Our rinfresco, or open house, is tonight, and we started mixing and baking yesterday and continue today, making some truly amazing American dolci. Lucy makes gingerbread, pineapple upside down cake, magic cookie bars, chocolate chip cookies, apple salad and brownies, Randy makes two apple pies and I make two cherry cream cheese pies. We are pretty confident the food will be well received, because as good as Italian food is in general, American dolci is better than some of the gorgeous but dry Italian dessert pastries found in pasticcerias. Of course tiramis nd panna cotta are exceptionally good Italian desserts, as is gelato, but the array of rich sweets we have put together can more than hold its own against the best of Italy.
Ivo is one of the first to arrive, smartly dressed and neatly groomed. We have only seen him before in his work clothes—after a mushroom hunt, feeding his chickens, working on his vinyards. He brings a bottle of wine. His wife Ilina speaks both Italian and Russian, and she has a nice conversation in Russian with Lela. Ivo’s sister-in-law Antonella also comes a little later. Luigi the macellaio and his wife and grandson are present, but their son Matteo is in Viareggio with friends, they say. Lucy’s hairdresser Gabbriella is also here, as is Ari, who helped me get my certificate of citizenship and codice fiscale; he is accompanied by his wife. From the Spadoni side of the family, we greet Enrico, Enza, Loriano, Gabbriella, Marta, Gianfranco, Grazie and Claudio. Enrico is carrying his nipote Matteo, Alessandra’s son. Also Raffaello Lazzaroni, son of the late Maria Spadoni, has come. I have only met him once, on my first trip to Italy in 1996. Sergio Seghieri and his wife Silvana and nipote Flavia have come, and of course all the people from the agriturismo are here: Enzo, Gilda, Luca, Claudia, Roberta, Paolo and Giada. Marco, our teacher from San Salvatore, has come with his wife Paola, and it turns out that Marco knows Grazia, Marta and Gianfranco. Francesca Seghieri from the bike shop and her mom, Dosolina Bianucci, make a short appearance. Unfortunately, Francesca’s uncle Mario Seghieri from next door can’t come; he has still not recovered from a leg injury he suffered this spring, and Mario’s sons Fausto and Ivano have to be at work. Our French friend in the apartment next door, Emeline, also joins us.
I decide to make a short speech and ask Ari to translate for me. It is a shortened version of the blog entry I wrote earlier about the value of a good name. I explain how being a Spadoni in Gig Harbor helps me connect when I meet people, and then I add that the same is true here in Italy. All I have to do is mention that my grandparents were Spadoni and Seghieri and I am accepted, sometimes even warmly welcomed. Raffaello jokes that I am fortunate to have a noble surname while he instead is stuck with Lazzaroni, a name that in the south is associated with beggars and street people.
We receive many compliments on the food, and eleven-month-old Micah makes a great impression. Italians and Americans are able to make baby talk, so at least we all have one language in common.
As we clean up, Lucy and I reflect that we have accomplished most of our goals during our three months here. We have reconnected with the Spadoni relatives and we have discovered our connection with the Seghieri side. I have dug deeply into the family tree on both sides. We have acquaintances in the community and we feel comfortable shopping like Italians in the neighborhood stores. We have explored the Tuscan countryside and found delightful cities, valleys, bridges, trails and streams, and we know that there are many more waiting to be found.
Lucy and I agree that the area in which we have fallen short of our aspirations is language learning. When we started, we understood about 25 percent of what we heard. Now we are up to perhaps 50 percent, but that’s still far from what we want. I recently sat outside the bar at San Salvatore and could hear the men talking among themselves, but I could hardly understand a single sentence. It’s not going to be much use for us to have friends and acquaintances if we can’t discuss anything beyond the basics of family, work and places we live. This summer we will be too busy with work to study, but we will need to learn more Italian next fall and then continue to take lessons here next winter. We would rather have our days free from study and lessons, but it appears to be unavoidable if we want to improve. More than one person has jokingly suggested to us that the best way to learn is to have an Italian amante, but we both are very happy with the lovers we already have, so we’ll just have to continue our studies the slow and painful way.