Let’s just call it normalish

We were so innocent and full of hope last year around this time. We’d been vaccinated against Covid-19. An apparently sane group of people replaced the wannabe dictatorship in the White House. And it seemed that maybe, just maybe, life was going back to normal.


We made our customary trip across the Atlantic, though, and at least the trip felt more normal this year. We booked on Lufthansa, and flight service was fine. Drinks, regular food, some wine, a nap, masked when we weren’t drinking or eating. No one checked our vaccination cards, or even seemed to care. But when some fellow passengers didn’t put their masks back on after the meal, they were admonished by the flight attendants. You do not want to piss off Lufthansa’s people, who are normally and pretty sweet and attentive.

Not wanting to drive the winding roads of Umbria while jet-lagged, we instead booked a room at the Hotel Tiber, in the somewhat gritty town of Fiumicino, a few stones’ throws from Rome’s airport, and a few steps from the sea. It felt like a mini-vacation without having to go into an empty house and turn all the stuff on while gazing at six months’ worth of cobwebs.

We ate out a couple of times, and while we’ve given up meat, we still love fish and seafood. And Fiumicino, on the coast, did not disappoint. From spaghetti con vongole verace e lupini (the local smal and smaller but intense clams), the seafood joints did not disappoint. And now, friends, I am going to bust one of the biggest stereotypes about “Italian” (there really is no such thing; it’s all regional but I’m not gonna go there right now) food: the absolute no-no about mixing seafood and cheese. It seems like every restaurant menu in town featured spaghetti con cozze e pecorino—spaghetti with mussels and pecorino cheese. The Spartan Woman tried it first and said it was good; I followed the next day. And I concur. So throw out the rulebook, if you’ve got one.

The next day, our friend with a van, Angelo, picked us up and took us home. Well, after lunch anyway. First he was going to come later in the day, but changed his schedule. I have more than a slight suspicion that he wanted to have a nice seaside lunch, too. And who can argue with that? It was terrific getting reacquainted, and since we only speak Italian with him, it was also good to get the mouth working the right way. American English is a lazy mouth affair, with vowels that sound alike or slide around as dipthongs. Italian is crisper, sharper, and more musical, and after six months of speaking English most of the time, it was good to be immersed again in my other language.

It wasn’t an altogether peaceful ride—a friend of ours, who was going to be our houseguest, was stranded on the autostrada. But Angelo came to the rescue, finding a tire place and getting our friend’s car sorted.

And then….Ommm. We got back to our treehouse. At least that’s what our main floor feels like, because the house is on a slope, so from this desk I’m looking at tree tops. This area in general is incredibly green and lush in the spring. We’ve never gotten here this early in the season, so who knew that we have wisteria and lilac trees blooming all over the place? Wild orchids, too? All this greenery has a couple of good effects: 1-I can feel my blood pressure easing, and 2-Somehow, it makes it easier to ignore stuff like the madman Putin a little easier. Not completely—hey, we got broadband here—but without the drumbeat of MSNBC et al, it’s isn’t dominating my thoughts quite as much.

But coming back to Umbria reminds us that, unlike the weird rush to act as though the pandemic never happened in the U.S., Covid never went away. More people wear masks here, especially indoors. Stores and public spaces still have social distancing reminders everywhere, and the stats aren’t that great.

Still….we walked over to our neighbors next door to say hi and collect our car. We’d parked it there before we left, and it was a terrific excuse to see them after being away for nearly six months. Another day, we walked to the center of our hamlet, where we saw an acquaintance pruning his olive trees. He invited us into his courtyard for coffee, and we sat around updating one other. His neighbor saw us, a courtly older man who tracks our comings and goings and is probably the epitome of the kind, gentle soul that’s common in this region. It’s the place that gave birth to St. Francis of Assisi, after all (and we’re reminded of it regularly around here).

We’re laying low for the time being. New Covid cases are common, with the daily totals sticking stubbornly in the tens of thousands in Italy. We’ll venture out to eat when it’s consistently warmer. In May, the weather can go from your fantasy of Sunny Italy to Wuthering Heights in minutes.

Okay, so we make an exception for gelato. Sue me.

It’s great to be back. More later.

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