Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I have not yet had a spare moment to even look at our Paris photos, but when I do, you'll be the first to see my favorites! We arrived home on Sunday night to no hot water. This was not a huge surprise since our hot water had been hit or miss for the week before our trip. Our landlord sent someone out on Monday night. That guy said another technician would have to come take a look. On Tuesday night, for the first time ever, I had strange workmen in the house with no landlord/landlady or Nathan around. Thankfully, I had Crazy Dog and his Girlfriend. Scully can bark, but when another dog (especially a girl) is around, he really must show off his strong protector qualities. Fortunately for me, this meant two gentle, sweet, loving dogs turned into snarling beasts, lunging at the glass door opening onto our back patio where the workmen were. It was awesome! I do not discourage this behavior, which is going to be a problem once we return "home." I'll deal with that domani, domani [tomorrow, tomorrow - a favorite Italian saying]. The workmen spent some time hanging about with various faucets running before telling me lots of things in Italian. One of them seemed to be something along the lines of turn on the radiators, wait ten minutes, then take a hot shower. That made no sense, but when I questioned it, I got the same answer. Then the men said they'd come back the following afternoon. Then it was "or on Thursday." I assured them that I am at home all the time (you might think this is an incorrect answer to tell strange men, but it's actually opposite from what one would say in the U.S. - here, it's better for people to know you're at home all the time rather than knowing your house is empty and your belongings just waiting to hop onto the nearest white van with no windows). As the workmen were leaving, one said maybe he'd return on Friday. So at that point, I had a possible repair date of Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday after 1:00 p.m. This was worse than Comcast! [What am I saying...there is no company on earth with worse customer service than Comcast...unless things have changed drastically in my 15 blessed months of not being a Comcast customer.]. Well, it's Wednesday night now, and I've gone four days without a shower. Thankfully, I am an excellent sink bather and cold water seems to be the answer to making my flat, boring hair incredibly bouncy, so I've yet to resort to boiling water on my stove. I'm reminded anew of just how many of our "luxuries" can be taken away without the world crashing in upon itself.

Nathan and I have been married fifteen years, and in that time, we've had the incredible fortune to take some amazing vacations. But my favorite of them all was a canoe/camping trip we took about three years ago to the Boundary Waters, an area of hundreds of lakes on the border between the U.S. and Canada, a place to set off in a canoe with tent, sleeping bag, food, and camp stove, and leave all niceties of civilization behind. It's the only time in my life that I've really felt apart from the world at large...and it was phenomenal. For five days, we rowed and camped with three other friends - just enough companionship to prevent loneliness, just small enough to allow us to enjoy solitude. One day in particular, we explored a small lake near our campsite for the night and came upon a campsite of other people plus two other canoes in the distance - we left that lake because it was "way too crowded." I marveled at the fact that we were in a place with no cell phones, no TV, no radio - anything could be happening in the world at large, but what was important to us was getting our shelter set up each night, finding a spot with a beautiful view and flat, stone-free ground, cooking a simple dinner, enjoying fellowship with our friends, reading a good book before drifting off to sleep. Hanging in our bedroom is a framed photograph of our final campsite of that trip. I open my eyes every single morning to this picture and have a daily reminder of just how beautiful Creation is and how many of the "things" that fill our lives can be so unimportant. As we enter another Christmas season (and on a day when I've just wrapped and packaged Christmas gifts to go back to the U.S., and gotten writer's cramp from filling out all the customs forms), I think it's always important to have a reminder that the material things are just expressions of love - the things don't matter, the people and experiences behind them do.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Good Thanksgiving

I hope everyone's Turkey Day was filled with good food, good company, and good napping. In our new determination to make the most of every single vacation day, we went on another trip, this time to Paris. We didn't even attempt to seek out a turkey dinner, but we did head to the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz. I'd read an article about the bar's renowned head bartender, and with our love of PX (blogged about here) back in Alexandria, we thought this place sounded right up our alley. We'd already decided to make this our after dinner stop, and while at dinner, we overhead the table of Americans next to us discussing their post-dinner, drinks stop. One person suggested the Ritz, and another replied, "Sure, if we want to spend all our money in one place." We decided that we did, indeed, want to spend all our money in once place and dutifully headed over. Once past the long hallway lined with luxury goods, we tucked into a cozy, wood paneled space with low tables and pictures of Ernest Hemingway on the walls - we felt like we were back in Key West, where we lived for a couple of years. Little did we realize that the Hemingway Bar is THE hangout for Americans in Paris, or at least it seemed like it since American voices rose from most of the tables. And once again, we found proof of how small the world can be. In chatting with the couple next to us, we found that the wife was from Key West. When Nathan mentioned that we moved to Italy from Alexandria, VA, a man from the table behind us came over to chat - turns out, he lives in Del Ray, a charming neighborhood just over a short bridge from our townhouse in Alexandria. As I was talking to him, Nathan met another couple at the bar with some other interesting connection that I have now forgotten. While we thought the highlight of our night would be sipping fancy cocktails at the Ritz, the real highlight was making connections with fellow Americans in a foreign country on our holiday that emphasizes family and friends. And so, while we were far from our own family and friends, we passed a good Thanksgiving, indeed.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Final Fav Fotos

In Prague:
Just a small sampling of the beautiful buildings

Wide pedestrian only streets equals happy tourists

Little Quarter and the Castle above

Old Town Square, vibrant at all hours

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Statuesque City

Hope you all had a Happy Turkey Day! Given the business of a holiday weekend, today and tomorrow will just be a few of my favorite photos from our Prague trip. Enjoy!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tick Tock

One final Prague write-up because I never mentioned one of the city's most famous sites: the Town Hall Astronomical Clock. This thing is quite a feat. The clock dates back to the early 1400s and is the oldest one still working in the world. This being medieval times, the clock section shows the earth at the center of the sun and the moon. Oddly to me, the clock is not supposed to tell exact time, but rather, show the orbits of the sun and moon around the earth as well as the sun and moon moving through the signs of the Zodiac. The clock actually indicates time in three different ways, one using a 24 hour clock based on the setting sun, one indicating time as we know it today, and a third showing twelve parts of the visible part of the sky, which is called Babylonian time. The bottom circle is a calendar (this part was added in the 1800s). So all that's sort of interesting, but the best part happens at the top of every hour, when the statues on the side of the clock come to life. The skeleton inverts an hourglass and pulls on a rope. Beautiful wooden sculptures of 11 of the Apostles of Jesus (plus Paul to make 12) pass by and look out the windows, and after they're finished, the clock chimes the hour. For our visit, the chiming clock was followed by a trumpeter at the top of the tower playing a tune on all four sides while dressed in a medieval costume. A fun way to ring in another hour of life.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Seeing Prague

Saturday, we decided to concentrate on the Old Town area in the morning, and walked just about every street. Of the 160 photos we took, more than half of them are pictures of buildings or architectural details of buildings. The city is amazing! Statues hold up balconies, art deco railings abound, rooflines are spires or stepped or have cupolas, some exteriors have frescoes, some have intricate plasterwork. I couldn't get enough of it, and thankfully, Prague does not have dog poop covering the streets, meaning we could walk with our eyes up to our hearts' content. We walked to the edge of the pedestrian zone to a medieval tower, once an entrance to the city, and gazed in awe at the Municipal House next door, an Art Nouveau extravaganza. My favorite was the stained glass awning over the entrance into the lobby, which now houses two restaurants, while the building elsewhere holds exhibition halls, popular for concerts.

For our afternoon, we took a tram ride across the Vltava River to the district above the Castle, then walked down the street enjoying the views of church spires. Making our way to the castle entrance, we walked around the grounds (free), but elected not to tour the buildings, painting gallery, or church. Our feet were aching, and it was time for a break.

Sunday was our day to walk the Jewish Quarter. Prague's Jewish population were essentially walled into their ghetto and experienced a great deal of oppression up until the late 1700s, when some of the more flagrant discriminations were relaxed. Fun Fact: The word ghetto comes from the Italian verb, gettare, which means to throw or to cast. In Venice, Jewish people were forced to live in an area near the copper foundry (il ghetto). The entire Jewish neighborhood became known as a ghetto, and then the word spread in usage to refer to Jewish neighborhoods in other cities. And that's where the word ghetto started...all roads lead back to Italy. But let's head back to Prague - the Jewish Quarter has about six synagogues open for touring and, more interesting to us, the Jewish cemetery, in use from 1478 to 1787. We wanted to see this place in person because the pictures were so amazing. Due to scarcity of land, people were buried 12 deep, with headstones crowding around, but estimates are that over 100,000 are actually buried in this location. The ticket entrance was steep, but after we visited our once actual tourist site for the trip (Museum of Decorative Arts), I headed for a bathroom break and found that the ladies' room overlooks the cemetery. Sweet - I had a great view.

A late lunch in an Irish pub and some relaxing with our Kindles gave our feet time to rest before our next jaunt, back over to the Charles Bridge in search of some street art. I had a picture in my head that I wanted, and while we didn't find it, we got one I like even better. And lots of our own photos as well. We must have spent a good hour goofing around on the Bridge before the cold set in. While in search of a warm pub and some hot wine, we instead found an outdoor cafe using space heaters. Less than 30 degrees outside, and the outdoor cafe was open. After taking a look at their cozy chairs, we had to try it out. Hot Wine and Honey Cake (sooooooo delicious) for me, and for Nathan, a real Budweiser. Another Fun Fact: Two companies from Budweis, Bohemia (now part of Czech Republic) began exporting their Budweiser beer to the U.S. in 1871 and 1875, respectively. Anheuser Busch began selling a Budweiser beer in 1876 and put some sort of copyright or patent on the name. And thus, over a 100 years of legal disputes began. As of now, American Budweiser is sold as "Bud" in the EU, and only the Czech company can use Budweiser. I don't know what name the Czech beer gets in the U.S. But in the U.K., both companies are allowed to use Budweiser. All very complicated, and frankly, annoying. Well, not really for me since I don't care anything about beer, but I am extremely annoyed on behalf of the beer lovers in the world. For all you Budweiser/Bud/Budvar (yet another name used) lovers: Na Zdravi (to your health, which is just a fancy way of saying cheers):

Look At That Building!

My cold is finally waning such that I can do more than stare around the house bleary eyed and sniffling. So...I can start my posts about our trip last weekend, which we spent in gorgeous, beautiful, stunning Prague (location of the INXS video for "Never Tear Us Apart," and a city Nathan's wanted to visit since seeing the video as a teen)! Nathan named this blog post because that's all he heard for three days. We visit many beautiful cities, but Prague is surely the most comprehensively beautiful. Every single street is lined with gorgeous buildings - Renaissance, Baroque, Gothic, Art Deco, all the styles are there in a hodge podge of colors, rooflines, fanciful decorations, and every single building is stunning. Many big cities we visit have pretty architecture, but it might be one or two buildings among five or a few streets of a historic quarter surrounded by a more modern, austere, boring section. I'm sure Prague has that boring, outer section, but the core is huge, and in the 2 square mile section that we walked over and over in our three day visit, we didn't find a single, uninspiring building. The core area consists of five main districts, Castle Quarter, Mala Strana (Little Quarter), then over the Charles Bridge to the Old Town, Jewish Quarter, and "New Town," founded in the early 1300s. My overriding questions that I've yet to research are (1) how did the city escape WWII destruction, and (2) how on earth did the architecture in such a large city survive Communism and the ugly rebuilds so often found, especially considering Prague was home to the largest statue of Stalin in the world (now torn down with a giant metronome put in it's place).

Our favorite Trdelnik stand
We flew up on Friday afternoon, took the very easy public transportation into the Old Town center, and walked the two blocks to our hotel. We stayed at Hotel U Zlateho jelena (Hotel at the Golden Stag - lots of buildings in Prague have names like this, such as House at the Black Madonna, House at the Two Golden Bears, etc. These usually refer to some type of exterior decoration on the building). The hotel had the best location imaginable, only a few buildings down from Old Town Square, a huge...ummm, square...with a food and wine market going on for the weekend - yay for us! Our days were not complete without a little stop at one of the tiny, wooden huts for a cup of hot wine and a Trdelnik. Trdelniks are ingenious - a simple dough is rolled into a rope, then wrapped in a coil around a large metal tube that turns over hot coals. Once it's toasty brown, the Trdelnik maker slides the treat off, rolls it in some cinnamon sugar, and passes it over to the lucky eater. Yummy!

We spent our days and nights just walking around, picking a new section to walk each time, helped along by Prague's complete embracing of the pedestrian zone concept. While probably very annoying for the city residents and shop delivery vans, tourists speak with their money and seem to flock to Prague. I was expecting the city to be somewhat quiet in the winter and was sorely mistaken. The streets were packed, wall to wall people, even with temperatures in the 20s! I cannot even imagine what the city is like in the warmer months! Our first two nights for dinner, we only got tables, in out of the way restaurants no less, by looking respectable and agreeing to eat in under an hour before the folks with actual reservations were due to arrive.

While Prague has a number of museums, historic sites, towers to climb, and a large Jewish section with lots of synagogues open for touring as well, we elected to spend our days walking, walking, walking, just soaking in the city. Upon our Friday evening arrival, we set off to walk the famous, Charles Bridge by night, a must do for any visitor is to walk the bridge through the soaring, 18th century statues that line it's edges as the bridge connects the Old Town with the Castle District. The Wikipedia page for Charles Bridge has a gorgeous photo, so click on the link if you want to see a far better picture than the ones we took!

Here's a quick bit of history for you: A bustling, trading town by the 900s, Prague later enjoyed great success under the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV during the Middle Ages, when he selected the city as his Imperial Residence. A number of institutions were founded then, including a large university. Prague was the home of Jan Hus, a preacher who spoke out against the Catholic Church, which led to Hussite wars in the 1400s, then in the 1600s, a Protestant Revolt and 30 Years War led to a decline in the city's fortunes. Another hundred or so years later, Prague experienced a Renaissance and rekindling of civic pride before finally becoming capital of Czechoslovakia, an independent republic, in 1918. Initially a democracy, the country soon became ruled by the Nazi Party, then Communism, until the Velvet Revolution (because no blood was shed) in 1989, and in 1992, the country split into two, Czech Republic (of which Prague is the captial) and Slovakia. And there you have it - 1000 years of history in one, brief paragraph.

But I left out the most interesting tidbit of all, which regards a prince of one of Prague's early ruling families. Christmas is coming, and have you ever given thought to what the carol "Good King Wenceslas" even means? Guess where he was from - Prague! Wenceslas was a prince (also called a duke, depending on which account you're reading) from the 900s who ruled the government from age 18 to approximately 28, at which time he was assassinated by his younger brother. The Holy Roman Emperor posthumously gave him the title of King. Our Christmas Carol today is based on the many legends of his kindness. And that's how a little known man who lived hundreds of years ago and ruled only a small region for a short time, spending most of that time fending off attacks from other kingdoms, is even still immortalized once a year by carolers the world over.
The Good King himself, in front of the National Museum

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How to Cure a Sore Throat

The big reveal will take a couple more days because I got sick the day after we returned home. Yuck. Seems to be improving though. My painfully sore throat feels better as the level in the whiskey bottle drops. Now I know why my mom put whiskey in our honey and lemon tea when we were kids (oops, was that out loud?). Whatever, it works. Either the whiskey numbs the throat and makes the pain go away, actually kills the bacteria, or just makes me not care.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nathan's Pilgrimage

We've had an exciting weekend visiting one of my favorite cities and giving Nathan the chance to see a city he's longed to visit since being a child in the 80s. Here's a hint:

Italy link:

U.S. link:

[Edited on 11/17 so that hopefully, those of you in the U.S. can open]

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Lose a Grandma

The theme of Ma's trip to Italy must be getting lost. After 17 days with a mix of sitting around reading, visiting local sights, and learning to fry chicken and make apple butter (skills I probably should have learned a couple of decades ago), Ma's departure day arrived. We left my house three and half hours early to make the 30 minute, freeway drive and hit complete gridlock, moving only 2 miles in an HOUR! At the first available opportunity, I took an exit to turn around, and at that point, we had under two hours before departure to take...the long way 'round, eerily reminiscent of our Amalfi Coast attempt. We were able to go 90 miles/hour in an 80 kilometers/hour zone, and with five miles left to go...another gridlock. Nooooooooooo!

We screeched up to the airport one hour before her flight departed, I pretty much threw her luggage onto the sidewalk, and then watched my 84 year old grandmother muscle two, 40 pound suitcases into the terminal. Meanwhile, I drove as fast as possible to the nearest parking, grabbed her carry on suitcase and sprinted into the terminal, only to find my grandmother at the counter, all checked in and smiley, watching her second suitcase disappear on the conveyer belt with nary a mention of extra baggage fees. That was enough stress for awhile, but more was to come.

She had only a one hour layover in Paris, and we'd arranged a wheelchair transfer for the Paris layover. I don't know if that was a blessing or a curse as that's how we lost her. She always knew exactly where she was, which leads to a somewhat existential argument about the word "lost" which hurts my brain. Regardless, we were concerned about her making her flight in Paris. When my aunt called the airline after the Paris flight had departed and found that "there was a problem," and "she's not on the flight," and "we provided her a hotel voucher," there was cause for concern. We had no way of contacting her, no way of knowing if she'd found her hotel, no way of knowing if she'd be able to call, no knowledge of when she'd get on another flight. I wish I knew the name of the hotel where she'd stayed the night because I'd love to give them some publicity! It turns out that upon check-in, when my grandmother asked how she could reach her family in the U.S. because her cell phone didn't have any reception, the hotel turned on the phone in her room and allowed her to make several calls, at no charge, to her sister (who was picking her up at the airport) and my aunt. Air France, meanwhile, took full responsibility for her and escorted her with wheelchairs everywhere, until she was in the baggage area of the Atlanta airport. With flight delays and the like, she'd ended up with 1 hour 15 minutes on the ground in Paris, most of that time spent waiting for her wheelchair transfer. This waiting is what caused her to miss the flight. But from what I've heard from my aunt, Air France was wonderful in taking care of her. Thank you, Air France, although I was already imagining my trip to Paris to search for my lost grandma. But we'll get there soon...stay tuned!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lost on the Amalfi Coast

I'm not sure how we ended up lost on the Amalfi Coast. It's pretty much only one road down the coastline, but I think we've proven that if it's possible to get lost, we will. I had planned to take Ma to see Positano, the popular, Amalfi town that was so popular with both of her daughters on their Italian sojourns earlier this year. Ma and I set off on a sunny, warm day two weeks ago now, driving through terrible traffic, past Pompeii and Ercolano, through a tunnel cutting out several small towns and their corresponding, small streets, bypassed Sorrento, and came to a screeching halt just a few kilometers before the coast road actually becomes the coast road. Perplexed, I sat there staring at a big, road closure sign. Sadly, the sign had no details - as in, closed for only a few kilometers, closed for a few hours, closed for construction, closed due to accident, and most importantly, no "closed and here's your detour arrow." Knowing through painful experience just how useless my GPS would be in actually providing an alternate route, I used my incredible powers of navigation to drive us onto the tip of the Sorrentine Peninsula looking for the long way 'round...and promptly got us stuck onto a serpentine, donkey path no wider than the car (we were thankfully in the car with side mirrors that fold in!), at which point I reached full panic mode in thinking I was going to have to back the car out of this predicament. This is Nathan's forte, NOT mine. I remember muttering over and over, "This is a nightmare." There may have been some hyperventilation involved. The sheer relief when we exited into a parking lot the width of two of my cars - well, I really just can't describe it.

Once we managed to get on a road that gave us at least five inches of wiggle room, I determined that I was done searching for an alternate route. The town of Sorrento won by default. Of course, this was after I spotted a road sign pointing the way to Positano and excitedly followed it for five or ten minutes before realizing the route was taking us right back to the road closure sign. Yet another U-turn and we really were on our way to Sorrento. I like Sorrento okay, but I haven't been in love with it like many Americans here. I don't crave a visit to Sorrento. But this trip, for the first time, I really, really liked it. The sky was so blue, and I took a good, enjoying look at the colorful buildings that were oh-so-Italy. Corals and yellows and ochers, pretty balconies, palm trees waving, the sea sparkled at the end of the town's dividing gorge. Naturally, we'd arrived at riposo. A few shops were open, and there were just enough open to enjoy the pedestrian zone, but not so many as to be overwhelming. And glory be, we found gelato! Bad morning salvaged.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Grandma Venus

Here is Ma, headed into the Venus Grotto at Caserta Royal Palace. There's no cooler Grandma than this one!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Nuns at the Palace

Following our apple festival excitement, we headed over to nearby Caserta Royal Palace, which I blogged about last year upon our first visit to the palace (see that post here). We thought Ma would enjoy seeing the place, planned as a rival to Versailles in France, and after some more GPS shenanigans, eventually found our way into the parking garage. Thankfully, a few months ago, the old movie Chevy Chase's National Lampoon's European Vacation came on and we could revisit our movie memory, confirming that our experiences are disturbingly similar to the Griswold's.

Nathan elected to buy a garden pass for only 3euro and headed off with his Kindle for some relaxing on a gorgeous, autumn day. Ma and I decided to go to the gardens first and waited for the shuttle to drive us the mile walk along the Palace's stunning water feature to the top. We had some photo ops of the waterfalls and beautiful statues, then walked around the English Garden, which is a composite of a number of areas - rose garden, bee keeping area, various buildings, bridges, ponds, large expanses of green get the idea. My favorite is the Venus Grotto, so that's where we headed. Built in the 1700s, but made to look a couple of millenia older, the grotto has a quiet pond, a statue of Venus bathing, some neat walkways winding among rocks, and a "ruined" building with statues tucked into wall niches and mosaic floors. The peacefulness of this area draws me in, and it's the main feature I remembered about the palace from our visit a year ago - that and the presepe.
The Royal Palace holds the most amazing presepe (nativity) I've seen in Italy. I love the lifelike figures that fill the scenes, and I'm excited to visit as many of the downtown churches as possible this December to see the presepes that each church trots out at Christmas time. But Caserta's is just flat out phenomenal. We wandered through the royal rooms, which are empty for the most part, but still feature beautiful walls and chandeliers, as well as ornate ceilings. After finishing our stroll and meeting back up with Nathan, we headed home, and ended up with this parting shot of Caserta Royal Palace:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It's Apple Time!

While Ma was here, we heard about a festival said to be one of the most exciting in southern Italy. The apple festival in Valle Maddaloni. I was excited. I love festivals, craft shows, parades, all sorts of these things. We've wandered onto a few such festivals while living in Italy, and for the most part, they've been small and spectacularly unattended by the general public. The one exception was last year's trip to EuroChocolate in Perugia, which was so far in the other direction in size, scope, and attendance that it's in a class by itself. The chance to attend a well regarded festival only a short drive away was exciting. And we like apples. These apples are different, specific to this region, tiny and sweet and juicy. Here's a photo of the exciting festival:

Clearly, not the hotbed of festiveness we were expecting. Plus, I made a pretty major error that I just keep making over and over again (definition of insanity, right!). The festival was called Valle Maddaloni Apple Festival (translation). I know there's a town nearby called Maddaloni, so I thought...great, the festival is in Maddaloni on the main street, named Valle Maddaloni. This is where knowing Spanish is a huge detriment to living in Italy. Valle does not mean street in Italian. It means valley. You can see where this is going, right?

We dutifully put the town of Maddaloni into our "trusty" GPS, drove out into the beautiful countryside of the Campania region, found the town, and proceeded to spend almost an HOUR driving around tiny streets trying to find this festival. We stopped to ask for directions, and here again, an error we make on a regular basis...which is, having me be the person to go ask the question. For some reason, I have some sort of mental block against understanding the answer. I go ask, I think I understand the reply, I jump back in the car and confidently begin giving directions, only to get us even more lost. After a long time, usually only 20 minutes or so that feel like three hours, we stop for directions again and have a "discussion" that results in Nathan being the one to ask for the directions. At which point, he gets back into the car, begins confidently driving, and we reach our destination with very few wrong turns. it turns out, Valle Maddaloni is it's own town, and is also in our trusty GPS. Once we figured that fact out, we were on our way - and the laughter of the gas station attendant in Maddaloni, upon my direction questioning, made a little more sense. Fortunately, I have become quite used to being the dumb American and am fairly immune to laughter in my face. Junior high school about 25 years ago was fantastic preparation to living in Italy.

We arrived in Valle Maddaloni, a gorgeous, old town clinging to a hillside and straight out of Tuscany rather than southern Italy. Excellent. We know Tuscan towns. They have piazzas, and that's where the festival is. For sure. Up, up, up we drive, streets growing more and more narrow with no main piazza in sight, and finally, we reach a point where going up seems to be narrower than our station wagon. So we go down, down, down, find a guy walking down the street, ask for more directions, and the festival was extremely easy to find, on a large, main street right off the large, main freeway. [Big sigh].

Despite the utter lack of activity - seriously, there were only two other couples shopping (both American, by the way) - we really enjoyed ourselves. The cheese guy set up in the first tent was generous with his samples and we scored a fantastic cheese for our dinner that evening. We bought a bag of apples for me to try my hand at making apple butter (my grandmother helped me), Nathan got a plant for his office, and Ma found several jewelry items for gifts. Also, we noticed some vendors were still setting up (at 1pm in the afternoon), and we noticed a stage going up, so my thinking is that the Valle Maddaloni Apple Festival really is a grand, well attended festival, Italian style - which means the crowds probably showed up about 11pm.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Napoli Tailors

Nathan's aunt sent me the link to a video about the tailors of Naples. The video is actually a five minute preview of a larger documentary. I wanted to share the link with all of you. One, there is fabulous footage of the gorgeous architecture here in Naples. All those grand old buildings we start to take for granted just because of the sheer volume. And two, a segment I particularly liked near the end of the preview: One of the tailors is speaking of how Naples is different from the other big cities, the fashion cities, because the city has retained it's small, family, craft firms. Then a tailor holds up a suit-in-progress, with all the markings and basting stitches, and says, "How much is this worth?" We get to see the care, the handwork, the skill that goes into making the suits, just like I got to see at the Glove Factory. Extended families in a workshop together, each doing their part on every piece coming out of the shop. And what a microcosm of Naples. Most shops are still like these - family owned, run, and worked. I've often said here that Naples is the America of my childhood, both the good (locally owned stores, everyone in the neighborhood knows your name, hospitality) and the bad (children don't go in car seats, everyone smokes, littering is rampant), so I wonder what the next decades will do to these family owned businesses producing or just selling products on a small scale.

O'Mast - about the Tailors of Naples

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

One Small Step

You may recall that when I first arrived in Naples, I took a four week, intensive language course. About half our class were NATO / U.S. Navy spouses, one of whom was a lady attending a church we'd planned to visit. She recommended the church, we visited our first available Sunday, and we loved the church. We've been attending ever since. I also got the chance to meet her daughter, Betsy, who was finishing up high school and also taking Italian language classes, although much more advanced than ours! Betsy is now in Kenya, doing missions work with children. One of her projects is beginning a library for the children, many of whom have never held books or know what a library is. Here is a link to her blog that describes the project. She needs books donated from an Amazon wishlist she created (on her blog) in order to get this up and running. Being such a reader myself, I love anything to do with passing on a love of books and reading. If any of you feel called to donate a book, I encourage you to visit Betsy's blog, click on her Wishlist link, and donate a book. Once you've added a book (or a few!) to your cart, just click on "change shipping address," and select "Ship to Scott Ingalls" (her parents' address). I love Betsy's ideas for encouraging the kids to read and the reward system she's worked out - so inspiring!

I have a book on my Kindle (that I've yet to read) with the premise of "do something." I love the idea, which is basically, we can't all make the big steps, but small steps added together lead to big changes. I've written about how living here can, at times, lead to feelings of insignificance. The sheer volume of history and knowledge of all those who have walked the very same steps before me is just overwhelming. And the problems of the world seem so vast. Sometimes, those vast, sweeping issues can result in the feeling that one, small person can't really make a difference. But all of us make a difference, in ways we can never imagine and may never know. All it takes is one small step.