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!

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

Day 24 – Paris By Train, Bus and Boat

eiffel towerThanks to a couple of great ipod applications we were able to add the public bus to our modes of transportation.  The bus is my preferred mode of transport at home since I love being above ground and feeling like it’s a safe cheap way to get anywhere in the city at any time.  Of course it’s not great if you are in a time crunch, or if you’re dealing with midtown traffic during the holiday season, but for the most part I never tire of watching the city go by while I’m on my way.  The ipod app showed us the best route to get from our apartment to Trocadero via one bus line.

We found the right station with the help of a nice elderly Frenchman.  The buses and the Metro in Paris do things much more efficiently and just plain better than we do in NYC.  First of all at both the Metro and bus stations the arrival time is given for the next train or bus.  This alleviates all stress, people hanging over the edge of the platform in anticipation, and makes you able to make a different choice if there is a delay.  Secondly, they have designated bus lanes separated by a median so that the buses never get stuck in traffic and cruise along with total punctuality.  It’s such a pleasure.

Our ride to Trocadero was a total tourist treat.   (For anyone visiting New York City I would recommend the M5 bus for a similarly great ride)  We went through the 7th Arrondissement, past the Eiffel Tower, over the Seine to Trocadero.  Continue reading

Day 23 – Paris (Bread, Chocolate and The Ferris Wheel)

samothraceOur first full day in Paris was an experiment in family travel – specifically how to squeeze in what the adults want to do yet placate the kids.  We hit a pretty good balance.  We started out on the Metro with our 3-day passes and headed for the Louvre.  Unfortunately the weather was unseasonably cool and threatening rain but better too cool than too hot I think.  Besides, a legitimate reason to shop in Paris is always a good thing.

We walked down the Rue de Rivoli and entered the Louvre through the courtyard towards the pyramid.  The girls immediately spotted the Ferris wheel in the Tuileries and that became the perfect bribe to get them to stay in the Louvre long enough to feel like we’d taken in some substantial art viewing.  We descended through the pyramid into the Louvre with barely any line and got our serious cool multimedia audio/video tours.  Continue reading

Day 22 Bonjour Paris! (The ultimate side trip)

eiffel in the distance

When we initially started planning our trip we thought we would go to London, Paris and then Italy for a week.  As things shaped up and we were offered the villa in Tuscania we reworked our plan to just fly in and out of Rome and do driving trips around Italy.  But, we couldn’t shake the feeling that we really, really wanted to take the girls to Paris for a few days.  My husband lived in Paris for six months in college; we’ve been to Paris at least 5 times together and more separately.  It doesn’t matter, the appeal of Paris is boundless and to be so close and not make the trip seemed insane.

So, once we arrived in Italy we began to plan for a few days in Paris and lucked out with a great fare on Air France and a cute apartment via vrbo.com in the 6th arrondissment.  On the 22nd we drove my mom to the Rome airport to go back to New York, and headed to our Terminal for our flight to Paris.  The girls were nervous on top of being sad to see my mom go.  But, being the seasoned travelers they have become they settled into their seats with Leapsters ready, ipods charged, and headphones on.  Immediately they got a kick out of the little drink holders that fold down in front of the food trays.  They also loved that the announcements were made in Italian, English and French.  And the meal had an apricot tart and baguette.  (And this was the airplane food!) Continue reading

Day 21- Tuscania, Taking Time to Smell the Sunflowers

stopping to smell the sunflowers

stopping to smell the sunflowers

Today we did our usual day of rest following the insanely packed day at the Vatican.  We walked through Tuscania, still with map in hand, to find some new stores and routes that we hadn’t yet explored.  We then hit Lake Bolsena again for some serious downtime and relaxation.   The nice thing about being here for an entire month is not having the pressure to do everything and see new things every day.  Instead, being in Italy has begun to feel like a normal place to be, as if we had decided to rent a house upstate for the summer.

Of course what makes it extra special is that this house happens to be in a walled city steeped in history of ancient Etruscans, the Roman Empire through the construction of a modern Italy.  There are little old ladies and men hanging out on their benches in the morning and in the afternoon.  They go inside for riposo, I guess because the hanging out together on the chairs and benches qualifies as “work time” – from one to four you have to go inside and eat lunch to chill out.  I love this group of old timers who watch everything and everyone coming up and down the steep cobblestone hills, making sure that you belong there and are not trespassing through.

There is just a completely different rhythm to life here, and it’s hard to adjust initially.  Continue reading