gratitude-a-thon day 2076: the unusual (part two)

A trip as interesting as the one we took a few weeks ago has to go through the great food processor in my mind before it can be discussed properly. And amidst regular life and work and Halloween and my daughter ending her soccer season after 17 years and my son’s 25th birthday, it’s been up there in my brain on “chop,” just waiting to be gratitudized.

A display of wares (little storage baskets) in Otranto.
The Nona who was teaching us how to cook was slightly disappointed in us, but you should have tasted our focaccia! Joe (left) has promised to make us all some really soon. HEY JOE, WHERE’S THE FOCACCIA?
I tried. I really tried to get into this gorgeousness, but in the end, my incompatibility with cold water got the better of me. But here are Linda who willed herself in, Stephen, or as we like to call him, Tarzan, and Elaine who could star in the female version of the movie The Swimmer (She would literally do the crawl in your kitchen sink).

The ladies of Lecce at a wine tasting pop-up. I bought us all rings, because you know, jewelry.
Our guide pointed out faces in the front of the Basilica di Santa Croce, which all of us nodded our head we could see, but not a one of us was telling the truth. What faces?
Polignano a Mare. Like a great movie you watch and want to go to where they filmed.

It’s so hard not to post all my pictures from all our amazing adventures, but if I did, you wouldn’t have time to Christmas shop (and neither would I). 

I could drone on about all the insanely adorable small Italian towns we visited, and the Nona who taught us how to make the most exquisite focaccia from scratch and the color of the green, not blue, not gray, but green, water, and being in just the perfect place where the Ionian sea was on one side and the Adriatic on the other, and all the other I-think-I-might-be-trapped-in-a-postcard sights we saw, but one place, stood above the rest and so you don’t fall sleep in your meatballs, I’ll just tell you about that place.

I know this is a blurry pic, but it was my first peek at this magical city. Breathless.
Right outside our room. Yeah, like this wasn’t perfect for me?
Our first night. I was falling in love.

As I wrote about here, the first place we stayed at was the unique and totally one-of-a-kind (or, as I like to call it, one-of-a-find) Il Convento. Our next destination was called Matera. Again, let me just say (and who does this–not really know where they”re going–I do and you would if you were busy and booked a trip with the Queen of curated travel, Linda Plazonja of Morso Soggiorno because you were confident that wherever you were going was going to be as fabulous as she is) that I went in blind, which was actually spectacularly fun, because when we rounded the corner from regular life, life in 2019 Basilicata, and I saw the town of Matera, I literally screamed, like Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. There in the distance was a mountain of houses that shone with the patina of antiquity. I had simply never seen anything like it and it took my breath away. It was a serious CPR moment.

We arrived at Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita and I was still not breathing. The hotel was located inside  Sassi (translated as “the stones”) di Matera, a landmark complex of ancient cave dwellings carved into a mountain. What I’m saying here is we stayed in a cave. A high-end cave to be sure, but still, WE STAYED IN A CAVE. Just call me Toni, the troglodyte. Our room was cavernous and lit by only candles, with two or three dull bulbs hidden inside of little cave holes in the wall. (I noted the soft lighting, as I thought I looked rather good in it and must reconsider home lighting asap)! Things were clearly updated and luxury-ized, but just to say, our sink used to be a horse trough.

So, the very abridged story goes (although read this for a more complete story of Matera’s fascinating history) that Matera dates back to the Paleolithic Age, when about 1,500 caves burrowed deep into a steep ravine, gradually becoming living spaces for peasants and artisans throughout the classical and medieval eras. By the 1940’s Matera’s population of mainly peasants and farmers were living in the Sassi, with up to 10 children, as well as their animals (for fear they’d be stolen). I love my dog, but we’re not using the same space we cuddle in to go to the bathroom in. But I digress.The infant mortality rate was 50%. People were starving. There was natural light, no running water, electricity or ventilation (which I guess means no blow drying your hair, either). Malaria, Cholera and Typhoid ravaged the population. This only became widely known when Carlo Levi published the book, Christ Stopped at Eboli. In the book, Levi says, “I have never seen in all my life such a picture of poverty.”

Considered “the shame of Italy, in 1950, the Italian prime minister Alcide De Gasperi, called the Sassi “a national disgrace”, which made the government take drastic steps to change the lives of those living in such dire and inhumane conditions. Financed through the postwar Marshall Plan, the population was evacuated and moved to new homes on the outskirts of town. This was a difficult transition for the people, most of who were used to living with one another and had never even seen running water. For 16 years the caves lay empty, ravaged by thieves and the environment. Unesco named it a World Heritage Site, and in 1993 called it “the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, perfectly adapted to its terrain and ecosystem.” The town had a competition to decide what to do with the site and the winning idea was to bring the caves back to life. The government-subsidized restoration work. Film productions began to take notice, like The Passion of the Christ. And the rest, as they say, is history (or rather, all of it, is in fact, history) In 2019, Matera was named the European Capital of Culture. Talk about a Cinderella story.

My visit to this amazing place was comprised of doing yoga up numerous steep flights of stairs, in a convent, touring the city with a native Materian, eating and drinking. A lot. In restaurants with no windows, which were lit up on the inside like the Vegas strip (we soon realized the impact of a cave not having windows). And of course, we did a lot of laughing.

The astounding and unusual beauty of this city that is the third-longest continually inhabited city in the world never got old (no pun intended!). Every day I looked forward to seeing more of it, or just staring at it like a good hair day. The “you’re not getting older, you’re getting better” adage was clearly written about Matera. I had never even heard of this place before and now I have a crush like a schoolgirl.

So, if you want to go somewhere steeped in the past, where you literally feel like you could see Jesus walking down the street on his way to dinner, (the last supper?) where every corner you turn is another you’ve-got-to-be-kidding moment, go to Matera, before the rest of the world catches on (apparently, you’re already late, as 25% of Matera’s housing is on Airb&b). This is next level off-the-beaten-path and I have a suitcase full of gratitude for having been lucky enough to go there with traveling companions who were just as grateful as I was. 

gratitude-a-thon day 2075: dinner roll feet and the last day of soccer

Dinner rolls, right?

When Ally was born, her feet looked like little dinner rolls. You know, those slightly rectangular puffs of flour that make your mouth water and always come to the table of an old school restaurant, warm and just waiting to melt some butter. Those. Those were Ally’s feet. We couldn’t imagine how she could ever walk on those adorable little toes attached to dinner rolls, let alone play a sport.

First official rec. game.

But pretty soon after she walked, much to our amazement, she was kicking a ball. And it wasn’t long after that, that she fell in love with soccer. From her u5 town rec. league, to futsol, MPS club soccer and high school soccer, Ally kicked that ball with abandon and glee through Florida, England, Tanzania and Zanzibar, not to mention all over New England, New York and New Jersey.

The Lions with Coach Marie and Coach Kelly!

Of course, it wasn’t just the soccer that captured her heart, it was the friendships she made, the laughs, the snacks, the unbeatable camaraderie. And this, as I’ve said before, is the true gift of soccer, that has nothing to do with the ball, the goal or the field. And during her college career at Trinity, this is where Ally really excelled.

While Ally still has fierce soccer skills, college soccer is fast and furious. Playing time has been hard to get, but no matter, Ally made her mark by being the heart and soul of her team. She has welcomed every freshman team member, encouraging, supporting and making them laugh. She has worked hard to make her soccer sisters their best selves. She has had a positive attitude through some very tumultuous team politics. This, this is what I’m most proud of. And for me, this is what is most valuable in all she’s learned in the 17 years she’s been kicking a ball.

Under the lights at Boston University.

Last high school game.

BHS Playoffs. A very big deal!

Maybe 6th grade.

This weekend we celebrated at the Senior Game, held during homecoming. It was a sunny, beautiful day, with our friends and family. Jake came in from California,one of her biggest fans,  Uncle Frank, her unofficial coach for her whole life and my sister Joni, who still can’t understand off-sides, never mind that her husband, Frank is one of the foremost experts on soccer (an amazing sports writer) were there and have always been there. We went out to a special toast-filled, gift-laden dinner with our favorite players and parents and back to her house for some fun. It was perfect!

Last BHS game!

Today is the last game ever. Whether she plays or doesn’t means nothing. Her dad, who has been Ally’s driver and number one fan and soccer confidante, gave an eloquent toast at breakfast the morning after, which soothed our hangovers. He said, “Ally, I’m ready for soccer to be over. I needed it all those years when I couldn’t talk to you about girl things and periods and boys.  I could always talk to you about soccer. It was how we bonded. But now, you and I have so many other things to talk about, like politics and justice and the world,  I don’t need soccer anymore.” And that’s right. Ally used to be only about soccer, but now, she’s about so many other things. She’s so much more than just soccer.

The Daddy Toast at Rein’s Deli.

 

And so, I’m raising my coffee to my girl, here this morning. She has taught this non-team playing mom a lot. Grateful for all she’s sacrificed, all she’s learned, and all she’s become.

 

(You’re so lucky my iphoto is not working, or this post would be a hundred pictures longer!)

The biggest supporters.

 

 

gratitude-a-thon day 2075: the unusual (part one)

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Our travels took us through Puglia and Basilicato, the heel of the boot.

I feel as ancient as the 9,000 year old city we just came back from! But the jet lag is a teeny tiny price to pay for such an extraordinary trip.

So, just to give credit, where credit is due, and boy is it due, I must call out Linda Plazonja of Morso Soggiorno. She is the reigning Queen of curated travel. This is the second trip I’ve taken with her company and it will not be my last. Check out her website, for future trips, or just because it’s so pretty. Not all her voyages are yoga retreats, but this one was, as was my first. Our gifted yoga teacher Roni, of Roni Brissette Yoga is so enormously adept at inspiring while gently nudging us each toward our potential, I feel like Iyengar himself after each class.

I had never been to Southern Italy before, that place right at the heel of the boot. I also hadn’t done much research on our itinerary, because I knew I was in good hands (Linda’s) and it would be awesomeness and work and life took over, so I just went with it.

You can’t judge a book by its cover and that goes for monasteries, too.

Which is what actually made it even more stunning and even more fun. Our first few days were spent staying in a former Franciscan Monastery,  ll Convento di Santa Maria di Costantinopoli . No none of the monks were there, but you wouldn’t believe what was.

Opening the door of Il Convento, a splash of red and then, a bajillion artifacts from all over the world.

Every corner, equally interesting and provocative.

On the outside, it’s just a simple stone building, nothing-to-see here kind of architecture, (except I find even the dullest anything in Italy gorgeous) but then you feel like Alice dropping into Wonderland, opening the door into a seriously interesting and quirky art collector’s mind. Artifacts and folk art and textiles from Africa, Mexico and India, and other places the owers have visited on their extensive travels. Antiques, carved figures, paintings, sculpture, and more than 1,000 books make each of the theme rooms and common areas a visual party. No nook, no cranny has been left unadorned. There are unlimited places to read, meditate or just take in the atmosphere and chill.

And then there are the plants and flowers. Every outdoor space is filled with pots of lavender, succulents, colorful blooms. There are pomegranate trees, palm trees, and cactus. An Olympic sized pool beckons, surrounded by a drool-worthy setting you’d find at a spa you couldn’t afford.

The garden near the pool, of the many, many gardens, both container and earth-bound that made this place so spectacular.

 

Breakfast of champions. I was hoping this would be waiting for me when I arrived home, but no such luck.

A typical dinner. Salad was fresh and beautiful. Prawns, not my thing, but our table was swooning. Not photographed was the simple homemade pasta with a Pomodoro sauce and basil. Delizioso!

Did I forget to mention the food, Pierluigi, the warm and talented chef creates a full breakfast buffet burgeoning with pastries and irresistible breads and 10 jams and homemade granola and just made juices. Dinners were beautifully prepared and attentively served and careful thought was paid to the finicky (me). If this is how monks live, sign me up. I’d be remiss not to mention Athena, the owner of this property, who lovingly restored the convent, with her husband, the late Lord Alistaire McAlpine, to its current perfection. Shortly after it was finished, she lost Alistair to heart disease, but his design aesthetic and love of art, books and curio are present everywhere. And then there was Gloria. Gloria is a warm and lovely mid-sized white shepard-ish looking dog, who guards her home and welcomes guests like the concierge she is. She even did yoga with us.

Gloria, overseeing the fabulous food coming out of the kitchen.

Stacks and stacks of earthenware on a shelf in the kitchen. I wanted to steal it all.

 

The cozy room we all retired to after dinner to talk and laugh and yup, drink more wine.

This is a unique and magical and crazy amazing hotel. The kind of place you might see in a wacky movie, or in a dream. The kind of place you just have to visit to really believe. And pictures do not replace a thousand words here. There was no way to capture this oasis on film or video. The grandeur can only be appreciated in person.

Our wonderful little group of intrepid travelers who all love yoga laughing, food, wine and the out-of-the ordinary.

Gratitude for the unusual. I live for an experience like this, that both surprises, amuses and leaves you breathless.

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Linda and Jonathan of Morso Siggiorno, saying goodbye to Athena, the owner of the unusual and extraordinary Il Convento.

gratitude-a-thon day 2074:the fight is on

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Don’t blame me if I’m a little giddy this morning, that I woke up smiling, that life seems damn sweeter on this day.

Yeah, I kind of love when someone gets what they deserve, gets called out.  Donald J. Trump, the-liar-in-chief, the xenophobe, misogynist, LGBQT-hating, white supremacist-loving, name-calling, dictator-like, media-detesting, emolument-abusing, “grab ’em by the pussy,” Hillary-hating, “I can do it because I’m president,” election-stealing, bully, with the fifteen word vocabulary and the mannequin-like wife who wears her emotions on her clothes, instead of working on any first lady initiatives (oh, sorry, she has her “Be Best” anti-bullying initiative, which ignores the largest bully in the country). might possibly be getting his hands slapped. Finally. Fucking finally.

Yes, I know that the Teflon Don has had every accusation slide off him like a kid on a sled glides down a snowy hill, but this just might stick. This just might be the moment when his bad behavior gets him in the naughty chair. Permanently.

Yes, I’m watching the developments carefully, happily, GLEEFULLY. Karma, baby. Gratitude.

 

 

the bad-it-tude-athon red carpet: day 2073

Ok, that was one of the ugliest red carpet’s ever. I cannot unsee what I have seen. My eyes are asking for rehab this morning.

The Worst. No, really, THE WORST.

Gwendolyn CHRIST-ie

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So, this looked like something Jesus might wear to dinner, or like the last supper, for maybe a formal event, a black tie wedding or you know maybe a dressy holiday work party with the disciples.

Kendall Jenner. The When-You’re-a-Model-You-Can-Wear-Anything Hoax.

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She’s long and willowy and gorgeous, but c’mon, this get-up–I’m not buying it. And I’m also not buying it. The dress part is pretty, but the latex turtleneck with the dress part is a definite nuh-uh. Michelle Pfeiffer called and she wants the top half of her Catwoman costume back.

Greta Lee, The green queen.

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Greta looked like she just parachuted in from Emerald City. Dorothy, why didn’t you tell her? 

Dasha PolancNO.

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Everything was going swimmingly, and then someone decided to put these pink wings on the poor girl. I’m guessing she wished she could have flown away.

Christina Applegate was dead to me.

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I love Christina. I love her so much, it pains me to say how terribly bad this dress was. But did nobody look at her boobs before she left the house? It’s that sheer-fabric-over- solid-fabric thing that can happen.

Amy Adams. From funeral to red carpet.

Amy-Adams

Condolences to the family. This black peignoir was the worst.

Vera Farmiga for The Conjuring.

So, it turns out that Vera took her inspiration from a movie she made a few years ago. And yes, it was scary.

 

Zowie Kazan, can that dress.

Zoe-Kazan

I feel like that black dress under there was good, but then the clowns came in.

Niecy Nash, Table for Three.

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She is curvy and proud of it, but I was anxious one of those girls was going to do a Jack-in-the-Box thing at any moment. Clear the first row, wardrobe malfunction.

 

Natasha Lyonne shoulda been Russian to get that dress off.

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“I can’t believe our little Leonard has become a man. I love a good bar mitzvah. Pass me the pigs in a blanket, wouldja, dahling?”

The good ones, and you’re going to make your meeting, because there weren’t too many.

MJ Rodriguez strikes a Pose.

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Now that’s a dress. I love the proportions and those black bows are everything. Simply styled and beautifully worn.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge should be the new Disney princess–smart, sassy and funny as fuck.Phoebe-Waller-Bridge

I love the dress. I love the woman. She can write and she can act. And apparently, she can also dress. I wish she’d had on her signature red lipstick, though.

Naomi, Watts black dead gorgeous.

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Oh, swoon, love, sigh. I give it a 1,398,087 on a scale of 1-10.

 

It’s black and white, Kerry Washington wears the pants on the carpet

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Simple lines, but blingy, too. Love those bangs. There’s no gray area–this is simply gorgeous.

 

 

 

gratitude-a-thon day 2072: mind altering

 

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Some days it’s easy for me to wrap myself in gratitude–noticing the tiniest of things–a person who holds a door for me, the garden outside my house, the way my dog’s fur feels. Other days, my mind clamps onto something negative and it permeates my thoughts and colors me dark and stormy.

Staying positive is a task. Feeling gratitude takes time. What I mean is we have to slow down to notice what it is that’s good. Gratitude is adept at hiding if you’re going over the speed limit. It demands your attention. Sometimes I have to put it on my TO DO list to remind myself to head for the light in a methodical way that wakes me and shakes me to the rightness of the world. But the thing is, if you’re woke to this trick, it can actually change your mind. Check out this article and some of the work done at University of California, Davis that shows scientific data on how gratitude can actually alter our heads for the better.

 

 

 

 

 

gratitude-a-thon day 2071:when your fantasy all of a sudden becomes real

 

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Ever get really sick and then when you’re better you just look at the world like it’s all new again? I had a virus for the last few weeks that kicked my ass around the block. It had me in bed panting for air, coughing like a smoker and aching like a prize fighter. And the exhaustion–I sincerely wondered if I might have actually died and nobody informed me.

Anyway, look at the flowers! (Ok, so they’re on their way out, but right this minute, they’re walking the runway and flaunting their wares like the supermodels of the 80’s–still obsessed with Linda Evangalista’s short do, but I digress…). My hydrangea runneth over. But what’s really extraordinary and the absolute show stopper is my clematis (no, not my clitoris), my gorgeous climbing tiny white flowered vine. I have always been madly in love with this flower. I have also always wanted an arched arbor with this flower smothering it in blooms. Always. Like forever.

And now I have one of my very own, thanks to my super sweet sister Susan, who gave this to me as a gift (and it was such a surprise because she went to my landscape genius and had it delivered)! and of course the amazing Brandy at Faithful Flowers. She’s been guiding my vivacious vine to climb like it’s part of a Mount Everest adventure group. I just want to sit in my tiny backyard and stare at it. It won’t last long, but it’s nice when a dream comes out of your head and into your real life. Clematitude.