Monday, June 19, 2017

My book, An American Family in Italy, will launch in less than one month

A long journey is about to end, and an exciting new one to begin. My first memoir about our explorations in Italy will be launched July 13, which is also Lucy and my wedding anniversary. It seemed like an easy date to remember!

It will be available as both an ebook and a print book on Amazon. I had hoped that by now my asphalt maintenance business would have been sold so I’d have more time to promote the book. I’ve had some conversations with prospective business buyers, but no sale yet. I thought about delaying the book launch, but it’s nearly complete and I’m getting impatient.

I could really use help from my friends and readers, though. I need about 30 people to join my book launch team. You won’t need to attend any meetings, and you’ll have a chance to get a nice discount on the book, plus get a second book completely free—all for just a few minutes of help.

You can contact me or sign up to help on this page, which also has more information about the book: http://ourlifeintuscany.com/book-info.html



Monday, May 8, 2017

Special members of the Spadoni family discovered in both Italia and U.S.

Off and on for the past six years, I’ve been looking for some Spadoni third and fourth cousins in Italy, with little success. We have met many second cousins who are descendants of Enrico Spadoni, the brother of my nonno Michele. Some of them have even come to visit us in Gig Harbor. But we also know, because of the church records, that the father of Michele and Enrico—Pietro—had brothers and sisters who survived until adulthood: Angelo, Francesco, Abigaille and Gioconda. Most likely their descendants should be living near Montecarlo.
Tanti (so many) Spadoni: Susan, Sauro, Suzye, Paul, Annette, Sharon.

In 2014, I did find Silvano‟Leino” Celli and his brother Emo, great grandsons of Gioconda Spadoni, both living in San Salvatore. It seemed like I should be able to find descendants of Angelo and Francesco, because some of them should still carry the Spadoni surname. My efforts to find them led me to a number of Spadonis, but the closest was fourth cousin Leonello Spadoni, owner of a pizzeria in Chiesina Uzzanese. He was the descendant of the brother of Pellegrino Spadoni (the father of Pietro, Angelo, Francesco, Abigaille and Gioconda).

Suzye getting styled by Sauro Spadoni of Magic Hair.
Over the course of the last six months, I finally hit pay dirt, finding the names of many of the descendants of Angelo. The breakthrough came from DNA testing through Ancestry.com. My brother and sister and I all came up as matches for some family members in Illinois, and in our subsequent contact, we discovered that we are third cousins. I have since enjoyed some interesting correspondence with Eileen Riccomi Lucietto, Alfred Riccomi and Robert Riccomi, all of whom are the great grandchildren of Angelo Spadoni. Their mom, Quarta Spadoni, married Eugenio Riccomi, and the family moved to America in the 1920s.

All of them speak some Italian and have visited their relatives who remain in the Valdinievole area, which encompasses Pescia, Montecarlo and Chiesina Uzzanese. Eileen provided me with many names and dates of birth for Italian family members, and through her information, I have become Facebook friends with several of them.

During our recent stay in Italy (which ended about ten days ago), we had a great experience with Sauro Spadoni, a hair stylist of some renown in Chiesina Uzzanese. Sauro is exceptionally friendly, lively and gracious, and he welcomed Lucy and me with a broad smile and open arms when we dropped in for a visit at his salon, called Magic Hair, in March. We promised to return in April for a longer visit when our daughter Suzye came for a week-long stay in Montecarlo. Suzye is also a hair stylist—she graduated as valedictorian in 2015 from the Gene Juarez Academy of Beauty and is a stylist at Rudy’s in Seattle.

When we went back to see Sauro again, we had not only Suzye with us but also three more visiting American cousins: Annette, Susan and Sharon. Suzye and I returned the next day so that Suzye could get a trim, but Sauro turned the appointment into a full styling that was the highlight of Suzye’s week.

Meeting Sauro was such a treat!” Suzye said. ‟I felt an instant connection from knowing that we are relatives who share the same love for hair styling. He greeted me warmly and treated me like family.”

Sauro's patented product.
While Suzye is still at the beginning of her career, Sauro has been styling hair since 1989. He is a consultant for a line of hair care products, Mr. Gio’, and he has developed a patented method and product for hair tinting called E-Form.
He’s created a foam square with a circle cut out so it fits on the top of the head,” Suzye said. ‟Along the edges there are notches where you can place hairs so that when you are coloring them they will stay separate.”

Showing Suzye how the E-Form works.
Sauro gives workshops in various cities in Italy to teach his technique to other stylists. Suzye felt honored to receive special attention from such an accomplished professional.
He is vastly more experienced than I, as he started his career when I was just 5 years old,” she said. ‟It was so nice to be treated to the full salon experience, as I’m so used to having another coworker quickly cut my hair when there is a lull between clients at our shop.

A thoroughly satisfied customer
He started by shampooing me himself, which he doesn’t usually do since he has interns and other employees who are expected to handle that. Then he gave me an edgy new cut topped off with a blowout and style, all the while showing me books of his work and explaining unique techniques that he’s developed. By the end I felt like a princess, and he wouldn’t even let us pay.”

We have yet to meet the other Italian cousins who are descended from Angelo, but that will be a treat for another time. And I still have hope that someday we’ll find some of the descendants of Francesco and Veronica Spadoni.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Add the Fortress of Verrucole as among recommended attractions in Northern Tuscany

I have a new item to put on my list of top things to see when visiting Montecarlo and the Lucca area: the Fortress of Verruccole of San Romano in Garfagnana. The reason it’s so special is that it’s not just an imposing restored medieval fortress on a hilltop in one of the most beautiful valleys in Italy. It’s greater appeal is the knowledge, passion and personality of the docents, who have a stated goal to inform people about the middle ages and to ‟captivate the attention and convey a documented knowledge without boring or numbing tourists with dates or pompous words.”

The siege machine.
We arrived late in the day and only had time for a half-hour tour with English-speaking guide Giulia Paltrinieri, but in that short time, we learned much and were swept up in her love of history. The fortress dates back to the 10th century and is impressive both in its imposing position and large size, but the most interesting aspect is that it’s an ‟archeopark” dedicated to teaching and demonstrating with interactive displays what life was like in the 12th century.

Rosemary "Flintstone" makes sparks to get the fire going.
Often times, most of what passes as history is really the story of the changing fortunes of rich and powerful rulers. Around Lucca, we hear a lot about Matilda di Canossa, Castruccio Castracani, Paolo Guinigi, Uguccione della Faggiuola, Napoleone Bonaparte and Elisa Bacciocchi. But little is said about the everyday lives of the farmers, merchants, soldiers, traders and craftsmen. Giulia and the other docents turn that equation around, devoting their displays, demonstrations, workshops and lectures to showing how people really lived. For example, after detailing a short history of the fortress, she jumped right into showing us about 30 powders—made from plants, animals, chemicals and minerals—that were used for coloring art, clothing and other objects. We were impressed that she could explain from memory the origin, composition and use of each color. She did the same thing with a demonstration of medical tools and herbal and chemical potions, answering questions about the purpose and use of each implement or medicine.

Giulia shows us how to use an iron tool to cauterize a wound.
We were treated to explanations of sleeping conditions, food, clothing and weaponry. We watched a team load and catapult a projectile from a huge siege machine. Giulia dressed my brother in the uniform of an infantryman, explaining the use of each item and weapon. We had arrived late in the day and stayed until closing time, but we left wanting to return for more. I read that the laboratories and workshops offer activities in ancient building techniques, battles, archery, miniature art and writing using ink and quills, weaving and cooking. By request or on special occasions, visitors can also engage in a game of pallascudo, a medieval sport involving the use of a ball and shield.

That fierce looking infantryman with the
sword ready is Roger Spadoni
The panoramic views from the walls also deserve mention, as one can view the Alpi Apuane to the west, the Tosco-Emiliana Appennini to the east and the lush Garfagnana valley to the north and south. A tavern provides food and drinks that offer a glimpse of past diets combined with modern snacks and light meals.

Entrance admission is only 5 euro, with discounts for children, seniors and groups. Admission includes a tour of about an hour. Other educational activities and workshops can be organized upon request. A few words of caution: You should check the schedule online (www.fortezzaverrucolearcheopark.it), because the fortress is usually only open on weekends and special holidays, and its closed entirely in the winter. There is also only one English-speaking guide, so you may have to wait until she is available. Finally, the hike from the parking area to the fortress goes up a trail that takes 10 minutes to climb—or longer, if one has to stop and rest.
This cold-looking slab of rock was
once the captain's toilet. Waste went
over the outside wall.


If you’re part of an active family or group, I recommend making San Romano a full day adventure, because within only a few minutes from the fortezza, there is a popular ropes course with zip lines, the Parco Avventura Selva del Buffardello. I went through the course a few years ago and had a blast. It’s a fortunate coincidence that two of the best attractions in the valley are in the same small city. Plan two or three hours for each, with a relaxing lunch break between.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

We return to Tellaro on a normal day to find that it is far from a normal vacation destination

Shhh! Don’t tell Rick Steves. We went back to Tellaro on Thursday, after the crowds from Easter Monday departed, and it’s truly a paradise, everything that the Cinque Terre were before the world discovered them. We heard about it from my brother, Roger, who had done some research while making plans to visit us. Tellaro is less than an hour from Lucca, on the coast south of La Spezia—whereas the Cinque Terre are just a little farther north.

Tellaro has rocky hillside cliffs, with houses and patios overhanging them. It has hiking trails in the hills. Views of bays, islands, peninsulas, sailboats. Old stone buildings attached to each other in willy nilly patterns with flowers in the window boxes and laundry hanging out the windows. Stone streets slanting this way and that. Dark narrow alleys overhung with random arches. Rocky beaches and a lovers’ lane—though it is not named as such—that is not closed for construction.
Rosemary contemplates Sleeping Dragon Island (the name she gave it).

It does not have a train station, though, which might be deemed a negative aspect. It is only reachable by bus or car, and the road from La Spezia south to Tellaro is a dead end. However, this may be the best part of Tellaro, in my opinion, because it renders it off the beaten tourist track, making it truly very much like Vernazza and the other Cinque Terre cities were 30 years ago. No kidding, we had the beach and trails almost to ourselves on a mild, sunny spring day. I’m sure it is somewhat more crowded in the summer, but even then I’m sure the crowds are nothing like they are at the Cinque Terre.

We had no problem parking up above the main street at about 10:30 a.m. It took about 15 minutes to walk to the beach, and we went straight out to a rocky protuberance, where we enjoyed the sun and view of the peninsula of Portovenere, the island of Palmaria and the port of La Spezia. A narrow and rugged 1650-foot-long island rose out of the water only about 30 feet away, separated from the mainland by a deep channel. It made us think of a sleeping dragon, and we watched the waves lap against the shore while we took pictures of each other and the landscape. For the 20 minutes that we enjoyed this section of the shore, which was right in the heart of the town, we were the only ones present.

From there, we walked past colorful rowboats waiting to be launched and enjoyed coffee and hot chocolate at the outdoor tables of the Bar La Marina. The tables were about half full, but we heard no English, German, Japanese or anything but Italian being spoken—and this was the liveliest part of the town. We walked south past the Chiesa di San Giorgio on a 10-foot wide trail overlooking the sea. We could have easily climbed over the railings and accessed the huge boulders that
made up the beach, but we were content to stay on the trail. Near the end, we sat on a ledge and munched on cheese, crackers, chocolate and apples that Lucy had packed. While the trail only extended about 360 feet before coming to a dead end, we later discovered the city streets above went much further and offered a higher vantage point. During our half hour stroll and snack, we did share the trail, viewpoints, benches and boulders with, oh, about a dozen other vacationers. While the coastline in Tellaro is not made for swimming, one can easily walk to the sandy beaches of nearby Fiascherino—or if sandy beaches are more of a priority, one can just stay in Fiascherino instead of Tellaro. They are only five minutes apart by foot.

When we walked up higher, we found some fascinating narrow alleys, hidden piazzas, breathtaking overlooks and more old churches, walls, doorways and ornate doorknobs. And once again, very few people. We could see trails on the hillsides that begged us to follow them.

‟It’s definitely worth a couple or three days, easily,” Roger said. ‟It reminds me of my first visit to Vernazza many years ago. It would be especially great for people who like hiking, because you could stroll without crowds of foreigners coming up behind you making impatient noises because they want to pass.”

We only explored the town for about two hours, but it was enough to convince us to book some rooms next time for more extensive exploration. One can easily take a bus from Tellaro to the more bustling resort town of Lerici (only two miles away), which has sandy beaches, castles to explore, a cinema and the Scuola di Mare Santa Teresa, where one can take lessons in surfing, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboards and kite-surfing, as well as rent all the equipment. I also read online that in the summer there is boat service from Tellaro to Lerici.

The town is small, so any place inside the city limits is near the water, bus stops, restaurants and other services. We saw plenty of advertisements for rooms available to rent, so I’m sure that with some advance planning, one should have a good choice of places to stay. Just don’t take our room, because we’re coming back for a much longer stay next time!



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Our day trip starts poorly but ends with memorable encounters

Monday, April 17
Call it random serendipity if you want. Call it the hand of God working through indirect events. The end result was another fantastic experience in our Tuscan paradise, accompanied by my brother Roger and his wife Rosemary. Initial plans for a day trip to a ‟little-known” coastal resort were thwarted, and yet we ended up with a magical day, complete with spectacular views of high mountains and lush green valleys, a guided tour of a medieval fortress and even a chance encounter with a distant relative.
The Appennini of Tosco-Emiliana, taken from Verrucole.

Roger, Rosemary and the Alpi Apuane.
Roger and Rosemary are experienced Italy travelers, and they don’t feel the need to pack their one-week visit with excursions to must-see places. They only had a couple of items on their wish list, and those sites were not the typical American tourist places. One was the beach-side city of Tellaro, which is advertised in the tour books as more beautiful and yet less known than the five Cinque Terre towns. ‟You won’t be overrun by foreign tourists,” one web site said. ‟You’ll be all alone on the walks, and the beaches are far better than anything on the Cinque Terre.” Tellaro is about an hour from Montecarlo, so we set off mid-morning to see for ourselves.

But we made one mistake. We did it on the Monday after Easter, which in Italy is a national holiday called ‟Pasquetta.” And Pasquetta is a holiday specially designed for family activities such as having picnics or group dinners in the mountains and beaches and at little-known places. Like Tellaro.
More of the Alpi Apuane.

It’s true there were no foreign tourists, but there were so many Italian families that we couldn’t find a parking space. We cruised through the town along with another hundred cars looking for that last space. The only one we found was at a restaurant that offered full course meals for either 30, 40 or 50 euros each. I’m sure the meals would have been sumptuous, but we had come to walk on the trails and beaches. We had already planned to go out to a big dinner near Pescia in the evening, so we nixed that idea. We drove back out of town and had lunch at a small local trattoria in Arcola that offered normal-sized meals at reasonable prices.

We like to stop at little cemeteries along
the way. Even though this Alfredo
is probably not related to the one in
our family tree, it makes us feel more
connected to Italia.
We decided to move onto Roger’s second choice, the Fortress of Verrucole of San Romano in Garfagnana. To get there, we had to pass through Aulla, near the head of the Garfagnana valley. Driving through the valley provided breathtaking views of the Alpi Apuane mountains on the west side and the Appinini of Tosco-Emiliana on the east. We also caught views of ancient hillside villages, the peaceful Serchio River, and some special bridges, both old and new. This in itself would have made up for the time wasted trying to see Tellaro on the wrong day. But two events that occurred when we arrived in San Romano made our trip so fully worthwhile that I’d have to classify this as one of our best days here this year.

The first event came at a cemetery on the outskirts of San Romano. We stopped to look at grave markers because we thought we might find the name Donati. Dad’s uncle Jim (Seghiero) Seghieri had married Leona Donati, whose family originally had come from San Romano. Leona’s sister Renata married Alfredo Spadoni, Dad’s first cousin. Surprisingly, we only found one grave, that of Tersilla Donati, but by an unbelievable coincidence, we also found Tersilla’s daughter, who lives near Genoa, visiting the grave. What are the odds that Milena, making a rare visit to her mother’s grave, would be there at the same minute that distant relatives from Gig Harbor, Washington, would wander by, probably for the first and last time in their lives? Astronomical!

Chance encounter with the daughter of Tersilla Donati.
We didn’t have nearly enough information to connect her family line to ours, but knowing there was a likely tie increased our feeling of belonging, and it seemed to mean something to her as well. She had moved away from the area many years ago and had not been in contact with relatives from her home town since. We exchanged information, and we will stay in touch, since now Milena and I are Facebook friends.

Fratelli in montagna
After our encounter with Milena, we drove higher in the hills to the Fortress of Verrucole. We hadn’t realized two things: The fortress is huge, spectacular and has exceptional tour guides and activities. Second, it is only open Friday through Sunday in May and October, with extended hours from June through September. It is closed the rest of the year, including this month, unless a special tour is booked in advance. However, this being Easter weekend, there was an exception. It was open Saturday, Sunday and Monday—today! We realized then how fortunate we had been that we hadn’t spent the day at Tellaro and then tried to visit the fortress later in the week—because it would have been closed.

The fortress visit deserves more mention, and I will surely have to add it to my top 10 list of places to see when visiting Montecarlo. Therefore, I will write a more complete account of our visit and post that in a few days.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Stopped by the Italian police, but I easily slip off the hook

Thursday, April 13
I’ve seen them many times—Italian police officers standing on the roadside with their little red-green paddles, stopping cars randomly for safety and document checks. Police rarely stop drivers for speeding—they leave that for the automatic cameras. By random good luck, I’ve never been chosen for one of these routine inspections. Until today.

And it couldn’t have happened at a better time. For two months prior, we had been using a little Fiat Panda rented at a good price from our friends Eberhard and Dorothea. We had to return it earlier this week and take out a standard rental from the airport in Pisa to get us around for the rest of the month. It might have been difficult to explain why we were driving a car that belongs to a German citizen. I recently asked Eberhard to send us a note explaining that we have permission to drive his car, but we had used his car for many months without this letter, and luckily were never stopped.

Now I am driving a rental car, which has all the proper documents provided by the agency to show that I am the legal driver. No problem.

But there could be a problem. I became a resident of Montecarlo in March of 2016. Italian law states that residents have one year to get a proper Italian license. The lady at the police station reminded me of this law a couple of weeks ago when I went in to apply for a parking permit. Unfortunately, one of the patrol officers had just walked into the office 30 seconds prior, so if he was listening, now he knows I don’t have a proper license.

One might ask why this is a problem for me. Can’t I just go to the Italian DMV, or whatever it’s called, show them my American license, and get one for Italy? Not a chance. The two countries don’t have an equivalency agreement. I’ll have to pass a written and driving test, all in Italian. Before that, I’ll have to go to a driving school, which will have to certify that I am ready to take the driving test. Then I’ll have to pay the school to use their car to take the test, because only schools have cars with dual controls, a requirement for the driving test. All of this is expensive and time-consuming for someone who is only here three or four months a year. Plus, I’m not sure I’m fluent enough in Italian to pass the tests.

So I have an alternate plan, and today it worked to perfection. The traffic stop occurred in Pescia. My carta 
d'identit√† was beside me on the seat, but I covered it up. I handed over my American license. ‟Hi, I’m from the United States,” I said. ‟This is my rental car.” I started to rummage in the glove box for the rental documents, but the officer smiled and said that wouldn’t be necessary.

Then he used his best English on me. While his colleague took my license back to the patrol car for a computer check, the first officer asked me about my stay in Italy. ‟Is this your first visit? Where are you staying? How do you like it here? Do you have relatives here?”

I did start to worry a tiny bit because the colleague took more than five minutes to check my license. Could there be some possibility that his database would show somebody with my name and birth date who just might be a resident of nearby Montecarlo? Odds of this were slight, and I kept my cool. In the end, it was probably just slow wifi, a common problem here. My license was returned with a friendly smile.

It looks like my alternate plan will work fine, so long as that officer from Montecarlo isn’t the one who stops me. And I’ve never actually seen a traffic stop in Montecarlo. Someday, I may spend more time in Italy. I may become fluent in the language. And I might even get my license. But for right now, I’m on vacation, and we’ll stick with plan A.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Victory is ours, though it’s a little hard to work up the emotions to celebrate

We had a terrific surprise today! A very good one. We went to our ragioniere, our accountant, to pay our spring property taxes yesterday. I mentioned to him that we were working on Lucy’s citizenship so she wouldn’t have to pay taxes on her share of our house.

‟She’s a resident of Montecarlo now, but not yet an Italian citizen,” I said.

‟But that’s all you need,” he said. ‟If she’s a resident, you’ll only have to pay taxes for the days she wasn’t a resident.”

I asked him to repeat that, because I couldn’t believe my ears—or at least the way my fuzzy brain translated his Italian words into English. Yes, since Lucy became a resident at the end of March, we only had to pay three months of property taxes this year, which amounted to 88 euro. So from now on, we will be saving about 30 euro a month.

I had not fully understood the laws, thinking that only citizens were exempt from property taxes on their first house—but the law apparently applies to official residents as well. We had been priming ourselves to go through the final red tape of obtaining Lucy’s citizenship. I had been comparing it to playing in the NCAA tournament, and claiming that we had made it to the championship bracket. Now, it was like learning that our opponent had been disqualified for recruiting violations. We are the champions without having the play the final game—or rather, we can play the final game, but we’ll get the trophy whether we win or lose.

We have the prize, but now it’s going to be hard to motivate ourselves to get all the documents we need for Lucy to become a citizen. What will be the reward? Our children are already citizens. We’ve been told that Lucy’s residency will also qualify her for medical care. There could be other benefits of which we aren’t yet aware, so we will try to muster up the motivation to move ahead.


Meanwhile, pop open the prosecco, which we can buy at the end of April with the 30 euros that we would otherwise have spent on taxes!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

We enjoy the Corri con Paolo again, this time as seasoned veterans

With eyes on the prize, we entered the Corri con Paolo for the third consecutive year. Not exactly like that. We did enter, not to compete, but I just wanted to say ‟eyes on the prize” once in my life.

We walked as a group of six, with cousins Frank and Annette from Gig Harbor and some new friends from Lucca, Paolo and Giuliana. This is the second year in a row that Frank and Annette were here at just the right time to join us. Giuliana is the author of a children’s book (‟On Two Feet and Four Paws” is the English version), and we met her at a meeting of an English book club in Lucca. We had also registered cousin Rita Spadoni and her fidanzato Giulio, but Rita had a headache and had to stay home.


We had also accompanied Frank and Annette prior to the race on a search for a geocache that is located in Montecarlo. Geocaching is a kind of treasure hunt using GPS-enabled devices in which participants use coordinates to attempt to find a hidden container. Directions for the geocache hidden in Montecarlo included a puzzle to solve, and we had tried unsuccessfully to de-code the puzzle last year.


We still weren’t able to solve the puzzle, but we used some visual clues provided by others who had found the geocache and had taken pictures of themselves holding the prize. We were able to use our knowledge of the city to find the location, and Frank found the cache in less than a minute of searching for holes in the stone wall. It was the first geocache Lucy and I have found, but maybe the 100th for Frank and Annette.

Back to the Corri con Paolo, the weather was absolutely perfect, around 72 degrees F. Since I’ve given details about the walk in previous blogs (2015 and 2016), I’ll skip the background details. The only real difference between previous years is that Lucy and I were able to practice speaking Italian to Giuliana and Paolo. Luckily, Giuliana is bilingual, so she could help out when we had trouble communicating details.


‟It was truly delightful,” Lucy said. ‟People of all ages were having a great time. We saw a little baby that looked like he had been born just a week ago. The local band was marching and playing, and there were clowns and people dressed as Pinocchio.”

We did win a prize (34th place based on our group size), a large laundry basket, and individual packets for participation. But the best reward was the chance to feel part of the crowd and watch the people—one of our favorite pastimes.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Lucy’s quest: The saga continues . . .

Last time I compared Lucy’s citizenship quest to playing in the NCAA tournament. Last week, she was headed to the Final Four, but looked to be the underdog. Unfortunately, in the real tournament, Gonzaga lost in the final round . . . perhaps a bad omen? But I’m not giving that away in the lead.

We had been told by three people at the Prefettura that Lucy must be an official resident in Italy for one year before applying for citizenship, but that didn’t sit right with me. If I were still a ‟cittadino all’estero,” a citizen living abroad, she would be immediately eligible (even though the waiting list for an appointment is super long). Why should a resident citizen have fewer rights than a citizen abroad? In addition, I was sure that another man at the Prefeturra had told me in February that Lucy could apply immediately after obtaining residence. Who was this mystery man? One of the two men who had turned us down last week told us it could have been Dottor Pierotti, who would be back in the office Wednesday morning.

Holding on to this slight hope, we found Il Dottore this morning just as he walked out of his office, and I tried to explain our situation. He seemed to be on his way somewhere else. He listened to me for a minute, but not long enough to hear the whole story.

‟Yes, you need to talk to Signora Bertelli,” he said, while leading me into the office we had visited in vain last week. ‟Here she is. She’ll help you.” And he started to leave!

‟No, no, I need to talk to you,” I explained. ‟I think you were the man who a month and a half ago told me my wife could apply for citizenship immediately if we had her residency.”

At this point, Signora Bertelli jumped in and explained our situation much more effectively and rapidly than I could have done. She was the supervisor who had explained to us last week how the law said we had to wait a year.

And then—music to my ears—Dottor Pierotti told her that this was nonsense. There had been a circolare—a memo—published that clarified our situation. The one-year waiting period didn’t apply to people like us who had been married 42 years and had children who were already citizens. I don’t know everything he said, but he didn’t seem to be gentle about it. Not rude, but blunt. And then he left.

Signora Bertelli was apologetic and probably a little embarrassed. I was jubilant and felt vindicated. I had successfully challenged the Italian system and won, for once—but only because the law had actually been on my side. Also, I had been very lucky to have spoken to Dottor Pierotti the first time around—and then found him again when I needed him the most. If I had met up with Signora Bertelli the first time around, I probably wouldn’t have persisted.

We quickly downplayed this big play, because we didn’t want to antagonize the person who would now be responsible for the rest of our paperwork. ‟No problem, no problem,” I said to the apologetic signora. ‟We’re just happy that we can continue.”

It seemed like we had a slim lead in the semifinal game with less than a minute to play. And then, just as happened to North Carolina in 2016, a dagger struck. Signora Bertelli still had the ball in her hands, and she sank the tying basket on her final possession!

We had previously collected all our documents last August, in our failed attempt to get Lucy’s citizenship at the Italian Consulate in San Francisco. Signora Bertelli asked for our marriage certificate. Got it right here, with an official seal from the comune of Pescia. Lucy’s birth certificate? Check, right here. With apostille attached? Oh, yeah. Official translation of birth certificate? Here it is. And your apostille for the official translation? What? No, I didn’t know I needed that. It wasn’t required by the Italian Consulate.

But can I have someone official here in Lucca translate it again? Yes, we can go to the Tribunale on via Galli Tassi and pay for a new translation. Okay, we’re still hold a slight lead—but she still had the ball. And she took her final shot: ‟Of course, you need ‟good conduct” statements from the police for every place your wife has lived in the United States—and they all must be dated within the last six months, with apostilles attached. And they all must be translated, with apostilles attached for every translation.”

My heart sank. I had thought that being fingerprinted and photographed by the Italian Polizia Scientifica would have taken the place of this requirement. We did have these good conduct statements and translations, but they all were dated in July of 2016—10 months ago—in anticipation of our ill-fated San Francisco trip. This time, we had no answering play. It will take several months to get these documents again. We leave Italy in three weeks. The buzzer has sounded, and this game is going into overtime!


We left the Prefettura with mixed emotions. We had gone toe-to-toe with the bureaucracy and won a major concession, and then, with victory almost in sight, we let them score the equalizer. So it will be back to the United States for the summer. We’ll get our documents renewed. And we’ll return to Italy in the fall for what we hope will be the final period. Please, no double-overtime!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Chances look slim for Lucy to become an Italian citizen this time around

Thursday, March 30
Remember the slogan: ‟The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat?” We experienced both today, though it’s an exaggeration to say that our competition is as meaningful as the Olympic Games or the NCAA Final Four (go Bulldogs!). Still, our struggle to gain Lucy’s citizenship is the only game on our personal schedule right now, so we’re taking it seriously.

A poliziotta came yesterday to confirm that Lucy indeed lives in our house, and we assumed the policewoman would turn in her paperwork this morning. We already had Lucy’s official photos in hand, so we went off to the Municipio. Everything went smoothly, and within a half hour, Lucy had her much-treasured carta d’identit√†, confirming her residency. By early afternoon, we were off to Lucca to start step 3: cittadinanza—citizenship.

Not so fast, said the clerk at the Prefettura. Citizenship requires a year of residency, he maintained. His colleague agreed. Che cosa? ‟What?” I said. ‟That’s not what I was told last month. There must be a mistake. The man who was in this office last month said we needed a permesso di soggiorno and then residency. After that, we could apply for citizenship.”

‟That’s a problem for me,” he said, ‟because my understanding is you must be a resident for a year.”

‟Can I talk to someone else? I’m sure the man I spoke to previously said we could go ahead.”

The man gave me the name of colleague, Signora Bertelli, someone with more authority, and said we could go talk to her. We found her office, but the story didn’t change. She even quoted us the law from a thick book. The paragraph she cited said the residency requirement was actually only six months, but then she explained that this law had since been changed to two years, or one year if the person applying had children.

At this point, we had been told by three people that we would have to wait another year, but I was not ready to give up. By now, I’ve had enough experience dealing with Italian bureaucracy to know that ‟no” isn’t always a final answer.

I remember being in the Italian Consulate in San Francisco once when a man had come in wanting a visa on short notice. ‟Absolutely impossible,” the clerk said without hesitation. ‟You should have applied for this months ago.”

The man went on the explain the circumstances, including why he couldn’t have applied for it previously. He went right on as if she had just said, ‟The weather is cold, isn’t it?” instead of ‟Absolutely impossible.” Soon he was filling out his forms and paying for his visa.

So, am I Italian enough to do the same? Probably not. Still, I went back to the first office and let the two men know that even though Signora Bertelli had confirmed their opinion, I still wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to know who else worked in their office. Who was the man who had told me we could do this? I recalled then that the mystery man had spoken on the phone to another colleague, and that colleague had told him that a letter had been written recently clarifying the law. I think it may have said that people who had been married prior to a certain year fell under a different set of regulations.

They gave me the name of another colleague, Dottor Pierotti, who sometimes works in their office. They tried to call him but learned that he was out of town and wouldn’t be back until the following Wednesday. And so, clinging to the slight chance that he can help us, we will take another trip to Lucca. We also take some hope in the fact that even though Signora Bertelli showed us the law book that she had read from, she admitted that the law had changed since the book had been printed. Could it not have changed again? We’ll soon find out . . .


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Researching dead people makes for some lively in-person activities

I spend a lot of time with dead people. Lucy pointed this out recently when I told her I was off to the archives to find more dead ancestors and relatives. But sometimes all these dead people come in quite handy when we want to meet some very live and fascinating people.

One of the reason we come to Italy is to interact with Italians, and it’s true that we do this to some extent on a daily basis. Usually, though, our encounters are pleasant but fairly superficial. We know some of the Montecarlo and San Salvatore store and restaurant owners, and we always exchange friendly salutations. I have relatives that we sometimes see and greet at the bank or grocery stores. But often our conversations are short and insignificant, owing both to our lack of language skills and shared experiences. It doesn’t help that we only live in Montecarlo for three months a year, or that Lucy and I are both fairly quiet by nature—but even nomadic introverts get lonely.

This is where the dead people come in handy. Because my genealogical research has made connections with so many other distant relatives, it’s become easier to find live people to talk to. We’ve been visited here by previously unknown English-speaking Italian-American relatives, and we’ve also made contact with Italian relatives that have resulted in some great conversations.

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by Rita Spadoni and her fidanzato Giulio. We shared some antipasto and dolce while having a great conversation at a sweet shop in Montecatini. Both of them speak some English, and of course we speak some Italian. The great thing about having friends who speak some English is that we can start talking in Italian (and we always need practice in that), but when the proper words escape us, we can continue in English and still be understood. And our friends can do the same—speak English but switch to Italian at any time—without losing any flow of the conversation while still being understood.


Selfie with Giulio and Rita at La Pasticceria Sweet.
Rita is an distant relative, connected so far back in time that some would say we’re not really cousins. But sharing the same surname and ancient family history proved to be enough connection to draw us together. We left our encounter with Rita and Giulio very happy, and I also found a recommendation for a physical therapist who is helping me with my sore back.


Enrichetta, Italo, Francesco, Marco.
Last Sunday after church, we also renewed our contact with Italo Cortesi and his wife Enrichetta and son Francesco, age 24. Italo’s nonno is the famous Italo Spadoni after whom an important street in Ponte Buggianese is named. We knew that Francesco loves his tractors, and last summer we were given a John Deere calendar by Washington Tractor in Sumner. We also bought a John Deere polo shirt. We dropped by Italo’s house in Ponte Buggianese to give these to
Bistecca alla fiorentina roasting
on an open fire.
Francesco and say what we thought would be a brief hello. The hello turned into a lunch invitation. Francesco’s friend Marco, who speaks some English, was also present. After a while, Italo’s friend Andrea joined in. After three hours of conversation and constant eating (various antipasti, bistecca alla fiorentina, fruit, gelato) and drinking (vino bianco, vino rosso, spumante, vinsanto, homemade limoncello), we could barely move to drive home.



Italo carves the steak into strips.
Italo and Francesco are farmers, planting mostly corn and sunflowers, and it means working from dawn to dusk during the planting, growing and harvesting seasons. They are proud of their business, their tractors, their land and their profession. Although Italo is 66, he has no plans to retire.

‟I can still work 14 hours a day,” he said. ‟Maybe I could sell everything and stop working, but what would Francesco do? When I get home after a hard day’s work, I have a good dinner with my wife and son, I visit with my friends, and I feel completely satisfied with my life. Because of that, I don’t feel the least bit tired. I just start all over again the next day.”
Italo and one of his classic tractors.

Italo proudly showed us the bio-furnace he uses to heat his home. It uses dried corn from his fields as fuel. We saw his six tractors, some of them restored and certified classics that will be part of a special church mass and parade next weekend near Pisa to celebrate the planting season and give thanks for the abundance of the Tuscan soil.
A classic John Deere restored by Francesco and Italo.

We felt privileged to share our Sunday afternoon with a modern Italian contadino, a distant cousin who makes his living from the same soil that supported and sustained our shared ancestors. While looking online for information about the celebration Italo had told us about, I found this fitting quotation from one of the event organizers: ‟The Day of Thanksgiving is a joyous time to find ourselves and be together but also to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the farming sector. We entrust our lives every day to the providence that decides our crops and the fruits of that which we prepare, but we must not forget that the soil, the earth, are non-renewable resources and thus must be protected. Citizens need to defend and protect our agricultural heritage and the availability of fertile land from the advance of overbuilding in the cities and the abandonment of marginal areas. The road that Tuscany is taking now is the right one.”

Monday, March 27, 2017

A visit to the impressive villas of Lucca worth adding to one’s Tuscan itinerary

Our tour group: Else, Eduard, me and Lucy.
For anyone drawn to lifestyles of the rich and famous, Lucca has something for you. More than 300 historical country villas were built in the hills of Lucca during the 16th and the 17th centuries by rich merchants. Most of them were summer residences of noble Italian families and are vivid examples of different architectural styles in Tuscany.

We had the privilege to visit two of the the most famous this weekend: Villa Torrigiani and Villa Reale. Lucy and I, along with Lucy’s cousins Eduard and Else (visiting from Amsterdam) were escorted by Lucca native and tour guide extraordinaire Elena Benvenuti and her husband Davide Seghieri.
If you are touring Italian villas, don't forget to bring along knowledgeable native Italian
tour guides like Elena and Davide to enrich the experience.

Villa Torrigiani is an amazing 16th century estate in which baroque ornamental elements have been harmoniously added to the more simple original architecture. The main alley makes an impressive initial impression, with huge cypresses directing the eye to the multicolored baroque facade. The facade alternates stone grey, tuffa and yellow pillars and arches. It is adorned with marble statues of white, ochre plaster.

Lost in a secret passageway in the
gardens of Villa Torrigiani.
Inside, we toured the first floor, covered with vibrant frescoes and expensive oil paintings. Beds with silk canopies, marble tables and costumes of the servants allow an authentic glimpse into the lives of the wealthy families who have occupied the villa. Thick walls provide a nearly constant temperature year around.

The first mention of the villa dates back to 1593, when it belonged to  the Buonvisi family. It later passed to family of Nicola Santini, who rebuilt the south facade in baroque style at the end of the seventeenth century in imitation of the architecture of Versailles, where he was ambassador for the Republic of Lucca. In 1816 Victoria Santini married into the Torrigiani family, who uprooted the existing garden to make an English style park. Now the villa is owned by Fabio Colonna of Stigliano.

Grotesque art and unpredictable sprays
of water were provided to entertain and
surprise visitors at Villa Torrigiani.
Outside is equally appealing. Fountains, garden grotesques and hidden tunnels and grottos provided amusement and cool places for social gatherings and lovers trysts. Villa Torrigiani obviously was the place to be for a party a few hundred years ago. While sitting in an grotto decorated with grotesque tuffa statues, guests might be surprised and refreshed by a sudden spray of water. Elena said it even happened to her while she was giving a tour not long ago.

Teatro Verzura, the Green Theater (verzura is old Lucca dialect for verde).
We happened to be in the teatro at just the right time to
witness a solo musical performance by our singing tour guide.
While visitors are not allowed inside Villa Reale, it is most notable for its extensive grounds with take up most of the 16 hectares (nearly 40 acres). Home in the 19th century to Napoleon’s sister and Duchess of Lucca Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, the villa includes numerous refined gardens and botanic rarities, as well as majestic buildings created over centuries. It features a splendid world famous Teatro Verzura, or Green Theatre, where the composer Paganini often performed for Elisa Baciocchi. The garden pathways are lined with camellia flowers and it is enriched by a lemon garden with a group of marble statues depicting Leda and the Swan, and a Spanish garden in art deco style. Several historic buildings add to the experience, including the 16th century Villa del Vescovo with its nymphaeum (sacred place of he nymphs), named the Grotto of Pan, and the elegant 18th century Palazzina dell’Orologio with its panoramic loggia.
The impressive Grotta di Pan.

I have to admit that my practical side prevented me from fully enjoying some aspects of the morning. As the owner of houses in both America and Italy, the issues of maintenance are never far from my mind. It’s the perplexing dilemma of having just enough money to buy a house but not being wealthy enough to hire other people to fix the crumbling plaster or leaky roof or to water and trim all the plants. But I tried to put my own issues aside and enjoy a vivid glimpse into this living history. And I’d sure like to add some of those beautiful grottos and fountains to my yard.
Our guides for the day, Davide and Elena, in front of a refreshing and surprisingly beautiful waterfall at Villa Reale.