Monday, February 26, 2024

Why do Americans often call their Italian grandmothers Nonni?

Is your Italian grandmother supposed to be called Nonna, Nona, Nonni, Noni or even something else? This is a frequent point of debate in many of the Italian and Italian American discussion groups to which I belong. Well, I’m here to give you the definitive and final answer!

That’s a joke, because there is no such thing in such a hotly debated discussion, especially when Italians are involved! There can only be a reasoned and educated opinion, which is what I hope to provide, a voice from experience.

My own Nonna, Anita Seghieri
I’m a citizen of both Italy and the United States, with homes in both places, and I have a strong respect for the culture of both countries, and also for the Italian immigrants who made new lives for themselves in American 100 years ago and earlier. I’m aware that the correct answer, strictly speaking, is Nonna, but there is also a very good reason that many Italian Americans called their grandmothers Nonni or Noni instead—and it doesn’t necessarily mean they are ignorant or poorly educated.

One possibility is that immigrants sometimes called their grandmothers Nonnina, which is an affectionate and diminutive form of Nonna. My dad had an aunt named Rosa, but everyone in the family knew her as Rosina. It could be that some people started shortening Nonnina to Nonni.

However, a much more likely answer is that these early grandmothers had come to America, and they and their families started adopting the American custom of using the “i” “y” or “ie” ending as a term of endearment or affection. In American, children often change dad to daddy, mom to mommy, aunt to aunty, and grandmother to granny or grammy. The same is true of dozens of Italian given names: Antonio became Tony, Vincenzo to Vinny, Francesco to Frankie, Salvatore to Sally or Solly, Roberto to Bobby, Giovanni to Johnny or Gianni, Paolo to Paulie.

Another possible reason could be that some children found Nonni easier to pronounce than Nonna. Stephanie Beddia, now of South Carolina, notes, “I was supposed to be Nonna, but when my first grandson started to talk, he just kept saying, ‘Nonni, Nonni, Nonni.’”

Obviously, the Italian grandmothers knew the correct term, but most did not object to being called Nonni instead of Nonna, understanding that it was a term of endearment in America. My given name is Paul, but I don’t mind if Italian Americans call me Paulie or Italians call me Paolo. In a way, it is flattering, because it signifies that they accept me as belonging in their communities.

Grandmothers accepted or even embraced this American version because, well, they were now in America. If that’s the way people spoke in America, then Italian grandmothers accepted the slight change. Kids were already taught to say Daddy and Mommy instead of Babbo and Mamma, because it was important to be considered American. President Theodore Roosevelt said, in 1915: “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. A hyphenated American is not an American at all.” He was speaking to persons who referred to themselves as Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc. Thus, it’s not hard to see why Italian immigrants were willing to adopt American customs.

One final comment on this: Whenever this topic is discussed, it will provoke comments such as, “Using Nonni to refer to an Italian grandmother is a bastardization of the language and just shows the ignorance of Americans. This would never be accepted in Italy.”

This kind of arrogance troubles me. Yes, I know that Nonna is the word of choice in Italy, but Italy is a land full of dialectical differences. The Italian spoken in America by our immigrant forebears is also a dialect, and it should be respected as such and not denigrated and regarded as inferior to other dialects.

In the words of New Yorker Amber Preston: “It’s a grandparent’s prerogative to be called by any name they want by their grandchildren, period. It’s not a choice for anyone else to judge.”

Thursday, January 25, 2024

It's wins all around for people and their happy, smiling doggies!

A win-win situation is generally acknowledged as the best possible outcome, but when you throw some dogs into the mix, there is something even better: a win-win-win situation. How does this situation come about?

Lucy and I have 12 acres of beautiful, wooded property in Rosedale that I walked on maybe five times a year. We’ve kept it mostly untouched because we love nature and the peace and quiet of walking in the woods, combined with the knowledge that these woods have been in my family since 1945. However, keeping this land intact has been a drain on our budget. In 2023, we paid $5,468 in property taxes, up from an average of $5,000 over the previous five years—meaning that each walk we took essentially was costing us $1,000 in taxes alone, not exactly what a person would consider a “win.”

The only people really getting a good deal were my neighbors. We saw no reason to restrict them from taking quiet strolls or riding their bikes, motorcycles or horses, or even building an occasional tree house. We didn’t begrudge them these pleasures, so we kept the land unfenced and unposted. And, of course, it was always in the back of our minds that we could one day sell the land to fund our retirement—though this would be a painful last resort, as it would ultimately lead to the end of the forest as I had known it since infancy.

Then along came a man named David Adams, who changed everything five years ago when he invented something he named Sniffspot. He and his fiancé were having a hard time finding places to let their dogs roam free without interacting with other dogs and humans, so David created what he calls an Airbnb for dogs. It is basically a website that lets dog owners search for land owned by other people who are willing to rent their yards, field or woods for private visits. The website handles the reservations, payments and advertising, provides liability insurance and allows for both customer and client reviews.

I signed up to be a Sniffspot host in the summer of 2020, calling my spot The Woods at Spadoni Hill, but I averaged only about three customers a month. And then I had to shut down about six months later because too many neighbors were accustomed to using the property for free. I had about a dozen great reviews, but a few terrible ones where customers had reserved the site and then encountered other people walking dogs or picking berries. One of the main attractions of Sniffspot is that “reactive” dogs will have free reign without the possibility of encountering other people or dogs, and I realized that despite my best efforts to explain this situation to neighbors, I couldn’t guarantee this exclusivity. The main problem was that I had way more neighbors than I had imagined, and I had never met many of them; some didn’t even live in my neighborhood.

In the fall of 2022, I spent about $5,000 on fencing and signage and reopened in December. Ever since, I’ve been amazed at the results. Perhaps it’s because more people have heard about Sniffspot, or maybe it was the increased fencing, but visits increased exponentially. Now I’m making enough to pay the property taxes, with some extra beyond that has helped us add new trails, picnic tables, a covered shelter, trail signs, and a portable toilet. In addition, my daughter Suzye and I have planted more than 1,000 cedar and fir seedlings and started a process to reduce or maybe even eliminate invasive non-native plants. She and I both love the exercise, tranquility and satisfaction we gain while working to improve the site.

This is definitely a win for our family, and whereas before maybe 30 neighbors were using the trails, we had more than 100 visitors in 2023, so it’s a win for the community. We’ve now decided we will never need to sell the property, so it will remain a wooded paradise for as long as I live and probably much, much longer, another plus for the community.

And as for the third win, just look at the smiling faces of the doggies who have the rare opportunity to run free and use all of their senses to explore. The accompanying photos were just a few taken by the dog owners and posted along with reviews telling how much their pets enjoyed our property. These dogs can’t verbalize, but I think they say a lot with their flopping tongues, wagging tails and toothy grins. Just looking at some of these photos is enough to make my day brighter, and if that’s not enough, then I can read some of the reviews. Like this sampling:

Jessica K.:  It’s like a hiking trail. Well marked parking instructions and they even put out printed maps of the trail. I thought it was really special.

Rowan D: My dog had an absolute blast in the woods.

Lynn G.: Wonderful, clean, safe place for pups. Has everything that you could want: trails, trees, lots of sniffs and water available for pups.

Caelyn C.: My dogs were over the moon—plenty of space to run and explore and even play fetch.

Christine N.: We took our two pups here for the first time today and it was incredible! They loved all the trails, and it was a great place for recall training.

Jannnine C.: This is a great setup for those fur babies who prefer solitude without other 🐕 My Max was so happy to have great walking trails where he could roam and run.

Rebekah J.:  A lovely, peaceful forest walk, as always. This Sniffspot has become an absolute treasure for us to visit and explore. The host is always adding new features for the sniffers and the humans to enjoy.

Casey P.: Big enough to really explore, let your dogs off leash, and practice recall without being so huge you get lost! Made for a fun afternoon for us and the fur babies!

Rachel W.: Our dog loved being able to run on the trails and jump over the rocks and trees and branches.

Teri K.: This Sniffspot is my dogs’ favorite. Trails, exploring, lots of smells. Running, jumping, forging through ferns. It’s our go-to!

Kara S.: We had a blast exploring the trails and loved how there was a printed map at the entrance. There were different spots along the trails that had seating and water for the pups.

Keri H.: Super private which was great since our dogs can be picky about strangers. Tons of trails and things for the dogs to sniff, run around, and burn the energy. Extremely clean, water at various different locations, just an overall great place.

Susan C.: Doggy people nirvana!!!! As always it was above and beyond. I brought a friend visiting from California and she didn’t want to leave!

Brittany G.: Amazing spot! Our two dogs had the best time sprinting on the trails. Can’t recommend this spot more. The many water bowls with containers of water next to it was such a nice touch.


Thursday, December 28, 2023

Want to move to Italy? Start by reading this entertaining book

“An American Family in Italy,” published in 2015, gives an account of a year our family spent in Padova, Italy, in 2001-02. Also in 2015, we bought a home in the hilltop village of Montecarlo, in Northern Tuscany. One would think that with eight years of experience living off and on in Italy that by now I would have written a second book detailing the joys and tribulations of living La Dolce Vita as an Italian citizen and resident. I’ve blogged about it extensively, so how much effort would it take to transform those blog entries into a book?

Apparently, too much, because the second book is still far from reality, and I don’t much care. It turns out that it’s way more fun living the sweet life than it is to go through the pain of editing, formatting, designing a cover and marketing. Especially marketing.

Matt and Zeneba in their new town of Soriano Nel Cimino, about an hour north of Rome.

So if you really want to read about our experiences in Tuscan living, start in the early years of my blog and read on. You can skip past the boring entries about my genealogical discoveries. But if you want to instead read a paperback or e-book about the process of buying a house and moving to Italy, I can recommend several very good ones already in print. One recently published account is by Matt Walker and Zeneba Bowers, who sold almost all their possessions in the United States and moved to Soriano in Lazio at just about the same time that Covid-19 struck hard in all of Italy, adding to the already difficult process of starting a new life.

The book is titled “I Can’t Believe We Live Here: TheWild But True Story of How We Dropped Everything in the States and Moved toItaly, Right Before the End of the World.” Despite the long title, the book is a pleasant and easy read at 159 well-written pages.

Almost every evening during the lockdown, Matt
& Zeneba serenaded neighbors from their balcony.
I’ve encountered innumerable people who say they want to move to Italy, but so very few actually do it. That’s probably because it’s dreamily easy to wish it and stinkin’ hard to do it. This courageous and determined couple have actually accomplished it, and they share the steps and stumbles they took, along with their honest and varied emotions of trepidation, uncertainty, excitement and joy. For anyone thinking about moving to Italy, this would be a good place to start.

Zeneba and Matt are accomplished concert musicians, and now they organize and perform concerts in Italy. They also run a travel business called, have published four guidebooks and create itineraries for clients.

On their website, they write “Our vast base of knowledge of affordable but luxurious lodgings, authentic eateries, and little-known, off-the-beaten-track sights has enabled us to craft hundreds of itineraries for travelers. Most of our travelers are honeymooners, couples on their anniversary trips, and families wanting their kids to experience a ‘real’ Europe that the big tourist crowds miss. We work with each client personally and extensively, to create custom itineraries for all types of small groups with different travel objectives. Wherever we go, our goal is to fit in with the locals in the town; to experience life there beyond the surface one might find as a random tourist; to slow down and take time to actually see and experience what is around us; and to learn about the food, culture and history of the area—all without getting bogged down in the big tourist crowds.”


Friday, October 6, 2023

Wrapping up with random thoughts on our past month in Montecarlo

Ø  When we first started living in Italy, I wrote many blog posts—at least every other day. Now I write rarely and sporadically. The reasons are various. I am enjoying la dolce vita, and writing is work. Also, I have grown accustomed to the differences between Italian and American culture now, so what might have struck me as an interesting cultural observation previously I now consider routine.

Cena at Ca' Sandra with Elena and Davide.

Ø  I’ve done almost all the genealogical research that can be easily done, tracing my Seghieri family line back to the 1200s and Spadoni line to the 1400s. I’ve also met a ton of relatives named Seghieri and Spadoni, some as distant as 12th cousin 3 generations removed. I could go out of my way to meet more, but it’s no longer such a novelty.

Ø  We’re becoming friends with three couples—one Norwegian and two American—who have purchased unfinished or crumbling old homes near us. All three have accomplished incredibly gorgeous transformations (one is still in the final stages). Are we jealous? Not in the slightest, though we are super impressed with what they’ve done. We already have a beautiful country home in Gig Harbor. We decided long ago that when we come to Montecarlo, we just want to focus on living a relaxed Italian lifestyle of pensionati (retired people). Our home is neither beautiful nor modern, and we have no intention of changing it.

Ø  We have a lot of older wooden furniture, some that came with the home and some we bought at second-hand stores. With old wood comes the risk of our invasion by our worst enemies here, tarli—wood worms. We had tarli in our roof beams when we moved here in 2015, but we were able to eliminate them with treatment and paint. However, last spring we noticed some sawdust under a couple of chairs. We’ve tossed those chairs away, but when I did a more thorough inspection, I found at least six chairs, a table and a cabinet with dozens of tiny holes in each. I’ve spent several days injecting the holes with insecticide, using a syringe, and then filling the holes with putty. Now I’m coating them with a transparent protective spray.

Ø  Electric bikes are awesome! We only rented a car for our first six days here, stocking up on some larger grocery items and taking trips to Lucca and the Valleriana—the valley above Pescia with 10 medieval cities. Since then, we’ve just done everything on our bikes. It helps that we have weather in the high 70s to low 80s every day, and it’s only rained for about two hours in the last month.

Ø  We are leaving Montecarlo tomorrow for Athens, Greece, where we will meet up with Dan, Sandra and their kids for their fall break. After nine days there, we’ll head to Napoli and meet up with Linda, Wendy and Janet for a week in Southern Italy, and then we take a week-long cruise starting in Bari and ending in Salerno. From there, it will be back to Montecarlo, but just for a couple of days, and then it will be back to the USA.

Ø  We will miss Montecarlo, but we’re also missing Gig Harbor. We seem to stay just long enough in one place such that we’re always satisfiedand then looking forward to going to the other place.


Sunday, September 24, 2023

A delicious love feast at our Altopascio church helps us make connections

We had to good fortune to be in Montecarlo during the time our church here, La Chiesa Evangelica di Altopascio, decided to have an agape—which could be translated as a love feast (mentioned in Jude 1:12), or more simply, a church potluck lunch.

I found it mildly amusing when l’agape was announced from the pulpit two weeks ago by Pastor Giuseppe. He explained that everyone should bring food enough for their families and share it with others. His description could have been summed up with one word, potluck, but apparently there is not an equivalent term in Italian. In fact, I used Google translate, and potluck in English translates to potluck in Italian, with a suggestion that “pasto alla buona” might also work.

Anyway, we were happy to join in, because a major reason we come to Italy is to make connections with the locals, to learn Italian, to experience the culture. We love our Italian church for many reasons, but it’s difficult for us to make deep connections because we’re not fluent in Italian, and we’re only here for about three months a year. A potluck would help us become closer to the church community and allow us to practice out Italian.

Because we’re dependent for transportation on our e-bikes, Lucy decided to make two kinds of cookies (chocolate chip and magic cookie bars), because they’d be easier to carry than a pasta dish or casserole. We had a little more than an hour to kill between the end of the church service and the start of the agape, so we walked into the centro to get an espresso and dolce, while others drove home to heat up their meals.

We sat near Michele and his wife Giuseppina, and Aurelio—very kind people about our age who in past years have made an effort to talk to us. We spoke of our children and grandchildren, our occupations, our church experiences and our travel experiences and plans. Nothing particularly deep, but much better than the usual exchange of short greetings that usually take place at the end of the church service.

The food, as could be expected, was eccezionale, squisito, delizioso. The gastronomy organization TasteAtlas ranks Italian cuisine the best in the world, and I’m not about to pick an argument with these experts.

If only we could do this more often, we’d make some big steps in our integration into Italian society. However, it’s a choice we’ve made, dividing our lives between two paradises on earth, Montecarlo, Toscana, and Gig Harbor, Washington. There are some drawbacks to this split lifestyle, but the rewards outweigh these small first world problems. Piano, piano, we are making progress.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

A pranzo di lavoro is one of Italy’s most enjoyable midday bargains

Lucy enjoying her penne al ragu' at La Pieve.
Why did it take us so many years to learn about one of the most delicious, pleasant and economical deals in all of Italy? I’m talking about a pranzo di lavoro, which one can sometimes see advertised on signs outside restaurants. We’ve been coming to Italy regularly for 25 years and have seen the signs, but it wasn’t until the last five years or so that we’ve learned to appreciate these special lunches.

What, exactly, is a pranzo di lavoro, and why it is special? The most literal translation would be a worker’s lunch, though some translate it as a business lunch. The amazing aspect is a combination of factors: terrific food, completeness, speed of service and great price.

The pasta dishes at our favorite restaurants
are generously sized, to say the least.
Permit me to elaborate on each of these aspects. First, a restaurant in Italy simply must serve terrific food to survive. Italians are the ultimate foodies, with men loving to cook and talk about food as much as women do. Ingredients here are always fresh and flavorful. Meat, fruit and vegetables are often locally sourced and organic, so unless one is dining in a heavily touristed city where the restaurants are not worried about repeat customers, the food is pretty much guaranteed to be good.

Delicious chicken filets grilled to perfection,
with contorni of ceci (chickpeas) and spinach.
Squeeze on some lemon and drizzle some
extra virgin olive oil for added flavor.
A pranzo di lavoro is a complete lunch. It will normally include bread, water and a carafe or small pitcher of vino, either red or white. Then there will be a primo piatto of pasta, soup or gnocchi, followed by a secondo, a plate with meat, which could be chicken, pork, beef or turkey. Included with the meat plate will be the contorno, often fried potatoes or a vegetable such as spinach, beans or carrots. A quality olive oil and some grated parmigiano reggiano are normally available to complement the flavor. At the end of the meal, a small cup of espresso is usually offered as a digestivo. New Ground Magazine says, “Coffee aids digestion by stimulating more frequent muscular contraction within the gut.” Whether that’s true of not, most Italians swear by it.

A group of hard-working men gather for a pranzo di lavoro.
As for speed, most restaurants offering a pranzo di lavoro give their customers three choices of primo, secondo and contorno, which indicates that they have stocked up on those choices, have already prepared the pasta sauces and probably have already cooked the vegetables. Thus the lunch can be brought relatively quickly so the customers have time to recuperate before going back to work—or even go home for a short siesta.

How much should one expect to pay for such a complete and satisfying meal? At a normal restaurant, a primo might cost from 10-12 euro, a secondo from 12-20, a contorno about 3. A glass of wine about 4 euro, water perhaps 1, and an espresso probably 2. Then there is the coperto, the cover charge, which would be 2-3 euro. Add all that up, and the cheapest lunch would cost you 34 euro.

So what is the price of a pranzo di lavoro at our two favorite restaurants? Drum roll, please! We get scrumptious full meals not for 34 euro, not for 24, not even for 16. We pay only 12 euro! We've also found another nearby restaurant that charges only 8 euro, but wine is not included, and we have to chose either a primo and secondo, not both.

One might think the restaurants sacrifice quantity to save some money, but that’s not the case. If fact, the pasta dish itself would be a full meal. If we ate the entire primo piatto, we’d be so stuffed that we couldn’t continue, so Lucy and I have learned to bring little plastic boxes to take home about half of the primo and maybe a quarter of the secondo, which means we’re essentially getting another half a meal for free. Knowing it’s not customary to bring food home from a restaurant in Italy, we do it as discretely as possible to avoid making la brutta figura.

Our two go-to restaurants are I Tre Angeli in Pescia, right next to the Esselunga, and La Pieve in Castelvecchio, one of the castle cities in the Valleriana. I Tre Angeli is always packed at lunch, and we’ve learned that it’s a good idea to make reservations, though we’ve never been turned away without them. La Pieve, being more remote, is usually not full. However, the last time we were there, the owner said we should call ahead if we wanted the pranzo di lavoro. This meal is designed for the regular customers, not tourists, so she would like to know if we are coming ahead of time so she can plan accordingly.

We rode our bikes to this restaurant,
but we were disappointed to find
that they only open at lunch if
enough people make reservations.
This brings up another point. I believe that not every restaurant will serve a pranzo di lavoro to tourists. I suspect that some restaurants offer this meal to their local residents and workers but publicize it only by word of mouth. We’ve seen tourists coming to both of our favorite restaurants, and they were simply given the regular menu. While I Tre Angeli does not have a pranzo di lavoro sign posted, it seems that this is what 90 percent of the customers, who are quite obviously locals, were having. Apparently, word of mouth is quite an effective advertising method.

I believe that if a restaurant puts up a pranzo di lavoro sign, they will probably provide it to anyone who asks. However, most tourists are not aware of this bargain meal, so they usually end up ordering off the menu and paying much more, while those in the know around them are dining at the special rate. While we don’t dine out often, we now know to keep our eyes open for those special signs. We wouldn’t mind having three or four favorite restaurants.

Monday, September 18, 2023

We find a new and much better entrance to the Lago di Sibolla

The main entrance,
closed as usual.
In the last two days, we’ve gone on three bike rides, once to church, once to the cinema in Altopascio (to watch A Haunting in Venice) and once to the Lago (Lake) di Sibolla Riserva Naturale. The weather in Tuscany is just about perfect in September. The days are in the low to mid 80s, and the nights in the mid 60s (around 18-28 degrees Celsius).

The Lago di Sibolla is more of a park for wild animals than a park for people to go for picnics or play. It’s not that people are forbidden to enter, but the main entrance is locked about 99 percent of the time. About 10 years ago, using Google maps, I noticed a sort of secret entrance to the lake property. Lucy and I would use this little-known side entrance every so often to walk on poorly maintained trails over some scrubby land east of the lake, and last year we took our friends Wendy and Dave for a walk to this special wilderness preserve. However, we could barely see the lake because of the heavy undergrowth and marshes that surround it. The water in the shallow marshes wasn’t deep enough to sustain much visible wildlife, so there wasn’t much to see other than the occasional rabbit. We did see a lot of herons and egrets fly by to land on or near the lake, but it was always from a distance.

Well, that changed on Saturday, as I discovered another unmarked entrance, one that is 10 times better than the first one, on a road branching off from Via Ponti ai Pini. This one led to a wooded trail that winds about one kilometer from the east side of the lake along the southern end and comes out on the west side—leading to a footbridge through the marshlands that ends on a small platform right on the edge of the lake. Even better, the platform has a viewing shack with peepholes in it, so one can observe the birds on the lake without them being aware of or frightened by our presence.

One of many turtles we saw.
Lucy and I enjoyed the viewing area for about 20 minutes, watching herons fly by and a dozen or so turtles swimming around with just their heads peeking out of the water. We saw many fish jumping and also found a large white spider who had made his home in the shack. This will be a great place to come next spring, when the herons and egrets return to their nests for the mating season. We had heard the great racket they make during the spring previously, but we couldn’t really get close enough to see them clearly.

The trail also led to the main entrance on the far west side of the preserve, which, as usual, was locked. Near the entrance is a good-sized building which is probably used for nature talks on the rare occasions when the preserve is open. Unfortunately, there are no picnic tables, but there is a large flat area among the trees, covered with pine needles. We sat down, opened our backpacks and enjoyed the snacks we had brought. We had the place all to ourselves, though at one point a car pulled up to the locked gate and watched us briefly through the chain link fence—probably wondering how we were able to get inside.

See the heron?
Even though it was a Saturday, we saw only two other families during our time on the trails, so we know that few of the locals are aware of the unmarked entrance we had discovered. We look forward to returning here for further communion with nature. Our only regret is that we didn’t bring insect repellent, because there are a few tiny buzzing species of lake wildlife that we don’t appreciate.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

It’s time to slow down and experience "la dolce vita" again in Montecarlo

Lunch at Ristorante Pizzeria La Pieve, Castlevecchio.
We’ve been back in Montecarlo for a week, and I haven’t written much because we’ve been quite busy. That will change now that I’ve returned our rental car. The cost of renting a car has more than tripled since the Covid era, so we’re trying to get by with just our e-bikes as much as possible. However, we rented a car for the first six days so we could stock up on groceries and other items needed for the house, get my Italian phone re-activated, drive to Chiesina for massages and Lucca to get Lucy’s permesso di soggiorno. Having a car also allowed us to take a pleasure drive into the Valleriana above Pescia to walk through one of the castle cities and have a pranzo di lavoro in Castlevecchio at one of our favorite restaurants, La Pieve. And we went to a movie in Pontedera, Io Capitano.

Now it’s time for some lazy and quiet days. We will read some books, take some long bike rides, and maybe do some hiking. I’ll do a little writing. Lucy will make a quilt. We’ll practice our Italian. We’ll hopefully see some friends.

Our bathroom really stank of rancid water when we first walked in the door. This could be because the water in the p-traps evaporates during our absence, allowing odors from the sewer to rise through the pipes. I immediately ran water into the sink, bidet and shower, but the odor persisted. Then I put a cleaning tablet inside our front-loading washer and ran a hot water cycle. Of course, we also left the window open. Thankfully, the odor is gone now.

On the other side of the house, we have a much different odor, the mouth-watering smell of bistecca fiorentina. That’s because where the bank used to be is now a fine restaurant, InCucina—just across from our living room.

Other than the smells, the house is in great shape, with little maintenance needed, so we should be able to just relax. It’s dolce vita time!


Monday, September 11, 2023

Walking on the walls of Montecarlo—an experience that should be shared

Me on the wall. Photo by Lucy.
Montecarlo is surrounded by medieval walls made in the14th century of stone and brick, and Lucy and I have the privilege of looking out from our terrazza over a private grassy courtyard, and beyond that, part of the western city wall. We can clearly see that the wall has a footpath and railing, but until today I could only dream about walking upon it.

Looking north from my view on the wall, one can see the large unoccupied villa.
The courtyard and wall are part of a villa with a huge unoccupied house that starts about 10 meters away from us to the north.
The southwest bastion
About seven years ago, the owners put a new roof on the home and cleaned up the courtyard, but since then we’ve seen little to no activity there. Although we overlook the courtyard, we have no entrance on the west side of our house, so we have no way to enter the courtyard or access the wall, though we can clearly see that there is a stairway from the ground to the walkway on the wall.

Olive trees just outside the wall.
This morning, though, I saw some workers down below and thought this could be my chance. I went down on the street level and walked over to one of the courtyard entrances, which was blocked by a flatbed truck. Not to be denied, I climbed over the truck bed and asked the workers, who were on a break, if I could go in and take some photos of the west side of my house. Permission granted.

A southwestern view, toward the plain of Lucca.
Emboldened by my success, I then asked if I could go on the wall for just a few minutes. Stai attento was all they said, and I quickly mounted the stairs, just in case they might change their minds. What a cool view! I could see the private olive grove just below the wall (also part of the same estate). Unlike the view from our terrazza, which is partially blocked by trees and the neighboring homes, from the wall I could see almost the entire plain of Lucca. I walked down to the southwest corner of the city, where there is a small bastion, and from there I enjoyed a southern view.

Montecarlo has various festesagre and fairs throughout the year to bring in tourists and stimulate the local economy. While the walkways atop the city walls are all privately owned, I’ve often thought that a great idea for an attraction would be to have a “weekend on the walls,” where one time a year, tourists could enjoy seeing the plains below from the same perspective that must have been available to the soldiers guarding the city throughout the centuries. Perhaps the various families who own portions of the wall could be persuaded, for the benefit of everyone, to allow visitors for one or two days per year. I’d certainly pay for the chance.

A rare view of the western side of our house, taken from my walk on the wall.
We only own the top floor of the pale yellow house.
After drinking in the beauty of the Tuscan countryside, I looked east towards our house, a view rarely seen, and also towards the unoccupied house, which is almost never seen from the west side. Making the experience even more pleasant, there was a stunning blonde bombshell with a camera in hand, waving to me from our terrazza. Not wanting to overstay my welcome on the wall, I thanked the workers and went back home, where I was warmly welcomed by that blonde beauty!