of mystery leaves mixed in with the spinach.

“What’s this, Ketut? Not bayam.”

“Daun ketela. Like Padang food. Bayam in market finished.”

So the traditional market had sold out of spinach and Ketut had improvised. Good man.

I love Padang food, the cuisine of West Sumatra. I’d never cooked cassava leaves, but if that was the unique flavor in Sumatran veggie dishes, I was excited.

After Ketut demonstrated how to light the water heater and change the gas bottle…

after he asked for the umpteeth time if I was sure I wanted him to stay away for a month…

after he suggested he could come in the back way and work on making a new garden behind the house and I wouldn’t even know he was there…

I assured him again that a) he was due a good long paid vacation for all his years of faithful help, and b) if he even stopped for gas somewhere he might take the virus home to his village.

“Okay. But if any problem, you call me.”

I promised I would.

After separating the bounty with my downstairs neighbor, I Googled cassava leaf recipes. The easiest one had onion, tomato, and peanuts. I had those ingredients. Instructions said to chop everything, brown the onion, stir in tomatoes and leaves and cook for 30 minutes adding water when needed. Peanuts last.

While watching the water level on the simmering pot, I steamed broccoli, boiled eggs, and prepared dragon fruit for the freezer. It was four o’clock when all was completed and I realized I hadn’t had lunch. The experimental dish was tasty but daun ketela will probably never appear on my future grocery lists.

This morning I woke to Day One of the ‘New Normal.’ I’d been anticipating this, longing for the opportunity to fall into a routine, gain some modicum of control over my life. As I stared at the morning face in the mirror, I was transported back to my first full day in Italy. A storm raged, churning the ocean to white froth. Wind battered the shutters and rain pinged against the windows. I remembered thinking…thirty-two more days…

Of course the rain stopped and I had a fabulous time.

I found myself wishing I knew if this would be thirty-two days, or sixty, or a year. I suddenly missed my family, my grandchildren. I let sadness come, sobbing through yoga, tears dampening my meditation pillow. I hadn’t allowed grief. I’d been distracted by doing what needed to be done. And then, when there was nothing more to do, I’d spun out of the present and lost myself in an unknowable future.

Catherynne Valente said, Do not ruin today by mourning tomorrow.”

Like a cloud passing over the sun, sadness dissipated. The cathartic energy of sorrow left me feeling cleansed and strong once more. I moved back into the now with renewed resolve to stay there.

Do you notice when you’re spinning into the future? Perhaps you could tell yourself, “This is my body now. There is nothing to fear in this moment.”

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?

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!

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!

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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!

How-to Guide for Loving Food

After the blast of insight – the revelation about food that has now been playing with my head for over twenty-four hours – I felt compelled to spend the day at home. Life-changing information can be overwhelming and the question, Where do I start? begged an answer.

The morning held a promise of warmth and I envisioned sunbathing on the terrace – fully clothed of course, it’s not THAT warm – while allowing random thoughts to morph into an action plan, a ‘how to’ guide for loving food.

I took The School of Essential Ingredients, with me to a lounge chair and immersed myself in its pages. The sky was a cloudless blue bowl and the sun soaked gently into my bones.

I skimmed chapters, looking for clues. How do I do this? How do I go from food averse to food lover?

The first hint came on page 45:

If you think about it, she went on, every time we prepare food we interrupt a life cycle. We pull up a carrot or kill a crab – or maybe just stop the mold that’s growing on a wedge of cheese. We make meals with those ingredients and in doing so we give life to something else. It’s a basic equation, and if we pretend it doesn’t exist, we’re likely to miss the other important lesson, which is to give respect… So we start there.

So we start there.

When I imagined the life cycles I’d interrupted by eating pizza last night – and tiramisu – and wine…I felt a little ill. Then there was the banana this morning. Those were alive once. Vital, vegetable beings. A pig had been sacrificed to make the pepperoni sausage I’d enjoyed earlier in the day. The life-force within those ingredients had been transferred to me.

Acknowledging the obvious, which hadn’t been obvious until now, had an affect. I doubted I would ever eat anything again without the thought-flash that lives were lost to provide this meal and respect should be shown because of that fact. But show respect how?

Some people pray before eating. That was the routine growing up. GodblessthisfoodinJesusnameamen. Did it make me respect the gift of food? No. In Balinese Hinduism, there are ceremonies honoring plants, and rituals performed before taking animal life. It’s a beautiful way of showing respect in that culture.

Neither of those would work for me.

I kept reading. On page 115 I found another profound thought:

…every meal you eat, you eat time — the weeks it takes to ripen a tomato, the years to grow a fig tree. And every meal you cook is time out of your day…

Cooking had seemed a monumental waste of time. I resented having to peel potatoes and wait for them to boil. They were knobby, awkward to handle, and covered with gritty soil. They left a residue of sandy earth in the sink so it wasn’t just about peeling a potato, it included the necessity of cleaning the sink.

Fruit was my friend. Slice and eat. Done. Only minutes of prep…seconds…then I could get on to more pressing things. I suddenly felt a weight of guilt for dismissing the months it took for the potato to become mature and the mere minutes it cost me to prepare it. A few paragraphs later I was confronted by that very thought:

Antonia made celebrations of things he had always dismissed as moments to be rushed through on the way to something more important. Being around her he found even everyday experiences were deeper, nuanced satisfaction and awareness slipped in between the layers of life like love notes hidden in the pages of a textbook.

Like love notes hidden in the pages of a textbook. Yes! That’s the feeling I have to capture. That’s how I want to relate to food – with a thrilling rush of excitement – like finding an unexpected love note from the only one who matters.

I schedule time for yoga, meditation, and writing. From now on I will set aside time for food. The white chocolate covered fig I’m planning to eat in a few minutes took over two months to ripen. The tree it grew on was five years old before it could produce fruit. I owe that fig my time. Even if no prep is required, I need to stop, acknowledge the energy transfer that is about to happen, and experience every bite with gratitude and respect for the sacrifice of a life.

I confess I had no idea where this article was going when I started writing it. I’d found the excerpts today while skimming through the book, but they felt random and disconnected. Somehow in processing my questions in this post, I’ve gotten closer to finding answers that work for me.

Now onward to the respectful, exciting enjoyment of eating my fig!

No Soup For You! (No Pizza Either)

At noon I set out for La Brace. I’d been told it was the only restaurant in town that served pizza during off season.

The map indicated a one mile (1.6 km) walk. Perfect. I’d had an apple for breakfast. By the time I hiked uphill for thirty minutes I’d be ready for a sizeable lunch.

I was about one-third of the way when I rounded a bend and Praiano appeared in miniature. I crossed the highway to get a better look. The detail! All the major landmarks were there, totally recognizable.

Who maintains this art? How does it survive the ripping winds and rain torrents that slam the coast? My questions, of course, went unanswered.

A shadow slid over the wee village and I looked up. The weather app said no rain but the sky suggested otherwise. I resumed my journey but picked up the pace. I didn’t care what that foreboding black mass did AFTER I was safely ensconced in the cafe eating my pizza.

In spite of the gloom the air was warm and, as I’ve come to expect, I was the only human strolling the streets. When they say it gets quiet in winter, they mean graveyard quiet.

I passed San Gennaro with the blue dome and there was the sign for La Brace. The door stood open and I walked in. A lone gent behind the counter greeted me. “Buongiorno.”

“Buongiorno. Do you have pizza today?”

“No pizza,” he said.

“Is this La Brace?”

“No. That’s upstairs. They’re closed.”

No. Say it isn’t so. All I want is pizza. “Are they ever open?” My tone was accusatory with a tinge of whine.

“Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. You like pasta?”

Do I like pasta? I haven’t eaten it in years unless you consider the noodles in Balinese mie goreng. But, bottom line, I was hungry. “What kind?” I asked.

“I have pasta with tomato and mozzarella, pasta with clam sauce…what kind you want? You want white wine, red wine?”

So it was decided. I would have the house white with tomato mozzarella pasta.

I settled at a table. Bread, olive oil, and wine appeared. “My name is Piccolo,” my cheerful host said.

The cafe was empty except for us so we chatted. He told me he’d married a woman from Argentina thirty years ago and their son was now 26.

I asked if I could take photos.

“Of course.”

I’d just returned to my chair when a Taiwanese couple walked in and sat at the table in front of me. I said hello and the conversation began. She was an English teacher and spoke the language perfectly. She asked where I was from. In 2004 she was with a tour in Ubud and remembered Monkey Forest.

I laughed. “When you were about twelve?” I asked.

“No, I was twenty-three. I love to travel.”

We’d both been to Budapest. I remembered the bridges. She’d gone to the Turkish baths. In Italy they were touring from Venice to Amalfi by scooter. “You should come to Taiwan,” she said. “Bali is so close. But don’t go to Taipei. It’s just a big city. Come to Tainan. I live there. That’s the real Taiwan.”

I told her Tainan had just gone to the top of my travel list.

Cooking aromas swirled around us. Piccolo delivered my pasta with a flourish.

Mama mia! This was not five-for-a-dollar boxed mac ‘n’ cheese from my domestic goddess days. This was the real deal, cooked by the real deal, served by the real deal.

My Taiwanese friends ordered the pasta with clam sauce. Our feet tapped and heads bobbed to classic American rock playing at just the right volume from the cafe’s sound system.

In the midst of our cheerful intimacy, two men came in carrying a couple of bottles of wine. Piccolo greeted them loudly then called to me. “Sherry! These men have the best wine in Italy.” He herded them to my table and introduced us.

Gaetano handed me his card. “You must come. I have the only grape of this kind in the world. My wine is the best.”

“I think I must,” I said as I studied the gold-embossed logo and the name: Tenuta San Francesco Winery.

“Call me,” Gaetano said. “I will make a special tour for you. Through the farmlands. We are in a beautiful valley.”

They left me and headed for the back table. Piccolo winked. “You are ready for dessert?”

What? Dessert? On top of a week’s worth of pasta?

“Tiramisu?” I asked. What the heck! It’s my month-long birthday celebration. I will eat and drink as often and as much as I want.

“Yes, I have tiramisu. I make it myself.”

“Bring it on, Piccolo!”

There’s tiramisu and tiramisu. This was by far the best I’d ever eaten anywhere. It made me forget how full I was. Made me wish I’d ordered two.

Things happen for a reason. It was the kind of day I’d envisioned, the Italy I’d hoped for. Spontaneity. Connection. Authenticity. Surprise.

What if La Brace had been open?

I’d have eaten pizza, of course.

Domestic Goddess Meltdown in Praiano

Domestic goddess I’m not. I did my stint. Raised a family. Managed to feed, clothe, and nurture three daughters into high-achieving adulthood. Was not as successful with husbands.

I’ve created a life in Bali that doesn’t require the skills I lack. But I’m in Italy for a month and I’ve found it necessitates a bit of do-it-yourself-ing.

You’ll need a frame of reference. At home I have a college dorm size refrigerator, a cooktop, and a yogurt maker. That’s it. No oven, no dishwasher, no mixer, not even a rice cooker. Why? I think you’re getting the picture. I don’t cook.

In Ubud there are 700 restaurants within steps of my door. In Praiano I’ve found one that’s open. The rest are closed for low season. Time to sharpen those non-existent homemaker skills.

I rolled up my sleeves and tackled the electric teapot. Easy. Then the toaster. Nothing to it. The espresso machine was slightly more challenging but after a few bungled attempts I mastered it.

The toaster oven? I hid it in the cabinet – frivolous, unnecessary gadget. Won’t go there.

And the dishwasher? The control panel looked like the console of a commercial jetliner. I snapped the door shut and turned with gratitude toward the old-fashioned sink, faucet, and drainboard.

Over this first week I’ve grown comfortable with the kitchen conveniences. But today was day eight and I was out of clean clothes.

There’s a cute little washing machine tucked under the counter. It’s compact like the cars here. Very European. My host introduced us briefly when I arrived and it looked like every other automatic washer I’d seen. I didn’t give it a passing thought. Big mistake.

Unaware of impending doom, I gathered my soiled clothes, stuffed them inside and closed the door. I studied the controls…

and studied…

and studied.

Holding my breath, I pushed a button. Then another. Nothing happened. What was I missing?

Before I started, I’d glanced at a leaflet lying on top of the machine hoping for a how-to guide. It left me just as baffled as I already was. I picked it up again and noticed something I’d missed. At the top, written in pencil, was the helpful inscription, On power switch is beside kitchen window.

I walked to the kitchen window and turned the power switch on. The washer beeped.

When I pushed buttons this time, red lights flashed. Progress. But the machine still didn’t start. I twisted the knob and tried every combination of buttons available. Nada.

Frustrated, I sat back reminding myself I’d been washing clothes for a very long time and this couldn’t possibly be that difficult. Then I made another stab at the buttons.

What’s the Einstein quote about insanity – doing the same thing over and over expecting different results?

Should I call the landlord and admit defeat? Take a direct hit to my pride?

Or…

I Googled YouTube: Instructions for operating Aquamatic Class AA 800 rpm, and guess what? Within moments my clothes were swishing happily.

There’s no dryer, maybe a good thing under the circumstances. But in the storage room a monster rack looked like it could do the job. I wrestled it to an upright position – easier said than done – and dragged it into the bedroom.

The washer droned on. I kept a suspicious eye on it while tending to emails, not fully trusting it would do its job without further intervention. But finally, with a hiss and sigh, it stopped. I emptied it and festooned the rack with clean, sweet-smelling clothes.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I have this ridiculous sense of achievement that is grossly out of proportion to the task accomplished. Like I climbed Mt. Everest. Or swam the English Channel. Go ahead and laugh, but if this is the way it feels to conquer a machine, I may just give that toaster oven a go.

Harnessing the power of intention – But it’s Sunday and all I want is pizza

Liquid gold sunrise, 7:00 a.m. – I’m snuggled in my morning chair, wooly blanket warming my knees, steaming espresso cupped in my hands, thinking.

Thinking about this cozy house, its perfect size, location, easterly orientation, amenities. Its quality and craftsmanship, the red sofa with Mediterranean blue and granny-apple green pillows that pick up the colors in the painting hanging above it.

The astounding panorama that holds me speechless.

Thinking about how I wondered what gift I could give myself to commemorate seventy years of life and immediately knew: Italy, the Amalfi Coast, Praiano. How until that moment I hadn’t an inkling what I wanted, and yet it was there without hesitation when summoned.

Thinking about the kindness and generosity of my host who makes this trip even more delightful with his helpfulness and relentless humor.

Nicola Irace, superhost, took this photo on my terrace the day I arrived.

The power of intention…has it no limits? It seems to grow stronger as I age. If I have a desire, almost before I put thought to it the Universe delivers. It’s spooky!

Gratitude floods my heart. What a privilege to have the resources, the health, the intact mind (some would argue that) to manifest this dream.

But there are still some things I have to actually go out and get. Today I crave pizza.

This stairway is my ticket to avoid the tunnel. It feels good to begin to know the lay of the land. About halfway up I unbutton my coat and loosen the scarf around my neck. I’m glad it’s February. I wouldn’t want to be navigating these inclines at 93°F (33.8°C) which is the average temperature in Praiano in July.

There are no cookie-cutter houses. Entrance gates and doorways are as different as the people who pass through them. My photo doesn’t do justice to the picture on the upper right. Bright yellow ceramic tiles march up the steps, and the finials on the wall above the door are sparkly green.

Red carnations drip over this home’s receiving area, and a dry fountain stands sentry by another.

I passed on breakfast and now my stomach’s rumbling. I found the menu for Che Bonta online. Pizza, seafood, panini, tiramisu. I should be getting close…yes, here it is. I stand in front of the door and read the sign: closed for the holidays. What holidays?

My dream of pizza fades. The coffee and croissant cafe from yesterday had a breakfast menu. It’s two minutes up the street. As I approach I see a spill of humanity clustered around outside tables – standing room only. It looks like the entire Tour de France in their team jerseys and bicycle helmets has stopped here to eat. Groan. Is this the only place in town that’s open?

Just then the bells in the tower of San Gennaro – the church with the blue dome – peal the call to worship. I forgot. It’s Sunday. The little cafe may very well be the only place serving the public today.

I’m not in the mood to elbow through all that testosterone. Food can wait. There’s another church high on the cliff that’s been on my radar. San Luca. A quick course correction and I’m on my way.

As I approach I hear more bells, then singing. The service is underway. For a half-second I contemplate entering. The thought passes.

I’ll have to come back when I can go inside.

My journey has taken me high up the mountain. On the map this morning I saw Via Duomo, a road leading from this church back to Tutto per Tutti market. But is it a road – or a path – or a staircase? There are no signs. I wander for a while, uncertain. There’s no one to ask.

Out of nowhere a man appears walking toward me. When he’s close enough to hear I say in my best Italian, Per favore, where is Tutto per Tutti? Half in English, half in Italian, he tells me it’s Sunday. Everything is closed. Tutto per Tutti is closed. But there is a small market…he motions me to follow him to the edge of a parking area. “See the car there?” He points. “Centro Market. It is open. You go there. Everything else is closed.”

I don’t have the heart or the language skills to tell him it’s just the landmark I want. I don’t need a market. But I thank him and start walking. Soon I’m overlooking what is by now a familiar switchback. If I go left at the curve it will take me directly to Tutto per Tutti.

I pass the grocery store, which is closed, and just ahead is Centro Market. As was the case the first time I went there, a man stands in the doorway. I recognize him as the owner. “Buongiorno,” I say.

“Buongiorno,” he replies.

I had no intention of shopping today, but all at once I crave human interaction. I nod and he steps aside to let me enter. A bin of enormous red peppers catches my eye. “Grande,” I say, hoping that’s the right word. He smiles and nods. I choose the largest and set it on the counter then make the rounds of the shop adding a couple of tomatoes, biscotti, two apples, and… there it is! Primitivo di Manduria, a wine from the Puglia region. He adds it to my bill. I pay and we stuff it all in my backpack. “Grazie,” I say. “Caio.”

Buon pomeriggio,” he says. “Rivederci.

I look up those words when I get home. Good afternoon. Meet again. How lovely is that? Then I empty my pack. What will I do with a giant red pepper? Nothing right now.

After I’ve thrown together egg and toast and scarfed it down, I grab a book, curl up in a lounge chair on the terrace, and promptly fall asleep. I wish I had an app that counted stairs!

Is this love or just infatuation?

Woman on a mission: Find Cafe Novanto Quattro. Get coffee and a croissant. Eat, drink, and observe the locals.

I couldn’t ask for a finer morning. Orange sky again. Even less wind than yesterday. I put on two layers instead of three and exchanged the cashmere scarf for cotton. You know the drill, down 112 steps to the blue gate and into the street. I turned right.

Praiano is a V-shaped town. My house is practically at the tip of the V and to date my forays have been in the easterly direction. Today I ventured west.

Just around the bend – oh, oh. That tunnel didn’t show on the map. I paused – almost no traffic – it wasn’t a long tunnel – deep breath…

Made it!

I exited and stepped into an alternate universe. This side of Praiano is raw. Untamed. A different world.

I walked with my jaw hanging. Is there no end to the magnificence here? The feeling of being on the edge of the world? That everything is possible and joy multiplies with each breath?

A bit farther on I encountered civilization. Bustle and commerce. People. Scents of bread baking, bacon frying. I was suddenly reminded I hadn’t had breakfast. Where was this elusive Cafe Novanto Quattro?

When I saw the blue dome of San Gennaro I knew I’d gone too far. It should be right across from…ah! And there it was, a welcoming little hole-in-the-wall with tables both inside and out. The patter of conversation played like music. There was a line at the counter but I could see the pastry case and swallowed drool before it leaked from the corners of my mouth.

“Buongiorno.” The tall, heartthrob behind the counter greeted me.

“Buongiorno. I would like coffee please.”

“Americano?”

Did he mean me or the coffee? “Yes, and this.” I pointed to a flaky croissant oozing lemon filling.

“The cream one?”

“Yes.” I opened my purse.

“You eat here or take with you?”

“Here.”

“Then sit. I will bring it.”

I closed my purse.

Three of the six tables inside were occupied. I took an empty one nearest the door. Two women on my right chatted and laughed. Good friends, I thought. The couple across from me, older, probably married, conversed in muted tones. A man, woman, and dark-eyed boy about five finished their coffees and juice, paid, and left. There were no handphones or computers anywhere to be seen. Did these people actually come to drink coffee and speak to each other?

Heartthrob approached with breakfast and placed it in front of me. “Enjoy,” he said.

With the first bite it was confirmed – this would be my morning ritual for the rest of my stay and Americano was my new favorite brew. I ate slowly, savoring, indulging all the senses.

When I approached the counter to pay I had questions. “Per favore, when I arrive I say buongiorno, and when I leave I say ciao, is that right?”

“Yes, ciao,” he said. “Or, see ya later.” He winked and I laughed, paid the 4€ bill, and was on my way.

I didn’t want the tunnel again. Via Guglielmo Marconi veered off to the left at an incline that would take me up the mountain instead of through it – a far superior choice. Soon I was huffing and almost sweating. I loosened my scarf, unbuttoned my jacket and pressed onward.

At a three-way intersection I considered my options. Take Via Constantinopoli and continue climbing or choose Via Umberto for a gentle slope downward.

I remembered the juicy apple I bought at Centro Market on Via Umberto. I’d like another one. Decision made.

It was a picturesque and comfortable stroll. On the way down I passed a lovely lemon tree – isn’t there a song? Peter, Paul, and Mary? Yes! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLhYghzNfII

After the lemons, I came upon this fabulous door with a pot of burgundy cyclamens in a niche and a car that matched the robe of…who is the patron saint of animals? There’s a cow peeking around…St. Francis maybe? I’d just snapped this shot when…

…someone called my name.

It happens all the time in Ubud, but here? I’ve only been here six days and I don’t know any…Nicola! My Airbnb host! What are the chances?

“Buongiorno, Sherry! You would like to meet somebody?”

“Yes! Of course!”

“Follow me.”

Down the steps. Turn. Down more steps to a door. A flurry of Italian, then, “Felicia, Raffaele, meet Sherry.”

What warmth! What welcome! Did I want coffee? Juice? Felicia was cooking, did I want to eat? Nicola translated.

“Please thank them,” I said, a bit overwhelmed. “But I just had breakfast. I don’t want to disturb…”

Disturbare!” Felicia caught the word and let loose with another volley of Italian.

“She says you do not disturb. She says come again tomorrow. Come any time.”

We took leave and once out of earshot I asked, “Nicola, who are they? Your family? Friends?”

“Family. Yes. Family. She is my mother-in-law. She owns your house.”

Do I fall too hard, too fast? Is this love or just infatuation? Bali, you’ll always have my heart…but…I’m in Italy now.

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