Wednesday, November 28, 2007

from Zacatecas

Can't use these computers. Next message from Cuyutlan. Arrive there tomorrow. All well so far.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

anatomy of a departure

I have been so busy here in San Diego and remiss about connecting my own computer.  No photos this time.  I will wait until I get things set up at home in Mexico.  Suffice it to say we had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family, the visit with Ruby being the highlight of the trip.

I refer you this photo of our adorable little girl taken two years ago at Thanksgiving. The new photo I will put up will show what a difference two years can make in a girl's life!

The last two days have been spent rearranging the car, repacking suitcases, off-loading things to leave behind until we return, including all the European wardrobe that will be much too hot for the beach.  

Last night the four of us - sister, brother-in-law, the Patient and I - settled down to watch "Anatomy of a Murder". You may recall that we stumbled on this movie in Italian. It's better in English. I kept falling asleep so excused myself and while the others enjoyed this fine courtroom drama, I slept. 

Today I treated myself to a manicure and pedicure, then had a wonderful lunch with long-time friend and high school classmate at Il Fornaio in Coronado. It is warm, clear and bright here, a beautiful day to sit at bayside, watch the sailboats skimming along the water, and catch up with a fine friend. I grew up in Coronado at a time when there was no bridge; to get to San Diego you either took the ferry or drove down the strand through Imperial Beach then up the other side into San Diego.  Now the ferries are gone and drivers either use a bridge.  The strand is still there, now chock-a-block with high-rise condos on the ocean side and two or three up--scale gated communities on the bay side.   I remember when . . . oh, never mind.

Tomorrow morning early we will take off for Mexico.  Unless I can find a wi-fi connection, the next message will come from Cuyutlán on, perhaps, Friday.  Until then, adios.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

postcards from the continent

When I first got here ~ "here" being Long Beach ~ I could not get the trusty laptop to work. A short conversation with grandson provided all the answers needed to get back into the cyberworld. Now it's time to get some illustrations up to prove we really did go where we said we went. Not all at once, however. A bite at a time.

This is the apartment we stayed in, Piazza Santo Sprito #7. That is your faithful correspondent in the window on the right, three floors up. The Patient took this standing in the little square across the street, on his way back from the bakery.

Every day, except Sunday, there is a market in the square. This fruit and vegetable seller set up right across from our door. There were mainly clothing and household goods in the market; also a fellow selling office goods; stationery and such, another fellow selling "antiques" of a suspiciously recent origin.

This is your daily dose of atmosphere. I took this standing on the Ponte Trinitas, looking west down the Arno. The Ponte Vecchio is behind me. I'll save that picture for another post.

Later this morning we will drive down to San Diego to stay with my sister and brother-in-law for the Thanksgiving pig-out. Niece Kaley and grand-niece Ruby (and dad Rob) are also there. I haven't seen Ruby since 2005; she is now a very precocious 2 1/2 year old. There will be 7 of us, a manageable crowd, to feast on the usual comestibles of the season. Meanwhile, I wish all a Happy Thanksgiving holiday however you plan to spend it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

back safely from the Old World

Got to the New World at 4 PM today after flight from Pisa. Then on to the Golden West at 7 PM. Tired beyond description. More tomorrow, with photos. Good to be home.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

a quickie in Florence

Arrived here after smooth train ride on EuroStar from Vicenza. Checked in to hotel; nice quiet room at the back, private bath, 75€. To Garga's for dinner tonight. Now off to bank for more expensive €s to see us out of this place tomorrow morning. Quick train from here directly to Pisa airport. Out at 1 PM, land in LA about 10:30 PM Monday night.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Addio Vicenza

I have just one hour left on my internet card so this will have to be short and sweet.

We have been ambushed by time and suddenly it's time to pack up and leave. The trip we waited a year for is almost over. Memorable? Very. Will we do it again? Not until the government gets a handle on currency values. Just too expensive. Here's a good example. Yesterday we took to bus up to Marositca (more later). We passed a gas station on the way and noted that low-test unleaded gas is 1.30€ per litre. That translates to $1.90 per litre. There are 3.75 litres in a gallon. So how would you like to pay $7.30 a gallon for your gas? Let's have no more crying over gas prices in the US. No wonder Europeans drive tiny cars. I think we've seen a half-dozen SUVs during this entire trip, and they're all Mercedes.

The trip to Marostica was wonderful. It is a walled city 45-minutes from here by bus. You can see the old walls that climb up the hill and encircle the town beneath. In the center of the main piazza is an area paved to resemble a huge chess board. In the summer there are chess matches with people dressed in chessmen costumes (the queen, too) who move around the board as directed by whoever is playing. Big festivals surround these games, played at night under lights. It was very, very cold, although the sun was out. After hiking up the hill for a piece to see a lovely little church, we went back down into the center of town, had a delicious hot chocolate to stave off the cold and any hunger. We strolled around more, looking at the architecture, old buildings, remarkable stone walls of the fortress that are being restored. We got back on the bus and came home, thoroughly satisfied. Oddest sight on this trip: an airplane parked in the front yard of a house on the outskirts of Vicenza. The ultimate in garden statuary.

Today is pack up and get ready for tommorrow morning's train at 9:45. Before then, however, we have tonight's concert of Baroque music. We noticed that the city fathers - actually, city workers - are beginning to put up lights throughout the city for Christmas. When we were here in '04 we got to see the finished product. I don't know if the lights will be on tonight after the concert, but if they are, it will be a lovely sight to remember.

I stopped in at the shirtmaker this morning to tell him "Arrivderci" and that "questo anno, no camecia. Io ho due, si? Il euro e il dollar no son bene. But maybe anno prossimo." He was impressed! I was exhausted by the effort.

Good news from home concerns Alex. She has been hired as a development officer by CSU Long Beach. Congratulations Alex! We'll celebrate when we get home. And that will be in about 48+ hours. Hard to believe.

Next message will be from the Pension Ferretti in Florence where we will stay tomorrow night. We stayed there once before; it's handy to the train station and to our chosen Sunday night restaurant, includes breakfast and has free internet. I'll report on the train ride, and anything else I can think of.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thursday business

By the time I got home from sending off Wednesday's post the laundry had indeed finnished it's 4-hour cycle and the Patient had kindly draped all of our unmentionables on the drying rack and over the heater in the bathroom. The sun was pouring through the living room windows so things got dry in a few hours. And nothing turned purple this time!

Yesterday's trip to Venice has only reaffirmed my thoughts of how difficult it is to describe such a place. Like love, like sex, like porcini mushrooms or the sound of Pavarotti's voice, you simply have to feel it, taste it, hear it for yourself. There is no way that such a place as Venice can be adequately written about, although God knows thousands have tried. You simply have to see it for yourself. However, that will not deter me from trying, but not yet. I need to let the day simmer in my mind, stir, settle, sink and gel. Then I'll write about it. It was glorious, though, even frigid minute of it.

This being Thursday, the food wagons are here and so was I, buying more verduri grigliete, pasticcio de pesce, and stuffed eggplant. That ought to see us through until we leave here on Sunday morning. The main square is jammed with stalls selling mainly clothing, but also some leather goods, flowers and plants, housewares, fabrics. The way it seems to work is that you don't haave to go anywhere to buy underwear or a shirt or sox; it all comes to you once a week, sometimes twice. And on each occasion the place is packed. Plenty of retain therapy around here.

Report from our Personal Delta Travel Adviser says there are plenty of seats for us to make Business Class from Pisa to JFK and "maybe" from JFK to LAX. We will make that flight but might have to sit "in the back." Oh well . . .

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

tuesday's goodie wagon

The food wagons have circled the post office again, this being Tuesday. After breakfast we walked up to see what they were offering and came upon some delicious prospects. I bought two pieces of eggplant rolls stuffed with ricotta and porcinis, one more porcini blini, and an assortment of grilled veggies - zucchini, radiccio and peppers. These things will either be for lunch or dinner depending on whether or not the Patient wants to go out. I am always up for a restaurant crawl, but since he has so much trouble eating, still, he is not as eager as I am.

Tomorrow we take off early for Venice for the day, taking the fast train (45 min.) instead of the milk run (1 3/4 hrs). Thursday is the big market again, with the fish wagon and more lasagne. Then Friday I think we'll take the bus up to Marostica, a walled town about an hour from here where there is an excellent example of Palladio's work. I have filled up the SIM card in my camera so either have to start deleting things (heaven forbid!) or buy a new card at some exhorbitant cost like 55€ ($75). I guest I'll have to visit the bank (yet again) for a refill and buy! We have been watching the daily fluctuations of the euro with dismay. But soon we will be in the land of the peso where it's all in ourfavor.

Before we left to go out this morning I put on a load of wash in the cute little machine in the apartment. When we used it on the last trip it turned everything purple for some unknown reason. When we got home 3 hours later the wash was still churning along. There are two settings; 4 hours or 8 hours. Why it should take so long is a complete mystery to me. But I set it for the "quick" cycle so it should be done by the time I return from this internet cafe. Then I will drape undies and sox on this nifty collapsable rack and in a day or two it will all be dry! This one does not have a built-in dryer.

Watched "Anatomy of a Murder" in Italian on Sunday night. Jimmy Stewart just doesn't sound the same. I asked my sister to get it from Netflix for us to watch while we're in San Diego. I think it still holds up. Part of the reason I want to see it is that it was George C. Scott's first "hit" and he almost steals the movie in about 5 minutes of screen time.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Beethoven in Italy

Saturday evening's piano concert was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours. The performers were young artists from the music conservatory here in Vicenza. First we had Pietro Milli playing Beethoven. He is the sort of adorable Italian boy you want totake home; tall, curly black hair, gorgeous chiseled profile, and about 18 years old! Then we had two young women tackling Schumann, and to finish up we heard Andreo Scassi play a Scriabin sonata (not my favorite composer but he was the most accomplished player). The recital was held in a beautiful salon in an old Palladian villa in the center of town. The audience was mostly blue-haired, but a sprinkling of younger people, including a couple of families with kids, gives me hope that the classical tradition of intimate recitals is not dead. In this small room with very high ceilings and tall velvet-draped winidows, we sat on folding chairs before one of the most gigantic paintings I have ever seen, probably 10' x 15' in an ornate plaster frame with cherubs and garlands carved into it. I couldn't get close enough to see if it was painted right on the wall or was a separaate installation. Impressive.

Remember all those folks milling around in the Florence train station? They all came to Vicenza on Saturday evening. When we got out of the concert the Corso Palladio was jammed with peopole out for the traditional Saturday evening on the town, all bundled up against the very chill night air. All the stores that had been shuttered at 5 PM were now open and doing a brisk business. The main street and all the little side streets were full of people. We stopped in to a favorite pizzaria which rapidly filled up with diners. When we left there the streets were still abuzz. I had forgotten about this phenom. We are going to next Saturday's concert, this time it's Baroque music.

Yesterday was another gorgeous, cold early winter day. We went out for a long walk, first to the train station to check for an IHT. No delivery on Saturday because of strikes throughout Europe, especially France, although since the Italian version is printed in Bologna I don't know where the hang-up arose. Then we checked for train times to Venice (again). We'll go back on Wednesday to "do" the islands; Burano for lace and to see the painted houses, Murano for glass, the Lido for oo-la-la, Torcello for lunch, and Isolo Sn. Michele to visit the graves of the famous. This lunch will be a special one. One year ago on the 14th the Patient finished his treatments. That's something to celebrate! That will just about do it for Venice this trip.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Questo autobus per mercato Palladio?

Yes, it was the right bus so we hopped on and went out to the fabulous Palladio mall. Unfortunately, this very up-scale market has been turned into an Italian version of Wal-Mart. There is still a fantastic deli and beautiful veggies, meat, and miles of pasta, but it's just not the same. It's the only thing close to a big box store that I've seen, unless you count the Salvatore Feraggamo store in Florence that takes up a whole block. We bought some goodies and caught the bus back, all in about an hour. You can use one bus ticket for coming and going, or anywhere else, providing it's within 90 minutes. Great bargain.

This afternoon (5 PM) we are going to a musical program -- piano -- and then out to dinner. We did not take our mystery bus ride yesterday afternoon; the Patient had not slept well and was not feeling up to par. But after a long nap and a good night's sleep he is back on track and eager to get out to the Palladio. We would have gotten out early this morning but woke to find the water shut off in the apartment for some repairs. All fixed by 10:30.

Internet closed tomorrow. Next post on Monday. Happy weekend all.

Friday, November 09, 2007

the improbable city

Wednesday we took the train to Venice, a city that should have sunk into the muck of the Adriatic generations ago but is still afloat. It was a clear, brisk day for this visit. We took the vaporetto from the train station to San Marco - I think it's the longest ride in the system and gives you a wonderful look at both sides of the canal. Just as I remembered, the pastel pallazzi shimmer in the morning sun, their colors softened by both a slight fog and age, the water lapping right up to the front doors. Gondolas were skimming over the water, little boats everywhere, and tourists queing up to get in the Doge Palace, the church, museums, milling around taking pictures of the Bridge of Sighs, among other marvels. We plunged into the interior streets, narrow, dark, damp (dank?) and headed for our little restaurant. Like homing pigeons, we found it first try! It is connected to the Hotel Mailbran which is right next door to the old Malibran Theatre. Lovely lunch; pasta with porcini (of course) and a pasta and bean soup for the Patient. More walking after lunch, through a part of the city we had not explored. Then we walked back to the train station, caught a fast train home, and were back by 5 o'clock. So what did you do today? Oh, went to Venice for lunch. Lovely, lovely day. Among other things we found an English lanugage book store where I bought a copy of David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" which I will start over the weekend, as soon as I finish my current read, "The Exception" by Christian Juergensen.

Yesterday was the big street market up in the main square. Walked through but came away empty handed. Then walked over to the adjacent square where the food wagons had once again opened up for business. This time the people selling the divine fish lasagne - pasticcio de pesce - were there. We bought a big slab of it for dinner. Absolutely wonderful! I have some left for my lunch today. I didn't take a picture; will do that next week when they return.

This afternoon we are going to get on a bus and go somewhere. Don't know where yet. Just get on and see where it goes. Always fun. Tomorrow we may go to Bassano del Grappa for the day. Found a good restaurant when we were there before. It had great polenta, and the Patient is craving it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

an unexpected find

When the Patient went out for the morning IHT and croissant he noticed that vendors were setting up stalls in the little square by the post office. After breakfast, a quick trip to the train station to buy our tickets back to Florence on the 18th, we strolled oveer to see what might be available. There were the wonderful cookingt wagons that we had discovered on the last trip, but on Thursdays instead. These wagons open their sides and set up shop selling both hot and cold foods, beautifully prepared and displayed. We could not find the fantastic fish lasagne on which we gorged last trip. Instead, we found stuffed radiccio leaves and mushroom crepes. They were lunch, and mighty delicious they were, too. The fish lasagna wagon may be there on Thursday; we'll go back and check. Then we went to the bakery and bought some delicious foccacio for sandwiches. The Patient has trouble eating bread that's too dry; just won't go down. But this is very light and loaded with olive oil. Slides right down! I bought a plant to set in the windowsill for a bit of color. Tonight we are going out to dinner at the little place around the corner where we had so many lovely meals in the past.

The weather today was much better. The sun actually came out about 10:30. A hopeful sign for our trip to Venice tomorrow. Train leaves at 9:25 (sharp!) and will get us there in about an hour and a quarter. Just in time for some serious walking and then lunch at Maliban. Since we cooked a big meal last night dinner is already ready for a late return.

Monday, November 05, 2007

benvenito a Vicenza

I have done a bit of traveling in my day and know that the world has alot of people in it. What I didn't know is that they would all be in the Florence train station yesterday. But there they were, milling and swirling and pushing and shoving. So we joined in, barged our way down the track to our train, struggled on board with our bags, and took off, right on time (thank you, Mussolini). It is a beautiful ride, once out of the backyards of Florendce. The train heads north to Bologna and the pine-covered hills. Then it flattens out into beautiful green plains all the way to Padua where we changed trains to Vicenza. We got here at 2:30, got to the apartment, changed clothes, unpacked and hit the streets. It is as we remember it for the most part, but has been hit by that most insidious of vandalism, graffiti. Three years ago there was virtually none. Now it is everywhere defacing these beautiful old buildings. And there does not seem to be any effort to clean it up.

Who did I see in the mob at the train station? Stanley Tucci, Dick Cheney (smoking -- against the law in the station, but he breaks all kinds of laws, no?), Greta Garbo, John Travolta. At least I think that's who they were. They sure looked familiar.

This machine is very hard to use. Space bar doesn't work.

This moring we went out to do basicf shopping at the local "supermarket"and tomorrow we will take the bus to Centro Palladio, a fabulous big market with two aisles of nothing but dried pasta and the most beautiful deli stuff I have ever seen. Wednesday it's off to Venice providing it isn't raining. We had gorgeous weather yesterday but it is cold, dark and rainy today.

Apartment is wonderful, as we remembered it would be. A very welcome change from 4-flights up in Flo.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day. The British Nanny State decided it was too dangerous to have bonfires in celebration of "gun powder, treason and plot"and cancelled the whole thing. What's next?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

arrivederci Florence

It has been a lovely ten days, much too fast, of course, but lovely nonetheless. We have been blessed by mostly mild, clear weather, a bit nippy at times, especially in the wind from the river, but easy to live with. I will be glad to be shut of this apartment, partly because I know what's ahead for us in Vicenza. I have taken pictures of it, however, and will include a fuller description when I can make it an illustrated story. Here's the final wrap up of the last 24 hours here.

Osso Buco bene
We walken down the street last night for dinner at a tiny hole-in-the-wall that we had passed by a couple of days ago. I noticed at that time that it had osso buco on the menu, one of my favorite dishes. It did not disappoint. (I left all the information about this place up in the apartment; I'll fill you in later.)

last day's adventures
This being Saturday, and the weather being downright balmy, all Florence was outside, walking around, eating, shopping, sightseeing. When in France, if the sun even looks like it is going to come out, every restaurant near a sidewalk hauls out tables and chairs and within minutes the place is jammed. So it is here. The streets were almost impassable no matter where we were. We took care of banking, shopping and generally mingling, then headed for lunch at La Spada again. It was delicious, made more charming by a young Japanese couple who sat at the table next to us. They muttered over the menu, written in three languages not their own. But they had a Japanese/Italian illustrated food guide that they kept referring to, plus a calculator they used to tote up the damages and finally made their selections. When my salad came the woman gasped and smiled. I pointed to it on the menu and they ordered one. I felt I had done my good-neighbor-hands-across-the-sea duty for the day. And no words in any language any of us could speak were exchanged.

After lunch we walked over to the train station and caught a bus to Fiesole, a suburb of Florence up in the hills. Gorgeous ride along wide (and narrow) streets of the city totally unfamiliar to us. Gradually we began climbing up into the green, wooded hills. We could look down on the city, the Duomo being the most familiar landmark. Florence, like all European cities, is built cheek by jowel, with stores and businesses downstairs and apartments upstairs. Every person gets about 3 sq. meters, or so it seems. The higher you climb, the more meters you get, until up in Fiesole, everyone has about 3 hectares! Unlike a place like Rio, where the poor and dispossessed cling to the hillsides, the multo rico dwell in the clear, clean air in big, beautiful villas. I could live there! Actually, I could if I had a car that could drive me right into my living room. Streets are very steep and it's a zillion stairs to anywhere. But beautiful and I am glad we did it. I had my first gelato there; I've been holding off but finally gave way to a delicious caffe in a tiny little cup. It was worth the wait.

back down on the ground
Our taxi is ordered for 10:30 tomorrow morning to take us to the train station for an 11.15 train to Vicenza, via Padua. Before then we have to do another load of laundry (about a 4 hour process that includes washing and drying in the same machine without stopping), get packed, fix a lunch for the train, and generally tidy up. I did do a tiny bit of shopping so someone is going to have to sit on my suitcase to get it shut. We'll write the last of the Florence postcards and mail them next door at the Tabac in the morning. That ought to take care of Florence for at least two weeks. We will be coming back here for one night before we take off for Pisa and home, just enough time for one more splendid dinner at someplace, probably Garga's, up the street from our fav, La Spada. It's time to try something new.

I have already begun my list of things not-to-be-missed on our next trip.

Friday, November 02, 2007

lunch at the Belcore

We strolled across the river, up and down the somewhat deserted streets (All Saints Day. Holiday. No traffic. Perfect for walkers.), did a few errands, and ended up at the Belcore for lunch. It was definitely worth coming back to. Lovely setting, impeccable service, delicious food and drink. The decor is crisp and tailored; white walls, wonderful terra cotta tile floor, blue and white linens and china. You are welcomed by a glass of something fizzy, perhaps Asti Spumante, and are served another glass of something port-y after lunch, along with two tiny almond biscotti. I thought the wine was Vin Santo - a luscious sweet wine we had on our last trip - but the waiter said no, told me what it was but I didn't understand what he said so it is a mystery. They also served a special appetiser, a tiny artichode quiche that was so rich and creamy I could have made a meal of 5 or 6 of them alone. As it was, I had tortelli with porcini and truffles and the Patient had penne in a fresh tomato sauce. Splendid all around. We toasted MAS for this recommendation - several times.

I have had my coffee, made in that physics-defying Italian coffee pot, my bread, a clementine of luscious sweetness and some of the most delicious yogurt ever (Swiss), and am ready for a Friday adventure. Today it is bright, sunny and cold. We will either take the bus up to Fiesole for lunch at Le Lance, take the double decker bus around Florence (although we may freeze upstairs) and then lunch at restaurant recommended by friend PD who studied here during her junior year of college and returns regularly, or visit a couple of churches we have passed by but not yet investigated. No matter what you decide to do, there are so many diversions along the way that you may never get to your intended destination but you will have had a fine time anyway. I love wandering down the dark narrow streets. There, right in the middle of the darkness will be the brightly lighted window of a shoe shop or a restaurant or a greengrocer. It's like finding a little jewel in the coal dust. And even in the darkest alleys there will be pots of struggling geraniums or, at this time of year, cyclemen hanging off wrought iron balconies, reaching for some light.

I can't believe that we have to pack up tomorrow for our much-too-soon departure. Much left undone, unseen, uneaten. Those things are for the next trip.