Fair warning: I swear in the text below. (Photo by Lucas Metz)
My phone has been blowing up for 24 hours. Everyone asking the same thing: Are you okay?
No, I am not okay.
I am not okay with people shot in hospitals.
I am not okay with children shot in schools.
I am not okay with people shot in grocery stores.
I am not okay with people shot in places of worship. Or with people shot in clubs or people shot in movie theatres. I am not okay with people shot in their cars, in their homes, or on the street.
This is not a Dr. Seuss book. This is life and death.
I am not okay with guns. Period. There, I said it.
In Idaho, I know folks who hunt elk and deer with bows. I’m okay with bows. Those things take a lot of practice and strength. Hunting with a bow is hard work. And it’s honorable. Anyone who hunts with a bow is definitely using that meat to eat. If you want to hunt, use a bow.
I am not okay with open carry laws. I am not okay with politicians paid off by the NRA. I am not okay with a handful of citizens declaring the right to defend themselves with firearms and using the 2nd Amendment as justification for this. I am not okay with men – primarily men and particularly white men – brandishing guns because they feel threatened. I am not okay with Kyle Rittenhouse being acquitted.
I am not okay with things as they are. I am not okay with politically expedient thoughts and prayers and no policy changes.
I am not okay with arming teachers or with children, as young as three years old, having to endure active shooter drills. I am not okay with assault rifles and certainly not okay with assault rifles being sold basically anywhere and to anyone age eighteen or older.
I am not okay with guns being the number one cause of death for children in the United States. This is not okay. THIS IS NOT OKAY.
Today all of this is the cause of my anguish, heaped onto so much more.
I am not okay with elected representatives continuing to spread lies of election fraud. Or with a stalemate Senate.
I am not okay with child marriage, still legal in 44 states. Or with male Christian leaders sexually abusing women and children or with religious governing bodies covering up the abuse.
I am not okay with childcare not being valued.
I’m not okay with a failed medical system that is owned by corporations. Or with health insurance not including dental.
I am not okay with public schools that lack funding and teachers who have to pay for their own classroom supplies.
I am not okay with for-profit prisons.
I am not okay with unprecedented heat, fires, and natural disasters, all placed under the sterilized label of climate change. I am not okay with corporate greed.
I am not okay with Putin’s war on Ukraine.
Sweet Jesus, Gracious Goddess, Heavenly Father and Mother Mary, I am not okay with any of this and there’s so much more that I’m too exhausted to list.
I am one word, one image, even one breath away from tears. I blink and they come. I blink again to try and hold them back.
I am miraculously dressed and fed. And I am one step away from peeling off these clothes and going back to bed.
The weirdest, most surreal, and infinitely frustrating thing is how the world carries on. We have all agreed (passively and yet agreed nonetheless) to a cultural dictate to act like we’re okay, that everything is okay, that things are normal. We are frogs in a pot of boiling water adjusting to the heat.
But the truth is we are fried. We are boiled. We are burnt. We are over-dosed.
We are not okay.
We talk about the rise of mental illness. We blame mass shootings on mental illness. We blame crime on mental illness. I call bullshit.
We are not mentally ill. We are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually spent. We are hurting. The illness is in our society, not in our minds. You have to be mentally ill to not care. It’s our caring that hurts and our hurts not being heard that takes us over the edge. Anyone who picks up a gun and kills someone doesn’t do it out of indifference. Killing comes from emotion and our emotions are haywire because we are constantly told everything is okay when clearly it is not. Or we’re told things can’t change when they certainly can.
We are not okay.
I disavow the expectation to be okay. I will function, I will go through the motions, but I am not okay. I will force myself to publish this. I will go to work today and interact with people like a sane person. I will respond to your texts, your calls, your emails as best as I can.
But be very clear: I am not okay. I do not accept this normal. I will cry, I will swear, I will raise my voice, and I will go down fighting. Despair may have me in a headlock, my skin bruised, and my heart hacked but I will undoubtedly be back on my feet again doing whatever I can to make this world a better place. In time.
First, I need a moment to mourn. To nurse the pain, to bandage the wounds. To catch my breath.
None of this is okay, my friends. Can we please stop acting like it is?
In my last post about 1-euro homes, I mentioned how Lorraine Bracco purchased a home for 1-euro and, after starting with a renovation budget of $145,000, the project ended up costing her more like $250,000. That’s a huge difference from budget to reality. Even if I had the money, I wouldn’t want to risk that kind of increase in expense. And, let’s face it, I don’t have that money.
But, in Bracco’s three-part series, My Big Italian Adventure, she casually mentions (almost in passing) that she wanted more space than the 1-euro home and was able to purchase the home next door for only 40,000 euros. Homes in Italy are built with adjoining walls, so this allowed her to expand quite easily by simply knocking through the wall. What intrigued me most about this, however, is that you can (theoretically) buy a habitable home at a very affordable price and update it while you live there. Now that is more in line with my budget and stamina!
THIS was an idea I could work with! One of the problems with 1-euro homes is that they are completely uninhabitable. This means you have to find another lodging – and pay for that other lodging – while you are renovating. That’s an additional cost that you need to factor into your budget. It also means that all the renovation basically needs to be done at the same time.
Whereas, if you purchase a home that is habitable, you can do renovations bit by bit. Maybe even do some of the work yourself. At least the house is already connected to city services (plumbing, sewer, electricity) and there is a working kitchen and a full bathroom.
With this idea lodged in my brain, I abandoned the dream of a 1-euro home and began searching for habitable Sicilian houses on the market for 20,000 to 50,000. Obviously, the cheaper the property, the more work that needs to be done. Meanwhile, I reached out to a dear friend and asked if he might be interested in investing in a property with me.
A year later, when he agreed to visit Italy with me, one goal of the trip was to see some potential properties for purchase. Because I had already visited Sambuca di Sicilia a few times in 2020, made some friends, and connected with the deputy mayor who started the 1-euro auction in that town, it was a given that Sambuca would be the first place to look.
The town of Sambuca di Sicilia wasn’t familiar to me in 2020. I hadn’t paid any attention to any of the 1-euro towns in Sicily. I was only looking at 1-euro homes on the mainland. Sicily was so remote, so far away. I wanted to visit, I wanted to spend time there, but I had no intention would live there. But that was before I spent three months in Sicily! Now things have changed. Sicily is where I want to live.
So, on February 19, 2022, we arrived in Sambuca and immediately stopped to visit with some friends, the owners of Bar Caruso.
After a round of pastries and coffee, we went for a walk. It was interesting to see how much had changed since 2020, how many buildings had been rehabbed., including the 1-euro home next to the belvedere steps which was purchased and renovated by Airbnb.
We stopped by my favorite home in Sambuca, owned by Giuseppe. The inside still needs to be renovated but I love the outside just as it is!
Another stop was at the home where I stayed for six nights in 2020. While admiring it from the outside, we noticed that the property next door had a “For Sale” sign.
Two men standing outside asked if we wanted to see it. Sure enough, they had the keys and we readily agreed! The immediate appeal, before even stepping inside, is that I know the neighbor to the left because I had stayed in her home in 2020. As I’ve mentioned before, houses in Italy typically share one or two walls with other homes. So it helps to know who your neighbors are. Especially if, like me, you have an aversion to noise! The other bonus is the location in town – just off upper main street, close to the belvedere and downtown, in the old Arab Quarter.
The house has only four rooms, two on the ground floor and two on the first floor. Historically, the kitchen is always on the ground floor, along with a sleeping area for Nonna (grandmother), who rules the kitchen.
So here’s what we saw when we entered: you walk down a few steps and this is the ground floor consisting of two rooms and a bathroom. Honestly, I didn’t even look in the bathroom – not sure why. The first room is what I would make into a living room.
The second room is the kitchen. Or, what would be the kitchen, once you installed it.
Looks great, right? It looks like mostly only cosmetic changes would need to be made. Like painting and removing the tile from the kitchen walls. I’m also not a fan of the floor tile but I’m told it is historical, though maybe dating back only sixty to seventy years.
Then you climb back up those few stairs, turn the corner and climb to the 1st floor.
This is where I was gobsmacked. Upstairs stole my heart! Look at the gorgeous historical tile in each room! Look at the pocket envelope ceilings!
There is a sweet door between the two rooms. Obviously, the second room would be a bedroom. The first room perhaps my study / library / writing room. Did I mention how much I love the ceilings? You can’t really see them in these photos but they’re lovely. Okay, the lights would have to go, but that’s not a big deal.
Our guides were a realtor and an architect from Palermo. Neither spoke any English so we communicated through Google translate. The realtor emphasized that while the house was small, we could put a terrace on the roof. This is always a wonderful feature of Italian homes. Except when we opened the door to the stairway, there was the toilet and a small sink! Very funny! After the realtor saw that, he didn’t take us up.
Obviously, the toilet and sink would have to be moved. Not a problem. It would be easy to install a bathroom in the bedroom, just above the kitchen.
I love this little house! It’s a perfect size for just me. Of course, this means I would have to give up my dream of living with others, at least temporarily. With a place this adorable, I could get myself to Sicily first and then figure out how to get friends to move there as well.
Did I mention how much I loved the ceilings and the floor tiles? And the asking price? 30,000 euros. I couldn’t believe it! Fantastic! We had found my home!
But there was a catch.
Moisture. The most fantastic display of moss on the walls. Artistically, I admired them. Yet admittedly, they also freaked me out. I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of them straight on – but you can see some of it in the photos I did take.
The realtor said, yes, the moisture was coming from the abandoned house on the other side. Yes, it could be fixed but it would have to be fixed from the other side. Okay. I mean, for 30,000 euros there was bound to be a problem, right?
Except that the mold problem is worse than the realtor admitted. When I mentioned the home to Giuseppe, he shook his head. “Stay away from that house,” he said. Why? “The moisture. Too much moisture.” But surely it can be fixed, yes? He shook his head.
The abandoned house, which the realtor claimed was the source of the moisture problem, is owned by eight people. Inheritance laws in Italy are partially to blame for the inventory of abandoned homes. Family automatically inherits property when the owner dies. Which can mean a home that hasn’t been occupied in fifty or more years can be owned by siblings and cousins of the second and third generation, with possibly none of them living in the area or even in Sicily.
On top of that, Giuseppe said 30,000 euros was too much. That home should sell for maybe 15,000. Even better! (I thought.) No, he said. “You do not want that house.”
Except that I do. I don’t want the mold but I do love this house. I can’t get it out of my mind.
We looked at two other homes in Sambuca after this one, both much larger, one for the same price and one for quite a bit more. I’ll show you those in my next installment of 1-Euro Homes or (probably better named) Purchasing Property in Italy.
What do you think? Would you accept the wisdom and advice of Giuseppe who is an architect and the founder of the 1-Euro home auction in Sambuca or would you forge ahead and buy it anyway?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment below!
My backyard has one large tree in the center of it. I look at it every day, first from my bedroom windows and then when I let Mazie out in the yard. Every day I sit in a chair while she romps on the grass and I stare with admiration and gratefulness at this big beautiful tree.
She is regal and strong. In all the years that I’ve been lucky enough to share space with her, she has repeatedly tried to shed what she doesn’t need. She routinely solicits the wind in this effort and when the wind obliges, weak and dead limbs fall to the ground and clutter the grass. Only last fall did my landlord finally have her pruned. The tree is grateful. She stands taller now, her healthy limbs reaching for the sky. And her leaves seem a brighter shade of green.
Am I anthropomorphizing this tree? Of course.
Trees have much to teach us.
When I think of the wisdom of trees, I think of the Bodhi tree under which Siddhartha Gautama sat and achieve enlightenment, becoming Buddha.
I think of Treebeard, from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the leader of the ancient guardians of the forest, shepherds of trees. He and his kind are tree-like beings with conscious thought. They are Ents and keep to themselves. Treebeard says,
I do not like worrying about the future. I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me: nobody cares for the woods as I care for them, not even Elves nowadays.
And so he and the other Ents stay out of the battle for Middle Earth, until he learns that the wizard Saruman is decimating the forest to support his domination. Then he calls together all the other Ents and they march on Saruman’s land, providing the crucial help needed to defeat this evil foe.
When I think of the nature of trees, I think of the great Buddhist monk, teacher, and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh who wrote:
I know that in our previous life we were trees, and even in this life we continue to be trees. Without trees, we cannot have people, therefore trees and people inter-are. We are trees, and air, bushes and clouds. If trees cannot survive, humankind is not going to survive either. We get sick because we have damaged our own environment, and we are in mental anguish because we are so far away from our true mother, Mother Nature.“The Last Tree,” Dharma Gaia, p 218, 1990
When I think of the love of trees, I think of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. This tree loves a little boy so much that she gives him everything she has: apples, play, and shade. Eventually, she gives her branches and even her trunk, until she is nothing but a stump. Even then, she continues to serve. This story makes me sad. The boy is all of us: a culture consumed with taking, cutting, using. Perhaps only considering the effect of our actions until it is too late, until there is nothing more the tree can give or no more trees to give.
When I think of the holiness of trees, I think of Black Elk from the Oglala Sioux and his sacred vision as a child of nine:
Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there, I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.Black Elk Speaks, p 33, 2008
When I think of the life of trees, I remember how the Amazon breathes. Backpacking in Venezuela, looking out over the Brazilian forest, the wind coming from behind me as the earth inhaled and macaws flew overhead beneath a full moon on Beltane. And in the morning, looking down on her again, the trees exhaled and their breath blew up into my face.
At my home in Idaho, I planted every tree in my backyard, creating a garden where there had only been dirt and weeds. First in the ground were Aspens, meant to be a wind block. I didn’t even think of naming them. They stood there, always present and in the background, much like the chorus in a Greek play.
Then came Scarlet, the first to be named, just a tiny bareroot sapling. We nearly lost her that first winter to the cold, poor thing. In subsequent years, I would encircle her with chicken wire stuffed with fallen Aspen leaves to protect her. Nine summers later, she had grown into a beautiful Scarlet Red Maple bound to outlast the Aspens behind her.
Then came Lucious Lucy and Summercrisp Sam. Purchased as a pair of pears to pollinate, Lucy grew wide and Sam grew tall. When only Lucy bore fruit, you had to admit they lived up to their gendered names.
Next was Royal, the miniature plum tree who provided a tiny bit of shade and lots of small oval dark purple plums, depending on the year. Rachel and Rebecca were pink-flowering non-fruit-bearing crab apple trees. Like paternal twins, I had a hard time telling them apart and was never sure which was named Rachel and which was Rebecca.
A Cherry tree, appropriately named Cherry, and a Hawthorne named Nathanial didn’t make it. Did I plant them incorrectly or were they too fragile for the zone? I never did know.
But the crowning joy of the yard was Grama. Set in the center, she was the matriarch around which all activities happened. She was the guardian. She was inspiration and comfort. I loved her best of all.
When she got sick, I nursed her vigilantly for two years. Antibiotic shots, vitamin drinks, and deep pruning. When the tree doctor diagnosed that nothing more could be done, I knew it was time to leave. This was one death I couldn’t bear to watch.
It’s appropriate that Arbor Day is celebrated so close to May Day. May Day is often marked with gifts of flowers and a maypole. The maypole is a symbol of fertility, with ribbons braided in a dance around a vertical wooden pole.
Behind this activity, however, is the ancient understanding that every tree is an axis mundi: the place where heaven and earth meet. Trees are a ladder by which we ascend from one realm into another.
The origins of May Day go back to Beltane, the first of only two festivals celebrated by the Celtic Druids. Beltane is a fire festival, honoring the return of the sun after a long and gloomy winter. Beltane is also a fertility festival, where, in ancient times, the people jumped over a bonfire, then coupled in the forest. This spreading of seed was meant to reach the earth and the fruits of the ritual would be harvested in August.
The Wanika of Eastern Africa, who believe that every tree has a spirit, say that to destroy a coconut tree is the equivalent of matricide, because the coconut tree gives life and nourishment, just as a mother does for her child.
Legends say the Banyan tree has roots that never stop growing, reaching all the way down to the center of the earth. If the tree is harmed or cut, it will always heal and grow again, like a phoenix. The Banyan, it is said, is an eternal tree that cannot die.
Since the beginning of time, people have revered and worshipped trees. Every culture and every faith has its own mythology around these sacred sentient beings. Until perhaps today. Today we are destroying trees at an alarmingly rapid pace. Is it too late?
Trees by Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
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If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I often comment on how Mom is our first home. We are created inside our mothers and she houses us for many months while we grow.
I don’t want to be cliché today. You’re going to see a LOT of stuff, I’m sure, about today in the news. But since my topic is home, I need to at least say something in honor of Earth Day.
Many religions believe humans were formed from the earth. We are born of the earth. Earth is our first Mother.
Like a good Mother, she nourishes us, soothes us, and protects us. From Her, we are fed. In Her fields and waters, trees and forests, mountains and sands, we are comforted, we find peace. In those same places, we can be protected from harm—if we access them wisely. She gives us herbs and medicine to heal ourselves. She provides materials to build shelter. Without Earth, we have no home.
And, like children everywhere, we are rebellious. We think we know better than She does. We try to manipulate Her according to our whims and desires. Sometimes, She allows us to get away with it. Other times, Her reaction is swift.
Today, I hope you will do what She wants more than anything: pay attention to Her. Spend the day with Her, if you can. And if you can’t, at least give Her a gift. Donate to an organization that is dedicated to protecting Her. Plant some flowers, plant a tree, start a compost pile. Walk instead of drive. Consider today a holy day.
I’m sure you know the ubiquitous Reduce*Reuse*Recycle directive. And hopefully, you are already doing this.
Turns out, however, that recycling is in jeopardy. For decades, we were shipping our recyclables to China and India. (That alone seems ridiculous, don’t you think? We really haven’t figured out the technology to turn old plastic into something new here in the good old U.S.A.??)
Well, China and India won’t take our plastics anymore. And U.S. recycling plants are closing due to minimal profits and huge hassles. Meanwhile, landfills are raking in the money. In America, sadly, money always wins. Learn more here: the recycling crisis
Recycle Across America is a nonprofit committed to solving this crisis and you can help. Their website has LOTS of great information. I’ve been recycling since the late 1980s and it turns out there are still some things I’ve been doing wrong. Here are two things I learned from Recycle Across America:
Yes, I realize that I can be annoying. I move plastic out of public trash and into recycle bins, like in the airport or at festivals or even people’s homes. At restaurants, I always ask what their containers for leftovers are made of. If it’s styrofoam or plastic, forget it. I won’t take home the rest of my meal. And this is a sacrifice my friends because I’m frugal as heck and I always love leftovers.
Do my actions help? I want to believe they do. If we all do something, that’s a whole lot better than nothing.
This year and moving forward, what are you doing to show your Mother that you love her?
By the way, if you love trees or are even nominally interested in trees and the old-growth crisis here in the U.S., read The Overstory by Richard Powers. I found the interlocking stories haunting and the depth of tree information as thick as humus in the forest and dizzyingly fascinating. The story is rich, timely, achingly painful, and glorious.
Thank you for reading. And thank you for all that you do to help our shared home. Leave a comment and share what inspires you to do whatever it is you do to protect and conserve our precious natural resources.
Two years ago, I celebrated Easter in Sicily, in a country-wide Covid lockdown in an apartment looking out at the Tyrrhenian Sea, listening to Handel’s Messiah and hearing it differently than I had in all my years.
The trumpet shall sound… and we shall be changed.
Over and over again during those first months of the pandemic, it was said that things will never be the same. In every article and every posting was a claim of a new normal – a release from the insanity of over-working capitalism and the destruction of our Earth. In this imposed period of rest, it was said, we were being renewed and the earth was too. Wisdom would prevail. We would return to what was truly important: family, community, nature, peace. The fundamental necessities.
Two years later and mass genocide is happening live on TV. War is raining down destroying cities. The rich have gotten richer and corporations—those for-profit machines with more rights than people—are hijacking our economy.
Have we learned anything? Has anything truly changed?
Except that maybe perhaps we are hurting in new ways. More insidious is the ache, the numbing pain, the precipice of despair.
In all this, I offer you the wisdom of Wendell Berry. Mr. Berry is a literary savant. More than that, he would tell you, he is a farmer, having farmed his entire life in Port Royal, Kentucky. His connection to the land informs everything: his faith, his relationships, his activism, and his writing.
The following poem was first published in the 1970s and I only discovered it around 2006. Since then, it has been my annual Easter poem, to be read at every Easter gathering I have hosted and attended. The message is more salient now than ever.
Be joyful even though you have considered the facts.
I was going to wait until Sunday morning to publish this post, but I can’t shake the feeling that now, in these last days of Holy Week, is when we need this reminder. Not to be glossed over in the joy of Easter but instead pondered in the weight of death – to foster the understanding of our interconnectedness. Spring is all the more sweet because we have endured Winter. And sweeter still when we participate in it and not simply observe it.
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Buona Pasqua. A blessed and contemplative Easter, dear friends.
And two more by Mr. Berry, because I love the symbolism of three:
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I met someone the other day who owns farmland in Northern California. About 80 acres with a small home, guest house, and room to build other compact dwellings. He told me it was remote, down a long quiet road, an hour from the nearest gas station.
I always get excited when I hear this kind of thing. I’ve dreamed of living on land in community with friends for a very long time. In the 1980s, I imagined owning a bed and breakfast – a real bed and breakfast back when that was still a thing. By the early 1990s, the vision was bigger: at least 75 acres where we could build small cabins or tiny strawbale homes and a larger creative space that we would share for music, massage, dance, and more. In the middle of the property would be a huge garden where we would grow our own food.
This guy nodded his head and said, “Yup, my place has plenty of room for all of that.”
Of course, now I dream of such a community in Italy. But Northern California is beautiful. I’m open to all possibilities.
Then he told me that while his property was an hour to the nearest gas station, it was actually about two and a half hours to the nearest town. Oh. Full stop. Even for me, that’s too remote.
Italian towns first started advertising 1-euro houses for sale in early 2019. Sambuca di Sicilia was one of the first and others quickly followed. The only catch was that a minimum of 17,000 euros needed to be spent in renovations and the renovations needed to be completed in three years.
Then, the region of Molise (southeast of Rome) announced it would pay $27,000 to relocate to one of its villages. There were, however, a few caveats:
I have a friend who’s been an ex-pat for 22 years. We met in San Francisco in 1989 when I was living in a community house in Haight Ashbury, (which is a whole other story). Anyway, she and I got excited about these possibilities. Really excited. We did our research and brainstormed about how we would renovate and what we could create that would bring a steady stream of visitors.
The most obvious idea is a retreat space. Individual rooms with a shared common space and an outdoor setting. Perhaps writers retreats or yoga retreats or artists in residence. I could even fall back on my 20+ years as a massage therapist and offer massage.
One week of my planned trip to Italy in 2020 was dedicated to us driving around and visiting villages where we might make this dream come true.
Then the pandemic happened. All plans came to a halt as the world stood still. I’m not sure if the Molise offer still exists. But the number of Italian towns offering 1-euro homes has grown to twenty-six. If that seems like a lot, remember that Italy is primarily a country of small towns and villages. Around 5,800 of them have less than 5,000 residents and half of those have been partially or completely abandoned.
There are several reasons for this. Earthquakes and other natural disasters severely damaged many towns. Residents who didn’t have the funds for repairs simply left. And of course, the 20th Century brought more opportunities in cities like Rome and Milan. But the first major exodus happened shortly after the unification of the country in 1861. By WWI (1914), sixteen million Italians emigrated, with most landing in North and South America. Low-income laborers accounted for at least half of these numbers. Which is to say, the homes they left were nothing great to start with.
1-euro homes are basically shells. Empty for decades and some even for over a century, these are not simple fixer-uppers. Everything needs to be done in these places: roofs and walls, plumbing, electricity… bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms all need to be built from scratch.
There are a lot of YouTube videos featuring the purchase of 1-euro homes. Enough to make me reconsider. The amount of work that needs to be done seems staggering, particularly for someone with extremely limited funds.
Lorraine Bracco’s My Big Italian Adventure is worth watching. In just a few months, shown over three episodes, her 1-euro home in Sambuca di Sicilia is completely transformed. She’s an actress and it’s a TV show, so it’s filled with drama, but it’s also pretty honest. She started with a $145,000 budget. After it was all said and done, she admits the project cost more like $250,000.
That’s money I don’t have. But… she did something that gave me an idea. Something that seems more reasonable and even practical. Something that maybe I could do. Something I explored during my visit in February.
Check out this video that features 1-euro homes in Sicily:
In it, you’ll meet Giuseppe Cacioppo, deputy mayor of Sambuca di Sicilia, whom I met in 2020. Giuseppe has become a friend and was a guest at the dinner I detailed in my post, “Food, Family, Friends.”
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Naples is the last place I would expect to see something related to the struggle for Civil Rights in America. But there I was in the San Ferdinando district, admiring The Royal Palace from the 17th Century when inside the Courtyard of Honour was this:
The home of Rosa Parks. The home in which she lived after she fled death threats following her dramatic refusal to give up her seat on a bus. The Detroit, Michigan home where she lived with her brother and sister-in-law and their thirteen children after she left Montgomery, Alabama. The home where she hoped to find a better life than in the South. Instead, while riding the bus was no problem, she found housing segregation to be just as bad in Detroit as it was in Alabama and, as she said, more obvious.
She was with family which meant she was certainly home, yet she still found herself on the outskirts of home with her country.
It was in this house, in the Virginia Park neighborhood of Detroit, that she focused most of her activism on housing issues. By 1962, urban renewal policies had destroyed 10,000 structures in Detroit, displacing over 30,000 African-Americans (70% of all those who were affected).
As Ms. Park’s health began to decline, she moved from this house to several senior housing facilities, first to care for her ailing mother and then by herself. The rest of her family left this house in 1982 and the home stood empty for decades. Her niece, Rhea McCauley purchased the home but lacked the finances needed to restore it and could not secure funding for that purpose. Consequently, in 2016, the house was scheduled to be demolished.
And that’s when American artist Ryan Mendoza decided to save it. He took it to his home in Berlin and had it reassembled in his garden. And now, as he lives in Naples, Italy, he has brought the Rosa Parks home to Naples.
Each time the home is taken apart, moved, and rebuilt, or re-membered, Mendoza says we are given the opportunity to re-member how we think about American history.
Rosa Parks was not a meek and tired woman who participated in activism for just one day in 1955. Instead, she was a life-long activist for equal rights, civil rights, human rights.
As the United States continues to grapple with who is remembered as a hero and what memorials we will keep and those we will take down, it behooves us to consider the Rosa Park home as a place worth conserving.
This is not the grand home of a general, a president, or a philanthropist. This is not a large home. It is small and decaying. And yet, this home speaks volumes. This home has stories. This is the home of a woman and her family who lived their lives trying to keep their home and trying to make their home country a better place for all.
Almost Home. To be home but not quite fully at home. To be free but not completely free. To be a home not in the home of its origin.
Maybe one day.
What do you think? Can you imagine living in this tiny home with fifteen other people? Do you think this home is worth saving? What do you think of the juxtaposition of this small humble home in the courtyard of the Royal Palace in Naples?
Almost 3.5 MILLION refugees have fled Ukraine since Putin began his war on this sovereign country three and a half weeks ago. The vast majority have entered Poland and the rest have sought shelter in Romania and neighboring countries.
Many Americans want to help. Kudos to Avi Schiffmann and Marco Burstein for creating Ukraine Take Shelter, an online platform that connects Ukrainian refugees with potential hosts and housing. It’s heartening to see so many folks across the United States, even here in Tulsa, who wish to welcome Ukrainians and are posting lodging on this site. Hopefully, these people will help persuade our elected officials and other Americans to reconsider our policies on migrants entering the United States.
The reality is that very few Ukrainian refugees will come to the States. Our government is working on fast-tracking Ukrainians who already have family here, but that’s it. An operation to transport refugees to the States is not likely to happen. Even those with family in the States don’t necessarily have the resources to travel.
Those that make it to the U.S./Mexico border have encountered strict policies under Title 42 (enacted during the last administration) that make crossing extraordinarily difficult. The story of a Ukrainian family (a mother with her three children) seeking asylum is frustrating. But then, the plight of asylum seekers in the U.S. has been heartbreaking for years now. Restrictions were loosened last week for Ukrainians but still remain in place for all others coming from Central America, Haiti, Brazil, and Mexico.
People don’t want to leave their homes. Our human nature is to stay put. We leave only when we feel there is no other choice. Migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers all come to America when they fear for their lives, when they believe life in their home place is unbearable or impossible. Sure, some still come for better jobs, like those who work in the tech industry or those with significant wealth who want to enjoy the American lifestyle. But they are the minority. The endless opportunities of a new world-better life dream which built our country with immigrants from Europe are now merely a hope for children of immigrants, while the immigrants themselves face discrimination and are forced into minimum wage jobs that Americans don’t want.
I met an Armenian man last week who is a medical doctor in his home country. Here, in the States, he is an Uber driver. I didn’t ask why he chose to come to the U.S. in 2015, especially when his medical license would not be recognized, but I can imagine that the genocide which happened in Armenia in 1915 may have something to do with it. Epigenetics now shows that trauma is transmitted across generations, inherited by children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. And the effects of this inter-generational trauma can be devastating.
Leaving one’s home of origin can feel like a plant ripped from the ground without its roots. On top of the discrimination that refugees face in the U.S., those who leave their home countries must also wrestle with the pain and heart-sickness of being separated from their loved ones. Sadness, fear, and doubts plague those who have left family behind. Sofia Sukach, in her recently published essay, says, “I felt ashamed to run away” while her home in Kyiv is being bombed, even when that meant joining her parents in Warsaw. She continues:
If you want to do more to support the people of Ukraine, consider these 28 Meaningful Ways You Can Help Ukraine, published by Global Citizen.
May we—individually and as a country—reconsider our prejudices and policies regarding refugees and asylum-seekers seeking shelter in the U.S.A. We are fortunate to call this land our home, a country built on diversity and immigrants. May we find room in our hearts to welcome others to our hearth and table, regardless of their skin color or faith.
The National Flag of Ukraine is so simple and yet infinitely beautiful and symbolic. The blue color of the flag represents the sky, streams, and mountains of Ukraine. The yellow color symbolizes Ukraine’s golden wheat fields and the richness of the earth. I can’t help thinking of the lyrics to America the Beautiful. We are all patriots of our countries, rejoicing in the beauty and bounty of our lands.
On top of the flag is the trident from the Ukrainian coat of arms. There are many theories on the symbolism of this trident but all agree it was adopted to emphasize the antiquity of the country.
Some say that this image is not a Falcon flying down, but a swan that flies up. In Ukrainian, the Swan is a symbol of regeneration, purity, chastity, proud loneliness, nobility, wisdom, and courage. Another thing that Americans relate to.
I miss my mom. Today she would be 88 years old. Honestly, I’ve missed her for eleven and a half years – more than I ever would have thought was possible.
I didn’t appreciate my mother in life as much as I have since she died. That’s a harsh thing to admit. I loved her, absolutely, I loved her. And I admired her too. Yet, I struggled with her. I struggled with what I perceived were her weaknesses and her needs for attention, and I struggled with what I now understand are reflections of my own self.
My mom was a Pisces, just like me. While I don’t subscribe to astrology as the sole determinate of human behavior, I do believe there are certain characteristics that we share according to the zodiac.
My mother and I both feel things deeply. Emotional, you might say, but I don’t like that term, and neither would she. In our culture, emotion is a negative. It’s attributed to women as a handicap. My mother’s emotions made her a poet. She understood things on a gut level, as do I.
As a Pisces, my mother’s birthday is on the heels of mine. I know this sounds petty and I’m not proud of this, but I always felt like her day encroached a bit on mine, even if it was two weeks away.
Maybe that’s why I spent a bunch of years as a young adult downplaying my birthday. When I finally embraced it at age 28, I did so with gusto. But that’s also when I started sending my mother flowers on my birthday. Always with a card that said, “Thanks for not having me circumcised.” (The story was often told how my father, probably a bit delirious from being awake about 36 hours, came into the maternity ward and shouted, “Alice, we forgot to talk about the circumcision!” The other mothers snickered as my mother gently reminded him the baby was a girl.)
I thought acknowledging my mother with flowers was a nice way to thank her for bringing me into the world. Now I wonder… maybe I was just trying to bring the focus back to me and also give her a gift in advance of when she expected something. Maybe the gesture was both altruistic and selfish, I’m not sure.
More than this, the overriding truth of our relationship is that I was much closer to my father. She would often say, “You’re so much like your dad,” and after they divorced, that wasn’t a good thing. I was well into adulthood before she would celebrate the ways she and I were similar, particularly as it came to writing and the positive aspect of our emotions.
The truth is, I didn’t want to be like my mother, though I wasn’t consciously aware of this until she was gone. I heard too many times growing up that I got my looks from her and my brains from my father. When my dad would say this, my mom would respond, “Jerry, my IQ is 140 – higher than yours!” And still, people other than my father would say it. It’s true – I did look like my mom, and thank goodness for that. But when it comes to respect, we prize intelligence over looks. And our culture assigns intelligence to men.
Growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, I was profoundly aware of my mother as a working mom and a single mom. I also knew and vaguely understood the sins of my father, the reasons for their divorce. But the prevailing mindset at that time still blamed the wife for a divorce. Especially in Christian circles.
It didn’t matter that my mom had written two books, Divorced and Christian and Single Again, This Time With Children. Or that she led workshops on these topics and was featured twice on The 700 Club with Pat Robertson. (Admittedly, the latter did impress me. But mind you, this was well before Robertson went completely off his rocker.)
In our culture, men are associated with success. We live in a patriarchal society. Even today, women are expected to find fulfillment in being wives, being pretty, being mothers, hosting gatherings, and keeping a nice house. If a girl aspires to more, she will often identify with her father and not her mother. She’ll consider her mother weak or less admirable than her dad. She will distance herself from her mom as much as possible. Maureen Murdock writes about this phenomenon in her book, The Heroine’s Journey – Woman’s Quest for Wholeness. I didn’t read this book until I was in graduate school, a few years after my mom’s death, and wow – it was both an eye-opener and a punch in the gut. This isn’t every woman’s experience, but Murdock certainly describes mine. And the truth is, it was my mother’s experience as well.
I wish I could talk to my mom about these things. About how I emotionally abandoned her in some ways, despite staying close to her. How I blamed her for things that weren’t her fault. How I didn’t fully respect her wisdom. She had so much she wanted to share and, while I largely went through the motions, I fell so short of really listening to her, hearing her, and engaging with her mind.
Age brings wisdom. I understand my behavior now and I can forgive myself for not being a better daughter, but that doesn’t make me miss her any less. In fact, I miss her more.
My mother was truly a role model of strength and grace and an incredible blend of beauty and brains. Every day I see more and more how she influenced the woman I have become. For all of this, I am deeply grateful.
Happy birthday, Mom. I wish you were here.
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