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Photography 101: Day 7, Landmark

My Teddy Bear, Winnie

My Teddy Bears

Landmark: a very important event or achievement. Have you ever wondered why teddy bears are left at memorials by grieving mourners? I have. I think we repeat gestures that we no longer know the meaning of or never knew the meaning of, we just follow tradition. It gives us comfort and is meant to give comfort to others.

As many of you know, I have been studying a free online course with FutureLearn called WWI, Trauma and Memory. Although the war was very grim and the aftermath devastating for many men and their families, there have been enlightening moments as well. So, today on Veteran’s Day I am going to share a positive story. For many children I am sure it is a landmark event. This story is about Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian from Winnipeg, Canada.

Harry Colebourn, enlisted in the Canadian Army as a surgical veterinarian and soon was shipped out to Valcartier, Quebec, the mobilization point for 35,000 volunteer troops. He was with the Fort Garry Horse, the 34th Regiment of Cavalry, and would be taking care of the horses, an amazing feat in itself.  Along the way the train stopped for supplies, and Harry got off and noticed a chained small black bear near the tracks.  A hunter, who had killed the cub’s mother was trying to sell it.  Harry paid twenty dollars for the cub and got back on the train with it. He named his new best friend, Winnie, after his hometown, Winnipeg. When Harry reached Valcartier,  he trained Winnie, in his spare time, how to play and be gentle, with treats of condensed milk and lots and lots of apples.

Harry With Winnie, Picture Courtesy Colbourn Collection

Harry With Winnie, Picture Courtesy Colbourn Collection

Harry With Winnie, Picture Courtesy Colbourn Collection

Harry With Winnie, Picture Courtesy Colbourn Collection

Winnie soon found she had many soldier friends to play with and she was made the mascot for the regiment. The men were very fond of Winnie and wrote to family and friends about her and sent pictures too.  Before long the regiment shipped out (literally) to Salisbury Plains, Britain, where all of Britain and her colonies were trained for war. Winnie went with the men. When orders arrived for Harry to go to the front lines he knew this was not a place for Winnie to go and sadly left her at the London Zoo, on the condition he could return after the war and take her back to Canada. On his rest and recuperation from the madness of the war, Harry always went back to the zoo to visit Winnie, who was doing quite well. The keepers were amazed at Winnie’s gentleness, which they predicted could not last. But, it did and Winnie became a star with the children, who visited her at the zoo. She was so gentle, the children were allowed to touch her and feed her. One of the children enthralled with Winnie, was Christopher Robin Milne, the son of A. A. Milne. After the war Harry Colebourn, realizing the children adored Winnie and with Winnie thriving, decided it was best to leave her at the zoo and went back to Canada, where he practiced veterinarian medicine for the rest of his life.  A. A. Milne, inspired by Winnie’s gentleness and comfort, went on to write the Winnie the Pooh books, so beloved by children and children at heart.

Pooh in an Illustration by E. H. Shepard.

Pooh in an Illustration by E. H. Shepard.

The first Winnie the Pooh story was published in the London newspaper The Evening News on December 24, 1925. It has been suggested this may be one of the reasons that teddy bears are left at memorials. Winnie brought so much comfort to soldiers during a trial of death, horror and despair and then went on to bring comfort and love to children all over the world.

Winnie the Pooh Monument, Winnipeg, Canada

Winnie the Pooh Monument, Winnipeg, Canada

For the anniversary of WWI, Ryerson University has put together a collection by the Colebourn family titled, Remembering the Real Winnie: The World’s Most Famous Bear Turns 100.  They have graciously shared the archives and collection online for those of us who can not travel to Toronto, Canada for the exhibit. It is a must see and will make your day! Enjoy!

Can I Really Leave Venice Without Getting in a Gondola?

My Ride is Here!

My Ride is Here!

Everyday SB and I  walked along the sidewalk to the large area of gondolas moored in front of the Hard Rock Cafe. There was always a snaking line of excited tourists waiting for the black shiny boats, cameras ready, clicking away, while the gondolier decided who would ride in what boat. I studied the approach to the gondola like an eagle. Walk down the wide, but short, steps to the gondola. Safe. Take the hand of the sidewalk gondolier. Safe. Place one foot in the gondola and take a little leap. Scary. Release hand of sidewalk gondolier. Scary. Walk carefully to the spot you want to sit in. Most scary. Sit. Next person!

I am not good in rowboats or kayaks. I tip them over. I fall out. I can’t get back in when I do fall out. I have been known to get my feet stuck in the mud and not be able to move after falling out of a kayak in shallow water.  An eighty something woman came to assist me for God’s sake! But, I want to ride in one of those gondolas! I have studied them daily for over a week. I can do this! But, let’s do it at night after 6pm when the crowds are gone and no one can see my anxiety or if I actually fall into the canal!

My evening arrives.

I walk down the steps. Good so far! I take the hand of the gondolier as SB tells him how long a ride we want. Good so far! I clutch the camera and leap. Oh, I didn’t fall!!!!!! Terrific! I walk gingerly to my seat and take a deep breath. I am over joyed! I settle in to enjoy and experience the view from the gondola! Won’t you join me at gondola level?

On Our Way!

On Our Way!

Smooth Ride Past the Eateries!

Smooth Ride Past the Eateries!

Swoosh, Swoosh, Slide

Swoosh, Swoosh, Slide

Oh, how I loved riding in that gondola! At the corners of buildings there was shouting from other gondoliers so we wouldn’t all get to the same spot at once. I could look up at the windows of the casa and imagine mama in her black crepe dress and rolled down stockings, sitting down in the candlelit dining room to a dinner of pasta de mer, wine, and bread.  Of course, she was waiting on and fussing over her son, because he still lived with her at 40.

The Softest of Color Everywhere!

Is Mama up There?

How About Here?

How About Here?

We rounded the bend and made the pass through the Grande Canal and I marveled at the muted, soft colors that kissed the buildings goodnight and tucked them in as the sun began to sink. I was relaxed and thought this possibly one of the most romantic trysts.

Out into the Grand Canal!

Out into the Grand Canal!

Duck Tails in a Row

Duck Tails in a Row

So Much Color!

So Much Color!

The Fancy Gardens at Canal Level!

The Fancy Gardens at Canal Level!

The Courthouse!

The Courthouse!

The Vaporatto Bringing Tourists to Venice

The Vaporatto Taking Tourists to Venice

And then it was time to get out of the boat. The gondolier pulled up to a different set of stairs. Why weren’t we at the place we started from; the nice easy low steps? I looked at the sidewalk gondolier and he looked at me. Oh dear, he didn’t look very sturdy! I stood up and walked to the end of the gondola. Good. I placed one foot on the steep step and one hand in the gondolier’s outstretched one. Good. The gondola slipped away from the docking area and I was doing the splits, one leg on land, the other in the boat! Oh, Oh, Oooooooh!!!!!!  The boat gondolier was frantically trying to get the boat back to the dock. Oh, Ooooooh, Oh! SB was trying to shove my fanny up to the landing.  Ooooooh, Oh, Oh! The sidewalk gondolier was holding on to me for dear life! Oooooooooh! Suddenly, another body grabbed my free arm and whipped me to the pavement! Oh, I could have cried!  I tried not to get hysterical! I laughed trying not to cause more of a scene than I already had.  Another gondolier saw my predicament and had rushed to rescue me. I had no idea where he came from. He wasn’t there when we docked. “You can swim right? No problem!” he laughed.  “Yes, no problem,” I repeated.

So ended my adventure on the canals of Venice, I thought.

On the last evening of our stay the concierge, at Locanda Orseolo, asked if we would mind sharing a boat taxi with another couple, who were leaving the next morning as we were. We didn’t have any problem with that and the next morning there was the couple we had seen several times in the breakfast room. I had watched them in disbelief, when  they checked in with eight suitcases, the bigs ones overstuffed and held together with packing tape, and wondered just where they were traveling to and for how long. Now I watched as their luggage was hoisted down into a speed boat docked at the tiny half door, at the back of the hotel. Did we have to get in the boat that way too? Oh my God! Can I duck down, bend, AND step into the boat? All at the same time? Without falling in the drink? Could the other couple do this? They looked eighty five and frail! Oh my God! Rose looked at me and I knew she was thinking the same thing. “We can do this Rose, I’ll go first,” I tried to look confident. I bent down with one hand holding the top of the door frame and took the hand of the captain and just at that time a wave came along and the boat practically leveled out with the base of that door! Oh my God, I did it! I’m in the boat! “You can do it, Rose, come on!” She too made it. The men jumped on like sailors. The women were relieved to be sitting down.

The Last Door! OH MY GOD!

The Last Door! OH MY GOD!

As we approached the airport dock, my stomach began to do little flips. I just kept talking. Ok, this is going to be Ok, I kept telling myself. And it was. When I stepped to put my foot on the dock, again the wave leveled off the boat with the dock and voila I was on terra firma! No Problem! Thank you and Hail Mary!  We’re off to Istanbul!

PS, For a look into the world of Venice in the past, In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant, is a great read. You’ll glimpse the life of a prostitute and her midget pimp. Now that will make you look at these canals in a new light!

Absinthe, Pirates, History and the NOLA Charm

St Louis Cathedral

St Louis Cathedral

There are two ways to get to the center of  The French Quarter from our spot in Marigny; stroll the seven blocks on Chartres St to St Louis Cathedral or take the Loyola-UPT Streetcar that ends near us at the French Market.

The French Market Streetcar

The French Market Streetcar

During our stay we do both. From the French Market  we get off the streetcar at Dumaine St and walk a couple of blocks to our first stop, the Cafe Du Monde, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week!

Cafe Du Monde

Cafe Du Monde

A large area of indoor/outdoor seating, the cafe is packed. The menus are imprinted on the napkin holders. The choices are coffee, soft drinks, orange juice and two sizes of beignets, either 3 or 6, smothered in powdered sugar. That’s it! I really can’t see what the hub-bub about the place is, but every time we passed by the cafe it was full. It’s been a landmark in New Orleans since 1862. 

Jackson Square

Jackson Square

 

Jackson Square, NOLA

Jackson Square, NOLA

Continuing on we come to Jackson Square and behind that the beautiful St Louis Cathedral, the oldest continuously operating church in the US, built in 1720, rebuilt in 1789, becoming a cathedral in 1794.

St Louis Cathedral, NOLA

St Louis Cathedral, NOLA

St Louis Cathedral, NOLA

St Louis Cathedral, NOLA

In front of the church on a wide band of street there are small booths of fortune tellers, ice cream vendors and musicians. Stepping inside the church we get relief from the heat and humidity which is quickly rising.  Leaving the church and turning right  and then right again we are on a small cobblestoned alley with St Anthony’s Garden behind the church. This alley is known to the locals as Pirates Alley. 600 feet long and 16 feet wide it is not listed on many of the maps of the French Quarter. The smell of New Orleans is more intense here, a smell of damp vegetation and a faint woodiness lingering with the latin rhythms, salsa music and blues coming from the corner.  This corner was infamous for settling duels and debts of honor.  Jean Lafitte, the famous pirate, who provided services to any country at war against another by attacking their ships, brought the booty to town and the goods were sold in the alley. Eventually the Spanish Colonial Prison called the Calabozo was built on this corner in 1769. Lafitte and his men were jailed here by Governor Claiborne of New Orleans.  The prison was demolished in 1837, and the land was sold to make a long creole house which was the home of William Faulkner, where he wrote his first novel ”Soldiers Pay.”  The creole house is now home to the Faulkner House Books. Now at the intersection of Pirates Alley and Cabildo Alley, where the prison was, is the Pirates Alley Cafe, known for caribbean drinks and absinthe.

Pirates Alley Cafe

Pirates Alley Cafe

Traditional absinthe was made of anise, fennel and wormwood (a plant) with added herbs and flowers making it green in color. The herbs and spices were soaked in alcohol and then distilled. The drink called la fée verte, (Green fairy) in French, was thought to be highly hallucinative also. Yes, drinking a couple of those today one might see fairies and pirates! 

One afternoon, not far from Pirates Alley, we made our way to the Grape Vine Wine Bar and Bistro. We spent a lovely afternoon wine tasting and choosing cheeses from the cheese board. Then we were served large portions of appetizers. I had the crab cakes and they were fabulous. The ambience and service in this bistro is outstanding.  With seating indoors or out this was our favorite spot in the old French Quarter.

 

Grapevine Wine Bar and Bistro

Grapevine Wine Bar and Bistro

Grapevine Wine Bar and Bistro

Grapevine Wine Bar and Bistro

Another highlight of New Orleans is the WWII National War Museum. Traveling by way of the Canal Streetcar, switching to the St Charles Streetcar, we got off at Lee Circle and walked the rest of the way to the museum. The large museum is separated into different buildings and exhibits. Upon entering the ticket building in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion we were greeted by veterans who are here every day and volunteer their services at all of the different venues. It was truly inspiring to see so many retired serviceman still giving of their time.  Our first stop was the “Train Car Experience” where we boarded a train re-creating the tearful farewells and bittersweet returns of the men and women who went to war. Then we went upstairs to see the “America Goes to War,” “D-Day Invasion of Normandy,” “The Landing Beaches,” and the “D-Day Invasions of the Pacific.” All the exhibits were interactive and very interesting. One of the highlights of the museum was the short movie, “Beyond All Boundaries” produced and narrated by Tom Hanks. The movie is a journey of words and stories of actual WWII participants. The Solomon Victory Theater, where the movie is shown, has a screen 120 feet wide, with 9 digital cinema DPL Projectors. (a regular theater has only one) There are 27 surround sound custom speakers and 250 special effects theater seats that shake when the tanks are rolling by! Many of the props used to make the movie come alive are authentic pieces of equipment. There are 305 archival photographs and 517 film clips of actual footage shot during the war. You will not want to miss this special attraction.

Going outside the exhibits we looked at a WWII Victory Garden complete with posters! 

The other feature that I enjoyed was the “USS Tang” experience. Upon entering the submarine we are given actual sailors’ ID cards.  Using the ID of the sailor, we were assigned to his station and duty in the sub.

Submarine Sailor ID's

Submarine Sailor ID’s

We had an interactive encounter recreating the last war patrol of America’s most decorated submarine in WWII! What a great time we had visiting the museum! There is the Stage Door Canteen and the American Sector Restaurant to eat in and then to wrap up our day we were entertained by the Marine Corps Band of New Orleans, part of the Memorial Day Concert Series. New Orleans has so much to offer; great food and drink, stunning architecture, history and perseverance. I think you will enjoy including NOLA to your list of  “Not to Miss.” Enjoy!

 

Traipsing Through Tuscany- Florence and San Gimignano

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

Sculpture

Rooftop Sculpture in Florenc

Tte Window of the World

The Window of the World

Thinking about our visit to Florence I can’t get over all the beautiful art we have seen in the Uffizi Gallery, the Pitti Palace, the Duomo Museum and the Accademia. I was especially excited over the artwork of Artemisia Gentileschi, (1593-1653) that SB pointed out to me in the Uffizi Gallery ( Judith Beheading Holofernes) and the Pitti Palace (The Conversion of Magdalena, Judith and Her Maidservant and David and Bathsheba). I first read about Artemisia Gentileschi in a book called, The Passion of Artemisia: a Novel, by Susan Vreeland. Delving into the themes of art, history and the lives of women, this is is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Gentileschi painted many pictures of strong and suffering women from myth and the Bible. Her works include victims, suicides, warriors and especially, the Judith story. When you read the book and then see her paintings, her real life and her paintings intertwine and give you perspective of the times and how this woman lived and painted, and why she did so. Even her style of painting called chiaroscuro, which represents a strong contrast between light and dark, gives us a glimpse of her life.

One of Gentileschi’s works, David and Bathsheba, completed in 1635, had been found after centuries of deterioration, in a storage deposit area of the Pitti Palace, revealing decay, color flaking, due to improper storage conditions, and humidity damage. The re-evaluation of the Gentileschi’s courageous life and works were brought into focus with the attention of the Florence Committee of National Museum of Women in the Arts, who decided to fund the restoration of David and Bathsheba. Today, Gentileschi is regarded as the most progressive and expressionist painters of her generation.

Thinking of that book, brought to mind another book, called The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant. This historical novel of Florence is a story of love, art, religion and power  as told by Allessandra Cecchi when her father brings a young painter to paint the chapel walls of the family’s pallazzo. This story is told while Florence is caught in a state of turmoil imposed by the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, who is seizing religious and political control and the Medici State, with it’s love of luxury, learning and art. On our walking tours of Florence we learned a great deal about the Medici family and Savonarola.  Recalling that book, brought to mind The Lord’s Supper, painted on the wall of the Santa Maria della Grazie Church in Milan, which I have been lucky enough to see.

I was curious to learn how all this beautiful artwork was saved during WWII. Now, I am currently reading, Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis, by Robert Edsel. In particular I am interested in, General Karl Wolff, a German officer, who risked his life to save the collections of the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace. Robert Edsel also wrote, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and  the  Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, now made into a motion picture of the name, The Monuments Men.

San Gimignano, twenty-five miles south of Florence, will be our first stop on our way to Montepulciano, where we will be making our home base for our Tuscany visit.

The parking lot outside the main gate, Porta San Giovanni, was very busy as we approached.  The village itself is pedestrian only. Getting in the car parking queue we had to wait for a car to come out before we could go in and take the spot. One in, one out.  San Gimignano gives you a glimpse of a real Italian countryside experience, but with just enough shops and restaurants added to make it interesting for tourists.  The towers are restored replicas of the original, but they look authentic.

San Gimignano is a small, walled, medieval hill town with fourteen towers of various heights, replicated of the original seventy-two. Before the walls were developed around the town, these towers were a refuge, when ruffians and rival city states were sacking the town.  If under attack, the tower owners would set fire to the external wooden staircase, leaving the sole entrance to the house and it’s strongholds, unreachable. Today you can see all these tiny slit entrances way up on the second story of the towers, minus stairs to get to them. Also, notice that the buildings are made of different colored stones and brick. Heavy stones were used for the bottom floors and lighter cheaper bricks for the upper floors. In the year 1300, about 13,000 people lived within the walls. In 1348, a six-month plague left the town with 4,000 survivors. Crushed and demoralized, the town came under Florence’s rule and was forced to tear down it’s towers, and the trade route was re-directed away from San Gimignano. The town never recovered and poverty drove the well-preserved city to be as it is today.

Our walk takes us through the Porta San Giovanni up to the Piazza del Duomo, and the church itself, which features Sienese Gothic art_ Old Testament to the left___New Testament to the right. Further up the hill is the is Sant’Agostino Church, built by the Augustinians, who arrived in 1260. Here there are English speaking friars, who are happy to tell you about the church and their way of life. We stop and have lunch at the Locanda di Sant’Agostino, right next door to the church on a beautiful small piazza. The restaurant serves typical Tuscan home cooked meals, which would be paninos, pizza, pasta and insalatas, served with a local fruity white wine.   Walking back down the hill, along the ramparts, there are superb views of the Tuscan countryside. Soon we are inside the Rocca, originally another walled defense area, now a small walled garden of olive trees, where a group of men are singing and playing instruments. I loved our time in San Gimignano, but it is time to move on to Montepulciano. For more interesting history and scenes of Sam Gimignano, view the movie, Tea With Mussolini, a 1999 drama of the plight of American and English expatriate women during WWII. Most of the scenes are of Florence and San Gimignano, where the movie was filmed. In particular it reveals the artworks inside the Duomo of San Gimignano and how the women came to be there and tried to save the art. For more readings about the war and art see my  blog postings on Milan,  https://cadyluckleedy.com/2014/02/14/one-day-in-milan/ and the War in Val  D’ Orcia, https://cadyluckleedy.com/2013/04/11/war-in-val-d-orcia near Montepulciano. See you next in Montepulciano!

The Perfume Collector

The Streets of Marais

The Streets of the  Marais

A Santa Along the Way

A Santa Along the Way

In my pre-travel readings I read a fabulous book titled, The Perfume Collector, by Kathleen Tessaro. I could not put it down. I was mesmerized. It would set the mood for the Paris vacation.

In Kathleen’s words about the book:
An inheritance from a mysterious stranger…….
An abandoned perfume shop on the Left Bank of Paris……….
And three exquisite perfumes that hold a memory…….and a scent.

It put me on a quest for perfume in Paris!

After the events of the past days I am determined to go shopping today. I have been ogling shop windows filled with beautiful bling and nuggets and watched women spray perfume on what looks like white plant garden markers, long enough.  I have stopped at every little stand in front of the perfume shops and followed suit.  The perfume dealers are very smart.  These little stands have two or three perfume bottles on them and the white markers.  I spray the marker and “oh” and “ah” over the scents. Off I would go with the markers in my inside coat pocket and whenever I reached into my pocket what a delight of delicious fragrances I received!

One day, before Christmas, I ventured into a tiny perfume shop. There was one French woman there discussing a perfume with the owner.  She went on and on……..and on….the gentleman giving her full attention. Now, here is where I want to add my view of French shopping, well most European shopping for that matter. No one is ever in a hurry.  The customer may take hours looking, selecting, trying, and asking questions. More samples are brought, more questions answered.  Get the picture?  Shopping is an art form here. One customer at a time. The customer is special. The clerk sees to that.  My first observance of this was seen in the movie, Love Actually. In one scene, a man is looking at jewelry and the elegant man behind the counter enlightens him on the art of shopping. I loved it! This is a Christmas movie, my favorite Christmas movie, but the message of the movie holds true, so I like to watch it throughout the year. Put it on your movie list, you will not be disappointed! The salespeople in Paris are exactly like the behind the counter clerk in this movie. Here in Paris, I was fascinated just watching the scene play out before me and could not wait for it to be my turn! On this pre-Christmas day we couldn’t wait, but I vowed to be back.

The Perfume Man

The Perfume Man

Atelier Cologne

Atelier Cologne

Today I hobble to the perfume shop, that in my mind is the greatest perfume shop ever! It is tiny with bricked walls and wooden tables with a selected few perfume bottles.  Papa Bear and I are the only customers here today! The gentleman addresses me. I tell him I have been here before, when he was busy with another customer. He shows me all the perfumes.  I sniff, I doodle. I think. I sniff some more. I ask about the fragrances. We carry on a conversation for over an hour and I make my selections.  Oh, but we are not through!  Now he will make me leather covers with any initials or wording I like, to be placed on the smaller bottles I have selected. The leather covers come with the perfume, he explains.

One of the Finished Perfume Cases

One of the Finished Perfume Cases

My Perfume Collection

My Perfume Collection

I choose from the many leather color options.  More time.  We take a seat before his work desk.  A large machine (made in the USA, he tells me) is prepared to take a silver leafing paper that will heat up, leaving the initials I have selected pressed into the leather. The handle is lowered and the foil heats up, transferring silver initials onto the leather case. This takes several minutes, since the heat must reach a certain temperature and the foil pressed evenly. When the process is complete, he takes the leather case from the machine and rubs and buffs and rubs and buffs the leather some more.  He puts on his glasses to inspect the results.  He doesn’t like the look of the initials so he throws it away! He starts over on another piece of leather of my choosing.  Again, it does not meet his inspection.  Third try on one bottle and it is perfect! We have more bottles to go!  At last we have completed the sale of perfume and after individually tissue wrapping each one and putting each one in an individual box, he places the lot in an elegant looking carrying bag, and thanks me. Next he reaches into a drawer and selects a handful of  french postcards, each with a different perfume scent artfully tied to them with brown cording  and places THEM in my elegant bag.  YES, this is shopping in Paris! Let’s move on to the next shop!  Before the day is over I have almost as many free gifts, as the gifts I bought!  Not just trinkets either. In one shop I got a small bound diary/calendar that also explained the history of charms. I loved it! As Kathleen said, “What memories! What scents!”

Also Baby Bear shared her tip from her perfumer.  He suggested spraying or dabbing your favorite perfume on the BACK OF YOUR NECK, for the most lasting results that is pleasant for you (you can smell it) as well as those around you. It really works!  At the end of the day I continued to smell a whisper of the fragrance on my pillow!

PS: The day would not be complete without a stop for shopping fuel.

Must Stop for Shopping Fuel!

Must Stop for Shopping Fuel!

Shopping Fuel

Shopping Fuel

It's Night Time Already!

It’s Night Time Already!

It’s getting dark.  Back to the apartment!  I am really hobbled now!

The Perfume shop was: Atelier Cologne, Nenesse, rue de Poitou, Paris, France

Books and the Mafia

Cortona Italy

Cortona Italy

I think this is a good place to talk about the book reading prep  I have done for the trip to Italy. Not just this time, but over the years. I love to read and cook, except by now you know I’ve been doing the Nutrisystem thing since January 1st, I have that day etched in my mind,  so I just read the cookbooks for now.  I’ m saving up the eating part for Italy.  My book choices are varied because I like history and mysteries too and of course I have to read the books that talk about people who have actually moved to Italy.  There are lots of books to pick from, but these are the books that stuck in my mind. Years ago I read  Under the Tuscan Sun, At Home in Italy by Frances Mayes, after I saw the movie.  I knew then and there I would go to Italy. I was enthralled by someone who could find a villa, fix it up, live amongst the land and people.  Who hasn’t seen that movie or read the book? Since reading that book I have been to Italy several times and visited Cortona, where Frances Mays lives.

The Church Below Cortona

The Church Below Cortona

Italians really do have their own time. Italian time…… slow to slower, to never get on with it.  Nothing is ever easy.  It gets done when it gets done. It would take a lot for me to get used to that as an everyday occurrence. Frances has written several more books about her  stay In Italy, learning to cook, growing her own food, keeping a slower pace, and I have read them all.  Then she wrote about the pool incident.  The village wanted to place a public pool at the end of the dead end lane where Frances lives.  She already had people and bus traffic from tourists who parade by her home. She thought it would just add to the congestion. She tells stories of how she can hear what the tourists are saying about her as they stand by the gate and she sits in one of her rooms. Anyway, she wasn’t crazy about the pool idea and neither were her Italian neighbors.  So she did the American thing and put together a petition, opposing the pool, to present to town hall.  Her Italian neighbors would not sign it. She couldn’t really understand this and decided it was because they did not understand the idea of a petition.  Soon after, while picking up the stuffed animals and other souvenirs left by tourists at her gate, she picked up an oblong shaped grey thingy, not really paying too much attention to it.  When she looked at it more closely she realized it was a hand grenade, and froze in her tracks, afraid to move any further.  Attached was a note telling her to lay off with the petition stuff.  The  police were called for a bomb threat.  The bomb disposal / explosive ordinance team arrived.  The grenade was real but inactive. There was a follow up investigation.  The police drew no conclusions to who may have placed it. Finally, one brave neighbor explained  to Frances, there were certain people you did not cross when they wanted to do something or approved of something. The Mafia.  It was her first realization that they exist and still play a part in Italian society. I began to re-think that I actually wanted to move  to Italy, because I usually say what I think and would have to pick up grenades everyday.

Cortona

Cortona

The Church in Cortona

The Church in Cortona

More of My Favorite Steps

More of My Favorite Steps

I moved on to Marlena de Blasi and started with her book 1000 days in Venice, an Unexpected Romance. Marlena, is my kind of girl, a chef, journalist and food critic.  She goes to Venice to work on a cookbook and falls in love with an Italian banker.  Through her books you discover the Italian life from Venice to Tuscany to Orvieto. You also discover life with an Italian husband.  Soon after they marry,  she moves to Venice and  he quits his job at the bank.  Or maybe he retires, they can retire early there, but anyway, from then on they rely on her book income and his retirement savings.  As her books have progressed from their move from Venice to Tuscany to Orvieto, I have felt an edginess develop after the writings of the early book.  In the early days there were romantic candlelit perfumed baths  taken together, regularly.  They enjoyed  long walks, holding hands, looking deep into each others eyes.

Now it is, “Marlena, you are spending so much money and you need to get away for a few weeks to write?”

“What, who buys all the fancy clothes? I don’t see your pay going for them!”

“Away from me?  Who will cook for me?  I have spent two years creating the perfect palazzo for you and you are going off to write?  You spend the money on silk furnishings and pillows!”

She  now spends more time with women.  Her books have really ran the gamut and I have enjoyed them. And she writes about the Mafia.  There it is.  How they came to be, the influence they still have. Now I have learned another thing.  I would not like being married to an Italian man. I have never taken a perfumed candlelit bath with anyone, and I would not like to take care of a husband as I would a child.  I would love to see my husband’s face if I suggested that to him, both the bath idea and the supervision! Another reason to love Italy, you realize there are different ways of doing things. When in Rome do as the Romans do. I find it fascinating. I hope this has given you an idea  for some great reads. As usual I have  typed on and on and never got to the cookbooks or mysteries, so I will leave that for my next post. Grazie!

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