Saturday, August 23, 2008

Final thoughts

View from the platform we ate at in Castelvecchio

Castelvecchio pictures

Alleyway in Castelvecchio

I've been home now for more than a week trying to catch up on my life and deal with a few disappointments here but I've been thinking about my Italian experience.
One of my biggest fears was that I would get lonely being in a strange place knowing noone in advance. One year I went to an ACS meeting with no close colleagues and I was staying in a hotel away from everything. (From then on, I have stayed in B&Bs so at least I could talk to someone in the morning.) I was unbelievably lonely. This was before I had a cellphone and my internet connections were sporadic. I hated eating by myself and going for several days without seeing a familiar face. I just wanted to cry-I was so alone. But in Italy, I never even had time to be myself much except very early in the morning and I usually had Dave the dog. I had my 'peers' to keep me entertained the rest of the time. Actually I wished I had interacted more with the townspeople as it would have helped my fluency but I was too exhausted alot of the time to spend the late nights out necessary.
I will try to continue Italian somehow maybe at WCC. Elena said that either Wayne or the DIA might have a series of Italian cinema so I definitely will go in for that. Meanwhile I have been going through my book.
Funny things I observed about Italian culture: no ice for their drinks. Jack ended up taking plastic cups full of water to freeze at the bakery for his nightly Manhattans. No corkscrews anywhere excepting maybe at the bar. Even the people who came in for the wine tasting didn't have a corkscrew on them. Those going to Italy should definitely bring their own. No black pepper. Maybe Italians don't like black specks in their food. We had white pepper on the table, which is much milder. Jack ended up bringing his own. Actually he had a whole bag of condiments to make himself at home, like mustard and butter for his bread. He couldn't abide eating ham without mustard but the Italians happily eschew mustard. I never added anything to Antonietta's sauces or soups-her tastes were always in sync with mine. I wish I could have followed her around in the kitchen but I had no time. She did most of the cooking while I was in class. I had read that Italians never put milk in their coffee after breakfast but noone gave me a second look after I ordered cappuccini even at night. In Switzerland, I had made the apparent mistake of ordering beer with fondue and the waitress told me I couldn't have any beer as it just wasn't done. A shock to me as in America, the customer always gets what they want as along as they pay for it.
Every door to every business has strings of plastic beads in front of it. I assume this is to keep the flies out but I never seen these door hangings before Italy.
Make sure you have plenty of toilet paper too. Although toilets were free (unlike France), toilet paper was usually missing as was soap. Bring hand sanitizer too. The toilets were all high pressure, low volume tanks that only occasionally had seats. They were effective though.
Italians seem to exaggerate everything: everything is the oldest, the most, the best, etc. They do seem to like to hear themselves talk. Being punctual is not a goal for them but overall, they seem very friendly and forgiving people.
Bring paper if you ever want to print anything and keep it hidden. No one uses clothes dryers in Italy. Mostly people had drying racks in their yards. There is plenty of sun and no humidity or rain so clothes would dry quickly.
So I am very glad I went and people, things and even my eldery pug survived without me although my flowers weren't as lush. I learned alot about Italy and fim and even myself. It was fun being a student again and getting As.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


One of the movies we saw set in Lampedusa-a very small island closer to Africa than Silicy. The main character Grazia feels pinned down with the social conventions there and tries to break free. Respiro means " I breathe". As near as I can tell "Riturnella" must mean return but it is a haunting song.

Music of Italy

This song, Bella Ciao, (to listen: I heard on several occasions while in Italy. Everyone knew the words and would pump their fists into the sky at the words Bella Ciao. It is an old Yiddish tune that the words were changed to be the anthem of the partisans who fought in the mountains against fascism. Basically, the singer knows he will die fighting for liberty and wants to be buried under the beautiful mountain flowers so it's a beautiful goodbye.

Next song by this Irish-Italian folk group Modena City Ramblers for the anti mafia movie we saw "i cento passi" The hundred steps refers to how far the mafia was from this family's door.

And finally, a popular song L'Italiano with the common refrain, Sono l'italiano vero-I'm the true Italian that I heard in several places including the movie about Albanians wanting to immigrate to Italy were singing it.

I wish I could figure out the band I listened to the second to the last night. They were really good. I will ask the kids and see if they are on youtube too. The band the last night played tired renditions of 'Knights in white satin".

Last views of Gagliano

The main parking area
Looking down the main street. You can see the green cross for the Farmacia open for 2 h a day and the yellow sign for the post office, which isn't open much more.

Lots of political posters on the bar walls

The bar with Guiseppe getting the drinks

Inside the bar on the last night. Notice plastic bead door.

These were the last pictures I took of my little village in the middle of the night. The one is the stop sign next to our bus pointing the way to Secinaro and "Rock in the Middle" which is a ski resort. The other is the infamous Bar. It is not Caffe Lunik-that is just the brand of coffee they use.

Sunflowers in Abruzzo

Poster from the third business in Gagliano, the Buffone Art Gallery run by the Danes. It didn't open until August to take advantage of the vacationing Romans who came to town for that month.
Girasole everywhere. In the valley between Gagliano and Castelvecchio I would run by fields of girasole. However I don't run with my camera. I was going to find sometime to take the 3 mile hike it would take to get a good picture but I was too late, the flowers were turning to seed. The unplanted fields would be full of red poppies. Very colorful. Drew has taken some good shots. As soon as he figures how to send me them, I will add to this.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gagliano castle

Castello from above. I didn't take this picture

St. Fiorensa. Skeleton with a wax face and clothes. They got her body from the catacombs of Rome. If one looks behind the display, one could see her skull. All churches seem to try to have a 'relic'. Chains from a matyr, hairlocks, blood but an actual skeleton of a saint is really desirable to have.

chapel inside castle

Drawbridge right outside castle

Chandelier inside the great room

Another view looking out

Inside the castle courtyard

From afar. At ground level, our water source.


Boarhead mounted inside of Gagliano Castle

Baby boar

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Arrivederci Gagliano

Above: Scenes from the toga party in the cloister yard
So I've been home 24 hours and still am tired from our ordeal and dealing with issues at home.
Instead of eating inside, they brought out all the tables to the courtyard for our last dinner and the staff served us instead of us fetching it. For antipasti we had eggplant, cheese and salami. For primi: ravioli for secondi: chicken and green beans. Guiseppe, owner of the Bar and husband of the main cook Antonietta, sent over Asti spumante. The kids made togas from the sheets but we more mature people passed on that. One of the film students showed us the movie he made of our experience. Very cool and funny. It will hopefully be on line soon. There was yet another concert outside the monastery but I didn't like them as much as the night before. Our town now is filled with Romans. Once school lets out, August 1, people go on holidays and rent houses here. Lots of kids in the streets. The third business in town finally opened up, a Danish art gallery, hoping for Roman customers. Some of the Romans stop me on the street to ask if I am one of the Danes. I guess I'll never pass for an Italian. It took me a while to pack. I stupidly brought only one suitcase thinking that was all that was allowed. No, we can have two but I was dangerously close to the weight limit especially after packing my liquor bottles. Fortunately they didn't break.

I slept for 2 hours getting up at 1:30 am to leave. Some of the Italian girls helped me get my obese suitcase down the 42 slippery marble stairs. I went for one last trip to the bar to get a cappuccino at 2 am. Guiseppe gave it to me for free along with a hug. Lots of tears between the American and Italian students. Nancy and Joann had a big fight coming down the stairs. One bumped into the other starting a volley of Fuck yous. Nancy told Joanne that she may be smarter than the rest of us but she has never learned what is important in life and that was how to get along with people. I got all this later from Nancy as we were stretching our legs on the plane-her trying not to die from phlebitis-the sitting was making her dangerously swell. I usually got along with Joann though I was taken back that she didn't want to do a group project with me as she thought her efforts would be superior. As we packed, she gave me "Eat, Pray, Love" about this woman's travels in a year to Italy, India and Indonesia. I just finished the Italian part and found it fascinating. By 2:15, we were on our way singing silly songs through the mountains. By the time we got to the Autostrada, we were asleep. I didn't wake until we were at the terminal at Fiucimino at 5 am. We had to wait in a line from hell to get checked in having just a little time to grab breakfast before flying to Paris. I slept on that flight until I was rudely awaken by severe turbulence near Paris making all of us very nervous. We landed after we were supposed to be boarding the plane to Detroit which inconveniently was in a different terminal about a mile away. They at least provided us an escort so we wouldn't get lost but he triple timed it forcing some of us to run to keep up with him. Nancy kept begging to stop to go the bathroom but they were holding the plane as it was for us. Again I sat with Kelly. After an hour or so they served us dinner which would be about 5:30 am Detroit time. The food was much better this time probably because it came from a French concession rather than an American one as it did on the way there. I was able to sleep some of the time and watch a few movies. The Devil wears Prada and Jumper. The latter was stupid but parts of it was filmed in Ann Arbor at Gallup Park and Huron High. It also had alot of Roman scenes including standing in line at the airport in the exact spot we did so that was fun. We got in early and smoothly. A few more lines to stand in and we were cleared. Steve was waiting on the other side.
I will post a few more pictures and try to sort out my thoughts on my experience. but ciao for now.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Allora Ragazzi!!

Biker coming into Gagliano. Notice the sign saying you are leaving the town-the town's name with a slash through it
Front runner of the bicycle race going through downtown Gagliano. Each biker had several support vehicles

Allora ragazzi. Won't hear those words again. Rafaele starts every announcement with it which roughly kids...Not sure at what age I stop being a ragazza. Instead of going to classes which noone was going to do, we took the bus to Sulmona. There is no public transportation on the weekend but lots of busses during the week. I got some shopping done there. I went in a store for teens to get something for Naomi. The store was broadcasting a thumping song using the F word over and over again probably oblivious to its meaning. It is a very pretty town. I ate at a real restaurant with Bob and Jeannette as I lost Dana and Nancy. I didn't even run this morning as I was up real late and needed to catch the bus.

There was a bike race yesterday going through town- basically 7 laps to make 102 K. Up to Gagliano, up further to Secarino and down, down to Castelvecchio. Each biker had 3 support vehicles. Very tough course.I spent more time trying to talk to the locals. I have a long way to go to be fluent although I'm doing better at understanding. It was fairly cool yesterday even in the sun making it pleasant to walk or even sit around. After dinner I went to the Bar with Nancy and Dana. There was this really scary guy there, even worse than Marco, who kept pawing Dana trying to drag her away to have sex. She had drunk too much to see what danger she was in so I felt I had to keep a close eye on her. She is too friendly and very attractive and these guys here constantly misinterpet her outgoingness. They are persistant beyond belief.

We managed to sneak out eluding the asshole and went to the local Sangra, which from what I can tell is a food based Festa featuring the town speciality which sadly, here is liver dumplings and arrosticini, barbequed mutton kebabs. The band was pretty good so either I was going to listen to it sitting on the plaza or lying in my bed as it was just outside the convent. Another band is coming tonight and will probably play until we leave at 2 am. But the funny part is they let Dominic, the lame engineer who had previously tricked me into coming into his house, sing. He sang some Italian love song, he was really good but I'm still staying away from him. As for him being an engineer, he must be an unemployed one as he spends his days wandering around town. In the parade for St. Martino yesterday, he got to carry Jesus so they must think something of him though the Saint was the main thing to carry.

The kids were obnoxious again and not one showed up for breakfast but no more nights here.
See you all soon.
a dopo.
tanti baci

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Revenge of the old

We finally got revenge against those wild, drunk kids who were up to 5 am screaming and slamming doors all night. Only one kid managed to come to breakfast though all us old folks were up. We or rather Dana, invited the Gagliano brass band to play in the courtyard at 9 this morning. Noise reverberates against the monastery walls and of course you need to keep your windows open or you'll bake. To announce mass the church bells ring continously for 10 minutes and there are several churches plus the time bell which goes off every 15 minutes. Plus the town set off its cannons again at 8 am so no rest for the wicked. This weekend is some saint's festival. There will be yet another parade at noon carrying the saint around. To see this parade:

I did get up early to do my big run to Secinaro which is about 700 ft higher than Gagliano and goes through parkland but I saw no animals. I did walk around their town some. Their town square is on a bluff overlooking the whole valley below. When I resumed running after breaking my arm, even that little hill on Bluett was hard for me to get up so you can imagine what a problem an actual mountain is for me with thin air to boot. I am walking less and running more. According to their signs, the distance between our two cities is 4 km so around trip is 8 km or 5 miles exactly. Of that, I walked about a mile so I am getting stronger. It is quite cool in the morning and dry so I am comfortable.

Yesterday was a slow day. In the evening we were bussed to Castelvecchio to look at their church dedicated to St. Francesco (of Assisi but he spent plenty of time here and there is quite the cult surrounding him) Very pretty church,way bigger than any in Gagliano. It was a gothic church but later was decorated in the baroque style. All the baroque touches seem to distinguish the churches here with those in France or Spain which keep everything Gothic. The highlight was a vial of St. Franceso's blood from his stigmata. Of course he lived in the 13th century.....
They also had this very elaborate creche display complete with a moving, crying baby Jesus. Too dark to photograph.

But the dinner they provided for us was nice. They put us on this high terrace overlooking the valley (the same valley one would see from Secinaro but from the southeast,you could see Secinaro way up there) If the sunflowers were still in bloom, it would be perfect. I wish I brought a camera with a wide angle lens or a telephoto lens. I can get great shots of the narrow alley ways but I can't get things out in the distance. They gave us pasta made from farro-barley flour with truffles on it and a bunch of different roasted meats that I was too afraid to inquire closely about. Then it started to pour. It rarely rains here but eating in the rain wasn't too appealing so we went back to Gagliano where they are having their Sangra.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Gagliano scenes

The hill I run down leaving town

Gagliano from a mile down the road. The castle is the highest point.

The fields I cross to get back to town

Castelvecchio,which I run down to, as viewed from Gagliano .

Sulmona confetti pix

I counted 5 different factories that made confetti on the out-skirts of town. There were more than 40 shops selling this stuff, some providing free samples. Yum. Most of the candy is flavored jordan almonds but some of the candy contains hazelnuts instead.

Goriano picture and fountain

From the highest point
On the way up to the church

The town fountain

Goriano from afar

Yesterday were the two finals. After the Italian one, I went for a walk in parts of town that I hadn't explored. One house at the edge had very elaborate gardens terraced into the hillside. The owner saw me looking through the gate and invited me in. His wife did all the flowers and he did the fruit trees, vegetable and herbs. He had a banana, apricot, fig, apple, plum, pear and filbert tree along with every vegetable you could think of. He invited me to come back later and his wife would then make me coffee. In our film class, we had discussed the concept of a panopticon -a building such a prison in which the warden could sit in the middle and see into all the cells at once. The monastery is built like that-everyone can see whatever anyone else is doing. I feel the whole town is like that. Some of the residents keep track of my running. Later I was talking to the wife of the program director about my experience with the gardener and she told me that she had heard all about it and the gardener was wondering if I was a teacher at Wayne. So I am never alone. Even Dave the dog keeps track of me though he has stopped herding me as I feed him.

We had a film class before the final. In these films there are so many cultural references that the average American easily misses. In the last one, apparently one scene was a spoof on Dante's Divine Comedy, which apparently every Italian knows. Well all of us missed it. I have heard of Dante, even walked by his house in Firenze, but I haven't read his writings. Apparently he is responsible for modern Italian. He wrote in it instead of Latin. When we went to the Roman ruins in Alba Fucans a few weeks ago, a group of people were there acting a scene from The Inferno. Also though I have heard of that silly song Volare, I had no idea it was some anthem of the Mafia. Then the film final which took me more than an hour to finish. I understood all the concepts listed but we had to apply them to the films we watched and I was unsure what Elena really wanted from us. But it is over though we are to go to both classes Monday.

Immediately after the final, we were bussed to Goriano which is on the other side of Castel di Ieri. No rest for the wicked. First we climbed the roads to St. Gemma's house. These towns really revere their saints. Every May, the town re-enacts when Gemma comes to town. It involves making lots of unleavened bread and feeding them to the poor and then partying afterwards.Then we climbed further to the highest point the church, built with separate entrances as men couldn't go through the same door as their sinful wives. From the churchyard, one could see for miles. Then finally down to the main piazza to eat. More pasta and brushetta and lots of wine. A few of the kids got very drunk there. One was so bad Elena had to help carry her upstairs and stay with her. As for myself, if I drink more than one glass of wine now, my stomach burns so I am stone sober here. After watching everyone dance for a while, I am really bad at salsa or any kind of dancing and I can't drink enough alcohol now to make me forget that fact, I went for a miniwalk by myself and found Nancy crying her eyes out. She really misses her husband, who died 2 years ago and I guess seeing all the kids dancing reminded her of missing her man. Also she had been drinking which made her weepy.

They have a medieval fair today in Castelvecchio and we will be bussed there for dinner on their town's dime. Lots of kids went to Pescara today where the Adriatic sea is but they made arrangements with the Italian students to drive them. Public transportation is severely lacking on the weekends so my dream of seeing the Adriatic will have to wait. I slept in a little later. I was going to run UP to Secinaro today as my legs should be fresh but just couldn't get myself going. I did run DOWN to Castelvecchio but the only animals I saw were packs of stray dogs though they do make me nervous as they don't vaccinate here. It is true that I must go up again to get back in Gagliano but there is a shortcut crossing the fields. I run on a part of it but in some parts, it is extremely steep or really bad footing so I walk.
Yesterday while driving to Goriano, in the town of Castel Ieri, a cow was in the middle of the road (in the middle of town!!) A man tried to shoo it for us but the cow turned on him and began to charge him. Our bus passed before we could see if he was able to duck into a building for safety. There are no cows on my route so I'm safe from them. Just wolves, foxes, deer, stray dogs and of course my friendly boars. And now I hear there is a bear here. There is a flat stretch between Castel di Ieri and Goriano that I saw several runners on but it would take a while for me to get down to it. I will have to wait for Michigan for flatness which will be very soon, Tuesday. Time has gone by so fast. As soon as I got back, a cannon was fired several times. The sleeping kids thought we were being bombed it was so loud. Ha. Serves them right. Anyways, I assume the cannons were to announce the openning of Gagliano's very own Sangra featuring 'tanta, tanta birra' and 'musica a tarde ore' along with various truffle dishes, barbequed mutton-all the local favorites. I will try to download their poster later. Lots of people in town are already for it.

Goriano Escher sketch

Apparently M. Escher, one of my favorite artists, came down to Abruzzo often to draw its hilltowns. They must have given him the idea for his impossible staircases. Anyway, the above sketch is of Goriano, last night's town, which is about 10 miles away where the town gave us a tour and dinner. We did climb to the top to the church pictured. The town lacks a castle; the church was built over the ruins of one. We had missed the town's Sangra featuring Neapolitan pizza and thought they would serve us that but no, just pasta and proscuitto and lots of wine. They provided a DJ for dancing until midnight. This one was quiet but he featured lots of salsa. The locals there joined with the kids instead of staring at us from the side like they did in Vittorito. The town has a very impressive fountain featuring dolfins.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Elena, pronounced ellen-a, is our cinema teacher. She is probably the most educated woman I've ever met. Although she comes from Texas, she was taught to be bilingual at an early age though she is not Spanish or even very Italian-only has one great-grandparent that was. She is now at least trilingual if not more. There are no signs of her Texas upbringing as she has developed her own unique speech pattern that I can characterize only as a NPR radio voice. She is very patient with us lesser beings. She has a knack of rephrasing our not-so-well thought answers into something that might make sense. She is a true Renaissance woman expert in many aspects of Italian culture. She has tried to expand our horizons with Italian poetry. I've only seen her mildly irritated once and that was at the younger students who sit in the back with their laptops clearly doing something unconnected with the class. Although I like movies, especially ones that are not 'mainstream', I took her class only as there was not any other class available but I do appreciate all that she teaches us including the technical aspects. But I thank her for openning my eyes to aspects of films that I would not have seen otherwise. She also is a marathon runner, which I have been in the past-long ago past but I probably was her age then.

Yesterday was very busy as I was trying to do my final paper for the cinema class and study for my two finals today plus there were many activities we had to attend. We went to the Italians' presentations on American slang. They had been interviewing us for the past 2 weeks. Their English is way better than our Italian. They are here to prepare for the TOEFL test to get into American universities. They spent alot of time preparing their presentations and they were hilarious. I wish I could have taped them. Then we had to go to a presentation on the Mafia by Piero, the advanced Italian teacher. Frankly it was not too interesting as he kept giving various dictionaries definitions of the word then listed all the Italians that have been killed by them, none of whom I've ever heard about. He grew up in Naples and always was careful who he talked to because if you piss the wrong person off....What was more interesting that some of the Canadian- and American-Italians have families with mafia ties (and admitted it!!!) I guess I shouldn't piss them off.
At night I hid rather than go to talk by the Franciscan Friar about silence. A concept he still hasn't mastered. I was very busy and I'm not Catholic. I was running around looking for paper to print my final paper on. I had to raid the waste baskets, which got me mad, for paper that had at least one side clean. I would have brought paper if I knew what a precious commodity it is here. I have trouble editing papers looking on the screen due to my eyesight. I wish I could have printed my paper first to edit it but NO PAPER. Later up at the castle, we had our graduation ceremony full of speeches. It was cool on top of the mountain. They had an orchestra there that was very good that featured an accordian player although they played too long when I wanted to get back to study and to sleep. I didn't get to bed until one.
I didn't run this morning due to the tests. The Italian test was too easy and the cinema one comes later. I have some time to review.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


The aqueduct and mountains
Another view of the aqueduct

One of the older students, Mauro, rented a car and after classes, we went to Sulmona, a large (20,000)city on a plain surrounded by mountains. It is an old Roman town, the poet Ovid came from there and it is very beautiful. I wish I could have stayed there longer but I did take plenty of pictures. A medieval aqueduct runs in the middle of the town square. Its principal industries seem to be speciality liquors and confetti, which are sugared almonds. Wait until you see my pictures. The confetti stands from a distance look like flower shops. They have multicolored Jordan almonds that they arrange into flowers and other designs and they come in lots of different flavors. I did buy a few, both the confetti and the liquors along with some fancy fruit gelees. They also had very good gelato. But the buildings were all restored, no crumbling apart as they are here and the town looked very prosperous. We got lost trying to get back-we were heading to Raiano but no signs for it despite it being a good size town. We were late to dinner but they held it for us. Very good. We always have soup at night , this time lenticcini (very tiny lentils, with pasta, and for a main course, stuffed zucchinis with sides of red peppers and greens along with a slice of proscuitto and cheese. Melon for dessert-never anything other than fruit. We saw a movie about this guy single handedly taking on the mafia in his little town of Silicy. Guess how that ended. We are getting a lecture about the mafia today in film class.

Our presentation went well. Jack, of course is a natural. I was James Lipton from the Actor's Studio interviewing him as The Man with No Name. James Lipton is very easy to imitate with his pompous over-enunciations but most of the kids never heard of him. Fortunately Elena, our teacher had. I got good reviews from the audience.
At midnight I need to go to bed, but of course life continues on for several hours after that. Dana almost had us all killed. She's very attractive and outgoing and interacts with all the locals but this time it got her in big trouble. There is this handsome man, Marco, who continually is trying to get her to come home with him and have sex. She tells him about her boyfriend to no avail. Last night he got very angry for her saying no for the umpteenth time and said he was going home to get his gun and kill all the Americans. At least that's how one of the Americans translated his ravings. He seemed very serious though he was also very drunk. I guess the Italians calmed him down but he was ranting loudly about killing us all for leading him on.

I ran down to Castelvecchio this morning. I could see the boar pack off in the distance running in a field knowing that they had to cross the road to get to higher ground where they spend the day. I was paranoid at their usual crossing point, heavily wooded, that suddenly they would emerge out of the woods into me and tried to keep my ears open for heavy breathing other than my own. I saw the fox twice, once he tried to cross the road as I was running down it and he backed off and later he (or she) was running across the field that I saw it before. It is much hotter today so we took our cappuccino break inside. The locals are being nicer to me despite my lack of being Italian. They can tell not only that you are Italian but from what region your parents came from. They are guessing that I am German or Scandinavian. I am such a mixture, it is hard to tell though I am not in the least Scandinavian. The Danes here really keep to themselves-very easy to spot them.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Inside the winery
The winery's courtyard

Very old church sculpture

Today is more relaxed as I got an extension on my final paper. I will present my 'group' project in a few hours. Jack McCarthy (former TV7 newsman) has agreed to help me. I will be James Lipton interviewing him as Clint Eastwood playing the Man with No Name in 'A Fistful of Dollars'. He's quite the ham so it should be good. We've been collecting props. I had to write the script and then write a paper about what it all means. I can expand on that for my final paper. I was going to do a metaphysical analysis of Primo Amore but time's awastin'. So finally Raffaele is officially embarassed about the drunkenness of students and is cracking down. The kids peeing in the laundry room set him off. We will be locked in the monastery at 12. Last night we were bussed to Vittorito 40 minutes away. It is in a huge valley full of vineyards, home of our favorite montepulciano d'Abruzzo. The town is much older than ours having been settled 400 AD instead of 1000 AD. It is not a hill town like Gagliano but up in the mountain they had a watchtower that served several towns at once and could communicate readily to those below in case of invaders. We had a very long tour of the winery, then a tasting-not all montepulcianos are the same-a tour of the city after dark-the church was built in 500 AD over a pagan temple and had lots of original artwork. Then we had dinner. I was so hungry as we usually have lunch at 12:30 and it was after 10. Again the townspeople paid and served us. Very good. More wine, bruschetta, sausages, and pasta. Never do we get dessert. I later tried to get gelato from a little store that sells 'soft serve'. It presses these little blocks of frozen ice cream through this machine but the old lady didn't have the strength to do it so my cone was very small. it was free though.We ate on a piazza with the townspeople standing around us watching. They hired a DJ who was quite funny. He kept showing off his English, which consisted of saying I love you repeatedly. The Italian dance songs use broken English. I fly so high I want to fly. high. fly want fly high. He played alot of Puerto Rican music which I preferred. So the students danced in the square while the locals watched. Another very late night. Some people had tests today and no time to study. I got up early to run. Since at least my muscles were fresh, I went the hard way to Secinaro but no animal sightings. Another movie night tonight about the mafia'i centi passi' (A Hunderd Steps). I will be home in less than a week. Time has gone by so quickly.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

La Sangra di Ranocchie e Gnocchi

Poster plastered all over the place for the Sangra at Molina

These last few days have been really busy and stressful. To keep up, I skipped Italian class today giving me 3 hours of peace on the computer. I did warn Jim in advance so his feelings wouldn't be hurt. They have added so many extra activities at the last moment, there is no time for much else. I did manage to save a treat for my pal Dave and I now know his hiding place during the day. When he sees me now, he comes running wagging his stub of a tail though his breed should have a full tail. He understands Italian commands, not English.

Since we had an activity at night, we saw our movie during the afternoon after class eliminating that free period. Lamerica (Amelio, 1994) about post-Communist Albania and what a hellhole it was. The only hope the people had was to escape to Italy, the promised land, which they learned about through Italian TV. As the crow flies, Albania is quite close to Bari, Puglia. The communists had forbidden Italian TV or language or song but once that fell in the early 90s, they did get the TV but nothing else. From TV shows, crude imitations of American ones, Italy looks like a fabulous place. Lots of people tried to escape and of course, Italy doesn't need any more immigrants. Their story was similar to the poverty Italians, especially southern ones (like here!)suffered pre and post-war causing lots of them to immigrate to you know where. But in the 60s, Italy had its economic miracle, mainly in the North spreadly slowly to the south and they are doing quite well now. But the movie was extremely touching and thought provoking. It also brings home the message never to go to Albania. Alot of Albanians made their way to Detroit. Frankly they get negative press with their honor killings. At Wayne, alot of them take Italian classes.
On to the Sangra. A food festival is a Sangra. This one was in Molina just a few miles on the other side of Castelvecchio. I did spend some time exploring the streets, very narrow, steep, twisty paths, taking pictures in my continuing series of crumbling medieval small town buildings. I thought I was alone but heard footsteps behind me. I turned around to find I was being followed by a pack of dogs. The town wanted to feed us. This will happen tonight also. These poor, small towns wanting to feed rich Americans. So strange. On the menu, frog legs and gnocchi. Yum, yum. I couldn't get myself to eat the frogs. I assumed they would use bullfrog legs but these seemed to be from medium sized frogs cut in half with the bottom half being what was served so it included some of the middle parts too. Again I passed. Someone went to inquire where these frogs were from as Italy seems to be lacking wetlands. They answered, Rome. Hmm. No wetlands there either so they finally admitted they were from China. The town ladies have been working for months handmaking the gnocchi and freezing them. We had the choice of truffle sauce or tomato. Also we were served saugages and little kebabs of roasted mutton. Tried not to think about the mutton. Lots of people there. A beautiful sunset, surrounded by mountains, darting bats, stray dogs and cats sneaking in, dancing natives-quite the sight. I was surprised to see men dancing together in a small town. But after 4 hours I wanted to go home. In my minivan, there were 4 very drunk students (there was lots of wine also at the sangra). One girl was especially obnoxious screaming into my ear the whole way back obscenities having to do with chupas. Chupas are suckers but apparently can mean something else. Henceforth, we refered to her as the chupa girl. We couldn't get home fast enough for me. These kids need to grow up fast. Not all of them are bad but that night, one puked in the shower, another peed in the laundry room. When you deal with them one on one, they seem sweet and cute but in packs and when drunk, ..not so charming. Two of Jack's corkscrews have disappeared from the common area-corkscrews surprisingly are a rare item here. I was so tired. I didn't get back until 12, people were drunk and very noisy until 3. I got up early not to run but to write my work in longhand. I skipped class to type it up. I have one paper to go but I had talked her into an extension for that. Then we were forced to attend a lecture before lunch on biodiversity. No time for this. Right after our film class this afternoon, we are being bussed to Vittorito for a wine festival and dinner. On the positive side, my 'group' project is fine that I am doing with Jack on the spaghetti western. He will be Clint Eastwood. We went over it already and he's into my script.

Monday, August 4, 2008

il cane Dave

Yesterday I spent too much time looking for Dave to feed him the porkchop. I hardly saw any of the usual stray dogs and was afraid that they must have had a huge clean up of all the dogs to kill them. I had heard a bunch of barking at 5:30 am. Dana the night before was questioning the locals on what will happen when Dave can't get up anymore, he has a bad hip from a car accident and they said nothing but I was afraid they thought that they should do something now, like kill him. But at 9 pm, he finally surfaced and enjoyed his pork chop.

On my run this morning I saw a roe deer. They are very tiny about the size of a one month old whitetail fawn. A roebuck tops out at 60 lbs compared to the Michigan white tail stag that usually weighs 300 pounds. I didn't seem to scare it-it just stared at me. On the cross country portion of my run, which I mostly walk due to steepness and uneven ground, a fox darted by.

My rash is a little better but now it is purple. Only us old farts got it but I have the worse case by far. Fortunately it doesn't itch. It looks quite hideous..

I spent 4 hours yesterday doing my 'group' project-a group of one but Jack will do whatever I tell him. I thought I should do this first but now I hear the final paper is due Wednesday-not next Monday and many of the nights are full of mandatory activities. Elena said I could have until Friday now. Joanne, my one roommate, has been quite ill. I really hope I don't catch whatever she has. My Italian class should be renamed 'remedial' Italian. I really think my French class in 8th grade was taught at a faster pace and I remember a good portion of it. I have just been studying on my own.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

il castello di Gagliano

At the highest point of this town is the castle built 800 years ago. It has been subdivided into 18 condos for wealthy Romans. The prince's family lives there and granted us access. I took lots of cool pictures which I will upload. Beautiful plus I could take nice shots of the town below, I see plenty of streets I haven't explored.


Dominick is this 'poor soul' as my friend Martha would say, that hangs around the monastery hoping to engage one of us in conversation as I suppose the locals have long since tired of him. His story, as he had told me numerous times, is that his wife died Nov 7 of last year when she was only 53 and that they had been married 40 years and he is very sad. He knows two English words 'hi' -with a very exagerrated 'h' sound-and 'doggie'. I went looking for Dave after lunch as I have a pork chop for him (and don't like them myself). I have to be careful who witnesses me feeding the dogs. If word gets back to Antonietta that her food is going to the dogs, I will be taken off her good list. I looked in all of Dave's usual spots and ran into Dominick and said (all in Italian)that I was looking for Dave. Cerco il cane grande e bianco.'Oh, he's in my house. He's my dog. Come I will show you .'' This surprised me as Dave seems to have lost his owner. I stupidly went into his house. Of course no Dave who would have instantly appeared due to my 'eau de pork chop' perfume. Dominick again launched into his I'm so sad story, I lost my wife, blah, blah, blah. Here, let's listen to music, I have 'English' music, let us have a drink...I said I needed to go as I have to study Italian this moment and I quickly ran away.
These hideous red splotches on my leg feel hot. Most of us 'older' people got them yesterday-mine being the worse. But they didn't repel Dominick. I'm much bigger than him and he limps so I didn't think I was in real danger but I won't fall for a trick like that again.


Moses by Michelangelo. He originally had a crown but an antisemitic pope had it reduced to horns.
The Trevi fountain, to which I threw a coin

The outside of the Pantheon. Two thousand years old

Inside the Pantheon. Lots of marble

a fresco inside one of the many churches we visited that day

An interesting building

One of the many statues

The colosseum

Roma was molto caldissimo The thermometer said 41C which is 105F. I'll check the weather channel. Friday night our water lecture was cancelled which noone was upset about so I went to Castelvecchio with Drew for beer and gelato. The local beer is Nastro Azzurro-fairly anemic stuff. The big export is Peroni. But it had cooled down alot and it was nice sitting in the town square discussing our life. After dinner, I did go to the bar with Nancy and Dana to try to practice my Italian. Everyone plays Scopa, a card game which seems to be a variation of Go Fish but you don't ask for cards. The card deck is quite different-clubs are actually clubs and lots of other weird symbols. With my latest stomach problems, I can't tolerate much alcohol so I went back to monastery and slowly loaded pictures. The latest batch I had stolen from Dana. At
6 am Saturday we were off to Roma passing the one sounder of cinghiale I had seen before and again having breakfast at the Autogrill. Too many meals at Autogrill. If it weren't for the long twisty road to the Autostrada in which our bus needs to almost stop at every switchback, Roma is actually quite close-slightly more than an hour on the freeway. I was surprised how little auto traffic there was around it. Ten million people live there . It is now the 2nd most visited city in the world -NYC being first- just bypassing Paris. But it is a fantastic city with ruins around each corner, mixed in with renaissance buildings and more updated buildings. Unlike Florence, the sights are spread out all over and virtually impossible to see in a day. We had to make a choice: Vatican City or the rest of Rome. I chose Rome. We had picked up a guide from Ohio who calls himself an 'edutainer' a term which really confused the Italian kids. He chose to pretend to have a Brooklyn accent and works as an actor in his spare time, name dropping alot. On the whole, he was knowledgable and entertaining. He liked to do impressions and act out Julius Caesar's last moments before he was betrayed. I still haven't forgiven him for our shitty lunch which I suspected he profitted from. He kept saying how fantastic the Caprese salad was but it was 12 euros, no basil and made with anemic, unripe tomatos plus the restaurant added all sorts of service charges for stale bread. Initially our bus went from site to site which was frustrating because we couldn't take pictures but finally we were let and out and walked for 7 long very hot hours from place to place. I couldn't even keep track of all the places. Rome still gets its water via the aqueducts from the surrounding mountains-does not need any chlorine and is cold and pure coming out of many fountains around town. The water isn't treated here in Gagliano arising from a spring. I filled my bottle up numerous times, soaked my hair and clothes, and never had to pee as the sun was so hot and dry. We did stop for lunch at the guide's suggestion in this awlful place that really overcharged us though it was nice to sit down for while. We saw the forum, the Spanish steps, the Trevi fountain, the Collosuem, St. Peters in Chains, which contained Moses by Michelangelo. Another beautiful church St. Maria's(unsure of that name) sobra Minerva (they had built it over Minerva's temple)was full of Bernini statues and breathtakingly beautiful. The most impressive site was the Pantheon, which despite being 2000 years old, is perfectly preserved. It has a huge dome that even Renaissance architects 1500 years later had trouble duplicating. Lots of inlaid marble in the floors and walls. The old forum where Julius C was killed is now a cat sanctuary filled with 500 cats. I could only see a few but it certainly smelled like they all could be there. They were probably hiding from the brutal sun. Cats are special as they are considered the reason that Rome was spared from the Plague. A third of Italians died and even a higher percentage in the rest of Europe. But the kitties kept the rats down. Some Romans thought they were just being blessed from God as the Pope lived there too. We heard plenty of pope stories-not very nice guys and very political. It was thought best to have them be officially celibate so they would have no official heirs and someone from a competing family would have a chance at it keeping peace between the 5 big families. We made two gelato stops. Gelato was twice the price as it is here in the boondocks but it was very good. Much more variey of flavors. Red grapefruit, limoncello and this very intense blackberry were some of my favorites. They let you have tre gusti (3 flavors) a time. After hours of being in the hot sun, though we went through shady alleys as much as possible, we were beat. People kept dropping out of the tour as the day wore on but despite my blisters, Dana and I kept on to the bitter end. I now have this ugly bright red rash on my calves. I thought it was an allergic reaction to my shoes but others have it also. On the way back, outside of Celano, we went to a real restaurant instead of the Autogrill. It was a seafood restaurant specializing in Neapolitan cuisine including pizzas. Pizzas here in Abruzzi are very disappointing and I threw mine away that they put in my sack lunch. Basically stale bread with a little tomato sauce. These pizzas were 'real' as they were in the Napoli style but I had had one for lunch so I tried some shrimp and porcini mushroom pasta. Good. It took forever to translate the menu. Some things I could literally translate like 'truffles from the sea' or 'bird beans' but we were lost. Had alot of venison too. No chicken or pork. Nancy likes seafood but not calamari as it is too rubbery for her. Calamari is the only seafood we get in Gagliano. I like it but sneak the tentacle parts out to my pal Dave. I had some pasta dish with shrimp and mushrooms. Nancy went over and over with the waitress to ensure her 'mixed grill seafood' had no calamari but was quite shocked when her plate included this big white ball complete with eyes and tentacles. Looked like a deflated bladder. I wish I had filmed her face as she tentatively poked it and it bounced back. After some confusion, it was determined to be cuttlefish which is related to octopus-also on the menu as Polpo which I remember from Spanish ( as seafood names to avoid). I told her I used to buy cuttlefish bones for my parakeets but she wouldn't try it. We bought expensive Montipulciano d'Abruzzo as recommended by the Italians and it was very tasty. This wine really varies in color, taste, and price. The version at the monastery is pink and not that good. I or someone else buys a better dark red one at the bakery for €1.3. I have a €2 bottle stored away that I hope is even better. I was totally sore and exhausted when we returned. I didn't even change and just lay down on my bed over the covers. I did get up early to run, which due to soreness, I had second thoughts about but I ran down to Castelvecchio anyways. No animal sightings except for the numerous stray dogs that fortunately leave me alone. Dave has stopped herding me as I now feed him but continues to herd others even nipping them or grabbing their wrists if they leave his flock. I am devoting today to school work-mainly film. It seems a massive chore before me. I did my laundry before the kids got up as there is alot of competition for the 3 tiny machines. No dryers but we have racks in back courtyard that work well. To announce mass, the bells go off for 10 minutes straight and there are several masses and churches. Some with louder bells than than the time bells. The kids must have fun trying to sleep through them. Have to concentrate.