Usually when I am out of town I hit a point where I am ready to go home. This was not the case this time around. Yes I missed my friends, my family, my dogs and my boyfriend, but I was also beginning to become attached to a new landscape, a new language and the history that is Italy. Is it because one of my grandparents came from Milano? After all I am also attracted to Celtic art and believe I have some Irish blood in me as well. It has taken this week to become reaclimated to my home, the time difference, the different pace of living, the accents. I longed to say "grazie" to the store clerk at Cumberland Farms, and "scusi" came out of my mouth more than once. Italy is made up of music, the language, the stories, the harmony of the artwork, the opera. I was born in the U.S., love the trees, the lakes, the critters of the Berkshires, but also feel a connection to a new place now. This past semester I wrote a final paper on the concept of "home." Where is one's home? I wrote, "Home is a place of connection, of beauty, and of simplicity, the place where the birds flock to eat up all of the safflower seed before the bear decides he needs a snack. Home is what is left after the walls burn and the relationships die. Home today is the edge of Barbieri Pond." Now I don't know. Do we have a permanent place that we can call home or is the concept an ever changing idea? Non lo so.
Between trains, a whole world, nameless faceless people. The bathroom was up to a euro at this station, a marked increase from Padova’s .80! Inflation perhaps? Lessons learned on this trip. Make a schedule of where one wants to go before booking the plane. This way you will not have to backtrack to catch your flight. Check all train schedules before leaving to save on internet costs from your cell phone when you get stuck. And beware of a gorgeous Italian man trying to carry your bag for you. I guess offering to carry a bag means they can accompany you to your hotel! Don’t think so. The train station is a world in itself. In Roma there was a mini mall, complete with shoe store (ah, Italian shoes). Even the smaller stations, such as Assisi have restaurants and lounges. These in between places serve an important function in society, and sometimes can be scary and overwhelming. Until I know exactly where my train will come in and where the car I am assigned to will stop, I am nervous. I am also between school and an internship. Next Monday I will begin as a teacher’s aide at an art school. The transition period is necessary though, to gather energy, change gears and understand exactly where I will be going. This week I plan to continue writing my novel, in which the first scene took place on a train, with a woman going to a place of uncertainty. Today I have a little more clarity about which direction I wish to head. Back to Italy, yes, Sicilia, Toscana, Umbria and of course, back to Caorle. On this trip I gained another home, another destination that I can head back to. What happens in between is still a mystery.
They say that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Well, big lesson #1. When traveling, pack very light, and don’t buy up entire bookstores. They will stay in business without you. My last class was today, and I left my safe little Hotel Fabris for distant shores, or rather Assisi, which is a bus ride and two trains away. Train stations in Italy do not have elevators, or, if they do they are invisible. Since I have finished my journey, I have my entire set of luggage with me, all 2,000 pounds of it. From the hotel, a ¼ mile jaunt to the bus. From the bus stop to the train station, down a flight of stairs, up a flight of stairs and into the train, where I lift said 2,000 pounds onto a luggage rack. I will be stacked when I get onto the plane for home. But I am heading for Assisi, where I will have a full day of prayer and meditation, with focus on gratitude for this amazing trip. I left behind my friends from the hotel who take care of me, fed me amazing food, and were very patient as I asked to take an afternoon instead of a walk and humored me while correcting my pronunciation. Thank you Thomas and Olsie, among others. So here I sit, in a beautiful air conditioned train, an hour respite before I begin a second set of bicep curls, tricep extensions and squats.
Where does one find God? This question has been following me through Italy as I explore churches and sacred sites. Today I am in Assisi, at the basilica of Saint Francis, which is, to put it bluntly, the most beautiful place in the world. High vaulted painted ceilings (dark sky with stars), painted frescoes adorning the walls, marble floors, mosaics, and a lower chapel that houses his tomb. Sitting on a pew in this place I cannot help but be overwhelmed with awe, wonder and tears. Taking the train from the coast the landscape visually changes from flat to hilly, with little villages tucked up into these hills. From the basilica, the view is, well, it is unexplainable. I am speechless again. One has to walk uphill to get anywhere her, and maybe it is the physical exhersion that makes this a magical place, the sweat releases some kind of endorphin perhaps, or the heart is racing and forces joyful hallucinations. Whatever it is, the pictures don't do this area justice. I got in last night at around midnight, the churches were lit and a moon hung in the sky. Today, seeing for miles, on top of the world, I find God. In the basilica, where I can see art that people have been seeing for at least 800 years, I find God. I guess the answer to my question is everywhere. Leaving this place on Monday will be sad. I have been embraced and welcomed by this country's landscape and people. I will be returning as soon as I can, to a step back into history, to the hills, the sea, the music of the language and the sacred places that fill me with grace.
Just look at the photo and you will see. Why are Italian geese so much more attractive? Maybe because, being from the U.S, they are a novelty. Italian geese don’t leave messes at my door, or keep me awake during migration. I get to see them, take a photograph and continue along the way. Everything is new and fresh in a different country. But would it all get old after a while? I don’t know, I think I would like to find out. Usually when I am on vacation I start longing for home after a certain period of time. While I long for friends, family and furry critters, I am also feeling an impending sense of loss when I step on the plane to go home. The other day I grabbed a flyer for the area apartment rentals. Why, because I feel as if I am starting to form a bound with this place, this country, the people, the water, the land. And everything is attractive, eve the pigeons, the homeless man who sleeps on the beach, and the graffiti (although sad). What does all this mean? Just that I simply like the goose, the goose we all thought was a cat for a brief moment in time. And maybe that says it all, the cat, the land could just be a creature that leaves at some point. I just don’t think that point will come anytime soon.
Entering the alley that leads to the balcony where Juliet called down to Romeo, surrounded by mobs of people carrying dangerous weapon (umbrellas) we entered into the world of Verona. This cute little town is home to many different architectural styles and a Medieval Art museum/castle, where you can see pictures of Jesus in the same room as a painting of a man’s head on a platter. Gotta love that time period. But I do enjoy the devotional art and have decided that I am officially a fresco girl. That is fresco, not fresco. I know this because I have succeeded in photographing so many frescoes that I could open my own shop. No geese here, but the cobblestone historical center made up for the lack. I see no reason, other than the influx of zillions of tourists, for Romeo and Juliet to have to die. After all, there are numerous shoe stores and plenty of gelato (price is up to 1.50 here!) Verona is for lovers, Romeo and Juliet lovers, people looking for love and lovers of historical architecture and art.
I usually set out around 7 am and run for 45 minutes, run being the oxymoron in Italia, along a stone “boardwalk” that borders the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Today I shaved three minutes off my time (a) because 90 year-old men were passing me and (b) when in Rome (or Caorle) do at the Romans (aka Caorolians) do. So I am immerging, or maybe submerging into the culture, drinking the espresso, eating gelato, reading the newspaper and picking up the pace on my runs while slowing the pace for the rest of the day. Like at the Lavender Festival, Festa di Lavande, where the samples of food were served, in due time, and people just sat on benches and chatted, catching up with neighbors and new friends. It was a nice feeling, sitting on a bench soaking up the day without a packed agenda. Dinner can start anywhere between 7 and 7:30, when it is ready, and it is ok because there is more time to sit on the porch and chat. Shops all close here at noon and reopen between 4 and 5 after the hottest of the afternoon sun has set. With many stores without air conditioning and temperatures in the 90’s in June, this is a necessity. Shop keepers take a break for lunch (pranza) and the world gets a break from the blasts of energy- hungry air conditioning.
Lavande is cut twice a year and can be made into essential oils for relaxation (great for those little bouncy bambinos). It is also growing along the “boardwalk,” and in full bloom at the moment. As I jog (notice the new word) by I run my palm over the fragrant blossoms and inhale the relaxing scent of lavender. Meanwhile 3 runners pass me. These folks are not taking time to smell the lavender, they are on a mission. But soon they will head to work, I will head to breakfast and class, and the day will slow as the sun climbs in the sky, as stores close, as people sleep, as the sun sets and the day unwinds, as I wake up and start again. This time a little quicker.
Gelato: is it just a dessert or is it more? Does it only come in cone or cup, or is it a staple to a well-balanced diet? Should gelato appear on the USDA food pyramid? I say yes. Its smooth creaminess is more than just a snack. Gelato, or the Italian’s version of ice cream is made of cream, panne, sugar, egg and flavors. To be super healthy try the melon or pistachio. For dessert chocolate or coconut, or both combined. To get a healthy dose of fruit try strawberry, cherry or raspberry. For a little danger, taste the blue flavor (don’t ask, I don’t know). If you have ever heard the saying, “A gelato a day keeps the doctor away,” you are well on your way to understanding why this smooth creaminess deserves its place in the pyramid. Fruit, cream, nuts and more, osteoporosis just you run and hide. Show me an Italian woman with a hunch back and I will eat my words, or just a double scoop of stracciotelli per favore.
For the best gelato in Caorle, try Mister Gelato in the historic center. I know, I know, the song is named after the store, not the other way around.
Roma wasn't built in one day, but I managed to see it in one, with a few time-savers and a good pair of running shoes.
Helpful Hint #1. Order your Vatican museum ticket online. It took me 30 seconds to get inside and many people more than two hours, in a line wrapped around the building, at least 1/4 mile long. I also concentrated on the art I loved, the Sistine Chapel and mosaic,s and ignored the art I didn't love. There was enough to see in 2 hours.
I started the day at Cafe Julia, double espresso and sugary pastry. Then hit the museum, in and out. Weaving in and out of tour groups works if you have skid-proof shoes. Caffeine is a definite must, do not skip the espresso. Make sure you have a good map, and don't be afraid to keep it out. There are no actual Italians in Rome, it is made up of 100% tourists, and they all have their maps out.
From the Vatican race to the Pantheon, worth the trip, cut back through to the Trevi Fountain, up a flight of stairs to a palace (I have no clue, it was free and had guards with machine guns so it must have been worth it). Make your way to the center, turning the map if need be to get your bearings. There you will find all the ruins you have ever dreamed of viewing. Good photo-op here, the modern surrounding the ancient, Smart car next to crumbling brick. Make sure you get a picture of the gladiator talking on his cell phone, it is priceless. If you skip lunch and buy an overpriced water you can make it to the Coliseum, wander inside (for 12 euro) and make the 2 hour walk back to your hotel in time for a bad tourist priced meal (not at mny beautiful hotel) of lasagna fruit and diet coke (14 euro). You will then sleep hard for at least 10 hours before making the 2 hour trek back across town to the train station and head back to the coast. Make sure to have ibuprofen on hand for sore aching muscles (you did walk across Rome, remember) and hit Cafe Julia again for more espresso, just not too much because the Roma Train Station charges .70 for a trip to the bathroom, sans toilet seat. At least it had a toilet instead of a hole (I am saving that one for later, after I have recovered). Post all pictures for your friends to drool over!
We started the day with caffè, and a guided tour of the city. After being near the ocean, sans elevatation, this city built along an incline was refreshing, and great free exercise. We visited a few churches and passed by one of the many places James Joyce lived while staying in Trieste. I guess he spent his money on luxuries other than rent! Smart cars are the majority here, scooters as well, to navigate the narrow hilly streets. We finished the day at Miramare, built in 1856, a castle overlooking the ocean, its interior decorated in the Romantic style. A bit much wood and paneling for my taste, but the grounds alone, 55,000 acres, were worth my plane ticket here. The architectural style changed the closer we drove to Austria, towers of churches looked more like onions. But sunbathers still lined the rocks along the sea, that is under protection from the WWF. A highlight of the interior? “Il Bacio” on display, one of the four versions of Francesco Hayez’s well known painting. A copy also displayed showed us what the original colors would have looked like before fading.
Percentage of Italian men with ugly shoes: 0
Percentage of pizza that made me groan with pleasure: 100
Flavors of gelato tried so far: 8, oops, count today, 9
Cost for a public bathroom: 40 – 60 centessimi
Comfort of public transportation: High
Beauty of towns visited: Un-measureable
The number of books purchased: Not saying
Today’s flavor was chocolate pear, cioccolato pera. I was in heaven, sitting on the steps of a chiesa, watching the people mill about in Padua (Padova). Yesterday was Venice, today Padua, with its historic center open to pedestrians only, lined with cobblestones, and surrounded by churches and beautiful architecture. I passed by Benetton and The Gap before coming upon the center and its expanse of vendors, selling fruits, vegetables, clothing, fabric and purses (le borse). I browsed my way through all of the center’s bookstores, le librerie, purchasing many titles such as: “Mi innamoro fi chiunque mi parli,” by Charles Schultz, and “Che talento, Clementine,” by Sara Pennypacker. I believe I have my share of translated Italian literature for the year, trying to stick with titles for readers, ages 8 – 12. I returned to Caorle, exhausted, hungry and laden with packages (filled with water, yes, but the phrase just sounded so right). Tomorrow I will have been here a week. I am starting to feel at ease, willing to call a conto (the bill) a coverto (a tablecloth) just to amuse the waitstaff. As of yet I still cannot pronounce the word for waiter, cameriere, but my ciao ciao is coming along.
My first time having jet lag, yesterday morning I did not want to wake up after twelve hours of sleep. Italy is six hours ahead of the U.S. so as I write this I am heading for bed and you are heading for dinner! The first few days were scary, being in an unknown country, trying to speak a language that I have only basic skills in. But after my firsts, first time I ordered gelato (only 1 euro per scoop,) first time asking directions, first time ordering train tickets, I began to settle in. Today we took a boat through a lagoon, admiring huts made from cane. The cane keeps the huts cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Fishermen that live along the lagoon used to fish for eel, until the population decreased. We encountered swans, heron, turns and gulls along the way. We made one stop to visit a secluded hut, used by Hemingway when he wrote one of his novels.
I slipped into the town at 9pm on the first Tuesday of June and the streets were packed, the stores all open, dogs, children on bicycles, couples, families, all milling about. The price of gelato increased with the change of the tourist season, off to on, but was still a bargain at 1,10 euro. Live music played in from of the bancomat and a juggler performed in the piazza. Street cafes were packed. I wandered, watching the performers, listening to conversations and shopping, of course, finding small inexpensive gifts for family. I finally arrived back at the hotel around 11, late for an early riser, but unable to tear myself away from the energy of the historic center, both new and old. The young and old people walking around together amidst the buildings that have been around for centuries created a certain unique energy, the energy of Caorle. A few blocks brings you to the ocean where an entirely different energy resides, the waves crashing against the rocks, benches filled with folks eating gelato, couples kissing on the beach, empty bottles of wine at their feet. I felt refreshed walking toward the hotel, tired feet and head filled with new phrases learned, “non bisogna di una borsa,” I don’t need a bag, “grazie mille,” thanks a million. I had been to the grocery story, coffee shops, explored pizza options and walked along the beach. I had taken a boat ride, learned about Italian cuisine and listened to Italian rock music. I believe it was a very good day.