Monday, February 20, 2017

Time to name the walk. Please vote

If you read my blog from a month ago, you'll know what I mean when I ask you to vote on a name for what I formerly called "the old man walk." Click on the survey to the right and make your preference known. If you missed the background on the need for a name, read this first: Creative title needed for previously unnamed "Old man walk." And for those of you who submitted titles, thanks!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Permesso nearly in the bag! Now an enforced time out before round 2

Okay, I admit I was drunk! I can’t believe I suggested that Lucy might get her Italian citizenship quickly. I was intoxicated not with Montecarlo’s fine red wine but with hope, because the lines in the Questura had been relatively short, I could understand the clerk, and we had all the documents we needed for her permesso di soggiorno in my hands.

This morning we went to the Questura, and after a 50-minute wait in line and then a half hour for the clerk to process the paperwork, she gave us a stamped ‟receipt” marked permesso di soggiorno. Then she told us sit in the waiting room and someone would call us for Lucy’s fotosegnalamento. That was a word I didn’t know. She also said something about waiting one month. What? Now I was confused. But she clearly told us to sit and wait, and so we did.

Within 15 minutes, a side door opened and we were escorted into an office for Polizia Scientifica. A friendly middle-aged police woman asked Lucy for her height and the color of her eyes, and then she took digital photos of Lucy’s palms and fingers, the fotosegnalamento. That’s it, she said. Lucy’s permesso di soggiorno card would be ready in about a month. They had my cell phone number and will call when it’s ready.

Still, we were optimistic that we could start round 2, because we had the receipt, which clearly stated permesso di soggiorno. It had a photo of Lucy attached and official stamps from the Questura. We drove straight to the city hall of Montecarlo to start Lucy’s residence permit.

Ah, not so fast, the clerks there told us. This document is not the actual permesso di soggiorno. It is just a receipt, and we have to wait for the real card to be issued. Presumably this has something to do with Lucy’s fingerprints being checked through the system first to make sure she is not a criminal or terrorist.

Is there anything we can do to speed up the process?” I asked. ‟Perhaps,” one clerk said, ‟you could go to the Prefettura in Lucca and get a declaration of Nulla Osta.” This is a clearance form stating there is no legal obstacle from Lucy’s past. However, a Nulla Osta would probably take a month to get, she added.

It’s better just to wait,” she said. ‟There is no hurry, is there?”

Since there actually is no listed record in Guinness for fastest foreign citizenship obtained in Italy, I had to admit that we really had no good reason to ask anyone to bend the rules. ‟No, we can wait,” I said. ‟Of course. No problem.”

We have passed step 1 with flying colors. It’s just that now I have a hope hangover, a small deflation of excitement. The chase has been put on hold, but it’s not in any way off track. It’s on to other challenges, like our leaky roof, meeting new people, finding the best scenic hikes. For Lucy, making some quilts. For me, editing my book manuscript. Basically, living la dolce vita, and I guess that’s not too bad!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Great progress on Permesso di Soggiorno, step 1 to Lucy's citizenship

As much as I love coming to Italy for the beauty, food, people and tranquility, I also like the challenge of learning a new language and discovering how to get by on our own in a different land. Lucky thing, because now I have to figure out how to get Lucy’s citizenship here in Italy instead of at the Italian consulate in California. This new challenge is not entirely unwelcome, and we’re making progress every day.

On Tuesday, I went to the comune in Pescia, where my citizenship is registered. After leaving his window to consult with a colleague for a few minutes, the clerk came back and told me I’d have to go to the Prefettura in Lucca.

Wednesday, off to Lucca, where I found many offices for the Prefettura. On the fourth try, I found the right one and explained what we were seeking. The helpful clerk asked me a few questions and then spoke with a colleague on the phone. He explained that it would be a three-step process. First, get a permesso di soggiorno at the Questura. Second, apply for residency in the comune at Montecarlo. Third, come back to the Prefettura and apply for citizenship.

What a difference a few years and a little language learning makes! The clerk understood everything I said, and I understood everything he said—so different from our misadventures in Padova in 2001. So off to the Questura, and on the third try, I found the right office. I realized on approach that it had to be the right door, because dozens of multi-national immigrants and refugees were milling around or waiting in one of the four lines. Sportello 1 said it was for informazione and permesso, and it only had one person in line ahead of me.

I had read online a few years ago that one must first go a post office to get the needed forms and an appointment time, but I figured I’d try my luck directly at the Questura first. And it almost worked, but not quite, because I was missing the first item on the list: the applicant. The lady at the window looked at our passports and said all we needed to obtain the forms and an appointment was Lucy to appear in person.

So, Thursday, off we went together, arriving 10 minutes before opening hours so we’d be near the head of the line. After a 20-minute wait, we received our forms and an appointment for March 2, not too long to wait. And it appeared that the requirements weren’t too difficult: four photos (easily obtained at a photo booth), a marca da bollo tax sticker for 16 euro to be purchased at the nearest tabaccaio, copies of Lucy’s passport (including every stamped page), a copy of our registered marriage certificate from Pescia (which I already had), and a declaration from me that I was hosting the foreign visitor at my house, along with a copy of the main page of my passport. The application form consisted of only a half page of very basic information.

We went home to fill out the forms, buy the tax sticker and make the photocopies. I had a few questions about how to fill in several lines on the form, and then I came to one requirement that struck a note of fear in my heart, a line that said ‟Certificazione medica.” The lady at the desk had not mentioned or explained that, and it had a pen mark under it—or maybe through it—I couldn’t tell for sure.
Is that last line underlined or crossed out?

The reason I hadn’t been able to obtain a permesso di soggiorno during our year in Padova so long ago is that the clerk at the Questura there said we must have a medical insurance policy, translated into Italian. We had traveler’s insurance, and I had translated it with some help, but it didn’t cover preexisting conditions. The clerk had denied my application.

Not wanting to wait until March 2, Lucy and I went back today for clarification. ‟Questa linea, e' sottolineata o cancellata?” I asked. ‟Cancellata,” she answered. There would be no need for a medical certificate or insurance. I showed her my other questions, all easily answered, and then asked a final question: ‟Since I have all the documents filled out, the tax stamp and the photos, is there any way we can have an earlier appointment?”

She walked into a back office, then came out and looked at her calendar. How about February 18? Domani? Si, si! So we are close to completing step 1. I feel 99 percent certain I have everything we need and that we’ll be successful tomorrow. I’m not sure if we will receive the permesso the same day or if we’ll have to come back, but soon we’ll move on to step 2, the residency permit. I just went through that process myself last April, so I know it’s not complicated.

I don’t want to jinx this, but I may look up in Guinness what’s the world record for the fastest foreigner to obtain Italian citizenship, because Lucy just could be in the running!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Further frustrations in Lucy’s quest for citizenship—but a ray of new hope

Loyal readers of our blog may remember our fiasco of August 2, 2016, when we went to the Italian Consulate in an attempt to obtain Lucy’s Italian citizenship. We arrived one year and one hour too early, and they told us to come back on the same date in 2017. We have already booked transportation and a room for next August, and we have all the documents ready, so we figure it should be a slam-dunk next time, right?
Consolato Generale di San Francisco

Wrong, wrong, wrong! In re-reading the requirements, I noted that all the police statements of good conduct—which must be both notarized and accompanied by an apostille verifying their authenticity by the issuing state—must be no more than six months old. So we need to go back to Pierce County, the Washington State Patrol and the FBI to get new notarized statements and new apostilles. Okay, we can live with that. It will cost some money and take some time, but at least now we know how to do it.

But in looking even more closely at the requirements, I came across this statement: ‟The Italian spouse must be registered at the Consulate as an Italian Citizen Residing Abroad (A.I.R.E.).” When I had read this earlier, I thought: No problem, I became an Italian Residente All’Estero in 2011 at the very same consulate. I know I’m on the list, because I receive ballots to vote in the Italian elections at my address in Gig Harbor, as do my children and my sister.

However, I noticed last November that everyone in the family received a ballot to vote on the December constitutional amendment referendum except me. Why was that? Because in April of 2016, I became a resident of Montecarlo. And in an uncharacteristic and inexplicable example of Italian bureaucratic efficiency (yes, I really used those two words together), the comune in Montecarlo must have communicated with the consulate in San Francisco, and I was removed from the list of citizens residing abroad.

Does that mean that Lucy can’t get her citizenship by marriage at the consulate any more? I sent the consulate an e-mail, and in another example of efficiency, they answered right away: ‟Your wife cannot apply here if you are not a resident here. The first requirement for the application is the sharing of the residency; therefore your wife can apply in Italy after moving her residence there.”

So, cancel the appointment, transportation and hotel in San Francisco. Start the maze over again in Italy. Luckily, we have just arrived back in Montecarlo, so this is the ideal time to start. The ray of hope I mentioned is that maybe we can somehow complete this process in the next two months. One of the reasons we want Lucy’s citizenship is that it will lower the twice yearly property taxes we must pay. It will also mean that she won’t need to obtain a permesso di soggiorno if she stays in the country for more than three months at a time. Stay tuned for updates in this continuing saga . . .

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Creative title needed for previously unnamed "old-man walk"

Look at these photos and tell me what it should be called
Randall, me and Micah on Steele Street in Tacoma. I have since discovered that I am holding my hands incorrectly. 
What do you call it when people walk with their hands clasped behind their backs? Although everyone has seen someone do it—maybe you’ve even done it yourself—this form of perambulation apparently has no name. And now, it is up to you to help me name it.

Proper hand position demonstrated
by an unknown Italian in Padova.
I called it the old-man walk in my book manuscript, and my editor suggested that name is too vanilla and lacks punch. I gave it that plain title after noting that men of a certain age in Italy often walked with hands joined behind their backs. I’ve since had other people point out that old people in other European countries as well as China, India and Japan also walk this way, so it is probably pretty universal.

My editor gave a few examples, but none of them fit: old man waddle, duck stroll, old dude swagger. I admit that walk is boring and non-specific, but the fact is, the essence of the old-man walk is in the position of the arms and not the gait, so most synonyms for walk just aren’t accurate. It’s not a waddle, swagger, shuffle, march, hike, amble, saunter, tramp or stride. It’s just a normal walk, with hands clasped behind—and there is no one-word term for hands behind the back.

But, wait, doesn’t Google have the answer? After nearly an hour of reading about walking, hand positions, body language and racism (hard to read any online forums without this topic coming up), I learned that there is no name for this type of walking, and that people everywhere are curious about why some people—mostly older people—do it.

Reasons given by those who like to walk this way include: It helps me balance. It’s easier on my back. It helps me think. Other people suggested it signifies dignity, control, power and quiet confidence. An article in said, ‟The reason this can be powerful is that it exposes the most vulnerable part of the body. Only supremely confident people will place their hands behind their backs in that way. You often see principals or teachers do this as they walk up and down rows of students’ desks during tests.”

Prince Charles at a London train station.
The British news magazine Daily Mail wrote: ‟To beat back pain, walk like a royal. For perfect posture, interlink your fingers from each hand behind your back, just like Prince Charles does. This will open up your chest and get your shoulders back and down, reversing the slumping posture many people have while sitting.”

The website Lonerwolf first explains that hands-behind-back is the total opposite of crossing one’s arms over the chest because it ‟exposes the vulnerable chest with its vital organs, stomach, crotch and neck in an attempt to demonstrate fearlessness, superiority and self confidence.” Be careful, the site goes on to add, because there is also a wrong way: ‟If, however, the person doesn’t have their palms over their hand, but instead grips their wrist with the other hand behind their back, it says something completely different. Instead, it displays frustration and self control, as if refraining themselves from using that gripped hand to punch or slap someone.”

An example of proper form.
Okay, getting back to my original problem, what name should I use in my manuscript? I need help. I should digress briefly to mention that a primary school in Great Britain made a rule last year that students must walk in straight lines in hallways with hands clasped behind their backs. The head teacher called it ‟the university walk,” in an attempt to give it an important-sounding name. Parents revolted, pointing out that it made the school seem more like a prison than a school, and many questioned the name because they didn’t see university students walking that way. The head teacher has since resigned and the new school boss dropped the rule. So please, that name has been rejected and is off limits.

I will take nominations for a few weeks, and then I’ll put a survey up. You can nominate terms by making a comment on the blog, my Facebook page or messaging me at Here are a few nominations to get the ball rolling:
Pensioners perambulation
Geezers gait
Old dude swagger (one of my editor’s ideas)
Cock stroll (found this on a forum)

I’m waiting to hear from you.

Monday, December 19, 2016

DNA results show different ethnicity and cousins for brothers and sisters

My DNA results are in, and so are my sister Linda’s. The results are unsurprising in some ways and baffling in others. Overall, one can make a good case that it’s wise to test multiple members of the same family, because the results can be quite different. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising, given how different children in the same family can be in apearance and personality—but we also show up different cousins, ones that wouldn’t have been detected if only Roger had been tested.

Roger received more Italian genes, and specifically more Spadoni genes. His results show 37% Italy/Greece, 34% Great Britain and 14% Western Europe. Linda is 31% Italy/Greece, 35% Great Britain and 6% Western Europe, while I am 27% Italy/Greece, 11% Great Britain and a whopping 47% Western Europe. I suppose one could make a case that Northern Italy and Western Europe overlap, so in a sense I could have more Italian genes than Roger and Linda.

We have to keep in mind that these results are based on broad statistics of the predominant genetic makeup of people living in these European areas, and much more testing must be done to refine the results. Ten years from now, the database could be much different.

In any event, the most unusual finding, in my opinion, is that some people show up as only sharing DNA with Roger, some only with Linda and others only with me. Roger seems to have more connections on the Spadoni side. Only he shows up as related to 12th cousin Archbishop Anthony Burns and Gregg Matteucci, who has a Palmira Spadoni in his ancestral line. Roger and I both match with 5th cousin Donald Spadoni (the one who was a fire department chief in Chicago), but Linda does not.

I am tied to some people on the Seghieri side (our grandmother) that don’t show up in Roger and Linda’s test results. The most curious match/non-match is third cousin Cindy Krebsbach, the daughter of Joan Seghieri, from the family of Dante Seghieri, who immigrated to Minnesota in 1913. Cindy is also not flagged as a possible cousin for my first cousins Annette and Gary, and second cousins Lita Dawn, Maria and Lennie (granddaughters of Seghiero ‟Jim” Seghieri). I can easily imagine that a 12th cousin would not show up as a match, but why would a 3rd cousin go undetected in the results of so many other obvious cousins? The fact that I do show up discounts the possibility of a non-paternity event.

So far, I’ve created a list of about 20 people who match some of us but not all. For example:
Roger, Linda, I match with C.T., but Annette and Gary (first cousins) do not.
Linda and Gary match with KECISLAND, but Roger, Paul, Annette do not.
Roger is the only match with MRSB1129 (who has a private tree that includes the name Seghieri)
Only Roger and Gary match with L.M., but L.M. matches to E.L., a person we all match with.
AMR matches with Roger, Linda, Paul, Annette, but not Gary
AMR also matches to S.P., a person that Linda and Paul match with.
. . . and so the list goes on, growing each time I sit down for a research session.

Most of the people in our DNA lists are entirely unknown to us. First, because most people list only their initials, so we can’t find out the names unless we contact them through Ancestry’s messaging system—hoping also that they respond. Second, many people don’t have family trees attached to their DNA results, and third, most of those who do go back only two or three generations. So I know we are related to someone with the username malikoparadise, because she shares DNA with Roger, Linda, me and all of my Italian-American first and second cousins, I don’t know how because she has no family tree and has not responded yet to my message, and even if she does, there’s no guarantee we can match family trees. Other people have responded, such as Katie Decker. She’s a DNA match with Roger and Linda, and her family tree goes back to about 1860 in the Lucca area, but it’s not far enough for us to find the documented connection. She and I will work on that in the coming years.

All in all, if one’s been bitten by the genealogy bug, DNA testing is a great way to develop new leads, and the more people in one’s family tested, the more leads there will be. However, if one has a poorly developed family tree, it can prove frustrating. My results show 6,000 people who share enough DNA to be listed as likely cousins. One is a grand niece. Two are known first cousins. Four are known second cousins. Eight are suggested to be fourth through sixth cousins, and I’ve been able to determine the exact genealogical relationship with two of these. Most of the other 5,980+ are just names and initials on a list until we make contact and share information. But that’s certainly enough to feed one’s hobbying for another lifetime.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

DNA testing can show distant connections—it’s true

I sent off my Ancestry DNA kit today, and the paperwork included says it will take six to eight weeks to get the results. But meanwhile, I’m entertaining myself by comparing people of Italian ancestry who match my brother’s DNA test. A few days ago, I found another Chicago Spadoni family that we’re related to and have established contact with Donald Spadoni, my fifth cousin once-removed (and he is the third person I know named Donald Spadoni). I hope to find out more about him and his family through continuing correspondence.

Archbishop Anthony Burns
But today I found another Italian connection, and the distance of the relationship really surprised me. The database showed we were related to Anthony JM Burns, archbishop of an offshoot of the Catholic Church. His Ancestry account showed a family tree that went back to Pietro Dini (1844-1918) and Gioconda Spadoni (1848-1925). My prior research in the archives in Pescia, Italy, shows the genealogy of Gioconda. I was surprised to click back into her ancestors and find that our common ancestor was Francesco Spadoni, born in Stignano around 1455, a time-span of more than 500 years.

I’ve read some forums complaining about the supposed false claims that the DNA testing companies make about finding one’s relatives. In actuality, the tests find many relatives—but the real problem is that most of them don’t have well-developed family trees connected to their online profiles, so it’s not possible to find out how they are related. However, some of them do include family trees, like Archbishop Burns, my 12th cousin twice removed. His went back to the mid-1800s, and that was enough for me to make the connection.

I had read that autosomal DNA testing could reveal relationships beyond 500 years, but I don’t know if I really believed it. Well, now I do. The lucky thing is that I’ve done so much research in Italy and built a broad Spadoni family tree. Without that, I never could have made the actual connection to Archbishop Burns.

I was able to look him up on Google and Facebook and was about to write him a note when I discovered, sadly, that he had passed away in June of this year at age 49. One of his brothers posted a note on Anthony’s Facebook page explaining that this would be the last entry because of Anthony’s death. Perhaps I can make contact in the future with this brother or someone else in the family. It’s amazing to me that through genealogy websites and DNA testing, we can find cousins with common ancestors dating back to the Middle Ages.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

How Italian is the average Italian?

I recently read an article published by AncestryDNA stating that the average person in the United Kingdom is only 37 percent British (Anglo Saxon). He is also 22% Irish (Celt) and 20 percent Western European (mostly French and German).

My brother’s DNA test showed that he is 37 percent Italian/Greek and 34 percent British—so he is almost as British as a person in the U.K. But the article makes me wonder, how much Italian DNA does the average Italian have?

My brother and half a dozen cousins have been tested, and their results show an average percentage of Italian/Greek DNA at around 30 percent. At first this surprised me, because we’ve always considered our generation to be half Italian. I’ve traced our Spadoni line back to the same rural location in Tuscany to the early 1400s, and the Seghieri line (our grandmother) to the late 1200s. All of their marriages seemed to be to people with regional names as well: Marchi, Cinelli, Tognarelli, Galli, Mariani, Di Vita, Capocchi, Montanelli, Petrocchi, Bellandi, Del Tredici, Iacomini, Notari. All of these names have had long histories in the Valdinievole community.

Note that the categories are, of necessity, pretty broad. Great Britain
crosses over with Western Europe. Italy/Greece includes parts of Western
Europe and continues east to include much of the former Yugoslavia.
So why wouldn’t we be 50 percent Italian, or at least close to it? The answer lies in the fact that even people who have lived in Italy for centuries are not 100 percent Italian, just as the people in the U.K. are not all British. None of my relatives in Italy have had their DNA tested, so I don’t know what their percentages would be, but I do know one of my Facebook friends, Florian, is 100 percent Italian by genealogical standards, and his proven family roots go back to the late 1500s. Yet his DNA test showed him to be 72 percent from Italy/Greece, 10 percent Ireland, 7 percent Great Britain and the rest a mixture of other places.

Another Italian Facebook user, Giuseppe Pallucchini, wrote that he was initially surprised to find that his Italian/Greek DNA showed up at only 80 percent. He also said the explanatory material he received with his test explained that ‟a typical Italian native has 72 percent Italian/Greek.”

Italy has been invaded and colonized by Etruscans, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Islamic Arabs, Normans, Hohenstaufens, Spaniards, Catalans, Longobards—and I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Being centrally located in the Mediterranean, Italians have traded with numerous civilizations and even imported slaves to mine metals and marble, build towers and cathedrals, and fight in their armies and in gladiatorial battles.

I’ve also noticed that many Italians show a high percentage of Western Europe DNA, and that Ancestry doesn’t try to distinguish between the various Western European countries because the people have intermingled there for so many years. With all this movement in a small geographic area, it makes me wonder what the geneticists consider a true Italian to be. I’m sure it comes down to a somewhat subjective judgment, even if the criteria is based on scientific statistics.

It is certainly more than DNA that makes a person Italian, since Italy is a culture as well as a geographical region. We’d like to believe that science will make everything simple, that we can know that a person from France is French, a person from Ireland is Irish and a person from Poland is Polish—but that’s not how it works. Boundaries change, people move and intermarry. Centuries pass, and countries change names and rulers. Cultures inherit characteristics from the people who live nearby. All these factors should be considered when viewing one’s DNA results.

At best, DNA testing is a way to investigate one’s roots and spark a greater interest in history. It’s a complicated world, growing ever more diverse, and while knowing where one comes from is important and interesting, ideally it should help us to live better lives in the here and now.

DNA testing has helped me add to the Italian branch of our family tree

For the past six years, I’ve been passively searching for more relatives who descended from the brothers and sisters of my great grandfather Pietro Spadoni. Up until 2011, I didn’t even know Pietro had any siblings, since he died in 1904, and my closest living cousins in Italy were born much later and knew almost nothing about him.

In 2011, I discovered, by researching in the state and church archives in Pescia, that Pietro had had four brothers and five sisters (although at least three died in infancy). I found that three of them—Francesco, Angelo and Gioconda—married and had children. I knew that names of their children, and in a few cases, even their grandchildren, but most records after 1900 are not available to view for reasons of privacy, preventing me from finding any living descendants. In 2014, I managed to hunt down third cousins Silvano and Emo Celli, the great grandsons of Gioconda Spadoni (I finally have a talk with cousin Leino), but I had no success finding any descendants of Francesco and Angelo.

My technique for finding cousins in Italy consisted of looking up Spadonis near Ponte Buggianese in the white pages and dropping in on them unexpectedly. This is not something I do well, since my Italian is not great, nor am I particularly outgoing or extroverted. Nevertheless, I managed to meet various Spadonis: Leonello, Fausto, Ilio, Lara, Mauro and Bruna. All of them except Leonello proved to be extremely distant cousins, and even Leonello’s ties dated back a generation prior to Pietro.

Recently, though, I have found a great number of descendants of Angelo, through the unlikely resource of a DNA test that my brother Roger took. DNA testing has become both affordable and popular in recent years. It is primarily used to show people their historical ethnic backgrounds, but it has the added benefit of making it possible to contact other people who share one’s genetic history—relatives who could be as distant as eighth cousins.

Roger’s test showed up more than 4,500 cousins, and the number grows each week as more people undergo DNA testing and the database expands. Two of his first cousins have been tested and show up in the files, and several known second cousins are there as well. A vast majority of the relatives—at least 4,350—are in the category of fifth through eighth cousins, and likely we’ll never actually find out how we’re related. Most of these cousins don’t have family trees that extend back more than a couple of generations, and many don’t have trees in’s database at all.

However, one match caught my attention, and when I clicked on the person’s link, I saw an ancestor named Quartina Spadoni listed. We have a Quartina in our tree, a granddaughter of Angelo Spadoni. The dates of birth and other information matched between the two trees.

Ancestry doesn’t give out any contact information for the people who share your DNA, but it does allow you to contact them through Ancestry’s messaging system. I contacted this cousin, and we have since shared family information and become friends on Facebook. Now I have filled in considerable information about her branch of the family, including names of relatives in both Italy and the United States. I’ve also become Facebook friends with some her close relatives who are in Italy. One of them is a hair stylist in Chiesina Uzzanese, and we intend to meet in person next time I’m in Italy.

We’ve also been contacted by a few other people who noted that we are probably related by common Italian ancestors. The specifics of our connection are yet to be determined, but as we expand our family trees, we hope to come across the common ancestor. This is part of the fun of ancestry research—finding new puzzle pieces and trying to properly locate them.

In the days leading up the Christmas, popular genealogy websites such as and Family Tree DNA usually have sales on DNA testing. Even without sales, the cost of a basic ‟family finder” test is now under $100. The test will show general areas from where your ancestors hailed. It will also give you a long list of likely relatives who have already submitted their DNA for testing.

If you order a kit, you’ll be sent the testing materials needed, along with a return mailing envelope. You either take a swab from inside your mouth (Family Tree DNA) or provide a sample of your saliva (Ancestry). Results are usually ready in about two months. Since Ancestry began offering genetic testing in 2012, more than 1 million people had been tested by 2015; by June of 2016, the number exceeded 2 million. A day will soon come when knowing one’s ethnic makeup from a genetic standpoint will be as commonplace as knowing one’s blood type.

I just ordered ‟family finder” testing kits from both Ancestry and Family Tree DNA for both myself and Lucy, taking advantage of the pre-Christmas sale prices (I had previously had my Y-DNA test, but that doesn’t indicate overall ethnicity, and it only tests the male family line). It is our Christmas present to ourselves.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Is Italy a safe and healthy place for young women (and men)?

After having interviewed my daughters a few years ago after they had lived in Italy for a year during their teen years, I concluded that I was not afraid to leave my daughters and wife alone in most places in Italy. I wrote about this in Do Italian males live up to reputation for their persistent and flirtatious behavior? Now I have additional confirmation and statistics to support my thesis.
Italian girls and boys receive lots of practice in interpersonal relationships during the Italian passeggiata, one reason they may be more skilled socially than American young people. 

I’m reading a fascinating book, Amore, by cultural sociologist Roger Friedland, who is imminently more qualified than I to speak on the topic. Friedland studies and teaches on love, sex and God, and he has worked in universities in both the United States and Rome, Italy. During his seminar classes, students in both countries freely shared their encounters with members of the opposite sex. Friedland also brought his wife and two coming-of-age daughters with him to Italy, giving him additional first-hand accounts and insights.

He observed that young women frequently walked alone at night in Rome’s city center, waiting near midnight for the last buses home. Were they harassed or afraid, he asked the women in his class. They told him that boys routinely made unwanted remarks, came too close and sometimes touched them where they didn’t want to be touched. However, the women were not afraid.

Friedland discovered that American and Italian women were equally likely to endure harassment. “But,” he continued, “there is a difference, a big one: American men are much more likely to commit rape. One-quarter of female college students in America will experience either rape or attempted rape. Twelve percent of high school girls have already been raped. The real numbers are likely much higher, because many women not only don’t tell the police; they don’t tell anyone.”

Friedland’s Italian students were stunned to hear these statistics. Fewer than 5 percent of Italian women between the ages of 16 and 24 have ever experienced rape or attempted rape. Most of that—about 70 percent—was committed by their intimate partner.

“The question is, why?” Friedland asks. “It’s not because Roman men don’t look. They are voracious with their eyes, savoring the bodies of women as they pass. After all the time I’ve spent in Rome, I’ve come to think that part of the reason rape is so much rarer in Italy is that Italian men love women more than American men do. Beneath all the sexual jest, the lusty looks and suggestive remarks, Roman men respect women.”

Friedland’s daughters were subjected to this harassment as they entered their teen years, but they learned to cope along with the Italian girls. He said that Italians accept that flirting is part of human nature but is not a precursor to rape. Girls in Italy are free to “swear at the boys, to berate them, hit them on the heads or in the face, belittling them for their pathetic antics.” His girls didn’t regard the advances as dangerous.

“Roman women who grow up in the system learn to maneuver, to parry and resist the verbal and visual predations of men, because they feel relatively safe from violation,” he writes. “Roman girls learn early not to be afraid of boys. They grow accustomed to walking alone to the square to fetch olive oil or pizza bianca for their mothers.”

Friedland also contrasts Americans and Italians in their beliefs about marriage. The American students he surveyed while teaching at UC Santa Barbara wondered whether love is real; they seemed afraid to believe in love and lifelong marriage because they had witnessed so much disappointment in their parents’ relationships. Only about 60 percent of the UC students said they wanted to marry and stay with one person all their lives, and less than half said they actually expected to.

And why should they? Of American couples who married in the first five years of the 1990s, 42 percent divorced within 15 years. By contrast, only 8 percent of comparable Italian couples had separated. In the United States, close to half of all marriages are remarriages. In Italy, 95 percent of all marriages are first-time ventures for both parties.

Friedland also found that Italians are—to put it delicately—better lovers. To put it less delicately, he said that “young Italians—especially females, but also males—have more frequent orgasms than young Americans. Love makes for pleasure. Love radically increases the probability that a woman will have an orgasm. Italians still revere passion. Because the men love the women, they are more likely to care about giving them pleasure. And the women they love take pleasure from that love. Men’s love works.”

Again, the question must be asked, why this difference? Friedland goes to great length to answer this, and for a more complete explanation, you’ll need to read his book. But the heart of the answer has to do with how Italians experience family and family life. Italian families are all-absorbing, involving grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.

“Roman kids are deeply invested in their families—forever,” he said. “Unlike middle-class American kids, who leave for college and return home just to rest and refuel, most young Italians continue to live at home while attending university. When Roman kids do move out, it’s to get married and set up their own households. That often happens nearby, even in the very same building their parents live in, frequently with their parents help. And overwhelmingly, they rely on their parents to care for their children when they can’t be there.”

I don’t mean to make it sound like Italian family life and male-female relationships are some kind of paradise. We’ve seen husbands and wives yelling at each other on the streets, families arguing loudly in houses as we pass by, and we read headlines in the Italian newspapers about murder and abuse. We’ve been warned that certain parts of large cities are unsafe to walk in at night. But to fear, as I once did, that Italy may be more dangerous for my daughters than the United States is nonsense—unless I was worried that they might fall in love and have stable marriages.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Forested hills above Stignano prove to make a satisfying excursion

I took advantage of a good weather on a day that was predicted to be rainy by taking a hike in the hills above Stignano—the little hillside town where various Spadoni families had lived throughout the
A great view of Buggiano Castello from the road above Stignano.
1500s and 1600s. Lucy was busy making a quilt for Juniper, so I went on my own, leaving home right after lunch.

I hadn’t really noticed before that a single lane winding road continues up the hillside past Stignano. I also noticed that a similar road goes up the valley between Stignano and Buggiano Castello before turning left and going up into the hills. I figured that since they were somewhat parallel routes into the hills, at some point there must be a crossroad that joins them, and I could take a giant loop. I started at Stignano and had walked about a two kilometers when I noticed a good dirt road that went off to the right—which would be in the general direction of the valley road. Meanwhile, the better paved road looped to the left, away from my destination.

Chestnuts in their fuzzy outer shell, with a tiny mushroom starting to grow
in the center of the one on the left.
So off I set on the dirt road. It’s always more satisfying to go where cars can’t go anyway. And then the dirt road, which by now had become a trail, forked. For the second time, I took the advice of Robert Browning and chose the road less traveled, the one to the right. Thanks a lot, Robert, be
A delicious looking fungo, but not knowing if it was
edible, I left it alone.
cause the trail soon became overgrown and almost impassible—though I soldiered on, sometimes going under, sometimes over and sometimes around the barriers of trees, branches and blackberry vines that periodically covered the trail. No one had taken this route for some time, it appeared, except for the cinghiali—wild boar—which had left numerous signs in their search for edible roots. I even found a mud-hole where they sometimes wallowed.

This one I went under, trying to move aside
the blackberry vines that hung down.
I saw no wildlife, save for a few ducks, but the forest was full of edible treasures—hazelnuts, chestnuts, mushrooms and strange little fruit that I couldn’t identify. I set down my jacket to take some pictures and continued on, accidentally leaving the jacket behind. Eventually my path led me near a little creek, with moss growing densely on the surrounding rocks. I scrambled down to take photos of a couple of waterfalls. I realized that I had descended quite a distance into the forest, and at some point I would have to cross the creek and go up the other side. However, I saw no trail on the other side, and it was also pretty steep. I kept going upstream until eventually the creek disappeared underground.

I would have missed this waterfall had I taken
the more traveled trail. 
I crossed over, thinking that I must be getting close to the other road. But then a tall fence with a locked gate barred my way. I tried going around on the lower side, but the hillside became too steep to pass. I turned back and went up the valley while following the fence. It was around then that I heard a rumble of thunder and saw dark clouds rolling in. That’s when I noticed that I no longer had my jacket. It looked like I was in for wet afternoon. I had to find the valley road, because I didn’t want to pick my way back through the forest and all its obstacles.

This church dates from the early 1200s.
However, I soon realized that the thunder was actually a jet airplane, and the clouds weren’t as thick as they had seemed when I had first heard the “thunder.” And then, after another 200 meters and a steep climb alongside the fence, I came to a trail, went to the right for another 300 meters, and I had found the upper part of the valley road. I soon passed a church with an interpretive sign stating we were in Campioni. It was the Chiesa di Santo Stefano in Campioni, and a sign said mass would be held there on Saturday, November 5, a date already passed. I saw no indication of when the next mass would be.

I had to go all the way down the valley road to Borgo a Buggiano and then up the Stignano road to my car. Then I drove back up the hill to where the dirt road had branched off, parked the car and went back to retrieve my jacket. I passed some woodsmen along the way, but they were busy collecting firewood and didn’t see me—but as it would turn out, it was providential for me they were there. The little Fiat I was driving spun its wheels as I was turning around and became stuck. Not badly stuck, but since I was only a foot away from a guard rail, I couldn’t take a chance on trying to rock it back and forth without the risk of having it slide against the rail.

I asked if I could take a photo of the "angeli della macchina,"
the angels of the car, and they consented.
I walked back into the forest and told the woodsmen that I either needed a car with a tow chain or quattro uomini fortissimi, and they looked to fit the bill, or words to that effect. They pushed the car out in a jiffy, no tow chain needed. What a blessing to have found them. As I drove off, around 4 p.m., it started to rain and continued throughout the evening—another near miss. All together, it was a very satisfying hike.

Postscript: The unidentified fruit turned out to be from a strawberry tree. How could I have lived all my life and gone to Italy a couple of dozen times and never heard of this? According to Wikipedia, “The Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree, occasionally cane apple) is an evergreen shrub or small tree in the family Ericaceae. Arbutus unedo is widespread in the Mediterranean region.” Unfortunately, the only one I brought back got squished in my backpack. Not wanting to lick the inside of my pack, I can’t tell you how it tasted.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Favorite statements of love for Italia

Italy is on the bucket list of nearly every traveler. What is it about this narrow peninsula that lures so many people? It’s an intoxicating blend of delicious food, endless culture and history, breathtaking landscapes and invigorating attitudes. Each time we come back, we fall in love all over again with this graceful enchantress.


Numerous people have expressed their appreciation for the bel paese in words both simple and elegant. Here are some of our favorite quotes:

“A man who has not been in Italy is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see.”
Samuel Johnson, English essayist

“The Creator made Italy from designs by Michaelangelo.”
Mark Twain, author

“Traveling is the ruin of all happiness! There’s no looking at a building after seeing Italy.”
Fanny Burney, English novelist


“Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.”
Bertrand Russell, philospher, logician, mathematician

“What is the fatal charm of Italy? What do we find there that can be found nowhere else? I believe it is a certain permission to be human, which other places, other countries, lost long ago.”
Erica Jong, author


“I think people in Italy live their lives better than we do. It’s an older country, and they’ve learned to celebrate dinner and lunch, whereas we sort of eat as quickly as we can to get through it.”
George Clooney, American actor

“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.”
Truman Capote, author

“For us to go to Italy and to penetrate into Italy is like a most fascinating act of self-discovery, back, back down the old ways of time. Strange and wonderful chords awake in us, and vibrate again after many hundreds of years of complete forgetfulness.”
D.H. Lawrence, English novelist

Comicon in Lucca
“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.”
Anna Akhmatova, Russian poet

“I love places that have an incredible history. I love the Italian way of life. I love the food. I love the people. I love the attitudes of Italians.”
Elton John, musician, songwriter

“Thou Paradise of exiles, Italy!” Percy Bysshe Shelley, poet
“I love the language, that soft bastard Latin,
Which melts like kisses from a female mouth,
And sounds as if it should be writ on satin
With syllables which breathe of the sweet South.”
George Gordon Noel Byron, poet, politician

“Open my heart and you will see
Graved inside of it, Italy.”
Robert Browning, British poet and dramatist

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
Giuseppe Verdi, composer, musician

“And that is ... how they are. So terribly physically all over one another. They pour themselves one over the other like so much melted butter over parsnips. They catch each other under the chin, with a tender caress of the hand, and they smile with sunny melting tenderness into each other’s face.”
D.H. Lawrence, English novelist


“In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Orson Welles, American actor, director and writer

Saturday, November 5, 2016

How to eat well in Italy: some advice from a blogger (and) abroad

Since there are so many incredibly good food establishments in Italy, this may seem like an obvious topic with obvious answers, but there are some Italian terms that can be baffling to the uninitiated. It took us a while to figure all of this out, but you can save some time and learn from our experiences.

La Terrazzo in Montecarlo advertises itself as both a ristorante and a pizzeria.
First, though, an explanation of Italian meals: Formal lunches or dinners served on special occasions in Italy can include many courses, including the antipasto (pre-meal appetizers and drinks), the primo piatto (first course, which is usually a pasta dish or soup), the secondo piatto (second course, usually meat or fish) and then a contorno (vegetables) with insalata mista (mixed green salad). The dolce (dessert) can either be fresh fruit or a sweet pastry or custard. Then comes the caffè, usually an Italian espresso, but you can request your favorite variety. Some restaurants also offer a sweet wine, grappa or limoncello to help digest your meal.

Having explained all this, a meal like the one above is the exception, not the rule. Feel free to order whatever you want from the menu. As a couple, we often order one plate for two people (dividiamo in due). That way we can sample many items without getting too stuffed to finish. Or we may just order a single antipasto to share and then we each order a primo, or each order a primo and then split a secondo. It’s your meal, and you can do what you want.

On to the definitions:

Ristorante: Of course, this is the word for restaurant. Make an effort to pronounce it correctly: REES/tohr/ahnt/teh, not REST/tohr/ahnt/tee. You can expect full service, with someone to seat you and an experienced and polished waiter who knows the food and wine well. The menu will be printed with fixed prices for all the courses, and the variety will be wide.

You can get a fantastic meal at the Trattoria di Montecarlo.
Trattoria (Trah/tohr/EE/ah): Basically the same as a ristorante, but the different word indicates that it is family owned with a more casual or rustic environment that might be found in a small neighborhood. The menu may be smaller. However, now some trattorie (plural of trattoria) are essentially the same as ristoranti, so you may not notice any difference.

Another of our favorites, Osteria alla Fortezza.
Osteria: These are wine bars that have lately evolved to serve simple but full meals. They may have no menu and offer few or no choices for each course. The offering changes daily, according to the market, and two or three courses are offered for a fixed price, including wine.

Bar or caffè (sometimes caffetteria): You probably think you know what these are because we also have them in America, but they’re not at all the same thing in Italy. They are places to get coffee and a pastry in the morning. Some also serve panini (sandwiches) at lunch. Others will also have wine and cocktails starting in the afternoons (happy hour), with potato chips or nuts on the counter.

You get a lot more than wine now at an enoteca. Here is a
sampling of local treats at the Piccola Enoteca in Montecarlo.
Enoteca: The word literally means “wine repository,” but these have also evolved. Historically, an enoteca gave visitors the possibility to taste local wines at a reasonable fee and possibly to buy them. Snacks could also have been served, and in recent times the snacks have become more varied and plentiful, also showing off local specialties.

Rosticceria: If the place where you live has a kitchen, this is a great way to dine on authentic cuisine for an excellent price. Food here can be compared to “fast food” because it is ready to take away and eat, but it has been prepared with traditional slow methods. At a good rosticceria, the food is restaurant quality. Wine is often sold too, so you can save money and bring home a complete meal. Some rosticcerie go by the label tavola calda.

-eria or -ria: Some eating establishments are
self-explanatory. A gelateria sells gelato. A pizzeria sells pizza. A
Enjoying a gelato at the Chiardicrema gelateria in Montecarlo,
which also sells excellent crêpes and waffles.
birreria is a beer-focused bar. An ending can be added to almost any food to show the specialty of the establishment.
A few final words about paying at the end of your meal. Many establishments will not bring your bill until you ask for it. You can say, “Il conto, per favore.” Tips are not expected and are not normal practice. Many meals will include a cover charge (coperto) that includes bread and service (although some add separate coperto and servizio charges). If you want to show extra appreciation, you can leave one or two euros on the table, but again, it’s not usual.

Buon appetito!