Thursday, May 29, 2008


I have spent two days and perhaps ten hours with Dennis, Kristin's husband making the ultimate slide show of our pictures from last fall's trip to Europe. She and I met in Berlin, then visited my friend Angelika in Koenigstein followed by a tour of the Black Forest and Lake Konstanz, flew off to Rome where we met up with her sister Charlene, then Firenze and Siena and finally Venice. The total number of photos taken was just short of a googleplex. Some of them were actually good. But the best ones were human interest shots, I think. Those of you in the Bay Area will be able to see this magnum opus when you come to my send off party; no soft restraints will be used, just a continuous loop with loopy dialogue to comment on the locale since it may not always be obvious where we are. However, one of the funniest is herein attached for your amusement. Sage advice: make sure your camera is turned off before you stash it in your purse.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Texas Two Step

I visited Baytown Texas with my friend Elsie. We went to see her sister Corinne and husband Raymond. They picked us up at the airport and drove us to their condo. During the ride, Corinne directed Raymond to "git on this lane, Raymint, git on that one" and he obediently did so. I asked it they were church goers and was told they had a pretty good new preacher but he "preached real hard." I would be welcome to come along.
They lived in a tiny space in a complex with a view of the refineries that dominate Baytown and give it the look of a space station parking lot filled with alien vehicles. The air is thick with the smell of the refinery and so hot and humid that leaving the AC in the condo you feel like you have been hit in the chest with a wet pillow. Corinne (Co-rene) took us to Galveston to see the beach. They let cars drive on the beach and the waves are no higher that 6 or 8 inches and warm as bath water. Quite different from your basic California beach experience. On the way home we stopped at a roadside stand to buy shrimp: the place was completely timed in bright yellow and blue with at least ten different sizes of shrimp. We boiled up the whole mess and threw it on the table to shell and eat. They were utterly delicious!
The next night was Saturday and we wanted to go listen to music so they treated us to the local dance scene. A huge space the size of two bowling alleys had only one of the three band stands occupied. We four sat at a tiny table with beers. Raymint finally danced with Elsie. While they were on the floor, Co-rene confided "Raymint, he cain't dance. I got to lead 'im." Then one of the locals asked me to dance: a tip of his stetson and "would y'all like to dance, ma'am?" A huge guy with a belt buckle the size of a football and high heeled cowboy boots. It was like dancing with Ferdinand the Bull, as he huffed and puffed and led me around in the Texas Two-step. More quiet waiting and then Raymint finally asked me to dance. And he could dance like Fred Astair!!! At the end of our trip around, he did a dip!! Imagine being married for 35 years and missing that.
On Sunday we went to church. It was a single story brick structure sprawling around a huge grassy lot near a woods. The place was jammed! They had 200+ children in the Sunday school! Standees lined the walls. And of course the preacher preached "real hard" and actually thumped the bible several times. I didn't follow the intense sermon which seemed to bounce randomly around the old testament, and the assemblage was quiet and solemn when I was hoping for enthusiasm and affirmations. But the whole trip was a visit to another planet and a true adventure.

Memorial Day

I am not a fan of Memorial Day. I always thought that the celebration of dead soldiers only led to more of them. I admit I liked having someone put flags on the graves of relatives many of whom served (Navy, Cavalry and proto Mash units). But today I heard a very nice Memorial Day story on NPR: it seems that a French woman has created an organization that is dedicated solely to decorating the graves of the American war dead near the D-Day beaches in Normandy. They come from all over France on Memorial Day to tidy and place flowers and flags on the graves in the American Cemetary at Colleville-sur-mer. The founder was interviewed. Her lovely French-accented English described how the group does their work and sends photos of the graves to the relatives in the states, many of whom are too old or distant to visit. But the part that made me really feel the sense of the day was the comments of a man who travels all the way from Paris to this place to remember the Americans and what they did and died for in 1944. He said "Excuse me for speak French. I never forget them. I thank them for their sacrifice. God bless America." Then they played the Star Spangled Banner and he choked up and made me cry. As a frequent traveler to Europe, I have never really encountered bias against me as an individual, but America as an institution gets a lot of gas lately. How reassuring that ordinary people still remember the things we did a long time ago that were so important and so hard.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Finding an Apartment

After two trips to the Italian consulate in SF, it was made clear that if I wanted a extended visa, I would have to have a rental contract for the period of my stay. I had learned from the lame website - needs a lotta help!- that I would have to provide my own health insurance and show sufficient income. I had almost everything in hand the first time I visited. The visa official looked at my stuff and asked about my income statement:
"This is your annual income?" With the rent from my house it looked fairly substantial.
"Are you married?" I thought he was deciding if it would cover two people.
"No, I'm a widow."
"Will you marry me?" he asked.
"Of course!" says I.
But then the rental thingy arose.
"You must have a rental contract for the whole period." Period.

So, I spent many hours searching for a standard rental on the web. Most of the available places were tourism sites with weekly rentals in the thousands. And all furnished, which I don't need since I want to cadge some stuff for myself. And nobody answered the e-mails I sent. And the phone numbers were often "not obtainable". And lots of them had been photographed with a fisheye lens, making assertions about space very unreliable. So I finally decided I had to make a trip for the sole purpose of renting something. I left on a Monday, arrived late on Tuesday and bright and early the next morning arrived at an agency that seemed to have the best selection. Nobody home. Finally arriving an hour late, the minder sent me away until 11 or 11.30 when the important people would arrive. When they showed up, we made arrangements to see two the next day, Thursday. Plus a spot offered by a friend of a friend, that made three. But minutes before the appointment the next day, the agency pushed it off to Friday and eliminated one!! Now we're looking at Friday afternoon and I am leaving on Monday AM. After a loud and animated conversation with these clowns, I pulled out all the stops and called everyone I knew to see what was possible. A second hand reference led me to a sweet aussie gal who showed me one that day: between Ponte Vecchio and Piazza Signoria, in the middle of the tourist parade, with a two burner imitation kitchen. Nope. But the promise of Friday was something in Piazza Santo Spirito, just where I wanted to be. On Friday at noon the agency dude, Aldo - all is forgiven! - showed me a nice place with a terrace, the holy grail of Firenze housing. Then Pza Santo Spirito. A big portone, wide stairs (think groceries in a carrello), a foyer, a dining room, large living room, a brand new kitchen, and a decent bedroom at the far end of the place away from the noisy (so what, I'm gonna be deaf eventually) piazza and two (2!!) frescoed ceilings. Crappy furniture a twin beds but I can do my own thing there. Took me all of ten minutes to decide: "I'll take it" Not more expensive than the others, but a fabulous place. Room for hardy visitors. A kitchen with an oven = eggplant parmigiano. Right over a cafe = morning coffee in seconds. Walking distance from Palazzo Pitti. Yea.
But then a mad rush before banks close to get the cash needed. Taxi to Citi branch, but whoa, they've been sold to Banco Di Roma THAT DAY! So more mad dashing to American Express for a huge cash advance, just in time to meet the landlady and aussie agent at 6. Signed and sealed by aperativo time. Actually had a whole day of down time before getting delivered to the Pisa bus and then the airport and the plane to JKF and luckily an upgrade from NY to SF and on the next Thursday, my application went in and yesterday Voila! a visa for one year!

What's the cat's table?

Last September I was in Venice and decided to take a boat ride up a river called the Brenta. This is the route that the upper crust took to escape the evils of hot summers in Venice; think malaria, typhoid, cholera. They built wonderful country homes along the edge of the river. This is the stomping grounds of the famous Palladio so the cruise offers lots of lovely vistas. I sat near a charming woman from Austria and we exchanged stories of grown-up ladies en voyage. Come lunchtime, the "organizer" , one of the least organized organizers I've encountered, seated us all at various tables in the restaurant where we stopped. I was offered a solo seat right in front of the kitchen doors. This is the classic spot for unaccompanied women "of a certain age" (=middle or better): it's the least desireable table in any restaurant because of the noise, the rather unsightly view and the likelyhood of being ignored by the waiters. I have been relegated to this spot in restaurants from China to Italy and everywhere in between. Do they think I'm deaf? Or an embarassment? Or likely to drop food on the floor? I never accept this spot! In the establishment nearest my home in California, when I objected, the snippy teenager who tried to stuff me in this spot basically left me standing in the middle of the dining room while she "checked" with someone about whether I would be allowed to sit with the grownups. In this case, I said no grazie and sat with my Austrian chum. She told me that in Austria, this location is called the cat's table most likely for its snacking opportunities. I decided to name my blog after this view of life: choice morsels dropped by the traffic of life, with a side of crabby observations from an occasionally invisible critic. Very cat like.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Moving to Italy

In March, I decided to move to Firenze. Sometime in the middle of the month, it occurred to me that I wanted to be there, not here. I asked a friend if he would go into business with me and he said yes and so it seemed to be a good idea. Then I wrote to my family with a-z reasons why and it seemed like an even better idea. (ex post facto reasoning is my favorite kind) Here's what I said:
I want to try living here. My financial situation means I will need additional income within a few years at minimum. I have avoided a regular job because it would curtail my traveling. I have been trying to find a way to do business with/in Italy for at least 4 years. People have suggested that I open a bed and breakfast based on my ability to cook and entertain and make them comfortable. One friend actually suggested that I could be helpful in showing him how to prepare his family home to become a bed and breakfast. I think I have found the perfect partner, someone who has experience and knows the territory. I have a good group of friends there, supportive and experienced in business. I stayed in California for my grandchildren but now they live a long plane ride away. That wouldn't change but I might be able to lure them to Italy. I have a lifelong goal to be fluent in Italian and it isn't happening in CA. I was offered work teaching English and giving tours to tourists three times in two days. There are many Italian American families who have shown interest in having someone to supplement the English taught in Italian schools as well as improving the language level of the parents. I am well qualified to do this. Life is short.
So my plan was:
1. Return to US (but a week late) home on the 8th instead of the 1st.
2. Rent the house for enough to at least cover the costs of this move, possibly for income.
3. Return to Firenze bag and baggage between August 10th and September 1st to stay for the at least a full year.
4. Organize my self (lawyers, accountants, stockbrokers, feng shui experts, and possibly wizzards) towards a business plan including a partnership to advance the plan of opening a bed and breakfast sometime after a year or sooner if things work out.
5. See the doctor, cut my hair, have my head examined, sell my car, put a lot of stuff in storage, work on the garden to get ready for the wedding, take Allison to France, visit Mineral King, attend Music Weekend, pack, blog, fly. So far everything is falling into place.