Romantic Ravello and Lacing Wars

The Terrace of Infinity at Villa Cimbrone in Ravello.  It was described by Gore Vidal as "the most beautiful panorama in the world." Photo by Trisha Thomas, October 26, 2013

The Terrace of Infinity at Villa Cimbrone in Ravello. It was described by Gore Vidal as “the most beautiful panorama in the world.” Photo by Trisha Thomas, October 26, 2013

Last week my husband and I celebrated 20 years of marriage with a visit to the Italian village of Ravello, perched on the mountains above the Amalfi Coast with tiny streets, ravishingly beautiful villas with spectacular gardens and magnificent views. I can’t think of any place more romantic than Ravello.

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello. Photo by Trisha Thomas. October 21, 2013

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello. Photo by Trisha Thomas. October 21, 2013

We had booked ourselves at the Villa Cimbrone, an impressive villa built by an Englishman, Lord Beckett Grimthorpe.  According to the Villa’s brochure, Grimthorpe discovered the place while on a “grand tour” trying to recover from a depression following the death of his dearly beloved wife.  “The intense happiness which this magical place caused him lead him to buy the estate.”   He proceeded to transform it, turning the gardens  into an extravagant combination of English and Italian traditions adding temples, pavilions, statues and exotic plants.

A window at Villa Cimbrone. Photo by Trisha Thomas, October 27, 2013

A window at Villa Cimbrone. Photo by Trisha Thomas, October 27, 2013

On the wall near the entrance to the villa is a plaque saying: “Here, in the spring of 1938, the divine Greta Garbo, removing herself from the glamour of Hollywood, enjoyed with Leopold Stokowsky hours of secret happiness.”

Hmmm, I thought hopefully, as I looked off at the view and at the gorgeous windows of the villa surrounded with flowers and cactuses, “Here, in the fall of 2013, the stressed-out Mamma Trisha Thomas, removing herself from the chaos of Rome, enjoyed with Gustavo Piga (once he managed to get off his cell phone), hours of secret happiness.”

For those who are wondering, a quick google search helped me figure out who she was with.  Leopold Stokowsky was a famous British conductor who worked with all the top American Symphonies.  He had his fair share of romance– in addition to his moments at Villa Cimbrone with Greta Garbo he had several marriages and high-profile love affairs.  His third and last wife was heiress/designer Gloria Vanderbilt.

In addition to romantic interludes, the Villa was also a meeting place for the Bloomsbury group, a group of British intellectuals –writers, philosophers and artists–who met to discuss art and literature among them Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster and (my economist husband’s favourite) John Maynard Keynes.

Breakfast at Villa Cimbrone. Photo by Trisha Thomas, October 27, 2013

Breakfast at Villa Cimbrone. Photo by Trisha Thomas, October 27, 2013

As I served myself some coffee from a silver coffee set into elegant bone china in the Villa Cimbrone breakfast room the next day, I gave up on trying to be glamorous Greta Garbo, and tried to imagine myself as Virginia Woolf preparing for a meeting with the Bloomsbury set.  I think my husband was secretly imagining himself as John Maynard Keynes as he read his newspaper and ate his scrambled eggs.

There is something about Ravello that lends itself to romance.  Walking from the Villa Cimbrone down a narrow stone pathway to the Villa Rufolo, I saw another plaque on the wall noting that D.H. Lawrence stayed in Ravello from 1926 and 1927 while working on “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”.

Jackie Kennedy spent three months with Caroline and John John in Ravello in August of 1962.  There are rumours that during that time she had a love affair with handsome Italian businessman/Lawyer Gianni Agnelli, head of the Fiat company.  (see blog post: Italian Men: Master of Seduction)

Gustavo and Trisha manage to be in step in the town of Ravello after 20 years of marriage. Photo by Trisha Thomas. October 26, 2013

Gustavo and Trisha manage to be in step in the town of Ravello after 20 years of marriage. Photo by Trisha Thomas. October 26, 2013

But enough of all this romance stuff.  Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what 20 years of marriage is all about.  I will tell you my opinion.  It is hard work.  If any woman tells me her marriage is perfect it reminds me of mothers who tell me her children are never jealous of each other. I find it very hard to believe and it gets on my nerves.

I happen to have one of the most tempestuous, difficult marriages ever. This is partly because we are two opinionated individuals coming from two very different family backgrounds and cultural upbringing.  The funny thing is that on the really big stuff we agree (education is important for children, they should read books not play on electronic devices – Duh!), but it is the little stuff that has thrown us onto the marital rocks, nearly smashing our ship.

Now let me give you an important example.  How do you lace shoes?  Italians have an absurd way of lacing shoes that looks very “bella figura” and elegant but it is nearly impossible to do (for a non-Italian adult, never mind a child).  Americans have a much simpler way of lacing shoes.

Note below my husband’s shoes today:

Gustavo's shoe laces. Photo by Trisha Thomas. November 1, 2013

Gustavo’s shoe laces. Photo by Trisha Thomas. November 1, 2013

Note below a photo of an Italian Gucci baby shoes:

Gucci Baby Shoes with typical Italian lace-tying. Credit: Gucci

Gucci Baby Shoes with typical Italian lace-tying. Credit: Gucci

So we had this terrible lacing difficulty in the early years of our marriage and only thanks to the introduction of Velcro into children’s footwear were we able to avoid divorce.

 

Note below my teenage daughters’ messy sneaker pile today, apparently I won that battle. Now don’t any of you blog readers say that I made a mistake, I should have made my daughters learn elegant Italian lacing techniques.  I don’t want to hear it.

My daughters' sneaker pile. November 1, 2013. Photo by Trisha Thomas

My daughters’ sneaker pile. November 1, 2013. Photo by Trisha Thomas

We survived the lacing wars, but the window wars still rage.  My husband needs to sleep in a room with no air.  He does not want any windows open.  If I don’t have a window open, I wake up in the night with my throat so dry that my tongue feels as though it is stuck to the roof of my mouth.  This has led to some serious marital crises with both of us tip-toeing around in the dark of night to either open or close a window.  On top of that my husband hates air conditioners and fans (he has that famous Italian fear of the formidable “Colpa D’Aria” (translated: wind blow) that Italians believe can do them in).   Try spending a summer in Rome without an air conditioner or a fan.  I believe I deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for not starting a war over that question.

By the way, the Roman solution for dealing with the heat without fans and air-conditioners is to pull down all the “serande” (rolling shutters), and leave all the windows closed tight shut all day.  It is true that a Roman apartment will remain cooler that way, but I feel like I am suffocating in an airless cave.

Then there is the whole “pantofole” issue.  That would be slippers.  I have written about this before (see blog post: Italian Mini Divas), basically my husband thinks children must wear slippers at all times in the house, bare feet are forbidden.  I disagree.

We’ve also had a few go-rounds on the hands-in-your-lap versus hand-on-table question.  My husband, always a stickler for manners, requires — as does Italian etiquette– that during a meal all hands are kept on the table, where they must remain, wrists gently resting on the edge of the table (no elbows) when not eating.  I was raised with an American etiquette that allows hands to be kept on one’s lap when one is not eating and I have wondered if this rigid Italian rule might not have to do with suspicious activities of Italians if their hands are allowed to wander out of sight below deck.

So, there you have it, just a hint of the many traumas and tragedies faced in this twenty year marriage.  But we made it and had a fantastic, romantic time in Ravello.

(Oh, and we slept with the window closed in our room at the Villa Cimbrone…. but I opened the bathroom window during the night.  Shhhh, don’t tell Gustavo)

26 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Nancy Rockwell
    2013/11/02

    Lovely, just lovely . . . the photo of your feet ‘in step’ is wonderful . . . and the stories are so human and true. Of course, I remember the meeting house-versus-stone-church issue when you were wed . . . and in every marriage there is war and peace . . . and fruitfulness . . . which for you two is your work, your endless curiosity about cultural differences, your taking up of burdens of learning and caring, and your three beautiful children. Brava, Trisha! Hugs to you both.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/11/02

      Thank you Nancy. Well, you were there from the very beginning and gave me precious advice about flexibility and tolerance when it comes to other people’s culture and religion. I thought often of your words in the early years of my marriage and will always be grateful to you for your wisdom.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Tish Walker
    2013/11/02

    That was hilarious. I sure wish I could be around to read the write you do for your “50th” anniversary but I’ll settle for the 30th.

    Love, A. Tish

    PS – The saving grace of any marriage is a sense of humor!!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/11/02

      Glad you liked it Auntie Tish. I will shoot for a Part II on my 25th. I agree that sense of humor is key to any marriage and I think you and Uncle Bob are both lucky to have lots of it. I think Gustavo and I may finally be getting a little bit better about laughing or just remaining calmer.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Allegra
    2013/11/02

    Dear Trish, congratulations!!
    With a twenty years’ marriage on your CV, you have the living proof of your patience and ability to compromise.
    If it can bring you any solace, my husband and I grew up with a similar background, only a few hundreds km away, and we too, 17 yrs later, we still fight about window blinds (him) vs. natural morning light (me). Same, we fight about table manners, I think all this continuous reprimand at the table is bad for the kids’ digestion (and mine!), similar effect to a ‘colpo d’aria’ :D !!!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/11/02

      Thank you Allegra, you make me laugh, and you make me feel much better that even growing up with similar backgrounds you can still bicker with your spouse on useless subjects. Honestly, I cannot tell you how many meals we’ve ruined with this whole manners business. It really makes me laugh to hear you have that problem too. I totally agree with you– it gives everyone indigestion!!! Baci, Trisha

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    Philip Hurst
    2013/11/02

    Congratulations on two decades of survival, and much envy from me for being at that villa.

    Stokowsky in his hey-day was a towering figure on the classical music scene, perhaps, along with Toscanini, the best-known conductor of the 1920s to 1960s, although he lived into his 90s and died in 1977. As you say, he conducted almost all of the great US and European orchestras. Ironically, he is perhaps most famous for providing the sound track, and some of the visuals (in silhouette) of Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” in 1939, a cartoon movie that introduced millions of children, and adults, to the world of classical music. In addition to his prodigious career as a conductor and recording artist, Stokowsky was, and remains, famous as an arranger of music, especially that of J.S. Bach.

    This is, of course, merely by way of a footnote to your delightful, and instructive, disquisition on 20 years of married life. Also, being English, I’ve always tied my laces à la Italiana.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/11/02

      Philip – Thank you for all that information about Stokowsky. It is a perfect footnote. I really am a total ignoramus that I had never heard of him before. I did see the film “Fantasia” as a child and loved it. And, I can’t believe that English people tie their shoes that way too. Non ci posso credere!!

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Alan
    2013/11/02

    . . well, congrats! J and I have survived 35+ years of non-marriage and when you understand that she is from Yorkshire you might well believe in the Second Coming!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/11/03

      Wow 35!! That is very impressive. I don’t know what it means to be from Yorkshire, but I am guessing J is a pretty special person!

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Kathy
    2013/11/03

    Oh, I love this – Trisha. Your descriptions of Ravello and its visitors is bewitching – I had no idea they were so illustrious and glamorous. Your photos are truly beautiful – I love the one of your feet in-step together (and your perfect pedi in those sandals).
    About the hands on the table, I had dinner in Rome last week with an Italian friend and as I spoke – elbows on the table, leaning forward and occasionally waving my arms to illustrate a point, I became aware that he was the opposite when speaking to me. He was still, elegant and restrained – and now that you mention it – wrists on the table. In a restaurant full of only Italians, I stuck out like the straniero that I clearly was.
    Many people in Australia who have never been to Italy think Italians are loud and brash, like they’re portrayed in pizza commercials and are surprised when I say that’s far from the truth – at least in my limited experience.
    Congratulations on twenty years together – that is some achievement. There will always be ‘lace’ issues and ‘blind’ issues but as long as the big issues are in synch, then those rocks will hopefully be avoided.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/11/03

      Thank you Kathy — Ravello really is bewitching and you must visit it on your next trip to Italy. Yeah, the wrists propped on the table are the proper thing here, and I just can’t get comfortable maintaining that position. It was wonderful seeing you here in Rome and whether or not you had your elbows on the table, I am sure you made a “bella figura” with your fabulous, positive personality. Come back soon!

      Reply
  7. Avatar
    Adri
    2013/11/03

    Trisha! I had to put down my coffee cup I was laughing so hard. I thought I’d spill it on my computer keyboard. And if you want to hear marital fights, just imagine try to explain to my tecchie husband how I spilled liquid on my keyboard. Oh that would be a row, for certain. Funny, isn’t it – the things that get us all going. It sounds like you had a magnificent trip. I am glad to hear that Gustavo put his cell phone down. I have never been to Ravello, but it must be truly spectacular and very romantic, and I think you two found the perfect place to stay. I hope you had a wonderful anniversary celebration.

    The colpo d’aria thing always amazes me. I guess by the time the Italians arrived in America their worst fears were proven true during the 1918 influenza pandemic; they used to say “I opened the window and in flew Enza.” I say give me fresh air, day and night, and let it move! I love to sleep with a window open. Otherwise I too am stifled. Thank heavens Bart agrees. Another marital spat averted.

    About this Italian lacing thing-I had no idea. When I have seen shots of Italian shoes laced in that style I assumed it was for show, having absolutely no idea that it is considered de rigueur. Also I must compliment you on your pedicure and Gustavo on one very cool pair of shoes in your “portrait shot.” You two look great. Thanks for a most enjoyable read!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/11/03

      I am thrilled you got a laugh Adri. Actually I was laughing myself as I was going around the house photographing the shoes and Gustavo was working at his computer and had no idea what I was doing. It is really silly when you think back about all those stupid things one can get so worked up about. Both you and Kathy commented on my pedicure- I think the photo was sufficiently far away that you couldn’t see that my feet weren’t actually all that neat and tidy, but I am glad I faked everyone out. I also thought the “in-step” photo was better than a full shot of the two of us. Next time you come to Italy, you must go to Ravello, it is truly marvelous!

      Reply
  8. Avatar
    bellini
    2013/11/03

    We didn’t stay at the hotel preferring to stay near the water, but Ravello was an enchanted place. I wanted to spend more time there or walk down the steps back to the village. We did eat at a lovely restaurant with the most amazing view in Ravello.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/11/04

      I agree, it is truly enchanted. Being there so briefly, we did not have time to go down and enjoy the Amalfi Coast. I guess I will save that for another occasion.

      Reply
  9. Avatar
    lisa | renovating italy
    2013/11/03

    Still chuckling away and looking across the table at my husband. Many times I could easily throttle him yet here we are after all these years. One thing that always gets us going is the need to ‘rinse’ the dishes….he does and I do if he is looking. Loved your photos and Ravello looks incredible.

    Congratulations on your 20 years and I love that your daughter laces her shoes ‘your’ way xxx

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/11/04

      HA! Dish rinsing. Isn’t funny how we all get so worked up about the little stuff. So silly really. And thanks for the support on the messy American laces!!

      Reply
  10. Avatar
    Pauline
    2013/11/04

    Congratulations on your 20th Anniversary!! Love that your daughters’ shoes are laced the North-American way!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/11/05

      Yah!! Long-live sloppy, North-American shoe-tying techniques!!!

      Reply
  11. Avatar
    Ciao Chow Linda
    2013/11/04

    First of all, congratulations on making 20 years. The important thing is making 20 years AND being happy about it. Lots of people stay in marriages forever and are miserable. Like Adri, I had no idea about the lacing techniques. I always thought they were for show too. Having been married 40 years before my husband died three years ago, I can relate to so many of your “differences” and we were both from Italian families. My pet peeve was the air conditioning too. I don’t know how you get through a Roman summer without it. I was constantly turning down the thermostat while he surreptitiously cranked it up. We played the dance over and over, each of us knowing that the other would change the dial at the first chance possible. But all those things, while they seem major at the time, are so, so minor, looking back over 40 years. You two have the important stuff down pat, Trisha. The rest will sort itself out, and a getaway to magical Ravello is just the ticket to forgetting those little “annoying” differences.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/11/05

      What a lovely comment Linda! Congratulations to you on your 40 year marriage. I know how much you must feel the loss of your husband now and I am sorry. How funny that you were also doing the sneaking around and fiddling with the thermostat. I am glad I am not the only one who gets hung up on the small stuff. I will try to keep the big picture in mind and be more appreciative of my hubby!

      Reply
  12. Avatar
    Christine Legault
    2013/11/06

    Trish! I could not agree with you more about the open-window-at-night situation…. It’s an issue I’ve been having for several years now and not sure how much longer I can stand it ;-) Now that I’m pregnant with baby number two (a boy, we just found out yesterday – yes, indeed – we need to catch up!! It’s been too long…), a cool breeze and warm duvet combo is all I want right now. Will keep you posted! Until then, congrats on your 20-year anniversary – you’re a true inspiration ;-)
    Christine.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/11/09

      Christine, Wow!!! Baby number Two!! Fantastic news! Congratulations. We really do need to catch up. That is wonderful, wonderful news. I am surprised that my messy, chaotic, frenetic mozzarella mamma life could inspire anyone, but it makes me happy anyway to hear it. Thank you. Auguri e bacioni
      p.s. by the way that is a beautiful picture of you, you have a gorgeous smile!

      Reply
  13. Avatar
    Robyn
    2013/11/20

    I just discovered your blog and was entertained and educated by this post. Congratulations on your anniversary! I love the shoe pics…!
    Robyn

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/11/21

      Thanks Robyn — I worked really hard on those shoe pics, trying to get my husband’s laces in a wide shot and then close, on the parquet then on the marble floor, then trying with the sneakers alone and eventually doing the whole pile of sneakers. It was fun.

      Reply

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