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Once upon a time, in the barely-pre-Beatles era, a young woman who loved pretty shoes, elegant dances in ball rooms and Scarlett O’Hara gowns married a young man who loved John Wayne movies, hunting for mushrooms in the woods and skiing down snowy slopes like lighting, and – had he been born in the United States – he would have been the quintessential Marlboro Man working as a forest ranger at Yellowstone.


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Fast forward a few decades and nothing much has changed. She still loves going to balls and wearing gorgeous gowns, and he still loves everything that he can do on a mountain. Good thing they both love to dance. And dogs.

Well, she now loves John Wayne movies, too, and enjoys a good hike as long as there is a pastry shop at the end of it – but never skied and has never been much of a mushroom hunter, though she is pretty good at cooking them. He still couldn’t care less about shoes and gowns, but appreciates her very much in them, and does drive the ten hours it takes to get to Vienna for the New Year’s Eve Grand Ball at the Hofburg every year.


Meet my parents.
The Princess’ name is Attilia, and the Cowboy’s name is Corrado, but everyone calls him Dino.




The Princess and the Cowboy went on to have three children, pretty much right away and back to back, riding the wild waves that all young married couples with small children inevitably must.

I am the first born, in September – which means that my mom was in her final months of pregnancy during the long hot summer. She was hot, sweaty and tired of being pregnant, so…. I hurried up for her, and was born two weeks early. She thought she was having stomach ache from the cabbage stew she had eaten the night before. Ha!

My brothers followed not long after: Roberto was born two years after me, and Paolo was born eleven months (yes, you read it right, just 11 months) after Roberto.




The fact that these are obviously two separate photo shoots and my parents are not photographed together is a mere circumstance dictated by my creative flair. My parents are still very much married, and happily so.

My mom asked me to take photos of her in her ball gown, so one early summer morning that’s what we set out to do, while the light was glorious.

Then, the following summer, I was planning on taking photos at a favorite spot, but really wanted a model to sit on the steps. I kept going around in my head trying to think of who I might ask when my dad walked in the door: perfect! I asked and he said yes. Not that he has ever said no to me. Well, except when I wanted to stay out late as a teenager.

Next trip I will have to do a set of them together, maybe in just such highly contrasting outfits.


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The Cowboy is not skinny by chance. He is the finickiest eater I have ever known. EVER! He is sometimes overly so, but you can rest assured that what he chooses will be of the highest quality, super fresh and very light in fats. He is not into frou-frou food, as he calls it, though I have tricked him into eating a dish that contained both soy sauce and ginger at my restaurant, and he loved it (which reminds me, he wants the recipe for that).

He loves simple, clean food, and little of it. He loves mushrooms, truffles, and seafood. And pizza, as long as it is the way he likes it to be. This means, of course, that we know all the best pizza places in the neighborhood, and have honed our preference to one. He is not into desserts, other than the very occasional apple cake slice, vanilla eclair and lemon ice cream, though he eats little of those, too. Which is fine, leaves more for my mom.




As the next to youngest child in a poor family of nine during the war, he would come home hungry at the end of the day, but would rather skip dinner than eat something he did not like. I wonder who he was in a past life…

The only times I have seen him stuff his face were when good seafood was involved. He can eat lots of that: clams, mussels, prawns, scallops, lobster, octopus, squid…. especially grilled.

Despite all of the above, when he decides to cook the dishes he likes, he is really good at them. For many years he was one of the volunteer cooks at the local “Festa degli Alpini”, a yearly four-day event set up by the local chapter of Alpini (Alpine Military Corps and friends) which happens in August and where food and music can be found, along with most people you know. He was in charge of polenta con funghi e salsiccia (polenta with mushrooms and sausage), one of the most popular dishes served throughout the event.




The Princess has kept her figure despite her delight in anything that comes out of a patisserie: pastries, cakes, cookies, croissants. Her favorite thing to order at a restaurant is dessert. She will sometimes skip the entree so she can have two desserts, and her favorites are those you eat with a spoon: mousses, bavarians, cremes, parfaits, ice cream etc.

I cannot believe she has not tried macarons yet. I will have to bring her some, though that might mean creating a macaron monster.

She is the one who sees photos of food I have made and says: “You are going to make that for me when you come, right?” Of course!


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As you would expect from any self-respecting Marlboro Man, the Cowboy has a deep baritone voice. For years we have heard him practice his part for the weekly Alpine (same corps) choir meetings and occasional public performances. We ended up learning all the songs, but only the baritone part, so that made for some lopsided singing around the house.

Fishing has always been part of his outdoor curriculum, to the Princess’ distress when he would come home with 5-6 trouts that needed cleaning and cooking. A few times the cat got to them in moments of distraction. Was it distraction? I wonder…

The only riding he ever did, though, was on a motorbike, for about a year, when we were still children. It turned out that being a Wild Hog was not his thing after all.

As far as indoor activities go: he is a master at crossword puzzles (he is still better than me), a card game called Pinnacle, and at instantly falling asleep on the couch in front of the tv. He is better than me at that, too.




The Princess is a natural talent at embroidery, and for years she created exquisite tablecloths and napkins. Then, one day I showed her an elaborate cross-stitch Santa figure I had done and she fell in love with that technique, creating stunning work that is now framed and displayed in several homes, including mine and Valerie’s here in California.

She no longer does any of that. Now she enjoys reading the occasional book and – surprise, surprise – has taken up light gardening.

And, of course, she takes loving care of their schizophrenic dog. You will meet him another time.




Alas, the Princess and the Cowboy do not fly. That is, the Cowboy is afraid of flying and has stubbornly refused to do so all these years. So they drive everywhere, which means their trips are limited to the European mainland. Not that that is bad, but they have never been to see me in Hawai’i or here in California. I am the one to fly over, and that’s fine.

The only time the Princess flew on an airplane is when she went with me for a three-day trip to Düsseldorf, Germany, one early December in my previous life. We spent the weekend seeing the sights, revisiting my old stomping grounds and enjoying the Christmas Mart before going to court on Monday morning so I could get divorced, then flying home that afternoon. On the flight up we experienced one of the roughest landings I have ever had, as it was extremely windy. She handled it like a pro, and talked about the exciting experience of flying for months. I may get her to California yet! Or maybe I should try EFT (tapping) on my dad and get him over his phobia, then they both could come.




Oops, almost forgot! The Princess loooooves everything Christmas! She is one of those who, come July, will start saying: “Only 169 days till Christmas!”

With all the Christmas decorations she has she could open up a store. I think working in a Christmas shop would be her absolute delight.  Over the years I have been sending her special finds like hand decorated ornaments, fairies and ribbons from wherever I happened to be.

Come October she is already talking about what she is going to do, and decorations come out around mid November. The tree is up long before the end of said month, and stays there till January 6th, an Italian holiday called Epifania which wraps up the Christmas season.




I realize the story is more interesting to family and friends, but I hope you have enjoyed this little peek into my family life. The plan was to do just a photo story combining the images of these two shoots, but then things got away with me.

I text with my mom once a day, and we Skype once a week, with my dad adding his baritone bits from the depths of the couch – as it’s usually morning here and night time there. My next visit is planned for the end of August, as my hoped-for Christmas visit got busted by the unplanned move. Which reminds me: time to look at the calendar and actually book flights. Unless any of you can offer me a private jet so I can take the pups, too!

If you have enjoyed this photo story, you might also enjoy this one of the Princess wearing a red ball gown. Red is, after all, her favorite color.


And if you are enjoying my blog, I would like to invite you to subscribe via the link below. I promise I won’t swamp your inbox, as I just send out a monthly newsletter and new post notifications.




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  • Diantha05/20/2014 - 6:40 am

    Oh I LOVED this portrait of your parents. It is just wonderful and what delightful people they are! The photos are fabulous (natch!) and they look just as you describe them. Wonderful writing, photography, and so great to see how much love there is in your family. That is the most marvelous gift of all……xoReplyCancel

    • Monica Schwartz05/20/2014 - 10:47 am

      Thank you dearest Diantha. This really was a post of love. <3ReplyCancel

  • Keoki05/24/2014 - 12:47 am

    Monica, thanks for sharing I’m sure there is so much more to tell
    and I’ll be waiting for the next episode Much Aloha to you,KeokiReplyCancel

    • Monica Schwartz05/24/2014 - 11:39 am

      Thank you Keoki. Oh yes there is! If I were to write about my family, it would be quite a novel! Much Aloha to you, too. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Sonia (foodiesleuth)06/27/2014 - 12:12 pm

    I love it!!!

    What a treasure! Your mom is beautiful (you do resemble her) and that gown is exquisite…Your dad could definitely be “the Marlboro Man”…ReplyCancel

    • Monica Schwartz06/27/2014 - 5:06 pm

      Thank you dearest Sonia! Yes, my dad could really be the Marlboro Man, haha! And I look like both my parents, but you might have to see a photo of my dad as a younger man maybe to see that. 🙂ReplyCancel

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