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.