Weekend in Tuscany

Seems silly to be blogging about Italy from Squam Lake, but I will do that for the sake of documentation. I wrote blog posts for the last week of our trip, but was too busy to post.  So forgive the "present tense" nature of the rest of my posts for this year's trip.

Off to Florence today. Up and out by 10—not as early as we meant to, but…We managed to sleep till 8:15, even though it was glass day. Glass day is when they pick up the glass recyclables. The crashing sounds of breaking glass starting at 6:30 am is really something one can’t imagine until living through it. We got to the hotel at 1:00. The boys got stuck in the elevator briefly, which gave me a bit of a scare, but it soon resolved itself. It was scary when the hotel clerk said, “Oh, God” several times. We also had a little snafu due to my forgetting to tell Adam to bring his passport, but Jayne emailed it and all was fine. 
The view from our hotel. Check out that patio!

The boys soon set out for a long walk, following by the Uffizi, then back to the room for a short rest. Florence is pretty small and Owen knows it well at this point. Fred and I walked around, shopped, had a nice lunch of pesto pasta (him) and caprese salad (me), walked more, and stopped for a spritz near the hotel.

A very nice and leisurely day—the kind I like because we’ve already seen so many of the sights and we can just hang, guilt free. It rained BIG raindrops today! We were all really tired from all the walking, so lucky for us, the dinner restaurant (Il Contandina) was just a few blocks away. We had not been there in eight years, not since the boys were little and the chef made them special simple pasta dishes. It did not disappoint!

Pirates, Parties & Pasta

Today, Owen had to go to a ten-minute meeting about a paper for his class. And I went out to take Erin & Frank’s family Christmas card photo, so we regrouped at about noon. 

This might not be the card choice, but here they are!

The boys and I then drove to Marta (a lake town where a great deal of Italy's fishing industry is) and lunched at Il Pirata, a great seafood place on the lake that has a "pirate-like" owner. 

Again, it was 97, so hanging around Viterbo was just not a very attractive option. The boys had shrimp sauce over gnocchi, a favorite, and shared a coregone (lake fish). I had the coregone and salad. 

The pirate was there : ) I must translate the menu/story about him that I took a photo of… it must be interesting. Not only does the owner have an eye patch like a pirate, but a big dent in his forehead! 
After lunch, the boys swam again at Capodimonte. We came back around 5, showered and went to the school for the final show. Great show by the artists, great readings by the writers. 

Awesome piece by Annalisa Sheldahl.

The group.
Then dinner at L’Archetto, an outdoor place that is always very good to us. A great night all around.

Caroline & Fred

Carlotta & Caroline

Carlotta got us a cake!

 Adam carried a fan the whole time because
Kelly left the next day and gave it to us :)

Everything Old Is New Again

It’s always fun to have visitors to our second home here in Viterbo because it makes us see things new again, through their eyes. Our latest guest is Adam, Owen’s friend from home. He is of Italian descent and is apparently very good in their Italian class.

Owen and I left around 1:00 for the 1 1/2- to 2-hour drive to Fiumicino (where the airport is). We had an hour to kill once we got to the airport, but we wanted to be safe. We would have had more time to kill had we driven the way we meant to drive. Instead, we crawled up the coast, town by town. It was stress free, though, because we knew we’d be there in time.

Waiting is always better with cappuccino, even though coffee
with milk after noon is a dead giveaway tourist move.

He came out of the doors and we were united. It’s funny that a world-class tourist destination city can have an airport that you can stand at and look at every single face that comes out of the gates. Leonardo da Vinci airport is somehow small. No frills. The antithesis of slick.

On the way home, we took an exit at Civitavecchia, the port town where all the cruise ships come in, grabbed a parking spot and were on a beach in about 90 seconds. Now Adam can say he’s been in the Mediterranean.  

Funny how these last two seem to be panoramas. Life is an adventure when you're
over 50 living in a new world of technology! You never know what you're gonna get!

Back on the highway in ten minutes, we were home by 7. The boys had a snack and chilled on the balcony, while I joined Fred at the school buffet and artist talk. The boys then went to Piazza Gesu for pizza, came home and fell asleep for 12 hours.

Sweet neighbor dog. His owner is a Fred Mertz stunt double.

Sad bizarre guy who wears a million coats and sits on a stoop nearby
and smiles all day. At least he smiles. That's a leopard fur coat. :(

Adam’s First Full Day in Italy

The next day, Owen had a short class in Bagnaia, two towns over, in their sculptured gardens, called Villa Lante. I took him over and did some work in the café there, drove him home, and soon took off with the boys for Lake Bolsena in Capodimonte. We stopped at the terme on the way—a terme being a hot, smelly, sulphur spring where people go for the curative powers of the water. At Capodimonte, the boys rented a paddle boat with a slide (the five-seater!) and spent an hour and a half peddling/paddling and diving or sliding off the top. After they turned that in, they swam another hour and a half. I kept scanning the water for their heads—one pale, one darker—while I worked from a café on the beach. Cafés line the beach. Tons of German tourists. One guy with a Wharton school t-shirt. Maybe American, but I couldn’t hear.

The sky began to darken and the wind picked up. Before you knew it, we were getting to the car as fast as we could. Pieces of bark and huge leaves from these weird trees were whipping at our faces—flying debris really putting our eyelashes to the test. Aren’t they supposed to keep stuff out of your eyes?  

This is one of the trees. I said to Owen, Doesn't it look like camouflage?
And he said, Yeah, I didn't even see it!  Hahaha....

I was pretty nervous on the way home because of the intense wind, and the fact that Venice had a damaging tornedo two weeks ago, which prompted a Google search on my part, where I learned these are not at all uncommon in Italy. Lots of big lightning on the 30- to 40-minute drive home. We stopped at the mall for Adam to get a chip for his phone so he can be on line less expensively. (We’ll be back there today because, naturally, it didn’t work. Never does on the first try. It will take up to four men, several phone calls, several scans of some documents, moving from one computer to another, much head shaking and joking, to get it working.) Then we picked up dinner supplies at this same mall because it has a big supermarket. Got home before any rain, and it never really did rain after all!

Owen & Adam at the supermarket inspecting the melons.
 I'm not sure they've ever had their picture taken at the supermarket before!
Everything's fun in a foreign country. Or at least an adventure.

Kelley came to dinner, which is always fun. We had drinks and cheese and crackers on the balcony, dinner in the kitchen, followed by ice cream cones back on the balcony (from Kelly).

The first full day for Adam was a good one!

Post script:  When we went back to the phone store the next day, the two guys working there saw me. One said to the other, “Yeah, she’s back because the chip we sold her yesterday doesn’t work because she has too many cell phones associated with her passport.”  Who knew this could be an issue? And why didn’t they use one of the many ways they have of reaching me to tell me? Long story short, I put this “chiavetta” wifi thing into my laptop, both of which I had WITH me for God knows what reason, emailed them a photocopy of Owen’s passport, and they used that to register Adam’s phone. It was working in under an hour. 

"I'd rather live in a cave with a view of a palace than live in a palace with a view of a cave."

— Karl Pilkington / Writer / The Ricky Gervais Show

I hope, for the sake of the folks living in Caprarola, Lazio, Italy, they share this sentiment because nobody lives in the palace at the top of the hill in their town, and the rest of Caprarola—well, it's not a cave, but it's seen better days.

Last night, we made a reservation at Il Due Galozzi (which translates to The Two Galoots) in the nearby town of Caprarola. Kelly joined and we left early to explore a bit. The town consists mainly of one long steep street leading to the Palazzo Farnese, a huge palace with an amazing sculptured garden behind it, with a sort of running stream/waterfall structure. We have seen this before, and knew it would be closed, so no pictures of it this year.

We parked at the bottom of the hill and worked our way up to the palace, taking side streets as we went—partly for a break from the steep trek, and partly to see something off the beaten path. Lots of people were out in their chairs or on the stoops in front of their houses. We don't know why we don't see that in Viterbo. Maybe because Viterbo's more of a city.

As is typical, a lot of the folks—both the men and the women—had pretty grouchy faces, but if you said, "Sera!" They'd light up and all say it back. You just need to break the ice. It's very rewarding. Case in point, in my last post of the guy with the big dog—the last photo on that blog post was the first one I took, surreptitiously, before getting up the nerve to ask for the photos. He had a particularly imposing countenance, but it was well worth it. He did insult me, however, when he said, "Do you speak English? Speak English. It is easier."  

Fred & Owen at the Palazzo.

The view from the top.

Us at the top. Photo credit to Kelly.

The descent from the Palazzo to the town is a study in grey. 
Including Fred & Owen.

If you imagine all these next scenes without the flowers,
it's a very different picture.

These women were down an alley with a little open area and when they saw me photographing, they beckoned me down to see their pretty garden—all green. No flowers. As I made my way down, a pigeon flew and they suddenly starting pointing and shouting at the wall across from them: "Ouvo! Ouvo! Ouvo!"

The pigeon had just left her hole in the wall and there, precariously on the edge of the hole, was this egg. They were like kids. So excited about the egg. 

The classic grumpy cat.


I know I have no discipline when it comes to editing my photos but I just had to keep the two pizza images. We are very concerned The Two Galoots presents competition for our beloved Viterbo institution Il Monastero, home of the two-plate pizza. Mine was mozzarella and zucchini. I made myself eat only half because Fred mistakenly ordered four SEPARATE orders of bruschetta for an appetizer. Four slices of bread covered with tomatoes for each of us. THEN, pizza!

The best Italian restaurant experiences seem to end with limoncello.
We think it's homemade; it usually is.

Caprarola Cane

I asked the man if I could take a picture of his dog, to which he responded with a nod. He then said, “He’s tired. He worked all day.”  I said, “Dog tired, huh?”  Turns out this dog is a Cane Corso, also known as an Italian Mastiff. It’s an ancient Italian breed that has always been a property watchdog and hunter of difficult game such a the wild boar. (When he said he worked all day, he wasn’t kidding!)

Roaming Rome

We’re in Rome now because of this field trip Owen has, and because of Fred’s desire to sketch the Colosseum. Owen took the train with the group from Viterbo. Twenty-three stops, about two hours. Fred and I drove the half hour to Orte and took the express train to Rome and got there in 35 minutes. 

The B&B is on the fifth floor overlooking Piazza Cavour just across the river from TONS of oppressive tourist action. I like it here. Our innkeeper in an Italian American with dual citizenship. She grew up on Long Island and moved here 16 years ago. Two years later she met her husband, an Italian American from NY who moved here 14 years ago. He went to RISD (!) and is a graphic designer with a firm in NY. But he lives here in Rome.

This is one of the best places we’ve stayed. The windows open onto Piazza Cavour, a huge one with a big green with palm trees in the center, and the back of the court house flanking one side. Guards with machine guns protect the court house 24/7. They're friendly, but it's still nervous making to talk to someone holding such a weapon.

Finally, a room with a view for the Lynches.

Piazza Cavour at dusk.

A bird just sat on my cafe table and took a potato chip 
and flew away too fast for me to grab a shot. 
A man just walked by holding a potted basil plant. 
Fred's former RISD student and our friend Karen Sung 
saw my post about this and immediately drew it!

After Owen’s time at the museum we decided to meet halfway, which was conveniently the Pantheon. We got there at exactly the same time. Funny to see your boy walking toward you in the middle of Rome.

The rest of my time was spent doing what I like to do best—not seeing the traditional sights, since this is our eighth trip to Rome and we've covered quite a few—but people watching, and walking up and down side streets, far from the madding crowd.

Here are some Roman men:

And here are some awesome bookstore displays.

Gotta have the 3D glasses!

And more Rome shots.

The Tevere is olive drab, naturally.

Fred & I in Piazza Navona

Free limoncello tasting!

And a human glass of limoncello selling it!

The boy we brought with us, being coaxed by his father to
step into an Irish pub and hear the brogues. So fun.

Omg, selfie self control, people!

We ate in a perfect spot Fred found on Trip Advisor, a few blocks away—L'Arcangelo. Very Roman clientele, except for a silently arguing young American couple next to us. They were STEAMING mad at each other which distracted and depressed me. The waiter brought us an amuse bouche, which was delightful. It was a tomato and bread purée. When we explained the French term to Owen, it got us wondering if the Italians have a different term. They don't. Here's what I found on Wikipedia:

The term is French, literally translated as "mouth amuser." The plural form is amuse-bouche or amuse-bouches. In France, amuse-gueule is the proper term normally employed in conversation and literary writing, while amuse-bouche is a euphemistic hypercorrection that appeared in the 1980s on restaurant menus and is used almost only there. In French, bouche refers to the human mouth, while gueule refers to the mouth or snout of an animal, and is used as a derogatory term for mouth or face.

The aforementioned treat. 

On every table were placed a corresponding number of matchbox cars
to the number of seats at the table. They belong to the owner's son.

My entrée. Baccalà (a fish) topped with grilled red peppers,
atop a purée of some sort. Foggy now on the details, but it was great.
The cheese course was for later but
somehow came at the same time (in the background).
Our 24 hours in Rome was short, but sweet. Owen will return next week with his visiting friend. They hope to rent segways, but Owen will be one day short of his 18th birthday and might not be allowed to rent, not to mention be the guardian for his 17 1/2-year-old friend!  We trained back to Orte, and drove home from there. Dinner in our little Viterbo.

Parade, or More Like Paradini

I'm sitting in a café in Piazza Cavour, Rome, with my laptop and a spritz—a great light refreshing drink. Perfectly named. Fred’s walking back from the Colosseum, which he sketched today. Owen’s in our B&B, having spent the day on the train to Rome, eating lunch (pasta carbonara in 100° weather!), and walking around the National Museum with his class. I’ll write more about Rome, but first, a mention of last night’s annual Procession by our apartment.

Every July 16 there is a parade—Processione Della Madonna del Carmelo a Viterbo—which goes right by the apartment we’re in this year (and have been two other years). This year we had a little cocktail party, but sadly, the procession was about a quarter of the length it usually is. I spent the day doing a logo for my father (the Seacoast Jazz Society), then cleaned the apartment top to bottom. When I finished, I heard the church bells ringing and said, “Owen, what time is it? Four?” It was FIVE. Guests were due to arrive at six. I was unshowered, and we needed cheese, crackers, beer and wine. I showered and ran downstairs to our wine guy and asked him to pour me a 1.5 liter of white from the vat and told him I’d be back in 15 minutes. I then ran to the shop at the end of the street, only to find her closed! Had to go several more blocks to the store that is always open. Got everything I needed and it all turned out fine, but it was too bad the parade was so tiny. My photos from previous years show it in its glory, but here are a few from this year.

Classes got out early so the students could watch. Here they turn the corner onto our street.
Our neighbors taking it in.

Every year someone looks straight up into my camera.

The townspeople follow along at the end.

This smiling townsperson is not a townsperson at all.
It's Maura, Montserrat's visiting artist in Viterbo, on her way to our party.

Our guest looks for his dad on our balcony. 

Kids love Fred. Kids and cats.

Some shots of our youngest guests.

Oops, we're not the youngest guests, but we learned
you can take a selfie with a 35 mm camera!

Morning Walk

This post will be just photos and an occasional caption 
from my morning walk around Viterbo yesterday.

Crazy t-shirt captions.
Others I've seen are: "I'm a fashion dog"
accompanied by a drawing of a dog in a tutu.
And "I've got my shoes. Where's the party?"
accompanied by an image of diamond studded stilettos.

Across the street from our apartment, three pillows hang out the window every morning.
I don't get it. This is another part of town. All over town, linens, rugs, pillows and towels
seem to be at different stages of trying to escape from their apartments.

Check out the woman :)

The graffiti reminds me of the t-shirts.

Design is everywhere.

Opera's in town.

There's this little white bird in a cage hanging out the window, chirping away with other birds.
I wonder if he wonders why he's the only one in a cage.

Tweetie bird stickers were all over this little yellow Fiat 500.

Murlo. Sounds like furlough. Not Merlot.

Owen had another field trip Friday, so Kelly, Fred and I drove up to the Tuscan town of Murlo (12 miles south of Siena) to visit their RISD colleague Nick and his wife, Monica. They’re there for six weeks through RISD—on-site at an archaeological dig, recording the findings with drawings (by Nick). Click here if you’re interested in learning more:  http://www.poggiocivitate.com/2015fieldseason/

Murlo has 25 inhabitants (!), but Nick and Monica live in the bustling metropolis of Vescovado with its other 748 inhabitants.The drive was great, as always, when Kelly’s in the car and Fred’s in charge of the music. We listened to his mix of sit com theme songs from the ‘70s. I’m sure we were the only car in Italy listening to that—in the world, for that matter. We stopped for a few views along the way. Blazing hot, and very dry. Last time I was in Tuscany it was a bit more green.

When we arrived, we panicked that we hadn’t picked a place to meet our hosts, but that’s before we knew Murlo was so tiny. There they were at the entrance to the town—he drawing, she knitting. After a tour of this picturesque little village, we had lunch in a perfect spot overlooking a valley—a very green valley, actually. The menu was adventurous: chick pea pasta, chestnut pasta, stewed wild boar with prune sauce—oh, and an appetizer of bacon wrapped fat. Yup! And wine, of course.

Entrance to Murlo.

Cool promotional posters for an exhibit.

After lunch, we went down to a municipal garage where Nick spends most of his time. It was cool to the dig stuff all over the tables.

Dig findings. 

We then drove to their apartment—walkable, but we had the car— and saw their spacious apartment with its best view out the bathroom window (!) and walked around their town. Also, very charming. It had hotel with a pool in the center of town where we stopped for a spritz. A perfect end to a Tuscan afternoon. Then back on the road to Viterbo.

Silly profs.

Silly statue.

Daytripping & Sipping

Owen had a field trip Thursday of this week, so Fred and I spent the day doing what Owen likes least: visiting small non-touristy towns, walking around photographing, then separating for Fred to draw and me to work in a café with wifi. Owen prefers to see the places more well-known and considered by the masses as worthy of seeing.  I like both, frankly, but it’s a whole lot cheaper to work in a café in Vignanello than it is in Florence.

The three towns were Canepina, Vallerano and Vignanello, all about 30 to 40 minutes away from where we live. Surprisingly, in our nine years here we’d not yet explored these three charming towns. Fred found them. The first was small and very quiet. Then again, the whole country is quiet between noon and four, except for the major cities. All you hear is knives and forks being used or washed, and then soap operas. Loud. Wafting out of the shuttered windows. Cats are the only life on the streets.  

So lucky—he popped out just when I clicked :)
After scouting around Canepina, shooting photos and looking for sketchable scenes for Fred, I settled into my café. It wasn’t too special. A little dark and “modern,” so not especially aesthetically pleasing, but a very nice proprietor. We met at the car in an hour and a half and went on to Vallerano. Walked, shot, and settled me down into a café. It had seemed perfect when we first arrived and asked about wifi. They said yes, they had it, and I said I’ll be back in 20 minutes. When I went back there were now 12 men at tables outside playing cards. Someone like me is a real spectacle—an unfamiliar face,  a camera, a huge bag with my laptop, a stupid hat that immediately shouts “TOURIST” but I really need it because of the sun. You can’t put sunblock on your scalp! I walked by them,  through the beaded curtain, into the café and sat with two men and the proprietor with a cappuccino and a water (one to perk me up, the other so I didn’t melt). They watched the Tour de France, I worked, and all we said to each other was “Caldo! Troppo caldo!” 

At one point a man with a little short beagle type dog walked in and the dog made a beeline for me, as if he had seem me come in earlier and made a mental note, "There's ONE new person in there I have to meet." I gave him tons of attention and he sat down on my bag and settled in for some love. 

The last town, Vignanello, was my favorite. It was the biggest and, because it was 5 pm at this point, it was coming to life. After the walk, Fred and I had a drink, as is our custom on these days of sketching and working. The place was called the Modern Café and had a pretty big outdoor area with an amazing view of the surroundingcountryside, as this town is on a hill. The place was ALL MEN PLAYING CARDS. About six tables, four or five to a table. And not one of them wasn’t wearing blue. Blue stripes, blue checks, blue plaid, solid blue. And none of them were eating or drinking. I asked the proprietor, “Dove sono tutti le donne?" My attempt at "Where are all the women?” And he laughed and gave me an answer which I couldn’t understand. DAMN. Fred thinks they were at church. We’ve seen that a lot. The women go to church, while the men hang out and chat till they come out.

Finally some ordering was done by folks other than us. One guy came out with two ice cream cones. One for him, and one for his dog. Have I mentioned Italians love their dogs? He fed the cone to the dog, twisting the cone so the dog could lick it evenly all around. Couldn’t have been more considerate if he were doing this for a child. It was pretty cute, and everyone around him thought so too.  Another guy later did the same for his dog—bought him a cone—but just let him chomp down on it in one bite. To each his own.

After our drink, I got the wifi password and Fred left to draw. 

That's my big-ass white car on the end.
I spend 11 months of the year driving a Mini Cooper in the
 land of the biggest cars on earth, and the 12th month
 a freaking Fiat SUV on the most narrow streets ever.

Fred said that baby cat doesn't look anything like his mother.

But just a few blocks away might be the genetic link!

Nothing but the sounds of dinner dishes and soap operas.

The Modern Café

Men in Blue


Owen and I spend our afternoons in cafés. I work and Owen does homework for the class he’s taking about Etruscan art. Last year was the travel writing course. Interestingly, or maybe not, they're the same two courses Henry chose—clearly deliberate choices to avoid the two classes that have to do with drawing and painting. Hmmm…..
I got this shot of Monday's café off the internet,
as I didn't take any shots myself.

Monday’s café was the one we spent most of our time in last year, so that was our first stop. But this day it was filled with American students, not “ours,” but from some other program. And not the usual opera group that comes to Viterbo this time every year. You can tell this wasn’t that group because nobody sang. The opera kids seem to have no control over singing publicly. 

These kids, although separately by a floor—Owen and I tuck into a little tiny loft space—drove me nuts. They were all attached to iPads, iPhones or laptops, and spent four hours in this café, talking about nothing other than where they were going next.

“I’m meeting a friend in London and we’re going to Dublin together.”

“I really wanna go to Switzerland. Or Germany. Or [shrug] anywhere.”

I wanted to jump down from the loft and say,  “You’re in ITALY NOW. How about going THERE???”

As I write this, I remember my junior year in Denmark when most weekends were spent on a train to points south of Scandinavia, and my sweet host mother asking, “What about the rest of Denmark?”  
This is Gran Caffé Schenardi where we went the next day.
Elegant and regal, it's been a meeting place in Viterbo since 1818.

Practicing the Transport of la Macchina di Santa Rosa

The most exciting thing that happens in Viterbo happens in September when we’re not here. It’s called the Transport of the Macchina di Santa Rosa. It’s a ritual to honor the patron saint of Viterbo, Santa Rosa, which began in 1258. A huge four-story-tall monument is built and carried by 100 male porters (called facchini di Santa Rosa) from one end of town to the other—about a mile. Every five years a new monument is built, and the current one is retired. Right now, the last one is at an “Expo” in Milan. The Viterbese are understandably very proud of this.

The Macchina from 2007. They light it up
and shut off all the surrounding lights in town.
Fred was drawing yesterday and settled down in a part of town much closer than he’d intended to because he stumbled upon the monument being assembled. Our wine-store-owner-neighbor bumped into Fred and told him that tomorrow morning at 6 am would be a rehearsal for the September 3 procession and that we MUST witness it. And that we did. (This neighbor is now fluent in English, having studied all year with a local Scottish guy he hired for private lessons. “Suddenly I’m English!” he said to me.)

This morning we got up earlier than we ever have in Viterbo, not counting the days we leave and have to get on a bus to the airport. It was not typically quiet and eerie, though, because as we neared the square, we could see and hear the townspeople gathering near the structure.

Some onlookers aren't quite as enthralled as others.

La Macchina—this is just a partially-assembled version.
The final one will have candles, and who knows what other embellishments.

We waited for quite some time, 6 am not really meaning 6 am in Italy, but were rewarded. A guy on a speaker—the capofacchini, “head of the guys carrying the macchina”—told everyone “We’re beginning,” and all the facchini in their matching white tee-shirts, black work boots and various “padding” apparatus took their assigned spots under and around the monument. It’s HUGE, towering over the tops of the three-story buildings surrounding it. The actual specs require it to be no higher than 28 meters (30 yards), no heavier than 5 tonnes (11,000 pounds), and no wider than 4.3 meters (5 yards). Until a few decades ago, the Macchina di Santa Rosa was made of paper mache, but now it is made of steel, aluminum and fiber glass to be lighter and fire resistant.

A word about the facchini. To be selected as a facchino, one must pass a test of strength by carrying a 160 pound box on his shoulders for at least 70 meters without stopping. It is a great honor to be selected. Before the start, they receive a special blessing and, for most of the route, they walk without any visual aid, directed by the capofacchini and guides posted at the four corners of the machine.

The facchini then lifted the macchina off the saw horses it rested on, only by about a foot, and made their way down the hill to the Fontana Grande, about four blocks away, all downhill. The guy with the speaker repeated “Fare! Fare! Fare!” which means to make or do. Kind of like “hut” to a soldier. The monument bobbed slightly (and tilted a tiny bit) as it slowly glided down the narrow street.

Ropes lined the street, presumably to keep us onlookers off the street and on the sidewalk, but nobody paid any attention and the street filled with spectators following the bobbing tower. At the Fontana, the facchini rested and had a cigarette and a swig from the fountain. For about 45 minutes. Much fun people- (and dog-) watching. (The Italians love their dogs.)

This facchino has a leather shoulder pad on his right shoulder with the number 8.
This means he will be on the left side of the macchina, as it will rest on his right shoulder.
The guys in the middle, underneath the structure, have a hooded neck/back pad, and a rope
they hold in their mouth, like the rein of a horse.

She's all set with him.

An ambulance is always on standby because in 1790 the machine fell during the move. In 1801, the cries of a spectator robbed of her jewels by some pickpockets in the Piazza Fontana Grande panicked some cavalry horses. Twenty-two people in the crowd died in the ensuing confusion and later that night the machine caught fire in Piazza delle Erbe. In 1814 tilted backwards and a few porters died.

When they started up again, we stayed and watch them go, rather than follow. They went about equidistant from where we’d come to where we were, then stopped, turned the statue around—a complete 360—and then another 90, till they were taking a right down the next street, after which they disappeared and we went home to bed.Someone posted a video of the whole event and it can be seen here. Here's the url:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEcweFmNDc8

Planes, Phones & Automobiles

We’re back at our second home—Viterbo, Italy. In tact, but a little hotter than usual. Good for the grapes. Humans, not so much. 

The view from our balcony
The thing about traveling is you become all too aware of your vulnerabilities. My biggest one is when things don’t work as they should. We have phones, iPads and laptops we like to make internet- and/or text-ready. Right away. This can be done in an hour or so at a phone store, usually, but the trick is getting there when they’re open, and getting there with enough time to wait in the line before they’re closed again. I’d say 90% of the people who come to the phone store ask a question and are responded to with a shake of the head “no,” after which they leave, seemingly having expected that what they wanted to do would be not-doable. Sometimes they’re clever enough to politely interrupt the line, ask the question, and be done with it.

We arrived without a hitch. Quick flight to Paris. As usual, too short for me. Didn’t even finish my movie. A not-too-long layover, and then on to Rome. Lots of customs lines in Paris, so none in Rome, which was nice. We took the bus together up to Viterbo, settled into our apartments and met at 8:30 for dinner. This all went fine. Same place as usual for dinner, but it was especially good this time, possibly because they felt bad for giving away our table for 25, causing us a half hour delay. But also possibly because of our beautiful new guide, Carlotta. When we were first introduced to her via Facebook, I said to one of the faculty, I know one Lynch who’ll have a crush this summer. Maybe two, actually. Hell, all three of us will!!!   She’s great—in real life, too, not just Facebook.

 A welcome gift from Carlotta, our guide for the month.
 A water-stocked fridge, also from Carlotta.
The tap water contains arsenic, so this is truly a life-saving touch.

The Piazza has a carnival ride in it right now.
Day Two is when I get the car, charge the technology, and do the big shop. The first two parts went (seemingly) swimmingly. I was a little concerned when the car they gave us was a huge Fiat 500. Like jumbo shrimp, it sounds like an oxymoron, but for someone who drives a Mini Cooper at home, this was a little unwieldy. It’s truck-like, in that it’s a big step up to get into the driver’s seat, and to rest my arm out the window, I have to stretch for the tip of my elbow to reach the door. Not the restful effect I’m looking for.

Owen, Kelly (Fred’s co-teacher) and I did the big shop together. Kelly’s first Iper Coop experience (a very large department/grocery store). She was appropriately awed. Coming out of the parking lot, I couldn’t see very well out the back window of the car and hit a pole. Hard. So much for what a deal we got on the car rental this year because of how low the euro is. I have no info on how much this will cost me. It might be nothing (due to my credit card’s insurance); it might be $600 (the fee they already put on my car in case of damage); it might be more. Nobody was hurt, and the damage does not effect the car’s ability to operate. What’s done is done. We will speak of this no more.

Huge bread from Iper Coop! Bruschetta bread!
We will also speak of this no more: I have been back to the phone store twice since the first, and will go back tomorrow because none of the phones or laptops have charged and/or stay charged. None except for the phone Fred uses, or I should say the phone Fred doesn’t use, as he really doesn’t know how to use a cellphone. But we insist here in Italy that we all be reachable. So, back to the phone store I will go tomorrow to sort it out again. Six hours yesterday in my pajamas were spent at the kitchen table trying to figure out how to text…. only to find at 6 pm when I finally gave up and went to the phone store that I didn’t put texting on the plan. 

Dessert on Night Two

Today was the annual lunch at Purgaturio. I take pictures every year and they are just as beautiful (but quite similar) every year. 

I skipped something exciting that happened in Viterbo this morning, but that’s for another post.
Lunch at Purgatorio

Funny Dr. Seuss flowers.

The view of Purgatorio. Same picture I take every year.
Today it poured while we were there, but ever so briefly,
and the sun was back out again in no time.

Date Night & the Duck

This post is called Date Night & the Duck,  but admittedly, it will have some photos that have nothing to do with that night. Some are from a night when Fred and I went out to check the availability of the night of Owen's birthday, only to be convinced to stay for dinner (and make a reservation for his birthday.... actually, for the night after because his birthday night, a Tuesday, is their day to be closed. Every restaurant and shop has to be closed one day a week.).

This next shot—I can't remember where we were, but this could be any number of nights when we asked Kelly to join us. She was the glue that kept the four of us Lynches together this summer, for which we are very grateful. 

This shot was taken a couple of days before we left. Most shops and bars have beads hanging from the doorways. Must be a way to keep bugs out. This one looked exactly like spaghetti!

I shot this because Henry is going off to college in the town where the "Smiley Face" was invented. Worcester, Massachusetts. This is a take on the ubiquitous image.

And now we're at that date night, but again, this will lapse into our last night in Viterbo, which was spent at the same restaurant ( The Garden of the Duck), but with the whole family, as opposed to a date night with just Fred and me.

On our way there, we witnessed a water delivery. The arsenic issue is very real!

At the Garden of The Duck, the appetizer was over the top. It's described simply as fried vegetables, but it was better than anything we've eaten in the States.

Our table. We had a reservation, but, sadly, he thought we were coming the Wednesday PRIOR to this particular Wednesday! The weather was chilly so we had to eat indoors, so we were lucky to get a table!

My "mezzo litre de vino bianco" was misundertood and morphed into an entire bottle of non-house wine : )  No problem!

A reluctant pose.

A requested pose.

This was what we figured was a batchelor party. There were some women, though, so it might not be an accurate theory. Pretty rowdy!

Check out the Go-Pro! Or is that a selfie on a rod???

Fred's favorite: Caccio e Pepe.

I've been ordering this amazing salad of arugula and tomatoes with steak and parmesan cheese chunks.

This is what the Garden of the Duck looks like. It's our favorite spot. Sort of a rooftop setting with a very lively host, Mareno   :)

This shot (above) and the one below were taken on our date night.

Sneaky devil, that Mareno!

Reservation for 30, Per Favore

I've become so accustomed to dining in the presence of artists, that I forget how interesting it is. When the group gets together on Thursday nights for the restaurant dinners (as opposed to the Tuesday night buffet and artist talk), we often have long tables covered with paper table "cloths."  If the tablecloths are not paper, these kids find other ways of expressing themselves with pen, pencil or crayon.

Sometimes they draw each other, sometimes elaborate "hand turkeys," sometimes just the surrounding neighborhood. I sat across from a student whose final project is going to be signage, so she practiced drawing all the signs around us, which were many because our tables were on a busy shopping street.

This is how we were greeted—a big surprise because this restaurant has very limited outdoor seating, under an arch, so we usually have to be split up. They had blocked off part of the street with potted trees and created an additional outdoor dining area for us.

For years, we interpreted a sentence on the menu to mean, "food like your grandmother used to make." But tonight we learned Nonna really does make the food!  And here she is (top left, in case it's not obvious!).

I took only one photo of one student's artwork, but following are other photos of this night, which Fred asked me to take because my camera is better than his—at night, especially.

Charlotte loves the students and they, her,
but she was particularly drawn to Natalie.
I wonder why? :)

Carlo. He's the man.

Dino drawing.

Shelby, the signage expert!

Ciao, Bella!

Everyone Tolerates a Parade

Two years ago, when we were staying in the same apartment we're in this year, we discovered we were on a parade route. Every July 16, it starts from a church in the nearby San Pellegrino medieval area, and winds around the city streets. Last year, Henry got stuck coming home from class and couldn't get down our street. This year, Owen's class watched it from school.

Everyone comes out on the balcony and watches. People drag out their chairs and wait for it, and then stare, seemingly critically, smile-less, as the procession goes by. We smile, of course.

Kelly, Fred & Henry on the balcony. We do smile.
Mrs. Kravitz smiles, too, actually. A lot. 
Mrs. Kravitz's cat is a little alarmed when the marching band can be heard in the distance.
The locals.

My girls.

Luigi, get your ass out here. It's starting.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

The very first to come 'round the bend was this guy. A lone accordion player. Barely audible, to boot. 
She's a legit parader. 

And so it begins.

There's not a ton to say about this parade. Fred said it's a somber look they have on their faces (the participants) but I interpreted it as boredom or indifference. I hope he's right. It is a religious affair, after all.

Some of them carry these big things, some don't. One guy carries a sound system, which doesn't ever work very well.

More too good not to share.

Must be the local politicians. Love the hand gestures.
Would love to know what's up.

Men in Capes.

And at the very end, the townspeople come out and follow!

At the very end, the woman on the next balcony over (aka Mrs. Kravitz) looked at us, shrugged, and said, "It is the same every time."  

Girls in the 'Hood

Two years ago, when we stayed in the same apartment we're in this year, there was a little girl (I think possibly the niece of the wine store guy) who would ride her bike up and down the streets and shyly say "Ciao" to us. This year, emboldened by support from her friends, she's very talkative. I ran into this little posse of girls last week who excitedly asked me if I was American, squealing when I said I was. I tried to convey where in the States I'm from, and finally settled on "near New York," to which they freaked out even more. I felt bad because I'm hardly from New York. Then they asked how old I was (?), and I found out they're twelve. The next thing they asked was, "One Direction?!?"  Then, "Justin Bieber?!?!"  I said, "Si, si!" Then one girl (the one on the right) asked which I liked better and, without hesitation, I responded "One Direction," to which she gave a high five and the other girl (the original friend, on the left) did the Italian gesture with the hand under the chin to her. Such vulgarity from the little "shy" girl!

I was struck by three things that day. The difference between a 10-year-old girl and a 12-year-old girl is a very big one. That gesture is not as crude in Italy as I thought it was. It just means "Get lost." And how ironic the first things they mentioned when they learned I was American were a Canadian singer, and a British boy band.  Go figure.

The girls waiting for a parade that comes down our street. 

Dinner Italian Style con Vino, Cibo & Amore!

Eight years ago, the Lynches lived next door to the Basiles, Mario and Assunta, on a side street outside the medieval walls of Viterbo, Italy. Mario always chatted with us, gave the boys a ball to kick around and generally made us feel at home. Assunta invited me over for coffee one morning, and we chatted, with the help of a dictionary, which wasn't all that necessary. Facial expressions and intonations can go a long way in the business of communicating. So, since that first year, we've seen the Basiles and their extended family every year. Once, even at their beach place in Tarquinia (an Etruscan town one hour southwest). The meals are the same in one regard: lots of laughter among the uncles, aunts and cousins; lots of food; lots of homemade wines, and fruit soaked in the wine; espresso; bread; grilled meat and vegetables; and, naturally, a pasta course!  Alessia, Mario's granddaughter, spent a year at an American high school in Kentucky in 2013 and spent a week of that year with us in Winchester.

Sunday night at 7 pm, after our weekend in Florence, we arrived in Vitorchiano (near Viterbo) to dine at the home of Alessia's parents, Roberto and Emanuela. The following is how we spent the next several hours.
Before.  (This is where they eat Christmas dinner. The table is ONE table. The room, on the lower level of the house, has a kitchen, as does the street level. Italian-American style! I guess it started here : )
After. (Well, more like During.)
Zia Alessandra & Iliana (Alessia's cousin)

Mario & Alessia

Antonella & Mama Assunta

Emanuela & Sister Alessandra

The cousins!  Owen, Henry, Alessandra, Iliana, Georgia & Leonardo.

Cousin Iliana, Uncle Emilio, Cousin Georgia, Uncle Roberto, Henry & Uncle Mauro. I'm calling them cousins and uncles and aunts as they are that to Alessia :)

Fred & Roberto

Roberto makes his own liqueurs from lemons and oranges he grows in the yard!

Until next year, Basile family! And thank you, thank you, thank you for welcoming us into your hearts and homes, year after year. Al prossimo anno!

Pure Italy

This post has no pictures, but I'm hoping to create the scene with words.

On our earlier trips to Viterbo, crazy things happened to us because of cultural differences. There was the time I let the kids stay in the car while it went through the car wash. I got out for some reason. An old lady was quite alarmed at the bambini still in the car.This is not something you do here, or at least not at this type of car wash (a small machine, just a little bigger than the car with a sort of conveyor belt that moves the car through). The kids emerged unscathed.

Another time (and this is not a cultural thing, actually), the toll booth ate my card and then locked us in behind AND in front. Luckily, there's a little PA system by which I communicated and got help. They took the entire machine apart, found, and returned my card.

An ATM also ate my card once, and the following day, when the bank was open, I spoke to a teller, who opened a drawer, asked if this was my card (holding out my card), and told me he would have to mail it to my bank in the States. Ah, so close and yet, so far.  That was Bank of America, by the way, which charges both ways—they get a fee for every transaction, and they do not waive or absorb the vendors' fees. I came home that year with over $300 in transaction fees. Bank of America is not an international-friendly bank to work with. TDAmeritrade and Fidelity each have fee-free debit card accounts. Learned this the hard way.

Here's last week's scenario. I went to the big supermarket on a Monday late afternoon. Mistake #1. Apparently, everyone depletes all their food on Sunday and replenishes on Monday.  HUGE lines. And people are never in a hurry, and, as I've mentioned, children are the priority. So add an extra 20 minutes standing behind people stopped with a sideways carriage blocking the whole aisle. Or behind a person letting their toddler bag, identify, weigh and put the sticker on their produce purchases.

When I finally got the few things I needed, I discovered the lines were all down the aisles from the registers... you couldn't even see where they ended. There is no line for people with just a few items. So I maneuvered my way to the end of a line, halfway down the jelly aisle, then got busy on my phone to try and pass the time. A young woman with a toddler asked me if this was the line. She got in behind me. After about 15 minutes, my place in the line came to the clearing between the aisles and the registers. Imagine my surprise to see a line of people standing in MY line, forking off down the other aisle. I was incredulous and tried, off and on, to make eye contact, but chickened out. Then an older woman came up to the line and positioned herself in front of us. Then a pregnant woman came in from the other side, right up at the front of the line. The old woman told everyone to let her in. They are so kind to their pregnant people, I thought, but really? She was taking advantage. Then the woman behind me with the toddler cut in from of me!

A couple of people up was a young man with a Washington sweatshirt on. I thought he might be American and wondered what he was thinking about all of this. He actually left the line at one point (suicide!) because, I later learned, he had forgotten to weigh his produce, so he ended up way behind me, and then eventually, immediately behind me because of all the people cutting up ahead. I finally made eye contact with him when he was a few people back, and said, "Are you American?" He said he was. He's a Brian Williams look-alike, by the way. I said "Is this @#%&*!!@#$-ing unbelievable?????" You can swear like a truck driver in public if you need to because they don't hear it the same way we do. As for the American kid, he understood, but screw it, I had to blow off steam. He was losing his mind, too.

When yet another woman with a toddler came from the other side of the store to get in front, I moved to block her and the old lady yelled to me, "Signora!!!" And in Italian—Let the lady in with the bambino!!!  I said, "Gli MIEI bambini sono a la MIA CASA addesso, APSETA per ME e questo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"  Probably totally unrecognizeable gibberish, but what I was saying was MY kids are home waiting for me and this food! Doesn't that matter? My Brian Williams friend was bug-eyed with shock over what was happening to us.

Then, the cultural thing happened. I looked up, and there, above me, was a sign indicating pregnant women, women with babies and handicapped or old people get priority and should be granted access to the head of the line... So, there you have it. Ryan (my friend) and I had mistakenly gotten into the line that draws ALL mothers with born or unborn children to this line. We are lucky we EVER got out of there. Over an hour in this God-forsaken line. I drove him home. It was the least I could do considering talking to him, distracting myself as best I could, saved my life, and probably the lives of several others, too.

Weekend in Florence

It's weird to get up one morning and say, "We're driving to Florence today." But that's what we did (and have done three times in our lives!). Henry wanted badly to see it again, having learned so much more about the art and music of the time in his Humanities class last year, so we indulged. I found a great hotel that was affordable—four people can get expensive because you need to either get two rooms, or one huge room—easy to find, nearby parking, clean (really clean), friendly, and included breakfast.

These guys loudly bade us farewell as we left.

The entrance to our hotel. HUGE.

The boys all went to the Uffizi for our 2:30 reservation (made on-line to avoid waiting in line—the only way to go), which we timed perfectly as we arrived in Florence about an hour before. It's about a three-hour drive, when all is said and done. But we left at 10 am so I'm not sure how the math works with that. Whatever. Lots of one-way streets require a few zigs and zags. We use the iPad to navigate which is a Godsend. I, having been to the Uffizi and not needing to do it again, spent the time shopping and wandering. Heavenly. But as the skies darkened and a few drops of rain fell, I knew I needed to find shelter, and I needed to do it ahead of everyone else so I didn't end up in a giant tourist trap bar and/or a giant deluge. So I didn't time this particularly well, ending up sitting for an hour with a glass of prosecco before any more rain fell! I had to then spend another hour, this time with coffee, while the rain poured down. I got to watch two weddings while doing so. I was in  a major-league tourist piazza, but the prices were surprisingly low! Score :)

My walk, pre-storm.
My shelter. The waiter offered. I accepted.

The men are a whole different breed here. Primping and preening openly is completely acceptable.

This little blonde, curly-haired British girl was busy picking up the little crepe paper cut-out hearts they toss when the bride and groom emerge a married couple. (Lots of these weddings are British "destination" weddings.)

If you look closely in the arch you can see the handsful of birdseed they throw at the bride and groom, and a pigeon, naturally.

This is another bride. This one, Italian.

A man gives his dog a lift (in the basket of the bike, under the umbrella).

I met the boys at the Statue of David copy right near the Uffizi, and coincidentally, a stone's throw from my café. (There are three Davids in Florence. One real, and two copies.)

A copy. Could've fooled me!

We walked a bit more and stopped for a bite at a bar. This is where Fred ordered a beer and mistakenly got a $22 LITER of beer. Last time I saw a beer that big was at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich during Oktoberfest. It was insane. We made the kids drink some :)

Back at the hotel we rested and prepared for dinner at Il Contadina, a place we had discovered years ago that we loved. The owner made special meals for the kids because they were so little. (Italians are very solicitous to their kids' desires. Not mean like us Irish Catholics!) Anyway, we got there only to find they are closed on weekends :(  So we continued down this street because it was a non-touristy area. Or so we thought. The first two restaurants we came to had charming outdoor seating, but not-so-charming Americans loudly talking about things like steak to their waiters. We moved on until we found an indoor and brightly-lit place. The kind of place we would walk right by at home, but here, in Italy, bright lights inside a restaurant are the norm. We looked in and saw only Italians. We had arrived at our destination. Food was great. Staff was all family.

Our closed Il Contadina.
Crazy place on the way. Space Electronic Discoteque.

My meal. Spaghetti Puttanesca.

Henry's pizza. With hot dogs and French fries!

We had to get Henry's college ID photo shot and emailed to the school the next day.
God only knows what they think I was saying.
Next morning we walked around more... a LOT, actually, and left at 3:00 for home. Due for dinner at 7 pm at the home of the Primavera/Basile family, our Italian friends.

Owen and his social network.

Nothing like a little rain to clear a place out.
There's a woman way up in the window. You can be sure you will see a face in a window at any given time, often attached to a phone because the thick walls make for really bad reception indoors.


The well-earned view from the top.