Upside down summer

Summer in France was long and wet and cold. I hardly blogged at all. There was work and there were “issues” to deal with and there was that infernal, driving, relentless rain. Closed up in our house, I felt closed up in my head. A reverse hibernation. Upside down and backwards. Sometimes the world feels like it’s getting that way. And yet, it does have it’s advantages:

1. Everyone—man and beast—shares a question: Rain again?

RAIN 1

 

2. The plants grow like crazy, and look that much more beautiful under a moody sky.

RAIN 2

 
3. There’s time to read and read and read. This book is beautiful if you dream of being one with nature but aren’t (like me).

RAIN 3

 

4. The hats look cozy hanging on the wall. And with no sun, that’s where they stay.

RAIN 4
 

5. The daily bread gets soggy instead of hard. Wait, that’s not an advantage.

RAIN 5
 

6. All creatures great and small take cover. Sometimes under the same roof.

RAIN 6
 

7. Snails! Snails! And more Snails! (They’re so cool.)

RAIN 7
 

8. Winter food regains its appeal: Onion Soup, anyone?

RAIN 8

Posted in AROUND US, FRANCE | 14 Comments

A river runs through me

Once upon a time, August 2010 to be fairly precise, I started a blog. I named it “The Daily {French-Italian} Cure.” The French-Italian part was stuck in there because I didn’t want this to be a generic archive of  things I like. I specifically wanted to collect those things about France and Italy that have, in a very substantial way, “cured” me of some restless desire I had as a young woman to have “more.” And by “more,” I don’t mean more in a material sense. I mean more life, more experience, more depth, more…more of that undefinable stuff that makes you feel connected to your own passage, the Earth, all of it.

CURE 2

I often felt in the U.S. that I was part of a swiftly moving river of useless change. Change for the sake of change. New-is-better-than-old kind of change. I think, I hope, that the trend itself (which I experienced acutely in Atlanta, Georgia in the mid 80’s) is changing. Maybe it was the media (maybe it was Fox News!) but I felt like American culture was conditioning me to live in a state of anxiety, expecting the worse. Simultaneously, I felt, for lack of better words, “That there had to be more.”

CURE 3

It’s easy—far too easy—to blame things on cultures and countries, without realizing that what ails you is inside yourself, perhaps buried in your own past, genetic makeup or lack of maturity. As the cliché accurately reports, “Wherever you go, there you are.” So it’s impossible to say whether Europe made me literally feel better, or if I, when I came here, changed in fundamental ways, thereby making myself feel better.  Ah, the things we will never know.

CURE 4

But it’s nice to think that I found a home here. And that it did, in some way, speak to my soul in a language my soul could better understand. For whatever reason, I feel part of some great flowing energy. More than ever before.

When I started this blog, I remember being in a heightened state of gratitude about all that surrounded me here in Burgundy. It is, for me, one of the most beautiful corners of the earth. It makes my heart ache.

CURE 1

A river runs right by our little town. It is called, appropriately enough, La Cure. The Cure. It rises in the Morvan and merges into the Yonne. I have no idea what the origin of its name is—if, in fact, it was considered a cure of some sort—but our pilgrimages here, every year, are definitely therapeutic. We cross the river and enter into another state of mind. We watch the little river flow by, and let ourselves flow away with it. Rivers don’t wait for you to find your meditative state; they take you to it without hesitation.

Hence “The Daily Cure.” Not a grand promise that I can cure you of anything at all. But an attempt to feel the river’s flow even when it’s not running at our feet. I don’t always succeed, and recently I’ve not even been able to carve out the time to write, but I wanted you to know the reason behind the name. The reason this experiment exists.  I can’t take the beautiful Cure back to Milan with me, but I try. The river keeps flowing…

CURE 5

 

Posted in AROUND US, FRANCE | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments

Cherries and cold cherry soup

Forty-eight hours in France and there was something I was craving pretty badly. Cherries from this region—l’Yonne. We’ve got wonderful cherries in Italy (Vignola, Ferrovia, Durone etc.), but nothing—I’m not sure why—quite compares to these almost black beauties that are sold by the road and go out of season before you’ve had your fill. IMG_8350

As the Italians say, “Una tira l’altra.” One pulls the other. Dark, glossy, densely juicy, sweet, tart. You think you’ll eat two, and before you know it you’re well on your way to a stomach ache. It takes true discipline to stop. That said, they’re best when fresh from the picker and don’t improve with time in the refrigerator drawer. So we get small quantities to eat immediately. Then repeat.

IMG_8353

When our eyes are bigger than our appetites, which is too often the case, and we end up with cherries in più, we like to make cold soup out of them. Once upon a time there was a recipe, but it went from stained to dog-eared to lost. So now we just play it by the senses. I’ll share the basics with you, because I’m sure you can’t go wrong. And if you do, there are a thousand websites to set you straight. But, really, you won’t go wrong. With ingredients like these, it’d be a challenge to produce something less than delicious.

IMG_8351

You take your cherries (about a kilo, or just under 2¼ pounds, but I don’t even bother to weigh them), and you pit them. Nasty job, but someone’s got to do it! Next, I put the cherries in a pot with a bit of sugar and a small amount of water. Not too much, because the soup can tend towards “too sweet” depending on which wine you choose to add next. Cook and stir your cherries until the sugar is dissolved, then add a bottle (if that makes you squeamish, use a bit less) of lovely white wine. Dry, not sweet. Or red. Or, as we often do here, a combination of white wine and Ratafia. (Ratafia is a red, sweetish wine leaning toward a Port flavor, so we use less sugar when cooking with it.) Bring just to the boil, then simmer until the alcohol has cooked off and your liquid has reached a consistency you like. You can add cinnamon sticks, cardamom or clove during this phase according to your tastes. Remove from heat. Let cool, then refrigerate. Eat as is, or with a dollop of ice cream or crème fraiche.

IMG_8352

NOTE: Some recipes call for thickeners—a bit of cornstarch or flour—but I’m not big on those additions and have had great success ignoring them. The soup gets adequately thick and syrupy on its own. Another thing I like to do, especially if I’ve got too many summer stone fruits lying around, is add chopped apricots, peaches or nectarines right before I put the cooled soup in the refrigerator. Delish.

Posted in FRANCE, IN SEASON | 13 Comments

Small

Walking about town the other day, I allowed myself to veer in the direction of Society, a bedding store that I’ve only ever let myself admire from outside. I usually salivate a bit at the beautiful linens just out of my wallet’s reach, and opt instead for a more reasonably priced espresso. But this time, it was not so simple to walk away. The window display was outdoing itself. There was just too much luscious stuff to take in: texture, color, softness, roughness…dyed, natural, deep, light…carmine, slate, ecru, cerulean…

BED COLLAGE

And
it
was
all—MAGNIFYING

In fact, the window was full of 30 or so miniature iron beds (custom made), each accompanied with a magnifying glass, so that you could observe not only the finer points of the “bed linens” arranged upon them but the mission statement behind the effort. Embroidered on tiny tags, tucked into the edges of the bedspreads, were the words, “Details never sleep.” (The following two images are from the store’s site.)

60

59

Half the store space was dedicated to this unusual showroom, which had been created for the Salone del Mobile back in April. The back half of the store had absolutely nothing on display. Just shelves full of the actual-sized blankets and linens waiting to be purchased.

BEDS DISPLAY 1

The “vision” belongs to stylist Beatrice Rossetti. If I ever have a chance to work with her, I will. I think she’s a genius. Maybe it’s because I agree with her obsessive nature when it comes to one’s profession, art or craft. Or maybe it’s because I can’t resist all that reality translated into a scale too small to accomodate a Barbie doll.

BEDS 2 BED 3

The amazing thing was how effective the display was at actually selling the merchandise. I’ve walked by the store many times and, as I said above, moved on. But this time, I couldn’t. The tininess of the merchandise forced you into an interactive and deeply imaginary role with it. You were sucked into a minuscule world of comfort, of ideal homey-ness. And there, the imagination went wild. I fell for it and bought a bed spread. There you have it: desire created out of scraps of fabric too small to line a pocket. Gazing at Lilliputian luxury from my Gulliver-world of cars and cobblestones, I couldn’t resist. As Tiny Fey said on “30 Rock,” “I want to go to there.” And so I did.

BED 4

Posted in AROUND US, ITALY | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Two-ness, Part 2

With my big toes dipping into middle age (okay, okay…I’m up to my ankles) and a house full of domestic rubble that attests to how my life is happily and fortunately shared, I’m not one to complain about that all-so-precious-when-I-can-grab-it “alone” time. That said, when I’m experiencing solo bliss, my first thought is often how badly I want to share the sensation. I think we all have that experience: sharing is a reaffirmation of how happy we feel and a way of giving thanks for the chance to feel it.

Spring in Milan, this year, was something to be shared. The person closest to me, with whom I share most everything, has been keeping a head-spinning travel schedule since December, and few were our chances to just look around us, hands held, and breathe that dual sigh of contentment. Stereo Joy. When he and I had decided that I would move to Italy, he’d said, “I want you to come in the spring.” And so I did. This is—first—for him. And, secondly, for you.

Around the time I started thinking of this tiny little piece, I began listening to Raphael Gualazzi’s album, Happy Mistake, particularly, “L’amie d’un italien,” (also entitled “Rainbows”), featuring French singer Camille. And since I myself am “the girlfriend of an Italian,” I couldn’t resist it. Perfectly captures that tripping along way we live through springtime and through romance. Carefree. Lightly. And in love with life itself.

NOTE:  Happy Mistake  is imported to the U.S. and can be purchased on Amazon.com. A digested Italian version (4 songs only), entitled Rainbows is available at Amazon.it. I hate to shameless flog stuff to buy, but this is so, so worth it.

Posted in AROUND US, ITALY | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Two-ness, Part 1

It is spring.
It is impossible not to think of love.
Everywhere. Everywhere. Everywhere you look.              
Hiding. In the open. There.

IMG_7816
IMG_7818

Peanut butter sandwiches without crusts were the foundation of my first “love.” He was 3. I was 4. We were neighbors. There was no declaration of affection, no kissing, no nothing. But we were a pair, nonetheless. Two is a such a lovely number.

IMG_7847

I’ve always been attracted to symmetry, to balance. To the spaces that emerge between things and people. “Negative” in the graphic sense, but anything but in reality. You know what I mean. The glue. The nameless, invisible matter that comes spontaneously into being between ourselves and the people we love. When we’re at conflict this matter wriggles and writhes, pulls and punches. When we’re at peace, it goes all clear and reflective like a deep, deep wordless pool.

IMG_7843

How beautiful it is, in life, that we are drawn to seek each other out. To pair off. To hold hands. To share the seasons of each year and of our lives. And it is indeed the season of Two-ness. The mating, the pollinating, the searching, the finding: the race is on. The air is full of love. And if not of love, lust. And if not of lust, the plain, primitive desire to stand by someone’s side. To hold hands. To stand squarely in two-ness instead of one-ness.

I was photographing the tree, and look what I saw when I checked the picture. Down there, in the corner, lower right. Quite by accident—

IMG_7819

And from the back they look like two birds, huddled together. One form. And then, there, are their bicycles, parked easily under the tree which spreads overhead like a protective yenta. “There, there. Forget school. Be here, together. I won’t tell anyone. Your secret is safe with me, carved into my skin. I’ll keep it forever.”

IMG_7822 IMG_7821

IMG_7823

The park is full of loves and alliances—romances that bloom innocently or heatedly under the trees. Or, here, under the protective auspices of the “Sirenette,” the mermaids, that have been guarding this, their bridge, since 1846. They never glance down to spy on the lovers but gaze resolutely, respectfully into the distance. They too are excellent at keeping secrets.

IMG_7826

IMG_7825

IMG_7824
IMG_7834

And what happens beneath their tales? Couples leave notes, locks, dates, hearts. Signs of eternal love which will likely never last. Undying undying undying. Until, of course, it dies. Out there, in the real world. But here? Here on the bridge, it lives on and on.

IMG_7828

IMG_7827

IMG_7835

IMG_7838

TVB. Ti voglio bene. I want the best for you.
Amo. I love.
Per sempre. Por siempre. Forever, and forever again.
Je t’aime.

IMG_7829

IMG_7836

IMG_7842

IMG_7830

IMG_7840

All this love breaks my heart in the best possible way. I love it. I feel it bending and breaking and bonding all around me. One great universal force pulling us forward—Natural Selection’s greatest of all trump cards.

Va bene. Such were my thoughts this morning as I finished my walk. And then, just as I was about to exit the park, there behind the bushes…another couple enjoying their two-ness, quietly beside the basketball court. Alone. Together. ‘Til death do them part.

IMG_7848
IMG_7845

Posted in AROUND US, ITALY | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Color story #14: Spring, Spring the Flower Thing

This being a fashion town, yesterday’s Corriere della Sera had a lovely article about the Spring colors this year, and the “it” color for 2014. Turns out that this Spring, as for many, the in colors are principally based on flowers. I’ve scattered them throughout the post. But the winning flower (and its related color) are the orchid. “Radiant Orchid,” to be exact, according to Pantone—a rather astonishing cross between fuchsia and violet that I see often in France, but less here (below, right).

COLLAGE 5

The article was accompanied by a beautiful graph showing how the season’s colors crawl around a chart of cool and warm colors, mostly related to plants and flowers. I couldn’t reproduce it well enough, here, but I found that images I’d been collecting to share with you (both fashion and flowers) were sort of doing the trick anyway. So I’ve used them instead.

COLLAGE 1SWATCH 1

The overall effect is  a “feeling” that I’m happy to say is infiltrating my own cloudy mood after a very long, very gray, very wet winter (sorry to repeat the theme of the last post, but it’s impossible not too).

COLLAGE 2SWATCH 2

Pinks are popping, for sure, but there’s also a lovely current of deep, sort of “off” colors, more pronounced than what Spring is sometimes about. If only these had been around when I was picking out Easter outfits as a kid…I remember one Easter wearing a pale dress (light blue, I think) with smocking and a sash, and an easter hat (yes, a straw brimmed hat)…Playing tag with my brother before church, I fell and skinned my knee. Think Pantone True Red 19-1664 TCX (at bottom of post).

FLOWERHEAD

And in the center of it all, a “Flowerhead” (above) by Olaf Hajek, featured on the cover of the section of the paper that addressed this issue. I love this illustration, and I have learned that there are many others where this came from. Oh to see the world in flowers!

COLLAGE 3SWATCH 3

COLLAGE 4SWATCH 4

Posted in AROUND US, COLOR, ITALY | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Color story #13: The blue of blue

(Yes, Linda! Spring, blessedly, is coming!)
The other day, my daughter asked me what my favorite color was, and I irritated her the way I sometimes do by answering this question with one of my own: “To look at, or to wear?” Because it does make a difference, or it should in theory…even though after the bothersome question had slipped my lips, I realized that in that precise moment it made no difference at all. The color was one and the same. “Blue.”

IMG_7471IMG_7497

Often my answer is some shade of green. Sometimes it’s a specific shade of gray—”mouse.” Yesterday it was joyfully and unequivocally, blue. After the winter we and so many others have had, I could have added “And by the way: any blue will do. Even the smallest, weeniest littlest, palest-faced patch.” But I didn’t need to qualify it, because as we were playing this little game, the sky outside was shouting a very decisive answer of its own.

IMG_7479IMG_7472

Electric blue! Clean blue! That precise blue that gave birth to the very concept of the color! That oscillates spectacularly—at lightening speed—between being a frigidly cold color and a flaming hot one. The blue of a cold wet winter giving way to what will, if we hold our breath, become another summer that children’s dreams are made of. Nordic and tropical all at the same time. Polar and equatorial. Shallow, deep. Frivolous, dead serious. Cruel, profoundly benevolent. That blue that seduces people out of their homes, underdressed, just to catch a ray of light even though the temperatures are anything but worthy. The blue of all blues. There’s no way I could have answered her question otherwise.

IMG_7482 IMG_7477IMG_7490

Posted in AROUND US, COLOR, FRANCE | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Italy still cracks me up

I’ve been here—OK, we figured it out a couple posts ago—seventeen years. And in all that time, there are still things about this country that make me laugh out loud. Particularly when I compare them to their American equivalent. No, it’s not at all that I find the American equivalent superior. It’s simply the sheer difference that’s entertaining in and of itself.

FARMACIA 3

Take pharmacies (one of my favorite things to take into consideration here in Italy as they can be almost museum-quality beautiful compared to their American counterparts.) It seems to me, that in the U.S. along with many other business, pharmacies are there when you need them, 24/7. All bright lights and row-upon-row of “whatever you need” whenever you need it.

Here, things are still clinging, to the best of their ability, to the old way. Though not always the case, pharmacies generally observe the half-day chiusura settimanale and are often opened on Saturday in the mornings only, closing at 12:30. Sunday? Forget it. Except—there are always exceptions (and this one is very useful if you are traveling here)—for the

FARMACIE DI TURNO

or, the pharmacies which have been designated to remain open over any given weekend so that people in need can actually get what they need. 

I’ve wandered off task. I wanted to talk about something which makes me laugh, and pharmacies being there when I need them doesn’t make me laugh at all. In fact, as you all know, it’s quite a relief on occasion. No. What I wanted to show you, was our neighborhood pharmacy when it’s its turn to be di turno. You’d think perhaps the door would be thrown open in a welcoming fashion with a sign inviting you in even on a Sunday, but no. It’s not like that at all. It’s like this:

IMG_2372 IMG_2371

You see that little hand-made hole in the night grill? That’s where you go, after you ring the bell, as instructed by the handmade sign pointing to the right. The pharmacist appears at the hole (he has to bend down as he’s rather tall), asks you what you want, and several seconds later comes back with your parcel. You pay (through the hole), and that’s the end of that. No muss, no fuss, no risk of the pharmacy being robbed, no having to actually—God forbid—cross the threshold and go inside. Nope. If you want that luxury you’ll have to wait for Monday.

I think that’s funny.

[If you enjoyed this rather silly post, you might also enjoy "Postcard #2: Farmacia Milanese."]

Posted in AROUND US, ITALY | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

A late Valentine, Italian-style

Heart-day was an infinite five days ago, but still it’s on my mind. Rummaging through my file today, I discovered some pictures I’d been saving to post on the occasion, but had somehow neglected to follow-through on. Must have been too busy eating all those chocolates I received and breathing in deeply the heady perfume of long-stemmed roses. As if… Oh well. My Italian stallion is forgiven. He was far, far away working hard for a living. There’s always next year.

BRAZZI 1Perhaps you know him, perhaps you don’t, but this year’s Valentine’s post features Italian heart-throb of days gone by, Rossano Brazzi. I’ve seen him in one and only film, Summertime (1955), with Katherine Hepburn, and was inspired enough to do a bit of digging. These are the findings that amused me the most.

BRAZZI 2BRAZZI 3brazzi 4BRAZZI 5

[If you enjoyed this post, you might also like: Abbracci e baci]

Posted in ITALY, SO NOTED | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments