Buon Natale a Tutti!
May the Christmas Spirit be with you all year long.
Tonight, Pontelandolfo is hosting Concerto di Natale by the chorus from Liceo Musicale G. Guacci. When I saw the poster of young singers in their tuxedos and black dresses, I flashed back to my teaching time at Westminster Choir College and my first evening of “Lessons and Carols.” Teaching at Westminster was one of the most rewarding and special times of my life. Surrounded by music and students who were accepted because they had great musical talent, academic ability and drive, I formed relationships that mean a lot to me today. As my brain twirled, racing from those young musicians singing their hearts out during a Christmas Lessons and Carols to our life today, I realized there was a lesson that I should have learned then but really hit me now.
This year, Jack and I decided to to try on a different holiday experience and spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Italy. The Christmas lessons began in Milano, continued in Vienna and seeing the lights in Piazza Roma were reinforced in Pontelandolfo.
Thanks to Stefania, Nina, Kristie and Silvia, Non importa dove vai, importa chi incontri, became so evident to me. It is not important where you go but who you meet along the way. Strangers become reflections of who we are and where we are going. That first night, tired and hungry we walked a scant few blocks from our favorite B&B – Il Girasole – to Tony’s, a jam packed local eatery. We were given a deuce next to a woman eating alone. When I say next to, I mean our elbows touched. What could I do but say, buona sera. Stefania, was no longer eating alone, and we had a great conversation about her early life as a dancer with the Royal Ballet in England and now in a government office here in Milano. Politics, political appointments, the problems facing Milano and the rush from hearing the sound of applause wafted from table to table. The back story that stayed with me is one we have all known – a young woman with a promising career as a dancer comes home to attend to the elders in her family. Family is so central to the soul of Italy and central to me. Eating and connecting with a local woman who was as interested in us as we were in her made the night magical.
One morning, our eyes finally no longer glued shut, we wended our way to breakfast. There were only three of us in the room. What else could I do but say buon giorno? Nina replied in perfect English, Good Morning. A German international political science Ph.D who had spent a year working for a major California university, Nina provided a European view of world events and the plight of academics. Munching our corentti and sipping our cappuccini, I found interesting her perspective of the rise of fascism in the United States. What really smacked me was just how spot on the old men in Pontelandolfo’s bars where when they warned us that candidate Trump would lead the USA in a goose step toward a fascist regime. Too bad they didn’t get a chance to manipulate FaceBook! When Nina explained the hiring process in German and other European universities, I responded on how I had been F*&!ed by an institute of higher learning. We were sisters under the adjunct banner. While we did not agree on all global issues, we had a robust discussion that helped me understand even more clearly european perspectives. If you never leave your hometown you miss the opportunity.
The universe always provides – even sweets and prosecco after a day of exploring. Arriving back at the hotel and wanting to anty up our bill, we went into the breakfast room to find our hosts. There we met Silvia Pitoni whose goal in life is to open a pasticceria in her home town of Rieti (suburb of Rome.)
I’ve been graced with impeccable timing. Silvia had just gotten back to the hotel from a master class with a famous Milanese pastry maker and was laden with samples of the delights she created. While munching away, we listened to Silvia talk about the Roma Academia Italiana. She is studying for a professional diploma as a chef. More importantly, we listened to Silvia’s dreams of having a pastry shop that features both sweet and apertivo style treats. Silvia’s enthusiasm for baking and her love of local, natural ingredients gave me an “Ah Ha” moment. Maybe the universe sent her to add a Roman dimension to Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo? (Check out our groovy new web-site.) Perhaps the adventuresome foodies that come to cook in Pontelandolfo homes could do a pastry add on in Rieti!
Jack and I headed off to Vienna – I really wanted to hear the music and see the Christmas bling. We did do that but coming full circle – we ate dinner in a crowded local restaurant and were fortunate to be squished next to a couple from North Carolina. Kristie, a realtor, and her husband were great dinner companions. We talked about politics, living abroad, places one should visit, lack of travel leading to limited vision, life in a red state when you have blue politics, the state of the nation and the world. None of us wanted to relinquish our tables to waiting diners. We enjoyed the company and the conversation.
When we finally, got home to Pontelandolfo and became immersed in conversations in the bars, library, restaurant, I knew the the journey we’ve taken to become part of a different community has been a blessed one.
These encounters may not seem like much. However, hearing, listening, responding and understanding the places that people come from and the journeys they have taken enhances our journey. As our pal Nicola from Il Girasole Hotel said, Non è importante la destinazione ma il viaggio. The destination is not important – it is the journey.
Buon Natale, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year. May 2018 bring you joy, laughter, health and incredible journeys.