These are stories that generally involve only Cheryl and/or Emerson and are most likely about day-to-day activities. They can be engaging the two of them in a whirlwind tour somewhere, or simply about conversation around the fire. Usually, they will have a more reflective side to them, or a particular lesson learned.

Libra is Latin for scale or balance and in ancient Rome became a unit of weight (around 12 ounces), the forerunner of the pound. As the 7th sign in the Zodiac, Libra represents someone born between September 23rd and October 22nd, who may harbor a fixation on balance and harmony. A true Libra may be obsessed with symmetry and strives to create equilibrium in all areas of life.

Equity is also reflected in the familiar symbol for fairness—the blindfolded goddess, Lady Justice, holding the scales of equality. She symbolizes the judicial system’s obligation to one and all, blind to prejudice and bias. Her only focus is balance and equilibrium, conjuring a notion of competing or opposite forces—equally strong. Balance can also refer to emotional stability or calmness, as in, “It took me awhile to regain my equilibrium.” The idea of balance is a practical and symbolic aspect of everyday life.

We were born under the signs of Sagittarius, the archer and Taurus, the bull. Yet we’re curiously drawn to the fundamental value of “balance.” For years, we had a framed picture on the bookshelf of the sketch by artist/sculptor Alexander Calder called “Tightrope Artist,” which served as a playful reminder for the importance of maintaining balance in all that we do. That doesn’t mean for a second that we’ve been able to achieve this illusive quality, but we keep trying.

In a stroke of genius in 1931, Calder broke through the established notion that sculpture was solid, static and stationary by reimagining it as light, delicate and dynamic. Voila! Suddenly the “mobile” was born—many smaller forms leveraged against larger ones. Not only was his sculptural work balanced, but usually swayed in subtle motion, ready for bolder action. 

Calder – Untitled Standing Mobile

Calder’s reinterpretation brought the element of poise into play. Most of us probably understand that balance is essential in our lives, but also feel that balance alone isn’t quite enough. In addition to stability, we find ourselves striving for an even more anticipatory stance—dynamic, poised for action. Like a Calder mobile, our balance is free-floating, with slight movement nearly undetected—awaiting action. With Calder’s shift from “stabile” to “mobile,” stationary balance became the prerequisite for the shift to movement, potential change and graceful possibility.  

Years later, we found an old scale in an antique shop. It hung over the stairway in our former home and now resides in the living room, suspended above the sofa as a hovering reminder of equilibrium, justice and fairness. We like the simplicity of it—rustic and ordinary. It seems perfectly straightforward, with no delicate calibration needed. It’s just a basic everyday scale, suspended on twine and easily gaged at a glance—in balance or out. Simple. The slight turning with the breeze, catches our eye to nudge sweet memories of scouring salvage yards for treasures, as well as being a symbol of that never-ending pursuit of balance. It also serves as a nod to Calder’s mobiles.

Calder mobile at the National Gallery

We’ve decided to keep the Calder sketch and the rustic antique scale as reminders of the basic need for balance and equilibrium in our lives. Yet, we continue to be fascinated with the notion of being poised for action. Alert and at the ready, we wait and watch with quiet anticipation, imagining our very lives to be similar to a dynamic Calder construction. Will there be a dramatic sweeping movement or just silent subtle shifts, drifting slowly in the breeze of inspiration? We’re eager with anticipation. After all, isn’t Life a series of balancing acts, of repeated efforts to regain equilibrium? Let’s examine the possibilities. Let’s weigh the options.

 

Lines Blurred

Ever heard that statement? Someone decides that he/she has reached some sort of limit, set a boundary, stopped an affront. Before that moment, supposedly all options were on the table. When lines are blurred, sometimes even an individual can’t be clearly defined. So setting boundaries is a healthy practice, right?

So then, what’s the difference between a boundary and a wall?

Sharp Contrast

That simple question triggered an unexpected hours-long conversation with us. We started talking about the importance of setting appropriate “boundaries,” defining individuality, privacy and important limits. We talked about how creating clear “edges” can improve relationships. These kinds of boundaries tend to be created in words, body language, expressions, personality and social constructs. The rub is that the very idea of clear boundaries begs the question of staying “open” to interpretation, remaining flexible. Black and white may be too much contrast. In other words, at what point does a healthy boundary actually morph and solidify into an impenetrable wall? Often a clarifying boundary can become an unintended barrier—harsh and unforgiving, resulting in a loss of communication and community.   

Walls are physical structures, that allow passage by permission only. Our homes are constructed of physical walls, defining and protecting our lives inside. They make us feel safe and secure. 

Fences Between Neighbors

Robert Frost says in his famous poem, Mending Wall, that Good fences make good neighbors . . .” But this line (often quoted out of context to suggest the value of division) is actually lamenting a lack of connection and intimacy. The opening line of the poem is Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it . . .” So Frost is actually saying that a wall is unnatural, that Nature will eventually erode the man-made structure and break it down. He imagines asking his neighbor, “Why do fences make good neighbors? Before constructing a wall, maybe, Frost imagines a more pertinent question that he might ask of himself, What I was walling in or walling out? 

Openings Between Walls

Maybe if we develop strong personal definitions, we actually don’t need physical walls. It’s only when someone oversteps a personal value, that we respond by erecting something stronger, more visible, obvious. We might see and hear the symbolic walls being constructed, in a door slamming shut or someone retreating to another room of the house. If we respect an individual’s personal edges, perhaps walls would be totally without merit, un-needed. Maybe walls could be relegated to just shelter and safety, rather than barrier status.

26 Seamless Schengen Countries

Before Europe became the European Union, travel between countries was more arduous. Border crossings were comprised of agents checking documents to control who was let in or kept out. Then, suddenly, borders were open, especially in the Schengen Area, the world’s largest visa-free zone, made up of 26 countries. The agreement created seamless movement between member nations for residents and visitors alike. Roads had always continued between neighboring countries, but after the agreement, the arm and check-point that “sealed” the country in, was simply removed (or abandoned). There may have been a few geographical edges of countries, but for the most part, countries flowed from one to another. Nature didn’t stop at the outline of France to become Italy. (Although the famed French baguette seems to have been denied entry into any neighboring country.)

So, perhaps well-defined personal edges and open borders are really what makes the world a better place—something to talk about together.

Related Stories and Music

Stone by Stone

The sound a hammer makes when it strikes a steel chisel is unique—it’s a dull, metallic, muffled clang as the chisel bites deeper into stone or mortar. As I rounded the corner of the country studio, I heard the familiar sound, then caught sight of the hammer swinging high and squarely driving the chisel a fraction of an inch deeper. […]

The Great Wall of Lucca

China isn’t the only country that built walls. Italy certainly crafted a few of their own over the centuries. However, there is one very special wall around the old center of Lucca in Tuscany, that might even win first place if we held a “cool walls” or a “most excellent” competition. They were really serious back then about “drawing the line” […]

Locks

This song was jotted down at the dining room table in our old Victorian house on Main Street in 1978. Cheryl had taken our one-year-old Aaron to Florida to visit her folks. Em was so self-focused, he preferred to stay behind rather than go with the family. He wanted undisturbed time to work on restoring/remodeling […]

Credits
Schengen and Featured image courtesy of the internet commons. Drawing by M.C. Escher
All other photos/drawings/music by authors, or purchased from Canva

Coffee is an integral part of Italian culture.

Intreccio

Every morning begins with an espresso, a cappuccino, or a caffè macchiato (an espresso, stained with milk). A fresh pasta, pastry, typically accompanies the coffee. Just those two simple ingredients constitute collazione, breakfast. There are coffee bars in almost every town, even tiny burgs where there are few, if any other shops. We’ve enjoyed the simple ambience of many and how they must compete for the loyalty of locals. Now that the Tokyo olympic games are over, we thought it would be fun to conduct our own little competition for the best Tuscan coffee bar this season!

The criteria for judging this play-off has been established as follows:

(1) best espresso—duhh?

(2) friendliest barrista/staff 

(3) yummiest pastries—whether made in the back room kitchen or brought in daily from a nearby pasticceria, pastry bakery

Sara waiting to go for coffee

(4) best dog treats (Our ever-present doxy, Sara insisted.)

And since we’re reasonably sure that we’ve visited just about every bar in Tuscany at least once for the past two decades, we consider ourselves “expat-experts” of sorts.  

Three outstanding bars made it to the last round of the competition after extensive discussion and debate. The finalists are: 

Bar Cesare in Florence, definitely excels with its in-house pasticceria. Their sfoglia con ricotta, crispy-layered pastry with sweetened cheese, are so delicious that it jostles memories of the famous cartoon dog who floated mid-air with delight when he was given a dog treat. But alas, Bar Cesare offers absolutely NO dog treats. Sara gave it a “dew claw down” (the doggie version of a thumbs down). In fact, the owners, staff and patrons pay very little attention to Sara. Too bad guys! 

Cafe Lorenzo, (which we have written about before) is located in Pian di Mugnone. Great ambience, yummy pastries (made fresh every day on site) and macchiati—so good that we had to restrain ourselves from excessive savoring, to accommodate the rapid 2-sip custom. However, despite their strong competitive scoring, their dog treats are always scraps of cornetti (croissants). So, due to that avoidable, yet critical omission of actual heart-healthy dog treats, we moved on. Sorry Lorenzo

Outstanding K9 hospitality

Cafe Plineo, located in the river-town of Sieci, proved to be the toughest of all competitors. Their coffee is excellent; the owners are delightful; they have a pastry called an intreccio—a cinnamon braided pastry with walnuts (with an outlandish premium 10 ₵ surcharge); and they ALWAYS, ALWAYS make-over Sara and give her a wholesome dog treat just for being cute. Needless to say, Plineo won the competition “paws-down” with the warmed-up intreccio and hearty treats for sweet Sara. According to Sara, they won by a nose—which, for a dachshund is a significant point margin. 

Walter, Simone & 2021 Trophy

Congratulations to Walter (say Vall-tear) and Simone (Mario, unfortunately wasn’t there for the closing ceremony). We appreciate all that you guys do each day to make our Italian bar-hopping experience more delicious and enjoyable—also, for the heartfelt hospitality you extend to dear Sara, our poochy companion. She appreciates your attention to the moon and back.

So, Dear Readers, if you ever find yourself near the small town of Sieci, along the Arno river, you must stop at Plineo for a taste of an incredible intreccio and where you can get a dog treat to go!

Thus ends the annual “Best Italian Bar” competition for 2021 (special pandemic edition). 

Ciao, ciao, ciao!
Cheryl, Em and Sara

You might also enjoy another doggy/bar story complete with music called “Isabella“—written in 2013 about our other previous Italian Doxy companion.

There’s an old saying about Tuscan wines—a Chianti wine you want in front of you at the table. A Pomino wine you must keep by your side—so special, it’s to be reserved for just the right moment.

Pomino

While hiking on a crisp, clear spring morning in the Pratomagno hills of Tuscany, we came upon a valley view that drew us deeper into the Frescobaldi family history. Pomino (which means little apple) is a small town tucked away in the Tuscan Hills that surround the beautiful Renaissance city of Florence, Italy. In 1716, the Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici identified the four most highly prized territories of Tuscany for the production of wines. Today, not many know about the intimate burg of just over 200 people, but they certainly know of the famous wine that’s produced there—Pomino Bianco. The town’s elevation is some 600 meters above sea level, where white grapes grow best, so that’s the specialty in that small region. Pomino and its renowned wines are a relatively small part of the historic Marchesi de Frescobaldi estate, which has remained a family operation for over 30 generations and 700 years.

Castello Pomino

Clearly we are not wine experts, but we are compulsively drawn to the serenity, beauty and history of Tuscan culture. Surrounding the ancient Castello Pomino, lay an incredibly lush valley of vineyards. The castle was built in the 1500s and now serves as the centerpiece for that unique wine-making territory. The owners refer to the area as: “Elegance and femininity. A hidden gem that’s revealed among the woods of the Florentine mountains.” Irresistible!

The Frescobaldi family made wines that were well known throughout Europe. They socialized with the likes of artists, such as Donatello, Michelozzo Michelozzi, and Filippo Brunelleschi. Most Florentines will tell you that their city, although cosmopolitan, actually enjoys a “small town” feel. Everybody seems to know everybody else. So it’s no surprise to learn that Frescobaldi furnished wines to the well known locals, and further afield to the Papal Court in Rome. After all, at the World’s Fair of 1873 in Vienna, the wines of Pomino won coveted awards, and in 1878 took the gold medal at the World’s Fair in Paris, the highest international recognition of its time.

Splash of white wine

You might say that our story is similar to a Pomino wine—you want to save it until just the right moment. We find ourselves reminiscing about those beautiful treks through the rolling Tuscan hills. Now, some 10 years after that quiet hike in the Pratomagno, we decided it was the right time to “uncork this story.” Ahh, breathe in the distinct magic of the elixir! We savor every sip of those memories and hope you too become a bit intoxicated by the romance of it all.

Related stories and music

Tuscan Hills

You might also enjoy another story about inspiration in the Pratomagno mountains called Nipozzano Castle—have a look! And just to get you in the mood for a hypnotic Tuscan adventure, below is our song called “Tuscan Hills” written in 2003. Enjoy!

Gallery

This is a short story with a long, happy ending.

Sometimes, we want something to happen so badly, that we will do just about anything humanly possible to make it so. But, no matter how hard we try, plan and anticipate, it seems that we just can’t force a yield. NOPE. Not happening. 

Then, in that final minute, we wonder whether trying one last time might be the magical push that will work—or maybe just one more try after that? Perhaps another?

Let’s face it. It seems that it would be a cryin’ shame if we gave up just one moment too soon. Then, how do we know when to stop? A reasonable person would understand how to decide that tricky question. But, are WE reasonable? Sometimes, we’re NOT!

Voila!

So, here’s the deal. All we wanted to do was create a little one-room studio apartment in Italy. That sounds so romantic, yet easy enough. Then the twelve months project turned into four grueling years, and we were on the verge of giving up—calling it quits—surrendering to the powers that be—bowing to the bureaucracy—admitting defeat. Then, Voila! One last gut-wrenching try turned our building dirge into a victory dance. Ahhhh!

What we learned was this: there is no real answer to the question of when to let go. The dilemma is always “of the moment.” It can’t be graphed, outlined, critical-pathed or magic-8 balled ahead of time. We’ll quit when we quit . . . or not. Perhaps we might muster an ounce of courage and effort in the last seconds of trying. Give it one more go. When that final push results in success, we are reminded to NEVER GIVE UP! This may be a fool’s lesson, but we’ll take it. ALWAYS try one more time! TRUST in yourself and the process—there could be magic just around the corner!

We invite you to read our BACK STORY—called “Meeting the Notaio.” It’s the story with a happy ending, no matter what trials and tribulations are encountered.

Have you seen my tombino?

Wait, what? Is that a pick-up line? 

It must be here somewhere!?

NO! We just can’t find that darn tombino. In Italy, of course, language results in many quizical and/or dumbfounded glances. In this instance the word tombino verrrrry loosely translates to mean, a large underground junction box. It is the heartbeat of many systems that feed into a country dwelling like ours. Running underground for about 120 meters (roughly 400 feet) are electrical cables, telephone lines and water systems. The tombino is a heavy concrete lidded box. In our Tuscan hideaway, stealthily secluded underground are many of these cement cubes about 5 feet on all sides. Typically unseen and NOT generally a topic of  conversation. However, in these post-pandemic times, it has earned the distinction of being one of the most important talking points in our little corner of the world. Once found, you could probably hide in one, but we wouldn’t recommend it. But, WHERE, oh where, is my tombino? That’s the million-euro-question. Typically they’re fairly easy to locate, but unfortunately, ours has been covered over by years of crunched and compacted gravel mixed with gritty dirt. You get the picture?

Breakfast, lunch and dinner

It seems that our utilities have been interrupted by a tiny little country mouse who has nibbled through the yummy gray sheathing on the power cable to create a hole for water to seep in. Once the cable gets wet, you’re only months away from full-on corrosion. One day we’re feeling the “power”and the next day our “current” strength is completely gone. Living Without Power is of course, annoying, unacceptable, and even dangerous. The only way to remedy the situation is to locate the exact position of the “nibbled-through nuisance wire”—good luck with that! We had no choice but to locate all 7 of the buried tombini under the driveway as the first step in our problem-solving process. The first six, okay. Number seven, no way. What a challenge—trying to find a “nibble in a dirt-pack.”

The radiator seems so peaceful

Now, electricity certainly is a utility that we have come to enjoy on a daily basis. With the flip of a switch, we have light. The familiar click of a gas stove reminds us that it uses an electric ignition. But more than a mere creature comfort, it’s essential for surviving frigid winters in Tuscany. Without power, there’s NO heat. Without heat, cast iron radiators freeze. When they freeze, they burst. And they are NOT tidy bursters. They spray and spit rusty water as far as their cracks will allow. The force exerted from them mimics little explosions. It’s certainly not a pretty sight, and hopefully you’ll never have to witness or clean up such a disgusting mess.

Sneaky power work-around

During the pandemic, our neighbor informed us that we had suffered a loss of power in the winter. Yikes! We immediately flashed a joint memory of bursting radiators. Since it was too cold and nearly impossible to repair the electrical lines mid-winter, we borrowed electricity from a neighboring building. Using a very LONG extension cord (as a temporary measure), we kept the radiators happy enough that they didn’t crack-up under the stress. So when  warmer weather arrived, we kicked into high gear to find a quasi-permanent solution for the electricity issue. Hence, we found ourselves in a desperate search for that seventh elusive tombino, which was the key to our success.

Alongside two trusty electricians, we energetically swung picks at the hardened earth and scraped the loosened dirt with our shoes and shovels to clear the debris. After multiple attempts and without success, we shifted again and again, to a different digging location, every time someone shouted “Let’s dig here!” The driveway started to look like giant gophers had taken up residence, randomly having popped up, leaving gaping holes and massive mounds of gravel. Our day ended on a note of dismay and discouragement.

Could it be?

But persistence persisted. Later that evening, our neighbor sent a text, “WOW, I found it.” No, he hadn’t been out digging in the dark, but he had discovered an equally valuable treasure—a single photograph of the house during construction. Some 20 years before, in the foreground, just barely within the frame was an old cement-covered Tuscan wheelbarrow balanced across a hole in the ground—a square hole. Safety first! There, beside that rusty-wheeled implement was a chunk of concrete shaped like—yes, a square lid. In the silence of the night, our sleuthy neighbor dug through hundreds of photos to find perhaps the only picture ever taken of that lonely tombino during construction.

Don’t let a mouse steal your power!

As with any Italian problem, endless loud talking and arm-waving is required, along with a dash of clever insight. But the noise, persistence and cunning almost always pay off. Fortunately, our neighbor snapped pics of the more mundane phases of construction—capturing momentary glimpses of life “uncovered.” We’re not finished with the repairs yet, but we currently have direction. Having a plan and renewed hope is certainly em-POWER-ing!

Related Story and Music

You might check out another story called “Living Without Power” that we wrote and recorded back in 2009 amid a devastating hurricane. Following is the music if you want a quick listen.

 

You’ve probably heard of the dog breed called the Blue Heeler. Well, our experience tells us that most dogs are amazing healers of a different kind.

The “Mystical Doctor” is open for business

Anyone who has ever had a dog can probably attest to the fact that canines, as well as other different pets, seem to have a sixth sense. It’s a multifaceted and magical capability that goes beyond empathy, love and loyalty to include powerful “healing.” Yes, that’s a big statement, but it’s true—dogs are “Mystical Doctors” rather than “medical doctors.”

For example, our little 9-pound doxy is a profound Healer. We’ve had many dogs over the years, each with a unique personality and special talents, but none have been quite like our little Sara. She seems to be hard-wired to heal.   

If one of us is having a sad or down moment, she seems to single the “patient” out, making physical contact her top priority. She’s always focused on the one in need, leaving the capable other to fend for themselves until her healing is done. It’s as if she’s a sponge, spontaneously drawn to soak up the sad or wounded energy. We joke about the magical capabilities, by calling the process, “fur-therapy.” She thinks it’s just “being a dog.”

As long as it takes—just like her nose

In these pandemic days of video medical appointments and tele-therapy, she insists on laying on the needy lap—a circle-dog all curled-up to provide optimal care. Time and energy are unimportant to Sara. She’s there for the duration, taking in the stress while imparting warmth and comfort.

Recently, Em had a tele-therapy session and Sara assumed her normal healing position in his lap. Then, as Em became agitated, Sara suddenly began to shiver. She seemed uncontrollably cold, which is odd given that it’s summer in California and human laps are typically especially warm. Em noted her strange behavior. The session ended rather abruptly due to his intense emotional reaction. What did Sara sense? 

Following the session, Em lay on the bed to regain his balance. Normally, Sara would assume her familiar conditioned position on his lap to snooze. But she behaved differently. She refused to sleep and instead, she turned away from him and laid down at the foot of the bed. He called and coaxed her to come to him, but she completely ignored his requests and, in fact, wouldn’t even look at him. 

Then Em noticed something he’d never seen before. Sara continued shaking, but now it didn’t seem that she was cold. Instead, It looked like she was shaking to throw off the negative energy she had absorbed from him. Our conclusion was that his negative mood had been too much for her. She had reached overload! Apparently she was just too maxed-out and couldn’t convert the bad energy to good.  Furthermore, she refused to come anywhere near him for the rest of the evening.

The following day, Em regained perspective and equilibrium and Sara couldn’t get enough of him. Perhaps she deemed the remaining energy work to be possible. Or maybe he was feeling so much better she just wanted to soak-up some of that positive energy. In any case, her presence was sorely needed and made all the difference in his day of recovery.

This story is an anecdotal, intuitive recollection of “a day in the life with Sara.” There’s nothing scientific or measurable. However, when you find yourself in need of some therapy, rather than asking, “Is there a doctor in the house?”, why not consider fur-therapy. Simply ask, “Is there a dachshund in the house?” We think someone will answer the call and come running.

Healing in process

An addendum: As usual for a weekend, we went to get coffee at one of our favorite coffee bars. A woman sitting next to us, noticed Sara and turned toward her. We introduced Sara and the lady smiled and asked to pet her. Then, she requested, “May I hold her?”  We gently handed over all 9 pounds of Sara and she was immediately comfortable with the stranger. Then we  glanced at the woman’s face to see that tears were streaming down her cheeks. She said, “You have no idea how much I needed this love, thank you sooo much!”  Sara responded with a couple of quick licks—which always means, “You’re welcome.”

Related Story and Music

Sweet Isabella

Sara’s older half-sister Isabella (Izzi-B) was our previous “Mystical Doctor,” hanging a shingle outside our home for 16 years. She later became a well-known Italian personality after many adventures in Tuscany. The following story called “Isabella” was written for her in 2013 and we share it now in her loving memory.


Today, an unexpected guest arrived at our home.

Doors wide open

On a beautiful sunny, cloudless June day in San Diego, something amazing happened. Following our lunch on the patio, we left the door wide open to let outside breezes in. Suddenly, there was a fluttering—a shadowy silhouette against the stark white ceiling. A lone monarch butterfly had decided to pay us a summery afternoon visit. She flitted silently, exploring every nook and cranny—first the bookcase, then the pictures and knick-knacks on the shelves. She floated across the room with intention, lightly touching the corner of the mantle, and then momentarily paused for a short rest on the back of a chair. 

Up close and personal

Cheryl was in the room at the time, reclining on the sofa—a post-lunch lull. She sighed when the butterfly gracefully swooped to clear the door frame, and then watched the antics as she worked her way across the room. Suddenly our unannounced guest landed directly in front of Cheryl’s face and seemed to be staring, unblinkingly at her. Wide-eyed, Cheryl lay nearly breathless, not wanting to make a sound or sudden move—butterflies are notoriously shy, you know. Could it be that this graceful visitor had a message to deliver? 

Have you ever had a monarch butterfly visit you in your home—in your face? It seems pretty rare, so we felt both curious and honored. We decided reflect on the possible meaning of this impromptu encounter. First of all, the monarch butterfly is among the most beautiful of all the butterflies. Their name, Monarch, Is fitting. If there was ever a monarchy over all butterflies, one of these beauties would surely be appointed Queen over the entire Kingdom. 

Subtle energy vibration

For millennia, cultures around the world have
recognized the grace and beauty of the butterfly. Their presence has been considered a sign that we, as humans, might be on our right path, and will most probably achieve our chosen goals. They are also viewed as delicate messengers announcing an impending rebirth or spiritual transformation—arriving to help us navigate through life or simply nudge us onward along the path already chosen. Some say that they’re drawn to particular people by a specific vibration, a subtle energy that emanates from their chosen companion.

Going for the Essence!

Our conclusion: this was a day of joyful reflection and celebration—perhaps it was a time for preparation, signaling some profound events about to unfold. As we continued talking about the brief visit, our thoughts, too, began to take flight.  Our conversation became more playful and lighthearted. Imaginations fluttered, then soared effortlessly through the air, floating high above a beautiful landscaped urban canyon. After a few minutes of ideas, dreams and exploration, we touched ground again. All of a sudden, the world seemed more open, inspiring, expansive and exciting!

Queen of the Royal Family

Fortunately, our butterfly-friend made an entrance that could not be ignored. We concluded that the message had, in fact, been received! We wonder, though, how many silent messengers fly close by, unnoticed every day. What clues have we missed by being too busy, too oblivious to our surroundings to note subtle changes? If nothing else, our colorful friend reminded us to watch more carefully, listen more intently and stay open, hopeful and engaged. She nudged us to pay closer attention to quiet information available to us. Surely, when it comes to magical insights and majestic influence, the Monarch definitely rules!  

Related Stories and Music

You might also enjoy a story called “Lavender, Bees and Butterflies” documenting nature’s party in the hills of Tuscany.

Another story called “Bee Major” reveals a little-known discovery about the song of the Bees.

And finally, a Musical Story called “Make Believe” might trigger your imagination and interest in tuning into the signs and messages from the Universe. 

Wishing well

There’s nothing quite like a good friend!

Best friend Emelee

The saying goes that all you really need in this life is love, a therapist and a good friend, not necessarily in that order, or even all of them at the same time. The “Big Three.” It’s dynamic. For us the love can be a person, a thing or an activity; the therapist can be a religious leader, counselor or healer; and the friend can be a spouse, family member, acquaintance or a beloved pet. In fact, the best of times is when love, the therapist and the friend ARE experienced, all three together. And once in a great while, it’s possible to have all three wrapped into one—for example, in the form of that special little dog. She can be a trusted confidant, someone who will never disclose a single word you’ve said. She can deliver fur therapy that dries the most mournful tears. She might follow every step you make, mirroring the very essence of friendship. To imagine Life without the “Big Three” is to ask the question: How long can you hold your breath under water?

Not that long.

Flame of Friendship

Our morning walk/exercise takes us by a beautiful sculpture that always makes us smile. The name is “Flame of Friendship” by the famous Mexican artist/sculptor Leonardo Nierman, located between the Marina and the Convention Center in San Diego. It was dedicated in 2000 as an expression of the warm friendship that exists between the US and Mexico—a centuries-old partnership, an intertwining of cultures, faiths and the very definitions of the two countries.

Friendship is a fundamental human need that finds expression at many levels: personal, interpersonal, cultural and national, creating bonds that we might literally guard with our very lives. Why? Because our humanity depends on them. We share a fundamental human need for warmth and connection. May the Flame of Friendship! burn ever more brightly.

Gallery

You might be interested in few other stories and songs about different expressions of friendship that have been meaningful for us over the years. Following are three musical stories that begin painting a picture of what friendship/love can look like in the everyday and how simple actions can instantly plumb the depths of feeling, emotion and life itself.

Musical Stories

Finally Friends

Circle of Trust

Helping Hand

Family Ties

Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to become rancid. A terrible smell supposedly wafts into the air. Could that be our problem!

That unmistakable smell

The smell of sweaty tennis shoes clued us in that we had issues with dampness in the small annex building, or anesso as the Italians call it. To us, it’s just our studio. We worked there most days, writing music, drawing, recording and reading. However, the small enclosed cantina, cellar beneath was the culprit, we were sure. Pretending that airing out the space above was sufficient, we tried various techniques to enhance the air quality.

One approach we tried was the muffa mangia, the mildew eater. This device was a half-gallon size plastic box with a tray suspended slightly down from the top. On this tray a block of moisture attractant is placed and as it sucks the moisture from the air, the water fills the space beneath the tray. Didn’t work. It may have worked had it been the equivalent of, say, a family size refrigerator? So we called our engineer friend, Leonardo and requested professional help. His recommendation? Claudio.

Claudio is a contractor who looks completely at home on a motorcycle. He has very dark hair and eyes to match, ties a colorful scarf around his neck and looks the part of the romantic loner. He was our man. We forgot to even ask his last name since he came highly recommended and we had immediate rapport. With an artistic wave of his hand, “Team Claudio” went into high gear.

Rotting wood from inside the cantina

First, they opened the cantina by removing the temporary stone wall where the door should be, only to discover that the original contractors had actually abandoned scaffolding inside. It was an absolutely disgusting scene. After 5 years or so, the wood planks had slowly disintegrated, creating the rotting wood smell that we couldn’t quite recognize from inside the studio above. In addition, a patch of mildew the size of Rhode Island heaved and slimed on the back wall as we watched. Mystery solved! The source for the nauseating smell was exposed.

Finished cantina with triple floor!

Claudio assured us that he could solve the moisture problem by pouring a concrete floor, building an open grid on top of that so that air might circulate, and finally, pouring a second concrete floor on top of the grid. What a GENIUS! At this point (just between the two of us), we began referring to him as “Clau-god,” since in Italian, dio means god. He certainly was our hero, and definitely looked the part.

After the clever double-floor was installed, the guys resurfaced the walls and finally, for good measure, laid a moisture resistant tile floor making our double floor into a TRIPLE. That cinched the deal! The cantina was finally dry and consequently, so was the studio. The ominous smell of dirty gym socks quickly dissipated!

Claudio performed a final inspection and declared the project complete. We agreed and took out our checkbook. Payment was the only thing left. With pen poised above the assegna, check, I remarked, “Claudio, I don’t even know your last name.”

“Tafani.”

Horsefly

Tafani? Doesn’t tafani mean horseflies? “Si, si. In fatti abbiamo una stemma di famiglia, Yes, yes, in fact we have a family crest.” At the same moment, in our mind’s eye, we each pictured a flowing golden silk banner graced with a delicately embroidered horsefly. We glanced at each other as if to say, “this must be a joke.” But, it was not!

He went on to explain, however, that there had been some bad blood between some of the family members centuries ago, and that after a serious disagreement, the only logical conclusion was for the family to separate. They broke into two distinct factions. In a final act of civility, Claudio’s ancestors had chosen to amicably share the rich heritage of the family horsefly crest. After much debate, they decided to literally cut the image of the horsefly in half.

When we commented that the two halves were virtually equal, Claudio corrected our misperception, “No, no. È stato tagliato orizzontalmente, No, no it was cut horizontally.” WHAT!? WHAT!? Was he saying that one side of the family inherited the top half of a horsefly and the other crest depicts the lower half of the body, legs and all?

Clau-god to the rescue! (a facsimile)

“Si, si. La mia famiglia è rappresentata dalla metà con le gambe, Yes, yes. My family is represented by the half with the legs.” We shook our heads in disbelief as we walked him to his motorcycle. He carefully retied his colorful scarf, tucked his dark hair into his helmet, and swung his leg over the bike. We stifled a chuckle, imagining a horsefly swinging 3 of his 6 legs over the bike. We all waved as he headed down the drive, an ancient noble insect flying away on the sultry summer winds. There was NO fly in our ointment, in fact the air smelled of honeysuckle. We watched as the dust billowed into the dusk. We sighed. There goes our hero, our Clau-god!

This is a true “Italian Moments” story in which everything happened almost exactly as described, in the summer of 2009.