Sunday, February 15, 2009

Unexpected reverie, with pictures of Italy

Jim gave me these awesome sculptures for Valentine's Day. Love them! We actually didn't go out on Valentine's Day, but on Friday night instead. Dating from when I waitressed in "fine dining" (ish), it's hard to muster enthusiam for restaurants on Valentine's Day: the overpriced special menu, the crowd. Now we usually go out the night before or have brunch or something instead. Went to one of our favorite Portland restaurants, Acadia, for Cajun food. YUM. I had softshell crab (with jalapeno tartar sauce) and crawfish etouffee; Jim had [vegetarians avert your eyes] the triple-cut pork chop, which is a piece of meat like none other. Seriously. You've never experienced a pork chop like this -- brown-sugar brined with Andouille-sage dressing. My goodness, my gracious.

Funnily enough, it was at Acadia on our anniversary several years ago that we had "the conversation" about having a baby.

Anyway, Valentine's Eve was quite delicious, and Valentine's Day, at home, had its share of sweets to choose from:
Chocolates and cinnamon candy, pistachio toffee, brownies, and cupcakes. And Moonstruck chocolates. Oh my. The awesome Deruta cake plate is from my mother. I have a thing for cake plates, and this is my first Italian one. In my family, Italian ceramics are something of a passion. My mom can tell from across a room whether something is real Italian or faux made in China "Italianesque." We lived in Italy when I was a kid (age 9-13), and I seem to recall getting "dragged" to Deruta once, where I'm sure my brother and sister and I were bored out of our skulls. Not that I've ever known a kid to appreciate ceramics, but man, I'd take that trip now! Jim and I did go to another ceramics town, Vietri on the Amalfi Coast, to shop, and that was awesome.
The Amalfi Coast is where our fantasy villa would be located, if the dog were ever to dig up a stash of gold bars in the back yard. It would be set in a lemon grove on the cliff overlooking the sea, with a little winding trail down to a tiny pocket of a beach, with some kayaks pulled up past the tidal line and a little striped cabana for storing beach umbrellas and chairs. Maybe we'll even have our own peddle boat. Peddle boats were such a part of my childhood in Italy. We'd rent them whenever someone's parents gave them enough money (see, money went first to gelato, and if there was enough left over, to a peddle boat. It was a slow method of travel, but our beach was not enormous. It was not a pocket, to be sure. Here it is:

This was my entire world for months of every year. What glorious, perfect summers. We lived two blocks away from this beach, and we did not miss a single day. EVER. Even rare rain days, we'd go to the beach and eat gelato in the cafe and wait for the rain to stop so we could do gymnastics on the hard-packed sand. Or, if there was an actual storm (extremely rare) that kicked up some actual surf (you know, by southern Italy standards), we'd bodysurf for hours and pretend to be mermaids. You could kind of believe it, for a little while, on days like that.

Here you can see it from the air, and see what a narrow peninsula it was on:
The Navy ship in the bay behind was our reason for living there.

I miss that connection to the sea, knowing I would be in it every single day. I want to have summers like that again (with much more sunblock involved). Even if gold bars are never uncovered and there is no cliffside villa with a lemon grove, such a thing must be possible. An apartment rental for a month, maybe. To have that again, that lazy walk to the beach, swimming in warm ocean and diving off peddle boats.

How did I get to this? From Italian ceramics to Italian summers, it's not such a stretch, I guess. To have Italian summers again, that is high on my life list, not just for me but for Jim, who didn't have magical summers as a kid, and for junior-human-under-construction, who will.

Jim's and my first trip to Italy together was our first summer together, coming up on ten years ago. We went to the Cinque Terre, Florence, Rome, and then Gaeta, the town of my childhood. In Gaeta one afternoon we went for a long, luxurious Italian lunch in a seafood place in the square of the medieval quarter:

We had fisherman's spaghetti with tiny clams and assorted fish, and we sat there on a shaded patio for hours, drank two light bottles of white wine. It's one of the most memorable meals of our entire relationship. Maybe THE most. Then we walked lazily over the hill to the beach pictured above, which was not quite "open for the season," it being only May. Still, we did find a peddle boat rental and peddled out along the line of Montagna Spaccata (Split Mountain), in our street clothes. Jim's first real experience with the Mediterranean. I think he liked it :-)

Hm. Unexpected nostalgia. Funny how things are framed differently in your mind when there's a life in the belly. My thought on storytelling from a few posts ago definitely had a lot to do with conscious thoughts of creating a childhood for a small person. This too. I feel incredibly blessed to have had such a childhood, and I want to pass along the blessing. It seems that it should be within our power. We just have to make it a reality.


Wyman Stewart said...

Thank you. That's a fun read. Some of the photos are artworks, so it is no surprise you would miss places and times like those. I wish you well in reclaiming them anew one day. Looks like a great place to live if you are a writer or an artist.

In his late teens Albert Einstein spent time living in Italy with his family. He found the country a wonderful place to explore. Surely there must be an air and a sense of freedom there that other places don't have. Your fertile imagination must have been fed by that area.

:-) Reading your post makes my soul feel a little more free. Thanks again. Very nice.

andalucy said...

I totally identify with that desire to provide magical summers for your children. I had many a magical summer growing up in rural Maine and for some reason I feel like that is so vital to who I am today. Do you feel that way? I've taken my four children back to Maine most summers and I've never see them so daring, free, and gloriously happy as when we're there. Something about the air.

Beautiful photos and words! Now I have to add the Amalfi coast to my list of dream destinations.

Anonymous said...

Hi Liani,
first congrats for the baby. I can understand your love for Italy. Last year I left my job and packed everything I accumulated over 15 years of living in London, rented a van with a crazy Greek driver and crossed Europe to Italy. I rented a little house in a farm in a beautiful region of Italy and been working on my first collection of short stories and a novel. My dream is to be able to buy an old farm house but it is difficult at the moment, maybe when I sell the book :)

Anyway, my lill house is very basic but you and Jim are most welcomed to come and stay for free for a month, seriously. Florence is about four hours away by coach and there is a pretty little town close to my house called Urbino, just google it. it is the hometown of the famous painter Raffaello

Ah, I just forgot to say that I've been reading your blog for a long time and I Love it.


Katie Anderson said...

What a fun, fun post!!!

Laini Taylor said...

Hi Soad! Wow, I LOVE Urbino! In college I traveled all around Emilia Romagna and Le Marche -- I was writing for a student travel guide and literally went to EVERY CITY in those provinces. Urbino was fabulous, and so remote. At the time, anyway ('93?) there wasn't even rail access, just bus. How wonderful to be living and writing there. (Sounds like you should have a blog, complete with photos to make us all jealous :-) Happy writing!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, you and Jim did the same thing as Chuck and I, eat out on Friday. And we had enough left over to recreate the meal (Italian) on Sat. No V-Day craziness fo us.
The photos are amazing, when can I book to go?

Michele Thornton said...

Ah, babies and Italy. Two subjects that warm my heart. Congrats on the soon to be new arrival!

I spent a little time in Umbria and LOVE Deruda pottery. I also found two fabulous pottery lamps in Orvietto. My only regret is I didn't by more.

What a great childhood memory! Mine are of swimming off the coast of Maine. Equally sweet memories, but they involve blue lips and barnacle cuts on my feet. Cold, that Atlantic is so cold.

Laini Taylor said...

Hi Michele!
I LOVE Orvieto. My mom has some ceramics from there too; my favorite purse is from there -- a great Italian leather bag I've had for years, that just gets better as it gets older :-)

It's been a LONG time since I swam in the Atlantic, though is was further south, in Virginia. Can't remember how cold it was, but only the long unendingness of it, so different that the little cove beaches like that one in Italy.

(And thanks for the congrats :-)

Lisa Schroeder said...

Wow. Can I come? :) Surely you'll need a nanny, won't you?

Stephanie Perkins said...

Oh goodness. I still can't believe you grew up in ITALY. Eating GELATO. EVERY DAY.

(And I'll be your backup nanny when Lisa's busy, 'kay?)

lkmadigan said...


Loved this travelog.


Elise Murphy said...

Oh you can make that kind of magical world for your soon-to-be! It's all in the imagining . . . and you and Jim have plenty to go around.

I think parenting, life, marriages fail in the face of a lack of imagination.

You need imagination in the smallest ways (baby is not sleeping, we need a new plan) to the really large ways (my kids need animals and wild spaces or my kids need to live abroad).

If you can imagine it . . . you can make it happen.

Lovely post.

You have me all fired up about parenting with magic!

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