Thursday, July 11, 2013

Wine Time

Fifteen months ago, we went on a driving vacation through Provence. We devoted one entire day to wine - visits to wineries and co-ops, driving the Cotes du Rhone trail, and buying up a few cases. Since I was six months pregnant, my tasting was limited to small sips, and my purchases leaned heavily on attractiveness of the label. I have been waiting a very long time to start enjoying our French wine. Tonight was my night. Our wine shipment arrived today! Woohoo! I promptly located a French Rosé to chill for tonight, and after La Bimba was down for the count, we opened up that first bottle. I took my glass out onto our back deck and thought many deep thoughts while sipping away. Mainly, though, I enjoyed the silence. It was 10pm, and I heard crickets, a gull crying, and the hum of the electrical transformer at the streetlight box, but very little else. The restaurants downtown close up around 9pm, so there was no nightlife noise. Very occasionally, I'd hear a car. When a couple walked down the street bordering our back yard, they were either silent or keeping their voices very low. When a business man walked down the same street, he walked silently, no cell phone or Bluetooth in sight. Just quiet and calm. The house lights from across the Bay reflect onto the water, a red light blinks down at the marina, and peace reigns. I am having trouble getting used to the quietness here. The calm. Internally, I am still on Naples chaos time. And Naples dinner time. Last week, we almost got caught out by showing up for dinner around 8:35, which seemed perfectly reasonable to us. We hadn't even gotten our food yet when the servers started doing nightly cleanup. On the plus side, I've found that this early night stuff means I get to sleep earlier. Considering La Bimba wakes up at the same time every day with absolutely no regard for what time I might have gone to sleep (used to be midnight or later), I am really enjoying this early finish to the evening. Except that now I have wine to enjoy on the back deck for the later hours.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Italian Connections

Back in Italy, I was in a Book Club. BN (Before Nora), I diligently read my books, although I didn't contribute much to the discussion and more often than not, I was the one bringing wine or a boxed dessert as my food offering, but nevertheless, I loved having a night out with the ladies, a lively discussion about our book, and almost always, the conversation somehow returning to Mad Men, a show I'd not yet watched (but have now started because clearly, I need to be able to intelligently discuss this show). Fast forward to America. We received delivery of our household goods on Friday. It was a long, tiring day. Our arrival time window was 8-9am, so at the hotel, we woke up the baby (naturally, the one morning we have to actually be somewhere, she decided to sleep in) and rushed over to the house. The movers showed up at 10:10. And the first load came off the truck somewhere around 11:30. They left our house at 7pm, and we promptly headed downtown to "treat ourselves." This is a phrase you should all learn, totally stolen from my friend who doesn't like to mentioned by name on the internet. "Treat yourself." It's my new favorite phrase, and I have used it daily since our return. As moving day wore on and on, I began preparing Nathan: "Tonight, we are going out to dinner. And we are treating ourselves. Big time." But by 7pm, we were tired, the baby was tired, and we didn't care where we landed as long as (A) we were sitting, and (B) someone was bringing us food. Somehow, we landed at the local fish shack. For my closest friends and family, you will know that this is the last place to find me "treating myself." Oddly, though, I was the one who suggested stopping when we walked past. In the last few months, I've had too many instances to count when I had an instinct, didn't follow it, and within hours or days learned why I should have listened to my instinct. I'm trying to do better. J.J's Fish Shack dinner was just such a time. We sat, and before we even ordered our food, Nathan saw a man leaving the restaurant and calmly commented, "Look, there's Dr. M-----. I used to have to go see him all the time in Naples for my Africa travel." Imagine a record scratching in my head. I loudly exclaimed, "Dr. M-----!!! Are you kidding! I was in Book Club with his wife. Call him. Call out to him right now!" Sure enough, somehow I completely missed the fact that one of my fellow Book Club members who'd moved just a few months prior had also moved to this area. She walked up shortly thereafter - how wonderful to see a familiar face from Italy!

In other Italian news on the home front, we broke down tonight and went to one of the two, local, Italian restaurants. One is super fancy and is right along the line of "treating yourself." The other has red and white checked tablecloths. We decided tonight was only a normal night, so we went to the less fancy of the two. And now I am completely certain that I do indeed love the American version of Italian food. Which resembles Italian food not at all. For example, we had as an appetizer a melted cheese concoction of gorgonzola and garlic with almonds throughout and served with small toasts. While this was so delicious, it in no way resembled any food I ate in any region of Italy. For our meal, we both had pastas in very heavy, cream sauces, which mostly just reminded us of something one of the local Neapolitans said to us shortly after our arrival in Italy, when we were discussing Italian food. "Who is this Alfredo all you Americans talk about?" And sure enough, an alfredo sauce is virtually non-existent. A cream sauce is sometimes possible, but a cream sauce in Italy is wildly different (much lighter - not nearly as much butter and the cream available is quite different) than what we find in Italian restaurants in the U.S. Regardless, I LOVE the American version of Italian food. I'm just not sure I can ever call these types of restaurants "Italian" with a straight face. Which really makes me wonder about the other ethnic restaurants I love. But in the end, I don't actually care how much or how little a restaurant's food resembles the nationality it claims. As long as the food is good and the experience is enjoyable...and I don't have to wash any dishes at the end...I'm happy.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why We Are Loving Our New Town

Happy Almost America Day, Y'all!

We left Italy a week ago today. Despite our anxiousness about traveling for 30 hours with a baby, our fears were for naught. Nora having her own seat was absolutely key - she played and slept, and while I desperately wanted to sleep while she was sleeping, the allure of my very own movie screen five inches from my face was just too great. Do you know how long it's been since I got to see a somewhat recent movie? I started a blog post about a week before we left Italy, but since I wrote it at 2am, I decided that nothing good would come of it. Now that we are back in America, the land of milk and honey, I'm dusting it off. And because I got a special request for just such a post.

The original post was a two-parter, things I knew I would miss about Italy and things I was looking forward to in America. But for today, it's all about America the Beautiful. We were so excited when we landed at our first stop in the USofA, Philadelphia Airport. We had our camera all ready to take a picture of Nora in front of a big "Welcome to America" sign we thought would be in the International Arrivals hall. There was something small at Immigration that would have worked except for all the "No Photographs" signs posted everywhere. Our Immigration Man was so nice though and extremely competent at his job since he spotted us as a returning military family in about 1.8 seconds. I wanted to ask him if he would let us take his photo with Nora since it was her first time in her Homeland, but I thought that might get me locked up in a dark room for the next several days. Our layover in Philadelphia turned out longer than expected, but it was beyond nice to be able to communicate with everyone! We just chit-chatted away with about every person we saw. And when some man became incredibly irate and yelled at our gate agent for about 20 minutes (no exaggeration - he even left, then returned 15 minutes later to continue his tirade), we understood Every.Single.Word. Pure bliss. And a little scary, but at least we understood the situation. Never underestimate the power of clear communication.

So far, we repeat to each other on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis, This Land is so wonderful. In the last 34 months, Nathan has spent two weeks in the U.S., and I've spent five. And while we certainly weren't living in the depths of the wild, cut off from all civilization, life and daily sights/experiences were very different. Here are just a few of the things we have loved about returning "home."

We leave our GPS in our car! All the time! I am not joking!  And one morning, we returned to our rental house from the hotel where we are staying until our furniture arrives, and we found that we'd forgotten to shut the front door the night before. We'd left our front door not just unlocked, but standing open, with my laptop sitting on a built-in shelf about 10 feet away from the door. Nothing in the house had been touched. And people here are so nice. On the street, everyone says hello or smiles. Shopkeepers talk to us and engage in real conversation. Same thing at the restaurants. Speaking of restaurants, do you know what it's like to have such a variety? I guess my American readers do, but I'd forgotten. So far, we have eaten yummy salads, fantastic Mexican flautas, lobster ravioli, hamburgers, Vietnamese, and the list goes on. In just one week! The variety is unbelievable. We can have whatever we want. And that's been a lesson in itself. Whatever we want, we can have. One of my American friends in Naples used to tell me this when we talked about going home. She would tell me that if I could dream it, I could have it. And it is true. Just about anything I can think of that we might want or need is within a 20 minute drive. Which means that in America, we are incredibly spoiled. But that's a topic for another post.

We eat dinner now at 6pm. Tonight, we arrived late to our chosen restaurant, about 7:30. And when we walked home at 8:30 (dinner takes less than one hour! Can you even believe it!), other restaurants on our route were closed. At 8:30. And when we sit down at a restaurant and read the menu, we are sure that everything printed on the menu will, in fact, be available to order. I have not heard the words, "It is finished," a single time.

I desperately missed cutesy, artsy towns with markets and artists' coops and coffeehouses. Our new town has it all. Poulsbo is completely adorable with TWO, wonderful coffeehouses in three blocks. And an award winning ice creamery, several artsy stores, a couple of bookstores, restaurants, and more. I sat in a coffeehouse today for an hour and sipped on a medium, fancy coffee drink while reading. Again, pure bliss. Except for the resulting caffeine shakes after drinking a 12oz coffee drink - yowser...again, a topic for another post.

We both missed the quiet and have not been able to believe the peace here. The constant droning of motor scooters against a backdrop of nightly fireworks and pumping discotheques became such background noise that we forgot what quiet is like. Quiet is lovely. We sit in our empty rental house, look out at a calm bay filled with anchored sailboats...and hear nothing. Except one afternoon for a few minutes when we watched and heard a seaplane take off.

I am loving a fast, working washer and dryer. I think I'm going to be able to do my entire week's worth of laundry in about six hours now. Or what feels like six hours, instead of six days. And our refrigerator has an ice maker! We can get ice made for us on demand! This Land is just insane with luxury.

Oooohhhh, the driving. While I very much enjoyed the anything goes attitude of Naples driving, here in This Land, people stop at stop signs, stop for me to cross the street, wait patiently at traffic lights, and in general, drive in a polite, orderly manner. It's weird.  And if someone does do something that might be be considered ever so slightly rude, say pulling out of a driveway an extra two inches, acting like they just might turn in front of you, or so forth, they get extremely apologetic and starting mouthing "Sorry, sorry," and waving. Super weird. Also, Americans must not realize that these wide, two lane roads could quite easily accommodate seven or so lanes of traffic.

But most of all, the thing I complained about missing most in Naples, and that I'm now enjoying the most here, is the walking. I can easily stroll out of my driveway, walk down a nice sidewalk to town, walk along wide, clean sidewalks there, walk along a waterfront boardwalk and enjoy the quiet while watching the Bay, the trees on the other shore, birds swooping around, and other walkers out with their dogs. Safe, clean, walking. It's something I took so much for granted until I no longer had it easily accessible.

Naples has its own set of charms and things I am starting to miss, and like I wrote earlier, that will be another post. This post is not supposed to be all about how much better America is, but instead, just highlight a few of the things that I personally am so grateful to now have again. Things that are comfortable and are part of my home. And I think it goes without saying that being closer to family and friends is the most important of all! Enjoy your 4th of July. I, for one, will be viewing our town's Fireworks show on July 3rd while thinking that I am indeed Proud To Be An American.

Note: I'm sorry for no photos on this post. I took some great pics of our new town and waterfront boardwalk, and when I hooked up my new iPhone to the computer, I lost them all and haven't had time to do data recovery. So words only, for now.