You too are deserving. Really

Bottom line:

It’s just you.  Always and only you.  Your biggest supporter, cheerleader, sympathizer.

Pick yourself up, shake off the grip of potential depression, get a steely control of your emotions, and put them in their place.  They don’t belong on your face.

Stay cool, detached.  Activate the powerful gray matter, focus on practicality.

They will stab you.  Sometimes unconsciously, accidentally.  But think: Shouldn’t they know better if they truly cared?

Reality: You are the one who needs to care about you.  Be your own advocate, wear your bullet-proof jacket, remain reasonably detached.

Build your immunity, start early.  Don’t allow the world to kick you in the face, even when the kicker is gentle and offers you a persuasive explanation.  There is no acceptable explanation.

Sacrifice is overrated.

Living in pain and anxiety, dwelling in the deepest unhappiness, simply not to rattle someone else’s life.  Allowing them to turn the other way not to get involved in a difficult situation that might offset the bricks they placed so neatly to pave their happy future.

This is unhealthy, self-destructive behavior.  Don’t self-destruct: you are worthy.

One cannot build personal happiness on the misery of others.  It doesn’t work that way.  Oh, they will comprehend at some point, of course they will.  But not now, focused as they are in conquering their brilliant future.

Stay resolute, freeze your tears before they show.  Stay true to yourself, don’t waver because that unfair sentiment known as guilt knows how to disassemble your soul.

Don’t give up. You matter.

Take that trip, you deserve it.  Love that city just because.  Even when they try to make the mere idea of your timid wish weigh on your conscience, and not necessarily in words.

Be brave.  Courage is real, simply concealed under deceiving, self-imposed responsibilities.

At the end, it’s always just you, forever.

 

Merry Christmas from Italian Class in Armonk!

Another wonderful year of Italian Classes at the North Castle Public Library in Armonk, NY, has come to an end.  So many memories, so much fun.  Thank you to all my students, old and new, who have made my Tuesday nights a precious time that I eagerly look forward to.  Always get my second wind at 6:30 pm on Tuesdays! May you all enjoy this magical time of the year…and I can’t wait to see you again in January!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us, at the Italian Language and Culture Class!

Buon Natale e tanti, tanti auguri di pura gioia e serenità!

Christmas Ramblings

I want a simpler Christmas.

Like the ones of my childhood in Italy.  A period of festivities and serenity, quiet joy, great food, few gifts.

I grew up in a financially comfortable middle class environment, both my parents being educators.  We lacked nothing, but the ‘unnecessary’ amenities were quite limited.

My father was very focused on saving money, and, I know now, the majority of my parents’ paychecks ended up in the bank, leaving only what was absolutely needed for daily requirements.  This meant that we did have a serious vacation somewhere every single summer, but if I mentioned that I would love that new stylish coat that was all the rage among my friends, my father would automatically say no.  Upon inspection of my wardrobe, he would firmly state, “Non ne hai bisogno, il tuo cappotto è quasi nuovo e ti va benissimo.” You don’t need another coat, yours is nearly new and it fits fine.

Thrifty, I guess.  Very.

Yes, of course I was disappointed and resentful, calling him tirchio (stingy) under my breath, and whining to my mother, who, as a woman, was more sympathetic, and often would help me sneak in the object of my desire.  It took me many years to comprehend his motivation, his determination to keep us all safe and comfortable, and to provide for everyone’s future.  Which he did.

Naturally, that attitude left us kids with a meager loot on Christmas morning.

But we were ecstatically happy with our gifts from Babbo Natale.  A little case containing a pretty golden-haired doll, brush and comb, and a few outfits (including pajamas!) caused my heart to beat rapidly, as I spent the entire day organizing and admiring my treasure.  And so did my siblings, both enthralled with a newborn doll in a crib, and a bright red remote-control car.  One toy each, and a pair of cozy cloth slippers, often not even wrapped, just there, under the small artificial Christmas tree.

My mother would spend Christmas Eve setting up a fairly large presepe (creche), building the holy grotto with special thick paper, on top of a dresser, and we would eagerly position the figurines in the appropriate spots, and I remember still the flawless beauty of the Madonna, dressed in a pink gown and a blue veil; of course baby Jesus would not be placed in the manger until after midnight, when my mother would quietly deliver him upon his official birth.  Also on the Eve, mamma was stuffing and shaping tortellini, which we would enjoy in a rich chicken broth for our Christmas pranzo.  They were the best thing ever, and never enough. She made just enough for one abundant serving each, always leaving us with a slight yearning for more.  But that made them even more alluring.  Of course, we had a second course, often a delectable cotechino, a special, thick pork sausage, only prepared during the holiday period, hearty winter food, served with her perfect, creamy mashed potatoes, and assorted vegetables.  A golden ring of honey-coated Struffoli would be our much awaited dessert, plus an exquisite Cassata, an incredibly beautiful cake made of layers of Pan di Spagna and ricotta cream, flavored with white rum, and dotted with delicious candied orange and citron peel, and chopped bittersweet chocolate. There were also other traditional Neapolitan sweets, like Mostaccioli, spice cookies covered in a chocolate glaze, and pastel-hued pasta reale, tiny almond paste pastries that melted in your mouth. All the sweets were kindly provided by the nuns of a local convent-school, who had been my parents’ friends for years.  I now make most of these magnificent desserts for my American family, but, somehow, they are never as perfect as the ones of my memories.

My family was small, only five of us at the table most of the time, as my parents preferred to celebrate only with immediate family, and not with hordes of relatives with whom they might or might not get along.  It was a tranquil Christmas, Mass after the opening of the presents and before lunch, the day usually ending with a game of cards or tombola, and a slice of Panettone, always present on every Italian’s table during the holiday period.

We would go to sleep content and excited, looking forward to playing again with our new toys the following day, no school, those special sweets for breakfast with our hot milk, and possibly a few hours spent walking around downtown Naples, admiring the beautiful Christmas lights, that stretched overhead from one side of the street to the other, in glorious glittering rows, and the classic, detailed presepi – the famous Neapolitan nativity scenes – proudly displayed almost everywhere.

I realize that I’m remembering my childhood Christmas as indeed a child, not through my parents’ eyes, with their unspoken responsibilities, especially my mother, who was not a happy camper spending endless hours making dough, rolling it out on the huge wooden board, and tediously cutting, stuffing and shaping each individual tortellino.

But even those adult responsibilities were not nearly as intense as the ones I experience these days, as a grown woman and mother, feeling absolutely overwhelmed by the mad rush of the season, by the chores at hand which are often self-imposed, as I feel compelled to make everything perfectly festive even if it kills me.

A simpler Christmas, ecco.  Sitting on the floor looking up at the twinkling lights of the tree.  Going to the church’s Christmas carols concert, and just listen, without my brain twirling in my head.

Too stressed to live.

The most wonderful time of the year.

Almost Tragic

Driving can enlighten you.

Especially on a sunny day, when the traffic is light.  And you are just going.  Going.

But you have a destination.

And you don’t really want it.

Freedom is a luxury, is it not?  We all claim it, take it for granted, quote it, shout it.

But none of us truly owns it.

Oh those wings were clipped.  Long ago.  One must be responsible, practical, okay, perfect.  According to everyone else.

Dreams: cut!  Desires: cut!

Live for others, work, produce, accept, support, shut up.

You were never young, trusting, innocent, positive, happy.  What they think.

Traveling.  Everywhere.  Falling in love with the world.  Sure I was.  I also believed in my sacred pursuit of happiness.  Fail.

Don’t ruffle feathers, keep a low profile, go with the flow.  Any more clichés come to mind?

The sun is bright, I need to pull down the sun visor.   But I yearn for the sun to possess me.  Give me courage, please.  Make me brave, make me confident, make me assertive, give me direction.  Cancel my unwarranted sense of guilt about EVERYTHING  Because I’m a woman, and women suffer endlessly for sins not committed.

Give me the world to explore, repair my wings, damn it!  I gave them up them too early.

Why must I restrain myself?  Disappear into anonymity and boredom to boost comfort and stability for others?  I don’t really like to cease existing.  Don’t wish to blend into the routine background of a life never fully lived.  Frustration and resentment are not good companions.  My journey is not over, why should I blend it with the necessities of others?

The glittering of the sun rays on the timeless river distracts me.  Sheer beauty.  Seize this moment.  Inhale it.  It won’t last.

Freedom is only a concept.

Put the directional on, must bear right.

Modena Rivisitata

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Non mi aspettavo che fosse così bella.

Modena.

Certo che c’ero già stata varie volte, da quando ero piccolissima, siccome era la home town di mia madre, ma, insomma, non ricordavo molto, o non ci facevo caso, sempre presa da tanti altri stimoli e impegni vari.

Stavolta però ci sono stata più a lungo e ad occhi apertissimi.  Sono stati loro, naturalmente, a darmi la meravigliosa opportunità di immergermi totalmente in questa esperienza, i cugini.  Con la lora calda e sincera accoglienza, questi cugini di cui conoscevo ben poco, hanno permesso a me e a mia figlia di goderci una vera e propria vacanza, priva di stress e di drammi.  Ci siamo sentite subito a casa, già dal primo giorno, circondate da affetto, ospiti attese e volute, per cui  loro si sono fatti in quattro, organizzando numerose gite in posti stupendi.  Non succedono spesso queste cose, e gliene sarò eternamente grata.

Subito a mio agio nella loro bella casa in una zona residenziale, circondata da alberi e con una piacevole vista dei “tetti di Modena”, mi sono abbandonata a questa città e a tutto ciò che ha da offrire. E da offrire ha tanto.

Elegante, organizzata, pulitissima, mi inonda in una luce dorata, mentre cammino sui suoi viali, luce riflessa dai palazzi giallo uovo e arancione, tinte vibranti e gioiose, un abbraccio caldo e antico.  Tanta storia in questa grande piccola città, nella sua architettura, nei sorprendenti canali sotterranei, nella gloria romanica del magnifico Duomo e della sua Ghirlandina; Piazza Grande coperta da un tappeto di sassi resi lisci da secoli di passi umani, inclusi i miei, se pur appena un po’ esitanti, dati i tacchi di cui non faccio mai a meno.

 Ho riscoperto il Mercato Coperto, di cui avevo una vaga memoria.  Ero piccola, forse sei-sette anni, e mio zio mi portò lì, al mercato col tetto, cosa che non avevo mai visto; ricordo i fruttivendoli con le cassette tutte ordinate e il pane, tanto pane dalle forme insolite, bianco come il gesso, denso ma leggero; e quel meraviglioso prosciutto crudo, unico al mondo. ‘Vuoi un panino al prosciutto?’, mi chiedeva lo zio Walter, un signore alto che mi faceva un po’ soggezione, non lo vedevo spesso, abitando a Napoli.  Certo che sì! Un buon panino al prosciutto rimane ancora uno dei miei pasti preferiti.  Ero felice allora, vagando con mio zio per il mercatino, mentre mi gustavo il mio snack.  E lo sono stata di nuovo, quest’estate, anche se i miei interessi, oltre al prosciutto e al parmigiano, si sono allargati ad altre delizie, come il ‘savor’, che non conoscevo, ma che adesso è il mio ripieno preferito dei tortelli dolci.

 Quei cedri canditi, lucidi e spessi, a prezzi ragionevolissimi (sono abituata agli imports, vivendo in America), fiori, tanti fiori, e la gente che fa la spesa e conversa, ed io lì incantata ad ascoltare il loro accento modenese che mi ricorda mia madre, e mi vengono un po’ gli occhi lucidi.

Tanti bei negozi, poi! Voi che seguite i miei blog ben saprete che lo shopping è un’attività da me molto amata, e ce ne sono di belle cose in questi deliziosi negozi del centro, all’ombra dei magnifici portici.  E i bar con tanti dolci da farti venire il capogiro.  Le crostate di amarena modenesi sono decisamente le migliori al mondo.  E ‘il gnocco’, gonfio, morbido e friabile, caldo e squisito.  Mia madre lo chiamava la crescente e lo faceva spesso quando eravamo piccoli, ed era sempre una festa.  Dio, come si mangia bene a Modena! Tortellini fragranti, tortelloni enormi e panciuti e così magnificamente gialli, le tigelle col lardo, le piadine morbide, le tagliatelle col sugo bianco ai porcini freschi, e il Lambrusco!  Tanto Lambrusco, tutti i giorni a pranzo un bel bicchiere (o due) di questo meraviglioso vino frizzante.

Una città antica e moderna, decisamente chic, passeggiabile, invitante.  Infatti, se dovessi tornare ad abitare in Italia, sceglierei Modena.  Certo, dovrei imparare ad andare in bicicletta, dato che è il metodo di trasporto più diffuso!

Una città serena, adagiata sulla pianura, circondata da colline verdeggianti e fresche, con panorami mozzafiato.  Situata poi in una zona talmente centrale, che puoi tranquillamente farti delle gite in tanti posti idillici, tipo Firenze, Milano, Venezia, Verona, il Lago di Garda, le spiagge dell’Adriatico e altri, e tornare a casa sazia ed elettrizzata da tanta bellezza, che poi rivivi nelle centinaia di foto scattate con lo Smartphone.

Ho riscoperto le mie origini modenesi, che erano sempre state un pò nascoste dietro alla mia quotidianità meridionale. Ma sono forti queste radici materne, solide, e ne sono infinitamente fiera.

Grazie, Modena, per aver risvegliato in me sentimenti ed emozioni un po’ assopiti.  Sono ben sveglia adesso, e carica.  Non vedo l’ora di tornare.

Grande Modena, you are in my heart.

(Nota: Questo post è stato anche pubblicato nella sezione La lettera  su “La Gazzetta di Modena”, il 29 agosto 2019.  Sono molto grata e commossa da questo onore.)

Venezia ti può salvare

16 luglio 2019

Avevo solo quindici anni, ma l’impatto fu straordinario.

Venezia.

Una gita con la mia famiglia, partendo dal villaggio alle falde delle Dolomiti, in Trentino, dove eravamo in vacanza.  Non stavo più nella pelle, tanto ero emozionata.  Già allora avevo nel sangue il desiderio di girare il mondo, ereditato dai miei genitori, entrambi avidi viaggiatori.

Montare sul vaporetto, in pieno centro, invece di un autobus, fu un momento talmente eccitante, il ricordo è ancora vivissimo, anche il dettaglio che inciampai leggermente salendo.

Il rumore dell’acqua tagliata dalla barca, la brezza tiepida sul volto, che mi scombussola i capelli, mentre mi aggrappo all ringhiera.  Infatti sono tornata a Venezia, e i capelli li ho biondi adesso, non castani e lunghi come allora.  Certo che ti innamori di Venezia, a quindici anni, e anche dopo: ti abbandoni al sole e all’odore dell’aqua salata, al calore che ti brucia la pelle, ma ti riaccende l’anima.

Di solito, quando vado in Italia, resto nel Sud, nella mia zona natale, a ripercorrere – esitante, insicura – le strade della mia adolescenza, a fremere, a soffrire, senza trovar pace, piegata sotto il peso cronico dei rimorsi, ma soprattutto dei rimpianti; nonché, in alcuni casi, un po’ a disagio per l’accoglienza un tantino tesa.

Invece Venezia è un’estranea ammaliante e serena.  Le gocce d’acqua che mi colpiscono leggermente mentre il vaporetto corre diventano freccette di una nuova energia, quella che trovi soltanto nei luoghi privi del tuo passato.  Sono leggera, libera, viva, traboccante d’amore per tale bellezza, quasi impossibile da descrivere, una magia travolgente, misteriosa, dolce e impetuosa.

Piazza S. Marco mi colpisce in tal modo, che, per un attimo, rimango immobile, quando mi si apre davanti, bianca e imponente, la basilica con le sue curve bizantine, languide e maestose, ricamata squisitamente dai più grandi artisti che Dio creò.  Il cuore mi batte in modo allarmante, devo chiudere gli occhi e riprendere il fiato, mozzatomi di colpo da quello spettacolo da fiaba.  Abbasso il cellulare, basta scatti: devo viverlo questo momento, devo sentirmelo scorrere nelle vene, incastrarlo, immortalarlo nel cuore, forse nasconderlo finché sentirò il bisogno di sollievo.

Mara a 15 anni, con fratello e sorella, Venezia.

Le calli strette e affollate, i negozi sfolgoranti di gioielli di Murano, di maschere stravaganti, dietro cui ti puoi nascondere e fingere di essere felice.  E, per qualche istante, lo sei.  Le gondole galleggiano sui canali scintillanti, antiche, immortali.  Oh, quanto desideravo fare un giro sulla gondola, quindicenne romantica che ero, ma no, costa troppo, disse mio padre.  Ripeto le sue parole a me stessa, oggi signora di una certa età a Venezia, certo che costa troppo, accidenti, non ne vale la pena.  Lascia che i ricchi stranieri  ci girino, cosÌ daranno materiale ai gondolieri annoiati, da riderci su coi loro amici a fine turno.

Stordita dall’emozione e da una gioia così pura che forse è solo un sogno, alzo gli occhi al cielo più blu che abbia mai visto, mi incanto a guardare i piccioni (pochi adesso) docili e pazienti, piroetto – lieve, giovanissima – per catturare con tutta me stessa questa scena di assoluta felicità.

Grazie, Venezia , certo che mi hai salvato.

Venice Can Save You

It impacted me then, the first time I saw it.  I was fifteen, traveling with my parents and siblings.

Venice.

Of course you fall in love with Venice.  I did it again, this July, when the glistening, blue-green canals welcomed me back with the warm embrace of the Italian summer.

I travel south, usually, when I go to Italy, back to my birthplace haunts in Naples and vicinity, to immerse myself in a past that won’t give me peace, but that, some nights, lulls me to sleep.  But these nostalgic meanderings come with a price: the nerve-wrecking stress of interacting with my original family’s unpredictable moods, resentments, guilt trips, and, in some cases, tense hospitality.

Venice is a graceful stranger. I have no ties to its narrow calli, lapped by the gentle water of the lagoon, no heart-trending memories at every corner, every scent, every unfamiliar yet familiar face.  Venice comes with no strings nor chains, just immense beauty to abandon your senses to, caressed by a light-hearted breeze, instead of the tumultuous winds of an unfinished past.

Hanging on to the rail, on the deck of a vaporetto cruising at a comfortable speed on Venice’s ‘Main Street’, that is to say the majestic Canal Grande, I tremble with a simple joy, bursting from every pore of my skin, all my senses expanding to the max, eager to take it all in, to replenish the emptiness I often dwell with, when stagnant waters flood my soul.  But the waters of Venice cannot ever be stagnant.  They erupt with life ad continuum, as the entire world keeps returning to them, to love and poeticize.

Venice is a poem that mesmerizes you, softly rips away the burdens of your sad reality, and delivers the dream that you can carry away with you, when you leave its shores, and store in the secret place of all the lost happy moments.  It will always be there for you.

Alive with cheerful visitors, the artisanal shops offering little treasures, like exquisite Murano jewelry, colorful gems to color your world; those stunning, mysterious Carnevale masks to hide behind when you pretend to be happy and thus become so.  A mint granita at a no-pretenses gelateria, to tame the sizzling heat; a prosciutto sandwich sitting on a stone sidewalk, vibrating with the footsteps of Venetians from centuries ago.

Hail to Piazza S. Marco, where your Venetian dreams culminate.  I’m overwhelmed but the spectacular beauty and the noble history, grateful to own a place in a world where such miracles exist.  Beauty counts, people, do accept it.  Beauty will fill you and make you beautiful, even if you deny it.  Hail to beauty!

Mara at 15, with brother & sister, Venice

Oh, those gondole, how charming! How I begged my father to buy us a ride, those many years ago, when I was fifteen, in Venice, and dazed by it all.  “Costa troppo”, he responded, way too expensive.  And so it is today, when the steep price allows only the rich foreigners to indulge.  And, truly, I have no desire to ride on an attractive but precarious boat, while the bored gondoliere collects tourist stories to laugh at with his friends, after his shift.

Give me Venice, please, give me oblivion, scorching sun, exaggerated Byzantine architecture, shady alleys, dreams fulfilled, even if for only one day.

Grazie, Venezia, you did your job.

When the Streets Shout the Past

Sometimes it hits me when it’s absolutely not on my mind.

But a motorcycle buzzing by, the smell of hot cement, the impatient sound of a car horn assault my senses, shatter my long-accepted resignation, fire up my tamed emotions.

Give me the city, damn it.  I want to be drowned by the noise, the voices, the pounding of traffic, the intoxicating scent of exhaust.

Settled in the quiet tediousness of the suburbs, my Mediterranean blood flows fiery in my veins, demanding life.  The way it ought to be, pulsating, instigating, invigorating, the hell with the price.

There is a price for everything, my friends.  But the good pay the highest rate.  Incentives to being responsible: Few.  Think before you commit.

Keep your lavender bushes in the front lawn, let me have the allure of lively shops, busy people dreaming by the glittery displays, the sidewalks alive with impromptu music scenes, walking into a  cloud of cigarette smoke, inebriated by that glorious aroma, along the road, or in a small club, or backstage in the parochial theater.  Gliding to the sound of traffic, catching the fleeting glances of strangers, enticingly frightening, carrying a mystery you might not be able to resist.  Please don’t.

Give me the past, too, please.  The way I see it now, of course.

The past shouldn’t have the taste of regret.  It should taste of hope.