The fabric of life

Sadly, I went to a funeral yesterday in Stia. A local shopkeeper, someone my friend Catherine and I knew from numerous visits to his shop, died tragically. Although we had committed to attending a workshop at the wool museum, we knew we had to attend the funeral Mass. It didn’t matter that neither of us is Catholic or that we couldn’t understand the service or eulogy, we had to be there.

After the Mass, we stood in line to offer our condolences to his sisters. Although we had looked up the translation of ‘condolences,’ we weren’t sure what to say, which I think is typical of these circumstances, no matter what the language. As it turned out, it didn’t matter; simply shaking his sisters’ hands and saying condoglianze and I’m so sorry was understood.

What touched me was coming out of the church to find everyone waiting quietly in the square. The hearse was pulled up to the steps of the church and once the family exited the church, it was driven slowly out of the square and down the main street, preceded by the priest and followed by the mourners, still quiet. Not until we had followed the hearse for several blocks did it stop and the crowd disperse before the hearse continued to the cemetery. I was told later this is traditional; only the close family goes to the cemetery, but the casket is escorted for a short distance.

We didn’t feel like going to the workshop, but felt we should stop by the museum and explain our absence. Once we got there, the woman at the desk said we weren’t too late to join in. As it turned out, it was a good antidote to the sadness felt ever since we heard about the death. We learned how to make a felted bird Christmas ornament with four eight-year-old girls and another woman. The girls spoke a little English and translated when we couldn’t understand the instructor (although the thing I realized about crafts is that show-and-tell works pretty well!). And if I may say it, they thought we were funny and entertaining. That may have had something to do with the bird at a certain point looking like the president-elect of the USA and when I play-shrieked his name, everyone laughed heartily.

I wrote recently about ‘working’ the dream as part of ‘living’ the dream. Yesterday was neither; it was about becoming part of the fabric of the place in which you live.


The road to Porciano: Consuma to Porciano

After the road crests at the Consuma Pass, it dips down to the hamlet of Ponticelli. There’s a bus stop here, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, where the bus from Florence offloads passengers going to towns in the Casentino and the busses from the Casentino offload the passengers going to Florence. For the most part, the timing is coordinated, but the first time it was a little nerve-wracking, wondering if we’d be stranded here!

Ponticelli bus stop.

Ponticelli bus stop.

After Ponticelli, the road climbs again through a heavily-forested area (as I mentioned in another post, the wood used for the scaffolding and machines used to build the dome of the Duomo came from the forests of the Casentino), but at one point, the land drops away from the road and I can see Poppi and the valley opening up before me. From here, I am usually narrating the journey in my head for the benefit of my siblings, wishing they could be along for the adventure and thinking how much they would enjoy this trip. When I am bringing someone to Porciano for the first time, I try not to narrate – I don’t want to impose my feelings on their first impressions.


Looking into the Casentino Valley towards Poppi.

The bar that marks the turn.

The bar that marks the turn towards Porciano.

Then it’s time to make the turn at Scarpaccia, where a bar (meaning a place to get food and drink, not just alcohol) marks the turn. Now I’m almost to Porciano and I swear I can feel the tug of the place. Soon Castello di Romena comes into view. No matter the angle I see it from – from Porciano, on SR70 from Bibbiena, or from here – I get a catch in my heart because it’s so beautiful.


Castello di Romena.

Castello di Romena.

A couple more twists and turns and Porciano comes into sight. I’m like a showman when someone is with me – if no one is behind me, I stop the car and point out the village with Castello di Porciano behind it. Then it’s down into Stia, a little town of which I am very fond, a turn onto a small bridge across the Arno River, with the centro storico on the right and the football (soccer) field and La Rana, a restaurant overlooking the Arno, on the left.

A turn onto Via Dante Alighieri and I’m almost there. I pass the house where a dog named Zoe and her canine companion whose name I haven’t found out yet live, hoping to catch a glimpse of them both; if I see them, I sometimes pull over and distribute scritches! Another turn, and Porciano comes into view again. Different times of day and seasons have shown me the hills ahead glowing with light or wind ruffling the olive trees, displaying the silvery undersides of their leaves. In the fields on either side of the road, I often see a shepherd with his flock. Another turn or two and I’m in the piazzale below the castle. I pass the local cemetery, turn into the drive, and I have arrived.

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As I said, it’s a journey I’ve made many times; I never tire of it and it is never less than beautiful.
Images © Melissa Corcoran

New Year’s Day

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions; I think my coach has the right idea (Resolutions … Bah Hum Bug!). However, I occasionally take the approach of starting the new year as I mean to go on, not in all aspects (the day is not long enough), but in one or two. I’m not fanatic or consistent about it – some years, I’m just not inspired – and it has led to doing things like biking on a New Year’s Day so cold, I had ice in my water bottle before I finished the ride.

Today being a beautiful sunny day, I was prompted to do a few of the things I’d like to keep doing throughout the year—get outside and in motion, explore ‘my’ city, and take photographs. I accomplished all three by completing a Wherigo geocache, which involves starting at a specific location, answering a question relating to that location, and having the next location be revealed if the answer is correct.

The geocache took me to Piazza San Lorenzo, Piazza del Duomo, Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza della Signoria, and Piazzale Michelangelo and it was wonderful! I learned things about each piazza I hadn’t known, noticed statues to which I’d been oblivious, and focused on details I didn’t know were there. I enjoyed walking the streets of Florence (along with several thousand other people—Florence is apparently a popular holiday tourist destination) and taking photos along the way.

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After all that walking, I restored the tissues with a cioccolata calda while waiting for my bus. If this was part of starting as I mean to go on, perhaps it’s about enjoying life’s sweetness when it presents itself.


Images © Melissa Corcoran.

Home, for now

Two years ago, when I told a lifelong friend that I had closed my apartment and put my stuff in storage (see Two Years a Vagabond), she replied that she wondered if my travels would bring me to a place that would tell me “this is my new home.” In a way I did not expect, I have found a place to call ‘home,’ at least for the next year.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I have spent several months in Italy over the last two years. Each time I had to tear myself away, to the point that earlier this year, I looked into getting a visa that would allow me to stay in Italy for more than 90 days at a time (the rule for US citizens is 90 out of every 180 days). My idea was that I would stay 4-6 months, moving around to various places in Italy. The only visa category I fit into, though, was elective residence, which entailed my name on a lease that ran for 8-12 months. I thought about it and decided that a lease of that duration didn’t fit my vision, so I put aside the idea.

But when I came back to Florence this spring, I realized that I could spend a year here. Even with all that was going in my life at the time, most of it stressful, I loved being here, so I decided to pursue getting the visa.

As I gathered the information and forms I needed, though, I wondered whether I was doing the right thing. For one, it was hard for me to imagine being away from family and friends for a year. For another, although I work virtually and have done so from various locations, including Florence, I worried that it would be better in some way to be in the US. A lot of my thoughts then included the word ‘should’ – I should ‘buckle down’ to whatever my life should be, I should be looking at places to live in the US, I should establish a base there, I should I should I should. I came to see that those ‘shoulds’ were the voices of other people and when I listened to my heart, I knew that I was happy in Florence and as scary as it was (both the move and the happiness), I wanted to be here.

Getting the visa took a couple of trips to the consulate and lots of express-mailed, scanned, and emailed paperwork. The day I received the receipt confirming the visa, I went, in the space of ten minutes, from feeling joyous to wanting to burst into tears. I was excited and scared and stressed about all the things I had to do before I left. The six weeks between receiving the visa and leaving the US were filled with a variety of activities, including family visits, cat-sitting for friends, figuring out what to bring or ship, doctors’ appointments, and wrapping up my storage space clean-out. Somehow, what needed to get done got done, although I had to let go of the idea of completing some tasks – there was only so much time available.

Along the way, I received much support and encouragement from family, friends, and strangers, for which I am grateful. Back in June, as the family said goodbye after my nephew’s wedding, I was moved to tears when my brother-in-law’s sister took my hands and told me how proud and impressed she was that I was applying for the visa and reminded me that my mother had gone off to New Zealand for a year as a Rotary Scholar when she was fifty years old. I needed that! Many a time, I had to explain to someone – the staff at my doctors’ offices, a pharmacist, the manager of the storage space facility – why my timeline was what it was. To a person, they all reacted positively – not one ‘why would you want to do that?’ – only ‘good for you!’

So here I am in Florence. I don’t know what will happen after this year. For now, I plan to practice gratitude for all that led me here, appreciate being in one place for more than two or three months, and most of all, enjoy the adventure, because as we say in my family, life is an adventure.

As I was writing this, I remembered that my career coach gave me an assignment three years ago to create a ‘dream board.’ I opened it today and among the phrases I had put on it were these:

  • Surrounded by beauty (Florence qualifies on that score, big-time)
  • Live in a foreign country (did I say that back then?!)
  • Take beautiful photos and share with the world (I’ll try)

Home, for now.