Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fantastic Fact About the Confetti Over Times Square on New Year's Eve

It's a half hour to midnight before this day turns into New Year's Eve, and it's raining.  That's awesome because rain is as close to saying that it's winter here in San Diego.  It's doesn't rain much here, and when it does, most of us celebrate it!

So to type this post as quickly as possible, I read a short and interesting article the other day about the secret of the confetti that's showered on the millions of revelers in Time Square on New Year's Eve at the strike of midnight.  Have you ever thought about those gazillions of confetti? 
Photo credit:

Well, the Times Square Visitor Center sponsors a Wishing Wall, where people will write their heartfelt wishes or whatever they wish to express on small sticky notes, then they place them on the wall.  As the wall fills up throughout the year, the notes are taken down by Visitor Center staff, placed in containers and tucked away to make room for more dreams and wishes on the wall.  This continues to New Year's Eve.  The colorful wishes are then peppered with plain white squares of paper.  If you haven't guessed it yet, all of these dreams and wishes make up the beautiful confetti that is showered upon the kissers and huggers who are freezing under the fireworks that are coloring the sky above them.  What a lovely, lovely thing to see!

Photo credit:  NYC
It's three minutes past midnight.  Have a wonderful celebration tonight and party safely!
Photo credit:  Kohei Kanno

Happy New Year 2017!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Faces of Italy - a Collection of Casual Photos

I took these photos during my trip to Italy last month.  They are of people I saw during my walks around Rome, and of old and new friends in Castiglion Fiorentino in Arezzo, Italy. Most of them were not aware I was taking their picture.  Some of them are expats, others are immigrants, but most are native Italians just going about their daily business.  A few of the photos are out of focus because I snapped as I walked, a very bad habit of mine. The photo of the model, though, she was twirling around her gold lame gown while I was walking by, and so that is totally out of focus, but it was too cool not to share. Also, the photos were taken with my iPhone 6, and I zoomed in some of the time.  Long gone are the days when I used to bring along my camera bag containing camera, lenses and filters.  Too cumbersome and painful for someone suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
I walked past this pizza joint, turned around to photograph the people down this stone path and right before I snapped this photo, the guy on the left turned his head to the right, straight in my direction.  The timing was perfect.  He was the most interesting to look at, so with some editing, I made Pizza Guy the center of attention.
I was taking a break at a public water fountain and watched this couple walk straight to the silver car.  For some reason, they didn't enter the car.  Perhaps they were deciding where to grab lunch? Her al-amira (head scarf) and teal shirt caught my attention.  I wondered which country she emigrated from, or maybe she didn't. Maybe she's Italian and then I wondered what her cultural identity or religion was.  But it was just a thought, then away I went to sightsee some more.

As I was leaving the Piazza della Rotonda, where the Pantheon and the Fontana del Pantheon sit, I looked up and around for pretty flowery windows to photograph.  No flowers but I found this guy looking intently at his cell phone.  He was so oblivious to all of the beautiful music and activity in the piazza.  His window looked out to the Pantheon.  How wonderful it must be to wake up to such a majestic sight every day, and to the sound of a constantly flowing fountain.
The cellist played music that was so ethereal, I almost changed my mind about roaming the Eternal City.  My ears and heart were telling me to have a seat at the fountain and to listen to the musician for a couple of hours.  We happened to come upon this guy when we exited our hotel, the Hotel Pantheon, turned the corner and there he was.
This is three generations of the Buccelletti family in Castiglione Fiorentino in Tuscany.  We are at their winery in the valley.  Renee, an American whom I met at Pappalecco's in San Diego, married the son of the co-proprietor, Lidia, of the Buccelletti Family Estate. The baby boy, Gianni, is a cutie!  We enjoyed a wonderful stay at one of their villas.  We also helped harvest grapes in the vinyard, and tasted a variety of their wines, and the food was so delicious. They spoiled us.  We drank and ate so much at lunch, our stomachs were still full at dinner time!  If you plan to visit Italy, please check out their website, Casali in Val di Chio, before you go and book a villa-stay.
Two nuns arriving at St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, to receive blessings from Pope Francis. The Pope receives audiences every Wednesday, weather permitting.  My group and I were fortunate to have seats along one of the corridors to see Pope Francis up close. It was very exciting to be in the presence of the Pope and Cardinals.
This is Orestes, proprietor of the Sagrestia Ristorante in the Piazza della Rotonda.  The restaurant has been there for 15 years, but the building itself was erected in the 1800's.  It housed many businesses and was home to many people, but it was for quite some time a monastery.  Orestes was very friendly, his English not so good but neither was our Italian.  We understood that his parents named him after the son of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, of Greek mythology.
Every Wednesday morning, the pope greets his audience in St. Peter's Square, weather permitting and unless he has an engagement with world leaders and the like. We arrived at the Vatican very early in the morning to get to our reserved seats.  We had a great spot, right along the barricade and where the popemobile would be passing by.  All through the morning, and before Pope Francis would make his appearance, wedding couples were coming in past the Vatican guards.  I wasn't counting, but maybe 12 to 15 couples were allowed to go to the front of the audience.  Curiosity got the best of me, and this is what I learned.  You can have a private audience with Pope Francis, in front of the extremely large crowd, if you were married within two months of your scheduled Papal Audience visit, you have a marriage certificate signed by a priest to show the Vatican guards before entering the restricted area, and you must arrive in your wedding attire.  Pope Francis spends a few precious moments with each couple for selfies, autograph-signing, gift-giving, and in return, the pope gives the couple a very special wedding rosary.  
We reached this quaint wooden toy shop, Pinocchietto, after spending time at the Fontana di Trevi.  It was fascinating to watch this toymaker at work.  He carves lots of toys, but his specialty is the wooden Pinocchios of all shapes, sizes and colors.  Quanto costa, Signor?
Like the wedding couples, others were vying for a seat at the front of the audience such as members of various religious orders and those with crippling medical conditions.  I was thoroughly entertained by the numbers of nuns, monks, brothers and sisters coming through. It was like watching a parade.  The soldier to the right wearing the Gala red, yellow and blue striped uniform is a Swiss Guard.  The soldier to the left is the Vatican police known as the Gendarmerie Corps of Vatican City State.  The corps help augment the Pontifical Swiss Guard during the Pope's appearances, among other duties.
This is our tour guide cooling off at one of many fountains found throughout Rome.  She took us on a three-hour tour, and it was a very, very hot day.  While the fountain doesn't look clean, the water is cool, tasty, and very safe to drink.  I always tell my travelers to bring a water bottle to refill their drinking water.  Why pay for something when you can get it for free?  In Rome you can find around 2,500 public drinking fountains which are called nasoni (big noses).  The first nasone was created in 1874.
Oh, here's the cell phone guy again.  Looking at this photo brings to mind the damaged plaster walls, peeled paint, and all those wires and cables draped across the old buildings throughout the Eternal City.  I can honestly say that I didn't take notice of the wires and cables until I saw this photo.  There's just so much beauty in the architecture of the surrounding churches, statues and ruins.  People-watching sometimes tops even that!
These ladies caught my attention right away.  They were so animated, and their speech was expressive, which I guess is what the Italian language is - fast and passionate.  Also, this photo reminds me that European women love to wear dresses and are very trendy.  They do not wear jeans on a daily basis as we Americans generally do.  I love the black sneakers. I need to get me a pair.  White ones, too!
These guys might look pretty in their striped uniforms, but truth be told, they are members of a deadly army of elite warriors selected to protect the Pope, the Cardinals and Vatican City.  Here, they are walking to their posts in preparation for the arrival of Pope Francis. The Swiss Guard is the smallest army in the world with about 125 soldiers and officers serving at any given time.  There are many requirements to becoming a Swiss Guard, one of which is you must be a Swiss citizen.  Also, the sword or halberd (a two-handed pole weapon with an axe topped with a long, sharp blade, and a spike opposite the sharp end of the axe) is not for show.  The Swiss Guard are trained in the use of medieval and modern weaponry.
When we left the Piazza Navona after a lovely dinner one evening, we came upon a photo shoot happening nearby.  The model was a pretty, skinny thing and she swished her gold lame gown this way and that.  With the sun beginning to set, the light bouncing off the gown was sort of mesmerizing.  
Viva il Papa!  Everything Pope Francis says and does resonates with most people of all faiths, even atheists.  He leads by example. Humble. Peacemaker.  A servant of the servants of God.  Pope Francis is a rock star!  We must've waited a little over two hours under the hot, hot morning sun to see him in person - up close and personal.  It was such an amazing experience!  I would like to say everyone was orderly, but when it comes to people trying to push me out of my position at the barricade, you better watch out.  I will push you back, and I did.  Not a shove, but a very firm push. Notice the gentlemen in the dark suits.  They are also soldiers of the Swiss Guard.  Their other uniform, the striped red, blue and yellow, is referred to as the Gala Uniform.
During our last three days in Italy, we stayed in a rustic villa in the heart of Tuscany.  Owned by the Buccelletti family, the villa is one of four in the countryside.  We arrived in the late afternoon and soon after, Giuseppina (I think that's how she pronounced her name) came by to cook us dinner.  Oh my word, it was fantastico! For starters, she made Eggplant Parmesan followed by a first course of stuffed ravioli with a light butter, sage and Parmesan sauce. The second course consisted of peposo (spicy forequarter meat, beef cooked in a wine gravy).  The beef comes from the Chianina breed of cattle, the oldest and most prized.  It is noted for its porcelain-white coats, and for being the biggest and heaviest breed. Giuseppina is a very good friend of the Buccelletti family. She was a restaurant chef, then retired to raise her family.  She now cooks for the villa guests. I loved her smile and cheerfulness. 
Believe it or not, we paid to participate in a wine harvest.  Just those words "wine harvest" sounds so lovely and inviting, doesn't it?  It is until you get a kink in your neck, or your back aches.  It is hard work.  I heard the laborers were astonished to learn we paid to work alongside them for a couple of hours.  I don't regret one minute of it, though.  How many Americans can say they actually harvested grapes in a Tuscan vinyard?  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
This is Carla, an employee at the Casali in Val di Chio.  After the grape harvest, she graciously took us around the widespread farm which includes the wine tasting room, production rooms where the grapes and olives are made into fine wine and olive oil, the family chapel, the large garden of fruits and vegetables, formal gardens, wedding venue and the villas.  There are future plans to add a museum.
I'd already posted this photo on Instagram and Facebook.  This cracks me up.  This character is a fake.  Beneath the long coat and long head scarf is probably a robust young lady. maybe 25 years old.  The beggars and con artists come in all shapes and sizes.  This beggar was wearing expensive athletic shoes.  This reminds me of a prior trip to Venice, where I observed a crouched beggar in a deserted alley stand up straight to stretch her back.  No matter where you travel in the world, always beware of your surroundings.

Thanks for having a look!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Why I Love National Cat Day

It's National Cat Day on October 29!  I've never paid attention to this cat holiday in the past, but after seeing my friends post photos of their pets all over social media every single day, why not share the cuteness of my adorable furry babies, all of whom have since passed over the Rainbow Bridge, except for Nala.  Most importantly, though, I want to celebrate their lives and to encourage pet adoption.  It's not just the right thing to do; adoption is a reward.
BIG PAW - Leader of the Pack
Big Paw was not the cutest cat on display at the San Diego Humane Society, but he was definitely the most unique.  He was a polydactyl, meaning he was born with extra digits on all four paws, although not all polydactyls are affected the same way.  Some polydactyls will have extra toes on one paw or two, but Big Paw had all four paws with extra toes.  He was the first cat to enter our home of two adults and three kids, and what a joy he was to us all! Besides being crazy playful, he loved to scare the crap out of us by walking the upstairs balcony rail.  Staring up at him with bated breath, Big Paw would stare back at us and walk the rail with ease.  Such a daredevil.  He was a smart cat, too. He knew how to open doors. Sometimes we'd resort to locking the doors if we didn't want him to gain entrance.  You were lucky if he let you hold him.  Big Paw decided when he was ready to be held, and when we did, he showed the love by purring so loudly.  We had him for 15 wonderful years. I was with him when he breathed his last breath, and it tore my heart apart.  I cried for days. We all did. Knowing the joy he brought us, he would not be our last cat.  Big Paw lived his life for us, and he left this world knowing he did his job.  Such a beautiful gift.

Born:                      August 1991
Adopted:              January 1992
Rainbow Bridge:   March 2007    

HERO - the Great Communicator
Hero was the second cat to enter our home.  He was one of maybe three or four cats at the Humane Society the night the kids and I decided it was time to adopt another cat.  We felt Big Paw needed a playmate.  The adoption would be quick, I thought.  Select the cat, pay the fee and get home before Gerry did.  I had no idea that all family members had to be present to adopt a cat.  Shockeroo!  I knew Gerry would be resistant to wanting another cat, but maybe he'd change his mind when he saw how cute the new cat was. The trainer would not let us have Hero unless Gerry agreed to the adoption.  He wanted to phone Gerry at work.  You're kidding me. Of course, Gerry was shocked to get such a call, and yes, he wanted to speak to me on the phone.  Yikes.  After exchanging a few pleasant words, Gerry said okay, we could adopt Hero.  The kids were ecstatic!  When we got home, Hero went into hiding for three days.  Poor kitty.  Entering a new home with Big Paw in it was a bit much, I guess. Hero lived up to his name, and he came to us at the right time.  We were grieving the death of someone very close to our daughter, Lindsay.  Matt was a joy to have around.  Sensing that Lindsay was the most grief-stricken, Hero stuck close to her for a long, long time.  He became Lindsay's buddy.  He also began to sit a certain way that was kind of freaky.  Hero would prop himself up against a wall as if he were human, sitting upright on his rear-end!  That's how Matt would sit on Lindsay's futon.  Hero was channeling Matt!!  Scary at first, but we came to love seeing Matt's spirit come through.  Hero was wise, smart and loved to have long conversations with us.  He also thought he was a dog. Too funny.  Almost daily, he would try to force his way outdoors to get a taste of the green grass.  Yes, Hero was special.  He passed not too long ago, and of all the cats I cried for, I couldn't cry for him.  I don't understand it yet.  But it doesn't mean I didn't love him.  I probably loved him the most. Somewhere in my future, I know I will cry for him.  Hero lived to be 19 years old. I miss your love bites, Pretty Boy.

Born:                       January 1997
Adopted:               December 2000
Rainbow Bridge:    May 2016  

YANKEE - the Snuggle Bug
My son, Gary, first spotted Yankee down the street.  The cat was distressed, meowing so loudly.  He ran home to tell me all about this cat, but I couldn't be bothered.  I was bolted in my chair in front of the TV watching the tragic chaos taking place in New York City. The twin towers at the World Trade Center had fallen that morning.  I told Gary to just leave the cat alone.  Did I really say that, because normally I'm quick to rescue a cat.  Gary continued to keep an eye on that cat for the next couple of days, and of course, it would follow him home.  Lindsay built a cardboard house for it, decorated with pink crepe streamers because - tada - we thought it was a she!  This cat had badly sagging skin, as if she might have delivered a litter.  Then one day, we heard our cats loudly meowing at the livingroom window.  I looked out and there was the cat.  I'd not seen the cat until then.  Gary described her to me, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw.  She looked odd, skinny, dirty and had big ears.  But I got excited because I'd seen that kind of cat before in a picture.  I ran to the computer and did some research, then became so excited because sitting outside our window was a Cornish Rex, or a mix of one, not the kind of cat you see every day.  Even our vet had not seen one in person.  It's an expensive breed, costing about $800. It turns out the she was a he. This cat had been very unheathily overfed, had became lost or abandoned, starved, and thus resulting in the sagging belly.  Poor thing.  No one seemed to be searching for this special cat, so we decided to care for him.  The name America, when we thought it was a girl, would now become Yankee.  And no, I didn't want to check the sex of the cat because it was so grossly dirty and stinky.  The less I touched it until a visit to the vet, the better.  Yankee was special because he behaved like a toddler.  He loved to stand and reach up to be picked up and be held like a baby.  He loved to rest his head on our shoulders, and be coddled inside a baby blanket.  The vet couldn't estimate Yankee's age because his teeth and gums were in bad shape.  We gave Yankee extra care because we knew his life was hard up to the day he decided to adopt us as his new family.  When he became sick, the veterinary bills became so high that we could no longer take care of him.  I called our vet to see if they knew of a non-profit no-kill cat sanctuary that would be willing to care for a cornish rex.  They didn't, and apologized.  A few days later, the vet called me and said they would be willing to care for him, but we had to relinquish all rights to Yankee.  Also, my family and I could visit him whenever we wanted, no need to make an appointment.  I was elated, to say the least.  I began to sleep better. Yankee would eventually become the mascot of the Rolling Hills Pet Hospital.  He had free reign of the clinic, and could roam wherever he wished.  On the weekends, Dr. Keith would take him home to his place in Coronado.  Lucky cat!   We didn't have Yankee as long as our other cats, but he would always be our Little Snuggle Bug.

Born:                      Unknown
Adopted Us:         September 2001
Rainbow Bridge:  January 2006 

QUINCY - the Bashful One
Just when we thought we had enough cats in the house already, Lindsay calls me up one day and says that I need to go to PetSmart right away.  What for, I ask.  "There's a real cute cat that needs to be adopted, and he keeps meowing.  He wants a home", was her reply. 
Oh, geez.  But that's what Gerry and I did.  We went to PetSmart to check out this cat and adopted him.  His name was Quincy, and he was cute as a button.  He was pretty shy, too. He had this raspy meow sound, and didn't want to be held or petted unless he came to you for attention. But if he came to you, he'd plop part of his body on you and stay there for as long as he could. He liked to be left alone a lot of the time.  Quincy had this weird habit of taking food out of his bowl, dropping it on the floor and eating it.  He was a very messy eater.  Gary Mike thinks he was earlier raised with other cats and was used to eating his food off the floor.  His favorite toy was feathers hanging on a string.  He'd get wild about them for a little while, then get over it fast.  He didn't remain playful for very long.  Not much else was known of his past, but we made sure he had a good life in our home.  Quincy was diagnosed with cancer in 2014.  It was so hard to decide that it was time to let him go.  With Lindsay in Nashville, and Summer at her job in Del Mar, via FaceTime they joined me, Gerry, Gary Mike and Kat at the clinic where we held Quincy for the last time.  It was a very difficult good-bye.  Our hearts hurt for the longest time.

Born:                       January 2007
Adopted:              January 2009
Rainbow Bridge:   September 2014

NALA - the Princess
Nala is pretty, and she knows it.  I refer to her as the princess because she's so girly.  She's a big tease, too.  She came to be a part of our family when I took her in from the cold.  She was a member of a growing feral colony, just a baby, really.  She was with her daddy cat when I first spotted her on a very cold morning.  Every day she'd come around with a member of her feline family or all of them.  There was the daddy, mama, Reeses (we named it because she reminded us of the candy) and Nala.  So one early morning, I decided to snatch her up and bring her in out of the cold, to her daddy's dismay.  I would cuddle her under my warm blanket, and stare at her beautiful face until I heard Gerry waking up, then I'd put her back outside.  Not very nice, I know, but Gerry would not be keen on yet having another cat in the house.  Soon Nala would come around on her own and insist we take her in.

So persistent, this cat.  Nala is as feminine as a girl can be, is a picky eater, is very playful and a such a big tease.  She doesn't meow; instead, she voices these tiny mews and makes these chirping noises.  She loves people but loves Gary Mike the most. She loves to be petted, and has this crazy thing about licking lotion off my hands, arm and feet.  Gross! So annoying when she does that.  Also annoying is when we get up in the morning to find she's been stuck in the office closet all night long.  Why she continues to run into a closet surprises me.  Nala loves to sneak upstairs when Gerry's not around, but when she hears his voice, she quickly dashes down the stairs.  Too funny to witness!  To this day, Nala shows affection for the remaining members of her once feral colony that grew to number 23 total.  There are two strays remaining who make our backyard their home.  It amazes me that three generations later, the strays recognize Nala as one of their own.

Born:             Fall 2009
Adopted:    December 2009

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hurricane Matthew - My Red Cross Response Experience

It wasn't too long ago when I received an e-mail from the San Diego chapter of the American Red Cross.  The e-mail was sent en masse to every Red Cross volunteer in our region.  It was all over the news that Hurricane Matthew was brewing, and it didn't register in my head that I could be called to action.  Gerry and I had just returned from Italy where we vacationed with friends, and my suitcase wasn't fully unpacked. I quickly packed my suitcase with the appropriate clothes and shoes, went to headquarters to pick up my Mission card and disaster folder, and before I knew it, I was on a Delta flight to Columbia, South Carolina.  It happened so fast. When I arrived at the airport, there was an AVIS rental car waiting for me, and a motel room to hunker down in for the night since it was nearly midnight when I arrived.
I had waited six years for the opportunity to help in a major national disaster, but the time wasn't right due to my job and/or familial responsibilities.  All of the courses I'd taken and workshops I attended over the years qualified me to be deployed to the Carolina states to assist in this flood disaster.  I was in South and North Carolina for a total of ten days, but I had earlier committed to a minimum of 2 weeks of service.  Before I explain my early return home, I must tell you that I met and worked with a group of wonderful and giving individuals that formed our strong team of six, which later became seven.  We each had our own strengths in character, and where one of us lacked in physical strength, the others picked up and carried the rest of us forward.  Our team was a well-oiled machine, and we vowed that no matter where Staffing sent us, we would stay together.  
My awesone team, fom left to right:  Bobby, Margot, Linda C., Glendeleen, Julie, Linda H. (our supervisor) and me.

After closing the Calvin Heights Elementary School shelter in Wilmington, North Carolina, we learned, to our dismay, that we would be separated.  We knew, really, from the beginning that it would be hard to keep us all together to the end of the disaster recovery, but it was worth wishing for.  Three would go on to work the ERV (emergency response vehicle which is used to transport food to various shelters), two others went to support a shelter on a college campus, and our fearless leader is in her new assignment as a shelter manager. 
While everyone on the team was compassionate, Bobby and Linda C., to me, showed the most compassion.  Bobby loved talking to the clients (shelter residents) and getting to know them, and Linda C. was really taken with the children.  One very young child endeared herself to Linda and looked to her for hugs.  I thought of Julie as the mama bear.  She constantly checked on things, greeted arriving guests, helped to keep the distribution area tidy, and reminded our supervisor to eat her meals.  The muscles of the team were Bobby and Margot. They could put together and tear down those cots so fast, it made me exhausted to watch them.  I could not help with those cots because of arthritis.  I also could not help with lifting heavy items, and there was a lot of that going on in the kitchen and cafeteria.  Bobby and Margot also kept the restrooms clean and trash bins empty. Glendeleen, Glen for short, was assigned to our team two days before we were separated. She immediately made herself at home, picked up our vibe and joined right in as if she was with us from the very beginning.  Our supervisor, Linda H. was loaded with information, constantly had her finger on the pulse of the operation, and worked diligently with headquarters. In the evening, when all of the clients were tucked in their cots for the evening, because there is a curfew in the shelters, Linda H. would reward us with a small plastic glass of wine, if we wanted it, to thank us for our hard work and to simply relax and talk about the day's events.  It was a great bonding time, in that dim hallway of the 4th grade wing of the school.
Working the shelter is constant and tiring work.  It's physical, mental and emotional.  I found myself holding back tears on one occasion, and I felt like I was starving on another occasion.  I kept saying to myself that I would find time to take a little nap when the time was right, and I never did.  I was always the last to go to the bed, and the first to rise.  I would make myself available to work in the cafeteria, as not everyone was awake in the gymnasium yet, and that's how I got to know the Salvation Army crew and the school cafeteria manager.  The Salvation Army truck was my go-to place for my morning coffee.  It was my secret for a short while. 
This is Sherlene, the school's cafeteria manager.  This amazing woman volunteered her vacation time to assist us in the shelter.  She also set up a cot in the kitchen where she would sleep because she worked long hours.  Until one day, sleeping on a cot became unbearable, so she then went home to sleep in her own oomfy bed.  She is the first person I would see in the morning.  She is also a wonderful singer.
After days and days of caring for the clients and tending to their needs, I one day found myself feeling so worn down, and my eyes were stinging from sun sensitivity.  I couldn't find my sunglasses the day before, and the sun shining in my eyes was becoming unbearable that I knew it would be unsafe to drive a vehicle, which I was doing a lot of the time.  The day we learned we would be going our separate ways, my body was telling me that this would be the perfect time to stop and go home to rest.  Being in constant physical motion for hours and days got the best of me.  
To not listen to my body would surely mean a lupus flare-up, and I didn't want to risk that.  I hadn't been so sick in a long time, and I don't want to go there again.  I have the autoimmune disease called lupus.  Thinking back, I remember someone asking me on Facebook if I was handling my pain well.  I appreciated that question, and I think I might have forgotten to reply to her.  Well, I have been home for four days now.  I am in constant touch with my team, and they are out there continuing to serve those affected by the floor. They are heroes forever, in my eyes.
The day after I returned home, I received a call from Cathy, Workforce Engagement Manager, with the Red Cross.  She said that I would be a perfect candidate for the Shelter Supervisors Workshop.  Linda H., throughout my deployment, frequently told me that, too. The San Diego chapter is gearing up for fire season, and there's that big earthquake that the world is talking about. I've always liked being in charge, and I feel this will be a perfect fit for me.  I just have to look like a disaster action team member.  I didn't have the proper T-shirts, polo shirts or vest to wear.  There wasn't enough time for me to acquire them.  Ugh, I looked very much like a newbie, I will be ready for the next call to action.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Under the Tuscan Sun: Looking for Bramasole

Like it or not, I am a total book and motion picture nerd.  Mix that with travel, and I become obsessed with having to see where that film was made or to find out what was that one thing that drove someone to write a novel that would become a classic or a cult favorite.

Before we left for Italy, I shared on Facebook that I couldn't wait to see the villa that inspired author Frances Mayes to write the book "Under the Tuscan Sun".  I had not yet read the book but I saw the movie numerous times.  Now that I'm home, I am finally reading the book. It is simply delicious!  I just couldn't get enough of all that was Italian in the film.  And Diane Lane, . . . who wouldn't wish they could be her for a day?  I'd already been to a few major cities in Italy and made jaunts into country towns, but I hadn't yet made it to the idyllic hill town of Cortona, which was tops on my list of places to visit for our end-of-summer holiday. I had to get to Cortona this year because the book "Under the Tuscan Sun" was celebrating 20 years since its publication in September 1996. The time was right to go back to Italy!

I was just getting over the three-day stomach flu when we left Assisi by car.  With my husband Gerry at the wheel and friend Ed at his side as navigator, we made our way to Cortona. Daisie and I sat in the back seat enjoying the views along the way.  Total eye-candy, those views!

Cortona sits on top of a hill about 1,968 feet above sea level.  It is the highest town we visited on this trip. This dominant position over the valley offers a spectacular view from all over the town of the surrounding valley and even Lake Trasimeno.   Before beginning our search of Bramasole (pronounced brah - mah - so - lay), we decided to take a look around the town for a place to have a very nice lunch.  We settled on the Ristorante al Cacciatore where I had a lovely pasta e Fagioli soup, perfect for my settling tummy.  With full stomachs, we did our last-minute souvenir shopping, then we were off to find Bramasole, which means "yearning for the sun".  On the way back to the car, I passed an art gallery which featured a movie poster of the film on its glass door. Cortona is known for many things ancient, Etruscan and modern, but its citizens love the attention the book and film have brought to their town, and they're basking in all its glory.  

Before leaving town, we went to the tourist information office of the Piazza Della Republika. I asked the concierge if given a choice, would she look for the house that was used in the "Under the Tuscan Sun" film, or look for the house that inspired the book. She said to skip the house used in the film.  It's ugly and there's nothing to see there.  Go to the real villa, she says.  Before leaving San Diego, I searched the internet.  Many "Under the Tuscan Sun" geeks said forget the real villa, go to the house from the movie. Others said otherwise. Well, just tell me how to get to both, and I'll decide when I'm in Cortona.  I choose to listen to the concierge, and she gives us a map of the town and driving directions to the Bramasole. She also said it's within walking distance but a portion of the trek is uphill.  I think, "no, thank you".  I just got my energy back from being sick.  I want my search to be easy. Driving there sounds better, and the map makes it easy, but it turned out not to be.  

Looking at the map, we follow the concierge's blue ink line from the parking lot, exiting the walled town, driving the road that hugs the ancient walls, and taking that road all the way around and further up into the mountain. At one point, Ed says to Gerry that he's driving into a one-way street so Gerry maneuvers a Y turn and gets back on the right road.  The concierge said if you pass the Eremo Le Celle, the sanctuary, you're going the right way. Follow the road up the hill and follow the signs to Hotel Cory's.  Pass it and stay left of the fork.  There is a small bar (cafe) at the apex of this fork. The road will take you downhill. Bramasole should be on our right.  You can't miss it, said the concierge.  It's a big pink house. Seekers say it's peachy pink.  I'll decide on the color when I get there.

We end up at the stop sign and nowhere to go but right.  Ahead of us is the most gorgeous landscape you ever saw.  Vineyards, rolling hills, orchards, farmhouses, cypresses, villas.  It was so dreamy.  Okay, snap out of it. We turned right and pulled into a parking lot in Torreon.  I approached an old man and asked, "Dove il Bramasole?".  He shrugs and raises both hands that say "What are you saying?".  So I repeat it in English. Gerry approaches and does his best to communicate with hand gestures.  Daisie and I see a jogger approaching our direction and I wonder if it would be cool to stop him and ask for directions. We decided it would not be okay to interrupt his rhythm because he was so focused on his running.  Then we see a couple walking the wide promenade toward us.  It is lined with trees on both sides, and their walk is very leisurely.  As they get closer, we approach them.  I say to the woman, "Scusi, parla Inglese?".  Please say yes.  Please say yes.  And the woman says, "Well, yes, I do." "Yes!  Thank you!", I say.  She laughed at us and said, "I know how you feel.  I've been there!".  

Meet Al and Kathy.  They're from Tampa, Florida and spend a few months in Cortona each year.  They had just flown in earlier that day and were out for an afternoon walk.  They own an apartment in the city center of Cortona which they rent out to tourists when they're not using it.  They set us straight on how to find the Bramasole, and that it's not far from where we're standing.  In fact, we can walk there from the parking lot.  Al says we would be interested to know that he shot the cover for Mayes' third book of the Tuscany series, "Every Day in Tuscany".  Get outta here!  I can't believe what I'm hearing!  He says he was taking digital photographs in the piazza years ago.  A stranger approached him and asked to see his photos.  Apparently, this stranger had ties to Mayes and the publishing world.  Before long, Al got a call from Mayes asking if he'd photograph the cover to her third book.  Wow, what are the chances of me meeting someone connected to one of my favorite authors?! This is wildly crazy, I'm thinking, and I am one starstruck, besotted woman.

In our conversation, Al continues with a story where Mayes had purchased a second home higher up in the mountains outside of Cortona in Monte Sant'Egidio.  Known as Fonte Delle Foglie, the Font of Leaves, the secluded stone pile was first built in the 13th century by "hermits who followed Saint Francis of Assisi." Mayes added a second structure to the 3.7-acre compound, which now has four bedrooms, a writing room, and ample entertaining space.  This home was the subject of the book mentioned above, "Every Day in Tuscany". Mayes no longer owns the home due to the fact that thieves had ransacked the home while she was away from the country.  She was heartbroken and had felt watching over two homes was too much work.  I found a photo of the stone villa on Pinterest.  What a beauty!

Do you want to know what Al says next?  He says that he and Kathy are frequent visitors to Villa Bramasole when Frances (uh-oh, we're on first-name basis now) is in town. Unfortunately, Frances won't be in Cortona for another couple of weeks.  Darn!  Our conversation lasted perhaps 20 minutes, but it's time I won't soon forget. Before going our separate ways, Al said to look for the terraces.  He was around when laborers and artisans were cleaning up the terraces of the Bramasole.  Kathy said you can't miss it because of its pink color.  So off we went in our car, backtracked and as we turned the corner, there it was to our left - the most magnificent rustic house and terraced garden I have ever seen. It's easy to see how we missed the house at first. It's partly hidden by stone walls and trees, and I wasn't expecting the house to be so high up on the hill.  It truly is a special place, and it gives me goosebumps to know that it stands near a Roman road and that there's a portion of an Etruscan wall in her enormous, terraced back yard.

We exited the car and began taking photos like crazy.  I took note of all the little details of Frances' property that eventually made its mark in the film, like the shrine in the stone wall and the shuttered windows.  The color of the house was not pink or peach, or peachy-pink. The color seemed to change depending on the direction from which I was looking.  It was like the stucco had a faux finish.  It went from pink to peach to gold to orange. Seeing a large amount of olive and fruit trees, and other plantings, I felt this villa was more of a farmhouse. The Bramasole is famous for its olive oil which has won numerous international competitions. It was surreal being at the Bramasole.  I thank God I got well enough in time to have this experience.  Being there was most definitely the high point of my vacation.  

The celestial stars were aligned that day and the gods that be said this was meant to happen.  Thank you, Frances, for taking me on this journey.