Tag Archives: solo travel

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.

image image image

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.

image image

(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

 

 

 

 

.

(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!

Leaving the Amalfi Area

I’m about to leave Ravello by bus for Amafi to catch a boat to Salerno where I’ll take a three hour bus ride to Senise where I’ll get picked up by someone from the residency to drive to Noepoli in the remote area, Basilicata. Just before my alarm rang this morning, thunder boomed. We are so high up that when a storm comes, we are in the clouds – the thunder felt like it was in my teeth! Needless to say, I was awake and ready to get going.

I then checked out of the lovely Villa Amore. The owner called TravelMar for me to see if the ocean is too rough for transportation. We got the ok, the skies look clear so off I go down the mountain again. To my delight, there are the two English men who I saw on Saturday! Remember them? They were my cohorts in struggling with the luggage door under the bus. They did not recognize me initially but when I described the luggage experience, they enthusiastically confirmed it was them! They tried to help me with the luggage compartment this time, but we all failed and discussed how insistent the bus drivers are about storing the luggage but how disinterested they are in helping you do so.

At any rate, we had a good visit about Rome and London and Ravello and they were very kind. I might be giving the impression that this area is sparely populated, considering the fortuitous repeated encounters I’ve experienced. However, this is high season along the Amalfi coast and the area is swarming with people. To add to the crowds who are vacationing here, they come in by the droves from cruise liners parked offshore. The crowds can be stifling, especially for an Arkansan used to a less dense population. Ravello has been isolated from the madness which has been a benefit of staying there – unreachable by the cruise crowds. I also highly recommend Atrani which is a lovely 15 minute walk (albeit lots of stairs) from the town of Amalfi, and is much less crowded.image

I am now in the boat to Salerno, a 35 minute ride on the dot, as opposed to that 1.5 hour bus ordeal on the way. Travel tip: if you venture to the Amalfi coast, travel on a weekday instead of the weekend. Ok, while I’m at it, here are a few more suggestions: bring an umbrella, a little travel bottle of bug spray, one pair of very comfortable sandals, one pair of comfy Nike slip on walkers, one cute dress, a pair of cool blousey pants to travel in, clothes you can hike in, a hat, sunscreen, plenty of underwear, and plenty of undergarments.

Back to the boat ride, it rained hard but the ocean remained calm. I got to, again, sit by the English couple who kindly took my picture for me. imageOnce I finally found the Salerno train and bus station, and bought my ticket for the bus to Senise, I wandered around looking for a place to eat lunch and get out of the rain. It was quickly clear that the station was full of cons as I was approached by a persistent woman with a baby, and three aggressive men asking for money or something…this was my first place on my Italian adventure to feel harassed and I kept my belongings under tight grip. Aside from the gritty feel of Salerno thus far, it seems to be an ideal place for catching trains, boats, and buses to a variety of locations. Many prefer it to Sorrento or Naples because of its convenient access to Pompeii, Herculeneum, Naples, Paestum, the entire Amalfi coast (and the islands such as Capri), and trains south down the Silcily.

My next post will be from the Artist Residency. If you are interested in learning more about the program, there are some new videos posted on their Facebook page if you look for Palazzo Rinaldi.

Thanks for reading! Ciao!

The Kindness of Strangers

After feeling a bit down yesterday, three gifts came my way today and lifted my spirits more than the gift bearers can know. I’ll start with the adventures of the day and reveal the positive encounters as they unfolded. A storm moved in and woke me at 7:30. Initially I was disappointed, as a big hike was on the agenda. imageBut at breakfast, the skies began to clear and the hotel staff looked up the weather forecast and said to proceed as planned. imageSo, with water, sunscreen, bug spray and backpack in hand, I headed down an ancient trail that runs behind and below Villa Cimbrone. I read the hike to Atrani was perfectly safe though rigorous, and would take about 45 minutes and then 15-20 more minutes to Amalfi. Well, I realize steep climbs and descents have been a theme of the blog, but I must say I went down thousands of steps on this hike. imageI’m officially declaring that going down is, indeed, harder than going up. Occasionally, I thought I had arrived, but I would pop out at a vista and see the ocean was still far far down.image

Finally, the path became less foliage-oriented and more alley-oriented, and eventually, a little cobblestone via tight between old walls spit me out in front of the stunning Maria Magdellana Church, which is build right on top of a cliff’s edge over imagethe water. The choir was practicing while children played out front waiting for the singing parents to finish. As families exited, I followed them down a narrow path to the central piazza of Atrani.

As I popped out another narrow alleyway into the piazza, I almost ran into a large stage where crisply dressed brass band members where gathering for a imagepractice performance. I walked over to what appeared to be a drug store and managed to ask, in Italian, for a “thing women put in their hair to go up.” The man, said, Si Si Si, and pulled out a hair clip. Perfecto! I walked back into the square and who passes by, but Colomba, the kind woman from Bologna who helped me on the bus ride from Salerno a few days ago! We talked for an hour and she provided all sorts of advice, a bus schedule to return to Ravello (walking up the mountain was simply not an option on these shaking legs) and pointed me to the footpath to Amalfi. She also explained the town was preparing for a celebration for their Saint, Maria Magdellana, which is why the choir and the brass band were practicing.

The town of Amalfi was incredible though overrun with tourists.image I visited the church with its magnificent gold mosaics, had superb gnocchiimage with pesto and enjoyed window shopping but after an hour or so, I was ready to head back to Ravello, which was a 25 minute open air bus ride from Amalfi. It was one of those red tour buses that provided headphones to listen to the history of the area which I was happy to hear. Before leaving Amalfi on the tour bus, I watched a father teasing his daughter by grabbing her neck just like my brother, Owen, does. It’s this maneuver that tickles so badly it makes your knees buckle. I don’t know what language they were speaking as she screamed for him to stop, but I’ve always thought of it as something only Owen does.

I think these human similarities are striking me because I feel sort of like an alien here, or like a slightly different species than those around me. But then these very poignant commonalities appear, like Colomba describing her teenage son’s upcoming visit. She told me her 16 year old son was coming on the train from Bologna and she was afraid he would be bored and unpleasant. She said the last place he would want to be is hanging out with his mother, away from his friends in the city. I guess mothers of teenagers have things in common no matter how different our cultures may seem.

On the tour bus back to Ravello, I met a nice young woman, Diana, from Australia. We walked together and talked on our way to Villa Cimbrone, which is right next to my hotel where I was headed for a rest. We ended up stopping by the church of St. Francis of Assisi and enjoyed an interesting art exhibit in the church courtyard that I’d passed and missed several times. When it came time to part, I went to shake her hand but she gave me a big hug. So sweet!

That evening, I was sketching on the hotel balcony with a light early dinner (eating at 9 pm is leading to a late bedtime!) and a woman with the hotel approached and asked if I’d met an English family on my way up a couple of days ago. For a moment I was confused, wondering how she would be asking me this…then, I said yes! And she handed me a piece of paper saying it was a message for me. Remember the English family I mentioned a few posts back – the ones who so kindly helped me find my hotel and later invited me to dinner? As if those gestures weren’t already bursting with kindness, look at this!!!image

They took the time to find and email me! Between the view (which just about brings tears to my eyes) and this email, I was momentarily stunned and teary while rereading the message two or three times. She signed the email with the names of each family member and with her Facebook name, so now we can stay in touch. And I can direct them to my art blog, where, surprise, they’ve already had a starring role (see “Magical Ravello” post)! I know there are lunatics and hateful people in the world but thankfully there are also people like Colomba, Diana, and the Flude family whose kindness shines bright during this adventure. Salute!

image

Ups and Downs in the Mountains

Today there were ups and downs. I’m gonna get real here. This experience is incredible, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but there are moments when sadness fills me up and I wonder how long is too long without seeing friends, family, and being able to communicate with anyone. I am the type of person who enjoys being alone and tends to not feel lonely. But a bit of loneliness is creeping in at the seams which is hard. Writing notes about the experiences staves off the isolation quite well, and turning those notes into blog material has probably helped more that I anticipated (which might explain the increasing loquaciousness of the blog entries!)

It is always very difficult to sent our girls to camp for a month and the feelings I have now are similar to what I feel every summer. But being so far away is compounding the longing, which I was afraid might happen. I depart soon for the Artist Residency and am hoping some artists there speak English…I’ll keep you posted.

So, to perk up a bit, I’ll write about the “ups” of the day:
imageVilla Cimbrone. It only took two seconds for me to realize upon entry why exactly C East had so many stars by “Villa Cimbrone” in her Italy notes. Pictures can not capture the magic – this one to the right shows an old well and Ancient Roman columns that were carved in the imageMiddle Ages. After lunch in town, I returned to Villa Cimbrone to do some sketching.

image

 

 

 

It was just too pretty to stay away. Plus, I decided to postpone a longer hike I had planned due to the heat. After showering, I again splurged on the Revello Music Festival concert, then people watched, stumbled upon an inspiring organ concert in one of the churches, and went to bed. OH I ALMOST FORGOT! Between the poetic Argentinian themed concert and the lovely organ church concert, I happened upon a HUGE FIGHT!!! I mean these two people were sca-reaming at each other right outside the Villa Rufalo as I exited concert. I wish I understood what was going on. An police officer had to intercept them! And I’m not talking about two rough dudes. It was a woman, dressed up beautifully (of course!) with a large clock around her neck (you see how I am living in a state of confusion, yes?) and the man – a rotund chef (the people here are lithe due to hiking like mountain goats daily so it struck me as an even stranger sight seeing the portly chef guy). I thought maybe they were street performers at first, they were so vocal and dramatic – the fighting was lyrical and rhythmic which makes sense – as their talking is lyrical and rhythmic compared to English. I wish I could post videos and I would show you a snippet.

PS For friends who are afraid I am taking things too seriously, here is proof that I’ve really cut loose!!! A Coke! 🙂image

Magical Ravello

The view and my room are like something from a dream, or movie, imagesomething fiction, too colorful, too fragrant, to high up, too beautiful to be real. After a cold shower, I walked back down to the center of town. It is a square piazza with stores, cafés, restaurants and gardens around the perimeter with a large church as the central anchor.

What I first saw did not make sense to me. There was a group of the most beautiful people superbly dressed in front of an ancient looking structure called the Belvedere Di Villa Rufolo. There was a camera man filming another man and woman who were walking around speaking to various dignitary types. The people milling about in this area were the most fashionable, suave humans I have ever seen. I mean, I’ve never seen people so beautiful. Thank goodness I had the foresight to pack a good dress which I put on for tonight, though in this crowd, I do feel like quite a bumpkin. There were police following the mystery man and their uniforms were unbelievably tailored and formal and attractive…like no uniform I’ve ever seen.

I walked a bit further, trying to decide if I would splurge on the music festival that is currently scheduled for 5 nights at that Villa Rufalo. As I strolled by trying not to gawk, I heard organ music and singing, coming from the church, Saturday night mass. I then decided it would be foolish to skip the concert so I quickly found pizza, the best in my life, for a good price, too. Oh I forgot to mention in the last post, an English family felt sorry for me and offered to help me lug my luggage up the mountain…I refused but the father used his phone to get directions for me and they walked me to the entrance of my villa, which was so kind. We had a lovely visit on the way up. As I came back down to the Piazza for the evening, I glanced into an open air restaurant and there they were waving at me! I popped in to say hello and they invited me to join them for dinner! How incredibly nice is that? But I declined, not wanting to intrude on a family holiday – plus, I needed a quick bite if I was going to make that concert.

As I ate my pizza on a little bench, I asked a woman next to me (though I was almost scared to talk to her, she was so stunning) about the little fancy man with the police escorts. She said “politico importante” (or something like that). I figured for the film crew and police to be following him around, he had to be someone pretty well known (to everyone but me).

As I entered the gardens for the concert, I noticed a bottleneck up the way along a path and it was the little man and his entourage. I wish I’d learned his name! Okay, so I found my seat and out comes the head of the Ravello Music Festival to introduce the pianist. He has won Grammys and Emmys in the US and plays all over the world. When the pianist, Michel Camilo, took the stage, he spoke in Spanish and it was a relief! I’ve never been so glad to hear a language aside from my own. imageAnd when he played, oh, I’ve never heard anything like it. It was absolutely riveting. I wanted to yell “Te amo” but resisted. Didn’t want to be the idiot American standing up at a distinguished piano concert screaming like I did at Corey Hart in 1987. The stars were bright overhead, the temp was perfect with a slight breeze, the Amalfi coast was twinkling as the backdrop and the music was magical.

Once the concert dismissed, I came to the piazza for a sweet treat and a water. I accidentally ordered in Spanish and the man laughed and said I got lucky, he speaks Spanish. Skipping forward, I am sitting on the piazza, on a bench and have been surrounded by a group of teenagers. I wish I could understand them. They have all smiled at me and seem to not care that I sit amongst them. OK, they are literally sitting on the bench with me and singing. I’m a little freaked out. There are families everywhere including right here by me and children playing tag (I guess children of all ages and their parents hang out on the Piazza on Saturday night) and double Dutch jump rope.

I have not seen anyone with a cell phone out. Even these teen boys – in fact, I think the youngest person I’ve seen in Italy with a cell phone has been approximately 17 or 18. And these kids are all PLAYING and TALKING and SINGING. Is this for real? Ok, I can’t sit amongst these boys any longer. I just got up and asked in Spanish if I could take their picture. I wish I had used my cell so I could post the photo in the blog – help me remember to post it later. You won’t believe how cute they are. They all jumped in the get the picture and lined up along a railing together. When I said, “uno, dos, tres” they all yelled whatever Italians say instead of “cheese.” Oh my gosh, adorable!

With that, I must say goodnight.