Tag Archives: solo travel

(Interrupted) Reflections on Italy

In conclusion…

Even the taxi ride to the airport was another grand tour of Rome. I don’t know what all we passed, but there is just too much beauty and history to see. After a two hour delay due to mechanical trouble, we are now airborne leaving Rome. The woman next to me is talking loudly to herself (in Hebrew?) as if we are all going to die indicated by her occasional English statement, “oh a God, oh a God. What is wrong with this airplane!? What is happening. WHAT IS HAPPENING? AYE AYE OH GOD!” I’m trying to make a soothing face and sound to help her simmer down. On top of her building hysteria, I think she might have some sort of bronchial infection or the whooping cough or something. I saw her pop a few pills and am praying they are for sleeping.

Though reflection may take a little more time and distance, I can’t help but to think about what this trip means to me, what I learned and how it impacts the way I think and create artwork.

I learned that most people are the same as each other. I learned that most people have some kindness in them. I learned that we are all impacted by the news, media, and literature we have at our disposal. I learned that McDonalds is doing a good job marketing and selling to Europeans. I learned that many people are jerks when on sidewalks and when it comes to waiting in line. I learned that the USA is in its infancy. I learned that short shorts with bottom cheek hanging out has spread across the globe as acceptable attire for young women. I learned that history is not past, it is living and breathing in every present moment and human thought and decision. I learned that art, philosophy and religion are one in the same and have the same source. I learned that communication can happen without words.

Not one time did I feel unsafe. Not one single time. I was nervous about pickpockets and guarded my belongings, but never did I feel unsafe. As a female traveling alone all over a country, I think this is of utmost importance. I am also extremely grateful that I never got sick, not even a stomach cramp! How fortunate! My knee, which has endured multiple surgeries, held up beautifully and never even hurt, which is unusual. I never even had a crick in my neck or a headache! So so so thankful!

Ok, my reflecting is made difficult by the aforementioned seatmate. From time to time, we read about these people in the newspaper when it gets bad enough…you know, the disruptive lunatics on airplanes. I suppose I should be grateful I’ve never had this happen before. I don’t even know where to begin…she has no sense of personal space, leans over and literally drapes her arm on top of my body. Keeps talking to me, though not in English, and she leans her head ONTO me. We are talking about physical contact here people. I know there are cultural differences with how people interact in crowded spaces but I am getting uncomfortable with this level of physical contact.

When lunch arrived, the stewardess asked if we wanted the chicken or pasta meal and my seat companion kept saying both. She and the stewardess went round and round about how she couldn’t have both, just one. Throughout the meal, each time a flight attendant walked by, the lady asked for a second meal. Eventually, she received another lunch and dumped the whole thing in her purse! Later she dug it out and ate it! She keeps offering me peanuts, which I suppose is nice but she leans way over and puts the bag in my face and I feel like she is tempted to suffocate me with a bag full of peanuts.

I am now TRYING to watch a movie (keep in mind, I’ve been on this plane for over 9 hours now with this woman). She gets up and down from her seat constantly and when people need to pass, she won’t move from the aisle. She asks for drinks when they aren’t serving drinks. I tried to take a nap, and I swear she intentionally poked me in the arm for the entire 45 minutes. When I finally dozed off, she reached across my body and opened the window and the bright light startled me and I was awake (she has the aisle seat and I am in the window seat). I finally gave up and she said something about how I needed some light on me.

As I awoke, I realized she has a full whiskey drink. Seconds later, the drink is empty. A few minutes later the drink cart came around, and she ordered another and the stewardess said, “another?” I don’t know how many I missed while dozing. Based on the fact that she just fell down in the aisle, I’m thinking she’s had more than enough. I’m watching my movie and she holds the glass IN MY FACE and says “whoo whoa whoa, wheezkey, wheezkey, wheezkey.” I’m serious, the cup almost hits my face. I managed to discreetly flag down a flight attendant who, seeing the distress in my eyes, leaned way over so I could whisper, “for the sake of everyone, I beg you to not serve her another drink!” The flight attendant gave me a knowing look and a confirmation nod.

The woman is such a prowler, I have a feeling if she wants a drink, she will wander the plane until she finds an attendant who will serve her one. She pokes at me and interrupts me constantly and asks strange questions. Ok, she just got her baggage down from the overhead and she AND the suitcase fell down onto her and a seated man in another row! He helped her up. Lots of commotion and very loud oying coming from her. She just crawled back into her seat…is poking me on the arm now pointing to her lips which are oozing blood! I suggested that she go to the bathroom to clean up and ask for ice. She came back and started poking me again while I am still trying to watch the movie. She wants me to look at her lips again and I think she wants to show me that the ice is helping.

Now she just asked me to look at a list of phone numbers, loan her my mobile phone and let her call her son. I told her I do not have inflight phone service. Now she is doing what she did with the lunch service. She waits a minute, and asks the same question again and again. “If i cood jus cawl me son!!!! Oye oye oye! I jeest need yuar phone ta cawl me son!” She is up again.

Ok, after reading the book, The Gift of Fear, I am finally learning to listen to my instincts, and I need to move. NOW is my opportunity because she is in the bathroom, or lord knows where. Ok, I just asked a flight attendant if there is another seat, ANYWHERE (I’m about ready to hide in the bathroom). At first, I sensed he thought I was persnickety. But I told him about a few choice moments and he said, “AHHHH! I’ve had my eye on her and have noticed her disruptive and strange behavior. Let me check on a different seat for you.” I packed up licketysplit and by the time he returned and said 19H, I was outta there. My new cabin is like a whole new world. Dark, civilized, quiet. My new seat mate is simply sitting and watching a movie. Three more hours (13 hours total on this plane due to a two hour delay this morning), and I am elated. I really don’t care how much longer we have, as long as I do not have to spend another moment with the deranged woman.

Oh my new seat mate is delightful. After an hour is silence (golden), she asked me for help with reading something in English. We ended up talking about her country, Greece, and she explained how she views the economic problems there. Because I get most of my  information from the news media, it was particularly interesting to hear her perspective on the Greek people, the education system and the general work ethic. Her fiancé has left the country to find a good job and she is traveling to see him and is distressed about their future together and whether or not it can be in Greece.

Now I am on the flight from Atlanta to Little Rock. Initial observations: people here are friendly and for the most part, courteous. People do not crowd each other or shove each other. People reach out and help each other like the person who just helped me get my luggage into the overhead bin a minute ago and the person who just helped two young boys traveling alone. People seem a bit more relaxed and less guarded. My friend, Joan, and I discussed these observations and she concurred, stating, “You should see England! We are all so puritanical, and like order and rules, manners and courtesy. It is in our history and in our genes.” Her comments made me think of my Danish friend, Cecilia, who observed that manners can be kind but also can be counterproductive to being honest and true to ourselves. She argued that her “Nordic sensibility” helps her speak openly, bluntly, and neutrally about her feelings and needs. Regardless of our nationality, striking a balance between self service and kindness toward others is an admirable goal and, for me, a work in progress. The people I encountered on this amazing adventure – whether from Italy, Scotland, Denmark, England, Iran, China, or Germany – lent kind words or gestures in their own cultural style and I am forever grateful.

To friends, family, peers and strangers who found this blog interesting enough to read, thank you for your interest and supportive comments during the past several weeks. Until the next adventure, or an intriguing art topic arises, Ciao!

LauraIMG_4020

Palaces and Churches Galore, Opulance in Rome

After breakfast, I walked down Via del Corso toward the Piazza Venezia and visited the Palazzo Dora Pamphili (thank you for the suggestion, Cecelia!). A portion of this prominent family home is still lived in by the family, and a portion is open to the public as a museum showcasing an incredible art collection. There is an outstanding audio tour done by one of the descendants of the family who is a current resident.

So, you know how these churches hold various relics, some more macabre than others? Well, the private chapel in this family palace holds two preserved bodies, those of St. Theodora and St. Justin. During the 17th Century, the family obtained written permission from the pope to move the saints from the catacombs outside the city which were being ransacked by thieves. We weren’t allowed to get very close or take pictures, otherwise I would give you a look. Another jaw dropping moment occurred as I turned a corner and entered a small, guarded room. There in front of me stood the Velazquez painting of Pope Innocent X. As the story goes, the Pope was initially displeased with the painting because it truthfully captures him too well.

After the tour, I walked around the Trajan Market and Forum which includes the Trajan Column, another slide I remember from a recent art history quiz. Like the a Temple of Hera, it never occurred to me that I would be standing in front of the column trying to decipher the story told in the scroll reliefs. I made myself continue past the multiple museums, twists and turns and focus on my mission: the grand Santa Maria Maggiore. I did start day dreaming of bananas and finally stopped in a market – if you are in Rome amongst all that beauty, and all you can think of is bananas, then I guess your body is trying to tell you something. The Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, located on top of Esquiline Hill, is known amongst other things, for its mosaics and large number of relics, such as a piece of the True Cross. The way the light fell into the lower chamber with the kneeling Pope Pious IX was glorious.

I accidentally took a wide circle off the beaten path (and passed the Piazza Vitorrio Park which was pretty though grungy) as I was trying to find Santa Giovanni in Laterano church. The first thing I noticed, once I arrived, was the sheer SIZE of this church. I mean, it is hard to understand how structures were made this big. There was a huge youth event happening when I arrived with lots of singing which was festive and pretty.

And then, continuing the church tour, on to San Clemente (thanks for the suggestion, Katie!). It is a church built on top of a church which was built on top of another church. As a visitor, one can descend all the way down 10 meters to the original structure, a groups of buildings dating back to the 1st Century, and see a still functioning spring and water system and rooms believed to be a Roman mint. There is also a group of rooms on the lowest level that from the 2nd to 4th centuries served as the seat to the Eastern pagan cult of the God of Mithras.

I’d heard that San Pietro in Vincoli would be hard to find, so I loaded up on coffee and struck out from the refreshing cool depths of San Clemente and continued on my pilgrimage. I made the effort to visit yet another church in order to find Michelangelo’s Moses sculpture and it was well worth the hike. He gleamed and almost pulsated, looking like he might stand up at any moment to declare something of great importance.image As a bonus, I got to the THE CHAINS worn by Peter when he was jailed. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, seeing the relics and the power they hold is something I find intriguing, as well as inspiring, to consider.image

Tonight, after a cold shower, I went out searching for food. I really can hardly emphasize how hungry I am most of the time. I think it is partly due to a different diet, but mostly I am famished because of this obsession to walk and climb and walk and climb and walk and climb.

For example, I fully intended in catching a bus first thing this morning and heading straight to one of my further destinations, either Santa Maria Maggiore church or Santa Giovanni in Laterano church. But I had trouble finding a bus ticket the had trouble finding the correct bus, and all the while I was headed in the general correct direction, and when walking you can take the time to peek in lots of surprise piazzas and churches and see the most amazing treasures, so I just kept going. The problem is that I was utterly exhausted about halfway though the day and still had so much to see…ah, the frustration of visiting Rome.

imageAnyway, because I can’t seem to stop moving, I’ve had a hard time sketching which was a strong part of my first two weeks in Italy. In Rome, there is such a tremendous amount to sketch, both indoors and outdoors and I am irritated with myself for not sitting down long enough to draw. Tonight, I grabbed my sketchbook and made a plan: Pick up a sandwich at a shop near Area Sacra Argentina, then walk down to the beautiful and well lit Piazza Venezia. I found the perfect spot, started my sandwich (famished AGAIN and trying to eat slowly so I wouldn’t choke), and a woman came up and asked the name of the massive structure in front of us. She and her parents were visiting from China (actually the women who approached me has lived in Berlin for twenty years and works in pharmaceuticals). They sat and visited with me for about 45 minutes!

imageThen I walked up stairs suitable for a giant whose legs each measure 8-10 feet long. And everything up there was so pretty! Spectacular! Then I found the famous Romulus and Remus sculpture that symbolizes the myth of the start of Rome…and then….ok, you get the point. Can you see how hard it is to sit still here? I have loads of photos that will provide inspiration for my art for many years and I wouldn’t trade my lovely conversation with Shanji and her parents for a small handful of sketches anyway.image

The climbs never end. When I finally drag myself back to home base after 14 hours of walking, I hike up 4 flights of stairs and my legs absolutely scream. There is a tiny elevator meant for those unable to take the stairs or with luggage and I am too proud to get on it. The people in this city literally trot up never ending stair cases with little effort and I won’t be the American tourist looking for the elevator. Plus, like they say, when in Rome…

An Early Start in Rome

imageThis morning, I left the hotel early on foot for the Vatican area meeting place for a Walks of Italy tour. The tour, called “Sistine Pristine” included early admission to the Sistine Chapel, many of the halls and collections of the Vatican, and St. Peter’s Basilica. We visited and learned about the globe collection, the splendid tapestries, the Egyptian art, the various Popes, the collection of animal sculptures, the Raphael rooms, and about the modern collection (which surprisingly includes artists such as the Matisse and Dali). The true shock was seeing  Francis Bacon Pope painting just tucked amongst the art in a little side room. I assumed it was at the Louvre, the Prado, MOMA, anywhere but here.

I would highly recommend a Walks of Italy tour. For starters, our guide Rosa, was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the collections. I’ve read complaints about visiting the Sistine Chapel and being shoulder to shoulder with aggressive tourists. Going on the early tour was peaceful and calm and I could tell the guards were waiting for the onslaught. We got to gaze upward to our heart’s content and the ceiling and walls really do live up to the hype. Additionally, the famous display halls were empty except our little group of 8. One of my favorite moments was passing this guard and noticing his sketchbook (both the Swiss Guards and the Vatican museum guards are SUPER SERIOUS). It surprised me to find him sketching – he even let me take a photo and seemed quite proud. What a great place to work for an artistic guard!!!image

Plus, Rosa explained so much of the inner workings of the museums and the business of the pope. For example, she explained the process of the white smoke coming out of a vent along the edge of the Sistine Chapel when a new Pope is elected (one name has to be chosen by 80% of the cardinals in attendance). She is also from a old Roman Catholic family so she is a true insider and passionate about the site and the traditions.

After the tour, and after visiting the Vatican City post office to mail letters, I took a cab (phew!) to the Travestere neighborhood to see some sights and eat lunch. On my way to two churches, I got lost and ended up in a convent turned retirement home/hospital inside a lush walled garden area. It was an oasis amongst the historic, gritty and loud neighborhood. Eventually, I made it to the Church of Saint Cecelia. It was believed that her beautiful voice was some type of sorcery and she was executed in 177 A.D. Not only was she executed for singing, but she was decapitated, and legend has it that during the decapitation, she continued singing. This marble sculpture shows her severed neck.image

I then found San Francesco a Ripa and got to admire, without another sole in sight, the famous Bernini sculpture, Beata Ludovica in Ecstacy, a sensuous marble sculpture that has drawn much attention since its creation for being the most provocative religious art around. I know these church visits can seem repetitive, but they hold treasures that are highlighted, due to historical importance and beauty, in art history books worldwide. And to gaze at Bernini’s sculpture in the cool isolation of this church feels like a small miracle.

After a few more churches and piazzas, I departed the Travestere area and walked across the bridge which traverses tiny Tiber Island….then wandered down Via del Portico d’Ottavia with all it’s enticing aromas and Hebrew shop signs. This street borders some of the larger ancient Rome sites and showcases a startling mix of structures from antiquity with relatively modern walls, stores, and cafés. This stroll led to Piazza Mattei, home of the beloved Tortoise Fountain. I had plans to meet my Danish friend, Cecelia, in Campo Di Fiori so I turned westward.image Along the way, I got to inspect the odd Largo Di Torre Argentina, which is a walled rectangular area where the ground is depressed and full of ancient structures and overgrowth. It is also full of frolicking and lounging cats who use the ancient columns, walls, arches, and water cisterns as a playground and home.

imageIt was a treat spending the afternoon with Cecelia, my Danish art resident friend. Though I’ve met many people along the way, I’ve noticed days where I talk with almost no one. It is a strange outward silence and inward conversation that replaces a more social life at home. We met around 3:00 at Campo Di Fiori for coffee, visited several churches, a bookstore and little piazzas. We then visited the Pantheon and headed to Piazza Navona for her favorite gelateria before she headed to the airport for her flight to Copenhagen.image

After I picked up laundry, showered, rested, and worked on plans for Sat and Sun, I went out to dinner near Piazza Navona at a little place called Caffeteria Pasquino. There, I sat next to a young woman from Germany. She was recently a nanny in Australia which reminded me of Kelly Corrigan so, of course, I had to suggest she read Glitter and Glue.

And finally, to bed.

Oh, Rome!

Oh Rome! I could stay awhile longer! Most of what I’ll say, is what all visitors say…I am consumed by the ceaseless visual delights. Wandering around without an agenda is the best piece of advice because if you are busy looking FOR something, you may miss the unexpected treasures that are so voluminous, they assault the eye. It is impossible to go one block without seeing something surprising, something beautiful, something rare, something ancient or something with an amazing story behind it.image

After Gennaro (remember him from the train station in Naples?) helped me get an earlier train to Rome, I arrived in time to check in and take a good long walk. I don’t think I mentioned that earlier in the day, I basically got lost in the ‘burbs of Pompeii – during a rain shower. As you may know, there aren’t exactly many roofs in Pompeii due to the fact they all were incenerated so it was hard to find a spot to wait out the downpour but I managed to squeeze under a narrow footbridge with some Belgian students. I digress…my point is that I’d already walked quite enough for one day but once your feet start taking you places in Rome, it’s hard to stop, regardless of extreme fatigue. My loop included the Pantheon (Oh. My. Gracious.), Piazza Venezia, and up to Trevi Fountain which is undergoing a massive restoration. I would be disappointed about my timing with Trevi Fountain if I weren’t so googly eyed about other delights.

Oh and before I forget, if you travel to Rome and arrive at the Termini Train Station, there is a life-saving Info desk down the corridor next to track #24 (the Leonardo Express train to and from the airport). I was the only person there getting help which correctly indicates it is out of the way and is unmarked, making it not very accessible. But, I seriously don’t know if I would have made it out of the train station, much less all the way to my hotel, had I not made the effort to stop there. They sell superior maps, speak some English and can help you with instructions on buying a bus ticket, which bus to take, and where to get off the bus.

NEXT DAY:

Tonight, I intended to spend time at the laundromat (yes, an enthralling evening out) but when I arrived, the man said they were about to close and for 13 euros, I could leave it for next day pick up. I admit I was overjoyed that someone let me off the hook. I’ve been spending such a small about of money (I think I spent 40 euros TOTAL the week of the art residency), that it didn’t take much deliberation to hand the laundry bag over and run.

So I ended up walking around the relatively quiet Prati neighborhood. I saw a woman smoking a cigar, I saw the Tiber turned pink reflecting the sunset, I saw the moon over St. Peter’s Basilicata, I saw little girls on skateboards with their parents strolling behind, I saw many bulldogs and pugs and dashaunds being walked, I saw old couples on old cobblestone streets helping each other keep their footing, and I saw many nuns on walks and in clusters hanging out on the corners, under monuments and along piazzas. I’d like to think I’ve developed a bit of a city swag as I walk these neighborhoods, but the truth is, I think I’ve developed a sway in my gait because it gives me the extra centrifugal force necessary to propel myself forward after today’s outings.

imageSpeaking of today’s outings, it started with the Scavi Tour, which means a tour of the necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica. Our guide, Daniella, was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable religion historian. But let me first point out, if you visit Rome and want to visit St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND signing up (a month ahead of time…google the instructions) for the Scavi Tour. It costs 13 euros and is THE ticket to success in the crowds. Seriously, you are amongst thousands and thousands of people getting in the longest lines you’ve ever seen (and for good reason, the Basilica is not to be missed). With your printed email conformation from the Scavi office, you bypass the masses, go around the left side of the ginormous piazza, and walk up to a little police trailer and poke your head in with a Buonagiorno, he checks your purse, and then these fancy court jester looking Vatican guards tell you to stand at the gate until 10 minutes before your tour and voila, they let you in. And that’s it. No line.

After the Scavi tour, you have access to the tombs of all the Popes and to the Basilica, including the righteous vertical hike to the tip top of the dome. But more on that in a moment. Before we scale the highest point, I must describe the dark, dank, oxygen deprived, winding, narrow, maze like environment down below. It was AWESOME. Other than the lack of oxygen, which made me feel faint, and a touch a claustrophobia, which I usually do not experience, what we saw down there was so old, so preserved, so historical, and utterly profound with regards to Christianity. As I mentioned, Daniella was outstanding in helping us understand how this area looked in, say, the year 100 AD.

Daniella explained what the site looked like before Vatican City was formed, even before Christianity was made legal by Constantine. The land was muddy and undesirable to Romans, plus it was on the “wrong” side of the river. Because the Roman practice was to put the dead outside the city, the hill on the wrong side of the river slowly became a popular place for upstanding Roman families to build their mausoleums. The narrow alleyways that are now under St. Peter’s Basilica were little alley ways between family tombs out in the country side.

Because the Roman practice was to respect all previously built holy structures, no matter what religion, historians believe today that they justified building a basilica on top of tombs based on the idea that the tombs would remain intact and unharmed, simply underground. Additionally, the Roman engineers built passageways that allowed them to haul in dirt to fill cavities and to build support beams for the new basilica.

After the Scavi Tour, once receiving adequate oxygen and feeling invigorated, I found myself going up a very long wide winding staircase. The incline was slight and the stair steps were both long and wide. After about 5 minutes of this loping around, we took a turn and walked up steeper stairs for about 5 more minutes. imageOnce the staircase narrows to the shoulder with of your average man (European, not American, no offense to anyone, but potential visitors need to know that there is a definite human width limitation), you realize there is no turning around. This passage is one way only. And then, without warning, you pop out a door and find yourself amongst the mosaics lining the base of the dome cap. Looking down at all the tiny people wandering in St. Peter’s Basilica was both frightening and exhilarating. But wait, there’s more!image

We were so high up, I mistakingly thought we would be fairly close to the top cupola. I decided to be brave and make my way upward once again. The staircase was terribly narrow and I noticed many people, such as all the men, turning their bodies at an angle just to fit through. There were areas of the ascent that induced vertigo because the step plane was no longer parallel to the ground and walls curved inward, not perpendicular to the ground. This went on and on and on and on and on. And when that ended, we filed up hollow tubes that were maybe three feet wide total (the tube, bot the stair width) that held tightly wound staircases with a long rope dangling down the center to hold on to for balance (no room for a railing!). This went on and on and on and on. I just let myself go into a meditative state and climb endlessly. Then, we arrived on the very tip top and the views were heavenly. After making it back down eventually, I visited the ground floor of the basilica which was saturated with sumptuous marble sculpture and mosaics. And more of the Vatican tomorrow! Ciao!

Good bye Salerno, Hello Pompeii

RANDOM TRAVEL TIPS:
Always carry a little toilet paper or napkin in your pocket. Multiple benefits.
Always carry a water bottle. You can refill them at public springs that are all over every place I’ve visited.
Use the restroom when you have the opportunity. When necessary, find a nice looking bar/cafe for a cappuccino break and use the restroom there.
Learn how to say compliments to the people around you. Nice words and the effort opens doors (I’m not suggesting to be fake, just gracious).
In your suitcase, pack an extra zip lock bag and an old plastic shopping bag.
Ok, on to the activities of the past day or two…

Salerno has a gritty charm and breathtaking beauty that is different from the other places I’ve visited so far in Italy. I walked around the city after returning from Paestum and visited the Duomo (barely, it closed within minutes of my arrival), many beautiful piazzas, and the Museo Dioceseno San Matteo.image Many travelers suggest letting yourself wander without an agenda and getting lost in a city and that’s what I did, which is how I ended up being ushered into the Diocese Museum. Though it was 5 minutes before closing, a man at the door told me I could go up to have a look before they locked up. It was incredible and I got to see the worlds oldest ivory tablets from the Christian Middle Ages. The 69 tablets, depicting the Old and New Testaments, were lost and dispersed around the globe and have all been reunited. However, I almost got locked in, as the man who ushered me in left work for the day and when I tried to exit, the huge door (seen in the photo above) was locked. I had that throw up panic feeling starting to churn in my stomach (a similar situation occurred recently in a cemetary, of all places!). Thankfully, I found another worker who let me out. PHEW.

THE NEXT DAY: Now I am on the fastest train ever going (in a tunnel for a large part of the trip) from Salerno to Pompeii. I was afraid I would miss my train when I woke up this morning because my shower would not work. If I could even tell you how much I sweated yesterday, you would know the situation of a malfunctioning shower was dire. In my pajamas, I wasn’t sure what do do expect call the B&B cell number, though no one answered. After messing around looking for help for about 10 minutes, I had to act fast and basically bathe in the sink. Not to brag, but I was a impressed with my adaptability and got the job done. By the time the owners of the B&B arrived, I was dressed and ready to check out. They kindly gave me a 10 euro refund which was actually a large percentage of the bargain rate and as I was leaving, the owner, apologizing again and again, gave me a little boat souvenir. Although it was an inconvenience, they were so nice about it, my irritation was quickly quelled.

Ok, now I am in Pompeii Scavi and it is unbelievable. Here is a photo of one of the best preserved buildings – you can guess what the business was based on the activity in the photo 😉 ?image

I should be too embarrassed to admit this, but I watched the cheesy Hollywood movie “Pompeii” recently and it really helped me imagine the streets full of people, the homes, the businesses, and the volcanic ash and heat rushing down and covering the town. Admittedly, I have a touch of fear every time I furtively glance over at Mt. Vesuvius which looks particularly ominous shrouded in today’s dark clouds. imageI know these images have been seen over and over, but the streets really were striking. One large stone meant the street was one way. Two large stones meant it was two way, and three large stones meant it was a major thoroughfare. We could see the groves in the stones from the cart wheels which was one of those eerie details making the daily human activity even more real in my mind. image

imagePOMPEII TIPS: I  saw countless people fall down. Wear comfortable shows, do not wear sandals. Wear tons of sunscreen and a hat. Take an umbrella. Do lots of research beforehand, there is too much to see and you need to prioritize. Do a guided tour. The ruins are not the only old thing in Pompeii – the street signs and info signs, when you can find them, are disintegrated and illegible. When you buy your ticket, if you do not do a guided tour, ask what streets and sites are closed or impassable. Do not rely on your map. The site changes constantly. (Another good reason to have a guide). There were so many English speaking guides around that I inadvertently absorbed information along the way, which helped tremendously. But if I did it all over, I would have joined a guided group from the start.

Now I am waiting for the bus to Naples where I’ll have real Naples pizza before my train leaves for Rome. First order of business in Rome? A SHOWER!!!

Ok, I’m going to have to write a letter to Trenitalia about my hero, Gennaro F. He would not let me take his picture, but I made sure to jot down his name. I don’t even know how to describe the lengths this man went through to get me on an earlier train from Naples to Rome. First, let me say, the Naples train station was superbly designed and well run. Unlike most places I’ve visited, there were multiple Info kiosks and they were staffed with plenty of people to handle the crowds. My only regret with catching the earlier train was that I had to miss Naples pizza.

Back to Gerraro, initially he helped me at a fast ticket change booth. Knowing I would not be able to understand the ticket printing machine, he walked me to the machine and did the operations for me. It did some sort of system shut down and he rebooted it and tried again. When that didn’t work, he went to a supervisor and they tried again. That didn’t work so he went back to the machine, printed the ticket, and hand wrote new information on it while waiting for his phone gadget to calculate a new seat number for me. He then walked me to the correct platform and train while we waited on my new seat assignment. I asked him if what he was doing was usual, normal, and he laughed, shook his head and said “no.” He even walked me on to the train, helping with my luggage and pointing to my seat! And off I go to Rome, 2.5 hours ahead of schedule. Thank you, Gennaro! Yes, there are rude people who will plow you down and cut in line faster than you can blink an eye. But I’ve run into more Gennaros than jerks and I hope my good fortune continues.

image

 

Next post…ROMA!!!

Mi dispiace, Salerno!

I have departed the art residency, made it by bus to Salerno, checked in the B&B and visited the ancient ruins of Paestum.

During the bus journey from Noepoli, we stopped in a town for 10 minutes. Everyone goes into a little motel cafe and uses the restroom and grabs a coffee. When I ordered a cappuccino, the woman told me to pay at the end of the counter. I got in line, and within seconds, 4 or 5 men stepped right in front of me! But here’s the part I’ll hang onto…the barista yelled down to the cashier, seeing what the men were doing, and told her to ring me up next. So, just when you feel a bit trampled, someone steps up with a kind gesture. Many of the people I’ve encountered, have a terse facade with kindness not far beneath the surface. Similarly, in crowded Amalfi, I was in line pressed against the counter to order gelati. People behind me reached out over me and called their orders to the two men working. It only took a moment for an older gentleman working the register to take notice and he barked to one of the workers to help me before taking anyone else’s order. Traveling alone can be tough, but as each day passes, there are countless kind moments from strangers.

We are pulling into Salerno and a woman with a baby in a pram just stepped right in front of our bus. I guess you will turn into a petrified monument if you wait for traffic to stop. And I thought it was tricky for pedestrians to cross on quaint Kavanaugh Boulevard at home. Nope!

And, oh Salerno, I owe you an apology! I know not to judge a book by its cover and I judged you by your skeezy train station on a rainy day last week. Today, on the other hand, as I walked from the train station to my B&B, I saw you in a new light.

imageWalking down the posh pedestrian Corso Vittorio Emanuel, which is lined with upscale stores, cafés and trattorias, I was entranced with the monuments, piazzas, charismatic buildings, and fashionable people (who rival even those in Ravello!). I was initially hesitant when arriving at the B&B because there was a tiny sign out front and once I entered a small courtyard, there was no sign indicating where to go, what door to choose. I found the phone number and the woman who answered asked me to call another number. Once I finally made it in, I was greeted by a woman named Kaoru, who provided a map of the city, and wrote down specific suggestions and restaurants. She pointed out the famous Duomo, the Botanical Garden, a museum, and a castle at the peak of a hill overlooking the city.image

I don’t think I can do all that in only a few hours in Salerno, but I’ve definitely changed my mind about this being a worthwhile place to visit, and not just a central location that one should tolerate for convenient transportation transfers.image (Below is a boat heading to Capri, Postiano, or Amalfi). She also provided a copy of the train schedule to Paestum, including the return times and told me to be sure to purchase a round trip train ticket, as there is only one machine which is difficult to use and no office for ticket purchasing at the train station in Paestum. These little things make it SO MUCH EASIER traveling in a country where you don’t know the language. Oh, and to top if off, my room was ready and they let me check in three hours early! If you want a good value, a B&B atmosphere, and the perfect location, I suggest Salerno Central. There are many glowing reviews on Trip Advisor as well as what I read in the guest book here.

By the way, I figured out a trick. When you accidentally squeeze between two thugs who are potential gang members on a train, they stop glaring at you and your purse if you sketch their portraits during the trip. Of course, you better be darn sure you make them look more handsome rather than less.

imageSo, now I am sitting in La Basilica Cafe in Paestum, again freaking out at the wonders that surround. I’ve just exited the museum and need food before I can tour the ruins. To stand in front of artwork, architecture, and monuments that I’ve recently studied in art school is the equivalent, for my inner nerd, of someone seeing a famous person they’ve adored forever. I have the urge to run up and hug a column (don’t worry I haven’t completely transformed into 100% nerd, if George Clooney walked by, I’d be tempted to run up and wrap my arms around him, too).image image

In an art history class with Dr. Jane Brown, as I filled out “Temple of Hera” during a slide quiz, not ONCE did I think I would stand in front of that Temple in the middle of corn fields and wild flowers of Southern Italy. I won’t go on and on about the ruins, the various cultures who have been in power here (starting with the Greeks and ending with the Romans who were wiped out or forced out by mosquitoes carrying malaria). I’ll just say this is worth a 30 minute train trip from Salerno. Also, it is was unlike any other site I have visited in that visitors are able to touch and climb on the ruins, which surprised me. Discovery of the site is relatively recent and only a small percentage has been excavated (though it was plenty to see on a hot afternoon).

I am now on the train back to Salerno and the air is working and the crowd is a bit cleaner than on the way down here. A cute guy has been talking with me on the train platform and now on the train. It’s funny how I am more receptive to the feeble old men grabbing me by the cheek. As cute and nice as he seems to be, I just keep thinking about Ted Bundy….and my Stephen, for different reasons, of course.

Buonasera!

Matera Matera Matera!

Before going to sleep last night, I had to say goodbye to my new friends because they leave the program is morning and I am now on a very early bus to the ancient city of Matera. Pina and Raffaele packed a little sack breakfast for me and provided the bus schedule. Raffaele said several times, be sure you confirm the destination each time you get on a bus. There are multiple bus transfers so the journey will take many hours but seeing this city will be worth the effort. This past spring, before my trip to Italy, it seemed serendipitous when I came across an article in Smithsonian magazine about Matera, the UNESCO World Heritage site which thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited place on the globe. More later….

imageimagePhotos: The bathroom in Policoro where I had to transfer buses (it is probably best that I couldn’t read the graffiti) and the quiet village bus stop at 6:30 this morning

Ok, I’ve made it to Matera and am having hard time articulating what I saw there. Words can describe the cave dwellings but my vocabulary is limited because the environment was utterly new and foreign for my eyes and mind. I’m not sure I even have the correct language to describe the Sassi area. It is made of hundreds of sharp inclines and declines with winding trails and stairs taking you to peeks and depths where the homes, churches and businesses were built into the ground and into the caves.image What you see in the photos is only the top of the town, with a large percentage hollowed out underground and into caves. The interiors use negative architectural methods meaning the builders removed rock and ground to create spaces and features such as arches, doorways and columns, the opposite of what we are used to when thinking about building structures where materials are ADDED instead of deducted. In front of one of the medieval churches I visited, archeologists have discovered pottery that dates back to the 8th Century B.C.! Much has been written about it. For more accurate and eloquently presented information, see Smithsonian.com and search keyword Matera (for some reason I am unable to insert the link).

imageI was looking around for the Barbarian Cemetary, and see those elongated shapes on the ground? I was standing right amongst the buried barbarians! Did you know that the term “barbarian” is what the Romans used for anyone who was not Roman? The barbarians were not necessarily inferior or bad or blood thirsty, they just weren’t up to snuff. And here we have the Church of Purgatory. imageMmmm, I’m going to have to read a bit more about this one. A facade of skulls and skeletons (can you see them in this photo?) is not an enticing place of worship in my mind but, as usual, I’m sure there is more to the story.

imageThe top point of rock in photo below is the Madonna de Idris church…as you can see, it is INSIDE those rocks. It is easier to see it in the close up shot. image

When I get home, I’ll have to rent the film, Christ Stopped at Eboli which was written about and filmed in Matera, in addition to Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, also filmed in Matera.

By the way, Reason #101 to get to the bus station a few minutes early: the bus driver did not have change so he could not sell me a ticket – he asked other people on the bus for change and when that didn’t work out, I had to canvas the area asking people for change for a 20. Another bus driver, who was chatting up some women at the bus station, lead me to his bus and gave me change. So nice! When I returned, my bus driver sold me a ticket and literally pinched my cheek affectionately! I’m not sure what he said but I think it was pretty adorable based on the twinkle in his eye. Oh, and reason #102, we’ve departed the Matera bus station 6 minutes early.

So the return bus journey is going fine. I’ve made it to Senise which is one town away from Noepoli. The only problem is that I have a 45 minute wait and I’ve seen just about enough of Senise. I popped into what is called American Bar, a misnomer indeed. It is the first place on my adventure where I have felt leered at and I’m about ready for that bus to come. The butcher across the street is so sweet (he was in an earlier post with Pina and Raffaele shopping) but he is not there right now.

Oh my goodness, an old man just joined me on the steps and now I’ve had my right cheek pinched a second time this afternoon! Now I’m on the bus to Noepoli and the bus driver is singing at the top of his lungs! He told me to sit in the front seat and it is frightening going through these mountains from this perspective. I think the bus drivers like to chit chat with the person in the front row. I’m going to be a big disappointment which he probably figured out when he said I owed 1.30 euros and I thought he was telling me we would be in Noepoli in 30 minutes and I just kept nodding. When he exclaimed “Soldi!” I finally clued in as I have recently learned the word for “money.” Ok, now we’ve stopped on a winding mountain road for the driver to talk with a shepherd. And here we go again. Now the bus driver is telling me that the shepherd thought I was rude to keep working on the computer instead of talking with them!!! What an adventurous day.

Next on the agenda, the Greek ruins in Paestum (which were part of my art history studies and slide quizzes…we’ll see what I can remember!). Until then, ciao!

Village Life

Today was special in many ways. I got to go on a walk early this morning and am feeling more comfortable in the village. My limited Italian is expanding slightly, which helps me feel less clueless and less isolated. When various people speak, I have an idea of what they are saying and how to respond (on a very rudimentary level). After a big breakfast that included a regionally special cake (cake for breakfast – my kind of thing!), I worked in the studio for a few hours before getting ready for lunch plans.image

A lovely local woman who summers here in Noepoli and lives the remainder of the year in Rome, invited Cecelia and me to lunch. Graziella does not speak English at all and we gestured our way though the meal quite well. I thought we were having a one course meal, and handily ate every bite of delicious spaghetti pompodore. Then, surprise, out came the second course – a Naples specialty of peppers stuffed with bread crumbs, olive oil and anchovies. They were incredible. Then we had cured meats made by a neighbor. And then ricotta cheese and bread that were both made this morning!! Then, out came a salad with cucumbers and tomatoes. Graziella drizzled it with olive oil made here and fresh lemon juice. I was trying to breath deeply and drink lots of water, because the food just kept coming. She kept pointing to her tummy and saying something – I think it was about all of our bellies getting big. Then, fresh fruit for dessert with the strongest espresso I’ve ever tasted. Thank goodness for the espresso – I’ll need it because I’m teaching a painting workshop this afternoon from 5:00 to 7:00 here at Palazzo Rinaldi. I’m going to set up now and will update you later. Ciao!

Well, I think the workshop was a big hit. There was a snafu with the materials that were supposed to be provided. We managed to recover from the lack of paper and stiff brushes (at the last minute, I finally realized and accepted that I would have to provide the paper and some additional brushes from my own work supply). When we first started, the mood was pleasant but a little hesitant. I panicked a bit when a second round of participants came in an hour after we started, and knew that between our lack of materials, my language limitation, the amount of time I wanted to teach, and the difficulty of teaching two groups at the same time, I was getting in over my head. However, the second group did not expect a full recap of the lesson and just observed and picked up brushes and painted a little.

imageMore importantly, their energy electrified the room and the event became a party. There were several men and women gathered around the table, laughing, joking, painting, and catching up on town news. Pina and Raffaele did a superb job of translating the ideas and instructions for me and all of the people included me in their conversations about their ideas and paintings. The most rewarding part was that they were able to create layered paintings with a variety of tools, such as stencils, to convey images that have special meaning to each person. The paintings told stories about their feelings and memories and that meant success in my mind. Of course, when Raffaele popped open the champagne, the volume rose and the room was like something from a movie with lots of laughing and gesticulating. There is truth in the stereotype of Italians talking with their hands and dramatic facial expressions which has turned out to be most helpful for a foreigner.

After dinner, I worked in the studio with Cecelia, collected my laundry from the line, and went to bed. NEXT DAY: This morning, after breakfast, I went on a walk in the village, with the intention of sketching while out. I found a shady stoop with a beautiful view of someone’s balcony with flowers and the mountains in the background. imageAfter no more than 5 minutes, three people came out and insisted that I come in for a visit and a drink. The owner greeted me with a Prego and though I tried to decline politely, suddenly I found myself inside on a tour which was magnificent. I hope this doesn’t sound snobby, but I didn’t expect such a modern and beautifully decorated home in such a small village. They showed me the view from her back balcony and then we sat in the living room for a glass of tea. I managed to ask their names and tell them mine and we worked through a stilted, though pleasant conversation. Then, a precious little girl came in. When her father tried to to hug her, she kicked and bit him prompting him to call her a word I did not understand. I asked him to write it down and he would not. Then I remembered the curse word section of the Rick Steve’s dictionary and showed it to the man. He found it and pointed to the word…They asked me how to say it in English and I felt terrible teaching them how to call their little girl an “asshole.” I didn’t want to over stay my welcome and figured out a polite way to depart after about 45 minutes.

After sketching outside with a sack lunch, I went with Raffaele to an old church built into a cave. The story explains that a monk who was trying to escape as well as save Christian icons form destruction by the Turks, hid the Madonna d’ Angelicas sculpture in the cave, which he made his home. Other monks joined him there, from both the Franciscan and Byzantine Orders. The story is told in frescos painted on the walls. Hundreds of years later, their cave home and the sculpture were found and, subsequently, a church was built extending outward from the grotto. It is now a holy place revered in the Basilicata region.

At several points during our visit, I got chill bumps. First, there is a massive 500 year old olive tree in front of the church. It was struck by lighting several years ago and appeared to by dying. imageThe rotund trunk was split in two and charcoaled. The leaves died and fell away. Then, new growth appeared, and slowly, the trunk began healing and growing together. It is now thick with foliage although the truck is largely hollow, as you can see in this picture.

Also fascinating, were the sea shells lining the walls of the cave. They are perfectly preserved in the silt mountain walls as a reminder of the geological formation of this area. A lack of funds, as mentioned in a previous post about the Noepoli Catholic Church stalled excavation, keeps these treasures relatively unknown (from people outside the areas) and the absolute lack of tourists makes me understand that I am on a rare and special tour with my host, Raffaele.

One of the more revealing moments was not about the church, or it’s treasures, but about the people caring for the church. Years ago, the priest gave the responsibility of the church keys to a man named Mario, who was coping with grief over losing his two sons and wife, all in a short period of time. The priest gave Mario an important job as a way of redirecting his mind and thoughts. When we arrived, Mario was in a state of high agitation, as he had loaned the keys to two women who were preparing the church for a wedding anniversary event. When the women did not return the keys when promised, it was clearly difficult for Mario, and when they arrived with the keys, he gave them a full five minute chewing out. Once that was over, he kindly proceed to give me a thorough and impassioned tour and was generous with his time.image

After returning to Palazzo Rinaldi, the residents and I prepared a final dinner before their Monday departure. The terrace was windy so we ate in the studio with the doors wide open. During this week together I have learned about the credentials, work, and achievements of these talented women. They are accomplished and have risen to the top of their fields in their countries of origin, and beyond. Listening to them discuss their experiences and ideas was an education in itself and I am grateful to have spent time with them both.

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Small Moments, Big Discoveries

What a wonderful series of small and big moments this evening. First, Raffaele knew that I wanted some tomatoes and he quickly came to get me when he spotted the fruit and veg truck driving around the village. He escorted me to the truck so he could negotiate the total price. Certainly something I could not have handled on my own with my 10 Italian words!

Afterward, I came back to the studio to download photos for sketches and was distracted by the gloriously ominous sky. imageAlong came Pina to tell Cecelia and I that she noticed a girl with keys opening the Catholic Church. imageShe asked the young woman if we could come see it and took us in (it is next door to our house). She and Raffaele gave us a tour pointing out all the old art and history. I am really getting into this old stuff and am kinda freaking out right now. First, here is a cross, carved entirely in wood of Christ from the early 13th Century. There are veins and hairs represented which means this cross was made by one of the finest artist for a very wealthy patron and church.imageimage Then, we walked back and check out the back right wall – partially excavated revealing Corinthian columns and frescos painted in the early 15h century. imageThe town has run out of funds to continue the excavation, so here is stands, as is. Next, we go to a little back room and Raphael points out a small baptismal basin from the time of Charlmagne!!!!!! Can you see it behind the plastic Jesus?  There it sits, unprotected.

When we returned to the house, Raffaele was ahead of us and poked his head back out the front door, saying hurry, you’ve got to see this! I was thinking about the treasures in the church as I followed Cecelia, Pina and Raffaele through the house to the balcony. And then this happened. Whoa.

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(Left photo is the view from the studio) After a lovely dinner with the Danish artist, Cecelia, I slept for more consecutive hours that I have during the trip, so today, I’ve felt more energetic and ready to tackle lots of work and sketching time in the town. After breakfast, I walked down from the top of the mountain to look for the little grocery store. Though the shelves were miscellaneous and sparse, I was able to find what I needed (I somehow lost my comb and the store owner suggested this “Afro” comb for my hair – perfecto!) imageThe owner talked and talked to me even though I repeatedly answered, non capisco, scusi! He was so sweet and I think determined for me to learn Italian while shopping in his store. He also insisted that I take a newspaper for free to keep as a momento from my time in the area.image image image image image

 

 

 

 

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(the photos above show the red doors to the secret escape passage, me with the massive front door key of Palazzo Rinaldi, the sign for the store, the store front, and a group of men who asked me to take their picture)

The village does not receive many tourists or people from other places and as I walk down the street, people come up and introduce themselves, or hug me, or invite me in to their homes for a visit or a snack. I was shocked to just meet a woman with her daughter here visiting from New Jersey! She grew up in Noepoli and comes back to visit each summer. Before my errand, Pina showed us a secret passage the Duke or Lord of the area would use to get from the castle to a nearby town which could be used as an escape route if the castle was invaded. After my outing and some time in the studio, Raffaele showed me his copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy. It was published by the famous French illustrator, Gustave Dore and is one of a few original printings. Many book collectors have tried to buy it over the years but Raffaele keeps in under lock and key and will not part with his treasure.image

I’ve been sketching all afternoon and am content. However, there is a longing for my family that persists. It is one of those odd inversions of the human heart – some of us want space and independence and adventure and when we get it, we want home and family and familiarity. It does not stop me from savoring and enjoying my time here but seems worth acknowledging.

There is time to think, time to study, time to listen and time to look. These are times I rarely experience at home. In addition to the food, the history, the scenery, the art, the people, the monuments and artifacts, perhaps what I came here to experience is simply time.

First Impressions, Settling In

The owner, Raphael, of the residential property met me at the bus stop in Senise and we drove about 20 minutes to Noepoli (see photo below), the tiny imagevillage where the art residency is located. There are two other artists here at this time, one from Scotland and one from Denmark and they are very easy and friendly. Raphael showed me around the home and told me all of the instructions like which keys to use and where to do laundry (more on that in a moment!). It is quite like being back in college though my room is much nicer, and no roommate, thankfully!imageimage The program is run by Raphael, his wife Pina and their daughter, Susanna who normally lives in Ireland and is not here now due to the birth of her baby. The family summers here in Noepoli and Raphael and Pina live in Agropolis the remainder of the year. After the day of travel, I thoroughly enjoyed spending the evening talking with the other residents and learning about their countries and their work. I’ll tell you more about these fascinating women later – they are impressive to say the least. Before I could retire for the night, I spent time down in the basement doing much needed laundry – check out the laundry “facility”! image imageI moved a few pieces to to the line outside to help them dry this morning but hesitated to hang out all my underwear! imageI slept like a rock last night and woke up ready to work. After a big delicious breakfast made by Pina, Raphael showed me the area and a beautiful belvedere in the national park. I then took a quick tour of town on foot (which took only a few minutes) and found the man selling fruits and vegetables, the miller/baker, the butcher (a woman!), the police officer, and the town hall. Noepoli is built on top of the remains of an old castle and is on a mountain peak so the weather is breezy and cool. It is strange being so remote after so many days with throngs of people and activity. After lunch, I worked on photos and sketches and then went on a hike with the artists, Cecelia and Karen. I wish Phoebe was here to see this shepherd walking his goats through the hills! imageWe made it to another mountain top and were able to get a good view of caves that were once used by robbers as hideouts.  The robbers were considered to be like Robin Hood as they helped poor people in the area who were under the rule of tyrannical dukes and counts who owned the land. Can you see these caves? image The lone restaurant does not open until 8 pm so we ate peaches for a snack and did more work. Finally, we walked to dinner, passing a cemetary, which was a little spooky on the dark walk home. I had a lovely time visiting with the two artists who are full of fascinating stories and experiences. The only dark spot at this point is the teenage son, who against the residency policy, accompanied his mother to the program. I won’t list what all was said and occurred at dinner and on the walk home, but his hostility has changed the atmosphere of the residency and I will need to be away from him as much as possible. After breakfast this morning, I worked in the studio and then Pina and Raphael asked if I wanted to go with them to Senise.  I was delighted, the drive was pretty and we passed many farms where the owners produce their own wine, fruits, veggies, olives and cheeses. In Senise, my hosts introduced me to the butcher, the mozzarella makers, and the bakery owner. I can hardly wait to make fresh pasta with tomatoes and mozzarella on the side tonight. It was especially fun listening to the banter between my hosts and the shop keepers.image I felt like an exchange student and it was a great cultural education! On the drive back to Noepoli, Pina provided all sorts of information about the fauna and flora and about the history of the area.  After traveling on my own, it is such a treat being in the care of such informative and kind people. Arrivederci!