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The Great Canine Mystery

Like I needed C.S.I. or N.C.I.S. when there was a real canine conundrum waiting to be uncovered here at my house? “The Mad Mystery of the Mutts Missing Mainspring” or “What Kind of Dog is He Anyway?”

At long last, the verdict is finally in on my pups. Their DNA test results have come back from the lab and yes, it did in some cases simply confirm the obvious, while other results were total shockers.

1st Buddy:
No surprise here; one parent was 100% Miniature Schnauzer and the other was so many generations of mutts breeding other mutts, that it is virtually impossible to narrow it down to anything more than “mixed” breed (at least through the basic DNA test). So as far as breed goes, we know exactly what we knew going in, he is Mini-Schnauzer mixed with “something else.”

Buddy

Buddy

Common Traits:

Being vocal (barking) and a need to protect and guard the home: This is one hundred percent true! He is a bit Napoleonic at times, thinking he is much bigger than his 13 pounds.
Smart and Treat Driven: Well, he’s smart enough to know that he doesn’t care about treats or learning any stupid tricks. Luckily, he has the important basics like stay, come, sit, and down, under his belt. Quite frankly, I think he knows want’s important and what is merely human amusement. As far as Buddy is concerned, if we want entertainment, we should go read a book or turn on the TV! I am actually surprised that his DNA didn’t reveal that he is part cat!

Buddy always resting but always alert!

Buddy always resting but always alert!

Theo:
Big surprise here! We were sure that he was at least “part” Bichon for two reasons, one; he looks it, and two; we were told by the people who surrendered him, that he was half Bichon and half Shih Tzu. Test result show that although one parent was at least “part Shih Tzu, he has absolutely no Bichon in him at all. He is however also mixed with Lhasa Apso and Chinese Crested! Yes, Chinese Crested. Who knew? His other Parent was an amalgamation of Cocker Spaniel and Rottweiler. Also, like Buddy, one of Theo’s parents also possessed a concoction of so many generations of diverse breeding that it can only be call “mixed” breed. I guess that’s the politically correct way to say mutt these days.

Theo (short for Theodore)

Theo (short for Theodore)

This special blend of breeds should have Theo showing some of the following traits:

Loyalty: 100% true of my Theo
Smart: Also true. No this is not the ranting of a proud papa, the dog is smart, there is just no way around it.
Hunter/Scouter: SO very true! Theo loves to lead the way, although he totally “heals” during our walks unless I give him the okay to relax. I have often said that had I waited to learn about his personality before naming him, I would have wound up calling him Scout! That same characteristic is also responsible for his desire to retrieve, which makes him enjoy fetching things. Whenever Theo gets board, he brings me his “toy de jour,” so that I can throw it and have him “bring it” …over and over again. If I am dumb enough to pick up the previous day’s toy and throw it, I get a look that says, “are you freakin’ kidding me? That’s so yesterday!”
Treat Driven Pleaser: I’m glad there’s proof that it’s genetic; I was beginning to think he picked it up from me! Theo unlike Buddy is happy to learn silly dog tricks. He plays dead when shot with my finger, gives me a high-five on command, sits, lays down, gives his paw, then switches when I say, “other one,” and best of all, kisses me when I say, “give daddy a kiss.” This is only a sampling of what he has learned to date. I soon plan to work on a “hug” command. How cool will that be?!

Did someone say treat?!

Did someone say treat?!

So now I have an idea of why they look like they do but does this make them what they are? I think not. Just like with children, it’s the old nature verses nurture debate. However what uncategorically is true about them is that they are 100% my little boys! And because they are, they’re so full of love that they greet me with wild adoration as though they believed they were never going to see me again, whether I’ve been away on a trip for weeks or because I stepped outside for a moment to check the mailbox! I love how they stop whatever they’re doing to come charging the moment they hear me say, “wheeeeeeere’s my boys?!”

Both will sit perfectly still and allow me to give them total head-to-tail haircuts with a small hair-cutting scissor. I believe they would rather do this than go off to a groomer. Buddy thinks that getting his morning grooming (by me) is the highlight of his day and only has to hear me tap his brush on a surface to come skidding into position with his head held high and I swear; a smile on his face!

Neither dog likes the water but they both tolerate their weekly baths and actually think that they are all that and a bag of chips when they’re all done. They even walk into the shower on their own when I declare it “bath time!” Knowing that I am caring for them, my boys happily let me clean their eyes free of “sandman” goo and brush their teeth daily.

They sleep in bed at our side, always making sure that some part of them can feel us, even if it’s just a back paw against our leg. I know that they do this because they feel protected and secure under our care.

Theo was three months old when he came to us. He had no story of misuse other than being the runt of the litter, most likely due to having been born with a twisted paw. This made him the “pup with the problem” that no one wanted to take on. At least he was loved by the young woman who fostered the surrendered mom and her pups. At this point he was still basically being cared for by his mother.

Theo's turned leg makes him look like a ballet dancer!

Theo’s turned leg makes him look like a ballet dancer!

Buddy was an entirely different story; one I can’t even get into because it hurts me too much to think of all he had to endure the first 13 months of his life, before animal rescue finally came to take him away from the abuse. So, Theo was a surrender and we literally saved Buddy from being euthanized, a mere four hours before he was scheduled to receive the shot! For these reasons, my canine kids are referred to as, rescues.

Buddy prefers his breakfast in bed but he deserves a little spoiling.

Buddy prefers his breakfast in bed but he deserves a little spoiling.

I agree that it was a rescue, but it is my belief that they rescued me. After years of dealing with chronic, acute pain and the frustration that accompanies it, these two little guys give me a reason to fight threw it. I can’t allow myself to get caught-up in a pity party when they need my care. There is no getting around it; they depend upon me for their wellbeing. Seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, regardless of holidays, birthdays or how much my body hurts, they need to be fed, walked, groomed, and loved. It’s a lot of work but what they give me back, cannot be measured; the loyalty, company, trust, and unconditional love is like no other and never, ever waivers.

I guess I really always knew everything I needed to know about my guys all along. They are a little bit of this and a little bit off that and… 100% love.

Until next time,

Don

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Hey, I Know That Girl!

One of the dearest people I know, my friend Christy Lamagna, has been featured in an American Express commercial. She tells the story of how Amex came to the rescue in her time of need. Of course she does so in her own inimitable way, which is as interesting and entertaining as it is educational.

It is no coincidence that American Express decided to team up with Christy for their piece. This perfect partnership depicts just how the most professional and savvy entrepreneurs make things happen without missing a beat. Christy absolutely exemplifies everything American Express represents; integrity, professionalism, dependability, and the drive to get the job done, the right way, every time!

Hats off to Christy for being one of the chosen few and kudos to Amex for recognizing how brightly their star can shine together.

Please go to the link below to see my friend’s commercial and I implore you to take a moment to click on the little “Youtube” icon on the bottom right, to comment about the fine job she does representing American Express. Your input could be what it takes to get her spot from “online” to television!

As always, thanks so much for your kind support.

Until next time,
Don

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Tomorrow is National Tortellini Day!

February 13th is honestly and truly; National Tortellini Day. This little round stuffed pasta (and tasty delight) was brought to us via Bologna, Italy.

I share this information with you a day early, just in case anyone out there wants to run out and purchase a pound or so, in celebration of the big day tomorrow.

There is actually a legend behind the popular pasta, albeit a creepy one. The story goes that Venus (Goddess of love for those who may not know) was for some reason or another visiting Northern Italy. Depending upon who is telling the story, she is either alone or with a companion, but all agree that she stayed overnight at a little inn.

The innkeeper at some point in the evening took it upon himself to peer through the keyhole of the goddess’s room and as it turns out, the only thing visible to the Peeping Tom was her belly button. Still, he became so enamored by the glorious sight; he was inspired to design a pasta in its likeness to pay homage to the Goddess.

Don’t believe me? Well every year the town of Castlefranco Emilia does a re-enactment of the tale to celebrate the pasta and the legend.

Here in the states, we have tortellini available either in the freezer section of our markets, fresh (or what is called fresh anyway) in the dairy aisle, or if you’re feeling all DYI about it, you can craft the stuffed noodle yourself – but it is a bit labor intensive. We like to use it in everything from, appetizers to main-dishes, to soups!

Trisha Yearwood, country singer and cookbook author, has said that according to her husband country superstar, Garth Brooks “everything’s better with tortellini in it!”

I suppose that it is only fitting that this special pasta, made to honor love, should be served on the eve of Valentine’s Day, the most romantic day of the year!

So whether you have yours in a broth with a sprinkle of hard cheese  (like they do in Italy), covered in your favorite sauce, or baked Parmesan style, I hope that you too find a way to celebrate the cheese stuffed dumpling with the nifty story behind it.

Tortellini Venus's Belly Button

Tortellini
Venus’s Belly Button

Until next time, happy Tortellini Day one-and-all!

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Aunt Eunice’s Magical House

Ten days ago, (January 25th 2015) one of the most treasured people in my life, my Aunt Eunice, mom’s sister, left this world to be reunited with her great love, Uncle Mort and my mother. I believe that they are tripping the light fantastic, patently waiting for us to live out our mortal lives and join them in paradise. Until then I know that they’re watching over us, guiding and protecting in every way that they can.

The world, or at least my part of it, will never be the same again without my dear aunt but I will be forever grateful for nearly sixty years of wonderful memories made together.

I am also grateful to my cousin Sue, who spent my aunt’s last days reading her my unfinished book about my mother’s life. Aunt Eunice, of all people, is someone I so wanted to hear the story and working in his mysterious ways, God made that possible for me.

I was also blessed to see Aunt Eunice in her final days, even having her wake and open her eyes… and yes, even tell me that she loved me one more time. No man can ask for more than that.

Aunt Eunice may no longer be a part of my physical world but she owns a very special piece of my heart that will be her’s eternally.

As a man who fumbles over his spoken words, I wrote a little something for my cousins to express what a special woman their mom was and IS to me. Not quite a short story but not a poem either, this almost “children’s story,” is how I summed up my feelings that day. I’m not sure how or why I decided upon such a format, maybe it’s because she was the last person alive that reminded me that regardless of my age, she would always be my aunt; that somewhere inside my six-foot, one-inch, 192 pound frame, she could still see her sister’s little boy. She made me feel safe and most of all, she made me feel loved. I will miss her all the days of my life.  I would like to share that little story with you, not only because I want the world to know how wonderful she was, but maybe it will spark a memory inside of you about someone special in your own life.

Aunt Eunice’s Magical House

Magic; it happened daily in Belleville New Jersey, at number 32 Tiona Avenue. This was Aunt Eunice’s house… “Aunt Eunice’s Magical House!”

For a young boy from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the tweed grey building with crisp white trim seemed quite charmed indeed. A house straight out of a storybook, it was my favorite place to visit. From its gabbled peaks to the rolling lawn; the house seemed as enchanted as any castle from a fable.

Aunt Eunice and Uncle Mort, raised all four of their children in that house and I used to think that my cousins were the luckiest kids that ever lived! Nothing would please me more than hearing my mom utter that special phrase, “this Sunday, we’re going to see Aunt Eunice.” The week would drag on endlessly, as I anxiously awaited the big day’s arrival.

Oddly, for some strange reason my mom was always a bit concerned for her big sister. Somehow she had gotten it in her head that money was very tight and that Aunt Eunice was struggling beyond odds to raise her children and maintain my uncle’s family home. “How silly she is to worry,” I’d think to myself. “Doesn’t she know that Aunt Eunice lives in a Magical House?”

At Aunt Eunice’s Magical House, there was always a pool in the yard, a vegetable garden growing, electric trains in the basement, and wood burning in the back yard grill.

Aunt Eunice’s magical house had a walk-in pantry with a large farm-style kitchen, where there was always something simmering on the stove and fragrant fruit pies baking in the oven.

At Aunt Eunice’s magical house there was sure to be, crispy sugar cones and mint-chocolate chip ice-cream!

Inside Aunt Eunice’s magical house, Uncle Mort’s pipes could suddenly blow bubbles, we kids could roller skate in the basement, and in the winter, we’d all gather in her living room while the fireplace glowed with comforting warmth.

During the holidays, Aunt Eunice’s magical house would have a grand evergreen tree, covered in colored lights, reaching up to touch the ceiling!

Aunt Eunice’s Magical House was as pretty as it was comfortable; it was immaculately clean as it was sturdy.

As a child, I believed Aunt Eunice’s house was the most magical place on earth. As an adult, I realized that the house was simply a house… As it turns out; it was Aunt Eunice who made the magic happen.

Here’s to Eunice May Wilson-Snyder; magical beyond measure!

The Gal Who Made the Magic Happen, Aunt Eunice  1922 - 2015

The Gal Who Made the Magic Happen, Aunt Eunice
1922 – 2015

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An American in Paris

James and I sat back in our chairs both pushing away our breakfast plates with a silent cry of “uncle!” The food in Italy is amazing but after last evening’s extravaganza at the Palazzo Colonna, even my bottomless pit of an appetite had been thoroughly fortified and my stomach was in need of (at the very least) a rest. Coffee was more the call of the morning as we still had to finish packing up the last of the boxes with everything that would be returning to the States now that our work in Rome was completed.

The various members of our “work family” were going their separate ways today each with their own agenda of things they wanted to see and do. As for James and me; we were headed to the airport to catch a flight to Paris where we had arranged to stay with one of our dearest friends, Maria Newman.

Thanks to the wonders of modern-flight, a mere two hours later had us landing in Paris, France! We got off of the plane and after a short walk through Charles DeGaulle airport, with (regretfully) no passport stamping, which is not necessary within the European Schengen Zone, we picked-up our luggage and as we did so, we could see the smiling face of our hostess, waiting patiently for us just outside the door.

Maria was happy to have us in France at last. We had planned on this trip for at least three years and for one reason or another, it had to be either canceled or postponed time and time again. As Maria whisked us away through the streets of Paris, she decided to give us a quick driving-tour of the city, as it was already late in the afternoon and we had dinner plans to meet up with other dear friends. Still, she wanted to give us a feel for her beautiful and romantic home town before our true tour started tomorrow morning.

It was almost surreal to drive past the Eiffel Tower, the Parisian sky on this afternoon, lit in a lovely misty mauve color, created the perfect backdrop! To our right; the Seine River and to our left rose the towering structure of the Louvre; originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century, the huge museum seemed to go on forever.

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Now this is romance!

As we rode down the Champs-Élysées, we were treated to a Christmas surprise; both sides of the street were lined with cute little white chalets. These adorable but temporary structures housed a multitude of holiday shops with an endless array of gifts to choose from… not to mention countless opportunities for chilly shoppers to grab a cup of hot wine! Dead ahead down the Champs-Élysées like a gateway to paradise stood the famous (and beautiful) Arc de Triomphe! As if that were not enough, as part of the holiday celebration, a huge Ferris wheel had been erected directly behind the Arc, what’s more; it had been lit to look like a gigantic snowflake. It may have taken us a long time to get to Paris but it was certainly well worth the wait. Seeing Paris at this time of year could only be compared to the thrill of New York’s, Fifth Avenue at Christmas time. There was an added energy and beauty that had both James and myself (and I believe Maria too) feeling as though we were kids again!

Before we knew it, it was time to head off to Maria’s apartment to meet up with our friends, Hilary and William and their boys Maximilien and Victor. The Batallie clan has been the very dearest of friends of ours for many years now and we had not seen them since last Christmas (2013), when they came to Florida for a holiday visit. I couldn’t believe how much the boys had grown in a year but I guess they’re at that age now where a year takes them from little boys to little men! True to form, they arrived at Maria’s baring gifts for James and me; our all-time favorite chocolates, French of course, “Suchard’s L’original Lait” to be exact! These creamy chocolate delights defy description suffice it to say, that to the day of this writing, we are still carefully rationing pieces, hoping to see this supply through to New Year’s Eve!

Hilary and yours truly

Hilary and yours truly

As fate would have it, after spending a week in Italy our first night in Paris brought us to, you guessed it…. An Italian restaurant! It may seem an odd choice but “Livio” is a local favorite and it not only was a fun place to gather and celebrate our first night in Paris but the food was darn good too! Victor checked in with me to see what my favorite pasta might be and I confessed that I had quite a hankering for alla carbonara, as it turns out, it’s Victor’s fav too and I do believe that on this night, four out of seven entrees served our table were non-other than spaghetti all carbonara.

Young Victor suffering from a Carbonara Coma!

Young Victor suffering from a Carbonara Coma!

The gang sans me (someone had to take the photo!)

The gang sans me (someone had to take the photo!)

The next day found James, Maria and moi doing a lovely walking tour of “la Ville Lumière” or “The City of Lights.” Yes I know that nowadays it may seem a name more suited for a city like, Las Vegas but did you know that Paris was one of the first cites in the world to become lighted via electricity? Who knew?

It was a positively perfect Sunday morning and our first stop was the famous, Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris) or simply “Notre Dame” as it is more commonly called these days. As we entered through the Gothic doors into the majestic church, our little threesome couldn’t help feeling a bit overcome by the sweet sounds of the Sunday Mass being chanted, Gregorian-style, echoing throughout the cathedral walls. The majesty of this exquisite testimony to French-Gothic architecture could be overwhelming all on its own but teamed with the beauty of Sunday mass and the love shared between our little group, it had us bonding closer than ever.

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

Maria and Me Outside Notre-Dame

Maria and Me Outside Notre-Dame

After a brief stroll about town, we came to rest at a small café for a bite of lunch. As we re-fueled our bodies, we had great fun watching the people of Paris go by on this busy afternoon.

The final cap-off to this glorious day; a four hour dinner cruise up the Seine River to see the great architectures of Paris, lit-up as though it had been professionally done by a Hollywood set designer. We boarded our glass enclosed ship as the sun was setting and sailed along the river’s left bank. With the bright Parisian lights shimmering across the water, we enjoyed panoramic views of the city’s greatest attractions such as Notre Dame Cathedral, the Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre, and Place de la Concorde. As we glided by The Eiffel Tower, it became alive with a show of twinkling lights from top to bottom! This was indeed Paris at its very best and we have to thank our gracious hostess, Maria Newman, for the gift of this most extraordinary experience.

From left to right: Me, James, and Maria enjoying the cruise

From left to right:
Me, James, and Maria enjoying the cruise

The Eiffel Tower twinkling from head to toe

The Eiffel Tower twinkling from head to toe

The following morning (Monday) we headed to yet another famous cathedral; Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre. This gorgeous church sits high atop a hill overlooking all of Paris and is in an incredibly picturesque part of town that looks very much like a storybook; something straight out of the opening to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I couldn’t help but call out, “Marie, bring the baguettes!” The cobblestone streets are lined with centuries-old shoppes, restaurants, and cafés. On this chilly afternoon, a piping hot crock of French Onion Soup Au Gratin was unquestionably in order! We cozied up to a table in the window of a wonderful little café and enjoyed the view and a plate of crispy fries along with our savory soup!

Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre

Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre

Looking down a village street

Looking down a village street

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View from the church steps

View from the church steps

All too soon it was time to head back to the apartment.  We were leaving for Deauville this afternoon and were hoping to arrive before sundown.

You may know Deauville as a quaint little sea-side village close to Normandy, famous for its expansive boardwalk and international equestrian community, but it should also be renowned for its beautiful outdoor marketplace too. Maria’s home here in Deauville is as beautiful as her Paris flat. To our great pleasure , on this day her daughter Jessica (another of our dear friends), happened to be in Daueville in her own apartment across the courtyard from Maria’s place. Jessica had recently adopted an adorable little puppy, she very aptly named, Xena. You may remember Xena, the warrior princess as the heroine character developed by John Schulianone in 1995 for producer, Robert Tapert’s spin-off franchise of the Hercules series. Whether the name was intentional or not, it surly fits! Our little Xena is just as feisty and most certainly has even more stamina than the character played so well by Lucy Lawless. In no time at all, Lil’ Xena, the black and white ball of energy that she is, completely stole my heart, while making me miss my own two pups back home all the more.  James and I were using this time away from our dogs, Buddy and Theo to an advantage, sending them off to a specialized doggy boot-camp to become certified service dogs.

Little Xena

Little Xena

The following morning we were to go into town so we could shop at the amazing aforementioned market. Maria would be returning to Rome with us on Wednesday morning so she could be part of our grand European celebration for Thanksgiving. When she found out that our Italian hosts were excited about us bringing back French cheeses to be part of the banquet, she was thrilled. Up to this point Maria knew that she wanted to do something special on her own for the Thanksgiving feast and now as fate would have it, she could put her expertise to good use so that she could supply the party with the grandest selection of fine French cheeses imaginable. And supply she did; Camembert, Brie, Roquefort, Boursin, Comté, hard, soft, semi-soft, and everything in between. Maria literally bought hundreds of dollars’ worth of the finest cheese money can buy and she was most excited to bring it to our very pregnant hostess back in Aprile, just outside of Rome. But for now it was time to get moving again. After picking up a roasted chicken and some farm fresh vegetables, it was time to head back to the apartment, prepare lunch and pack up once again so we could hit the road back to Paris. We would be leaving very early tomorrow morning from Charles De Gaulle airport so it made far more sense to stay in Paris overnight again.

Deauville

Deauville

The Deauville Harbour

The Deauville Harbour

Although our time in France was brief, it was a whirlwind of wonder and a dream come true. We can hardly wait for our next visit!

Coming up in my next blog, the most amazing Thanksgiving of my life.

Until then,
Don

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Working In Rome

We had asked for a late check-out from our New York City hotel, and The W not only agreed, but also graciously offered a VERY late departure; 5:00 PM to be exact! It could have been due to the fact that we had just produced a very successful event there for one of our corporate clients, or maybe it was simply our charming smiles and personality (NOT!) but in any case, we were very appreciative. James and I had a flight to catch out of Kennedy Airport that evening, as we were heading off to our next job which was taking place in Rome, Italy.

In spite of the 5 PM check-out, we still had to leave Manhattan by 3:00 that afternoon in order to make our plane in time. We were off to a rocky start, traffic was freaky crazy and our driver began to stress over getting us to the airport in time for our 6 PM flight. He finally had to get off the highway and take small side-streets to JFK. Alas, he was not the only person with the idea and even the back roads were only creeping along.

I looked over at James who is totally unfamiliar with Queen’s and its streets, and he asked me how worried we should be. “The driver is making all the right moves,” I answered. “We’re almost there, don’t worry.” At this point, there was nothing short of sprouting wings to soar over the traffic that could make a difference. The reality was that I was a little worried, but what was the sense in stressing out James? After all, how bad could things be? We were blessed with work in freakin’ Italy for goodness sake! Besides, worst-case scenario, we would have to catch another flight. Then just as if a wall had been lifted, traffic miraculously “disappeared” and we were off and running. From that moment on, everything seemed to move along in our favor. There was even no security line… at all… in Kennedy! Before we knew it, we were comfortably seated for an on-time takeoff.

The flight thankfully was uneventful and in nine hours, we were having our passports stamped and heading through Fiumicino a.k.a. Leonardo da Vinci airport with luggage in tow. Suddenly our eyes were caught by the bright smile of a cheery young woman who held a sign that bore our client’s logo. “Benvenuti a Roma!” she greeted. “Please allow me to show you to the car we have waiting to take you to the Weston Excelsior,“ the hotel chosen to hold our clients meeting.

The weather could not have been more cooperative. In fact, it was quite similar to what we had left behind in South Florida! The Excelsior was located in what is called “the center.” Rome had been designed like a wagon wheel, having an outer main-road that circles around the city with many “spoke roads” leading into the center. We were literally a short stroll from the famed Spanish Steps and our rooms were beyond comfortable, offering amazing space complete with fireplace and large French doors, which opened out to a small balcony, surrounded but a granite balustrade. It featured traditional old-world charm but with all the comforts of today’s modern world. Yes we were here to work but we could certainly appreciate the beauty by which we were surrounded.

Our first night there was free time, as work was not beginning until the following morning. We were quite excited and most anxious to see our very dear Roman friends, the Fioravanti’s. We had met Maurizio, his sister Simona, and Mamma Franca while producing a party in Palm Beach and within an hour; we bonded and have been… well, like family for over a decade. Maurizio, an amazingly talented artist, had married Ekaterina, a beautiful Russian-born woman who too is a most remarkable artist. Although I had spoken (whether it be via email, Facebook, or occasionally by telephone) with Simona learning about my friend’s new wife, I had not yet met Kate and was really looking forward to finally giving her a big hug… Oh and did I mention that she and Maurizio are expecting a bambino in January?!

Arrangements had been made for Maurizio to pick us up at our hotel that evening, as we were all going to have dinner together at Simona and mamma’s apartment in the city. The food, fun, and love flowed without end as we made our plans to all be together at Maurizio’s & Kate’s to celebrate Thanksgiving, which was about a week away.

So maybe it’s because we’re Italian or perhaps it’s just “our thing” but as we sat around the table stuffing ourselves with antipasto, pasta, and the most wonderful, crunchy, little fried fish that Simona whipped up, we also planned a menu for the 13 friends, both old and new, who would be celebrating Thanksgiving together!

The following morning was lift off for James and me as it was time to roll up our sleeves and get to work… the actual work that brought us to Rome.

In a world filled with people who are unhappy with their jobs, we are surely lucky. I mean; creating a beautiful environment to meet and or celebrate sure beats digging graves! James always says that the best two parts of our job is the very beginning (filled with brainstorming and creativity) and that moment when we open the doors to our clients and their guests and see the expressions on their faces as they enter the now completed room. And by far the standout events in Rome were the two off-site dinner experiences. The first one was held at the Casa Valadier.

The building was named after its famed designer, Roman architect Giuseppe Valadier, who is most noted for his design of the city’s renowned, “Peoples Square.” The grandeur of the neoclassical design, once home to Valadier, features Pompeian style frescoes and paintings and also boasts incredibly romantic views of the “Eternal City.”

View from the terrace of Casa Valadier

View from the terrace of Casa Valadier

The view continued

The view continued

We will never forget how beautiful this majestic building looked on event night, framed in custom designed lighting, with hundreds of lanterns lighting the way along the red-carpeted path, sweeping up the semi-circular stairs that grace its entrance, all the way into its grand foyer. As luck would have it, there was a young couple taking their engagement portrait on the park grounds outside and their savvy photographer seized the opportunity to get some wonderful shots with Valadier as backdrop to the lovers!

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 The, grand finale, nay…make that the pièce de résistance wrapping up events here in Rome was a rare and wonderful dining experience set in the world-famous Palazzo Colonna. There are no words known to this humble blogger that could properly describe the grace and majesty of this thirteenth century palace, complete with Live-in Prince and his royal family. About the only thing I have ever seen to compare it to, is the Vatican and quite frankly, I think Palazzo Colonna was done with better taste… but that’s just my opinion.

Once the home of Cardinal Oddone Colonna before his raise to Pope (Martin V, 1417–1431) its gallery displays countless works of art and historic artifacts. The palace’s collection of paintings with works by (but not limited) to Bronzino, Pinturicchio, Salviati, Carracci, and Tintoretto is still one of the most important private collections surviving in Rome today. One of our favorite paintings, Annibale Carracci’s, The Bean Eater or “Mangiafagioli” circa the mid-1580’s is on display there and it was quite awesome to see the real thing!

Mangiafagioli

Mangiafagioli

Another celebrity (of sorts) residing within the palace walls is a famous cannon ball which is planted firmly into the stairs of the Great Hall. The story has it that back in 1849, during the period of the Roman Republic, the French army spent months occupying Rome. Under the orders of General Oudinot, the cannon was shot from the Janiculum Hill, to assist Pope Pius IX against the Republican insurgents. Although the Papal States fell completely to Italian nationalist armies in 1870, the Colonna family decided to leave the cannon ball on the step where it came to rest, in the Galleria, as a symbol of Roman history and it is one heck of a conversation piece indeed!

The Famed Cannonball of 1849

The Famed Cannonball of 1849

As James and I arrived at the Palazzo to begin setting up for the evening’s event, we were surprised to find that the streets outside were packed full of thousands of people who had gathered in some sort of protest rally! The protest had absolutely nothing to do with our event; our venue was simply unfortunate enough to be right in the middle of the rally location. Again we were quite lucky, as one; the protest ended long before any of our guests arrived so we didn’t have to worry about maneuvering our attendees through the crowds and two; the rally was in support of the deaf, who were seeking one universal sign language. Although the streets overflowed with protesters, they were very peaceful and quite frankly – quiet, as they “signed” there issues and ate pizza. I swear, you can’t make this stuff up!

Anyway, back to our event; a venue this opulent required table linens that would stand up to the regal hall yet not compete with the surrounding art. The florals too must cleverly enhance without becoming busy looking. I think we accomplished our goal as we heard that the prince himself spent two hours inspecting each table for quality and care of placement. Once he approved, he and his family headed off to their country estate for the evening. The dinner looked beyond lovely. Even the palace staff was taking pictures of the completed hall to show off to their families. You know you’ve done well when you impress those who have seen it all!

  Palace set for dinner 3

Guest arrived at the Palazzo and broke into small groups, each treated to a tour of the galleries by an eloquent and knowledgeable guide. Their tour came to an end just outside the great hall where everyone came together again for cocktails.

Two trumpeters dressed in renaissance costume heralded everyone into the dinner in noble fashion. As the guest entered through the doors to the grand hall, protected by regal guardsmen, cameras and cellphones came out in droves as people took advantage of the photo-op to capture the moment for posterity.

Trumpeters and Guardsmen

Trumpeters and Guardsmen

An elegant and very talented quartet (also dressed in period costume) filled the hall with classical music that made one feel as if they had somehow magically traveled back through history to a long-forgotten time and place, reserved strictly for nobility and statesmen alike.

String Quartet 3

All-in-all, everyone enjoyed being king or queen (at least for an evening) and catching a rare glimpse into Rome’s rich and opulent history.

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Next post… onto Paris!
Until next time,

Don

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Cold Gelato, Warm Heart…

James and I have just returned from Europe where we went to Rome on business. We siezed the chance to visit with some of our most cherished friends residing in Italy and France, even sharing Thanksgiving on a picturesque olive orchard with loved ones from four different countries. Over the next couple of weeks I shall blog about the total experience but today I would like to start with an unexpected sidebar. One of the best things about life to me, is fate’s uncanny ability to continue to surprise and delight us.  Today I would like to share with you our most resent example:

Having the opportunity to explore new places and share in new experiences is always exciting and wonderful but when you get to make new friends along the way, well that’s just downright awesome! Such was the case with James and me when we met Gina Ravo. Gina is an amazing woman who exudes a special brand of warmth and caring that is not only genuine, but almost impossible for her to contain. She’s an energetic little spitfire dispensing cheer, love, and if you’re lucky, teddy bear hugs.

How we met was totally business related; Gina works for one of the top executives of the company which brought us to Italy to plan and execute their annual meeting. She was schooled in London and is fluent in both English and Italian languages; shifting effortlessly between the two, happily (and helpfully) translating for us when necessary.

As it turns out, she and her husband Romano happen to live in Aprilia, Italy, where James and I were staying with our dear friends. The Ravo’s had also recently opened a small business in town; a marvelous gelato shop named, “Selfie Ice.”

We had hoped for Gina and Romano to join the Thanksgiving celebration but as it turned out, they were headed to England to visit with their daughter. Gina did however invite us to come down to check out their shop, which we happily did.

Selfie Ice, is located at Via Dei Lauri 42 (inside the galleria), in the town of Aprilia, Lazio, Italy and if you ever find yourself anywhere in the vicinity, I highly recommend a visit to Selfie Ice! Gina and Romano, serve up top quality soft-serve gelato made from the freshest, high quality ingredients (never using those powdered mixes found all too often throughout Italy) and one taste will win you over.

Selfie Ice is indeed a happy place (as evident by the involuntary smile across my face) and as I stepped through the door into the shop, I felt as though I had won the golden ticket into the Wonka chocolate factory! The décor is a perfect combination of high-tech ingenuity, old world charm, and childhood fantasy. From the bright fuchsia colored walls, to the jelled floor tile that squishes underfoot, to the ceiling covered in ever-changing colored light bulbs, not to mention the sweet aroma, you know that you’re in for a treat. And speaking of treats, Selfie Ice is not restricted solely to gelato; they also take the same pride in their cioccolata calda ( a smooth and velvety rich hot chocolate drink to die for!) luxurious crepes, and now even Belgian waffles all made fresh to order, from scratch!

Selfie Ice gelato topings bar

Selfie Ice gelato topings bar

Ever-Changing Colored Lights Create a Feeling of Fantasy

Ever-Changing Colored Lights Create a Feeling of Fantasy

Gina’s husband, Romano, lead us though the Selfie Ice experience with all the charm and enthusiasm of a proud schoolboy. The concept is simple; upon entering the store, you start at your left, selecting a vessel from which to house the creamy delight; whether it be a cup, a cone, or a crispy waffle bowl, then head over to the back wall where you can choose from any number of assorted daily flavors. We chose hazelnut and even though we were “in the know” as to the freshness and quality, we were still amazed and delighted by the true fresh nutty taste. Once you’ve selected your gelato, it’s time to head over to the toppings bar, which has a huge selection of trimmings both wet and dry that is sure to satisfy any craving you may be having. I highly recommend the fragoline di bosco, made from a tiny, wild, Italian strawberry, that I’ve never seen in the States… can you say yummers?!

Gina concocting one of her ultra-smooth hot chocolate drinks!

Gina concocting one of her ultra-smooth hot chocolate drinks!

The Selfie Ice experience is indeed as sweet as the owners, Gina and Romano; so if you find yourself within driving distance (Aprilia is just outside of Rome) make sure you stop in for a gelato, a smile, and of course, make sure you take your photo with the store mascot, Selfieman!

James and Yours Truly Posing with the Ever-Popular "Selfieman!"

James and Yours Truly Posing with the Ever-Popular “Selfieman!”

Our Friends (from left to right) Ekaterina, Maurizio, and Simona, Representing for Rome.

Our Friends (from left to right) Ekaterina, Maurizio, and Simona, Representing for Rome.

https://www.facebook.com/selfieice

Until next time,

Don

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Getting to know you…

I guess anyone my age or older (even some younger) may feel that at times, the world is relying way too much upon technology and that we as a people, are losing our social skills in lieu of things like Texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, and Instagramming but I have to admit; had it not been for this very same technology, I may have forever remained a long lost relative to my biological father’s family.
After over fifty years… a HALF CENTURY, a small Facebook message has opened the door to a host of cousins, aunts, and an uncle that the years had made me almost forget about or at least, give up on the idea that we will ever know one another again.

An earlier Blog titled “Meeting Family,” https://soontobeanauthor.com/2011/09/19/meeting-family/  told the story of how I came to find my relatives and what it was like to speak to, and then meet with, my aunt and uncle for the first time. Today I would like to share the experience of literally “collecting” cousins via Facebook, learning about each other, and finding out just how much alike we are and how the common thread of family cannot be broken by either years or miles.

Last fall, through nothing less than a simple Facebook post; my cousin Michael and I realized that we both happened to be in New York City on the same day. Not only that, but we were mere blocks apart from one another! Very quickly a “post” became a “private message,” and that became a phone call and within minutes he and I finally met face-to-face in Columbus Circle.

He very much reminded me of his handsome father, who I had come to know solely through old family photos, kept in a box throughout the years, on my mother’s closet shelf. He and I shared the same big Massetti grin and a height that clearly came from outside that family tree. The Massetti’s are a beautiful people but they are also a testament to the old adage that “good things come in small packages!”

Michael and Me in Columbus Circle

Michael and Me in Columbus Circle

The same good fortune that brought me to NYC was also the same fortune that had to cut our meeting short as I was there to work and I was leaving the following morning. Still, we used our time wisely and got to know each other and rekindled a bond that will never be broken again.
I even got to meet his then charming girlfriend, who I am happy to report, is now his lovely wife Joanne!

Although I reside in Florida and he, in Washington State, we know we will see each other again and until then we keep up with posts and blurbs on Facebook, the medium that brought us together in the first place.

I have swapped recipes with my cousin Jocelyn along with countless jokes, stories and even general family info with her two sister’s Lucille (Ceil) and Diane.

Diane and I could get into trouble if we didn’t live across the country from each other as we both have a wicked sense of humor and a pretty sharp wit. She will be coming to Florida next spring and we plan to finally meet in person. The last time she saw me, I was 5 or 6 years old!

As it turns out, my cousin Rudy and his wife Donna also live in South Florida now, and he and I plan to get together in the near future. We only live 30 minutes away from each other. Who knew?

My cousin Debra is a sweetheart, daughter of my aunt Millie and Uncle Bill. I was fortunate enough to meet her and one of her handsome young sons when I went up to New York to see my Aunt for the first time.

I still have so much to learn about the Massetti family tree. So many cousins – and we are at the age now, that they not only have children, but grandchildren! I guess you can say that the family tree is really branching out.

I look forward to meeting all my family and catching up on way too much lost time.
Until next time,
Don

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Still Unforgettable…

Wow, today marks 11 years since my mom passed away! I can’t believe how quickly time fly’s by. It seems like only yesterday, with her family gathered around her bedside, she came out of a coma to open her eyes, look at all of us and softly whisper, “I love you” before gently leaving this world forever.

The fact that my mother came out of a coma to bid her family farewell may seem extraordinary to some, but for Trudy, it was par for the course. Nothing and I mean NOTHING, meant more to her than her family. She adored us all so very much (and we, her) that over a decade since her passing, we can all still feel her here with us; watching, guiding, and protecting, as only Trudy can. It is very comforting.

There are some things about her that will forever be hers and hers alone; a yellow teasing comb with a pointed handle, the smell of “Intimate” or in later years, “White Diamonds” lingering on the wardrobe that hung in her closet, lavender flavored chewing gum at the bottom of her handbag, Kent 100’s (even decades after she gave up smoking), long beads tied in a knot between her bosom, and of course; the unique ability to randomly produce a bobby pin from her head, regardless of her hair style. My sister, Maureen and I were convinced that she would “squirrel” a few of the hair-pins away while washing her hair, just in case they were needed down the line! Could it be that she was a secret agent and never knew when she would have to pick a lock?

Every day as I dust the furniture in my house, my mind’s eye conjurs up the image of mom dusting our childhood furniture while singing (just a single line) “so you ran into my former fiancé…” or “Broken hearted melody, once you were my song of love,” or best of all, any line from her signature song, “Unforgettable.”

When she was bored she would simply call out, “sing that Humperdinck song for me, Don?” I would always pretend to be “put-out” but after rolling my eyes in mock protest, I would burst into “Quando, quando, quando,”, actually quite pleased with the notion that my little serenade could make my mom so happy.

She would randomly turn on the radio and request my sisters to “dance for mommy,” and of course, they always complied. There was something so wonderful about making my mom smile that made you feel honored to have the ability.

From a foodie’s perspective, to this very day, there will never be another tomato sauce like hers or meatloaf, pot roast, or London broil for that matter.

Mom had a wonderful ability to tell a story that kept you on the edge of your seat or laughing so hard you were splitting at the seams.  She was the life of any party and to this day, I swear my friends enjoyed her company more than mine!

While eulogizing my mother at her funeral, I tried hard to sum her up by stating, “she may have changed her hair color to match her outfits but she cooked us good food, gave us a clean and pretty home, dressed us well and filled us with love. She was a woman who thought she had no accomplishments, never realizing the unparalleled legacy she will leave behind.”

For seventy-eight years, Trudy Wilson-Massetti-Abate was beautiful, funny, smart, classy, interesting, talented, kind and above all; loving. It was because of those qualities, we often forget that she was also extremely strong and brave; conquering illnesses and tragedy [that would cause most among us to simply give up] with an optimistic, tender grace, all her own. Even her flaws simply added to her charm. Like the great screen legends, TV stars and songstress’ of her day; my mother was a rare, one-of-a-kind woman. Maybe that was the way they made ‘em back then?

My Mom the way she will forever be in my mind

My Mom the way she will forever be in my mind

Although there will never be another like her, my sisters, nieces, nephews, and I, can do our best to carry out her legacy and keep her memory alive. If she was a part of your life, you remember her fondly and I promise you, you’re happy for it. If you never had the chance to get to know my mom, I must admit, it makes me feel kind of sad for you. Maybe one day soon I will have my book finished and through reading “Unforgettable” you too will know her and hopefully be touched by her inimitable spirit and like all of us, find her to be truly… unforgettable too!

Until next time,
Don

 

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What the World Needs Now is Love

A friend of mine had a slogan posted on her Facebook page the other day. It read, “Love is such a big word it really should have more letters.” It’s a cute little slogan because it’s true; love is a really big deal and we all want to be loved!

Sometimes I think we, as a people, have actually forgotten the true meaning of the word. After all, just look at the way we throw it around. Do we “really love” that Rianna song? How about that chocolate bar or that pair of shoes (with red bottoms or not!) or for that matter; the latest Mercedes-Benz S-600, or new diamond necklace? At best, these are things we should merely enjoy or even like… but love? Seriously?

I believe that we should not take the word “love” so lightly. Shouldn’t it be reserved for people and God?!! And perhaps our pets; who give it back to us so unconditionally.

Speaking of God, even he only mentions the word love once in the Ten Commandments. In the second commandment, when he speaks of having no false gods before him he states; “for I am the Lord thy God, a jealous God, recompensing the sins of the fathers upon the children, to the third and fourth generation to them that hate me, and bestowing mercy on them that love me to thousands of them, and on them that keep my commandments.” I really can’t say that I blame him. How ungrateful can we humans be to not love the very God that created us and everything we see? Clearly, even God just wants to be loved.

What makes love so very important and how do we know what to and what not to love? I look at it this way; what you LOVE is what you would risk your life to save should you fall victim to a house fire. You would beyond a doubt be willing to go down trying to save your children; again so with your spouse, or any family member for that matter! Would you however run into a burning building… to save your Louboutin’s? I don’t think so; but you probably would to save your dog, cat, or even your bird or turtle. The reason you would do this is because they are living things and as such, we do love them.

Maybe what we love is “life” and we respect the beauty of it. It’s no secret that I am a Christian; in my faith we follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, whom we believe to be the only begotten son of God. Whether you believe that or not; you do have to admit that the man truly was an exceptional example of love and kindness, who suffered horrifically at the passion and crucifixion. All this because he preached that we should not let the duties of the church and it’s traditions cloud the big picture so much that we forget to love and be kind to one another.

So maybe you agree that we don’t “really love” our “things” but we do love each other. That said, what about the old bearded man who you see every morning pushing a shopping cart full of [what you think is] junk along the side of the road? How about the small Guatemalan woman with three young children at her side, standing in the rain waiting for a bus to go to the health center? Then there is the [seemingly] crazy woman who hangs out in the park, looking up at the sky; what of these people? Do you love them too? My guess is that you do; you may fear them a bit.  After all, we’re all afraid to admit that it’s only by the grace of God that we are not in their situation and that instills fear… but I do however believe in my heart, that all of you reading my words right now, really do love those unfortunate people. Furthermore, I believe that if it were at all possible you would help to change their situation and make their life a better one. Well guess what? You can! A simple smile goes a long way and helps to make people feel that they matter. Life isn’t always pretty but we can’t turn away from it making those who are suffering feel so insignificant that they might as well be invisible.

Everyone we touch; each and every day of our life, brings a new opportunity for us to either learn a lesson or maybe even teach a lesson. The wonderful thing about it is that you never know which one it will be until it happens! Cool heh?

In a world full of turmoil, where brother is pitted against brother over silly things like religious differences, land, water, and oil (to name only a few) my prayer is that we all open our eyes and realize that we cannot “own” any part of the planet and that we are all one family under one God. Some of us may be more fortunate than others as to the geographic location we were born into but IT IS NOT OURS TO OWN. We are merely caretakers and as such, we have a responsibility to see that the plentiful resources of this majestic planet are spread to all those in need. It is our duty to see that all of our brothers and sisters, worldwide, no matter of color, race, or religion, share in the bounty. In this day and age, there is no logical reason anyone should go hungry or thirsty or be without the medical care they require. The means to get what is needed, where it is needed is at our fingertips.

Can you imagine if all of the money and time wasted on war and hate were put to use helping the needy? We would not only have a world without war; we’d have a world without children dying of hunger, thirst and after enough research, very little (if any) disease!

But getting hearts full of hate to turn into love is no easy task. Perhaps we have to change the world a tiny piece at a time, helping (or least understanding) one shopping cart man, alien mother and sky-staring lady at a time.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love… it is STILL the only thing that there’s just too little of.

Thank you all for stopping by. I bid you love.
Don

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