Italy–Sirens’ Song


As we drove along the Amalfi Coast, the guide told us the mythological story of the Sirens.  My daughter took a photo out the window of the Sirens’ islands.

IMG_2866

Later I wrote this poem remembering the travails of Odysseus.

 

The melodious Sirens’ song

lured Odysseus

begging to be untied from

the mast.

Even the roaring sea’s

voice whispered in

comparison.

They sang honeyed

love songs to starving

sailors, longing for a woman’s

touch, a kiss, ecstasy.

With knife claws, they

ripped them asunder,

crunching bones, blood

erupting.

Satiated, they sang,

eternal, etherial, deceptive.

 

 

Several days later at a shop in Sorrento, while my daughter was looking for a medusa cameo, the owner, a cameo artist, brought out Siren cameos.  He insisted the Siren’s have been terribly misunderstood.  I wanted clarification but unfortunately other customers appeared and I remain mystified.

Cooking in Italy


After spending most of the day exploring Pompeii, we rushed back to Sorrento for an evening cooking class up on a mountainside above the main part of the city. We made eggplant parmesan and  cheese ravioli. Their take on the eggplant dish was different from any I have seen in the US.  They had sliced the eggplant on the diagonal and already cooked it.  Each person received several pieces of the already cooked eggplant and a bowl of their homemade mozzarella cheese.  We were instructed to place a teaspoon of the cheese in the middle of each piece of eggplant, roll it up, and place it in a small casserole dish with their homemade tomato sauce already in the dish.  Instead of layers of eggplant, sauce, and cheese, this was rolls of eggplant filled with cheese atop a tomato sauce in a casserole dish which they baked while we made ravioli.

For making the ravioli, in front of each person they placed a pile of a couple cups of flour and dishes of water and oil.  We were instructed to add the oil and a little water to make a stiff dough.  Then we were told that the key to really good ravioli dough (and I am guessing any pasta dough) is to knead it a lot.  Yes, to do all this, we had to use our hands.  After the dough was thoroughly kneaded, we patted it out into an oval and then ran it through a pasta maker several times to make it thin.  We laid this rolled dough on the table and then with a ravioli cutter, we cut circles, filled them with mozzarella cheese, but not too much.  The key is to get just the right amount of cheese so you have enough but can still fold it over and seal the edges with the cheese inside.  It must be sealed thoroughly so it does not fall apart when being boiled in the salty water.

The owner asked my grandson to help cook the ravioli.  Here he is working away.

IMG_4455

After the ravioli was done, we all sat down and enjoyed the eggplant, the ravioli with their homemade tomato sauce, and their local wines.  Making both dishes was much easier than I expected.  And fun.  The evening was filled with joy, laughter, and good company.

 

 

 

Italy–Pompeii


Although I had heard about, read articles, seen photos and documentaries, nothing prepared me for its size, grandeur, and wealth.

IMG_4155

To get here you have to climb up a hill.  This is where the gladiators lived and trained.

IMG_4156

IMG_4157

The doors are copies, the rest not.  Gladiators lived in the rooms behind the doors and exercised and practiced in the green area shown in the previous two photos.

IMG_4158

This is the tiny amphitheater which holds about 1000 persons. Occasionally, performances, e.g. concerts, are still held here.

IMG_4159

An we walked around, I took pictures of the various buildings, streets, walls.

IMG_4160

Looking back toward the small amphitheater.

IMG_4161

This is the large amphitheater which holds 5000.  Just like in theaters now, the seats vary in size, view, etc. so that the where you get to sit depends on who you are and how much you have to spend.

IMG_4162

Looking toward what remains of the stage and area behind the stage.

IMG_4164

Streets were laid out in a grid at right angles to each other.  This is a typical street with sidewalks on each side.  Notice the large stones in the middle.  At times with excessive rain, the streets would flood.  The large stones allowed people to cross without getting their feet wet.  The spaces in the middle were designed so carts could pass through.  Along the sides are spaces for shops.

IMG_4165

IMG_4167

The wealthy in Pompeii lived in very large, elegant houses, with water collection systems, heated and running water.  This is the entry to one such house.

IMG_4168

The courtyard at the same house.

IMG_4169

What remain of the frescoes there.  Considering this was buried for nearly 2000 years…

IMG_4170

IMG_4171

IMG_4172

Part of the dining room.  There, like in Rome, people reclined while eating.

IMG_4173

We moved on to another house.

IMG_4174

More frescoes.  Most of them tell a well known story.

IMG_4175

IMG_4176

When they excavated this second house, they found this table with three legs–common then apparently.  This is not a new table, it is one from Pompeii found in this house.

IMG_4177

Decorated walls in this second house.

IMG_4178

An original floor in the same house.

IMG_4180

A place where someone had a shop with items for sale.

IMG_4181

IMG_4291

We also visited the bathhouse area where there would be separate bathhouses for men and women, exercise rooms, hot water, steam, just like today.

IMG_4302

Although the walls, floors, streets and sidewalks are as they were before the volcanic eruption, in some places they have restored roofs to look like what they would have looked like then.

IMG_4303

IMG_4344

They knew that domed structures are more stable.

Next we walked to the brothel.  Many of the sexually graphic frescoes remain.  They illustrate different positions.  I might also add that both stone and painted penises are everywhere in Pompeii.  Why?  They were the symbol of a good life, of prosperity, of fertility, of joy, of, well, everything good. I took some photos of the frescoes at the brothel but do not want to get thrown off my blogging site so will not put them here.

IMG_4348

Another typical street headed toward the giant city square.

IMG_4368

Standing in the middle, looking toward one direction.  I was astonished at the size of this place.  We went a good time of the year–the off season.  The guide told us that in high season there are so many people here, it is difficult to move through them at times.

IMG_4370

Looking the other direction with Mount Vesuvius in the background. Before the eruption this volcano was just a tall mountain or so the people there thought.  Then it was approximately 10,000 feet.  The eruption made it fall into itself and decrease by about 6000 feet.

IMG_4371

More photos of the square.

IMG_4372

IMG_4373

IMG_4375

The countryside near Pompeii is lush green. IMG_4454

The view walking down the steps leaving Pompeii.

 

 

 

 

Italy–the Amalfi Coast


On one of our day trips from Sorrento, we headed down the Amalfi Coast.  For years I have seen photos and told myself, “Wow”.  No photo can do this coastline justice.  The highway is excellent but narrow.  On many of the turns, only one vehicle can proceed.  A large bus cannot travel this highway.  Even with the small ones we took, the driver would often honk as we turned a corner which we could not see around.

IMG_4117

We stopped at one of the few turnoffs along the highway and took a short hike down to an overlook.  This is the town of Positano. I took the following photos while at this overlook.

IMG_4118

IMG_4119

I love bougainvillea and all colors grew everywhere.

IMG_4120

Looking across the Mediterranean.

IMG_4121

The land is rugged with both new and ancient buildings hanging off mountainsides and cliffs.

IMG_4122

A closer view of Positano.

IMG_4123

Another view across the Mediterranean.

IMG_4125

The highway, houses hanging off the edge, olive trees, lushness everywhere.

IMG_4126

IMG_4127

It was a stormy looking day.  We kept thinking it would rain but luckily it did not.

IMG_4128

IMG_4129

The Amalfi Cathedral in the town of Almalfi.  Its design is unique and shows the cultural influence of the Muslim world with whom the town was a major trading center for centuries–arches, gold and green.

IMG_4131

A typical street in Amalfi.  We walked all the way up this street to just below the school, found all sorts of delightful shops, and ate our favorite food of the entire trip.   My favorite was spaghetti with a lemon creme sauce.  Recipe comes later.

IMG_4134

Near the sea looking up into the city.  The large building up on the slopes is now a cemetery but used to be a monastery.

IMG_4136

Same spot as previous photo, just looking the other direction.

IMG_4147

We were supposed to take a little boat trip out into the sea but it was too rough.  Ema, my daughter, walked all the way out to the end of the pier.

The water was so high I thought perhaps it was high tide.  I was told it was not.

 

Today I asked my daughter and grandson what/where was their favorite in Italy.  We all agree, Amalfi. I also loved Capri–more about there later.

Italy-Sorrento


It takes approximately four hours to travel by road from Rome to Sorrento.  To get in and out of Sorrento, the highway goes through three tunnels, one of which is more than three miles long.  Like all cities along this area of coastline, Sorrento is a city where many of the buildings hang off the edge of cliffs above the water.

IMG_4109

This part of the primary street off the main square is full of shops and pedestrian only.  Christmas decorations were already being installed.  From the time we arrived until we left, the giant metal tree in the middle of the main square went from just metal to covered with greenery to the installation of lights.

IMG_4110

A typical side street off the main street seen in the first photo.  Sorrento is the perfect place for those who like shopping in all sorts of little shops or enjoy hanging out in restaurants, many of which are open air along the street, sipping cappuccino.

IMG_4113

From the main street, we walked out to a cliff park overlooking the sea.

IMG_4114

This photo, taken from the same spot as the previous photo, shows Mt. Vesuvius in the distance.  Cities below the mountain include Naples and Pompeii.  Several thousand people also live on the slopes of Vesuvius.

IMG_4115

Again taken from the same spot, looking in the opposite direction, this photo shows the steepness of the cliffs around Sorrento. Houses, vineyards, businesses, olive and lemon groves hang off the edges.  The volcanic soil here is very rich and conducive to intense, successful farming. This is lemon country where limoncello is very popular.

IMG_4112

A few feet from the overlook, we visited a very old church courtyard.  Very old is relative everywhere in Italy.  New can be several hundreds of years old.  I kept thinking about the US and question whether anything we have built now or even at the beginning of the country will last as long as much of what I saw in Italy.

Italy–Rome


Where have I been?  Italy, on a trip planned for months, a trip with friends and family centered around a group of women writers with The Story Circle Network, a group focused on women telling their stories.  Yes, we had classes and wrote every day.  When we were not writing, we discovered a little part of Italy.  The first half day we strolled through ancient Rome, starting with the Coliseum.

IMG_4086

To the left of the Coliseum stands this arch–see a bit of the Coliseum on the right side of this photo.

IMG_4087

The Coliseum is so large that it is impossible to take of photo of all of it at once.  We were there on a holiday.  There was a long line of people waiting to get inside.  We did not go inside.

IMG_4088

IMG_4083

The arch in the first photo seen from the side.

IMG_4089

On the other side of the Coliseum facing down a wide pedestrian only boulevard.  Many of the following photos were taken along this boulevard.  The trees in these photos are umbrella pines.  They are everywhere in Rome and other parts of Italy south of Rome.

IMG_4092

IMG_4116

My daughter and grandson strolling along with friends in the background.

IMG_4094

One of the things I found most enjoyable strolling along were the street musicians:  One played classical guitar music, farther down the boulevard another was playing popular music while another man danced to it. I wanted to stop and dance along but everyone was walking fast away from me.  Getting lost in Rome did not seem to be a great idea.

IMG_4095

While sauntering along, I turned around and took a photo of the Coliseum in the distance.

IMG_4096

In one short walk in Rome, I saw so many things from thousands of years of history, it was hard to fathom.

IMG_4098

Away from the boulevard and walking toward Trevi Fountain, we saw this memorial.  It was a rainy, stormy day.  I kept thinking it is going to rain but it didn’t. In many places, the ancient, the not so ancient, and the new could all be seen in one place.

IMG_4100

And, of course, one of the most famous places in Rome.  We found a little restaurant near here.  I had my first Italian cappuccino and a delectable desert which I tried to find everywhere else we went but did not. It was in a little cup, 2/3 was a creamy bottom, 1/3 was berries on top.

 

IMG_4103

Walking along another route.  I seem to have a little problem taking photos, walking, and keeping my fingers away from the iPAD mini frame while taking some of these photos.  So much seen in a mere half day in Rome.  Shortly after lunch, visiting the Trivi Fountain, and passing by the above monument, we headed on the four hour road trip to Sorrento.

I could not resist taking a video of the lush emerald Italian countryside south of Rome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California Dreaming–Part Two


My friends and I spent the last two days of my California sojourn driving to and staying in San Francisco where they have an apartment.  I had not been in this part of San Francisco before and some things there surprised me.  Next to their apartment building resides a grocery where we went shopping for some salad items and cheese.  Much to my astonishment most prices were no greater than in Amarillo Texas, near where I live.  Some items were cheaper.  Who would have thought?  Not me.

IMG_4008

On the road to San Francisco.

IMG_4009

The view from their apartment.

IMG_4010

The purpose of our going to San Francisco rather than staying near Carmel was to see the new opera, “if I were you”, commissioned by Merola Opera.  It is a modern retelling of the Faust story.  The devil is female and much to my astonishment sung/acted by a young woman, Cara Collins, from Amarillo, Texas.  The director, a good friend of my hosts, informed me that Cara’s teacher, Mary Jane Johnson who is famous throughout the opera world, was there also.  That saying about how small the world is seemed all too true.

IMG_4011

After the opera several of us went to a French restaurant where the waiter spoke several languages.  I felt a bit envious.

After breakfast the next morning, we took a walk to Alamo Square and to The Mill, a famous coffee shop.

IMG_4012

IMG_4013

A view of City Hall through the trees.

IMG_4014

Above:  the Painted Ladies.

IMG_4015

IMG_4016

IMG_4017

Latte at The Mill.

Then off to my flight home.

 

 

California Dreaming–Part One


Not dreaming, real.  My college roommate and husband (we all went to Grinnell College in Iowa together) moved to California a number of years ago.  We take turns visiting each other at least once a year or take a trip somewhere together.  This year was my turn to visit them.  First, I stayed at their house near Carmel.

IMG_3975

Taken later in the day after the fog lifted. They live where fog creeps in during the night and burns off slowly.

 

IMG_3977

Late one morning we drove to Big Sur for lunch at Nepenthe.  The name really fits.  It is Greek for pain free or painless.  Definitely this place makes everyone feel wonderful, especially the views.

IMG_3978

IMG_3979

Succulent heaven resides in this area and around San Francisco.  Here are photos of a few near the shop below the restaurant.

IMG_3980

IMG_3982

 

On another day, we drove through the Salinas Valley to Salinas to visit the house where John Steinbeck lived and the John Steinbeck Museum.  The following views show fields along the way.  This is lettuce country.  The majority of the lettuce consumed in the US grows in this valley.

IMG_3991

IMG_3993

Taken from the car window.

The following is a photo of the John Steinbeck House.

IMG_3994

Volunteers dressed in costumes of the time serve a lovely lunch.

 

From an elevation nearly sea level, another day we drove on a gravel road up into the mountains above Carmel Valley to an elevation of 5000 ft.  About half way to the monastery at the end of the road, the road enters Los Padres National Forest.

IMG_3998

IMG_3999

IMG_4001

IMG_4004

IMG_4007

The pine trees in this area bear huge pine cones.  The tree here and a similar one in the previous photo possess unique trunks, limbs, and foliage.  I never learned the species of either. There is a parking area and some hiking trails.  While not particularly difficult, the trail we took goes up and down and can be a bit steep in places.  The views are spectacular.

Vacationing in New York City–Part Two


We tried to pick a non-rainy day to go to the Bronx Zoo.  Yet, when we arrived, storm clouds swirled; it did not look good.  Luckily, the threat never materialized.  I had forgotten just how large it is. This June, the vegetation reminded me of a tropical jungle except the species of plants differ.

IMG_3747

This zoo is huge and old with elegant, classical style buildings.

IMG_3749

These photos were taken in the Madagascar building.

IMG_3753

Water flows everywhere, making for a very natural feeling environment for many of the animals.

IMG_3755

IMG_3756

The okapi can really blend in with its forested environment.  This is one of my grandson’s favorites.

IMG_3759

The gorilla area is so large I was never able to discern its perimeters.  This seemed good to me; they have lots of room.

IMG_3761

IMG_3762

If you do not want to spend much of your time walking from exhibit to exhibit, some of which are not close to each other or are very large in terms of acres, a shuttle circles the zoo regularly and you can get off and on at various stops.

IMG_3767

Another option is to ride the Monorail which goes all around the huge Asia exhibit.  The only downside is, due to the area in which the animals have to roam, you may not see many up close.  Can you find the tiger?

IMG_3768

This is an Asian rhino and we were told she especially likes hanging out in the water.

IMG_3769

Red pandas are not related to pandas at all.  Although they are a unique species, they are most closely related to raccoons and weasels.

Many people criticize zoos and would rather have animals roaming free.  Sadly, some animals are already extinct in the wild.  A number of animals at the zoo fit this category.  In some cases the zoo has a breeding program and are working on reintroduction programs which will reintroduce extinct species back into their original wild habitats.

No matter how you plan to get to the zoo, you are going to have to walk some distance unless you hire a car or taxi.  You can take the subway and walk about 1/2 mile or so, or you can take the bus but will have to walk to the correct bus stop to catch the express bus which stops near the zoo entrance.  We took the bus which allowed us to get a sort of “tour” of Uptown, Harlem, and the Bronx.  It was comfortable and not very crowded.  I took the following photo at 124th street.

IMG_3746

A small community garden.

 

Vacationing in New York City-Part One


Earlier in June, my daughter, grandson, and I went to NYC for ten days.  We had no particular plans, stayed about three blocks from the East River in Midtown, conveniently only a couple of blocks from the subway so going up and down Manhattan was easy.  We did not do a lot of the usual touristy things.  Mostly we wandered around, exploring.

4B0C3212-3C63-472A-850B-7A361B010D6D

This is a view from the hotel room on the 18th floor.  Yes, there are people living in some of these buildings, complete with patios, patio furniture, and in some cases plants.

E06FC3B5-CF75-4A99-AEE4-271B80D3DB14

The first evening we traveled way downtown, got off the subway at Spring Street, and walked to a soba noodle place which had many vegetarian options–my grandson is vegetarian. We liked it so much we intended to go back but somehow never accomplished that. I would recommend this place for those who like Korean, Japanese, etc. food.  Sadly, I do not recall the name.

IMG_3725

The next day we went downtown again and did something touristy, had lunch in Little Italy.  We had no idea which restaurant to pick so picked this one:  Caffe Napoli.  My grandson liked their cheese ravioli with marinara sauce so much, he ate two entire platefuls.  I had the beet salad.  I am not a bread eater normally but liked theirs so much with the olive oil and herbs that I could not stop eating it. This place was a hit for us so we went back in the evening several days later.

After lunch we took a very long walk through Soho over to Washington Square Park. We spent quite a lot of time there people watching.

IMG_3726

IMG_3728

IMG_3729

IMG_3731

If you have heard of the college, New York University (NYU), and have never been there, you might be surprised to discover it does not have a campus in the usual sense.  Its “campus” is comprised of buildings around and near this park.

Twice we ate at a place close to the hotel:  Clinton Hall at 230 East 51st Street.  They have good veggie burgers and a giant salad served in a huge beer stein, among a variety of options.  They also provide all sorts of games you can play while waiting on food, etc. I would not recommend this place near or on the weekend, however, unless you like loud.  It is a very popular hangout for young, professional people and was so noisy then that we could not even talk to each other without shouting.

One touristy thing we did was take the subway uptown to Central Park and eat lunch at Tavern On the Green.  The salmon patty was excellent.  It was a sunny day, the guests seemed happy except for one man who demanded to be seated in a part of the restaurant that was closed.  He did not succeed. The meal was good, the atmosphere sunny and pleasant. It was relaxing and fun.

IMG_3738

Three times we went uptown to the Barnes and Nobles on 86th Street. We also visited the one at 555 Fifth Avenue.  We are book people, and it seems we end up at book stores everywhere we travel.  My grandson had to stop buying books because of concerns about luggage being over the weight limit. The most unique bookstore we visited is Kinokuniya just across from Bryant Park.  I highly recommend this place.  Not only do they have all sorts of books both in English and Japanese, but they also sell various Japanese art items some of which are very beautiful.  I had to seriously restrain myself. My daughter and I sat in their cafe, I drank matcha latte, and we watched the activities across the street in Bryant Park while grandson explored the huge graphic novel area.

IMG_3742