Daybook entry

I don’t think I’ve ever done a daybook entry for this blog.  In fact, I can’t remember for sure what the categories even are anymore, but here goes:

From the Kitchen, and into the Living Room

I have in hand my first caffe lungo since last September, excepting the ones my kind friend Jacqueline has made for me when I visit her kitchen.  I don’t make them much anymore because the stores near me only sell coffee ground for moka. But I went to the big Porto Palazzo market today and there I saw some whole coffee beans. It was somewhat awkward trying to explain to the store proprietor in Italian that I wanted coffee ground coarsely enough for a French press, and eventually he refused to go any finer, but I came home with 2 etti (200g) of freshly ground Arabica.  Tasting it now, I still think it’s a little too finely ground.

I made a cup for Sarie, too.  She took a look at the brown liquid in our thick, American restaurant-ware coffee cups and said, “Wow, that’s a lot of coffee. Did I used to drink two of those a day?” Now she’s sight-reading a Schumann quartet.  America is powered by caffeine.

The Schumann quartet was her friend’s suggestion for this summer’s IAM festival in Garfagnana. Yea!  We’re going back! And Sarie’s home schooled music friends from New York, whom we haven’t seen since we moved, are coming again, too. The Schumann is one of my favorite chamber pieces ever, so I’m all for it. Sounds like just the happy sort of music to play from the Bertolanis’ hilltop house.

Outside My Window

There’s a renovation going on in the apartment across the alley.  It has been going on for a month already, and knowing the Italian sense of time, it could be going on through the rest of the summer.  So I look at scaffolding and hear saws all the time.  Makes me feel at home, because the people across the hall from us in New York were renovating before we left. But there are no jackhammers involved, and someone has spray-painted a smiley face on the wall opposite the window.  It’s a friendly renovation.

My apartment also overlooks an upholster’s workshop and an auto repair shop.  With all the comings and goings, there’s also quite a lot of socializing.  I think I’m beginning to recognize the Piemontese accent, because one of the guys in the auto-repair shop sounds just like my butcher.  There’s a certain unusual tenor timbre to both voices.  And several times a day I am sure to hear a car door slam, followed by, “Ciao!  Angelo!”  I haven’t figured out yet which one is Angelo, but that’s mostly because I’m trying not to stare too much.  (And as if on cue, a door slams and the greetings begin again.)

And outside my kitchen window, there’s this:

I feel such satisfaction that these little plants from the market are already transplanted and starting to fill out their pots.

And the swallows are here!

Around the house

I am thinking it’s time to start fixing things up again.  I got extremely tired after the initial push to civilization last November and just gave up.  I didn’t want to buy anything else from IKEA and didn’t know quite where else to go that wasn’t one of the expensive antique shops near Balon.

And when I gave up, I really gave up.  As a result, there are still wires sticking out of the walls and boxes stacked up as lamp tables.  My clothes and all our coats are still hanging in cardboard wardrobes. And there’s no real furniture in the large entryway.  So, I’m on the lookout for inexpensive ways to make our home look a little better.


I read Charles Murray’s Coming Apart recently.  The statistics were interesting, and I suspect he’s right, but the whole scenario of a class split in the US really bothers me, and Murray never explains to my satisfaction why it is occurring or what we can do about it.  The emphasis is on what an efficient job our colleges do of sorting the population cognitively. What seems to be missing is any discussion of how a person can live realistically, yet honorably, by manual labor, or any sense that you can, or would want to, combine manual labor with intelligence.  Meanwhile, the media (not Murray necessarily) seems to look at any efforts at voluntary simplicity as nostalgia. Jefferson would roll over in his grave.

I’m also still reading The History of the Medieval World, by Susan Wise Bauer. She moves along with such speed, trying to cover so much, that sometimes the book degenerates into a list of rulers (and by default, assassinations).  But occasionally her anecdotes are quite memorable, and her dry humor makes me smile. And every now and then I sit down and read a few pages to Sarie, whose Western Lit to Dante class sometimes intersects with my reading.  This week we were trying to figure out where the Volsunga Saga and The Ring of the Nibelungs fit into the historical picture.

Speaking of Susan Wise Bauer, she’s wanting to open an agri-tourism business to counter all those hours spent writing.  So there’s someone trying to combine manual labor with the work of the mind.  But notice, it’s not primarily a farm.

Thinking About

What it takes to prepare a child to go out into the world, especially when you just moved to a different continent and the child wants to go into an extremely competitive field that doesn’t suggest she could easily pay back US student loans.

Thinking about why even state schools are expensive now and why very few of them have good music performance programs, and whether it’s even worth it to enter a music program unless it’s competitive.

Thinking about what a very strange junior year this has been for Sarie.  For all of us.

Thinking God knows what he has in mind for us better than I do.


I’m excited that two moms in our church had babies last week. I’m following our New York moms’ group custom of starting a meals list for the new moms. Our old group was quite efficient in providing a month’s worth of dinners. We did this for dozens of moms during my fourteen years in the city. Only I’m not sure Italians are used to doing e-mail lists, because I’ve only gotten one response so far.  No matter, I’m making soup to take over this afternoon anyway, and if no one else responds, I’ll go next week, too.  That way I get to see the babies more.

And I’ve discovered that Belgian endives on toast with Fontina and a slice of prosciutto makes a nice, quick dinner.

My, this is a long post!  See what a cup of American coffee can do?


5 thoughts on “Daybook entry

  1. What intrigues me is how colleges may do a good job of cognitively sorting people, but that speaks only of cognitive (as opposed to social as opposed to emotional as opposed to cooperative/community-building) strengths.

    And then I think of how HARD it is to make ends meet for so many people, and I realize that below a certain level of income one simply doesn’t have the energy to do all of the other things, or even to remember that they’re possible.

  2. I love hearing about the sounds outside your window.

    My son-in-law is a manual laborer – a builder, farrier, and artisan in leather work. He is also very intelligent, though I would not call him an intellectual at all. I knew, when my daughter was dating him, that it was unlikely that he would go to college and that bothered me a bit at first, but then I began to understand more and more that there are so many different kinds of “smarts” in this world. My college educated daughter is very happily married to her Montana cowboy and they live a wholesome, hardworking life, though I suspect he really doesn’t get paid what his labor and talents are worth. In spite of the fact that society doesn’t value manual work, I think my son-in-law is very confident and thankful for the work he is able to do and wouldn’t trade it for anything a college degree might offer him.

    As one who has watched her children go out and worked hard to fight against worry, I can relate to your feelings about Sarie. The Lord holds her in His hand and will guide her – you can rest in that.

    My daughter’s senior year was spent in Cameroon. It was very unusual, but ended up being one of the best years our family ever had, and one of our best schooling years ever – AND that’s where Erin met her future husband. I would never have predicted any of that!

  3. I wonder if Murray gets into how the percentage of females in college is increasing, and the associated statistics about increasing numbers of marriages where the wife earns more than the husband. Intelligent and often intellectual men are opting out of that scene, and the societal ramifications are numerous. I guess I should read his book myself!

  4. Really great post in so many ways, Laura. I love your homey words, and I liked your brainy words, too. I agree with Julia that those struggling to make ends meet don’t have energy to do the other things (or even remember that they’re possible). So true! Class disparity is definitely growing, and it used to be possible, I think, to live toward the low end of the hierarchy and just live more simply/poorly and manage to get by (it could almost be romantic if one could take on the right perspective!). Now it’s very, very difficult–to impossible-for the poor-er to get by, and when someone is just surviving, it’s difficult to even dream of actually making progress or improving one’s state. I’m watching all sorts of people around me struggle to stay afloat, and they are exhausted, discouraged, and losing hope. College education alone is not always enough any more to guarantee good work (the currency of a degree today is more like what a high school diploma used to be, if that). Also, the kind of manual labor people do in today’s world (unless they are self-employed and doing something they love and control) is alienating (to play Marxist for a minute–but I agree with him on this) and inhuman. It’s deskilled labor that makes workers expendable automatons. The work itself is draining, uncreative, and prefers not too much thinking from workers.

    I probably shouldn’t post this because it’s a reaction more than a thoughtful replay, but I’ll put it up anyway. I’ve just starting reading Coming Apart, too, and I’m also looking through Small is Beautiful again.

    Sorry for all of that verbiage. Mostly, I loved your post–the coffee, your plants, the food, your plans, the photos and everything! It made me want to get in and do something homey!

  5. Julia, I think you’re absolutely right. Today’s life requires a certain level of resources, and those of a different kind than yesterday’s life did. I think it bothers me that so much of what it required could be labelled “savvy” and not “industry,” or even “education,” as Murray thinks. And much of it is emotional savvy, and emotional endurance. If you have too much emotional chaos in your daily life, it makes it very hard for your industry to keep pace. If only it were a matter of just chopping down one more tree or fixing one more meal!

    And thank you for your own post yesterday. I can’t speak with any authority to your own struggles, but I admire you for being able to hold them in balance with living today. And I can pray for you.

    Beth, your daughter and son-in-law’s lives appeal to me. I like knowing that there are people out there who are still carving their own paths. And thanks for your encouragement that Sarie will be able to carve her own path, and that there are surprises, sometimes even nice ones, around the bend.

    GretchenJoanna, Murray has some statistics about how many women work and so forth, and also about how many more single mothers there are than there used to be, and most strikingly he talks about the increasing tendency of the educated (read, cognitively sorted) to marry one another, thus increasing the gap. But there’s another aspect to this picture that he didn’t talk about: The increasing statistical tendency for girls to do better in school than boys. That tells me there’s more to this picture than IQ. There’s something about the school/business atmosphere that is alienating some people, regardless of intelligence.

    Susan, I think you’re right about college being “the new high school,” which makes “high school” a very expensive institution, though not “private” in the self-determining sense. And every time someone brings up the problems with colleges today and how a degree isn’t really needed for all work, someone else inevitably comes along and says, “But people with a high school education, on average, still earn less.” Hello? Does that help solve the problems we’re having with affording college, much less getting out of it what it’s meant to do? And who is this statistical, average, Joe, anyway?

    And yes, increasingly, the work left to anyone without a managerial position is, indeed, alienating. I’d even argue that much of the highly paid and skilled work is alienating.

    Susan, I know you’ve told me that blogs and comment boxes aren’t conducive to carrying on an intelligent conversation, but I CERTAINLY have no problem with anyone trying, or with leaving long comments in my box. In fact, it was a very nice surprise this morning to wake up for four thoughtful comments to my post. It has made my day already! Thank you!

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