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!

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Score one for Lucy; she has a new (and improved) permesso di soggiorno!

The game of people versus the Italian bureaucracy is an interesting matchup, and we entered a new round of the competition last April, when we applied to renew Lucy’s permesso di soggiorno (PDS) at the Questura in Lucca. We scored a partial victory when they accepted our documents and said they would process her application and renew her PDS for five years. Click here if you want to read part 1 of this adventure.

We had hoped for a 10-year renewal, but we weren’t able to provide the proper documentation for our reddito, or income. We were told that without adequate proof of income, they would still give her a permesso good for five years. We learned that there was a website we could check by using our case number. However, we had to leave Italy in mid-May, and the PDS was still not ready.

We returned to Montecarlo a few days ago and went to the Questura right away, on a Friday. The website showed that the PDS was ready, but we couldn’t get inside the Questura. We joined a small crowd outside around 10:30 a.m., but the doors were locked. Occasionally, an officer would come out and call some names of people who must have somehow made appointments. By working my way close to the door, I was able to tell him we had just come to pick up a permesso di soggiorno. Come tomorrow, on Saturday, he said. I asked if I would need an appointment, and he said no, just come between 9:00 and 13:00.

The next day, we decided to come around 11, when the lines would hopefully be shorter, and we only had to wait about 15 minutes. During that time, we had a nice conversation with two men who lived in the Garafagnana valley and were waiting just behind us. They were also there to pick up a PDS for one of them. Lucy mentioned that years ago, we had made six trips to the Questura in Padova while trying unsuccessfully to get a PDS.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” one of them said. “Usually it takes a lot more trips.” We weren’t sure if he was joking, but it seemed he wasn’t. Out of curiosity, I asked if they had made an appointment when they started the process. Yes, he said, you have to go to the post office to get a packet of instructions and make an appointment. We had somehow bypassed this step back in April and obtained an appointment directly at the Questura.

Later we recalled that this actually was our sixth trip to the Questura in Lucca. Furthermore, to get the documents needed, we had to go to the municipal buildings of Pescia and then Montecarlo, and then to the post office and tabaccaio to pay the fees, followed by a visit to a copisteria for copies of our documents—11 separate outings.

When our turn at the sportello came, it took only about five minutes. We had to turn in Lucy’s old permesso, and she had to put her index fingers on the little pad for positive identification. The clerk looked in the filing box and pulled out a card, made a few entries in her computer, and then handed over the card.

We made our way out the door and paused to snap a celebratory photo. At that moment, the two guys who were behind us came out as well.  Sadly, the man did not receive his PDS. They had neglected to bring his expired document, and they would have to drive home almost an hour to get it. By that time, the Questura would be closed, so they would have to come again in another week.

On our way back to Montecarlo, we found we had actually hit the ball out of the park! They had renewed Lucy’s PDS for 10 years instead of five. We can only guess why this happened, but it called for further celebration. We stopped at the pasticceria in Marginone, and we each ordered a cappuccino and our favorite pastry, a chocolate beignet—and occasionally one of us would look at the other and say, “10 YEARS!”

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Reflections on Father’s Day

I don’t need my kids to call on Father’s Day. I don’t need a Father’s Day present. I’m not saying I don’t want them to call, because it’s always pleasant to hear their voices, to find out what they are doing, to be able to tell them what I am doing, to just chat. It’s even better when they visit, because it’s more relaxing to converse in person. But we talk and visit throughout the year, whenever it’s convenient—and I’d be very disappointed if we didn’t maintain this regular contact.

Our family in Padova, Christmas 2001

But I don’t feel the need to have one special day of recognition. When I need a new wheelbarrow, hammer, box of chocolates or whatever, I go out and buy them myself. I don’t want my kids to waste time or money buying me something I don’t really want or need just to fulfill the requirements of an invented holiday.

Wine tasting with Lindsey
But that’s not to say that I don’t want something else from them, something that requires them to give me something every day. 365 days. No day off, even in a leap year. I want them to be good people. I want them to be content, and to live their lives in a way that makes me proud. Of course, they’ll have struggles; this is a normal part of living, but they will find ways to live with or overcome their difficulties.

Tea tasting with Randall
My own mom and dad passed away far too early—Mom when I was 25, Dad when I was 31. Mom was a teacher par excellence, and Dad was the leader of a thriving construction company. In my 30s and 40s, I achieved considerable success as a teacher, and it would have been extra rewarding if Mom could have witnessed this. I also developed a love for reading and writing from Mom. I credit her more than any other teacher for my writing abilities, as she would often sit with me and type up my handwritten English papers, showing me corrections that needed to be made, making suggestions on word choice and proposing suggestions on how I could add content that would clear up confusing aspects of my story lines. I sorely regret that she didn’t live long enough to see that I’ve published two books. In my 40s, I started my own asphalt maintenance company, much smaller than Dad’s but one which provided regular summer employment for all four of my children through their high school and college years. I essentially did the same things as Dad had done for most of his life: Bid for jobs, schedule them, procure equipment and supplies, do the work while supervising the crew. I think Dad would have  been proud of me, but he was no longer around to tell me that he was. Another regret.

Sweet Sandra Lyn
Fortunately, I’ve been around long enough that my kids don’t need to experience similar regrets—and I get to bask in the successes of my children and grandchildren, a deeply satisfying experience. Why is that? A parenthood article by Tim Lott in The Guardian speaks to that sense of satisfaction. Here are three paragraphs from his essay:

Apart from anything else, people who don’t have children are, according to numerous surveys, consistently happier. The moment you have children, you are burdened with worries and responsibilities for the rest of your life. You are only ever as happy as your unhappiest child.

So, what is the motivation? The answer to this, as far as I’m concerned, is pretty much: “Well, what else are you going to do?” For me, life isn’t the pursuit of happiness. Life is the pursuit of meaning.

It is partly in the difficulties that children bring with them that meaning resides – overcoming obstacles, achieving challenging goals, coping with crises. The energy of life comes from the negative side of it, as anyone who tells stories or writes dramas knows. An entirely happy story is not a story at all.

Suzye graduates from beauty school as both Valedictorian and Most Inspirational Student. Additional point of interest: Can you find Clara Jane Krebs somewhere in this photo?
Indeed, my life has not been all happiness, but for the most part, I have experienced substantial blessings in my childhood, career, my marriage and yes, my children. We went through occasional interpersonal and financial struggles, but by the grace of God, all our children are in solid, secure and stable careers. Each has a fantastic partner. Even all nine of my grandchildren are doing remarkably well. I am incredibly proud of each son, daughter, grandchild, son-in-law and daughter-in-law. This has been and is the most remarkable Father’s Day present I could ever wish for.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Cousin Agostino Spadoni another victim of Nazi wartime cruelty

Agostino Spadoni
Being an unwilling martyr is not a great way to become famous, but two Spadoni relatives in Ponte Buggianese had the misfortune to enter the local history books in this way. I already wrote an extensive account of Italo Spadoni, killed by Fascist loyalists in 1924. Now it is time to pay homage to Agostino Spadoni, killed in the summer of 1944 by German soldiers who could best be described as Nazi terrorists.

Paul & Agostino Spadoni
I recently spoke with the grandson of Agostino, born in 1949, who shares the same name. In truth, I had first met Agostino nearly 20 years ago. He and his son Alberto run the real estate company Agenzia Spadoni Compravendita, which has offices in Ponte Buggianese, Montecatini and Monsummano. However, until our most recent meeting in April of this year, we didn’t know how we were related, nor did I know that Agostino was the grandson of the Agostino who had been slain by the Germans.

Members of the Fanucci family
still live next to the bridge.
One of 11 children of Emilio Sileno Spadoni and Maria Carolina Meucci, the elder Agostino was born Oct. 3, 1871. His father was sindaco, or mayor, of Ponte Buggianese from 1896 to 1903. Agostino was a farmer, living on the west side of the river Pescia, while his fields were on the east side. However, he only had to cross the Ponte della Guardia, a bridge located just 30 meters from his home, to reach his fields. Agostino’s first marriage, to Amabile Rosellini on Feb. 9, 1899, resulted in four children before Amabile passed away in 1909. Two years later, he married next-door neighbor Isola Fanucci, and they had eight more children.

Agostino is the ultimate example of someone minding his own business but being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Italy had joined World War 2 on the side of Germany in 1940, and from that time on, the Germans gradually took over nearly complete control of Italian law enforcement agencies. German soldiers commandeered the homes and factories of wealthy Italians and demanded that farmers turn over their animals and farm produce to supply the army with food.

While the majority of Italians, Agostino included, simply tried to ignore and avoid the occupying forces, a few cooperated with the Germans to increase their fortunes and chances of survival. Still others joined the Resistenza, which is an umbrella term for those who opposed and fought the occupying Germans and the Italian collaborators. Members of the resistance were known as partigiani, partisans. In Ponte Buggianese, the partisans did what they could to disrupt the army by attacking munitions storehouses and occasionally taking pot shots at soldiers.

This resulted in a type of paranoia among the Germans, who likely feared that every Italian civilian might secretly be a partisan or at least a sympathizer. They reacted to attacks by partisans by rounding up random Italian citizens and executing them in public to install fear and deter further attacks. The philosophy was often espoused that for every German soldier killed, 10 Italian civilians should be sacrificed.

Agostino Spadoni’s death came shortly after four partisans had opened fire on two soldiers who were passing by in a motorcycle and sidecar. The soldiers fled and reported the incident to German headquarters in Ponte Buggianese. German officers ordered what the Italians called a rappresaglia, a reprisal. In this case, the German soldiers did not round up civilians but just went house to house, killing at random and stealing food and wine.

Soldiers entered the home of Marino Quiriconi, 35, and his wife Bruna, arresting Marino, sacking the house and lighting it on fire. Seventy-three-year-old Agostino lived nearby, and hearing the commotion, he went to render aid. He never returned. His wife found him in his field, about 50 meters away, dead from a gunshot wound to the head. About six weeks later, the German soldiers were given permission to clear the way for their retreating soldiers by engaging in a wholesale slaughter known as the Eccidio del Padule di Fucecchio. Some 174 civilians were killed on the day of the massacre. Agostino and others killed in the area during the weeks leading up to the slaughter are sometimes numbered among the victims.

The Ponte della Guardia, taken from the yard of the former home of Agostino Spadoni.
In an effort to discover more details about the Agostino’s death, I went to the two homes closest to the bridge this April and made inquiries. I found a building that still housed relatives of Isola Fanucci, Agostino’s wife. The elderly people living in the house confirmed that Agostino had lived in the home closest to the bridge and that Isola had grown up in the second closest home. Agostino’s former home is no longer owned by the Spadoni family, they said. They also confirmed that Agostino’s farmland had been just over the bridge on the other side of the river.

I suspected that Agostino Spadoni from the real estate agency might be the grandson of the martyr Agostino, as the ages seem to fit, and it is common in Italy to name a grandchild after the grandfather. I paid a visit to the agency to check on my theory, and Agostino confirmed that he is indeed the grandson. Since my research at the church archives had already placed the elder Agostino in our family tree, all that remained was to add in the data from the 1900s that Agostino provided me.

As is the case with Italo Spadoni, Agostino is not a close relative. He is my 12th cousin once removed. His late father Giovanni would be in my generation. But still we feel a bond, for besides sharing a surname, our ancestors grew up in the same village, and undoubtedly some were acquainted with each other. Agostino the grandson was 5 years old when his nonno was killed, and though we are separated genealogically and geographically, my research and interest in both Italian and family history has drawn us close. I share a portion of his sorrow for the tragic moment of his grandfather’s senseless death.