Virtual Italian Class: We Must Adapt!

Well, here I am, teaching Italian  Language and Culture through Zoom.

Very strange, never thought I would have to do this.  Honestly, I never even heard of Zoom until three weeks ago!

But we are smart, strong, flexible and must adapt to different situations, even surreal ones like the one we are experiencing right now.

I’m thrilled and touched that so many of my wonderful students dove right in, and joined our virtual class with great optimism.  Oh yeah, we had issues with connection, video, positioning of cell phones and computers, sometimes only seeing somebody’s top of the head or the ceiling, students accidentally disconnecting, some appearing only as a green rectangle, but we resolved these issues, laughing and taking everything in stride.  We will all become real pros at this online teaching, I’m confident!

Si parla ancora italiano ad Armonk!

Looking forward to the next online sessions, now that I’m not so anxious about them anymore.  We all learn something new everyday, and can conquer what scares or intimidates us.

Thank you, my awesome students and friends, for keeping our precious Italian Class going.  I missed you all so much!

I’m planning easier lessons, more manageable online.  We will keep having fun, don’t you worry!

And, yes, of course, we will see each other in person again at some point soon (And I can finally start wearing all my beautiful shoes again! :-).

Because this, too, shall pass.

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.

Venezia ti può salvare

16 luglio 2019

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


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.

August in Armonk

Armonk Italian Class, August 2016Another successful year of Italian Language Classes comes to an end at the North Castle Public Library in Armonk.  Grazie to all my wonderful students for all the food and drinks they brought to celebrate our last summer class. We had a veritable feast!

We will be back, fresh and excited anew, on September 6th, when our regular classes resume, as does our beginner’s hour.

I must also thank the beautiful and very active North Castle Public Library for giving me this opportunity to teach my beloved Italian language and culture to a group of eager and dedicated students.  Grazie, Armonk!

Living in my beautiful America, and teaching the language I grewArmonk Italian Class, August 2016 (2) up with: What could be better?

Grazie, also, to the United States of America for being everything I always thought they would be, and so much more.

I’m fortunate and blessed indeed.

Ci vediamo a settembre!


A Beginning (reposting my very first blog)

I am one of two worlds.  The one that carries and feeds me and strengthens me each day, the one I dwell in and I breathe…and then the other I carry in my heart. The one in the present; the one in the past.  Co-existing in quiet IMG_2148understanding.  Most of the time.  Sure, sometimes it explodes, that amicable rapport, and emotions are  provoked and unraveled, and life becomes confusing, perhaps chaotic  But only for a while. Eventually it all settles down to calm resignation and even contentment.  I’m a writer, but here I’m just me, writing without desire to conform to rules of form and even content.  I’ll let it pour out, whatever it is that’s clamoring to be heard – be it the description of a great walk up the hill, when I leave work each day, or my latest shopping experience at TJ Maxx.  I will be light, lace the prose with humor.  Sometimes.  I will have my dark moments. when the written expression seems to be the only salvation.  Clouds, bursts of sunshine, splashes of conflicting themes.  Whatever that means.  See what I mean? It sounded good, so I wrote it.  Maybe later I will get it.

I’m a daughter of the Mediterranean, born on an August day on the Bay of Naples.  The sun is my friend.  I hate and fear the gloom of night.  I left that gentle sea for the majesty of the Hudson.  Yes, I live by its edge and I love it so much.  It’s my river, you know.  Well, I want to be spontaneous, so here is the first break.  I’m going for a walk with a dear friend.  Oh, I’ll be back.  Can’t stop me now.  Much more to come.