Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yo, and a Happy Saturnalia to you, too!

(Temple of Saturn, Forum, Rome)

Well, ahem. I finally got into a little Christmas spirit yesterday and went to the mall. I'm glad to say, I got most of my shopping done. I don't usually go to the mall unless driven by shear necessity and so it is always an interesting to people watch along with the shopping. I think that I am channeling my mom this year, as I have been acting a bit like her. She loved to watch those TV informercials, and it was always interesting to see what she felt that we must have at Christmastime.

Mercifully she never bought me one of these Margarator Margarita Makers or a Nostalgia Corndog Deep Fryer or even this Hershey kiss shaped chocolate fondue pot. But that doesn't mean my family is escaping from infomercial products or appliances entirely :).

I had a lovely panini at Melt Gelato and Crepe Cafe where franchise opportunities are still available. And where I saw an 8-year old wearing the most awsome, must have, pink Ugg-like boots.

The lines were not too long at the mall and the longest line? The one for the California Lottery gift card, of course!

I'm glad I don't have to shop for this large family.

Over the objections of their dad's seventh wife that Christmas was a pagan celebration and even though all they had to give were the presents made with bits and bobs, all of the other Mormon mom's still wanted to give their children a gift, albeit even if it was made with an old broom handle.

So, even if we owe it's origins to those marvelous ancient, pagan Romans, a Merry Christmas or Io Saturnalia to us all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas magic

My favorite memory of Christmas is not one from my own childhoold but that of my niece and nephew. I grew up in San Francisco and was lucky enough to take school field trips to the symphony, opera and ballet. But my niece and nephew didn't and I wanted to make sure that they would have some of the same experiences that I did. So when my niece was about 7 and my nephew 5, I bought tickets to the Nutcracker Ballet through the studio where I went. The owner was a former ballerina from the SF Ballet and always made sure that tickets were available for her local students.

So we made the 2 1/2 hour drive to San Francisco. We drove across the Bay Bridge and through the Financial District. My niece, having grown up in a small town, asked me about all the people who lived in the tall buildings and was amazed that no one lived there, that they lived somewhere else and just came here to work. Then, we drove through Chinatown, where she could barely stutter out the words, "This is so exciting!"

We parked and found our seats which were pretty good and close to the stage. The story began about Clara and her beloved gift, the Nutcracker. It had been broken after a tussle and she bandaged him up and placed him under the Christmas tree. Then, the magic of the story began. The Christmas tree on the stage began to grow and grow and grow until it filled the height of the stage at the War Memorial Building.

My nephew's eyes were opened wide in amazement and he looked at me and asked if the tree had grown "by magic". I thought of the stage hands who must be running around below the stage, the equipment and the machinery that must be working away to make this special effect happen and how I would explain all of this to him.

Then, as I looked in those 5-year old eyes full of wonder, I smiled and said, "Yes, honey, it's magic."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas progress

Well, only how many days left till Christmas? It seems that there is a natural aging progression to Christmas. When I was a child, Christmas was just a magical time. My uncle was a logger, and he would send us a Christmas tree in the mail, all wrapped in burlap when we lived in San Francisco. There was always a hubbub, to get the into the tree stand, to get the tree decorated and lit with colored lights. Then my mom would would always meticulously put on long, silver tinsel. And it had to be just so. Presents would pile up under the tree. My mom would make cookies from the family recipes and her trusty Betty Crocker cookbook. We opened our presents on Christmas Eve and there were always so many.

Then, I became an adult, and Christmas was still a big deal but then, there was stress along with the activity. The stress came from having to pay for all those presents and having to do all that shopping. But, still, I was young and married and Christmas was still a time to expect and hope for things young married people wanted and needed. We would go to craft faires and even make our own decorations. (I still have a 1/2 painted bowtie maccaroni noodle my nephew made in pre-school. My niece meticulously painted her entire bowtie noodle red. Then, the teacher glued on a ribbon to hang the bowtie) We bought babies 1st Christmas ornaments, made arrangements for present opening and dinner schedules with everyone's in-laws. Then, after the presents were opened and the food eaten, we planned our post-Christmas assault on the mall and department stores for those 1/2 off sales.

Gradually, the kids became teenagers and then adults. We didn't spend the hours shopping for Barbie outfits and remote control cars. Gifts became gift cards and then cash so they could buy their own stuff. God forbid, I didn't want to buy them the same Limp Bizkit CD they already had. And, the adults? We don't need to wait for Christmas anymore. We all just get what we want for ourselves anyway.

Then, 5 years ago, just before Christmas, the doctor told my mom she had pancreatic cancer. So, not only did we lose her later next year, it was perhaps our worst Christmas memory. So, I guess when my 95-year old aunt said after Thanksgiving, one holiday down, one to go. I understood all too well what she meant. No amount of Christmas cheer or mountains of gifts will take away missing those who are gone. And, yes, time makes the pain lessen. This year, I actually bought a Christmas wreath and hung it on the door. Progress! I was going to decorate for Christmas last year, but my dad decided to spend Christmas in the cardiac ICU. But, I think I will poop out on the tree. No point in tempting fate. Maybe next year. Because, as of yet, I haven't done one bit of Christmas shopping.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

And, another photo for your viewing pleasure.

P.S. When I was last in London, I had dinner in the restaurant of my hotel up in Hampstead. Peter O'Toole (King Priam in Troy) was dining a few tables over and I walked past him as he was paying for his dinner. He had a beard which I am sure he was growing for the movie Troy. I think he will always be first and foremost remembered for his role as Laurence of Arabia. And, I sat a the table next to Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky of Starsky and Hutch) at breakfast a couple of mornings. But, I digress. I wish I could have gotten a better photo of the man on the left, but I am limited by how the vase is displayed in the case.

A better view

I have been wondering why when I post multiple photos on a post, why only the first photo will enlarge when clicked on. The answer... because. So here is the second photo from the previous post. If you would like to see the details...

Monday, December 10, 2007

It's all in the details

I love my digital camera. When I go to a museum, I like to photograph everything. I can't believe how much I would forget or miss if I didn't have a photo. Plus, I use my photos as my screensaver to savor the moments of my vacation. Here are some photos of roman and greek vases. What fascinates me is not what is happening in the image but the details of the image. In this vase, hmmm, I think that the young man is expressing his affection (?) for the lady and the young man holding a ladle seems a bit dejected. But, look at the clothing they are wearing and the quality fabric. Even more fascinating to me is that the bed/sofa has a patchwork covered mattress and a loose box pleat dust ruffle. Holy, Macys catalog.

These two well-dressed soldiers appear to be playing draughts while on duty. The soldier on the right is wearing a flowered cape. And both of them are wearing embroidered capris (the shorts, not the island).
And somehow, I think the costume designers for the movie Troy saw this vase as Paris and Hector were wearing very similar outfits in the movie.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


Well, my *team* lost again. They have been on a losing streak since the coach recently lost his wife. It is very sad since she was only 45 years old.

As part of my immersion in Italy, I decided to be a fan of the soccer team from Florence. I had read Tim Parks book on Serie A football or calcio as it is known in Italy. It wasn't easy to be a fan, at first. Inter Milan has a much more user friendly website in English. AC Milan was the dominant team but they reminded me of the Yankees, and, that and their owner, Mr. Berlusconi are two reasons for me not be their fan. It wasn't easy being a tifosa for Fiorentina from far away, though. They only translate a few articles into English on their website. But the team color is purple and they are known as the Viola or the purples and that is a good enough reason for me.

So when I asked my niece if she would be interested in going to a soccer game when we went to Florence in May, I was surprised and quite pleased that she up for it. Before we went to the game, I went to the local fan store and bought some Fiorentinish gear, a white canvas tote with small, purple fleur di lis on it and a purple baseball hat with a small Fiorentina logo on it.

We went 2 hours ahead of kickoff time, because I read the ticket wrong. They played Cagliari and beat them. Unfortunately, their star player, Luca Toni didn't play but I did see him in his street clothes being interviewed for TV on the pitch.

Most amusing were the fans of the opposing team. You can see them in their special section, all barb-wired off. They had lots of synchronized arm movements with their chants, and the Fiorentina fans would respond with their own chants.

It was great to be part of the local scene for the afternoon, and thereafter, whenever I wore my Fiorentina hat or carried my bag, Italians would think that I was from Florence. Even though my niece thought they were trash talking in Bologna and Naples (And, I wouldn't wear any of it to Siena, because, I'm sure they're not over their defeat by Florence when they were city-states). She doesn't speak Italian but she told me she could tell. And it could be true. All I know is that one Sunday morning in almost no traffic, as I was crossing the Via Nazionale in Rome, a car stopped for me. Yes, stopped for me in the middle of the street. Though I was prepared to just hold up and let him go by in the way pedestrians weave in and out of traffic to cross the street. I nodded my head to the driver in thanks and just wondered if it had something to do with that Fiorentina bag I was carrying.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

My favorite books on Italy

The desire to go to Italy grew upon me slowly. I don't why. I had been to most all of the other Western European countries except Italy. Maybe it started one day in the Borders Bookstore when I picked up a small orange book and could not put it down. The title was As the Romans Do by Alan Epstein. The book was about the Epstein family moving to Rome and raising their two sons. They had an overwhelmng desire to live in Rome. That it would no longer do to just visit. They had to be Romans. I read the book from cover to cover, trying to memorize all of the italian words. I shared the book with family and friends and we all laughed at the sometimes outrageous behavior of the Romans.

My sister found a book called A Thousand Days in Venice, An Unexpected Romance by Marlena De Blasi. She tortured me with it how great it was but how it was unfortunately, backlogged at the library. I finally gave in and bought it. What a wonderful story about finding love later in life. (She later wrote another book, A Thousand Days in Tuscany). Next, a friend loaned me Under the Tuscan Sun . I think that everyone must have seen the movie. But, by then, I was hooked and I hadn't even been there.

I found Tim Parks at the bookstore. He is an Englishman married to an Italian with three children born and raised in Italy. His books were funny and insightful and written as an outsider trying to become an insider. Even in his own family, he is different. He is an observer to the Italian culture. His wife and children know nothing else. I read the Italian Neighbors, An Italian Education and, I think his best, A Season in Verona. This is his book about trying to understand the male passion for soccer and since he lived in Verona, that was the team he and his son were passionate about. I learned all the worst swear words and even a hand gesture. When I asked my italian teacher if I was making the hand gesture correctly (I wasn't, I just didn't have the right fluidity of movement), he may have blushed and asked me where I learned such things. (And, I have a special index card with all the swear words on it, just so I'll know when someone isn't saying something very nice.)

With only a volcabulary of cooking and swearing words, I decided I'd better fill in the blanks and bought Italian, in 10 minutes a day because I realized that reading about Italy just wasn't going to be enough. I had to go there and if I went, I wanted to talk to Italians.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

One that didn't get away

I happened across these, three lovely pooches on my visit to Sorrento. The man watching them told me they were waiting for his daughter to return from shopping across the street. As, I had my camera at the ready, I snapped a few pictures. Their master tried to get them to look me so I could get a proper photo. But they had a mission from God and they could not be distracted by such foolishness.

A shorter version of the previous post

Hmm. Maybe I should explain my thinking on the previous post about Naples. After, I came back from Italy, I was looking through a calendar my sister had given me for Christmas. It was a calendar called Rumi:Heart of the Beloved 2007 with quotations translated by Coleman Barks. Rumi was a poet who was born in Afganistan in 1207 but moved to what is modern day Turkey. Rumi was not his given name but what he was called and it translates into "Roman".

As I flipped through the months where I had not read the captions, I came across this one,

"There is a community of the Spirit. Join it, and feel the delight of walking in the noisy street and being the noise."

At an emotional level, the first thing that crossed my mind is that this is how I came to feel in Naples. My visit did not start off auspiciously, but I came to enjoy what is known as the passeggiata. In fact, when I was off to Capri or Sorrento or some other place for the day, I found myself looking at the time to make sure we didn't get home too late to enjoy the passeggiata, I enjoyed it so much. At the end of our time in Naples, I wish that I had spent more time there. Florence is a beautiful city filled with art, and Rome is the Eternal City, but in Naples you have to look past the traffic and noise and things that just seem to happen there. Because, in Naples, the charm and treasure are its people.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Do you think that the mystic poet Rumi ever visited Naples?

"There is a community of the Spirit. Join it, and feel the delight of walking in the noisy street, and being the noise." Rumi

The first time I went to Italy, I stayed in Florence, Rome and an adorable town in Tuscany called Poppi. The second time I went to Italy, I got a little braver and decided to go to southern part. I confess that I utilize Rick Steves' guidebooks as I am really past the Lonely Planet/MTV travel guide stage in my life. And, he doesn't talk much about Naples except to lay out a very long day trip there from Rome. For the brave. But, Pompei and Herculaneum beckoned. The Archaeological Museum in Naples held their treasures and a day trip just wasn't going to be enough. So after some waffle-ing, I booked a hotel for five days in Naples. I just had to go south.

We hailed a taxi to take us to our hotel from the train station. Here is an important travel tip. Do not list the rate of your hotel near the address you need to point to for the cabbie to see on your itinerary. He asked to see my itinerary again, nodded his head and then told me that it was going to cost 30 euros to get there. Now, I had looked at the hotel map and a photo from Google Earth and could tell that it really wasn't that far. I had seen the glean in his eye as he saw what I was paying for the hotel. So, I told him that I wasn't going to pay a flat rate but the rate from his meter. He argued. I countered by telling him to take us back to the station and I would take another taxi. Then, he pointed to a chart, which said he could charge 50 cents extra for suitcases. I agreed to pay for the baggage. This all transpired in Italian, I'm quite proud to say. And, I won. Sort of.

As we got closer to our hotel, traffic came to a complete standstill. We weren't moving. The meter was running. He said there was a manifestazione (not true, just typical Naples traffic, we discovered). So our cabbie suggested that our hotel wasn't that far from where we weren't moving and that we could just pay him for the 10 euros that were on the meter plus two extra for the bags and he would be on his merry way. He said the hotel was just 200 meters from where we were. So, with just a little trepidation on my part, off we went.

I don't travel lightly and we had to roll our suitcases down a narrow, cobbly street. We had enjoyed visiting the San Lorenzo street market in Florence way too many times and just had too many bags and suitcases to be trundling down a crowded, narrow street. Bags kept slipping off shoulders, people were having to step off the sidewalk to get around us and our stuff. I just knew the cabby was laughing evilly as he zipped off for his next fare.

At one point, I looked up and surveyed the streets and the words "sea of humanity" formed in my brain. I have never seen so many people on the streets in my life. I began to formulate Plan B. One, can I get out of our hotel reservation? Two, can I get a hotel reservation somewhere else in Italy this time of year? Finally, we spied our hotel. We would merely, have to cross to the middle of an island, avoiding traffic in four directions and walk in the street and around the barricades blocking off road work from our hotel. If I were to ever to use the phrase, we "girded our loins" it would be here. We prepared ourselves for the requisite break in traffic to cross into the street.

We made it! Then we entered into the courtyard of our hotel. Mercifully, there was an elevator. And a very,very kind lady not only showed us how to run the controls of the mini-elevator, she kept feeding it 10 cent coins until it worked and lifted us up crammed to the gills with us and all of our baggage to the second floor.

I confess our hotel was a bit of a splurge. Just how often does one get to stay in a beautiful, 18th century palazzo once belonging to a noble family in Naples (as seen in the photos). We did joke that we must of done something wrong as our own room must have been the maids room but at least we were settled. My niece asked me just how much time we would be spending in Naples and if we didn't like it, could we leave?

We spent the afternoon at the Archaeolgical Museum looking at fabulosity and an especially nice exhibit of ancient amber jewelry then decided to get some dinner. My niece consulted her MTV travel guide and we found the most adorable trattoria for dinner in the Spanish Quarter. Within 10 minutes of sitting down in our chairs, we were in love with Naples. I felt as if I were in a movie. No one spoke English, there was no menu in English and though I understand Italian well enough, the cook insisted that I follow him into the kitchen to see the food for myself. I saw the prepared side dishes just waiting for someone to request, and the main dishes in the refrigerator and that they spread salt on the floor. We ordered. Our waiters must have all been brothers, the sons of the owner. The oldest may have been 16, the youngest 9. There was a lot of loud and good natured bantering going around and I felt as if I was in a large, Italian family. At a table of grizzly, old men, one grandpa-looking customer slipped the 9 year old waiter, his own tip. My niece had that look on her face. That silly, happy look. Anyone who has ever been to Italy knows what I'm talking about. We cancelled Plan B.

After dinner, we strolled the Via Toledo back up to our palazzo filled with food and happiness. The streets were filled with lots of other people walking about but not really going anywhere or in a hurry. The hustle, the bustle, the energy, street vendors hawking their wares, the shoe stores, it was all so mesmerizing. We enjoyed our stroll that evening so much that we ended every night we stayed in Naples with a stroll down the Via Toledo. And, we became the noise.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


My favorite holiday has to be Thanksgiving. It is a uniquely American holiday born when our English ancestors came to America 200 or or so years ago and gave their thanks to be alive. Years ago, our family befriended a family from Japan on temporary assignmnent in the US. They had many fond memories of Thanksgiving and also Halloween (the kids just thought it unbelievable that it was acceptable once a year to dress up as a monster or princess and go door to door begging for candy.) When they returned to Japan, they tried to recreate the Thanksgiving Day feast, but whole turkey is not a traditional Japanese food thus difficult to find and expensive.

In my mom's culture, the most significant custom to me is New Year's. No, not New Year celebrations but cleaning for the new year. Every year about a week before New Year's Day, my mom would go through all of the cupboards and organize and discard stuff , dust all of the things not normally dusted every week, vacuum, mop and generally go into what would I would later describe as a cleaning frenzy. Just before midnight, she would take the garbage out of the house, then jump into the shower. The premise being that if you were clean at the first of the year, you would be clean for the rest of the year. And, of course, she was.

I, myself have slacked over the years and have not kept up her example. But this year I decided to do it. I made my list and have already started somewhat. For instance, that shirt that I started sewing in high school but never finished, it's history. Even if I finished it, I couldn't wear it. It is time for parting with the past and looking forward to the future.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Oops, hey I like that better.

For some reason, I had a lot of technical difficulty with my camera on my most recent trip to Italy. I think the cause of my problems was that I was afraid to put it back in the bag, for fear of missing a photo opportunity. I have missed several great photos because I had put my camera away and I can still see the images in my mind but no one else can. Kind of like fishermen who talk about the one that got away.

So my camera sort of banged away at my side and the setting dial got changed usually after I had taken several photos. I think that this is one such photo not that I am complaining mind you. It is difficult to photograph white marble against a white wall and give the subject life. But with a black background and directional lighting it looks a bit like portrait photography.

I like this monochromatic photograph above.

But didn't due this lady justice. What awsome hair.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The glory that was Rome

This is my favorite photo of the Colosseum. In sepia tones. I think what surprised me the most about ancient Rome is that it is built of brick and mortar. The Romans invented concrete, and it is a testament to their building prowess that much of it is still around. The Flavians built the Colosseum, Vespasian and his son Titus (who conquered Israel and used it's wealth to rebuild Rome after a brief civil war, more on him later). Here is a section of the inside of the Colosseum showing a high concrete to brick ratio.

And a nice cut away, almost cross-sectional view. From the upper level, you can spy on these guys.

2,000 years later

When I first saw the Roman Forum in 2005, it was just after Hurricane Katrina and in my mind, the two were linked in devastation. Most of the damage to the ancient government center of Rome, however, was not due to a force of nature or even invasivion of hordes of barbarians. But rather the building efforts of the Barberini family 1,200 or so years after the fall of Rome. They, among others evidently, used the ancient buildings for the source of their new building materials. When you look at broken columns like this, it is hard to imagine what ancient Rome must have looked like. Or even, really think about their technological and artistic capabilities. After all, its just a bunch of old and broken stuff. Even the reconstructions available in books and pamphlets don't make it real.

Then every once in a while, when you see the rare example of near perfect preservation like this capital.

Or this floor from a garden on the Esquiline Hill seen in the Capitoline Museum. Then you know it must have been a quite a sight and you can get your head around it.

(Click on photo for a better view)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Jonesing for Florence

Florence is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen and one of my favorites although almost every city in Italy is high on my list. I think this view of the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) pretty much sums up Florence although the Duomo (otherwise known as Santa Maria del Fiore) is pretty awsome in its own right. I have been to Florence twice, but have never managed to go into the Duomo. And its not like I haven't tried. I have walked around it many, many times on my way to some other destination. And if I was there, it was closed, of course. Next time.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Italian footwear fetish

I love Italian shoes. It took a serious amount of talking to myself to not buy these even though they came in pink and purple. I can't imagine wearing these on the streets of Rome, Florence, Naples or Sorrento.

These were even harder to resist because I could have actually worn them without breaking an ankle. Except, I could not think of one social function where I would wear them. But it still took some serious self talking! Those are Swarovski crystals which could explain the price (about $450 US.) Thank God I don't have a social life.

I think that the Italian obsession with shoewear goes back a long time. Here is a rather intricate leather sandal. Definitely not for long marches or police work. They look like a kind of summer sandal.

Here is a very light sandal with a slim strap with what looks like a heart shape.

And these are a pair of men's sandals. Serious, ___kicking shoes. Embossed leather, soft fabric collar with the mini-lion heads. I can't imagine what they would sell for in today's time, although, I admit, I can't imagine any guys I know wearing them. Pity.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Roman interior decorators

I love decorating my house. I think the ancient Romans did, too. Here is a terracotta tile from the Archaeological Museum in Arezzo taken in 2005. I'm not really sure what it is called exactly a terracotta frieze? A terracotta tile. I don't know if it was supposed to hang on the outside of the house or the inside but it is awsome. I almost didn't take this photo as I had just gotten my Nikon D-70 camera and I was slightly embarrassed to be whipping it out to take pictures, but I got over it!

Here is another one though this is from the museum on top of the Palatine Hill in Rome and is called a campana plaque. Perseus is giving Medusa's head to Athena. If I remember the myth, Perseus used his shield to look at Medusa and kill her since he would be turned to stone if he looked at her directly.

Having no hordes of slaves to do my bidding, I'm just trying to recover my chairs.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Too much technology?

I have been trying to migrate my photos and internet use from my old computer to my new computer. I thought that I would never use all the hard drive on the old computer in a million years. Until I bought a digital camera. Now, I have no disk space. The new computer is running Vista. Vista seems to have issues. Like, I think it's a control freak. I didn't really seem to like blogger so I post on my old computer. But there is no space to download new photos on the old computer. So, I am half on my old computer and half on my new computer. Plus, I decided to buy an external hard drive for backup and then start this blog

The new computer is on my cooktop, too. So, I can't cook until I resolve some of these issues. Sigh. This isn't the photo I wanted to post, but it will do and it makes me happy.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday Night

Arghhhhh! It's already Sunday night. Soon I will have to go to sleep and my weekend will be over. I managed to read most of the archived posts of "The Confessions of a Pioneer Woman" this weekend. Until guilt made me get up from my lollygagging around ass and go do my chores. They need to invent a new multitasking device, a virtual screen so I can surf the web while treadmilling or sewing or vacuuming. Yep, that's the ticket. The ultimate multitasking device. Geeks, get to it.