Sunday, May 31, 2015

Market Day; (No) Crowds, Part 3

I Mercanti Petroniani without the crowds
 "I would sooner put lit cigarettes in my eyes than share a vacation. . .with a crowd.”  ~ Jancee Dunn

(Note to start this: You already know I hate crowds. I thought the quote was appropriate.)

Today was another market day in Bologna, one that happens only once or twice each season.  I Mercanti Petroniani are a group of Italians from the Emilia-Romagna region (Bologna is the capital.) who put on the markets only six or eight times each year.  The vendors can only be Italian, and the goods, from what I saw, were 90% made in Italy.  The quality was higher—as were the prices.

The candy vendor has a zillion types of licorice.  Who knew?

There were not as many vendors, as you can probably see in the photos, and there were definitely not as many people. No one was throwing anything because, quite frankly, the bins of 1 euro scarves and 6 euro shoes were not there.  The least expensive thing I saw was only 1 euro, but it was a raviole bolognese, and I had to have one.

 Get the picture of cheese ravioli covered with sauce out of your mind.  Raviole bolognese are the same shape as the ravioli we all know, but that's where the resemblance ends.  The raviole of Bologna is a typical sweet of the area, and history has it that it was first served on St. Joseph's Day (March 19), a big feast in Italy (and my birthday).  They consist of a sweet dough filled with mostarda, marmelada, or cioccolato.  (Mostarda, by the way, is a bolognese condiment that contains mustard and fruit. It sounds disgusting, probably, but it's really good.  I ordered something with it unknowingly last summer and loved it.  Had I known it was mostarda, I would not have ordered it because, well, mostarda??  The Bolognese people use it on meats, fish, and in sweets.)

Market minus crowds=Happy Moi

At any rate, God bless the Italian nonna who first made this sweet hundreds of years ago to celebrate St. Joseph on his feast day.  From the time I learned the history of the raviole, I have  considered them "my dessert" since my birth coincided with his feast. So, when I saw the raviole this morning, I had to have one to honor St. J.  The problem was that I wasn't sure which kind to get: apricot, Nutella, cherry, mostarda, mixed berry, etc.  I finally opted for the cherry.

"Una ciliegia, per favore, (One cherry, please)" I said to the gal. 

"Solo una? (Only one?)" She looked at me like I was nuts. I nodded yes not wanting to try to explain that if I ordered more than that, I would inhale them all.  She told me that the cherry were also made with ratafia, an Italian liqueur made from cherries and asked if I still wanted it.

"Certo (Of course)."  I love ratafia and figured it would be delicious.  

It was, and I wish I could show you a photo of it. I ate the whole thing (not that it's huge) before I was out of the piazza.  Sigh.  You can get the recipe and see a photo here, though.

 Getting back to the market.... I found it quiet interesting that the crowds from yesterday were gone. It was odd not seeing the foreign men with PRC-made electronic goods and clothing.  There were also no foreigners shopping. I had the feeling that I was the only non-Italian native in the piazza this morning...not that that's a bad thing since I hate crowds. (I swear I need to buy a taser.)

I'll probably walk down one more time today since the market goes until 8 pm. I was pretty lazy yesterday afternoon, and I just finished my mushroom, lentil, and pea soup, so I'm going to have to walk it and the raviole off.  I'm just going to have to stay away from the baker.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Market Day: Crowds, Part Deux

“Shopping is a woman thing. It's a contact sport like football. Women enjoy the scrimmage, the noisy crowds, the danger of being trampled to death, and the ecstasy of the purchase.”   ~ Erma Bombeck

"You dirty b@5t@rd!"  I heard the woman shouting (in Italian) before I saw her.  The massive crowd hid her from my view, but a man pushed through followed by the red-faced woman.  "Gobbledy gook Gobbledy gook. F#¶K you! F#¶K you! F#¶K you!"   (Sometimes it pays to know Italian words. I wish I could have understood everything she said.)

I have no idea what the guy did to enrage the gal, but he hurried along as she berated him for quite some time. I was halfway up the huge aisle before I couldn't hear them any longer.  What amazed me the most about this entire incident wasn't that the woman screamed at the man but that the crowd completely ignored both of them. No one stopped to stare, and except for a few who gave them a cursory glance, most people didn't even stop what they were doing. Market day is serious business in Italy.

I don't quite know why the European markets attract me. I don't tend to buy much—although I can't deny buying a beautiful scarf or two or three at times—but I love wandering through them week-after-week.  While I prefer the food markets, I also enjoy the general markets, too. The amount of stuff available for sale boggles my mind.

(Side note: When I get to talk about Florence, I'll talk about the market there. It's very different than the ones elsewhere in Italy.)

The Bologna market is more like a discount store than what we usually consider markets. In Sulmona, one can buy fresh flowers, fruit, vegetable, meat, cheese, and fish alongside the clothing and home goods. Certain booths always have crowds looking through the clothing piled in large bins. Usually, these vendors sell seconds and store cast-offs for a set price (sometimes as little as 1 euro). If you've ever seen the comedy shows where Lucy and Ethel or some other comedian goes through a bin and tosses clothing in the air while searching for a certain something, you'll know what I mean when I say the women (and sometimes men) tear through the piles of clothes in search of the perfect article.

In fairness, there are a lot of vendors who have good merchandise. It is, of course, more expensive.  I've seen everything from first-quality underwear to cocktail dresses at the Bologna market. I think I mentioned last summer that one has to really look at the item he/she is purchasing to decide whether it is worth what the vendor wants.  There is one place that sells scarfs for 1 euro each (See photo at the top of this entry.), and while some of the scarves look beautiful and the booth always has women clawing through the packages, the scarves are not well-made and will not last long. That, of course, doesn't stop me from wanting one of those multi-color scarves with the squares. (If you see one falling to pieces on my neck next fall, remember that I paid only one euro and deserve what I get)

Tomorrow, I Mercanti Petroniani (The Petronian Merchants) will hold their spring market in Bologna. From what I understand, the vendors in this market sell only items made in the region. I'll have to see, and I'm sure I'll let you know. :-)


Back L-R: Lili, Cesar, Steve, Doreen, Deb; Middle: Leslie; Front: Charlene & Moi

 “I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”    ~Mark Twain

 I should have introduced you to the cast of characters that were my first guinea pigs on the Bella Italia journeys right at the beginning.  Somehow, the thought escaped me until this morning. They were fun, funny, exuberant, willing to adjust, easy, and an all-around great group of people.  You might be surprised to know that of the five who came with me, I knew only one in advance (although I had met one other briefly).

Without further ado, let me introduce them.

Charlene Herst
I've known Charlene for more than 25 years. She worked with Mike at KVBC in Las Vegas, and her daughter, Hayley, worked the assignment desk for Mike in those days. In addition, Charlene is on the editorial board of BLVDS Magazine, and we just have always gotten along.

I took the above photo of Charlene the day after she arrived in Rome. She hadn't had coffee of any kind in years, and she decided to try a cappuccino because one drinks cappuccino in Italy. She agreed with me that they are not like the cappuccinos in America, and that was not the last one she had. :-)

Doreen Heimbach (L) & Deborah McBride (R)
I met Doreen about a year ago when she was in Las Vegas to attend a function there. She grew up with Charlene, and they are like sisters.  As a matter of fact, Doreen and Charlene are sisters-in-law as Charlene's husband, Jack, was Doreen's brother.  If you name a Broadway show tune, chances are Doreen can sing it for you.  She's the one who let me try her MBTs earlier this week, and for that I am grateful.  We laughed because she, Charlene, and I are like sisters from different mothers.

Deb worked with Charlene in Reno for years before she retired about two years ago.  While she was the quietest of the group, she was willing to try anything and ate some foods I wouldn't try. (I tell you, I'm a picky eater.)  Deb found out about my peanut butter obsession and brought me a jar of Skippy as a gift, God bless her.  Like me, she's an animal lover, and she has two cats at home.

Doreen and Deb were the only two who were brave enough to go into St. Peter's with me.

 Steve Heimbach
 Steve and Doreen are married and live in Evergreen, Colorado, and Doreen surprised Steve with this trip for his 70th birthday in May. A fisherman who tries to fish daily when home, Steve enjoyed the variety of fish offered in restaurants in Italy.  I think he ate more fish than any of us (especially me since there isn't a piece of fish that will touch my lips).  Steve is not really carrying a floral man-purse in the photo above. Charlene's purse was so heavy that she had him carry it for her at times.

"He's secure in his manhood," Doreen told me.  :-)

Leslie Downs
Leslie, Doreen, and Charlene all graduated from Las Vegas High School in 1964.   Leslie has lived in California for years, and she raises and sells succulents.  The shortest of all of us, she moves quickly.  I forget exactly what we were talking about yesterday, but she said, "He was constantly moving."  I had barely thought, "Look who's talking," when she finished by saying, "Of course, I'm one to talk. I can't sit still."

By the way, Doreen had a Fitbit, and I had my Misfit, and we were counting steps like crazy. I think our record was almost 24,000 steps one day in Rome.

Friday, May 29, 2015

If the Pasta Fits

Papparadelle with fava bean sauce

“It's fascinating to travel around Italy and realize just how many different ways they make spaghetti.”    ~ Mario Batali

 Amen, Brother Mario.

Too often Americans (and others not of Italian descent) think of Italian food as spaghetti and meatballs.  Ouch. I'm sure that most of my cousins and friends of Italian descent would tell you that we ate pasta in a variety of ways.  There are probably more than 200 varieties of just pasta shapes, and with the different sauces, well, one could eat pasta everyday of the year and not have the same thing twice.

I thought I'd show you a few of the things we've had this week and tell you about them.  Most of these are from Rome. I'll catch you up on some of the others later in the trip.

The photo at the top of this post is a handmade and cut (with a knife) pappardelle pasta topped with a fava bean sauce.  Nonna Aida made the pasta, and her daughter, Amalia, made up the sauce. She cooked  down the fava beans, combined them with a little olive oil, a little (LITTLE) garlic, a little cooked guanciale, salt and pepper, and topped it with peccorino cheese.  That's it.  (Probably my favorite of the dishes.)

Spaghetti con caccio e pepe
Caccio e pepe is a Roman dish that has only three ingredients—pasta, peccorino cheese, and pepper.  It's easy to make as one only has to cook the pasta, drain most (but not all) of the water, and add cheese and pepper.  The reason you leave a little of the hot water is that it helps melt the cheese and bind it to the pasta.

Tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms
I didn't have this pasta, but it looked and smelled good. Tagliatelle is a flat pasta that can hold heavy sauces such as this one. The sauce was basically butter and mushroom, and large porcini mushrooms completed the dish.

Chitarra with grilled asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and peccorino cheese
I love the simple pastas, and we all had this one in Pacentro.  It is chitarra pasta (a square spaghetti cut by hand on a machine that resembles a guitar....more on that later) topped with grilled asparagus and cherry tomatoes.  Peccorino cheese finished the dish.

Gnochetti with salchiccia e ragu pomodoro
Gnocchetti are small, gnocchi-shaped pastas. A simple red sauce topped the pasta, and small pieces of sausage added to it.  Again, Peccorino cheese topped it.  Of all the dishes I tried, it was my least favorite because the sauce was not very good, and the pasta were not homemade.

By the way, most people think Italians all use parmesan cheese.  Nope.  In Lazio and Abruzzo, peccorino cheese is king.  I prefer it to parmesan (Don't tell my Bolognese friends.).

Anyone hungry?

PS... I updated the look of the blog... Hope you like it.

Catching Up

For women, shoes are the most important. 
Good shoes take you good places.”
~ Seo Min Hyun

I don't think I mentioned this last year, but I had one huge problem with my feet. I walked around Italy for almost nine weeks with sausages for feet and ankles (See disgusting photo above.).  Aside from the fact that my feet and legs hurt constantly, I was quite embarrassed because I tend to be a bit vain and thought everyone was looking at my over-stuffed appendages.

Having never experienced something like that before, I hit the doctor as soon as I got home.  There was no physiological cause, which was good, so we assumed the problem was with the support in my Easy Spirit shoes.  I donated those to Goodwill and brought my Skechers, Merrill, and Aerosoles—all with memory foam support—with me this trip. I have had and worn all three for more than a year and never had a problem, so I thought I was safe.  Wrong.  Way wrong.

By the time my group arrived the day after I did, my left foot was already ballooning beyond the limits of the Skechers. I switched to the Merrills, and for a few hours I was okay. The sausages and pain returned.  For 10 days, I switched shoes and tried to stay off of my feet in the afternoon as much as possible.  Going to Firenze on Tuesday, however, was the breaking point.

We left early in the morning (6:50) and arrived in Florence by 7:30.  By the time we had walked from the Santa Maria Novella station to the mercato (about 10 minutes), my feet were already stretching the Skechers. By the time we left at 3:30, the elastic from the band was cutting into my left foot.

Two of the gals wear the same size I do, and they both let me try their sandals. I liked both the Ecco and the MBTs, and in the two days that I wore them, I actually had ankles. (Photo below of me wearing the borrowed MBTs.)

Long story short, I bought a pair of MBTs this morning.  MBTs, if you haven't heard of them, are the original "rocking" shoe. Unlike the Skechers Firm-ups which promised to tone your legs, the MBTs are supposed to aid in walking and posture thus helping with pain and swelling.  The Swiss designers patterned the shoes on what they call the "Masai Barefoot Technology" (walking like the Masai in Africa).  All I can tell you is that after walking on Doreen's MBTs for a few days, the swelling was minimal. They are expensive (but worth it), but I got them on sale (making them more worth it).

Everyone in my first group left today, so I'll give my feet a bit of a rest until the second group arrives. Because I've been up since 3 am Bologna time and it's now 3 pm Bologna time, I'm tired.  Please keep your voices down as I'm going to take a nap.  If I get up later, I'll write another post and try to catch up.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Best-laid Plans


What I love most about this crazy 
life is the adventure of it. 
– Juliette Binoche

I swear that I have this aura around me that attracts misadventures. Seriously. It's like the gods have decided that I don't have enough excitement in my life and want to make me a little crazier than I already am. Allow me to explain....

Last Tuesday, the group went on an Angels and Demons tour while I went back to the apartment to do some work.  The tour was supposedly over at 12:45-1:00 or so, so I told them I would be at their end point by 12:45 to meet them.  I left the apartment at noon so that I would have time to be in place by the time they arrived.  The metro ride was only a 10-minute ride, but that morning we had found the trains so crowded that we had to wait for four or five of them to pass before we found enough room to get on.

As I said, I left at noon and waited for the metro to arrive. The cars were not crowded, and I was able to get on easily.  Along with a three-quarter-full train, I waited...and waited....and waited...

Gobbledy gook.  Gobbledy gook. Gobbledy gook, squawked from the PA system. I could barely hear what the announcement was, but I knew it wasn't good because A) We weren't moving. B) People were grumbling. C) The woman next to me said a bad word.

"What did she say?" in Italian I asked. The lady looked at me a little off and said, "We're delayed." No lie. We were sitting/standing on a train without moving.

Santa Maris in Piazza del Popolo in Rome

Gobbledy gook. Gobbledy gook. Gobbledy gook. squawked the voice again, and again people grumbled and the lady said a bad word before telling me that someone had gotten sick and that we were delayed until they figured her out.  The gobbledy gook, grumble, bad word went on for about 15 minutes until the announcer told us to get off of the metro because they had to bring EMTs in and were going to stop the line for quite a bit. It was almost 12:30.

I got off of the train, ran out of the metro, and headed for the red hop-on, hop-off bus since we had tickets. Being as it was about 93 degrees, I couldn't run too fast, so I power-walked and made it to the bus by 12:50.  Of course, right as I hit the stop light across the street from the bus, it took off in a cloud of smog-inducing smoke.

For about 10 minutes, I stood in the hot sun and fought off the 3,000,000 guys on that corner selling hats, sun umbrellas, water, and various and sundry other souvenirs that I neither wanted nor needed. I yelled, "Nein! Nein!" because German does sound a little harsher than English or Italian, but it did no good. I finally had it when one guy tried to put a straw hat on my head, and I stink-eyed him and said, "If you put that thing near me again, you'll be wearing it over your ears."  I have no idea if he understood me, but he finally left me alone.

The bus finally arrived, and I got on and sat downstairs.  The driver told me that it was his break (of course), and that we would take off in about 10 minutes. I let the group know what was going on, and waited until the driver finished his lunch and had a smoke.  Others filtered on, and many that had sat upstairs in the sun drifted downstairs to the hot—but covered—bus interior.

The driver ambled back on the bus and started the engine. Very quickly the bus jumped backwards and, you guessed it, hit the bus behind us.  The driver and ticket-taker girl got off the bus and went back to check with their friends to make sure they were okay and that the buses were driveable. That problem solved, we were finally on our way.  It was probably 1:25 or so at this time.

I was stressing because I had two potential problems. One was that I was to meet the group to get them home, and the other was that I had to meet the apartment owner to do some paperwork at 3:00.  I knew that if I didn't make it to the Vatican by 2:00, I was not going to make it at all. Rome traffic being what it is (CROWDED, BUSY, NOISY), we were moving about two inches per minute.  As we finally arrived at the Colosseum, I asked, "How much longer until we get to the Vatican?"  Her "40-to-50 minute" answer punched me in the head.

I got off of the bus, called the gang, and announced, "I have had the most horrible morning. I'm at the Colosseum and will not make it to you in time for me to get home in time.  I'm going to walk back to the apartment. Can you find your way back?"  Their tour was still not over, and they were happy to oblige and head home without me.  Go ahead and eat before you get back," I added.  "I'm so discombobulated that I'm not hungry at all."

It took close to an hour, but I made it to the apartment in time to meet the owner and get the keys for the next place. After he left, I collapsed on the bed and slept off the stress.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Wifi Be Back

A clock in the Esquilino district of Rome (stuck at 12:18)

 “One day of happiness is worth one hundred days of distress.”
 ~ Timothy Mwirigi Culture

When last I left you, it was the night before we left Rome for Sulmona.  We were all a little tired and hot from our time there, and the train ride to Sulmona was a nice break for a time.

I had booked apartments in Sulmona's historical center, and they were very nice. The owners, Victor and Gordon, had us up for aperitifs the first evening we were there, and the views were stunning (I'll post those soon.). After the hustle, bustle, crowds, and craziness of Rome, we were thrilled to have a little quiet time.

Unfortunately, the internet in my room did not work. I won't go into details now, but suffice to say I felt as though I were stuck in time, like the clock in Rome we passed daily (above). In four days, I talked to Mike only twice. We normally talk 3-4 times each day, so that put me out-of-sorts.

Pasta caccio e pepe, a Roman specialty

Today, though, all is better. We are in Bologna. I have seen my friends. I took the group on   a nice walk around the town and had an aperitif at my favorite bar. We ate dinner at Eataly, had gelato (not me, but there was no amarena), and we are settled in for the night in the lovely Santo Stefano Apartments where I spent two months last summer. And, I have internet that works.

Tonight, I am extremely happy.  I have talked to Mike twice, and I am able to write my blog again.  I have given everyone a beautiful experience in Abruzzo with the help of my great friends, Novelia and Peppe.  I will tell you all about it in the next few days and try to catch you up to our time in Bologna.

By the way, the sound of crickets drives me crazy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Crowds, Part I

 "If there are a lot of people all in one place, a hundred or a 
thousand or more, there'll still be some empty spaces. Gaps 
right at the front. Or in the middle. Or on the outside....Those 
are the gaps in the crowd. And if you look very closely, you 
notice that they're moving about. Just like the people around them."
~ Kai Meyer

"Why," a friend asked me a few weeks ago, "would you pay extra to get into the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel when the tickets aren't really expensive?"  Let me give you two words that immediately explain why any amount is worth the early access: No crowds.  The early access tickets, which do cost quite a bit more, give VM/SC  visitors about 45 minutes in the building before general tours and the public invade the place.

I hate crowds. I avoid shopping on Black Friday. I'll leave a store if there are throngs of people pushing and shoving. I even get a little tense when attending certain events where I can't move because of the mass of humanity surrounding me.  I would pay 10-times the ticket price to avoid crowds in the Vatican.

At any rate, we arrived, as per our instructions, at the Vatican Museum entrance at 7:15 yesterday morning, and within a half hour, we were walking into the building and toward the Sistine Chapel.  In our group, there were about 20 people, and there were probably two or three other groups there.  All-in-all, I believe 100-125 people trekked through the museum while it was still closed.  We walked through the map room, the tapestry rooms, and a number of other galleries before we finally walked into the Sistine Chapel.

The place is breathtaking. Because there were only 15-20 other people in the chapel when we entered, we spent a good 15 minutes or so sitting and studying the frescoes  on the wall and ceilings. We sat and looked for a good 20 minutes while additional tour groups walked in. By almost 9:00 when we left, there were maybe 75 people in the chapel making it easy to walk around.  We left and toured the museum, and once we walked through room after room of display, we ended up having a cappuccino in the cafeteria. (Side note: The cappuccino was very good, and the prices were about what one would pay in a bar in the city. What a shocker.)

Before going to the basilica, a few of us wanted to see the rooms that Raphael painted, so we headed there. Unfortunately, that meant that we had to fight the masses jockeying for positions in the crowd. We were so very crowded because it was noon and the general public had been traipsing through the galleries for almost three hours. I hate to use cliches, but we felt like shuffling salmon dancing upstream.

Even though we had walked through some of the rooms and the chapel previously, we were grateful for the chance to see some of the galleries again. Unfortunately, because there were 75,894,351 people trying to take photos and/or get through the galleries themselves, we were stuck in a honking, big, walking cloud of people.  To add mayhem to the torture, a little man in front of us would stop in the middle of the walk, stairs, landing, etc. and try to fix this or that. He also looked like he had no idea where on God's earth he was. (More on him later...)

If you look at the photos, you can see exactly what I mean, so I won't have to write about it and relive that horror.  However, do look at that moving mass of faithful.... that horde of humanity...that crowd of crawling characters...those M&M-snacking souls. We slid our way through countless galleries filled with work by more modern artist until we arrived in the Sistine Chapel. We spend fewer than 10 seconds standing there before we wended our way to the entrance.  It wasn't easy. The once half-empty chapel had enough occupants to start a small country.

We pushed our way to the back and eventually got through to the passageway between the museums and basilica.  The basilica was quite cooler inside than out and a lot less crowded than the museums. It was also a lot nicer because the built it of marble and there weren't anywhere near 20,000 people in it (St. Peter's can hold 20,000 people.).

Tomorrow I'll tell you about the little, old man and why I'm mad at Pope Francis (even though he's the coolest pope around).

Ciao a tutti!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

When in Rome...

Artichoke carpaccio salad

"If you are at Rome live in the Roman style..."
~St. Ambrose

This is going to be a short post because it's been a long, hot day, it's late, I'm tired, and, most importantly, I have to be up at 5:30 to get ready for the Vatican Museum.  I will, however, take a moment to talk about the day.

We had no real plans today except to ride the hop-on, hop-off bus around the city, walk around a few of the sites, and just enjoy the day.  Since yesterday was pleasant with highs in the high 70s and today's forecast was around 82 degrees, we thought we were safe.  Oops.

We got on the HOHO bus around 10:45, and it was as crowded as all get out. There are six of us, and the agent told us there were six seats upstairs.  Nope. There were three, so three of us sat downstairs in the un-airconditioned coach. We were, at least, by the window and got breezes when the bus was moving. Unfortunately, the bus was stuck in traffic a good part of the 90 minutes it took us to get to the Vatican (It should have taken maybe 20.).  Apparently there was a "demonstration" that blocked streets, added to the heavy traffic, and prevented us from seeing three of the stops.  About half-way through, I started to realize we had the better part of the deal.

"I think we're probably the lucky ones," I said to Steven and Deb. "We're not stuck in the hot sun upstairs. At least we have protection." Not long after that, people who were sitting upstairs started to come down looking for a seat in the coach.  No such luck. No standing while the bus is moving. Go back to square one upstairs.  ;-)

Beef carpaccio with artichoke salad
We got to the Vatican after 12:30 and after Pope Francis had said Mass and canonized four saints.  The crowd was huge. We were hot, and I was trying to get my stupid selfie stick to work. At that point, we decided to head back to the bus and find the Spanish Stairs and a restaurant.

Of course, because it was Sunday, the buses don't go by certain other stops, so we ended up near the Borghese gardens. We headed down the street, found a great little restaurant (Zinilla), and ordered water with ice.  Fast. Please.  Surprisingly, they brought us a small bowl of ice to share, much more than most places give out.

Eggplant parmigiana torta
Four of our group ordered salads, and two of us had the eggplant parmigiana (all above). Rocco, our waiter, kept calling the eggplant a torta (cake), so when it arrived, we were not surprised to see it layered one slice on top of the other.  It was delicate and flavorful.

The salads were all carpaccio salads made with artichokes, a very Roman dish.  Three of the salads had beef carpacio topped with arugula, shaved cheese, and artichoke carpaccio.  Because one gal is vegetarian, she had artichoke carpaccio (top photo) mixed with shaved cheese.  Both salads were drizzled with truffle oil. Since getting sick on truffles in Spoleto a few years ago, I've pretty much avoided truffles.

Too tired to move too much tonight, we found a restaurant across the street.  I was thrilled to find that they served bucatini caccio e peppe—pasta mixed with grated pecorino cheese, black pepper, and a delicate white wine.  It is one of the holy triumvirate of Roman pastas.

Not a thrilling post tonight, I know, but the food has been great, and it made up for the crappy heat today.  Tomorrow we're heading to the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's. I invited Pope Francis to come out to greet us and join us for lunch (I'm hoping to find Carciofi alla giudia.or Carciofi alla romana (Jewish artichokes or Roman artichokes). I'm not holding my breath because I bet one of those cardinals didn't give Frank the note.

I'll let you know.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Not So Classic....

View from the plane as we went over Colorado.

 "It isn't against the law to be an idiot." 
~ Cassandra Clare

As I mentioned yesterday, I think I am a magnet for idiots.  Over the 28+ hours it took me to get from my home in Las Vegas to the apartment in Rome, I swear they were flying at me like flies to flowers.

Note the "sold out" toys and "classic" fries.
It started at McCarran International on Thursday morning as I waited for my JetBlue flight to JFK. I knew that I wouldn't have time to eat between my two flights, so I went to Burger King with the intention of getting just a kids meal since I wasn't really starving.  The sign read that the kids meals were $2.19 for hamburger meal, and $2.49 for the cheeseburger meal. Kids meals come with a choice of sides (apples or fries) and a small drink.

"Is it all right if I order the kids meal?" I asked the cashier when it was my turn.

"Of course," she replied.  "Which one do you want?"

"We're sold out of kids meals,"  the lady behind me in line shouted. I turned to see another BK employee standing there.

"How can you be out of kids meals?" I rolled my eyes.  The two employees started arguing because they apparently were out of toys, but not food. "Oh, for heaven's sake. Forget it."  I walked away.

After the loud mouth left,  I went back.  "Did you decide whether I could order the kids meal without the toy?" I asked.

"Of course you can," the cashier replied.  "You wanted the hamburger, right? Which side?"

"The classic fries," I told her.

"We don't have classic fries," she said.

"You don't have classic fries even though every sign in this place lists classic fries." I rolled my eyes so far that I could have seen out of the back of my head if it were possible.

"No," she insisted.

"Then I'll just have whatever-the-hell-kind of fries you have," I snarked.

Classic fries are offered  as a side
 "No onions on the burger, please," I added as she totaled up my order.

"The kids meal doesn't come with onions," she informed me. "If you want onions, it will be 19 cents more. Do you want them?"

"I think I just asked for the burger without onions, didn't I?"

"Oh, yeh."  No longer at the eye-rolling stage, I shook my head and sighed while she totaled up my huge order. "That will be $7.77," she said to me after she rang it up.

"The sign says '$2.19' for the hamburger meal," I snapped.

"It's expensive here," she laughed. "This is the airport."  My glare probably told her I didn't think it was funny.  "The side and drink are extra even on kids meals."

"Nowhere does it say that," I insisted. "It says sides and drink are included."

"Oh, no," she insisted back. "They're extra.

 (Let me just interject here that I have come to the conclusion that I understand how bar fights in the old west used to get started.  Some bartender probably said that the bar was sold out of beer or that the five-cent beer  now cost 10 times that much even though the sign said otherwise, and the cowboy who was hot, dusty, and thirsty from a trail ride had enough and went for the bartender's throat. I can totally emphasize with the cowboy.)

 I didn't have the strength to hop over the counter and grab the cashier's throat, didn't want to end up in jail for jumping the bar and strangling the woman, and—most importantly—didn't want to miss my flight.  I paid the $7.77, grabbed my lunch, and walked the gate area to enjoy the hamburger and un-classic fries which, by the way, hot, perfectly cooked, and looked exactly like the classic fries featured in all of the BK signage.

By the time meal service on the Air Emirates flight started some 11+ hours later, I was starving.

Of course, that's another story for another day

Friday, May 15, 2015

Rome again! Rome again! Diggity Dig!

Airplane travel is nature’s way of making 
you look like your passport photo. 
– Al Gore

I arrived in Rome about three hours ago, and I'm ready to collapse for the night.  I've spent the majority of the past 28 hours in planes and trains, and I'm not too wild about spending doing that tomorrow.

A couple of thoughts before I head to bed:

• Wearing the same pair of shoes for 28 hours is not fun no matter how comfortable said pair may be. I don't want to see them until tomorrow.

• It amazes me that airport concessions in the US have things listed IN HUGE LETTERS ABOVE THE CASHIERS' HEADS, and the ding-a-lings have no idea that they sell them.

• What the heck is it with people and the invasion of another's personal space on planes and trains? I swear I'm going to buy a taser or cattle prod.

• JetBlue and Air Emirates are great long as you don't order a bland meal

• When someone helps you locate your apartment on a map, helps you buy the correct metro ticket, and walks you to the right metro line so you can actually get to your apartment from the train station quickly and easily, it is all right to tip him a few euro.  It is not all right for him to expect a kiss on the lips (or cheeks).

I swear I am a magnet for lunatics.

Stay tuned. The full stories are coming soon.

Buona notte a tutti!

Monday, May 4, 2015

T-minus 10

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, 
live in the moment, live in the breath.”  
~Amit Ray

Story (or Two):
I taught a grammar and writing refresher course to Executive MBA students at UNLV Saturday, and I covered everything from punctuation and grammar to APA Style and defensive writing.  One exercise I gave them asked them to look at 20 sentences and tell me what, if anything, was wrong with each example.

Everyone missed #10: We are anxious to show you how our company can save you money.  The sentences is okay as it's written, they insisted.  There are no misspellings, no punctuation errors, no incomplete clauses or phrases.  Do you see the problem?

"Look at the words," I told them.  "Word choice is as important in writing as grammar and punctuation." Still confused, they stared blankly at me.  "Are you really anxious to show someone how your company can save him/her money?"  Fireworks.  They understood.  Anxious = nervous, fretful, fidgety, jittery. It's not exactly the impression one wants to leave with a client.

Rooftops of Bologna

That said, I'm 10 days out from leaving for Italy, and I'm quite anxious. I'm not afraid or nervous, but I am in the jittery, fidgety state that envelopes me whenever I travel. It doesn't matter if I'm going to LA for a few days, Richmond to see Jason, or anywhere far away, I get a good case of the nerves about two weeks before I leave.

I blame my mother for my I'm-a-bigger-worrier-than-thou syndrome. The woman could worry up a storm if she forgot to buy something at the grocery or if we missed a turn when driving somewhere.  Seriously.  Once when I was about six or seven, we were driving on Youngstown-Poland Road, and my father didn't turn on Wingate, the street that would bring us home.

"Mike!  Mike!!" she yelled.  "You missed the turn! Where are we going?"

If you know the area, and anyone from that part of Youngstown, Poland, Boardman, or Struthers probably will, you know that passing Wingate is not a big deal because one can either cut through Byzantine Catholic Central's parking lot or turn right on Mathew's Lane and arrive on Sheridan Road from which we could access Wingate.

Her hysterical outburst scared the crap out of my brother and me, and my father jumped.

"Oh, my God!  I missed the turn," he jumped up and down in the seat as he hollered.  "I missed the turn. We're doomed."  I still remember how my heart was pounding. He settled down and said, "I'm taking the kids to Zedaker's."  Zekader's had (and still has) pony rides.

 But I digress....
City Hall, Bologna
As I said, I unfortunately inherited the worry gene from Mom, and as much as I try to outgrow it, I usually can't.  (Thanks, Mom. You can quit laughing up there.)

So, I'm second-guessing myself on everything right now:  Am I crazy to do this? What should I pack?  What if I forget something?  What if I lose something? Should I...?  Do I...?

The interesting thing about my anxiety, though, is that once I'm situated on the plane, I'll be fine...and that's a good thing.

Now, if I can get through the next 10 days.....