Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Il Giorno dei Santi con papa' - All Saints' Day with my father

Today, on this first gray day of November here in Massachusetts, a beautiful photo of my father has appeared on my screen. Whether it is a miracle, as my father would probably believe, or a coincidence as others would say, this morning my dad popped out of the after-world just to remind me of our last walk together in our Alps.
On our way to our family's grave 
This photo records the last time I walked with my father on my dear Italian mountains, four years ago, on our way to our family tomb. The Giorno dei Santi (All Saints' Day) was  the most important day of the year for my father. 

In late October, our heaters would turn on suddenly after the appearance of the morning mist, together with the aroma of the roasted chestnuts, mixed with the scent of the rain and of the wet rust-colored leaves, in the shiny wet streets of Turin. I remember being seated in the back of our small red Fiat, waiting for my mother to collect the precious orange and yellow crisantemi (chrysanthemums), which in Italy are only seen in the cemeteries, for our families' graves, that she had always ordered in advance. I remember being in the car waiting, watching rain drops race on the car window. I was looking at each drop, while I was imagining they were tears, one of the tears we were supposed to spill for our loved ones. I was sad but I was trying to question the reasons for my sadness and couldn't reveal what they were. 

When All Saints Day was approaching, regardless of our illnesses, studies, or work commitments, there was no way my parents would not make the trek to put flowers on our family graves on All Saints' Day. We just simply had to go. 

Every year, the same ritual. My dad would silently drive us early in the morning to our mountains, with the intense aroma of the precious crisantemi filling our car. While my father was driving, we were either being silent or he would bring up memories of family and friends who were no longer alive. Together we shared memories of my sweet grandmother, who used to take care of me, and of other loved ones I never met. He was reminding me every year of the efforts he made to build a small mausoleum for his family with extra space for me, my future husband and children. Then at some point, while he was driving us around the switchbacks up the mountains, he would invariably ask the dreaded question: "Enrica, are you going to bring flowers to my tomb when I am dead? Promise you will." Short after that, he would say "Svegliati, siamo arrivati!" (Wake up, we are are!).

The three of us would spend a bit of time at the family tomb to get it ready for the afternoon ceremony. To most people attending this yearly tradition, it was  important to make sure that their family graves were clean and adorned with fresh flowers. To my parents this entailed a bit more. In the morning, my parents would spend time, which to me as a child always felt a lot, trimming the plants outside, cleaning up the old dry flowers and the layers of dust collected inside, removing spiders from the ceiling, and polishing the glass and brass. I often thought they felt they had to make the grave immaculate before they were entitled to place new flowers in front of our loved ones, always a couple of vases on the left hand side and another couple on the right hand side of the tomb. My father was always very keen that we would follow this rule in the positioning of the vases, in order to honor the memories of each person.

Then we would go dig out from the back of the cemetery's dark utility room a couple of watering cans to fill at the nearby well - an operation which often involved all of us. The people of the valley would gather around the well and try pulling the very stiff lever a few times until somebody would suddenly blurt with excitement "Venite, esce acqua!" (Come here, there is water coming out!). It was there, at the well in front of the cemetery, that the conversation would drift from the problem of not getting water from the well into a chat about those who were still alive and of the ones who had died - a chat which would often make us feel thankful for what we had.

After lunch and a little siesta, we were always back in front of our family tomb, waiting for the priest to turn up and start the ceremony. I would watch the cemetery filling up with more and more people. In the final five or ten minutes before the beginning of the function, I would usually only hear the steps of the newcomers approaching, the running of a couple of agitated children, or someone quietly making a comment  about one more person was no longer alive.

Then the priest would arrive, at 3:25 on the dot. After the priest's blessing of the loved ones, still positioned in front of each of our graves, we would all pray together for a few minutes. Then I would say (or think): "Done! It's over". Strange, everything was over in such a short time. The exit of the priest also meant that we were free to move, play and chat. Running around and playing with the snow collected by the graves was my favorite part as a child. Later, I became fond of going to say hello to the people we knew (or kind of knew). There are people I only ever met once a year on that occasion. If at the beginning I couldn't see a point of this ritual, I later got used to the tradition of remembering loved ones lost and of seeing people growing up, having kids, aging, with all the problems and gossip I heard them discuss, and finally dying themselves. At some point, it all started making sense in my mind. All Saints' Day was an important day for us to think, to ponder, to be thankful for what we have and, above all, to hope for better lives.

After leaving the cemetery, we would usually have a cup of tea and biscotti with close friends, perhaps as a way to cheer ourselves up. Those were often opportunities to play with other kids as a child or to join discussions about life and death when I was a little older, until life brought me outside Italy and it was no longer possible for to be there every year on November 1st. My absenses made my father very sad for years. And the dreaded question in the car changed into "who is gonna come to take care of our family tomb when your mother and I are dead?".

But today my father's photo and the photo below brought me right back into the meaning and feeling of this important tradition in my culture. My mother's smartphone allowed me to be there, looking at my family tomb, to say hello to the Priest and to a couple of people my father knew, still alive and still there on All Saints' Day, to pray for our loved ones.

My family's edicola funeraria (small mausoleum)
I am sure my father is happy that today I was spiritually there and that All Saints' Day will not be forgotten in my family.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Back to School Lunches Nightmare - L'incubo del Ritorno a Scuola dei Genitori: Il Pranzo a Scuola!

Summer is not over here but people and the newspapers (Boston Globe) are already talking about school. Parents will soon have to deal with this new reality. Whether they like it or not, it is coming. 

But why so much anxiety about school now that the rain has stopped and that summer has finally brought us some nice sunny days? The Ferragosto mid-summer harvest feast is just about to start in Italy (imagine trays filled with yummy salads, quiches, seafood, fruits, parmigiane and whatever one might fancy - wish I were in Italy now), with the children eating until dusk and later look at the sky to spot a falling star and here people are already talking, in

horror and with panic, about schoolThis is the root cause of the problem: once again, LUNCHES, SCHOOL LUNCHES, the Boston parents' nightmare.

Why packing lunches for school generates so many anxieties here? I heard moms talking about the dreaded moment of having to prepare their kids' lunchbag twice in one day. Do these parents have leftovers from the day before they can simply put in their kids' lunchboxes like I do? The answer is rarely and when they do, children don't eat them.


We all eat less when it's hot, sure. My mom used to limit our summer lunches to prosciutto, mozzarella, salads and fruits. But she always cooked dinner, especially when friends were coming over, with the view that we were all going to bed late, so there was enough time to digest the food before bedtime. Eating a home cooked meal with family and friends was always a pleasure in those summer days as a child but also a reminder that I had to eat everything, nicely sat at the table. 

Here in the US, on the contrary, most parents don't cook at all during the summer. Not that they do much more cooking during the rest of the year but in the summer, few Americans can resist the temptation of slamming a couple of frozen hot dogs on the BBQ and to reheat pizza or chinese take out bought the day before.It is easy to skip cooking in the summer but what do parents do the rest of the year? When school restarts in the fall how can they be expected to suddenly figure out lunches and dinners which can meet the needs of their growing kids with super tight schedules? It certainly becomes a tough challenge. 


In today's Boston Globe article, the parents are freaked out because their kids are super-picky eaters. The parents struggle to satisfy their little monsters and many of them still keep it in the realm of healthy or at least they believe they do. The parents created this whole mess because they never did the hard work of forcing their kids to eat a wide variety of cooked foods 20-30 times until they actually liked them. But they don't see this, they just myopically see themselves as caught in a situation beyond their control... "My little Jimmy just refuses to eat anything but yogurt with cinammon" "Mine only eats organic peanut butter of XYZ brand". Never-mind that their parents and grandparents somehow managed to grow up not living on such things.

Parents rarely cook and children don't eat. Don't you think these two things are somehow related?

The Boston Globe article talks about this food nightmare in America from different parents' perspectives and quotes me on some of the things I wrote (below), while on vacation in Maine. While I was there, not a single day I failed to pack a different salad for me and for William for our lunch. It would be hard for me not to make an effort to eat well and varied every day.


Last year, I started APS More time to Eat, a group of parents concerned about their kids' school lunch, because I kept hearing from parents every day the same two complains: (1) children don't have enough time to eat in the public schools in Arlington (2) the lunch bags are still full when they come home. Most parents were blaming both issues to the small amount of time their children have at school for eating their lunches. Others were blaming the open snack station, an area setup by some schools with the children's lunches for them to eat lunch whenever they feel hungry. 

After talking to many parents and teachers, and making my own observations, I have come to several conclusions. First, kids have to be trained to eat.  After about thirty exposures to a food, most kids will eat them without a problem. Yes, vegetables as well. Most Americans, don't get this, however, and throw up their hands after one, two or three tries, without saying "Eat, kid!" once. This leads to kids who eat very narrow diets. There are kids I know who would only eat two or three things for lunch (honey or butter on bread)! Second, schools no longer take any role in compelling kids in eating their lunch (as my husband said they did in his youth). So, the conditions are set in which most kids need to be supervised and/or cajoled into eating, but instead, they are ignored.

Without someone strictly supervising the lunch period, kids become distracted, badly behaved and only want to eat dessert. Parents then see lunches that come home uneaten and the schools become convinced that the kids have plenty of time to eat... This leads to a dysfunctional cycle. Parents start packing sugary, the least healthy things (e.g., Nutella, chips) because they fear their child not eating at all. The schools can see that the kids eat their chocolate and chips in 10 minutes and then become unruly - why not cut the lunch time even shorter so they can go play or do something else?

The truth is, eating well is a learned skill. We immigrant parents really struggle in the US schools because we put the time and effort in to teach our children, but then the schools are almost completely hands-off in the lunch room. Our kids are under peer pressure to eat the sugary, salty things that the other kids bring, and they also are under pressure to eat their more complicated (but nutritious) meals as fast as possible because the school officials want to cut lunch as short as possible. Unfortunately, this often leads to eating disorders or digestion issues (e.g. fermentation).

In Italy, where our 8 year old son attends school part-time, the teachers eat with the children and they enforce strong rules to ensure that the kids learn to eat. Additionally, they educate the children from Infancy about nutrition, for example by giving rewards to kids at the end of the year. As I understand it, in the US schools, this goes untouched until middle school.

I don't have illusions about changing America's food culture, but I think there are three changes that could make a big difference. First, give the kids more time to eat. Second, have more quality supervision of the children while eating and expect them to push the kids into eating the food they have either brought or bought. Third, start serious nutrition education from kindergarten. To the second point, if there were teachers supervising the kids, according to my son William, it wouldn't make a bit of a difference because it is likely they would act like the lunch ladies. I think he made a valid point. I know that many parents would be happy to volunteer to help supervise the kids, but they must feel empowered (and be willing) to compel the kids to eat, something I never saw in the US. 

In short, eating well at school to be able to think and learn is a life skill. Parents play a huge role, but without the active support of the schools, it all comes crashing down.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Final Goodbye to my Adored Father Dolfi - Ultimo Saluto al mio Adorato Papa' Dolfi

Sono in Paradiso! (I am in heaven!)

Torino, 9 Marzo 2017

I thought I could understand the pain people felt when they lost a dear family person; I always said that I felt close to them and that they had to find the strength and courage to forget, because life continues. But today I'm the one to lose, ... it has happened to me. I lost a dad I worshiped and who loved me, the hero who inspired the important decisions of my life, an unforgettable father. Yes, him. He's gone now. What is left and will remain of his life?

Adolfo Dente, Dolfi for his friends, devoted his whole life to me, to my mom Ada, to his work and to his hobbies: the passion for architecture, art, Egypt, mountaineering and the art of conjuring tricks or "prestidigitation", as he used to call it. But what do these art forms are to me now without my father? They are so many teachings, many wonderful memories: mountain lodges and all types of buildings designed and constructed by him, creative pop-up cards, modern sculptures, caricatures sketched on paper napkins, which many strangers have made him autograph, meetings with artists who introduced me to the world of art, entertainment and magic, fascinating explanations about the lines of composition in famous paintings, which started for me and continued for the visitors joining us. And then the conferences on Egypt, the magic shows to bring a smile on the faces of the sick and disabled people, delicate and colorful stage backgrounds hand-painted  by him, flowerbeds that used to appear out of nowhere, the hours spent with friends talking about puzzles, mathematical games and finding answers to tricky questions of physics and philosophy. These are moments I cannot live with him again. 

Behind the scenes there was always my mother Ada, who quietly helped my dad, with unconditional love, in all that he was trying to do and that has cared for him with so much affection and dedication to his last breath. To her, I say, "Thank you, mom, for having been and still to be there for us. Get inspired by him; get out of the house and let curiosity and creativity guide you as they guided dad".

Dolfi was a unique father for his creativity but also for his humanity, generosity and sensitivity - he always felt or knew whether someone or something would do me good or bad and he often said it with tears in his eyes. In almost all cases, he was right.

He was an old gentleman, of those who no longer exist today, always dressed with a dark color jacket, black beret basque, white shirt and a sleek "farfallino" (scarf) or bow tie. He had the ability to be loved by all, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, authorities and street people. His speeches ranged from Senofonte's quotations in ancient Greek with a group of intellectuals to the street talk in Piedmontese with the dude at the gas station! Even a sparrow fell in love with him and became his faithful friend; When my father returned home, the bird used to fly over his shoulder and hide himself under his scarf. Even though sometimes he was turning into fire like a match, as dear friend Don Amedeo used to say, if someone offended his values, my father was always ready to state his opinion on the matter, regardless of how uncomfortable that was. He was always ready to help and advise anyone asking for his help. He was a "mentor" for most of his friends and had many admirers among all social classes. He did not know how to lie and who loved him did not stop talking about him. My mom still receives calls from people who knew Dolfi as a young man and who still look for him, ask for his news and say they love him.

After months of illness, pain and anguish, my dad waited to extinguish, like a candle, the day of my arrival in Italy from Boston. Papa', I am glad I left Boston last November and came to Turin alone to see you. I was lucky to be able to see you, hug you, make you draw and help you smile during that difficult time of your life before Christmas. I spent two wonderful weeks with you. 

I remember my dad saying "a man without interests is like a tree without leaves". I think my dad fought until the very end of his life to keep his leaves on. He was forced to let them fall at the end of 2016 and this was very painful for all of us. 

And now I'll leave you with a few words taken from a book my father dedicated to me, on the abnormal episodes of his life:
"1945 ... The war has finally ended. After almost three years of "evacuation", of hunger, of tragedies, I go back to Turin. I see my house miraculously intact, my apartment in order, the smile on the face of my mom and dad, which I had forgotten. The streets, dark and scary, are now illuminated by day ... but I see hundreds of collapsed buildings, rubble everywhere, despair. Dad's offices are gone, all completely destroyed! ... Dad's work in the editorial field must start all over again ... A phone call from Padre Fedele - vice parish priest of "San Carlo" comes to me. He proposes to me to go to Courmayeur with him ... At dawn, bound with ropes ... we start climbing to the tip. Great day, we are ... in Heaven! "

Now I'm sure my dad has reached the goal. I'm proud and lucky to have had a father so special, ingenious and with sensitivity to the feelings of others above the norm. I still feel he is alive and I will always keep his memory in my heart.  

I would be immensely grateful if you could write your memories of my father Dolfi, if you have any, in the comments section below, just something he told you or a gesture he made which you remember. Please help me keep his memory alive. 

Thanks from the heart, Enrica


"Un uomo senza interessi e' come un albero senza foglie".

(A man without interests is like a tree without leaves)
Pensavo di capire il dolore che provava qualcuno quando aveva perso una persona cara; dicevo sempre di sentirmi vicina e che doveva trovare la forza ed il coraggio di dimenticare, perché la vita continua. Ma oggi sono io qui ad aver perso,... e’ successo a me. Ho perso un papa’ che adoravo e che mi adorava, l’eroe che ha ispirato le scelte importanti della mia vita, un papa’ indimenticabile, proprio lui. Lui ora non c’e’ piu’. Che cosa resterà di lui?

Adolfo Dente, Dolfi per gli amici, ha dedicato la sua intera vita a me, a mamma Ada, al lavoro e ai suoi hobby: la passione per l’architettura, l’arte, l’Egitto, l’alpinismo e la prestidigitazione. Ma che cosa rappresentano per me ora queste discipline senza papa’? Sono tanti insegnamenti, tanti ricordi vivissimi, meravigliosi: casette di montagna ed edifici di tutti i tipi disegnati a mano, progettati e costruiti, biglietti d’auguri creativi, sculture moderne, caricature schizzate anche su tovaglioli di carta, che molti sconosciuti gli hanno fatto autografare, incontri con artisti che mi ha fatto conoscere nel mondo dell’arte, dello spettacolo e della magia, affascinanti spiegazioni sulle linee di composizione nei quadri, che iniziavano per me e continuavano per i visitatori che si avvicinavano. E poi le conferenze sull’Egitto, gli spettacoli di magia per accendere il sorriso sul volto di malati e persone con handicap, le scenografie dipinte a mano da lui, aiuole di fiori che apparivano dal nulla, le ore trascorse con gli amici a parlare di rompicapi, giochi matematici e a rispondere a domande di fisica e di filosofia. Sono momenti che non potrò più rivivere con lui. Dietro le quinte c’era sempre mia mamma Ada, che aiutava in silenzio mio papà, con amore sconfinato, in tutto quello che cercava di fare e che lo ha accudito con tanto affetto e dedizione fino all’ultimo respiro. A lei dico: “Grazie mamma per esserci stata e per esserci ancora. Continua la tua vita facendoti ispirare da lui; esci di casa e fatti guidare dalla curiosità e dalla creatività come faceva papà”.

Era un papà unico per la sua creatività ma anche per la sua umanità, generosità e sensibilità - lui sentiva e sapeva sempre se qualcuno o qualcosa mi avrebbe fatto del bene o del male e me lo diceva commosso, spesso con le lacrime agli occhi. E in quasi tutti i casi, aveva ragione.

Era un gentiluomo all’antica, di quelli che non esistono più ai giorni nostri, sempre vestito con una giacca scura, il basco in testa,la camicia bianca ed un farfallinoAveva la capacità di farsi amare da tutti, ricchi e poveri, colti e analfabeti, autorità e persone della strada. Passava dalle citazioni di Senofonte in greco antico con un gruppo di intellettuali alle chiacchiere di strada in piemontese con il benzinaio! Persino un passerotto si innamorò di lui e diventò suo fedele amico; al suo rientro a casa volava sulla sua spalla e si nascondeva sotto la sua sciarpetta. Anche se a volte si accendeva come un fiammifero, come diceva il caro amico Don Amedeo, se qualcuno offendeva i suoi valori, mio padre diceva sempre quello che pensava, sempre pronto ad aiutare e a consigliare chiunque glielo chiedesse. Era un “mentor” (guida) per la maggior parte dei suoi amici ed aveva tanti ammiratori. Non sapeva mentire e chi lo amava non smetteva di parlare di lui.  Mamma riceve ancora telefonate di persone che papà ha conosciuto da giovane e che ancora lo cercano, chiedono sue notizie e dicono di volergli molto bene.

Dopo mesi di malattia, dolore e angoscia, Adolfo ha aspettato di spegnersi, come una candela, il giorno del mio arrivo in Italia da Boston. Papa’. sono stata fortunata di poterti ancora rivedere, riabbracciare, farti disegnare e aiutarti a sorridere a Natale. Sono state due settimane meravigliose.

Mi ricordo che mio padre diceva "un uomo senza interessi e' come un albero senza foglie". Credo che mio padre abbia combattuto fino alla fine della sua vita per tenere su le sue foglie. Fu forzato a lasciarle cadere alla fine del 2016 e questo e' stato molto doloroso per tutti noi. 

Ed ora alcune parole scritte da papa’ in un libro a me dedicato, sugli episodi anomali della sua vita.

“1945… La guerra finalmente si e’ conclusa. Dopo quasi tre anni di “sfollamento” - di fame, di tragedie, torno a Torino. Rivedo la mia casa miracolosamente intatta, il mio appartamento in ordine, il sorriso sul viso di Papà e Mamma, che avevo ormai dimenticato. Le strade, prima buie, paurose, ora sono illuminate a giorno… però centinaia di edifici crollati, macerie ovunque, disperazione. Gli uffici di Papa’ non ci sono più, tutto completamente distrutto!... Il lavoro di Papà, in campo editoriale, deve ricominciare da capo... Mi giunge poi una telefonata di Padre Fedele - vice parroco di “San Carlo” che mi propone di partire alla volta di Courmayeur con lui… All’alba, legati in cordata... iniziamo la scalata fino alla punta. Giornata stupenda, siamo… in Paradiso!”

Adesso io sono certa che papà ha raggiunto la meta. Mi sento orgogliosa e fortunata di avere avuto un papa’ così speciale, ingegnoso e super-sensibile. Lo sento ancora vivo e sempre resterà nel mio cuore.  Ma adesso che non c'è più, non rimangono che ricordi, i nostri ed i vostri. 

Vi sarei immensamente grata se mi poteste inviare i vostri ricordi di Dolfy, qualcosa che vi ha detto o un gesto che ha fatto che vi è rimasto impresso nella mente, qualsiasi ricordo. In questo modo, mi aiuterete a scrivere altre pagine sulla sua unicità e a tenere vivo il suo ricordo.

Grazie di cuore, Enrica

Monday, June 19, 2017

My Father's Last Story - L'ultimo Racconto di mio Papa'

Purtroppo abbiamo dovuto smettere di sperare che tu guarissi papa' e oggi non posso piu' dirti Buona Festa del Papa'. Posso solo continuare a sperare che tu sia felice in cielo, anche senza i tuoi libri, senza il tuo vecchio tecnigrafo e senza il tavolo apparecchiato con i cibi che piacevano a te.


Unfortunately, we had to stop hoping that you would heal, dad, and today I cannot say "Happy Father's Day" anymore. I can only continue to hope that you are happy in the sky, even without your books, without your old architect table and without the kitchen table set with the foods you used to like.