Speed Walking

One of my frustrations when Marco and I were in the early stages of our relationship was his walking speed. I know, I hear you, there are more serious problems a couple can have! But, this was one of the things that annoyed me. I would often say, “can you walk faster?” I remember one sultry summer evening in Cremona, strolling slowly with friends on a steamy August night. Stopping every five or ten yards to talk. Walking the Corso, a short stretch of shopping in the historic downtown. I felt I would fall to the ground we were walking so slow, and, that it would never end!

A bit of the Corso in Cremona

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I prided myself on how fast I could walk. I thought it was just how I was made. On to the next thing! Get to where I’m going before anyone else. Get through college. Get the Master’s. Get the best job. Get the Doctorate. Get to the finish line. . . fast!!!

An article I read recently spoke about a shift in language that is happening. At one time, part of the pleasantry in our greeting of one another was a response of “well!” when asked, “how are you?” Now, it is very common to hear the response “busy!” The difference, the article pointed out, was not that “busy” wasn’t used as a response in the past, but that “busy” now is synonymous with “doing well!”

Another article speaks about multi-tasking. It is a trait bragged about in many work settings. . . “I can multi-task.” This article is making the claim that we need to take a closer look at this and ask ourselves if multi-tasking really does afford us the ability to get more done. And is the quality of the work worth it? We are, perhaps, missing opportunities in our busy work-a-day world to stop and focus our efforts on one task and do it well. We have few, if any, times to allow our brains to be creative. We may be missing out on quality results while thinking. . . “as long as everyone is busy!”

Over the years, I adapted to Marco’s walking speed. I enjoy our slow strolls through Salem. We look forward to our time in Italy when we know that a slow pace is one of the main goals of our vacation. We definitely have times when the pace is fast, whether at work or home, but, we create the times of focussed attention as well.

Italian lifestyle is not my only tutor in slowing my speed. About the time I met Marco, I began a Yoga practice that continues today. Yoga and meditation facilitates the focussed attention that allows the body, mind, and spirit to rest and renew. In addition, I studied some of the literature on mindfulness. A recent conference I attended on mindfulness and psychotherapy further explores how many of our psychological challenges can be treated by mindfulness approaches to life.

In our family, we try to find ways to live our Italian lifestyle and enjoy a mindful approach to life. Simple ideas that are probably closer to how our grandparents lived: eating at least one sit-down, home-cooked meal every day, no television or other electronics while we are eating together, a Sunday outing where we do something as a family that affords us the ability to be moving our bodies, scheduled vacations where relaxation is a prime goal of the time, and unscheduled “down” times. We don’t always succeed at our mindful approach. . . but as we say in yoga. . . it’s a practice!

 

Let It Out!

In any marriage, part of uniting involves negotiating the merger of two family systems. When we “tie the knot” there is a strand from one family and a strand from another. And, without getting too deeply into the systems theory of family psychotherapy, we discover differences. While this blog is mainly about the union of the Italian and American cultures. . . it is also about the union of the Belluardos and the Crosbys!

Long before I understood the Italian language, I visited my new in-laws. I enjoyed an aperitivo, usually a glass of Prosecco. Then, I enjoyed a plate of pasta. Next, came the second course of meat with a side vegetable. Lastly, came a home-made tort or pie followed by an espresso and then my mother-in-law’s home-made Lemoncello. Throughout the meal I listened as Italian or Cremonese (the local dialect) was spoken, understanding one word here or there.

Somewhere towards the end of the meal, the volume of the speaking began to rise. Soon, everyone was yelling and the hand and arm gestures increased! The shouting continued for varying amounts of time. After awhile, the shouting match casually ended and everyone went about their business. Usually, this meant that the men reclined on the couch, relaxing, while my mother-in-law moved on to cleaning up.

After this process, I asked Marco what everyone was so upset about. Why were they so mad at one another. Why all of the yelling? He said that they were not yelling. They weren’t angry with one another. And, this is just how they communicate. Sometimes the conversation was about everyday events of life. At times the yelling was about politics or religion. The shouting was possibly about other family or acquaintances or each other.

Looking back, I was most impressed that, after the heated exchanges, the family interactions simply went back to the way they were before. Facial expressions indicated that all was well between them. Life went on.

Full disclosure here. . . I am a trained and licensed psychotherapist and one of the basic tenets of psychotherapy is that it is good to let it out! It is helpful to have a trusted space to share, emote, vent, express, get in touch, etc. . . I’m not trying to say that what I witness in Marco’s family is psychotherapy. I am saying, however,  that I love that it allows the freedom to express thoughts and feelings in an environment of warmth and trust.

Today, years later and fluent in Italian, I now expect the heated exchange towards the end of a meal.  I fully understand the discussion.  I participate to the extent that I can, having learned to stay out of the family “stuff”.  I joke with them, butchering the word, urlare (to yell), with my overemphasized American accent!   I now enjoy that I have my safe place to vent and that life goes on.

As you can see from this blog entry, my weekly writing will not always focus on food. But, since I mention Lemoncello above, here is a simple recipe that Marco’s mother uses for her home-made Lemoncello and a photo she sent me of a recent batch:

Ingredients:

  1. 1 liter grain alcohol
  2. 1 1/2 liters water
  3. 1.6 lbs sugar
  4. 6 lemons

Procedure:

  1. Put lemon zests in fusion with the alcohol for 15 days.
  2. Shake the container every so often.
  3. After 15 days boil the water with sugar and let it cool.
  4. Filter the alcohol so the lemon zests are removed.
  5. Put together water and alcohol and let it rest for 5-6 days.

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Less is more

Marco taught me to cook with less ingredients. He is from the North of Italy and much of the local, traditional food that he was raised on is simple food – good and fresh local ingredients without the over use of spices. One of the basic Italian spaghetti dishes is “Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino” – – this is simply Garlic, Olive Oil and Red Pepper flakes.

Recently, we learned how to make another very basic dish in Italian food, bruschetta! This is made with any kind of topping, but the basic foundation of bruschetta is toasted bread with garlic, olive oil and salt. In Tuscany it is called fettunta (literally, oily slice). Marco is often the one to make this. I knew that he toasted the bread, rubbed a garlic clove (cut in half) on the bread, drizzled olive oil, and then sprinkled the sea salt.

So, one day I set about this seemingly simple task. I did as written above. . . or so I thought. When we ate the bruschetta it was okay but something about it was just not right. It was way too garlicky! The balance of flavors was off. As I described to Marco how I prepared the toast, we knew right away what I had done. Instead of lightly rubbing the raw garlic on the toast, I scrubbed it on. And, not only that, but I turned the toast over and scrubbed the raw garlic on the other side too!

The next time we had bruschetta I prepared it as Marco taught me, and it was the perfect blend of ingredients with just the right amount of garlic. This simple illustration of one of Italy’s simple dishes, reminds Marco and I of something we have often noticed in blending our Italian and American ways of life! In cooking and in many other lifestyle choices, we find that simplicity is often more enjoyable: less living space, less time on roads in traffic, less electronics, simpler bicycles to enjoy a leisurely ride through town, simpler schedules on the weekend, simpler choices. . . wherever we can, less. . . simple. . . and we enjoy more!

Ingredients:

  1. Bread (Ciabatta), sliced 1/2 inch or to desired thickness
  2. 1 clove garlic
  3. Olive Oil
  4. Sea Salt

Preparation:

  1. Lay the bread on cookie sheets and toast in oven at 400 F for 5-6 minutes or until golden brown.
  2. Peel and slice the garlic clove in half and gently rub on top side of bread.
  3. Drizzle olive oil.
  4. Sprinkle salt.
  5. Add any other toppings. (Pictured here are: tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil).

 

 

Slow Food

One day, in the Fall of 1997, Marco phoned me from Italy. It was a couple of months after meeting in Sweden. In the summer of ’97, at a conference in Gothenburg, we met, fell in love, and in that week committed that we would: marry, have two children, and live in France! (Our children would be named, Jonathan and Cassandra). It was a whirlwind romance – – a uniting of two soul mates or anime gemelle!

Until he moved to the States, we had six months of a long-distance relationship! Our cell phone bills were astronomical (before the age of Skype)! And this one Fall day, he phoned. I was hurriedly rushing out to a meeting. It was also lunch time, so I was eating my lunch as I drove.

Marco could hear the chewing and asked what I was doing. I told him that I was eating lunch. Mind you, we were still speaking French (our adopted language that we each had studied for six years). So, perhaps there was a language barrier. . . but, he simply could not understand the concept of eating while driving! Why would anyone do this? Was I crazy? Was there something wrong? I say it again, that he could hardly comprehend the truth that I was sharing. . . that I was eating my lunch. . .in the car. . .on the way. . .to a meeting!

So, for those of you who have been to Italy at lunch time. . . far from the touristic places. . . what do you find as you walk through the streets? Stores are closed. The quiet clank of pots and pans is heard. The simple sounds of food being prepared through open windows. The scrumptious smells of home-cooked food. Meandering of folk in search of a bar to have a pre-lunch Prosecco. And, many businesses close for a two-hour period so that lunch is eaten. . . slow lunch.

How many of us eat lunch at our desks, while working? When was the last time you had a full day without any eating “on the go”? And. . . where was “fast food” invented?

The “Slow Food” movement began in Italy in the 1980’s in reaction to the arrival of McDonald’s to the Spanish Steps in Rome. Without elaborating, slow food is really just common sense cooking from unprocessed ingredients. Doesn’t mean it needs to take a long time to prepare. . . but it is home prepared and home cooked.

Marco and I definitely live in the States. . .We eat our breakfast out of a wrapper on the way to work. Yes, even Marco who couldn’t comprehend this 17 years ago, now eats on the run! (I even remember the time I phoned him and he was eating on the subway – – whereby I reminded him of that other phone call so long ago)! But, we do all we can in our fast-paced lives to slow down the food. . . at dinner each day. . . on the weekends. . . and even attempting to leave the desk at work for a lunch break!

photo

We prepared this simple meal in minutes for a weekend lunch.  Into a food processor goes the following:  Sun-dried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, fresh basil, salt and pepper.  Then, pour the mixture over cooked pasta and you’re ready to enjoy! This, with a simple salad of Boston lettuce, olive oil and salt was our slow lunch last Saturday. . . home prepared, simple ingredients, common sense health!