Saturday, December 31, 2005

Rome: DAYS 109-110 VISTORS

December 31, 2005-January 1, 2006

Everybody but me went back to the Vatican yesterday to see the Museum and Sistine Chapel.  On the first day they did the Basilica and climbed to the top of the Dome.  The Vatican is a wonderment that gives breath to Rome and tries to strangle it at the same time.  It is so all encompassing and demanding and impossible to ignore, but then ends up being worth the time.

I continue to struggle with my cold.  It is so boring and seems to be lasting forever.  Still, it is nice to have the quiet time for reading, going to my Internet place, introspection and observing.  I was reading an article in the New Yorker on Alzheimers.  Scientists are discovering that certain kinds of changed chromosomes cut off the brain synapses.  I have never been good at crossword puzzles, but I am tempted to start now.  I do know that not having the language has made me totally observant to what the people here are doing even when I can’t understand what they are saying.  I guess when you don’t have the language going other senses help you take over.  Aside from being shoved around by little old ladies in the grocery store, I generally get what is going on. 

New Year’s Eve has never been my favorite night.  I think of it at home in a car as amateur night.  We were going to take a walk around Piazza Venezia just before midnight, but the rain kept falling and finally we just went to bed.  A pretty quiet night even for us oldsters.  Whitney and Amy found a “pub crawl” event for the young set that was meeting at Santa Maria Maggiore and set off alone for New Years in Rome.  They returned about 3 AM and proclaimed it interesting but the group was loud.  It was a mostly American event and it is hard to worry about personal safety at their age.  Best of all, Rome is a town that lends itself to walkers and if you can keep from getting hit crossing the streets, public safety does not seem to be an issue.  I found out from my landlord’s son that at this time of the year there are lots of burglaries by people who needed money for the feast days.  While I remain irritated about our invasion, I do not feel threatened.  I am watching the Motorino closely and will take it up to the Academy when I go to Naples Tuesday.

Kimberly and her crew leave tomorrow for a much anticipated train trip and sightseeing expedition to Florence and Venice.  I have demurred to accompany them because it should be a good time for the girls without me and I have wanted to go South to see if it is any warmer anyplace else.  Naples is filled with things to do.  No doubt, I will report.  We will all meet up again on Friday and then Saturday Whitney and Amy return to the states.  It should be a great week for them.  Miss Kim is teacher, guide and Mom; it is role she loves. 

To celebrate the New Year, Kim has taken the troops up to the Spanish Steps and the Piazza del Popolo for the afternoon Passaggiata.  They will stroll the Via Condotti looking at clothing they can’t afford along with thousands of other Roman walkers.  Many of these celebrants will be dressed to the nines for the walk. They will be taking their time, smoking, talking and mainly having a good time.  

Yesterday, the power in our apartment really went out.  How could we know that a combination of a hairdryer, hot water heater and the washing machine would trip us up?  This was little more then a blip because our upstairs neighbor showed us how to reset the system.  I try to remember that our home is over a thousand years old with columns from ancient Rome, but I am not entirely successful.  Kim advises me to not curse at all of this stuff and today I will meditate to try and accomplish this mission.  Northwestern lost to UCLA, I think they looked pretty good trying.  So, having had my nephew Tobin TIVO it, I will see it in a couple of weeks.  I am a UCLA dad, so it didn’t hurt too badly.  May 2006 be a great year.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Rome: DAYS 107-108 GETTING CLOSE - 2006

December 29-30

On Thursday, we wake-up to a very cold rain.  Everybody gets going for the first day in Roma for our guests.  My newest job is hustling out to get the International Herald Tribune.  Now that our English language station has been taken from us with the loss of our Satellite box and remote, we will no longer be able to get the BBC.  Every American that I know loves the IHT.  I find it useful but pedantic, over written, and totally Eurocentric.  Call me crazy, but you can’t even get the football scores most of the time.  Football as in Soccer they cover with great heart, as well as Cricket.  Incidentally, England won the Ashes this year to everybody’s surprise.  The paper also does not cover any news from the US that happens away from Washington or New York, the only two places in the US they seem to know about.  They did have a restaurant piece about SF and the Bay today covering Ame at 3rd and Mission, a good review so maybe it will move into the newsroom.  By the way, Kimberly of course, loves the H-T, it represents her lefty politics to the T. 

Kim has planned a real slog for Whitney and Amy for a first day in Rome.  They will try to see the Coliseum, the imperial forum and the Pantheon before lunch.  We will meet up at the Pantheon at 1:30PM.  We do and they are frozen and wet.  It is raining hard now and everybody is wet.  Our favorite restaurant, Armando’s is full and we must improvise.  We find a pleasant Trattoria and try to warm up.  After lunch they plod on to a minor shopping thing on the Corso and I run back to the apartment to dry out.  Apparently, the weather is colder and wetter than normal, but a hard rain in the 30’s reminds me of late fall in Chicago.  It also hailed and thundered and I had reason to believe it might snow.

We bundled up and walked to dinner in Trastevere.  Our choice was Paris.  Friends from Sonoma, Paul and Stan, love this place.  The food was good and the atmosphere more then casual but not overbearing.  For those who are keeping track of my weight, I had ox tails, very good.  Even in the rain, the walk over to Santa Maria in Trastevere is Roman in every way.  You cross the river, the traffic is surging, Trastevere so fascinating and old, it makes you glad to be in Rome.  I think the girls are having fun; they are very polite, enthusiastic, and seem to be awed by Rome.  As with all things Roman, Kim is planning more then can be done.  Tomorrow, they will tour the Vatican.  After 4 months and probably 6 trips to the Vatican, I will only need another year to get partially through the place.  It is not a huge amount of land, but it is a complex place with more than can be absorbed in a lifetime. 

The sun shines brightly this morning and while it remains cold, it is a relief to be in clear weather.  We all burst out of the building.  I have the shopping list for a small dinner party at our place tonight with friends who will come to meet Whitney and Amy.  It will be low key and fun.  The gang of three runs off to the Vatican. 

While I am at out supermarket, I run into an old Irish priest (about my age). He is a funny guy and we chat about wines, Rome, and life in general.  A very pleasant encounter in a busy crowded little supermarket that defines some of what we wanted to happen when we came here 4 months ago.  He was a positive spirit and the lilt in his voice made me feel good.  Besides, today I got to ride the Motorino while the pavement was dry.  I was on my way to the American Academy via our Monteverde butcher and barber.  It was so sweet going past the Vatican and up the Gianicolo.  Cruising on the scooter through some of the best parts of Rome realizing how wonderful this journey has been. The whole vibe is delicious.  Even while I am critical of lots of things here and miss home, still it is undeniable that this has been the chance of a lifetime to be part of this whole place.  We agreed last night as we turned off the lights, how much we had gained, how much we had seen, and how much we had learned.  I think that Kim could be a tour guide, the information about all things Roman sticks to her like glue.  We walk down the street to a constant flow of her knowledge and enthusiasm, using her hands to direct our eyes to some small feature or rooftop; she is a font of information.  A real contrast to Italian Telecom, waiting in endless lines, no personal space to even walk down the street, incredible noise at all times, not understanding much that is spoken and a few dozen other things.  So, nothing new, life is a mixed bag and we are trying to extract the best of all of it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


December 28, 2005

We get up early this AM.  Whitney and friend Amy arrive today for a 10-day visit.  Kimberly is very excited.  We have decided to learn one more thing about “how-to” in Rome.  We will take the bus to the train station and then the railroad to Fumicino Airport.  No problem except somebody forgot to tell us that the Fumicino tracks are about half a mile from the entrance to the Terminal.  We are rushing to catch the 8:52.  We arrive at the track at 8:52 and the train is still there, yea.  It is loaded with travelers on the way back to the rest of the world.  The doors close and we do not get on; I am not happy.  Just another day on the trail.  Within 30 minutes we are boarding the next train, less crowded and an express as well.  I am learning the lessons of Rome even as we start to think about leaving. 

Our mission before picking up the girls is to get new paper tickets for our trip to San Fran.  We are changing dates and that is only part of the problem.  Lufthansa no longer has a ticket office in Rome; all of the airlines have closed these useful-to-the-customer cost centers.  Their ticket office is at the airport.  They have told us to expect a long wait in line to get to the counter, but surprisingly the line is short and we are face to face with a most helpful agent.  What a relief, it is a non deal and we walk away about 20 minutes later with new tickets and a ride home.

More good news, Whitney and Amy are on time (Kimberly is ecstatic) and we grab a cab back to town.  How much riding the rails can I do?  In my mind the cab will be more efficient, faster and not that much more.  In my very first blog the driver had no idea of where he was going.  This man does know the way and we arrive back at our cabin in plenty of time for lunch. 

Things are going too well.  We enter our apartment to find that it has been tossed, burgled, robbed, whatever it is called these days.  I have always felt very violated by crimes against property and this time is no different.  They have taken Kim’s jewelry, the TV satellite programmer and the TV remote as well as some Coco perfume from the bathroom.  I suppose we were lucky, the computer is still here as our most of the other things we like including an I-Pod and I-shuffle.  I had my camera with me as well as money and passports, the new tickets and wallet.  Still, it is maddening to lose your personal property and it sets my teeth on edge.  We try to stay calm, but it is not the perfect ending to our sojourn.  I feel good that nothing terrible has happened.  When I was a kid I had a car accident that did some serious damage to my Dad’s car.  His only comment was, “Are you alright”. He wasn’t worried about the property only me - a good lesson.  I was and am alright, but as usual in this place daunted by its complexity. 

We take the kids to lunch and then we all nap.  Not too bad.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Rome: DAYS 103-104 LUCCA TO ROMA

December 25-26

After our long lunch we stagger back to the Palazzo Roberto/Donaldo and spend the rest of the day trying to digest the midday meal.  It is a cozy time for contemplation and quiet.  There is room in the apartment for all of that.  In the late PM we hit the streets for the Passaggiata.  In the US on Christmas Eve you won’t find much going on in the street, but this is Italy and Lucca and the main drag is jumping.  Lots of stores still open after 7 and it looks like all of Lucca is out for the stroll - very pleasant way to spend Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Day, Donald and Bob have planned a large American breakfast; after all we didn’t eat an evening meal last night.  Stan cooks up some pancakes along with some of the local ham, and maple syrup that someone has left from a previous visit; it all tastes good.  We open presents to much merriment and loads of picture taking.  It is great to be with friends on the holiday and they have planned well and taken care of everything.  I feel like I really needed the comfort so it was all the more special.  Bob and Donald’s gift is a famous pepper jelly; Stan and Noreen give me a picture of my locker at the Sonoma Golf Club, unused these 4 months and Kim delivers a handsome scarf.  I am rich with goods and friends and quietly touched by it all. We are plenty lucky. 

We must eat the traditional Christmas meal.  We are having turkey with stuffing, brussel sprouts, potatoes, ravioli and homemade pumpkin and apple pies.  Some good wine to go with it and a wonderful meal, again.  One of Bob and Donald’s friends has sent them the best smoked salmon from Denmark that we start the whole dinner with.  Too much, too much I say, but no, we keep on eating. 

On Monday, Kim and I make an early exit from Lucca.  I am put on the train by a crane that has been brought in for the special purpose of lifting me on.  What can I say?  It was fun to be out of Rome and riding the trains, seeing our friends, talking about home and in general being pretty American but experiencing Italy.  Donald and Bob have conquered Lucca and they love being there.  It is a special charming place and we hope to return in the future.  Just a quick mention of the Lucca wall that was built to resist invasion and it worked.  It is now the principle walking place outside of the shopping area, 3 miles in circumference and circles all of old Lucca.  We took a short walk in the rain on Christmas Eve and it was enchanting.

This time all trains are on time and we arrive Rome at about 2PM.  Like the veteran Romans that we are, we take the #64 to Torre Argentina and walk the 3 blocks to our place.  Hurray, the motorino is still there, we were worried, the heat is still working, we were worried, and it is very quiet on the streets.  When we do go out to our Internet point the streets have filled with the Roman walkers and it is a very lively crowd.  Is it good to be home?  It feels like our place, but San Francisco and Sonoma beckon me.  I am missing kids young and old, friends young and old, my favorite activities SVMA and CCA, my office and of course my wonderful old babies, the dogs. In the last several weeks we have been discussing coming home early.  We have decided that we will come back in mid January.  My project, while not complete, is not feeling very active and my touring skills have generally evaporated (how many churches can I see?).  It feels as if I am done. Kim has been very supportive even though she would prefer to stay. We have had a wonderful experience in a brave new world but home sounds very good to me.  I am slightly abashed to say that I am homesick, but I suppose that is what you would call it.  I keep telling myself that maybe it would be different if I hadn’t gotten the Mother of all Colds, but I suspect it would be the same.  Whitney is coming tomorrow and we are excited about that.  We will show her and her friend, Amy, a great time and then close this chapter of our lives and claim victory.  I still have some things to see and write and so will continue to journal until our landing in SF.  This all makes me a little sad, but I am upbeat about the next chapter.