Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ciao, Italia

"What if we did not go home?
What if we just kept traveling?
Should you not listen well to the
questions you ask out of nowhere?"
~ Frances Mayes

"What time are you setting the clock for?" Mike asked me as we walked to dinner tonight.

"I'm not setting the clock. I'm not going home."  I was half=kidding.  "Call me when you get there.

Two months. . . .Nine weeks . . . .  Sixty-three days. . . . Very quickly, the time has vaporized. I've tried to catch it, to hold on to it a little longer, but it's not going to happen.  Tomorrow at this time, we'll probably be starting our descent into Miami International and life in the States again.

So much and so little have changed in two months.  I look at the two photos of us above and try to see the differences.  I think I can, but I don't know.  I think most of the changes are mental.

I'm lucky to have had this adventure. . . lucky to have married someone who would travel around the world with me . . . lucky to have someone who would entertain thoughts of having me work overseas for a few months . . . lucky to have a husband who makes me laugh all the time. . . . lucky to have someone as crazy about my ancestral land as I. . . .

I'm lucky to be going home. . . . lucky to have had a friend such as Mary care for my little dude, Riley. . . . lucky to have been able to Skype with our son . . . . lucky to live in a country that gives us the freedom to travel as we want. . . . lucky to have you as friends. . . . lucky to be able to share this adventure. . . .

I can't write much tonight.  I'm a bit too sad and, if you can believe it, a bit too excited.  Add in the fact that we have to get up to catch a taxi at 5:45 am (before most of you will have even gone to bed!!), and, well, you understand.

I'm not letting the blog die.  I have too many stories left to tell.  I hope you don't mind following for a little bit longer.  I'll probably take tomorrow off, though.  Our flight will land in Las Vegas about 26 hours after we leave Bologna.  I might be a little tired.

Ciao, Italia e Francia.  Grazie mille per tutti. 

Good night, everyone.  I'll see you on the other side of the world.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Bologna Has a First Name

"Bologna is the best city in Italy for food,
and it has the least (sic) number of tourists.
With its medieval beauty, it has it all."
~ Mario Batali

"I know we've not even been here 24 hours, but I like this town," I said to Mike as we headed down Via Santo Stefano yesterday morning.

"I think you like the architecture," he quickly replied. "It's so different from what we've been seeing everywhere else."

He was partially right.  I think the part of Bologna that appealed to me immediately was the medieval architecture.  Like so many other towns, it has arches, towers, and porticos, but the ones here are so different from any we've seen in other cities.  Besides, the centro storico has a gazillion porticoes.  Yes, I'm exaggerating a bit, but believe it or not, there are 38 kilometers (about 23 mi.) of porticos in Bologna's  centro storico, and an additional 12-15 outside of the city center. 

Not all porticos are created equal, and one finds some in beautiful shape while others are less-appealing with their graffiti decorations or crumbling columns.  Many (Dare I say 'most?') are quite heavy and dark, but there are a few more delicate ones with narrow posts and arches.  Depending on the part of town and the era in which they were built, the design of the porticos can be very plain or quite ornate. I find it fascinating.

"I think you like them because you can walk without getting wet if it rains," the signor said to me.

"Hey, that's just a benefit of porticos," I replied.  "A big benefit... maybe the BIGGEst benefit."  Truth is, I hate walking in rain or snow because I don't like getting wet. In the first place, it ruins the strings of cornsilk protruding from my head.  More importantly, I hate being cold and wet.

Until we took a walking tour of the old part of town tonight, I thought that the Bolognese built the porticos to protect themselves from the elements.  When w toured Torino last month, we found out that they have porticos  (about 18 km) which the wealthy had built so that they could walk about the city protected, as I stated above.  Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

After the university opened in Bologna, people saw a need to expand living space to house university students. Because homeowners could not build out onto the walkway, the constructed wooded porticos that allowed them to bring the houses out but without impeding on the walkway of the general public.  By the 13th century, stone, brick, concrete, etc. replaced wood as the medium of choice for building the porticos, and by the mid-1400s, the city outlawed the use of wood in making portio.

We went for a short walk before dinner last night, and as we headed into a more residential area, we noticed that there were no porticos around.  We also noticed that raindrops were falling on our heads.

"I think I felt a raindrop," Mike announced after we had walked into an area that had no porticos.

"Of course it's raining, I replied. "Why should Bologna be different from any other place we've stayed in?"  

"I know," Mike said calmly.  "There's just nothing to protect us." 

"Let's go back the way we came so we can get under a portico."

So, we backtracked a few blocks, got under the portico, and arrived at Ristorante Leonido dry and happy that we avoided the rain.

By the way, we are keeping a rain score, and it has rained at least one day  — and more often a LOT more — in every city we've visited.  Last year, Europe was fighting an early heatwave. This year, they're fighting cold and rain.

By the way, Batali once said the food of Abruzzo was nearly heaven, so I don't take much stock in his glorious praise of Bolognese food.  The food has all been okay, but I hope someone teaches these people how to make bread properly.

But that's another story for another day.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Doggone It

Giverny, France

"The only creatures that are evolved enough
to convey pure love are infants and dogs."
~ Johnny Depp

St. Michael School... Columbus, Ohio... 1985

"Mrs. Cutler, I'm a little concerned about Jason," Mrs. Smith, our son's first grade teacher said to me during a conference she called.  

"What seems to be the problem this time?" I asked her knowing that it would be a doozy.  Old-school Mrs. Smith was not challenging enough for Jason and was always telling me he needed more work to keep him busy while the rest of the class finished theirs.  The fact that she was teacher was lost on the old lady, and we butted heads pretty often.

"I asked the children to write about their families over the weekend, and Jason wrote about his brother, Corky," she spit at me.  I stared at her and raised my eyebrows.  "Jason," she continued in her snarky voice, "thinks his dog is his brother."

"And you have a problem with that?" I shook my head.  "Our dogs, while they are not human, are a part of our family. I don't see a problem with Jason's considering Corky a brother, so I doubt very highly that you should worry about it, either."  The meeting ended pretty quickly after that, and I don't remember that she called me into the school again after that.

Rouen, France (Attila)

Europe... 2013
Mrs. Smith had no chance of winning that argument.  Anyone who knows me at all knows I love dogs, and if I see one when I'm out somewhere, I usually head right to the dog.

This trip has been hard for me because we're so far away from both Jason and Riley. I've met and hugged a lot of dogs over the last two months, but I've not hugged any  30-something young men because they're not my son and I doubt they'd be a open to hugs from a strange American woman as the dogs are.

Paris, France

"Dog alert!" While they were in Spoleto, our friend, Bob, would let me know if he saw a dog I didn't see. 

Mike also keeps an eye out for furry buddies if I'm focused on something else.  For example, last night we were walking back from dinner, and he tugged my arm.

"Look at the dog," he said to me.

"What dog?"  I was looking down a dark alley.

"In front of the church. He just ran after a Frisbee," my dear husband informed me. "He's a..."

"Wire-fox Terrier!" I yelled.  I love any dog, but terriers are special to me.  I started walking towards the dog, and he ran over to me and nuzzled my leg.  "He likes me already." 

"He likes your gelato," the spoil sport said.  

Spoleto, Italy  (Bacon.... Pronouned "Beck-Own)

The owner called the dog, but he would not go back to her.  I grabbed his Frisbee from where he had dropped it on my foot, and threw it towards her.  He caught it, brought it back to me, dropped it on my foot again, and started jumping up on me.

"He wants that gelato," Mike said again.  I picked up the Frisbee and walked to the owner.

"I love dogs, and I have a similar dog," I told her.  "What's his name?"

"R-2," she told me. "What kind is yours?"

I had no idea how to say it in Italian, so I just said, "Welsh Terrier."  I think she understood.  "His name is Riley."

"He wants your cone," she told me.  

Geez, people.  Let me walk under the false notion that the dog is not a food-crazed fanatic like a chunky Welsh Terrier who is waiting for me at home.

Spoleto, Italy (He "worked" at the tabbachi.)

So, back to the dogs we've met.  I have dozens of photos of dogs that I've taken since we've been in Europe. ("She takes more photos of dogs than of me," my husband lies.)  I love that dogs are so welcome everywhere here.  Author Amy Tan happens to be in Paris with her dog right now, and she recently posted that she took hers into a well-known restaurant with her.  Wee see them in cafes, stores, pizzerias, even botegas and groceries.  Walking your dog and bringing it into buildings with you is the norm here, at least in France and Italy.

Perugia, Italy  (She worked in a souvenir shop.)

So, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites tonight since I'm still a bit under-the-weather.  I hope you don't mind.

Rocca Calascio, Italy

Sulmona, Italy

Pettorano sul Gizio, Italy (Max)

Bologna, Italy (Ugo)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Fun With Dick & Jane... I Mean Chris & Mike

"All great adventures have
moments that are really crap."
~ Ellen Potter

"How do you feel?" Mike asked me this morning as we drove to Pescara to return our rental car and catch our train to Bologna.

"Better than I was." Still achy from whatever it was that attacked me over the weekend, I was looking forward to the train ride simply because we wouldn't be walking or doing much for the three hours of the trip from Pescara to Bologna. 

After a fun 30  minutes driving in circles (literally and figuratively) to find the Sixt Rental Car office, we caught a cab to Pescara Centrale, the main railway station in town.  (Note to the mayor of Pescara:  For the love of God, please put street signs at every intersection so people can actually see and use them. Grazie mille.)  We checked the departure board and saw that the train going to Bologna was leaving from Platform 3 at 11:05.

Quick coffee at train station

About 20 minutes before it was time to board, we went up to the platform to wait.  Shortly before the train was due to arrive, there was an announcement that the train to Bologna would be arriving in four minutes. I don't know what made me look at the board and at our tickets at that particular moment, but I did and noticed that the train number for our ticket was not the same as the 11:05 train. To add a little more intrigue to the situation, our departure time was 11:15.

"Holy crap," I said. "I think we have the wrong train again."  Being as I'm the one who organized this whole thing and insisted on using the trains, I was starting to get a complex about Trenitalia.  "I'll go check the board downstairs."  I did, and sure enough, there was a train leaving at 11:15.  Its endpoint was Venice, although it had a stop in Bologna.

"Thankfully you checked," the Big Dude said to me as 11:05 train pulled in.  "I wouldn't want to have to pay a penalty again for being on the wrong train.

"I think we might have noticed this was the wrong train anyway," I said as we watched the dilapidated four-car train stop in front of where we were standing.  

"Since our seats are in Coach 7 and there are only four here, we'd have figured it out," he agreed.

"Yep, this thing is not exactly the fast train," I added.  I remembered having had the choice of a regional (SLOW) train or intercity (FAST) train when I made the reservations, and I chose the fast train since the price was the same, there were fewer stops, and it got in an hour before the slow train.   "I noticed that the 11:05 has eleven stops before Bologna," I continued.  "We have three."

The 11:15 train arrived on time, and we headed north along the coast expecting to arrive in Bologna at 2:14.

Waiting in Pescara

We hit all three of our stops (Ancona, Pesara and Rimini) on time, and the coach we were in was still half-empty.  About five minutes after leaving Rimini, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere.  There was an announcement, and about all I could understand from the crappy train audio system was that we were going to be delayed 10 minutes.  The conductor came through shortly after, and while he was checking our tickets to make sure we were not hobos hitching an illegal ride (or tourists innocently on the wrong train and deserving a of fine), I said, "Bologna? Next stop? Yes?"

"Yes," he replied. "But did you hear what girl just said? We will be delayed 10 minutes."  I nodded my head, and he laughed.  "Of course, she said that 15 minutes ago. The guy sitting across the aisle flipped the air with his hand.

Time seemed to be a nebulous cloud at that point, something we were wading through.  Seriously. The 10-turned-15 minutes quickly doubled, and before long, the "girl" said we were going to be delayed 30 minutes.

Train station in Imola

I'm not sure how long we sat in the middle of the fields of  Santarcangelo, bu suffice to say that eventually they made a second announcement saying we'd be 60 minutes late to Bologna. People all around us moaned and swore loudly.  One guy called his wife, and from hearing this end of the conversation, I could tell that they wife was DONE WITH TRAINS.

Finally after hitting the 60-minute mark, we took off again.  The train seemed a bit sluggish, but we kept a slow-and-steady pace for a bit before coming to a stop in the middle of nowhere again.

Off we went after 30 minutes, and we traveled slowly until we hit Faenza.  We sat there a few minutes and headed toward Bologna.  I'm not going to go through all the stops in detail because they were, to tell the truth, all the same.  We'd stop, the gal would announce we'd be there 10 minutes, we'd end up being there much longer, and we'd take off. The gal would make an announcement about being delayed and thank us for our cooperation.  (Lady. What were we going to do?  Revolt?  Where would that get us?  The middle of the field? Please.)

Finally, a little after 4 pm, we pulled into Bologna Centrale. We were two hours late, tired, hungry, and anxious to get to the B&B where we're staying until Friday.  Getting the cab was, of course, easy, and the driver told me that all trains from the south were delayed because something happened to a track yesterday. Thanks for letting us know in advance, Trenitalia.

At any rate, we arrived at the B&B to find that no one was there to let us in. A note on the door said the owner would be back around 4:30.

"Well, we can't get mad at him for going out," I reasoned.  "We were two hours later than expected.'

 "I didn't plan on getting mad at him," the dude said. "I understand. It's not our fault we were late, and he might have something to do."

 Yep. Just keep telling yourself that, Skippy.  Someday we'll believe you.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Adapting to, Well, Adapters

"Electricity is really just
organized lightning."
~ George Carlin

"#*!@•¶¢  #&©∆∂ ¢£•ª¶¶ (Insert choice four-letter words there.)"  I was, to say the least, a bit frustrated with trying to get my adapters (The big beige on and two small black ones above) to fit in the outlets both in Spoleto and Sulmona. "&#∂∂ƒ ≈ßß≥."

Let me start at the beginning.  We've been to Europe a few times and have never had a problem with our adapters fitting any electrical outlets. Then we hit Spoleto, and nothing we had seemed to fit into the outlets there. (They looked similar to the outlet in the photo below which I took in Sulmona today.)

Laurie, our host in Spoleto, gave us a couple of different adapters into which we plugged our own adapters before we plugged anything into the wall.  Confused?  Just wait.

"Don't use the oven and the washer at the same time," Laurie advised us as he handed the adapters to us.  "And, when you use the hairdryer, you shouldn't use the microwave.  Actually, don't use the microwave and washer or microwave and oven at the same time, either.  You'll blow the electicity in the whole building."  He must have seen the shock on my face because he continued.  "It's like this all over Italy, you know."

No, I didn't know, but I didn't say anything.  Having stayed in apartments in Italy before, we had problems with neither our adapters nor the electricity. Far be it from us to want to blow the building's circuitry, though, so we unplugged and moved things around when we used more than one appliance.

"This is a PAIN," I yelled one morning while doing my hair.  Because of the plug situation, I had to plug my curling iron into that huge adapter in the first photo, plug that into the European power strip (below), plug the power strip plug into an Italian adapter, and then plug all of that into the wall.  (I know. It's confusing and crazy.) Ahd, because of adapter that I had to use, I could use only one outlet in the apartment to do my hair, and it was not near a mirror.  I ended up using the reverse camera on my iPad to try to do my hair, and that was not easy since I have a over over the screen, and that includes the lens.  (Take a gander at the last photo in this post.)

Throughout the entire Spoleto stay, we never could get the iron nor the old — or new — hairdryer to work correctly.(Keep in mind these had Italian plugs which, interestingly, looked like our adapters but actually fit the outlets.)  The iron would heat a bit and go off.  The first hairdryer weakly blew cold air. The second one blew warm air for a few days and than gave way to cold.

I was actually glad to be leaving Spoleto for that very reason.  We'd been to Sulmona eore and never had a problem with our adapters.  Famous last thoughts.  As soon as we got here, we encountered similar problems.  W couldn't plug in the power strip, Mike's adapter, my adapters, or the apartment's toaster.  Peppe quickly gave us two adapters (below) to use, and we shuffled them around as we had done in Spoleto.  (Luckily, there was an outlet near the mirror in the bathroom, so I didn't have to use my iPad.)

The first morning we were here, I washed my hair and took out the apartment hairdryer.  It plugged right into the outlet.  Praise heaven!  I turned it on, and it weakly, weakly, weakly emitted a bit of hot air. A few times, it sped up for about 30 seconds, and a few times, it just shut off. Everyday that week and until Tuesday of this past week, I used the hairdryer that was on its last legs.

I took out the iron on Monday to use it for the first time since we arrived, and the iron's prongs were plugged into one of the adapters.

"Holy crap," I said to Mike.  "Maybe I need to use an adapter with the hairdryer."  BINGO.  I took the adapter from the iron, put it on the hairdryer, and actually had dry hair in about two minutes.

This whole thing is quite confusing.  The space between the prongs on our adapters is  the same as the width between the two outside prongs on the adapter on the left below. It fits into the outlets, but ours do not.  By the way, note the width between the prongs of both adapters and the size of the adapter on the right in both the photo below and the photo of the two above (two photos up).

So, I give up. It's a good thing we'll be home in a few days.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Sincere Apologies to Parisian Drivers

"In foreign countries such as Italy, the 
government puts strict-looking speed
limit signs everywhere, but no one ever
sees them beause light does not travel 
fast enough to catch Italian drivers."
~ Dave Barry

"Italians are good drivers," my friend repeateddly tells me as she simultaneously yells at her husband, Peppe, to slow down.  "We have to be because of all the narrow and winding roads."  Dutifully, I nod my head. I'm not sure if she's trying to convince me or herslef. "Peppe, my God.  Slow down a little bit."  I didn't think he was going that fast, to tell the truth.  "When we go to Rome from Sulmona, it takes one hour when Peppe drives. I'm-a gonna divorce him on the way to Rome some day."  

"I know what you mean.  Mike tailgates," I reply as we all laugh.

"Noooo. Not Michele (pronounced Me-kay-lee)."  I'm not sure if she's really shocked or just pretending to be so. "Peppe, my God," she interjects and rattles off something in  rapid-fire Italian that I can't understand but I think is telling him to slow down and be careful.

"Nove!" Peppe exclaims as he waves his hand at the windshield and answers in more rapid-fire Italian that, I'm guessing means he *is* being careful.

Italian — and other European — drivers are pretty famous for the way they drive.  Fast.  We were coming back from getting the rental car last week, and the speed limit on the highway was 90 kilometers per hour.  (Don't get too excited.  That's only 55 mph.)  People were blowing by us.  We were on a 50 kph, narroa, winding road going to one of the little towns in Abruzzo last week, and some dude blew by us on a curve.

To turn the corner a bit, let me also discuss Italian parking rules.  Apparently, there aren't any. 

You may remember, if you've read this blog, that I calld the Parisians crazy for having parking lots on sidewalks and in the middle of the street.  My sincere apologies, my dear Parisian friends.

Italians park when, where and how they want.  If you look at the photo at the top of the blog, you'll notice that there are four cars parked on the sidewalk.  That's the parking in front of our apartment. (A tiny and interesting fact:  The Smart Car at the front, the one that is completely on the sidewalk, is ours.)

Note the good job that the owner of the while car did while parking his car near the basilica in Sulmona.  The road looks wider than it is, and there is parking on both sides of the one-way street.  A bus has to squeeze by as it is.  I guess the driver of that car isn't worried about getting hit,

Across the street froj our building is a row of businesses and flats.  The sign you see on the right side designates the parking space as a handicapped only.  The silver car does not have a handicapped sticker, and the red one avoided the whole problem by parking on the sidewalk.

Note both the photo above and the photo below.  This is actually my favorite way the Sulmonans park. Parallel park?  Pull completely into the space?  Heck no.  By the way, the guy in the teal car above pulled into the crosswalk, got out and ran into a bar next to the jewelry store.  Maybe the caffeine will help him park better next time.

So, citizens of Paris, take heart.  You are *not* the world's craziest drivers. . . or is that parkers?

By the way.... If you read yesterday's post, you might remember that i mentioned going to an Arichoke Festa in Riana tonight.  We didn't.  It was cold today, and it rained off and on.  I'm also feeling quite under-the-weather, so there was no way  I could be out in it.

"I really don't mind if we skip it," Mike, the artichoke hater, said to me this afternoon.

Of course he didn't.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Musings

Piazza Garibaldi

"She had always been fond of history,
and here was history in the stones of the
street and the atoms of the sunshine."
~ Henry James

A week from about the time I hit the "Publish" button on today's post (5 PM Eastern, 2 PM Pacific), we'll be landing in Miami.  I'm sad thinking about it and can't figure out where the time went.  Isn't it always that way, though?  My mother alway said that time would fly once I got older, but since I refuse to get older, this flying thing should not be happening.

Speaking of time, Mike and I talk about time a lot here, not in the sense that I mentioned above, but in the historical sense. (How was that for a good segue?)  Mike has always liked history, and while I was never one to get too excited about names and dates, I did appreciate the stories that brought history alive.

As you know if you've read this blog, we've walked a lot during this trip... A LOT.  We have had to climb steps to get in most of our flats (The first one was 110 steps, and this one is 55. The others had fewer, thank heaven.), and we traveled by foot (in rain and cold and sun and, well, no-so-cold)  most places.  Sometimes we just stop and stare at the buildings, walls, arches, doorways, doors.

Porta Pacentrana

I think I mentioned before that more than once we've asked each other if we ever think about the people who lived in these buildings so long ago, and if we realize most of this stuff existed before Europeans really started settling the United States.

Consider this:  Columbus found America in 1492, and Europeans (mostly British at first) didn't start settling in the States until after 1600.  I remember taking a group of European exchange students to Old Town San Diego, California a number of years ago.  They weren't too impressed, and I was visibly hurt by their reaction, I guess.  One of the Norwegian girls pulled me aside.

"Chris, don't be upset," she said. "What you have to remember is that this is 150 years old or so, and to us that is nothing.  The new church in my town is 400 years old."  

Until she said that, I'd never thought about it, and I wager most of you never did, either. I think about it a lot now.

The old wall

So, back to history and Sulmona.  The photos I've included in this post are mostly of the wall and porte or gates of the city.  (I've posted one of the 12th century aqueduct before.) All of the sites I've included existed before Columbus set foot on our continent.  I find that amazing, and often I run my fingers on the old stones and wonder about who put them there when building the wall.  Who stuck their guns through the windows in the wall to protect the city?  Who shut the gates at night?

A pedestrian porta/gate

Do you know about the porte (Porta is the singular.) The huge arches lead into the city at different points in the wall (See photos above and below.) are the porte.  During the day, the doors were open, and the citizens would leave town to work in the fields, mills, forest, etc.  At night, the guards closed the doors to keep marauders out and the city safe.  In addition, the porte were closed if the city was attacked.

Some of the porte today still have the heavy doors (You can see the one on the right side of the photo above.). Those are pedestrian porte. The porte that are for vehicular traffic (The two daylight shots) don't have doors on them.  They are also, by the way, one-way traffic. There are nine porte/gates in Sulmona.

Porta San Antonio

The ports are not unique to Sulmona.  All of the hill towns had them, and many still exist.  Pettorano, small town that it is, had six porte.  I have a story about one of the gates that I'll tell you at another time.

Tomorrow is our last day to go to the mercato, which makes me sad.  In the evening, though, we're heading to the Artichoke and Olive Oil Festival  in Prezza.  I think I mentioned that Novelia and Peppe treated us to olive oil gelato our first night here.  (It really tasted more like vanilla to me.)

"They will cook artichokes in every way you can think," Novelia told us today. "Fried, in pasta, on bruschetta, in pesto."

"Do they have artichoke gelato?" Mike asked.

I'm sure I'll let you know.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Best of Days, Part III

Angela and me

"Il sangue non e acqua."
(Blood is thicker than water.)
~ Italian Saying

"What do you want to do today?" Mike asked me this morning as rain pelted the sky lights in our apartment.  

"I have no idea," I sighed.  (Yes, we were starting that see-saw discussion again.)  "It's raining.  I don't want to walk around in it."  

(Let me be blunt about this:  I'm sick of rain. In the two months we've been in Europe, we have not had one entire week without rain.  I don't like rain — although it is better than snow.  I was hoping May in Sulmona would be dry.  Nope.  It was raining when we went to bed last night. It was raining when we woke up this morning. Actually, it rained all night.)

"Let's drive somewhere," Mike suggested, although he didn't know where we would go.  So, around 10, we headed out.  "I have no idea where I'm going," he said as we headed down one street.  

"I'm along for the ride."  What else could I say?  He was driving.

"Let's go to the florist shop that they said your cousin owns," he said as we sat at a red light.  "Maybe she'll be there today."  I nodded my head although I doubt he saw me. He turned down the street where the shop is and parked the car.

(Someone that we met in Pettorano told me that Angela Berarducci,the woman who owns this particular florist shop in Sulmona, is related to me. We had gone by Sunday, but she wasn't working at the time.)

 I walked in head of Mike and saw a woman standing there.

"Are you Angela Berarducci?" I asked her, my voice shaking a bit.

"Si."  She was a little hesitant, which one would expect if a strange woman came in asking for you.

"I'm from the United States, and my grandparents were born in Pettorano.  My grandfather is Donato Berarducci, and a woman in Pettorano told me we're cousins. My name is Chris... Cristina."

"I don't know," she told me. "My father was born in Pettorano, but I was born in Venezuela.  He went there after the war."

"Oh! I speak Spanish," I told her in Spanish, and we continued the conversation in Spanish (mostly) from that point.  I was quite relieved since I still struggle to understand when they speak quickly, and I could finally talk in more than just the present tense which is all I really know in Italian. (I imagine it's quite confusing when I talk about my grandfather in present tense when he's been dead over 50 years.)

Angela told me that her father was at home with her older brother.  Vittorio, who is 92, had fallen recently and was not feeling well.

"Do you want to meet them?" she invited us.

"Of course."  I was very excited.  "When?"

"Right now."  She closed the shop, and we followed her to her house to meet Cesidio, her brother, and Vittorio.


Vittorio is doing great for his age, and he kept telling me that he didn't remember much because he was so old and things happened so long ago.  

"Please excuse me for asking so many questions," I told him and Cesidio (Angela had gone back to her shop.). "I am so interested to know about family and to know you.  And I am so sorry I am mixing Spanish and Italian."  Being so excited and nervous aggravates my tendency to mix the words and the pronunciations.  It drives me crazy when that happens.

"Cristina, do not worry," Cesidio assured me.  "We understood everything you said."

Later in the day, Angela drove us to Pettorano to see another Berarducci who supposedly knows the whole history of the family. I'll skip that discussion because she was not quite as friendly and open and insisted that she was not related to me. Angela and I were both taken aback by her attitude, and even though Mike couldn't understand what we were saying, he felt the negative vibes, too.

"Somewhere along the lines, we are cousins," Angela told me as we drove back to Sulmona. "The way to tell is to look at city hall records to see where the connection is.  At some point, there was one Berarducci who started it all. Our great-grandfathers or great-great-grandfathers could have been brothers."

"Exactly," I replied. "If you look at the photos Mike took of us this morning, you can see the resemblance."

"I wonder," I said to Mike after we left, "why that woman was so negative about being related.  My feelings were hurt at her reaction."

"You never know," he said.  "She could have had a bad day, or she might have thought we wanted something more than information."  He was right, but I still felt a bit hurt at the rejection.

Cesidio, Vittorio & me.... I think I look a little too stiff, but I was excited.

On the most positive side, I have found Vittorio, Angela and Cesidio.  Mike and I are going to see Angela tomorrow morning at the flower shop, and I'm going to write what I know about family history for her.  We'll go from there.

And I can tell you this:  I have found more than a cousin.  I have a friend in Angela.  We had an immediate connection, and I've been so excited all day.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Best of Days, Part II

Rocca Calascio

"Traveling is the ruin of all happiness.
There's no looking a building here
after seeing Italy."
~ Fanny Burney

"Where are we going again?" Mike asked me as we got ready to go with Novelia and Peppe yesterday morning. (Yes, I know that sounds familiar. Someone who shall remain nameless hears a lot but doesn't listen.  There's a reason, according to him: "I remember the things I have to remember. I have you to remember the rest."  Thanks.)

"Rocca Calascio and Santo Stefano," i sighed and rolled my eyes. (Yes, I know that sounds familiar, too.  Now you know why I do it so much.)

As I mentioned yesterday, Novelia and Peppe took the day off to take us and two Austrailian friends to those two lovely towns. Peppe, who drove the car I rode in, works in the archives at an historic abbey, and he knows so much about the history of the area. 

"I thought it was supposed to be sunny today," Novelia worried as we headed out.  "What are these clouds?"

"I checked this morning, and there's only a 10% chance of rain," I reassured her.  "Don't worry. It will be fine."

"I hope you're right."  She's like I am, though, and I know she was worried.  "Photos will still be good if it's cloudy, right?"  She barely got those words out when huge raindrops plopped on the windshield of our car.  "Oh, no.  NO!"  

"It's fine, Novelia," I said, and at that point, the rain stopped. We had passed under one rogue cloud, I think.  "Look.  It's already stopped.  That was our 10%."

"I hope you're right," she repeated.  I was.  It was dry as we drove up the mountain, and as Peppe pulled into a parking space at Rocca Calascio, the sun peeped through.

The view from the parking lot at Rocca Calascio

Rocca Calascio is a 10th century rocca (fortress) in the Apennines, and located at 4750 feet, it is the highest one in that range.  While most of the fortresses in the Middle Ages were built to protect the people of the village, Rocca Calascio was for troops only, and as such, it is quite small.  The fortress was originally built with four towers (one on each corner), and a higher square tower was added in the center of the fortress sometime in the 13-14th century.  

An earthquke in the early 15th century destroyed the fortress, and it was never rebuilt.  In the 17th century, the town built Santa Maria della Pieta, and octagonal church that sits at an elevation a little lower than the fortress.  

Santa Maria della Pieta

Over the years, many of the villagers left Rocca Calascio and settled a little down the mountain in the town they named Calascio.  There are not many townspeople left on the mountain today, but tourists do find it.  While some of the old homes are in ruins, many have been restored.  There are places to stay, and tourists can hike, bike and ski. During the summer, the town hosts many outdoor concerts.

One of the ruins in Rocca Calascio

About 200 meters down the mountain from Rocca Calascio is Santo Stefano di Sessanio.  As I mentioned yesterday, we had a wonderful meal with Amalia, Enrico and Aida before heading out to walk around the town.

"Here is an umbrella for you," Amalia said to us as we left her house.  It was cloudy, but we didn't think it was going to rain.

"No, thanks," Mike replied.  "We'll be okay."  Right.  We were five minutes away when the drizzling started.

"You should have taken my other umbrella," Amalia chided.  Oops.

An arched walkway in Santo Stefano

The nine of us walked through the town, though, and at times the raindrops stopped.  I noticed immediately that while the old towns and villages tend to resemble each other in a lot of ways, there are things that set the apart.  The most noticeable thing to me about Santo Stefano was the fact that there are arches all over town.

Santo Stefano

Santo Stefano is another of those tiny villages that is trying to survive.  Currently, there are about 100 fulltime residents in town.  Because it's close to Rome though (about and hour and a half by car), there are somepart-time  residents and tourists.  There are three restaurants and a number of shops, and the production staff of The American stayed here during filiming.

The bedroom in one of the flats Amalia & Enrico renovated

Amalia and Enrico have bought a number of old properties in the town, and they have either renovated them or are in the process of doing so.  

"I cannot let this town die," Amalia told me.  "These homes are still alive."

They've done a wonderful job with the old homes, turning them into self-contained apartments that they rent to tourists.  Included in them are a kitchen, living area, bedroom and bath.  Some have more than one bedroom.  While updated to modern standards, they maintain some of the historic charm — nooks, shelves, fireplaces, even caves.

The view from one of Amalia's flats

The job is not easy because the buildings are so old.  One that has been in Amalia's family for years, dates to 1693 and was without a roof and floors.

"How long does it take you to complete one of these projects?" Mike asked Enrico.

"Up to four years," he replied.  Yikes.

"They do it right, though," Mike said.

Locanda Sotto Gli Archi

After we saw a number of their apartments, we walked through the rest of the town and found one of the restaurants and a few of the shops.  Locanda Sotto Gli Archi seems like a very warm and inviting medieval restaurant.  The ower let us look in the kitchen which, unlike the rest of the place, was quite modern and bright.

The cheese shop

The cheese shop of Paola Panone was abstolutely delightful.

"What cheese do you want to try?" the young worker asked us.

"I can't even look at cheese right now," Mike whispered to me. "I'm going to burst from lunch."

A few of the others tried and bought some of the handmade cheeses and cookies.  We bought a package of Ciambelle, a local cookie that we've yet to try.

"Do you want to try gelato?" the kid asked.  Most of us refused, but David took a spoonful of the saffron and licorice to taste.

"The saffrom was good," he decided, "but the licorice was way too strong.  I couldn't eat more than that tiny spoon of it."   The thought of both made me a little sick, to tell the truth.

Fresh cheese

One further note about Santo Stefano:  I appreciate the fact that the town is working to preserve itself. They are doing a lot to bring tourists to the area which will help them to survive.  I know it's a double-edged sword in that one wants to preserve the integrity of the area and not turn it into a mini-Tuscany 
that is overrun with crazy tourists.  However, in the long run, the tourism dollar is what will help the area to survive.

The door to nowhere in SS

I have a lot more to tell you about this area, so I hope you aren't too bored with me.

On the sad side, we leave for home in a week.  My gosh.  I don't know where the time has gone.

I'll see you tomorrow.