Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Our home has been blessed by the Montecarlo parish priest

We experienced a first today: We had our home blessed by the parish priest of Montecarlo, don Lorenzo Battioli. I had read that this was an Italian tradition during Easter week, and a letter from don Lorenzo had been put in our mailbox about a week ago with a schedule stating that he would be offering blessings to homes on via Roma this afternoon.

I had neglected to note this on our calendar, and it was only because of the providence of God that we were home. We had scheduled an appointment at the massage parlor for Lucy this afternoon, but because of some confusion about the time (our fault—we don’t want to talk about it!), I had just called to reschedule it for the next day.

Don Lorenzo
(photo from
At about 4 p.m., our doorbell rang, and Lucy looked out the window. Below was the priest and another man, probably a lay volunteer. I had been reading on the couch and had dozed off. Lucy asked me what she should tell them. I fought a brief internal battle with my innate shyness and the adventurous side of my nature that had compelled me to buy a home in Italy. The latter side won out, thankfully.

We went down to greet them, introduce ourselves and invite them up. The man with don Lorenzo introduced himself as Claudio Donatini, and as is a common experience, he said he was related to a Spadoni through a marriage between a Capocchi and a Spadoni. I told him my great grandmother was a Capocchi, so we undoubtedly have a common ancestor somewhere. This is not at all unusual here. Indeed, I’d estimate more than half the people in Montecarlo are related if only we had complete records dating back 800 years.

We bowed our heads, and don Lorenzo recited a short prayer and sprinkled holy water before he shook our hands and went on his way to the next house. He and I have passed on the street several times, and while each of us knew who the other was, we had never formally met, so this was another small but important step in our slow integration into the community.

Now fully awake, I suggested to Lucy that we take advantage of the remaining daylight and take a walk on a trail that I had noted last fall. It had looked a little too rough to negotiate on my bike, but I had kept it in mind. We drove to the cemetery and then walked for 10-15 minutes down the hillside, first past tall oaks, then groves of olive trees, and then more oaks. We found an open grass field with benches, where we sat and enjoyed a view of the hills on the other side of the Valdinievole. One of the towns clearly visible was Stignano, where my Spadoni ancestors lived from around 1490 to 1630. We filed this away as a great place to come for a picnic lunch during warmer weather. Anybody want to meet us here?

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Back to the slow life of Montecarlo--just the way we want it to be

It’s been about two weeks since we arrived back in Italy, and only a few things have happened worth writing about.

For the first time, we were asked by the police for identity documents in a random check while we were sitting on a train. I had heard that this sometimes happens, and we showed our American passports. We could have used our Italian carte d’identit√†, but I’m always a little self-conscious about identifying as Italian because of my lack of fluency. I’d rather be complimented for speaking Italian well considering I’m a foreigner as opposed to coming across as a poorly educated Italian.

Piazza San Marco, Venezia
Every time we arrive in Montecarlo, I hold my breath while checking the mail, wondering if there will be a new letter from the Agenzia delle Entrate demanding I pay taxes incurred by someone who has assumed my Italian identity. As far as I know, the AE still thinks I owe nearly 1,000 euro in auto and phone taxes for purchases that took place in other cities almost 10 years ago. I filed a police report, called a denuncia, denying responsibility for these taxes, and I haven’t heard from the AE since. Whether this is because they actually received, read and believed my denuncia or whether my supposed transgression has been buried in a blizzard of bureaucratic inefficiency I may never know. In any event, there was no new letter demanding payment, and I tend to lean toward the latter explanation.

We found our home here to be in great shape after being away for almost four months—no broken water lines, no strange odors, no mold on the walls, all appliances working fine. Even the cold water tap in the bathroom had somehow healed itself. During the previous year, only small drips of water came out when we turned the faucet on, presumably caused by a buildup of calcare—calcium—which is a common problem in Italy. For some unknown reason, now it flows perfectly. This just validates one of my life philosophies learned while reading Peanuts in my childhood. Linus once said, “Learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace.” However, I should add a disclaimer that I only apply this to the minor annoyances of life. I once shared this concept with my son Randall when he was in grade school, and he used it as an excuse for not starting a major project—and then he told his teacher that he learned this from his dad!

Claudia and Sauro cut and colored Sandy's hair

After a leisurely week recovering from jetlag, we took a two-day trip to Venezia to enjoy some explorations with Dan and Sandra and their kids, who were on spring vacation from school in Nigeria. March is the perfect time of year to be in La Serenissima, as the crowds are low and the weather just starting to warm up. A few days later, we all enjoyed some time together in Montecarlo. Sandra, Clara and Juniper got haircuts from Magic Hair and cousin Sauro, and we picked up Italian citizenship documents for Josie and Ferhan in Pescia. We also took a nice drive into the Apuan Alps to Pizzorne for a picnic lunch and short hike.

We played football and threw the Aerobie in the Altopiano delle Pizzorne.

In a stroke of good fortune, our former exchange student Simone and his dad Luciano offered to loan us Luciano’s car for the next two months. We had planned to get around only on our electric bikes for most of the time, but even though spring is drawing near, it’s still chilly and rainy here about half of the time, today included. We wouldn’t have gone to church this morning without the car.

Clara & Junie at the park in Pizzorne
Now we’re settled in and have no specific plans for the next month. We’ve said many times that we don’t come to Italy to be tourists. We are just here to be. We want to be as Italian as possible, living the slow life, enjoying the cuisine, learning the language, mixing with the locals. We know that we will never be anything close to truly being Italian, but that won’t stop us from trying, from enjoying the process. Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”



Monday, March 6, 2023

A fun but non-scary suspension foot bridge in the province of Pistoia

After having crossed the frightening 227-meter long and 120-meter tall swaying Ponte alla Luna in Southern Italy in the fall of 2021, Lucy and I jumped at the chance to cross another narrow pedestrian bridge closer to home this winter. I recently read online about a bridge located about an hour north of Montecarlo, in the comune of San Marcello Piteglio, and we knew right away we had to experience it. The fact that it was free made it even more appealing.

Compared to the Ponte
alla Luna, the Ferriere
is not at all scary.

We had flown into Firenze on Thursday and had a rental car reserved for four days, so there was no time to waste. We left early Saturday morning on a brilliant sunny day, choosing the most winding and scenic route of the three options offered by Google maps. Weaving back and forth on the almost single-wide roads of the Appennini mountains, we passed deep forests of chestnut trees still bare from the winter. We stopped briefly to watch parents and children sledding in a large, sloping field of snow not yet completely melted.

The Lima, as viewed from the bridge.
A few kilometers from San Marcello, we saw a sign directing us to the Ponte Sospeso delle Ferriere, which passes over the Lima river, and we easily found a parking space right next to the entrance. The bridge was only a five-minute walk. Since this is still the low season, we encountered only one other couple on the bridge.

We learned from the interpretive signage that the Ponte Sospeso for many years had been the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Italy. It had been built in the early 1920s not as a tourist attraction but as a way for metal workers to reach their factory more easily, saving them from what otherwise would have been a six-kilometer daily commute. To cross the bridge takes less than 10 minutes, though for us it took 15 minutes, as we paused to enjoy the scenery and take photos.

Looking upstream at the Lima and beyond into the Appennini mountain range.

Though the bridge is 227 meters long and reaches a height of 36 meters (118 feet), it is not frightening to cross—at least not compared to the modern Tibetan-style pedestrian bridges being built in other mountainous areas of Italy as tourist attractions. Its floor is a continuous grid, and the sides are high enough that there is no possibility of falling off. The Ponte alla Luna, on the other hand, has undoubtedly been built to attract tourists not only by its height but also because it seems dangerous (although it really isn’t), with open sides and floor rungs separated by large gaps.

When the Ponte Sospeso was built 100 years ago, it had wooden flooring, but now pretty much every part has been replaced and improved, making it completely safe. It doesn’t even sway very much, so it’s not particularly exciting for thrill seekers. However, the setting and view are very pleasing, and the price is unbeatable.

Chestnut forest in the Appennini.

On the return drive, we couldn’t resist stopping at a bar in Prunetta with the appealing name Crema e Cioccolato. Yum! I had a slice of chocolate and cream pie and a cappuccino, and Lucy enjoyed a chocolate covered donut washed down with a thick and creamy Italian hot chocolate. Literally, la dolce vita!