lake orta

orta Lake Berryessa is a manmade lake in Northern California, and where I spent all the summers of my childhood. It was formed by diverting natural rivers to flood the valley where the town of Monticello once was, and when I’d swim and waterski in the lake, especially as a kid, but even as I got older, I’d imagine roads and houses and schools, tables and chairs and beds, and sometimes, when I’d let myself get really carried away, ghostlike shadows of the people who had inhabited Monticello before the lake was made. Out in the water, alone, just me and a ski, waiting for the boat to come around and get me, I could get my heart racing with the thought of toys left behind, overturned in the slimy mud and now brown and mossy on the deep, dark floor below.

If that weren’t enough to freak a little girl out, to justify the family rule that everyone had to wear a life jacket or belt when swimming in the lake, my grandmother would tell us the tragic tales of people who had drowned while swimming without a safety device.

Her stories haunt me still.

Last year I swam a non-competitive 3 km in the sea in Croatia, and was panicky the entire time. I couldn’t wait for it to end, and when it finally did I knew I’d be just as jittery the next time around.

This year, I signed up for a competitive 4.5 km swim in Lago d’Orta, a beautiful lake in Piedmont, one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen, about three hours from where I live. Lake Berryessa will always and forever hold a very special place in my heart, but Lake Orta, well, as soon as we arrived and I caught sight of a perfect expanse of blue framed by hills and mountains, with a perfect little island in the middle, I couldn’t wait to jump in.

And so I did, we all did, everyone from my swim team. But as I moved farther from the shore, the water got darker and my chest contracted. What are you so scared of, one my friends asked, and I tried to explain. Oh yeah, said someone else, it’s that primordial fear of the deep, dark unknown. This was a guy two times my weight, with arms as thick as my thighs. “I get that, too, sometimes,” he said.

It helped to put a name on it, and it helped to know I wasn’t the only one. The idyllic setting helped too. I was a little freaked out when the race began, but pulled myself together by concentrating on the water, my stroke, the other swimmers’ graceful bodies in the water all around me. Once I got going, I was fine. It took me about the same amount of time it takes me to finish a half marathon, but it felt like half that. It was completely painless and enjoyable, nothing like a running race where I sometimes have to remind myself that the faster I run, the sooner the agony will end.

When I climbed out of the water, I was a little dazed from all that swimming. It felt funny to feel the weight of my body after my weightlessness in the water. Mostly, it felt good. I was almost sorry it was over. And next time I don’t think I’ll be scared at all.

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We spent a sensational weekend in Turin with friends: first an early train ride, a visit to the Film Museum and lots of walking around the city on Saturday, then a visit to the Egyptian Museum and a little more walking around on Sunday before catching the train back home again.

No one ever complained about the walking, not even once!

Saturday at dinner Six said to me, “I love Torino. Let’s move here!”

“Yes,” I  said. “Let’s!”

Unfortunately, Ten did not share our enthusiasm, and was quick to veto our plans.

Posted in The boys, Travel | 2 Comments


Rarely are the events in our lives linear, rarely do they make much sense, but if we bend them a little, fold this bit back, bring this part to the front, artfully arrange the pieces not quite the way they fell, we can mold them into a narrative that not only makes sense, but is more flattering and props us up.

All the days of last week were warm and sunny, save one, and that was the day I got divorced. The hearing lasted all of six seconds, enough time for us to shuffle into the judge’s dreary office, exchange buongiornos, sit down, sign three sheets of paper, stand up and shuffle out again.

I blew off work for the rest of the day, ran some errands at government offices and met my ex for lunch. Naturally, in between our unabashed glorification of our children’s many miraculous accomplishments, there was some mundane talk about what went wrong and how we never managed to fix it. I had the salmon, he had the couscous, and then we went to buy some underwear for Ten, who is outgrowing everything he owns.

He looked a little sad when we said goodbye, but not terribly much, although he added, “Che peccato,” which means “Such a shame,” and I nodded, because until then, it had, indeed, seemed precisely that. But even as I nodded, I knew I didn’t mean it. Something had shifted in the six seconds in the judge’s office and, especially, over lunch. I rode off on my bike in the rain and started asking myself what it was.

For four years I’d experienced our failed marriage as exactly that – a shameful failure. And yet I’d never felt the least temptation to give it another try.

So it didn’t last the rest of the life of the one who died first, we did pretty well considering what we had to work with, and what we have now is far better than what we would have had if we’d forced ourselves to stay together to meet other people’s expectations of what a marriage is.

It was a nice little love story. And if I can write it so that it ends when he says, under the shelter of a portico, while I hold a bag of our son’s new underpants in my hand, “Che peccato,” the ending was just right.

Posted in Separation anxiety | 2 Comments

just albanian

Yesterday, a friend asked me to pop in a shop near her apartment and get her a couple of things. I must have said something a little off, or my accent must have slipped through, because the shop owner said, “AHA! You’re not Italian!” Which used to happened to me all the time, and now only rarely, because either everyone I talk to already knows me or I fit in enough to pass as an Italian, or I have my kids with me, and speak to them in English, making it very obvious where I am from and no one thinks I am trying to trick them.

“No,” I confessed.

“What nationality?” he asked.

I smiled.

He raised his voice and enunciated slowly: “What N A T I O N A L I T Y ?”

“Wouldn’t you rather guess?”

“Russian!” he said.

I laughed.

“Ukrainian!” his wife guessed.

I shook my head.

“No, no, Polish!” said another customer in the store. “Or Albanian!”

“I think she’s Russian,” said the shop owner again.

In the end I told them I was American and thanked them for the laugh.

“We never would have guessed American!” they all said as I left the store.

Of course, as soon as I saw her, I asked my friend if I looked Russian. “You could pass as Russian. Not Albanian though!”

I saw another friend later and asked him. “You could be Russian, or even Albanian. I used to see a group of Albanian prostitutes near where I used to work and yeah, you could be Albanian.”

“Albanian or an Albanian prostitute?”

“No, just Albanian.”

Posted in like anyone cares, the neighborhood | 1 Comment


the swings
My kids have swim lessons once a week through their school. A bus picks them up around lunchtime and takes them to the local pool, the same pool where I swim. I like to arrange my schedule so I am there for lap swim while they are having their lesson, and now that I am finally swimming again, I managed to be there last week when they showed up with their classmates.

I spotted Six immediately, but could not find Nine. Where was he? I looked and looked, and as a group of older kids meandered over to the deep pool where I was standing, about to dive in, a friend of Nine’s said ciao, and I said ciao, and that was when I realized that the person next to him, the young man nearly a head taller than this boy, with shoulders almost as broad as my own, that stranger was my son.

His growth, at times, is shocking, and also I am so proud of it, like when, as a new mother, I’d relish the moment when the Polish pediatrician put him on the scales and delighted in how much weight he had gained. I had helped do that! The interminable nursing! It was not in vain!

Now it’s interminable grocery shopping, food preparation, cleaning up, then starting over again.

One night last week, tears came to Nine’s eyes when I cruelly told him the kitchen was closed. It’s after nine o’clock for crying out loud! Then I felt bad: he had eaten all his dinner and there had only been one course. The reason he’d wandered off after dinner was to clean his room, like I’d asked. So I made my starving manchild a couple of extra-large crepes with Nutella, and while I stood at the stove, he hugged me so hard I thought, pretty soon, maybe next time he does that, he’ll lift me off the ground.

We wear the same size shoe and trade shirts and jackets. I recently appropriated the brand new “fancy” shirt I had forced him to wear to Christmas lunch with the relatives this one time only, please. It had been languishing, unworn and unwanted at the bottom of his sweatwhirt drawer since he’d gently informed me that Christmas is the only day he’ll wear what I want. By the time next Christmas comes around he’ll have long outgrown it anyway.

He’s a good kid but increasingly he reminds me of a teenager. He ignores me! He makes fun of me! Whenever I am striving to be stern and serious, he pulls an even sterner, more serious face, and very gravely and very slowly says yeeeeeesssss. I laugh every time. No one makes me feel as stupid as my offspring.

He had his best friends over for a sleepover this weekend, the same group of boys he played with in preschool. I can barely remember what they were like back then; the new versions of these boys are so big and bright, they have replaced my memories of their younger selves. They still play with Legos, but they also say bad words, tell bad jokes, finish off an entire pizza and let rip a belch to laughter and cheers.

With each year that passes, I am more aware that I will be a mother to two men for so much of my life, and I will have been a mother to two little boys for almost no time at all.

Posted in nostalgia, The boys | 6 Comments

ten days to ten

The due date for my eldest son was ten years ago today. April 10, 2005!

He made his appearance ten days later (even now he likes to take his time) but every year I remember the quiver of anticipation this day held in 2005.

Posted in The boys | 2 Comments


rome2015 133

Posted in picture taking, Travel | 4 Comments