Sunday, August 31, 2014

Carpe Diem

 "Carpe per Diem—
Seize the check."
 ~ Robin Williams

After I posted the note about being 10 days without internet on my Facebook page yesterday, I received an email from the apartment owner telling me he had hooked up a mobile connection and that it should work.  YAY.  I got back to the apartment and tried.  It didn't work. Boo. So, I'm back at the bar having more caffeine.

I was going to post something about my trip to Ravenna, but I'll save that for tomorrow.  In honor of Robin Williams, I thought I would muse about a few things I've seen over the past few days.  I saw a graffiti tribute to him on a wall I've passed a few times (Photo above).  Someone must have put it up there within the last two or three days as it hadn't been there before.  I saw another one a block or so away, too. I've said this before, but I think graffiti is the pock on the face of every city in the world.  Fortunately, there's not a lot on the street where I live, but go a few blocks away, and all that changes.

Speaking of famous people, I was in Ravenna on Tuesday.  Famous for its mosaics (I'll tell you about that tomorrow.), Ravenna has them all over.  Street signs have mosaic frames. Bus stop seats have mosaics on them. And, one shop had Jimmy Hendrix in gold, black, and copper glass pieces (Photo below).  I forget how much they wanted, but it was over 1000 euro.  I bought two.

When I was in Florence on Friday, I walked through the Mercato Centrale and Mercato San Lorenzo, and look what I found!!  Lace and 100% lino puro!  Made in Italy!  Guaranteed! And, while no one told me so, I bet the stall owner's mother was sitting in back hand-sewing every piece.  The lady in this stall did tell me that the styles were *unique" to her stall. 

And if anyone believes that, I can sell you a piece of real estate on the Strip in Las Vegas for $100.

Speaking of "Made in Italy," I was walking home from the train station and walked through the Friday market here in Bologna. Have you ever wondered what happens to the clothes that TJ Maxx and Marshalls don't sell?  I think that someone's mother takes them and hand-stitches tags in them (Photo below).  By the way, I saw another stall that had home goods from TJ Maxx in them.  I need to research this a bit.

Anytime you go to a bus or train station, you'll see bikes parked all over the place.  On my way back to the Ferrara train station last week, I noticed this bike.  Something tells me it's been there a looonngg time.

 This morning, I visited a church and piazza I discovered yesterday by accident. As I was leaving, I saw this German Short-haired Pointer intently watching a pigeon. His owner wanted hi to walk down the street, but he was slowing walking towards that bird. Having never had a hunting dog, I couldn't believe the intensity with which he stalked that pigeon.  The pigeon must have know he was on a leash, though, because when the dog got close, the pigeon just ran.

I mentioned the food in Verona yesterday, and showed a photo of "cheese" pizza.  The one below is another from the same restaurant and includes tuna (GAG), onions (TRIPLE GAG), tomatoes, and basil.  There was no cheese, and there was no way I would touch it with a 10-foot pole.

(Side note:  Besides the fact that they make me nauseous, I hate onions. Always have. Always will. I also hate tuna.  I used to eat it, but when I was pregnant with Jason, I got sick on it, and that was that. I also got sick on turkey and shrimp, and It took a long time for me to be able to eat those.  That said, there are times even now that I look at them and know I can't eat them.)

 Am I the only person over the "Keep Calm and......." phase?  Please. It's supposedly British. Let's move on.

And, while I'm on a rant about the phrase being British, let me say that I would love to buy a t-shirt here that actually has something to do with Italy. I can buy a "NEW YORK," "LONDON," "PARIS," or "AMSTERDAM" t-shirt there. Let's print some Italy shirts.

By the way, the sign says, "Keep calm, we're on sale."

 While I was in Verona, I saw two guys who lost their jobs at Caesar's Palace when the economy tanked a few years ago. Same Roman soldier costumes. Same Roman soldier shtick.

 I love how Italians name streets. All around me are Via Santo Stefano, Via Castiglione, Via Farini, Strada Maggiore, and more.  My favorite, though, is Via Malcontenti.  I MUST find out why they named it that. The only thing I can figure out is that someone's internet was out for a few weeks, and she changed the street name.

Tomorrow: Ravenna.... and I don't mean Ohio....

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Romeo, Romeo, Where Are. . . ?


“There is no world without Verona walls
but purgatory, torture, hell itself. . .”
~ William Shakespeare
From Romeo & Juliet (Act 3: Scene 3)

Since my internet wasn’t working, I decided to hop a train to different places this week since the train is pretty inexpensive.

Monday, I headed to Verona. I’d never been although I had considered staying there instead of Spoleto last year, but the owners of apartments were less-than-willing to work with me. I spent about 4.5-5 hours there, which, now that I’ve seen it, was about what I needed.  I think that two weeks last year might have been torture.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a nice city, but it has a distinctly different flavor. It’s been around since 500+ BC, falling into Roman hands only in 89 BC.  The Visigoths conquered the city, as did the Ostrogoths (Who knew there were so many Goths?).

  Prior to the unification of Italy in the 1860s, Verona was part of Austria. To make a long story short, they fought battles. They won. They became part of Italy.  During World War II, it was a stronghold for the Fascist republic. The Nazis and Mussolini accused Galeazzo Ciano, his son-in-law, and other officers of plotting against the government, held a trial, and executed them on the banks of the Adige River, which flows through the city (You can't see it in the photo at the top of this post, but it's there.).

The Verona Colosseum

Apparently the Fascists weren’t the only ones to execute people in Verona.  In the middle of the historic area is an old arena which they used in much the same fashion as the Romans used the Colosseum back in the day. The interesting thing about the Verona one is that it’s in pretty good shape, and they still use it today for concerts and other productions.  I guess if I lived there I’d probably attend things there, but it freaks me out a little to think about lions and tigers and Christians. (Oh, my.  You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?)

Porta Nuova. . . Notice the pink and white marble/granite

Of course, the big reason everyone knows of Verona is because of Romeo and Juliet, the doomed lovers made famous by the Shakespearean play of the same name.  Did you know, however, that he was not the first to write of the two nor was he the only one.
 The tragic love story goes back ages, and one is the story of Pyramus and Thisbe from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. (Ovid, by the way, was Abruzzese, born in Sulmona near my grandparents’ village.)  Dante, in the Divine Comedy, references the Montecchi and Cappeletti (Montague and Capulets of the English version). There are Italian versions dating more than 100 years before the Shakespearean version, and a Spanish version (by Lope de Vega) written a few years before Shakespeare’s version.

 (As a side note, I did a paper on the Lope’s Castelvines y Monteses in grad school. As we know, Shakespeare and most of the other writers have Romeo and Juliet (or whatever names the other authors use) die at the end. The Spanish writers of that period wrote tragicomedies. Part of the play was a tragedy—the warring families, the forbidden love, the apparent deaths of the lovers. However! The hero and heroine live happily ever after—the comedia. Sorry. I get carried away.)

Juliet's Balcony

At any rate, I took one of the bus tours around the city because I wanted to see as much as I could while I was there.  I got off in a piazza close to Juliet’s house. It does exist, and the Veronese swear the Cappello (Capulets) lived there and that they were at war with another family in town.  The house dates to the 13th century, and while the courtyard below the balcony is open (with free admission), visits to the house are not. Apparently the government closed the house to tourists because of the wear-and-tear on it.
The locks on the gate at Juliet's House.

Of course, because viewing the balcony is free, everyone and his brother within 50 kilometers of Verona has to visit the place. That would not be so bad except that they have to leave remembrances on the gates (locks), on the courtyard walls (chewing gum with names and dates inscribed—BLECH), 

The gum on the walls of the courtyard at Juliet's House


The bandages in the portico at Juliet's House
I used to like the lock idea. The first time I saw it, I was in Florence in the late 90s, and there were maybe 50 locks on the Ponte Vecchio.  Of course, it got out of hand, and people are now leaving locks all over the place. I’ve seen thousands of them in Paris, London, Rome, Florence, Verona, New York, Venice.  Let’s think of something new.

The director of the language school I attended took me out for coffee this morning just to chat (I understood about 90% of what he said.  YAY!), and I told him about my trip to Verona and about how I had a bit of a hard time understanding their Italian. He told me that because of the German influence in that dialect, they tend to be hard to understand to someone not familiar with it.  It makes sense, and it's now a story in the book.

As a final note, I did note a bit of German influence in restaurants and restaurant offerings.  If you note the photo below, you’ll see “cheese” pizza that I didn’t eat for lunch (for good reason).

Munster, bleu, German white, & some other cheese pizza.
Actually, I came home and made salad with chicken. It was safe.

A German restaurant in Verona

Thursday, August 28, 2014

No Wi-Fi For You!

I need this.  I really need this.

"Technology offers us a unique opportunity,
though rarely welcome, to practice patience."
~Allan Lokos

Two days into my no-internet-in-the-apartment saga (last Saturday, to be exact), I caved. 
A little background: Mike and I were using Skype and Viber to communicate. Both of them are internet-based programs that allow subscribers to call or text free if they are in a Wi-Fi area. Since the apartment Wi-Fi went down Thursday morning, I had no way to communicate with him (or anyone else) unless I found one of the free hotspots in Bologna. Before I left the States, I read that there was free Wi-Fi in the piazza about a quarter of a mile from my apartment, so I thought I would be okay.  Silly me.  Silly me.

No free Wi-Fi for you!

There very well may be, but I have yet to find it, and I walked the entire piazza trying to see where it was hiding.  The only thing close to a connection that I found were two phone booths that actually work (See photo below.)

The do still exist.
 I decided to head to Piazza Maggiore—about another quarter of a mile away—to use the city signal there. As I walked down a little alley, I noticed I had a pretty strong signal from an unlocked connection.
While I was more than grateful to mooch someone’s free Wi-Fi, I tired of it quickly.  In the first place, I wasn’t wild about the looks passers-by gave me, the noise and fumes from Vespas that cut through the alley, and the little gnats that thought my ankles looked like a tasty meal. The worst thing, though, was that any slight move on my part could throw a huge wrench into our ability to hear one another.

My alley

“I can’t hear you,” he often said. “Don’t move. I can hear you perfectly well now. Wait. Did you turn your head? You’re cutting out.  I can’t hear you any more.” I was getting irritated with him. If anyone should complain, I thought, it should be me. I was the one who was sneaking around Bologna in search of a connection while serving as dinner and entertainment for the masses while he was comfortably ensconced on his La-Z-Boy.

So, I caved. I found a 3Italia store (a cellular provider) Saturday evening and bought a sim card for my iPad. It cost me 8 euro (about $10) for 3 gigabytes of data.  Compare that to the $30 AT&T wanted for a lot less data, and I think I got a deal. I don’t use it for everything since Skype does use a lot of the data, but it gives me peace of mind and allows me to talk from the relative comfort of the apartment.

What the card doesn't do, though, is allow me to download things I have to edit as I need the program on my laptop.  And, I can't talk very long via Skype with Mike because Skype uses a lot of megabytes.  After five days, I'm through more than 1/3 of my card's allotment. So, I need to find cafes with "Free Wi-Fi."  As with the free Wi-Fi in Starbucks, it comes with a price (See photo below.), one that I'm willing to pay since I need a daily infusion of caffeine.

Cappuccino and brioche=Free Wi-Fi
The hitch is that the connection is slow and takes me forever to download or upload anything.  So, while I'm not complaining, I am pretty frustrated.  I understand that things move slowly here, and being as I am not a patient person, that is hard for me. I like to think that a company in the US would have fixed the line problem already, but who knows?
A less famous tower in Bologna

Giovanni, the owner of my apartment, had his employee come to check out the line Saturday. (That is a long story set for the book, so I won't tell it here.) Suffice to say that he didn't fix it because the problem is with the line.  On vacation in Greece, Giovanni assured me that the internet provider would work on the line Monday and hopefully fix it.  Of course you know they haven't.  He also allowed me to go to the B&B he owns to use that internet connection.  ZZZZAAAAPPPP.  If one line is broken, they all are.

Yesterday, the owner/director  of Cultura Italiana, where I took Italian classes, offered me the use of a "key," a USB drive that is like a mobile hotspot.  Massimo and his wife have become friends, and we've had coffee and conversation a few times. (Bright Spot Side Note: I can understand about 90% of what they say.) I took in the laptop this morning.

"Oh," Massimo sighed, "it's Epple. I don't know if it works with Epple."  It didn't, but not because my computer is Epple. I think it had expired as he told me he hadn't used it in over a year. The keys work on a monthly basis.

So, I continue to search out free Wi-Fi where I can actually sit to work.  I head to the alley around 4:00 to talk to Mike. I know the gnats and tourists are glad to see me.

Fiore for sale a few blocks from my alley

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Five Fun Facts For Ferrara Friday

Moat around the Palazzo Ducale Estense, Ferrara

“At Ferrara I spent some fine memorable hours
walking about the streets and tasting the exquisite
 quality of Ferrarese desolation and decay.”
~ Henry James

(Please note: I'm posting this late from a cafe because of the internet situation at the apartment.  I wrote it last Friday after my trip to Ferrara. I'm hoping that I'll get an internet connection some day soon.)

I don't know what desolation and decay Henry James saw, but Mike and I spent three nights in Ferrara a few years ago enjoyed it a lot.  We drove there from Sulmona (about four-to-five hours), and easily found the square where our hotel was. Unfortunately, we could not find the hotel because there was no sign for it.  Castle—check.  Bakery—check. Café—check. Park—check. Hotel Ferrar—check. Albergo Annunciata—Hmmm.

On our third pass through the no-traffic-except-for-hotel-registrations, I finally noticed a small grey sign that had a slightly lighter grey “AA” painted on it.

“Well,” I said, “that’s either Alcoholics Anonymous or our hotel.”  It was the hotel.

To make a long story short, Mike was not happy with the hotel, and neither one of us was too impressed that they neither gave us a map or told us anything about the city.  We toured the castle and were thinking of going elsewhere the next day when we discovered a whole other part of Ferrara full of museums, galleries, shops, and such.  We ended up staying the three nights and loving the town.

Since it’s Friday, I’ll share a couple of fun facts about Ferrara (the first three) and a few others about Italy.

1-Ferrara is the only major city in Italy not built on the Roman design of evolving from a center.  Instead, it developed in a linear fashion along the Po River. It is also a wonderful example of Renaissance design.  The men building the city in the 14th century were subject to city planning regulations, something most cities worldwide use to this day.  The Estes family had power in the city and built a castle with a moat in the main square.   

Isabelle d’Este, like most Italian mothers at the time, was very nervous about the sexuality of her daughters and, when they reached the appropriate age, she shipped them off to a convent.  Apparently, a lot of nobles did that to “save” their daughters, and the convents ended up with well-educated novices who could also play instruments and sing (They were lessons the only the wealthy could afford to give their daughters.).  I read somewhere that 500 years ago, there were 15 convents in the area, and today there are two.

Postal workers heading out for the day. Note the bike lane.

    2- Ferrara is the bike capital of Italy. There are about 131,00 residents in the city, more than 110,000 bikes, and more than 50 cycling shops.  Everyone bikes in Ferrara, everyone. From the moment I left the train station until I returned, the majority of the people that I saw were on bikes (including five postal workers who were starting their morning service. See photos above and below.). Like most cities, Ferrara provides a separate lane for bikers on roads, but in some areas, the city has a separate bike road (Photo above).  Ferrara has the second-highest bike-to-people (.85:1) ratio in all of Europe. Only Copenhagen is greater. 

Postal workers stopping for a light.
The bikers are so crazy that there are some areas where signs tell bikers that they must get off and walk the bikes through that particular spot. I completely understand why. So many bikers almost ran me over that I stopped counting at 16.

Bike parking lot in the piazza.

3-Ferrara is home also to a weirdly shaped bread called “coppia” (formerly ciupeta). The best way I can describe it is to say it looks like a dog splayed out on all fours.  There is a central knot with two breadstick-like appendages on either side.  They also bake another (photo below) that has a bunch of little spikes sticking out. 

I’m not wild about their bread as it tastes flat to me. My understanding is that they make it using a very fine flour, which I think contributes to its lack of crust and texture.

By the way, there are supposedly 330 bakeries in Ferrara.

Bread in Ferrara

4- Phones. Phones. Phones. At the outset, let me just put it out there: I’m obviously addicted to my iPhone. I depend on it for a lot of things, and sometimes I even use it as a phone. I don’t know what I did before cell phones.

That said, if the FAA ever allows the use of cell phones on planes, I’m going to shoot myself in the foot.  It’s bad enough that people have to talk on the phone when they’re shopping in stores or markets, but a small, enclosed space is a totally different experience. I’ve taken a number of journeys by train over the past two weeks, and the noise caused by people who have to make a call while on their journey is enough to make me pazza.

This lady was screaming into her phone 3 train platforms away.
Why is it that everyone thinks he/she has to elevate his/her voice so that the person on the other end can hear them? It’s bad enough to listen to the person sitting two rows behind you shouting into the phone, but to have to listen to the other person blabber replies is worse.

During my trip to Ferrara, three people were talking on their phones at the same time. On the return, there were a few others, although the gal in the seat across the aisle from me was obviously trying to win the competition for the loudest, non-stop phone monologue from Ferrara to Bologna.

5-Many Americans still smoke. Many Europeans still smoke. Many Italians still smoke. I don’t quite understand anyone’s fascination with cigarettes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a store to look at something to find out that the human chimney outside was either the owner or employee.  At every train or bus stop, a good number of the people waiting snuff out their cigarettes just before they board. I think that the second-hand crap in my lungs has quadrupled just in the three weeks I’ve been here.

Tabbachi always have the "T" sign.
While the supermarkets don’t sell cigarettes, there is no shortage of shops where people can buy them. You’ll find tabacchi (pronounced ta-BACK-ee) all over Italian cities and towns.  These little shops sell everything—water, soda, snacks, lotto tickets, souvenirs, and tobacco products. They open early and usually close late. 

24-hour Nicotine dispenser
Of course, with the amount of nicotine ingested in this country, someone undoubtedly needs a fix in the middle of the night. What do they do then? They use the 24-hour cigarette machine at the tabacchi.

If you happen to smoke and hear someone hacking loudly in protest as she walks by, it’s probably me.