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.