Thursday, July 31, 2008

Naples sights

View of Naples from the musuem window
The Galleria

The Galleria floor. All of it was tiled

Inside their fancy pastry house where Sartre liked to go

The Musuem of Archeology courtyard

Opera house lobby

Evil kids' handiwork

Celano castle and Alba Fucans pictures

Amphitheater at Alba Fucans. I could hear everything that was said down on the ground level
Joann crossing the moat to get out of the castle at Celano wearing her red hat.

The cloisters inside the castle

Downtown Celano

The Castle

Dave and I on the piazza

Dreadlock dog. You can't see his red, bare skin. He looked pretty pathetic and kept his distance from people. Picture taken by Holly.
The Bergamasco.
This is the breed I think 'Dreadlock Dog" belongs to. This is what they are supposed to look like The Maremma sheepdog from Wikipedia-also known as pastore abruzzese. I have seen several of these. This what Dave mostly is.

Dave and I on the piazza outside of the convent. He is missing a tail and probably has a broken hip. He can run but has difficulty walking.

Pompeii and porn

The main square
A view of the city

From a brothel (lupanare): Clients could select from a variety of mosaics from the wall what they would like to do In all the pictures, females were always much lighter than the men

Two thousand year old fountain

More porn from 'the gabinetto segreto'


più di cinghiali

Yesterday's climb to Secarino left me exhausted. I awoke in the middle of the night with severe charlie horses. I think I am dehydrated. There is some water crisis here. The water coming out of the communal spring is a mere trinkle. We are getting a lecture on it tomorrow.

So I ran, without Dave, to Castelvecchio, downhill this morning. I saw a small 'sounder' of boars: two adult females and 5 bambini going across the road about 100 feet away back into the mountains. Once I ran down to their crossing spot, I stopped and heard them rustling in the brush. They stopped moving. I couldn't see them at all but suddenly a big one snorted. She sounded like she was right next to me but the brush was too dense to see her. My boar seeing days may be coming to an end. There is an 'avviso' in the main square about a boar abatement program this week by the forestali. I assume they are shooting them but I haven't heard any gunshots. I did look up death by boars. It seems rare. There was a case in which the Palestinians in Samaria accused the Jews of releasing wild boars on them. I also looked up Italian sheepdogs. Dave is a Maremmo sheepdog bred to guard the flocks against wolves. They are quite large, brave, fierce and protective. They also have alot of stamina for a dog being able to run for hours. Dreadlock dog is also a sheepdog particular to the Abruzzo region. Sounds like marachesco-forgot to write it down. He is much smaller.
Many of the kids were gone last night so it was quiet until they noisily returned at 2 am. Some of them arranged the chairs in the courtyard to read 'F*CK' if viewed from above. Real respectful. One brought walnut liquor, locally produced, to breakfast. Very tasty. Busy night tonight between wine tasting, studying for tomorrow's Italian test, and movie night. While Nancy and I were walking to the Bar for our cappucino break, I found a €5 note. A lucky day.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

i cinghiali

Today my run was BOARing. I decided to run to Secinaro even though it is uphill. Dave ran with me to the outskirts of town and must have decided that he doesn't like to go uphill and turned around. I have decided that he is quite young as his teeth are so white. Elena had reported seeing a wolf outside of Secinaro and indeed about half a mile west of the village, I thought I saw it cross the road in front of me. While I was stopped, a huge boar walked across the road only 30 feet in front of me. He didn't look my way. I remember a scene from the Thornbirds in which Rachel's brother was killed by a boar in the outback so I was a tad concerned. There was a 2 foot wall near me. I don't know if they can jump. I guess I could have climbed a tree but they were pretty spindly. I then ran to the outskirts of town and turned around. On the way down, a pack of boars walked across the road. Big boar was not one of them so I assume the pack consisted of 3 or 4 adult females and 10 young ones of different ages. Again they paid no attention to me. During the park talk yesterday, they said the boars are destroying the balance around here. I can't imagine that they have left any truffles to find.
Yesterday we didn't have much homework so after class, Nancy and I shared wine sitting on the piazza. Very pleasant.
Today we got a lesson on Italian table manners. If you eat a piece of fruit such as a peach, you are to cut it up in little pieces and then eat with a fork not bite into the whole fruit. At dinner I ate a peach the American barbarian way. They do have good peaches here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

On the way to Florence

I swear I posted this before but must have accidently erased it while trying to clean up the pronunciation marks. So I may be repeating myself. Saturday morning we left at 5 am to go Firenze. Right outside of Castel Ieri, only 5 miles away, we saw a pack of wild boars including little boarettes running across a field. Cinghiale. To get anywhere , we have a 30 minute hair raising ride up and down this steep pass. The bus takes up alot of space and honks on the blind switchbacks. It is actually safer at night because of the headlights. We passed though the provinces of Lazio, Umbria and Toscanna i.e. Tuscany in which Florence is in stopping at an Autogrille for breakfast, which surprisingly has very fresh baked goods for a highway rest stop. Buying stuff is a pain because you have to pay first telling them what you want without being able to point, hard for the language impaired. English is not an option. Umbria and Tuscany are more populated and less mountainous than Abruzzo. Lots of fields of sunflowers but they grow alot of other crops too. Still every town has its own hill to be on top of. We had to wait quite awhile on the outskirts of town to get a permit to let the bus inside the city center. It was very hot just sitting there. The town center is quite small and everyone wants to be there. We stayed at the Albergo Firenze right in the center, which was a luxury for us with semi private bathrooms, hot water, drains that actually drain, unlimited coffee. Dana, Nancy and I walked for miles taking pictures, eating gelato, shopping, etc. We ate at a homestyle Tuscan restaurant recommended by Rick Steve's. Good. It was nice to walk at night, the monuments were all lit up, it wasn't hot, lots of street performers, parades, music. Everything was so special. I don't think there is any other city in which so much beauty is concentrated in such a small space. The Duomo is the most ornate catherdal I've seen covered with inlaid green, white, black and rose marble designs. It is huge.

Wildlife in Abruzzo

Today our normal classes were interrupted to attend a 2 hour lecture about wildlife in Abruzzo. The professor's English was very poor but funny with statements like 'alimentation of wolves is anthropic waste material 'meaning wolves eat out of garbage cans. After stumbling over such statements, she resorted to her hundred mile an hour Italian which was actually easier to understand. The kids were pissed at having to listen to anything and played games amongst themselves. Allegedly Italy has the most biodiversity in Europe and the Abruzzo area the most in Italy. The principal animals that they are trying to conserve is the wolf, the chamois and this rare bear. My film teacher Elena saw a wolf while running this morning. She runs my former uphill route to Secinaro but lazy Sue runs downhill to Castelvecchio and runs/walk cross country on paths back. The uphill route is much more scenic but...uphill. I have been fairly good recently eluding Dave but soon after leaving town today, I heard the familiar clicking of his nails. He usually stays with me for a mile and then gives up trying to get me back in the herd. Later I found him waiting at the edge of town to walk with me back to the monastery. Down near the other town, Dave was fortunately not with me at this moment, I saw a wild lactating dog walking in the road with one 8 week old pup closely following. About 100 feet away another puppy was crying waiting for the mom to find it. I was afraid the puppy would follow me. There were probably other pups too as all her breasts were full.
For movie night last night, we saw il mostro, the Monster, a Benigni film that was their highest grossing film ever. It was pretty funny. We are now studying genre films instead of their very arty films. Next up, a Spaghetti Western. For film class, we had to interview the Italian kids to try to get an idea of what they think is funny and to compare expressions and hand motions. We also discussed idiomatic expressions with them as alot were used in the movie. They did not know what being caught with your pants down or being caught red-handed was. Being caught with your hands in the cookie jar was translated as being found with your hand in the marmelade. Each Italian student has to give a presentation on American slang and culture and we are invited to watch. Should be funny.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Italian vs English

Italian can be a complicated language. This week's assignment -definite article plus preposition phrases is the epitome of complexity. There are fifty different forms we need to use. English does not do this at all, French and Spanish a little (3 forms that I can think of) For instance, the expression 'in the' is nel, nello, nell', nella, negli, nei depending on the gender and plurality of the noun and in some cases, it is different if the word starts with st or not or a vowel. Lots of prepositions too. Alot of my fellow students haven't even grasped the basics so this will be fun for them.

And idioms can be fun. The Italians were wishing us good luck on our mid-terms with weird expressions like a wolf is in your mouth and kill the wolf and one said piss in your mouth but he might be kidding for all I know. They have trouble with our various meanings of take and get. Why do we take a piss when we are actually giving a piss? Bookworms are library mouses and 'a bird in the hand being worth more than 2 in the bush' is 'an egg today is better than a hen tomorrow'. We are supposed to get together with an Italian and compare idioms this week.

Domenica in Firenze

We didn't completely escape the churchbells as there was a church across from our hotel but they didn't go every 15 minutes as they do 'at home'. Dana and I decided to do the musuems together as we were 'Florence Virgins' The other ladies in our little group had been there multiple times. After waiting for an hour in front of the Uffizi, we learned that for more money, we could buy a ticket for later in the day. We were allowed to go to 2 musuems on WSU's
dime (part of the expense we paid for in advance) I've since found out the local Park and the Italian government has donated quite a bit of money for our experiences, which is ironic given the relative poverty here, though Italy as a whole, particularly the north, is doing quite well.

We decided to cross over the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzio Pitti-an extremely ornate (inside at least, the outside is ugly sandstone) palace chock full of Renaissance art. I really think it is more elaborate than Versailles. At various points in history, it was the home of the Medicis, the Hapsburgs and then Napolean seized it for himself. Unfortunately no photographs are allowed in Italian musuems unlike elsewhere. On one of the many variations of 'madonna and child' there looked like baby Jesus had this filmy material on him which was puzzling. A local overheard Dana saying that Jesus was wrapped in Saran wrap and she rolled her eyes at such stupide americane. I said -scherza- meaning she's just kidding. Then we had our appointment at the Uffizi, the home of the greatest Renaissance art. Botticelli's Birth of Venus, Leonardo DaVincis, Rafaels, the whole teenage mutant ninja turtle gang etc. It was fine but I much prefer the impressionists. I actually preferred the Pitti palace as the rooms themselves were so spectacular. After 5 hours of traipsing around musuems, we were beat. We ate lunch in this beautiful church complete with frescos that now is a restaurant (Paolo's). Very good if expensive food. The bathroom was up, up, up a spiral staircase leading to the bell tower. Florence has more gelato stores than any place in this world and of course we stopped for that. They had this unbelievably fancy candy shop that I bought my favorite jellies, which sadly weren't as good as the Paris versions and no better than the ones I picked up at the Autogrille later at a fraction of the price.

I had plenty of opportunities to practice Italian though in big cities, lots of people know English. Not so here in the mountains. One embarassing moment was right after I ordered wine for our table at dinner, the waiter said in English that he couldn't even begin to understand what I was trying to say when I thought I had spoke perfectly but it turns out he had been responding to Dana's side comments. Dana is full of side comments. She is a fun loving person and usually amusing unless she is drunk while I am trying to sleep.

Joanne reminds me of Mary Poppins, so tall and thin, always with a skirt and her red hat. She actually brought an iron here to remain wrinkle free. Very prim and proper so we were shocked one day she came in shouting 'f-ck those idiot kids' as one of students obliviously flooded the bathroom for the umpteenth time. We could only hope they would then use their hairdryer and maybe their kind won't reproduce.The rest of us were taken back by her language, it sounded so funny coming from her as she chooses each word so carefully.

We surprisingly left on time. Italian time is 'so fluid',10 minutes means at least an hour.
We stopped on a bluff overlooking the city for some great shots and then only stopped once outside of Rome at the autogrille for gas and dinner. Home sweet home. At least 30 degrees cooler and no air pollution. Dave, the dog, was happy to see us waiting at the monastery door. The locals waved at our bus from the Bar. We go through 2 communities on our twisty, perilous road from the autostrada: Castelvecchio (old castle) and Castel Ieri (yesterday's castle- notice a theme here) Both are quite close to here but what I was struck with is how many of the townspeople are out walking around on a Sunday night-11 pm. Obviously don't need to get up early Monday morning.

And guess what, I got an A on my cinema test.

Weekend in Firenze

Florence was great. We got up at 4 am to go there. Just outside of Gagliano, we finally saw some wildlife (aside from the scorpions on our floor-yuck)one deer and a pack of wild boar. I didn't realize they travelled in packs but there they were, about 20 of them running in a field near the road including little baby boar. Quite the sight-cinghiale they are called. Before we can go anywhere around here, we have to go up this very twisty mountain road, then down. It takes at least 30 minutes and our bus takes up most of the road. It honks around each blind curve but I see plenty of opportunity for disaster-fortunately it will be tougher on the cars. It's hard to believe that Napolean's army came charging through Gagliano stealing all the riches of the monastery. Our little village is truly in the middle of nowhere. But the Italians, 200 years later, still haven't forgiven i francesi. It takes 5 hours alone to drive to Florence, which is mostly on the autostrade. We drove through Lazio (the province Rome is in) Umbria and finally Toscanna (Tuscany) Lots of girasole in Umbria-I didn't realize there was such a market for sunflower oil. There are hills in both provinces but not the steep mountains of the Abruzzo region where we live. Still, if there is a hill, there's a town on top of it. Both regions are much more populated than the Abruzzo and have lots of farmland. On these trips, we stop at the autostrada's rest stops for the 'Autogrille', which actually have much better food by far than its American counterparts. They have a silly system for ordering. You have to pay for your food first far away from the food meaning you have to remember what you want-hard for the language impaired but also you are stuck standing in two lines. The actual tourist center of Florence is small so they limit how many people can be in it. We had to wait outside Florence for an hour while they confirmed our reservations and they didn't want the bus running. As Firenze is not on top of a mountain, it is very hot. Fortunately our hotel, the Albergo di Firenze, was right in the middle of the action and was fairly nice. A hot shower, with a working drain for a change, a TV, and unlimitted caffè con latte. The first day was spent admiring the architecture (photos to come), eatting lots of gelati and hitting the markets. The Duomo on the outside must be the most magnificent chuch in the world. In France, Spain, England and Germany, all the cathedrals were of sandstone but the Duomo had inlaid marble patterns using mostly white and green marble but with pink and black accents. It is huge. We had trouble getting in the churches as they are really strict about women not having bare shoulders. It was 95 degrees so of course alot of us had bare arms. Outside the churches, Asians were selling prayer shawls. We had dinner at a Rick Steve's trattoria serving Tuscan food-a small family run place. Good. The city is quite magical and busy at night with parades, music, street performers, and all the attractions lit up. Plus the temperature drops to something reasonable. Of all the European cities I've been to, nowhere are the sights so plentiful and close together. I will continue this after my film class.

night on the mountain

I've been away from the computer for 4 days. Friday was spent taking exams. Not sure why I should care what I get but I worried about them anyway. I did get an A in Italian but have no idea about the movie one, which took me 2 hours to do. After the exams, we were taken by bus deeper into the park (We are in the Parco di Sirente) to see the crater of Secinaro going way up in elevation. They think the meteor hit 1500 years ago though it just looked like a watering hole for the cattle that was there. They gave us some of the history of Secinaro, where my roommate Dana's mom grew up, how before Christianity, they had these pagan dances in the nude (this might explain Dana's wild behavior). We then went to a campground where the brigande di Secarino made us dinner. Very good with all homemade food, wine and Ratafia (cherry liquor made locally) A good time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


In every town, there are small food shops saying they have 'tipico' this or that. Tipico means typical, which doesn't sound too special but we had this very long cheese lecture and tasting today saying how special the word is supposed to be. We had 'tipico' cheeses-cheeses that could only be made in the Abruzzo region and are crafted in small quanities. Of course the word is abused here too with imported stuff trying to say it's 'tipico' so they have special standards agents hunting this stuff down. So McDonald hamburgers maybe typical food in Ann Arbor but unless it originated in Ann Arbor using only Ann Arbor materials and made in small batches , it can't say it's tipico. The slow food movement originated in Italy and they use the English words to describe it as it is a protest against their other English term, fastfood.

Almost all the cheeses are made with unpasteurized milk making them forbidden in the US (until recently) but they said they can never get the real cheese from pasteurized milk. They have some saying, in Italy the bread should have many eyes (holes), the cheese, no eyes, and the wine should bring sparkle to your eyes. I guess they don't think much of Swiss cheese with its 'eyes'. All the cheeses were very good except one, which tasted putrid to me. It was supposed to some kind of aphrodistiac. Need to study. I found out I can't just audit the class-I need to get a grade. I've been getting As on all my Italian work but the film class is a toughie.

I am speaking better and better but have a long way to go. Still make too many pronunciation errors but I am starting to do the rolling 'r's but not consistantly.

Il Cane Dave

I tried to sneak out this morning without Dave noticing me. He sleeps on the piazza outside the monastery. But the only dog I can sneak by is Spud. I soon found him galloping behind me. I've wondered why he insists on running with me when it must be so painful with his sore hip but I think I activate the shepherd in him as he does try to bodyblock me which is annoying. I think he thinks I'm a sheep escaping the fold. He gave up after a half mile today. Sometimes he follows for more than a mile and I worry about him being hit by a car again even though I usually only see a few. I haven't seen much wildlife. There are signs to be careful for the boar and deer but I have never seen either or any signs of them. I did see some enormous snails amongst the wild clematis.

Big test day tommorrow as it is mid-terms. The Italian should be easy-the cinema hard. It is difficult watching movies keeping track of camera angles, lighting tricks, focus, tracking,etc. On top of that the movies themselves are so difficult to understand. Again noone could say what happened at the end. It is so obvious with most American movies what the end is going to be.
The movie last night was especially hard to watch. This man obsessed with thinness, though not for himself, starves his girlfriend. She is so hungry for affection, she agrees to this. He becomes more and more abusive.

So Nancy had a good birthday and spent most of the day crying everytime someone did something nice for her. I did go out to the Bar after the movie with her for a birthday drink and had Ratafia, the cherry liquor. Benissimo. We rarely have meat at dinner. Antonetta made this very tasty dish that turned out to be made from Swiss Chard stems, which are mild if you cook them forever. Generally Americans, is they eat Swiss chard at all, eat the leaves. She also made patties of fried zucchini that also were tasty.

Time for lunch

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

il castello di Celano ed Alba Fucens

All last week they were talking up our day to be spent in a castle in a town an hour away, Celano. As it turned out, our classes were held in a building NEXT to the castle in an outpost of the University of L'Aquila. I did take plenty of pictures but I will add them later. Classes were shortened so we could tour the castle. This town at one point, was the headquarters of the kingdom of L'Aquila. The castle was built 800 years ago on the highest point of the city overlooking the 3rd largest lake in Italy. However Lake Fucano had no outsource so it was stagnant and a source of disease. 150 years ago, they had a plan to drain it-apparently one of the world's greatest engineering feat of that century. The lake bed now is a huge farming area. On the lake bottom, they found thousands of very old artifacts-some four thousand years old so of course, we had to visit the musuem containing them.

We then went to a Roman ruin Alba Fucans that was founded 2500 years ago that was 30 miles away. It was pretty cool and included an old Roman amplitheater with perfect acoustics. Also the town still had its communal marble toilets. Everyone would sit together and do their business. In April, Shanna, Naomi and I had visited Salem with its 350 year old cemetaries and thought that was old but it is brand new compared to anything here. On one of the bus rides, I sat with the 20 year old prince. Apparently his family owns the castle here in Gagliano, which we still haven't had permission to visit. It turns out in high school, he was a foreign exchange student at Greenhills living with some wealthy student in Ann Arbor. Small world. We came back very late to find no internet for the American students but the Italian students still have it.

My new routine in the morning is to run down to Castellovecchio on the main road which takes me 27 minutes, then find a path crossing the fields to get back up in a shorter distance. The girasole, sunflowers, are now in full bloom and they seem to be the main crop in the immediate area. I still haven't taken a good picture of them to share. But they are quite pretty plus I go by a small field of wild poppies. I feel like Dorothy. Today Dave the Italian sheepdog, did not go with me. I will include his picture. There are lots of stray dogs here though Dave has a collar, no one has claimed him. His hip seems to be getting better. He had been hit by a rare car not long before we got here. The locals keep bowls of leftovers out for the dogs. Even Jack, an avowed dog hater, saved a hotdog for Dave.The most pathetic dog I call Dreadlock dog. He has long beige dreadlocks and is filled with fleas. He has scratched himself raw in spots. He is wary of humans. Lots of feral cats too. And the monastery has bats. I took a picture of old hanging out in the hallway outide of class that I will include. One came into the girls' room a few nights freaking them out.
Italian class seems to go very slowly as my classmates are really having trouble with the grammar even though some of them grew up speaking Italian. So I think I got the highest grade on the test last week. I honestly think Naomi caught on faster than they did, only in Spanish, but the grammar rules are very similar. We have a midterm in cinema class that I will not do so well on as these technical terms mean little to me. Movie night tonight, Primo Amore, in which a woman starves herself to please her boyfriend. It is presumably hard to watch.
Once a week, the clothing truck comes to Gagliano. Nancy and I actually bought some stuff today. Tutti sono quindieci!!! We keep missing the fruit truck. It's her birthday today so we've been finding ways to make her feel special. I've bought some Sangiovese for €1.3 for later. I also noticed that Guiseppe, the Bar owner and husband of our cook Antonietta, has Ratafia, the good cherry liquor. I tried to find some in Celano but could only find limoncello and some walnut liquor that's supposed to be good.
After our morning class and before lunch, Dana, Nancy and I go to the Bar for cappuccino. I run up the many stairs outside the monastery during morning break to buy juice, usually peach, at the bakery as we get no juice for breakfast. We do get 'plum cake' which has no plums and looks like a Twinkie. It allegedly tastes better. Our film teacher, Elena, picked us fresh figs from a tree in town, a new food for me. Just have had preserved figs or fig newtons.
So Italians are into slow everything, slow food, slow pace of life, etc. Hours seem to be just spent sitting by the locals. It is a different life.

Monday, July 21, 2008


The road up the hill

I've found a more detailed map of the area showing another road from Gagliano going up the mountain to another monstery. It is not clear whether it is still there. The road is paved but noone has probably driven on it in years. Joann, Dana and I hiked it yesterday but still didn't make it to the top. It was too hot to spend more than 2 hours on the hike. Great views of both Gagliano and Castelvecchio. Joann is a botany expert and was able to identify alot of the wildflowers. Lots of wild clematis. Also many varieties of thistles.

Today I was looking in someone's vegetable garden thinking I was looking at the thistle from hell as the flower was 5 inches across. It was an artichoke that had gone to flower. Brillant purple. The plant was not much more than a foot tall. The artichoke plants I've seen previously were taller than me and not even fully mature.

It was movie night again last night but they didn't get started until past 10 to accomodate the people who stayed in Naples-most had gone to Sorrento. We saw 'Respiro' meaning ' I breathe' Hard to watch as there was lots of violence towards animals-particularly dogs. It was about a very dysfunctional peasant family in Lampedusa-a very small Italian island close to Africa. The local Italians not understand the dialect. We had subtitles. But lots of beautiful scenery and imagery. The kids really hated it probably due to the dog violence. The kids have been very concerned that Dave seems to be missing and were happy to hear that he was with me this morning galloping down the mountain. Quite the sight. Not sure if he found his way back yet.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Picture by Drew of the sunflowers outside of Gagliano

Sunday was rest day. It was quiet here at the monastery with the half of the kids staying behind in Sorrento. So for running there is 2 choices: up to Secanaro or down to Castelvecchio. For a change I chose down, which is much steeper with lots of switchbacks and then try to run-walk back. Today I came back through the fields of girasole, sunflowers, gira means turn and the sunflowers turn all day toward the sun. There was also a field of poppies. I was accompanied by Dave, the kids named him, the lame Italian sheepdog who is alledgedly part wolf. So even a lame dog could keep up with me.

Napoli e Pompeii

We got up at 4:20 am to go South. As we didn't go to bed until after midnite, this was hard. They gave us a sack lunch: a mortadella sandwich, a banana and a water bottle. Mortadella is bologna with fat cubes in it. For those who know me, aside from the water, this meant nothing I could stand to eat. Fortunately I had pear juice, an apple and my fancy Raiano cookies. Got coffee around 8, not soon enough for me. The ride there, for at least the first half, was spectacular. Huge mountain climbs and views for miles. The Apennines might not be as tall as the Rockies in Colorado but are more like them in Montana only much greener. Pompeii was first as last year in the afternoon the temperature was over 100 and no shade. We were lucky it was only 80. Rafaele got a guide for us asking how his English was--Oh I just learned it last night so I should do fine for you. Luigi rushed us through as 'il tempo e soldi ''time is money'- He was difficult to understand and he wouldn't let us linger. But it was very intersting seeing how the city was built. Most streets were one way but every fifth street would be two-way. The streets were regularly flooded so there were stepping stones to cross arranged so carts could still get by. They had the casts of the people frozen in their tracks when they were covered by 50 ft of ash 1930 years ago.

But the city was amazingly sophisticated. Presumably it wasn't a particularly wealthy city, nearby Herculatium was much wealthier and sophisicated but much smaller. I will share pictures once Giacamo shows me how to again. Most of the art work had been removed and put in the Museo di Archeologico in Naples which we saw later. We headed north to nearby Naples, Lots of very ugly crumbling apartment buildings everywhere brightly painted. Almost looked like Mexico. There is 30% unemployment here. I was hesitant to go there. Jack outright refused saying that he had been accosted nonstop by the locals and feared for his life when he was there before. I didn't bring my guidebook as I thought I would be surrounded by the school staff but no, we were left in Piazza del Plebiscito and told to be at the museum in 2h. When we asked where it was, he said just ask anyone, they would know. Some of us are kids. I though it was not a good idea to drop kids off in a strange crime ridden city with such little direction. As it was only half of us made it there. My teacher Jim never had been in Naples. He said after walking in the heat for an hour, he asked a local how much farther and was told 4k, 2.4 miles (and he said screw it.) It turned out that it was about 1.5 miles total(when I did look at my guidebook back on the bus) but seemed farther uphill in that heat. Fortunately, no one begged us for anything or robbed us. We did stop in the beautiful Gran Caffe Gambrinus- formerly frequented by the intelligentsia such as Sartre and had the local favorite sfogliatella, flaky pastry filled with ricotta which I had before in Brooklyn. We also walked through the Galleria, an extremely ornate indoor mall. Beautiful though decaying buildings everywhere so I have some great pictures. The alleyways were filled with street vendors. The kids got great deals. We had a hard time finding the musuem. We eventually asked a local or rather Joann did in English. The person sort of knew English and pointed right while saying left so I piped in with, a destra o a sinistra, to get that straight. Joann knows Italian from 2 years in college, numerous travels, plus growing up with Italian parents so I was puzzled why she asked in English. She said if you speak a little, they will assume you know a lot and speak really quickly but I pointed out the downside, you get a person who knows the words left and right but have no idea which is which. We waited too long for everyone to show up, which they never did given the quality of the directions. We had to ask several people at different times and still almost missed it. There wasn't a sign on it either for extra fun. But we got to go into the -gambinetto segreto, the secret room which had all the Pompeii porn, beautiful mosaics of bizarre sex acts, and lots of utensils shaped like penises. I took pictures of course. The mosaics were incredible. Alot more than 2000 years old. The musuem was very interesting and beauitful inside but we were very tired. A bus was supposed to pick us up in 5 minutes which turned out to be 1.5 h. In the musuem cafe, I thought I was ordering some ice coffee but all I got was espresso foam that if you were to pop all the bubbles, would not fill a quarter teaspoon so I got a whole lot of taste and not much else and it was expensive too. After the museum we spent at least 3 frustrating hours waiting for busses then to drop off kids in 3 different places and numerous other stops, one of which was for the driver to take a smoking break. The Italians are very warm, welcoming people but they are habitually late and overpromise and drive me crazy. I wished I knew in advance how the day was going to be so I could have planned a meal sometime during the day. Trying the famous Napoli pizza would have been nice. They also think nothing of letting everyone wait for them. I hadn't really eatten, except for my foam, and wanted dinner. We finally stopped around 9 at night, thank God for my cookies, in a little town which proclaimed itself to be the city of oil, which I assume was olive. I got a nice dinner and a large birra for 5 euros. I also grabbed a gelato for the bus.

On the way back Dana and I made fun of our film class in which we overanalyze everything. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. She pretended she was analyzing "Caddyshack" that All American classic like the camera angle as it was filming the electronic groundhog and how closed in the groundhog must feel, etc. On the first day, people said what their favorite films were,all of them some artistic classic and she said the "Blues Brothers". When she realized she was out of sync, she said hey, I go to movies to be entertained not to work.
Sunday will be a rest day.


Friday afternoon we finally got Lucio to drive us to Raiano 16 km away. To get there, we go over a mountain pass on a very narrow road on the rim of a canyon, then we drop to the canyon floor. Quite impressive. The town has 3000 people so it's the 'big city' I didn't bring the camera so I took some shots with Dana's camera. So beautiful. The area makes many specialty liquors. The best being 'Ratafia' the exilir di amore which tastes like cherries- sort of like that liquor we tasted in Sevilla-Gaudica??? The bakery there had fantastic cookies and gelato was only €1.8 for quattro gusti (4 flavors). Frutte di bosco (mixed berries)and pistaccio were very good. The town's fountain was under construction. The town was very pretty and I wish we had more time to explore but we had to get back for dinner.

Friday, July 18, 2008

pictures of Gagliano Aterno

Not a picture but a graph showing the decline in population in Gagliano over the years. After the war, Italy's economy was in shambles and lots of Italians left to come to the US and Canada.

Sunset over convent

Early morning to the north

The fountain which has been flowing for years. Nice cold water with no chemical additives.

The bat in our hallway. He leaves for only 2 hours a night. Eat those bugs up my little friend!!!!

House in town with graffiti

The courtyard of our monastery

View from our window

The buffet line for the town after our openning ceremony

Our room, my bed is closest to the window

Jack and Drew

My roommates-from left to right-Joann, me, Dana, and Nancy


We had our big test this morning. I don't think I made any mistakes. Last night the 17 year old Laura came in my room to help me study. Since I think I am the 2nd best student-at least in memorizing vocabulary and grammar-the Italians are much better at pronunciation (she is the best) I am not sure why she selected me other than I was alone (the others were getting drunk). I encouraged her to change to the advanced class. She grew up in an Italian speaking home and took 2 years of high school grammar. What we are doing is very elementary to her. She doesn't quite fit in with the college girls with their drunkness and public fornicating ways ( not all of them-some are OK like my pal Kelly). She is stunningly beautiful-those kids must be so jealous of her and she is so much more on the ball. She is doing great in our graduate level cinema class where I am flailing. She is the same age as Naomi and needless to say, there are some contrasts...
Two of my roommates returned drunk at 2 am. Very hard to sleep through that. Although one of them thought she knew everything, she froze taking the test and left almost everything blank.
I do need to design an independent class. I want to be an apprentice to Antonietta our cook. She is very hard to understand-absolutely no inglese but she must speak in a regional accent on top of that. I do understand some people when they speak the perfect textbook Italian. Also Antonietta seems pretty crabby and insists on the best in her kitchen. But she has the perfect taste for things and makes wonderful sauces, soups and vegetables. Until I can handle her Italian, I have been buttering her up. She just had a grandson this week who will visit here later today. Her husband owns the Bar and brought down champagne for us all when little Frederico was born Tuesday.
Tomorow we leave for Napoli at 5:30 am.

La Bella Figura

I always thought the above referred to a beautiful Italian thin woman in designer clothes but apparently it is a lifestyle that all are to aspire to have. I had asked Rafaele, the director, if the locals were offended by us women at the 'Bar' as only the men here go there. It is their big, social hangout. The women go to each others houses. Rafaele said that they have 'la bella figura' which confused me as that 1. they are men 2. they are not good looking and 3. their clothes all look like they come from a goodwill bin- e.g. purple polyester, torn t-shirts with randomn English words, etc. He meant they had manners and realize that Americans are different but they need to make us feel welcome. We go there everyday before lunch for a cappuccino (€.9)and later for drinks. Yesterday we tried the 'Centerbe' 100 herbs made locally. Very tough to drink straight but OK diluted with the local orange juice, which is always from blood oranges. I drank the limonecello instead-sweeter and tastier.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Le Fate Ignoranti

The above was the movie we watched last night for our film class. They put up a 20 foot sheet on the cloister walls and invite the townspeople to come along with the 20 people in our class. About 10 showed up. The film translates to 'The Ignorant Fairies; though the American name is My Secret Life. Since it explores some aspects of gay life, one assumes the fairies in question are the gay men. I asked one of the Italians if 'fairy' was a derogatory name for a gay man in Italy and he looked very confused so I guess it isn't. Our class is called 'Exploring the Margins of Italian Cinema' so most of the movies are quite edgy and have unclear endings and meanings leading to lots of discussions. We also have lots of readings and presentations making this course way too much work for me. I just want to watch the movies.
Sleep is hard to come by. The movie lasted past 11 and then we needed to talk about it. The bells are very close to my window and although I sleep through most of them-they ring 4 times an hour up to 15 times at a time (12:45) and occasionally I wake startled. I did drag myself out of bed to run this morning at 6. My window faces southeast and no curtains or screens for us. It is quite cool in the morning and there is never any traffic. Still the climb out of town is very hard. I walk the steepest sections when my heart starts pounding out of my chest. For a change today, I ran a little towards the 'big' town down the mountain, Castelvecchio, which we can take a shuttle to almost everyday because they have real stores. It has about 1200 people. They are not taking us today as we are supposed to go to a lecture by the carbinieri-a kind of police force though the local police force is the forestalis I guess because we are in a National Park. When we aren't using it, the convent is a training school for the forestalis, which I think are forest rangers. Anyway, I really rather do anything else but go to a lecture.
It is probably cooler here than in Michigan. During the day, it might be 80 to 85 but it is dry. It gets down to 50 at night.
The food is very good yet simple. Lots of well- seasoned vegetables and pastas. Not much meat.
A wife of one of the students--missed her husband so bad she arranged to come to Italy at the last moment. She should get here this afternoon if Mauro can find the director with the car to go pick her up 10 miles away where the train is. Oh I heard that she is here. Can't believe they made arrangements so quickly. I guess they need some room changes. The girls are on the 3rd floor and the guys on the 2nd. The married couples also are on the second floor. We have 2 bathrooms, which have very slippery white ceramic tiles, that get wet very fast as the showers aren't equipped to drain quickly. I am very afraid of falling even with my rubber clogs.
Our first Italian test is tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

La Festa Italiana

Who has a party on a Tuesday night? The Italians, of course. We are all invited but since it was not to start until 11, which by Italian time would be midnite or one, Joann and I passed. But Dana and Nancy went to fill us in. Part of the feature was a huge pasta pot. By 3 am, the water still hadn't boiled yet and it was abandonned. They grilled sheep (arrosticcini?) and sausages and had plenty of wine and fireworks, which Joann and I could watch from our bedroom. Since it was at 2 am, sleep was impossible and the kids came home drunk and extremely loud. A couple of them were seen publically fornicating. Very few kids made it to class this morning. I wanted to get a pair of cymbals and clang them in their inconsiderate ears. The powers that be decided that we weren't interacting enough with the students from Italy and last night changed alot of the rooms mixing us up. Fortunately we ladies over forty were exempt.

We have alot of homework. In the evening, Nancy, Dana and I work on the Italian class together lying on our beds although tonight we have to include Drew for a group project. Joann was moved to the advanced class. Tonight is also movie night cutting into our free time.

I ran towards Secinaro again yesterday afternoon. It would be a 5 mile round trip-an easy run if it were in Gallup Park but the elevation goes up 500 feet or so. On the steepest sections, I need to walk but it's downhill going back to Gagliano.

One of the Italian Sheepdogs limps on 3 legs throughout the town. It's a special breed here-looks like a curly white afghan hound. There is a town donkey the kids have been feeding apples to. We sometimes can hear it braying in the morning. "I'm going to kick that donkey's ass' says Dana. People here just like to hang in public spaces-there are plenty of places to sit. Yesterday during the day, there was a funeral and the bell rang for 10 minutes straight while we were in class. The whole town walked behind the hearse to the graveyard.
Everyone hates the bells which are about 20 feet from our window and ring 4 times an hour day and night. One bell rings the hour and this tinnier sounding bell rings the quarter hour so at 12:45 twelve of the one bell and 3 of the other. Lots of bells.

Time for cinema class.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

First Day of Class

So back to school. I am taking 2 classes and one hour of independent study, which I just learned I have a year to complete: Beginning Italian from 9-12 and Italian Cinematography from 2-4. The first class is moving much too slowly for my tastes though it might be unfair that I have been studying it on my own for the past few months. I did pick out a new name for myself---Valeria. The film class is going to be much too technical and alot of work. I just want to wach movies and talk about them and not deal with numerous technical issues. I can audit the classes versus getting grades but I should see if this would affect me getting reimbursed for them. Classes were hard to deal with the first day as I was quite sick. I have had fairly severe heartburn since coming here that popping Rolaids every few minutes didn't help and I am almost out of my month's supply. Drew lent me a Prilosec, which helped after a while. I went to Castelvecchio (pop 1200) to get drugs (generico 6 euros vs 24 euros for the name brand-as I only had 10 euros with me, that choice was easy) which are fortunately working. Castelvecchio sits on the side of a canyon which gave great views. Also we were able to get gelato, nocciola for me. They also have a supermercado. I always love to look at grocery stores in foreign counties. Montepulciano is only 1.2 euro there and fancy liquors 5 euros. Nancy bought this roll of prosciutto, cheese and argula to share. Very tasty. Our little town has a bakery and a Bar but you can buy wine and fruit juice at the bakery. A fruit truck comes occasionally.

The food here is simple but good. Breakfast is only a roll and coffee with nutella and really good cherry jam to spread on it. I need to stock up at the supermercado for their really good peach juice. Yesterday for lunch we had a plate of pasta, which we have for every lunch except for breakfast, a porkchop and salad. They vary the sauces. There is always a pitcher of wine (rose or white-never-sigh-red) and bottled water for all and fruit for dessert. At dinner, there is always soup: tonight-pasta fagioli soup, bruschetta, eggplant with cheese melted on it , and really good greens that were cooked in butter and garlic. There is usually a salad but the only dressing is olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Coffee is only served in the morning but we could always walk to the Bar and get a cappuccino for .9 euro. I had read that drinking milk in your coffee after breakfast is considered very weird in Italy but noone has criticized me yet. Fancy liquors are 1 to 1.5 euros per shot. Beer is the most expensive at 1.3 euro for a bottle. Wine-1 euro a glass.

Later that night we saw "Le chiavi a Casa" Keys to the house about the relationship between a father and his probably autistic son. They had just been reunited as the father had bailed at the kid's birth. The movie was unclear whether the father still could deal with his really demanding child.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Saint Worship

The Italians are very passionate about their saints. Saint Francis or San Francesco presumably performed some of his miracles in the mountains ( miracle of the water?) surrounding us. There are numerous statues here of him. We had a tour of the town last night learning quite a bit of the history from Pascale, the director that lives here. The convent used to be very ornate but was plundered after Napoleon took over the country in 1805 shutting down all the convents and monasteries. The kids came on the walk too but their talking amongst themselves was very distracting. It isn't a walled town but it could be shut down so no invaders could come in at night.

The mystery of why my buddy Jack McCarthy seemed so familiar to me: he was an anchorman for Channel 7 and for Channel 2 for many years. In the late 60s, I would watch the local news as nothing us was on and I could name all the local anchors-Bill Bonds, Jack Kelly, etc. I had forgotten about Jack but I remembered his face. Now I don't think I can name any of the anchors as I never watch the local news.

la ceremonia e la chiesa Santa Chiara

My heartburn has returned. I went to mass this morning and it hurt so much to sit through it. The church is a thousand years old. Although it doesn't look like much on the outside, it is very beautiful inside with lots of chandliers, statues, and frescoes. The priest spoke so slowly, I could almost understand him. Lots of 'parole di Dio's'.

Yesterday afternoon, I slept after taking a long walk with Kelly, the cute African-American 21 year old I sat on the plane with. She is one of the few non-Italians.We saw fig and apricot trees.
There are a few stray dogs that wander the streets. Although only 300 people live here, there are alot of houses-mainly empty-from when the town was 3000 people. Streets are very narrow and steep. In the evening, we had a very long cermony which the town all showed up for. The English language students are now here. Anyway, all the local dignities each gave very long speeches-from what I could tell, they all said the same thing. "Buono sera a tutti, gratzie a tutti" They had given us heavy, green shirts that we were to wear over our 'dress-up' clothes. As it was so warm, I passed on that. We each had to introduce ourselves in Italian. which made some of the younger students very nervous. Then they had a buffet in the piazza for the locals-lentil soup, local cheeses, pizza, cold cuts and lots of dolci from the bakery. In the late evening, us older folks sat until one in the morning discussing a wide variety of topics.

The church bells ring 4 times an hour. Fortunately they don't go by the European time. So for 11:45, one bell rings 11 times and the other bell rings 3 times. The bells are right outside my window and I hear them all night. To announce mass, they ring continously for 15 minutes.

I woke up much later for my run. Again, it is very hard leaving town as it is all up hill and fairly steep but it is easy coming back. I then walked the streets taking pictures.

Tomorrow school starts.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

First day in Italia

So far, during the first 24 hours of my adventure, it has been quite the experience. Everyone is so excited to be here. We've divided into two camps-the mature and the young students. I'm sharing a room with 3 ladies-Joann who looks my age but said she worked at Parke-Davis in 1958 so that gives a hint to her age though she was a high school co-op then. She, as almost everyone here, is of Italian ancestry. We have a friend in common- Carol Hann-small world phenomenen again. She has travelled extensively and is very educated. Then there is Nancy-a great-grandma of 4 who is in her 60s but looks younger. She is mourning a recent death of her husband and is hoping long walks in the mountains will renew her spirits, which have been sagging. Also searching her Italian roots along with Joann. The baby of the room is Dana in her 40s, who is here with her biker brother whose family came from the next town over.

Our room is quite Spartan. We each get a closet and a bedstand. I am glad I packed a reading light even though its adaptor is very heavy otherwise reading would have been dificult. Our first complaint was the one roll of toilet paper for 12 women, which has been since rectified though I stole some from the men's floor. I've been hanging around mainly with my two buddies Jack and Drew. Jack is a former restauranteur from Keego Harbor and interested in cooking and correcting grammar mistakes in the newspapers. I actually remember reading a review of his restaurant thinking this would be a good place to go-never did though. He is full of opinions and very sarcastic so we hit it off. Not Italian though-very Irish. Drew is a retired real estate agent from Seal Beach , California and is a painter and photographer. After my "run" this morning, we went for a walk with him photographing everything in sight. It is very pretty here. I will figure out how to attach pictures at some point. We are staying in a 13th century convent Santa Chiara. Some of the door ways I have to duck through so I won't hit my head.

The plane ride was quite an ordeal. I sat with Kelly-a very sweet, enthusiastic psychology student from Lathrup Village and across from Jack. On our little screen, along with the movies and games, they had a camera that was mounted in the cockpit so we could see what the pilots saw. Interesting at take-off. I thought the airline food would be better on a French plane but no. Lots of good booze though. Champagne, a good merlot and for an apertif- Poire William-a pear liquor. Unfortunately yesterday I suffered really bad heartburn going through a good portion of my Rolaids. Today I feel better so that's a relief. We flew to Paris and half of us immediately had to transfer to a plane to Rome. It was quite hectic trying to figure out where we were to be. They are doing major construction at the airport so we were left out in a field. They did give us a bus but we had no idea when to get off. Jack and I got off at the first spot with all the kids blindly following us figuring since we were old, we knew what we were doing. Wrong. The plane, when we finally found it, was very late, which was good as we would have missed it with all our wrong turns. I finally slept on the plane to Rome but got up while it travelled along the Mediterrean. Very beautiful. We were supposed to wait in baggage for the 2nd group but we were so hungry and thirsty. We finally left the area, which we couldn't get back into. It was hectic finally getting the group together. We had a bus for the 3 hour trip to Gagliano-our village of 300. We took the autostrada-a super highway most of the way-an engineering marvel with all its bridges and tunnels. Some of the mountains still have snow on it but the last 25 miles to our mountaintop home were up this twisty narrow road with our big bus. I was so tired with only one hour of sleep. I wanted to stay awake for the views but did sleep for another hour. We will be on that road again several times.

We eat meals together on two long tables. For dinner, the food was quite good-pasta and chicken. We had some kind of rose for our wine. Breakfast was very spartan with good caffe but not much else. We will share our convent with students from L'Aquila who are learning English. They come later today and we are supposed to interact with them to learn each other's language. Today we are supposed to have this elaborate openning ceremony that the whole town shows up to. The townspeople are very interested in us and have been hanging around. They are nice giving us the few chairs outside the Bar, where they sit outside at night and try to help us. We get a free day on Sunday. The head professor Rafaele has been driving us around in small groups for some to get money and phones from the neighboring towns. Classes begin Monday but we get impromptu lessons at every turn. I am supposed to take some independent study class, which I think will be in Abruzzi cuisine once I learn enough Italian to deal with the cooks here at the convent, the local restaurant and the bakery. It gets very hot here during the day but it was quite comfortble walking around at night. I did panic last night as I couldn't find the magic door to get back into the convent. All in all, I think I will have quite the experience here. I am glad I studied Italian before getting here as I actually can understand a little. I need to get better fast especially since the older adults are mainly Italians as are most of the kids. I am so hungry-I can't wait for lunch. Kelly will go with me for our search for the bakery.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Getting ready


So my textbooks are all bought, my visa obtained, bought new clothes and a bathing suit in case I get to go to the Mediterreran. Just need to find out what kind of bedding I need and how I am going to handle laundry. I have Kakuro for the plane.

Shanna and Oliver are staying with us until the day before I leave. I will miss them. I need to e-mail Naomi's coaches so they know to contact Steve and not me if they have some issue with Naomi. I am excited.