Reflecting on the year that was

Strange how the brain works….how many times I’ve thought about writing but the thought never actually turned into action.  It’s been all those tedious, everyday things that I don’t even think about that got done instead.

A lot has happened in the last 12 months but most of it just mundane everyday living.
When we first arrived (now 4 1/2 years ago) it seemed like I had to write about everything we did, saw or thought about. Now, most of what we do has become common everyday events that don’t register as worthy of reporting…
It doesn’t mean the year has been boring…no, no no….lots has been accomplished.
Let’s see if I can give you a brief summary of some of the major events of 2015.
1. The Bear
The Bear is just over a year old. She was a rescue dog, found by our neighbours  on Christmas Eve last year. Unable to keep her, on Dec 28 2014, our neighbour shows up at our door with the little black fur-ball.  It was early in the morning and we were probably a little groggy from a long previous night, so, without really thinking about the implications and without any info about the dog, we (actually John) agreed to take it.
Now, a year later the tiny fur-ball has really turned into a bear.
The intention was to build her a doghouse and she would live outside, like the cats, but she loves chasing cars and since we don’t have any fencing around the house (and because we just can’t bring ourselves to leaving her outside) she’s a house dog.
The 3 cats are a bit jealous because they lived inside when they were kittens but as they got older they got moved outside. They have their own 2-story house with a terrace but every chance they get they sneak into the house and try to appropriate the dog’s bed…

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2. Work
Still in the wine business. Can’t say it’s easy…I haven’t found anyone actually looking for Marche wines but at least when they taste it they’re impressed. It’s amazing how many types of grapes and wines Italy produces yet it seems like outside the country the only wines people know are from Toscana, Piemonte, Veneto and, maybe, Sicilia.
So getting out and participating in  international wine fairs, letting people taste the wines meant doing quite a bit of traveling: Dusseldorf, Verona, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Beijing, Hong Kong; and this year will be about the same. I can’t complain since I do love to travel…
3. Canada Day
We had our 2nd Canada Day party on July 1st.
Although a number of people have told me that there are a few Canadians in the area I have yet to meet any.
I was hoping we would have had some Canadian guests this year but it was not to be. No matter, we had Italians, English, Irish, Belgians, Germans, Dutch, Polish and Americans and we had a great time. Maybe in 2016 we can get all our Canadian friends to come over to help us celebrate.
P.S. A big thanks to Lina and Claude who visited for a few days in early June (our only visitors this year) who sent a surprise package filled with Canadian party decorations. Even the dog got in the mood…
4. The B&B
No, it’s not yet ready but that didn’t stop us from having guests for most of August.
It started with our German neighbours who asked us to host some of their visiting relatives for the first week of August. Then it continued with overflow from friends who own B&Bs and couldn’t accommodate everyone.
So, in the end, we had 3 guests from Germany, 2 from Rome, 2 from Treviso and 3 motorcyclists from Puglia, who actually prepared a fabulous BBQ for us on their last night.
Although the house was not quite finished and some of the guests must of thought upon their arrival and seeing the exterior “where the heck are we staying” the rooms were almost perfect.
5. The house
Well, what can I say….it’s still not finished but what’s done is beautiful. We love it!
Naturally, to accommodate the guests in August both rooms had to be finished. Well, finish is a relative term. They were “finished” but now they’re back to “unfinished” again since we just added temperature control thermostats and had to take apart part of the closets and haven’t put everything back in order again. It doesn’t matter since the rooms are still functional and good enough for now as they are.
The other major transformation has been to the exterior – both to the house itself and the landscape: We finished the parking area and driveway, planted cypress trees and hedging and built a planter wall around the terrace area. The grass is still full of weeds but the drive up to the house is quite impressive. The exterior walls are still not totally done but there’s only about a weeks’s work to do…

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6. September – our birthdays
Nothing crazy this year. John just wanted lunch at Il Coccaro (our local pizzeria in Monterubbiano) and for mine we went to Castelluccio, a tiny village (population about 150 people) in Umbria that is usually inundated with tourists between May and June when the surrounding valley bursts out with a multitude of colors as wild flowers, poppies and lentil flowers come into bloom creating a blanket of color for as far as the eye can see.
7. Halloween
Still haven’t made it out to Mogliano (a town in the  Province of Macerata that gets completely transformed for Halloween). Seems like Italians are starting to get the Halloween idea but it’s still mainly for kids and, other than Mogliano (which is also for kids) there isn’t much for adults. So, the vampire and the little devil went to a house party….
7. Christmas & New Year’s Eve
Any here we are at the end of another year.
The Walking Singers were back for a 3rd year in a row. The core group was essentially the same as last year with a few drop outs and a few new additions. So, in the end,we were about the same number as last year.
Most of the repertoire was the same as last year with one major change – no religious songs. Instead we added Fairytale of New York, Imagine and Happy Christmas (War is over), which went over really well.
We gave 3 performances:
– The first at an old folks home in Petritoli. Most in the audience were probably senile and didn’t even know what was going on. One old lady thought we were the devil and kept yelling at us to stop singing. Those in better shape seem to have enjoyed the performance. Overall, I guess we were Ok since they asked us for a couple of encores!
– The second was, as usual, outside Bar Primavera.
-The third was the main performance on Christmas Eve in Piazza del Popolo in Fermo.
The piazza was quite beautiful this year with a good size skating rink, a mini Christmas market, a huge tree and light projections on the surrounding buildings.
Unlike last year we had a crowd…and they all stayed for the entire performance. I dare say, they actually came to see the performance unlike last year where there were very few people and most of them were just passing by and happened to see us and stopped for a little while.
This year we were supposed to actually have been inserted into the official Christmas program (a booklet that the town puts out with a list of all the Christmas events) but, in the end, the councilor who was supposed to get it done apparently forgot to pass on the info…how typically Italian! But we didn’t care…we had a n audience and they loved us. We even made it into the local news. Check out this video:
And for the last day of the year it was back to Fermo.
Aperitivo a Bar Primavera, dinner at Betty’s (we cooked and brought the food and drink) and then off to the piazza to ring in the new year.
The big difference this year is that Terry was here…nice bonus.
Well, that’s it for now…I will try to write more frequently this year. It’s not a New Year’s resolution but it’s on my to do list.
Happy New Year to all!
PS: This post was written on Jan 1st but it’s taken me 3 days to sort out and upload the pix…another good reason to write more often!
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My first New Year’s Eve in Fermo…no multi-course dinner, no party dresses, nothing fancy…just a really great night.

It started with aperitivo at Bar Primavera, which I understand is somewhat of a tradition. It’s a great place and way to see loads of people and exchange New Year wishes. After a few hours everyone departs to start their personal celebrations.

Our celebration started with dinner at Giuliano’s. Finally, after talking about it for 3.5 years, he made for us his “famous” seafood paella. Giuliano's famous paellaDelicious.

From there we walked up to the piazza where the commune had organized a thoroughly Fermo-style New Year’s Eve party featuring a Fermo born, relatively famous, stand-up comic and a local, relatively well known, band. The comedian, took the money and ran…he did a pre-midnight 10minute routine, talking about how cold it was and possibly freezing to death, and then disappeared. He was supposed to come back at some point and orchestrate some kind of raffle but, despite the band calling out for him a number of times, was never seen or heard again…I guess he figured he was too famous for such a small-time gig…But the band was brilliant, playing non-stop from midnight to 3:30am.

For most Italians it was cold…many were wearing what some fashionable Canadians might not even wear in -20C weather. True, it wasn’t warm like last year, when I was freezing my butt in Montreal and John was partying in the piazza, but it wasn’t COLD. In any case, dancing like madmen and drinking bubbly and warm whiskey certainly helped keep the temperature up.

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The perfect ending to great night was connecting via Skype with my sister and a number of friends who were in the process of starting their New Year celebrations in Montreal.

Best wishes to all for a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.



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Dec 26th – it’s not Boxing Day here

According to the Oxford dictionary, the earliest use of the term “Boxing Day” was in England in the 1830s to define ‘the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which postmen, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box’.

But to most Canadians Boxing Day is the year’s most frenzied shopping day. All the shops are open and everyone is either out returning/exchanging their Christmas gifts or out looking for mega-Boxing Day sales.

Here, Dec 26th is Santo Stefano (the feast of St.Stephens) and it is definitely NOT a shopping holiday.
Shops may be open until 8PM on Christmas Eve, which is great for last minute Christmas shopping, but if you’ve forgotten something or run out of essentials during the next 2 days you’re out-of-luck. Because, as we found out this year, when we needed essentials to finish preparing for our Dec26th dinner party, all the shops are closed on Santo Stefano. Luckily our neighbors are better stocked than many small shops and most of what we were missing we were able to pick up there. Now we know for next year…there’s no shopping on Dec 26th so if you’re going to party, better buy everything you need before Christmas…


PS: some pix of the party…too bad I can’t add the videos with the mad Italians doing karaoke…it was brutal!

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The Walking Singers

It’s that time of the year again…there may not be any snow on the ground but the air does feel like Christmas. But, the real telltale sign it that the Walking Singers are back…bigger and better than last year.

For those who don’t know, the Walking Singers group was founded last year by Tiziana (me). The scope was to bring the tradition of Christmas Caroling to Fermo. The group made up of all Italians, except for John and me, quickly mastered some of the best-loved Christmas songs and over the Christmas period played 3 events, with the grand finale being on Christmas Eve in the piazza.

There was talk of turning the group into a full-time choir but in the end it was deemed best to keep our performances only for Christmas.

And so, the Walking Singers are back. With new members, some past spectators who no longer wanted to just stand-by and watch and an Australian Inter-culture student,who has her own Aussie version of some of the songs, the group’s influence has grown and is spreading.

Last Sunday was our first performance at an event showcasing the art of Raku ceramic-making held by the students from the local Art Institute. Technically it was just a practice run for the upcoming main event, and even though we had not done much practicing to date, we were, by my standards “not bad”.

Last night was our second event, in front of Bar Primavera. We were short a few people but the performance was “improved” and, with the vin brulé flowing, great fun.


Not sure yet if we’ll get in another performance before the big one…there’s talk about taking the show to Porto San Giorgio, maybe outside Enrico VIII or in the main square in the town center. There’s also talk of continuing to perform throughout the Christmas Holidays, which here ends Jan 6th….we’ll see. I think everyone’s caught the holiday bug and would like to keep it going as long as possible.

Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas!!!


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Hong Kong with the boys: It started before my last trip in Sept, when Peppe decided he wanted to come to China with me. For a variety of reasons it didn’t happen then but as soon as he heard I was going to Hong Kong in November he was determined to join me. Once the decision was made he recruited Giuliano to join him. So it happened…on Nov 3rd I left John at home and went to Hong Kong with the 2 boys. I went to work and the boys went on a holiday they would never otherwise have dreamed of.  I spent my days at the HK Wine and spirits fair, pouring and talking wine while the boys explored every nook and cranny of this “exotic” place. I am not sure who’s feet and legs were in worst pain at the end of the day: me from standing all day, barely able to take a minute to sit or even go for a twinkle since I was alone in the booth or the boys with new blisters every day from walking, walking, and more walking.  Over the 4 days I hardly saw them, except for dinner on the first and last night and the last day of the fair, which was open to the public. On Nov 9th the boys leave for home and I take the train to Guangzhou.

After the HK fair I’m off to the wine fair in Guangzhou. I’m staying at the Langham Place, located very close to the fair complex, a 5-star hotel booked by the fair organizer. It’s nice to be in  a luxury hotel again but, unlike the hotel in HK, which was located in WanChai, there is nothing close by. Not that it really matters since, like HK, I’ll be spending all my time working.

Having done 2 fairs back-to-back it’s interesting to note the differences / similarities of the 2 fairs:

Booth set up day in Hong Kong: the booth is ready and the samples have been delivered. It takes me no time to get everything ready for the next day.

Booth set up in Guangzhou: it’s a construction site. The place reeks of paint and building materials. The floor is covered with so much stuff that it’s like an obstacle course to get to the booth. I ask what time it will all be done and I’m told by noon (in a little less than 2 hours). So I call the  delivery company to tell them not to deliver the samples yet and that I would ring them around noon when the booth should be ready.  Knowing that everything takes a little longer than planned I give them until 2:00, figuring that all should have been done in 2 hours so 4 should be more than plenty of time. Well I forgot…this is China.  In the end it’s 4:00 before I could call the transport company to have the samples delivered. I spend the 2 hours talking to a Portuguese exhibitor who’s in the same situation.

Fair organization in HK – smooth. No surprises. Clean glasses are delivered to each booth before we arrive and dirty ones are left on the counter for pick up at the end of the day…the atmosphere is professional and orderly.

Fair organization in GZ – there’s a form to fill out to get the glasses, ice, etc. That’s OK except that it’s in Chinese, which I, naturally, can’t read or fill out. Luckily I hired a translator who can take care of it for me. Oh, and we need to leave a deposit, which, of course, no one told us about before…

Fair hours in GZ are from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM but about 15 minutes before 6:00 the lights start to go off and the cleaners start moving in. On the last day, when the fair is supposed to end at 5:00 PM, at 4:30 the construction crew starts dismantling the booth. We actually watch the booth being taken apart while we still have a customer at the counter….

Noise: Naturally fairs are noisy events but GZ is migraine inducing noisy. Imagine having a cheesy lounge act in the next aisle. At some point it’s so loud we have to shout to be heard.

HK is noisy but you have not experienced noise pollution until you spend some time in a city like Guangzhou.  I walk around Beijing Street in GZ city center Thursday night, my last day in GZ, and cannot take it for more than 1 hour.  So many people, all talking – to each other, on their phones, to themselves…and the Chinese are not really the whispering type…when they talk it’s at the volume that most of us yell at.  Maybe it’s been too long since I’ve been here or maybe it’s living in a small town but I can’t remember it having the same effect on me all the other times I’ve been here.

Friday, Nov 14: Early morning start. Flight leaves at 8:30 AM. Long trip home but I’ll be home before midnight Friday night.


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Traveling ….

Sept 6, 2014

It’s John’s birthday but instead of sharing this beautiful evening with him I’m sitting at this airport sandwich shop and watching the sun set over the runway…


Sept 7

Sitting in the Beijing airport waiting for my connecting flight to Guiyang, where I’ll spend the upcoming week (including my birthday) at the Guizhou International Wine EXPO.

My original connection was cancelled so I’m stuck here for about 7 hours until the next flight. At least I’m not sitting outside in the smog and, for now, the entire row of seats next to me is empty…and there’s free wi-Fi.

Nothing much to do; mainly just sitting around and waiting….Hopefully there’ll be some excitement once in Guiyang.





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Beauty? What is beauty anymore?

The Miss Plastic Surgery 2014 “beauty” contest will be held on Thursday, August 21st, in Monselice, a town in the Veneto region. I am not kidding…I read it in the Aug 15th edition of the Corriere Adriatico (one of the local papers). 

It will take place at the GrandHotel Bluedream where, at poolside, 10 plastic surgeons will select the “best reconstructed” contestant. It seems that there is a new generation of women (and possibly men, although for now, the competition is only open to women) that are proud to show off their “reconstructions”. There is no age limits and participation is free.

Any woman over 18 who has undergone at least 1 cosmetic procedure may participate . A candidate who has undergone more than 1 cosmetic surgery may request to be judged by the intervention deemed most successful, or may request to be judged in the category of  “Miss MiSonoRifattaTanteVolte.” (“I have been rebuilt many times” is the best translation I can offer).

The categories are vast and include Miss Silicone, Miss Surgically Enlarged, Miss General Face Lifting, Miss Botox, Miss Blepharoplasty, Miss Otoplasty, Miss Rhinoplasty, Miss Plastic Lipofilling, Miss Breast Augmentation, Miss Chemical Peeling, Miss vaginoplasty (not sure how they judge this one)…and if the category does not exist one can ask that it be added…

The rationale for the contest is “because it is increasingly difficult to separate the world of beauty and that of surgery” (I’m quoting from the article). Why not???

….and it will be televised on RAI TV….just to add more trash to already trashy Italian TV…



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