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....