Aug 30, 2010

Being Neighborly

In a land where dryers are a rarity and space is at a premium, being neighborly comes in very handy.


Aug 26, 2010

The water is crystal clear, the round stones the line the bottom easily visible. We had settled down for a relaxing morning, me reading and A soaking in the hot sun when we heard the rumble of an engine approaching. Not a boat, that would have been normal, but from above.

A blue plane with 'Polizia' emblazened on the side, flew by low enough for even someone like me to throw a stone and hit its mark. My curiosity was instantly awakened and I discovered that while I've been spending hours relaxing under the Calabrian sun, the police have been busier than ants in a disturbed nest.

A week before, I'd heard a helicopter in the area and noticed that it was hovering over a house a short distance away. The police had ordered everyone out of the house and were conducting a search...for what I don't know.

Days before, more helicopters and sirens in the early morning - the authorities had discovered a plan to bring in illegals to the country and had busted the operation. The boat laden with people wanting to exchange their life in Africa for one in Italy anchored far offshore so as to not bring attention. A rubber inflatable was driven out to bring them to shore but they had a welcome that they had not imagines. The leaders are now in jail.

Ferdinando Rombola'
Also within the week, a known mafia personality was killed in front of his wife and child while he relaxed under his umbrella at the beach near Soverato. Interestingly, he is the last in a long line of "tit for tat" murders that have taken place over the year beginning with the murder of Damiano Vallelunga in front of a Riace church in September 2009. The feud is over the possession of land and never has it had so high a price.

As I write, I hear another helicopter, but this time it is collecting water to douse a fire in Riace Superiore. Not an unlikely event in this blazing and unrelenting heat, but do you blame me if I wonder if it started as an accident or not?

Aug 24, 2010

Thoughts on the Veneto region

Millions come to this region to get lost in the ancient beauty that is Venice, or to wander in awe among the rugged mountains. I passed by so many large villas with gorgeous gardens imprisoned behind iron gates; curious gawkers like myself find ourselves standing under the protective gaze of the lifesize statues that flank the entrance.

Veneto has so much to offer as it is so diverse with sport, relax, the canals that make the region unique, the history, the wine. Yet, for all the tourism that it draws, it lacks one thing. Hospitality. 

I've become so used to the warmth of the people from the south and the civility and courtesy from those from the Northwest, that it came as a surprise when I ran across rude Italians. Twice. In the space of a week.

The first time was at a cafe where one would expect service. No one came to take my order, but they did come to serve the family that arrived after me. Even after going inside to the bar to place my order, the woman spoke as if I were bothering her. I took a bottle of water and waited at the table until the water was finished. I wanted so badly to just walk away since they had ignored me but decided to go inside to pay. If you can believe it, they still didn't pay me any attention and I had to ask to pay! I am an idiot.

The second time was at an agriturismo, a bed and breakfast type facility where food is typical of the area and more than likely produced at the property.

When I arrived just before the dinner hour, the women setting the large outside farm-style table completely ignored me. I could have been invisible. I followed them unhindered through a door that I discovered led to a small kitchen and bar. Ok, wrong entrance. I then caught the attention of one woman and asked if a room was available and she indicated that I needed to talk to... the other lady. The one a few paces ahead of me. I couldn't believe it. What happened to service?

Once I was registered...part of the clan so to speak, they warmed up like I flipped a switch. But if I had had a   choice, I just might have gone in search of other lodging.

PS. This dinner brought back memories of another dinner about 3 years ago when I was near Bagni di Lucca. I found myself seated next to a long table where only men filled the room. They all turned to greet me as I left at the end of my evening. Here, I found myself seated, the only woman among nine men, Italian and German. Italian men are wonderful and can boost a woman's ego in milliseconds and this group made me feel incredible. I laughed and laughed and laughed. That was an awesome dinner. Food was good too.

Aug 23, 2010

Baptism at Bivongi

I've had another "first" in Italy...attending a baptism. A's brother chose this vacation, with the natural migration of family that comes with the month of August, to mark this milestone in his son's life.

On Saturday afternoon, we gathered at the church doors and waited for the priest. He was late. A's sister and her son were honored with the responsibility of being godparents and when the service began, the four of them, along with a very good natured baby, sat in the front pew.

The time slowed to a crawl as the priest slowly read the service from a book, his monotone inviting me to allow my thoughts to wander. Considering the event, scenes from The Godfather came to mind, when Pacino's revenge played itself out during the ceremony of the holy ritual.

I was bored, nothing spontaneous, sincere or warm about the whole service. I did note that the Catholic church has changed a LOT. Our gathering of people could not be more offensive to the church's standards; the father of the baby is separated from his wife and not even yet divorced and the godmother is divorced.

There was a time when the Church was very particular about it's congregation and we would not have been able to enter. On the other hand, the other attendees in church were there to celebrate 50 wonderful years of marriage for one elderly couple.

Aug 18, 2010

In the early morning hours, I load up the car with leash, treats, water and bowl, towel and the all important ball, in order to head to this beach on the Calabrian coast near Riace.


Those seeking solitude will be the only ones found on this sandy turf as there are no facilities nearby; no refreshments, no shower service that is found on other beaches, no bins for garbage. Nothing, just sand, sea, a lot of sun and a lucky sight of dolphins.

I have to keep an eye out though, for when four black legs come together and a little rump lowers to the ground, leaving behind gifts.  And for when that same little butt comes round to face me while Tala does what comes naturally...


Now you understand why my garden is in constant danger. 


Aug 16, 2010

Americans love Italy; Italians love America

It happened when I was riding to Grignasco one morning. At the open space in front of the one lane bridge to Serravalle Sesia, I saw the Polizia set up to stop vehicles passing by. I wasn't going fast so I was dismayed and confused when I saw his hand holding the large red dot raise up to stop me. I was even more dismayed to see that I'd not remembered to put my insurance and paperwork for the bike in my purse. I cursed the whole idea of fashion and changing purses to go with different outfits. 

He waited as I shut down the bike and pulled off my gloves, then informed me that it was mandatory to ride with my lights on. This came as a surprise as my bike is old, and there isn't an option to turn them on an off independently of the bike. I started to say something then decided to just say, with some natural surprise in my voice that I'd check on it. 

Then of course came the request for my license. I handed over my California license which led to more questions. How long was I in Italy? For what reason? How come I didn't have an Italian driving license Was the bike mine? Can he see my insurance? I know I looked sheepish when I said I'd left it at home. I could feel him thinking "Yeah right." (in italian of course.)

More questions and then he said almost apologetically that he had to give me a ticket. I smiled and good naturedly chatted with him as I walked over to the car. After all, if I was him I'd have given myself a ticket, if for nothing else, for being an idiot for leaving my documents at home. 

More questions, but this time about California, interspersed with questions about my stay.When he asked "Why Italy?" without skipping a beat I said "because we Americans think that everything in Italy is beautiful."  He looked at his partner at one point, then opened the "book". He stopped and said something to his partner that I didn't understand, then he straightened, looked up the road where I'd come from and gave me instructions. 

I could feel my good fortune but in case I didn't understand and then did something completely contrary to what he just told me, I asked him to please repeat. I was to return home, get my documents to keep with me and then go wherever it was I was intending to go. He was letting me go without a ticket!! 

As I got ready, he asked me when was the best time to go to California because he too was fascinated by what he'd heard of it. I could have kissed America; I could have kissed him!

Aug 12, 2010

At the beach at Riace Marina

It's raining in Borgosesia, but I don't care now. I am absorbing the hot Calabrian sun and letting myself succumb to afternoons of laziness. My day starts early as Tala and I walk to the beach to enjoy a private frolic before the crowds arrive. Not everyone is open to dogs on the beach.

Today was stupendous...it's the most appropriate word that comes to mind as I overheard two people use the Italian version 'stupenda' to describe the silky smooth warm water. During the early morning hours without any breeze to speak of, the sea transformed itself into an enormous pool, lined at the bottom with the smooth pebbles that come and go with the tides. The water is crystal clear from up close, but a vibrant blue from our balcony. Reluctant to leave the water, I let Tala have an unusual freedom to roam as she liked. She chose to leap in after me and swim, a little fluffy black lab turned to scrawny water rat.

Almost two hours later, I ran my fingers through the underwater pebbles one more time, chose a translucent white one and then headed back to the car as an older couple made their way to the beach. If tomorrow turns out like today, I will be spoilt forever.

Aug 1, 2010

Stories of Slovenia

It started on the coastal town of Portoroz with a small stand that brought back memories of my childhood as it blared the music "Eres Tu" on the street. Photo taken minutes before a thunderstorm.

I then visited Piran, seen here. before heading for the hills.

On the way up to the mountains, I took a short detour underground, to Postojnska caves. A train, similar to the ones on roller coasters, takes visitors for a part of the 5 km tour. Very fascinating place, especially the large cave with the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. (Sorry no photo as my trigger finger was not ready)


Along the road to Kamnik, I saw this house, but to be honest, it isn't one that seems to say "happy". Interesting though.


View from my room in Kamnik, the day I arrived....and the day after. Seems like bad weather is following me.

Where I stayed in Kamnik. There is a bar on the ground floor and rooms above it. I lost count of the number of bars there were in this small town. Lacked restaurants though. Another interesting building on the right, a bar of course.


A morning at Snovik spa...one of the many that can be found around the eastern part of Slovenia. This one was small, but the closest to Kamnik. Had an incredible Chinese massage where I was kneaded like bread dough, ironed out like a sheet and then flipped as when you toss a sheet over a bed. It was amazing!

Typical church steeple.


I ordered a cake, then went to the bathroom. When I came back to the table, that was outside, I found my unattended cake sitting alone on my table, with an increasing number of flies coming to visit. How many of them landed on it, I don't want to know, especially after perhaps landing on this proud village inhabitant ...and who knows what else.

The island at Bled. There is a better view of it from above but I didn't take the time to go up higher.

Heading to the Julian Alps and stopped for barley soup with sausage at this mountain restaurant.


At Bovec Pass (1611m) along Route 206 with several types of transport. See the clouds?


My favorite sight.  I missed lovely Italy. I may joke about the million round-a-bouts they make, but in a country like Slovenia where the road itself is incredibly uneven, it's not that safe to do a U-turn on a motorbike. I also missed the service at gas stations; it's all self service in Slovenia. And then the food, there is absolutely no comparison. I am spoiled.