One Post, A New Friend and A Look Back on Jewish Italy

"Little Jerusalem", the Jewish Ghett...

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Two years ago today I was in Pitigliano Italy, site of one of the oldest Jewish towns in Italy – though of course not anymore.  I blogged every day of our month-long stay in Italy and Pitigliano was particularly hard to write about.  I thought about this post recently because when I wrote it I was still not very involved in twitter, my Facebook friends were all old high school friends or new real life friends, and believe it or not I had no idea if or why people read my blog.  I wrote, I published and I didn’t care about what happened after that.

But, when I came back from Italy where I had been posting every single day – and still not looking at my stats! – I was shocked to see that my blog readership had exploded.  I thought I was writing about our trip purely for my family and good friends, but it had been passed around and shared and so on.  It was my first real lesson in how far my writing could go on the web if I kept consistently putting it out there.  That’s when I discovered twitter too.  It was Amy Oztan, selfishmom.com, who shoved me in to the twittersphere, but it was meeting Jennifer Perillo that made me stay.

Jennifer’s blog, In Jennie’s Kitchen is some of the best food and good old-fashioned writing you will find anywhere.  An Italian girl from Brooklyn married to a nice Jewish boy (ok – man), Jennifer was looking for and writing about Italian Jewish food.  I told her about the cookbook I wrote about in my Pitigliano post, which was the very one she was reading at the time  – and then that spurred a full-out conversation about the Jews of Italy, my visit to Pitigliano and so much more.  Jennifer linked to this post from her recipe on egg-free gnocchi.  And so a friendship was born – of twitter, but thankfully into real life.

So, in a Travel Tuesday reprise – here’s my post about Pitigliano and the testimony to how our food culture endures and social media can keep the conversation going.

Pitigliano – It’s So Not (Jewish) Ghetto

Suffering From Post Vacation Stress Disorder

View in Italy

For an entire month my family and I lived, traveled and ate our way through Italy.  We picked herbs from our garden, painted watercolors during the hot afternoons, swam in the pristine lake, ate endless amounts of fresh pasta and gelato, and drove all over the country in a quest to open up our daughters’ eyes and minds as well as their taste buds.  You’d think after an entire month away we would be ready to come home, but you’d be wrong.

However, they call it vacation for a reason right?  It’s a break, a time away, and in the end real life beckons – and there is no more real life than life in New York City.  With barely enough time to recover from jetlag both my daughters went off to day camp, worried about which swim group they’d be in and anxious about coming to camp mid-session.  My husband went off to a new job, literally went off on the train to Washington DC to have his own orientation and new “real life.”  And me?  Well, after writing everyday for a month straight I took a week’s hiatus to get my home back in order.  Plus, after writing in hotel rooms, basil scented gardens and in the sunroom of an Italian villa, I was not ready to go back to windowless back room at Cosi.

At first the alone time was actually nice.  After being together as a family for 33 straight days and nights we all needed a break.  But then the other stuff seeped in.  We had sublet our apartment while we were gone and now I had to put everything back together again, and find all of the things we swore we’d stowed away in places where we’d never forget.  Where were the checkbooks?  The metrocards?  The girls’ diaries?  All of those camp clothes I’d put away so they’d be easy to get to upon our return?  We put Old Mother Hubbard to shame with our bare cupboards and still, after going to the grocery store 3 times in one week I will reach for something – ketchup maybe? – and discover it’s not there because I forgot to put that on the list.  Then came the emails about the new school year, the pending political decisions being made, gossip and a months worth of catalogs and snail mail piled up on the table too!   (What I need on the shopping list is some wine!)

In the end of course it’s worth it.  Nothing can compare to going away – far away – for a length of time.  We were beyond lucky to have had the opportunity and I don’t know when we’ll have it again.  But for once it would be nice if the vacation could spill over into our life at home.  Maybe I’ll buy a pot of basil for our windowsill so at least I can close my eyes and inhale and pretend that outside my window is a field of sunflowers, instead of a pigeon family and the glow of my neighbor’s big screen TV.

This post has been nationally syndicated by McClatchy/Tribune.  Look for it on the web!

When Having Twins Finally Pays Dividends

isa (l) soph (r)Both of my daughters did not show up on my first sonogram.  For 8 weeks I thought I was having a normal singleton pregnancy with all of the usual excitement and anticipation a first pregnancy brings.  My husband missed that first sonogram so to be nice my doctor did another one at my next appointment.  As we all stared at the throbbing lima bean on the screen the doctor pointed out the “head” and heart, and then she stopped.  “Well, what’s that?” my husband asked pointing at another blob.  “Um,” she said, “that’s another heart and another head.  You’re having twins!”  And as the blood drained from my face and my stomach fell to my toes my husband pumped his fist in the air and yelled, “Yeah, twins!”  (He later said he did this to reassure me because he had never seen me look so frightened.  I think it was a momentary celebration of feeling like he had super sperm)

Luckily I had another 5 or so months to get used the idea of having twins.   Continue reading

Days 29 and 30 – Packing Up is Hard to Do

Our last days in Italy were a combination of sight seeing and relaxation.  We decided to fit in one last day trip, this time close by in Tarquinia.  There is a wonderful small museum dedicated to the Etruscan civilization and then a necropolis with tombs to explore outside of the historical town.  We drove to Tarquinia with heavy hearts knowing it was our last real day of discovery.

The museum was right inside the city wall’s entrance and we thought we would do that first, before lunch, and then head over to the tombs.  Surrounding a courtyard, the small stone museum is full of ancient sarcophagus, often of entire families, and pottery and weapons from the Etruscan Era.  This was a great museum with the girls, full of interesting items they could relate to like the dolls and pottery, and also impressive and tactile with the carved sarcophagi all around.  Plus, we did the whole museum in about 35 minutes.  We went to a fabulous lunch right across the street and then headed out of the town to the necropolis. Continue reading

Day 28 – Tuscania Where Else Can We Eat?

purgatorio1With only a couple of days left we realized that there are still some restaurants that the owner’s of our villa recommended.  I don’t know if I mentioned the amazing book that they left us filled with notes on towns worth visiting, cards from the best restaurants all over, maps of cities and parking tips and directions all over Umbria, Tuscany and Lazio.  This book has been our bible while we’ve been here.  It’s given us ideas, helped us plan itineraries and always shown us the best places to eat!  (They also left an incredible array of tour books, history books and cooking magazines.  Everything we could need to research and prepare for our various journeys this past month)

So, with bible in hand we decided to pick out a restaurant on the other side of Lake Bolsena that we hadn’t yet explored.  We chose a restaurant called Purgatorio and plugged in the non-address into the GPS as best we could since there was no real street or number being right on the lake – somewhere.   The drive around the western edge of Lake Bolsena was very different than the Eastern side.  We worked our way through lush vegetation, tall grasses and tilled fields as well as vineyards and waving olive trees.   We finally arrived at the restaurant perched off a dirt road not 20 feet from the water’s edge.  If this was purgatory than all those sinners out there should be relieved. Continue reading

Days 26 and 27 – Tuscania Do We Really Have to Go Home?

sunflowersThe last couple of days have been a paradigm of summer laziness.  We’ve done nothing but hang out at the pool, eat, drink, read and for the girls, paint in the garden.  This is it, our final week in Italy and so we seem to living it as low key as possible.  Plus, the girls have basically boycotted getting into the car.  They are so over any sort of excursions and sightseeing, though we may have to rouse them a couple more times just to feel like we’ve covered every inch of this slice of Italy.

None of us really want to leave.  The girls have gone through bouts of homesickness, but both of them have said they would rather stay here.  Even the lure of camp isn’t enough to pull them out of their Italian daze.  And why should it?  Camp right now is the great unknown; they don’t know their bus color, their fellow campers or if they will pass the all important deep water test.  I can see the anxiety starting to build.  Hopefully they will be so jetlagged when we get back to New York that sleep won’t be a huge issue the night before the first day of camp.  (wishful thinking I’m sure.) Continue reading

Day 25 Au Revoir Paris! Finally Isabel gets to the Park

mona lisa catOur last day in Paris was just as chock full as the first three.  We had to check out our apartment early because the next family was arriving by 10.  Actually, they arrived while we were still there, and poor them we made them wait outside until we were ready and the owner had arrived.   We decided to check our two small suitcases at Gare Montparnasse the main train station nearby and the site of the Air France airport bus that seemed like the best solution for us to get back to the airport.

We took a different street than usual and found the block we had been searching for all along – there was the small artisinal cheese shop, the fruit stand, the wine store that seemed to be desperately lacking on our walks.  We bought four different kinds of cheese for later on.  Finally the cool weather was beneficial!  We also discovered an eyeglass store and since the girls’ are in need of a new pair of glasses since they don’t have spare pairs this seemed like the perfect chance to get both a souvenir and something practical.  They picked out adorable frames and with the VAT refund we managed to come out ahead of buying them at home.  Though the dollar is so bad this is barely the case. Continue reading