Memorial Day 2015

I’m sorry that I haven’t written as much as I’d initially said I would. And I’m sorry that most of my posts begin with an apology, whether written or merely implied. I have a billion words within me, ready to spill out at the drop of a hat, but my world is full of *wait* right now. “Wait before you say those words, the terrorists are watching.” “Wait before you wear anything that could identify you as American.” I didn’t worry too much at first. After all, my blog started out pretty impersonal… But then I put some pictures of us. And then ISIS started talking about Rome. And then the guards on the army base started wearing bulletproof vests, so naturally I became a bit shy about the blog. Now the vests are off again, and everybody is starting to relax again, so I think I am ready to speak a bit.

Don’t worry, our grandmas, we’re as safe as we can possibly make ourselves.

We’ve been busy and happy. We’re embracing Italy as hard as we can.

For Memorial Day we joined the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on a trip down to the ceremony at the Florence American Cemetery. My husband joined the VFW a few months ago so this trip was very special for us. The ceremony was incredibly touching and the cemetery and monument were in a beautiful, idyllic location. Because 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of Italy’s liberation from fascism, there were many high-profile people in attendance. We saw Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, John R. Phillips, U.S. Ambassador to Italy,  U.S. Consul General Abigail Rupp, and U.S. Army Brigadier General John Hort of the U.S. Army Europe Command. We also were able to hear music from the Carabinieri “Fanfara” band. The Carabinieri are Italy’s police force and they are quite talented. I’ve honestly never felt more patriotic than I did that day, and btw, the Italian National Anthem is one of my new favorite songs. It’s on youtube. Go give it a listen if you have a few minutes.

My husband was officially sworn in to the VFW before the ceremony. We’re very proud of him and I honestly can’t think of a more special way to join such an organization.

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Looking out at the flag from the monument.

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A few of the VFW guys in front of the monument.

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P1040621P1040620 A small portion of the 4,402 graves on site, a vintage vehicle (from, I’m guessing ,WWII. I didn’t have time to get close enough to see), and a very handsome gent.

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Never forget.

After the ceremony and a brief exploration of the cemetery grounds, we all stood around the bus and drank backyard moonshine wine provided by one of the Italians who accompanied us. (Note: it probably wasn’t moonshine wine. But it was homemade and it perfectly hit the spot.)

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They even brought cups for us. These are my kind of people!

The party then moved over to a nearby restaurant where we ate fantastic food (I tried pâté! It was pretty good!) and hung out with some great friends. The vino flowed, the beer was poured, and we all talked, laughed, and ate. For hours. It was all molto Italiano.

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During the raffle, we won four bottles of wine (traded two of them since we honestly aren’t big wine drinkers). The crazy thing is that we won the Big Prize, a bottle of 150€ wine. It came in a wooden box and we aren’t allowed to drink it for at least two more years. We’re excited!

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A few of the guys. They’re so fun to talk with.

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All in all, it was a wonderful day, and an experience I will never forget. I really hope we can return next year.

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And this handsome chap who, despite being the only kid present, had a great time as well.

Lazarus? Is That You?

It’s been about a month since I posted last. I apologize. Life has been the best kind of busy.

For you now- a reverse bucket list: Things I’ve Done Recently.

Padova

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Churches

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Venice

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Almost certain death

(we really thought the hail in this cloud was going to come through the roof of the car)

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I will be back from the dead. I won’t say when since I’m not quite good at deadlines yet, but I will be back.

Watch this space!

(And thanks for sticking around!)

Trivia time!

Ciao, amici!

A question: You’re driving down the roads in Europe and you come to one of these. Which direction should you go? Should you be coming toward the camera or moving away?

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Toward the camera, right?

WRONG!

If you came to this arrow you would drive away from the camera. As far as we can figure, you’re supposed to consider it like a flashlight. The light starts as a tiny little bulb and diverges out as the distance from the source increases.

So, should you ever drive in Europe, now you know. I still have to take a moment to think when I find one of these. They fly in the face of reason, but I find them to be charming.

By the way, the blue sign with the white arrow is a one-way sign, and the blue circle with the red slash is a no-parking zone. The more you know.

Vicenza- A Tale of Rain

I’m going to tell you a secret. It’s a little-known secret of Vicenza. Are you ready?

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It looks like this. All the time.

Ok, sorry. That’s not a secret, and it’s not quite true. Vicenza doesn’t look like this all the time. It does, however, look like this a lot. Tutti giorni. Molto tiempo. Nel cielo manca un angelo? (Sorry, I’m learning to flirt in Italian. Is heaven missing an angel? You tell me…)

I could look at days like this as being buzzkills. They rain on my parade. Ha.

I actually do enjoy days like today, and here’s why:

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The rain drops on the hibiscus.

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The snails in the ivy.

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The moody lighting.

Really the best part about days like today, this week, Vicenza is that nobody goes outside so I can photograph snails without people wondering why I’m not squashing them.

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Also the rain leads to these. Everywhere. There’s not much better than food you harvest yourself.

Roma- Piazza Barberini

Ciao, amici!

Remind me sometime to write a brief paragraph or two about the pronunciation of “ciao”. I’ve lived in Italy for almost a year and I STILL can’t say it right. That and arrivederci. And anything with a rolled R. My grandma always said that you can’t pronounce “N’awlins” properly unless you’re from there. I think “ciao” may be kinda the same. I’m getting there.

So here are some photos I took of Piazza Barberini.

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Barberini has a super-convenient Metro stop. This is almost directly in front of the Capucini Crypts and the Hamburgheria in my next post. According the sign, it stops running at 9pm.

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See that tiny little sign? Piazza Barberini. According to Wikipedia, Piazza Barberini was used for the public display of unknown corpses for identification. This practice continued until the 18th century. The Piazza was also home of the Palazzo Barberini, the home of the family of Pope Urban.

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This poster has been all over Italy this summer. It’s for a Dutch movie called The Broken Circle Breakdown (in English or Alabama Monroe in Italiano). I haven’t seen it yet but it is on Amazon Prime. Part of me was really sad to see the billboard in such a beautiful square. It’s better than grafitti at least.

P1030135 The clouds thinned for a brief moment.

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This is Fontana del Tritone. He was sculpted in 1642-1643 by Gian Bernini.  P1030132Remember how I mentioned Pope Urban? This fountain pays tribute to him and to his family. See that object that sorta looks like a beehive? That is the papal tiara, the crown of the Pope. The bees are from the heraldic symbol of the Barberini themselves. P1030131

This photo illustrates how Rome masks construction from the public. If the giant advertisement was missing, you may not even notice the huge painted tarp.

Directly adjacent to the piazza, you can find the Cappuccini convent. I honestly cannot talk about this place enough. It was fantastic! Since our trip to Rome was interrupted by real-world responsibilities, our plans to see the Vatican and Colosseo were canceled. (Pope Francis, if you were less cool I’d feel pretty upset about the wasted reservation money, but luckily, you rock so I don’t mind making a donation.) We arrived in Rome at 2am having no clue what to do with ourselves while our friends adventured without us. Luckily an American lady at the breakfast bar recommended the convent to us.

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This is the only picture I have. It is directly next to the hamburger restaurant. It begins with a museum dedicated to the lives of the Cappuccini monks. Reliquaries, items, histories, it’s all there. We even were fortunate enough to see a Caravaggio painting. Wow. The husband and kiddo got to see an actual monk entering the secret sanctuary. I was engrossed elsewhere and missed him.

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that the sign above says ossuary and may have noticed that I said “crypt” earlier on in the post. What a crypt! At the end of the museum you pass through a hallway lined with a number of signs requesting silence and respect. The crypts are a holy place, after all.

Silent it was. The air was cool; the rooms were dim. Behind waist-high metal fencing, split into six chapels, were the remains of approximately 3700 monks. This wasn’t pile of bones, as you would find in the Parisian catacombs, but artistically arranged sculptures. Had I been permitted I would have taken 1,000 pictures of the crypts (I am an x-ray tech after all so bones really move me), but since photography was verboten, I abstained. If you really want, you can do a google image search to see photos, some taken illegally, and some official. Honestly, if you’re ever planning on visiting, I recommend NOT looking before you go. Go check it out for real! It’s stunning (and really and truly it is not morbid or disgusting. I could feel the love and care that went into these arrangements.) In case you need any extra incentive to visit the crypts, it was previously visited by the Marquis de Sade. Honestly, I don’t know if that’s a ringing endorsement, but it did feel strange to know that I was walking down a hallway that his royal awfulness had walked centuries prior. Maybe “incentive” isn’t the right word.

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To the right of the Hamburgheria? Yet another new favorite doorway. A monkey. A giant grimace. Texture galore. Right up my alley. P1030094_2And inside? Nakedness alert, everybody- It’s Rome. Statues ain’t gotta wear clothes.

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I walked in to take some pictures and the guard leapt out of his chair and rushed toward me. I held up my camera, pointed at the statues and said “Fotografia è va bene?” He stopped and smiled and told me that the statue wasn’t real. It was a reproduction. So here you go- a fake Apollo Belvedere (The real one is in the Vatican. Of course it is.)P1030107

To the right of fake Apollo, a giant tapestry. I can’t remember if it is real or not, but whether it is or whether it isn’t, it is real impressive, as they say.P1030099

Anyone know which tapestry this is? I don’t.P1030105

I have no idea what is in this building. People kept coming and going. Residential, perhaps? Whatever it is, it has some fancy decor…

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Across from fake Apollo- fake Artemis. You’d have to to go to Paris to see the real one. She’s at the Louvre.  P1030103

Here’s the guard. Nice guy.

Here comes the end of the post. I’m trying something new. I’ve been avoiding posting pictures of us, just because this is the internet and we’re people, but since more family members have been wanting to see pictures of us, I’ve decided to start posting some. I may change my mind about this as time passes. But for now, our debut-

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My guys. This is one of my favorite pictures of them because it captures them so well. The kiddo is a dreamer. He’s often staring off into the distance, thinking about worlds I’ll never visit. My husband is a talker. He likes spreading knowledge and explaining facts and details to anyone who will listen. See the bracelets? We were had by a street “vendor”. I use the term “had” loosely since we really weren’t had too hard.

Let me ‘splain. This has happened to us three times now. An African fellow will walk up to you to show you his wares. It might be carved wood sculptures, jewelry, or toys. You tell him no. He asks if you’re sure. You assure him that you are. He holds out a beaded bracelet or a tiny carved elephant or turtle. You say no. He insists and tells you it’s free. You decline once again. He insists some more. Fine, you finally say, taking whatever item he’s holding. Then he says “So can you spare some money? I just became a father today.”

Could the man be a brand spankin’ new daddy? Sure, he could be. Is he? Probably not. Do we mind giving him 2-3 Euro just in case? Not really. Ask me how many elephants and turtles we have… No wait don’t. (It’s 6.)

Honestly, the African gents are almost a pleasure to deal with. They’re always smiling and polite and they speak English quite well (because English is spoken in many parts of Africa). The guys from (I think) the Middle East are less pleasant. They will shove items in your hands and then insist that since you touched them you must pay for them. I’ve heard of women having thorny roses thrust into their hands and then forcibly removed from their grasp when they refused to pay. I haven’t experienced that luckily, but they are very pushy. You don’t have to be mean to them, but you can just walk away or firmly say “NO.” until they leave. I forget sometimes and I’m polite to them. They see politeness as an opportunity. They’re not very nice guys.

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Finally, here’s all of us with our good friend Triton. See my wrist? I have a bracelet too.

Allora, questa è la vita.

 

Venezia- The extras

These are some of the other Venice photos that really didn’t fit into a category, but they were too neat to pass up.

GrafittiImageWho is Hogre? Exactly how massive is this critter? Is he friendly? Maybe he just likes tourists. Maybe he just likes playing with boats. Maybe this is a depiction of a small sea-critter at bathtime. Maybe this is a simulation of a real cruise ship attack. Who is he? Inquiring minds want to know!

…So inquiring minds looked it up. Hogre is a famous-yet-elusive street artist who hails from Rome. His art is really impressive but his webpage is confusing. I love it.ImageImageWe saw the P.O.P.E. squid all over the place. I’m not sure what he represents exactly.ImageDrainage-ImageThis information may be wrong, but we were told that rain and flood waters drain into these grates…Imageand pass into the cisterns below these wells. The water is filtered and purified in fine sand underground. The wells are sprinkled throughout Venice.ImageThis hydrant looks like a clown to me. Mildly unnerving…

This spotImageImageIf you come visit me, MAKE ME take you here.ImageThis guyImageWe sat outside a little ristorante and drank beer and caffè while this fellow watched over us. I wish I had walked over to see who he is. Next time. The beer was quite good and the waiter was very charming, especially after his underling threw a glass at me. Ok, maybe he didn’t throw it, but it did tumble and it did land, in pieces, on my shoe. Don’t worry, my shoe and I were fine. Also, I didn’t shoot the head waiter (but only because he asked me not to) (and because the statue guy probably would not have approved) (and because I left my waiter-shooting gun in my other handbag) (It’s a joke).

Things-

ImageA giant, abandoned pane of glass.ImagePansies basking upon the railing of a canal-side ristorante.ImageI never realized that doors could be magical until I came to Italy.ImageAn Easter egg the size of a toddler. Those are full-sized wine bottles, amici!ImageDoor pull? I bet it feels warm from the Spring sun. I did not touch it.ImageImageWouldn’t you love to work in this building? I don’t know if I’d feel better or worse knowing that these chaps were standing watch.ImageThis was a really lucky shot. I had to wait quite awhile for people to clear out long enough for me to snap the photo. Something interesting is behind that blue door, but I can’t tell you what it is… yet. (Mainly because I don’t know… yet.)ImageIs this not beautiful? The photo does not capture the way the golden accents gleamed in the sunlight.ImageSeveral thousand tiny pieces, one large masterpiece.

So there you have it. Venezia in a rush.

Coming soon- Roma, and more Venice.

Venezia- The Merch

Like any tourist destination, Venice was loaded with shops. Merchandise aplenty!

I’m going to tell you a secret. This is my favorite thing about Italy. Are you ready?

The absolute, hands-down, best thing about Italy is that advertising is not the national bird of this country. The fantastically preposterous thing about Italy is that while there are occasional ads sprinkled throughout the cities and on the highways, in comparison to the ads of America, Italy is BARREN.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I adore this. Road trips are beautiful and peaceful without being begged to stop at one of the six nearby McDonald’s or sleep at whichever crappy hotel has the most dollars for billboards. It’s so relaxing for the mind.

I mention this because the shops here seem to operate on word of mouth and a dash of luck. They’re tucked amid churches and homes, and sometimes are completely invisible unless you happen to look just right. Since we only had a few hours for this particular trip to Venice, I can only imagine how many amazing shops we missed.

Thing number one- Murano Glass

Murano glass is world famous. While I had heard of it before this trip, I had mainly only seen it in beads and glass animals. While those are definitely impressive, I honestly wasn’t overly impressed. I’ve been seeing glass animals and beads my whole life. Though they are cool- meh.

But then we wandered into a Murano glass shop and our minds were opened.

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I was blown away. We learned that each month has a different theme, so if you love a certain piece in the store this month, you’d better buy it, or forever hold your peace. April’s theme seemed to be religious icons- it was Easter, after all. We’re not religious, but we could not resist. The pieces were so beautiful! Although we’d had no interest in buying glass (we’re clumsy people and glass is breakable), we left that store with much lighter pockets and much heavier bags than we’d had when we entered.

Thing number two- the lost art of letter writing

I couldn’t tell you whether the Venetians are big letter writers, but if you judge by their shop windows, the art never died in Venice. We were greeted with vast selections of quills and inks, wax seals, letter openers with Murano Glass handles, and fancy stationery. We managed to avoid spending money in any of these shops, although one day I will venture into one and ask the proprietor for help in commissioning a specially-designed wax seal press.

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Using shadows to photograph reflective shop windows…ImageImage

Thing number three- masks

While Venice is known for many things, from what I hear, Carnevale in Venice is not to be missed. Unfortunately this past year- we missed it. We were still too new. But next year, we will be there, come hell or high water (perhaps literally).

In case you don’t know, Carnevale is the elaborate celebration that occurs just before the beginning of Lent and the Easter season. It’s also known as Mardi Gras in the southern parts of the US, and simply as Carnival in Brazil. Carnevale in Venice lasts for several weeks and is loaded with parties, concerts, shows, and activities. People come from all over the world wearing incredible costumes and masks.

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Many of the masks use designs that have been popular for centuries.

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Image There are seven historical types of Venetian mask. The devil isn’t one of the seven, but the mask in the bottom left corner appears to be the Pantalone- the joker.

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These are the Medico della Peste. These were worn mainly by doctors to avoid catching Bubonic Plague. I’ve read that they kept straw and scented plants in the beaks of the masks to help filter out the airborne particles from the plague.

Thing number four- Clothes

We didn’t buy any. We didn’t even look. There was no time, and I still haven’t quite adjusted to the Italian manner of dress yet. While it has grown on me, I’m still just not ready to make the plunge.

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This is a very, very popular style among young, Italian men. The floral shirt, the tight(ish) pants with the baggy crotch and unusual button placement… It’s everywhere.

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On the other hand, graphic t-shirts are not popular with Italians at all. On occasion you’ll see t-shirts on the street, but more often than not if you see someone in a t-shirt, they’re not native Italian.

Thing number five- my favorite thing of all

Of course we saw a bunch of random, strange items for sale in Venice, but this one jumped out at me more than any other. Although we have a bit of an apron collection, we bypassed this beauty. It was just a bit too much chintz for me.

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Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn, but oh, how I love Venezia…

So there you have it. A small compendium of the things you can buy in Venice. We also saw stores with books, musical instruments, frameries, grocery stores, and the most boring Hard Rock Cafe shop I’ve ever visited. The cafe itself may be much better, but the store had nothing of note, unless you count shirts worn by Prince, Beyonce, and Madonna, and underwear worn by Britney Spears. I personally can’t say that I consider those things to be notable, even though I did just mention them.

Next time I’ll post my excess photos from Venice. I have a bunch of neat little things I saw around and about. We have some friends coming into the states in a few weeks so we will be going back to Venice (yay!) and taking our first trip down to Rome. We may also spend a day in Florence. Stay tuned, friends!