Book of Mormon: hell of a play in a hell of a town

When you get sidetracked from journal keeping (or blogging, if you prefer) for more than a few days, I’ve found it gets really easy to lose track of what you were going to write next. If you’re anything like me, however, while your fingers are idle from the keyboard, your mind is still going 90 mph. When there’s not enough time sometimes to sit down and write, I have 3 or 4 ideas for new postings all at once. Where to start?! So today I’ll finish up “our week of living in New York as though we really lived there.” The highlight of the trip turned out to be not only having real face-time with our Pittsburgh friend who took the Amtrak to join us a few days, but going to our first play on Broadway. And what a play it was!

Being from Utah where about 60% of the current population are members of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon), of course we were curious about all the hoopla surrounding Book Of Mormon. broadway book of mormonFrom the reaction of the people in the audience near me, there’s no wonder why they sell out so often–even after running more than two years. Book of Mormon is all the things you’ve no doubt heard already:  subversive, offensive, and, well–okay–at times inappropriate. Yes, it’s all those things, but much much more. I can sum it up in one word: Hilarious! I was laughing so hard throughout the whole two hours and 30 minutes that the rest of the world and its problems fell away. That said, the coarser aspects–the jokes about female circumcision, and sex with babies as “nature’s remedy for healing HIV,” gave me pause, and make Ugandans look pretty stupid, and I wonder how an African visitor to this country might react. In spite of my own rather bawdy sense of humor, several times my better nature stood aside to ask my baser self, “Why are you laughing?!” I’m happy to say that by the end of the play, I felt the Ugandans came out okay after all. By then they had vindicated themselves by revealing their intelligence in the  staging of a musical production for the benefit of visiting Church Elders. Not only did they understand the metaphoric content they took from Missionary Cunningham’s version (he was cornered into making up stories his own since he’d never actually read the Book of Mormon himself) but that they were perfectly able to take the best from those, and other influences from the west seeking to influence them, and improve themselves. The message I took from that–indeed there’s a line in the play that says it–it doesn’t matter where the stories came from. What does matter is the good that can come from that message. Lastly, I confess to something many of you who know me well may already have guessed, and I do this at the risk of giving some of the plot away. I love it when one of the insecure, overweight (read unacceptable as one of the “cool” people), nerds of the world turn out to be the real heroes. I confess that I (almost) fell in love with Arnold.

Other highlights, as briefly as I can make them, but you know me and my wordiness!  Eating ethnic: Indian food for dinner in Jackson Heights at the Jackson Cafe. Delicious pakoras, tandoor chicken served with rice and curried bindi (okra). Sorry, no picture. We had an Ethiopian lunch one day, which we’ve sorely missed since leaving Las Vegas. Wasn’t sure about going to Hells Kitchen in Midtown Manhattan as I remembered it from the 1970s as a not-so-great part of town. Today the area is, according to Wikipedia “gentrifying.” That seems like an apt description to me. The streets were clean, people were busy with few or no loiterers about. I didn’t feel nervous at all as I might have forty years ago. I noticed this Citi Bike system outside the restaurant (Meskerem’s), and couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. Seemed like a great idea to us. And regardless of what that lady said on the news, it didn’t make the neighborhood look disgusting at all to me.

citibikes

Lunch was a shared summer salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers with a light vinaigrette dressing on a serving of injera, which is a flatbread made with teff flour (which is gluten-free) mixed with water and allowed to ferment for several days, then baked into crepe-like bread on a flat clay grill. The fermenting gives it its spongy texture and slightly sour taste. We ordered the vegetarian assortment  shown here, also shared, making it a very inexpensive and tasty meals for New York City (less than $20 for the two of us). It’s eaten with the hand, so we felt right at home, since we eat like that when we go to India. I sent my compliments to the chef as I’ve never tasted a better injera in any city I’ve ever eaten it.

ethiopean lunch

Finally, besides the upscale (window) shopping at Bergdorf-Goodman‘s (we were looking for Barney’s) and Tiffany, our museumless, more or less seat-o-the-pants city tour with our friend, we also ogled the store artwork in the Lego Store at Rockefeller Center. If you have even one creative bone in your body, you’ll not wonder that Legos have been around such a long time–since the l940′s–I believe. I’m not sure whether this is a snake or a dragon, but whatever it is, it’s a marvel in design. It winds itself in and out of the whole store ceiling. I can’t imagine how many hours it took to make, or how many people it took to do it.

lego snake

The Book of Mormon off Broadway will no doubt make it to a theater near you. I hope you’ll be able to see it some day, and if you’re close enough to travel on Amtrak in hours, as our friend was, I’d say it’s worth a weekend excursion. Once you see it, and you decide you either like it or hate it, I hope you won’t hold my unorthodox sense of humor against me. Really, I wouldn’t hurt a fly!  And while I might enjoy poking fun at some the weirder aspects of religious practice, I’d never ridicule the religion itself.  :smile:

what new york is . . . and isn’t . . . for me

We’ve been home for more than a week already, and finally I’m sitting down to reflect on our week in New York. We booked the trip originally to help our daughter with her obligation as home and cat owner while she was in Paris on a combination academic conference/vacation. Now don’t laugh. I turned down many potentially inspiring trips with Hubby the years that one of my three cats at the time required medication and attention I didn’t want to burden my friends and neighbors with. I had the luxury of staying home; our daughter doesn’t. What we got in return was a whole week in the city without expensive hotel bills, living like New Yorkers do, taking advantage of all the cultural offerings, the parks, the food . . . !

And yes, that included the subways. Usually when we’re visiting, I’m about five feet behind Hubby and daughter every time we go out, working hard just to keep up with them. I never know exactly where we are, or how we got there, until we’re there, much like being a child again. This trip, I was right there alongside him so I could see for myself how he knew which train to take–which platform we needed to be on–and the wisdom of waiting for the Express rather than taking the local. By the end of the week I was beginning–but not quite there yet–to feel a little like a native New Yorker. That means I stopped gawking at the artistic tile work on some of the walls, taking pictures, staring at people. I even managed to scan my Metro card with one swipe (most of the time). Walking outside on the street, I practiced the art of focusing on the sidewalk (instead of everywhere else), looking neither right nor left, with a slight scowl on my face and plowing straight ahead. I acted as if I knew exactly where I was going and in a big hurry to get there. Even though I wasn’t–except when we had to be someplace at a certain time–(like the play we went to)–more on that later. When you ride the subway, it’s good to close your eyes and let your head hang to one side, stirring only when the train stops. If you can understand the accent of the subway announcer you can keep your eyes closed all the way. It’s even more effective if you let your head touch other people and then open your eyes quickly as if you’re startled. Then close them again and let your head dangle on your chest some more.

But every now and then, I did look up and let a smile creep onto my face. In spite of myself I even made eye contact now and then, occasionally making a small remark to someone nearby. That taught me something too. That New Yorkers are very often from someplace else too! That makes them a lot like me, and with one exception we got along very well indeed (that story will come in a later story). We got on so well that by the time we left I was feeling as though, like Hubby has always felt since he grew up in a crowded big city while I grew up with cows and hogs, that it might be fun to live in a high rise (no yard work) in a big city. Especially one with great public transportation and every ethnic food you can think of plus some you’ve never heard of, and not all that expensive either. Our daughter lives in Forest Hills. You can shop for just about anything you’d want or need within a few blocks. It took me less than five minutes to walk to the ice cream shop for a gelato after lunch one day.

Thinking back on some of my favorite travel memories, I’m always reminded of that billboard I read more than 40 years ago riding the Staten Island Ferry during my first visit to New York (1968), “Remember that YOU may be one of our visitors best memories on New York.” These are a couple of people encounters I’ll always remember fondly: the greeter at Tiffany on Fifth Avenue who told us what to see (the Ziegfeld Collection and the stunning jewelry worn in the The Great Gatsby movie) and the female sales clerk who taught me a little about purchasing a diamond, knowing (I’m sure) I had no means of buying any at that store (!) and made my day by insisting I try on one of the terribly impressive emerald cut diamond (about 5 carats) that only cost $36,850. And whoever said that New Yorkers aren’t friendly? At the Empire State Building there was the information clerk who was so friendly we chatted comfortably for at least 15-20 minutes (always stepping aside when other visitors needed her attention of course). By the time I left I’d not only gotten a recommend for a new and far cheaper version of skin care product than the one I was currently using, but I knew her age and how many years she had to work before retirement. And even though my friend ML, who had joined us from Pittsburgh and I failed to find the high end store Barney’s we wanted directions for, we found Bergdorf-Goodman instead, and had a wonderful time checking out the (excessively) expensive shoes. Readers, I had no idea there are people in the world who don’t blink an eye at spending thousands of dollars on a single pair of shoes. And here I was feeling all guilty that I’ve had to spend more than $100 for my shoes since chemotherapy and RA have left quite an impact on my feet!

There were “action comic” shoes, “jeweled little bits of nothing strap-wrapped shoes,” even “I wanna tower so tall over men that the heels have to be bowed for balance” shoes.

action comic shoes bg double high shoes bgexotic shoe bg

Like women everywhere, we were soon attracted to the 50% off shoe display in the corner. (Not a single pair did I see for $100.)The ones I singled out varied in price between $650 and $1800 (remember  that’s at 50% off). We found some spiked heels we called secret service shoes because they had not just super high-heels, but literally had black plastic spikes (like track shoe cleats) all over the heel as well as the inset strap. If you worked at secret service and a bad guy (read: terrorist) grabs you from the back or the front you have lethal weapons on both feet for that crotch or buttock kick!  (Sort of like the one of the left below.) And I’ll bet Wonder Woman would have killed for shoes like the one on the right.

   shoes from bergdorf goodman 1ouch shoes bg

The first pair of sandals look like the perfect shoe for the woman who really prefers going barefoot, but doesn’t because “what if there’s dog poo?” The others are very much like those I bought to wear with my saree for my wedding in Pittsburgh (1969).

i kinda feel like bare feet but don't want to step in dog poolike my wedding shoesI paid less than $10 for them at a shoe store near my apartment in Shadyside. Last, but not least, this pair sums up my dilemma every time I purchase shoes of any kind, the “I can’t decide which color I like best shoe.” Remember when the choices were limited to black, white, and sometimes red or black patent?

colorful shoes bgI have many more experiences and people to talk about from our trip, but I’ll hold those until next time. Meanwhile, my new feelings for New York (and big cities in general) are best summed up in these words I stole from a letter written by Anaïs Nin to her lover Henry Miller.

It is the suitable scene for my ever heightened life. I love the proportions, the amplitude, the brilliance, the polish, the solidity. I look up at Radio City insolently and love it. It is all great, and Babylonian. Broadway at night. Cellophane. The newness. The vitality. True, it is only physical. But it’s inspiring. Just bring your own contents, and you create a sparkle of the highest power. I’m not moved, not speechless. I stand straight, tough, and I meet the impact. I feel the glow and the dancing in everything. The radio music in the taxis, scientific magic, which can all be used lyrically.

 

snowbound!

snow

Today is Friday, it’s January 11, 2013, and we’re about as snowbound as we’ve ever been in the seven years we’ve lived in Utah. We should have paid more attention to the weather predicting turtle who lives nearby here in the shadows of Mount Olympus. According to local news sources, this season’s is the biggest snowfall accumulation in the valley since 1993.  E.T. (Extra Tortoise), 69, is a 17-inch-diameter desert tortoise, rescued by Tosh Kano in 1988 through the State Division of Wildlife Resources during the construction of the Tuacahn Amphitheater. She warned us this was likely to happen back in October. Kano was the public works director for Salt Lake County at the time, and over the years he noticed a correlation between E.T.’s appetite and winter conditions. He was so certain about her ability to predict winter severity that he based his yearly order for road salt according to E.T.’s “predictions.”

Kano said that normally she stops eating in September to prepare for her six-month hibernation, but this year she was eating  kale, mustard greens, parsley, and carrots until mid-October, so he knew something was different. Those are considered “super foods” in a turtle’s diet, thus he knew she was storing up fat for a long and hard winter. Other signs were noted as well. Acorns were bigger this year and there were more of them as well as more 100 degree+ days over the summer. I remember we were forced to take our neighborhood walks long after sundown because of the heat. Then we forgot about tortoises and  went on to Italy, extended our summer for several more weeks.   (In case you’d like to see E.T. and her owner yourself, to this KSL Utah channel 5 television site.)

trevi fountain

It seems like a long time ago looking back now, but this picture proves we really did enjoy a warm interlude at Trevi Fountain in Rome this fall. Ahhh, it looks so sunny and warm. Legend has it that if visitors toss a coin into the fountain they will return to Rome. Should we hear E.T. is eating like a pig again this September, I may have to reconsider my swearing off airline travel if. I’m pretty sure that’s the quickest way to get to Italy, which sounds very appealing now.  :grin:.

For today though, we continue to look out the window to see if it’s still snowing . . . yup! it is, and is expected continue all day. The nearly two-feet snow cake on the back deck may come close to swallowing that yardstick Hubby left in it (above photo) if it doesn’t let up. Did I mention the basement furnace broke down last Sunday? It’s working hard at the moment, but it’s an old old unit we’ll be replacing next week just in case.

I’ll be back with more news in a few days. That is, if we don’t freeze first. Does anybody know how to build igloos? Cháo for now!

the rest of the story: Italian cooking class recipes

032 In response to a reader request, I’m posting the remainder of Chef Andrea’s Italian cooking class recipes, plus his suggested wine pairings. Hopefully these wines or suitable substitutes are available locally. The home made Gnocchi (see recipe in previous post) is served with Bolognese style meat sauce. The recipe follows; for non-meat eaters, Chef recommends marinara.

Wintersong notes: While the chef specifies San Marzano style fresh tomatoes for these recipes, there are alternatives for Americans. The Marzano is a variety of plum tomato considered to be the best paste tomato. Comparable to the Roma, Marzanos are thinner and more pointed, and the flesh much thicker with fewer seeds with a stronger, less acidic taste.  They have a longer growing season than other paste varieties which make them more suitable for warmer climates, thus understandably unavailable in colder areas of the country. Canned San Marzano canned tomatoes grown in Italy may be ordered in bulk online, but can be quite expensive. I make my sauces using canned Marzano-style tomatoes grown in California. They’re available in some but not all American supermarkets.  In my own taste test experiments, I find that the extra time spent in finding and using the best paste tomato you can find, canned or fresh, is well worth the effort and extra expense.

As for “Spelt,” it’s one of those things that sounds–to me anyway–like something it’s NOT. (Does it sound like a type of fish to you?)  It’s a whole grain with a nutty taste and texture, a “cousin” to wheat. Due to several health benefits–more protein than wheat for instance–it’s an excellent source of essential nutrients, and is available in many grocery stores (like Whole Foods) and can be found in health food stores year-round.

The eggplant used in the cooking class was the Italian variety which are usually smaller than American eggplants which can weigh a pound each, and 4 would obviously be too much eggplant (in my opinion). I choose the smaller purple eggplant more in line with the size of slices in the picture above the recipe. They generally have less seed also.

In the Tiramisù dessert, Chef doesn’t specify type or quantity of chocolate chips. He intended you to use your own judgement and personal taste I’m sure. Each recipe serves 4 people with hearty appetites. 

Appetizer:  Insalta di Farro (Spelt Salad)

2 cups spelt
8 tomatoes green and not very ripe
black olives pitted
carrots
celery
2 bunches of arugola
lemon zest
extra virgin olive oil
salt

Cook the spelt in a large pot of salted boiling water until tender. Cool well under cold water, drain well and place in a large bowl. Add all other cut ingredients, making sure that they will have a nice shape and good presentation. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Allow about 10 minutes to rest and season well before serving.

Suggested wine pairing: Frascati Spumante – it’s a pure Malvasia grapes Spumante, handmade produced with the Champenoise Method from the local Winery San Marco from the Lazio region ed. 2009.

Ingredients for Bolognese meat sauce:

1 lb of grounded mixed meat (70% beef and 30% pork)
5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of salt
one carrot, one stalk of celery, one onion
1 cup of dry white wine (Frascati is preferred)
1 lb of whole peeled tomatoes (like San Marzano quality)
fresh herbs like rosemary, bay leaves, and sage
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese (or Parmesan cheese, as you prefer)

In a large frying pan over low heat, stir in the “soffritto” made from carrots, celery and onion with olive oil (extra-virgin) and cook until it starts to brown. Then you can add minced beef mixing with minced pork. Let it cook for about 10 minutes. When it’s browned, turn the heat to medium-high and stir in some dry white wine and cook it until it evaporates (please never use any sweet wine, it’s disgusting!). Now you can add your chopped tomatoes (boil them first and get rid of the skin). Cook it for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours (depending on how much sauce you’re cooking). Saute your gnocchi with the ragù sauce (or marinara), drizzle with Parmesan cheese to coat your dish. Serve hot. It’s gonna be delicious!!!

Wine Pairing: Marmorelle, it’s Frascati Superiore DOC – it’s a pure Frascati grapes from the Winery Principe Pallavicini ed. 2009 (Colonna – Rome – Lazio).

022 eggplant parm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eggplant Parmigiana (Parmigiana di Melanzane

5 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggplant, cut into thin slices
200 ml/2 cups sun flower oil to deep-fry
1kg./1/2 lb italian fresh tomato skinned-chopped (Tomatoes on the vine or Roma tomatoes are the best types that you can get back home)
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon fresh organic basil
9 Oz. fresh (250 gr.) mozzarella cheese, shredded (I’d suggest normal mozzarella and not the buffalo one because it’s drier and will not release too much liquid to the Parmigiana)
3.5 Oz. (100 gr.)  grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the sauce first. In a large frying pan over low heat, stir in the clove of garlic (remember to keep the skin on, just smash it an saute into extra virgin olive oil) and cook until it starts to brown. Boil the fresh San Marzano tomatoes and remove the skin, then chop them and add to the frying pan. Cook it for about 15 minutes, then add salt and freshly chopped basil leaves. In the meantime place the eggplant sliced into circle in a colander and sprinkle with the coarse sea salt. Let drain for 1 hour (we skipped this in the class, because we didn’t have time, but it’s okay because the eggplant I got for you at the market were very small and seedless). Heat the oil in a large deep frying pan until very hot. Shake the salt off the eggplant and fry ub small batches until golden brown, 5-7 minutes per batch. Drain onto paper towels. Add salt.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a medium baking dish. Spread a layer of eggplant in baking dish, top with tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, few leaves of fresh organic basil and top it with Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers. Bake the tray of eggplant until hot and bubbly (about 10 minutes) and serve it covered in Parmesan cheese. Decorate with fresh basil. Can be served hot or cold.

Wine Pairing: Cesanese di Olevano Romano – it’s a pure Cesanese (the typical red grapes from Lazio Region) aged in small barrels from the Winery Azienda Agricola Proietti ed. 2009

Side dish: Broccoli Romaneschi (Roman Style Broccoli)

1 clove garlic (don’t forget to keep the skin on it while you’re sauteing with extra virgin olive oil)
2 heads of roman broccoli (about 2lb/1kg)
Salt
Chili Flakes

First clean and wash the broccoli. Remove the bottom of the plant, leaving the smaller leaves and cutting it into smaller pieces. Let the broccoli cook in salted boiling water for a few minutes, until each piece is tender and soft. Then in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, leave garlic to brown with extra virgin olive oil. Once the garlic is brown, take it out (the garlic taste is still there) toss in your boiled broccoli, leave to simmer with garlic until everything is nicely sauteed. Season your dish with saltl Add chili flakes if you’d like. Serve warm.

037Dessert: Tiramisù

4 eggs
4 tablespoon of confectioner sugar
250gr (about 9 oz) mascarpone cheese (it’s an imported product in the States, so I’m using the Italian measurement so you will know how much to get!)
ladyfingers or savoiardi biscuits
200ml (about 2 cups) espresso coffee

Make some coffee to dip the lady fingers in and set aside. To make the cream mixture, separate 4 egg yolks from the whites, use an electric whisk to whip the 4 egg whites with 2 spoons of confectioner sugar and a few grains of salt–until stiff but not dry. In a separate bowl beat the 4 yolks and 2 spoons of confectioners sugar until very thick and light in color. With a wooden spoon, stir in 250 gr of mascarpone cheese  until smooth. As soon as both of the creams are ready, fold them from the bottom to the top with a spatula (so the egg whites will maintain their consistency). To assemble, dip half of the ladyfingers, one at a time, into the coffee mixture and line a long flat serving dish with them. Spoon a layer of the cream mixture over these. Add another layer of dipped ladyfingers and some chocolate chips, then spoon the remaining cream over the top. We prepared only one layer of ladyfinger, even if the quantity of cream was enough to make two layers. Cover with a thick layer of grated unsweetened chocolate/cocoa powder and leave it chilling in the fridge for a minimum of two hours. If you want, this dish can be made up to one day in advance. In this case sprinkle cocoa powder only before serving and not in advance. It will be delicious!!

Finally, in Chef Andrea’s own words, Have fun cooking and a great dinner!!! And when you’re planning a trip to Rome, be sure and consider signing up for one of his cooking classes yourself. Here’s a link to learn more.

the magic of rainy days in Venice

The week in review: It’s been fairly quiet this week along the Wasatch. The snowstorm that swamped us for three days last weekend finally quit sometime Sunday, and we were able to get out of the house and into the city for our bi-monthly lecture from the Forum for Questioning Minds, where Jill B. Jones, author of CASINO WOMEN, shared stories of women casino workers in Reno and Las Vegas.  Monday night I had a longgggg night in the Sleep/Wake Center at the University to learn whether I ever learned to sleep and/or breathe correctly upon birth 70 years ago. In other words, “why do I snore so bad?” More on that when I have results. Also, got good news from my Halloween colonoscopy. No more of that, thank goodness, for three years.  Now all that’s left until January, barring unforeseen maladies, is another blood test. Now let’s go to Venice to see how rainy weather only adds to the magic of the city.

The Grand Canal, Venice (the 8th day): Here our driver guides us along one of the major water-traffic corridors in Venice, which the Italians pronounce Venezia (ve-nit-zi-a) by the way, in a water taxi or water bus, not sure what to call it. The S-shaped canal continues for about two miles, and most of the 170+ buildings date from the 13th-18th century. Rich Venetian families apparently vie with each other to show off their richness with these picturesque palazzos. Most buildings emerge directly from water with no sidewalk pavements, and can only be viewed from the front by boat. And here I am looking and feeling like a country bumpkin all agog in the big city, hardly able to believe where I am… It’s mid- to late-afternoon and we’ve been warned to take along our rain gear as clouds gathering suggest there’s a real possibility of some showers later. At the moment I’m not concerned about getting wet. All I can think about are scenes from movies (like James Bond’s Casino Royal & Moonraker, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and wasn’t there one with Meg Ryan or some other American sweetheart?); all I can hear in my head are the voices of Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and Placido Domingo, and even Dean Martin pops in with That’s Amore.  Here’s one of my favorite waterfront palazzos. Two things never fail to catch my eye: flowers in flowerboxes and color.

All too soon we’ve covered the full two-mile length, past idle trade ships and and impressive cathedrals (so many we can’t possibly remember all the names; we’ve discovered it’s fairly safe to say either St. Mark’s or Santa Maria’s and be right 30% of the time) and pass through the famous Rialto Bridge to enter the area of St. Mark’s Square where we’ll disembark and get ready for our much-anticipated Gondola ride.

Back at the boatdock, we all line up into six-person groups waiting for our turn. Three or four boats with our groups had already loaded and left the dock when the rain began. It didn’t seem so threatening at first, and then it was nearly our turn to take the next boat. Suddenly the sky darkened and all the clouds overhead seemed to burst at the seams all at once. Someone saw a gondola with our people aboard, already drenched to the skin, trying to make it to one of the smaller canal bridges where they would wait out the storm looking rather miserable. For a change I was really happy we weren’t in one of the first groups, hence we stayed reasonably dry under the canopied waiting dock. When it became clear the rain had no plans to stop, our tour director announced the gondola rides had been cancelled.

If we were lucky we’d have one more chance for that Venetian gondola ride tomorrow, weather permitting. We proceeded to our hotel in Venice’s mainland suburb. While Mestre is modern and industrial and cheaper than its neighbor, the “canals” we viewed from our hotel window, admittedly picturesque in their own way, could not compare to the romantic canals of Venice. On the way to the coach, a dazzling rainbow set against a brightening sky seems to promise our group, many of us understandably disappointed–many wet and hungry–that our chances were very good. (That’s me in the green jacket with the street lamp jutting out from my head.)

Sure enough, the next morning we made it, and, again, I learned the gondola rides featured in movie settings and picture books are a little more complicated. Should my readers visit Venice someday and seek out your own gondola adventure,  be advised that there are different ways to navigate the canals. And I’m pretty sure if you want to snap a digital or two, you’ll have loads of opportunities. The chances are more than even that you’ll encounter a bride and groom along the way. But where were the singing gondoliers from the movies? You know…the ones with the striped shirts and straw hats? The reality is that you see all kinds of boats on the canals used for different purposes, weddings, funerals, pageants, even races. It’s considered a special occasion boat and the current cost of a ride is around €80 for a 40-minute cruise (sometimes with a glass of wine). There are cheaper deals available, but our tour was apparently one of those. Six to a boat instead of two, no serenade. I had to content myself with the voices in my head–Bocelli, Pavarotti, and Domingo, and danged if Dean Martin didn’t pop in again once or twice!

You may be struck, as I was, at the vast number of clothesline you’ll see hanging outside. Seems because of the high cost of electricity, most Italian homes do not have clothes dryers, only about 3-4% from what I’ve read. Most Italians hang their clothes to dry in yards, on folding racks set out on the porch, or clotheslines outside in front of their windows. They reason that it’s not only easy, but economical, an important consideration when you consider how expensive it must be to rent or own a home in Venice.

Lest you think all of Venice as a city exclusively spread out along water canals, I offer this alley view. That’s Hubby waiting for me to catch up along one of the mazes of sidewalks leading back to St. Mark’s Square. Always at a loss for navigating, I’m always asking, Are you sure this is the way out? Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, he’s right, as he was this time, thank goodness!

Back on St. Mark’s Square is  the great church (St. Mark’s Basilica) with its beautiful clock tower. On the top terrace below the winged lion  with an open book are two bronze figures, hinged at the waist, which strike the hours on a bell. One figure is old, the other young, to show the passing of time. They are said to represent shepherds as they are wearing sheepskins, and are giant in size so that their form can be recognized at a distance. Although the clock tower has undergone numerous restorations over the years (originally a statue was kneeling before the lion but was removed in by the French in 1797 after the city surrendered to Napoleon), the bell is the original one.

Now you may have heard or read about the flooding in northern Italy the last few weeks, and of course scientists have been saying for years that Venice is slowly sinking. Every time the rains come, the winds blow, and tides sweep more water in. It’s easy to see from this picture taken along the boat docking area how flooding would be a big problem for Venice.

And it’s no secret that in this 21st century, there are few places a person can’t get to within a day of travel, and more people than ever are now realizing long-held dreams of seeing the world, fulfilling their own “bucket-dreams.” Thus the tourist industry continues to flourish, particularly in Italy. It continues to be an important part of our global economy. Thus, in an effort not to discourage visitors to Italy’s famous city built on the seas, Venetians came up with alternative ways for tourists to get around the square in the (more and more) likely event of flooding. Indeed, you can see the props scattered around the square when not in use although you may not recognize what they are. When they are needed, here’s how they look.

Rather than complain, since you can’t argue with Mother Nature anyhow, nor can we yet agree among us that global warming is real, floods are now a fairly regular part of the Venetian tourism experience. Ever resilient, the tourists have learned to take it all in stride and make the best of it, even thinking of it as an different kind of travel adventure. This picture is from Reuters News Agency, but you can go online and do your own search (floods in Italy) and come up with your own assortment of tourists flopping around straddling floating tubes or surfboarding through the streets. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad philosophy for life. Let me add quickly, however, that in spite of the magic of that Venetian rainbow, I’m glad we saw it while you can still navigate on foot there. We got out at just the right time. Venice, or Venezia, as my new Italian friends would say, still holds a lot of magic.

roming around Italy with celebrity lookalikes

It’s been such a long time since I last posted here, July 9 to be exact, that I don’t know quite where and how to begin. If we were at a party, the usual weather-related repartee would be a reasonable beginning, so maybe that’s where I’ll go first. In fact, the weather here along the Wasatch front took quite a dramatic turn late yesterday from the hazy, lazy days of Indian summer of the past few weeks. Last night strong winds ushered in pelting rain, changing overnight into an early morning snow, clearly ahead of schedule here in the foothills. It doesn’t seem inclined to stop anytime soon. Trees are heavy with wet snow, and driveways and streets are impossible to keep cleared. On the negative side it’s thwarted our planned gym and movie outing, but on the positive side, it’s a perfect day to copy up with television or old movies–or in my case–reacquainting myself with the computer and Wintersong. Even more, it’s a perfect time to go back in time a few weeks and record some memories of our tour of Italy. The weather then and there versus here and now could hardly be more different.

More on that later. To begin, I thought it would be fun to introduce a few select members of our 38-member travel group with Wintersong readers.

By the end I’d gotten to know most of the people on some level, and this lady, a lovely lady in her eighties who could put a 60 year old to shame with her ability to keep up, became herself–Gwen–a very lovely lady traveling with her daughter. Every time I’d look at her in the beginning, I kept wondering who it was she reminded of. Forgive me but I kept seeing George Washington on the dollar bill, but no that wasn’t right. Martha Washington maybe. Later, as I picked up my Nook book after a long absence a picture of Gertrude Stein surfaced and I had my answer, although Gwen is a much lovelier, older and softer version .

From the first evening, Donna was Barbara Bush. She was traveling with her son and his wife, as well as her daughter and son-in-law.

Ironically, son-in-law David looked even more like Teddy Roosevelt than Roosevelt. He also bears an uncanny resemblance to both Grover Cleveland and William Howard Taft.

It didn’t occur to me until I was home and contemplating all the celebrity lookalikes on our tour that it occurred to me that one of our favorites, Mike, was a dead-ringer for Phil Donahue. Pat not only resembles Nancy Pelosi, but embodies Pelosi’s grace and petite stature.

 

In any group of that size, there are always some who endear themselves to you as time goes on, some who stay to themselves or choose to ignore you, and there are always one or two who annoy you. This group was no different, but one thing was striking. Everyone was cooperative and non-complaining, and I don’t think even one member slowed anyone up. Everyone was always present and accounted for at the designated departure time.

This year we traveled around Italy with Grand European Tours for a couple of weeks, then stayed on several more days by ourselves in Rome. This time we saw secret sides of Rome up close and personally as passengers escorted by Valerio and Michela on the backs of a couple of vintage Vespa scooters (Dearoma Tours & Travel). In some ways that stay turned out to be way cooler than the previous two weeks with a group of 38 people.We spent four more days in Rome staying at the Lancelot, a family-owned hotel in Rome located in a historical neighborhood within walking distance of the Colosseum. What we enjoyed best there was not having to repack our suitcases every day as we’d done for two weeks, and the round-table dinner that was wonderful both in terms of the quality of the food, and dining family-style with other hotel guests, swapping travel experiences at the end of the day. On the last night of our stay there, it should have been a clue, however, that maybe something was amiss. Halfway through dinner that evening, after several glasses of wine and courses of rich food, I began to feel so weary I actually thought only one more meal to consume here, and we’ll be on our way back home! Suddenly I thought I couldn’t bear even one more discourse of sparkling conversation. I was exhausted!

A little after midnight I awoke and barely made it to the bathroom in time! The rest of the night I lay awake feeling absolutely miserable. The next morning, we left the hotel at 9 o’clock and I suffered through line after line at the airport, both in Rome and New York around 12 hours later. Two days later, we finally made it back to Utah, where I continued to be ill most of the time until a little more than a week ago. Long story short, I’m pretty much on the mend, about six pounds lighter. Several tests revealed no serious problems. It looks like I’m going to be okay. If you live long enough, life is bound to throw all kinds of things at you–good, bad, and ugly. I keep reminding myself that sometimes it’s the ugly stuff that makes the better story. Now if I can just keep those six pounds off, everything will be fine and I’ll be back in the groove in no time.

I’ll be back soon to share more of Italy and our earlier visit to Florida. And for now–SURPRISE, SURPRISE–I’ve sworn off airline travel, FOREVER!

flat stanley goes to new york city

Today I’m posting–with permission–a children’s book written by and illustrated by my younger daughter. It’s a new adventure about Flat Stanley. In case you’ve never heard of Flat Stanley, he’s a character created in a children’s book by Jeff Brown in 1964. The plot involves Stanley Lambchop and his younger brother Arthur who are given a big bulletin board by their Dad for displaying pictures and posters. He hangs it on the wall over Stanley’s bed.  During the night the board falls, flattening Stanley in his sleep, but Stanley survives and makes the best of his altered state. Soon he is entering locked rooms by sliding under the door, and playing with his younger brother by being used as a kite. Another special advantage is that Flat Stanley can now visit his friends inexpensively by being mailed in an envelope. He even helps catch some art museum thieves by posing as a painting on the wall. Eventually Arthur changes Stanley back to his normal shape with a bicycle pump. To facilitate easier reading in case the monitor you’re using is smaller, I’m duplicating the text inside brackets under each picture.

[Recently, Flat Stanley visited Queens and Manhattan, otherwise known as New York City! Stanley learned very quickly that many people in New York City do not own cars. Instead of driving, they take underground trains! They call their trains the "Subway." Stanley was a little nervous about taking the Subway at first, but he decided that he liked the idea of getting on a train and riding along with other people. He watched as people read, talked, played video games, and listened to music on their way into the city.]

[Stanley exited the train at a stop for Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue. Then, because he was so deep underground, he had to take a very steep escalator to the surface!]

[Luckily, this station had a helpful map to show Stanley where he had arrived and where he could take the subway from here.]

[Stanley made it to the street! Are you curious about where he went next? Ah, here. Now you can see where he intended to visit in New York City: The MOMA. Can you see it in this distance up ahead?]

[Can you guess what the MOMA is from the picture? And what do you think MOMA means? Here is a hint. Each letter stands for something: M.O.M.A.]

If you guessed that Stanley was visiting an art museum, you were correct! And so, if you guessed that the first letter of M.O.M.A stood for “Museum,” and the last letter stood for “Art” you were also correct! The MOMA is New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. People who study art describe it as “Modern” if the objects were made after 1860. (It’s 2012 now; can you figure out how many years ago 1860 was?) Stanley learned a lot about Art on his visit. As you can see, the MOMA has different kinds of Art all over, on the floors and on the walls.]

[Some of the pieces are famous paintings. This one is by a man named Vincent Van Gogh. Do you know what it is called? If you don't what would you call if it you pained it?]

[Stanley was surprised these pictures by Andy Warhol are called "Art," because he recognized the people in them, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.]

[Flat Stanley was also surprised that this painting by Jackson Pollack was Art, since it looked like something you kids could make at school.]

[But wait! Are these examples of Art too? Stanley thought these objects were all kind of funny. He laughed a little bit when he saw them. But then he started to wonder if he understood Art.]

[Now, these pictures by Rousseau, Picasso, and Chagall, and Kahlo seemed a bit more like what he thought he would see at an Art museum.]

[Stanley was confused and wanted to get some air.  He found that MOMA had a lovely garden full of sculptures.  They were cool--but they made him wonder more about what Art was. He sat down and thought a bit about what he'd seen.]

[Each piece of Art was something that reminded him of the things he saw everyday, but they were also a bit different from the things he saw everyday. They made him think more about what he was looking at. He didn't always know how to describe how he felt or what he was thinking, but he liked that the Art made and feel and think.]

[After the museum, Stanley decided to see a few things nearby, including Radio City Music Hall. There are dance and music performances there. One day, Stanley hopes to see some of them.]

[Stanley's friend Vimala asked if he would like to go with her to the library to return a book. Stanley said yes, because he loved to read. He was very excited to go back on the subway and see on the map where they arrived compared to where they had been. Can you see how far they traveled by comparing this map to the earlier one?]

[Elmer Holmes Bobst Library - New York University]

[Stanley really enjoyed seeing the library at New York University. So many floors! Stanley especially liked to imagine that one day he will go to college and study Math. Or Science. Or maybe Art? Perhaps Literature?]

[After the library, Stanley went to the nearby park, Washington Square Park. There he saw a pretty arch and decided one day he might go to college to study Architecture, a subject that makes us see and think about buildings as both a kind of Art and a product of Science. In fact, New York had a lot of neat buildings! It would be a great place to study buildings and Art and all kinds of things that interested him.]

[Stanley went back down into the Subway and caught a train towards Queens, where his friend Vim lived. When they transferred from one train line to another, they saw a band playing in the station! So they stopped to listen for a bit. What do you think their song sounded like? Do you know what these instruments are? Stanley did, but he is pretty sure you do too, so he told me not to tell you.]

[Stanley ended his day where he started it, at 75th Avenue in Queens. What a loved day he had, looking at Art, thinking about what Art is, and then seeing everything around him as something like and unlike Art. He saw many people as he traveled and enjoyed thinking about what their lives were like in this very interesting city. He cannot wait to return to New York City...there is so much more he'd like to do!]

Flat Stanley loved New York City!

For more information on Flat Stanley, check back with Wintersong on Monday.