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My apologies to any faithful readers, who may have come to expect new chapters of this blog with a certain amount of regularity over the last couple years.  The holidays and travel have made that difficult of late.  

The flat we found for phase two of our Italian adventure is very near my wife’s school.  It is considerably larger than our garret apartment with the balconies.  Unfortunately, we have lost our wonderful view of the Alps and I am no longer seeing the vendors of food and wine I got to know at the market near our old place.

The new place offers a number of conveniences, however, like a real eat-in kitchen with a dishwasher, a bathroom with a real bathtub and a bed we can sleep on. It is near Statione Porta Nuova, the main train station in the city, in a neighborhood called San Salvario.  We can walk to Parco Valentino, the city’s main playground along the Po.

We overlook Sexy Shop, not the most inspiring of neighbors, but we are only a block from the city’s principal synagogue (in a Moroccan style) and two blocks from the protestant Waldesian church.  A Catholic church is never more than a block away, so  if we should need spiritual succor, we’ll have no trouble getting it immediately. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to the feng shui of this flat, but I doubt many Italians worry about such things.

I am engaged now in a three-week Italian class at a wonderful, small language school called Italiano Porticando. Every morning I make an espresso, eat my ceriali, and head off on foot toward the Quadrilatereo Romano, the oldest part of the city.

Astonishingly, three out of six students are Australians. There is a father/daughter pair who have combined the language learning part of the holiday with a couple weeks of skiing, and a young environmental consultant whose father immigrated to Adelaide from Calabria in southern Italy.  Unfortunately for Ben, English was the only language spoken at home.  

There is a young woman from Japan who is mad about soccer and a girl from Brazil who has family here. Together, we manage to mangle the language beyond belief. It is great fun.  Our teacher compares us to babies, insisting that one day we will be able to converse comfortably like adults.  It is hard to believe at this stage.

Two or three afternoons a week, a teacher named Laura leads a “passegiata” to a neighborhood or cultural institution. She encourages us to ask questions, in Italian, of course.  Last  Thursday we set off for Palazza Reale, the principal Savoy family residence until 1865. The austerity of the exterior is belied by extravagance inside.  Keeping up with French royalty was de rigeur.

We were herded through the elaborately decorated series of chambers by a lady who must have been a former nun. She seemed to be weighed down by her duties, since there were no other museum aides.  She was charged with  guarding the royal furnishings and keeping us in line.

She seemed immensely frustrated when someone stepped off the carpet or lagged behind. It was a cold, damp day, and I’m sure she would have been much happier curled up by the stove with a dog, a good book (perhaps the good book), and an espresso.

There is much more to come.  Stay tuned. Ciao for now.

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We have gone up in the world. Our new abode is a small flat on the sixth floor of a mixed-use building. This area is not far from the center of the city, but far enough away to be predominately residential. It is in an area called La Crocetta. Not Upper East Side, but solid middle class and well-to-do.

Night life appears to be non-existent. The boulevards are lined with fairly boring 19th century buildings, enlivened occasionally by something from the Baroque period, and, of course, shop windows full of beautiful and expensive clothes. This is Italy, after all.

The tiny elevator in our building goes to the fifth floor. We are in the garret, where the roof slopes steeply down on three sides and we are forever cursing the dark beams, nursing bruises. The flat is compact, but elegant, and three small balconies offer views of the city. On Saturday morning, it finally stopped raining and the view was spectacular. The sun was out and there was a sprinkling of fresh snow on the Alps.

I should have taken some photos, but It was market day and we wanted to get out into the sunshine. We are within walking distance of a wonderful, open-air market, adjacent to a church that looks ancient, but dates back only to the end of the last century. If there was a Fiat dealership, the market would have all three Italian obsessions, cars, clothes and food. Ah, but the food…..

Luscious tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, apples, Clementines, garlic and onions. Olive bread and Parmesan. Fresh fish. Squid. Since my Italian vocabulary is quite limited, we made our purchases with the time-honored method of point and pay. At least I know my numbers. Some gestures, a little French, and a few words in English rapidly helped fill our newly-acquired shopping cart.

Our week in the hotel was not without its good side, but we ate too much. We indulged ourselves in restaurants, even ones that shouldn’t have been good, like the chain restaurant called Brek. It was nearby, quick and inexpensive.

Set up like a cafeteria with taste and even some charm, it has sections for antipasti, the first course, second course, main course, salads and soups and dessert. In my country, opening a decent restaurant for linguistically challenged diners would be sufficient to make it a hit. Here in Italy, that isn’t enough. The food has to be good.

Now we have a flat, we are back to our own devices. Food preparation. This is the land of slow food, fast cars, and lots and lots of lovely new words.

Stay tuned.

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