Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What We Discover

"To travel is to discover that everyone 
is wrong about other countries."
~ Aldous Huxley

"Let's go in this store," I said to Mike on the very cold morning after we arrived in Paris.  We were walking around trying to kill time (and stay warm) until we boarded our ship, and we happened by a home improvement store.  I like going through showrooms. Given the choice of shopping home improvement or shoes, I'll go the HI route any day.  My friends — and mother — had a field day with me when Black & Decker had stores in the outlet malls because I insisted it was my favorite store there.  When we first moved to Nashville and were living in an apartment waiting for our house to be finished, I wasted hours in Home Depot  and Lowes.  But, I digress.....

At any rate, we went into that particular store just to look around and found very interesting cabinets that I could seriously use in my own kitchen. As you probably know, European homes are much, much, much smaller than most American homes, and Europeans have learned to use every bit of space.  We could take a lesson from them.

In my kitchen in Las Vegas (and in every kitchen I've ever had, to tell the truth), I have an L-shaped counter that has drawers on both sides and a huge, unused space where the two counters meet.  If you look at all of these photos, you can see that the French have a great option: shelves on wheels (top photo) or shelves that swing out from that normally wasted space.  

The cabinet shown at the top (red doors) is interesting in that two shelves are attached to the door, and two shelves are on rollers that are somehow connected to the door mechanism.  When you open the door, two of the shelves come out with the door, and the other two roll into the place the first two occupied.  You can then pull those two out individually, too.   The other option has two odd-shaped shelves that swing out from their resting place (the white cabinets).  Pretty cool, no?

Since we've been home, I've been fighting with my corner cabinet constantly. I have to stuff kitchen towers into the drawers, which are about five-inches wide. On the other side, the cabinet  is about the same width, and I have to store small items that I rarely use. Of course, because the stupid shelf is so narrow, things fall off of it into the Bermuda-like-Triangle of a corner and are lost forever.

Bottom line, I want one of those cabinets, and I actually found one online.  It wasn't that expensive, considering.  Of course, the question comes down to this:  Do I want the cabinet or a trip back to Europe?

Silly girl.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thank You for Your Patience

Here's a shock:  A major new study has shown a link between a rise in temperatures and a rise in violence.  I happened to see a blurb about that this morning on the CBS site, but I haven't taken the time to watch the video yet.  Seriously.  Do you need someone to tell you that a rise in temps (temperature)  causes a rise in temps (tempers). Ha. Ha.

Stay with me.... I'm going to tie this all in to my story about flying to Florida this week.

"You still seem to be out of it," Mike said to me Wednesday while we waited for our United Airlines flight from LV to Ft. Myers via Houston.  "What's going on?"  I shook my head because I just wasn't in the mood to talk much.  In addition to being hot and tired, we were traveling, and that stresses me.  Worse, we arrived at the gate to find that our flight was delayed about 20 minutes.  Normally, it irritates me to have to wait, but in this case, we had a very, very short layovr in Houston — 40 minutes — so I was nervous about making the connection.

Fast-forward.... The inbound plane was not too late, and we did leave the gate around 3:30.  I closed my eyes as we started down the runway, bouncing as we gained speed.  We lifted off, and the plane jerked, shuddered and dipped.  Passengers caught their collective breaths.

"Holy crap," the lady in 36C and I (36A) said simultaneously  I dug my nails into Mike's hand as the planed hopped its way upwards.  I could barely breathe.

"Well, that was interesting," my husband said. We were still bouncing around.

"I hate flying," 36C said. "I hate flying."   I was trying not to lose my lunch.

"We have rough air around the airport," Mike said to 36C.  I don't think she cared.  "This was the worst takeoff I've ever had, though."  

"I hate flying," 36C repeated.  

Kudos to the pilot for avoiding a bellyflop on the McCarran runway and for picking up time in the air. We actually landed and were at the gate in Houston only five minutes late.

As we pulled into the gate, flight attendants asked that anyone who was not catching another flight stay seated so that those of us with close connections could get off first.  Gate agents apparently didn't care as they took their time to connect us to the jetway, and by the time they opened the plande doors, everyone was too hot and tired of sitting in the more-than-cramped quarters to allow connecting passengers time to get off first.

Many of us (including 36C) sitting in the last few rows of the plane were all headed to Ft. Myers, and we were happy to see that our departing gate was the exact gate into which we had just pulled.  No running!

"Can't we just stay on this plane?" someone asked the flight attendant.

"No," he replied.  "This plane is going to New Orleans."

"The Ft. Myers flight is delayed two hours," a woman in row 34 said.  She had checked the United website on her phone. Mike looked at me.

"That means we won't get in until 2 am," he said.  

"I don't believe her," I said.  "We'll check with the gate agent."  We got off the plane to find throngs of passengers lining up to board the ontime flight to Ft. Myers.

"Is this flight delayed?" I aked the gate attendant closest to me.

"No," she replied.  "We'll be boarding momentarily." 

She and I apparently have differing definitions of momentarily.

Allow me to go back to the plane situation for a second.  The plane we took from LV to Houston was the same plane we were going to take to Ft. Myers, and the flight numbr wa the same.  Because there was a crew change involved, we had to deplane and reboard.  Ok.  Simple enough. . . except that we are talking about United Airlines.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the gate agent announced, "thank you for your patience.  We have a crew cleaning the cabin, and once the flight crew arrives, we'll be boarding."    The flight status still showed "On Time" departure.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the gate agent announced, "thank you for your patience. We are waiting for the flight crew, and as soon as they arrive, we'll begin boarding. We expect them momentarily."    The flight status showed a 20-minute delay.

"We need to call the rental car agency," I said to Mike.  "They close at 12:30, and we were going to be close if the flight arrived on time."  

"Yep, we better call them then," the man in whose name the reservation was said.  Of course, he mean that I should call them.  I did.  

"Ladies and gentlemen," the gate agent interrupted yet again, "thank you for your patience.  We're still waiting for the flight crew to arrive so  we can begin boarding.  They are in the airport and should arrive momentarily."  The flight status still showed the 20-minute delay.

I'm not going to go through the entire 15-minute frantic conversation I had with Dollar Rent-a-Car agents, but suffice to say that they were quite accommodating and assured me that someone would wait until our flight landed so we could get our car.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the gate agent interrupted yet again, "thank you for your patience.  We're still waiting for the flight crew to arrive so  we can begin boarding.  They are in the airport and should arrive momentarily."  The flight status still showed the 20-minute delay even though we were now 10 minutes past that time.

"The gate agent can't tell me what momentarily means," Mike said to me after approaching the desk about our tardy flight attendants.  I just glared.  Like everyone at Gate E-8, I was hot, thirsty and cranky.  Since it was after 9 PM, all of the concourse cafes and stores were closed, so we had no chance to get water or ice.  United offered us nothing.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the gate agent started her now-ridiculous statement again, "thank you for your patience.  The captain and first officer are here. We're still waiting for the flight crew to arrive so  we can begin boarding.  They are in the airport and should arrive momentarily."  The flight status still showed the 20-minute delay even though we were waaaayyyy past that. 

 The captain got on the loudspeacker at that point and told us that for some unknown reason, someone at United thought that the flight from Las Vegas was very late and informed the pilots and flight attendants that the Houston-Ft. Myers flight was delayed two hours.  When we actually arrived on time, he, the first officer and the flight attendants were having dinner somewhere else in the airport.

"The first officer and I are here now, but we don't know where the flight attendants are. We're trying to locate them now," he said. So much for their arriving momentarily.

The delayed time of the flight continued to inch up, and the gate agent continued to thank us for our patience and tell us that the flight attedants would arrive momentarily. 

 Let me be blunt: She had no idea what momentarily meant.  Passengers grumbled.  In my mind, I was using every single four-letter word I know in Spanish, Italian and English. My blood presure was climbing as my temper was shortening. When the flight attendants sauntered into the gate area an hour past our original flight time, a few passengers clapped.  Most of the rest of us growled. 

"Don't clap for them. They're not even hurrying," one irate person said.

By the time we boarded and backed from the gate, our flight was an hour and thirty minutes late. That, however, was not the end.

"The plane is not moving," Mike said.  The plane had topped about 20 yards from the gate.

"Sh*t. Sh*t Sh*t" The man in 36C (Yes, we were in the same seats.) was not happy.

"Ladies and gentleman, this is Captain United," said our captain whose name I can't remember. "We backed from the gate and a warning light for our nosegear went on.  We're going to have a crew check it out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we know something. It should be 15-20 minutes."  

Those four-letter Spanish, Italian and English words were flying around my head like snowflakes in a blizzard. The man in 36C was a little more vocal than I. Actually, he was a lot more vocal.

"I wonder which hotels are close to Houston International," Mike whispered to me.  We'd both  thought a night in Houston was in our future.  36C pretty much thought the same thing, and if his increased use of certain words was any indication, he was not happy. 

Within five minutes, Captain United was back on to tell us that the crew checking the safety buttons had just forgotten to click off something, and that we were safe to go  "Thank you for your patience," he chipped. "We'll be on our way now."  Some people clapped. 36C mumbled something a little less angry.  I just glared.

(Now, to be honest, I'm glad that the safety features stopped us from flying. Who would want to fly if there were a real problem?  The fact that someone from United forgot to turn off the switch is good and bad.... Good in that it was the only problem, but bad in that it was human error.  Come on, people. Do your job.)

I think the worst parts of all of this, though, were that the airline was less-than-willing to do anything for the passengers and that the flight attendants acted as though we were lucky they arrived.  Once they started in-flight service, they offered us snacks.... for a fee, of course.  It took forever to get drinks.  Once they finished, two attendants stood in the back and talked to an obvious friend who laughed LOUDLY.  Everyone in the last few rows grumbled because the goof's guffawing interrupted reading and sleeping. 

"Who is that?" Mike asked looking toward the galley.

"#3&& if I know," snarled 36C, "but I'd like to (Insert some other four-letter words here.)."

"Don't start anything," I begged.

We finally landed almost 90 minutes late. 

"Thank you for flying United," one of the errant flight attendants said as we disembarked.

"Thank you for your patience," Captain United said.

"I was less-than-patient," I snapped as I walked by.  "This was a bunch of crap."

We ran through the airport to rental car row.  Luckily for us, Dollar's reps were waiting for us even though they were supposed to have closed an hour earlier. We signed the papers are were on our way within 10 minutes.

"Do you want anything to eat?" Mike asked as we drove towards Cape Coral.  We had not eaten since lunch Las Vegas time.

"It's after 2 in the morning," I said.  

"McDonald's drive-through is open," he said.

We ended up with fries and a drink.  I think they helped calm me.  (That's my story & I'm sticking to it.)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Two Months Out

"Italy is in my blood."
~ Christine Cutler

It's two months today that we arrived home from nine weeks in Europe, most of which we spent in Italy as you know if you read this blog or know me at all.  I have had a hard time adjusting to being back. . . a harder time than I have had coming back from previous trips.

I don't mean I've had a hard time with the time change, although that was certainly part of it in the beginning. They conventional wisdom is that it takes one day for every hour of time difference for your body to adjust to the new time zone.  France and Italy were nine hours ahead of us, so if one were to believe that theory, it should have taken nine days to readjust to Pacific Time.  More than three weeks later, both Mike and I were still waking up in the middle of the night.  (I often wondered where the heck I was and looked for skylights . . . something we had in more than one bedroom apartment in Europe.) We both finally got over that, thankfully.

At any rate, we got right back into life in the desert, but I am still not really here, if you know what I mean.  My mind drifts to Italy a lot, and I miss being there. . . dreadfully miss being there.  I'm working hard on trying to figure out a way return.

Every so often, though, these crazy obsessions overtake me, and my mind swirls with thoughts and projects and memories and all stuff related to that obsession.  That's where I am now, and that's where I'm going to be for some time, I'm afraid.  If I wanted to forget about it . . . If I *really* wanted to get Italy out of my mind, I could do it.  I guess the truth is that I really don't want to move on at this point.  

So, I'll deal with it. . . and I'll continue working on a way to go back . . . . 

The photo above is of Pettorano sul Gizio.

(A side note... Going back isn't in any way related to the hurdles of which I've alluded lately. That's a different crazy idea of mine.  ;-)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Five Reasons I Couldn't Live in Europe Permanently

"Be willing to be uncomfortable.
Be comfortable being uncomfortable.
It may get tough, but it's a small
price to pay for living a dream."
~ Peter McWilliams

"It would be fun," my other half said to me while we were still in Italy, "to live here for a few months a year."  I stared at him.  Speaking was the guy who had balked at staying there two months . . . the guy who didn't want to stay in one place (during this trip) more than a few weeks because he thought he'd get bored . . . the guy who is Mr. Practical to my Mrs. Impractical. . .  "What do you think?"

What did I think?  I thought he was nuts, and that wasn't because of what he posed, just that he posed it.  As I said, he's usually the practical one, and I come up with these hair-brained adventures.  Once in a while, though, he surprises me.

The truth of the matter, though, is that we probably could live in Europe semi-permanently . . . or even permanently if not for a few minor inconveniences.  Taking out of consideration the distance from Jason, our families and friends (and the cost), I struggled to come up with five reasons I couldn't live in Europe permanently.

5.  *My* Dog

I would have to take Riley with me if we were moving.  That isn't as much a problem as how to get him there.  While most of Europe doesn't have a quarantine law for pets, the big hassle would be transporting him on a plane.  I would never put him in cargo for such a long flight.  That means, I would have to shove his chunky butt into a carry-on case, and while he fits, it's more like a sausage casing which, considering his porky little self, would be appropriate.

Once I solved *that* problem, I'd have to figure out where to put him while on the plane.  If you saw my post about our flight home, you know that we are now spoiled since we flew business class.  The bit problem with that is that there is no place to stow a case during take-off and landing except in the overhead bin.  While he'd fit, I don't know if the airlines would permit it.

Don't worry, Little Dude.  We'll figure it out.

4.  Uncovered Food in Markets & Stores

It drives me nuts to see uncovered food for sale in markets, stores, and groceries in Europe.  The photo above is one I took at the spice market in Avignon where, honestly, I did buy spices.  However, what I bought was bottled not sitting out where kids could put their hands in it (Saw it.), people could bend down and put their noses right next to it (Saw it.), and flies could land on it to enjoy a veritable feast of spicy goodness (Saw it.).  

The pink cookies (below) were in a shop in Avignon, too, although we saw the same things all over France and Italy.  Same problems as above would keep me from buying them, although I'd have to add in grown-ups touching the cookies to pick the "BEST" one.  And, then I wonder how the heck old the cookies are and how long they've been sitting there.  Ugh.

All that said, this is also really not too big of a problem for me since I just would never buy food that is sitting out like that.

3.  Crappy Weather

It's going to be 117 in Las Vegas this weekend, and I'm thrilled.  I can deal with heat.  I can deal with cooler temps (NOT COLD ONES!).  I can even deal with a little rain once a year or so, but I can't stand a lot of rain or cold or snow or humidity or any combination of them.

"Italy must have agreed with you," Dr. Paul Emery said to me when I went in for a check-up last week.   All the test results were good, and my blood pressure and weight were down.  "You have a certain glow now."  

Of course I have a glow.  I've been in the sun everyday since we returned from the perpetual shower we encountered everywhere we went in Europe.  That's not to say we don't have crappy weather in Las Vegas.  We do.  It was cloudy here on Monday, and I think it rained one day in February.  But we don't have mudslides, volcanic eruptions, wild fires, tornados, hurricanes, major earthquakes, floods, snow and/or that last more than a few hours, or humidity that is so high it will glue your clothes to your skin.

I realize there is no way humans can control weather . . . unless you consider the fact that you can choose to live somewhere where the worst weather forecast calls for sunny days and record-breaking temperatures.

2.  Electricity

If anything drove me nutty during our trip this year, it was the electricity service in Europe, particularly Italy.  I already told you about the gazillion adapters one must have even with appliances or objects made in Europe for European plugs, so I won't go into that again.    (If you missed it, you can read about it here.)

But, for the love of God, please standardize yourselves.  The US, Canada, Mexico and a good percentage of South America all use the same voltage and plugs. Combined, we're a heck of a lot larger than all of Europe put together, and we've been able to come to an agreement.  Italy, are you listening?

1. Post Offices

Americans complain a lot about the post offices here.  Heck, if you live in our area, our post office is about 8 miles away (There are two a lot closer, but heaven forbid the government should make things easy.), and it is always always always packed with customers waiting in line to go to one of two manned windows.  Think that's bad?  Think again.

"Laurie, is there a post office near here?" I asked our Spoleto host one afternoon.  "I need to get a box to mail some stuff home."

He told us how to get to the closest one and added, "It's quite busy, though."  He told us about another one that was almost as close.

"Is service faster in that one?" I asked.  Silly me.

"No," he replied.  "It's worse.  If you go there, plan on taking a lunch." (Hello! Why even bother mentioning it then?)  

He is right, though.  We've had to deal with post offices in Italy a few times over the years, and they are all the same. There are three machines from which you can take a number, so you have to decide what you want to do.  Cash a check or money order?  Box A.  Buy stamps  or mail something?  Box B.  Do something else that I couldn't figure out?  Box C.  Do any combination of the three?  Good luck.

So what do you do in the post office that is so maddening?

Take your number, sit, and watch the displays sssslllloooowwwwllllyyy move when a patron who was smart enough to get there earlier than you finally finishes and leaves.  Try not to fall asleep while the heat inside the building increases in proportion to the number of people (A LOT!) waiting in the lobby. Wonder what is so complicated that it takes every customer about 10-20 minutes to complete his or her transaction. Glare at the man who has burped loud enough to wake the dead.  Jump up and yell as soon as you see your number finally appear on the screen and stamp on feet or jump over chairs to get to the counter so the clerk who is lucky enough to get you doesn't think you aren't there and moves on to the next number.  Thirty seconds of hand-signaling and broken Italian later, the clerk sends you on your way without performing a transaction and takes the next number.

Of course, I could fix this one, too.  I'd never mail anything.  End of story.


Bottom line, I could live with most of these things by simply avoiding them.  Heck, we've moved all over the country and adapted.  Europe wouldn't be that big of a stretch.  The weather is a big issue, though.  It's one reason we moved back to Vegas, so you know we put a lot of importance on good weather.  Sigh.

Any of you have reasons you couldn't move somewhere?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Five Reasons I Could Live in Europe

"I'm glad I still have the ability to tour 
in  Europe. I do love it."
~ James Taylor

I admit it.  I've been a little down in the dumps lately because we are home.  Don't get me wrong.  I love being in my own house and having the conveniences that spoil us, but I miss being in Europe, especially Italy.  Over the past few days, I've been thinking about how it would be to live there for an extended period of time.  (I'm talking more than the two months we were there recently.)  Mental-list maker that I am, I developed the reasons I could — and couldn't — move to Italy on a somewhat semi-permanent basis. In no particular order, here are five that came to mind immediately.

5.  Dogs


Europeans love dogs.  I know some of you are probably thinking, "Is she nuts? Because Europeans like dogs she could live in Europe?"  Hello, those of you thinking that.  If you know me at all, you know I am nuts about dogs and that would be a most important factor for me.

"May I take a photo of your dog?" I often ask the canine's biped companion.

"She has more pictures of the dogs than she does of me," my husband tells the owners.  I roll my eyes and shake my head.  "She does," he continues. 

Dogs are so intuitive and, except for that Brittany Spaniel that nipped me in Spoleto, very friendly and open.  They're also an opening to talk to their humans.  "What a cute dog," I usually say to the owner.  "May I pet him/her?"  Having done his/her job, the canine ambassador enjoys a few pats on the head, and the human conversation can turn from dogs to anything else since both humans relax.  

The only negative I see in Europe is the same as the one over here:  People do not pick up after their dogs.  That, of course, is not the dog's fault.


4.  The Outdoor Cafes

Yes. Yes. I made fun of the French eating and drinking outside when it was freezing and/or raining, but I love cafes.  I'll take the cozy, warm ones in inclement weather, and the bright, outdoorsy ones in warm weather. Truth be told, we sat outside a few times when the weather was a bit cooler than I can normally stand, but most of the cafes had heaters, so our coffee didn't freeze before we finished it.

"Do you want to go get coffee?" Mike asked me the other night.  

"Where?"  There are four Starbucks within about a mile of our house, and I love Starbucks.  However, while they all offer outdoor seating, they lack that certain ambiance of which I'm speaking.  (Note:  Interestingly, the Starbucks we saw in Paris did not have outdoor seating.  Go figure.)

"One of your two offices," he answered me.  Smart man.  The two places of which he spoke are a few miles from the house and very close to each other, and they are a little more "European" than the others. 

Off we went to Sambalatte.  It's not Cafe Ovidio or Boulangerie St. Antoine or Caffe degli Artisti, but it will stand in for me while we're here.

3. Trains

I love train travel.  I know we have Amtrak in the US, but it's never taken off the way trains in other countries have.  Of course, the US is so much larger than individual European countries, but we found it so  nice to hop on the train and let them "drive" us all over: Paris to Avignon to Torino to Spoleto to Sulmona to Bologna.  Of course, we also trained it to other towns near where we were staying.

"But how much did it cost you to go places?" one of my friends asked recently.

"It depended on distance," I told her, "but, for example, Spoleto to Assisi was about 3 euro.  Spoleto to Sulmona was 20 euro."  A car would have been much more expensive, and we'd have to find parking spaces, gas, and the rental agencies (not an easy thing to do).

I'm excitedly waiting for the high-speed railway that will connect Las Vegas and Los Angeles.  Officials keep saying they're going to build it by XXXX.  Of course, when we lived here in the 90s, officials said the railway would be operational by 2005.  

As I said, I'm excitedly waiting....

2. Markets

Fresh fruit. Fresh vegetables. Fresh cheese.  Fresh Porchetta.  Fresh Bread.  Fresh flowers.

Need I say more?

1.  Home

The first time I saw my grandmother's village, I felt connected.  The life there is not a life I really know because it is so different than what we live in the States.  That said, it is a life with which I think I'm comfortable.  Would I have felt that way 20 years ago?  10 years ago?  I have no idea, but today is what's important.

I've probably said this before, but I was never fond of history when I was in school.  Seeing historic buildings in person, however, I have a completely different view.  Seeing buildings and structures that are centuries old amazes me.  It reminds me of the time I took European exchange students to Old Town San Diego.  They weren't impressed, and they could tell it hurt my feelings.

"Chris," one of the Norwegian girls said to me, "you have to remember that this is not old to us.  We call my church the "new" church in town, and it's 400 years old."

I finally understand what she meant.

Any of you have any thoughts on if you could or couldn't live abroad?

Next time I'll give you five reasons why I couldn't live abroad permanently.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Little Silliness


"Mix a little foolishness with your
serious plans. It is lovely to be
silly at the right moment."
~ Horace

Warning:  I wish I could add flashing lights and one of those "AWOOGA" horns to the top of this post.  I can't, of course, so I'll just advise you not to read this if you are an art lover who is easily offended by my sense of humor and sarcastic tendencies.  

One of the things Mike really wanted to do in Paris (and everywhere else we went) was go to art museums.  He's much more interested in them than I am for some reason.  Actually, I think I know why I'm not as interested, but that's beside the point.  He likes to go, so I go with him.

"Do you want to try the Louvre again today?" he asked me on the Friday morning two days before we were leaving Paris.

"I thought that was the plan," I sighed as I probably rolled my eyes. We didn't want to attempt going on a Saturday, so this was going to be the last day.  

"I just wanted to make sure."  He always wants to make sure even though we may have tickets for an event or plans to meet friends at a certain time. 

"We have tickets.  Of course we'll go."  Huge sigh.

(Let me take a minute to remind you of the fun we'd had in Paris that week:  It was cold.  It rained a lot. On Monday, we went to the Pompidou.  It rained. On Tuesday we walked to the Louvre to find it closed. It rained on our way home.  We went to the Louvre on Wednesday to find it closed due to a staff strike.  It rained on our way home. I went on a one-day strike against the Louvre on Thursday. It rained.  On Friday morning, we woke up and went to get coffee.  It was raining. I started to feel like a sponge with bad hair.)

At any rate, late that morning, we made it to the Louvre and got in without waiting in line.  The fun started. As you may recall, we do entertain ourselves by posing with statues while we're in museums, galleries and malls. You also may remember that I tend to make up captions and such.  I mean no offense to the artist (or anyone who loves a particular painting), but one of the reasons we have art is to make us think, no?  I think. It just might be in a different way.

You know what I'm getting at, don't you?  I started making captions for some of the paintings.

This was one of the first paintings we saw after we left the sculptures that afternoon.  I forget who painted it and when, although it was probably after the 13-14th centuries because the colors are a bit brighter than those used in earlier paintings.  At any rate, when I turned the corner and saw it, I started laughing immediately.

"BOO!" I shout-whispered.  Mike turned around and started laughing, too.  "SURPRISE!! I'M ALIVE!!"

Do you know, by the way, why so much of the early art was religious in nature?  There are several reasons, not the least of which was because the church had money and commissioned art to adorn churches.  In addition, they royals commissioned religious artwork because they believed God would be pleased and bless their reigns.  In addition, most people were illiterate then, and the eastiest way to teach them about God was to do so through paintings.

During the Renaissance, the wealthy started commissioning paintings of themselves (above and the next two below).

"What do you think he's saying?" Mike asked me when we saw the painting above.

"I'm a regular guy," I laughed.  "I started out mopping floors, waiting tables and tending bar. . . I'm not concerned about the poor."

 "Take a photo of this painting," Mike told me.  "I'll use it on my Facebook page."

"What are you going to say about it?" I wondered.

"Have you seen my pants?  I seem to have lost them after I left the bar."  We were rolling.

"What do you want to call our boy band?" 

"We must go to the same hairdresser!"  "Hairdresser? We must go to the same tailor!"

Sometime around the early-to-mid 18th century, artists started painting natural life more and more over the objections of the Church.  They painted landscapes, animals, and even started painting peasants.  

"Don't talk to me about coconut milk. If it doesn't come from a cow, it's not milk."

"The cow is of the bovine ilk.
One end is moo, the other milk."  (Ogden Nash)

" the mugger, he comes to and he starts choking me. So I'm fighting him off with one hand and I kept driving the bus with the other, ya know. Then I managed to open up the door and I kicked him out the door, ya know, with my foot, ya know...." (From Seinfeld)

Yes, I know.  I'm a little crazy.  It's how I roll.  ;-)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

In Memory.....

"Don't grieve.  Anything you lose
comes round in another form."
~ Rumi

My Uncle Jim passed away Monday.  He was the youngest of my Mom's siblings, husband to Aunt Jean, father of my cousins Ken and Donna, and my godfather.  The last time I saw Uncle Jim (a few years ago), he looked good. . . older, yes, but still like Uncle Jim. 

"Do you remember how Gram sold bread to the neighbors?" I asked him that night.

"No," he told me honestly.  "I don't remember that at all."  It could have been because he was the youngest, and by the time he was old enough to have memories of the bread and such, Gram no longer had the need to sell bread to get money to feed the kids.

Rather than ramble on about the passing of family and such, let me tell you about to our trip to the cemeteries in Pettorano.  Yes, I did write "cemeteries."  There are two — the old and the "new."

The old cemetery is down the mountain and across the Gizio from Pettorano.  (I took the top photo that shows the cemetery from the main piazza in town.)  It has long been closed and is in a horrible state of disrepair.  One of the town's residents, Peppe (I don't know his last name.), has taken on the task of trying to fix it up.  We could not get into the cemetery itself but took photos from the gated entrance and windows (above and below).

I know that my grandmother's mother was buried there since she passed when Grams was born.  I'm sure there are other relatives there, too, but I can't be sure.  There are no visible markers, and what is visible is pretty much indecipherable.

Apparently, in the early 1900s, the Italian government ordered the town to move the cemetery to a location down the road a bit.  

 "Do you want to go to the new cemetery?" Mike asked me after we'd finished walking through Pettorano one afternoon.

Cemeteries usually freak me out, and I'd rather run a marathon than walk among the spirits.  "Sure. i want to look around again."  For some reason, going to the cemetery in Pettorano had the opposite effect on me.

Most of the graves are in above-ground vaults (above) or in mausoleums (below).  As you can tell from the photo, families can put flowers on the graves by attaching little vases to the stones.

Two years ago, one of my Pettorano friends told me that when a person dies, the family buries them, but the burial is temporary.  After 100 years, the remains (mostly bones) are removed and put in an underground mass grave.  How true that is, I'm not sure, and where the mass grave is, I don't know.

We found what we think is my great-grandfather's grave (below).  The dates would be compatible with  what I think would be right.  One of these days I'll figure it out for sure, but until then, I'm saying this is Gramps's dad.

I guess I need to go back to get this all straightened out.  ;-)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Magical Place, II

The things I want to express are so beautiful and pure.
~ M. C. Escher

"Buona sera," I said to the little man who was standing in the doorway of an ancient building in Castrovalva.  "How are you?"

"Thanks be to God, I'm doing well, signora."  He smiled and leaned on the doorframe.  Novelia took over the conversation, and I listened and interjected a couple of thoughts here and there.   Vincenzo, or Enzo as he preferred, began to tell us about the Castrovalva of his lifetime.  He was born there, worked there, and saw the town burgeon in his youth and wither as he aged.

"Before cars arrived here," he told us, "we got up and down the hill by walking. If we had to bring something up, we used mules."  He added that the "new" road that we took to arrive in Castrovalva was not the one they used back then.  The other one, he said, was more steep and rocky.

"May I take your photo?" I asked him, and he obliged, taking off his hat so we could see his face more clearly.  

"How old are you?" Novelia asked him.

"Guess," he laughed.  We all looked at him for a few minutes, and he turned one way and then the other.

"75," Novelia started.  He laughed again and pointed his thumb up indicating that she should guess a little higher.  "80."  The thumb went up . . . "82" . . . and up . . . ."84" . . . and up. . . "86. . . . "90" . . . and up until she finally said, "96." Yikes.

You can't really tell it from the photos I took of Enzo, but he's in great shape.  When Mike and I went back to Castrovalva a few days later, we saw him in his workshop again.

"Buongiorno, Enzo," I greeted him.  "How are you doing today?"

"I'm very well, signora," he told me.  "It's always a good day when I can work."


If you've studied contemporary art (20th Century), you've undoubtedly studied or read about M.C. Escher, a Dutch graphic artist known mostly for woodcuts, mezzotints and lithographs.  Escher traveled through Spain and Italy in the early 1920s, and in 1924 married Jetta Umiker and settled in Rome. Taken with Italy, the countryside and mountains, Escher went to different regions of the country throughout the year drawing and sketching scenes from which he'd make woodcuts once he was home.

In 1929, Escher stayed in Castrovalva and sketched.  Critics consider the resulting print, Castrovalva, one of his best prints.  For copyright reasons, I won't show it on the blog, but you can see it by clicking here.  I took the photo above from an area close to where Escher made his sketches. I was looking in the opposite direction.  The town in the photo below is Anversa, the same one that's in Escher's lithograph.  I took that photo from the end of the same path (He was closer to the beginning of the path.) but angled the camera down to avoid the setting sun.

From what I've read, Escher's print influenced one of the writers of the BBC television series, Dr. Who.  In one of the seasons, Dr. Who regenerated but needed a place to relax and rest, and he ended up in Castrovalva.  Since I never watched the show and have no interest in doing so now, I don't know much  more about it than that.

At any rate, the people of Castrovalva have memorialized Escher by naming a street after him.

If you're interested in seeing a little more of the scenery, here's a short video Mike took the second time we headed up the mountain.