Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Arrivedeci Roma, Bologna, and friends!

Wow, how is it possible that I am heading home (where is home???). For me, this time doesn't seem like a month, don't know about you? Although looking over my posts, it certainly has been full and varied. As I've said before, now it's time to marinate this past month with my new present. I expect it to be quite a delicious merge.

I'm absolutely in love with Bologna! It's got the right balance of everything. Size seems manageable; population is mature, diverse, friendly, and stylish; traffic doesn't seem to really exist????; piazza's galore; colorful architecture at every glimpse....and the food, oh my! I checked out a language school here and already have my vision of returning each year for a 2-3 week course incorporating culture, art and cooking with language.

As enjoyable as this city had been upon arrival and easy to get about, hang out, people watch, etc., the real highlight was when Maria, Shastro and Mark showed up.

Shastro, Maria and I continued to maintain our somewhat telepathic relationship carried over from our fight from Alb to DC. I knew they were arriving yesterday but not sure about the time. Right when I requested that my hotel "turn on my telephone" (around 11am) and was about to call their B&B, my telephone rang with Shastro's voice singing, "we're here!". They knew not where they were and so a major landmark is the stunning an towering bronze statute of Neptune in Piazza Maggiore and so we planned to meet there in 30 minutes.

With only a 5-7 minute walk for me, I headed out and while standing at the traffic light waiting for the little red walking man to turn green, I turn to my right and Shastro is standing right beside me! Of course, we three made a personal scene. It was lovely; got to meet Mark at that time (a friend of theirs from Maui) and we four grew in our friendship and familiarity in Bologna over the next 24 hours.

Fortunately, we were all hungry and what better way to reacquaint ourselves than over the infamous Ragu Bolognese ("Donna, Maria has a recipe of this that actually calls for cooking the meat in milk...isn't' that wild?").

In this great city, with perfect weather and great joy we ate, talked, giggled, hugged, kissed, photographed, gossiped, toured, shopped, and gelatoed (a new word!)for hours.

We had a big night planned with a 10:30pm Milonga Tango Dance out in the suburbs of Bologna, so we headed back for an attempted 1-2 hour nap.

Earlier, we had scouted and scoped out a recommended restaurant and so by 8pm we were sitting down again ready to feast on our dinner.

With our bellies full of good bread, wine, pasta, pork, steak, etc., we walked a bit to digest before getting in Shastro's car (they drove from Venice; only 1 hour) and while Mark and I were chatting away in the back seat, Shastro and Maria did a honorable job in navigating the roads and roundabouts in getting us to this Milonga event. I "dressed" for the event and knew I would not dance but be a contented spectator. Mark offered much dialogue around the styles and ideals of this dance and so I continue to be intrigued and will check it out when I get home to Santa Fe.

It was quite warm in Bologna; however, I thought my slinky tank dress might be too cool by late evening and so I visited a store on my way to meet the gang and purchased a well-used sarong for the night. I would have been miserable as this dance was outdoors and by 11p, midnight, it got cool. Without the dance to warm me, I sat gratefully contented wrapped in my sarong during the evening.

As mentioned, this was an outdoor event in the middle of a park right next to a gelato store with a round, marble dance floor and a DJ with large lights and speakers. Shastro knew the DJ and so that brought good seats to watch the evening's dancers. Soon, Shastro and Maria got up and tried it out and Mark very courageously went to try to find a female who looked available (it did seem to be a couples event and not so much an open dance). Watching my friends Tango under the Bologna sky was a treat.

By 1pm, we decided to return back to town and call it a night.

Back in bed by 2pm, I suspected an early rise with no much sleep which was okay as now I was beginning to emotionally prepare for my return home with thoughts of organizing when to leave Bologna, getting to Rome hotel, leaving Rome hotel, etc. It's all quite easy but one does need to have a little plan.

As suspected, I was awake around 7am and started to get organized as I had to vacate my room by 11am. Went down stairs by 9am for my last breakfast at Hotel Paradise of my "usual" 2 hard boiled eggs; 1 cappuccino and 1 americano.

My phone rang around 10 and Maria and I met for some girl time before Shastro and Mark met us a bit later. After checking the train schedule and reconfirmed that there was a train basically every hour from Bologna to Rome (it's about a 2 hour ride), it was easy to decide to leave whenever I was ready. Spending more time in Bologna with my friends was more appealing than returning to Rome earlier than necessary.

And so Maria and I have a lovely morning, shopping, talking and finding more enjoyable places for future visits. Shastro and Mark eventually met us and we continued to enjoy the company and city having lunch at a favorite spot "Eataly" which is a modern idea in a four story old space. It is a book store and restaurant within a fabulous space of light with Italian products galore! This place would be a major hangout over time.

With our bellies full and our shopping complete, our walk continues to expose new shops and a sweet gelatoria with a colorful display of ice cream popsicles. Of course, the pistacchio spoke to me and it was glorious. I ate this with gusto as I knew it would be my last really good gelato for a long time!

We naturally strolled toward my hotel so I could pick up my luggage and make my way to the train station. Our parting was loving with hugs and kisses and promises of future rendezvous whether in Italy, New Mexico or Maui -- I so trust this will happen.

I was now ready.

The hotel staff was lovely and so even leaving them was bitter sweet; decided on a taxi as it was quite warm and although my luggage is smaller, it's still cumbersome and so I hoped into a air conditioned taxi, bought my ticket to Rome for 58 euros and waited only about 30 minutes for the train. It was now about 3:45pm and so arrived after a comfortable, cool train ride around 5:45p and now know the Rome train station so well, I just zipped through the crowds to find the exit that makes my trek to Hotel Katty the smoothest and easiest.

Mama Katty welcomed me back and already had my "gorilla" in my room waiting for me. Paid my last hotel bill, ordered my taxi and after a much needed shower and a review of of my remaining euros, decided to go to my favorite restaurant for dinner (although I really didn't need to eat again! but I believe food is the best way for me to spend my remaining euros!

After a gratifying meal of proscuitto, salad, good wine and bread, I returned to my hotel room and proceeded to get ready for my early morning departure.

I slept best in Sicily and Bologna as my rooms were really nice. As nice and clean as my room was in Rome, the trick is to not have a room on the registration floor (didn't have a choice this time) as it's a bit noisy and Rome, in general, seems noisier. So sleep was restless but no matter, woke early, got bags together and had at least 30 minutes at my morning cafe for my usual chocolate croissant, capuccino and cafe americano.

My taxi driver, Dino, was already at the hotel and so I got my bags and with his help, me and my bags got stuffed into his tiny car while we drove to the Rome airport.

This part of travel is never really that much fun. Airports are confusing and Rome in particular seems to have a lot of ups and downs and around corners and back around and going here and going there. Hardly sensible but, one goes with the flow. I just wanted to get to the point where I could check in my two bags.

You may recall upon leaving ALB, I had to pay $200.00 because of my overweight luggage and so my return was with the expectation that I would only pay $35 for my 2nd baggage. Sure enough, I did accompish this with a little bit of transfer (5 pounds) of stuff from the gorilla to my other smaller suitcase, but it all worked out!

Got to the Rome airport early, had another coffee and began to figure out how many hours it will take me to arrive in Albuquerque.

My Rome to DC flight was 9.5 hours, had a scheduled 4 hour layover in DC to then fly to ALB for another 4 hours, so right there we've got 17.5 hours of travel.

With my early rise at 6am added to my awake hours and my DC layover extended to 6 hours total (fight delay), I arrived in ALB last night having been awake (if one can call it that) for a total of 25 hours!

I was out of it.

But, hung in there, arrived in ALB around 11pm last night, caught my shuttle to hotel, checked in, went to room and stopped down at the bar for a big glass of milk!

Watched a bit of TV and slept fairly well until 5am this morning. Suspect this jet lag will take about a week with me creeping closer and closer to my Santa Fe time reality.

This morning, after a traditional american breakfast of bacon and eggs, I'll catch the Sandia shuttle up to Santa Fe where my buddy Kathrynn will pick me up.

Heard over the weekend that my casita won't be ready until around 4pm, which is not fun, but oh well and am exciting about "landing" there early evening.

Today, is day one is another new adventure. My being single, living on my own again with Michael and I gracefully finding our new relationship while we live in the same community.

Wish me luck everyone!

Don't know where I'm headed but loving the journey so far.

P.S. I don't think this is the end of this blog.....

Monday, June 7, 2010

Parma, Proscuitto and Parmegiano!

So, today I woke early and caught the train to Parma.

What is so outstanding about Italy (maybe all of Europe) is the proximity of the train stations to the great parts of town. It's not like you have to figure out "how" to get to the train station. They are always walking distance away.

And so, walked to the train station, purchased my ticket for 5.8 euros to Parma and I would be there in 1 hour. I had only 2 goals: 1) to have lunch there (famous for prosciutto and parmigiana reggiano; and 2) ideally to take a tour of one of the dairies that makes the cheese. By the way, this cheese has been made here for 700 years and it's made with the skimmed "evening" milk and the full cream for the "morning", then cultured, heated and then aged for 2 years Now that is a process.

Upon arriving, with my handy 3 pages about Parma, ripped from my 2004 Lonely Planet guide, I set out for the Tourist Information to 1st organize my tour of how one makes the cheese.

Well, this is the 1st time my 2004 guide failed me. The farmers (?) are no longer offering the tours as they were hugely interrupting the work and so no tour today. Slightly disappointed. Oh well, I'll just have to eat the stuff.

Did my usual walk everywhere without knowing where I was going, took a few photos as it was a bit cloudy today (but still warm) and found my way to the Piazza Garibaldi to dine for lunch.

My needs were simple and sure enough I found a cafe with a salad of rustica prosciutto, mozzarella, pomedoro, parmigiana. This of course came with bread. What more can a girl want.

It's true that this prosciutto really does melt in one's mouth. I love this stuff. I'll be on a mission when I return to Santa Fe to try to find some of this imported.

It was a full day in Parma; I liked the town. Smaller than Bologna and everyone is on a bicycle. Pretty cool. But, I have to say, thus far Bologna is my favorite. It's just so beautiful and busy and full of live and character. Tomorrow I will check out some language schools and hope they meet my expectation.

All and all it was a simple day. Returned to Bologna around 4pm and hung out in my room for a bit...showered, organized, etc.

Went back out around 6:30p and decided on having a "couple" (yes, a couple) of beers. This is unheard of in my world! But, the moment seized me and there I was sitting in an outdoor cafe, feeling pretty hot in my summer skirt and top (I think I'm tanned too??) and wanting some attention but really didn't get any except from the pigeons. Oh well! Two beers later and a bowl full of salty potato chips (I've really been craving salt), I headed home (I'm actually in an apartment).

My long time friend, Suzanne, who is British living in London, she and I have a date on Skype tonight and so I wanted to get back to my place to make that call.

On the the way, I stopped at reception and ordered a pot of tea for my room. I like this place. If you ever come to Bologna, I highly recommend Hotel Paradise. Bologna books up quite fast and so I've had to change rooms a few times but the people are really friendly and incredibly accommodating and don't forget, they serve hard-boiled eggs for breakfast!

Today was also a shopping day. i felt a sense of freedom since I saved some money in Sicily that I could spend some in Bologna! The real craze here are sandles that are actually boots; they're wild. Not for me but I think I may go "half-way" and purchase a modest (for Italy that is) pair of Gladiator sandles....there's so many to choose from and I'd like to get something that clearly is not from the U.S. Also picked up a cute dress and some short sexy skirts....I need a new wardrobe now that I'm "single"!

Mostly, haven't really spent much beyond hotel, trains and food....tomorrow may be different though with my new buddies coming to Bologna for Tango!

That's all for now, will chat domani!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Give me eggs!

Okay, so I'm an egg girl. My Italian DNA is missing the "dulce" chip! I want my egg breakfast! Done with sweet pastries, chocolate croissants, etc. as finger-licking as they are (literally). Fortunately, my hotel in Bologna offers a breakfast that has hard boiled eggs! Yeah! Who knew this would make me so happy.

Out walking again today but in an entirely different direction as I head out to the MoMBA which is the Modern Art Museum. It's Sunday so the high-end shops are closed but all the markets are bustling and so I got a bit distracted at the "sun glass stand". Purchase made and moved on....

Really, really enjoyed the Fellini retrospective. What an interesting, provocative man. Can't wait to re-watch some of his films, especially, La Dolce Vita! Maybe we'll do a movie night at my new abode when I get back. Did you know that in the 50s, when Hollywood went to Italy to save money, the movie sets were kept in tight secrecy. This secrecy inspired the common man to grab his camera and taunt the movie stars at night when they were off set and dining, etc. Fellini coined the word paparazzi for one of these camera men. This is how and when this obsessive photography profession began.

This was a well presented retrospective. Fellini began as a sketch artist for comedy magazines and so many, many of his sketches were on display. He also wrote for these comic books as well and then started to write screen plays collaborating with a friend. His directing took off from there. He went into psychoanalysis for a while to recapture his dreams and step into his subconscious...a lot of these experiences are evident in his direction, etc., especially his fascination with the circus. For a while when he was younger, he almost ran away to the circus due to his love of acrobatics. Trippy guy. Anyway, having some historical knowledge of him will make watching his films more interesting.

Timed my departure from MoMBA to walk across to another part of town and have some famous pasta Bolognese. Hmmm, good. Home-made fettucini with a meat based tomatoe sauce, some pane rustica (whole wheat bread) and a simple greens and tomatoe salad. I was quite content. I chose a street with outdoor dining that seems to always have some street musicians there to entertain. I was in Bolognese heaven.

Today, I decided to return to my habit of taking an afternoon siesta (pardon the spanish) and give me body, legs, feet a rest before going out tonight for some gelato.

I've looked up 3 Italian Language schools in Bologna that I'm going to check out and see what they "feel" like. I'm not sure I've expressed in this blog my disappointment at the Ascoli "Accademia", but it just wasn't what I was expecting. No problem, but I do want something more structured with the right atmosphere as well as social and cultural outings. I can see myself returning each year to the "right" community and continue to study the Italian language. I've really loved the exploration of this language and hope to continue some sort of study when I return to Santa Fe.

Finding the right community is part of this process. Now that I have made a fairly confident assumption that the North is right for me, I want to check out some of these communities and see "where" exactly. So, I will look into the schools here in Bologna and tomorrow I'm doing a day trip to Parma as this is a town that Lonely Planet says one must not miss if in this region and they have a language school there too.

Parma's population is about 170,000 while Bologna's is 370,000 and so I'm curious at what Parma's population size feels like in comparison to Ascoli and Bologna. What is helpful to Bologna is that the "center" has such little traffic allowed and so although it's big, it doesn't feel crowded or noisy. Pretty remarkable.

Didn't carry my camera today and so will bring to Parma and do a photo ops day in Bologna on Tuesday.

Almost pistacchio gelato time! Caio for now.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My feet are killing me!

Is it possible that I actually forgot to pack something...yes, an odometer! I would have loved to see how many miles I am clocking in each day. Maybe not in Sicily, but Ascoli, Rome and now Bologna. It's so easy to just keep going.... I feel like Forest Gump when he started to run and could not stop. It's really the best way to get your bearings, see the sites, people watch, stop for lunch and one's daily gelato hit (still obsessed with pistacchio) and then to find some vacant marble step in the shade where one can lean against a wall that is probably 4-500 years old.

Well, I've learned that I am most happy in these big northern cities. Rome is very grounding for me, easy to get about and Bologna has a sophistication that I really am drawn to.

I've been stuck on the issue of weather which is why I chose Ascoli to begin with. Thought further south would be more enjoyable and in the end, the south is getting the worst weather right now. Bottom line, Italy does not have great weather; Santa Fe does! So, now that I've put weather aside, I can admit to myself that I feel most comfortable in large, Northern, cosmopolitan cities.

When last in Italy (2005), Cremona was the ideal place and maybe still is. I'm almost tempted to take a day trip back there; we'll see. I love the sense of style here, it's certainly more progressive and you can see it in how the people socialize and there are more woman out with their friends and not attached to family or partner. I don't feel like such an oddity.

Anyway, I got here around 1:30pm, found my hotel, cheched in, changed (it was warmer here than in Rome...go figure?) and headed out the door. I just got back at 7:45pm having had lunch, gelato and a bottle of Pelligrino at a nice cafe in the piaza where I could happily people watch.

My new friends, Shastro and Maria will show up here on Wednesday and it will be really nice to see them and to be with buddies. We're to go to a Tango event that night; not sure what to expect! Obviously, will write about it.

Tomorrow I plan to head out to the Modern Art Museum as there is a retrospective on Fillini's 40 year career as one of the most celebrated film-maker who is also considered by many to be a genius. The exhibition has photographs, audio and video presentations. Later in the day, I plan to go to a highly recommended restaurant, Trattoria da Gianni, which is noted for it's home-made pasta (by hand not machine) with some vino. This will be good, I'll keep you posted.

Ciao for now!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sicilia catchup!

Today I left "la familia" in Sicily and I had a proper farewell. Cugini Vito and Dino along with wives Anna and Patricia and Vito's daughter Laura came together at the Baglio and we all shared our last coffee together and bid me farewell. It was so touching and the language simply is not there to express my gratitude for their generosity of spirit and more.

With no WiFi I was unable to maintain the blog and so I did send a few emails which I'll copy below and attempt to compress this experience into a sensible, entertaining post....not easy.

To quote myself from one of the emails, "this experience in Sicily was not about site-seeing or photographs but more about a soulful awakening". Pardon my choice of words as they are a bit lofty but my point is that relationship is pretty amazing stuff and, I also have to say, Sicilians are a pretty amazing people.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to exit the shuttle at the Baglio Calia and have two strangers approach me and instantaneously we are family?! The familiarity of these people was simply astounding. Is it possible that it's about blood -- I really don't know but we all obviously chose to make that the common bond. In fact, the more time that went by, the more we found other commonalities. With little English among the group, all did have an easy time saying, "it's in the blood!" each time we found another silly point in common.

Vito was my primary relationship, I think this was due to his decent command of English, our similar comedic characters and his ego which loved the attention. He is the owner, builder, designer, of the Baglio Calia which dates back to the XVIII century. It was his grandfather's horse ranch which over time and war was pretty much destroyed. Vito's father was a sailor (actually lived in San Diego for a while) and his passion was water and not "the land" and so he had no interest in preserving the property. In fact, Vito's father, Frank Calia (aka "chooch") brought the 1st fishing spear to Mazzaro del Vallo. Chooch was passionate about the sea and spent a lot of time in it! Vito, on the other hand, had no passion for the sea and so he promise his grandfather that he would reconstruct the Baglio and he did. It took him 15 years but it's quite a property. There is an olive grove and in October they will press and produce olive oil and fruit trees as well.

Vito's two daughters, Laura and Marina are going to take the Baglio through to another phase of constructing a spa, health club, swimming pool, massage, etc. This is all quite exciting for the family.

Vito's other passion besides the land is music. He plays 8 instruments (piano, guitar, bass, flute, trombone, accordion.... and some others???) and sings. For over 40 years he toured Europe with his group Il Dioscuri. He said he used the money from touring to reconstruct the Baglio. Today, there is a full on stage with all the band and sound equipment at the Baglio and on my first day of arrival, in typical "Vito" style, he encouraged Laura and I to join him on the stage and we all began to sing Beatle songs together. He played piano but had some kind of sophisticated sing-a-long gadget that accompanied his piano playing and, like karaoke, had all the words to the songs. Laura has a beautiful voice and I didn't sound so bad myself.

Singing and dancing is a major theme in the family. Everyone does it and it's natural at any point in time to break out into song!

I think I learned from my first trip to Italy in the 70s was that when you visit family, everything is out of your control. You really need to be ready to go with the flow. They have such a sense of responsibility to you that there is no reasoning with them and so it was a good exercise for someone like me to simply accept these days and how they played out. I figured I was not in danger, I had a beautiful bed to sleep in, I was well (well) fed and so what more does a human need.

Each day some plan would present itself and since it was discussed amongst all in Italian, I never really knew what the plan was and so on the 2nd day when I met my cousin Dino (Vito's brother) and was asked if I had my bathing costume, that was how I found out I was being taken with Vito and his family to the hot springs....okay! Now, I had just met Dino and from all accounts felt comfortable (but never quite as comfortable as I was with Vito). He drives up to the Baglio and there in his car is his curious wife and curious daughter....I hop in and sure enough Patricia turned out to be one of my favorite people! and she giggled the entire time as she attempted to speak English. Her 15 year old was a bit shy and so not much went on between us, but Patricia and I became buddies.

So, there I was among hundreds of Italians in a "Ojo Caliente meets Water World" environ. How funny is that....certainly not a place I would voluntarily spend my time at but I was fascinated by this experience.

Oh yeah, Vito is also the Police Captain of the town and so he walks around with a gun in a holster....and so anytime he and I went anywhere together (like on his "rounds"), everyone knew him and he proudly displayed his Cugina de America....

Another spontaneous day was when I was placed in Dino's car with Patricia and was told I was going to Salemi. Okay, this was good, this is where the Calia's originated. Challenge is Dino never gets off the telephone, he literally was taking on two phones while driving the car. Often, we would have to pull over while he finished his conversation. There was a point when Patricia was on one phone and Dino was on two and I was in the back seat with my eyes shut tight hoping this was not the day to die. Italian have a 6th sense when it comes to driving. I have witnessed the pure beauty and skill they posses and it simply can not be as successful as it is with only the sense of sight. no way. the drivers are communicating with each other telepathically, I'm sure of it!

So, hours later we pull up to what looks to me like a kitchen -- cabinet -- modern -- furniture store. Oh, that's what we're doing. We went to the place where Dino and Patricia have ordered their new cabinets for their kitchen renovation. It was in the coastal town of Trapani, which did look lovely. Again, after receiving and taking many telephone calls while the sales person was talking/working with Patricia, we wrap up business there and I'm so thirsty I can hardly handle it.

We go to a cafe in town, I have sworn off any food for the rest of the day and so just want water and lots of it.

Get back in the car and start driving somewhere when I realize it's like 9pm! I met them at 4:30pm....and we've yet to go to Salemi! Dino wants to go for Pizza at 9pm in Salemi....this I simply can not do! So, the two phrases that I've learned quite well as they have come in very handy are: Sonno fame (I am hungry) and Sonno stanca (I am tired)....guess which one I used! Yes, sonna stanca! We were on our way home at last!

Earlier that day, Vito, Laura and I walked through the old town of Mazzaro del vallo which still has a heavy Arab influence. We three had a great day, walking, talking getting some feel for this port city. It's the closest Italian city to Africa (Tunisia to be specific). This is a beautiful port town with so much history and so many conquerors. Talk about blood line....who knows???? What really constitutes Sicilian blood? We three walked for hours, took loads of photos all with the mission of getting to Vito's home by 1:30 where Anna was making lunch. My first home cooked meal, also first time at the private home.

Once on our way, we stopped for bread, I picked up a bunch of strawberries and a bouquet of flowers for Anna. She's trying to quit smoking (day 7) and is having a hard time and so I wanted to do "something" for her. By the way, let me mention right here that under no condition have I been allowed to place my hand in my pursue with the intention of pulling out money to make any kind of financial contribution. This is simply unheard of and not allowed and so I am trying to be really creative about how to show my appreciation and I'm hoping strawberries and flowers will do it, when really a cigarette would do the trick!

The lunch was simple yet so incredibly delicious...what is it over there with the food? We had spaghetti with a light tomato sauce, a fritatta of potato and onions, incredible bread, then came the sausage and peppers. See that belly in the photo of us singing, I was "molto contento" oh yeah! After that, little ice cream cones of various colors and flavors and a nice strong cup of espresso. This is why I could not eat a pizza at 9pm with Dino and Patricia. I was maxed out!

Well, this is a pretty long blog and so I both apologize and congratulate anyone who has stuck with me through these lengthy writings.

I'm in Rome now, just had a lovely meal of mixed green salad and a plate of proscuitto. Planning an early evening as I will re-pack in the morning for my next adventure to Bologna! Stay tuned....

Monday, May 31, 2010


Last night, when I blew the fuse with my American hair dryer I did hear a bit of complaining, "Oh Dio Mio" (multiple times with the clapping of the hands and looking upwards to heaven) for a while as the woman at the desk had to find the person who had the keys, who knew where the fuse box was, who could communicate with me, follow me to my room so I could "show" him the damage, and confirm that I had blown the switch and, who could then reset it..... I do think the front desk lady (owner I suspect) was mad at me for a little bit, but this morning I earned her graces back when she took my hand and said I was hot and I replied, "sonno ragazza Italiana" and she really cracked up over this (translates to, "I am an Italian girl", that's why I'm hot!! get it???) So, the fuse switch was reset and I was back to a light filled room with no harm to the hotel, or the block, or the city!

Since I am on a time schedule tomorrow (Tuesday) with my flight to Sicily, I thought it wise to visit the Termini Stazione and today purchase my rail ticket to the airport as well as determine a direct walking route from my hotel to the stazione with my new, pretty, small, travel bag! It doesn't take much to realize that in some ways, rolling bags are worthless in Italy. Too many cobble-stones and not enough side walk, the need to j-walk... When I walk around without a piece of luggage, I'm completely unaware of how many times I'm on and off a sidewalk, walking on cobble-stones, dodging traffic, etc. So, finding my most direct route will save me time and energy.

When one has all the time in the world, the crowds at the Stazione are entertaining but when one is on a time schedule things turn more chaotic.

Time was spent today instead of tomorrow morning finding the right vendor for the train ticket to the airport which took about 35 minutes; then I needed to change money preferably at a bank rather than a change shop as the rate is so much better. This seems to be a new challenge and I think it's due to the advent of the ATM machine. Most travelers do not take money with them and simply use their debit card to obtain euros. I, of course, am different. With multiple stops and various directions, I finally came upon a bank that would change my dollars and sure enough the rate was superior to the change shops. Although, they "refused" one of my $100 bills because it was not a "new one"....I suspect if it did not stand out amongst the others and I gave all "old" bills at the same time, there would be no notice. Bottom line, I got my money changed and then proceeded to find the platform that I will go to tomorrow to catch the train to the airport....and it's the furthest one at the stazione. So, it will be necessary to leave enough time to walk from the hotel to the stazione and then walk to the platform but I have my ticket and I will be ready to go!

Nap or, gelato!

It is my sincerest hope that I am walking enough to burn off the calories I am eating with my daily (almost) hit of gelato. My favorite combination to date is dark chocolate and pistachio. Mmmmm good. I've been known to declare that "I don't do sweets" -- I am forever never able to declare that again.

Now a nap! Ciao...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bitter sweet departure from Ascoli and a familiar return to Roma

This morning (Sunday) I left Ascoli saying arrivedeci to good friends Daniela and Diane (my house-mates) and Guiliano, the proprietor of my morning cafe. It was bitter sweet; these people became quick friends in such a short time. Yet, I was ready to move on.

Yesterday (Saturday), Diane, Daniela and I spent the whole day & night together. There were special events in town as it was "Family Week" and so we had a few activities on our agenda. First, of course, was to visit my local cafe and have coffee and a chocolate croissant. Once Diane and Daniela joined me we were off to the Saturday weekly Mercado where we could mosey among the booths of the farmers and then saunter onward to shoes, clothing, etc.

Diane bought zucchini blossoms to fry up for dinner and Daniela bought her ration of peas for the week (some fresh eggs as well). Diane also knew of a cart that sold really good roasted port and so we found it and purchased some for lunch with our your mouth watering yet?

Oh, yes, we were also on a mission to find me an inexpensive black strapless bra! Yes, this was my new need. Remember in my last post I mentioned I bought two tops made in India, well they are both off-the-shoulder. Quite flattering, I might add. I did not intend to purchase the strapless bra in Italy but, here we were at a retail market and why not.

This mission was a bit comical because the booths that wold the bras were manned by men. So, Daniela was going around the market asking these men if they had any strapless bra's for me! All said NO, until we finally found one who said yes. He never did ask me my size, he just looked at my boobs, proceeded to look at his stock of sizes, found the size that he believed to be mine and handed me a black strapless bra. Now the trick was, how to try it on (there are no dressing rooms in these markets), so I did what any American tourist woman would do, I tried it on "over" my shirt (which was fitted enough so I could really tell if it fit or not). Well this man had a well-trained eye and was spot on. Bravo! and it was only $9.00!

With more walking and browsing around, we all made out way back to the flat where we prepared our lunch. Sooooo, good. This pork was heavenly (sorry for those vegetarians reading this blog), and Diane whipped up a egg batter and deep fried the blossom, I made a mixed salad and one could not want for more. We had some red wine as well.

Nap time!

Before heading out again later, it was my big day to pack the gorilla. I was dreading it. I first started by laying everything on the bed. At one point Daniela came in thinking she was still back at the Mercato! Slowly and gently I placed all my belongings back in the suitcase so I was completely packed by the time we went back out again.

***Getting to the bus station to catch my bus to Rome was a preoccupation for a while until I worked out all the details. Diane was going on a hike at 8:45am, I had a taxi come at 9:00am and so Diane, Daniela and I carried all my belongs down 4 fights of stairs around 8:30am and then went to our cafe to wait for the taxi. Had I not had the gorilla, walking to the bus station would have been the option as it is literally 5 minutes away. But, I just couldn't do it so I contribute to the Ascoli economy by paying a taxi driver to drive me 5 minutes down the street.***

Around 5pm, we made our way to Piaza Popula as my language teacher, MariLena was partaking in a childrens play in the courtyard and I wanted to be there to support her. The weather began to get pretty dreary but we stood outside while MariLena and her troupe of actor friends put on an outdoor performance for the children in the community. She was so happy to see me there and I got to meet her fiance. We left after about 20 minutes as it started to rain (again) and headed for a cafe. We all wanted ice cream now.

So after walking around a bit and "bumping" into Georgio (Daniela's kinda boyfriend) and dodging the drops, we all went into a cafe and indulged in ice cream and pastries. Delicious. I had profiteroles.

Our next activity would not be until later so once the rain let up we strolled more and then made our way back to the flat but first had to purchase a bag of the meat-stuffed fried olives which is a trademark of Ascoli...mmmmmm. The plan was to bring them home for a snack later before heading back out at 9pm. My appetite was strange yesterday and so my olives could not wait as I ate them on our walk home..oh well.

Daniela went out with some friends while Diane and I hang out. At 9pm, we went back out to one of the beautiful churches where a German youth orchestra was performing. Great acoustics, smiling Germans and generally a lovely evening. Diane knew some people in the audience and it reminded me again how I wish our time had overlapped more. She is so in tuned with this community, I would have enjoyed my time more I think. Oh well, this is the way my experience was to be.

By the time we left the Church around 11:00pm, it was clear sky, warm and balmy and a beautiful evening in Ascoli.

So upon waking up this morning I was grateful to leave my friends on a sunny, warm day.

My bus arrived on time and made it's 3 hour drive through the hills and valleys between Ascoli and Rome. I had already booked my hotel which was only 2 blocks from the bus station and just few more from the train station. I'm using Rome as my headquarters for planning....

So, the Hotel Katty was easy to find and is clean and simple. Checked in and grabbed my map so I would get to know my bearings and began to walk. After some lunch of lasagna and veal parmesan, I decided a good destination would be the Spanish steps. And so I walked for about 4 hours while also searching for a street vendor where I might purchase an inexpensive smaller travel bag. My plan is to leave the gorilla stored at the hotel in Rome and use this smaller bag for Sicily and Bologna. Also, it will save me money when I return to the states as I won't get hit with that whopping $200.00 for an overweight bag....I'm still pissed off at that.

Sure enough, my walk brought me to where many street vendors were and I began to get a taste for what type of bags were available, size, cost, etc. The further I walked, the less expensive the same bag became. By the end of my 4 hour walk, I had decided on a style, size and cost and made my choice. Returned myself and my new small travel bag to Hotel Katty, picked up a few bottles of water and decided it was time to shower.

Plan to have a quiet night in Rome, will be easy as I blew a fuse with my American hair dryer and I'm presently in the dark....wonder if the entire hotel is?

Michael, didn't I do this last time we were in Rome????

Stay tuned....

Friday, May 28, 2010

Happily pensive in Ascoli (Friday)

My days are winding down in Ascoli and I do feel some sadness as this little troupe of people around me have all become valued friends. How sweet to witness the unfolding of stranger to comrade. At this writing, I have to say that Ascoli provided me with a safe haven to rest and surround myself with good-hearted souls. This is not something to take lightly. When back in Italy again, I could so see myself returning to Ascoli if only to visit Daniela, MariLena, Giorgio, Diane(when she's here). They each have contributed to making my time here memorable and heartfelt.

With that said, the place is a bit provincial for me. I can appreciate the old-fashioned way and find it curious but I can't relate. There is something sad about the woman here that I need to ponder more before I attempt to write as I think I have quite a strong opinion. Sorry to leave you hanging with this one, but my thoughts need more time to percolate.

MariLena and I had our last language class today and I was done being in a classroom and so we met and immediately walked to a cafe for our last 2 hours of lessons. Again, she and I walked arm and arm, chatting away in all kinds of language. She gave me an Italo Calvino book in Italian yesterday because surely after two weeks of Italian language, I can read this!!! (barely can understand Calvino in English, but what the heck) and so today I gave her some gifts as well. I gave her the book called "La Bella Lingua" as it is written by a woman who loves the Italian language and she's done much research with where words and expressions come from. It's really well written and fascinating. She brings to the reader's attention how many Italian words are pure metaphor which is so creative. It's really helpful when you're a student of the language. I am going to re-purchase it(as well as the English version of my Italo Calvino book....I'll need to cheat like in a crossword puzzle when I'm trying to translate). I also gave MariLena, "Eat, Pray, Love" and the DVD "Under the Tuscan Sun" and so she will have some fun English challenges. She intends to continue to send me practices via email as well as videos and links to Italian "tele-fiction" that are meant to help students of Italian. Once we wrapped up our lesson, Bouncy Ragazza and Dulce Ragazza made their way back to the school to part as teacher/student but not as friends. I believe we'll see each other tomorrow (Saturday) as she is part of a play performance that will take place. I'll keep you posted and, ideally, not forget my camera!

A celebratory Chinese food lunch today with Daniela, Giorgio and I. I was a bit nervous about this choice as I haven't always had good Chinese food in Italy, but what the heck! It was what they wanted. Georgio is a very enthusiastic man and enjoys speaking his Italian language (you might remember, he picked me up at the bus station and took me on a tour until I finally almost fell asleep in his car!). Therefore, it was a lively conversation in Italian about meditation, the Power of Now, the book about how water molecules change with positive and negative feelings. Georgio did most of the talking (he doesn't speak any English) but it was still fun!

Paralleling these gentle emotions is, of course, the excitement about the trip to Sicily. But, it is time to move from contentment to excitement, don't you think?

One way that I am moving in this direction is by purchasing a couple of really sexy tops. Don't ask me why, but this is the 2nd time that I've been in Italy and I have purchased clothing from India...what's with that? Yes, I bought two "off the shoulder" tops that I think are just lovely and so they will be packed in my Sicily bag!

Laura Calia emailed me today that they will pick me up at the Palermo airport and for me to not worry about anything.

Haven't made any other plans beyond this.

Also, happy to be in Rome for 1.5 days; I find this great city quite civilized and seem to relate more to it than smaller cities.

So, that's it for today..hope we have good weather tomorrow for my last day and for all the Fiesta's that seem to be never really know!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Under the Ascoli and Offida Sun!

Hey all, sorry but the previous day's blog did not post on time, so if you really want to be "on top" of it all, you need to read, "I've Arrived" before reading this one!

Today (Wednesday), in it’s entirety, was a lovely day. It started with an early rise and out the door by 9am (my lesson starts at 11:00am) as I was anxious to get to the market. Every Wednesday there is a farmer’s market and a retail market. Today, I had my sights set on a very blue leather purse that I had seen last week but hesitated to purchase. There was a little voice on my shoulder SHOUTING, “why do you need another purse!!!”....fortunately, during the week, that voice was replaced with a more tender voice suggesting, “you’re in Italy, buy the blue purse as you’ll regret it; I just know you will…you would never buy a blue purse at home!here's your chance”. So, today, in honor of the tender voice, my mission was to find the “purse stall” (among many, many stalls) with the hope that the blue purse was still findable amongst the thousands displayed. I knew I was in trouble when the saleswoman (who, by the way, was really beautiful) immediately recognized me from last week (see, it’s not hard to remember the only single, female, flat-wearing shoed American in this town). She reminded me of the “good price” and then gave me space to roam. I spotted the blue purse and immediately my passion was re-ignited. I had to own it. It was marked as 29 euros and I bought it for 20 euros. I’ll be curious at how often I have the balls to wear this purse as it is really, really, really, really blue!

Now that my mission was successful, I still had a good hour before my lesson and so I bounced off to a new café for a coffee. I chose one in the main piaza and settled in quite well, scanning the local newspaper as if I was actually reading and absorbing the news. Sometimes I could get the gist of the article but mostly not.

A little backtracking here – My buddy, Gina (HI!) sends me my horoscope each week and this week was a fun one. It was about pen names and how I should come up with my own alias. I liked this idea and so upon departing the market with my really, really, really, really blue bag in tote, I found that my walk had a new bounce to it and so I decided that today’s alias was Bouncy Ragazza!

Another sunny and warm day in Ascoli and MariLena and I had planned to go to the little hillside town of Offida after our lesson. I was excited about this excursion. As I’ve said many times (and will repeat myself so forgive me), MariLena is a delight and we are buddies. I have to say, she’s my favorite person in Ascoli right now.

We had our 2 hour lesson and then made our way to the bus station walking arm and arm like we had grown up together. I've decided Dulce is her alias. With tickets in hand and a crowd of teenagers waiting as well, we board a comfortable, air conditioned bus and relax while someone does the driving. MariLena has a car but she decided to not drive so she could also relax and enjoy the scenery (and be kind to the environment). We knew all along that we would be arriving in this small town during the “rest period” and so our expectations were to merely walk, site see, enjoy, chat and have lunch for a few hours in a new place.

The tour books do not lie when they exclaim how beautiful the hillside towns are in this region. They are picture perfect just as they are in Tuscany without the tourists and tour buses.

Upon arriving, we first confirmed the time of the return bus and where we should wait (she’s just like me), now we were free to roam. This hillside town probably has a population of about 5,000 inhabitants; it is lovely and immaculate. I just love the architecture of the residences. They are always built of either the white local stone or brick, always colored shutters and this area (including Ascoli) are displaying tons and tons of flowers and humongous palm trees. It’s surprisingly tropical here.

We walk and walk and talk and talk both Italian and English. After a while, we find a café and sit down to lunch. A delicious sandwich of prosciutto crudo, soft cheese and greens is so very satisfying with a nice green salad.

We are about 15 minutes early for our return bus and find a park with a clear view of the bus stop so we can watch for it. From our vantage point, we actually see a bus parked and assumed it was ours. After just a few minutes, we decide to simply go and wait at the bus stop; we see a couple of policemen talking and as we are looking around for the bus driver, one of the policemen prompts MariLena and she is told by him that the bus to Ascoli had already come and gone. This was very distressing news as the next bus was not for another 4 hours and we would not get back to Ascoli until around 9pm…..MariLena seemed more distressed over the question of how could we have missed it, we were sitting and looking right at the bus stop the whole time. She kept repeating how we both have a set of eyes and we could not have missed seeing it! It was concluded that we were probably directed to the wrong bus stop. So, MariLena pulled out her cell phone and began to call everyone in her family: mother, father, brother, brother’s friend, boy friend and finally we get the good news that MariLena’s boyfriend’s father (who is retired) would come pick us up! As lovely as Offida is, there simply was not 4 more hours of anything to do there.

While waiting, a gentleman approached us who heard my American accent and proceeded to join us in conversation. He was a British writer whose girlfriend (who was a painter) was from this area and they came here often to visit family. A bit of trivia he shared – the tailor for Frank Sinatra lived in this town! Too bad we didn’t run into him!

The “future father-in-law” arrives (only waited about 20 minutes entertained by the British writer) and we proceed to have a lovely drive back to Ascoli which was only about another 25 minutes.

It was a lovely time.

Tonight, my housemates and I were having dinner together. Diane is now here in Ascoli for her annual 2 month annual visit. She is a Professor at a small college in Maine and her personal passion is Medieval History. She is working on a 5,000 line translation of an old Italian document. She’s been coming here for 6-7 years. We hit it off and it's a joy to have a new personality in my little circle.

I prepare a salad and Daniela has purchased some home-made thin pasta and she fries up prosciutto and season with just some lemon rind, parsley and parmesano cheese, creates such a simple yet outstanding dish. Wonderful meal.

Once dinner is over, dishes washed, table clean, it’s about 9pm and we’re all happy to be home tonight. I offer up a movie…set up my laptop, pull the couch close as we all find our comfort and start to view, “Under the Tuscan Sun”….Diane had never seen it and Daniela was happy to practice her English.

It was a lovely way to end such a lovely day!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I've arrived! -

Well, today made it official, I've arrived in Ascoli! The local crazy man saw me twice today and greeted me both times....I am now a local! It's that easy!

Meanwhile, the weather has finally turned warm and today is the first day I am not dressed in multi-layers and do not need a bath to warm my bones. Simple t-shirt covered in very dark chocolate ice cream which I drooled onto myself with great pride! I'm telling you, this stuff is dangerous. My two favorite flavors are "dark" chocolate (I mean really, really dark) and pistacio (like you've never had pistacio before!).

Not much to talk about today; it's a pretty relaxing day. After my lesson, I went for my usual pre-lunch walk and then decided to sit at an outdoor cafe and feast on grilled fish (shrimp and calamari) kabob and salad. Had a nice cup of coffee, soaked in the sun, reviewed some Italian and generally relaxed. It's a tough life!

Then I went for my after-lunch walk with no focus or mission except to eventually turn up at the bank.

Plans for my departure from Ascoli have changed just a bit. It turns out Rome was basically "booked" for this Saturday (at least at the places I could afford) and so I'm staying in Ascoli one more day (maybe head to Grottomare and rent an umbrella for the day--not a bad idea, ha?) and will depart for Rome on Sunday. Have secured a reasonably priced hotel (recommended by Dante (Daniela's brother) walking distance from the bus and train station. I'll stay in Rome Sunday and Monday searching for a small/medium sized suitcase that I can travel better with. This hotel will keep the "gorilla" in storage until I get back from Sicily. So, the plan right now is that I fly to Sicily on Tuesday and return to Rome on Saturday (or sooner or later).

I still have to book my flight. Interesting discovery today when I went to the Italian Al Italia site, my round trip flight was only 93 euros ($114); then for the heck of it, I went to the Al Italia US site and the same flight was $283.00! What a difference!

Meanwhile the dollar has really gained some strength since I first started pricing this trip. Originally, the 2 weeks of private Italian would have cost me $522.22; I just paid up and it was $496.00 - hey, that's a difference of at least 3-4 plates of spaghetti! So, this makes me happy.

Tomorrow, MariLena and I enjoy a day in the town of Offida! I'll take photos.

May write later, but this is all I have for now.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Saturday, Sunday, Monday catchup!

Saturday: Una dia a’l mercato

Last night Daniela’s brother, Dante and his friend came to Ascoli as they are attending a wedding this weekend. As I mentioned yesterday, Dante was quite excited to talk English with an American. This also gave my brain a break as well.

We all met in the Piazza Popolo and headed to the “best pizza restaurant in Ascoli”; a restaurant named Bella Napoli. The place filled up quickly with locals as we each ordered our own pizza and salads combined with a carafe of beer, we were all quite content. Dante is a smart, young (I think 27) student of “green” economics studying in Urbano. Our conversation was vast which we both appreciated. We talked “green politics”, the gender economics of Italy, marriage, while comparing to how things are in the U.S. He was surprised at my sense of Ascoli having so many young people while he sees mostly the older generation. Different eyes see different things. He studied in Sweden for a semester where he learned his English, which was quit good. He loves Northern Europe because they are more progressive than Italy. We talked about GMOs and I relayed my perception that they were illegal in italy and he said they just passed a law allowing GMO corn. I thought to myself, well, this battle has really been lost if Italy is succumbing to GMOs. How sad.

With dinner over, we walked to the piazza, which was quite busy and the evening was comfortably balmy. The evening light with a sliver of moon made for a dreamy setting while fountains splashed in the background. A very lovely scene.

This morning (Saturday) Daniela and I both slept until about 9:30am and dressed quickly so we could get to the vegetable market. These are the local farmers who come to sell the local produce. It’s not a huge market as many farms are dying out since the young generation do not want to work the farms any more. These are hard working people. You can see it in their tanned leathery skin and their swollen fingers that they have been doing this a long time.

Daniela has her favorites. We met the woman who sells her the ricotta, then move on to the woman who sells her the eggs and peas. Daniela loves peas! Took just a few photos, as this seemed too intimate of a setting to intrude with my camera.

From there, we walked through another market where an abundance of purses and clothes were displayed. I had a moment of temptation but I kept thinking of my “gorilla’ of a suitcase and thought, “No, I don’t need any more purses or clothing!”.

Some items we were looking for were not there and so we headed to the grocery store of Francisco where I usually buy my tomatoes. Did I mention that Francisco thinks I’m 40 years old….I’ve gained 15 years of life being here! On the way to Francisco’s, we pass the rotisserie of chickens and lo’ and behold, I get to buy my roasted chicken! Daniel exclaims that today is a day of miracles! Too funny.

Further shopping brings me to purchase local honey and the best store for me to be introduced to is where home-made pasta is purchased. Daniela bought the ingredients for cannelloni with ricotta and spinach and so we will eat quite well this week. I saw some tagliatelli and sautéed mushrooms that I just may buy next week.

More later; I need to take a nap!

Sunday: Finalamente Il Sol!

Have I mentioned that since my arrival (today is day 8) it has been cloudy, rainy and cold? I really do think you all should applaud me for not whining over this as you know that I am a much happier creature in a warm, sunny climate. That’s actually why I chose Ascoli (as opposed to say Bologna) as it was south and I thought for sure in mid-late May, it would be warm. WRONG. It has been unseasonably cold, overcast and rainy and even the locals are confused about it. I also have to say that I’ve been a bit sick due to the weather as well; remember my walk from the Rome train station to the bus station? Rain, puddles, no umbrella, no sleep, completely unprepared. It’s taken almost a week to figure out how to dress and stay warm on a daily basis. Thank goodness there is plenty of hot water and a nice tub (narrow but nice). It’s been my saving grace.

But today was sunny and it made quite the difference. It was a great walking day and a perfect spectator day. My morning typically starts with me going just around the corner from our flat to Café Angelina (thanks again to Valerie!!) where I spend my morning. I alternate between the plain croissant and the chocolate croissant; as well as waiver between the Americano coffee and the cappuccino in a glass. Guiliani and his wife are quite lovely and welcoming. Neither speak a word of English and so the extent of my communication is, “Buon giorno, come’ stai? (good morning, how are you) and so it goes….

I do try to read some of the newspaper as well. It’s easier to read than to speak especially since so much of the language is like Spanish. Today in the paper it showed a horrific photo of a bull-fighter in Spain who within moments of entering the ring was gorged by the bull right up through his chin and out! The photographer actually caught this photo and there was no blood as I believe the photo was within the instant of the penetration. What a horrific experience and what a way to start my day! (and yours)….it only goes to show you, you never really know how you’re day will go!

Moving on….

I walked and walked and walked and stumbled across a couple of museums and enjoyed a slow stroll while taking in these works of art…one museum was modern and the other were of ceramics. All quite lovely. Walked further wanting to find the really old section where many of the residences are built behind a pre-roman stone wall facing the river. It really is beautiful with the Sibillini Mountains in the background still covered with snow. I did buy a book on these mountains as they are surrounded by stories of myths and mysteries and I’m intrigued.

Heading back to the piazza, I decide to sit outside one of the café’s for another cappuccino (normally I do not have 2 of these a day! But it’s sunny and I’m in Italy). My stomach started to rumble and my back was tired from my backpack and camera and so after sitting for quite some time, I headed home to make some lunch. I don’t eat out much – I’m saving that for when I leave Ascoli. It’s quite economical for me here in Ascoli and I want to take advantage of that since once I leave I’ll be traveling more and possibly changing locations which equates to expensive hotel rooms, flights, trains and restaurants. Want to stretch my budget as much as possible. It would really be something if I came home with ‘change’!

Two sliced tomatoes and a zucchini frittata later, it’s time to nap. Man I sleep a lot. Last night in my thoughts, I couldn’t help but think that this first week in Ascoli (and possible the next???) is really a recuperative time for me. Certainly the weather and a slight cold hasn’t helped but I am just so tired I have to think my body is taking care of itself after these last trying months. There’s no depression but just complete exhaustion and 8 days later, it can’t still be jet lag, do you think?

My thoughts also went to how perfect a place Ascoli is for this recuperation. I’m isolated enough, no one has any expectations of me, I have nothing on my mind from my Santa Fe life, my schedule is simple and everyone in Italy takes naps! It’s perfect. There’s no judgement .

Have I mentioned how much I’m chatting with my parents at night? (They’re both deceased by the way). I guess it is natural as I am with “their people”. It’s been an incredible comfort to have them to talk to (do I sound crazy?). I’m really the only one doing the talking and also asking them for support and guidance. It feels comforting and reassuring.

Oh, yeah, yesterday I decided to call the Calias’ in Sicily. I got a robust gentleman on the phone and after I said my usual, “Mi dispiace, parlo poco Italiana” (I’m sorry, I only speak a little Italian), he broke out and started to speak English. When I told him who I was, he was excited and well aware of my arrival. I don’t know if he is Laura Calia’s father or not but he was quite proud of her. He said she is either the best teacher of English at the University or she is the best student of English at the University. Can’t recall. Bottom line, they are expecting me and I am thrilled! First, this Baglio (which translates to fortified compound) is located right on the sea and I have to think it will be warmer there! Meanwhile, there is this great little island that I must visit (if the ferry is running) as well as a jaunt up to Marsala (Donna, I promise to try to bring some small bottle of the local Marsala wine home with me!).

Did I say how excited I am?

I leave Ascoli next Saturday and have booked a room in Rome for Saturday and Sunday night. I have to purchase a smaller suitcase so I can transfer enough clothes without having the “gorilla” with me. The hotel will store my suitcase while I’m gone. Meanwhile, I will look at flights tomorrow and book one for Monday. The gentleman said once I knew my flight, to let him know and he will have a bus or taxi pick me up at the Palermo airport.

Did I say how excited I am?

I’ll book my flight to arrive Monday and depart Friday and we’ll see how it goes; I could stay longer or I could leave earlier. When I return to Rome, my plan is actually to head north to Siena and then onto Bologna. There’s a real chance I will be rendezvousing with Shastro and Maria in Bologna for a Tango event!

Did I say how excited I am?


Monday: Grottomare!

Woke up feeling myself today. Had a great sleep last night, still have a bit of a cold but otherwise quite energetic. Finally! So, I decided since I felt good and it was a sunny today, it was the day to visit the Adriatic Sea at the coastal town of Grottomare!

I emailed my teacher over the weekend and prepared her for a lesson on figuring out where the train station was and how I could go and return to the coast. As well, I invited her to a day at Offida (maybe Wednesday) my treat as she is really a lovely, young lady.

In the end, the train station was where I got picked up when I arrived by bus....but since Giogio took me all over Kingdom com' when I arrived, I had no clue where I was. It's funny to me that it's basically down the street (like everything in Ascoli.

With train schedule in hand and the language to insure I could get back, I pack my backpack and head out on my adventure. I have no clue how hot, warm, cool, cold it may be so I just dress in layers. My real goal is to eat pasta con vongole (clams or anything from the Sea for that matter).

The train ride was easy and lovely. I see why this region (Le Marche) is compared to Tuscany as the hillsides are identical with crumbling structures and colorful palaces. Unlike Tuscany though -- really, few, few tourists.

While riding the train I reaize no one is calling out the stops and I'm no positioned in a car that can actually see the posting of the station when it arrives. So, good lesson soon in this journey, I move up closer to the front of the train and now I can actually see what stop we are at.

I can tell we're getting closer to the sea because my hair is starting to curl up! Bravo! As soon as we begin to slow down I can see the Adriatic in between the narrow allies of residences with enormous palm trees and the sky is the bluest blue. I have arrived! I am so happy!

It's about 2:30 in the afternoon and as I begin to walk the shoreline, I realize food at most establishments will not be offered until 6-7pm. This is not good, but I just walk. I figure I should be able to charm someone into feeding a poor, hungry (female) Americana! The beach is clean with beautifully colored umbrellas and very white European tourists getting quite red before my eyes! I can hear many of them talk and I think many are from Germany. It's a relaxing beach area, not crowded and so I decide since I have plenty of time to find the city center and return to the beach later.

While walking around, mostly down the small streets and thinking about the people who live here, I come across a gentleman leaning in his doorway looking quite curiously at me (I do think I'm a curiosity -- there aren't many woman my age walking around alone in this region!) I say, "buon giorno" and he seems friendly enough and so I ask him if he can recommend a restaurant that will feed me and sure enough he gives me the name and I now have a mission.

Back on the beach I walk for what seems days and I come aross the restaurant which has it's doors open but it is empty. I am caught peering in and a waiter prompts me to come inside and then I begin my broken language. He falls his comrade over who speaks broken english an I am able to ask in broken Italian if they can feed me pasta con vongole and they are delighted! In fact, they make their own pasta on the premises and it is the best pasta con vongole in Grottomare. So, I go the high road and request a verde ensalada, agua naturalamente, and a bicchieri di vino bianco!

P.S. Bicchieri (which means "glass") was one of the first Italian words I had an intimate relationship with as it was my last name during my 1st marriage when I was 20! Took my maiden name back and never gave it up again!

I find my place at the railing where I have enough shade but am "on top" of the sand and looking out at the ocean. It's glorious.

My pasta arrives first (salad is last here for digestion -- makes sense, doesn't it) which looks divine, my wine, water, and bread are all sitting in front of me waiting for me to dive in (pardon the pun).

Then I make THE cardinal mistake and ask for "un poccotino di formaggio" (a little cheese) and I can literally feel my parents and their parents and their parents roll-over in their graves as one grows up knowing clearly with no dispute that you never, ever add cheese to a fish plate. Oh my, have I digressed. Even the waiter sweetly scolds me but then brings it to me followed by the cook who comes out and explains that you do not add cheese to this meal. Well, all I could say was "okey dokey"! No formaggio por me!!

I ate and drank with gusto expecting and welcoming a little ponch of a belly to grow before my eyes! and it did!

As lovely as this day was, I'm reaching that place where sharing these experiences with a friend or a lover is so much more satisfying. I'm not lonely though; just able to appreciate the value of companionship. In fact, really appreciating my friends and family.

I am so enjoying your little posts or your quick emails supporting me and sharing your love. I am so blessed. Now, I think about how I would love to come to Italy every year to study Italian and wouldn't it be great to do this with a friend!

This location has proved to be a good place for me to recuperate; however, it is not tapping into the passion in me that continues to hide a bit. Ascoli is a bit small, and a bit reserved.

I am excited to see how I "feel" in Sicily and, ideally, Siena and Bologna.

Thanks for reading this, I know it's long but the wireless cafe was closed yesterday and so I had no access to the blog!


Friday, May 21, 2010

Ascoli gets it's first Sundae!

Presently sitting at Cafe Pretoriana with Lady Gaga in the background. I think this cafe caters to the young who have no hearing sensitivity (yet)! I'm determined to sit here and write my blog while trying to block out very loud pounding music....

Today is a simple day but good.

Yesterday, however, I delicately touched a valley of boredom and frustration. A good friend of mine recently emailed and reminded me just how difficult it is to learn a foreign language; he's Swiss and has first-hand experience. My mood went to impatience and frustration while projecting into the future of where I would go next as my "present" was not gratifying. Of course, the flip side, is that I learned a new expression...sonno annoiata (I am bored). A week of clouds, dampness and rain will do that to you. Sicily here I come!

But I caught myself just in time. I am "living here" more than "touring here". I have a schedule to keep, meals to cook and eat, homework to do, etc. So, just like everyday life, it can be boring (even in Italy!).

Also, I did not want to be projecting into the future. Life was good here in Ascoli and to prove it to myself, I decided to treat Daniela to dinner at the local Gelato negozio (shop). Italian gelato for dinner! Of course, I did it american style and introduced the word 'sundae' to the shop keepers. While pilling three scoops into a cup with chocolate syrup, whipped cream and nuts, the first 'sundae' was born in Ascoli. I know, it was a crime but believe me nothing could dampen the flavor and creaminess of this was heaven.

Daniela and I then walked off some calories and I was introduced to a new part of town I had not found on my many walks. It is the old section with houses built behind a stone wall that pre-dates the Romans looking onto the river....stunning! The sky was clearing and the colors of the clouds against the travertine was breathtaking. How easy to pull me out of my boredom. We walked and talked and by 9:00pm we were both ready to head home.

Sometimes I just don't know where the time goes. The evenings seem to fly. Mind you, I have not watched TV or listened to music since I've been here. I enjoy reviewing my homework and reading the few books I brought. Tonight, I'm going to the local book store to purchase one on the Myths on the Sibiline Mountains..I had heard about this and I think it will be quite interesting. I promise to relay a story in the blog.

Daniela's brother is in town; normally at University in Urbino. He stopped by the school and when he heard an American, he asked if we could all have dinner tonight! I get to speak Engish! Yeah! So, we're heading to Daniela's favorite pizza place. Can't wait -- haven't had pizza yet since I arrived.

Since tomorrow is the weekend, Daniela has made it clear that there will be no "clocks" in the morning. We get up when we get up...however, it's market day and all the farmers come to the piazza and so I may get up early anyway and visit and shop while doing some photography.

Ideally, if the weather holds through to Sunday, I hope to take the train to the coast (Grottomare)....keep fingers crossed!

Caio for now!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Oh where, oh where did the dollar go? Oh where, oh where can it be?

I have to say, the only real disappointment so far is how tired I feel. Can't quite seem to sleep well enough to get my usual energy back. Then I think about the months leading up to this trip and how very stressful they were and I think, well it makes sense that I'm finally allowing myself to be exhausted. However, wanting to learn a language needs mental energy and wanting to explore a town needs physical energy what to do? I guess go with and trust.

Today I thought I would finally exchange some money. Seems like a simple enough task. My language teacher, MariLena and I decided to do this together. The banks here are so secure! They have lockers outside the door so you can store any metal objects before entering their clever rotating time capsule doors (that's what if feels like).

First time I went into the time capsule, it would not let me continue. It forced me out! I could not figure out why...I could have been there all day if MariLena was not with me to suggest that I had something on my body that was metal. So, I placed everything but my wallet into the locker and re-entered the capsule with great success.

She followed me and we walked into the bank trying to find someone to give us attention. When I reach the counter I ask if I can change dollars to euro....the bank teller shakes his head with a look of pity. I'm standing there kind of stunned. MariLena intervenes to determine that if I do not have an account at the bank, I can not exchange dollars. How is this possble? They send us to another bank.

We walk about one block and now I'm familiar with the protocol. I deposit my belongings in a locker, I confidently enter the time capsule and "vwa la (sp?)" I am deposited (pardon the pun) into the lobby of the bank. Again MariLena follows me as I head toward the counter and ask this gentleman if I can exchange dollars...NO. Is this possible? Is there no place is Ascoli who will exchange my money? Okay, I'm trying to calm the anxiety that is beginning to creep into my body. He sends us to another bank.

Here we go again! Locker...time capsule...counter...NO!

Okay, now I'm pissed. Basically, if I can not change my dollars, I need to leave Ascoli for town big enough that has a bank with dollars in you hear the disdain i my writing????? MariLena tells me she is completely embarrassed. It's not her fault. I had already begun to feel that Ascoli, although charming, friendly and immaculate is also small, small, small. I thought a town of 50,000 would be a good size as I compared it to Cremona of 75,000 and thought it would be fine, but I have to say, it's really too small for my liking.

We go back to the school and report our lack of progress to Daniella who sighs (not the response I was expecting). In her typical style, she begins to speak in Italian a mile a minute and then suggests that we go down the street to the Banc de Marche and tell them I am a student and they should comply.

Locker....time capsule....counter.....discussion now instead of NO! Yes, progress! Okay, they will do it but I must come back at 3:00pm so I can be "registered". Anxiety gone, back on track.

3:00pm arrives -- okay you know the drill -- the gentleman recognizes me, he leads me to a private office where a lovely Italian woman with very pointy shoes takes my passport and driver's license and begins to register me on her computer. 15 minutes later, the paper work is handed to me for signing (3 places), then I am lead to the counter and he takes my passport and records it again. The money begins to be counted, I sign more papers and I receive my euros! Bravo!

At the airport in Rome when I landed, the exchange rate was 1.37 euros to the dollar, with a hefty commission and fee (but I had no choice). At the bank today, it was 1.25 with a minimal fee (no commission).

A success, now I can spend!

Tomorrow is Friday and I am taking the bus after my lesson to a town called is said to be quite lovely! I'll take photos!


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The story of the chicken

I know I'm getting more comfortable when my energy begins to go into the subject of food. Me buying a prepared roasted chicken has been the story of the last few days. It's a story in Italy, of course, because I have to locate the shop, determine it's hours and then figure out the language to actually buy it already cooked.

This idea came from Valerie, my new blogging friend who gave me any suggestions while here in Ascoli one of which was the "best, roasted chicken" and so it's been on my mind.

The town is small but with no sleep, it's been easy for me to loose my bearings and so although today I know that the shop to purchase this chicken is just a few blocks away from where I am living, it took me practially circumventing the entire town to find it.

Lucky for me, the shop had beautifully painted chickens on the door! See, Italy was into icons way before Apple.

Now to figure out the day and hours. Okay, so I'm getting use to the whole "siesta" time and, in fact, welcome it but it still throws me off a bit. Since few shop owners here speak Engish (which is what I wanted) I practiced the sentence of "I want to buy a cooked chicken and pick up at 7pm tonight. Okay, even wrote this sentence down. The "I want to buy' is easy, it's the "cooked chicken and pick up at 7pm" that is presently the challenge.

Let me step back a minute, often at home Daniella scolds me (lovingly) for speaking English but what I don't get is how does one speak a new language when they don't know it or have that many words under their belt? I mean, I'd be looking up every word and one sentence could take me all night!

Okay, back to the chicken. Yesterday, I begin my walk to the shop confident with my language and the time of day (around 4:30pm) also have my handy written copy in my pocket.

As I approach the gate with the painted chickens, it's open and I feel my first sense of accomplishment. My habit is to first apologize and let anyone and everyone know that I do not speak Italian. Mi piace (I'm sorry), io no parlo Italiana.... Now, most times this is welcomed with a big (yet confused smile....) in this case, the man kinda went about his business behind the counter....I loose my confidence and pull out my note and read to him my handy sentence. He begins to speak to me in quick italian of which none I understand...bottom line, he did not hand me my roasted chicken but rather shrugged his shoulders.

I now had to return to my friends and continue the discussion about il pollo. Of course, I could not translate what the butcher said to me. Fortunately, Daniela "googled" the shop, picked up the phone and ordered a chicken for Wednesday at 1pm. Basically, he must have told me that he only has them early in the day. Okay. I am now excited.

Meanwhile, I go to a local shop where Francisco (a farmer) brings his local food and I purchase enough vegetables for a nice salad and I then go to another shop where I purchase some spectacular proscuito. Daniela asked me if I like sweet or salty..I never knew it came in two flavors and so I don't know. Fortunately, at the shop, a woman had also ordered some proscuito and I just told the man behind the counter, "the same as her". It turned out it was "sweet" and it's what I'm accustomed too.

So, no chicken but a lovely salad with proscuito that melted in my mouth and so inexpensive..I'm buying more today!

Now, today is Wednesday and it's my day to go pick up my cooked chicken. Of course, first, I need to go to my class.

Last night I realized I really, really, needed my body and mind to cooperate and I most definitely needed to sleep. I was tired of staying "sono stanca (I am tired)". I had a long talk with my body and "dream talked to my Mom which I seem to be doing most nights" and sure enough had what seemed to be a decent night. My lesson starts at 11:00 and so I haven't seen any reason to set an alarm. Well, this morning prooved me wrong. I woke to a hammering above me (the building is under renovation but normally during hours that I am not at home). I reach for my Black Berry and look at the time, it was 10:50am!! Oh my...there is no way I can make it to class at 11:00. I have Daniela's telephone saved and so I ring her immediately and express how sorry I am but we are all so happy that I slept this much. I really appreciated the hammering alarm clock I had this morning.

After a quick cleaning up, I run downstairs to the local cafe and have my americano and croissant and sufficient wake up to start my class late at 11:30am. MariLena is patiently waiting for me and I have a very good lesson. Not as tired as the past few days.

Plus, today is a big day. Everyone knows that I go pick up my chicken today for our dinner tonight.

After class, I return to the, drop off my school bag, and begin my walk to the chicken shop. Of course, in my excitement, I don't realize that MariLena and I extend my class to 1:30 (instead of 1pm) and when I arrive at the gate of the painted chickens, it's closed!

I walk back to Daniela sullen from this experience but also chuckling inside. Daniela wisely tells me, it's just not my fate to have this chicken!

Signing off!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Still catching up....

Okay, so now I need to catch up to today which is Tuesday. I’m comfortably propped up in my bed after having had a very satisfying dinner made by Daniella. She cooked rice with fresh peas, chick peas and a chicken cutlet. It was incredibly satisfying. With a full belly and warm and snuggly in my bedroom (it’s 10:00pm – where does the time go?), I’m going to attempt to cover the last few days.

Saturday night I was hit quite hard with grief; man, it came up so unexpected and powerfully. Daniella, bless her, got the brunt of it and in my broken Italian and her broken English I was able to let go and she was able to catch me. Not to discount this experience, I gave it a perfect entrance having not had any sleep for about 20 hours, barely ate and was now in a new town, new culture and it was cloudy and rainy…hello?

Looking back just 48 hours, I can recall how strange it felt climbing the stairs of this old building, seeing only the renovation work and not quite ready to see it’s charm. Entering Daniella’s apartment which, I later found out, was her late grandmother’s who had passed away about 2 years before. She sweetly introduced me to all the rooms and, again, my tired mind was sinking to the thoughts of, “did I make a mistake?”…arriving in my bedroom with a big sigh about what I don’t know. In Italian the question is asked if I wanted to go outside and walk. YES, I had been sitting and sitting and sitting and so walking would be good.

The town was bustling as it was the weekend. When in Italy, I am always amazed at the young people and how they hang out in big groups and there energy is just so fun and wild and free. It’s refreshing. We walked and walked while speaking a little Italian and a little English….we were getting to know each other and I was getting to know this place.

Ascoli-Piceno is quite beautiful. Lonely Planet, etal did not lie. It’s also quite immaculate.

It was on this walk, down some side street that my body began to prepare me that I was about to start feeling something challenging. The grief decided to hit and there I was in the Piazza Puopolo with a strange woman named Daniella starting to sob. I could barely touch it with faces and memories of times past and times shared but I did. I knew I had to and so I went with it. Daniella showed instant compassion and encouraged the release (am I blessed or what?). I thought to myself, tonight I will share my room with grief and give it some space….and I did.

The walking was so helpful; my body needed to move. Returning to her home, I got a little more organized and allowed myself to slip into bed, with no judgement and simply gave into the sense of loneliness. I did feel quite alone Saturday night. The tears flowed and I was grateful for them….let them flow as long as necessary.

Upon waking Sunday morning, I began to feel myself. I slept until 10:00am and with a pot of expresso waiting for me, I joined Daniella in our "dining room" and began to plan our day. I'm acclimating quickly, I can feel it. It's one of my "fortunate?" how I acclimated to 10 years off-the-grid in Taos.

Busy streets and alleyways, Ascoli is built with local travertine and so everything is white and glistening against the deep greens of a lush environment, it's something to behold. Mmmmm, shops with salami, ravioli and proscuito beckon me -- it's on my shopping list. I can't quite eat today as my body is a bit upside down and so somehow the time passes and we are planning a dinner out with Daniella's friend. It begins to rain and so to "take up some time" prior to our reservation at Mr. Okay's, they show off their local shopping mall. Again, packed with young, old and families, people eating, playing games and generally living well.

We get to Mr. Okay's, not exactly a restaurant name conjuring up truffles, but this is their specialty. Did I mention Daniella loves (I mean loves) to eat? She's probably just 5' and a little round but a lovely face and stunning hazel eyes...she is always looking "up" at me and so I'm curious how her neck must feel.

I give her permission to order at will and she does! First, we get the local specialty which are meat stuffed olives deep friend. I know, doesn't exactly sound that appetizing but have no fear, they are addictive. This is followed by fried zucchini like you've never tasted before. The zucchini is sliced in very thin strips that almost curl with the most delicate batter and they are piled high! I thought this would be it but no, we then receive about 4 stuffed mushrooms. Yet to come is the main course of pasta with truffles! I try to pace my eating and not get full so I can leave room for the real treat and treat it was. A small rigatoni pasta, cooked quite al dente in a light cream sauce and chopped truffles and some bread crumbs as well with fresh parseley. Man oh man, it was good. I could not finish my plate but knew I could count on Daniella!

This seems long enough. The knot seems to be gone for now in my belly, I am living quite comfortable now. Taking baths instead of showers, running up and down the stairs of my flat, carrying old fashioned keys, and having completed my 2nd day of Italian lessons. My schedule is 11-1pm 5 days (20 hours a week) which leaves my mornings for now free to try to catch up on sleep and sit at the local cafe for a expresso and croissant; honestly, I am still exhausted and not quite sleeping as much or as deeply as I need to. So far both days my brain has hurt from going places it hasn't had to go in a long time but this is what I wanted. I really like my teacher and, by the way, I am having private lessons.

I realize it's early in this process but I do think I will stay here in Ascoli for a total of 2 weeks. It's quite economical staying with Daniella. I've met some travelers who have been to Urbania and they say is is incredibly small -- I'm not going to bother. I actually find Ascoli quite small too (50,00). My thoughts are to go to Sicily for sure and I may touch base with Maria and Shastro (Alb - DC travel companions) as they are going to Bologna and I may rendezvous with them.

That's all for now, caio!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Work in Process....

This is my first blog. I agree that it is visually boring right now, apologies, I hope to get creative as soon as I first figure out what I'm doing!

This 1st blog is quite long as it covers about 3-4 days! Be patient. I doubt I will be so long-winded afterwards.

This name, Humble Beginnings, came to me in a dream a very long time ago; maybe 15-20 years. Please be clear, not for a moment do I believe this phrase is profound, or unique; but I have held it with me for a long time never knowing if it was to lead someplace. Always, my thought was that it was a cook book solely of peasant foods, and I use “peasant’ with the most respect and admiration. The cook book (and of course, cable-network cooking show --- hint, hint), were to focus on peasant foods from all over the world as from my perspective, these foods represent health, naturalmente, organic, whole and inexpensive meals (using foods that are available and fresh and not shipped from someplace you can’t pronounce); basically, the way I want to eat. Okay, so although this blog is not about the idea of a cook book/show, allow me to indulge further in this idea (just in case someone out there wants to fund me to actually move forward with this!). I’ll use my heritage as an example (which is Italian): Polenta (simply corn meal) has become a rather “chi chi” food in the states but I grew up with it in the most traditional way. My grandmother, who I missed knowing, passed down a rectangle wooden board to my mother. My mom used this board not only to kneed the dough and make home-made ravioli, pasta, etc. (yes, I grew up with a Mom who made these from scratch, as easily and spontaneously as I make a cup of tea!) but also to literally ‘pour’ the polenta on the board in a somewhat oval shape casting itself across the length and width of the board. Once all the polenta was poured onto this board (it was thick), then the meat from the tomato sauce (meatballs, brasiola, pork, sausage) was piled in the middle (on top of the polenta) so all those around the table could easily reach. The tomato sauce was also spread lightly onto the glistening surface of the polenta. We each took our seat and carved in front of us our very own “half moon” of polenta, cutting it into patchwork bite size pieces and pulling into our half moon our own pieces of meat. Of course, one could/would add more sauce, formaggio (cheese), etc. within your own half moon. So, you see, what today is a chi chi food has an artistic, humble yet beautiful beginning at the peasant level that one does not see in a 4 star restaurant. Okay, that’s the end of my Humble Beginnings as a cook book/show, now onto what I think this dream phase means to me today.

Although today is Sunday, May 16, 2010, I will go back only to Thursday evening, May 13 when Michael (soon to be ex-husband) dropped me off at the Grand Airport hotel in Albuquerque, NM. This drop off was also symbolic of our mutual decision to divorce after 12 years of marriage, 11 of which I was also a full-time stepmom. It was a bitter sweet experience as I both turned away from being a wife and mom to a single, 55 year old woman heading to Italy for one month. In our goodbye, my body both wanted to hold on to the comfort and love of Michael as well as let go and move into my new form of being; hold on, let go, hold on, let go…

The knot was there; I was experiencing grief. But there was no confusion, which I am grateful for. This feeling will return many times during the next few days as I prepare to write this blog and I am committed to lean into it as this love deserves to be grieved.

This is not a blog about the past but rather the present, which will become the future without any effort and so I feel compelled to record this sad yet magnificent reality of mine.

So, without further hesitation, let me bring this blog up to date with today.

Once I broke free of Michael (psychically and physically), I made my way up to my hotel room. This evening was uneventful and so I won’t spend too much time on it. I simply went down to the restaurant, had myself a big old Rib eye steak, prepared medium, a few skinny asparagus and dined quietly and comfortably. When I refused bread and butter, my waitress complimented me on my complexion and said she “could see that I was healthy as my skin was smooth and beautiful”. I sucked in this compliment like it was the last one I would hear forever…you see, although at this moment in time, I do feel healthy and attractive, that evening, I felt quite vulnerable – almost to the point of wanting to actually ask her how old she thought I was! Fortunately, I regained my composure, accepted the compliment and continued eating my steak. Once to my room, I reviewed my plans for the morning, watched my last episode of Private Practice and went to bed.

The wake up call came at 5:30am I prepared for the airport.

It’s now Friday, May 14 and my flight from Albuquerque to DC takes off at 8:00am. When I left my home in Santa Fe (which, by the way, I decided not to return to once this trip is complete, but rather leased myself a short-term furnished rental walking distance to the Plaza), I realized I had packed way too much. I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I could pack. I see now, that was a bunch of bull crap.

At check in, the crude awakening was that not only is my luggage too heavy but it’s also costly! $200.00 overweight baggage fee! because it’s an international fight! I was shocked! Obviously, I plan to do something for my return, as I am not spending another $200 on this piece of luggage! So, that was my first over budget expenditure!

My flight from Alb to DC was superb! As my companions were a couple (Maria and Shastro) and we three spoke the entire time! They live in Hawaii, they are tango instructors and she’s of Italian heritage, he’s from Venice, which was where they were flying too! I was invited to meet up with them. We all had so much in common…traded numbers and email. They plan to visit Santa Fe in November and I feel quite sure we will continue our friendship…. In fact, their description of Tango dancing has turned me on…they both really view it as a form of meditation. Meanwhile a good buddy of Michael’s (Greg) is also passionate about the dance and so I feel like I must try it. My new friends say there is a really good teacher in Santa Fe and so when I return, I plan to check her out. Her name is Liz Haight and here's a link.

Fortunato…Life is already opening up! We part at the DC airport, give each other hugs and I begin to find my gate for a 4 hour layover. DC airport is not exactly stimulating but I am fascinated in my people-watching mood. That morning I just had a breve latte and so now I’m a bit hungry….airport dining is challenging and so I opt for a turkey sandwich at Subway. I eat 1/2 of a 6” with gusto, save my other ½ for the flight.

Already I am emailing from my Blackberry, which I love, and it continues to be my gateway to friends and family back home. The idea that I would not engage my "life back home" was naive; I'm lonely and miss my friends.

I board the fight and find my seat and settle into my next 8 hours. I opted to spend a little extra for the more legroom seat; it’s worth it.

My travel companion, a woman in her 60s joins me and although originally quite content to sit quietly and get grounded, she and I begin to talk and, here we go again! another enjoyable experience. Later, though, I think I should try to sleep (impossible) or at least calm down before arriving in Rome at 8:30am the next morning (Saturday). I brought my bag of sleep enhancers and none of them work! I'm awake!

During our flight I engage some other travelers who are Italian and they confirm to me that I most definitely should take the metro from the airport to the Termina Statione (main bus station in Rome) where I am to catch the bus to Ascoli Piceno. They also confirm that my humungous luggage will be fine. No one, including myself, really comprehends what dragging a 70# piece of luggage is really like. Yes, 70#s (I purposely have been hesitating to mention that)…don’t bother asking me what was in the bag…basically, everything I thought I would need for 1 month in Italy!

De-board, immediately recruit a healthy, young male to help drag my piece of luggage off the conveyor belt, change some money (not the best place but I needed Euros and I was arriving in Italy on the weekend) and follow the icon for the metro.

At the ticket counter I ask about the bus station which is actually one stop past the Termina Statione and I would have to change trains to get close to the station….I had also read that it was a 5-10 minute walk. I buy the ticket and decide once I disembark at the Statione, I will figure out how to walk to the Bus station. I had plenty of time as I arrived at 8:30am and my bus did not depart until 1:50pm.

It was both the right and wrong decision. The train was packed; it was up 3 stairs (yes, totally needed help to lift the luggage), short train ride on surface tracks to the main station, which then exposed me to the fact that it was raining! I had no umbrella, no hat and so I just accepted that my 5-10 minute walk to the bus station was part of my experience and ‘lesson learned’.

Recruited help to disembark, had already consulted my map (which I got off the web before I left), got my bearings by finding a café in the terminal for some water and bundled up (had placed my cute, little, white rain jacket in the outside pocket of my suitcase (smart) and began to walk.

My map was precise and it was easy to find; however, at various times I was walking through large puddles, it would move from pouring to drizzle back to pouring and my arm that pulled the luggage would be numb after only a few minutes and I would have to switch. By the way, on my shoulder were my camera bag and laptop bag and my backpack as my purse. I was a walking coat rack! Very much resembling an obvious, American tourist!

I was so relieved to find the bus station (small office space), escape from the rain, warm my wet, cold feet and confirm that Daniella had made a seat reservation on the bus. I had about 2 hours to spare.

Leaving the gorilla of a bag (that will be it’s new nickname) at the station was practically an orgasmic experience!

Made my way around the corner to stumble upon a lovely block of residential buildings and there was my 1st Italian restaurant beckoning me, the weary traveler.

As I climbed down a flight of stairs (it was subterranean), I was welcomed by one of the waiters fumbling while changing his clothes! When he (and the other waiters) heard my foot steps, they all began to apologize for their stupido waiter as he quickly pulled his shirt on…this was a very good entrance for me as I was the first customer of the day and they then paid lots of attention to me. I tell you, woman are simply appreciated in Italy, no matter what age! I am enjoying this attention. A bottle of natural water, a heavenly salad and a ‘quartro formaggio” pizza later, my dining was methodical and relaxing. As I wrote my first email from Rome, I tasted my first real tomato again! We all know how tragic tomatoes taste in the States even organic ones! You know you’ve reached Italy once you taste a tomato.

Board a very comfortable bus and prepare myself for a 3 hour ride crossing the Appenines. It is now 5pm on Saturday and I have no idea how long I've been awake.

Once out of Rome, the drive was beautiful. Lush hills and immaculate roads and properties. Drousy, I find myself closing my eyes to this stunning scenery but I can’t help myself. It’s a long enough drive that we stop mid-way for a pit stop, I use il bano, purchase some water and board. Driving into this region is nothing short of spectacular…it’s still raining though which, is a bit disappointing but I don’t care, I’m in Italy!

Entering this magical town I know I will be happy. Daniella had promised to pick me up at the bus station but we arrive a little early. I take a spot under an awning, it’s now 5pm (I’ve been awake for a very long time; I’ve yet to actually calculate) and within minutes a car pulls up and Georgio jumps out and introduces himself. He is one of the teachers at the school. Sorry, no, he’s not a potential anything…but a friendly, lovely, warm young man who seems genuinely in love with his Italian language and his town of Ascoli. He treats me to a drive around town, he begins teaching me Italian and discouraging English. I’m on my way!

After about 20 yawns, he gets the hint that I need to go home! We park, he leads me through a iron gate of the main road and I meet my housemate Daniella and the Director of the School, Antonella. We are all happy to finally meet in person. We’ve been getting to know each other a bit over the telephone and via email for a few months now.

Okay, I'm going to post this and then continue with another post to attempt to capture Saturday night, Sunday and today! Thanks all!