A beautiful day in the global neighborhood

My great friend Brendan McGinley wrote a touching and beautiful piece on Mister Rogers, just in time for his 85th birthday and the 10th anniversary of his passing.


5 Moments That Prove Mr. Rogers Was the Greatest American

The article brought the comments section together in love and tearful unity, where even the crankiest trolls were misting.  A Cracked.com member created a petition to make his birthday a national holiday: March 20th – Rogers Day.  Celebrities such as Alyssa Milano retweeted the article.  Milano actually has the whole show on DVD for her son.

I read the piece a few times, with tears in my eyes, watching the embedded media that brought me back to my earliest memories, to the years that shaped me, and I realized I’m so much of who I am because he was my neighbor.  I was filled with a warm and fuzzy feeling, and that night I had sweet dreams, taken back my childhood.  My childhood was love.  I need to make sure that my adulthood is love as well, even when  in a world where hate is often revered.

I grew up on Mr. Rogers in the early 80s.  Sure, I liked Sesame Street and 3-2-1 Contact and My Magic Garden along with a handful of other classic educational kids’ shows, but my favorite was Mr. Rogers.  My mom even used to explain time to me in terms of episodes.  “Your nap will be two Mr. Rogers.”  “We are only going to be here for one Mr. Rogers.”

I didn’t realize why at the time, just that I looked forward to his changing his shoes and cardigan, seeing King Friday and Lady Lane, and learning about the world through his helpful videos.  Although I hadn’t seen it in decades, I remembered this crayon video with almost total recall:

‘Hi Neighbor!”  It felt like he was talking to me.  He was my friend.  And I had a sad feeling when he dressed to leave, but I knew I was loved and I would see him later.  Luckily, I was raised in a family overflowing with love, and I had the added bonus of growing up in a time where there was at least one show on TV that made sure I knew I was special, with no gimmicks, no merchandise,  no ulterior motive other than to love.  Like Morrie says in Tuesdays with Morrie:

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in. Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levin said it right. He said, ‘Love is the only rational act.'”

I try to live a life of love, following the Jesuit motto of “men and women for others.” This is a wonderful reminder to make love a priority.

Reflecting on Mr. Rogers as an adult, I can see the dichotomy between the way I was raised and the way society tells me to live now.  The media and our peer groups often want us to harden, to be sarcastic and tough and snarky.  We are taught to be selfish, not in the “you are special” way of Mr. Rogers, but in the “I will get mine or else” way.  Relationships are disposable.  If a friend or lover doesn’t do what you want, give ’em hell.  We are criticized for giving selflessly, for forgiving too quickly, for being too “soft” and devoting our lives to others — and for loving everyone for exactly who they are, not trying to make them who we want them to be.  In our age of self-help books and photoshopped models, of people who are told they must go to college in order to be anything, that they must earn this amount of money, buy this house, live here, wear that, find this funny,  get this hairstyle and this surgery, be this sexy, do this and that . . . how nice to think that someone might actually like you for you.  Just as you are.

Bridget Jones’s Diary gave it a go:

Remember, love is all you need.

We all know the original, right?  Well, I think this version is lovely as well.  The whole movie was made with so much love from the cinematography to the music and voices — it really moved me.  I like to be moved.  In a world where we are all “too cool” to feel, I’m proud to be a feeler.  And from reading the comments section on Brendan’s article, I am not alone.  Mister Rogers was a role model in the formative years for generations of children.  Somewhere inside, after years in the neighborhood, we were cultivated with loving, caring, empathetic hearts.  We can be helpers.

After the Newtown shooting, like many others, I was seeking some kind of solace in a dark, bleak word.  Shuffling through the facebook statuses and updates, the one that really spoke to me was a quote from Mr. Rogers along with a touching photo.  I blogged this back in December.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Mister Rogers



His love was so genuine – just look at the beauty of that photo.  Everyone reacted to him, even Koko.  Watch the clip in Brendan’s article.  I don’t want to spend time here rephrasing or repeating what Brendan compiled so eloquently.  I’m just reacting to it, because I have been overflowing with emotions in a very good way.

When I was telling Brendan how much I loved his article, he said that the response has been overwhelming and he just wants to “stay out of the way and let his accolades flow.” Fred did all the work.  “Fred is love,” he said.

I was lucky to grow up in a family that, flaws and all, was also love.  I try to pass that love on to my students, to my friends and family, and hopefully will be able to share that love with my own children one day.

I conclude this rumination with gratitude.  Gratitude for Mister Rogers’ ministry, gratitude for all of the wonderful people in my life in the states, here in Italy, and all over the world.  I’m grateful for the amazing and happy childhood I had, where I could play with my dolls, color, run outside with my brother, and then back into the loving arms of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who made sure I knew I was loved.  I am flooded with memories of Yahtzee and Boggle  on a porch of a New Hampshire cabin, of baking with Grandma and licking the icing, of her holding my hand at night when I was afraid of the big bad wolf in Granny’s country house.  Memories of walking to the newsstand with Grandpa for a pack of m&ms each day, even though there was half a bag sitting in the fridge from yesterday’s walk.  Memories of Mom reading to me and Rich, both curled up on her lap.  Memories of nightmares and tears, soothing songs, cuts and scrapes, band aids and ice cream cones.  I remember Dad following us around with the movie camera, trying to document everything, and Mom making sure that — no matter what — we sat together around the kitchen table for dinner.  I grew up with everything I ever needed because I was loved, and somewhere there is always a part of me sitting in front of the TV singing “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”  Even though I’m in Italy now, I’m still in the neighborhood.  143.

Hot Wheels!

Ciao!  I bought a scooter!  Finally.  🙂  I am so grateful for my administrator and his wife who took me out to a few shops this morning to finally get my scooter.  Like many Italian cities, scooters are super practical in Genoa whereas cars are an expensive pain in the bum, leaving you broke and without a place to park.  Meanwhile, a scooter can zip you around the tiny, winding roads and up and down the hills or along the coast, with easy parking options.  Unlike flat Florence or Rome, though, Genoa’s mega hills require some more power and fatter, bigger wheels, so Vespas are a bit unsafe although classically sexy.  It’s ok, this scooter will still work for the European Dream Eddie Izzard describes in his comedy.

Now I can be all like, “CIAOOOO!”


I got a Yamaha 125 cc, which is less problematic with a US license.  She’s an oldie, but I love her.  I knew she was mine when I saw her, and the price was about half of what I was prepared to pay.  I worked after school for two days a week last semester, which gave me enough money for the bike.  But now I can afford both bike and insurance without scraping the bottom of my sickly bank account.  Like I said, I won’t get rich, but I’m living richly.

I have her just in time for the spring and summer weather that is arriving soon.  🙂  Fun, fun, fun!

Cogliere l’attimo.  Carpe Diem.  Sieze the Day.  No Regrets.

Whirlwind Weekend

When I departed for Genoa, one of my best friends Kat was there at the airport to send me off along with my parents.  Kat gave me lots of luck and hugs, and said “I’ll be there soon.  I’m also good with postcards.”

Kat kept good on both promises, with postcards arriving frequently to brighten my day and a whirlwind weekend visit planned.  In the fall, Kat called and said “I can’t get much time off from work, but I’m coming.  Alitalia has good fares.  How about March 1st?”  

Kat arrived fresh from JFK on a Friday and departed on Monday morning, for a fantastic, fun-filled weekend adventure. What perfect timing.  Work was at its most chaotic of the year, with International Baccalaureate assessments and paperwork due — super high stakes work.  As this was my first time through it, there were a lot of nitty gritty details and stressful aspects (work to be redone, late work, formatting) that I didn’t anticipate.  All of us IB teachers were like zombies walking through the day.  Usually, Friday arrived and I was relaxed and peaceful with a light schedule, all classes completed by 11:30.  When Kat arrived from the airport, I was in a meeting with a student, and didn’t even have a minute free to run down to the office to notify them of Kat’s arrival fresh from the Genova airport.  Luckily, she met the director who asked around and found me.  When I exited the classroom with my student, there was Kat’s smiling face.  How can she look so awesome and fresh from an overnight flight?  Amazing.

Originally, Kat said she was up for anything and just wanted to spend time with me.  But this was her first time in Italy.  She was also a Medieval Studies major (along with Spanish), so I knew she would appreciate a lot of the wonder of Siena and Florence.  In the days before her departure, I said, “I have a crazy idea.  Want to spend a night in Siena?  It’s beautiful.  Then we can visit Florence before heading home on Sunday.”  When I saw that the train to Florence stopped in Pisa, we planned for that as well.  3 nights, 4 cities.  And we did it!

I gave Kat a quick tour of the school, which she noted was beautiful.  She also asked, “How do you like it with all the little kids?” As a group of 3-year-olds walked by in a neat little line like ducklings.  “I love it.  It always brightens my day,” I responded.  The director had generously given us lunch tickets to enjoy a meal in the cafeteria.  I had hallway duty upstairs for the first part, so Kat took the opportunity to meet many of my coworkers, noting that they were extremely sweet, friendly and positive.  That truly is the vibe of our school.

I joined Kat when my duty was over, and she was in mid conversation about all the wonders of Siena.  One coworker said, “You will eat well.  This lunch food doesn’t count as your first Italian meal.”  It’s ok for school food, but this is true.

I walked Kat down to my apartment, which is just minutes from the school, where she settled down for a short winter’s nap, and I went back to work until the end of the day.

Back to my apartment, I roused Kat as we prepared for an evening in Nervi, a nearby resort neighborhood along the sea — where I take all my guests on their first night much like the school brought me when I first arrived.  There is no better welcome to Genoa and the Ligurian Coastal beauty.

We walked along the passegiata and walked into a quaint seaside restaurant called Chandra, with views of the waves crashing against the rocks.  With a slightly Indian vibe, we enjoyed the quaint decor, snacked on the free snacks with our drinks, and then ordered our meal, featuring focaccine (friend dough filled with soft, yummy stracchino cheese). I had chicken tandoori and Kat had a pasta dish, I believe.

I’m showing off the beautiful new necklace Kat bought me at the Met as a hostess gift along with plenty of other practical and fun goodies and meals to spoil me.

 We chatted, caught up, enjoyed the sea, and then enjoyed the live music as it began to play.  With jet lag for Kat and general fatigue for me, though, we couldn’t last through more than a couple of songs.  Back to Genoa for bed.  A big day ahead of us on Saturday.

We were blessed with glorious spring-like weather that weekend, with temperatures climbing into the low 60s, a delightful break from the soggy 50s we had in the week leading up to her visit.  Saturday morning we had breakfast, then headed into the city to see Genoa.  I showed Kat the medieval center, the port, Columbus’s alleged birthplace, and we even had some time for boot shopping . . . while there were some good potential options, we didn’t find exactly what Kat was looking for but we enjoyed the browsing experience.


 Back on a bus, we grabbed our overnight bags, then back on a bus for Brignole train station, then to Siena via Pisa.  I slept most of the train ride, absolutely exhausted from work.  Kat began her many postcards (I believe she sent 30 something).  The sun was in that glorious golden hour, and with our latitude, it lingers longer than in other parts of the world.  We consulted the map, and made a mad dash for the iconic slanted architecture.  
It leans a bit more every year, and as I had not been since 2004, I could really feel like it was leaning noticeably more.  After posing for the obligatory “let’s hold this thing up” pictures, we strolled back through town, past postcard shops and touristy knick knack pushers, back to the train and towards Tuscany and Siena.

At one random station, we stopped to get a snack and read the board for our connection.  Our train was cancelled!  Ahh, Italy . . .always full of frustrations.  We had to sit in the station and wait a bit for the next train, but we were grateful there was a next train.  We rolled into Siena a bit later than we anticipated, but glad to be there with fresh air and stars peeking out of the inky sky.  Having not been there since 2002, I was very pleasantly surprised by the redo of the train station. Previously, you had to board a bus, grab a taxi, or walk up a very long hill to the city, with the station settled at the base of a big hill.  But now, they have constructed an elaborate system of escalators and people movers that bring you easily and conveniently to the top of the hill, where you can then stroll through the medieval wall and right into town, all lit up in its serene romantic beauty.

We were tired from the travel, but captivated by the magic of the city.  Siena is special, and I will always choose staying her over Florence.  It’s a popular day trip place, but to stay allows you to experience the real magic when the tourist crowds disperse, and you can wander and enjoy in peace and serenity.  Kat had articles from the New York Times Travel Section and she had a recommendation for a restaurant in the main square.  We found it, and enjoyed an absolutely delicious meal with a view of City Hall.  Then a short stroll just outside of town to our hotel, which we were so excited about. We chose a quaint b&b with 360 degree views of the hillside.

Upon arrival at our hotel, we experienced a bit of a snafu.  They accidentally gave away our room to someone who arrived looking for a room.  The person working the desk was not a regular, so she made a mistake.  I was so exhausted and irritated by that point, but Kat works in hotels and knows this can happen.  They rebooked us in a nearby hotel in the same area.  We ended up with two single rooms, and the rooms were on the road instead of secluded like the other hotel.  However, the quality was excellent as was the service. The original hotel was very apologetic and offered us discounts on future stays. So it’s all good — and these things are part of the travel adventure. I slept very well, and we awoke to a beautiful breakfast with views over the hills and valley in the bright sunshine.  Delicious.  No complaints.  Another gorgeous day awaited us.

After some photos in the garden, we saw the civic museum with its famous mural.  Kat educated and entertained me with her wealth of medieval knowledge, enhancing the experience.  We then boarded a train to Florence and headed to the Duomo for a quick photo stop then straight for the Uffizi Gallery, where we had booked “Skip the line” tickets for a nominal fee.  This was my 5th time in Florence, and I was finally getting to see the Uffizi.  So much outstanding, famous and beautiful art to contemplate.  We spent hours there soaking it all up, took some photos outside along the river, stopped for some yummy pizza, then back to the train.  Yes, there was unfortunately a lot of clock-watching on my part to make sure we could do everything — and it wasn’t as laid back as I would have liked to be.  But we made it happen, it was a great adventure, Kat was in awesome spirits, and I had a blast.

We rolled into Genoa that evening, and instead of going straight to sleep, I hung out in the living room with Kat for a sleepover style late-night chat.

Here is a slideshow of our adventure:

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Kat left for the airport 5:30 the next morning, with a stop in Paris long enough for her to enjoy the city then back to New York.  What an amazing, fabulous adventure.  Thanks for visiting!

“I’ll be back!” she said.  I’m looking forward to our next adventure, whether it’s a weekend somewhere in Italy or Europe, or a longer break.  We shall see. Until I post our next adventure, you may be interested in checking out Kat’s photography blog: http://hhphotogsummerstreets2013.tumblr.com

-written 26 June 2013 but posted in March for appropriate timeline