Friday, June 11, 2004

Four Days Away

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday had me traveling from place to place with an old college friend, Allison. She actually arrived June 1st, but our initial days in Italy had us basically near where I live (with a two-day trip away to Sulmona in Abruzzo), so this past week, since Monday, has been a change.

The four days went like this: Florence (2 days), Orvieto (1 day), Rome (an afternoon). The distribution of an afternoon in Rome was a little off, but it gave us enough time to hustle through the main sites (she had already seen the Colosseum on arrival back on the 1st) and take a breath crossing the Angel Bridge at night. Two days in Florence were plenty, it turned out, and Orvieto ended up being the gem of our trip--quiet and stunning, with a guest-visit by Antonello in the late afternoon.

This was Allison's first visit to Italy, and it was interesting to see what she was drawn to. Florence, I think, although it had been her one "must-see" on this trip to Italy, ended up being almost too much for her, with the mad roar of tourists drowning out even the most beautiful frescoes by Giotto and the red flame of the Duomo's outstanding cupola. It turned out that the best parts of the day happened when we got off the tourist track: a morning's visit to Florence's impressive Synagogue, wandering through side streets just a little ways from Piazza Signoria, dinner at a restaurant on the other side of the river.

And the next two days passed by in Italy's new found summer heat, as we enjoyed the cliff-top views from Orvieto, along with its amazingly ornate duomo and little alleyways of shopping. We even stayed in Orvieto a little later than we'd planned--slurped up gelato the next morning in the main piazza and watched loads of teenagers, on their last day of school, cram their way into the little, and wonderful, gelateria by the Duomo.

But one of my best memories of Allison's 11 days discovering Italy will probably be from last Sunday, the day before leaving on this whirlwind four-day tour. We took a makeshift hike on the foothills of the Appenines where Le Marche and Umbria meet, and you could see the fog rolling in around us. It was not necessarily a hiking day--rain was in the forecast, and the mountains were barely visible under their cloudy skirts. But somehow it seemed perfect, and slowly you could make out more hills, see little patches of sky open up. Allison stood there, halfway up the hill as Antonello and I hiked along behind her, and she looked out onto everything.

And she said, with little hesitation, "It is here that I am the happiest." She smiled brightly and gazed around her, taking everything in as it emerged from the clouds around us, the greens and blues of early June in Italy.


Update: I recently posted over on The Long Trip Home's new travelblog about our experiences in Florence, specifically at the synagogue.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Sauna stanza

It's say the least. My little apartment has one set of windows that face the south. Lovely for the plants, great for early morning rises, but sweltering for these hazy summer days.

Last night, Dad, Grandma, some friends of the family, and I had dinner at my place before a delightful cello concert. The pork wasn't the only thing roasting after just five minutes in my oven room, my sauna stanza. Friends and family were awfully understanding and smiled through a sweaty dinner all the same, the promise of an air conditioned theater in the near future.

Jackie, remember the heat of last summer in Italia? We were crisping on the beach (playing handkerchief games) or slowly climbing the hill toward the gelateria (again) or rolling down all the windows in Antonello's car for a breezy afternoon ride (the wind so strong you could barely hear us belting out Indigo Girl songs - a perk for poor Antonello, I'm sure).

This hot sun has its I kept reminding myself last summer, the wine should be suburb from 2003. This year I should have basil plants the size of palms.


Monday, June 07, 2004

How I know Ronnie

If someone had asked me three days ago who Ronnie was, my first answer probably would have been, "Jackie's family's dog...she's so cute!"

After working early this morning with NPR in the background, I can't get Ronnie The Dog's namesake off my mind. Yesterday, President Ronald Reagan passed away.

I was busy learning to tie my shoes and taking swimming lessons during his terms in office. I don't remember much about Gorbachev, missiles, or Libya...I do remember sitting in my Nain's kitchen drawing a picture of President Reagan in the Oval Office. I haven't a clue what inspired me to draw that picture, but my government prof would probably be happy with my conclusion that presidential marketing must have been effective if it even biased the crayons of Americans under 10.

My dear dad granted my request. He mailed my drawing with my carefully constructed letter to the White House. I imagined that portrait in many situations...the President shuffling through mail (House bills, Senate subscriptions, etc.) until he stumbled upon my envelope and smiled...a souvenir White House magnet holding up my picture on the Presidential icebox...a stack of other kids' portraits with mine stuck between the one from Nebraska and the one from Russia.

Several months later, Dad took a manila envelope with my name it from the mailbox. Inside, a letter on Presidential stationary thanked me for writing and a booklet full of color photos offered my first look inside the White House. I loved the series of the "Color Rooms" the, blue, green. I was sure the addition of violet and yellow rooms would be a hot topic for the next election.

So here's to the two Ronnie's I know - Jackie's cute dog and one of my first portrait sitters.