Friday, April 29, 2011

I Wanna Be Like Mike

P.S. (Pre-script): I really want to learn Italian. I’ve tried two different language programs at home, but haven’t had much success. Now, while I’m here in Italy, I’m trying to pick up some of the nuances of the language and I find myself reading words and saying them to myself (in my head) over and over trying to figure out the correct pronunciation. Yesterday, as I was saying the word biglietto (ticket) over and over in my head, I suddenly remembered the topic of the blog I couldn’t remember yesterday! Here it is:

There was a commercial several years ago with a jingle that went something like, “I wanna be like Mike,” that all the little Michael Jordan wannabes used to sing. Little boys who wanted to grow up to be Michael Jordan or at least to be rich, famous and athletically gifted like him. They made layups with their tongues stuck out, they wore red shirts emblazoned with number 23 and they played basketball and more basketball. But for most of them basketball would end up being a sport they could enjoy watching, perhaps even playing in some gym rat fashion. They were really just pretending that they might grow up to be Michael Jordan. Friends of mine took their 8-year-old daughter back to her birth country and watched as she walked along the sidewalk saying jibber-jabber words in the local cadence in an effort to sound like she was speaking her native language. Of course, she wasn’t really speaking the language, she was just pretending. My own daughter, on her earlier trips to her birth country, worked at “blending” whenever we were out in public. She’d sit in a public area or walk down the street mimicking those around her. She was thrilled when nobody seemed to take much notice of her – as if she’d blended right in. Her shining moment was when she was sitting in a crowded waiting room at a train station and an old Korean lady came and sat down next to her and started speaking to her in Korean. She smiled at the old lady, said, “American. Adopted,” and jumped up to come tell me (who was standing out on the platform – a safe distance away so as not to taint her Korean-ness) that she’d blended! She’d blended! Then she laughed at herself because she really had just pretended. As I walk around Italy, I try to say the basic greetings and requests in Italian. I sit at a cafĂ© and hope that I look like I belong there, not like just another tourist infatuated with this beautiful country. From the moment I stepped on this soil several years ago, I’ve felt like I somehow belong here. For years before that I knew that the one language I’d really like to learn is Italian. But, just like the little boy who dreamed of being MJ or my friends’ daughter or my own – both trying out what it feels like to fit in with their birth cultures, my feeble attempts to appear Italian are really, in the end, just another form of pretending. But, just like childhood make-believe, pretending is fun; it transports me to another world, another life. I feel myself slowing down to the rhythms of the local community. So, for now, “Ciao Baby!” – I wanna be like Michelangelo!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Little Reminders

As I started to write just now, I realized that the blog I’d written in my head yesterday has now gone AWOL. I had a title and everything and now – nothing. This is a perfect segue, though, into another topic I’ve been intending to write about and that’s the little issues, the little reminders of aging. Last night as my mother-in-law and I climbed the long, steep flight of stairs from this Italian city’s main piazza to our apartment, my mother-in-law stopped to catch her breath and said, “I guess the problem is that I think I should still be able to do things the way I did when I was your age.” You have to understand that my mother-in-law is not a doddering old lady. She’s active and interested; she plays golf, exercises, travels and has an extensive circle of social contacts. I think she’s a good model for positive aging, but she, obviously, feels she should be able to do more. I’ve thought about the little things that change as we age. Like my mother-in-law, perhaps we have to stop to catch our breath when walking up a long flight of stairs. Like me this morning, perhaps the thoughts that were so concrete in my mind yesterday have simply decided to crawl into a hole in my brain – maybe never to be seen again, but more likely to pop up in the middle of some completely unrelated activity. I’ve noticed even smaller changes. When I get into or out of a car now, I no longer jump in or hop out. I now sit down completely before swinging my legs in – the opposite when getting out. If I don’t, I feel twinges in my back that I know too well can lead to much bigger pains.

Regardless of what I want to believe about how young I feel, the signs are there that the years are marching by. I don’t want to fall into the hole of “getting old”, so perhaps the right path is simply to acknowledge and accommodate these little reminders – stopping for a breath, taking a few more seconds to get out of a car, but to go on living with the excitement and inquisitiveness of my younger self.

Monday, April 25, 2011

No -- Not Pizza

Over the course of five decades I’ve learned a few things about myself: I’m an optimistic person by nature, I like to be in charge, I’m a visual learner and I don’t do well with languages. Being in Italy right now, the language issue has come up a lot. My husband always studies the local language before we travel and he does an admirable job of communicating. I rely on him, hand gestures, a smile and English speaking locals. Most of the time I do okay. Yesterday was not one of those times. Yesterday, my husband, my mother-in-law and I sat down to lunch in a quaint little restaurant on Via Nazionale in Cortona, Italy. We had been there before and the headwaiter spoke lovely English; however, our waiter this time was a much younger, mostly Italian-speaking waiter. My husband ordered first and asked for bruschetta con olio y aglio, toasted bread with olive oil and garlic, as an appetizer. Because I didn’t want to try saying the garlic word myself (Italian g’s are tough for me), I simply indicated that I, too, would like that appetizer. This apparently gave the waiter the impression that my husband and I were sharing lunch. My husband went on to order a pizza, but the waiter seemed concerned about something. I thought he was concerned that the one pizza would not be enough for the two of us to share so I waived my hands and, pointing to myself, said, “No, caprese, per favore.” At this point I thought we were okay. My mother-in-law placed her order and then the waiter looked back at me and said something in Italian about caprese pizza. Thinking he was confused about what I really wanted I said (and these are the critical words), “No. Not pizza. Insalata caprese (caprese salad).” The waiter smiled, nodded and made a few scratches on his notepad. Another successful English-Italian encounter.

A little while later, the waiter returned with my mother-in-law’s food, my caprese salad and an empty plate for my husband. None of us thought this strange since an empty plate is often provided when ordering pizza – in the United States. We should have realized that this is not usually the case in Italy where pizzas are ordered, and served, individually. My mother-in-law and I began to eat our lunch, reveling in the wonderful tastes (Italian food is amazing), while my husband waited for his pizza. He waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, when I had finished my lunch I said, “This is crazy! There’s no way it can take this long to make pizza.” I think the light bulb went off for both of us at the same time. My husband and I looked at each other and said, “No. Not pizza.” I picked up the folded order ticket the waiter had placed at the edge of the table and, sure enough, there was my order and my mother-in-law’s order and then the word, pizza – scratched out. There was no pizza coming for my husband’s lunch. The waiter obviously thought that my, “No. Not pizza,” referred to my husband’s order, not to some confusion about what type of caprese I was ordering. I wondered what kind of man the waiter thought I was married to. He must have thought him to be a complete wimp since my husband had clearly just ordered his pizza and the waiter was willing to let my direction of, “No. Not pizza,” override that order.

A friend suggested that if I lived in Italy for a year I would likely be able to pick up the language simply from immersion. The thought is tantalizing – a year in Italy with the outcome of being able to speak Italian. I’m not sure, though, that a year in Italy with me botching our lunch orders is my husband’s idea of an equally tantalizing way to effectively diet.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Last Bite of Bread

In preparation for our trip to Italy, I’ve been reading A Thousand Days in Tuscany, by Marlena de Blasi. She’s written four books about living in Italy, starting with A Thousand Days in Venice – I’d recommend them all! In the book she describes sitting around with two friends late one night and the woman, an older woman, talks about eating bread with olive oil and a glass of wine. She talks about how satisfying it is to eat and drink in such a way that one ends up using the last piece of bread to sop up the last drop of olive oil and then to wash it down with the last swig of wine. She says that we should try to live our lives that same way. In the song Jack & Diane, Jack says, “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone.” I’ve seen this happen and it’s sad. When my husband and I renewed our wedding vows almost four years ago, we made a commitment to each other to continue growing, to continue trying new activities, to continue looking for adventure and to do what we can to make sure we’re taking care of our bodies so that we’re able to fulfill that commitment. Part of my decision to venture off from some of the activities I’ve come to love is to make sure that I have time to discover new activities, new loves, new passions. I want to be sure that I have enough olive oil and wine left to wash down that last bite of bread.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


It’s said that help comes around just when it’s needed or that information drops in our lap just when we we’re searching for answers. Back in February I wrote a blog titled, “Welcome Back, Me” about my return to joy and learning to compartmentalize those issues that had been weighing me down. My last two blog entries were about the need to step aside from some current responsibilities in order to move forward toward my goals and dreams. Yesterday I opened up a book I recently found, The Book of Awakening, by Mark Nepo and the entry I opened to detailed the imagery of carrying our burdens to a door we want to go through, but we can’t open the door with all that we carry. So, in order to get through the door, we must set things down, open the door and then pick up just those items we need before proceeding on through. Just as I used the imagery of stuffing and closing a drawer to compartmentalize some issues last February, I now have this lovely image of a door in front of me – and, let me tell you, it’s a beautiful door – but I’ve been so far away from it and so weighed down that I haven’t even been able to approach it. Now, with my drawer full of issues shut I have managed to approach the door and last week I sent out an email giving notice that, within the next few months, I’m resigning from the most time consuming of my volunteer commitments. I’m preparing to set down that burden (and some others) so that I can stretch out my arm to the handle and open that door.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Paring the Bucket List

Now that I’ve reassessed my responsibilities and committed to pursuing those activities that have been in my “later” file, aka my bucket list, I’ve also realized that I can actually pull things out of that file and simply shred them – things that are no longer goals or that no longer hold an interest for me no longer need to be on my bucket list. I discovered one such activity yesterday. My oldest daughter is participating in her college’s crew team and I’m really impressed with the work she has put in to train for the team and with how much she seems to be enjoying it. I always thought that this type of rowing was something I’d like to take up at some point. I could see myself out at dawn, silently gliding across the water by myself or in sync with my team.

Yesterday I watched my first regatta (that’s crew-speak for competitive event, i.e. game, match, etc.). The temperature was chilly, the skies were gray with off and on rain showers and I have to believe the water was cold and, quite possibly, dirty. I watched the young men and women wade in and out of the water, getting wet up to their hips and knowing that they wouldn’t be changing their clothes immediately afterwards and I watched them stand around for hours waiting for their eight minutes of rowing excitement. As I watched them I suddenly realized that I have no desire to crew – this is an activity that can be tossed from my bucket list. I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed it when I was 20 or if the reality, even then, would have dissuaded me, but I certainly know now that I don’t want to stand around for hours waiting for a few minutes of fun. I don’t want to get cold and wet under almost any circumstance and definitely not if I can’t immediately change into warm dry clothes and sit beside a nice toasty fire (preferably with a glass of good red wine).

My oldest son teased me about glibly paring down my bucket list, but he’s not yet 30; he’s young enough to believe that he can do everything on his list. While I have no intention of throwing out my entire list, I know that it’s not likely, even with good intentions, that I’ll do more than scratch off the topmost items, so why leave an activity on the list that I now know I am no longer interested in pursuing. I’d rather pare my list so that I can more easily focus on what I want most. Knowing what I don’t want to do is almost as important as knowing what I do want to do.