Vernazza Updates:

Vernazza is well on its way to normalcy and while I no longer write updates on their status, you can learn about the devastating floods of 2011 by clicking the label "Vernazza Updates". For the latest information from the organizations in Vernazza and Monterosso, visit SaveVernazza and Rebuild Monterosso.

31 December 2010

Addio 2010!


On the very last day of the year, one cannot go about like it is just any other day. One must be reflective on the previous 364 days and full of hope and dreams for the next. Plus, you need to be celebratory, even if especially if your previous 364 days were difficult, arduous, stressful and exhausting--like mine. If this last year was not amongst your finest, December 31st is a particularly fantastic day! It signifies that all the muck of the year is finally over and tomorrow starts everything fresh. For my husband and I, we were filled with a sense of relief and optimism that we haven’t felt in a while. We were so happy to see 2010 come to an end, that we started off the day by celebrating! Illy cappuccini and fresh berry cornetti at Pasticceria da Sylvana on corso Cavour was the perfect start to this final day of 2010. I hope you enjoyed your final day as well.

28 December 2010

Norway+Italy=Polar Opposites

I have to say how very impressed I am with Norwegian people. Their culture, their mentality, and their hyper state of logic is so refreshing. On the outside, Norwegians can seem a bit curt and maybe not quite warm (and they will be the first to tell you about that). But when you talk with someone, or know them personally, they are the most honest, warm, caring, jovial and straightforward people I have ever known. Time after time, from strangers in grocery stores, to paramedics, Norwegians prove themselves to be stand-up, caring people. When you make a friendship, you are brought in and the honesty and openness of their lives, feelings and life events just blows me away.

Norwegians have no need to show a façade or be passive-aggressive. They tell you what they think and what is on their mind, and you always know where you stand with them. They may seem abrupt or even rude by American standards, but it is fantastic! There is no subtext, no treachery, no hiding behind lame stories or excuses. They are honest, man! And when you are injured and in need of help, they are caring, supportive, and light-hearted all at the same time.

18 November 2010

Polar Bear Pride


Norwegians have a thing for Polar bears--especially northern Norwegians. I was recently going through some picture albums and came across a few pics I snapped of some of the MANY stuffed polar bears that are scattered all around the small city of Tromsø. (If you've never heard of Tromsø, check out my mini-video: Live From Tromsø, Norway!) Polar bears are not only a part of their history, but also part of their identity and pride. Tromsø is known, among many other things, as one of the cities where polar bears would roam the streets. While this was true a very long time ago, it has of course become old lore. It is still true for some of the northern-most islands of Norway, and I have actually met a few people from islands where polar bear sightings are common (and they're very proud of this). But the only polar bears you'll see in Tromsø are stuffed.

Norway Is Big Sky Country


Before coming to Norway, when I thought of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen, I would think of three or four that stuck in memory. But now, being amazed by breathtaking sunsets and generally amazing skies (even at night) is so common to me that I have lost count.

During a recent conversation with a Tromsø local, I was discussing how incredible it was to have such amazing sunsets as a normal, common occurrence. To my amazement, it was explained to me that these are not just common, but predictable by season. Apparently, during the late summer months, when the sunsets start happening again, they paint the sky with bright pinks and magenta. Fall brings warm, golden sunsets like fire and the winter brings pale pastel pinks as a soft backdrop to the bright white snow. And it is true! I have been in Norway from August to the end of November and I certainly have seen the sunsets change with the season. When I first arrived, the sun was not setting until around 3am--which was really more of a twilight than a full on sunset.

12 October 2010

Chernobyl Chicken

This comes from a collection of cynical writings I did while at University in Wisconsin. These are "Tales From the Tundra, circa 2000:

As I sat on the hard futon, blindly staring at the local news the other night, I saw something that I just could not believe. Please understand that I usually avoid the local news here in Central Wisconsin because it is just so painful to watch. Bad lighting, bad audio, lame stories, etc. Unfortunately, I was a captive audience awaiting the miserable weather forecast, when all of a sudden a story of “local color” filled the screen.

If I may make a brief interruption to remind you about the couple of problems that California has had with environmental pollution over the years. Things like the DDT spraying that eventually led to the problems with eagle eggs; toxic waste dumping by evil corporations that polluted the water and ocean, and numerous oil spills that killed thousands of cute little furry animals and birds. We are quite aware of the problems that may arise from pollution, but when there’s a problem, or symptoms of a problem it usually gets handled and cleaned up. Of course there were numerous jokes made about frogs with six legs and babies with arms growing out of their head, but the problems were always taken seriously.

I’m sure you’re all just dying to know what this story was, right? Well, it started off showing a picture of a very large egg. An egg that wasn’t quite as large as an Ostrich egg, but certainly comparable. The reporter appeared at a home in a small town where Mr. and Mrs. Wryzshingzrgvski’s chicken had laid this enormous egg. As soon as the camera started rolling, the wife broke the egg over a bowl, excited that she could make scrambled eggs for the whole family with just one egg. To her dismay, all this clear goo oozed out and produced ANOTHER normal sized egg inside. Mmmm…..those whites are full of protein, you know! And yes, they did eat the egg.

At this point, I was understandably speechless. I waited for the “investigative journalist” to give the scoop on the local aluminum plant that must be dumping their waste illegally. However, when it came time for the commentary from the intelligent anchor, once again, I was left dumbfounded. Little Miss Goody tried to make a cute little joke saying: “I feel bad for that chicken! Ha, ha, ha!”

YEAH....

If this happened in California, there would be several groups showing up to check the water, test the food, and walk around with Geiger counters to measure radiation levels. But here in the Tundra, it’s a funny little story that warms the heart.

10 October 2010

Chestnuts Everywhere!


As my last post showed, autumn brings with it some of my favorite foods. In Italy, October starts the season of one my fall favorites—le castagne (chestnuts). So, after another Sunday lunch, bellies full and nothing to do…my husband suggested we go up into the hills above La Spezia and pick some fresh chestnuts. Now, if you have learned from my earlier stories, nothing entices me more than the combination of food and adventure! Plus, I had never seen chestnut trees before--it was a very exciting proposition.

09 October 2010

Autumn in Italy

After spending a good deal of time in northern Norway, my return to the splendors of Italy was certainly welcome. But this time, instead of returning to Sicily, I returned to La Spezia, in northern Italy, about an hour east of Genoa and an hour west of Pisa. Markets in Italy are always seasonal, so what you see is what is best. It is fall now, and that brings with it some of my favorite foods. Fresh pumpkin, mushrooms, grapes, apples, chestnuts...these are the fruits of fall.

My first day brought me to the daily vegetable market. Oh, what splendor...

As the old adage says: 
"A picture speaks a thousand words"

29 September 2010

Amazing Norway!


Nothing makes traveling more fun than exploring the area and the adventures it brings. This day’s exploration was a drive south of Tromsø, on mainland Norway (Tromsø is an island).  The adventure was where we were going to find food. We didn’t pack anything to eat, assured that we would come across some small restaurant or local diner for some traditional Norwegian food. Not the brightest of ideas, but I digress...

Anyway, we left Krokelvdalen, where my parents are living and headed south. Oh, we also didn’t have a map, so that adds to the adventure quotient, right? After fifteen minutes along the coast, we take a turn up a small street to explore a neighborhood.  It turned out to be a dead end, but we see the first of many little springs that shoot out from the rocks along the road. Waterfalls were everywhere, from full on waterfalls cascading down from snow-topped peaks to little springs trickling all over the place.

24 August 2010

Live from Tromsø, Norway!

Fun project! Make a 2-3 minute travel show. Well, I just happened to be visiting a small island in northern Norway, so why not? One day, no script, only my Canon digital camera, a 4gb memory card and my Mac. So what do you think? Do I have what it takes to be the host of a travel show?

I Finally Saw The Moon!


At exactly 3:20am, August 24th, in the light pastel sky, the moon finally peeked over the mountain, showing itself for the first time since I've been here! I just happened to be up and I took a picture of it in celebration. And now, as I am writing this at 3:33am, the moon has almost completely sunken back down below the mountain. Good thing I took a picture!

28 July 2010

Making Watermelon Jam


In Sicily, summertime brings with it so many wonderful things. Hot weather, cool beaches, fresh gelato, vacation time and the biggest anguria (watermelon) you have ever seen. Now, those super huge melons are something we don’t often see anymore, as the smaller hybrids are what we usually see these days. Genetic modification with zucca (squash) plants, which makes a much smaller, more manageable sized melon has now pretty much overtaken the market. And really, how many one to two person households can consume a 15 pound melon anyway? Unfortunately, that cross breeding has annihilated the original, sweet flavor of watermelon. Do you ever buy a beautiful watermelon and think to yourself, this just doesn’t taste like it did when I was a kid? Well, that’s why.

10 July 2010

It's Summer!


Today I am writing from the shores of the Mediterranean sea. That's right, I'm at the beach and I can officially announce the start of the Summer season. It has been a pretty chilly year so far and it has left the locals slightly confused. Normally, by the time July rolls around, everyone here is sporting a nice shade of molasses on their skin. But this year, it just hasn't been hot up until the last couple days. And even now it's thankfully not as hot as it usually is. Although this chilling affect made my winter a total nightmare, I am now loving it. We are half-way through summer and we haven't been awakened at five in the morning gasping for air and covered in a layer of sweat. We still get awakened at five, but it's from the neighbor's relentless  rooster! But my husband, Leo and I have been plotting it's demise...stay tuned for that one.


Anyway, back to the beach. Leo and I like to come to this fairly remote spot just outside the city. It's nice and calm and the shore has a long shelf, knee deep for at least 50 feet.  It is also a little more wild and natural than the other beaches and the only trash is what the sea spits out. The other beaches in the city are always packed with people, cars, noise and trash. Trash is a hugely terrible problem here. Well, I think it's hugely terrible. Others don't seem to mind going to a beach filled with plastic bottles, broken shards of glass, plastic bags and mounds of cigarette butts. Sure, they notice and they complain about it, but they are also the ones making the trash. It's yet another Sicilian dichotomy.

When people here go to the beach, they set up shop for the whole day, bringing picnic tables and chairs, big umbrellas and tons of food. The beach staple is pasta al forno, or baked pasta, in a huge pan to feed twice as many people as they have. Then there are secondary dishes like shrimp, salad, watermelon and then all the chips and sweets for the kids. Can you imagine how much trash that generates? They bring everything but the kitchen sink and it's a wonder how they fit it all. Sometimes when we see people unloading their car, we wonder if they'll start pulling couches and TVs out of their little sub-compact cars!


The two of us, however, prefer simplicity. A quiet spot, a couple of sarongs, a little cooler bag with some water and a good book (or journal in this case). When we first came to the beach together, years ago, we would take long walks with a garbage bag and clean up as much trash as we could. But now, we don't have to deal with it--we have to drive 25 minutes to get here, but it's so worth it.

Today is a fantastic day--a bright hot sun, a constant cool breeze and the sound of the sea gently lapping on the shore.

Che meraviglia.

01 July 2010

How To Preserve Capers



This may have been the most fun thing I made during my time in Sicily. Not just because it was so simple, but because it included an adventure! Scouring the countryside for cappero bushes was an experience I will not easily forget. We searched for them down small roads and along stone walls. They were slightly elusive, growing in dry fields, among clumps of fan palms and other similarly shaped bushes. But it was the delicate, creamy blossoms that would give them away. For a detailed account of my caper adventure, see Wild Capers!

So after you gather your capperi, you need to wash them thoroughly. If you have enough, you can sort them according to size. The small, baby sized capers are what we are accustomed to getting at the store. But capers can get rather large as they get closer to blooming. Italians like these larger ones for salads. I was picking all the cute little buds that I was familiar with and my husband was picking the large buds that he preferred. Then there are the caper “berries”, which I had not known about previously. These are the seed pods that form after the flower blooms. They look a little like mini torpedoes, but they have a slightly different taste than the buds do.

Now, there are two ways of preserving capers. They can be preserved dry in salt, which is very common in Sicily, or they can be pickled with vinegar. I have done both, but I prefer them pickled.
  



To make capperi sotto sale, or preserved in salt, you must first butare l’acqua, or get the water out. Put your washed capers in a colander or strainer resting on a bowl and toss them with a generous amount of salt. Using a large grain salt works the best if you can find it. Leave the capers like this for two days, adding additional salt as needed, as much of it will drip out with the caper water. This is the time that your whole house will fill with the aroma of capers. After about two days of releasing their water and they seem a little shriveled, it is recommended that you leave them in the sun for a bit to dry out. Then you put a layer of salt on the bottom of a jar, layer the capers and continue to alternate layers of salt and capers until you get to the top. There is no boiling needed, as the salt does all the preserving for you. You can’t get more antique than that. Close the lid tightly and you can keep them for quite a while--maybe even forever. Store them in a cool, dark place for at least a month, and then you can start eating them. When using capperi sotto sale, take the amount you need and rinse them under cold water before using. If they still seem too salty, soak them in water for a few minutes.
   

Capperi sott’aceto, or pickeled capers, are much quicker and easier to make. Pack your fresh, washed capers into sterile jars. Bring a small pan of white wine vinegar to boil (measure enough vinegar to fill your jar) with a bit of salt and an optional bay leaf. If your vinegar is really acrid, you can add a pinch or two of sugar to cut the acidity. Pour the boiling vinegar over the capers, filling to the rim, close the lid tightly, and your done! Turn the jar upside down for twenty minutes to get a good seal and store in a cool dark place for about two months before using. Personally, I couldn’t wait that long and I tried mine after two weeks. They were so delicious!

25 June 2010

Mount'Erice


Can somebody say romantic? Towering above Trapani is this remote, medieval, mountaintop village that over looks most of western Sicily. There is an actual castle in Erice, which was originally a temple dedicated to Venus in about the 6th century BC, but later turned into a Norman fortified castle. 

With a new Tram to take you from the base of the mountain to the top of this steep, touristic village, it is easier than ever to visit. The tram runs all day, with the last tram around 2am after the pizzerias close.

***Traveler Beware*** Being an in-tact medieval village, all the streets are steep and made with small, slippery stones. Don't make the mistake I did--wear flat shoes, preferably with rubber soles--or you'll spend the whole time barefoot.



I have been in the summer and the winter, and it is beautiful whenever. But I would recommend going in the summer because there is nothing better than escaping the stifling Sicilian heat with a trip to the always cool and breezy Erice. That high up, they always have a cool wind, which is delightful in the summer and a bit too much in the winter.  It is packed on summer nights and the narrow little streets are filled with cute little shops and tons of people--but they are mostly locals. In fact, it’s rare to see tourists that aren’t Italian...they like to keep this place to themselves.


A local celebrity? Maria, the woman who owns and runs one of the oldest bakeries in Erice (except for the one run by nuns) has been featured in American magazines, done cooking shows in New York and has a cookbook for her famous sweets. What do I think? If there is one thing you do in Sicily, make it a stop to this bakery for her always fresh, always hot "Genoveses"--you will never forget it. And when I say, always fresh, always hot, it’s true! Even when the lines are spilling out into the street at 11pm, her kitchen is still bringing out trays filled these freshly made, custard filled pillows. Mmm...can I have one now?


When Sicilians go out for dinner, they go out for pizza, and Erice has no shortage of pizzerias. But the place I like to go is like a secret hideaway, located down an alley, through a tunnel and down a set of stairs. You follow these tiny, obscure arrows on the wall, pointing you to Ulisse Ristorante, but along the way, you think, ‘Where are we going? There can’t be a restaurant down here.’ and then you turn the corner and BAM! There is a beautiful courtyard with trees, tables and lights and it’s packed with people.


There is just something special about Erice, maybe it’s the energy of enduring thousands of years, or maybe there is something mystical from the ancient temple of Venus, but whatever it is, you feel it. And you always have a wonderful time.

14 June 2010

Cheers to That!

Tonight I had the most amazing discovery! I discovered the way to enjoy Italian television...it goes by many names, but the one I prefer the most is: cocktails! I don't know why I never thought of it before, but now that I spent the evening laughing (dare I say enjoying?) at the usual, banal, substance-less variety show with aged men vying for the attention of 7 foot tall buxom beauties...I feel like I have made the discovery of the decade!

Now, I didn't make this discovery sooner because I am not one that drinks much. I love wine, an occasional martini...but my body just can't handle more than that. I get sick faster than I can get tipsy. But since I have been diligent with taking my liver support herbs and eating a fairly healthy diet...I think I can get away with a drink or two now and then.

All our meals with my husband's family involve sitting around the television. I would even go so far as to describe the T.V. as the fifth person at the table. So even though I don't watch much television myself (especially here in Italy because I find it rather offensive), with them,  I am subject to some of the most "popular" shows on tv.

For lunch, there are the daytime shows, with a target audience of housewives, so there is a soap opera called "Cento Vetrine" which is really just a series of close ups of characters giving their best shot at looking perplexed and upset. Then there is the jewel of the Italian nation, "Uomini e Donne" which is like mixing "The Dating Game", "Blind date" and "Jerry Springer" into one show, with a blond diva in a gaudy throne and feather boa as the head mistress (she is a lot like a real version of Miss Piggy). Then there are the "People's Court" type shows, which I cannot bear and is the only one that I insist on changing. It is popular here because it gives people a reason to argue and make a lot of noise about someone else's problems--it's a national pastime. Well, that about covers our lunchtime programming, as we are usually done by the time "Walker Texas Ranger" reruns come on. Grazie a Dio.
  


Prima serata, which is Italian prime time, is all about the variety shows, reality shows and game shows. There are about four hosts across the networks, and they take their turns hosting all these shows. These are the ones with the scantly clad women dancing around purposefully jiggling in front of the camera (yes, prime time--meaning while we are eating dinner). Even the occasional serious show will still have these ballerinas to bring us to and from commercial break. Maybe they think they can't get anyone's attention without some T&A? And so passes our dinner with bright lights, shaking booties and overflowing cleavage.   

 

After almost a year of quietly enduring these spectacles, trying to ignore my inner voice protesting the objectification of women--tonight, with a delicious lychee martini that I made in hand, I didn't mind so much and I was even enjoying the program! Brilliant!

Do I regret that Sicily has driven me to drink?
The only thing I regret is that it took me this long to figure it out!

03 June 2010

Wild Capers!

  
My husband and I went out for a passeggiata after lunch today. In Italy, the passeggiata, or evening stroll, is an integral part of life. If you live in the city, you do it downtown and look at the shops; if you live by the sea, you do it along the lungomare, which is a promenade that stretches along the coast. After getting a gelato and enjoying the sun reflecting off the water, we went back to the car to take a drive. We live in a small city that is pretty much surrounded by agricultural countryside, so taking a drive is more of an adventure into nature than a ride through town.

31 May 2010

Going on a Pilgrimage


Every year, during the last week of May, the small Sicilian town of Petrosino is a buzz with pilgrims. Yes, pilgrims. There is something about the word "pilgrimage" that conjures up ideas of walking for hours, enduring some kind of pain or discomfort and waiting in line with the sick and ailing. But this Pelligrinaggio di Santo Padre had none of it. In fact, everyone seemed to be pretty comfortable--what with the huge parking lot in-front of the entrance, the numerous food carts selling snack food and the abundance of plump, well-fed Sicilians crowding the shaded benches. 

 
Like most things in Italy, this has become more of a thing to do in company than an actual act of spiritual sacrifice. But there was a full mass in the adjoining church and lots of singing of hymns and plenty of spiritual pride. Pride, of course, is never lacking in Sicily. 

So the story goes that the miners of tufo (the porous stone that most of Sicily is built with, soft to cut out of the ground, but hardens to stone as it dries in the sun.) were working in a cave when one of them came across a piece of tufo naturally shaped like a man. They were so moved and impressed by this discovery that they brought the statue to the church to be displayed. The next day, however, they returned to the mine to discover the very same statue exactly where they found it. Again, they brought it to the church, but alas, the same thing repeated again the next day. It had to be a miracle! What other explanation could there possibly be? 

Although I did not find the story terribly interesting, I was curious to see this naturally man-shaped statue that was so revered. So off I went on my very first pilgrimage! "Goin' on a pilgramage...gonna catch a big one..." Oh wait--wrong song!

We arrived by car, a fairly new means of arriving, as the tradition is to go on foot. So the 35 minute car ride was spent telling me all about how the whole town used to walk together in a three hour procession down the road. This seems like a crazy idea to me considering how fast the cars go down this barely two-lane highway, but Italians are crazy when it comes to the road. "Unfortunately", it was explained to me, people are no longer allowed to do the pilgrimage by foot because too many people had been injured by cars. Wow, I didn't see that coming! But just as well, because I really wasn't up for a three hour hike in the blazing Sicilian heat.
  

The entrance was very nice, a lovely respite in the middle of a dry town. It was packed with people dressed in their Sunday best--thankfully no line of self-flagellating devotees. We headed through the wooded courtyard to the sanctuary, where the miraculous statue is kept.

 
I was so curious to see this naturally shaped stone that spawned such devotion. And curious as to how it would it be displayed. I have seen many different religious relics and altars and strange displays in my travels. I have been to a church in Austria that claims to have a vial of Jesus' blood, a church in Germany that claims to have a splinter from THE cross, a church in France that displays a jeweled robe of Mary (which is displayed on a pint-sized doll--I don't think she was that small) and all these places have enormous churches built around these small relics, all because they brought the oldest form of tourist--pilgrims. And the more tourism, the more cash flow. So what kind of naturally man-shaped stone could compete with these biblical relics?

We headed into the sanctuary...
 
 
It took a minute for my eyes to adjust, but was that paint I saw on the 'natural' statue? There was a glare from the door that obscured his face. And...wait a minute...there is something glowing... I slowly shuffle along with the line of people, watching the women kiss their hand and place it on the plexiglass covering the statue. Yeah, there was something glowing alright--a neon blue halo. I am confused--I think maybe this is not the statue--that maybe it is a pre-statue, because this shiny, shellacked statue could not be the real deal. This thing is carved and painted and sitting with a freaking neon blue halo. In a state of suspended belief, I continued around the bend expecting to see the real statue. But there was nothing else. I asked my mother-in-law if this was it and she affirmed that I just walked by the statue. Really? REALLY?? I swung back around for another look, hoping to feel awed and amazed.


And well, I did. I felt awed and amazed that this whole story of a naturally man-shaped statue was found looking like this. Awed and amazed that all these people believed this BS story and awed and amazed that people used to risk their lives to walk three hours to see such a kitsch display. Am I just too cynical or realistic for this kind of thing? No, I have a lot of respect for traditions and history and I have studied and seen things that are much more of a stretch to believe. But I'm sorry, this is just ridiculous. They totally lost me with the neon halo.


But my true lesson was yet to come. Shortly after exiting the 'sanctuary', we ran into a bunch of relatives. After several minutes of hellos and cheek kissing, they were all anxious to hear what the American thought of their pilgrimage. Still in a completely appalled state of mind, I momentarily forgot that I was with Sicilians. And no matter what they say about something, even if they seemed to agree with me that the statue was silly, Sicilians are geloso--they have fierce pride for anything that is theirs. So when asked what I thought, I told them that I was really disappointed that it wasn't really a natural statue and found it over the top to have a neon halo.

Oops, I just insulted the family. The funny thing I have learned about Sicilians is that when they ask you if you like their town, or their food, or their stuff, or their idea...they don't want to hear whether you really like it or not--they just want to hear that you do. It doesn't matter if they complain 24/7 about the same thing, you need to like it. So the moral of my pilgrimage story is: if you ever find yourself asked whether you like something in Sicily, just say: "yes, it's great!" and all will be right with the world.

Until next time...

15 May 2010

A River Runs Through Me

This comes from a collection of writings I did while at University in Wisconsin.
These are "Tales From the Tundra, circa 2000:


During my last semester of college, I needed to fill two missing PE credits. So I registered for a weekend fly-fishing course that took place out in the woods of central Wisconsin, and in the Wisconsin River.

  
I was excited! Fly-fishing had appealed to me for several years. I have always known it to be one of those pastimes that requires a significant amount of devotion in both time and energy to be good.

Growing up, I went fishing with my father fairly often (by a city-girl’s standards), but always with the classic fishing pole.


Okay, so I have to admit, most of my knowledge and romance with fly-fishing came from watching Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It”. I still remember those scenes because they were so gorgeous--the scenery, I mean. Anyway, just the idea of being out in the middle of a river so stunningly beautiful, alone with only yourself and your thoughts is very romantic. But those majestic images of a serene river at the base of the gigantic Montana mountains were quite different than the experience I was about to have.

On the first evening, we had classroom time were we learned the mechanics of the rod and tying the different knots. I enjoyed the discussion about fly-fishing: the history of it, the tradition of it and how it can become a way of life for some people. I also learned how much scientific information fly-fishermen have in their head. These guys learn all the different larvae, invertebrates and other bugs and memorize them not only by size, shape and classification, but also by the hatching season. It blew me away. The fact that they know what time of year each insect is out, and which fish prefer which type is very impressive. I’m sure all that information makes catching fish more successful. Personally, I think it's a bit extreme, and so much technical information takes away from the visceral experience.


Yeah, well, actually standing in the middle of a frigid river with swamper overalls up to my chest wasn't really the visceral experience I was expecting.

Unfortunately, it was early March, the water had just thawed and it was raining. Did I mention I don't handle cold very well? It was utterly miserable. I really wish we had nice weather that weekend, as I might actually have enjoyed myself.

I did love being out in nature and learning the proper techniques like keeping my wrist straight and “watching my back cast”. But by Sunday, I was so cold and wet and my silly plastic pancho was not keeping me dry.  I had finally had enough of being a good sport. It is hard to stay positive when after several hours, the only thing I caught was a head cold. But that's just as well, because I'm not interested in tricking fish into biting a sharp, metal hook only to rip it out their mouth and throw them back in. I'm sorry--I don't care how much we were told it's the humane way to fish--I don't agree. Therefore, I was not really wanting to catch anything, anyway.

All suffering aside, I do have to admit, there was one brief moment when I experienced that thing--that moment of complete Zen. There was a point when the wind died down, I was watching the movement of the water and hearing it ripple around the rocks...as I cast my line, it made that little thwip sound and it flew out so smoothly and glided down, as if in slow motion, right to the spot I was aiming for. It was as if in that very moment everyone else disappeared and I felt so present and focused on what I was doing. It was fantastic--that serene moment I had romanticized for so long (minus Brad Pitt, of course). But, shortly after it started, my serene moment was rudely interrupted by the chattering of my teeth and pieces of my wet hair slapping me in the face. So much for my moment of zen.
  

Overall, I did have a great experience. Fly-fishing didn't sweep me off my feet, but I can understand the attraction. I know that I would love it for the peace and tranquility of being enveloped by nature, hearing nothing but the sound of the water rushing past me and the birds singing in the trees...

But for that matter, I could just randomly stand in the middle of a river without the fishing pole.

Do you have any fly-fishing stories?

14 May 2010

The Italian Police Turns 150!

Today was the official 150th anniversary of the Polizia di Stato (Italian state police). Which is also ringing in the 150th anniversary of Italy as a state in general. You may not know this, but Italy, as a unified country, is younger than the United States of America. Those of you have been to Italy have seen or heard of Piazza Garibaldi. Every city has one—Garibaldi was the unifier of Italy, conquering numerous principalities, reigning monarchs and an overly powerful church, bringing it all under one united state in 1861. So, in celebration of the anniversary of the state police, all across Italy each city had a ceremony with the pomp and circumstance you would expect from the descendants of Romans. Mazara del Vallo was of no exception and my husband and I were lucky enough to stumble upon it.


Such an important occasion brings out all sorts of people. There were those dressed to the hilt for the occasion, the presenters, the passers-by and the unknowing tourists curious of what spectacle they stumbled upon.
   

My favorite part of the whole thing was watching the interaction between the townspeople. Little things like this give a glimpse into a culture. I quickly moved passed the long line of blue and white police cars and motorcycles and focused on the much more interesting local color. I was able to get a great Sicilian street shot. Men standing around chatting it up, a short round priest, talking to a cop and a random gesture from some guy we can't see. It's got it all--even a trumpet!
  

These men leaning against the wall are totally classic Sicilian men, just hanging out, waiting for something gossip-worthy to happen. And no, their freshly ironed button shirts, crisp pants, polished shoes and perfect hair is not for this special occasion—it’s everyday attire. You won’t see t-shirts and crocs around here. And hello, the short little priest? Was I on the set of a movie? No…just life imitating art…imitating life. And I love that gesture that snuck its way in. Classic.
   

But, instead of seeing the ceremony through, we continued on with our main reason for being out that day. GELATO!! It was the first hot day of the year and gelato al melone (cantaloupe) was calling my name. So much for awards and patting each other on the back; it was time for some ice cream.
  

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