This is our major holiday here at the gratitudeathon, (like you didn’t know that). But here’s what’s exciting about it, you know, besides the turkey and mashed potatoes. MASHED. POTATOES (please sing those words in the tune of the Hallelujah chorus), is that there are people that might actually recognize the good juju of starting a gratitude practice today. Yeah, they might see the light, in between the infernal green bean casserole and those tasteless turnips. They might feel the total awesomeness of being in the moment long enough to latch onto all they have. Gives me chills, or is that just the gross weather today.
I will be spending the day with my best people, my family. I will be cooking and there will be football and maybe a game and maybe a movie and we’ll all remember who isn’t with us anymore and tell some funny stories about them and we’ll all be on the same side of politics, so the only thing we’ll be fighting over is who has to take the dog for a walk in the rain and amen for that.
The older I get, the more I recognize that simply being with the people I love is it. It’s as it as it gets. And I feel gratitude for that finally dawning on me. Things change, people move, get sick, pass on and all you can do is love them the very best you know how while they are here. Sounds very simple, and maybe a little boring, but I have found it’s actually all of it.
I hope your Thanksgiving is chock full of the people and the foods you love. And I hope, I really hope that maybe this year you find gratitude is something you can take with you from the table in a doggy bag. And if you have any leftover mashed potatoes, send ’em my way, wouldja.
Cue up the music: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” And by that I mean Thankgiving, when the whole country gets on their gratitude, even if it is only for one day. I’ll take it, because when it comes to gratitude, even if you’re opening yourself up to the concept for 60 mouth watering seconds before taking a big ol’ bite of turkey and mashed potatoes (and don’t get me started on the mashed potatoes, because you know how I am, so really, don’t) it’s better than not. I mean, a little gratitude is better than none at all, always.
Today mine is all about a 48 year old friendship, and a new city. I met my friend Steph freshman year of high school. We were 13. She’d just moved to town from Westport and our friend Bobby (who would later become my boyfriend for a whole bunch of years and the nicest guy ever) scooped us up in his Jeep and drove us to his house to hang out. I remember so distinctly, and note here, how I cannot remember what I went into the kitchen for half the time, the two of us standing by the fence in his beautiful backyard and just being so excited by the prospect of having this new girl become my new friend.
She was artistic and had a difficult dad like I did. And there’s nothing quite like having a difficult dad to cement a friendship, I can tell you. She was always up for fun. We did lots of stuff together over the years, including being bad girl cheerleaders, laying on the roof of my house to get a tan during April vacations in Connecticut, and plotting our futures in California, which never did quite come to fruition (although my son lived out this dream for both of us).
She visited us on our family’s yearly month on the Cape, came to see me during college, saw me through broken hearts and family deaths, came to New York to see me and meet my husband to be, when I lived there, and Boston when we moved back. We spent a Vineyard vacation together, and kept in touch throughout her time living in Colorado and then settling down in Fairfield with her new husband. I even helped to do the flowers at her super beautiful barn wedding, way before they were even a thing. For the past 48 years, we’ve remained in touch, sometimes just by phone, sometimes in real life. Steph has the most distinct and perfect handwriting of anyone I know and she has always been in contact with me by mail. To get a card from Steph, which doesn’t just have the great handwriting, but also some of her artwork, is to get something you keep in your “stuff to keep” file.
Old friendships give you a sense of time. They help you measure where you’ve been, how you’ve grown and who you are. My parents have been gone a long time (sadly, my mom, for 28 years). She knew them. She understands me in a particular way that someone who didn’t know them, can never understand me. That alone, is money in the bank. Her knowledge of the totality of my life is kind of everything in the friendship game.
For the past four days, I was with her in her home in Asheville, NC. We are four days apart, and we kept talking about how we just had to celebrate our 60th together. We didn’t, but of course, we spoke and i did see her a few weeks ago when she came East for a mini high school reunion on the Cape, which I missed because of Ally’s senior game. Anywho, she called me a few weeks ago to tell me that The Moth was going to have a Gratitude edition in Asheville and I should come. I thought I shouldn’t because of Thanksgiving and work and it being an inconvenient time of year, and then in a split second, I thought I should and I had to. I hadn’t been to her new city since she’d moved there and it suddenly seemed like here was a way to celebrate our 60th before we hit 61, and appropriately around gratitude!
And once again, our time together was the most natural thing in the world. We never lack for conversation, whether it’s remembering and laughing about high school, or discussing our current day lives, getting older, careers, our crazy love for our dogs, or doing new stuff to add to our decades of memories. We are like a comfortable pair of slippers. You throw them on and feel instantly cozy.
Gratitude in the audience.
A Moth Contender.
What else would I wear but my gratitude sweater?!
Asheville is absolutely fabulous. It’s heavily populated with artists, amazing places to eat, and cool things to do. The Moth was great fun and something that’s been on my To Do list forever. And of course, it was extra meaningful to hear the stories focused on gratitude.
Steph is a professional artist and pilates teacher, which is cool combo. I got to see her gallery space, another space she sells her work, and even attend an art opening at the renovation of the local hospital where two of her paintings are gracing the walls. I most loved her home studio, where she keeps her bounty of art supplies. I am not an artist, but I love all things that make art. And up until high school, it was my biggest interest, so being around art making brings me back to a time of comfort and curiosity.
I do not want my dog to know, but I kind of fell in love with her dog, Rio. He initially barked at me when I walked in, but pretty soon after, our love affair began (and if you tell Riley, I will deny it, so don’t even think about it). I hadn’t seen her husband, Paul in literally decades, but we picked up just like we’d been together a day ago. It was the most fabulous visit, filled with good things to eat, a hike to see the Blue Ridge Mountains up Craggy Pinnacle, a visit to the National Gingerbread House Competition at a super beautiful resort, a lecture at Creative Mornings, a craft fair, and of course, a little bit of shopping.
Creative Mornings is something I’m happy to know about because there is one here.
Best bathroom sign ever., at Creative Mornings.
Creative Morning presentation.
So much gratitude goes to a friendship that has endured and grown. 48 years is nothing to sneeze at (although I did sneeze throughout my visit, because, yup, I’ve got a cold). Glad to share another chapter with my friend, to see Asheville and to know that to have a friendship this long is to have a kind of gratitude that is rare.
Steph in the hospital playroom, where one of her adorable paintings is.
Woolworth Walk in downtown Asheville has a bunch of Steph’s work. (Yup, a whole Woolworth’s building turned into an art gallery).
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.
The inside of Otranto Cathedral.
In Castello di Otranto.
Jonathan loves to mimic Gail’s beautiful South African accent (me too, truth be known).
Sometimes Gail has to scold him.
Sometimes if she has wine though, she has to laugh.
Ostuni is all white. And I’m all about white.
The beautiful Elaine taking in Ostuni.
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).
The Trulli of Alborobello. Is this where the elves live on the off season?
The Trulli are too adorable.
The oldest Trulli.
Trulli are truly unusual.
Roni & Spephen.
More Trulli. Couldn’t get enough.
I liked this man.
Door in Marina Franca.
Martina Franca church.
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.
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.
Up the stairs of the hotel (rooms were on different floors of the cave.
All the way to the Convent we did yoga inside of with our fabulous teacher, Roni Brissette.
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.”
Just tooling around Matera.
Rupestrian churches dot Matera. Carved into stone.
Some of the caves.
This city doesn’t have a bad angle.
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.
When your shirt matches the wall.
Lots of plants and flowers all over Matera.
Church of St. Francis of Assis.
Another corner, another picture.
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, laughing, because if you’re on a trip and you’re not laughing, you’re on the wrong trip.
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 am crushing on it like a school girl.
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.