Thursday, October 20, 2005

Dreams and Reality

The sign went up by the driveway on a cool Wednesday evening two weeks ago. By that Saturday, the paperwork had been signed and our house was under contract to be sold. We find ourselves suddenly, effectively homeless since we'd not anticipated such a quick sale. Two days? Not in our wildest dreams! We need to scramble to find an interim home for the next few months.

But the sale of the home isn't the real news. The real news is the reason behind the sale. We are, after a couple years of dreaming and plotting; years of reading every book about Italy that came down the pike; years of looking at photos and webcams and sighing...we are now seriously making plans for a move to Italy. We are planning to stay for at least a year. Hopefully longer.

We made this decision official by telling our parents and family members, as well as close friends. Most said, "hooray for you, be happy". Others questioned "why?", to which I promptly replied, "why not?". I realize it's a bit of a simplistic answer, but really...why not? Life is short! We want to live it and enjoy it while we're, (Makes sense, right?)

This answer doesn't seem to satisfy everyone, though. They want a more complex explanation. Some seem to think we just woke up one morning and said, "gee, let's move to Italy". It wasn't that spontaneous or easy. We have spent several years dreaming of this, and at first it was just that - a lovely dream. After a couple more trips of immersing ourselves into small Italian towns, we came home a bit restless, and noticed a growing dissatisfaction with the "rat race," consumeristic mentality of our culture, the lack of focus on what is important in life that seems to surround us. We started to long for the piazzas where people gathered; evening strolls where the entire town turns out to flood the streets in a nightly parade of interaction; leisurely meals prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients. A sense of community. The beautiful rhythms of life being carried on from time immemorial, still a part of daily Italian culture. So many aspects of our own culture began to seem so gaudy, new, shallow, homogenized...fake.

Our vision may be a bit romanticized, and all of Italy is not like this, of course. Cities and industry are very present, and times are changing there, too. But we'd like to experience this historical and beautiful land while it still retains these cultural elements we so admire.

We love the stone houses. Buildings that are hundreds of years old being lived in and oozing charm. Heavy wooden shutters on the windows. Kitchens with fireplaces for roasting meats. Weekly markets that roll into town with fresh produce and other goods. People who know how to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Amazing art and architecture at nearly every turn. An emphasis on beauty- natural and artistic. Millenia of history to explore and study. A musical-sounding language to learn. Real cappuccino, not the overly-milky, $3.50 a cup insipid, burned-tasting stuff passed off as "cappuccino" here. These are among the reasons we want to move.

Besides all this, no man knows the number of his days. Why is the propensity to put off the "living" part of "making a living" until it's too late and we're too old to enjoy it? "Life energy [the hours of precious life available to us] is all we have. It is precious because it is limited and irretrievable and because our choices about how we use it express the meaning and purpose of our time here on earth," writes Joe Dominguez in Your Money or Your Life. "These hours are all you've got. There is nothing in your life that is more valuable than your time, the moments you have left. You cannot put too much awareness and intention into the way you invest those moments"

So we've decided to take some these precious moments of our lives and invest them in this dream. There have been many occurrences, conversations, readings, and emotions that have served to confirm, strengthen and clarify this dream and the actions we'll need to take to make it come true. The sale of the house was a big step (and a big confirmation since it sold so effortlessly and for asking price.) Now the hurdles begin: dealing with the Italian consulate to obtain a visa along with all the accompanying documents we'll need before we can apply; locating housing and enrolling in language school for the first few months; determining where we'd like to settle for the longer-term. These are more sketchy and scary aspects of this process and we realize that it will be frustrating and challenging. "The way of the Dreamer is difficult-but anything less is hardly living at all!," says Bruce Wilkinson in The Dream Giver.

A recurring question, showing an area of concern for some who may not be entirely comfortable with our move, is "But what will you do there? If you can't work, what will you do with your time?" First, I'd like to say that I don't think a person's work is entirely determined by what he or she does to make money. Unpaid activity is often seen as worthless, "worth less than paid activity". Why is that? What we do to earn money isn't the sum of our identities or abilities. Our work will include learning a foreign language, not a casual endeavor, to be sure. We'll study the art and architecture and history. Make friends and renew old friendships. Observe cultural differences and place ourselves into the local rhythm of life. Shop in the local produce and fish markets. Write. Eat. Study. Stroll. Learn. Love. Live.

That is the sum of our dream. We now walk down the road to making it a reality. We are pursuing it now because we don't want to look back with regret, to wonder "what if" or "if only..." No, that's not for us.

Is it all going to be beautiful and fulfilling? I honestly don't know. But I can't wait to find out.

"Well one thing I've noticed wherever I wander
Everyone's got a dream he can follow or squander
You can do what you will with the days you are given
I'm trying to spend mine on the business of living

Seize the day - seize whatever you can
'Cause life slips away just like hourglass sand
Seize the day - pray for grace from God's hand
Then nothing will stand in your way
Seize the day"
-Carolyn Arends

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Brief Beauty

Autumn is my favorite time of year. The cooler, yet still-warm days, the crisp marks the change of seasons as well as relief from a long, hot summer, and promises relief from sagebrush allergies. It also happens to be the most beautiful time of year here.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has been underway all week, bring untold hundreds of thousands of visitors to town, along with the colorful panorama of floating splendor. Every morning we hear the distinctive whoosh of the propane burners overhead, marking fall as surely as the cooler air in which they float. To us it is a typical, yet unusual and somehow comforting sound. It's one of those "only in New Mexico" things, that makes us reflect, now this is something you don't see and hear everywhere. Each morning we have looked out the window or stepped onto the back patio to watch the gentle giants as they march up the Rio Grande Valley, a colorful awakening. Today is the last day of Fiesta and rare rainful has snatched away their last mass ascension. Local balloonists will continue to fly over the next month or so, but the brief week of splashy hues completely filling the skies is now over.

But nature's autumnal array is just as showy. Driving into Santa Fe, yellow radiates out of the valleys and bowls in the upper reaches of the mountains as the blazing gold aspen shine forth their annual emblazonment. We drove into the mountains to see the dazzling display.

We walked along a trail surrounded by trees - pines and aspens - the mountain air cooler at the higher elevation. The leaves are intensely yellow this year, the entire mountainside brilliant golden, punctuated by small patches of red, all radiant against the huge, bright blue sky. The wind blew occasionally, sending the leaves into their classic quaking and fluttering. The resulting sound was one similar to gently flowing water. Beautiful.

The trail was glittery with flecks of mica, making it appear that the path had been strewn with gold dust glinting in the brilliant sunshine. We walked hand in hand, breathing in the pleasant, brisk dryness, greeting others we encountered and petting their dogs. Santa Fe is a dog town, and we were the only locals without one in tow. We could, thus, easily tell the out-of-towners.

The trees at the higher elevations are already beginning to shed their leaves. In another week, the beautiful display will be nearly complete, the straight stands of aspens will reach heavenward without their ornamentation.

The beauty of autumn is brief. But it is a stupendous beauty while it lasts.

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Vendemmia, New Mexico Style

It has long been our desire to participate in a grape harvest in Italy. I'm not really sure why, but we have had romantic visions of a vendemmia...out in the beautiful countryside, enjoying the sunshine and camaraderie, cheerfully chatting while harvesting the bounty and seeing the grapes getting crushed, destined to become wine. And, of course, the feast that always follows such activities spread out on long tables under large trees in the sun-dappled garden.

It was with these visions dancing in my head that I immediately volunteered our labor when a friend from Italian class mentioned they would be harvesting their grapes right here in Corrales. Bryan was, thankfully, thrilled to have the experience, too. I say thankfully because I'd committed his time and energy without asking him first. I knew I'd need him to pick up any slack when I started to lag and to carry my full buckets of heavy grapes for me. We reciprocate in this manner...I envisioning the dreams or projects, he carrying out the brunt of the work on them.

We arrived promptly at 9:00 a.m. to find a small vineyard with about 14 rows of grapes. Ah, this will be done in no time, I thought to myself. We wore the recommended "migrant worker attire", Bryan looking quite dashingly local in his straw gardening hat, which I call his "Corrales hat" because the farmers hereabouts wear them in their fields; me in long sleeves and old pants; my old shoes which quickly became mud-caked. The recent rains were not so great for the grapes, we were told. At least the ground wasn't spongy or slippery with mud, just soft. There were about six others assembled receiving lessons on how to use the grape-picker-thingy. In my innocence I thought we'd use clippers, but were handed orange-handled blades which resembled mini-scimitars with serrated edges inside. I quickly realized these were more productive than clippers ever could be. More people wandered in and out, some helping in the house, some picking awhile and then needing to depart. One wiley couple showed up only for the last few, easier rows of grapes and we envied them greatly. They had obviously done this before.
(Gail peeking through vines; Bryan in his Corrales hat)

We began to slice at the Riesling grapes first. I can assure you that, after spending two hours harvesting these very juicy grapes, should I ever plant a vineyard I will not, ever, plant Riesling. They are the wicked, ill-behaved stepchildren. They gnarl up and grow almost upwards, turning back onto themselves, vining and winding around almost for dear life, making the harvest very difficult. It was with true relief when we were able to dump the last of the Riesling grapes into the truck for transport to the winery, and move on to the rows of Vidal. These were well-mannered grapes, growing like they should in heavy clumps hanging obligingly downward just waiting to be easily sliced from the vine. Joyfully we made quick work of the four rows of Vidal and begged our hosts to plant more of these gracious grapes in the future. The entire harvest was carried out, as I had imagined, with camaraderie, commiserating over the difficulties and travails of the stubborn Riesling clumps, chit-chatting across and through the vines as we worked. The day was sunny and warm, not a cloud in the bright almost-turquoise sky. Hats bobbed up and down among the rows as we talked and sliced at the grapes.

When the final grapes were loaded for the last, short trip down the road to the winery, we grateful laborers lined up for the enchiladas, burritos, posole, guacamole and sangria that had been laid out, and we quickly laid waste to the beautiful buffet. Greedily we consumed the spread as if we hadn't had food in days. It was harder work than I'd imagined, and I was famished. We ate out under trees, but the New Mexico sun being as strong as it is, the sky being completely cloudless, we found ourselves quickly baking in the heat and inching our chairs backwards trying to retain shade as the sun moved. The hostess, not content to merely lay out enough delicious food to feed an army, had brought in a live musician to serenade us with guitar music while we munched and unwound. Now this girl knows how to reward her workers and throw a nice party.

It was, all in all, what my vision of a vendemmia should be, just without the medieval villages dotting the surrounding hillsides. In Corrales there are no hillsides. And enchiladas instead of pasta. This is, after all, the land of chile and posole. Muy bien!

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider