Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Under the (Scorching) Tuscan Sun

It has been long on my list of places to experience.  Just the imagery conjured up by the name...TUSCANY...  In my mind's eye, I envisioned sweeping vistas of rolling Tuscan hills dotted with Cypress trees, vineyards, and olive groves.  I imagined classic Etruscan architecture, the simple grandeur of organic structures born of naturally hewn stone, terra cotta, travertine glowing an ochre coloured light.

We rented a villa with Canadian friends outside of the village of Anghiari about a half-hour from Arezzo bordering Tuscany and Umbria.  It was at the very top of one of my imagined Tuscan hills.  About 10 minutes, straight up a dusty, winding, hot trail ending at our villa with the dreamed-of spectacular view south over Umbria. 

I had also imagined that it would be hot and boy was that an understatement.  The temperature hovered between 37 and 40 degrees celsius everyday, phew.  Thank goodness for the beautiful pool at our villa.  We couldn't keep Murphy out of it,  she was the first in everyday and swam laps around us for hours.

It was too steamy to daytrip much or venture too far afield.  Instead we lounged poolside reading, swimming with the kids, wandering the surrounding olive and fig groves looking for Scorpions and Lizards.  Late in the afternoon, we would sit under the Wisteria and Jasmine pergola drinking ice cold white wine, eating pears and parmesan, and melon and prosciutto.

C2 and I left J happily with our friends and their son Tomas one day and took a train north to Florence.  We had an adult-only culture date and we revelled in the beauty of this lovely renaissance city.  We wandered over the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace, marvelled at the wonder of the Duomo, and stared in amazement at the open air sculptures of the Palazzo Vecchio.

We discovered a little out of the way restaurant near the Uffizi Museum populated by locals and had a wonderful lunch of braesola, fresh crisp salad, strachietelli mozzarella (the result of the first skimming of the cheese and unlike anything we had ever tasted before), and a gorgeous glass of Chianti.  We drooped with the heat by the time we returned anxious to plunge into our delicious pool.

Most evenings, we lingered either on the sun-drenched kitchen terrace or under the cooler pergola eating pizza made in our own pizza oven, or taking pleasure in C2's or Jon's wonderful cooking.  Long evenings spent in the laughter of our children, listening to the Cigales (Cicadas) song, drinking Super Tuscans or rich Chiantis, and talking and talking.

We explored the medieval village of Anghiari thoroughly, letting the kids lead us through the old castle walls, seeking out secret passages where they could find them, and rewarding them with granita or gelato.  We wondered at the lives of the people living behind the colourful shutters or in the tiny houses up the winding stairs.  Our imaginations and curiousity were on full alert.

We also wandered the Tuscan jewel that is Arezzo sitting high on a hill rising up from the Arno River valley.  Arezzo was empty of tourists perhaps kept away by the killer heat or by the killer economic climate. A shame, since it's medieval core was an unexpected delight and its' cathedral or duomo, the most stunning I have seen outside of St. Peter's in Rome.

Our children had a wondrous adventure, our empty tanks got filled, our curiosity satiated, and our palates more than pleased.   We reluctantly bid arrivederci to Tuscany and returned home for a few days.  Happily, we head back to our beloved Italia shortly when we make our annual pilgramage to the beach town of Levanto.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Dog Day Afternoon

When does the subtle childhood shift happen, at what uncertain point in time does the magic emit a little less light.  On what inevitable future day does real life trump imagination?  I don't know but I  long to hold on to the innocence and delight of participating in an evening birthday party for one of J's favorite tou-tou's (stuffed animals), Schnitzel, the Saint-Bernard. 

Schnitzel apparently just turned seven, even though he only arrived four years ago.  An interesting coincidence that J is also seven.  I noticed in this picture that J's beloved Little Murphy seems eager for cake.  Real Murphy's also looks like she might be tempted too.   We sang 'Happy Birthday' in English, French, and Italian.  J helped Schniz blow out the candles.

It was a tou-tou free-for-all for lemon cake with lemon glaze.  No chocolate chips, J instructed during the baking process, since chocolate is not good for dogs.  Dogs tussled with cats while koalas, pandas, panthers and giraffes jockeyed for position.

What's a birthday party without gifts??  Lucky Schnitzel received among other things, a roll of toilet paper, 4 dog cookies, an empty Lego container, a travel toothbrush (J informs me that he has dog breath), a sponge J used to clean my bathtub after he took a bath with my mascara a few days ago, and a small Panda bear.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Heading to Tuscany

To a villa outside of Arezzo "looking south over Umbria" with my man, my babe, my dog and meeting up with friends from Canada.  Hope it's as great as it sounds.

Let's get serious...I don't really look like this a bikini, but I can dream...  Look for the details in a week or so.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Promotion in Puplinge 2010

 It's hard to believe but this is the 5th time that we've experienced Promotion in our village of Puplinge.  From 2 years of pre-school through 1ere and 2ieme Enfantine and now 1ere Primaire (1st grade), scary!  I think that with the exception of Christmas morning, Promotion is J's most anticipated day of the year.
Adam and J, best mates, on their way to the parade rendez-vous

Promotion is a really unique event, and something yet undiscovered in North America.  The entire village, where almost everyone knows everyone, celebrates the end of another school year, the efforts of our children and their parents.  We let loose with a heck of a party complete with carnival,  dinner, free-flowing wine (from the local Chateau, of course), and a live band with dancing.

The village sapeurs-pompiers lead the way
 The kids are incredibly proud to participate in the parade, and take it all very seriously.  The parade, though, is just a precursor to the 2 hours of free carnival rides upon arrival back at the main celebration site.  
J follows his 1ere primaire class in the parade through the village streets

Jawahara, Bijoy and I "enjoying" an apero of green barbapapa
Now that J is seven, he disappears with his mates within the Promotion grounds until around midnight.  He checks in every once in a while when he's hungry or needs money for rides and games.  Could you imagine that happening in North America...I think not!

J on the monster bouncy slide

All of this freedom allows us parents to chill out, visit, drink some wine, and discuss summer plans.  While we are friendly with many of the Swiss families in our village, we tended to visit mostly with the expat community in our village made up of Canadians, Americans, South Africans, and Scandinavians. I guess, it's always slightly easier to make merry in your own language.

Dinner under the tent
It was a very hot afternoon and evening with temperatures topping 30c, but the kids didn't seem to mind.  They sprinted between bumper cars, the bouncy slide, the mini roller coaster, the games stands, and the dance floor.

Adam and J mesmerized in their quest for plastic toys at the carnival

 By midnight, a little too much fun was being had on the dancefloor by me and Cindy