Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The anniversary we'll celebrate the most

A week from tomorrow will be 4 October, the day I arrived in Italy two years ago intending to stay forever. Well, maybe it's better to say that I was hoping that the experience would be everything I imagined and that I would find myself not wanting to leave.

I came with one giant checked bag, the largest carry-on I could find and a "personal bag" that weighed as much as the carry-on. I also carried more hope than common sense perhaps, although that really is a matter of opinion.

Maybe most importantly, I carried my heart and placed it into Leif's hands the moment I landed, knowing that even if I got hurt that this was a person I needed to know and already loved. It was a risk that I had to take, that I understood was a kind of turning point for my life. My life would change either way, but the where and the whom, and possibly the depth of the experience, would have been different in Minnesota.

I've begun life in Italy as an infant in many ways. I'm experiencing things here for the first time, even if they are things I've done my whole life. New language, new foods, new customs, new climate: each of these things I confront every day and slowly they are becoming a part of me, rather than something that happens outside of me. I'm learning to make risotto the way Minnesotans make TatorTot hotdish, without the directions and by feel rather than by measure. I'm learning to walk on cobblestones the way Minnesotans walk on ice and snow, without even thinking about the difficulty or danger. I drink wine with lunch, instead of milk like a good Minnesotan does. I've exchanged olive oil for butter.

I'm stronger. Certainly I'm physically stronger here because cycling is becoming a part of my every day life. I'm enjoying testing my body and seeing just what a person my age can accomplish. I'm also mentally and emotionally stronger than I've ever been and that's maybe more important than the physical strength because, to be honest, it would have been so much easier to "change my life" back in Minnesota where everything is familiar (or at least it was) and there would be fewer surprises, no cultural and language barriers and my family would be within shouting distance.

But for me real change could only come with real challenges and I haven't regretted this decision for a single moment. I know that people say that, and what they're really saying is that they didn't regret long enough to change their mind, but I do really mean it. Even if everything had blown up in my face....if Leif were really an ax murderer disguised as a nice guy....if I could find absolutely nothing about Italy to love.....if I didn't make a single friend on my own.....even on the days I cry, there aren't any regrets.

I'm becoming the person I was meant to be. Not all at once, because I always, always do things the hard way, but that strength of character that I was talking about earlier is there for me now. I'm not fearless, but my fears are the kind that keep me safe and help me make sound decisions. My mind spends more time in the present than worrying about the future. No "to do" lists, less planning ahead...and nothing terrible happens. The utter chaos I always assumed would occur mere moments after setting out somewhere without a solid plan, preferably in writing, just doesn't happen.

But make no mistake, I'm not turning my back on my past. I don't want to forget any part of who I am and where I've come from, because all of that, the good the bad and the ugly, are the very things that made this life I have now possible. I have no future without my past to guide me, and my past is filled to the brim with "learning" experiences. The friends and family who love and support me span the globe, something I never imagined would be possible. Friends from the cities, sure, but not much further away than that.

So, two years ago I was sitting in my parent's living room staring at my two suitcases, both excited and terrified about the future. Today I'm sitting in Florence, Italy wondering how those years could go by so quickly and ridiculously happy with life. I love it when a plan, that isn't really a plan, works out. In case you're wondering....this experience has been everything I imagined and more. I can't leave. This is where my heart and life are.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dinner with the neighbors: round 4 (I think)

I wrote this about a week ago, but didn't get around to finishing it till today. Pretend it just happened.

So yesterday afternoon as I was getting ready to leave for babysitting our bell rang. Our bell never rings except for the postman and people who somehow get in (the neighbors let them in) and try to sell me something or take a survey. I peered through the peephole and saw Anna, our neighbor from downstairs.

I debated whether or not to answer the door because I know that she only makes the journey up the stairs to invite us down for a visit. But this is an old building with walls as soundproof as tissue paper and doors that were never intended to keep out wind, rain or snow. I swear they actually amplify the sound. She knew I was there so I had to answer.

I opened the door and damn if she didn't look a little disappointed and surprised. You know, like she was kind of hoping that I wouldn't be there and she wouldn't have to try and make me understand what she wanted.

So there we were. Me looking at her fearing a torrent of Italian that would sail over my head and she looking at me as if I were purposely refusing to learn Italian so that I couldn't talk to her.

But we bravely smiled at each other, united in our desire to make this exchange as brief and painless as possible. She asked a question with a bright and brittle smile. For a moment I thought she was asking if I wanted to read a book tonight, then realized that was a silly question and she had said libero, not libro. She wanted to know if we were free tonight. I said yes we were, with what I hoped was a pleased look on my face. Because I knew what was coming.

Would we come down to their apartment about (at this point she made a show of counting out 8 fingers) 8 o'clock? I said that we would be happy to come down. She gave a little jump, said "va bene" and scampered back down the stairs. I turned back into our apartment and ran through the conversation again in my mind to be sure I really understood what had happened.

At the appointed time Leif and I walked down the stairs with a bottle of wine tucked under one arm and knocked on their door. They're always surprised when we bring them something, although Florentine (Italian) custom pretty much requires that we arrive with some small gift for our hostess. We usually eat in the kitchen but tonight she pointed to another room and said that we were eating there because Milvia and Luigi were coming to dinner as well.

Milvia and Luigi are our landlords. Milvia is also Anna's sister. I used to be terrified of both of them, but in the last two years I've found that Luigi isn't as scary as his bushy eyebrows and growly voice make him seem. He loves to say outrageous things and then watch me to see if I get it. He makes funny faces at me just  to see me laugh. Hard to be scared of him anymore. Milvia on the other hand is the power in the relationship. One of those matriarchal women who can silence a room with a look. She made me sit next to her and I'm happy to say that today I'm pretty sure she's done trying to scare the shit out of me and may actually like me. As much as she can like a foreigner.

It was a typical dinner with these neighbors. Naturally a prosecco or  wine of some kind and a little snack to start. (this time salami and ripe figs on Tuscan bread, and another type of costini I think with liver) Then the first dish with the appropriate wine. (penne with a salsiccia ragu and Chianti) The second dish with wine as well. (basically a pot roast with peas and carrots and more of the Chianti) At the end there was a cheese plate which we used to finish off the second bottle of wine. Naturally the meal wouldn't be complete without dessert so there was a pear cake with Vin Santo (a sweet dessert wine.)

With the pre-dinner drink I sat on the couch with a death grip on my glass praying that no one would speak directly to me or ask me a question. We moved to the table and I relaxed a little, mostly I think because I didn't have to worry about dropping my glass if someone surprised me with a question. By the second dish I was becoming comfortably numb and I like to think that I was actually contributing to the conversation. Maybe only once or twice, but that's once or twice more than the last time we had dinner with them, so I'm improving like a hundred percent. By the dessert wine I was feeling almost a little too good so when Anna asked if I wanted coffee I said "Yes, thank you." Inside I was saying "Oh God, yes, coffee, the stronger the better!" She was just happy because I always say no and I think she's worried that her coffee isn't up to my stringent standards.

It was looking good for me. I'd had a bit more than I should to drink, but that's pretty much par for most of the dinners we share in Italian homes. I actually filled my own glass the whole night so I didn't drink as much as usual. The coffee was delicious and as I was sighing my contentment Anna jumped up and said "Limoncello!" and sprinted out of the room.

Crap. She makes her own and it's damn good. And she knows that I enjoy a glass every once in awhile. So every time I'm there, no matter what time of day, she brings out her beautiful bottle of limoncello. Even the smallest glass of this stuff is potent. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. By the time I finished my tiny glass I felt like my chair was floating on water.

We both had to work in the morning so we got  up to say our good-byes. We've reached the point in our neighbor-ship where we do the hug and cheek kissing things. It makes me feel very sophisticated because I come from Minnesota where hugs are brief and sideways and kissing is reserved for the elderly, in case you don't see them again.

One of the nice things about eating at the neighbors is that when dinner is finished and we leave we don't have to climb on our bikes and navigate through traffic to get home. We just have to climb the stairs. Which sounds easy till we've had just a tad bit too much to drink. I make liberal use of the handrail, something I normally don't do because it's pretty dirty and I don't know what exactly it might be dirty with. We arrived safely at our own apartment. I looked at Leif and asked "I did OK?" He looked at me, kissed me and said "Yes, you did OK." A nice way to end the night.

Monday, September 24, 2012

My first real job on a bike

Saturday I was Leif's assistant again, this time for a group of  twenty-two Swedes from Gothanburg. Not a local ride, but from a little town south of here called Staggia to Siena.

We got up early,rode our bikes to the train station, and loaded the bikes and ourselves onto the train for the ride to Poggibonsi. Once we arrived we mounted our bikes again and rode the roughly three miles to Staggia to wait for the bus to arrive. It was actually a beautiful ride. It was early, so the air was cool and the sun was shining. A couple of times I thought I should stop and take a picture because no one would believe that I had such an amazingly beautiful commute to work, but we were moving pretty fast and unlike American roads there really aren't any shoulders to pull off onto. So we rode on as I watched the rolling hills pass by, topped with cypress trees and covered in olive groves and grape vines. An occasional stone tower rising above the trees. The smell of smoke from the fires built after olive tree pruning. If you're not jealous yet you should be.

While we waited for the bus we had a quick coffee and pastry. I'm finally getting the hang of eating and drinking standing up (only breakfast, mind you) at the cafe bar. Of course I'm usually doing it during a ride and the pastry doesn't last very long at all.

The guests arrived and Leif talked with them about the coming ride, about the bikes and to let them know that I only know a few words of Swedish. No matter how Swedish I look.

Harley guys are the same
all over the world.
The people on this trip all work together....this trip is a bonus for a good year together. Some people worked in the office and some worked in the field. By field I mean that they drilled and dug deep holes to do geological assessments and then built the project that the people in the office designed and engineered. Definitely two different kinds of people, but still a close group who enjoyed each other. There was a point at which I was a little worried. Before we even left the parking lot some of the guys started doing wheelies. I probably don't need to say that these were the guys sporting motorcycle t-shirts, do I?

The group was large, Leif is riding at the front near the bridge
It's quite a skill, getting twenty-two people of various riding skills and motivation from point A to point B on bicycles with the goal of arriving together. That's why I was there, to bring up the rear and make sure no one got lost or too disheartened. Even the ones who worried to me out loud about the ride did a great job. Only a couple of people walked and then only once. So I think they arrived at their hotel (as a group, no stragglers) feeling like they'd done something pretty wonderful and unusual. Something to be proud of.

Lunch at the hotel. A lovely way to
end the ride.

It just goes to show how much faith I have in my husband. We rode hills that I would normally have hesitated at climbing, but that day I knew that he wouldn't have brought me along if he didn't think I could do the ride. His reputation is at stake when he hires me as an assistant and he won't compromise that just to be nice to me. I looked at some of those hills and thought "My God," then thought "Leif must think I can do this," and rode like I actually believed I could do it. And I left that day thinking I'd like to do this again.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My state fair experience, Tuscan style

This morning on my ride I saw a woman wearing a royal blue and florescent green tie-dyed mumu with lime green, purple, black and sky blue striped knee socks and a man in a silver suit and white cowboy boots with silver toes and heels. I kind you not. Silver lame, but in a suit weight. He looked like a space man from a bad  50's sci-fi movie. That's when I knew this was the day to go to the state fair.

OK, it wasn't technically a state fair. But it is the Expo Rurale Toscana which is the Tuscan version of a fair with everything from the countryside represented. Food and drink, animals, farmers, you name it, it was probably there. Oops, no rides and no food on sticks. Italians like to sit and eat. Walking and eating is what tourists do. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, and probably two thousand of mine, here are pictures from my day.

Machinery Hill. That's right. One of only two tractors in
whole place. Sorry dad, but hey, it's a Deere!
Things you just don't see at the Minnesota
State Fair. Snails.

Regional mushrooms.

Olive oil tasting. There are three more
tables just like this that form a square.
That's a lot of olive oil.

Weird gourds. I don't know what they
are and don't care. Great shape.

Cured meats and cheeses.
I had too much fun sampling stuff.
Interesting birds. Not your average chicken.

The sign says "Don't touch the animals."
Seriously? They need a sign for that??

Tuscan rodeo. The soundtrack?
Classical music and opera.

Not as flashy as an American rodeo, but just as much fun.
Hand made baskets.

Sadly, the fair attire seemed to be concentrated outside of the fair. Maybe here every day is like the state fair? 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Getting married: Third time's a charm?

Sunday was a strange day. A good day, but strange in the most lovely way.

It started out perfectly with a ride to the beautiful pastry. The best part about  this almost-ritual is that the ride there and then home totally gets rid of any guilt that may occur about eating pastry because it's a longish ride to get there. We work off any calories we take in.

Then after lunch I got cooking. Well, I got baking because I had promised to bring cookies to a dinner we were invited to that night. The oven has decided to become temperamental and so it took longer than I expected and we got to their house a little late.

They met us at the door with the announcement that because the weather was so beautiful they decided to move the dinner (with two other couples) to a garden at the edge of town. They had everything packed up already so we all grabbed a few things and headed back downstairs. Biagio brought his guitar and there was a big jug of wine along with the food. We managed to get everything and five people stuffed into their little Fiat Panda and off we headed to the garden.

As we drove I looked out the window of the car and marveled at how wonderful life is for us. I took in the traffic and buildings, listened to the music on the radio and lost myself in the incredible blue of the sky and thought how much I love the life that I have now. Which doesn't mean I didn't love life before. I don't think I can explain very well how full my heart was at that moment. I was with friends and my love, and my contentment felt like a warm blanket on a cold day. Safe, happy, secure.

We had to park a little ways away from the garden, because in little towns here almost every street is too narrow for even one way traffic so there's no place to park except for actual parking lots. So we unpacked the car (which should have been easier but ended up as risky as the packing it all in had been) and walked up a hill and back down to a gate in the wall. Naturally there was an uphill climb to the garden and when we finally reached the top we rounded the corner of the wall and...


Leif's Swedish friends in Florence, disappointed that they haven't been able to participate in any of our wedding celebrations, decided to throw us a surprise party. The shouts of surprise were accompanied by a pelting of rice and the opening of the prosecco. In my mind every party should start this way. The prosecco, not the rice.

No one seemed to believe that we didn't have a clue what was happening. They thought it was all so obvious. They were willing to have the fictitious dinner only on a day we were available. The amount of food we brought in our car alone was too much for 8 people. The giant two gallon jug of wine...did I really think we could drink all that?

In retrospect the signs were all there. Even for Florence we seemed to take a kind of roundabout way to get there. Katarina got an SMS and suddenly we had to stop for gasoline (someone forgot the prosecco in their fridge and had to run home for it) and she didn't roll her eyes or anything as Biagio fumbled with the machines at the gas station. In fact, she was remarkably calm in a situation she would normally be a little tense about....being late and all. It was a two gallon jug of wine for pete's sake. "Oh," Katarina said as we walked past balloons hung on the gates to the garden, "someone must have left them after a birthday party before this!" I didn't even wonder about the balloons. I just thought that some kid probably had a great day yesterday or earlier today.

Maybe my problem is more a lack of curiosity than of not paying attention. I was just enjoying the day so much. Why mess it up by thinking too much? Right?

It was a fabulous party. I'm using that word very mindfully. It was the most international of the celebrations. There were Swedish wedding games played in English and the whole group sang a song they wrote for us in Italian. We ate food and laughed and sang and danced and had a wonderful time. This was a group whose connection is not that they're Swedish, necessarily, but that they are all people who have chosen to live in Italy. They've fallen in love with people, yes, and gotten married. But they've also fallen in love with Italy and that more than anything else binds them together. And I am mostly welcome to their group, not just because I love one of their members, but also because I love Italy too.

I went to sleep that night marveling, as I'd done all day, on just how wonderful life has become. Each of our wedding celebrations has been a kind of love fest. Each one completely fitting for it's place and the people in it. The memory of these days and these people are precious to me. Last night I was overwhelmed by the generosity of our friends. I wanted to hug everyone a thousand times, but even here in Italy that would appear a little extreme so I held back. But I hope they know that I wanted to hug them a whole lot more.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I have a name. La signora di mountain bike. Kinda catchy.

So the day after I didn't get fired I felt a need to work off some of the negative energy I had stored up over the previous week. So I headed off to my usual ride through town to the white road and enjoyed a pretty hard ride to blow all the cobwebs out of my brain and feel good again.

Leif had left earlier to ride in the Giro della Toscana, a bike ride that brings riders from all over the region. Being the stud that he is, he chose to do the longer ride of 150 kilometers. (My ride was considerably shorter.) He asked if I'd come and meet him at the finish, which I did last year and since I actually know where I'm going now it wouldn't be a problem to find it so I said "Sure!"

So after my own ride and the necessary shower after, I got back on my bike and rode across town. There I parked my bike and got on a bus to go to another town a little south of Florence where the ride would finish.

It's not much of a story yet, is it? But now we come to the whole point of this post.

In this little town, almost 10 kilometers from where I do my usual rides, is where I walked past four older gentlemen and heard one of them say to the others "La signora di mountain bike."

And I thought, wow. Are they talking about me? I am a woman and I do ride a mountain bike. Then again we were at a cycle race. They could be talking about anyone. I checked and sure enough....these are guys I pass at some point on nearly every ride. Of course I have no idea how they recognized me without my bike, in street clothes and carrying my helmet instead of wearing it. So it's official....I'm a (kind of) Florentine, enough of one to be recognized in town and out of town.

This morning on my ride we met, me and the four older gentlemen. Today we all nodded and smiled. I think they like me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I didn't exactly get fired....

The job I thought I was going to take as a nanny isn't happening. We have mutually agreed that we are not compatible as a child-rearing team. I feel as if a huge weight has lifted off my shoulders. I wasn't ready to raise yet another family...two is enough for me, thank you very much.

I spent a week with them. I don't like to say the longest week of my life, because doubtless someone will say I'm exaggerating. So instead I'll say that there have only been a few times in my life where I've had work that consumed me so completely and left me so exhausted in my mind and my heart and my body that there was no energy left in me for joy or love or happiness. I was reduced to surviving, and I could see that this position was very much the same. It scared the hell out of me.

Yet I felt like I should give it a shot. Embrace the experience and see if it really was as bad as I thought, or if I just needed to get comfortable there. I was brought up to consider the future and this would be a regular paycheck.

Then yesterday everything kind of fell apart and we agreed to disagree about certain things. We agreed that it would be better if I didn't watch their two children, although our reasons for the decision are worlds apart. (I probably don't need to point out that my reasons are completely logical while theirs are firmly lodged in fantasy and wishful thinking, do I?)

I learned a few things there, and that makes the experience totally worthwhile. I got to see how "the other half" lives...the ones who never have to worry about rent or how to put food on the table. I learned that all the money in the world can't make a person happy or buy self-esteem. Money doesn't teach respect or instill values. Money doesn't bring peace of mind.

I was also reminded of the things I've learned in my life and how important it is to put that "Minnesota nice" on a back shelf and proclaim what I think and believe and feel to the people who would try to change me. I've spent a lifetime trying to find serenity and I've finally found it. This experience threatened that serenity and I actually considered letting it happen because the money would have been nice. Not the best reason in the world...possibly the worst reason in the world.

I am so blessed with friends who understand how precious and hard-earned serenity is and remind me constantly how much that serenity needs protection. I am also blessed to have a husband who asks good questions and then actually listens to the answers. A husband who supports me completely and becomes righteously indignant when others don't acknowledge my awesomeness like he does. A man who would happily eat pasta bianca (pasta with olive oil and not much else) every night as long as he could eat it with me.

Not getting the job of everyone else's dreams never felt so good.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Life is sometimes a joke that I just don't get

I've rarely been one of those people who needs jokes explained to them. I have a damn good sense of humor. But this week The Universe (or God, or whatever you call that power greater than ourselves) has been messing with me and I swear I can hear her laughing. Maybe someday I''ll laugh about this week too, but right now I just don't get it.

I started working with a family on a regular s basis, which shouldn't be confused with "on a regular schedule." I will work 13 days a month alternating with the other nanny, who I need to coordinate the as  yet unset schedule with as soon as she comes back from home.

Has this ever happened to you? You have oodles and oodles of free time (in other words unemployed) and no one seems to want you. Then by some strange miracle you get some work and suddenly offers start coming at you left and right?

My referral angel Kate continues to give my name out to friends and family who either live here or will be visiting. A couple of days ago I had a couple of moms I've worked with in the past contact me for work. Within five minutes of each other. One of them I haven't seen in a year and only sat for her once. To quote her text "Do you have a friend to recommend for next week? When you are free I would rather have you :)." I have no idea what I did in those few short hours I spent at her house last year to inspire such loyalty.

The parents of the little girl that I do watch regularly keep asking me questions. Why would I want a contract job? I have to work twenty years to get that pension...why would I do that? Wouldn't I rather just get the cash right now? I know that they're motivated mostly by fear because it took them forever to find a babysitter that Mia likes and now that they have me they think I'm abandoning them. Which I'm not. They don't use me that much anyway. But it's comforting for them to know that when they do need someone that Mia is happy and content instead of crying and worrying the whole time.

It really didn't help that yesterday when I watched Mia she got all affectionate on me. This is a new development in the last couple of weeks. She likes to pretend that there's a mean wolf chasing us (like in the three little pigs) and we hide under a "magic" blanket in her room together. Yes, in the middle of all this summer heat I huddle under winter blankets with a three year old for hours while she whispers "help, help" and I snuggle her into me and tuck the blankets tight around us so that the wolf can't see us.

Yesterday we were under her loft bed wrapped in in a quilt, nose to nose. She took my face in her little hands and said "love you. Like daddy." Well, she said it in Italian, butt that's the gist of it. Mostly she was saying that she loves me as much as daddy and a little less than mommy (because in Italy love for mothers is the greatest and purest love of all). A Hollywood screenwriter couldn't have scripted it better. Even though I'm not leaving them, I felt like a heel.

Then I had to tell a friend who asked me to work with her at her restaurant that I had part-time work and probably wouldn't be able to work with her. It was like she didn't hear a word I said. "But you'll still come work with me, right? You have your papers? Just a few hours a day?"

The week's only half over....the laughter continues to echo in my head. I can hardly wait to see what kind of emotional appeal I'll get in the coming days. I still haven't heard from the people I dog sit for or the moms of the kids that I tutor in English. Yup, the Universe....she's a funny lady.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed

Yesterday I had one of "those" days. You know the ones I mean. The kind where all my dishes should be unbreakable plastic and the knives should be dull. The kind of day where being wrapped up in bubble wrap actually sounds appealing instead of confining. The kind of day where I really would be weaponless in a match of wits.

This morning promised to be more of the same.

For my new job I have been asked to provide a criminal background check. Here in Europe it's the employees' responsibility to provide this. Doing it from here is a little complicated. I think I have to go through the FBI. They want fingerprints. Apparently my word isn't good enough; they want physical proof that I am who I say I am.

To do this I needed to find somewhere here in Italy that can take my fingerprints and either give them to me to mail with my application or send them electronically to the States. Luckily Leif has a member of the Carbiniere on his cycle team. (I swear they have one of every important job on their team....lawyers, policemen, cafe bar owners) He sent him a message and waited for a response..

This morning, after my day from hell yesterday, I was washing up the breakfast dishes and dropped Leif's coffee cup. His ultra-special, home town, edged in gold coffee cup. It didn't break, thank goodness, but I did chip the rim on one side. I felt terrible and told him I'd fix it. I didn't promise as good as new, because I know how these things work. I tried to stay a little fuzzy on the outcome and pointed out that he drinks with his right hand which means that he doesn't drink from that side of the cup anyway so perfection isn't absolutely necessary, although desirable.

I got the glue out and studied the cup carefully......for a really, really long time. I was kind of hoping that it would magically heal itself. Which of course it didn't. So as Leif made his phone call to his police friend I cautiously got out the glue, took a few deep breaths and went to work. I put on the first part which is sort of like a magic marker and is supposed to prepare the surface for the glue. I watched the clock with one eye and Leif with the other. The phone conversation seemed to be going well. The guy remembered him anyway. As I put the glue on the cup and pressed the chip firmly onto the spot Leif hung up the phone and said, "He says to call him whenever we want to come by and they can take your fingerprints."

He looked so happy I didn't didn't know how to tell him that I  just glued my left forefinger to his favorite cup. So I didn't. I ripped my finger off the cup as gently as I could and looked at the superglue covering my finger. No, not my fingerprint.

It may be several days till we attempt to have my fingerprints taken. The glue will wear off eventually. Or I could bring in the cup, which appears to have a very clear image of my fingerprint on the rim.

Tomorrow will be better, right?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

I think I should list "eating" as a skill on my resume

You'd think from reading these posts that all we do in Sweden is eat. You're probably right. I mean, that's what you do when you visit. You invade unsuspecting friends' and family's homes and eat everything in sight. That's how it works. I'm just pretty good at making eating other people out of house and home sound fun and interesting.

It shouldn't be any surprise to you then that I'm going to tell you about another day of eating. Which was also another party. Leif's sister's fiancee's parents (what an awkward way to introduce someone into a story!) were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary while we were in Sweden and they invited us to join the family party. We all jumped in our respective cars and drove southeast to Västervik, or West Bay for us English speakers. This also happens to be the town that Leif's father lived near for much of his youth.

This was supposed to be a lunch celebration so we arrived around noon and as soon as we all seated ourselves Ingegerd and Ebbe started bringing dishes out to the patio table. Roasted potatoes and pork tenderloin with three different sauces, roasted root vegetables and salad. That woman can cook! I think we ate everything she put on the table. I know we did, actually. She kept telling us to eat more and wouldn't take a dish away  till it was empty.

After an hour or so of after dinner conversation they brought out the cheese basket that they got as a gift and we tried almost ten different cheeses. I wish I could remember them for you. Some were the stinky kind, some were the runny kind, some soft and creamy and some hard and brittle.There were spicy ones and smokey ones and holey ones. All of them were amazing and we ate them with bread and crackers and flat breads until we couldn't eat anymore.

We sat and talked some more around the cheese board and suddenly it was time for the afternoon coffee. Ingegerd had baked all the goodies herself and they were delicious. We did some more talking, some more eating and more drinking of coffee and finally cleared away the dishes. I thought we were preparing to leave. I was wrong.

Ebbe gave us a tour of the house, showing us all the improvements he's made over the years. They seem to have so much space in a house that from the outside looks pretty small. I think the basement is actually as big as the lot, not the house. It's the only way I can figure that they can fit all those rooms down there.

After inspecting the house from basement to attic I thought we would leave. It seemed like it to me. But then, you must remember that most of the conversations happen in Swedish and unless there's a strong visual hint for me I have no idea what's going on. People milling about in the foyer to me indicates an imminent departure. I failed to take into account the proximity of the kitchen to the foyer. I also failed to notice the smell of something baking in the oven.

Suddenly we were all seated at the table on the patio again and Ingegerd was bringing out some fritatas. We couldn't leave without dinner! I couldn't believe it, I was actually a little hungry. Or maybe I just talked myself into being hungry because I knew there was no way I was getting out of there without eating. I even had a second piece.

We rolled out of their house after dinner, hours after I thought we'd leave. It was wonderful to celebrate with them and to feel like part of the family. If I had the words in Swedish I'd tell them just how much it meant to me to be included in such an intimate celebration. Of course they're still pretty young....they could still be alive when I finally master Swedish enough to cobble a sentence or two together.

Normally I wouldn't bore you with an account of the drive home, but this was another part of the day where I become family. Leif's dad asked if we could take a little detour and he would show us one of the houses he grew up in and the first place he worked.

First he drove us to a large estate and as we wound through the buildings he showed us where he had played soccer with the owners kid when they were young and where they ran their sleds and the house where they lived. On the way into town he showed us the shortcut trail they used to take to get to school (it's still there) and then, as it started to get dark, he took us to the waterside.

There, under a tall chimney, stands a long brick oven next to an even longer drying barn. Tord's first job was in a brickyard, making bricks by hand. He started when he was fourteen years old and worked so hard that he was given the same wages as the men. He told us stories about his work. Things that only a fourteen year old would consider doing, and only a fourteen year old could survive. By bringing me along and telling us the stories he invited me into his life and into the family. Doing what every family does. Passing our stories along to the next generation so that they know anything is possible. And if they can do it over a meal, or maybe a little coffee and cake it's even better.