More Stories From the 19th Century

Recently I wrote about the warm-fuzzy quaintness of it all, sun-dried linens and doctors’ house calls.  But there are two sides to every coin.

This first story is laughable only because it ends well (and didn’t happen to me), being a scenario of such jaw-dropping conceit as to leave one bug-eyed and gaping.  It took seven years of semi-annual pilgrimages to a Florentine criminal court, criminal not civil, to resolve the matter, but in the end wisdom and reason won out.  My friend was acquitted of the felony.  Huzzah!  He is not in danger of losing his job, as he could have been.  Sounds quite serious, no?  To begin with, my friend did not do the thing of which he was accused.  Although no one in the civilized world would have blamed him.  If you were riding your bike in a reasonable manner and were struck by an automobile, mightn’t you disparage the driver, his character, and possibly his ancestry?  Fortunately, the complaint included direct quotes in the local ~and antiquated~ dialect, which my English friend would not have had the personal wherewithal to utter in the most composed of circumstances.  Dear Reader, do not suppose my mind is wandering.  I did say felony, yes?  Yes.  To insult a man’s honor is a felony in Italy.  Full stop. <reflect on this for a moment>

The second story is tragic.  It is also quite disturbing because it begins with the most common and joyful scenario in the world:  birth.  A friend, an Italian, younger than we, smart and modern, was married a few years ago.  They were expecting their first child, first two in fact.  They would have twins.  The babies were delivered by caesarian section, not an unusual procedure.  I entered the world in the same fashion over forty years ago with a mother nearly forty years old herself.  But this was in an Italian hospital, in the north even.  One month later, our friend’s young wife and new mother died from septicemia resulting from the operation.

It’s such a shock that I have no words.  Except to honor her life and his loss, to anyone who believes that living here is a gelato-filled dream, I tell you everyone has troubles, but it’s a real kick in the teeth if you believe we’re beyond those of the Victorian Age.

Strength & Beauty

We are complex creatures of spirit, mind, and body.  To neglect any part is to impoverish the whole.  To ask less than full participation is to miss out on some of the blessings in this life.

What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. ~ Socrates

ESPN’s Body Issue 2014 is out.  The athletes are tastefully photographed to showcase the beauty and strength of their bodies.  Yes, nekkid.  Probably NSFW.  They are professionals; physical fitness is their stock-in-trade.  Yet, even these, in their days of perfection, are still very different shapes.

His body, that’s what Socrates said.  No one else’s.  I am barely an athlete, and only because I play a team sport for fun.  But even I, 46 – Housewife, want to be good at what I’ve chosen to do.  So I work harder to be stronger, faster, better.  Not more than anyone else is, only more than I was yesterday.  Then, when I experience success, I am in touch with that strength and beauty of which Socrates speaks, my own.

Benefits to Living in the 19th Century

This village where we live is quaint, old-fashioned, not quite of the modern age.  It has progressed dramatically during our time here; at least 3 bars have wifi where there was none 8 years ago.  We have a biological grocery store now.  Months pass where we lose not power, water, nor interwebs.  In the beginning, it was a good week when they all functioned all day every day.

But laundry still happens without a dryer.  The power upgrade required to run one effectively deters most locals from bothering.  Besides, they’ve not had a dryer in the family for 500 years, why start now?  It’s the way we’ve always done it. Not having a dryer doesn’t really bother me.  Time I do have and it’s ecologically more responsible to hang it out in the fresh air and sunshine ~when it’s available; when it’s not? better to have clean clothes hanging about the place than dirty.

However, the oil-fired boiler in the basement of our building which “heats” all the flats is not at all ecological.  It’s also out of our control, burning only between sometime in November and mid-April and from 11 in the morning until 8 at night, not when it’s most needed.  The fingerless gloves I wear, enabling me to write, leave me feeling a bit too much in touch with my inner Dickens.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… indeed.

But occasionally the way we’ve always done it  does in fact intersect with the best of times.  The man found himself in need of a doctor on Saturday morning.  I called the one I’ve visited.  No answer, but I’ve sat in that waiting room, listening to the phone ring while the receptionist chatted on her cell.  So we walked over to see.  No, the office was really closed.  Hm.  What now?  It wasn’t so serious as to risk the more dire consequences of being admitted to the hospital, an experience to be avoided at all costs.  I called an Italian friend.  She said doctors are out of the office on weekends.  Ack.  But, I could call the Guardia Medica La Spezia ~not Pronto Soccorso, the emergency squad, more of an urgent care set up.  Local doctors do their shifts, real doctors, she said, not students.  I loathed the thought of driving and, more to the point, parking in the city, but I had no choice.  I called.  The very nice lady listened to my description of the man’s malady and said her colleague would arrive during the morning.  That same morning?  At our house?  Yes, of course.

Doctors in the 19th century made house calls.  They still do in Italy.  Score one for living in the past.

Yes, it's probably been in her family for generations.

Yes, it’s probably been in her family for generations.

What’s For Pudding, Mum?

Today’s post is something light & refreshing, good for body & spirit.  Aspiring toward veganism, with the understanding that I may never give up honey or not need a solid pair of leather boots in the closet come winter, anytime I find something really good to eat that doesn’t make me even a little bit sad is cause for celebration.

I’m just going to throw this out there for you.  It’s not even a recipe:   firm tofu (non-GMO) + cocoa + sweetener of your choice (my choice is stevia) meet stick blender, then chill.  That’s all.  1 block of tofu yields 2 servings of thick, creamy vegan pudding at 100 calories per.  Sub in a favorite extract instead of cocoa for another flavor.  Same deal.

The  [Ease : Joy : Satisfaction] calculation is so high on this one that it’s in my weekly treats rotation.  The next time this mood strikes, I’ll tell you how to make vegan ice cream out of a banana.  Oh, okay, I’ll tell you now.  Cut up a banana.  Freeze it.  Blenderize it.  There you go.  It’s kind of amazing.  Add cocoa or other flavors to the blending and/or mix-ins at the end and it is satisfying enough to skip the sugar, dairy, and fat of that other stuff.  Just eat it before it melts and don’t over-blend.

There you go, 2 awesome happy-list desserts you can make in your sleep.  Enjoy.

Japanese Stuff That Tickled Me

There isn’t much narrative to add here, enjoy.

1st, some plumbing: toilets with built in bum-wash and bidet, also offering heated seat and blow dry.  It was an adventure, as not all the icons were self-evident; temperature, pressure, angle, activity?!  Clean as a whistle.


This dog:

This Dog

Those ears! I. Just. Can’t.

You might think Starbucks would spring for a graduate-level translator, but then I wouldn’t have this charming thought presented with my matcha latte.


Not at Starbucks, it’s something for them to consider though, for the matching color scheme if nothing else.  Japanese sweets feature bean paste prominently.  That’s what happens when you’ve never invaded Mexico, a tragic lack of chocolate.

Green Dessert

Lotsa Matcha! & Mochi … & Bean Paste

On the subject of food, one word: pickle.  If it is vegetal matter, the Japanese will pickle it.  You might not be able to identify it, but it will be delicious.  Our new friend Fuyu put us on to the Pickle Buffet in Kyoto for lunch one day.  All you can.  Plus bean paste, yes, to put in wafer pillows for DIY sandwich cookies (far right).

Vermintino checks it out.

Vermintino checks it out.

And after lunch, comes dinner!  Stop at the vaguely casino-style machines at the front to put in your ¥, make your choices, and collect the little slips.  Then wait to be seated at your peep-show feed stall for one.  Hand over the slips and out slides your steaming bowl of oh my cats, that’s amazing made-to-order ramen.


Then, another day, in fact on more than one day and at more than one shrine, this guy and his mates stand guard to make sure you are of clean hands and a pure heart. No, wait, he’s just concerned about your hands.  He might eat your heart.

Speaking again of eating (you may notice a theme to our time in Japan), check out the gusto with which the young daughter of our friends tears into her whole fishes.  No picky eater she.  I love that!

Style points for leopard-ear head band

Style points for leopard-ear head band

And one more guy who enjoys a good nosh, my best love in Japan, Maki (or rather Macchi, named after the family’s recent decampment from Italy).



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