Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Friends and New Horizons

[Maryanne]So, Footprint is lost and Kyle and I set off on another chapter in our lives. It’s been a shock, and obviously a sudden, and unexpected change, but it’s also given us some opportunities and found us some new and wonderful friends.

Farewell to Footprint, hello to new friends

First of all, Enzo and Pasquale have been fantastic. Enzo has been an enormous help with so many things, but most practically translations (right up to the last hours of my stay); Pasquale brightens up any day with his smile, and his passion for life and food. My last night was spent in a local restaurant, with our two new friends and heros, watching a football (soccer) match with the local team Napoli winning 2-0. A happy evening, but a sad farewell.

I cleared out the apartment today, all food given away, boxes collected by the shipping company – done. I wonder when I might again see our possessions; the understanding so far is vague, but hopefully before Christmas?

Enzo and Pasquale volunteered their help and pretty much adopted us into their circle of family and friends. There are other names that merit mention in the town, most particularly the wonderful Nina, the elderly lady that acts as Mom to all in the apartment building. It was Nina that found us an empty apartment to stay in (when Enzo’s leads ran out) and gave us a wonderfully spacious base while we sorted out the boat and shipping of our items. She would readily chat to me at 100mph in Italian. I’ve no idea what she was saying but she exuded love and compassion, a wonderful lady. When I was trying to tell her my age, I may have mistakenly given her the impression I had 45 children, I could see the shock and confusion on her face but found no way to correct the situation.

At one point, struggling to find shipping company information I reached out to a (relatively) local ExPat (via Couchsurfing) and befriended the wonderful Liz, here in Italy with her husband at the US Navy base north of Naples. She threw herself into ensuring all my needs were met, pointed me to useful sources and even drove 1.5 hours each way to deliver me some boxes and help with shipping some more essential items I had no hope of managing by hand.

Liz assists with one last box, and just ONE of the courses of my last meal with 'the Agropoli guys'

So, my boxes are on their journey, and I too have started the journey ‘home’. Of course we have no real sense of home right now, but we’ll soon have one. I’ve started applying for jobs and amazingly had my first phone interview (which I’m told I passed) while still in Italy. This bodes well for finding work sooner rather than later.

So it’s all good news. I can’t stop the feeling of relief at how smoothly everything has gone, how wonderful everyone has been to us, and how lucky we are that we only lost a boat. Despite the relief, I feel quite disjointed right now, homeless, a little isolated, and un-rooted. I’m looking forward to seeing friends and family the first chance we get, and of course looking forward to seeing Kyle again just as soon as flights allow (hopefully by Saturday evening).

Thank you to everyone who has helped, or reached out with kind words. The world is indeed a wonderful place with many wonderful people; I’ve no doubt about it. And we are two very lucky people.

Here are a few photos of Footprint in various wonderful places she has allowed us to visit.. Farewell.

Day trip to Napoli

[Maryanne]I’m all packed and nothing to do but wait for the shipping company. With the loss of Footprint, we also lost the chance to visit many of the places we had planned over the last few weeks (and beyond); most immediately this was to have been Salerno, Pompeii, and Naples. There was no way I could now do them all, but I was determined to try and do something. The decision was made easily when I realized I had to get a document notarized at the American Consulate in Naples. I took the early train determined to cram in as much sightseeing as I could. Understanding that many tourist sights are closed on Mondays, I deliberately scheduled my consulate appointment for Tuesday; ha, am I clever or what?

The highlight of Naples according to the guidebooks and the travel guru Rick Steve, is the museum, in particular the top floor which houses all the great mosaics and artifacts discovered in Pompeii, and promptly carted off. This was my #1 priority and I’d see what else I could squeeze in once I got there.

Unfortunately, on reading my guidebook on the train journey there, I discovered the Museum was closed just one day a week, the day I was travelling (so the answer to the question in first paragraph is clearly “what”).

I also discovered that I needed information I didn’t have to complete my document before I could notarize it, AND that it didn’t need completing after all until my shipped items reached the USA. Doh! I needed to research those other Naples sights rapidly, thankfully I had an hour and a half on the train and I made a rough loop of an itinerary, despite the distractions of the stunning mountain and coastal scenery that I was being whisked through.

Napoli Cathedral

It turns out those guidebooks do Naples a disservice, there is plenty to do, and much of it impressively good (or maybe the museum would have truly outshone all of what I did see in the day). It is however all set amid kamikaze traffic, and often crowded by ugly modern needs thoughtlessly installed to ruin the views.

Shops in Napoli's historic district

Just wondering the streets of Naples bombards the senses, especially in the old part of the city where, in narrow cobbled streets, cars amazingly vie for space with pedestrian locals going about their shopping or chatting and gesticulating with friends. Tiny fronted, crammed and exquisitely presented food shops, all specializing in something, were irresistibly picturesque to me.

One area of the historic center in particular is clearly the place to purchase your beautiful hand made nativity scenes (Cribs). Of course they don’t just make nativity scenes any longer, but many 3D scenes of numerous themes: artisans at work, housewives gossiping or doing their laundry, farm animals, and more (anything you can think of no doubt, although generally they seem to be styled in the 1700’s and 1800’s). These are no tacky memento but amazing works of art, beautifully built and stunning to me to view. Way beyond dolls houses! They are also large, centerpieces for a table perhaps, but way to large for a mantelpiece. Naples is the first area to have created the scale down, but realistic, models of the nativity scene (Until then all figures were built life size. I’m not 100% sure, but something to do with the technology that allowed for articulated models at such a scale, providing realistic looking figures; Plus the genius of a Napoli artist of course). As an aside, the first of such scenes I’ve ever seen was one built by our friend Pasquale. A beautiful nativity scene rotates 180 degrees to reveal a 17th century rural village scene – stunning and what talent.

Cribs for sale in this area of Napoli's historic district, and one of many displays of walnut shell scenes

A quirky item I saw a lot of in Naples was miniature scenes set within walnut shells. These included individual saints, or whole villages it seemed, whatever the whim of the artist. I’ve no idea how they worked with so many tiny and intricate pieces.

Yet another oddity was the battered small orange car I found chained to a post, for protection against theft I assume? It was small, but I doubt anyone would really just carry it off, hilarious.

I went to a number of churches (and the cathedral/Duomo), including one (Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco) dedicated to those souls in purgatory where the followers pray to old skulls in creepy, darkened, cobweb filled crypts (the pope officially disapproves, but that doesn’t stop anyone; Neapolitans are feisty). The skull of Lucia is a particular favorite of new brides it seems.

The cult of dead at Santa Maria

I went to monasteries and walked beautiful cloisters. I partook in the underground Naples tour, where ancient tuft mining has left large caverns which over the years (from the Greeks, on) have been used as water cisterns for the city, rubbish dumps, bomb shelters, wine stores, and plant growth experiments (among so many other uses).

The subterranean tour includes a walk over about a mile of the cisterns (a small fraction of the network), 40m or more underground, linked by narrow (very, very narrow) passageways, and in some areas the tour uses candle light to proceed. Also under the modern city experts have recently located a giant Roman amphitheater. This has been mostly built within and on top of over the centuries, and now has many of the archways in use as cellars, workshops, B&Bs and more, and until recently without the current owners having any idea that they were using part of such a huge amphitheater. The tour took us to the stage area and some of the seating areas, each a block or so, and a rapid walk through busy town streets, from each other.

Roman city beneath modern Naples and San Lorenzo church

Of course the tourist oriented subterranean tour isn’t the only show on the road with cool stuff underground. The San Lorenzo Maggiore church has an extensive Roman shopping precinct beneath it – all available to amble around and imagine yourself buying your fish and fresh bread from the appropriate stores.

Scenes from atop the hill at San Martino

I took one of the town funiculars up a hill for the views and found myself at the St Elmo Castle (also closed on Tuesdays) and yet another church/monastery (San Martino). Readying myself happily for another church tour, I was stunned to find an impressively grand residence (and views) but also an amazing museum. The rooms of the museum included original royal carriages, a giant royal barge, and a extended display of exquisitely detailed ‘Nativity scenes’ – including one that was large enough to have filled a standard stage and must have included 100’s, if not 1000’s of figures in stunning scenery settings.

Terribly dark photos but I hope you get an idea of the scale and magnificence of these 'cribs' - here are two different areas of the same giant scene

Eventually I walked and bussed back to the train station, exhausted, but in time for dinner with Enzo and Pasquale. Tantalizingly the train passed by both Pompeii and Herculaneum – two different sites overcome by the Pompeii eruption, and since excavated. Oh to have the time to see it all - just two more reasons to add to the many to return to Italy I guess.

And of course you can’t go to Naples, the home of pizza, without sampling the food. At lunchtime I did my duty, I approve!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Eating Italian - Thanksgiving is for Wimps

[Kyle]We did one thing today: eat lunch (well that took up 90% of our time). Pasquale, Enzo, Maryanne and I joined up with a group of five other friends and family and the nine of us drove up into the mountains in two cars. The other seven went to mass at Getsemani while Maryanne and I walked the beautiful grounds and talked at length about what lay ahead for us.

The Sanctuary and Church in the beautiful mountain setting at Gethsemini

Once that was done, we drove further up into the mountains to a restaurant known for its flavorful mushrooms near the village of Trentinara. It started out the usual way. Pasquale went into the kitchen and told the chef what we wanted. No menu necessary. While we waited for the first course, he roasted chestnuts that we had collected on the grounds on the way in. He did it on their open fire in the middle of the restaurant. He really did.

Kyle cleans the plate of delicious food, and the next course arrives

The first course arrived: two huge platters of polenta, one with a mushroom sauce, one with tomato sauce and sausage. Whew! We were full. Then we were told that was just the starter! Next came the second course: Tagliatelle in mushroom sauce. Really full. Wait! Next was ravioli. Oof! Next Pork cutlets and sausage. Very full, I’ll just have a little taste to be polite. How about a plate of roasted vegetables? Fried potatoes? Steak? Au gratin? Oh, please make it stop! All of this was accompanied by lots of red wine. Oh, and bread. Lots of bread.

Food, more food, and more food!

My own mother working day and night for the week before Thanksgiving has not been able to stuff me so full. What a meal! Nine courses. I’m gonna die! We all sat there stuffed and groaning, fighting off huge food comas. I don’t know how all of the Italians could handle the jiggling of all of their gestures.

Then we heard mention of dessert. Nooo! How? Nooo!

I secretly was hoping for some French looking thing: delectable, but the size of a sugar cube with a sprig of mint sticking out of it. No such luck. They were huge. Maryanne got an enormous puff pastry with chantilly cream and cherries. I got a slightly smaller chocolate volcano with hazelnut ice cream. We each ate half and swapped. In spite of us each being near bursting, they were both still delicious. Then came the coffee. Oh, thank god the coffees here are tiny.

A few of the men then went for grappa. I begged off because 1: I was way to full, and 2: Grappa still tastes to me like it’s been siphoned out of someone’s tank. I even prefer Norwegian aquavit to grappa.

When the bill came around, having already been told it was quite an up-scale restaurant, we all spent time wincing at its impending arrival. It didn’t turn out to be too bad: €260 for a week’s food and wine for nine people. It actually added up to slightly more, but we got a discount because they brought us too much food (what we ordered!). I love that. I’m trying that the next time I’m in New Jersey. “Hey! How do you expect me to eat all of this? You’d better knock some off-a that tab!”

Gathering Chestnuts

After our all-day meal, we collected more chestnuts for later (although who knows when we’ll ever be hungry again), and then were driven into the village to see the view of the surrounding mountains overlooking the gulf of Salerno. We have been taken care of so well since we wrecked in this part of Italy. It’s hard not to think that we would have missed all of this had we only stayed for a day and moved on. I wouldn’t wish what happened happened, but it’s seems we got the best possible outcome thanks to the warmth of the Italian people and especially our friends Enzo and Pasquale.

More beautiful scenery and friends