Sunday, July 26, 2015

Planes, Trains, Autobuses; Part B of Part VI

Some "... people are so mind-bogglingly aggravating that it's impossible to overreact to them, even if that means killing yourself.” ― Maija Haavisto

 I sometimes think about how I come off to those of you who really don't know me when you read about some of my adventures. Let me assure you that I am not as impatient, grumpy, or snarky as I probably sound in these posts.  I usually let it go on the surface and seethe on the inside until I can unload on Mike (and/or the blog).

Part of the problem is that I have no idea *how* to tell someone that I need some alone time on the plane. Don't get me wrong. I don't mind talking some, but I really like to read, write, listen to music, watch movies, and even sleep if I'm on a long plane ride. The thing that bothered me the most about Blabbing Betty was that she kept interrupting me when it was obvious that I was doing something.

It's one thing if you have to use the restroom.  When you gotta go, you gotta go.

"I have to pee," the husband announced to BB, and he started to climb over her.  I got up immediately so he didn't try to climb over me.  "Thank you, Honey," he said to me as he got into the aisle. "You're a real sweetheart."

I sat down to wait for him to come back, and BB tapped me on the arm.  "I should probably go tinkle," she whispered to me.  I got up again. "You don't have to get up," she told me. "I can climb over you."

"I'd rather stand," I answered. Yikes.

We played the musical chairs game each of the five or six times they used the rest room during the flight.  He'd decide to go, and we'd let him out.  We'd sit back down, and she'd decide to go.  The last few times I just stood in the aisle and stretched because I knew she was going to get up  again.

 After lunch, I took out my computer and started editing something for a client.  I was listening to my iPod and was in the middle of one of my favorite Springsteen albums when BB tapped me on the arm again.  I sighed as I pulled my earphones out of my ears and looked at her.

"Can I ask you something?" she asked. I nodded because I had no other answer.  "Why do you spend so much time in Italy?"

Now, excuse me again for being a little snarky, but why the hell did she need to bother me to ask me that when I was working peacefully. I sighed again and told her a brief version of the story.

"How can you live there if you're American?" she wanted to know.  I started to explain about renting apartments, but she stopped me.  "No. I mean how can you understand them if they don't speak American? Did you learn Italian?"  You would all be proud that I didn't pull every hair out of my head at those two questions.  Instead, I told her I spoke Spanish, had taken Italian classes, and was getting to be pretty proficient in the language.

"I can understand about 65-75% of what they say," I added.

"I don't speak anything else," she told me.  "I didn't have to take a language."

Languages are a hot button with me because I think with the globalization of the world, we need to make sure our kids can compete.  While American English is widely spoken all over the world, we really need to be teaching kids to communicate in other languages.  I told her that.

"I think that most people like to talk their own language," she told me.

"Well, of course they do," I replied. "They're more comfortable speaking their own language in social situations and such.  However, in business settings and in business-related social settings, it's a big benefit to speak one or two other languages so we can communicate with people in their own language."

"I don't know," she said.  "I think they like to speak in their own language about things like politics and religion."

"That's what I just said," I retorted.  I'll spare you the rest of the conversation—most notably the portion when she wanted to tell me about the "JW" convention from which they were returning.  "I don't talk religion," I told her.

"I should let you get back to your work," she replied.

Amen, Betty.  Amen.

I thought she got the hint at that point, but as is often the case, I was wrong.  After another of their restroom runs, she started talking to me before I could reopen my computer:  She felt like a sardine. She was hungry.  She was thirsty.  She was so tired.  She didn't bring up religion again, though.

"I smell pizza," she said to me.  She was right. It was time for our late snack.  Everyone had the same meal this time, so it was easy for the flight attendants to hand out the rectangular boxes filled with a rectangular vegetarian pizza.  It smelled pretty good.

The good smell did nothing for the horrible taste.  The crust was too hard and tasted like the proverbial cardboard.  The toppings, tomatoes and peppers, were all salt and no taste. The cheese was  a tasteless rubber chew.  Mike and I took two bites each and put most of the "pizza" back in the box. 

"This is awful," BB said to no one in particular.

"I'm not eating it," I said as the flight attendants arrived at our row with the beverage cart.

"I know you aren't in charge of choosing the food," Mike said to one of the gals, "but this pizza was horrible."

"You didn't like it?" the flight attendant asked.

"No one liked it," Mike replied.  "Ask anyone around here."

"We didn't like it," BB agreed.

"I don't really have anything to do with the choices," the flight attendant said.

"We know that," Mike snapped, "but you can pass along that the pizza was a big loser."

"I'll do that," the gal said.

I started laughing.  "My husband takes no prisoners," I said.

"That man's your husband?" BB asked me.  I nodded.  "I wondered why you were holding his hand at take-off," she continued.  I rolled my eyes so she couldn't see me.

When we finally arrived at JFK, we were a bit late getting to the gate because a different plane was still parked there.  Mike and I jumped up as soon as we could as we had a connecting flight to catch once we got through customs.  As I pulled my case from the overhead bin, hubby said to me, "Thank you for being such a sweetheart and letting us go to the restroom all day."  I said the only thing I could have said.

"You're welcome, Honey."

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Planes, Trains, & Autobuses, Part A of Part VI

Mike photobombs the Milan Cathedral

"They somehow managed to get every creep and freak in the universe onto this one plane..... And then somehow managed to stick us right smack in the middle." ~ From Con Air

I think God somehow gave man the idea for economy class on long-haul flights as punishment for all of our peccadillos.  Seat a couple hundred people together in a space large enough to make only half of them comfortable.  Feed them mystery meals and free wine so they won't care what they're eating. Add in a bunch of screaming, kicking kids.  Throw in a bevy of wacky adults.  Lock them in a huge tube that hurtles through the air at 35,000 feet.  See how many can survive the nine-hour flight with their sanity intact.

I question my sanity constantly during flights.

The Milan Cathedral stained glass
Mike and I flew Air Emirates for the first time this year, and I'll admit that the seats were not so bad.  There seemed to be more legroom than we'd had on other planes.  We sat across the aisle from each other because the economy cabin configuration is 3-4-3, and neither of us wanted to get stuck in the middle.  Mike sat in the center section, and I was on the right side of the plane.

The plane was almost full when I noticed a portly man and woman stumbling toward me. They were not inebriated, but they wobbled up the narrow aisle while juggling their carry-on items. I stood up before they tried to climb over me. The man lifted his case into overhead bin as his wife tripped over her own feet.

"Hurry up," he snapped at his wife. "Give me your bag."

"Is this where we're sitting?" she asked him.

"Give me your bag. Give me your bag. Hurry up." He fumbled with her bag and finally got it into the bin.  She asked him to put her large straw hat in the bin, too. He shoved it on top of her case, smashing it in the process.

"You're ruining my hat," she whined.

"Get in your seat, for crying out loud," he growled as he climbed over to the window seat. "You're holding everyone up."   She looked at me.

"Are you sitting here, too?" she asked me.  I nodded.  "Oh, goody."

Holy crap, I thought.

I should have run for the door before the flight attendant locked it.

The Galleria in Milan

We introduced ourselves, and the woman started talking ... She told me her name (Betty), why they were in Europe (a church conference), where her father's family was from (near Bologna), what her maiden name was (Balucci), how long her son had been married (four years), how many grandkids she had (three), how many times she'd been to Europe (two), how many times her husband had been to Europe (one), etc. My head was spinning, and we hadn't left the gate area yet.

Once we took off, I put on my headphones and began to watch a movie.  I also worked a little on the computer while I watched The Second Exotic Marigold Hotel.  About 30 minutes into the movie, Blabbering Betty (BB) tapped me on my arm.  I paused the movie.

"Can I ask you a question?" she wanted to know.  I took off the headphones and looked at her.

"What do you need?" I asked her.

She pointed to her iPad and showed me a photo of a headstone .  Carved into the granite was, Anna Balucci, ved Monaco.  "What does this mean?" she asked.  "Is Balucci her last name, or is Monaco?" I explained that Balucci was the woman's last name, and that she was the widow—vedova (ved.) of someone with the last name of Monaco.  She started chattering and asking me more questions. I tried to answer them politely although I guess I kept glancing at my TV screen because she finally noticed.

"Oh, I guess you want to watch the movie," she noted. The fact that I had on the headphone and was watching the screen was probably a good indication of that.  "Is it good? I've wanted to watch it but never have.  I like Richard Gere. I try to watch all of his movies."

"It's good," I told her.  "I would like to finish watching it."

"There are just so many good movies on this system," she continued.

"There are," I agreed as I turned on my movie again. 

I was about 20 minutes in when BB tapped me on the arm again.  "Yes?" I  tried to keep the irritation out of my voice.

"How did you find that movie?" she asked me.  Emirates has an entertainment system that they call ICE.  Each passenger has his/her own screen and can choose from a plethora of movies, TV shows, music channels, games, news, and more to take up time during the long flight.  The eight-year old kid behind me could figure out his screen, but the 68-year old woman next to me could not. I showed her where to find the movie and turned back to mine.

The thing I found interesting about these little incidents is the fact that she interrupted me and not her husband who was watching his own movie. The thing I found irritating is that she interrupted me instead of her husband.

As I tried to enjoy the rest of my movie, I noticed that she kept fidgeting with her iPad and movie.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that she paused her movie. The faces of Richard Gere and Dev Patel filled her screen.

No animals allowed in a Milan bar

About an hour after we took off, the flight attendants started to serve lunch. Because I had ordered a bland meal, I was one of the first served.  The flight attendant brought two special meals to our row.

"Did you order the diabetic meal?" she asked BB's husband.

"No," he told her.  The flight attendant looked at the label attached to the meal and checked the row. 

"Are you sure? I have a diabetic meal for you," the young woman said.

"I didn't order a diabetic meal," he said.  The flight attendant once again looked at the tag.

BB, who was watching the entire thing finally said, "I ordered it for him. He's diabetic."  As the flight attendant handed the meal over, I rolled my eyes. She smiled and handed me the bland meal.  I'd ordered it because the Emirates website said that the bland meals contained grilled or boiled meats and vegetables that contained no spices or sauces.

I lifted the foil and found boiled fish.  "I can't eat fish," I announced.  The flight attendant gave me a look. I'm sure she thought our row was possessed.

"If I bring you anything else," she told me, "it won't be medically bland."

"I can't eat the fish," I repeated.  "Just bring me the chicken from the regular menu."

"I have fish, too," BB's husband interjected. "I can eat it, though."  I'm sure the flight attendant was happy about that.  She weft to find chicken for me.

"Are you allergic to fish?" BB asked me.  "I know people who are allergic to seafood."

"No," I assured her, "I'm not allergic to fish or seafood.  I don't like fish. I especially don't like boiled fish, and I really don't like boiled fish if it's salmon."

"Fish is good for you," she told me. "It's healthy. You should try it."  I could feel the muscles in my shoulders tense.

A cool dining venue in Milan
If you are my mother, you have the God-given right to tell me to try to eat fish.  If you are my husband, you have earned the right through marriage to tell me to try to eat fish. If you are my doctor, you automatically have the right to tell me to try to eat fish for my health. If you are a stranger sitting next to me on a plane, you have no right to tell me what I should or should not, can or cannot eat.

I looked at her. "I don't like fish. I'm not going to try it. I'm healthy enough."  I turned back to the movie as the flight attendant brought me chicken.  "I'm sorry for the trouble," I said to the flight attendant.  "Thank you so much for switching."

BB apparently realized that she had tried my patience because she let me finish my meal, bland except for the chicken, and movie in peace.  I thought that she might leave me alone from that point on.

My mistake.  My BIG mistake.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Planes, Trains, & Autobuses, Part V

Street in Faenza

 "My favorite motion sickness cure is a can of Diet Coke. I just get someone to whack me firmly on the back of the head with it."  ~ Unknown

When last I left you, Mike and I had arrived at Roma Tiburtina in time to catch our train to Milan. Even though the bus was a bit late, we still had two hours to spare, so we headed to get cappuccino.  As is usually the case when I have a travel day coming up, I hadn't slept well the night before, so the lack of sleep combined with my bus carsickness gave me one royal headache. I was hoping the caffeine would help.  It didn't.

Luckily, when I booked the tickets, I chose seats that didn't face anyone else.  The first part of the three-hour trip was relatively quiet. I pulled the tray table down and put my head down.  I must have fallen asleep because I didn't realize we had stopped in Florence until the woman who got on there sat behind me and kicked my seat....accidentally, of course.

Pasture from Campo di Giove
The fast train from Rome-to-Milan has only two stops—Florence and Bologna.  Bologna, as I may have mentioned, is only a 25-30-minute train ride from Florence.  As we neared Bologna Centrale, I stared out of the window at the familiar scenery.

"I think I'll get off of the train when it stops," I told Mike.  He rolled his eyes.  "I mean it.  I'm going to stay here." 

"Yep," he answered and went back to listening to his podcast.

The aqueduct in Sulmona
Not long after we left Bologna, a cell phone rang.  The lady in the seat behind me answered it.

"PRONTO," she said LOUDLY, and so began her conversation...her long conversation...her long, LOUD conversation.

Let me step out of this short story for a minute to make a comment:  If the airlines ever permit cell phone usage while in flight, I may shoot myself.  People just don't have a clue how to courteously use cell phones in public.  I cannot understand how some people are so oblivious to the fact that their loud, long phone conversations are irritating, intrusive, and rude.

Santo Stefano di Sessiano
At any rate, the woman behind me spent a good 40 minutes talking and laughing loudly.  After a bit, I started repeating what she said.  LOUDLY.

"What did you say?"  What did you say?

"We should go to dinner.We should go to dinner.

"It's so hot today.It's so hot today.

And so on and on.  She probably never heard me because she was talking too much.

As we got off the train in Milan, she was still talking.

All things considered, except for my headache and the big mouth, the train trip wasn't so bad. We arrived in Milan on time, which was the important thing.  Since we had a day until we flew home, we went in search of the famous cathedral in the historic center, had lunch, repacked for the umpteenth time, and went to bed.

The next day was going to be long...long...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Planes, Trains, & Autobuses— Part IV

Mike on a local bus

 "It was a nightmare. The band had to tour Greenland by bus." ~ Fred Schneider

As I mentioned a few days ago, we were supposed to pick up a rental car in Rome so we'd be able to drive to and from Sulmona. Because someone whom we won't name forgot his international drivers license, we ended up not able to rent a car.  It wasn't a big deal, really, except that we had to take that horrible regional train to Sulmona, and we'd have to take one back since we had tickets on a train from Rome-to-Milan.

Novelia had told me previously that I should look into taking the bus back to Rome. I don't know what it is exactly, but as much as I love train travel, I dislike bus travel. I tend to blame my bus discomfort on two things—years spent traveling to and from school on crowded, yellow tubes that were always too hot and a summer spent crossing Mexico via a crowded, hot, stagnant bus.  I can take short jaunt bus travel, but, for me, the longer trips leave me disoriented and uncomfortable.

At any rate, because our tickets from Rome-to-Milan had a 10:30 departure, we had to leave Sulmona early to make sure we'd make the Milan trip in time. The train, if there were no delays, would get us there with a little time to spare. The "IF" was what bothered me, so I checked the bus schedule. The bus would give us a two-hour window in Rome, so we decided the bus was the way to go.

Tour bus

We boarded the ARPA bus at 6:30 and set off. I tried to sleep a little, but the seats were too scratchy and uncomfortable, so I spent most of the trip looking at the scenery as we rushed by.  There was little traffic until we hit the outskirts of Rome. The closer we got, the busier the traffic on the three-lane highway became.  The driver slowed the bus down to mach-1 speed so we didn't fall behind.  I continued to look out of the window.

"Holy crap," I exclaimed. "He's weaving back and forth."  Our driver, apparently intent on getting us to the train station on time, was changing lanes almost constantly.

"It'll be fine," Mike answered. "How much farther do we have to go?"  

"I just saw a sign for Tiburtina, so we must be close."  We were heading to the Tiburtina Train Station.

The bus coasted to a stop in the middle lane.  I looked out of the window as a gal on a Vespa shot between the bus and the car in the left lane.  A second Vespa zipped by, as did a third, fourth, and fifth.  Had the window been open, I could have pulled their helmets off.

"So much for staying in lanes," I said to Mike.

"They're in a hurry," he replied as another line of people on scooters (24 by my count) zoomed by.

The bus edged to the right as we approached the exit.  I looked out of the window to see that a car had slid next to us. Actually, there were cars the entire length of the bus, and they were so close, I could have jumped out of the window and danced on their roofs.

"Oh, my," I gasped. "Look at how close the cars are now."

"I'm glad I'm not driving," Mike told me.  I was, too.  My husband is not a patient driver, and he would have probably tried to drive down the one-inch space between the bus and the cars.

Rome traffic (from an image on the web)

As we neared the exit, the bus driver could not move completely into the exit lane, so he was driving between lanes.  Suddenly, he hit the horn. Once. Twice. Three times.  He finally maneuvered the bus in front of a Mercedes, and we were in the exit lane with about 40,000 other cars.  We edged forward slowly. 

"We're 15-minutes late," I told Mike.  "This is the reason we took the early bus.  If we were trying to catch a train at 9:25, I'd be stressing."  I'm sure he rolled his eyes because I stress over everything.

The driver hit the horn as we finally rounded the corner.  We were again stuck in a long line of Rome traffic.  A few of the other riders got out of their seats and stood in the aisle.

(Side note: I have no idea why it is this way, but 10-minutes before a train or bus is about to arrive at its stop, the Italians get up and stand by the door. It's amazing to watch. I've even been on trains where they get up as soon as we've left the stop before theirs. It's like they're afraid the train will only slow down and not stop at the station.)

I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of the 20 minutes it took to drive the one mile to the train station. Suffice to say that the driver, obviously aggravated by the traffic and by the fact that we were running late, honked the horn and ran the bus over the sidewalk to move us forward.   I closed my eyes.

We finally made it to the station, and the driver flew through the lot to get to the stop.  He honked the horn most likely in warning that he was going to get to that stop no matter what.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have finally arrived at Tiburtina Station," he announced as he hit the brake. We were about 40-minutes late.   He opened the luggage compartments and the bus door and bounced off of the bus before any of the standing passengers could get out.  As we exited the bus, I saw him, cigarette in hand and eyes closed, leaning against a light post.  Passengers who had stowed luggage below were on their own to climb into the bus's stomach to retrieve the pieces that had shifted to the far side.  He was done.

 So were we.

"You want to get coffee?" Mike asked me.

"Only if they have nothing stronger."  I was joking but serious.  We had a little over an hour before the train left....

Let the fun continue.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Planes, Trains, & Autobuses, Part III

Mike on a regional train

 “...what thrills me about trains is not their size or their equipment but the fact that they are moving, that they embody a connection between unseen places.”  ― Marianne Wiggins

Before I continue with the story about our crappy pleasant second train ride last Friday, allow me to explain the Italian train system a little better so that all of this makes sense.  There are different levels of train service, as I noted before.  The fast trains—Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, and Frecciabianco—are also the long-distance trains and always include seat reservations.  They are all air-conditioned and have a cafe and attendants who come through the coaches offering refreshments at affordable costs.  They travel at 185 mph, 155 mph, and 125 mph respectively and travel between major cities.

Frecciargento fast train

The intercity (IC) trains, which travel from 100-120 mph, a step down from the fast trains, and they stop in big cities. Seat assignments are mandatory, and the coaches are air-conditioned.  The Regional Veloce (RV) and Regional  (R) trains operate within a region (Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, etc.) or between adjacent regions.  The RV trains stop in main stations along the lines while the R trains stop in every station along the local lines.  The tickets do not include seat assignments, and the trains may or may not be air-conditioned.

Regional train

Friday, Part II

Once we arrived at Tiburtina station, Mike sat with the luggage while I ran to the ticket machine to buy our tickets to Sulmona. Because Sulmona is neither a major nor a big city, we would have to take a regional (RV or R) to get there.  The next train left a little over an hour after we got to Rome, and it was scheduled to take over three hours to get there.  That little fact is interesting because the 190-mile trip from Bologna-to-Rome took just under two hours.  The 90-mile trip from Rome-to-Sulmona would take 33% longer.

We headed to the platform about 30 minutes before we were due to leave and found the train already there.  Since it was a regional train, it looked old, dirty, and tired.  I sighed because I knew we had a long ride ahead of us and I was afraid that we might not have air during the trip.   A week prior, we had been stuck on a regional train that didn't have air. L et me just say that it was not pleasant in the Italian heat and humidity.

As we walked down the platform, we saw that the windows on the first couple of cars were open. Not a good sign.  Mike headed for the first open door.

"It looks like the windows on the fourth car are closed," I said to Mike.  "Let's go down there and check for air."   We hauled the suitcases down the platform, up the train steps, and opened the door to the coach.  Sweet cool air.  We put our luggage on the seats next to us and sat down.  There were only a few others in the coach.  "Thank heaven," I sighed.  "I couldn't take three hours on this thing without air."

As we waited, more people came into the car.  We noticed that a few people climbed into the coach in front of ours, sat down, and quickly stood up and headed in search of cooler air.  As more and more riders found seats in our coach, the temperature rose.  A couple with a screaming toddler in tow headed down the  platform.

"No.  No." I frantically whispered to no one. "The other coach. Go in the other coach."   They hauled the stroller up the stairs, looked through the door to our coach, and turned to go in the coach in front of ours.  "Thank you, Jesus," I whispered as they got the stroller secured and sat down.

Barb, Jerry, Ed, & Kathy seated in the fast train.  Note the table.

I gave thanks a little too early.  After sitting no more than three minutes in the other coach, they headed to our coach.  "Crap," I said to Mike.  "How close are they sitting to us?"  He assured me that they'd chosen seats at the other end of the coach.  "How many more seats are there?" I was sure everyone in Rome was going to board our train, come into our coach, and suck out what little cool air was left.

"There are a lot of empty seats," Mike told me.  "It's time to leave, so we'll be okay."  He is so optimistic.

As the train pulled out of the station, a guy who'd been sitting in the coach in front of ours jumped up and transferred to our coach.  He looked at the seat next to me (DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, I mentally chanted.), the rest of the coach, and plopped down in a seat across the aisle.  The gal who was sitting there had parked her two pieces of luggage on the floor, so his sitting there forced her to move both pieces in front of her. She had no leg room, and his was less than it should have been.

In all honesty, she should have put her luggage on the rack above her head, so her lack of legroom was partially her fault. On the other hand, the dude had the choice of at least 20 other seats, so his lack of space was entirely his fault. 

As I said before, our 90-mile journey took over three hours because we had 13 stops before reaching Sulmona. Luckily, the screaming toddler quieted down not long after we took off, and no one else came into our coach.  I took out my iPod and my iPad and settled in.

The dude across the aisle started fidgeting.  He stretched his legs across the aisle.  He pulled them back. He shifted in his seat to look out of the window.  He shifted to look at me.  He straightened up and looked forward.  He turned in his seat and looked back at the rest of the car.  He stared at the ceiling. He stared at the lady sharing his space. He stared at Mike. He stared at me.

Head down so I could read my iPad, I watched him out of the corner of my eye. I stared back at him, and he shifted to look out of the window again.  For over an hour, he constantly moved. Stretch. Shift. Stare. Stretch. Shift. Stare.  I couldn't concentrate on my reading, so I gave up.

After a few people behind us got off at a stop in some little town, Shifty got up and sat in one of their now-empty seats behind Mike. At the next stop, the gal with whom he'd shared his first seat left.  He stood up and slid back into the seat he'd first occupied.  He stood up and slid into the seat facing his first seat.  He stared out of the window.  He grabbed his backpack and pulled a large cellophane bag out of it. He opened the bag and pulled a little packet of some food out of it.  He tore the packet open, sniffed it, and pulled out what looked like a lacy piece of dry, grey I-don't-know-what.  He crunched it down quickly.

Italo has only fast trains.

After a few minutes, he shifted in his seat, pulled another packet out of the bag, opened and sniffed it, and stuffed it into the trash container for his seat.  By this time, the train was at a standstill at a little station in the middle of nowhere, and for 20-30 minutes or so, we waited while something went on. Trenitalia personnel  never told us why we sat there for so long.  Since  there was little we could do, I tried to read.  Shifty, however, had food on his mind.  For the entire time we delayed wherever and for the last hour of our journey, he kept trying to find a comfortable position and food that wasn't spoiled.  Shift. Sniff. Stuff. Snack. Shift. Sniff. Snack. Stuff.  (Let me just say that whether the stuff smelled good or not—and there was no way I could tell—it looked horrible, and you couldn't have paid me to eat it.  Then again, he didn't offer any up, so all that was a moot point.)

I'll be the first to admit that this trip wasn't the worst we'd had.  By no means was it as bad as the earlier fast train with the armrest hog.  That said, it wasn't the most comfortable, either.  More than three hours in a slightly air-conditioned coach was not fun, but it was better than having to ride in a coach that had no air at all.  The worst thing for me was Shifty.  His constant fidgeting drove me crazy, and because there are some not-so-normal people in the world today, I just could not relax wondering what he was doing.

We arrived safely in Sulmona, as you've probably guessed, and spent a nice weekend with Novelia and Peppe.  Novelia has told me more than once that we should consider taking the Arpa Bus from Rome to Sulmona and vice versa because it is faster.  After the delays and such on this particular day, I decided that I'd look into taking it back to Rome on Tuesday.

I did, and we did, and that bus trip was, well, I'll tell you about *it* tomorrow.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Planes, Trains, & Autobuses, Part II

Sunflower fields in Emilia-Romagna

 "I woke up early and took the first train to take me away from the city. The noise and all its people. I was alone on the train and had no idea where I was going..."   ― Charlotte Eriksson

The problem with using public transportation of any kind is that there are so many things that are out of your control—on-time departures/arrivals, fellow passengers, noise level, temperature, delays, and so much more.  While I like to travel by plane or train (or even bus or subway), I also hate to travel those same ways because of the wayward things that can happen.

"You are too Type-A," a pilot friend once told me. "The reason all that bothers you is that you can't be in control."  Exactly.  Once we pay for the ticket and put our butts in the seats, we are at the mercy of the public transportation gods, and they most certainly do like to play with us at last Friday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  Let's start from the beginning.....


Since we were traveling from Bologna to Sulmona, I'd booked a fast train from Bologna-to-Rome where we were supposed to pick up a rental car for our drive to Sulmona. It's another story, but we ended up not being able to rent, so we had to transfer in Rome to a regional train (aka slowwww train) bound for Sulmona.  As I've mentioned before, everyone has a seat assignment on the fast trains, and they're overly more comfortable.  (NOTE: Train seats are configured so that four seats face each other.  Seats 1 A and B face seats 2 A and B, and across the aisle, seats 1 C and D face seats 2 C and D.  On the high-speed trains, there is a small table between the facing seats.)

From the train window

Mike and I had seats in Coach 11, and we yanked our luggage down the aisle to seats 9D and 10D only to find someone already sitting in 10D, my seat.  Pietro Antonio (Guess how I know his name.) had his head glued to the window and was jamming to the music on his iPhone.

"Excuse me," I said to him, "but you're in my seat."  Nothing.  I tapped him on the shoulder, and he looked at me.  "That's my seat."  I pointed to the seat, to myself, and to my ticket. He shook his head, took out his own ticket, and examined it.  He looked at the seat number pasted above his head and looed at his ticket again.  Oops. He should have been in the aisle seat.

Huffing, he slid across the two seats, stood in the aisle—barely giving me enough room to slide past him—and waited while I struggled to sit as the train started to move.  I'd barely gotten into place when he slammed his body into the aisle seat, claimed the middle armrest, and sighed.  Oh, joy.  As evidenced by his breath, he'd had a highly spiced breakfast.

Once the train took off, Pietro Antonio dialed a number on his phone.

"Ciao," he said it loud enough that everyone between France and Greece could hear him.  "It's Pietro Antonio Balboni. I'm on my way to Rome."  He went on to explain that he was arriving at Roma Termini at 10:35 and that he would pick up a rental car and make his way to wherever he was going to meet the person on the other end.  The conversation continued for about 5 minutes, and he ended it with, "Ciao. Ciao. Ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao."

(Side note: Italians answer the phone by saying, "Pronto," and they usually end with,  "Ciao. Ciao. Ciao, ciao, ciao."  If they only get two of the "ciaos" out, they are not finished with the conversation. I've heard conversations go on five minutes after the first set of "Ciao. Ciaos." Another story for another day.)

Pietro Antonio shifted in his seat and again took over the armrest.  He plugged in his earphones and watched me "paint" on my iPad. He shifted again, and his leg moved over to my space. I shifted and roughly moved my leg. He got the message and moved his back into his own territory. I shut the iPad and stared out of the window, my left arm in my lap since he had control of the armrest we "shared."

"PRONTO."  Someone had obviously called him.  The conversation was much the same as the first—loud and animated—although it ended more quickly.  He dialed another number.

"Ciao. It's Pietro Antonio Balboni. I'm in Firenze on my way to Rome."  The train's only stop between Bologna and Rome was Florence, so he was updating the other person as to the status of the train. He again explained that he was arriving at Roma Termini, but that he was going to be late since the train was five minutes behind schedule. He again talked about getting the rental car, but apparently the person on the other end thought he should take the Metro.  They discussed the benefits of the Metro vs. a rental car.  During the entire 10-minute conversation, he moved in his seat, shuffled his feet and kept his arm on our shared armrest.  Believe it or not, he had yet a third conversation with someone about his arrival in Rome, the rental car, and the Metro.

From the train window

He got up to go to the restroom, and I claimed the armrest.  I hoped that he perhaps locked himself in the restroom when he didn't return for more than 10 minutes, but suddenly the coach door popped open, and he trounced down the aisle.  Oh, joy.

He slammed into the seat, sighed again (Garlic breath did not become him.), and tried to claim the armrest. I held my breath and kept my arm firmly in place. He pushed. I didn't budge. He pushed more. I didn't budge. He shifted and pushed, and I finally moved a "little" bit so that we could share.  He did one more shift and, because I had given in to be polite, shoved my elbow from the armrest and claimed it.

As we arrived at Rome Tiburtina (one of two major stations in Rome), I said, "Excuse me. This is my stop."

"You're getting off *now*?" he sighed.

"No, I said this was my station just for the hell of it,"  I thought. I rolled my eyes at him so he'd see my irritation and answered, "Yes, this is my stop."  He stood up but instead of moving out of the way, he stood in front of where my bag was and where I was heading.  "SCUUUUSAAAA MIIII."  I was loud and aggravated at that point.  Instead of sitting back in his seat, he moved to the side so I had to climb over him to leave. I'd had it.

As I tripped over him to get up the aisle, I accidentally stomped stepped on his foot and whacked him in the back with carry-on.  Game. Set. Match.

Tomorrow:  Friday fun continues with a ride on the regional train...a LONG ride.....

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Planes, Trains, & Autobuses, Part I

“I am strong, but I am tired,,,”
― Brenda Joyce

The last few days have been a little stressful.  First, Mike and I traveled by train from Bologna to Rome, and from Rome to Sulmona.  Tuesday morning we left Sulmona and traveled by *bus*  back to Rome  where we caught a train to Milano. Yesterday (Wednesday) morning, we ended up on a bus that took us from Milano Centrale (train station) to Milano Malpensa (airport). Our eight-plus hour  Emirates flight from Milano landed at JFK where we caught a JetBlue flight to Las Vegas.  It exhausts me to think about all the mileage we covered during this week.

I didn't sleep well Sunday night for some reason, and Monday was miserable.  Combined with the heat and humidity, my lack of sleep left me frazzled and whipped Tuesday.  I wrote the blog, and if you read it, you might have noticed that my last sentence makes absolutely no sense. I was talking about the heat and the horrible sandwich with mayonnaise, and I ended the blog with:  Next time, I'm leaving him with the priests in the churches here. Maybe they can knock a little sense into him

I have no idea—NO IDEA— how that sentence got there. I do not remember thinking it, and I definitely do not remember writing it. I must have been sleepwriting.  After I apparently put the computer away (something else I don't remember), I slept a little better Monday night.  I was still quite tired when we got up yesterday (Wednesday) morning at 7:00 am Italy time.  That translates to 1:00 am New York time, midnight Nashville time, and 10:00 pm Tuesday evening Las Vegas time.

We arrived  home this morning at almost 2:00 am Las Vegas time.

"My body is telling me it's time for lunch," I said to Mike as we collapsed on the bed.  I don't think he heard me as he was already asleep.  It was a long 28 hours.

The good thing about riding those planes, trains, and buses this week is that I now have some great stories to tell you.

The bad thing is that it is now 7:30 pm Las Vegas time (and 4 am Italia time), and I am once again falling asleep as I type this.  To avoid relating stories  with nonsensical statements thrown in, I'm going to leave the blog at this point tonight.  Stay tuned tomorrow as I tell you about the trains to Sulmona.

Tomorrow.... I promise....

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Good Grief! IT'S HOT

 “God, it was hot! Forget about frying an egg on the sidewalk; this kind of heat would fry an egg inside the chicken.”   ― Rachel Caine

The last few days have been hotter than anything again.  I live in a desert where temperatures triple digits during summer months, but it is the 80s-90s that ZAP the life out of me.    Sulmona was hot, humid, and miserable for the few days we were there. 

On Saturday, Peppe and Novelia took us to Campo di Giove, a wonderful little town in the mountains above Sulmona.  It took us only 20 minutes or so to get there, but the difference in temperature was wonderful and welcome.

We walked around town for a bit, and Novelia showed us where she lived for a time.  When she was a child, her family came to Campo di Giove every summer because her father worked there during the season.  We also drove a little farther into the forest.  Mike saw a tree that he wants us to use for Christmas (Above).  I'm not quite sure he'll get it into his luggage, but should you read anything about some nut trying to smuggle a tree out of Italy,  you'll know who it was.

 Yesterday we did laundry, and Mike decided to hang his clothes outside.  Since we didn't really have a line (Our flat was on the first floor.), he put the clothes rack outside the front door. Because it was so hot, everything—including my jeans— dried within an hour.  The reason this surprised me so much was that it was so humid.  The dry air in Las Vegas helps dry clothes quickly outside, but in Italy, it's so much more humid that I thought it might take.  Nope.

 Since we didn't have a car, we decided to walk into an area of town where we'd never been. We found some very nice places and some very decaying places.  We also found that we shouldn't have walked as long as we did because we were so hot, tired, and thirsty that we couldn't find a place to stop and have a drink.  Isn't that the case? You don't need something, but you see it everywhere.  You need something desperately, and you can't find it.  Irritating.

 We ended up stopping at this place called the "Sweet Time Cafe."  We've had coffee there numerous times over the years. so we stopped to get a panini and cold water.  The water was good, but the panini had ham, cheese, and a surprise ingredient.

"UGH!" I exclaimed to Mike. "This sandwich has mayonnaise on it."

"And not just a little," he added.

"I hate mayonnaise," I said.

"I like it, but not this much," he told me.  I knew that, but I was too busy trying to wipe that stuff off of my sandwich. 

"What good Italian uses mayonnaise?" I whined. "URP. UGH. BLECH."  I think he rolled his eyes at my drama.

We recreated a photo (above) we'd taken a few years ago when we were in Sweet Time.  They've added the red flames since our last visit, and there was some red plastic christmas tree thingy hanging on the wall, so we couldn't get it exactly right.  In addition, in the original we were sitting next to each other.  Because it was so darn hot, we sat across from each other.

"My shirt is wet," I told Mike.

"Mine, too," he replied.  "I'll stay here."  

"Good idea."  I was too hot to have anyone within 10 feet of me.

We got the photo done easily, and I took a number of shots.  When we were checking them out, Mike said, "Gosh we look angry."

"Look," I answered back, "I had enough "dew" on my skin to water a garden for a year.  Give me a break."

 Next time, I'm leaving him with the priests in the churches here. Maybe they can knock a little sense into him.  :-)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Home Again....

 "Sulmo mihi patria est.  (Sulmona is my country.) "   ~Ovid

The great Latin poet, Ovid, is a child of Sulmona, the largest town close to my grandparents' village, Pettorano sul Gizio. As I didn't study Latin, I really didn't study much about him, but I know that he wrote the 15-book (Yes, 15 BOOKS) epic narrative, Metamorphoses, as well as elegiac couplets and other poetry. He, Homer, and Virgil are considered contemporaries, not that you could prove it by me. The little bit I did study of their work was in college English classes, and on those nights, I didn't have a hard time falling asleep.  (OK.  Poet friends of mine. Forgive me. I was not a fan.  Will you still love me if I like Walt and Emily?  :-) )

At any rate, Mike and I had a LOOOONNNGGG day that started when some idiot who had to catch an early plane decided to use the stairs instead of the elevator to take her suitcases downstairs.  That's a story for another time as I've been up since about 3:30, and it's now 11:00.  I need sleep.

Let me just say that after five-plus hours on a train, we arrived in Sulmona this afternoon, and I'm happy to be home.  I'll show you a few photos of our apartment and town, and tomorrow I'll have a story about those wonderful hours we clacked along the tracks.

Living room, aka "The Grotto"

 We are staying in what Mike started calling the "Grotto" three years ago.  You may remember my sorella, Novelia, from my last two visits.  Her sister, Vittoria, has an apartment that Mike fell in love with two years ago.  It's in an old, old building in the historic center of Sulmona.  The grotto, or living room (above), is a few steps down from the main level. It's the oldest part of the building—13th century , maybe.


 Carlo Evangelista, Novelia's brother-in-law, refurbished the apartment, and Vittoria furnished it.  The furniture is antique, and all of the appliances are new.  Carlo kept the basic bones of the place and used tile that is similar to the original if he couldn't keep the original tile.

Dining area

 The one great thing about the apartment, other than how beautiful it is, is that it is ground floor, so there is no walking up a zillion stairs to get to it.


 It's within easy walking distance of almost everything in the historic center, as is Novelia's apartment where we stayed last time.

Bedroom (Note the old columns

Tomorrow is the Saturday market, which they hold in Piazza Garibaldi.  We're heading there first thing and will meet my cousin, Angela, for coffee.  After that, we'll meet Novelia's granddaughter, AnnaMaria.  I can't wait.

Piazza Garibaldi

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Hair Today, Not Tomorrow

The shampoo bowls in Angela's shop
 "Oh, you *NEED* color now." ~ Angela

When I had my hair cut a few weeks ago, Angela told me not to wait too long to have the color done since my dark roots were getting ever darker and longer.  I had my appointment today, and she flicked her hands through my hair.

"Oh," she sighed, "you NEED color now.  I told you not to wait too long."  I nodded.  I know she told me that, but we've been busy.  I probably could have gone in earlier this week or late last week, but we never knew from one day to the next if we'd jump a train somewhere or not.

"But I'm here today," I smiled.  She nodded and went to fix whatever chemicals she was going to put on my head.  The lady whose hair Angela had just curled on tiny rollers stared at us.  She was sitting at the station next to me, and the hair dryer was blowing away. I could feel the heat a little, but thankfully the salon was "climatizzata"—air conditioned.  I love the hair dryers here.  They come down from the ceiling and are right at the stations.  Cool idea.

One of the stations in the shop...Note the hairdryer.

Angela came back with the magic formula and started putting it on my hair.  Let me just say that I really hate having this done, but as I've gotten older, my hair has gone from dishwater blonde to almost brown.  I could let it go, but I've gone from a few highlights to full highlights to full blonde over the years, and I'm afraid that having dark cornsilk strands of hair on my head would shock the life right out of me.

I like Angela. I really like Angela.  She is friendly and kind, and she really knows how to cut and color for one's facial structure and coloring.  And, she talks.  I hate going to hairdressers who cut, color, blow dry, etc. and basically say two words the entire time. Angela, thankfully, converses, but sometimes she talks so fast that I have to ask her to slow down.  "Piano.  Piano," I say to her, and she slows down and talks a little louder.  The volume I don't need, but I do need to really concentrate.

Angela setting someone's hair
 Since I'm not a regular, she always asks me the same questions— Do you have children?  How old is your son? Isn't Las Vegas hot? Where do you work?  Why do you come to Bologna?  Are you staying at the B&B? Is your husband retired? Does your husband speak Italian? Does it cost a lot to travel to Italy? Do you like gelato?

Do I like gelato? I have never figured out where that question came from.

Today she told me she is planning a surprise birthday party for her daughter who is turning 30 next week.  "It's a complete surprise," she said. "Don't say anything because I don't want her to find out."

"I won't say anything" I replied while I wondered how I could tell her since she lives in another town and has no idea who I am.  Of course, here I am telling you, so if you meet Angela's daughter, please do not tell her that her mom is having a surprise party for her.

Station #3
Angela owns and is the only person who works in her salon, and I asked her today what time she was going to close.

"At 20:00," she answered.  My eyes widened because I knew she had opened before 8:00 this morning. Actually, she opens before 8:00 every morning but Sunday and Monday. She noticed my shock and added, "I open early and close late everyday because people will walk by, see me, and come in to have their hair done. I have some appointments, but I also have a lot of people walk in."

People have walked in while I've been there, so I know what she means.  Last year when I was getting my hair cut, she had three people walk in. One just wanted a shampoo and blow dry.

Her prices, by the way, are a little higher than in other parts of the city, but they're a lot lower than what we pay in the States.  For example, I paid 28 euro ($31) for color today.  A cut is 18 euro.

On another note, we're off to Sulmona tomorrow for the festa in Pettorano this weekend.  It will be a long day of train rides....

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Pasta, Part III or IV

Paccheri e astice (lobster)
“No dish in history has as many variations, colors, motifs, tastes, textures and subtleties as a dish of pasta.” ― Marc Vetri 

Unlike last year, I have not overdone it with the pasta.  While I was taking Italian classes here last year, you may recall, I went to lunch with school friends daily, and most of the places we frequented offered three choices: pasta, pizza, panini. I was, by the end of the second week, sick of all three.  This year, though, I've cooked in the apartment most of the time I've been here alone or with Mike.  We've stuck to simple lunches of cheese and fruit with a slice or two of prosciutto, and our dinners have been salad with a thin slice of chicken or some other meat on it.  That way, when we go out—which is not often at all—I can order a pizza or pasta dish.

Let me also add that I just can't deal with all the bread involved with sandwiches and pizza.  I like the pizzas here because the crusts are rather thin.  I don't like the bread of this region for the most part because it tends to be too smooth and without the texture of bread from Abruzzo.  That's just me.  Mike, on the other hand, likes the bread here. While the photo above is of cuipeta, the bread of Ferrara, most of the bread of the Emilia-Romagna region is similar in texture if not in shape.

Enough on bread.  Let me tell you about different pastas.

Paccheri e astice
Paccheri are very large tubes of pasta.  As with the smaller rigatoni, paccheri can be smooth or have ridges.  My favorite way to have them is with butter and sage, but Mike ordered Paccheri e astice (lobster) the other night.

"How is it?" I asked him since I'm not too willing to try anything with seafood.

"Messy," he replied. He expected to have chunks of lobster in the dish, and he wasn't wild about cracking the half lobster up while trying to eat the pasta.  I wasn't too thrilled to watch him do it, either.  "Do you want to try some?" he asked me.

"You enjoy," I replied and continued eating my scallopina.

Tortellini en brodo
Tortellini en brodo
Tortellini originated in the Emilia-Romagna (in Castelfranco Emilia) region of Italy around 1570 when someone was looking to make a filled pasta. In order to prevent the filling from falling out, he/she folded the square around his/her finger, and the rest is history.  Depending on who's making the tortellini, the filling may be of cheese (ricotta or parmesan or both), meat (prosciutto, mortadella, sausage, beef, or a combination), or a combination of meats and cheeses.

Tortellini is the number one culinary tradition of Bologna, and unlike the way we serve it in the States, the tradition here is to serve it in broth, which is how Nancy ordered hers (above).  The tortellini in the photo above are the average size.  I've seen them even smaller in fresh pasta shops.  One of these days, I'll have to try the small ones.

Tortelloni con burro e salvia
Tortelloni con burro e salvia
Tortelloni are the big brother of tortellini.  They are about twice the size but have the same shape as the smaller version. Cooks serve tortelloni with either a red sauce or, more likely, with a butter and sage sauce (above). The big difference is in the filling.  Instead of meat, the favored fillings for tortelloni are ricotta and spinach. 

That said, the various provinces of Emilia-Romagna have their own versions of tortelloni. In some areas, you might find porcini mushrooms or walnuts in the pasta. In Modena and Reggio Emilia, you might have tortelloni filled with pumpkin and crushed amaretto cookies.

I'll stick with the cheese, thank you.

Linguine con cozze e gamberini
Linguine con cozze e gamberini
I am not, as I constantly say, a fan of most seafood.  A number of people in both groups liked seafood and ordered pasta with a variety of seafood sauces.  The one above was, I believe, Charlene's. It was linguine which you probably know is a long pasta similar to fettuccine.  The big difference, other than the width (Linguine is not as wide.) is that it is more elliptical than flat.  Linguine is a very popular pasta to use with seafood.

Tagliatelle carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara
The history of spaghetti carbonara is one that people argue about (Imagine that Italians would argue!), but the fact is who cares from whence it came?  Pasta carbonara is spaghetti mixed with bacon (prosciutto) and raw egg and topped with cheese.  The heat of the hot pasta cooks the egg and makes an absolutely wonderful "sauce". . . usually.

Mike ordered tagliatelle (a wide, flat pasta) carbonara (above) a few days after he arrived in Bologna, so when we were in Burano, I was craving it, so I ordered it myself (below).  Let me tell you that a well-made carbonara has a creamy texture and a nice, creamy color (above).  The cook gets that by by beating the eggs and tossing the mixture with the pasta.  He/She then tosses in the bacon and tops with cheese.

When the waiter put my spaghetti carbonara in front of me last week, I immediately knew I was going to have a problem.  In the first place, it was too yellow.  Note the difference in the color between mine and Mike's.  I believe, from the taste, that they used just egg yolks for the sauce.

Spaghetti carbonara
"They added onions and garlic to the sauce," I told Mike.  "This is not going to be good."  By that statement, I meant that I was going to get sick, not that the pasta was not going to be good.  That said, the pasta was not good because it was not carbonara. It was some weird eggy, oniony, garlicky pasta that ended up making me sick.

Gramigna con salccicia
Gramigna con salccicia
Gramigna is another of the pastas from the Emilia-Romagna region, and it's one of my favorite new pastas. A wild, curly, grass-shaped pasta, gramigna typically is a mix of plain and spinach pasta.  Because of the curly shape, it can wrap around anything you cook with it.  I usually see it here with sausage and a light cream sauce (above), although I've also had it with sausage and a red sauce.

When I say "light cream sauce," I really mean it is a light sauce.  The base is 2/3 c of white wine, 1/2 c pasta water, and 3-4 T of cream.  Italians use pasta water in a lot of their sauces.

Ok.  Who wants what??

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Ancient Clay

The MIC's main hall

We know we are a species obsessed with itself and its own past and origins. We know we are capable of removing from the sanctuary of the earth shards and fragments, and gently placing them in museums. Great museums in great cities—the hallmarks of civilization.” ― Kathleen Jamie

When we got up this morning, I really didn't feel like doing much. I don't have to tell you (unless you live in the North Pole, Antarctica, or some other God-forsaken place where the temperature never rises about 0) that heat and humidity will take the will to move out of you.  And, if it doesn't do that to you, then please send me some of whatever it is that makes you that way because I sure can use it.

15th century pharmacy jars from Faenza

At any rate, Mike didn't really want to sit around here again, so I compromised a bit and suggested we go to Faenza.  Most of you are probably saying, "Faenza?  What the heck is Faenza? " or "Where the heck is Faenza?" and/or "Who the heck would *go* to Faenza?"  Faenza is a small city (58.000+ people) about 31 miles from Bologna that we decided to visit because one of my friends recommended it. That said,  Faenza is not a tourist town, and there's not much to it other than the requisite palazzo, cathedral, and ceramics museum.

15th century serving pieces from Faenza
Yes, you read that right.  Faenza is home to the Museo internazionale delle Ceramiche (MIC), or International Museum of Ceramics.  Mike didn't believe it, either, but Faenza has been in the forefront of the ceramic world for centuries and is home to not only the Faenza Bianca (Faenza White) pottery but also majolica, a tin-glazed pottery.  Founded in 1908, the MIC has the greatest collection of ancient, modern, and contemporary ceramics in the world.  The ceramics in the collection include works from countries all over the world and span many centuries. Of course,  the MIC showcases Italian ceramics.

17th century plaque from Abruzzo
 (I need to step out again for a moment and comment on ceramics and the quote above.  I think that Jamie is right that we are obsessed with our history, and should we not be?  The things that we see in museums and in historical buildings are all so amazing for what they represent. It upsets me greatly that those hoodlums in the Middle East are destroying remnants of ancient civilizations.  Whether we like the art, the sculpture, the photos, the writings or not, they are part of our history, of our beginnings.)

17th century sculpture from Tuscany
What amazed me, as usual, was the fact that some of the pottery was so old yet in such good condition.  While much of it had been in private collections of royals and wealthy citizens, even more were ordinary pieces used in everyday life.  There were a number of cases dedicated to jars used in pharmacies (blue and white ceramics above), and several dedicated to dinnerware and serving pieces (bowls above).  A good number were, of course, religious in nature (above and below).  Many appeared during archeological digs, and many were donations from individuals, families, governments, etc.

Moses and Isaac on a plate—17th century Tuscany

"How much restoration do you think they've done?" Mike asked me when we were looking at a few pieces that were obviously put back together.  He was talking, however, about the colors.  I asked the docent at a desk near us.

"The only restoration," she told me, "is to put things together.  The paint, the glaze, are all original. But, may have had no restoration. They are in original condition."


I'll point out, as I did the other day, that religion played as huge a part in the ceramic work as it did in paintings during the 16-19th centuries.  That was, of course, due to the fact that most of what is now Italy was part of the Papal State,  and religion ruled almost every aspect of everyone's life.

17th century Marche

Both of us agreed that our favorite part of the museum was the contemporary ceramic sculpture. The ceramicists vying for the 39th annual Faenza Prize had their work on display, so it was interesting to see the 50 or so pieces in the running for the award.  As with most art, I don't get how some of the pieces qualified to be art, but that's me.  At the risk of upsetting my friends who think that a piece of white clay with a triangle sliced out of it is worthy of being in a museum, I'll just drop it (But! I do have a piece of white clay with a triangle sliced out of it that I'd love to sell you for $10,000 if you need it for your collection.)

21st century ceramic and glass sculpture

My favorite piece was the life-size copper tree (above) with glass and ceramic leaves hanging from it.  I want it for my house, but something tells me I can't afford it.  I may have to make one someday.

A ceramic water ox in competition for the Faneza Prize
We stayed about 90 minutes, most of which we spent sweating because the museum did not have air conditioning throughout.  Luckily, we had put water bottles in the freezer last night, so I kept mine clutched to my chest (Note it in the photo above) most of the morning.  It was still too hot, though, so after we left the musuem, we walked a few blocks, turned around, and caught the train home.

We're back to the dilemma of what to do tomorrow since the temperatures are going to be even higher.

Heaven only knows.