Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy birthday to me

This is the third birthday I celebrated outside the United States and the second one here in Italy. It was without my family, but spent with people who are quickly becoming like family to me. It was everything I could have hoped for and nothing like I thought it would be.

First, because I'm the most awesome wife ever, I told Leif to ride with his team in the morning. I stayed home and got the house ready for our lunch guests and did some baking. He came home happy and ready to do anything at all to make my day perfect.

Our good friends Katarina and Biago came to lunch with their daughter Sofia. We had two first dishes: pasta with pesto and couscous with curried  shrimp. Both turned out perfectly and I'm happy to say that the only leftovers is about a cup of couscous. For dessert we had an Orange Olive Oil cake that I made. Right here and now I'm giving credit to my new friend Christine for the recipe. It's a hit with my Italian friends.

I know it seems that I write about food and meals a lot for someone who isn't a professional cook or food critic. It's not even really the food that's the great part of these stories. (but the food's great) It's the time spent at the table with friends while eating that great food. There was no mad rush to finish the meal so we could all sit around and talk. We talked while we cooked the pasta, then while we ate it. We talked while we made the couscous and shrimp, then continued while we ate that. We talked over our cake and coffee. And when we stopped eating we sat where we were and talked some more.

We talked about the food, yes. But we also talked  about work, and families, and told stories about growing up. We shared ourselves while we shared the food. And even  more exciting is that two years ago we spoke almost exclusively in English. Now over time we have a friendship language that freely moves between English and Italian, with the occasional Swedish thrown in for fun. All those languages has made our friendship richer and deeper because we don't just state a feeling, but use every word at our disposal to define it completely for everyone in the group.

They left almost three hours later and in true Minnesota fashion we were still trading stories as they walked down the stairs. We had just enough time to clean up from lunch when our friend Ola stopped by to pick up something from Leif. This sweet man apologized to me as he gave me my birthday kisses because he had tried to find a flower shop open but of course it was Sunday and so they were all closed. For me the thought was gift enough.

After Ola left we had just a few minutes before P-O, another friend, showed up to take us to his house outside of town for dinner with him and another friend, Claudia. I was starting to feel pretty special.

His house is high above Florence and the silence is like a blanket. There's a big fireplace with a little fire; just enough to make it smell woodsy and warm and throw those great lights across the room. Most of the rest of the light came from candles. They were everywhere: on the mantel, on shelves, on the floor, in the massive chandelier above the table. The flames flickered all around us as we toasted my birthday with champagne. The man knows how to create an atmosphere.

We cooked together, the four of us. We cleaned and sliced artichokes and onions and zuchini while Claudia made the beer batter for a kind of Italian tempura. After these starters we moved to the dining room for Swedish shrimps. A huge bowl of fresh Swedish shrimps in all their leggy, mustachioed glory sat squarely in the middle of the table. I probably don't need to remind anyone that I'm from an inland region where the shrimp comes cleaned and washed and most likely frozen. I'm not squeamish, thank goodness, but my shrimp stripping talents didn't impress anyone else at the table. They took pity on me and started tossing cleaned shrimp onto my plate.

The shrimp were followed by cheeses and more of my orange cake. Cheese is another one of those foods that are a pleasure to explore here. So many ways to make it, so many different stages of maturation. Pecorino aged in beer, gorgonzola made with goat milk and with cow milk just to taste the difference.

We had eight different wines we tried over the course of the meal, from all over Italy and right outside his door. There was a beautiful Brunello and a Chianti from 1999, both of which I enjoyed. There were some lovely fresh whites and then of course, dessert wines with the cake. I had a tough time keeping track of the four or five glasses I had in front of me as we moved from white, to red, to after dinner drinks.

Again, the food was only a backdrop for the conversation we shared in front of the fire, This conversation was less Italian and more Swedish, but just as deep and fulfilling for me. I'm learning, slowly, the art of friendship.

A wild ride down switchbacks into Florence was an exciting (and slightly dizzying) end to a birthday I will never forget. I feel loved.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thanksgiving is coming

I figure I better talk about something besides cycling or people will start to think I'm a very one dimensional person. I have plenty of other dimensions to talk about. Like the fact that this is the third Thanksgiving I'll miss at my brother's house. Or the fact that I have yet to come up with some kind of personal holiday tradition on my own. Oh well, there's always next year.

Thanksgiving is approaching quickly. I won't even be here. I'll be in Sweden and since we're staying with his dad chances are I won't be eating turkey, stuffing, smashed taters and gravy, cranberries, sweet potatoes, Parker House rolls or pumpkin pie on that day. No candy corn, pickles or jello salad either.

With my luck Thanksgiving will be the day my husband decides to take me up on my offer to try one of his father's favorite foods. It always appears in his fridge the day before we are scheduled to leave, in large quantities. Like he's been just waiting for me to leave so he can eat normally again. So I said, casually in other conversation so he might forget about it but he probably won't, it would be considerate of me to try blood pudding. That way his dad doesn't have to wait till I leave to enjoy his meals again. I have a feeling it will definitely make me thankful for other foods.

All our American friends in Florence are feverishly preparing for the holiday. They're combing the grocery stores and local markets for those "must have" items. Some of it's easy. Potatoes, corn, zuchinni....most any vegetable they can get here. But there are other things that commonly grace the Thanksgiving tables in the States that have to be approached differently here.

For instance, turkey is a common meat here. But no Italian would think of buying an entire turkey and cooking it. In fact, if you want a whole, uncut turkey you have to order it in advance from a small butcher shop. And endure the looks and the comments about (crazy) Americans.

Pumpkins are plenteous here, but pumpkin pie filling or solid pack pumpkin is only sold in some stores and like my experience with Cream of Mushroom soup, be prepared to pay through the nose for it. I think one friend paid 4-5 euro for a single can. I can't say that I love love love pumpkin pie enough to pay that much.

I have another friend who is currently scouring the area for fresh or frozen cranberries to make her own cranberry sauce. So far no luck. All my sources say the only cranberries they've been able to find are the canned ones. And we all agree that those are awful. Or maybe I should just say they're not everyone's cup of tea. My son loves the darn  things. Italy appears to be one of those countries that doesn't really grow cranberries or consume them.

I also haven't seen sweet potatoes here. Or marshmallows. Now I know that half of you are reading this and gagging at the thought and the other half are thinking "Oh yeah, just like mom used to make." It is entirely possible that they may be available in cans next to the pumpkin and cranberries. I've never taken the time to look. Actually, I've never seen these canned items in the stores myself. I've just seen them in other people's houses.

The bread will have to be Italian. Unless you buy the tiny sandwich loaves, some of which boldly state on the label good for 30 days! Who wants to buy bread that will still be fresh in 30 days? Even Wonder Bread doesn't throw that kind of boast around. So the bread will be salt-less Tuscan bread or focaccia. Unless they bake it themselves.

Once they have the food they'll have to worry about the guests. Because Thanksgiving isn't a holiday here. Anyone who could make it to their house will have to eat and run so they can get back to work. I imagine that most people, like one of my friends, has pushed the actual meal to Saturday so that her Italian family can come. Others will probably move Thanksgiving "dinner" to dinner time here, which is around 8-8:30pm. It's a scheduling nightmare, especially with children.

There are a few local restaurants that have a Thanksgiving dinner menu planned and a few others that offer take out food or baked goods. I have no idea how well attended those are. The first year I was here I was still in my "OMG I'm in Italy" fog of happiness and felt grateful to find a restaurant with pumpkin soup. Last year I was in Sweden and honestly can't remember what I had to eat.

I promise to report on what I actually have on Thanksgiving. Don't blame me if it's blood pudding. Thank my parents for teaching me good manners and consideration for others. And my husband for having a long memory.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Revolution of a cyclist: On being unfaithful

I feel like I'm being unfaithful. At the very least like I've been fickle with my affections.

Not from today, but typical of the views I was
forced to look at during the whole ride.
Terrible, I know.
Today was a perfectly beautiful November day. The kind that hardly ever happen and when they do invariably there are a hundred other things to do that steal the day away. But I don't have that problem very often, so I went on a ride with Barbara. We rode up to Fiesole. Pretty much the same ride Leif and I took with Lucy the triathlete and her fantastically in shape for the shape he's in husband.

Barbara is another super athlete, but this time I have ALL my gears so the ride was....not easy, but not terribly hard either. It was a perfect day. Bright sunshine and cool breezes under those impossibly blue Tuscan skies surrounded by green mountains slowly changing their colors to yellows and reds followed us along the winding roads outside Florence.

We rode for three hours, stopping at the top to wander through an outdoor market where Barbara learned about properly preparing chestnuts and yet another older man touched my bike without asking and made small talk with us for awhile. Then we got to throw ourselves down the mountain. My favorite part.

I got home and felt energized by the whole morning, looked at the sunshine and tried to decide what I should do with the rest of the day, because it was too beautiful to waste sitting inside. [That's the northerner in me, by the way. We chase the sun during the winter months. It's a habit that's almost impossible to break, but I'm working on it.] I thought I might go draw at a church I haven't visited yet. It's a ways from our house and I thought I could just hop on my mountain bike and ride over.

My companion through thick and thin.
Even though she threw me once and broke my elbow.
The very next thought was "Oh, I wish I could take my road bike. That mountain bike is just so heavy." Then I practically slapped my own hand for even thinking a thing like that. Even though it's like driving a Suburban it's been my companion for almost two years. It gave me my freedom here.

See: fickle and unfaithful. And now I shall go down and make it up to her by checking the tire pressure and maybe wiping off a layer or two of dust. And never, ever let her know I'm secretly yearning to fly like a bird instead of rolling over everything in my path like a tank.

Monday, November 12, 2012

I think God* approves

I've been here in Florence now for two years. I'm sure that there are lots of people who never thought I'd last this long. Probably just as many people know how determined (although some might mistakenly substitute the word stubborn) I can be when I decide to do something.

It's been quite an adjustment for me to live here. More than just language and culture. More than food. My days no longer revolve around work in a desperate way. I don't have a to-do-list that stretches weeks into the future. I've stopped using other people's definition of success to judge my own life. It hasn't always been easy.

I've spent two years learning to live in this moment. It's been hard, because it's the complete opposite of how I was raised. It's taken me a long  time to appreciate living in the moment. But I've learned that it's important because once a moment passes it's gone forever. I don't want to miss anymore present moments that are real because my attention is on a future that is only a possibility.

Some days I still need to remind myself that this way of living is as valid as the way I used to live. True, we don't have a lot of stuff. In fact, hardly any stuff at all. But what we have gives us great pleasure every day. We never go hungry. We have amazing friends who are generous with their time and friendship. We have each other and share a respect and love for each other that will guide us not just through this moment but through the rest of our lives.

Sometimes I still feel the pull of my old life and values. I question my sanity. In those times I remind myself that when God* wrote those ten commandments work was mentioned only to support the importance of keeping the Sabbath for God only. Not how many hours, not any pay scale, nothing about how much was enough. All God wrote about stuff was that you should be happy with what you have and let others enjoy their stuff in peace. It's my personal opinion that God didn't intend for us to spend our entire lives working so hard we don't enjoy the life we've been given.

God doesn't care if I work or play. God doesn't judge my life based on my income, my possessions or the value of my 401K.

God only asks that I treat others with respect and give each person I meet the very best of me so that they can in turn give their best to others.

Any other ideas about how I should be living my life have been given to me by people. Good people....honest people. But people whose experiences and their reaction to them are different from mine. My experiences tell me that the life I'm living is a good one. One that I could and have recommended to dear friends, knowing that it can only make their lives richer.

* I use God because I was raised as a Christian. Replace God with any other word you like....goddess, universe, collective consciousness, or whatever you might acknowledge as that power that holds us all together.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Revolution of a cyclist: All clipped in

Cleats are one of the last big hurdles I have to clear before I can call myself a cyclist. If in fact I want to be called a cyclist. That's a question still to be answered. Regardless, if I want to ride with Leif I'll need to start using cleats or accept his gracious ability to ride slowly without sighing every ten seconds. I still know he's riding differently for me.

Last night Leif and I screwed the cleats into my cycling shoes. This isn't some kind of commitment, really, because I have pedals that are flat on one side and set up for cleats on the other. A pedal that can go either way and I can decide from moment to moment whether I want to be semi-permanently attached to the pedals or just rest on them. Which is perfect for me, because while I might think that it's the right time for me to try cleats my body and mind may think otherwise. I've been warned by more experienced riders that it's definitely one of the most difficult things to learn on a bike but one of the things you really need to learn if you want to ride with more confidence up hill and down. And we definitely have hills. It remains to be seen if it will increase my confidence.

So we put the cleats on the shoes last night and I sat on my bike in the living room (which remember is our bike/wine/map room, we don't even let company see that room) and held onto a bookshelf as I clumsily tried to clip in  and out. It's supposed to be one graceful movement out and a simple push in. I looked like I was stuck to the pedal with bubble gum and couldn't get myself unstuck. It wasn't pretty. Leif had a very concerned look on his face. I'm sure he was thinking that he got me all trained this far and it would all be for naught because I couldn't figure out the cleats.

He kept saying "It'll be different when you're actually riding," but I'm not sure if he was saying that to give me confidence or to comfort himself. I desperately wanted to believe him, because I truly sucked in the living room. Truly.

I was already set up with Barbara to ride today. Note my brilliant planning...I asked her to ride with me before we ever attempted the clips at home. No turning back once you've confirmed a riding date unless it's pouring rain. Which I fervently prayed for. I guess more people were praying for nice weather than for rain and today dawned, if not brightly, at least not damply.

So I headed out to meet Barbara and we rode to Cascina Park where on Saturday mornings the masses go to ride, roller skate, skateboard, walk and run. They also go to socialize, read the paper and walk the dog, often simultaneously. Sounds like the perfect place to learn a skill that requires focus and concentration and has the very real possibility of physical danger to yourself and others, right?

She was great, explaining the finer points of getting in and out of the cleats without (hopefully)harming myself or others and then we did a few trial ins and outs while standing still. I chose the cleat-on-one-foot-only method, so basically I had one foot attached and one foot free. Sounds safe, doesn't it? We rode for a little way then she signaled a stop and this is where I was supposed to simply put my free foot down on the ground and stand still.

I did that perfectly. And all hell broke loose. I don't know how it happened but suddenly I was flat on my back on the road. I fell like a giant redwood. Caboom. And like moths to a flame, every male rider and runner within 100 feet of me turned and started to come to me asking if they could help. I was laying flat on my back underneath my bike laughing so hard I could hardly talk. I sat up and waved everyone away, shaking my head and laughing even harder. Because Barbara was next to me with both hands waving in the air shouting (in Italian) "First time using cleats! First time!! First time using cleats!!!!!!" Anyone who hadn't seen me fall heard her yells and turned to see a crazy blonde woman laying under her bike laughing her fool head off while her friend held off potential offers of help like a traffic cop moving along gawkers at the scene of an accident.

Truly one of the most embarrassing moments of my life and that's saying a lot. I'm quite good at embarrassing myself.

I got up and made sure nothing was broken, bruised or bleeding. I was a little dirty and I sort of scuffed up the tape on the handle bar and the seat was definitely listing to one side, but other than that everything was OK. Somehow I managed to be gracefully clumsy and not actually hurt myself, other than a little scratch where my keys poked into my back when I fell. I must have perfected my falling technique since I broke my elbow. I forced the seat into a more central location and got ready to go again. Because damn if I was going to let the bike win. Besides, I had the dreaded first fall while using cleats behind me. No more worrying what it would be like, because it's done.

That was the highlight of the ride. We spent the next couple of hours riding around the park while I practiced stepping in/out, stopping/starting and being clipped in left foot/right foot/both feet (gasp). And we talked. It was a great morning. Even with the fall, which as I explained was going to happen sometime anyway so why not right away. Get it over with and move on. Now to try them in traffic.....

Friday, November 9, 2012

Revolution of a cyclist: When it invades your dreams you're hooked

I've been enjoying learning to ride. As of today I've ridden my road bike ten times. Which isn't a lot and at the same time is about ten times more than I ever thought I'd be riding one. My body is definitely changing and lately there's been a change in my thinking too. Slightly disturbing to say the least.

Two days ago when we were riding I found myself thinking that my feet were wandering around the pedals a bit much on the downhills and it would be nice to have them firmly attached......then I gasped (silently, or at least behind him so he couldn't hear it) and promised myself I wouldn't tell him about that thought because then he'd get all excited and tell me I'm ready for the clips. Which I'm not.

Last night all my dreams happened on bicycles. Everyone was on a bike. No one walked. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to have everyone on bikes. I decided not to share that with him either.

Today as we rode I kept saying (to myself, no need to let Leif know I was struggling) "What doesn't kill me can only make me stronger." Then I realized that I'm already stronger than most of the women I know or pass on the street. I asked myself "Do I really want to be stronger than all these Italian women? They seem to be doing just fine without riding, why kill myself?" Then I caught a glimpse of the smile on Leif's face as we flashed downhill and felt the same smile on my own face and knew the answer.

So I shared the thought I had two days ago and the dreams from last night and (I'm sure you saw this coming) tonight we'll put the clips on my shoes and tomorrow I'll ride with Barbara. She'll be a good friend and not laugh as I learn to get on and off the pedals. Or she'll be a better friend and laugh with me. Because chances are probably 99% that I'll fall and 100% that I'll laugh about it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

(sort of)Revolution of a cyclist: The secret to moving to Italy

There are hundreds of books and magazine articles written about moving to a foreign country to live. They're filled with often useful, but just as often useless ideas for how to make the transition from your home country to your host county less stressful.

I read a couple of books and numerous articles. I read blogs and talked to people. Not one of them came close to being as useful as what I learned lately. I discovered the secret to building a life in Italy. One not mentioned in any book or article. One that I would never have thought of on my own. It's practically fool-proof. All you have to do is ride a road bike.

It's like some kind of secret society. For two years I have been here, riding my little heart out on my mountain bike, and no one has shown any interest in riding with me or even doing anything with me socially. Suddenly when I get a road bike I get invitations from everyone to come and ride with them. Not complete strangers, but people I know and have done the occasional dinner or aperitivo with in the last couple of years.

So now I'm going to give you my probably 100% guaranteed way to connect with the people you need in Italy.

  • If you don't already, start riding a road bike at least a year before you make the move.
  • One of the first things you should do when you get to Italy is get on your bike and ride to the nearest bike shop and ask the person behind the counter if they know of any bike teams you could ride with or someone to show you around the area.
  • In less than 10 seconds you'll probably have at least two or three offers to ride with various individuals or groups who just happen to be in the store at the time. And the names of several others who don't happen to be there right now.
  • Ride with everyone you can and that, my friend, is how you build a life here.

In any given group of riders you are bound to find lawyers, doctors, architects, hotel and restaurant owners, electricians, plumbers and many other professions that will make your life here simpler.. And you in return can do whatever it is you do for them.

You'd think something this simple and therefore so profound would be in every book and article ever written about moving to Italy. Obviously they were written by non-cyclists. Too bad, they're missing out on one of the best ways to meet people here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Florence shouldn't look like Minnesota

I have a friend who once said to me that every time she used one of those emoticons or a texting shortcut spelling that a little piece of her soul died. Today I was walking in the historical  center and walked by a new Subway restaurant. I had to look again to be sure I was seeing right (sadly I was) and I swear a little piece of my becoming Italian soul died.

I've accepted the McDonald' was here before I was. I was saddened to hear that the Hard Rock Cafe was going to open; I was dismayed to discover a Burger King conveniently open across from the train station and on the same block as McDonald's. Seeing the familiar Subway sign on a street that should only be lined with local restaurants and businesses just broke a little piece of my heart.

I don't know if I'm angry with Florence for allowing these restaurants to open, or if I'm just abysmally disappointed that American companies are exporting businesses who's crowing glory isn't that their food is outstanding; their only redeeming quality is that their food is predictable and bland. It isn't enough that they've spread their homogenized version of American cuisine to the four corners of North America, oh no.

Now you can take a vacation and never leave home, so to speak. You can have your Big Mac in any big city in nearly every country on the planet. The same probably goes for the Whopper. I'm sure Starbucks has their own plan to replace the beautiful culture and flavor of coffee here by sticking a store smack between the McDonald's and Burger King and conveniently located at the transportation center of the city so that every traveler finds something familiar as soon as they arrive and never has to venture out and try something new.

I will now step off my soap box and make myself the most intensely Italian meal I can think of. It won't make the fast food industry close those stores, but it might make me feel better. At least till I see the next American export and marvel at the absurdity of it all.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Revolution of a cyclist: Riding with the guys

First, don't worry. I won't be writing about each and every ride I take. It's just that for now it's all very new and I'm constantly surprised by my ability to survive my own ineptitude on the bike. Really, the last line of each post should always read....and she lives to ride another day. If she really, really wants to.

After the climb up to Fiesole Leif decided that I needed a new cassette if I was going to continue to enjoy riding so he got that put on and as soon as he did that the heavens opened up and it rained. For three days.

Friday the sun was (mostly) shining and we had an appointment to ride with one of Leif's team mates. So I got myself dressed and we headed out of town for a not too hilly ride south of Florence. Of course, knowing that 1) I'd be riding with an experienced cyclist and 2) he was a man (before all you feminists get angry with me, at this point men are just stronger riders than I am. Hopefully that will change.)and 3) he's from Colorado where mountains and hills are what he rides all the time made me totally nervous about riding that day. Add to that the fact that, for unknown reasons my seat was just a little too low, and it's no wonder I worried and worked too hard.

It was still fun, but I hated that I felt like apologizing all the time, when in fact I'm doing pretty darn good for someone who only started riding a couple of weeks ago. Except for one awkward moment when I realized that I was barely moving because I was on the wrong front ring for climbing I managed pretty well. I still don't go all bonzai on the downhills because I'm not clipped in and it's hard to keep a grip on the handlebars and my toes curled around the pedals and my butt glued to the seat so the bike stays under me. It will be both awe-inspiring and frightening when I manage the clips and can throw myself down the mountains without worrying about losing the bike. It really will be like flying.

The most exciting part? Aside from the downhill, that's a given. This is where my mom should stop reading. Well, not stop, but just skip to the next paragraph. Please. We managed to come home in the rain during Friday lunch rush hour through one of the most chaotic roundabouts in town. We wove through traffic in a way that was very non-Minnesotan. Three little bikes in the middle of 4 lanes of traffic slowly winding our way around every obstacle to reach our goal....the bike lane on the other side of the river. Why a hill can scare the crap out of me but sitting unprotected in the middle of hundreds of moving vehicles doesn't faze me is a question that may never be answered. But living where I do being able to ride in traffic is an asset, not a death wish.

And that's it. Ride #6 done and I didn't completely embarrass myself or Leif. Mission accomplished. And she lives to ride another day. If she really, really wants to. Which apparently she does, because as soon as I got home I sent a message to a girlfriend and asked if she wanted to ride the next day.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The second most important piece of paper to have in Italy

I thought there was only one piece of paper absolutely necessary for living here in Italy....the coveted Permesso di Soggiorno but yesterday I found out that I was wrong. Or at least, not totally right.

The Permesso simply gives me the right to stay in the country with Leif. The Tessera Sanitaria is a medical card that all Italians have that opens the doors to quicker care, discounts at the pharmacy and other exciting advantages too numerous to mention. According to Leif, it's as important (if not more important) as the Permesso because this is like an identity card that everyone recognizes. It basically confirms that you're here legally, with all the rights and responsibilities that implies.

We thought that we'd applied for it back in August but nothing has come in the mail so we headed over to the office to find out why.

I've described the whole get-a-number-and-wait process often, because everywhere you go you take a number and wait. It was the same yesterday, except that it was the day before a holiday and everyone decided to go to this office at the same time. There was one young woman at the counter trying to find out something but she only spoke English and the woman behind the counter only spoke Italian and the next woman in line started commiserating with my on the absurdity of English speakers even attempting to get the services this office offered. I nodded wisely because I was pretty sure if I opened my mouth she'd roll her eyes and I would be instantly put into the same category as the young woman. All three of us moved towards the second counter, which normally you are only allowed to approach after you've checked with the first counter, but as you heard that counter was tied up with a non-Italian speaker and looked to stay that way for some time.

[for those Minnesotans out there wondering why I didn't come to the young woman's rescue I have a very good reason. Italian government offices have a very long and very good memory. Make them angry and anything you try to get done for like the next ten years can end up at the bottom of the stack or lost forever or flatly refused. I was blatantly selfish. I admit it.]

Considering the number of people in the waiting room we didn't have to wait long for our number to flash on the screen. We went to desk number fifteen and smiled at the man behind desk. Who actually smiled back. Leif explained that we had applied for the card in August but haven't gotten anything in the mail. He asked for a few papers, looked stuff up on his computer and said that nothing had happened because when applying for the first time we have to go to a different office, which the guy we saw in August neglected to tell us. He told us what kind of office to go to, but he wasn't sure where the one in our residence area was.

We went home and Googled it, which gave us a location neither of us felt was right, but it wasn't far away and it was a good place to start. Leif said "Let's go!!!" He pretty much hates to wait once he starts on a project. So we went to the address Google showed us, which was totally wrong. But again, having started on this project he wasn't ready to quit just yet. We went to a pharmacy nearby thinking that they would know where this place was. (repeat number process....I told you they do this everywhere) After a short wait Leif got directions to the office we needed. He said he knew where it was so we started walking again.

Turns out this is an office in a hospice. I would never have found it on my own. Once again we took a number, although this machine didn't have any options we really understood so we just picked the first one and hoped. Things really moved along at this office. With only six desks they took care of business quickly and efficiently. Our number popped up and we dashed over to the door shown on the screen and walked in.

The woman behind the desk asked what we needed and when Leif told her I swear she turned whiter than the papers on her desk. My opinion is that she's pretty new. She's sharing an office with another woman and the whole time she helped us her hands were shaking. It's possible that she was cold....she was wearing her full length down coat at her desk.....but she asked her colleague so many questions that I think she just never had to deal with a "foreigner" before and the whole thing scared her.

She looked over my application (the first I've ever been able to complete without making numerous mistakes) and the copy of my Permesso, using them to fill in all the little blanks on her computer and without asking for another scrap of paper or giving us another office to visit printed out my brand-spanking new Documento per l'Assistenza Sanitaria and a paper copy of my Tessera Sanitaria to use until my real card came in the mail.

She heaved a giant sigh of relief as we all said "Arrivederci" and we walked out of her office. I imagine she immediately went out for a smoke break to celebrate our departure. As we left Leif said "That went surprisingly well,"and I couldn't agree more. When we consider the number of times we've been told we just need one more piece of paper from some obscure office we feel incredibly lucky to have done this all in one visit. That is if you don't count the first visit in August when we should have been sent here instead of told to wait for a card in the mail that was never going to come. But I'm not gonna hold a grudge.

Slowly I'm building the foundation of living here, creating my Italian identity one piece of paper at a time. I have no idea what comes next, or what kind of hoops I'll have to jump through. What I do know is that whatever it is, I can do it.