Bianca’s Vineyard – A Book Review

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When Italy Book Tours asked me to review this new book by Teresa Neumann, I volunteered right away.  It had all the attributes of a GREAT book!  Bianca’s Vineyard did not disappoint!  And what makes it even more interesting is that it is based on a true story.  Taking place at the beginning of the 20th century and spanning through World War II and a bit beyond, it described the hardships of life in Italy during the difficult war years as well the difficulties of immigrating to a whole new world!  This book hit close to home because my parents and grandparents immigrated here as well, and I am always enthralled by these stories.

Egisto Bertozzi, the youngest of 3 brothers, was expected to immigrate to the United States so that he could earn money and send it back to Italy.  Moving he did, but before he did, he was expected to marry and bring an Italian wife with him.  He was in love with Marietta and she was to be his wife.  But, Egisto wasn’t religious and refused to marry in church.  Marietta’s family forbade their daughter to marry outside the Church and therefore broke up the loving couple.  Heartbroken, but desperate to find a wife, he married a beautiful poor girl, Arilda, from his town whom he didn’t know at all.  Arilda was looking for an escape from her miserable life and thought that this would be just the perfect opportunity to make a change for the better. At first they were happy in their new home, but soon, things started to become difficult for Arilda and she became depressed.  Egisto suffered for his wife and tried to make things work out for their sake as well as their children’s.  Arilda ended up leaving them and moving back to Italy right before the start of World War II.

The story goes on to describe how difficult life became in Italy during this time.  Hunger and fear swept the country, and the citizens of Italy were desperate.  Egisto tried his hardest to help his family in Italy, but even that was hard.  There were times when he didn’t even know the fate of his family.  My parents, who lived along the shores of Lago Maggiore, have described to me what life was like during World War II in Italy, but their tales were nothing compared to the hardships endured in other parts of Italy, especially Tuscany.  The Nazi’s, Fascists and Partisans waged war against each other and anyone else who didn’t support their cause. Many innocent people lost their lives and fear was rampant.  It must have been such a horrible time in this idyllic country.  It’s hard to believe that such beautiful places endured such atrocities, but I know they did from this book as well as lots of other movies and stories I’ve read about life in Italy during the war.

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The story starts off in the present when Egisto’s grandchildren visit Italy to learn about their history and see the family homestead. There they meet Bianca, Egisto’s niece, who is now an elderly woman and who inherited the family vineyard.  She tells them their family’s story so that they may know the strong and proud lineage that they come from.

Egisto Bertozzi, sculptor

Egisto Bertozzi, sculptor

Connections to the homeland are so important to really understand one’s self and realize the sacrifices that were made to improve dire situations.  I’ve always said that it takes a very strong person to leave everything they’ve known all their lives, move to a country where they don’t know the language nor have any family, and forge a new life.  My parents did it and I am so proud of their inner strength.

Interview with Teresa Neumann:

Did you ever know Egisto Bertozzi personally?
Yes. He was amazing; suave but simple, smart but humble. Oliver Towne of the St. Paul Pioneer Press once wrote that “Egisto Bertozzi was part of the creativity of our civilization.” It was truly an honor to have known him.

What inspired you to write Bianca’s Vineyard?
First my husband. One of the things I found fascinating about David, when I met him was that he was half-Italian, which meant he possessed an unusual amount self-confidence along with generous amounts of artistic creativity and scientific savvy. Throw in a unique zest for life, and I realized I’d discovered a “Renaissance man” much like my husband’s grandfather, highly acclaimed sculptor Egisto Bertozzi, the co-main character in my book. My love-affair with Italy had begun.
My mother-in-law, Violenza (Babe)Bertozzi Neumann, was an incredible blessing. So when I learned that after immigrating to the U.S., Egisto’s wife Armida had a mental breakdown, abandoned her family, moved back to Italy, found a job as a domestic to a “high-level fascist leader” and then disappeared during WWII – only to be found years later, her death a mega-mystery – well, who could resist that challenge?!

Your book is set primarily Italy. Have you been there?
In the last 15 years, many times. Egisto was a sculptor, born and raised in Tuscany, near Lucca. He studied at the famous art school in nearby Pietrasanta. Just before WWI broke out, he and Armida secretly married and immigrated to St. Paul, Minnesota, where their two children were born. Later, after WWII, Egisto took Violenza (my mother-in-law) to meet his family and spend the summer in Italy. Until his death decades later, Egisto’s family corresponded with him. Then all letters from Italy abruptly stopped. It wasn’t until much later, after years of research, that we found out why.
Fast forward to 2001: I received a response to a query letter from Egisto’s niece, Bianca Corrotti inviting us Tuscany to meet her and the other Bertozzi cousins. By then, my mother-in-law was in her 80’s and couldn’t travel, so we reluctantly went without her. Our hearts immediately bonded with my husband’s relatives and birthed the passion and motivation to research and write Bianca’s Vineyard.

What about Minnesota, where Egisto and Armida lived after immigrating to the U.S.?
Being as my husband and I were raised in Iowa, Minnesota was in our “back yard” so to speak. Many Bertozzi and Neumann relatives live in the “Land of Lakes,” so we’ve made numerous pilgrimages there over the years. The area is home to many of Egisto’s sculptures. We’ve particularly loved studying his sculptures at St. Paul Cathedral.

What is your next project?
In 2013, Domenico’s Table, the sequel to Bianca’s Vineyard was published. My third book, not a sequel, but with an Italian-American protagonist, is called A Year in the Company of Freaks and should be out this summer. You can read more about it, and my other books, on my website: http://www.teresaneumann.com

Going Against the Grain – A Gluten Free Italian Cookbook!

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Going Against the Grain

Being that I am not gluten-intolerant, I wasn’t sure I’d be a good candidate to review this beautiful cookbook by Nuccia Ardagna, a celiac patient who happens to have deep roots in Italy!  But because I am following the Dash diet which emphasizes lots of vegetables, fruit and lean meats, I knew that I would love these recipes!  Nuccia, like me, grew up in an Italian family where Mamma and Nonna were excellent cooks, and therefore we know what good food is all about!  When Nuccia was diagnosed with celiac disease, she wasn’t about ready to give up all that she loved!  She learned to adapt the recipes so that she could still enjoy them without compromising on the flavor. And now, she’s brought those wonderful recipes to us in her new gluten-free cookbook Going Against the Grain.

The book is beautifully laid out.  She starts off with an introduction to celiac disease – how to diagnose it and how to live with it.  This is useful information for those diagnosed or those that think they may have this disease.  After these introductions, her chapters are laid out by course – appetizers, first courses, second courses, side dishes, sweets, and bonus stuff!  The recipes are clear and she has included gorgeous photos with each recipe that makes your mouth water looking at them!  As soon as I received my book, I couldn’t wait to begin trying some of them.  The first one I tried was the Insalata Mista Piccante con Asparagi (Spicy Mixed Salad with Asparagus).  If you like the bitter taste of radicchio and crispy asparagus, you will love this fresh and healthy salad!  As my mom always said, bitter lettuces clean the blood!  Whether that’s true or not, you do feel healthier after eating them!

The other recipes I tried were main courses:  Pollo Ripieno con Mortadella and Coniglio al Forno.  I made some substitutions in both of these recipes, but I don’t think they detracted from the savoriness and flavor.  In the Pollo Ripieno recipe I decided to substitute prosciutto for mortadella.  Good mortadella is difficult to find near me (unless I go into SF North Beach), so rather than buy not so good mortadella, I used Italian prosciutto (which is easily found at my local Trader Joe’s).  This substitution may have led to the dish becoming more salty, but since I’m a salt-aholic, this was not a problem :)  My absolute favorite recipe from this book, though, and maybe an all-time favorite recipe, was the Coniglio al Forno!  Instead of rabbit, I used chicken drumsticks – again, mostly because they are more readily available.  The ease of this recipe and the flavor make this an absolutely perfect recipe suitable for everyone – family and guests!

I can highly recommend this cookbook – whether your are trying to follow a gluten-free diet or not!  In my opinion, the ingredients are so healthy and nutritious that everyone would benefit from cooking this way!  Kudos to Nuccia for taking an obstacle and working with it to continue enjoying delicious Italian cuisine!

Meet Nuccia with this interview!

How did you do research for your book?

Writing a book about celiac disease does require research mainly because new studies come out on the disease all the time, and with that new information. With regards to the medical part of the book, that certainly did require extensive research. For this, I used various resources; primarily books and reputable online organizations involved in the study of celiac disease. However, much of the first part was drawn from personal experience as well. I also reached out to TME (Topic Matter Experts) for added credibility and was delighted to have worked with a renowned doctor and his staff where they provided valuable direction and useful critique of my work. That same doctor also honored me by providing an exceptional foreword for my book! The recipe part was the most extensive and the part that took the longest time. There was the cooking, writing up the recipes and of course, the pictures, which that in itself was a big project. We wanted to make sure that they came alive through the pages of the book. All in all, cover to cover, it was a lot of hard work and one that I would do all over again if I had to!

Where do you get inspiration for your recipes?

The inspiration really came from my very own home and my precious family. I grew up as a child not having much. My parents worked really hard trying to build a life for us here in Canada. That stemmed from them growing up in Sicily in the 1940’s at a time where earning a ‘lira’ was extremely difficult. Because of that, they were forced to make do with whatever they had on hand. That usually involved coming up with creative ways to feed the family yet another day with leftovers, and using whatever was in the pantry which most of the time, wasn’t very much at all. I share some of those special ones and they mean a lot to me simply because every time they made such a dish it would be accompanied by a touching story. Over the years, these dishes have been tweaked and passed on from generation to generation where many of these traditional ones are known all over the world and served in many restaurants as well. I am so proud to be a part of that!

Do you have another profession besides writing?

Why yes! I love writing but I also love to blog which is related to writing right? I blog about beauty, fashion and anything that I think we women would love to know about. My blog really started out as a hobby, blogging about anything related to women but just recently, due to my diagnosis with celiac disease I’ve transitioned over to ‘lifestyle’ blogging. Now, in addition to the ‘girly’ talk, I also like to share recipes, gluten-free product reviews and information on celiac disease. Whenever I get the opportunity, I try to do put together some YouTube videos as well.

What is your next project?

I am working on a new book and simply because I felt there was a need out there in the market to educate those who entertain family and friends on how to prepare gluten-free meals. This can be daunting to those who have no clue on what that entails. With these ones in mind, I am co-authoring a book that will focus solely on how to entertain gluten and dairy free and will feature incredible simple to elaborate menus fit for any occasion, whether simple or formal. Stay tuned!

Favorite travel spot?

I actually have two and both for very different reasons. I love traveling to Italy (from North to South) because of the rich history, family, incredible beaches, art, fashion, breathtaking landscapes and of course the food! Need I say more? While I haven’t gone back in a few years, we are planning a trip for 2016 so that we can bring our son to show him where his family is from and introduce him to his cousins and aunts. There’s truly something magical about reminiscing about old times over a glass of wine overlooking the vineyard.

However, when I want to relax, unwind, and not do a thing, I like to head south. I have visited many Caribbean islands, but for some reason, my family and I are drawn to the southern hospitality of Myrtle Beach, SC.  This may surprise some but we just love getting the best of both worlds, meaning, we get to enjoy the beautiful beaches, warm weather and at the same time we get enjoy many of the commodities we are used to here at home.

There are tons of beautiful places to visit around the world and who knows, my favorite travel spots may change in the future.

Nuccia Ardagna

An All-Time Favorite – The Crostata

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La Crostata is one of those desserts that is found everywhere in Italy!  When we last visited, it was present at every breakfast buffet we visited.  It is so simple, but yet so tasty.  I don’t know of anyone that doesn’t like it, do you?

My mom is a wonderful baker and all her Italian cakes are very genuine – no extra fluff – just pure goodness and made with everyday ingredients.  I, on the other hand, have a love-hate relationship with cakes.  I don’t like dealing with dough because, according to Mom, you have to feel the dough to know if there is enough flour or you need to add more!  I, obviously, don’t have the “feel” of the dough and end up usually getting frustrated.  But I decided to attempt my luck with this simple crostata.  My mom gave me her directions, but always looking for an easier way, I decided to “you tube” it!  They made it look so easy – just knead, chill, and roll it out with a rolling pin.  On YouTube, it rolled out perfectly and they were able to put it into the baking pan so easily.  “I can do that”, I thought.  So I made my dough without difficulty (for once!), chilled it, and took it out after about 45 minutes.  I began to roll it out with a rolling pin…and oh what a mess!  It kept sticking to the rolling pin and I wasn’t getting anywhere!  So, reluctantly, I decided to go back to Mom’s way of taking the dough and working it into the pan with your fingers.  I covered the whole pan and the sides and made it look really pretty!  And ….best of all, it was really easy!  I have to admit it, but Mom was right!  I guess Mom is always right :)  Maybe my daughters will agree!!

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Crostata di Marmelata

1 cube butter, cut up

1 cup flour

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

Dash of vanilla

1/2 jar jam

Mix altogether and form a dough ball.  Cut off a little bit for the criss cross decorations on top. 

Lay the rest out in a buttered pan with your fingers.

Spread the jam on top.

Make criss-cross decorations with the remainder of the dough.

Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until golden.

The Artisan’s Star – A Book Review

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I just finished reading The Artisan’s Star by Gabriella Contestabile for Italy Book Tours.  In my opinion, if I had to use one word to sum up this book, it would be “passion.”  Everything that happens in the story involves some form of it – from the passionate love between a man and a woman, to the passion an artist has for his craft.  The story revolves around Elio at it’s center, and how he became passionate about perfume making.  We learn about the loves of his life: his beautiful Greek mother who taught him about scents, the two older women with whom he learned the passion of love, his wife who shares his life, and his little “stellina” (his daughter!) who is the star of his life. The story takes place mostly in Florence where the author goes into great detail to make you feel like you are walking with the characters through the streets of this ancient city.  We are introduced to other artisans who are passionate about their crafts and learn how, even in these modern times, they create their beautiful crafts like they were created hundreds of years ago.  We are also transported to Grasse, the perfume capital of France, where we learn a lot about the art of perfumery.  I have to say that this was all new to me and I never realized all the hard work and study that goes into making a perfume.

Ms. Contestabile’s book was very detailed and very descriptive, but at times, almost too much.  I found my interest waning at times and I had to force myself to continue reading.  She switched back and forth in the timeline, too, which was a bit distracting.  The basic premise of the book was good, with the central theme of passion for one’s craft, excellent.  She was successful in relaying that passion as it was evident in Elio’s and the other character’s lives.

Meet the Author:

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Gabriella Contestabile is an author, educator, and owner of SU MISURA JOURNEYS, a boutique travel company connecting people to the artisans of Florence. She emigrated, with her parents, from Italy to New York City in 1959. In her pre-writer life, she worked as a foreign language teacher, management development specialist, and fragrance/cosmetics executive. Gabriella is a strong advocate of the arts, of multiculturalism, and of social justice—a passion inspired by reading Dickens and Dante at a very young age. She has been an active volunteer with Dress for Success for over eight years and is a member of the Slow Food NYC Food and Farm Policy Task Force. She lives on the Upper West Side with her husband, her daughter, her mom, and a furry Shih–Tzu named Oreo. ‘ The Artisan’s Star’ is her first novel. She is currently working on a collection of short stories, also set in Italy, and a screenplay.

Not Your Typical Meatloaf

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One of my favorite Italian recipe websites, Giallo Zafferano, posted an interesting meatloaf recipe the other day which “spoke” to me!  Since I’ve been on a low carb, high fiber diet for the last few months, I’m always on the lookout for a suitable recipe to fit the criteria.  And this one fit the bill.  I have to say it was absolutely delicious – so flavorful and healthy, too!  Of course, I used the lowest fat version of everything I could find and also used high fiber bread!

Meatloaf Ingredients

500 g lean ground beef

300 g ground pork

100 g whole wheat bread, crust removed and pulsed in food processor

1 egg

100 g grated parmesan or pecorino cheese

1 T. chopped parsley

1 clove garlic, chopped

Salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste

Filling ingredients

100 g. sliced cheese (I used Provolone, but you can use whatever you like)

250 g spinach

1 clove garlic, chopped

10 g breadcrumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

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1.  All the garlic to a little olive oil in a frying pan.  Add the spinach and cook until wilted.  Remove from heat and place them in a colander to drain.

2.  Mix all the meatloaf ingredients together with your hands for about 5 minutes or until it is all well-incorporated.

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3.  Lay the meatloaf out on some parchment paper, making sure it’s well spread out and flat.

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4.  Take your spinach, squeeze out any excess water, and chop it fine.  Add the breadcrumbs to soak up any liquid and mix.

5.  Lay the spinach over the center of the meat.

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6.  Lay the cheese over the spinach.

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7.  Using the parchment paper, roll up the meat jelly roll style, squeezing it shut to keep the filling inside.

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8.  Place the wrapped meatloaf in the fridge for about half and hour.

9.  Unwrap the meatloaf and place it in a greased casserole dish.

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10.  Cook in a preheated oven at 380 degrees for about 30-40 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the meat releases a clear liquid).

11.  Let it stand for about 5 minutes before slicing it thin.

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Zoodles alla Puttanesca

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I think Italian cooking is always pretty healthy.  It tends to use lots of fresh ingredients and olive oil, but the pasta and breads have to be eaten sparingly.  I am trying to cut those carby things out as I follow the Dash diet but don’t want to give up those delicious Italian flavors!  Last night, I decided to substitute zucchini noodles for the pasta, adding a tasty puttanesca sauce!  Side note:  do you know what puttanesca means?  It means “belonging to the street walker”, and it’s a spicy tangy sauce – much like the spicy lives of a street walker, I guess!  Only Italians would come up with a name like that :)  Anyway,  I bought a dandy little contraption call the Veggetti (I know, it’s a funny name, isn’t it?) that makes “noodles” out of vegetables, like zucchini.

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I then made a modified Puttanesca sauce (modified because I added pancetta – yummy) and tossed it all together for a delicious guilt-free  “pasta” dish!  The flavors were so intense and delicious!  This will definitely remain a favorite :)

Zoodles alla Puttanesca

4 zucchini – spiralized

4 oz chopped pancetta – Trader Joe’s sells this already chopped, and I always keep some around

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1/2 small can of sliced black olives – drained

2 T capers – rinsed

1 1/2 cups marinara sauce – I make my own and here’s the recipe

1 T anchovy paste

3 Dorot crush garlic cubes – these can be found at Trader Joe’s, too

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Fry the pancetta over medium high heat until it’s crispy.

Add the anchovy paste and mix it up.

Add the rest of the ingredients (except the zucchini) and cook until the garlic melts.  Mix it all up.

Add the zucchini noodles to the pan and cook only until they are warm.  DO NOT OVERCOOK otherwise the noodles will turn mushy (yuck!)

Remove from pan and add a bit of olive oil and red pepper flakes to taste.

The Other Woman….

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Recently, I’ve been listening to some old music by the Italian group, Pooh!

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This group has been around since the mid 1960’s, and their songs always seem to tell a story.  I know that lots of people listen to music for the pure joy of the melody, while others listen carefully to the words.  I am one who always listens to the lyrics, and many times I try to figure out what the song is trying to say!  Most of the times, I can figure out the hidden meaning, if there is one, but other times, my imagination probably gets the best of me!  One of their songs that always makes me wonder is L’Altra Donna (The Other Woman).  When I listen to the lyrics, I’m touched in conflicting ways.  The song is a type of beautiful love letter to someone they can’t have, but also to someone that they don’t want to have. The singer is obviously married but is singing the song to his mistress.  I can’t help but get angry at the singer – he seems to want his cake and eat it, too.  He is getting all the benefits of having a wife and a mistress, but yet is being unfair to both of them.  I know that infidelity is rampant everywhere, but it seems to me that this song rationalizes its merits because the man is singing about love for his mistress (which proves he’s not a total cad) but yet, he won’t leave his wife for her.  In Italy, and not just in Italy but lots of other places too, I feel that the institution of marriage is sacred, but the vow of infidelity is often times ignored.  Therefore, men and women have lovers but yet, they will not leave their families for that lover.  That’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but I often wonder where that leaves the lover, especially if they don’t have a spouse.  And it seems to me that the only one who wins, is the one who is doing the cheating!  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the song – what do you think they’re trying to say and how does it make you feel?

L’Altra Donna

È ancora tutto all’aria da ieri sera,
è più comodo in albergo,
paghi il conto e te ne vai;
ma in certe cose tu ci credi ancora,
far l’amore nel tuo letto,
prepararmi il tuo caffè;
è poi mi lasci andare via, quando è ora,
perché ognuno ha la sua vita,
e la mia non è con te.
Sei l’altra donna,
la libertà,
quella che sa e non può dir niente,
quella che all’alba rimane sola,
e che non può mai lasciare impronte,
con me non puoi cercare casa,
o uscire insieme a far la spesa,
sei l’altra donna,
quella importante,
quella che ha tutto e non ha niente, di me.
Mio figlio è un’altra storia, un altro amore,
tu non puoi partecipare, Dio lo sa se io vorrei.
Tu in macchina con me non puoi fumare,
mozziconi col rossetto. parlerebbero di te;
ma in fondo tu che colpa hai del mio cuore,
delle ore che mi manchi, dei problemi che mi dai.
Sei l’altra donna,
la libertà,
quella che sa perché ritorno,
e quanta pace tu mi sai dare,
io dirò tutto a lei un giorno,
faremo insieme un’altra casa,
io e te che siamo un’altra cosa.
Io e te che siamo la stessa cosa,
faremo insieme la nostra casa;
prima dell’alba c’è ancora un’ora,
stringimi forte e sogna ancora,
di noi.

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The Other Woman

Everything’s still in the air from last night,

it’s more comfortable in the hotel,

you pay the bill and then you leave;

but you still believe in certain things,

making love in your bed,

preparing me your coffee;

and then you let me leave, when it’s time,

because we each have our own lives,

and mine is not with you.

You are the other woman,

my liberty,

the one who knows and can’t say anything,

the one who remains alone at sunrise,

and who can never leave traces,

you can’t look for a home with me

or go out together to go shopping,

you’re the other woman,

the important one,

the one who has everything and who has nothing of me.

My son is a different story, another love,

you cannot participate, God knows if I would want it.

In the car, you cannot smoke

leave lipstick marks, they’d speak of you;

but in the end you are not to blame for my heart

or the hours when I miss you, all the problems that you give me.

You’re the other woman,

my liberty,

the one who knows why I return,

and how much peace you know how to give me,

I’ll tell her everything one day,

and we’ll build another home together,

You and I are another thing.

You and I are the same thing,

we’ll build our own home together,

before sunrise there’s another hour,

hold me tight and dream again

of us.