Thursday, 18 October 2018

OLDER BUT NOT OLD......YET!

Have you ever looked back on a year and wondered where it went? The chilling cold of winter, the exciting promise of spring, the blissful freedom of summer, and the vibrant colours of autumn whiz by, then suddenly Christmas decorations appear in stores, your first startling realization that another year has almost slipped by. 

I find that happening with my age. The time markers - childhood, university, marriage, children, career, retirement - have all been there, merely ignored. Now I am startled to find myself in my seventies. When did that happen? Of course, the clues have been in front of me all along and increasingly so of late. I cannot deny these clues - the subtle aging changes evolving over time in my personality and in my body.

Raised in a home where solemn considerations of, What would the neighbours say? were the 11th Comandment, I find myself caring less and less what others think. I promise you, Who gives a s**t is extremely freeing! Once talented at biting my tongue and keeping opinions to myself, I am now increasingly prone to speaking my mind, more recently forcefully so. God bless family and friends who just mindlessly nod with frozen smiles at my ranting pronouncements. Thank you. When it becomes incomprehensible babble, I will be old and you have my permission to put me away.

Forget designer outfits, nylons and high heels. Did I really wear those? What happened to Dress For Success? Meh! Now I crave comfortable clothes - jeans, socks, loafers, t-shirts, leggings and sweatshirts. I do care about how I look, but no longer give a damn about the label. Oh, and makeup? I should be able to locate a tube of lipstick...I think! Don’t worry; I do still remember how to dress  for special occasions. When I graduate to elastic-waisted pants, then you may consider me old and you have my permission to put me away.

My body? I still chew with my own teeth. 👍 But no matter how active I remain, grey hairs are beginning to pepper my head, wrinkles invade my face, and the most critical parts of my body sag. Gravity is not just a good idea, it is the law. Without reading glasses, I may be able to read a STOP sign. My most frequent recent practice is walking into a room and forgetting why I am there. When I forget my name, then I will be old and you have permission to put me away.

I admit to preferring opera and classical music. I admit to loving a comfortable chair, a cup of tea and great book. I admit to earlier bedtimes. I admit that I am no longer able to imbibe much alcohol. Instead of the huge dinner parties Jim and I used to throw, I admit to now preferring more personal dinners of four or six. I admit that organizing our family Christmas feast increasingly throws me into a tizzy. Thank heavens for my talented sous chefs, Chris and Matt. I admit to taking longer to perform tasks - gardening, cleaning.....whatever! Am I slowing down? A bit. When I completely stop, then and only then will I be old and you have my permission to put me away.

Here’s the thing! In my heart, I am not old. 




I do treasure life more. I understand how precious being alive is. No longer in a rush, I work at living in the moment. Moment? Forget your parties and clubs, just give me a glass of wine, the company of my husband and a sunset. That is not old. That is wisdom.

George Burns once said, You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old. Wise man.





Thursday, 11 October 2018

HEBRIDEAN HOPSCOTCH

One extremely painful lesson for me this year has been that there are no guarantees in life. So just do it! Add to that, a dear friend’s motto which I have adopted, Do what makes you happy, and you can understand why I listened carefully when my husband mentioned casually in a conversation on Thanksgiving Day that he would love to return to Scotland. Love in my books is way stronger than like.

Anyone who knows me gets that one of my greatest pleasures in life is researching and planning trips. Forget real estate; I should have been a travel agent. Books, maps, blogs, newspaper and magazine articles, and the internet are scoured for months before I even begin to work on an itinerary. Then the extraneous travel details, like playing with the parts of a giant puzzle, fall into place - air travel, ferries, trains, car rental, hotel or rental accommodations, what to see and do...and on and on and on. I love and learn so much from the process.

This year Jim and I had talked about renting an apartment in Rome, my favourite city, for a few weeks. You could spend a year in Rome and not scratch the surface. On our return flight from Italy, conversation turned to spending time next year in Sicily. That was all this inveterate planner needed. With the Godfather’s Theme playing in my brain, books were rapidly purchased and a giant map of Sicily, spread out on the dining room table. Then came Jim’s casual comment! Conversation over coffee the next morning went like this:

Me: You mentioned Scotland last night. I’m not ‘married’ to Sicily yet. Would you rather visit  Scotland next year?

Jim: I’d love to return to Scotland. Let me think about it.

Jim, after two seconds had elapsed and with a giant grin: Let’s go back to Scotland!

At this juncture I should mention that over the years Jim and I have travelled extensively in Scotland from the Orkney Islands to the Highlands, from the west coast islands of Mull, Islay and Skye to Edinburgh (in my mind, one of the most beautiful cities in the world). So many scotch distilleries have been visited that we could run tours. We have enjoyed The Fringe, numerous Highland Games and an Edinburgh Tattoo - their Millennial Tattoo, no less!

Already knowing the answer, I asked: So where?

Jim: The Outer Hebrides!



So be it. Sicily and Rome in 2020. Hebridean hopscotch in 2019 and for our 50th Anniversary. I’m very fine with that! The dining room table is now covered in a map of Western Scotland, the Outer Hebridean Islands have been circled, ferry schedules have been printed, books have been ordered and research on the internet has commenced.

Note to self: Better locate your wellies and keep that rain gear handy. 😅 Slainte!

Friday, 5 October 2018

THE LOSS OF A DEAR FRIEND

Maya Anjelou wrote, There’s a marked difference between acquaintances and friends. Most people don’t become friends. They can become deep and serious acquaintances, but in friendship you get to know the spirit of another person; and your values coincide.

David Switzer was that rare breed, a true friend, and today Jim and I are gutted by the loss of his brave battle with cancer last night.



What began as a Neil McNeil High School acquaintance for Jim and David was rekindled and then developed into a cherished friendship as we found ourselves members of the same yacht club and then in side by side boat slips. David served on the yacht club board when Jim was Commodore and you guessed it, Jim served on the board when David was Commodore.

We four have sailed both ends of Lake Ontario together, have spent joint time in Barbados and Arizona, have navigated the crazy canals of England on ungainly barges, have golfed together and have enjoyed countless meals, drinks and celebrations together on the yacht club deck and in each other’s homes; after recent house moves, we have made the drive between Cobourg and Uxbridge so many times that our cars could probably make the trip for us on autopilot. David and Jim helped sail a friend’s boat back from St. Martin. Their parmesan cheese tale from this journey is a classic. 😂  Accompanying each other to Neil McNeil reunions, they could often be heard discussing who should wear the boutonniere. 😳 Marion and I have joked for years that David and Jim could speak with each other 24/7 without a lapse if given the opportunity. So much laughter! So many memories!

Whenever renovations were being planned, David’s immediate response was always, Just let me know when. I am sure there were times when he wondered at the wisdom of his offer as he laid hardwood and tore out washrooms with Jim. As if that wasn’t enough, the two friends tirelessly worked together on the renovation of the yacht club kitchen, a massive undertaking.



David battled cancer for a year. No matter his fears, discomfort or fatigue levels, Jim and I were always greeted with a warm, welcoming smile. His private voiced concerns with Jim were always about Marion’s welfare, not about himself. His efforts for the past year were more about making the ultimate transition for Marion a trouble-free one than about himself. Quiet selflessness and dignified bravery defined David.

Someone once said that the hardest part of losing a friend isn’t having to say goodbye, but rather learning to live without them, always trying to fill the void and the emptiness that is left inside your heart when they go. David, the void is massive; a piece of our hearts is forever broken. I will find peace in imagining you hugging your mother and then you, Rollie, Brenton, Dick and Derek sailing the clouds of heaven.

 It is not goodbye forever, dear friend, it is till we meet again.

Friday, 28 September 2018

LA BATTAGLIA DA PRESERVARE

(The Battle to Preserve)

By August, 1943, fascist Benito Mussolini had fallen. Allied forces, determined to persuade the Badoglio government to surrender, ordered heavy, ongoing and simultaneous bombing of Italy’s industrial triangle - Milan, Genoa and Turin. On the night of August 14, 1943, over 134 Lancaster bombers took off from bases in England, their mission to pummel Milan with over 400 tons of bombs.

600 Milanese buildings were destroyed in this single early morning raid. One of these structures, the Monastery of Santa Maria Grazie, was reduced to rubble; the roof caved in, the cloister collapsed and entire walls were blown out. Miraculously, standing in the debris were three walls in the refectory. The importance? One of the walls, improbably still standing in the wreckage, was Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. What likely saved this precious masterpiece? In an effort to protect their heritage amidst bombing raids, ordinary citizens had carefully covered the fresco with sandbags and scaffolding.




World War II was not the first armed conflict to threaten what is one of the world’s most famous paintings. During the Napoleonic Wars, bored soldiers who had been bunked in Santa Maria delle Grazie used The Last Supper for target practice with Jesus’ face as the bullseye. I can only shake my head.

2019 will mark the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death and over 500 years of Italy’s unending battle to preserve The Last Supper.

A mere six years after Leonardo completed his masterpiece, deterioration began. During the Renaissance, it was common to paint directly onto the walls of buildings. Sadly however, da Vinci was not trained in traditional fresco techniques. So poor was his choice of materials that the humid conditions of the convent resulted in almost instant deterioration. Humidity has been one of the prime enemies of this glorious fresco. Over the years the fresco room has flooded and was unbelievably even once used as a stable.

Modern day pollution has also wreaked havoc with the masterpiece, so much so that the Italian government installed a sophisticated heating, ventilation and air conditioning system to protect the fresco from the polluted air of Milan.

We as tourists, eager to view The Last Supper, are also a source of soiling. To minimize the humidity and pollution we bring in on our clothes and bodies, only 30 tourists at a time are allowed in for a 15 minute visit. Art lovers are herded between several rooms to dehumidify while a series of doors close behind them and others open in front of them. A new state of the art air filtration system will be installed and active by 2019.

It took 21 years, but a restoration project, completed in 1999, peeled away centuries of poor touch-ups and the ravages of pollution and humidity.

 Before Restoration:




Today Jim and I passed through the final door leading out of the series of dehumidification rooms, took a step, turned to the right.......and there it was, the only colour in a whitewashed room......Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. My long standing wish had come true! For 15 minutes our minds and hearts devoured its beauty, artistry, complexity and the psychological drama as Jesus says, One of you will betray me.




Exiting the refectory, I thought about the privilege Jim and I had just enjoyed. Mostly though, my heart filled with gratitude and respect for ordinary Italian citizens and their government who over the years, over the centuries actually, have passionately and tirelessly battled war damage, humidity, pollution and poor workmanship to preserve their treasure for future generations.

La bellezza perisce nelle vita, ma e immortale nell’arte. ( Beauty perishes in life, but is immortal in art. ) ~ Leonardo da Vinci

Thursday, 20 September 2018

MIA DOLCE AMORE ITALIANO

(My Sweet Italian Love ❤️)




I confess that it was love at first sight. Sorry Jim, but how could I not fall passionately in love. So colourful, so smooth, but exhibiting an attractive coolness and intensity at the same time. Wow! Exactly what an amore Italiano should be. Sigh! Swoon! (Swoon?) I now feel obliged to admit that this Italian love of mine began many years ago in romantic Roma and has increased in intensity with every trip to Italy. Now you know why we continue to return. On each visit, I learn more about mia amore, a love affair which has truly transformed me

Si! Yes! Mia dolce amore Italiano has transformed me ..... converted me from an ice cream lover to a gelato lover. My passionate sweet Italian love is gelato.

At first attracted to the rainbow of vibrant swirled gelato colours, I was dismayed to learn that such displays are meant to attract children. Hmmm? I fell embarrassingly into that category. I further discovered that many such bright gelato displays are frequently made from mixes, not fresh ingredients. I learned not to feast at these huge touristy displays, but to wander the backstreets in search of smaller gelaterias displaying muted natural colours. Think of it. Banana is a very pale yellow, not garish gold. These artisan gelaterias use locally sourced ingredients, natural flavours and no artificial colours.




I learned that gelaterias who keep their flavours in stainless steel tubs rather that in the standard swirling displays, wish to keep their handcrafted frozen delights stored until someone orders a specific flavour. Thus the fresh ingredients are kept exactly that way.....fresh!




I have been known to argue that gelato crafters use stronger flavours. Wrong again, Daphne. North American ice cream has a higher butterfat content which makes its texture very rich. Here’s the issue. Butterfat actually coats your tongue, dulling your taste buds. Who knew? I have learned that without my taste buds being coated, I can more fully experience gelato’s flavour intensity.

Gelato is made with more milk, less cream, and often egg yolks; less air is added. Well, you say, without the butterfat, gelato has to be less smooth. Not so. Gelato, served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream, is famous for its creamy luxury.

And flavours? Whatever you can imagine has likely been crafted. In Tropea, Calabria, Jim fell in love with the local nduja, a spicy pork salami. Gelato Tonino’s specializes in unique flavours. In spite of my exaggerated grimaces, Jim enjoyed an nduja gelato. My Italian hairdresser, Tony, recommends hot red pepper gelato. Whatever, you guys.....think I’ll stick to the sweeter varieties.




So have I sold you on my passion yet? Maybe? Well, the best has been saved for last. I have learned that in Italy until you find the flavour you like, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for un assaggio...a taste! Whoa! I’m all for that!

Okay, all this writing about gelato has set my taste buds humming. It is early morning, Jim is asleep and I write, but perhaps it is time for a stroll around the corner to the local gelateria. For breakfast?? Now that’s amore. 😉

Saturday, 15 September 2018

RIFLESSI DOLOMITI

(Dolomite Reflections)




Tomorrow morning, after seven days in the Italian Alps (Dolomites), Jim and I take our leave. 😢 These imposing sedimentary rock massifs reaching heavenward into bright blue skies or surrounded by slithering snake-like cloud formations have proven to be more than a memorable experience, much more than we anticipated.

When planning our trip, Jim was adamant that, If we visit the Dolomites, we are going to “really visit” the Dolomites. And so with hands on walking sticks we have hiked from around the vertical walls of Tre Cime di Lavaredo which dramatically rise from the valley below, to the World War I fortifications at Cinque Torri, to the turquoise green waters of Lago di Braies, and to the green valleys and meadows of Alpe di Siusi. Jaw dropping is the only way to describe the views. The organization of the Italian trail system is nothing short of spectacular, with well marked trails and free maps, and the Rifugio network of mountain huts offering delicious foods and overnight accommodation to long distance hikers. With the exception of driving from Cortina to Cinque Torri, Jim and I have left our car unused at our hotels. The local Italian buses which service Dolomite access points are plentiful, timely, spotlessly clean and driven by friendly, patient drivers.

Have the hikes been easy? No! But at pushing 72 years of age, we wanted to do them while we can. Life holds no guarantees. With twenty minutes left, or so the sign indicated, on the Tre Cime trail and facing a dauntingly steep final incline, I whined to Jim, Can I quit now? Patting me on the back he laughed and noted, I don’t think they airlift you out because you are tired. Dig deep, one foot after the other, breathe, just move. Done! Some would laugh, but for me, the completion of the last half of that gruelling trail was a major accomplishment in sheer determination.

Forget the fat old Italian mama myth. Italians, as well as Germans and Austrians, put the majority of Canadians and Americans to shame. They are truly fit; regular walking, hiking, biking, even for the older population, are common activities. The elderly, whether with canes and walkers or not, join in the evening passeggiata. On the Tre Cime Hike, there were as many people of our generation as there were younger hikers. Like Jim and I, they often struggled, but they were THERE and active and pushing themselves. Oh, and we have seen not a single fast food outlet in the region. Hallelujah!

Huddled under soft, thick eiderdowns, with cool fresh mountain air wafting in our open windows, and stars twinkling in the black, black sky, a blissful sleep overcomes us easily. We found the Swiss and Austrian Alps beautiful, but they pale in comparison to what we have experienced here in Italy. We have made so many memories to cherish.


















Thursday, 6 September 2018

PARADISO DEL PROSECCO

(Prosecco Paradise)

Champagne is a region; prosecco, a grape and Italians do not want you to forget it!

Not a major tourist destination! No tour bus armadas dangerously hogging the roads! No plethora of microphoned, sunflower-toting tour guides leading glass-eyed lemmings! No hordes of pushy tourists making cobblestoned streets impassable! No gitchy shops hawking Chinese-made Italian (?) souvenirs and not a selfie-stick in sight! Okay, to all of my tour-loving friends, my rant about big bus tourism is over. This is merely my way of saying that I am in MY travel heaven.

It’s just Jim and I and an afternoon glass of chilled Prosecco, the vista of green-leafed vines rippling across steeply terraced vineyards and tumbling down to tiny ochre-coloured villages below, spaghetti thin twisting roads that defy logic and the heady scent of sun-warmed grapes dangling heavily from ancient gnarled vines. Pure heaven.




So scenically stunning are these hills, home to the renowned sparkling wine, Prosecco, and a wine-making school dating back to 1876, that the region has been nominated as. UNESCO World Heritage site.




We have arrived just as the area is mid-harvest - la vendemmia. The terraced fields are steep enough to make the use of farm machinery untenable. All local vineyards are harvested by hand in a time-honoured, labour-intensive tradition. At under fifty thousand acres and manually harvested, this is not a region of massive producers. Savour that glass of sparkling magic.



And so, after a quiet afternoon today, we are off on our Prosecco adventure of tastings at local vineyards, exploring the glorious countryside, tastings at local vineyards, eating local foods, tastings at local vineyards.....you get the picture. I may never come home.