Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Dai Miei" (Going "Home")

At the train station when we had to leave, so sad...

I know they say that "You can't go home..." 

But we did. The girls and I managed to get away from camp for an overnight, taking the train (well, first a bus, then another bus, then the train...) to visit the family I lived with in 1993. 

It was FENOMENALE! (Not too hard to understand some of those cognates in Italian, 'eh? Easier than when I write in Russian!)

Chris and I went back to visit them in 1995, then we went back again when Katya was eleven-months-old in August of 2001... But a lot had certainly happened in the past eight years. 

They had never met Natalia, and Katya hadn't even been able to walk during that last trip! (I should add, however, that she ate her first "gelato" while at their house, strawberry, I think...)

I thought the girls would be rather shy, but I couldn't have been more wrong. From the second Amelia met us a the train station, they treated her like the honorary "nonna" (grandmother) she is and jabbered away non-stop. 

Katya and Natalia instantly trusted and loved both Amelia and Giuseppe. Their hugs and affection for these people I love so much, too, were joyous to watch! Amelia and Giuseppe were equally touched...

Amelia took Katya to look for lightening bugs before bed. It was already exciting enough to be able to see the vast expanse of stars... The lightening bugs were the icing on the cake!

Amelia gave the girls the prettiest ivory beaded necklaces that they love. She gave me the neatest silver and mother-of-pearl bracelet that is SO ME, too. She used to have her own shop where she specialized in a variety of antiques, including jewelry. I love her taste

Giuseppe, my host father, was an admiral in the Italian navy and the family spent two years living in Virginia in the late '70s when he was the naval attaché at the Italian Embassy in Washington. Their sons attended the local public school and the whole family jumped right into a total-immersion experience in American culture and English.

You can tell they lived in America... Where else would you find a tee pee next to an authentic vineyard?!

That's probably why we "clicked" so quickly when I lived with them... We hardly ever spoke English (they knew how important it was for me to improve my Italian), but they "got" where I was from. We talked and talked and laughed and laughed... 

I felt completely at home living with them, absolutely loved and accepted and not at all like a paying boarder. They felt the same way, too... The university's arrangement seemed like a technicality and they wanted me to stay after our program ended to join them on the family ski vacation in Cortina. 

In any case, while driving down those winding roads on the way to their house, I could feel the anticipation building inside me... When we then made our way up the path to their house, slowly passing the woods, olive trees and long rows of grapevines in the vineyard, I wanted to open up every pore in my body to suck in the smell, sights, and experience...

Sheila, the horse, is a new addition to the family. The girls were tickled pink!

I'd love to come back some fall to help with the vendemmia, the grape harvest and making of the wine... What an unforgettable experience that was...

When we then opened the doors to the house, and made our way to "our room," I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Everything still smelled the same... That blend of wood, antiques, fresh breezes, clean linens, dog fur, fresh and dried flowers, homemade wine, Amelia's perfume, whatever had been cooking... I can't describe it. It's simply "home." 

Walking with the dogs among the olive trees.

Lucky and Tyson, the wolf-like pups rescued from a dumpster.

I had a similar visual reaction... Everything was as I had loved it, with many beautiful changes in the meantime... It's a place that has been developed over time to meet the exact needs of their family: part cottage, part craft center, part impromptu hotel, part intimate café, part restaurant, part garden, part mechanic's atelier, part vineyard, part olive grove, part paradise for dogs lucky enough to find a home there, part horse pasture, part children's "Neverland" where they can run free and play, part terrace for peaceful reading while taking in the breathtaking view...

Doing a little reading on the swing...

This view is spectacular all year long.

Their home is so "them". Their heart and soul have been poured into every nook and cranny of it! Giuseppe (an engineer) never remains still; he is always working the land, making repairs or creating a new project to carry out. The beautiful in-ground pool he built looks down on the land and is built against a stone wall. I enjoyed it even more knowing that the entire project was his doing from start to finish, with each detail reflecting his personal vision of how the family could relax there.

Natalia loved to follow all the dogs (five of them) around. Here they are outside of the "mud room" that Giuseppe renovated.

When you walk around inside, Amelia's taste is reflected in every homey and pretty touch. The living room invites you to sink into the big cushions on the couches, all upholstered by Amelia herself. The cheery yellows, oranges and blues create a sense of happiness even during cold, dark and rainy winter days. The house has a "cocoon" feel to it. Time seems to stop while you're there, and outside concerns don't seem to matter so much from that beautiful hilltop. 

I picked out this hand-carved and painted nativity set for them in Moscow, knowing it would look great with the living and dining room colors. I'm so happy they love it! They placed it on top of their cabinet that is beneath the wall of bookcases. 

My favorite place of all is the back porch; it's the heart of the home. The walls act as a frame, setting off the spectacular view of the valley below. 

"A tavola! Si mangia!" ("Come to the table! Let's eat!")

Natalia helped out by sweeping the floor. The dogs loved doing their part by getting rid of any errant crumbs...

Directly across from the table, on the other side of the valley and atop a mountain, you can see the Monastery of Monte Cassino. At night the valley seems to be an ocean reflecting the lights of the stars above. 

Here are some more of my favorite pictures... First of Natalia with Tyson after hours of swimming, then of Katya with Charlie:

The girls enjoyed swimming almost every day while we were in Italy, except for when sick. They sure do love water...

We all cannot wait to go visit them again... SOON. The olive oil I brought back will be a lovely reminder when we open it this fall. The bottles of homemade red and white wine? Well... I was worried they would break while in transit back to Moscow, so they just had to be shared with my colleagues who have now become friends, colleagues who graciously covered for me so I could have those two days away...


Cecelia said...

Loved the story and pictures. You were so fortunate to have such a wonderful family to live with while attending school in Italy.

Rachael said...

How great that the girls got to share this little piece of your history with you! Love the view. I want to go visit them!!! :)

Anonymous said...

Sounds so wonderful!

katbat said...


Annie said...

All I can say is that you were all so amazingly blessed by that pairing. You are all clearly soulmates. How lovely that it turned out that way for you! And that you had this beautiful visit with your girls.

There was a girl from Germany who came to live with a family who was in our parish for a short time. The primary thing anyone knew about these people is that they were VERY STRANGE. The mother was as anti-social as a person could be, and she'd married a man who must have had some sort of interesting disability.....He would do and say the oddest and most uncomfortable things. He was an "at home" that in and of itself must have been a bit of a strain for this poor girl - being home all the time with this strange man, in a very small house. And their daughter was a chip off the old block. I tried to take the German girl under my wing a bit because I felt sorry for her. One day when I went to pick her up, the daughter answered the door and took one look at me and said, "I don't think I will tell her you're here. What are you going to do about it?" Inga stepped into the background, thank heaven - I don't know WHAT I would have done about it! In any case - you might have had a family like THAT! Instead of these people who enriched and enrich your life so wonderfully.

Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos and that evocative description...I feel I took a little trip there with you.

Anonymous said...

i want to visit them, too! i like your story too, annie, as my family also hosted a german girl while she and i were in high school - however my family isn't that odd...!!! i don't think... ; ) bonds like that can last forever and our families still keep in touch 20 years later. the pictures are fabulous, tamara - so happy that you all got this trip of a lifetime! call when you get to u.s. - a lot is going on that you'll want to hear about.

miss you!

Susan said...

Did they have a child your age at the time you were there??
We hosted a french girl one summer and had lots of fun with her!