Saturday, October 28, 2006


I think that 'mine' is one of the first words if not the first word that Xman learned in day care.

How Many of Me Are There?

Thanks to Robert Brady I tried this little survey.

Using my first name and my married name I found:
LogoThere are:
people with my married name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Using my first name and my maiden name (which was not my father's family's original name) I found :
LogoThere is:
person with my maiden name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Finally, using what would be my real last name at birth without my ancestors feeling that they had to change it, I found:
LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

I guess I am an original or maybe just strange. At least I wouldn't have to worry about changing my name if I joined the Actors Guild.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Time Between Times

A number of years ago I had reached the time in my life that was after my children were on their own in junior high school but before I had become comfortable in my new role as 'lone adventurer'. Children had become a nice buffer for me on my life challenges. It didn't matter if I got lost or used the wrong product or dressed poorly or made a public mistake. I had two kids that were distracting me and who in turn could be used to distract the focus of others on me. I was an overworked mother who was allowed mistakes. My entire day revolved around their needs and the tight time schedule I had set for myself regarding family life.

I look back on that transition to adulttime now and wonder when I had accepted with blase the habit of using the kids as my invisibility cape, but I do remember the first time it was very strange to enter a restaurant as just me and to sit alone at a table and to order adult food and to eat the food all alone. (One of these times was in Houston at a conference in a restaurant across the room from James Darren at another table. Honest!) It was strange to drive in a car and not be distracted by munchkin battles or flying cereal or upset stomachs. It was strange to have free afternoons (though short) to go anywhere I wanted and to do what I wanted. Being the good Puritan I always ran the necessary errands before dinner.

Years ago I was in Raleigh, North Carolina with my husband who was attending a meeting. This left me with free days exploring on my own. I enjoyed walking the town and visiting the farmers market, but I eventually realized that I would have to take the rental car and do some country exploring to fill the final remaining day of the trip. Those of you who are born to explore cannot imagine why it would take courage to do this. But I was very uncomfortable with the thought of going out all by myself in a different car and reading a map all by myself to drive on different roads for several hours.

There was a recreational lake and state park about an hour away and I decided that adventure would be my afternoon. I studied the map, scolded myself about how childish it was to fear this little adventure and used my instincts and made it to the resort without a hitch. Weather was still warm and so there were quite a few families on picnics or boating on the lake. It was a lovely blue sky day. I explored the lake and then found a long path that walked around the lake. It was a very long path and I knew that I could not make the entire circuit, but I could walk a short way before my time to return to the car for the drive back to town.

I was twenty minutes into my walk when I saw grass movement just ahead and to the side of the gravel path and then I heard a gentle but somewhat familiar vibration/buzz. I could not stop myself, but had to get closer to see the source of the rattle. I just knew it was a small rattlesnake, but the closer I got and the nearer I peered into the grass the more insistent became the rattle. I never saw the snake as I would have had to reach out and part the grass and did not have the courage for that. But somehow, just then, I felt as if I had made some personal growth that day by testing my fear against my curiosity and feeling good about it.

I no longer felt odd as a single person.

Now I have a new time in my life. Twice in the last month I have had trouble finding my car in the parking lot at the shopping mall. I was sure about where I parked my car last weekend and walked back and forth down the parking row several times as darkness moved in before it dawned on me that the parking space I was searching was where I had parked on a prior night...not the current night! I then did some hard mindbending thought and remembered I had parked the car further up and around the store. This forgetfulness is not normal for me and I am afraid it is a small or maybe a large transition I must face as I get older. I know that this is a nice Saturday Night Live skit for many, but for me it was also a damn nuisance.

But as with everything, I guess I will have to take it One Day at a Time.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I Have Lost It

I have to head to a mindless meeting downtown today. I have resigned to finding my job the most boring time in my life and am counting the days/years until I can retire.

One of my colleagues whose has a child who is home with a mental relapse and who has the same mental illness herself, exploded at me at a meeting the other day and called me stupid. It was over something I said that she totally misunderstood (probably on purpose because she is very much on the defensive these days) and everyone in the room realized she was way off base, but it didn't stop me from getting stressed for the rest of the afternoon.

Now I have this all-day meeting that I am expected to attend (or not) and at which I just sit and take notes and really have nothing to contribute.

I am writing about my stupid job, because on top of all this, I wrote a blog about something else happening in my life late last night and Blogger ate it! I hope it gets indigestion.

P.S. OK, I take it back. The meeting was full of lots of interesting stuff about ...well about stuff that is related to the programs with which I am affiliated. It wasn't a wasted day after all, and now I have something good on my list. (Also, at 7:00 AM this morning my colleague came with hang-dog stance and apologized. I accepted the apology, but was thinking when you get that stressed it is time to stay home from work for a while because it ends up being a ping-pong mouse trap setup if you know what I mean.)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Truffles, Wine and Goodbyes

This special journey was coming to an end in just 24 hours. We had seen old and new and were privileged to meet some very special people. If you read the link in the prior blog to Ankhura you will note that both Chris and Christina, owners of the bed and breakfast, had very sophisticated backgrounds. They had decorated the Inn with art from Asia and architecture from Tuscany. They were gentle and intelligent people and made their guests feel totally at home, even though we were much less sophisticated than they. Chris had even done much of the tile and construction work. They had purchased the building from the church and you could tell that in a few short years they were probably going to move onto another phase in their rich lives.

Christina had given birth to both of her two boys in Tuscany and now a third child was soon on the way. They planned to close the Inn in December and her family would come out from Malaysia to stay with her

While showering that morning I noticed the rustic travertine tile which is common to the area and was too expensive for my housebuilding enterprise.

Christina was up bright and early setting a lovely table of homemade yogurt, homemade granola, freshly sliced fruit, coffee, toast and juice on the patio outside.

Chris was squeezing oranges and the smell filled the kitchen as we passed through. Then he changed clothes and we headed out for the truffle hunt he had arranged.

The gentleman who took us us on our truffle hunt brought two of his dogs. He had a full time job working at the local Home Depot, but did truffle hunting on days during the high season which was just starting. Truffle hunting is very competitive in Tuscany, especially for the white truffle which we were pursuing. There were tales of dogs being poisoned because of their exceptional skill in sniffing out the round treasure which could be a deep as a foot underground or just below the surface.

We stopped at a road near a Truffle Preserve but carefully skirted the area since tourists were not allowed inside. The dogs found several small and average truffles and then one excellent truffle the size of golf ball. Truffles can get to be twice the size of a potato. But size is not always an indication of quality. Our guide had brought some photos of the annual truffle fair with some pictures of very large truffles he had found.

When the dogs find a truffle they are commanded to sit and then they are rewarded with a piece of bread. The pigs used to just eat the truffles if the master didn't get there fast enough.

I didn't capture a photo of the larger truffle, but here my daughter is holding one of the smallest. The smell is strong and I could smell it from the other side of the camera lens.

After several hours of hiking along the sandy ravines we were rewarded with a picnic of chicken sandwiches, tomato and cheese sandwiches, prosciutto, capacolla, fresh sliced tomatoes, and red and white wine as we looked across a hillside with a rabbit hunter in the distance.

We could have napped during the few hours we had in the early afternoon before our wine tour when we got back to Montengriffoli, but we had a chance to see the village in daylight as well as the nearby cemetery and so we went walking.

Our wine tour was to a small 2.5 acre winery run by a widow who was about my age. She generously took us through the small and very clean winery and we tasted her Brunello from the vat, then the oak cask and finally got to taste both a young and an old bottle. Quite a privilege since Brunello's are pretty expensive in the U.S. Her bottles are all purchased by a distributer in Canada, so we couldn't buy any.

The tour was given by Guelfo Magrini who has written a knowledgeable book about the Brunellos of Montalcino. He is on the far right in the photo below. The other man was a journalist who joined us and who has studied wines in France, Germany and Italy and has written five books on wine. My daughter thought he was a little full of himself, but we certainly learned a lot about wine between the two men! I bought Magrini's book and am enjoying it thoroughly.

We finished in the late afternoon with coffee in the town of Montalcino at a modern little coffee house. The weather had turned cold and wet, so hot coffee and tea were a great idea.

We got a quick view in the town of the famous wall of plaques on a building off of a main street in the town. One of these ceramic plaques goes up each year as demonstration/comment reflecting the popular opinion of the value of the wine each harvest season. It is a sort of tongue in check response to reflect that even the wine experts have a sense of humor in all seriousness.

Then it was time to return to Ankhura for a dinner by Chris who is a Rome trained gourmet chef. We ate upstairs in a small dining room with lots of candles and near a little fireplace. The other dining partners were a young couple from Germany that had gone on the truffle hunt with us. We were served an eggplant/mozzarella tart floating on a basil-tomato sauce, followed by a pasta with lots of thinly sliced truffles (a donation from our truffle hunter and probably the most expensive thing I have ever eaten--so pungent and special) and then we had a veal steak on a bed of 'lamb's lettuce' which while a little tough, was also very delicious. All of this was washed down with a rather expensive bottle of Brunello which REALLY blossomed with each glass as it was exposed to the air. Dessert was a tart of thinly sliced fresh mountain apples on a buttery crust.

As the evening progressed we headed up to bed and savored the days memories knowing we had a plane to catch in Rome and had to head out by car by 7:00AM.

I have enjoyed writing about this trip as it has been like taking it all over again--getting to savor it twice. Although I left out lots of stuff, still I am glad that I have this journal to motivate me to do this.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Tuscan Affair

A vanilla Tuscan moon
Through wooden shutters
How sweet the lover's sigh.

The two photos I took of the full moon from the bedroom of my B & B in Monterongrifolli were blurred, but the remembered view in my imagination is always much more beautiful anyway. So, imagine an open window on a cool fall night, antique wooden shutters pulled away to reveal the silhouette of a Tuscan hillside and the quiet blanket of night over all. This was my last night in Tuscany and I came to the full realization then that I had ARRIVED.

But enough of that. With a romance and a temporary but passionate affair such as this, one should always start at the beginning.

Tuscany is a region somewhat known in America due to a number of romantic movies and books such as "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "Room With a View." Sometimes when things are loved to death through literature or media they cannot possibly live up to their reputation and the resulting expectations. Fortunately for us all, this is not the case with Tuscany. It is all the smells, sights and feelings that you read about and see and it is more.

We left Sicily and arrived at the Rome airport. There we rented a car with a GPS and headed out to the mountainous region of Abruzzo. We spent one night in a small abandoned village with a B&B. That is another VERY LONG blog about getting lost as the sun sets, finding long lost relatives, showering with small scorpians, and enjoying a frugal meal of bread, hard cheese, proscuitto, and olives with small boxes of red wine as the haunting wind whistled outside the door and across the stone streets of an Italian ghost town. As if this wasn't exotic enough, after our make-shift supper, we watched an iffy TV cable reception beaming in from Northern Africa of the 2000 movie "The Gladiator" with French-African subtitles!

So, I will skip to warmer and more romantic Tuscany.

We left Abuzzo and drove north to the Tuscan region along the Autostrada which is just like the freeways we have in the U.S. It was not too crowded and there were only one or two 'crazy Italian" drivers and only one or two drivers who insisted that they needed to straddle both lanes in order to drive effectively. The rest of us knew what we were doing and where we were going...well sort of. We were fine except for when the GPS episodically disconnected at the most inopportune times.

We stopped briefly in the medieval walled town of Orvieto for a very nice lunch at a touristy place called The Grotto---now I know where that expensive restaurant in New York got it ideas. Not the expense...but the decor.

This is the outside of the restaurant and when you enter you head immediately down a flight of stairs to the grotto. There is a window to an outside fortressed wall at the end of the restaurant that lets in a little light.

We ordered a bottle of Vernaccia di S. Gimignano---a very nice white table wine. I ordered a ravioli stuffed with wild boar and floating in a buttery sauce, probably too robust for the wine, but like my feelings for art I am confident enough to appreciate things in my unique way. Besides my table mates were getting tired of the robust reds. They each ordered a pasta dish as well, one with a sweet sausage and one with ham. This was preceeded by a nice antipasta plate of cheeses and meats and olives.

We then took a walk to the walls of the city to look out over the country below as the afternoon was starting to wane. (Remember, you eat the midday meal in Italy starting at 3:00, so by the time we had wined and dined it was getting late.)

The city was arty and had lovely things to buy. Very much geared for the spending tourist.

And of course, the city had its important church in the center off of a large piazza at the highest point of the town. This one was most impressive, I must say. More lovely on the outside.

And the tourists were watching the locals who were watching the tourists!

We ended the day with a walking dessert at a world famous gelato place. They had a poster up that showed Alexander Solzenitzen eating gelato there, so we just HAD to try it.

Then trying to avoid putting our arrival too close to dark we reached the Agritourismo farm Locanda Rosati an hour before our scheduled 8:00PM family style dinner. We had brought playing cards and proceeded to sit at a game table in one of the farm-like sitting rooms playing games and sipping the wine brought by our host, Paulo. The dinner meal began in a large rustic dining room with introductions of all the guests and a vociferous welcome from Paulo. Many bottles of red and white wines were brought to the table for us to help ourselves. Then we started with a pate of boar, chicken liver, lime juice, olives, etc. to be spread on some salted puffed breads that were very much like sopapillas only salty. This was followed by an excellent mushroom rissotto, which was then followed by a meatloaf of wild boar, some wild bird and pistachios with a side dish of roasted potatoes. More wine and then a buttery fruit tart. Finally bottles of grappa, limonchello, and mezzaluna arrived and people freely sampled everything. I am not big on sweet liquors, but had fun watching my two mates get a little plastered and silly. After all, our room was only a short walk up a few steps.

Early the next morning we explored the grounds and found a lovely orchard of chestnuts and met our host's sister-in-law filling plastic bags with those that had fallen.

We checked out of the Inn after a breakfast of coffee that was to die for and an assortment of fruit, pastries and breads. We obtained directions to our next stop from their Internet, and thus plotted the day. We had been told that Italy's shopping outlets were on the way so we decided to stop at one called "THE MALL" just to see what an outlet in Italy was all about. There were stores from Fendi, Yves St. Laurent, Valentino, Gucci, Georgio Armani and a bunch of other old guys I had not heard about. These were the kind of stores that, in the states, you would wait for someone to unlock the door for you to enter. Here there was a steady stream of customers going in and out, many rich Asians with lots of bags over their shoulders. Items inside were 50 to 70% off! But since most items started at over $1,000 including simple silk blouses, I had to pass on any souvenirs from this place. (I played mind games in my head on what the ironing board thin 'customers assistants' in their designer clothes were thinking as I entered with my Macy's purse and sporting goods store walking shoes...and controlled myself so that I didn't laugh out loud.)

Then, as we settled back in the car, we read the directions from Chris and Christina to their Inn called Ankhura. They went something like this: Follow the exit to (Tuscan town) and then as you enter the roundabout take the exit to (another Tuscan town) and follow this road up the hill past the exit to (another Tuscan town) and take the roundabout and pass the exit to (another smaller Tuscan town) and head out and past the exit to (a very small Tuscan town) and then go on a gravel road and past (a named road) and head up the hill and pass the road to the cemetary and then you will reach Monterongrifolli.

Park your car at the sign that says "no parking beyond this point" and then go around the church and we are in the back up the street.
(At first we thought that the symbol below was the no parking part! I took the photo the next day when we discovered it in the daylight.)

We arrived in the dark after 8:00 after much reading of signs and maps and second guessing and even going down a few blind streets in little unknown towns.

But the place was tremendously lovely and the hostess was graciousness personified. So, now it was time for my well-earned sleep on her lovely Malay linens and you too must rest for tomorrow we head out on a truffle hunt AND a wine tour.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Sicily post script

The Sicily sun is intense, and even in the fall, so warm that we frequently sought the shade of a building or tree. The beach itself was very peaceful and sandy.

We stayed at Hotel Spendid in the little beach town of Mondello. Each night there was a little market along the beach walk where tables were filled with crafts from Northern Africa and rural parts of Italy. One stand was roasting chestnuts which were in season. It seemed to me that most of the tourists were Italians.

The best seafood in Sicily was the shrimp and squid which were fried. I had the stuffed squid which was tough and not all that appetizing looking. We also tried the mussels which were fat and fresh.

I tried hard to find fresh fish, but was unsuccessful.

If I get back to Sicily again I will rent a car and just slowly make my way around the island stopping at the various villages---each has something unique to offer.

The Island of Sicily

Commenters have asked for food pictures--and I don't think I took to many. I was always diving in and eating rather than focusing! And for my dear blogger, Colleen, that was my daughter and her M.I.L. behind the Venetian masks in the store photo.

Sicily is a fairly large island to the south of the peninsula of Italy and maybe most famous for the volcanic Mt. Etna. Most of what you read about Sicily will mention that it is a poorer and less pristine part of Italy. I think the Sicilians are a generous and polite people and several went out of their way to caution us about pickpockets and thieves. We did not encounter a single bad incident. My lovely daughter did get the 100-times-over from a man twice her age on the bus into town one morning. They are NOT shy about looking! There are also cautions about the criminal element, since the Mafia began here. (As an historic note, the big M began because Sicily felt it was being taxed unfairly by the main government in Italy but not getting the resources and support. They didn't like the main government setting up all the rules and regulations, so they decided to run their own little government.)

My daughter selected 2.5 days in Sicily because her M.I.L.'s mother's side of the family came from that region---was that clear? Anyway, because we did not have a car and had to rely on buses and trains, we touched only a small part of the island. I missed some great cultural and archeological parts as daughter and her M.I.L. were into the churches!

We stayed at a 1950's type hotel on the far point of one of the lovely beach areas. It was a little bit of a walk to the beach, but we did manage to soak our toes at the end of the days. The hotel is way at the end on the point in the photo above. It looks far from the beach, but I was taking the photo from the first drop off of the bus at the days end.

Each day we took the bus into Palermo which was the primary city nearby. It was a quick 15 minute ride. Then we had to walk a few blocks to catch the bus/train that we needed for the next leg of the day's journey.

The first day we went to a lovely village on the coast called Monreal. We were very lucky in that we got there early in the day. While we were eating a lunch of pizza across from the piazza in the photo below, I saw the police beginning to set up street barriers and various officials in fancy dress arriving. By the end of our lunch we discovered that this day was a funeral for their Archbishop who had passed away a few days before. The death of an Archbishop is a big deal in any country, but especially so in Italy. Dignitaries paraded in with banners and flowers and full regalia for several hours that afternoon and we just sat and sipped our wine and watched from our front row seat. We eventually moved to the church and got inside for a quick look before it had filled and the service started. They even broadcast it on a large TV screen outside. Below, the villagers that lived across the piazza watched the parade from their balconies.

Then we took off for a walk around the village since everything had started to close. Going up and down hills like these is what keeps Italians so thin after eating plates of pasta and pizza.

We encountered small children in the alleys and byways playing and taking advantage of their time off during the funeral. These two lovely ladies below were playing with Barbie dolls, of course!

And here is a sign outside the local day care center...?

The trip back on the bus was an interesting but it is a longer story...which I will save for another day, if reminded.

Our second day in Sicily required a train trip. Trains in Italy are so easy to use and so comfortable and really on time. We took the train to an even smaller village called Cefalu--to look at the church in the picture below.

We hiked outside the city walls and saw are a close-up view of the lovely Mediterranean Sea.

On our last night in Sicily we had eaten so much food that day that we decided on a dinner of cheeses and wine ( a nice Sicilian white) at an outside Enoteka. This was followed by a gelato (or cannoli in my case) in the piazza of the small beach town where we stayed. It was a good decision since we were given the fun of seeing the town wind down as the locals stopped in the piazza and viewed a local classic car show. The drivers were dapper as they had dressed for the occasion and clearly were enjoying the attention!

My next post will be the last of Italy but all about romantic Tuscany.