Posts tagged ‘fathers’
What could be better than spending a week relaxing in the Italian countryside? You wake up in the mid-morning, with fresh bread and homemade jam awaiting you in the kitchen, and all of the sweetest apricots and plums your heart could desire. You head out for a morning tour, come back for an afternoon nap, and enjoy a gourmet dinner in a beautiful garden in the evening. Pretty much idyllic, right? My friend and her parents were the most gracious hosts. They treated us to the most relaxing and indulgent Italian vacation I could have hoped for, and it was exactly what I needed to recover from a stressful year.
To make this all even better, Miriam’s parents are cyclists! They met while on a cycling trip through Italy, and continue to go on short and long rides through the countryside. Their household is well stocked with bikes, both for around-town use as well as for distance cycling. Miriam’s dad, Sergio, was particularly excited to learn that I, too, was a novice cyclist. He proposed a 60-km bike adventure, which Miriam feared would counteract all of the relaxing and indulging we had been partaking in. She warned me, “Don’t feel bad if you want to say no…” How could I say no? My own guided tour of the Italian countryside, on a bike? Is it possible that this trip keeps getting better?!
Sergio pulled out the map to briefly explain to me our destination: Nonantola, a small town half way between Bologna and Modena. It would be approximately a 30-km ride in each direction, and we could stop for a coffee break once in town. He did not need to plan out a route, as he has ridden to and from this town many, many times. It is his regular route for a nice, long ride through the countryside. He then brought me out to the garage to find the bike that would best suit me. After adjusting the seat and making sure everything was in working order, I got the rest of my borrowed gear in order: a helmet, bike shorts from Miriam’s mom, a water bottle and a handlebar bag for essentials.
We awoke early the next morning, wanting to set out early to avoid the notorious July heat. We had a quick breakfast of bread and jam, and were off. The beginning of the ride was through fields I was already familiar with, as Miriam had shown us the area directly surrounding her house on more relaxed evening rides. We used this time to get used to each other’s pace – I surprised him with how fast I could manage, and I recounted my survival stories of biking in Boston and my recent triathlon training. He told me stories from the trip when he met Linda, and various other cycling trips they have taken throughout Italy. On small back roads, we could ride side-by-side to enjoy conversation. Whenever cars would come or we would hit an intersection, he would graciously slow down to let me go in front. This is the first lesson that my bike ride with Sergio taught me: chivalry is not dead, so ladies go first. (Unless you sneak up behind them to take a picture, that is!)
We continued our ride, making small talk about the surrounding agriculture and swapping stories of anything that crossed our minds. He told me bits of history about Bologna, and filled me in on the Berlusconi scandal and the current state of Italian politics. My favorite tidbits: the meanings of road names and town names, which often have funny back stories. Often times, I would just sit and listen to his narration of the scenery. Sometimes, we would enjoy the peaceful silence. When I would share a story, Sergio would gently prod me, “Can you say that again, more slowly?” Life lesson number two: speak slowly! I know that I speak way too quickly, and am always reminded of this when English is not someone’s first language. Sergio has an incredible mastery of English and is brilliant, and yet still could not always grasp what I was saying. Imagine how I might make someone feel, especially a future patient, if they cannot understand what I am saying when I am in a rush? So from now on, I will be more conscious to speak more slowly.
We finally arrived in Nonantola, our midway point. This is home of a beautiful medieval church, the entrance of which is surrounded by carvings that depict the life and death of Christ. The inside of the church remains simple and elegant, spared from the Baroque remodeling that is typical of many older Italian churches. I really enjoy the simplicity of such old churches, and appreciate that all of the decorations and altars are in place as a reminder of Christ’s life. As we walked around the church and its grounds, Sergio pulled out his camera. I knew that he was an amazing photographer based on all of the beautiful portraits of his family from around the house, but wasn’t so excited to have what I felt a unphotogenic moment documented! I mean, I had just rode 28 km, was sweaty and definitely had a case of helmet hair, and was in bike shorts… not so hot. But I did not protest, my desire for pictures from this adventure outweighing my vanity. This is where I learned another lesson: the value of a photograph. I snap away with my endless digital memory, capturing a few good shots out of many. With film, the value is in being slow and deliberate with your camera settings, and really taking time and effort to set up each picture. Now I know why their house is filled with so many excellent portraits – the man behind the camera has the patience to set up the shot and the skill to capture emotion.
We took a quick coffee break at the cafe overlooking the church, where I learned the brief history of what put Nonantola on the map. During World War II, the priest and the congregation began to give assistance to Jewish children fleeing the Nazis. They provided them with temporary food and shelter for a year, and then helped them escape the town as if they were school children going on a trip. The children eventually made it all the way to Yugoslavia, and were able to stay there safely until the end of the war. To this day, there is a charitable organization in honor of this priest and the Jewish children he saved. I listened attentively to this story while sipping espresso and watching the local residents mill about the town on a lazy Sunday. I learned yet another lesson: there is always time to stop and enjoy a coffee, even in the middle of a long ride!
We returned to our bikes and set out for home, taking a different set of countryside roads. We continued to chat, and passed through even more fields of sunflowers. Even though they had begun to whither the day before, they were standing tall on this day, as if affirming what an excellent morning it was to enjoy the Italian countryside. The 30-km return journey passed with no time at all, and soon we were at home, exhausted but exhilarated from our morning. I can only hope to be in such good shape when I am Sergio’s age! Another life lesson: long standing healthy habits of real food and regular exercise do make a difference in the long run. I mean, the man just biked his age in km… pretty impressive!
Not only was I lucky enough to go on this long bike ride, as well as a farming and cheese making tour (story recounted here), but I also got to see Sergio again in Boston. During their month in the states visiting family and friends, we met up for ice cream at J. P. Licks on Newbury. (We both agreed – good, but not as good as the gelato in Bazzano!) We talked about my trip to Prague, my triathlon, and our family vacations. We planned for a bike ride along the Boston Harbor next year, and said good-bye for now. He gave me prints of the pictures he took from the bike ride. This is where I learned the last lesson: there is nothing better than the gift of a photograph. Especially one that was taken with a film camera, with thought behind why the photo was taken, and in which the print is a precious commodity. These memories and pictures will be some of my most treasured, icons from a thoughtful and insightful bike ride through the Italian countryside.
Note: Most of these pictures are photographs of prints, since I do not have access to a scanner. If/when I have time to make digital copies, I will update them, but for now they are merely an image that doesn’t do full justice to the print or the beauty I experienced.
To the best Dad I could ask for, Happy Birthday and Happy Father’s Day. Even though we may have our occasional clash and misunderstandings, your huge heart and love for others are inspirational. You are truly a Daddy Bear: a terrifying force when provoked, but nurturing and caring when you are safe enough to let your guard down. Thank you for always being there for me, for loving and supporting me, and for being a great Dad.
To celebrate my Dad, my sister and I surprised him with dinner last night. She decorated the backyard with streamers and black balloons while I manned the grill. We made cinnamon chipotle steak (rub recipe below!), grilled corn, and grilled sweet potato fries (it’s a two-for-one recipe post). The steak was super spicy, and I probably could have gone a little lighter on the rub. I liked it, though, because it hid the meat flavor for my veggie-preferring taste buds. I can imagine this being great on chicken or Portobello mushrooms too! The corn was perfect and sweet, and the sweet potatoes were amazing off the grill. We splurged and bought his favorite soda – Stewart’s root beer, black cherry, and oranges n’ cream… in glass bottles no less! For dessert, we got an angel food cake (his favorite) and topped it with light whipped cream and berries. Who knew that my Dad would actually request such a healthy birthday dessert?! Maybe he does listen to me sometimes ;)
Cinnamon Chipotle Grill Rub
makes enough for 3 lbs of meat or veggies
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp parsley
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
Mix together spices and rub onto meat or mushrooms. Allow to stand for 10-20 minutes before grilling to allow the rub to fully adhere to the meat. Grill until meat is done to your desire.
Sweet Potato Grill Fries
3 large sweet potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste
Cover the potatoes in a large pot with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the sweet potatoes are slightly tender. Drain and run the potatoes under cold water. When potatoes are cool enough to touch, peel the skin from the potatoes. Slice into thick matchsticks. Toss in olive oil and season to taste with salt, pepper, and paprika. Spread on a grill pan over medium heat. Cook for 7 minutes, then flip and cook for another 7 minutes. Fries should be crisp but not burnt when done.