Repurposing with a Purpose

Yikes! Realizing I think like my mother once did is bad enough, but every now and then I take on the role of her mother, at least when it comes to Grandma D in the kitchen. For one thing Grandma’s soup, unforgettable would be an understatement. Her soup cost next to nothing to produce and never tasted like the one before, a testament to her ingenuity and a delectable plus guaranteed to leave a comforting feeling in the pit of any hungry stomach.

A little of this from Grandma’s fridge—leftover scraps of meat and veggies. A little of that from her backyard—assorted herbs and wild greenery. Maybe dandelions, onions, garlic and chives. I should’ve paid more attention to the ingredients but as a teenager, never thought I’d ever have use for this, much less that. Especially since I absolutely hated to cook and still do—sort of. Hello, Attitude Adjustment, as in marriage and eventually five hungry children.

Empty nesters—that’s what Hubby D and I have been for years. And loving it. If D had his druthers, we’d eat out every day. Which would probably work if, except for the bare necessities, I stayed out of grocery stores, discount stores, and my catering friends’ extensive garden and freezer. But no-o-o. Somewhere out there awaits a bargain too good for me to pass up. Or a freebie—can it get any better? No way.

Take this past Saturday, our noonday meal—not lunch, dinner because it’s our most substantial sit-down, the only one I cook, usually four or five days out of seven. Polenta with three cheeses—ricotta, pecorino, and Grana Padano—plus chicken cacciatore simmered long and slow in a puttanesca sauce. Leftovers, you bet. After all, there’s only so much two people can consume at one sitting. Add to that, the abhorrence one of those two people has when it comes to leftovers.

What would Grandma D have done? Same thing I did. Make soup. Or, as I prefer to say: Repurpose. Whereas Grandma probably repurposed her leftovers in a large, hammered aluminum pot, I repurposed mine in a Le Creuset French (Dutch) oven, a hand-me-down twice over, handed down to me from my catering friend E, who has a vast collection of cookware acquired from estate sales, thrift shops, and elderly transitioning to some type of assisted living.

A thorough sweep of my fridge produced leftover chuck roast with gravy, plus raw celery, carrots, mushrooms, onions, and the indispensable tiny alphabet pasta. Plus olive oil from an emptied can of imported anchovies—perfect for sautéing my soup base. From the freezer came broccoli, peppers, and parsley. After a quick sauté of the fresh veggies in anchovy olive oil, I added the leftovers and cacciatore sauce along with a nice red wine. Last to go in the pot was chicken from the cacciatore since I only wanted a quick warm-up of already cooked meat.

Soup’s done. Hmm, after one meal for the two of us, and possibly another for me, what should I do with the rest? I could use my stick emulsifier to produce a flavorful cream soup or possibly a sauce for pasta or chicken cacciatore. Or freeze the soup in quart-size freezer bags that will sit alongside my other repurposed items taking up space in the freezer. So what if I do have more than one freezer? That’s the joy of repurposing. How about you? Any ideas for repurposing repurposed leftovers?

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I’m Ba-a-ck

Life gets in the way every now and then, which happened during a longer-than-expected break from my writing last year. First, Hubby D and I got caught up in a bit of traveling—from the Carolinas just for kicks to Central Florida for fresh water fishing to Wyoming and Idaho to visit Offspring #1 and family. Then in January another trip to Florida, this time on the Gulf Coast where D underwent a surgical procedure and required recovery, both of which went very well. Why Florida, you may ask. Don’t. It’s complicated.

While D was recovering, I finally finished Book 3 from the Savino Sisters Mystery Series: Not Worth Dying For. There’s something quite comforting about writing a series, dealing with a continuation of characters I created, but over time have taken on a life of their own. And letting my imagination run away with new characters who want things their way instead of what I’d originally planned for them. For instance, a minor character from Book 2 Regrets To Die For: Mike the Jerk who dumped Ellen Savino years ago when both were teenagers. She erased him from her life but now, twenty years later he wants back in. Although El’s heart tells her no way, her sister Margo takes a more pragmatic approach, what with Mike claiming to have information that could absolve their mother from charges of aiding and abetting her best friend. Ahem, that would be for the murder of a womanizer who’d been dating both of them.

Not Worth Dying For also gave me the opportunity to bring back characters from one of my other St. Louis mysteries, Lethal Play. Detectives Sam Reardan and Guy Winchester, still snarky as ever, now have two amateur sleuths to deal with, Margo and El Savino. What started out as polite give and take soon evolves into a test of one-upmanship—the wannabes vs. the pros.

As for a not-so-miner character from Regrets, I could not leave octogenarian Stefano Rosina back in Italy, pining for his lost love Clarita, El and Margo’s Americanized grandmother. So, I brought Stefano and his son Franco to St. Louis. All in the name of cringe-worthy occasions that promise an abundance of good wine mixed with bad memories, and heartfelt apologies.

Now for the best part. If you’d like a first-hand account of Regrets To Die For and the just-published, Not Worth Dying For, both books are available for a limited time at the bargain price of $.99 each.

For more information, check out Not Worth Dying For at Amazon.com and Regrets To Die For at Amazon.com.

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A lovely review from the Red Headed Book Lover Blog …

From Aimee Ann’s Red Headed Book Lover Blog:

Regrets To Die For is a book that I would define as the perfect escape and a book that will thrill, delight and shock its readers within just a few chapters. The premise of Regrets To Die For is one that hooked me straight away, I love historical mystery novels, and I love even more when they are set someplace exotic. Regrets To Die For is set in beautiful Italy and the descriptions are stunning, but I will expand on these thoughts of mine later! What I want to write is that Loretta Giacoletto has chosen the perfect location for her novel and all of you readers will find out why if you decide to read the phenomenal book that is Regrets To Die For.

Regrets To Die For follows the two female protagonists of the novel who also happen to be sisters. Ellen and Margo are the focus of the story and so is the mystery of their family roots. Ellen and Margo are in Italy and once then they start to investigate some nagging thoughts about their grandmother Clarita, shocking truths will come to light. The result of this is a shocking, sometimes harrowing, thrilling story and if you, like me adore mystery and suspense which revolves around family life/drama then Regrets To Die For will be the perfect read for you.

The story of Regrets To Die For was an unusual read for, and this is because I never usually come across novels such as this one and I will explain why. Regrets To Die For is a mystery novel, however, it revolves around the protagonists family and troubling secrets; family mysteries are hard to discover so when I found this one I knew I had to read it! Regrets To Die For is brilliant for many reasons but one of these reasons is because it combines many themes which would not typically work together unless weaved by an excellent author such as Loretta Giacoletto! Themes such as history, murder, romance, and family are all weaved together flawlessly and the result if a stunning exploration into mystery that will entertain readers for hours.

Loretta Giacoletto is the woman behind Regrets To Die For and she is an incredibly accomplished writer who knows how to thrill her readers. I admit that Giacoletto is a newly discovered author of mine but gosh did I wish I found her work sooner! That is why I am so happy to be sharing her work with you today so do not pass up on reading her excellent work. Giacoletto is clearly an author who is making waves in the literary world because she was named a finalist in the 2015 and 2014 Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Project… what an accomplishment! Either way, I am rambling and need to focus on her literature laced throughout her book!

Loretta Giacoletto’s literature is magnificent and will flow beautifully from one page to the next at a perfect pace. The descriptions of the events and places laced between the pages of Regrets To Die For are breathtaking and will have readers reading in awe. The descriptions of Italy, in particular, were stunning so if you are a reader who loves to be lost in a mesmerizing place while reading a juicy story, then you will adore this book.

As Regrets To Die For is an impressive piece of fiction that will delight as well as charm and excite its readers with its thrilling content and jaw-dropping moments, I, of course, have to award this wonderful book five stars!

 

Posted in Bargain Kindle Fiction, Books, fiction, Italian American, Italy, mystery, Romance, Travel, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Netflix’s Ozark and My Ozarks

For the past several days Hubby D and I have been binge/cringe watching Ozark on Netflix. What a hoot, especially Jason Bateman’s character, a former financial planner scrambling to stay alive by laundering money or die trying—along with his wife and kids. St. Louisan Bill Dubuque, who as a teenager summered at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, has created a dysfunctional mix of characters—from a Chicago drug lord who forces a middle-class suburban family’s relocation to The Lake to a series of displaced locals who’ve already been there for decades and resent catering to highfalutin vacationers and weekenders.

Weekenders—uh, that would describe our real-life family, sort of. Over the past eighteen years we’ve evolved from condo-owners who paid dearly not to lift a single finger to money-pit homeowners who’ve lifted many a finger—mostly the middle one.

In any case, Ozark does bring to mind a horror story I wrote some years ago. It’s about sleazy paparazzo Les Best who’s on the run from a New York loan shark when he hits his stride at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks where a top model is camping out with her latest squeeze. Once again, or maybe for the first time, I give you …

The Big Shot

On a Friday evening in late June, Lester Best eased his customized SUV across the wooden slats of a swinging bridge spanning the Auglaize Creek in the heart of Missouri’s Ozarks. He kicked up white gravel for another two miles before realizing he’d gone too far. Going too far best defined Les Best, that and an absurd name he regretted not having changed early in his career. Les turned around and retraced his powdery route until he found the campground entrance to the state park at Kaiser. He rattled along under the dense shade of canopied trees, dodging deep ruts and cruising past a hodgepodge of trailers and pop-up campers. After reaching the lakefront area jammed with more weekenders, he selected one of the few remaining primitive sites. No electricity, no water, and no flush toilet: the perfect retreat for a deadbeat fugitive nursing a matching set of splinted forefingers.

Les staked his tent as far away as possible from his nearest neighbors, two wannabe hill people who strolled over long enough for first-name introductions before returning to their beer and makeshift setup. Will, whose white beard overlapped his bib overalls, pressed a harmonica to his lips and played a haunting rendition of Ruby for his own Ruby. She wore yards of calico, chain-smoked, and complained non-stop from an aluminum lawn chair straining under her massive weight. After thirty minutes of the audio assault, Les stifled his urge to suggest that Will muzzle both Rubies, opting instead to utilize the earplugs he’d brought from his Lower East Side apartment.

Although Les Best lived and breathed New York, he’d grown up in Missouri, first in foster care and later on a boys’ ranch designed for discards and the wayward. Les qualified as both, then and now. His temporary return to the Show Me State was not out of nostalgia but to avoid settling a debt of ninety thousand dollars he’d incurred through a series of risky ventures. Joey Plastic, the New York mobster who held the note, had arranged for the dislocation of Les’s forefingers to induce an initial interest payment of five thousand bucks, but Les figured the bastard would never extend his pursuit into the fly-over boonies of mid-America. On that Les Best would’ve bet his mother’s life, if he’d ever had a mother. Still, he must’ve since his many enemies and few friends usually referred to him as ‘that sonofabitch’.

*****

That night Les conked out in the back of his SUV. The next morning found him on the pea gravel beach, pushing a rented johnboat into the Grand Glaize Arm of Lake of the Ozarks. Splinters erect, he paddled from one cove to another until he located the ideal fishing spot, one deserted and edged with brush. By ten o’clock, water smooth as glass reflected the cocky blue of a clear sky and Les hadn’t caught a single crappie. At noon he peeled off his sweat-drenched shirt, dropped his knit shorts, and mooned a parade of skiers and speedboats stirring up the wake. “You can all go to hell!” he yelled, before sending his pricey rod and reel to sleep with the fishes.

Back at camp two Generation Xers had squeezed in between his site and the wannabes, who were making honeymoon racket in their tent—a conjured image amusing enough to make Les forget the fishing gear he regretted sinking. To the X couple, he returned an obligatory wave and howdy that seasoned campers felt compelled to offer each other. Still, he kept his distance, watching the Xers struggle with the pegs and canvas of new equipment. At last they stood back, arm in arm, to admire their saggy abode. It burped once and collapsed into a heap. Male X pushed back his red-orange feather cut and appealed to Les.

“What do you say, mister. How ‘bout some help?”

What the hell, Missouri know-it-alls, even those partially disabled, were supposed to be accommodating. Les ambled over. He offered a few practical suggestions and within five minutes the tent stood erect and operational. The sun-deprived stranger stuck out a soft hand accustomed to professional manicures.

“Much obliged. Sorry about those bum fingers,” X said with a grin of orthodontically enhanced teeth. “I’m Josh. Over there’s Betty Sue.”

Betty Sue, as in leggy and trim, nodded from a distance.

“No problem. Call me … Les.” Their encounter should’ve ended on the handshake but that’s when Les noticed Josh’s tattooed wrist: a pissing gargoyle with folded wings. As in the official logo for heavy metal’s Grotes and Gargs. As in Josh Nolan, lead drummer. The revelation prompted a closer look at Betty Sue, as in trying to fade into the background. No make-up, blonde pigtails, tee shirt and khaki shorts: typical back-to-nature but this chick was no typical camper. Les Best, master of deception, could spot a plain-Jane disguise in the most unlikely of locales.

Les didn’t linger with the Xers but Betty Sue hadn’t fooled him. That face and that body belonged to none other than Ivy Sinclair, last year’s nobody who shot up to become this year’s hottest glitz and glamour TV diva. When it suited Ivy Sinclair, the twenty-something preened for tinsel town’s red carpet. But when she wasn’t hustling the public, she kept her private life way too private: another ploy to fuel the fires of her clamoring fans. And before this weekend Josh Nolan had been nothing more than an unconfirmed rumor. Now the oblivious, sexy twosome belonged to Les, exclusively.

Never in a million years could he have plotted a better scenario: Les Best, New York paparazzo of uncensored privacy, tenting in Missouri next to La-La Land’s newest duo. Les had escaped from New York with his only cameras not in hock: the miniature spy and a Panasonic with 600mm zoom lens. From campsite to wooded area to man-made beach, he devoted every waking moment to cursing his splints and plying his craft. Ivy and Josh kissing, Ivy and Josh necking, Ivy and Josh rolling around—the usual predictable stuff. His best shot thus far: Ivy in a modest bikini, her trademark tattoo peeking out the underside. Nice, too nice: translation, boring.

By Sunday evening the primitive weekenders had packed up and returned to their mundane, air-conditioned lives. Only the wannabes, the celebs, and Les remained, bunched up like yesterday’s pioneers anticipating an Indian raid. Will’s musical switch from the melancholy Ruby to the melancholy Moon River again confirmed he hadn’t succumbed to the evils of pop culture. More Moon River prompted Les to throw out a scrap of unctuous chum to the celebs. “If you folks want to spread out closer to the water’s edge, I’ll help you break camp.”

“Nah, that’s OK,” Josh said. “We’re planning to move on day after tomorrow.”

Damn! Thirty-six hours didn’t leave Les much time. He needed a big shot, the shot to end all shots.

*****

Monday morning brought a stir of gentle lake breezes that rustled the leaves in stately red oaks dominating every clump of trees. While a pot of coffee brewed over his pit fire, Les cracked four eggs into four pats of butter sizzling in the cast iron skillet. He added a can of corned beef hash, leaned back, and waited for it all to make sense. Licking his lips, he sucked in the artery-clogging, woodsy aromas and closed his eyes to savor the moment. Then Josh coughed. Photo op! Les grabbed his Panasonic. Snap, snap: Josh crawling from his tent. Snap, snap: Josh stumbling to the john. Les gambled with the next few minutes. He hurried to the celebs’ tent; the flap was open and Ivy, asleep. Damn, in an oversized T-shirt and on her back. He considered using a long stick to lift her shirt but didn’t want to blow his chance for something better. Instead he located her in his viewfinder and got off two shots before his ears detected a distant rattle from the men’s latrine. By the time Josh came shuffling back, Les was hunched over his fire, scraping burnt glob from the skillet.

He poured a cup of muddy coffee and waited with eyes never straying far from the neighboring tent. Finally, his lovely prey emerged from her shelter, still wearing the baggy tee.

Behold Ivy in the morning, an Ozark wood nymph splashing her face with Evian. Les snapped his mini. She stretched her toned arms overhead. Snap, snap. She jumped Josh, played kissy-face, and wrapped her legs around his lean body to reveal the trail of ivy from her bikini. Snap, snap. Ivy and Josh spun around, fell to the ground, and seeing Les, they giggled like love-struck teenagers. He acknowledged them with a lift of his coffee mug.

“Hey, Les, any idea where we can arrange for some horses?” Josh called out.

Les clenched his teeth. Didn’t these people ever think for themselves? In their showbiz realm agents and managers provided the brainpower. Out here the celebs had latched onto him. He forced a smile. “Check out the info packet you got at the welcome station.”

“Damn, now why didn’t I think of that,” Josh said, shaking dust from his hair. “Thanks, good buddy.”

While Josh and Ivy mulled over the park information with the intensity of first-timers planning a European adventure (snap, snap), Les formulated his own plan. After the celebs pulled away in their Navigator, he drove into Osage Beach, parked at a strip mall, and speed-dialed Emanuel Gold on his cell phone. “Manny, baby. What’s up?”

“Don’t what’s up me, you sonofabitch,” yelled the editor of MORE.

Manny being Manny. Les could almost feel the bastard’s spit blasting through the receiver.

“Where the hell you been?” Manny demanded.

“Something came up. I had to leave in a hurry.”

“You left me with garbage too tame for Mother Teresa’s newsletter.”

“Yeah, yeah, mea culpa. But I’ll make it up to you—a thousand times over. For the right price, that is.”

“You get nothing ‘til I see some skin.”

“How about some of Ivy Sinclair’s?”

“No way, you crazy sonofabitch!”

“Remember her in the February issue of SWEET: beach volleyball in a mini bikini, ivy wandering over those oh-so-firm cheeks. Well, I’m sleeping next to that same tattoo in the same location.”

“Ivy Sinclair dumped her latest squeeze for a sonofabitch like you?”

“Let’s just say the three of us are tighter than a virgin’s ass, if you get my drift. They’re splitting tomorrow but not before I get a piece of her.”

“Just make sure you get the real Ivy and not some pathetic knock-off. By the way, big shot, two scum bags have been inquiring as to your whereabouts, which leads me the obvious question.”

No way, Manny. Les hung up and went shopping for supplies. When he got back to camp, no one was around except a uniformed park employee. The dead ringer for the prison matron in Chicago was leaning against a tree, checking her clipboard. “How do,” he said in his resurrected Missouri twang. “Is there a problem, ma’am?”

“Just making my rounds,” she replied without looking up. “Dogging after the outsourcers hired to sanitize and equip our facilities.”

“As in odor-eaters and toilet paper?”

“You got it.”

“How often you empty them suckers?”

“End of the season, unless they fill up sooner.”

As soon as the latrine queen zipped away in her truck, Les opened up the back of his SUV. He removed a telescopic ladder folded to the size of a small suitcase and covered it with brush in the wooded area. The remainder of the day he spent reading entertainment rags and contemplating a triumphant return to New York, after he squared his debts.

*****

By ten o’clock that night the temperature hovered around seventy degrees, and a star-filled sky and quarter moon provided the primitive area’s only light source. The wannabes finally stopped pitching beer cans, a precursor to ending Ruby’s steady harping and Will’s harmonica Ruby. But after he quieted down, she reverted to soft wailing. Any other night Les would’ve sailed his skillet in their direction, but not this night. Tonight he wanted no disruptions. The celebs were snuggled on a log near their low fire (snap, snap) and discussing some stellar configuration, probably basking in the glory of their own shining stars. For Les, the best was yet to come. After extinguishing his campfire with a pail of water and some dirt, he called out through a yawn, “G’night, folks.”

Inside his tent, Les stripped naked. He climbed into chest waders, donned a plastic rain jacket, and slipped a painter’s mask around his neck. Next, the construction hard hat, equipped with an attached light that Les couldn’t risk turning on too soon. As he crept into the dark woods, sweat beaded his skin and clunk to his eyelashes. He retrieved his ladder and headed to the women’s pit latrine where a swarm of buzzing flies greeted him when he opened the door. The almost tolerable odor evoked his whispered, “Thank you, latrine queen.”

Les flipped on his light, secured his mask. He twisted the toilet off its base, extended his ladder down the concrete container, and started his descent along the four-foot width. Five feet down, he stopped to slide the toilet back into the lip of the base. Six inches later he stepped into waste. At eight feet he bottomed out. Whoa! He reeled from the stench. Damn the latrine queen for only going so far with her chemicals. Unlike Les, she didn’t exceed certain limitations.

During his teenage years on the ranch when trucks hauled in cattle, Les usually got stuck with the grunt job of prodding reluctant animals from the trailers. He’d worked in ankle-deep shit then and vowed never again, but Les wasn’t one to keep his word, not even to himself. The greenbacks from these shots would get Joey Plastic off his back, his other cameras out of hock. Maybe garner him some insider celeb tips, a ringside table at some classy watering hole. Most of all, he’d gain the respect of every jerk who ever flipped him off.

Les took pride in catering to an insatiable public who demanded a piece of their adored celebs. Or untouchable royals, even the Queen of England had been fair game. For years the toilet seat she used in one of Chicago’s leading hotels had been displayed on its archive wall of notables. Small potatoes now compared to the recorded affairs of younger royals and the videotaped sex of entertainers and athletes. After tonight Les Best would rank with the best, the most innovative.

Ten minutes passed. Les heard the light crunch of twigs: Ivy, right on schedule. He killed his light, leaned into the splattered wall, and muffled a gag. The door opened, latched closed, and a low, pitiful moan filled the enclosure.

“Heads or tails, which one’s goin’ first,” Ruby said in a voice bordering on baritone. “Okay, lips, you win.”

Ruby’s eyes were squeezed tight as she centered her moon face overhead. That’s when Les directed his face to the wall. After five minutes of gasping and heaving, she turned and plopped her dimpled buns over the toilet, creating a suction that cut off the air supply below. Between her choked-up sobs and torrents of diarrhea, Ruby prayed. She groaned. She shuddered. She went silent.

Down below, Les had prayed too, for the first time in years. His head was spinning; his finger splints got tangled. He lost his grip and fell back into the waste. Still, he managed to hold his camera high. Ruby didn’t even stir when he sloshed to the ladder. Fighting for each breath, he struggled up the rungs. When he topped out, Les poked one splint into Ruby’s sealed posterior. He poked again, this time harder. Finally, Ruby shifted. She wiggled off the seat, allowing Les to fill his lungs before she left.

Les was ready to relinquish his dream for the big shot when he heard footsteps again. This time there was no mistaking Ivy. Her flashlight beam sought out despicable insects and a tidy toilet seat. She planted her sweet tush on the throne. Ever so gently Les switched on his light. The ivy trailing Ivy’s cheeks wiggled as she made a few adjustments. Les held his breath and snapped away, the camera shutter so quiet even he couldn’t hear it as he recorded such delightful anatomical shots: Les Best’s unique contribution to the science of exploitation. Toilet paper fluttered down.

As soon as Ivy lifted her buns, Les killed his light. But instead of the darkness he expected, another flash came from above. The bitch had stolen his image with her own camera.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Lester Best.”

“You knew me before this weekend?”

“Let’s just say your reputation preceded you.”

“Could your turn off that flashlight, Ivy? I can’t see a thing.”

“Not before I get your camera. Just put it in the bucket I’m sending down by rope.”

Damn, she was smarter than he thought. Les had no choice but to part with his Panasonic.

“The film too.” She lowered the bucket again and he gave it up.

“We can make a deal,” he said. “Just you and me and the big shot. I’m not shitting you when I say Les Best has the absolute best connections.”

“Unfortunately, not as good as mine. In fact, my connection made me the star I am today. That’s why he asked me, and only me, to deliver an important message to you.”

Les could see her now, all too clearly—leaning over the opening, a flashlight in one hand and a revolver in the other. He opened his mouth to speak but the last words he would ever hear came from Ivy.

“For Les Best, Joey Plastic sends only his best.”

###

 

“The Big Shot” was first published in the 2007 Horror Anthology Damned in Dixie

and later in the 2010 Winter issue of Allegory Ezine.

 

 

 

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Lorenzo and the Ligurian Sea

Lorenzo and the Ligurian Sea

From the Savino Sisters Mystery Series. Since Italy To Die For has been discounted to $.99 at Amazon for a limited time, I’m pleased to include this excerpt for your reading pleasure.

To set the scene: Ellen Savino and her sister Margo have been vacationing in Italy. After Margo gets involved with a Florentine mime, the sisters decide to go their separate ways. Ellen sticks to the original travel plan and drives to a Bed and Breakfast located in La Spezia on the Ligurian Sea. Lorenzo Gentili, the villa’s reserved host, is not quite what Ellen expected but she chose to be independent of Margo and now must make the best of an uncomfortable situation.

From Ellen’s first person perspective …

Around ten o’clock I crawled into bed, only then realizing I’d be sleeping on top of a feather bed covering the mattress, a first for me and one I anticipated like a princess ignorant of the proverbial pea awaiting her discomfort. Those next four hours consisted of me punching pillows and flipping them over, tossing off the covers only to snuggle back into them. I finally pinpointed my unrelenting anxiety to the devil in Lorenzo’s Italian-style coffee instead of my oxymoron version, the simpering decaf.

Somewhere in the night cats were engaged in a vast conspiracy, their screeching worse than babies demanding their next meal. I grabbed a pair of shoes—the sandals that squeeze every one of my sensitive toes—and stomped to the window. But before I could launch the first of my feline attacks, a sudden breeze slapped against my face, so strong it closed both eyes. I opened them wide and on looking down, did a double take. There in the moonlit garden was my elusive woman, this time dressed in a flimsy nightgown and kneeling as she enticed the calico and Persian with a bowl of milk. Along the ledge of a gray stone wall more cats had gathered, a row of hungry spectators meowing as they waited their turn at the milk. The woman lifted her head and again waved for me to join her.

I leaned over the window sill. “First, tell me your name,” I called out, my voice cutting through the darkness of night.

She opened her palms and lifted her shoulders, as if to say she did not understand.

“Nome—par favore,” I all but shouted. To which the woman walked away, more like disappeared into the mist. No more games, especially after midnight. I stepped back, retreated to my bed, and burrowed under the covers where my imagination conjured up a newspaper article buried on page three of the La Spezia Giornale:

An insignificant American tourist has died from an overdose of arsenic-laced cream at the villa of the prominent Lorenzo Gentili, coincidentally on the tenth anniversary of his beloved wife’s mysterious disappearance. After completing a thorough investigation, the local carabinieri have confirmed Ellen Savino’s death to be a suicide, for lack of a better explanation. Arrangements for disposing of the remains are incomplete, pending notification of a sister believed to be cavorting in Firenze with an Egyptian mummy in need of a close shave.

Seven hours later and still groggy from a god-awful restless night, I still wasn’t convinced that caffeine-induced hysteria had produced the elusive cat woman. To hell with the late hour and creepy felines, I should’ve gone downstairs a second time and made friends with her. Too late now, the sort of story of a life filled with one too many could’ves, should’ves, would’ves. After a solitary breakfast of more caffeine tempered with hot latte and soft tomino cheese patted onto day-old bread heels, I followed Lorenzo down the path leading to the parking area, a walk which made me aware of his sloping shoulders and broad hipline, a far worse negative than the unfortunate nose cursing an otherwise ordinary face.

I found the calico cat perched on the hood of my rental but didn’t see the Persian. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” I called out.

Zero response. The creature was either dead or didn’t capice my English. Next time, if ever there’d be another trip to Italy, I vowed to learn a few more key Italian phrases instead of relying on Margo who listened to language tapes on her drive to and from work.

“You like the cats?” Lorenzo asked.

“Not really, just curious.”

He opened the passenger door and I climbed into his Mercedes van. With Lorenzo secured behind the wheel, we circled down the winding road, which afforded me a better view of the houses I’d hardly noticed the day before. None could match the understated pride of Lorenzo’s villa and confirmed I’d made the right choice.

After a few quiet moments I threw out a casual comment, for no other reason than to test his reaction. “About the cats, they were very busy during the night, lapping up milk the mysterious lady in your garden provided.”

He spoke without glancing in my direction. “Sometimes the moon plays tricks on my guests, especially those Americani who resist changes to their routine.”

Did he think this Americana a pushover? “I know what I saw, Lorenzo.”

“What you believe you saw, signorina.”

Lorenzo set his condescending jaw into silent mode, hands gripping the steering wheel as he maneuvered the fifteen hairpin curves I didn’t have time to count when I’d been the one driving. He didn’t speak again until we reached the main road. He repeated the particulars of my boat tour and where we should meet that evening: nine o’clock, Church of San Giovanni Battista in the heart of Monterosso. When he dropped me off at the harbor, his last words were a reminder about the glaring rays of the afternoon sun, which at ten-twenty on this morning were hiding behind a mass of hazy clouds.

I bought my ticket and boarded a crowded vessel scheduled for stops at four of the five coastal villages, weather permitting. The motorboat departed at ten-thirty and moved with ease through the calm bay. After reaching the Ligurian Sea, the boat started bouncing over rough waters, forcing me to spread my feet into a sea legs stance and to wrap my hands around a deck rail lined with the more resilient passengers. I did manage to release one hand long enough to snap a few photos of rolling waves battering the coast before a powerful swell drenched my hair and made me consider going below with those passengers having the common sense I lacked. Don’t be such a wuss, I mumbled to myself and resolved to stay top deck.

Our boat approached Riomaggiore’s harbor with determination and after several failed attempts the captain finally executed a successful docking. Waves rocked the vessel as busy crewmen lashed its gangplank to the mooring, and anxious passengers pressed forward, waiting for permission to disembark. I sidestepped one of two metal eyes securing the deck ropes before shifting my weight to accommodate the boat’s erratic rhythm. As soon as I reached my comfort level, the boat surprised me and all of the passengers with a raise of its bow to accommodate the incoming water. The sturdy woman who’d been swaying in front of me slammed her rear end into my stomach and we both hit the deck. She yelled a string of what could only be described as obscenities in an unfamiliar language, her dead weight crushing me into the protruding metal eye. It inflicted pain on my hip and butt so excruciating I wanted to scream but didn’t have enough oxygen for a single peep. The passengers surrounding us reacted with dumbfounded expressions until one man came forward and extended his hand to Dead Weight. After pulling her up, he did the same for me.

“It’s an absolute disgrace,” said the man whose accent told me he was an okay American guy. He helped me to a seat along the bow, all the while talking about my near disaster. “Not a single rail or safety precaution on the entire boat. Back home you’d have good cause for a lawsuit. Too bad those issues don’t apply here.”

I nodded although my immediate concern centered on sucking in some much-needed air before attempting to speak.

Dead Weight took one look at me, pressed her hands against chubby cheeks, and sputtered an apology I couldn’t begin to understand yet managed a second nod to show my acceptance. She held onto her hat with one hand, tugged on her handbag with the other. Somehow during the commotion my handbag had gotten tangled up with hers and after much unwinding she undid the two of them, patted hers protectively, and passed mine to me.

“Scuzi, signorina, you all right?” asked one of the crewmen who handed me a bottle of water.

“I’m not sure,” I choked out, having found my wind. I rubbed my throbbing thigh, and was relieved not to discover a broken femur.

“Perhaps you should get off at a later stop.” The crewman edged away from me, his boat duties more important than any injuries I might’ve suffered.
“Si, grazie,” I said.

The crewman was right. Blinking away tears, I repositioned myself to watch able-bodied passengers step onto the swaying dock, and from there onto the rocky terrain of Riomaggiore where they began climbing the stone walkway leading to this ancient village, a terraced showplace of structures painted pastel shades of red, yellow, ecru, terracotta, and green.
Dammit, I belonged out there with those tourists taking each step with the assurance of owning it. If only Margo had stuck to our original plan, I wouldn’t be suffering such agony now. Who knows, we might’ve taken a later tour, or endured this one shoulder to shoulder, laughing as our brave boat battled the treacherous Ligurian waters.

Memo to self:

1) Bitch-slap Margo as soon as we meet at Malpensa Airport.
2) Arrange for separate seating on our flight home.
3) Tell Mom the gorgeous daughter behaved like a selfish, common slut, thus causing great bodily damage to the daughter stuck with a beautiful mind.
4) Keep silk scarf purchased in Florence for myself instead of giving it to Margo for her birthday.
5) Quit blaming Margo for everything that goes wrong in my life. Sorry, Sis.
6) Pray for less envy and more self-discipline.

End of excerpt.
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It’s Me–Giuseppe!

One of my fondest memories of visiting the Piemonte family villages in Northern Italy is the year Uncle J and my brother K went with Hubby D and me. The last time Uncle J had been in that area was as a young boy of eight or so, having traveled there in the 1930s with his immigrant mother and aunt. While his mother and aunt spent many months selling the family homestead and taking care of other legal affairs, Uncle J wandered the Alpine foothills with no thoughts of the school he’d left behind in Illinois or of the school in Colloretto he might’ve attended to broaden his education, an unfortunate judgment error on the part of his mother since Uncle J didn’t finish out third grade before going to Italy and returned too late to begin again in the fall, setting him back two whole school years. It was the 1930s immigrant way.

During our turn of the 21st Century trip Uncle J had several people he wanted to visit—one an elderly aunt now in her nineties who didn’t know he was coming to see her but did remember him as a young boy. D, K, and I sat in the aunt’s dining/living room, and listened to Uncle J and his aunt talk about the passing of this relative and that. When she brought out the customary box of family photographs, we three outsiders excused ourselves and drove twenty minutes to Monte Piano for a return visit with a distant cousin on my maternal side and to show K the eleventh-century house where our grandmother spent her childhood, a safety hazard now and uninhabitable. Cousin P explained how he and his sister often carried large stones up the mountainside each school day, building necessities their father used to stabilize the old structure where they too had lived as children.

On this particular visit the widower P was living next door to the old homestead, in a one-room apartment, part of a two-story structure similar to an old-style condominium. As with all Italians who feel a connection, he invited us into his home for a glass of homemade wine. And while we were there I couldn’t help but notice his two posters hanging on the wall—one of Great Britain’s Princess Diana; the other of Marilyn Monroe in her well-publicized calendar pose. Nice. Awkward but nice.

The next day Uncle J wanted to visit a boyhood chum from 70-plus years ago. “Do you think he’ll remember you?” I asked, trying to let him down gently.

“Why wouldn’t he,” Uncle J replied. “I remember him.”

So, the four of us stood outside a two-story building and Uncle J called out his friend’s name, just as he’d done when they were kids. A door on the second level opened. Out came an elderly gent, white-haired and slender. He leaned over the rail and squinted while observing us below. “It’s me—Giuseppe!” Uncle J said, using the Italian version of his name.

His friend smiled broadly and immediately gestured for us to come upstairs. What followed was a round of vino rosa and the promise of endless stories, during which D, K, and I once again excused ourselves, leaving Uncle J to reminisce with his friend while we sought new memories of our own.

D and I often compare notes about our separate childhoods and how we always stood in the yard of friends’ houses and called out their names rather than knock on the door or ring the bell. Telephoning in advance—no way, although we all had home phones, in my case an 8-party line after moving out of East St. Louis.

Yes, it was the Age of Spontaneity, one that still existed in Italy a few years ago. But not to the extent it once did. Nothing stays the same forever. We have now entered the Age of Advance Planning, where every encounter begins with an electronic device, usually a text message and agreed upon time to meet.

What about you? How do you connect with friends and family?

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Photo Credit Gran Paradiso Piemonte Region Italy: L. Giacoletto

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Connecting the Italian Way

“How can we connect with relatives we don’t know, who live in villages we’ve only heard about but never been fortunate enough to visit?”

Hubby D and I often get questions such as these from friends wanting to trace their roots in the Piemonte Region of Northern Italy, an area we’ve visited many times. My advice would be: Do your homework. Find out as much as possible about the village your family emigrated from. Talk to elderly relatives. Too late, they’ve already passed? Then visit the cemetery and photograph their headstones. Same goes for those crumpled immigration papers, the passports with tattered edges, the faded black and white photographs stuffed in a cardboard box. These travel with you to Italy—confirmation of who you are.

What about that family connection you only know from the stories your grandparents told? The Internet carries a ton of geographic and demographic information, including the surnames of people living in specific villages. Going into a foreign village without a single connection can be iffy at best. Although it did work for one couple we know, good friends who ventured into the Dolomite area in northeastern Italy with no advance notice. He gave his grandfather’s surname to a local resident who happened to know a family with the same last name and bingo!—the beginning of a lasting friendship between the Americans and their Italian counterparts.

Speaking or at least understanding the Italian language is a definite plus. As are the local dialects that are making a comeback but those change multiple times within each Italian region. Many young Italians learn English in school and love to practice on Americans but first you must connect with them.

Still want to slide in under the radar? Okay, be sure to take those family history documents you’ve already gathered. Once you get to that special village, make one of your first stops the local cemetery. Someone is bound to be there—decorating a grave or chatting with another someone decorating graves. Approach with a smile and say, “Buongiorno.” (Good day). Introduce yourself. If the person seems receptive, and most likely will, ask, “Come ti chiami?” (What’s your name?)

Who knows, you might be speaking to someone with the same surname as yours. Or your mother’s. Or her mother’s.

Now that’s connecting the Italian way.

What about you? Any stories you’d like to share about connecting with relatives in a foreign country?

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