Living with Michael: Part 1

Michael usually wakes up an hour or two before me. He slips out of bed, tiptoes out the door and slowly pulls it closed behind him. I rarely hear him leave.

When I wake up, I text him. Seconds later he bursts through the bedroom door and jumps back into bed, smothering my neck with kisses.

Yes. Really.

Every morning.

“You know,” I said to him on one such morning,”every woman should have the chance to wake up to this.”

“They can,” he said. “If you just give me permission.”

An EU Passport? Yes, please.

When my boyfriend Michael first proposed we go live in Europe for a while, he wanted to go for a year. “But there’s one thing stopping us from doing that,” he said. “What’s that?” I asked. “You like your family too much to be away from them for that long.”

I looked at him incredulously. While this very well may be true, we were just three months into our relationship and I didn’t think he knew me well enough to draw such a conclusion. But no matter. I knew another reason we couldn’t live in Europe for a year: the Schengen Agreement.

“We can only stay for 90 days,” I said to Michael. “Then, we have to be out for three months before we can go back.” He didn’t believe me. So he went home to do his research, and found I was right. I won’t get into the details, but technically, you can’t just show up in Europe and stay for longer than three months.

For most Americans, with the oh-so-generous vacation days we get, this is never a problem. But for people like me, whose only regret is not spending a year in Europe during my college days, this is a problem.

There are ways to stay longer in Europe. I could buy a place there. But readers of this blog know home ownership is not part of this American’s dream anytime soon. I could decide to study over there, and thereby get a student visa. But I already have enough degrees, thank you very much. I could marry a European. But I kind of like the boyfriend I have.

I’ve researched those and other options and determined the best way for me to make my dream of living in Europe come true is to become an Italian citizen.

Not anyone can do this. In many European countries, you only have a right to citizenship if you were born there. Or if one of your parents was born there. But in two countries (Italy and Ireland), you can go further back. What I needed was an Italian descendent (as far back as a great-grandfather) who never renounced their rights to Italian citizenship.

All of the great-grandparents on my father’s side were born in Italy. Three of them became American citizens before my grandparents were born and, in so doing, gave up their rights to Italian citizenship. But the fourth I wasn’t sure of. Luigi Gallo, my great-grandfather, and my father’s namesake, arrived in America in 1909 with twelve dollars in his pocket (about one week’s wages at that time). This isn’t family lore. It’s documented on the passenger manifest for the SS Nord America. As is the fact that he was just 4′ 11″ and had paid for his passage himself. He was headed to the home of an uncle who lived in Poughkeepsie.

Less than ten years later, he was dead. He left behind a wife, Anna, and three sons–the eldest was just three years old and would grow up to become my Grandpa Gallo. In the space of Luigi’s ten years in America, he lived at four different addresses. All within a mile of each other. I have yet to find him on any census.

I gathered up all this information and submitted it to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, who, after five months, finally sent me a letter indicating they have no record of him becoming naturalized. Which means he never denounced his rights to Italian citizenship. Which means, according to the Italian government, I am an Italian. Now I just had to prove it.

By “prove” I mean that I have to acquire certified copies of the birth, marriage, and death records of every descendent in the direct line from my great-grandfather to me. And get them all translated to Italian. And then show up at the Italian Consulate. With 300 Euros. And hope I’m approved.

Acquiring the aforementioned documents could take a while. But that’s okay. Because, in May, 2015, once I learned I qualified, I called to make an appointment with my Consulate. The next available: February 13, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

A Surprise. “For Us.”

Michael stretched a measuring tape from one corner of the television to the other, then extended it a little further. “See, hon? This is what a fifty inch would look like.” “Mm-hmm,” I said without looking up from my crossword puzzle. “And this is how big a fifty-five inch would be.” Now I had to look up, before this got out of hand. “But I think that’s too big,” he continued. “What do you think?”

“I don’t think we need a new television,” I said.

This same conversation, with the same props, happened twice more before I left for my writing retreat.

The day before I was due to return he told me he bought something. A surprise. “Is this a surprise for me, or is it something both of us will use?” I asked.

“It’s for both of us,” he assured me. Which meant,  “I bought something I wanted that you don’t think we need.” This was how he told me about the rice cooker. And the Vitamix. And the Kitchen-Aid. Convinced that once I used them, I would wonder how we ever lived without them. This has yet to be the case.

So the night before I was due to return home, I told the women at the writing retreat, “I think I’m going home to a new television.”

When I arrived, Michael said, “Uh-oh. You didn’t get my text message.”

“Nope. What did it say?”

“I asked if you could come home 45 minutes later,” he said.

“So do you want me to turn around and leave?” I asked. “No,” he said. “You just can’t come in the bathroom.” And with that he closed the door to the master suite.

I flopped onto the couch to watch some television. Michael came out to fetch tools from the tool box. Twice. There was a lot of loud banging. I wondered why he was putting a television together in the bathroom. To keep me from seeing it? Then it occurred to me that there is nothing to put together when one purchases a television.

An hour later, he swung the door open wide. “Ready?” he said, an eager smile on his face.

“I have to come into the bathroom to see this thing?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. I walked in and he pointed to the toilet, which now sported a new toilet seat. I stood, mouth agape. “You’re kidding me,” I said.

“Do you know what it is?” he asked me. I was stunned into silence, then laughter took over.  I knew exactly what it was. I’d visited friends the previous week who had one: our toilet now doubled as a bidet. I couldn’t speak I was laughing so hard.

“So you know how it works, then?” he asked. “No, I just saw it,” I said, gasping for breath. “They don’t use it.”

“Well, it’s plugged in here,” he said, pointing to an outlet by the toilet.

“Wait–it requires a plug?”

“Yeah–the electrician just left before you got home.”

“The electrician?” I asked.

“Yeah, he had to put the outlet in.”

“Michael, we’re renting this house. And you hired an electrician. To add a new outlet. For a bidet?

“Let me show you how it works,” he said, pointing to the wall beside the toilet. “Here’s the control panel–” I doubled over laughing. “A control panel?”

IMG_4263

I could hardly focus. I put my hand on the counter to hold myself up. I heard Michael say, “massage” and “heated seat.”  I sunk to the floor, hysterical. I could hardly breathe. “Why is this so funny?” he asked.

“Because I thought we were getting a new television.”

 

Entertaining Meg

“So what are you going to do with  your sister when she comes to visit?” Michael asked me many weeks before she was due to arrive.

“Not sure,” I said.

“Well, you might want to start thinking about it. You don’t want her here with nothing to do.”

“What are you talking about? It’s Asheville. There’s plenty to do here.”

“Are you going to take her to Biltmore?” he asked.

“No, she’s already been there.”

“Then what will you do?”

“I’ll show her downtown, we’ll go people-watching at 5 Walnut . . . one day we’ll walk up to Haywood, Mom and Dad said I should take her to Sierra Nevada.”

“You can do all that in one day. What about the rest of the time?”

You could do all of that in one day. Meg and I like to stroll, look in the shops, see where the day takes us.”

“Okay. So two days,” he said. I named off a few other things, but Michael still wasn’t convinced. He told me he was talking to his best friend earlier in the day, and they were discussing the fact that most visitors to Asheville only stay for a weekend. Or maybe a long weekend. “But your sister is coming for four days. I don’t think there’s enough to do here for four days.”

“I don’t think you understand,” I said. “She’s my sister. We could camp out in the living room watching movies for four days and we’d be happy.”

“She’s not coming down here to watch movies,” he replied.

“No. She’s coming to spend time with me. It doesn’t matter what we do.”  He still didn’t get it. “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “She’ll be fine.” We had the same conversation twice more before I forbid him to ask me about it again.

A few weeks later, I picked Meg up at the airport. As we drove to the Sierra Nevada Brewery for dinner I relayed Michael’s concern–and the number of times he expressed it. “So is there something in particular you really want to do while you’re down here?” I asked.

She laughed. “Nope. I really don’t care what we do. We could just watch movies all day if you want . . .”

Meg at Sierra Nevada

Meg at Sierra Nevada

What the Psychic Said

“The first thing I’m going to talk about is your birth chart,” the woman said to me. We weren’t in the same room, nor even the same state. It was November, 2014, and my friend Lois had gifted me with an astrology reading–my first ever.  The astrologer, Sue Lovett, lives in Ohio, so she recorded her reading and sent it to me in New York, along with my “birth chart.”

IMG_4153

“Your birth chart doesn’t change,” Sue continued. I look at the piece of paper: concentric circles divided into twelve sections, some dotted with hieroglyphic-looking symbols. I felt like I’d need a PhD in ancient Egyptian history to decipher the thing. Thankfully, I had Sue. Or her voice, at least.

“You could have a reading done years from now, and would be exactly the same. Now, based on this chart, there are two things that are very significant in your life. The first is travel. I’m not sure if that’s literally or not, or what it looks like in your life. All I know is that it’s part of who you are.” Part of who I am? So THAT’S what it is! For years I thought my abundant amount of traveling was just a phase–that thing lots of people do in their twenties before settling into their “real” life. Then I kept doing it in my thirties. And now, at nearly forty, I had long since figured out that travel was part of my “real” life. But not until Sue told me her insights did I finally feel relief. I understood why: it’s simply who I am.

You can believe whatever you want about astrology. Lois and I both love hearing other people’s thoughts, ideas, and insights. We certainly don’t agree with them all, but love that we live in a country where people can speak their mind, and we can choose to believe whatever we want. So when Lois first heard about Sue, she thought she’d give it a try. At a writing retreat soon after, Lois shared her amazement at what insights this woman had for her and offered to gift each of us a reading. All we had to do was provide the date, time, and location of our birth.

Most of us know when and where we were born. But the exact time usually takes some research. Unless you’re me. On the wall in my childhood bedroom was a ceramic stork holding a baby in a blanket on which was listed all my stats–including the exact moment I came into this world, which has stuck with me ever since. I gave all the info to Lois, and a month later there I was, listening to my reading.

Sue continued. “The second thing that’s significant in your life is education. I don’t know if that means you are highly educated, or if you’re a teacher, or you like learning . . . ” Um. All of the above, I thought. At that very moment I had one Bachelor’s degree, two Master’s degrees, and was in the midst of getting certified to teach English abroad. I’d taught everything from algebra and anatomy to crochet and computer systems. And two years earlier, I spent four months in a work-exchange program taking  fifteen classes in everything from wooodcarving and blacksmithing to Scottish cooking and genealogy.

Stunned, I paused the CD. I needed to write this down. Or did I? Slowly it sunk in. No wonder I flit around the country and the world. It’s not because I haven’t found a place to settle. It’s not because I’m trying to escape something. It’s simply because it’s who I am. And that education piece? It’s one of the things I love most about travel: learning about a place, its people, and its culture.

Sure, any reader of this blog might be able to tell me the same things Sue did. But all Sue had were my stats. “You’ve always been good at saving money,” she said, “but it looks like you also spend a lot of money.” This mystified her, but made perfect sense to me. I save so I can spend. On travel. She went on to tell me what my next six months would entail, and I can now report from the other side that she was exactly right.

All of this came to mind recently when, just two days after ending a blog post talking about nesting for a bit here in Asheville, I learned that:

  • A friend was headed to Cambodia. (Angkor Wat, located in Cambodia, is on the short list of places I still want to go.)
  • My mother, whose only travel experience to third-world countries has been via a cruise ship, said in her Christmas letter that not only is she raising $250,000 to build a village in Haiti (yes, a whole village), but that she and my father intend to go to Haiti this time next year. How did I, their itinerant daughter, not know of this?

I’m not taking off anytime soon. But when the bug hit this time, I didn’t find myself pining for another trip. I’m always excited to hear about other people’s travels. And I know I’ll be traveling. For the rest of my life. After all, it’s written in the stars.

—-

P.S. For those of you who want to learn more about and/or support my mother’s work in Haiti, click here. 

 

Resolution 2016: Walk the Camino de Santiago

Nope–I’m not walking it in 2016. But I wrote an article for BustedHalo.com for those who want to:)

On the Camino between Lorca and Estella, Spain.

On the Camino between Lorca and Estella, Spain.

I first heard about the Camino de Santiago in 1999. A walk across the Spanish countryside, on a pilgrimage trail carved by millions of footsteps over the last thousand years intrigued me, but it wasn’t the right time. So I filed the idea away until 2012, when I was at a crossroads in my spiritual life. I embarked on my first camino, and have since walked it twice more. Perhaps you, too, have been dreaming of walking this ancient path. If 2016 is the year to make your dream a reality, here are a few things to solidify before booking your flight.

 

Click here to read more. 

 

Best Moments of 2015

I did this last year, and had such a good time doing it, I thought I’d do it again. So voila: the best moment of 2015 (in no particular order). With apologies for everything I forgot. It was an eventful year!

  1. The moment I booked my flight to Nicaragua. (That was a Monday. I left three days later.)
  2. The many moments I spent speaking Spanish to my masseuse/nail tech in Nicaragua–a mere two days after I started learning the language.
  3. Every moment I spent speaking Spanish in Spain–on my first Camino I promised myself the next time I walk the Camino, I’m going to know Spanish so I can talk to the locals. Mission accomplished.

    I waved, he stopped the tractor, got out, and (from what I could gather with my limited Spanish) invited me to come back later for a glass of wine. I declined.

    I waved, he stopped the tractor, got out, and (from what I could gather with my limited Spanish) invited me to come back later for a glass of wine. I declined.

  4. Every moment I conversed in French on the Camino. Especially the night I stayed in San Anton–when everyone else staying there could speak English except one man. He only spoke French. I conversed with him the whole afternoon, and translated the dinner conversation for him that night. Which brings me to:
  5. The moment someone at the dinner table in San Anton thanked me for playing translator, and asked me to, “tell him I’ve seen him many times on the Camino and am happy to finally know some things about him.”

    Thanks to my French teachers (Ms. Calenti and Mrs. Gold) I didn't just watch this guy go by. I got his story. He and his donkey (Le Roi--"The King") left their home in France on June 29. They got to Santiago and then TURNED AROUND and were headed home when Lois and I met them on Sept 6, 2015.

    Thanks to my French teachers (Ms. Calenti and Mrs. Gold) I didn’t just watch this guy go by. I got his story. He and his donkey (Le Roi–“The King”) left their home in France on June 29. They got to Santiago and then TURNED AROUND and were headed home when Lois and I met them on Sept 6, 2015.

  6. Every moment a fellow Camino pilgrim shared their story with me.
  7. The moment I saw Lois’ face when we got to Muxia–having walked over 500 miles together over the previous 47 days.

     Age: 73 Miles: 500+

    Age: 73. Miles: 500+.

  8. The moment I saw Michael again, after having been separated from him for three months (due to aforementioned Camino.)

    Together again:)

    Together again:)

  9. Every moment Lois’ daughter, other family, and friends thanked me for accompanying her on her Camino.
  10. Every moment Lois thanked me for accompanying her on the Camino. Sometimes she thanked me with words, sometimes by paying for things, sometimes simply with a smile.
  11. Every moment Lois and I strolled into a town and found our new friends Lisa and Michael seated at a table, drinks in one hand, cigarettes in the other, and big welcomes for us.

    Michael was also great at making sandwiches:)

    Michael was also great at making sandwiches:)

  12. Every moment spent on a ride in Disneyland with Michael. I can’t remember the last time I went on roller coasters. I’ll need more of that in 2016.
  13. The moment I finished the last stitch on the mermaid blankets for my nieces–three days before Christmas. I’ve never finished that early. IMG_4097
  14. The moment my nieces opened their aforementioned Christmas gifts. IMG_4096
  15. Every moment spent watching Michael play his trumpet at open mic nights at Witherbee’s in Schroon Lake.
  16. Every moment I learned one of my students did well on a test or final exam.
  17. The moments Michael spent telling me about the houses he was scoping out for us in Asheville (while I was in Spain).
  18. The moments Lois and I spent laughing over the videos Michael sent of the aforementioned places. (The places weren’t funny–but Michael’s commentary was.)
  19. Every moment I saw someone comment on a Camino picture I posted on Facebook.
  20. The moment I read Lois’ e-mail that said she was taking me up on my offer to accompany her on a Camino. And that, as a thank you, she’d gift me $1000. And not only that– that she preferred sheets and towels to sleeping bags and microtowels, so anytime we could get a private room (as opposed to a hostel), she’d pay for it.

    I rarely saw a bunk bed on this Camino--VERY different from my first, when I slept on a top bunk almost every night.

    I rarely saw a bunk bed on this Camino–VERY different from my first, when I slept on a top bunk almost every night.

  21. Every moment Lois pulled out her credit card to pay for aforementioned rooms. It was like she was saying, “Thank you,” all over again, and a great reminder to me to accept the generosity of others.
  22. Every moment Lois and I opened the door to our private room, unsure if this one would be worse or better than the last.
  23. The moments Lois and I spent laughing about our bright orange room with a double bed pushed into one side and barely enough room to walk or put our packs down. “It will make us appreciate the good rooms that much more,” said Lois. (Oh how I wish I had a picture of that room!)
  24. Every moment on the Camino when I fretted over something not going well and Lois said, “This is what makes it a good story.”
  25. Every moment I slid my tiny daypack onto my shoulders. Everyone should walk the Camino at least one day without their pack. Just for the joy.IMG_0962
  26. The moment a woman walked up to me on the Camino and said, “You’re Rebecca!” How’d she know? She read all my blogs about my first Camino, and knew I was doing it again. Why was she there? In part because of me. Apparently she e-mailed me a couple years ago and asked how to know when she’d be ready to walk the Camino. I told her to just book the darn ticket. And there she was:)

    Because who wouldn't want to walk across the Pyrenees?

    Because who wouldn’t want to walk across the Pyrenees?

  27. The moment not one, but two other women told me they’d also read my blog posts in preparation for their Camino.
  28. The moment Lois and I touched down in Ireland and said to each other, “Oh thank God! We’re back in a country where everyone speaks English!”
  29. The moment I got my first taste of real Irish butter. OMG. Butter will never be the same. I will never be the same.
  30. Every moment I bit into yet another delicious piece of Spanish bread. What I wouldn’t give for an American bakery that could produce bread like the Europeans.
  31. The moment I walked into the home Michael found for us–it was perfect. And I didn’t have to do a stitch of searching, calling, setting up appointments, or walk-throughs.
  32. The moment the neighbor girl opened her door, saw my bloodied palms, and took me in. (I had scraped the skin off both palms trying to keep Meg’s dog from chasing some wildlife. Note to self: when a dog starts running, let go of the leash.)
  33. The moment my sister Liz answered my call and said yes, she would stop what she was doing to take me to the doctor. (I couldn’t drive because of aforementioned missing skin.)

    He's cute--but strong enough to pull me over.

    He’s cute–but strong enough to pull me over.

  34. Every moment I stopped in to Mary Jane’s and saw my youngest sister Meg there–in her element: A busy but proud new business owner.
  35. Every moment spent eating the delicious veggie burgers at Mary Jane’s. (Their first ingredient is mushrooms. Need I say more?)
  36. Every moment spent making brownies for Meg’s new business.
  37. Every moment spent helping Meg move (out of her condo, temporarily into my parent’s house, then into her new home.)
  38. Every moment the former owners of Mary Jane’s  said how impressed they were with how everyone in the family showed up to help Meg. Yeah. We Gallo’s are good like that.

    These are my first cousins. And some of their kids. And some of my aunts and uncles. And my siblings and nieces. 95% of whom live within 15 miles of each other.

    These are my first cousins. And some of their kids. And some of my aunts and uncles. And my siblings and nieces. 95% of these people live within 15 miles of each other. If you’re in Dutchess County and need a Gallo, there’s probably one in shouting distance.

  39. The moment I learned I was accepted to a week-long all-expense-paid writing workshop.
  40. Every moment spent on our writing retreat in Franklin. Writing. Drinking good wine and eating good food with wonderful friends. All while being completely snowed in.
  41. The moment the guy showed up to drive me up the mountain to the writing retreat (which was preceded by moments spent crying wondering how I would climb up the snow-covered mile-long driveway with all my stuff, as it was clear my VW Bug wasn’t going to get me up there.).
  42. Every moment my parents helped to make our new house into a home. (Dear Mom and Dad: Sorry I was so stressed out and snarky during all that. Note to self: No more than two big box stores in one day. Note to self: Remember to down a glass of wine before getting in a car driven by Dad.)
  43. The look on Dad’s face the moment Michael sent him off to pick up a craigslist kitchen island saying, “Oh–the woman has a retired police dog. And he’s not friendly. So don’t get out of the car until you call her, so she can bring him in.”
  44. The moment I met two Irishmen on the road outside the ruins at San Anton. When they told me their 85-year-old father was behind them with another brother we all waited for them. When they arrived, I asked the father to stop in for a glass of water. He hesitated until I added, “with a pretty young woman.” It worked.

    This inspirational 85-year-old man walks 100 km (60 miles) on the Camino each year. Was happy he chose to spend some moments with Lois and I at San Anton.

    This inspirational 85-year-old man walks 100 km (60 miles) on the Camino each year. Was happy he chose to spend some moments with Lois and I at San Anton.

  45. Every time I booked a flight with frequent flyer miles –most of which I earned while on the ground. (My flights to Nicaragua, to my writing retreat, to California–twice, and flights for Mom, Dad, and Meg to Miami.)
  46. Every moment I told Lois something about the Camino and she said, “Now how would I know that if you weren’t here? It’s a good think you’re with me!”
  47. The moment I heard my brother and sister-in-law were headed to Paris to celebrate their first anniversary. And the moment, after booking their first AirBnB place, Jeffrey said to me, “I thought it would be a lot more expensive to spend a week in Paris.” I wanted to scream, “Duh!?! What have I been saying for years??!” but instead I said, “Yep.” And was thrilled when they said, “Maybe we should spend every anniversary in Europe.”

    Bethany and Jeff. She titled this one, "Louvre and Love." Aren't they so darn cute?

    Bethany and Jeff. She titled this one, “Louvre and Love.” Aren’t they so darn cute?

  48. Every moment Michael made me laugh.
  49. The moment my sister Jess got offered a new job. (Not that she didn’t like the old one. But change is good. I should know.)
  50. The moment I told Dad I was going to walk the Camino again, and he said, “Why?” and I didn’t take any offense. (When I said, “Lois is paying for our rooms and giving me $1000,” he was a bit more understanding.)
  51. The moment I ran the idea by Michael of me leaving him for a couple months (again) to go walk the Camino with Lois and he didn’t hesitate–told me to go for it.
  52. The moment, a few days later, when I felt bad for leaving Michael (again) and e-mailed him as much, and he wrote back, “…but this is something you want to do. I say go for it. Life is way too short. You have my blessings.”
  53. The moment Lois and I walked into Viana, Spain to find the Camino route completed closed off by fences, and the people sitting on top of those fences told us, “You’ll be able to get through in a few minutes–after the running of the bulls.” 12003239_10205262244818506_2797637238139038418_n
  54. The moment the hotel owner told us (in Spanish!) that we were the only guests that night because it was festival time, and they were too busy in the restaurant below to take any more guests. (“We are SO not in the U.S.” Lois and I said to each other.) “And the bulls run again tonight at 7,” he told us. Right past our hotel.

    This is as close as I got:)

    This is as close as I got:)

  55. Every moment I stopped to take a picture–knowing that, as far as Lois was concerned, I could take as much time as I wanted. Because a) it would give her time to catch up to me and/or b) it would give her time to take her own pictures. 11216845_10205193558501391_5678843200262570507_n
  56. Every moment I was able to secure another document I need for my Italian citizenship application.

I could go on. But it’s midnight. And I’ve been working on this post for quite a while. Special thanks to Lois Bertram, Michael Weston, and Jessica Gallo for some of these photos. And FYI: as much as I loved the traveling of 2015, I’m very much looking forward to nesting in 2016:)

And one more thing: writing this post reminds me, once again, how lucky I am to have such great friends, such a great family, such a great boyfriend, and such a great life. My only hope is that everyone else is blessed in this way in 2016.