Happy Mother’s Day~
My very first trip to Italy was in 2001. Richard and I took our mothers with us for a 10-day trip in Tuscany—Siena, Florence, Cortona, Montalcino, Rome, and many other little towns along the way. It was the trip of a lifetime; so much so in fact, that I talk about it in the “Prologue” of my book “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family.” I won’t give too much detail about what I write about in the book—I’ve put the best there, so why give it all away here?
I had been out of the country before but never to Italy and that was my mom’s first and only trip to Europe. Richard and his mother are world travelers, so they are accustomed to foreign countries. Their passports are crowded with a multitude of various colored-ink symbols and countries’ names that are stamped, sometimes overlappingly so, on the pages inside.
We rented two apartments in a 12th century castle in the small, southern Tuscan, hillside town of Proceno. It was an ancient paese up a winding road where on one side of town you had to enter through the old porta—gate, which was only as wide as a small automobile, and on the other side, a contemporary, probably early 1970s, apartment building greeted you on your right as the small retaining wall to your left kept you from falling off the edge of the cliff.
My mother, Pat, soon dubbed the castle as “our castle” and she was quite pleased to share her royal accommodations and queenly duties with Richard’s mother, also named Pat. They poked their heads out of bedroom windows and waved to the people below. How surprised the Pats were when none of their subjects below stopped to pay homage to their ruling benevolence. Needless to say, our moms enjoyed themselves. From our castle windows you could look over the street, past window boxes overflowing with multi-colored, blossoming plants with flowering tendrils, toward the mountainous, southern Tuscan countryside. Una bellissima vista!
It was no time before my mother became a seasoned traveler and settled into the daily life of an Italian woman by going across the street to the tiny grocery where the owner Roberto took great care in assisting with all of her untranslatable questions—he spoke no English and her only Italian was “grazie.” She took great pride in going it alone and returning with everything she wanted.
Roberto was the type of grocer that stopped whatever he was doing inside the store to go help the elderly ladies of Proceno down the hundreds-of-years-old steps into his shop, only to repeat the arm holding as they climbed back up the steps to exit after he had checked them out at the register. He was a one-man operation and there was no impatience on behalf of any of the customers as he stopped waiting on them to go assist the next nonna in or out. Try approaching a three-person-deep line at a grocery store in America without soon hearing the exacerbated sighs of the impatient shoppers upon experiencing a three minute wait to check out.
My mother needed no assistance, but Roberto took great care of his American visitor from Chicago—“Ah, Chee-cah-go. Bang, Bang!” Yes, Chicago is as famous in Italy for its gangsters as Alabama is for the lyric—“Ah, sweet home, Al-ah-bama!” Thanks to Lynryd Skynyrd, it always brings a huge smile from every Italian when they quote the chorus—and I enjoy hearing the Italian twist on the pronunciation. Maybe Pavarotti should have recorded a version of that song. Mamma mia!
Each morning my mom watched an elderly man with a corn broom sweep the one and only main drag of a street from one end of Proceno to the other. And then there were the nonne, loaded with their shopping bags, dressed in housedresses and wearing 2-inch heeled orthopedic shoes as they climbed the steep and ancient cobblestone walks up to their cliffside homes. They really impressed my mom.
We had an amazing trip and you’ll soon be able to read more about it in the book.
So on this Mother’s Day in 2010, I am fondly remembering the 10 days that Richard and I spent with our mothers in 2001—a September trip where every day was Mother’s Day.