Posted by: 4initalia | November 28, 2009

Uh Oh. What Happens Next Year?

Every year on my birthday, I make a list of the things I did for the very first time. It’s like making New Year’s resolutions, in reverse: What did I do, for the first time, this year?

Here’s my list for 2009:

1. Quit my job at a staff meeting. Still smiling about that.
2. Figured out what to pack to live for a year in Italy. Still don’t know.
3. Bought a cell phone, a bus pass, a train ticket, groceries, and contact lenses in Italian. It’s not so scary, after you’ve done it 700 times.
4. Grew tomatoes on my balcony.
5. Made risotto, from scratch.
6. Bought pants at the open-air market, then bought some that fit, and even returned the ones that didn’t. Lots of learning, there.
7. Went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, took a boat ride on the Seine, strolled along the Champs Elysees, and climbed the Arc de Triomphe. All on the same day.
8. Took an overnight train to Paris, and another from Gdansk to Katowice, Poland, and Amsterdam to Denmark. Like sleeping in a blender, except there’s no sleeping.
9. Had Welsh rarebit in Wales, an English Muffin in England, and pierogie in Poland.
10. Talked to a Palestinian about living in Israel, a Bulgarian about living in China, and my mom’s cousin about living with my great-grandmother. So many stories.
11. Went snorkeling on the Cote D’Azure, where we stayed in a lovely villa with my fascinating cousins.
12. Saw Anne Frank’s house, Oscar Schindler’s factory, and the remains of the Jewish ghetto in Krakow.
13. Met Andy’s Polish relatives. For the first time in my life I loved people I could communicate with only in hugs and smiles.
14. Using only my crack navigational skills, took my kids on the Tube in London, the metro in Brussells, and a water taxi in Amsterdam. And found the hotel every time. Phew.
15. Went to Legoland Denmark, Legoland Windsor, and MiniEurope in Brussells. The fried fish in Legoland Denmark tastes like bilge spew. In MiniEurope, which had menus printed in English, French and Belgian, ate in a restaurant that looked unnervingly like a cheesy Mexican place in the U.S. They served mayo with the burrito, a first, which was disconcerting in any language.
16. Saw the Gdansk shipyard where Lech Walensa started a movement that brought down the Iron Curtain. Amazing stuff can happen in ordinary parking lots.
17. Got a scary spider bite, which bloomed into a raised ring o’pain. Ew.
18. Saw a Ferrari and a Maserati in their native habitat, on the streets of Italy. The paint, like the engine, simmmmmers.
19. Rode my bike to the grocery store. And lived.
20. Bought a long gown in an Italian shop, with Italian ladies cooing over the dress. Priceless.
21. Went to the Canary Islands. Didn’t see any canaries.
22. Fell in love with Van Gogh’s electric brush strokes, and Pavarotti’s soaring voice: he sings in the colors of Modena.
23. Walked Omaha Beach, in Normandy. Understood the bravery of American and British soldiers who landed in the surf and had to cross a beach and climb cliffs while under fire from German machine gunners. Those soldiers, boys really, broke the back of evil, and we can’t forget their sacrifice.
24. Started a blog.
25. Spent ten hours in the Louvre, six hours in Westminster Abbey, and hundreds of hours in a million museums, learning, with my kids. My kids are awesome.
26. Floated in the acquamarine glass of the Ligurrrian Sea. One of my favorite things, ever.
27. Picked up beach glass in Sardegna. Sardegnians must spend most of their time hurling windows and bottles into the sea, or they wouldn’t have so much beach glass.
28. Had gelato shaped like a flower petal, and learned how to say my favorite flavors: amarena, malaga, fior di latte.
29. Talked to a plumber about water pressure. Understood him. In Italian.
30. Went to an accetaia, an Italian farmhouse where they make traditional balsamic vinegar. (It’s sweet, and thick, not bitter and astringent, like what is sold in the U.S.) On the way home, watched my mom’s cousin and her husband scramble into, and out of, a drainage ditch, as we all ran to catch the bus back to Modena. They’re in their 70s. Not the first time we regretted not having a car in Italy, but probably the best reason to regret not having a car in Italy. If you’re going to invite relatives to Italy, make sure they’re as amazing as Clare and Eric.
31. On the train back from Venice, my brain had to simultaneously process: (1) the guy in the seat behind us wearing full Joker makeup: white face, red lips, black jagged lines radiating from his mouth and eyes.(2) Alex sneezing incontrollably. (3) A Sikh in a bright orange turban who politely asked whether this was the train to Parma. Italy is complicated.
32. Tried grappa. Grappa tastes like what you’d drink with the fried fish at Legoland Denmark.
33. Rode in a gondola on the Grand Canal.
34. Ate at a Pompeii restaurant that serves authentic ancient Roman food. The precursor to lasagna was good, but the sauce, heavy on the oil and the anchovies, tasted an awful lot like the bad fish at Legoland Denmark. Hmmmn.
35. Saw the Coliseum. And the Roman Forum. And the Pantheon. And the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s. And threw a coin in Trevvi Fountain. Threee times. Every time, I learned how little I know about Roman and Italian history.
36. Went to Pompeii. On the train back to Naples, feared Alex would be offed by a seething Naples thug. Scary.
37. Bought boots. Italian made. Finished outside and inside – on outside, glossy black leather. On the inside, buttery suede at the foot, soft beige leather above the ankle. Exquisite.
38. Saw London from the London Eye.
39. Rode on a boat down the Thames.
40. Saw Shakespeare’s school, and his grave.
41. Saw Stonehenge.
42. Did our laundry in Bath.
43.Tried to syndicate blog stories. Was rejected (this was repeated several times.)
44. Responded to a rejection letter with the closing line “Perhaps you can spend next Friday evening clubbing baby seals.”
45. Celebrated the end of Easter mass in Notre Dame Cathedral. Although the cathedral is heavy and dark, during mass, lights lift the massive stone. The service ended with a surge of the organ, rolling waves of sound, that washed the Rose Windows and filled the cathedral.
46. Watched Murano glassblowers turn molten blobs into a crystal horse and a vase.
47. Saw the statue of David. Still smiling.
48. Climbed the 666 portici to Bologna’s San Luca.
49. Saw the Giro D’Italia.
51. Saw Mont-Saint Michel, a church in France that is built on an island that is cut off from the land with the tide.
52. Ate lodi – Polish ice cream. It’s an eight inch tower of swirled chocolate or vanilla. But it’s almost all butterfat – so it doesn’t melt. It’s like eating a stick of butter.
53. Joined the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
54. Went to an Italian soccer match.
55. Watched my kids eat blackberries in Wales. Watched my son return some, in the back of the rental car. Ew.
56. Saw Dante’s house, and the church where he was married.
57. Saw Galileo’s grave, and Machiavelli’s.
58. Had dinner by myself in Vernazza, one of the little towns of Cinque Terre. Watched the cops arrest a drunken guitarist.
59. Read my favorite short story, by Edith Wharton, about two women who visit Rome, in Italian. Reading it in another language made me slow down and savor the words.
60. Watched my son cook his own pasta sauce, my daughter order in Italian, and my kids laugh about the differences between British and American English. We’ve all learned so much.
61. Climbed a million bell towers, and was there when the bells went off. Every cell vibrated with the amazing sound.

Now your turn: every year, on your birthday, make a list of the things you did for the first time this year. Make it better than this one.


  1. super great idea, especially since my b-day is Saturday!!! Thanks so much for the ideas, the stories, the friendship, the information, and the “dream.”

  2. […] today I found this post, and it made me simultaneously smile and tear up. It threw me back 4 years ago to riding bikes […]

    • I’d love to hear more – where were you riding?

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