“My” Beach

On Sunday, I strolled to several beaches along the way to the resort neighborhood of Nervi.  At first, I was unsure if they were private, how things worked, and if I was allowed to be there.  But eventually I figured it out.  They are mostly free to use; you pay for chairs, umbrellas, bars, etc.  A private beach will be clearly marked.  Anyways, more about Sunday’s first dip at another time.

Despite my best intentions, the week slipped away and I did not make it to the beach again after work.  Today was humid and slightly stressful, so when I came home, I slipped into a bikini and updated my twitter status.  Before I made it out the door, the thunderstorms rolled in.  At 6:30, the rumbling had stopped and the rain reduced to a slight mist.   In less time than it took me to get to Metro North in Woodlawn, I could be in the Mediterranean.  I had to go.

I arrived at my closest beach to find it was completely empty, periwinkle gray waves crashing on the smooth pebbles.  “Don’t swim alone,” I heard my mother’s voice calling to me.  But the sea beckoned, and I went in “Just for a dip.”  There were people strolling about under the dark skies: a man tying up umbrellas in his bar, a woman with her dog, a hotel guest peering out the balcony.  I wasn’t totally alone . . . But for me, on this day, the beach and sea were mine.  Has this ever happened to me in America?  I couldn’t recall a time on our jam-packed beaches.

I slipped off my blue patent birkenstocks and gingerly walked over the stones, feeling like I was at a German spa, wading through the “pressure point” pools.  Then a few steps into the rocky water and it drops off immediately to the great, deep blue.  I like that.  I swam out towards the open water without my goggles.  I was just going for a dip, so I just grabbed a towel, no bag or anything.  Was there a giant rock beneath me?  Were these waves safe?  Would I be caught in a fishing line or bang my toe against a sunken barge?  I always worry when swimming in open water, but it was absolutely delightful.  Clean, clear, and relaxing.

Suddenly, the day drifted away as the ebb and flow of the sea soothed my soul like a day at the spa.  Soon I noticed a man snorkeling at the beach next to me, along the reef.  Then another man came down for his swim.  Storm clouds gathered again on the mountains just behind Genoa.  Knowing that lightening can strike without warning, I decided not to push my luck and eventually left the sea after 20 minutes of “above water” crawl [lifeguard save style] mixed with backstroke.

As I dried off, I watched the old, fit man enter the water, hands on hips, gazing out to the sea — beautiful in any weather.  After 5 minutes of stretching and anticipation, he plunged beneath the waves and breastroked out, far out, beyond the buoys.  Climbing the stairs back to the main road, I kept turning back to watch the man, afraid of being creepy but unable to stop.  I was so curious to see how things were done here, to learn.  How far would he go?  What is ok?  Acceptable?

I plan to come often.  Who is this man?  Who is the lady with the dog?  Eventually, they will recognize me.  Slowly but surely, my Italian will improve.  One day, I just may talk to them.  But for now, I am still a stranger, relishing my enigmatic presence as I soggily creep back up my hill.

No Clocks, No Toys, No Packages

I know that people have already sent me gifts.  One friend sent something before I even left, although I don’t know if I will ever receive it.  Why?  Well . . . Italy is a bit crazy with customs.  Usually, you have to pay import tax on items that sometimes equals the value of what is sent.  Sometimes items are worthless, like papers, and they will still charge 8 euros tax.  I find this a bit odd considering that, from what I heard, many Italians–especially in the south– are guilty of tax evasion.  But being double taxed on items . . . ahh.  Luckily, amazon.co.uk will ship here without the customs tax.  But shipping from America?  Good Luck.  I’m kind of sad because what will happen to things people sent?  A trick is to declare the value below $40 for clothes, declare as second hand, etc . . . never send vitamins or prescriptions, and . . . well, avoid all these items.  It seems like a joke, but it is real.  Seriously, do NOT send children’s toys unless they are made wholly of wood.

The Quest for Protein

Just returned from another lovely day at work with great people.  There is a COOP supermarket right by the school.  Originally, I was excited because COOP chains always have an awesome selection of international foods from around Europe and beyond, including premade Mango Lassis and whatnot.  But here in suburban Genoa, it is very, very regional and Italian.  And of course, this means lots of pasta and carbs.  Of course there is also a lot of fresh produce and plenty of affordably-priced seafood, but quick protein options are hard to find.  I spent a good half hour walking up and down the isles on a quest for protein.  There is bread for breakfast, pasta for lunch, and if you go out . . . the affordable option is pasta.  This is gonna sound weird but true.  I don’t really like pasta.  With that said, it’s good here, but I still don’t like pasta and don’t want it twice a day.  Also, I have seriously reduced my carb intake while increasing my protein intake in recent years with a diet that is Moo Paleo (the Paleo diet with dairy), with fantastic results.  I don’t want to go backwards or shock my body with insulin levels.  I’m not giving up; it’s a new challenge.

In the meantime, I haven’t been eating enough, and when fueling up with mostly bread products, I end up hungry all the time, especially after all the hiking up and down hills and lugging groceries long distances.  I’m looking for suggestions for shopping with my new resources.  I think salads have to be bigger for me, increase veggie portions, and cook meat every night.  I like …never cook, and I’m looking for recipes and new suggestions.  I bought some sausages, ground beef, and chicken cutlets.  What shall I make?  Thanks for your feedback!

Are you happy?

The first time someone asked me that here, I didn’t know how to react.  Coming from the public schools of New York City, where people are just trying to make it through each day in survival mode much of the time — nobody was ever really worried if I was “Happy.”  I might have been asked if I was “Ok,” or “hanging in there,” but happy?  Sure, I was happy sometimes, but nobody explicitly checked.  Often, it was too much to hope.  The happy moments were often fleeting: a grateful student, success in and out of the classroom, and the jokes of a colleague who really knew how to derail a staff meeting in his oh so lovable way.  But they’d soon be replaced by an immediate crisis of sorts.

And the people in my new life here are filled with so much positivity and energy.  A friend recently called me an emotional vampire.  True, I do suck in the energy around me so when teachers are in chaos and crisis, demoralized and attacked — even if I am not, I feel it.  Same for the students.  Here, it’s different.  Something about the warm Ligurian sun, the pace of life, the wine, the cheese, the wine.   The wine.  The wine.  It’s always flowing, even during the first day of orientation at lunch.  I love this!

Seriously, it’s not all sunshine and roses here, though there are plenty of both.   The school is building and growing, recovering from some bad times in the past and moving forward.  Yet we are all moving together.  The director said, “Do not worry. And if you worry, tell us and we will worry together.”  The motto of NY is worry.  And the motto of NYC Public Schools seems to be worry or else we’ll give you something to worry about.  At the end of the meeting, he always checks, “Are you happy?”  What a goal.

The motto doesn’t just seem to apply here in school.  When we were out and about in Genoa, a colleague asked me if I was happy after lunch. Another asked me if I was happy while I was sorting through phone dilemmas.  When I said, “Ahh, no,” with more than a bit of that edgy NY tension, he immediately jumped to help.

Is everything perfect?  No.  Am I happy?  Absolutely!


I’ve always been amazed by how quickly a place can feel like home.  I tried to visually prepare for my arrival by constantly scanning the handful of photos of my apartment on my realtor’s website.  I’d show them to friends who’d ooh and ahh at the blue tiled bathroom, the arches in the living room, and the stainless steel appliances in the kitchen.  It all looked so great, but was it?  The day I arrived–emotionally overloaded from saying goodbye to everything and everyone I love, two flights, a sweaty yet exciting arrival while meeting new colleagues, and a welcome brunch–it was finally time to pile into the little van.  We left the school, oversized “brick-filled” luggage jammed into the back, and twisted and squeezed down the tiny lane of our school towards my apartment, minutes away down the hill.  There was my door!  Green, with glass plates and a mail slot, my main slot.  I live right on the street of the school, on an ancient Roman path, just wide enough for one horse.  I lugged my bags inside, learned about the alarm code, and immediately stepped into my new home.

Before I left, I was really saddened to leave my old home.  I had a great apartment in a fun Irish enclave in Woodlawn, the Bronx.  It had two bedrooms, a deck off the back bedroom, wooden floors, was surrounded by trees (rare in the city), and was really comfortable.  Packing it up and away, I kept wondering what I was doing.  Now I have arrived in Italy.  I entered a white-tiled entry way that was about the size of my second bedroom in the Bronx.  An antique wooden hutch dotted with the owner’s yachting trophies and various knick-knacks welcomed me, while I noticed the — Gasp– walk in closet with pocket doors right in front of me.  So much space, and all recently renovated.  The admin gave me the key, a skeleton key!, to my apartment, showed me the alarm code, and was off to take other teachers to their apartments.  Later, one teacher said, “We were talking about you when you went in.  This is your door.  This is your home.  You LIVE here.”  We were all just trying to take it in . . . the dream.

Down two steps into the sunken living room, with the cool red tiles.  Shutters closed tightly against the Ligurian sun, I could still feel a soft breeze enter the room, stifling in an unusual heat wave.  Cozy couch, antique writing desk, shelves, exposed bricks and beams — they clearly wanted to preserve the antique charm of this centuries-old building.  Alone in my new place, I explored, constantly saying “Oh my God,” over and over because it was so much better than I could even imagine.  So clean.  So well furnished.  So neat and well-maintained.  So darned cute and cozy, yet spacious.  Although it is a one bedroom, I think it really is about the same size as the 2 bedroom I left at home.  And . . . in Italy!

Into the blue-tiled bathroom, with a rain shower, big vanity cabinet to store things, a toothbrush holder, baskets for toiletries, and actually, the previous tenant or someone had left me a bunch of products with a note: “All New For Your Convenience.”  Up a stair into the kitchen, breezy with window seats facing the gardens.  A little black bird cooed at me and hopped down from a tree, as if to say welcome.  “Hi Sweetie!” I actually said aloud, as I walked around the kitchen, exploring my washing machine, dishwasher, and . . .oh wow, they left me 5 bottles of wine.  And food and drink in the fridge, including Prosecco.  There, I discovered a little hidden room in the back for storage.  So many surprises in this new life.

Finally, I made my way back through the living room to the bedroom.  I was worried because the pictures made it seem like the bed was the size of the room, and I wouldn’t have much space — although it looked nicely furnished.  No.  Plenty of space!  Big armoire and other charming furnishings.  Tuscan gold painted wall, yachting posters and oil paintings.  A walk in alcove at the side of the room and in the front, a door to the red-bricked patio.  To one side, a big stone wall facing my old Roman road, with a door and a little ramp for a Vespa!  To the right, the gardens and then views leading up the hill towards the main street in town.  A private, lush oasis for me to relax each day.  Again, better than I could have imagined.  I live here.

In my bedroom, I opened my window and shutters facing the street.  A large, beautiful shrine of the Virgin Mary and child greeted me.  Right there, as if to look over me on my new adventure.  When my mother was expecting me, she prayed the rosary every day, promising that if I was healthy, she would dress me in blue for a year.  Blue is now my favorite color, and to this day, whenever I pass a shrine (and there are many here in Italy) I say a little Hail Mary, thankful for my new life.  “Mary is watching over you,” said my mother.  Then I looked over my bed and saw a medieval style print of Mother and Child.  Mary is everywhere in Italy, like a friend, as Frances Mayes noted in Under the Tuscan Sun.  (Yes, my inspiration for this blog title).

After walking around in circles for a good hour, I took photos, poured myself a glass of pear juice from the fridge, and already felt at home.  4 days later, I woke up today to Sunday morning church bells and feel as if I’ve been living here for a year.  I will savor every moment of la dolce vita.  And when I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary will come to me, speaking words of wisdom, “Let it Be.”

Ciao Tutti!

Ciao!  I have started this blog to document my life and travels while living in Genoa, Italy under the Ligurian sun.  It is a public blog and all are welcome to follow along.  I anticipate that there will be a mix of quick thoughts and purely informational posts as well as some carefully planned and edited writing as was characteristic of my previous blogs.