Sunday, July 31, 2005

Not in church

This is the cuppola of the duomo (cathedral) in Florence. The following is taken from the bell tower:

Yes, those are people up there! You can climb the 434 steps to the top of the cuppola. We did not. We climbed the 414 steps to the top of the bell tower (torre del campanella) where I did not die of cardiac arrest... amazingly.

One of the strange effects of going to Italy is how little spirituality I experienced in any of the houses of worship. It was as if we were in these medieval barns (to use Forster's term when describing Santa Croce) where people filed in and out, old artwork from some other age wheezed in our directions, but did not "call to our spirits." It was like walking among the dead.

The ceilings were high in these mammoth buildings, designed to make people feel tiny and the world of clergy and religion, big.

Some might argue that the goal was to make God big and awesome. In the old world, that may have been a worthy goal. Today, proximity speaks of power (witness the amazing nearness we feel to the globe through television, satellites, the Internet, telephones, radio...). We no longer want to be connected to someone invisible, big and far away. We are used to communication right here, right now.

The cathedral just doesn't fit our world any more. And apparently the Italians agree. My aunt says that she is the only one of her friends who goes to church regularly.

Last night, Jon and I watched a segment on CNN about a Protestant church of 30,000 in Houston. Let me repeat that number 30,000. They meet in what used to be an arena for the Houston Rockets!

Americans show our fettish for size by how many humans we can stuff into a building. We love being a part of the big event - the concert, basketball game, the political rally... why not church? And what do we do inside those buildings? We don't create glorious artwork to show us God. We hang big screen TVs all over the stadium so that the speaker is up close and personal with all 30,000 seats. Topics? Self-help using Christian tools. More personal connection on the grand scale. So American. :)

I'm not in church today. I haven't been for awhile. I don't really get the point any more.

I suppose I'm waiting for a sign... or an email would be fine too.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Happier Times

After the photo debacle, I thought I'd cheer myself up with happy memories of time with Jon.

Isn't he cute?

Dinner in Tuscany with well-aerated chianti.

Our little restaurant in San Gimignano

Our view

Dancing at an Italian sagra (outdoor style BBQ). This was my favorite night in Italy.

Okay, feeling a bit happier now... Time to get back to book writing.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

In Memorium of Photo-Journalist, Julie

It all started when I went on the junior year abroad in France. I bought a Pentax ME Super and loaded up 64 Kodachrome slide film for the experience. The first two weeks were spent in Paris and traveling through the Loire Valley visiting chateaux I would likely never visit again (and haven't). I took an entire roll of film, 36 pictures! 37, 38, 39, wait just how big is this roll anyway? I asked myself as we pulled into Grenoble.

Turned out it was a roll of 24 and it had never "caught" on the other side so my pictures didn't exist. Not a one.

I cried.

And never made that particular mistake again.

Since then, I've managed to make others.

We packed our wedding album in a trunk for storage in Morocco. The maid sloshed so much water near the base of the trunk that the back page of our album molded as did our wedding vows.

Two years later, I took several rolls of film in Morocco when Johannah was a wee thing of 12-20 months old and Noah was three... These were inadvertently packed in the hanging bag which was stolen at a Paris train station on the way back to the states. (This same bag happened to have my wedding dress in it too... I cried.)

When Jacob was born, I literally threw away all of his birth day (the official birth day, as in home birth) pictures into the trash. I did manage to dig them out of the dumpster before they were incinerated... but they were a bit worse for the wear.

That same year, we made a conscious effort to videotape our family life including the celebration that was Jacob's birth and discovered a year later that the audio was broken. All the family and friends who came to see us, mute as those old 1960s films. The trick or treat outing where Johannah charmed the neighborhood is silent. Johannah's chirpy two year old voice, lost to us.

I haven't had the heart to videotape ever since.

There are more stories of lost photos and memories... (I won't even wonder aloud here where all the family movies of my childhood went after the divorce...)

But today was the last straw.

I went to Costco to pick up my first four rolls of film from Italy only to discover that the film I had purchased at Costco (Kodak 800) must have been old and damaged. The photos are so grainy that they hardly resemble the experience at all. After a quick Google search, I discovered to my horror that Kodak 800 film is considered horse manure!

Why didn't I know that? Why didn't I think to look into it?

I feel sick.

I even had to pay for the crappy film and processing.

I won't even develop the other rolls because seeing the photos ruins my memories. Over 300 photos... totally worthless.

DON'T BUY KODAK 800! In fact, don't buy Kodak film at all, apparently. Everyone raves about Fuji (which is what I almost always use). I thought I was "upgrading" to Kodak. Throwing good money after bad.

Henceforth shall all photo duties belong to the digitales (Spanglish for my adorable "Hey, it's my turn with the digital camera" family members).

Goodbye Creative Memories. Hello Apple i-Photo books.

Friday, July 22, 2005

More Italy Slideshows

If you want to get a feel for some of our trip, Jon put together some gorgeous slide shows of our experiences.

Flickr Italy Slideshows


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Italians have great taste in music

They love U2! (And Bruce, apparently)

Imagine my surprise. I land in Italy with my U2 iPod poised for action. Suddenly, for no reason, it gets culture shock and won't play a single U2 song of the 418 that are loaded on that iPod. I was left with Bruce Springsteen and Sting (I have limited musical taste). And while those heavy hitters do satisfy, there is something about U2 in Europe that feels like the right choice, the right mood, tone, something. I was devastated. I wouldn't get to jog to "City of Blinding Lights" like I'd imagined it.

I feared the U2 DTs might endanger my joy in the trip...

How wrong I was! There is no escape from U2 in Italy. Italians are insane for this band.

Early in the trip, my son and I were walking on the "passagiatta" (the big boardwalk in Viareggio where locals promenade every evening) when he spotted a great little music store. As we entered the shop, what did we see? A huge tile cemented into the floor across the threshhold: U2 1990-2000 Greatest Hits (with the buffalos and everything). Right there! I knew these people were my kind of Italians.

We looked at the U2 selection of CDs and found that this shop had it all and more. In fact, there were all kinds of Live Concert CDs I had never seen before including a recording of the most recent Chicago show (three nights after I saw them in Chicago). Godfather Records... maybe. The recording is from the audience side so the quality isn't great. But hey! It's the concert and it rocks!

Everywhere we went (supermarkets, train stations, trips in the car with the radio) we heard U2 playing. I saw pictures of Bono and the boys too. And MTV in Italy played their music videos constantly.

At the end of our trip, sick of pizza and stuffed with pasta, we entered the "Italian food free-zone" called the Hard Rock Cafe (in Rome) kissing the ground as we entered - hamburgers! free refills on Coke! Heinz ketchup! waiters and menus in English! And what did my ears hear but the sweet strains of U2 filling the room! First rock video on the big screens all over the place. I melted.

HRC played U2 twice (and Bruce and Sting back to back as well - it was a night made for me). The Hard Rock Cafe has an illustrious history. It all began in London when two Americans created such a cool cafe that Eric Clapton asked them to hold him a special seat every time he came. In return, they asked him for a guitar. He handed it over to them and they mounted it on the wall.

The next week, another guitar arrived... from Pete Townsend. He included a note that said: "Mine is just as good as his." And so was born an international rock museum with 140 locations. Rock paraphenalia has been streaming in ever since.

Well guess what they have in Rome?

As we left, I noticed a glass case holding the following:

Yes, those are the famous Zoo TV flyglasses. I knelt, kissed the ground and shouted "Woo-hoo!"

As I stood, I noticed that right below this spectacular case, the Boss had created a special edition T-shirt with his signature and the all-important HRC logo (and Rome) on the back... Yes Bruce and Bono together in the HRC creating beautiful music. (I bought the T-shirt, naturally. Store clerks stopped me from prying the glasses out of the case and off the wall... those Italians are so irrational!)

On the back wall, Bono's visage acted as wallpaper, larger than life, with a mirror ball flashing squares of red across his face.


We made our purchases as Bono crooned "Walk On." And we exited as the Boss reminded us that we were "Born to Run."

So today I heard that U2 plans to video tape one of their Italy concerts (they'll be in Rome on Saturday night...) because Italians are such fanatics for the band. But of course. I already knew that.

U2 will record footage for a live DVD in Italy this evening, after the band decided the fans there were amongst their most fanatical.

The Irish rock heroes, who have been on their "Vertigo" world tour since March, filmed two shows at the Chicago United Center earlier this year.

Now they have confirmed that tonight's gig at the San Siro in Milan will also be shot, presumably to be cut with the other footage for a future live release.

Director Hamish Hamilton, who filmed U2's shows at Slane Castle on their "Elevation" world tour, will again be behind the lens for tonight's concert, alongside long-term video producer Ned O'Hanlon.

O'Hanlon told "The San Siro is an incredible place; it's just so dramatic from a filming point of view.

"One of the main reasons for coming to Milan is the Italian audience. Italian U2 fans are among the noisiest and most passionate U2 fans anywhere in the world."

He concluded: "We're expecting that they'll lift the roof of the stadium tonight!"

(c) Dotmusic, 2005.

We packed our bags our last night in Rome with MTV blaring in the background... You guessed it. They were playing a U2 video marathon.

Italy was great.

P.S. The Roman gods joined us for the trip home. My iPod suddenly recovered and I was able to access all my U2 for the return flight... Jet lag never sounded so good.

The romance of hanging laundry in Italy

Johannah took this picture of Cinqueterre (we all loved hanging laundry).

This is our laundry. We thought we'd get into the spirit of things.

Johannah and Liam.

This is our roof access. Pretty short and cool, eh? I asked Caitrin what her favorite memories of Italy were and hanging laundry on the roof rated up in the top five!

Three handsome devils on the roof.

Laundry on the roof makes you want to sing and dance. It's tres romantic!

More photos soon when I download all 600 from our digital camera. (And of course after I finish book six of the Harry Potter series... yesterday during dinner, my daughter read a chapter aloud to me to get me going so I'll FINISH it!)


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Ciao Bella!

Florence Lucca

We're back, in one piece, minus one piece of luggage (which we are assured will be returned to us this evening...).

Italy is a memory, but a bright, life-sized one that I'll hold in my heart until I'm gone. And while Italy itself is a gorgeous country filled with color, music, light and flavor, it was the joy of being a family that will stay with me even longer.

I am in love.

In love with our kids.

In love with my husband.

The two and a half weeks were spent all together with very few times where we split up. We played games, shared books, rode public transport all smooshed into too tiny spaces, hiked, made jokes, looked at world class art, were bored by too many churches from the 10th century, ate gelatto like there was only one scoop left, compared American pizza to Italian and voted for American, we snuggled and hugged, took photographs, danced in endless combinations of relatives, walked and talked, and played chess and cards.

The vacation was one long family love fest.

I am humbled. I wanted to bring my children to the world. Instead, the world brought them closer to me. Jon and I were in awe of how well they get along, how much fun we all can have together. It is the unexpected end result and it is why I'm in tears at this early jet-lagged hour.

I will miss my family, even as we live in the same house. That intensity of being that comes from shared travel, the togetherness of tiny apartment dwelling and the absence of TV, X box, five computers and the daily grind of work and school schedules cooperated to make our family time the high note of this trip.

Certainly, gelatto, ancient archways, Medieval towns, olive groves, the David, and Italian blue skies helped.

Oh and we spent a lot of money. That helped too.

But like the Mastercard commercials say: family time on vacation in Italy--priceless.

I'll share more soon with photos and reflections on specific parts of the trip. For now, I'm savoring the memory of being especially close to the six people I love more than anyone on earth.

Ciao Bella,


Friday, July 01, 2005

Off to Italy

Our family of seven leaves for Italy tomorrow. I'm not quite sure I believe it yet.

How does a family like ours get ready for such an extravagant learning adventure?

We scour tour guides, page through art books, craft scaled models of the colliseum, write lengthy reports about Nero, study St. Paul's travels and make our own pasta. We write iteneraries weeks ahead that we rehearse at dinner so everyone is prepared for the adventure of a lifetime. We study Latin and Italian and quote Dante to our friends. We perform mini operas and listen to Puccini...

Uh, well, some families might do that.

Not ours.

We wait until six weeks before we leave to buy a digital camera. We play with said camera, you know, to get familiar with how it works... and accidentally whack the lens on the side of a chair, rendering it immovably stuck. Camera sticks out its tongue and says, "Lens Error, freak!"

We rush ship the camera to the repair guys via mail throwing salt over our shoulders to get it back before we leave... phew—it returned, all working and smiley.

While the camera was on the blink, my van took a dive - both water and fuel pumps. Yes, this is the only vehicle large enough to take us to the airport. Yes, I was a tad worried last week when I had to add water to the radiator every time I stopped the car. I'm just glad my aunt in Italy says her rosary because the car konked on Sunday, giving us a full seven days for repairs... in Kentucky.

Fingers crossed: it's back and running.

Monday night, Jon and I got coffee at Barnes and Noble and cracked open the tour guide books (Rick Steves, who rocks so hard). Yes, that is the first time we opened them. And no, it's not because we're such expert travelers.

I got instantly overwhelmed - call the bank to tell them we will be using our credit cards? Money belts? Mosquito repellant? (Who knew that the mosquito population holds conventions in Tuscany?) Reservations for museums? Walking tours? All that art that I haven't studied in advance? All those gelatto shops?

Quick, get me some vino!

I made little notes in a small black book. I figure if the notes are small, so will the tasks be.

At least our Italian really took off this year. All seven can say with correct pronunciation "Ciao" and Andrea Bocelli.

And while I began reading about the Rennaissance in the fall with the hope that the kids would show how fantastic homeschooling is by being well educated about Italy, their minds wandered and they didn't care. But wow! The Civil Rights Movement in America. That was the ticket!

I can't plan these things! It took us three years to move from Ancient Greece to the Fall of Rome in homeschool. So obviously reading about the Rennaissance before traveling to Europe is an idiotic idea, right?

Off we go, with minimal preparation (though I managed to find coordinating earrings and chunky necklaces for that all important "look" - got my priorities down cold).

Plane departs tomorrow afternoon. Between now and then, we have a final performance for Johannah's Shakespeare camp in addition to all the household chores. Time to wash a million loads of shorts and t-shirts. Must leave underwear behind and forget a few toothbrushes. Still, we'll throw the whole thing together and head to the airport...

...assuming our cars are still running and the camera works and we have enough repellant to keep the skeeters at bay. :)

*It's time to say Goodbye


*That's an Andrea song quote, for those in the know.