14 February 2015

Our Story - Marla and Fabrizio, a Valentines Tale

Fabriazio and Marla -Bella Baita Italian Alps Retreat 2014
San Valentino or Valentine's day is a special day for us. It's our wedding anniversary, and it was an unforgettable experience, however I am getting ahead of my story.
Bella Baita B&B in Summer
If there has been a singular question asked of me in the past 14 years, it has undoubtedly been, "Sooooo, how did you two meet?" or some variation of that phrase. I have a standard short and long form of my answer, that Fabrizio always defers to my telling of the tale. Today, I am going to tell you the condensed long version. I hope you enjoy it.
Before I met Fabrizio, the number one question was, how did you end up working in Europe, so I will start out by setting the stage for "our story" by answering how an American ended up in the Italian Alps of Piedmont, with my darling crazy mountain man. I hope you enjoy our tale.

Marla & Fabrizio - date in Volterra, Italy summer 2001
C'era una volta, or once upon a time.....
I had a desire to do something significantly different from my then so called life in the mountains of Colorado. It might have been a mid life questioning of where I had been and where I was going or perhaps it was the shedding of yet another skin of my layered life. It turned out to be a combination of both. 
After many years of living at big altitude, (9,075 ft or  2,776m) where I made peace with winter by learning to ski and worked my way up the slippery male dominated ladder of professional success, to become the pastry chef for Copper Mt Resort, for abut 12 years,  I felt restless to move on, to stretch and try something new. Thing is in a ski resort area, there weren't always a broad spectrum of opportunities. Usually it seemed that you were changing locations and people, but the seasonality and job ended up being much to be more of the same. I wasn't sure what this change was suppose to look like, perhaps, to travel and not be in one place. I had reached many goals and lived a great mountain life, but my life had changed and I needed a completely new challenge. Running a pastry department in a large ski resort  had been an incredible experience of growth and opportunity as well as meeting and working with a lot of different people. However, mass production for 4 cafeterias, 5 restaurants and conference services with a summer crew of 7 and around 20 ski and snowboarders that changed every season, had worn a little thin over the years. I really wanted a new challenge, one that would be quite different from what I had already done. Hmmm, what to do? 
Skimming through the short and not so sweet want ads in the daily paper I wasn't expecting much. I had been perusing the ads for awhile and knew them by heart, ski resort workers, ski techs, wait staff, cleaners, mountain photographers, and shuttle bus drivers, just to name a few gives you the drift of my indifference. However, when I spied "Chalet Host Required", my interest was piqued. My heart did a little "skip to my lou". The interview with the program director and resort manager from the UK, sealed the deal for me. They were so charming and we laughed so much, and when I told them that I really needed for the job to be more than just for the winter and maybe could I work in Europe for them, I was delighted when they said yes. After much soul searching and reevaluating of how I could completely rearrange my life both physically and financially, to make this kind of crazy seasonal job work, I found myself with a year round (with a few gaps between the two seasons) for a British Tour company that would allow me to work in Breckenridge, Colorado in the winter and the Alps of Slovenia, Switzerland and Austria in the summer. It was, to put it mildly, a blast. I now had guests instead of employees and even though my work load increased and my monetary income decreased, I was happy to be doing things that I knew well and others that were completely foreign. It was a wonderful experience with a whole new world of package holidays and British guests that opened up my European sojourn. That however is another story for another day. Suffice it to say that after about 4 years of the Holiday Representative life, which means mostly living in a hotel, and was suppose to be a one year transitional job, I found myself looking yet again for yet another, different experience. 
On the main street of Casole d'Elsa where I lived
A fortuitous phone call I received one day out of the blue, made my day and sent me on my way to Italy. An American colleague  that I had worked alongside in the chalet hosting days in Breckenridge, called me a couple years after an off hand comment to her, that her job as a chef for an English art school in Tuscany sounded like something I would love and if she ever was getting rid of it, I would be interested. How lucky was that? Turns out it was pretty lucky. Next thing I know I landed that job and I was off to little Casole d'Elsa in the Siena province of Italy to cook my little heart out for the Verrocchio Art Center ( Il Centro d'Arte Verrocchio), for yet another exciting chapter in my life. 
Marla between meals on the terrace of the Centro d'Arte Verrocchio 2002
I would like to point out that this is the happily ever after version of my story. I have included only the best and happiest parts only of my tale. Naturally, the whole tale, has it's dark moments of self doubt, uncertainty, fear of failure, seemingly defeat and triumph as well as heart wrenching loneliness  at times. I traveled through the whole spectrum of human feelings that go with change and the risk of  trying something new.  It is easy to leave those parts out as they are so personal and dark, but just know that my life isn’t charmed, it is real with all the good and not so hot stuff included, but over all I can say I have made every effort to embrace everything that comes my way. It is part of the spice that makes it my life. I just want to share the triumphant part right now. 
So now I found myself in a small (900 people including the surrounding hamlets) walled  hilltop town in Tuscany with only 3 streets running through town. Casole d'Elsa is situated in the neighborhood of Siena, Firenze, San Gimignano and Volterra. Wow, can you say wow! It was amazing and intoxicating as Tuscany's scenery is so iconic and evocative with its rolling hills, slender cypress trees, walled hilltop towns in the distance, oozing beauty, art and history. What's not to love. I busied myself immersing in the local flavor and figuring out what the local cuisine was all about before taking over the reigns of the Centro's kitchen where I would be in charge of the feeding the art school's staff, students and teachers that changed every fortnight. Many of the attendees had been coming to this school for years and years, so there was pressure to measure up and surpass expectations. I was nervous. Luckily my friend, Euni who was leaving the position, was around for a couple of weeks so that I could observe and learn whilst I served food at the local osteria /enoteca, Caffe` Casolani. It was a very confusing time at first, between the language, or more accurately my lack of, and reorienting myself to being in a new kitchen with none of my usual tools since I hadn't been carrying any of that around whilst walking and skiing the Alps. Fortunately, every one was generously helpful with their knowledge and time, so I was starting to relax into this new Italian rhythm.
Caffe Casolani- where I worked when I first arrived
The  first new rhythm I had to adjust to was the heat. It was spring and the mornings and evenings were lovely and cool, but the heat of the day meant that it was best to get up early and get things done and pull down the shades in the afternoon and try not to sweat your soul out or maybe take your mid day break in the local bar whilst chatting and getting to know your new flat mates and coworkers from the art school. So one day, in what was either my first or second week in the job by myself, the two British gals I worked with and I were in Bar Barroccio, passing our mid day break in casual conversation and cooling drinks. I noticed there were a couple of guys in the booth next to us but didn't really pay much attention other than one of them was intently reading the paper. It wasn't too long before the cute curly haired one, who had seemed so engrossed in his paper reading, was leaning over towards our table whilst he commented to his companion. "Hey Johnny, there are some girls over here that you can speak English with, in fact, you can speak American with one of them." What an opening line, and one that I have never forgotten. We all chatted for awhile and as it turned out we all had to go back and serve dinner that night, but we would maybe see them again that night after work. What do you think the chances of that were? Well, there were only 2 bars in town and the other one is where you bought your tickets for the local bus, but seldom ever stayed in there for very long as it was smoky and full of old men usually playing cards. The other bar where we met, was where the night life was, if there was any. It was mostly doing the "passeggiata" up and down the main street of Casole, either getting a drink at one end or a gelato at the other. There were always people promenading up and down the street trying to keep cool on these hot Tuscan nights.

That was how we met and it wasn't long before Fabrizio was kindly offering his help for expanding my Italian culinary knowledge.  He was working as a Maitre' d hotel in a local Agriturismo along with John, who was an American doing a stage at the same restaurant. The restaurant was working toward getting a Michelin star. Fabrizio took a degree as a chef when he was young as he grew up cooking and serving in his family's "La Baita" mountain restaurant. He went on to take a couple more degrees, as he found that he preferred to be out front with the guests and managing the restaurants. Anyone who knows Fabrizio would understand that, as he has such an outgoing personality and loads of energy. Fabrizio can keep the show going and everyone laughing, which are a couple of wonderful qualities that I adore. Fabrizio had found his way to Casole after escaping where he grew up and about four years working in the UK where he perfected his English. Unfortunately for him, he has now perfected his American. He had been working in different parts of Italy with a couple of stints in Poland doing some consulting work on setting up hotel restaurants and various other restaurant work when he landed in Casole to help them reach some of their goals. It didn't take him long to get his apron on and help me out in the kitchen at the Centro, so that I got myself organized and comfortable so that I could relax into the job, but also so I could get out of work a bit earlier on our mid day break and see a bit of the countryside. It was a memorable season and will always be a special time in our lives. It was pretty easy to fall in love with a man that cooks and sings to you in the kitchen. That is also not to mention that he does dishes, will clean the house, fix the car, chop the wood, get up and build a fire before any of us are up and will try any cuisine I make and compliments me frequently. I was to learn all of that along the way.  He is a pretty special man and I am happy we met and that our paths continued in the same direction.  I think we are both pretty lucky.
Fabrizio and Marla in the Centro d'Arte Verrocchio kitchen
Over the next year we came up here to his family's home to assess the possibilities. We went to America to meet my family and check out Colorado where I had lived and still feels like home to me. I returned to Tuscany for another season and Fabrizio came here to work on setting up the rooms that were not in use so that we could open as a B&B and try to make a business where there wasn't one. His parents had retired and were renting out their restaurant part of the building to other people and so we made the rest of the building come to life as Bella Baita B&B. 
We returned to America in 2007 and had been trying to manage the logistics of where and how to get married for a few years without it ever becoming clear or easy. So when one of my friends mentioned the Loveland ski area's Valentines Day promotion, "Marry Me and Ski for Free". We decided that was really just the thing for us. So we got a license and joined 60 other couples on a cold and snowy Valentines day and said our vows to each other on top of a ski mountain. It was special, we both cried and then we skied a few powder runs before enjoying a reception at the ski lodge. We had already booked to teach a cooking class for that night, so off we went to teach and celebrate a lovely evening with friends, good food we made together and wonderful wine from the wine cellar. It was memorable and unique and just right for us. 
The snowy ceremony- many people were inside keeping warm

Fabrizio and Marla February 14, 2007 Loveland Ski Area, Colorado ,USA
As they years have passed, we now have use of the whole of the building, we offer cooking classes, local short break culinary tours, we have a large organic garden that we are constantly improving with the help of volunteers from organizations like Wwoof.it and Workaway.info. We will be offering courses on sustainable living and gardening in the future and expanding our cooking classes with bread workshops  and more varied culinary tours. We are still chefs that enjoy guests and we hope that now that you know a bit more about us, that you might come and meet us in person and share our slice of Italian life in the Alps and discover our not so well known, but certainly deserving valley and what we have on offer. Vi aspettiamo. We are waiting for you. 
Marla and Fabrizio at Bella Baita February 11, 2014

Bella Baita View

6 comments:

Sue Tillmann said...

This is absolutely wonderful and I appreciate your posting this because I have often wondered how everything came about in your life, Here's hoping you have many more special years together!
Sue Ellen Tillmann

Marla Gulley said...

Thank you for commenting Sue Ellen. I know a lot of people have been curious and I have wanted to share it for awhile. Thank you for being interested. I Love hearing what's up with you and your family. You still have your great sense of humor that I remember so well.
I finally have the commenting controls set back to normal, so i am glad people are able to comment here now without having to have a google + account.

Patti said...

Oh what a lovely tale. You have a gift for writing too Marla! So many talents, so little time....We had the best time at your B&B and hope to return. My daughter friended you on FB and said to me that she wants to go visit you someday. Hopefully after her babies are bigger she and I can make another trip. Thanks for snow days that give you the time to write. Looking forward to more!

Marla Gulley said...

Thank you so much Patti. It means a lot to me to hear you say that you think my writing is good. Thank you so much for that. It took me a little while to figure out that Beth is your daughter. I have enjoyed her post as well. Would love it if you make it here again. Plenty of laughs.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Hello Marla. What an interesting story and what a life you have had. Well done to you for upping sticks and moving .Of course I can understand the downsides too. Credit to you. And of course there is now Fabrizo. True love story.💞

I know we can all look back and say I wish .cannot change anything now ..wish I had started travelling a long time ago but was a mum since 18 and never had the chance. ..now I need courage . A truly fascinating story . Thank you for sharing.

Marla Gulley said...

Oh Anne, I think you have loads of courage. Thank you for your lovely comments. One day maybe you will find your way to our doorstep. We will enjoy that.

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