Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What's cookin', good lookin'?

The three musketeer-ettes coerced me into letting them use the kitchen even though I was freaking out waiting for the Guess ladies to show up for their first paid for class.  The Guess girls do keep me guessing as they don't smile much and I can't tell if they hate me or if they just hate exercise.  I smelled cigarette smoke on at least one of them. Anyway, they are, as predicted, growing on me. I may adopt them Angelina Jolie style and take lots of paparazzi photos of us together holding hands. Or perhaps my neighbors who were glued to their windows during the class -- it never occurred to me to lower the music volume -- have in mind one of those lovely photos of us in orange jumpsuits holding up numbers and looking grim.




Sunday, August 28, 2011

This is the story of the hurricane
We are in complete solidarity with everyone on the East Coast as you hunker down and prepare for the hurricane and are thinking of all of you constantly.

Plus also we did this...



In case it's not obvious, K is channeling Wolfgang Puck as he teaches a poor contestant on The Next Food Network Star how to make risotto after she completely fails the first time.

Saturday, August 27, 2011



The goodbye potluck
Just know this. At the Kresse family good-bye potluck there was a very poignant moment. It wasn't when Greta's dad Kevin gave an emotional speech about the unexpected deep friendships they had made here. It wasn't when Bridget was too emotional to speak. It wasn't when the girls wouldn't let go or when her twin brother Julian's friends could barely stand to get into their car. It wasn't how cute first graders Roman and Caoimhe's little sister Ariana are when he acts like a whipped husband and she acts like an annoyed wife.  It was when Julian looked up at F and said, "And you, scarecrow, I think I shall miss you most of all."

Friday, August 26, 2011


GUESS what?
I know this post is going to come off catty, but I have woken up giddy with catty, biting venemous urges. Read on with caution.

Today I am teaching a lesson to the ladies of the fancy Guess store on Filungo. I have a love/hate relationship with that store since the windows are always a huge turn on, but then once you get inside you realize that all of the articles of clothing are as narrow, even in the arm hole size, as those left too long in the clothes dryer and rendered so adherent that they fit only those who have the same dimensions as a Barbie doll: 34, 18, 32. My inner thighs object and call the next witness to the stand. The other problem I have with the store is that even though I have bought a few big ticket items there such as my winter coat, whose arm holes continue to be a problem, the ladies who work there never smile at you even if they thank you for your purchase.  They look slightly relieved when you buy something, but they try very hard not to show it.  It was only when I brought Kim of the platinum American Express card in last week that I have ever seen one of them smile without cracking something. And they could crack easily as the word on the street, at least amongst the mothers of Carducci who gossip in the parking lot outside school, is that they all have taken a pact of starving themselves like fashion-crazed Ghandis.

But when my friend Christina told me that there was a secret black market yoga class taking place on the second floor there on Fridays during the intervallo, I started nurturing the fantasy that some day they would be mine. Hence the 3 euro black yoga mats purchased at Decathalon, my loss of appetite, some 2 euro pitchers to be filled with ice water and lemon slices, and my weird obsession with arm hole size. Yesterday I started getting paranoid that they wouldn't come to my house for the class, but one of the ring leaders called me to check if they needed to bring their Ghandi approved yoga mats with them and was hesitantly impressed that I had already gotten that covered.  Then she balked to learn that they would have to bring sneakers -- the dreaded scarpe da ginnastica -- because when they do yoga, darling, they go barefoot and can show off their teeny Barbie pedicures. Sh*t. Well, you can't have everything. Plus I offered them the class for too cheap and will have to let them know that the price was for five of them, not for three. Approximately five of them smooshed together make the size of one average American, if you do the math.

So they arrived on time and as a quartet and surprisingly they were more shy and less coordinated than I expected. I did the class the way I always do the classes and they seemed happy with it.  Let me rephrase that.  Have you ever seen people with lots of botox try to smile? Not that they have done botox, but maybe they have taken a preparation class. It was not sheer joy or abundant friendship that they offered me, but an appointment twice a week to try and kick their little skinny butts. And I shall. And you know something? I bet we become friends. Eventually.
Summer's End

September here is what January used to mean to us in New York.  It is the start of a new year. And even better for us it is year TWO.



It was hard for T to say goodbye to her amica per la pelle Savana di NY, although she is happy that she will probably come visit again next year.  On top of that, Greta and her family are leaving in a few days and that will be another difficult goodbye. But a million praises that Skype exists and that they can even see each other on webcam when they want.



I guess if anyone out there is reading this and thinking about making the plunge into moving their family to a new country, the main thing I would say is that the first year will probably be the hardest, and it is probably easier to go into it with the mindset that you are laying the groundwork for year two instead of expecting that every setback is an indicator of what the future has in store for you.






Tonight we went for a lovely pizza with pesto sauce dinner with Greta and the family: Bridget, Kevin, Julian, and Roman. Kevin gave us a lovely print of one of his soulful paintings and we will keep it always. After dinner we ended up at the gelato place and a neighborhood outdoor concert with child prodigies playing classical music.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day 7: Tax Free Eggs-tasy
On our last day together we all got up to the alarm. We had to keep our appointment to see a villa that Kim might want to rent next year when her husband and son join her and Savana. It was already occupied but the owners said we could still have a chat.  They are about 20 minutes outside of the walls of Lucca in Monte S. Quirico. The people who ran it couldn't have been nicer to us, but it was hard to make a decision based on a place that our guests could only see from the outside.  Beforehand, there was a moment of panic in the car after I realized that out of the four villas we were supposed to visit that day I didn't have the contact sheets to figure out who we were meeting and when or where.  But we sorted ourselves out after I had a quick Toddlers & Tiaras style sfoga/rant of expletives in front and to the great amusement of our pre-teens.


Next we went to Fattoria Colleverde where Kim enjoyed an olive oil and wine tasting with the great man himself -- Piero Tartagni, and the girls enjoyed a dip in the pool. Kim managed to convince some of the guests to let her see the largest villa at the Fattoria even though they were bathing topless in their private pool at the time, nursing hangovers, and letting the rest of their party sleep it off inside.  And for lunch we had a tordelli tasting plate at Osteria del Vecchio Pazzo and lots of other yummy stuff.
Authenticity is elegant.

Wine does not just get born at the liquor store, girls.

A Bridezilla story with a happy ending.


We had permission to visit villa #2 as far as the owner was concerned, but of course there was no way to prepare the French speaking family who was occupying it and when we arrived they were nowhere to be found.  I got us in the front gate with a Bondgirl type button release, but then all we could do is camp out at their gazebo and look forlorn.
Say: Hot, sticky, cheese!

We did not have any phone contact with the staff of the famous Villa Guinigi, but when I saw a man struggling with his phone call to the taxi service I stepped right up and put my grasping little hand throught the big wrought iron fence to grab his cell and get him to feel just a bit grateful.  His lovely wife and new baby met us at the entrance and the equally stunning looking couple and cooing infant that was in their flat gave us a tour. They now have my phone number and a promise of advice for Lucca sightseeing so I hope I remember any of this tomorrow.  The grounds are snazzy and there is an indoor and an outdoor pool, a spa, and a lovely terrace on the property.

At Hotel Ilaria I tried to convince some sun bathers on the first floor sun deck to let us see our rooms, but they were not getting up to cross that lobby unless their jimmy choo flip flops caught fire.  The lady half of the couple next to them eventually took pity on me and let Kim see her room.
 

F dropped Kim and I off in Filungo again where Kim's shopping drive went into effect:

Fire: We got her husband's shoes from the nice couple at Chelini shoes where there had been a fire that morning and whose nice store still smelled heavily of smoke;

Fraud: The Fabriani jewelry store was all hot air and there was not even a ring to look at, let alone a perfect replica of the one Kim wanted;

Tax Free Madness: After a spending spree at Luisa Spagnoli, the kind saleswoman offered Kim to print out a form whereby at the airport she could get back 100 euros or about 14% of what she spent at the Customs office at the airport. I've been coming to Lucca for years and had no idea about this, but come to think about it maybe I never spent more than 100 euros in a store here at one time either. Then Kim went to Guess where she spent a nice chunk of change yesterday and they told her that she could not get the tax free form because she did not ask for it at the time of purchase.  I pointed out that no one had told us about it so we did not know it was a possibility and the lady pointed to a happy, little, yellow sign the size of a post-it on the desk behind the cash register that she now thrust in our faces as if to say, Silly Americans never know what to look for ... pity.

Next we ran home and tried to do the ten minute version of getting ready for the Academy Awards but of course it took a good 45 minutes and so we kept dear Alessandro waiting, as he was accompanying us to the magical world of Vino e Convivio.  This enoteca run by Giovanni in Guamo is like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory if that little skinny English boy had wanted wine and gourmet cheeses, pastas, prosciutto and other exquisite delicacies. We were taken on a culinary adventure by Alessandro's sommellier friend Lido who is passionate about Tuscan born gastronomy and by Nikola who is Giovanni's son in law and speaks English beautifully. Unfortunately, Giovanni himself was in the hospital that day with what I gather was heat stroke, but he was released and expected to feel better soon.
So this is what Gwyneth Paltrow feels like before the red carpet . . .

Nikola, we thank you.

F wasn't driving . . . nuff said

I get crazy eyes when I am near my drug of choice: pasta!

We did good with the houseguest thing overall, don't ya think?

A Carbonara to beat them all

Wowie Zooks

Lido is steering this ship and I am happy to be a passenger.

Even vegetarians have second thoughts . . .

I'll never have eggs this good again in my lifetime.

Among the toe tapping, mouth humming, tears in your eyes dishes that we were served was a pasta with coffee powder and capers that smelled like the Mediterranean veranda of a honeymoon suite the morning after the wedding -- in a good, good way.  A deconstructed, reinvented, pasta Carbonara where each ingredient is treated lovingly with an attention to detail, in other words, better than my house guests.  We also had a plate of eggs that was such a simple, perfect, poetry that I may never be able to enjoy eggs again.  They were pan cooked to a perfect consistency with a golden yolk and looked like a thousand sun rises over the vineyards on a background of silky clouds.  They were coated in a rare and special kind of oil that was a rich vineyard green gold color and coated your lips and tongue, preparing them for the satisfying parmagiano coating and juicy jewls of perfectly ripe, cubed legendary tomatoes that sat proudly on the top of those bad boys.  All around the heavy blackened pan were rounds of toasted bread that were also lightly drizzled with the oil like spoiled spa guests before a ridiculously opulent massage.

I can die now and say I have eaten and drunk the best life has to offer. Simple as that.  Then we went home and helped Kim review her villa choices and dropped off to sleep at 2 AM.

The End (except there are two hours left in the morning before Kim hits the airport.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

culture shmulture
Day 6: Pick up sticks?
 
We are all so tired that I couldn't come up with an appropriate title for the post. I apologize now. This morning we got up with Kim's alarm and immediately got ready to go to the beach. Two hours later we left the house. In the end, one of the many things we forgot to bring with us was the camera. So that brings me to apology number two. Thank goodness you blog reading friends of ours are so loyal!
culture is pretty

After the beach, we were all grouchy until we took showers.  I forced Kim, almost against her will, and only after she made a detour to buy Savana another pair of skinny jeans, to go inside the church of San Michele, which she enjoyed immensely. Then I took her against her better judgement and only after she bought more "frizzy water"  to go on the actual wall of Lucca for a walk.  Once on the wall with its stupendous views of the Tuscan hills, she asked me why I hadn't brought her there sooner. And then she asked me why I didn't take her up on her offer to go to the spa, her treat. Except we went to the beach today. And then I realized that while Kim is a force of nature, a marvel or organization and efficiency and cleanliness and style, she has an extremely unrealistic sense of time management because I think we can all agree that bringing three girls to the beach when you only leave the house at  eleven in the morning is not something even Dr. Spock on Star Trek could have done on the same morning as visiting a spa, right? At any rate we exited the walls at the first possible opportunity and went to get her a Bloody Mary and the girls some lemon soda that ended up being tonic water with lemon (without the gin, I know because I tasted it.) Then we came back to prepare for our dinner guests Luca and Monica that we know from the glorious Giusti bakery as opposed to the Luca and Monica we know from the glorious Stella Zeta.




For dinner F prepared crudite appetizers with various dips, lemon mushroom ravioli, chard with peperoncino, a cheese plate with fresh burrata and lovely fresh figs that our guests brought along with a huge tub of eight flavors of fabulous gelato. Then the girls did their homework and Kim rewarded them with some reality television, but we all have to wake up at the crack of crack to go to the vineyard tomorrow and find Kim some villas to visit so that with any luck T will get another visit from her sister/friend Savana next year.
After dinner I did a bilingual infomercial for glycerolo which cures even cystic acne.

If Kim bankrolls me, I will be rich. But I am too tired. Still if you steal this idea, I will hunt you down.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 5: House guests are still breathing,

so I give myself an above average rating . . but feel free to disagree. . . 
Oh man. Today Kim and I got up early so that we could hit the closed Bank and the ortofrutta where we bought out almost all of their selection of marmelades and truffle oils. F came by and picked up the bags; they were that heavy. Next we went to the shoe store where we had great success, that one next door to Giusti bakery called Cafe Noir followed by Guess and ProMod, twice: we had to because the jeans from Guess had a gem stone missing and so one of the salesgirls ran it to a jeweler to have it fixed for Kim. It was two trips back to ProMod where the windows make things look better than they are so of course we had to exchange because they don't give refunds in Lucca.  At the chocolate store there was a present waiting for Kim and Savana from Benedetta at Chocolat, the store with the  always whimsical window displays. Naturally we went shoe shopping for Kim's husband Donald and toy shopping for her son Donald and we went jeans shopping for Savana and we found her a pocketbook and a belt.  (Well, she needed to have something to coordinate with the jeans.)  We also went to Delicatezze to get picnic food for tomorrow, but they were closed so we went back to Cacioteca to get cheese because Savana loves gorgonzola, but on the way we found a jeweller who claims he can duplicate the kunzite ring surrounded by diamonds that Kim wanted in NY, but that got sold out from under her. And he can have it to her by Monday night. We'll see. We also bought out a food store with a cute motherly lady who kept asking if we were a posto, but we never were because Kim has grand ideas for this picnic and she is not to be messed with when she has a grand idea.

We made three desserts and ate them!
Two people with seemingly nothing in common who found out they had tons of things in common.

I can only speak one language at a time, but smiling is universal!
  Meanwhile Greta, T and Savana went home after a little shopping because they had somehow gotten F to agree to let them bake three separate cakes. He was already baking bread for the party and it was so hot in the house at the end of the day that Kim refused to come inside and generously offered to take all girl people out to eat. The cakes came in handy for my non-profit meeting for people interested in alternative healing and energy work.  Almost everyone who was there last month cancelled on me today for a delightful array of excuses that I will have to remember the next time I need one.  The real reason was it was too darn hot today.  I know that. Kim knows that. The waiter who served Kim her Bloody Mary knows that.  But at the energy party, as we call it around here, we had Laura, the erborista, Angelo, the bar owner who wants to teach meditation, and Rebecca Cherry who specializes in Akashic readings whereby you give her your name and a specific question that does not need a yes or no answer and she gives you a response that is written from the source of all knowledge of the universe. That is cool, but what is cooler is that she brought her 14 year old son who plays American football and looks like a cross between all the vampire boys and Michelangelo's David to judge the desserts the girls made, play catch with them out in the piazza, and then be willingly put to task on his facebook page with the pictures these scoundrelesses took of him on a pink bicycle. Don't ask. I am still the mother of the year just because he was at my house.

There was a mind numbing time before Anglelo arrived where every half sentence I said I had to say in two languages because Laura doesn't speak English and Rebecca doesn't speak Italian.  For a while they were both glaring at me, but at the end of the night Kim made everyone laugh and it turned out that Laura is paying Rebecca to do a reading for her.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Day 4: The production value on this blog just went downhill and I don't even have one photo.
Okay so if you want to know the truth, even in Tuscany when it is blazing hot and everyone is too tired to do anything we all deserve a little feet up time and reality tv indulgence with Real Housewives of New Jersey from Sidereel.com and some homemade gourmet popcorn with parmagiano and peperoncino.  Then after 6 pm, we (by which I mean Kim) did even more shopping with our real lucchese friend Paola in the lead while Greta, T, Chiara and Savana cruised around town eating gelato and buying whatever sale items they could scrounge up with their saved allowances and under-the-couch money.  Then we (by which I mean Kim) had a Bloody Mary at her new favorite cafe in the world that I don't know the name of in front of that giant fountain.  And somehow, at the end of it all, we had walked 500 miles and were happy and ready to go to bed. Who knows where the time goes?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Day 3: Hostesses with no sense of direction
Seriously has anyone else in Lucca ever had a houseguest who has been forced to traverse the same stretch of Fillungo eighty seven times without once finding what they set out to buy or seeing the inside of a single church, gallery, or cultural institiution.  Poor Kim! Her feet are falling off and it is all my fault. Plus I never remember to bring aqua frizzante out with us so she is constantly thirsty. On the up side, I did sit with her for three hours while she got the royal treatment at my hair parlour. On the downside, I became a nervous wreck on the eighty eighth time we set off down on the same stretch of road and realized that I had entered Alice in Wonderland's rabbit hole yet again and no matter how hard I tried either thirst, heat, holiday closings, or that pesky intervallo got in the way of my ever showing her anything of value. On the upside we went to the newly refurbished Da Felice for an elegant pizza dinner under chandeliers with fancy china and tablecloths and seven hundred choices of delectable toppings. We were joined by Paola and Stefano and T's classmates Marisol and Chiara. F got gorgonzola and walnuts which was divine. I had porcini mushrooms, artichokes, olives and the girls had french fries.  I wish I had got a photo of the rather stick in the mud hostess of Da Felice. When I complimented her for the fancy decor and said that we weren't used to eating our pizza in such a lovely setting in NY, she wrinkled her nose at me and told me that it wasn't a pizzeria it was a "ristorante." Okay miss mary mack all dressed in black, sorry for trying to compliment you. Whatevs.
We are milking every minute of parental distraction available to us . . .

Stefano, we'd love him even if he didn't speak English, but tonight he was KEY!

K, try eating from the other end of the mushroom, cara!

French fries on Pizza? I love Italy!

I'm with ya, sister!

I was just thinking the same thing . . . Dessert!