The Other Side of the Ocean

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

New York – my second home for the year 

[This was written on the flight out of NY this afternoon]

Today, I checked out the place where I’ll be spending not a small number of days this year. I have no complaints – it’s a nice contrast to the slower-paced, quiet neighborhood in Madison.

Recently, someone pointed out to me that I should consider myself more of a New Yorker than a Varsovian, since I have lived an equal number of years in both, but with some of those Warsaw years being awfully young ones, thus hardly memorable. Nonetheless, I am hesitant. How can I say that I am of hardy peasant stock and a New Yorker at the same time? And my adolescence – that was completely spent in Warsaw. You are from the place of your first great adolescent love, aren’t you? Mine resided in Warsaw.

Okay, so I’m not a New Yorker. But I do like the city and I especially like that in my new ‘home’ I can look out and see this:
posted by nina, 8/31/2004 07:22:18 PM | link | (0) comments

patio view Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/31/2004 07:21:37 PM | link | (0) comments
…and I can walk out of the high rise…
posted by nina, 8/31/2004 07:19:46 PM | link | (0) comments

home, one-third way up Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/31/2004 03:40:42 PM | link | (0) comments
...and see this:
posted by nina, 8/31/2004 03:38:34 PM | link | (0) comments

each one unique... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/31/2004 03:37:39 PM | link | (0) comments
And around one corner, I can look down this avenue (Okay New Yorkers, go to it and guess which one!):
posted by nina, 8/31/2004 03:35:18 PM | link | (0) comments

a quick photo, before the on-coming cars kill me Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/31/2004 03:35:05 PM | link | (0) comments
...and on the other side of the block there is this:
posted by nina, 8/31/2004 03:27:04 PM | link | (0) comments

around the corner from my new, part-time home Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/31/2004 03:26:14 PM | link | (0) comments
BTW, on the commuter train ride from New Haven my bags were sniffed by dogs, and the trooper onboard had so many guns, sticks and cell phones that I can’t imagine he would possibly remember what was were.

Later, as my cab pulled up to the tollgate at the Triborough Bridge (en route to La Guardia), I took out my digital camera to review the handful of photos I had taken in New York. The toll guard instantly demanded that I put away my camera during the ride over the bridge, for security reasons. Then, in a lovely tone reserved for the naïve, first-time-in-NY tourist he asked me “is this your first visit to New York ma’am? Did you have a good time in the big city?” I said yes to both with what I hope was a big, wide-eyed look, and a swipe through my hair to catch, you know, those remaining wisps of hay from back home in Wisconsin. New Yorkers, knock it off! You’re way too smug.
posted by nina, 8/31/2004 03:21:51 PM | link | (0) comments

Blogger dinner comment (written in transit, in Detroit) 

In my previous post, I fretted about what to feed the bloggers who are to dine at my place this Thursday. Thanks, all, for the suggestions. Yes, yes, surely there’ll be something Italian. Obviously. I’m all about Italian food at the moment. But I also appreciated the tip from the one reader who wrote: “Scrambled eggs, tea and toast. That's what my mother made for me when I was sick and cranky and fussy and wouldn't eat normal food.” A clever plan. If I lose my creative impulse, I should just reach for the eggs. But is that going to be problem-free? Can’t you just see a blogger nose turned up at eggs that are too runny or too hard or too fried or too something? And I know for a fact that one of the bloggers hates tea. NOTHING is easy anymore.
posted by nina, 8/31/2004 03:02:12 PM | link | (0) comments

Monday, August 30, 2004

A blogger dinner – coming up! 

If you cook dinner for people, you want them to be into the food and so in anticipation of a blogger dinner at my house later this week, I polled the bloggers about their food preferences.

At first, I got a timid “just about anything is fine!”-type response. But take note of what happens once just one person reports a preference (To protect the bloggers, I’ll refer to them as P, Q & R):

P writes “I'm pretty flexible, but I hate two foods: coconut and scallops. Hating coconut is a childhood article of faith. That scallops are vile is an adult realization.”

Q contributes, ever so kindly: “You are unlikely to serve the things that I don't like, like clams on the half shell. I tried them once and it took over 24 hours to get that vomit-inducing taste out of my mouth. Cook whatever you want. I don't have many food restrictions and you are a good cook. You'd probably make lima beans taste good to me.”

R pipes up: “My hated food list is short, and P has already named one at/near the top: coconut. But also: squash; beets; anything with even a nanogram of coffee flavoring; green tea ice cream. Just typing all those in such short succession has caused me to shudder. Otherwise, and except for the whole pescatarian thing, I'm quite flexible.”


P responds and I concur, that R seems to be dissing seafood. R clarifies that this is not the case. No meat, but critters that swim appear to be fine.

However, all this food-talk has unleashed Q, who now says: “I just want to add that I hate coconut too. I like most fish and *some* [nc: emphasis added] shellfish. And I love red meat. Please, no brussel sprouts, peas or okra. But, really, make whatever you like. [nc:?????!!!!!] Would it be too much trouble to make separate meals for me, P and R?”

P summarizes this exchange nicely: “This thread seems like the lyrics to a Stephen Sondheim song or "Yes, I remember it well." The refrain is all about how you can make what you want and we're flexible, we'll eat anything, but the verses keeps listing of all the various things we don't like.”

Okay, readers, tell me, what should I make for this “flexible” group of bloggers? I’m just a wee-little cook, trying to keep her diners happy. Ah well, I asked for it. I really did want to know.
posted by nina, 8/30/2004 04:43:35 PM | link | (0) comments

A last look at New Haven…for the time being 

I’m biding my time here, waiting to switch briefly to New York and then to hustle back to Madison tomorrow, in time for the beginning of the Fall semester (did anyone besides me think classes started on Wednesday?).

I’ve been coming to New Haven twice a year – end of August and mid-October, for some six years now. I’m a fan. New Haven, though technically smaller than Madison (NH pop = 120, 000, split evenly between different racial groups), feels like a city. Consider these scenes. City, through and through.
posted by nina, 8/30/2004 04:15:08 PM | link | (0) comments

the hot dog stand, a crowded dowtown, is anything missing? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/30/2004 04:14:58 PM | link | (0) comments

so much "city" in this place: brownstones, no yards, great walking possibilities Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/30/2004 04:13:35 PM | link | (0) comments
Today I took a break to roam the Italian neighborhood which is somewhat removed from the campus and the downtown area. It isn’t large, but it has a great deal of ethnic pride. It may be one of the few places left where Columbus Day still is a big deal. Did I mention the cookies already?
posted by nina, 8/30/2004 04:06:19 PM | link | (0) comments

Little Italy, New Haven style Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/30/2004 04:05:43 PM | link | (0) comments

From Libby's Italian bakery: so good to snack on... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/30/2004 04:04:34 PM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, August 29, 2004

A hot day toward the tail end of the summer 

I’m still on the East Coast, reading about the protest march in NY, but staying put in Connecticut, not having the time to do much beyond helping others move (my back retaliated against my blog put-down of laughter as the cure-all and is now acting finicky again, but there are things to do and one can not be wimpy about one’s infirmities).

I did note the summer jazz festival on the New Haven Green last night. It was loud and filled with townspeople who set up blankets for the evening of music, much in the way that Madisonians set up blankets for summer Concerts on the Square. [The analogy ends here. The event could not have been more different in all respects.]

IT WAS REALLY LOUD MUSIC! Isaac Hayes was the guest artist and he certainly drew the crowds.

In truth, it was an insane mixture of happenings. On the one hand, a thousand parent-types lugged bookshelves (no, I do not know why Yale does not provide bookshelves in dorm rooms, it makes absolutely no sense to me) and boxes and milled around campus, while the “band played on” on the Green, with the rowdy townfolk having the time of their lives. I wish I could replay the night. I wish I had spent more time milling around the Green, watching the hundreds and hundreds of families enjoy the free night of music. I was past lugging shelves by then, but my pernicious back made me retire early. But not so early that I would miss the exuberance, the smells of grilled foods, the sticky feel of melting popsicles and rousing sounds coming from the speakers on the Green.
posted by nina, 8/29/2004 06:27:22 PM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, August 28, 2004

What’s New Haven like? 

1. It is like Florence. It has too many one way streets that lead you astray, so that if you go down a block to check out curbside parking and there isn’t an open spot, you may as well reconcile yourself to a thirty minute detour just to get back to the same block again. The city is best explored without a car.
posted by nina, 8/28/2004 05:12:48 PM | link | (0) comments

So many stop lights! Sometimes, the wait forces you to look up and admire what's around you. The baloons are there to welcome in the new academic year. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/28/2004 05:06:26 PM | link | (0) comments
2. It is like any University City, USA. Strip it of the university and you would have a cone without the ice cream, a shell without its inhabitant, a lake without water… you get the point. Is it an unhappy alliance? I wouldn’t say so. More like a love-hate, push-pull affair. When I lived in Hyde Park, home to the University of Chicago, it was push & hate all the way. Here, it depends whom you’re talking to at what time in the day. I find New Havenites generally a friendly bunch, unreasonably so, considering how much they can be left out of the university powerhouse.
posted by nina, 8/28/2004 05:03:45 PM | link | (0) comments

If you're not inspired to learn in this setting, then hang it up Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/28/2004 05:02:26 PM | link | (0) comments
3. It is like Little Italy, NY. This is, after all, the outpost for many an Italian immigrant family. Aside from the great pizza, you’ll find bakeries with those terrific Italian cookies that aren’t too sweet and that make every coffee break a sensual experience.

posted by nina, 8/28/2004 05:00:39 PM | link | (0) comments

One of the many, many excellent pies -- this one appeasing the mushroom lovers and the pepperoni nuts Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/28/2004 05:00:06 PM | link | (0) comments
4. It is like every urban center in the States: its commercial periphery is too vast, too abundant, too cluttered, too heavily trafficked. Consider this: yesterday, I needed to purchase a small coffee maker – a simple machine that would brew small quantities of the caffeinated beverage. I could now list you 100 places within a ten mile radius that sell them, from Walmart, to Linens and Things, Walgreens, Sam’s Club, etc etc. Why do we need so many stores?

5. It is an ocean port without any visible sign of the ocean. I can be here for five days and never see any body of water. But sea gulls are everywhere.

6. It is like New York City – overflowing with a great number of mid-range eateries (and like NY, it has an abundant upper range as well, but I’ll pass on that). There are more excellent (typically ethnic) restaurants within a 10 block range than I have ever seen anywhere (5 terrific Thai places alone to choose from, 3 Indian, several Ethiopian, Malaysian, etc etc).

7. It is like the island of Fiji in that it is in love with pure (bottled) Fiji water. I personally do not understand why one must go half way across the earth to find water suitable to sell in New Haven, but there you have it: you want bottled water, you have to buy the Fiji stuff.

posted by nina, 8/28/2004 04:56:35 PM | link | (0) comments

the hottest selling water in town Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/28/2004 04:55:44 PM | link | (0) comments
8. It is not like Madison. As I said earlier, it’s farmers market is inferior to ours. Two stalls, open Saturdays from 9 ‘til 12. It is interesting, though, to come and shop. You have to wait patiently as customers take out their “Connecticut Produce” coupons (I am guessing that these are a form of “food stamps”) and give them to the farmer and then together they select foods that will fill the, say, $12 ration. Those waiting (me for instance), give enthusiastic advice as to what might be a good next choice, and the farmers generously throw in over and beyond what the coupon might buy. For $12, the shopper walks away with a large supply of produce. At the Madison market, $12 wont go very far.
posted by nina, 8/28/2004 04:52:46 PM | link | (0) comments

New Haven farmers market: stall number one Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/28/2004 04:51:50 PM | link | (0) comments

New Haven farmers' market: stall number 2. Don't scroll further -- it ends here. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/28/2004 04:50:56 PM | link | (0) comments

Friday, August 27, 2004

Conversation with a holistic-medicine type (“hmt”) 

HMT: So, I hear your back kind of whacked out yesterday?
nc: Yes! Suddenly, for no good reason, just hours before I was to do my good deed of helping people move in New Haven, I did one of those maneuvers that resulted in a lower back pain that grew and grew until it became so monumental that I could not walk without a grimace. Let alone sit. And movement from one to the other was impossible.

HMT: A shame. A ruined trip then, no?
nc: No! What’s a sprained back? Why should that stand in the way of moving, lifting, painting, heaving, etc.?

HMT: There are therapies you could consider…
nc: The thing is, the excruciating pain was intensifying, intensifying and then, someone said something profoundly funny at breakfast and I laughed and laughed and then… well, slowly but surely the pain abated. Somewhat. It was a turning point.

HMT: Totally! You experienced a holistic moment of recovery. Good vibes, flowing from your brain, triggered by the laughter lead to a recovery. Are you a believer now in the power of positive thought processes?
nc: No. Sorry, come back again with something more convincing.
posted by nina, 8/27/2004 06:12:14 PM | link | (0) comments

Give us this day our daily news 

Does anyone read USA Today outside of their hotel room, while traveling?

Headline from this morning: “I am not going to come in second” says president Bush. Fearless confidence.

Does anyone read the New Haven Register outside of a handful of New Havenites?

Headline from this morning: “Surprise, Surprise.” This is not a reference to anything of a political nature but to Davenport and Capriati upsets this week in a women’s tennis tournament that is taking place in New Haven at the moment. There has been some famous-player-spotting in the elevator of my hotel, but I am oblivious to it all having absolutely no genetic material that would predispose me toward having the ability to match faces in real life with those seen in media sources. If some such ability had been required as part of the SAT/GRE/LSAT testing process I would have never made it into academia, even at the level of “student.”

Does anyone read buried stories in the NYT that speak lavishly and exuberantly about Gore Vidal and Ravello?

Probably not. But they should. In the article, we read that Gore Vidal is selling his house in Ravello because his infirmities do not permit him easy access to the main piazza, where people congregate daily. I would agree that it is impossible to omit this from your Ravello routines and I, too, would sell rather than be reminded on a daily basis that this great joy is no longer available to me.

What is also interesting in the article is Vidal’s reference to his own book collection. He claims that books require him to purchase elaborate, expansive homes – otherwise he’d live in a one-bedroom flat. At last count, he had some 8,000 books.

I have never counted the books that are in my house (back in Madison) and so I do not know if 8,000 is a huge and excessive amount or just a moderately large collection. Do others count their books? Do you? I would imagine throwing around such (potentially) large numbers during dinner conversation would buy some status, but is this reason enough to engage in the act of counting? Do you start on the day you move to your very first pad and then simply add to the tally each time you make a new purchase? Or, at some point, when you’ve observed to yourself “wow, I have a lot of books,” do you hire a counter? Or maybe this is a goal that you set early in life. In your youth, you say to yourself “I will some day have two children, a steady income and 8,000 books. And I will never come in second!”

I belong to those that have thrown away moldy books and given away titles that I will never ever open again in my life. But now I’m having regrets. I feel like I’ve thrown away bragging rights to what could have been a significant topic of conversation during otherwise slow-moving dinner conversations. Ah well, at some point someone is bound to then ask --"and how many of those have you actually read, cover to cover?" Best not to get into that.
posted by nina, 8/27/2004 06:55:53 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, August 26, 2004


Taking a cab from La Guardia Airport to Grand Central Station in NY gave me a ride with a cabbie who had twenty years of driving behind him and plenty of comments to offer, with just a little bit of prodding on my part. He was of Haitian descent and had a stellar accent that made me think of the Caribbean islands. He complained about the Convention taking business away from cab drivers (so much of the city is shut down to traffic starting tomorrow). But he would not, even after my best efforts at persistent (naggish, in fact) questioning, reveal whom he was going to vote for in the forthcoming elections (I did tell him his tip would remain the same, no matter whom he supported).

Taking a cab from Union Station in New Haven to the hotel (wireless!!) again put me in the front seat with a cabbie from Haiti. This man was younger and quieter and I decided the ride would be too short to engage him in much of anything. However, when the radio news person proclaimed that Kerry had just challenged Bush to a weekly debate in the time period between now and the elections, my cabbie burst out laughing. This was an opportunity to dig in and prod. Will he support the incumbent? Nooooo, Bush, according to him, made a fatal mistake by going into Iraq. The economy didn’t come into play at all in our brief discussion. It was all about the troubles brought on by the war.

No cab scheduled for tomorrow. A shame – some of the best stories come from these rides.
posted by nina, 8/26/2004 08:30:26 PM | link | (0) comments

The night before I fly off seems to be forever tagged as – karaoke night 

I was told that there were no fewer than 9 bloggers at the Karaoke Kid tonight. I went not because I had the time, nor because I needed to sing my brains out, not for any reason at all but to watch the talented and the talentless join forces to create something special: a feeling of community.

I truly do enjoy watching people come together in this way. But it means a late night for me, followed by an even later hour of packing in order to catch the early (and I mean EARLY) flight to La Guardia.
Worth it? Yes, always.
posted by nina, 8/26/2004 12:23:19 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

When was the last time you played ping pong? 

I commented yesterday on Poland’s preoccupation with TV airing of the ping pong elimination rounds during of the 1996 Summer Olympics. I may have been blind to the nuance of that programming decision: today in the IHT (here) one can read about China’s current ping pong diplomacy with Hong Kong. Perhaps airing ping pong matches between China and other countries had political import 8 years ago; perhaps it spoke to alignments between Poland and the mainland Chinese government ? Let’s not forget about the political motivation behind Olympic TV favoritism.

Ping pong diplomacy is itself an odd concept, at least to those of us who cannot fathom the sending of teams across state lines to coax support for strategic governmental action. We’ll send political candidates to kiss babies and eat Wisconsin cheese, but ping pong teams -- that’s just too out of our league. Though we did engage in ping pong diplomacy with China some years back, I think one has to write this off as an odd moment in American history. I don’t think people even have ping pong tables in their garages anymore, as they did in “Leave it to Beaver” days. Ping pong definitely seems to be one of those sports (along with perhaps badminton or archery) that has failed to catch the American imagination. We prefer watching burly men piling in heaps in pursuit of a ball that isn’t even round in shape (see, I DO understand football!). None of this clicking of a little ball against a table surface. How wimpy is that.
posted by nina, 8/25/2004 10:12:22 AM | link | (0) comments

I think another trip is in order 

It’s not that I am restless, oh no. Who would ever accuse me of that? I can stay put, in the same way that an old person can after they’ve decided they’ve seen the world and it doesn’t measure up to the comfy mattress back home. Really, I am capable of not leaving Madison for months at a time. [Blogger honesty kicks in here:] Make that weeks – certainly being stationary for weeks is quite possible for me.

But this is not such a time. Tomorrow I am off to the East Coast, to do my good deed of the year (helping another – no, make that one, two, perhaps even three others – move boxes and furniture up and down countless steps). For the most part I’ll be in New Haven – the city that struggles with a high unemployment rate, but still manages to maintain the highest concentration of free WiFi cafes anywhere. It will be the first trip I will have taken where blogging should not present technical challenges. I say this with some trepidation because I know that with computers, something always goes wrong when you least expect it to.

In addition to blogger nirvana, I expect to find the following: better weather (come on Wisconsin, this summer you were one wet noodle weather-wise; get it together!); better pizza (New Haven has the single best pizzeria this side of the Atlantic – not that I tried them all, but others have backed me up on this); more people sporting that tense, furrowed-brow look (which is visibly absent in Wisconsin because life, for the most part, is less stressful here); fewer mosquitoes (what do they want to hang out in CT for when they have wet and green WI?); and no farmer’s market to speak of (they can’t even fake it: two stalls and they call it market – what a laugh).

I’m running ahead of myself. Today is still all about wet, buggy, but beautiful nonetheless, Wisconsin. Hey, I’m loyal.
posted by nina, 8/25/2004 06:51:34 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Game theory 

As anyone will tell you, I am so, so far from being a spectator sport nut that I can’t even brag about my ignorance because it is too embarrassing. Football mystifies me (both what goes on on the field and why people are watching). Baseball is only a notch above soap operas. Basketball looks like it ought to be fun but somehow, for me, it isn’t.

All this is puzzling since many would regard me as moderately athletic. I like sports. I’m not especially talented at many but I have done a lot in my life. I have even rowed for the UW crew team (that would be the University of Warsaw!) and I have considered amateur downhill racing one especially gratifying skiing season back in New England.

So what’s with sports watching?

Ann blogged (here) how she disliked watching team sports. I am with her on that, even though I have no good reason for my disfavor. In fact, you’d think I’d be the type to appreciate watching a team join together in the pursuit of excellence. But no. What I love to watch (and this spills over into non-athletic domains as well) is individual excellence. And so, indeed, I make a sports exception: I am an Olympic nut.

Summer Olympics, however, have been a cruel presence. With one exception (Australia, in September), they are always…. in the summer. Since I am often chasing my European roots then, I have been forced to look at the games through Italian eyes twice in the last dozen years, and through Polish eyes once. It’s been a nightmare. The Poles (up until this year where I am sure they are obsessing about their medalist swimmer) seem keen on airing the flight of the ping pong ball: back and forth and back and forth, through endless elimination rounds. The Italians – well, they get so PASSIONATE about all things Italian. The medals are rare, but when they come, the craze level rises to such heights that you might as well give up thinking that you’ll see anything but the repeat of the speed walker, over and over again, until the next medal is awarded, sometime in the future.

I should also say that being in Europe does trump watching the Olympics and so for me, the summer games get shortchanged. But come winter, two years from now -- that's when I can really indulge this little love of mine. Nothing distracts me in February. [I have no kind words to offer about February in Wisconsin.] Once, every four years, the world comes alive through athletic competition during that dullest of all months.

But for now, I can just catch the tail end of an event. Here and there, by myself. It’s not the way it was meant to be. A boisterous crowd of like-minded people would be preferable, but one takes what one can get – in this case, a private moment, late at night, relishing the victory of some very talented individual, wherever she or he may come from.
posted by nina, 8/24/2004 08:27:25 PM | link | (0) comments

Gee but it’s great to be back home… 

Ah, were that but true! No one enjoys transitions from vacation to work and so I should not use this blog as an opportunity to reiterate truths repeated the world over – it was better, tastier, sunnier, funner, on vacation, it is dreary, lonely, dismal, frantic, etc etc now that I am home.

What do I miss most? What would I love to import back here? Not the olive oil or porcini mushrooms or the perpetual sunshine or the sense of history. It’s all grand, but what I would pay millions to bring with me here is this: the ready and willing attitude of friends and strangers to stop nearly anything and everything to have a conversation with you. Curiosity, coupled with a desire to share thoughts and insights, no matter how trivial. Early in the morning, late into the night. The natural, easy sociability, in chance encounters, sure, but especially among friends.

On a more optimistic note, I am HAPPY to see the likes of WiFi again. Two weeks of Italian dial-up blogging (without a phone line during one) has exhausted me. But it did convince me that I am dedicated to the blogging enterprise, regardless of technical obstacles, time pressures, readership issues (I canceled my tracking registry and I refuse to add comments so that I never know who is reading unless I get email notes and comments; thanks for those good words last week –you know who you are!!) and in spite of my perpetual thematic ambivalence.

The blog has survived a curious sort of summer. Lets hope the blogger pulls herself up to speed as well, and with alacrity.
posted by nina, 8/24/2004 07:57:50 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Buon giorno, ciao, etc. 

Leaving Italy

What do I end with? A recap of the last dinner at a place that is possibly an all-around favorite of favorites, where the 70+ year old chef paces through the tiny dining room and tells anyone who’ll listen what they’re eating and where the recipe comes from? A description of that one last walk, past swimmers in the Arno, past the best gelateria ever (too many flavors! I forgot to have the cioccolato-arancia and the frutti di bosco!), up up on the Michelangiolo hill, from where you can see the edges of the city, and all bridges lined up before you? No time for these musings.. a few photos and I’m off.

posted by nina, 8/22/2004 11:59:34 PM | link | (0) comments

"lawn signs" everywhere Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/22/2004 11:57:48 PM | link | (0) comments

perpetual temptation Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/22/2004 11:53:39 PM | link | (0) comments

people will swim in anything, including the Arno Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/22/2004 11:53:34 PM | link | (0) comments

the bridges of Florence Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/22/2004 11:50:31 PM | link | (0) comments

Il giorno comincia (a day begins...) 

Sunday Morning

Last night I proved once and for all that Atkins and I are not on the same wavelength. Limit the carbs? Are you kidding? Dinner was at a wonderful little place where you can order for your first course just “pasta.” The waiter will then bring you not one, but five different pasta preparations, in succession, so that after you’ve stuffed yourself with gnocchi con radicchio, you are given rotini garganzola, followed by spaghetti and eggplant, fusili with roasted peppers and conche with creamy zucchini. Then, as you sit there wondering if it’s appropriate to loosen any kind of attire that is suddenly tight around your girth, they bring out the grilled foods – steaks, or fish for the fussy fussy types who can’t appreciate a good Tuscan piece of meat (or an omelet for the real wimps, but I saw none of those).


This is my last day in Florence, in Italy, on this side of the ocean.
Predictably, then, there has to be an early morning walk and I mean early – like before sunrise. I don’t understand how travelers can resist this part of the day – it is stunningly beautiful. The streets are empty. Policemen and old, old people (who themselves cannot sleep and are therefore out and about) talk to you. [One elderly man, after asking the usual where are you from and how do you like Florence yada yada, told me that he really appreciated the American war effort – against the Germans during World War II.] It is a time where the streets are stripped of noise and traffic. A time when I am not distracted by anything or anyone. It’s just me, my camera and the handful of others who wake before the light becomes too intense.


Hey, if you rise before dawn and roll into bed after midnight, is that even healthy? When is the “getting rest” part?
Later. Lots of years for rest ahead.

You are such a show-off! Early risers have this “holier than thou” demeanor that is quite annoying!
They are “holier than thou.”

You think you got it all figured out? Did you even notice that there are more typos in your Italian posts than pigeons on San Marco? That photos are out or sync with the text? That one photo appears twice? That words repeat themselves as if the English language provided no alternatives? That dates are confusing and posts are partly in English, partly in misspelled Italian and partly in French (“tu es kuku” for instance)?
All that is true. I did not proof anything. My electrical plug got butchered, my battery kept dying and, most significantly, I never once got a speedy Internet connection. It’s all been dial-up, typically thanks to someone’s kindness. You want editing perfection? Go read other UW prof blogs. You’re not going to find it here, especially not in Italy. Ahhh, but there has been so much other “perfection” in each day! That, in essence, has been Italy for me – a blend of the irregular and the sublime.

posted by nina, 8/22/2004 02:55:35 AM | link | (0) comments

Looking around his shoulder to see if anyone's coming? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/22/2004 02:50:22 AM | link | (0) comments

Early morning caravan across the Piazza della Signoria Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/22/2004 02:49:30 AM | link | (0) comments

The Uffizi was bombed once already in recent years; there are plenty of polizia around now, even in the early morning hours Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/22/2004 02:43:26 AM | link | (0) comments

Ponte Vecchio: before the daily stampede Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/22/2004 02:37:58 AM | link | (0) comments

Shutters always closed -- to the night, then to the sun. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/22/2004 02:37:16 AM | link | (0) comments

From the XIIIc. tower of this simple "bed & breakfast," you can see this. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/22/2004 02:34:54 AM | link | (0) comments well as our little room, opening up to its rooftop garden Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/22/2004 02:33:41 AM | link | (0) comments

In the still of the morning, the river, the bridge, at peace with each other (remember the floods of some forty years back?). Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/22/2004 02:31:06 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Now that’s Italian! 


In Assissi there are churches of every shape and hew: pink, yellow, striped, you name it. It is, in fact, a gorgeous little town, fresh and clean and restored (especially following the 1997 earthquake), ready to accept the pilgrimage of those in search of the St. Francis aura (and his remains) that is so evident in everything from the souvenirs to the frescoes on the thirteenth century church walls.

There is also a lovely little piazza where you can, after a cultural-artistic indulgence, sit back and contemplate the wonders of a peach and blueberry gelato. If you run out of cash, you can hop over to the ATM machine, slip your visa card right inside, get a printed receipt documenting your 250 E withdrawal (cash flows fast and loose when you’re vacationing) and wait and wait and wait… and watch the cash NOT emerge. What then?

I tried banging on the (closed for the day) bank door only to wake the lethargic guard who then fetched the signora in charge who reassured me that indeed, the international line hadn’t been working and so they weren’t able to pay out the 250 E. But, prego! I have the receipt showing that my account has been debited by this amount! A famous Italian shrug. Alright, alright, let’s negotiate the Italian way. Signora, I am going to go back to the US this Monday and I will surely find that I have $300 less in my account. Then what? Ah, she tells me, then my bank will write to her bank and they will straighten it all out.

Now I am not dumb. I know that the young teller in the little branch bank on the corner of Gammon and Mineral Point in Madison Wisconsin already got confused when I asked her to forward the down payment for the farmhouse rental. No way is she going to know how to get in touch with the non-English speaking signora in Assissi to straighten anything out. But I am told not to worry – the transaction probably never really happened! Paper? What’s a piece of paper? Go ahead, try it again, it’ll work this time!And so I did, and it worked and I am running on hope that she is right about the failed first transaction and that I will never have to do business with the bank in Assissi again. But you never know.
posted by nina, 8/21/2004 11:50:18 AM | link | (0) comments

Assissi: the less serious, blueberry and peach moments Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/21/2004 11:49:02 AM | link | (0) comments

Assissi: up one street, down the next, a noteworthy church around every corner. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/21/2004 11:44:12 AM | link | (0) comments

Highlights from this afternoon:

* Sitting absolutely still on the highway to Florence (the week in Umbria ended today), then moving back to the 100 miles per hour normal cruising speed, then sitting still again. For no good reason.

* Arriving in Florence and not getting lost in the maze of one-way streets.

* Discussing what is more important in a hotel room in Florence, the inside, or the outside? The inside, in my opinion, can be very simple if the outside opens up onto your own terrace with a view like this:
posted by nina, 8/21/2004 11:40:29 AM | link | (0) comments

Florence: a room in an ancinet house, but with a patio. Now if it only had WiFi... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/21/2004 11:38:01 AM | link | (0) comments
Finding a phone line in your own room that allows you to connect a computer is pretty amazing as well. But I am only in Florence for two days and so time is precious. More later. Maybe.
posted by nina, 8/21/2004 11:33:08 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, August 20, 2004

A day in Umbrian hill towns 

Thursday, continued

Climbing up the Campanile of San Fortunato in Todi is one of those things that you feel you must do because you’re there and it’s there and it only costs 1.5 Euro. The view? Sure, it’s fantastic, but the views here are magnificent from every vantage point in this place. Having made the climb, I feel compelled to post a photo.
posted by nina, 8/20/2004 05:21:50 AM | link | (0) comments

Halfway up, a pause for a photo. Todi is at the very top of a large hill, so this puts me nearly at the top of the top Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/20/2004 05:20:49 AM | link | (0) comments

below the bell tower, a shop with...junk or antiques? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/20/2004 05:19:01 AM | link | (0) comments
-->I came to appreciate how few tourists there are in Todi when I went elsewhere in the afternoon*. In Todi, you hear nothing but Italian on the streets and in the restaurants. In the morning, the women and men congregate for their shot of espresso or cappuccino at the cafés and you can tell they are regulars – they get their drinks and pastries without having to put in a request. The shop-keepers speak only Italian. And they do you favors – in the way that people do favors in small towns that haven’t yet been worn out by the incessant demands made by visitors (like me!). The person in my favorite breakfast pastry place gave me some of their Illy coffee because I could not find any in town and I have a thing for it. And as I leave, they wont just say politely “buon giorno,” they’ll say “buon giorno, arivederci, ciao!” And (grazie!!) they’ll let me use their phone so that I can make my local call and collect to the Internet.

* Orvieto has perhaps the finest XV c. cathedral in Italy and so it deserved an afternoon visit. It also has perhaps the largest number of shops per square foot in any of the hill towns. And, not a small number of tourists. The most interesting were the religious groups – nuns staring at the ceiling frescoes of the chapel with such reverence that it almost made me jealous. To me, the figures depicted in stone and on the walls were a reminder of how grotesque and graphic the Biblical stories became for artists of previous centuries. Consider the scene from a detail of the church pillar (below). Apparently it served as a warning that hell, brimming with snakes and reptiles, was ready and waiting for the immoral townspeople.
posted by nina, 8/20/2004 05:16:16 AM | link | (0) comments

suddenly, turning the corner, you come face to face with the Duomo Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/20/2004 05:15:39 AM | link | (0) comments


row after row of suffering mortals Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/20/2004 05:13:03 AM | link | (0) comments
* Okay, this little gem of a village (see photo below) has even fewer tourist. It lies at the foot of the Todi hill. The bridge is over the Tiber River. But forget the nice approach, it’s the name that gets me every time as I drive in to pick up my morning bakery treats.
posted by nina, 8/20/2004 05:12:46 AM | link | (0) comments

Just saying it out loud makes you smile Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/20/2004 05:11:18 AM | link | (0) comments

these breakfasts give just the right kick to the start of the day Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/20/2004 05:09:41 AM | link | (0) comments
An evening at La Mulinella

At 8:30 the sun is gone but it’s not yet dark. La Mulinella is outside of town, on a side road, hard to find. Tables are scattered on a graveled surface, underneath a huge shade-giving tree. A large number are set for large parties of ten or twelve. These are just starting to be filled with several generations of diners. The youngest are around three or four, the oldest – in the late seventies perhaps.

No one orders, but dishes with food start coming right away. Pitchers of wine are placed on the table, plates of crostini are set out at both ends. Eventually the pasta dishes arrive, then plates of grilled meats, roasted vegetables, and so it continues.

When I get ready to leave two, three hours later, I notice that the others are all still there. The younger children have moved to the laps of grandfathers, the somewhat older boys are leaning on the shoulders of their fathers, held there in a loose embrace, some restless little ones have wondered off to other parts of the garden. Bowls of tiramisu are at the table. It’s dark now, but no one is in a hurry.

La Mulinella is irresistible*. I ate there twice and each time the menu was the same but the food came out just a bit different, depending on what was available, what the kitchen wanted to put out. I took just one photo – of a first course: home-made gnocchi with an aromatic mushroom sauce. I can guarantee that it will be one of the first dishes I’ll try to recreate back home, though I know it’s hopeless. La Mulinella gets it exactly right for a million reasons, only some of them having anything to do with the preparation of this dish.
posted by nina, 8/20/2004 05:06:08 AM | link | (0) comments

homemade gnocchi for starters Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/20/2004 05:04:21 AM | link | (0) comments
* One of the charming things that the restaurant does is that it rounds DOWN the total on the check. So that if a (four-course, with plenty of house wine and numerous bottle of fizzy water) meal for four rang up at 104 Euro (which it did), they will cross out the total and write 100 E on the bill. It is just one of the endearing little habits that the waiters engage in to make your evening there pleasant.
posted by nina, 8/20/2004 05:01:39 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Far’ niente (the art of doing nothing) 


If I had exactly 24 hours in Ravello, how would I spend it?
Doing nothing. It is a town that invites exactly that. In the past, I tried hiking but it is treacherous. I’ve looked at the “sights” but they are minimal. Even sleeping a regular cycle is a waste of time because it cuts into your “doing nothing in the evening” time and your doing not much in the morning” hours.

True, eating a meal figures into this mentality. In fact, if truth be told, much of the impetus for this little sojourn could be found in the recollection of a past perfect dinner here (at the family-run Villa Maria, where one can also stay overnight). It was simple: a pasta, a grilled fish and a dessert. But each component, infused with herbs and lemons from the garden, is near-perfect. And the setting – yes, on a terrace, suspended over the northern shore of the coastline.
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:23:01 AM | link | (0) comments

evening: a slow dinner on the terrace Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:22:15 AM | link | (0) comments

scialiatelli: a thick noodle that I can only have in the States if I make it myself Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:19:47 AM | link | (0) comments

inside the souffle: half lemon, half chocolate Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:17:57 AM | link | (0) comments
After the meal, it is time to move yourself to the main square, for several late hours of “doing nothing” there. Children chase each other, young adults flirt outrageously, older types stand or sit in groups talking with the animation you’d normally have only if you’d been locked in isolation for the past two months. It is a glorious way to spend the late hours of the evening.

Breakfast is, of course, leisurely. Same terrace, with views, this time, over the bay in the pink morning light. Lemon marmalade is made from the monster lemons grown in this region. They have a special taste – tart and sweet at the same time.
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:15:53 AM | link | (0) comments

a pink morning: view from the breakfast terrace Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:15:10 AM | link | (0) comments

breakfast with lemon jam Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:13:28 AM | link | (0) comments

a lemon transaction Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:12:54 AM | link | (0) comments
I admit to breaking from the routine then and taking a brief stroll up the winding streets of Ravello. True, it required some exertion, but I admit to having a hard time shedding my “do something” routines. Passing through the center of town (which, btw is closed to traffic) you come across the ceramics of the region (Ravello is known to have the best ceramic shops in the country).
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:11:48 AM | link | (0) comments

the lemon motif, in yellows and blues Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:09:59 AM | link | (0) comments
I moved up into “alto Ravello,” where an occasional vineyard crops into sight, always framed by the spectacular coastal scenery.
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:09:40 AM | link | (0) comments

vineyards and views Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:08:33 AM | link | (0) comments

back alleys, upper Ravello Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:07:11 AM | link | (0) comments
But eventually I come to my senses and remember that I am out of step with my surroundings. Thus I retire back to the square, where I sit at one café, eating a prolonged lunch, then switch to another, on the other side, for a café and a gelato. There you have it, a Ravello 24 hours.
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:04:07 AM | link | (0) comments

La casa e tutto… (home is everything) 


Returning to Umbria and the farmhouse feels like coming home after a vacation. I could do without the 3-centimeter scorpion inside and the snake outside (both apparently harmless; how reassuring), but still, it is so beautiful that one can forgive these little imperfections.

In the morning, I take my sunrise walk and am again greeted with the cheerful grin of the sunflower. Several kilometers down the road I turn the corner and find this view of the distant Todi. But it’s the fourth photo from the ones below that brings the agricultural elements of the region together for me: sunflowers, vineyards and olive groves.

posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:03:22 AM | link | (0) comments

a cheerful greeting Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:02:24 AM | link | (0) comments

Todi (in the distance) at sunrise Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 06:00:13 AM | link | (0) comments

morning walk: fields, forests, flowers Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 05:58:17 AM | link | (0) comments

Umbrian trilogy: olives, sunflowers and vineyards Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/19/2004 05:56:13 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

I Sacrifice and continued ramblings of a blogger in Italy 

Monday notes:

Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. One can offer many explanations for this, but one accepted theory is that Italians feel themselves to be burdened with even just one child. Two seems overwhelming. More? As someone in the parking lot remarked yesterday – “ tu es kuku!”

And why is it such a burden? In part, because the Italians indulge their children – emotionally and financially, all the way through adulthood (forgive the generalizations, we’re talking trends here). It is common for parents to exchange stories about “i sacrifice” that they make on a daily basis for their offspring.

For a mere visitor, watching families out and about for the holidays is heartwarming. The affection flowing toward the youngster(s) is palpable. I haven’t the heart to photograph much of it, but my eyes always roam to the families out late at night with their very young children in the communal atmosphere of the main piazza. Find me a central town square on a warm summer night and I’ll show you a carnival-like atmosphere where children and adults cavort – there’s no better word for it – and unwind after the stresses (and the sacrifices) of the day. (The further south you go in Italy, the more the balance shifts from work to unwinding.)

If it’s Tuesday…

It is Tuesday. It must be Todi, correct?
No, not Todi.

Where is this post being written?

Ravello??? That’s nowhere near Todi. I thought you were in Umbria?
I am staying, for the most part in Umbria, except today I am in Ravello.

How far away is that?
About a five hour drive. It’s actually south of Rome, on the Amalfi coast. You can only get to it by taking your life in your hands and driving along a road meant for the width of a bicycle, perched high over a precipice that promises instant death if you steer a bit too sharply in the wrong direction.

Now why would anyone rent a farmhouse in Umbria and then leave it for a night in Ravello?
You have to experience Ravello to understand the logic behind it. Once you’ve been there you have only two choices: come back as soon as possible or die.

That’s rather dramatic, isn’t it?
That is, in essence, Ravello. I first came to the Amalfi coast when I was an adolescent. After seeing it, I thought I had experienced all that life has to offer. It’s a dramatic kind of place. I can’t give a better explanation than that.

So, you took a break from Umbria and Todi. At least you had the first few days in your Umbrian farmhouse, right?
Actually yesterday (Monday) I went to Rome.

To Rome??? And so you basically gave up on the farmhouse and Umbria?
No! Not at all. I went to Rome for the afternoon. Monday morning and evening time were in Todi, at the farmhouse. A morning walk in the Umbrian hills is one of the most beautiful experiences you can have. Rome, however, is a mere 80 minute train ride away. You can’t be that close and not want to hop over for a dose of city life.

What, you saw all of Rome in one afternoon?
I didn’t go to Rome to SEE it. For instance, almost two hours of the afternoon there were spent in a basement restaurant over lunch. Another hour was devoted to people-watching in the Piazza Navona – it’s surely the best place in the world to people-watch. And the fountains on the Square send chills up your spine.

It was chilly in Rome?
It was hot, sunny, breezy, sublime. After, I was in time for a late dinner (late by Madison standards, early by Mediterranean norms) back in Todi. Then, this morning (Tuesday), I drove the long stretch to Ravello and so here I am.

Okay, okay, tell it in photos! You’re literally begging to do so, go for it!


posted by nina, 8/17/2004 12:30:49 PM | link | (0) comments

Todi, Umbria (10 winding kilometers from the farmhouse) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/17/2004 12:30:41 PM | link | (0) comments

Yes, there is a farmhouse near Todi, Umbria. This is it. Home for the week. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/17/2004 12:27:37 PM | link | (0) comments

A morning walk after sunrise, around the corner from the framhouse Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/17/2004 12:25:53 PM | link | (0) comments

Morning walk: Umbrian honey in the making Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/17/2004 12:23:32 PM | link | (0) comments

MONDAY: ROME belongs to southern Italy. You can tell by the colors. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/17/2004 12:20:59 PM | link | (0) comments

MONDAY: ROME: your faithful blogger, who will think of the most devious ways to get to an Internet link, burdened here by technology, maps and who knows what else. [The hat is NOT mine! I'm keeping it safe for someone else.] Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/17/2004 12:18:02 PM | link | (0) comments

MONDAY: ROME: Piazza Navona, Bernini's fountain  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/17/2004 12:13:36 PM | link | (0) comments

ROME: Piazza Navona, same fountain, the second of "four continents" with a pigeon resting on his head Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/17/2004 12:09:34 PM | link | (0) comments

TUESDAY: photo taken from RAVELLO (which itself is perched high on the cliff), looking south Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/17/2004 12:06:24 PM | link | (0) comments

In RAVELLO, you can still find more Italians than vacationing non-Italians Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/17/2004 12:00:54 PM | link | (0) comments

insalata caprese: what has become a lunch favorite Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/17/2004 11:58:03 AM | link | (0) comments

chocolate, lemon and apricot, on a piazza, in the afternoon. Perfection. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/17/2004 11:55:40 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Com’e il tempo? (How IS the weather?) 


So warm, so sunny and today – so bright that I can see the distant Alps from the northern side of the Venetian islands.

Sadly, the Italian train that I am now on is not blogworthy. I was looking forward to a late departure, a broken ventilation system, the rambunctious discussions amongst fellow passengers – all common experiences from the past, but instead, our world has become so homogenized that even the Italian trains are running punctually and the lovely voice of the conductor tells us all to please keep our voices down to a subdued level. And the odd thing is that everyone is complying with the request.

In Florence, the “one way street” (all going the wrong way) capital of the world, I picked up the car that would serve as transport to and within Umbria. I’m not even going to list all the things that went wrong with that small portion of the day. But then, it’s all in the past, because indeed, I am writing this from Umbria.

Therefore (doubters of private Internet deals, relax!) there is a Bruno, and there is an Umbria, and there is a farmhouse, and there is even a farm of sorts since Bruno – an older guy with a ponytail – cultivates certified organic sunflowers. And, judging from the proliferation of plums on the premises – fruit trees as well.

I am onto my next internet challenge. How can a farmhouse accommodate a computer?

Answer: it cannot. There isn’t a phone jack, to say nothing of some fancy Ethernet or wi-fi connection. And the nearest town, Todi, is a winding-up-and-around-on-unpaved surfaces 15 minute drive away. For today, I am stumped. Tomorrow is another blogger day.

(p.s. I begged someone off the street --literally--to let me use a phone line!)
posted by nina, 8/15/2004 09:11:21 AM | link | (0) comments

what else... organic sunflowers Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/15/2004 09:11:11 AM | link | (0) comments

I’ve been asked what the thrill is of going to a farmhouse, given that I live in such close proximity to the countryside back in Madison. To me, “renting a farmhouse in Umbria” is really a code name for an experience that I think tops most, if not all vacations. What are the essentials?

The farmhouse has to be relatively old, though comfortably modern inside (I am looking for visual appeal here, but I’m getting too used to an easy existence to call “roughing it” a vacation);

It has to be in a stunning setting – certainly hilly, with views, fields of crops of the type that postcards depict (sunflowers, vineyards, etc);

I t absolutely has to be close to a town or village where one can find at least one great but simple eatery where locals congregate to feast on regional cuisine;

That same town has to have a bit of history to tantalize the eye and the mind.

Todi represents all the above and it does so perfectly. Not many outside of Italy (including me until last year) have ever heard of this place. It is a perfectly preserved medieval hill town (the recent attention to “faithful preservation” is in part thanks to the fact that Todi is less than two hours from Rome and many rich artsy types use it as a summer and week-end retreat). It is stunningly beautiful, perched high above the surrounding fields of sunflowers and forests of old oak.

Enough touristy descriptions. I wanted to say that this morning, Todi delivered something equally important: breakfast.

posted by nina, 8/15/2004 09:06:58 AM | link | (0) comments

for one person?? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/15/2004 09:06:23 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, August 13, 2004

Per l’Amore di Dio! (Venetian classics and oddities) 

I'm looking back at the last 24 hours and ticking off the themes that are permanently linked, in my mind, to Venice.

What’s a Venetian classic? From last night, I can recall a bellini (prosecco + white peach coulis) before dinner.
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:41:07 PM | link | (0) comments

a bellini with Italian olives at the side.. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:38:17 PM | link | (0) comments
And what struck me as a peculiarity? for the love of God, taking your dog to church! True, occasionally there’ll be a sign posted, in the form of a puppy with a red slash through it. But I have seen dogs trottin’ down toward the altar (with owners, of course). These are not my churches nor religions, but doesn’t that just seem wrong?

Another classic, from this morning – sunrise over the lagoon. I got up again to see this. The back yard of the “professor’s house” (that is where we’re staying) stretches all the way to the lagoon and so it did not take me long to drag myself to the water’s edge. I was rewarded with this:
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:35:51 PM | link | (0) comments

a Venetian sunrise over the lagoon Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:32:36 PM | link | (0) comments
Peculiarities? I wonder why this person had use for so many cooking forms (they were drying on the window sill this morning)?
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:30:52 PM | link | (0) comments

must've been quite a party... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:29:04 PM | link | (0) comments
This morning I was sniffing out certain well-known art collections. Take note of the two horses out front, belonging to Peggy Guggenheim’s vast estate. Bold, beautiful, ready to leap into the Grand Canal.

What’s odd is that I have become crotchety. A young girl straddled one of them and would not get off. Okay, so they are a piece of art and the mother was standing by listlessly. But did it warrant my audible “thank you!” when the attendant asked her to get down?

Or, how about when I saw an older man using a camcorder in a church, even though the sign clearly indicated this was not permitted. Why did I walk by and mutter a “tut tut”? Next thing you know, I’ll be poking little tykes with a stick if they’re in my way and kicking dogs that are annoying.
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:28:18 PM | link | (0) comments

Peggy's garden horses Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:23:10 PM | link | (0) comments
Blueberry ice-cream with whipped cream at Nico’s, overlooking the Gudecca Canal – wonderful. But, am I scarfing down all these? Is that normal? (Answer: they were not all mine, I promise!)
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:21:40 PM | link | (0) comments

a mid-afternoon pick-me-up Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:20:32 PM | link | (0) comments
Nobody will deny that musicians can always pick up extra cash in Europe by playing on street corners. But what if you find yourself in Venice and you haven’t the musical competence to play anything well enough? You might try dancing, with a hat strategically placed for a donation.
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:18:16 PM | link | (0) comments

tango your way to cash Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:18:04 PM | link | (0) comments
These are an interesting addition to the souvenir stalls this year. When you see one in my office, you’ll know where it came from (actually they were made in Hungary; that's close enough).

posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:15:17 PM | link | (0) comments

they add color and playfulness to alleys, passages and campi Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:13:57 PM | link | (0) comments
On the last night in Venice, tradition has it that one should go to St. Mark’s, spend money on that last drink and listen to the music from the competing cafés. But in the last couple of years, at least some of the cafés have not been able to attract customers. Why? Because Venice is sinking and in portions of the greatest square on earth you are likely to see not so much people swaying to the music, but this:
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:11:12 PM | link | (0) comments

In places, the water at night is ankle-deep Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:10:33 PM | link | (0) comments
That’s too sad for a last post from here (tomorrow I leave for Umbria). I should end my Venice notes with a classic from today: a lonely gondola on the Grand Canal at sunset.
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:07:13 PM | link | (0) comments

Is he singing as he punts into the sunset? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/13/2004 06:05:38 PM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Avanti popolo! (Head forth into the second day in Venice) 

Venice in the afternoon is not the Venice of early morning or dusk. Thus, to me, it was worth rising at dawn to see the gentle colors, reflected, of course, in the still waters of the canals (and the empty spaces: you could not catch St. Mark’s looking this deserted otherwise).
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:39:47 PM | link | (0) comments

it's not a painting Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:37:55 PM | link | (0) comments

morning wash Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:36:02 PM | link | (0) comments

at dawn, there is hardly a soul... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:33:36 PM | link | (0) comments
You have to love the Italians for being so deliberately helpful or unhelpful, depending on their inclination. No one, absolutely no one at the hotel believed me when I said yesterday that the room had no electrical outlets. One by one, they came up to inspect and shake their head in amazement. Of course, you can’t rewire the place because I want to recharge my camera, but the theatrics of the parade were hilarious.

But I also remember last night’s dinner, where the owner kept pausing to chat because it was a slow night. He talked about how important it was for his grandfather to locate the restaurant close to the fish market way back when and how the menu has remained true to these nautical roots. Since I was incapable of deciding what to order, he came forth with a special plate of favorite selections, all arranged on a bed of arugula and raddichio.
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:30:37 PM | link | (0) comments

a simple setting for delicious food Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:29:34 PM | link | (0) comments
Early today I scooted over to the market – no forager obligations! How nice…
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:26:06 PM | link | (0) comments

ready for stuffing Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:25:12 PM | link | (0) comments

veggies of the Veneto Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:21:03 PM | link | (0) comments
Or, consider this morning. On a small side street of this neighborhood, a sculptor has set up a workshop. Out of fragments of 2000 year old stone found on Venetian islands, he chisels faces, true to images painted on ancient clay pots.

It was indeed love at first sight – with the man and his art. And, I loved the fact that he began his passion at the age of fifty (I’m only one year behind schedule in finding my own creative passion; no, the blog does not count; yes, I did start it when I was fifty; come on, I can do better than a blog!) – before, he had worked in monument restoration.

Yes, against great protest from within, I purchased something that weighs a ton but is so beautiful that I could not resist it. [Again, please do NOT tell me if you don’t find it so exceptionally striking.]
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:19:44 PM | link | (0) comments

okay, the photo doesn't do it justice Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:19:20 PM | link | (0) comments
Today’s walk was through a neighborhood that used to be a favorite. Now it’s somewhat gentrified – you can tell by the appearance of expensive locks on the perfectly painted doors. Still it has the beautiful colors of Venetian houses and it is also home to a favorite, fantastic, phenomenal pizza place – worth returning to as many times as is humanly possible.
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:17:45 PM | link | (0) comments

the best one has mushrooms and artichoke Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:14:52 PM | link | (0) comments

I need add nothing more here.. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:13:57 PM | link | (0) comments
Finally, I wanted to note the ubiquitous Venetian lawn sign of the year. What, no lawns? Will windows do?
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:09:03 PM | link | (0) comments

so many windows are displaying this banner! Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/12/2004 12:08:04 PM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Fa la nanna e la nanna faremo (go to sleep and then we can all go to sleep) 

Finally! Venice.

I am indeed sleepy and tired and jet-lagged; and today was my first day on the continent; and the computer hook up at the hotel is ... awful. Still, I can manage a few plain and basic words and a few photos from the day.

And I have to say that a memorable flight brought me here because, from the time of my first boarding of a commercial plane from Warsaw to Sofia in 1959 ‘til now, I have never had a woman pilot (and the captain of the crew no less). Never. Thus today, when I heard a female voice on the loudspeaker (this is on the Paris – Venice flight), I was sure that we were hearing from a flight attendant. Of course. Shame on me. AND NO, THAT'S NOT FUNNY --SHE DID NOT MISS THE RUNWAY! Obviously she was the best of the best.

The hotel I’m in was once the residence of a biology professor at Padua University (sigh, how times have changed!). The place is in a corner of Venice where there are almost no tourists. Venice is like that: it has the grand, the spectacular, the magnificent and eye-catching sights and vistas like this:
posted by nina, 8/11/2004 04:38:49 PM | link | (0) comments

It takes your breath away each time you see it Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/11/2004 04:37:40 PM | link | (0) comments

take out the gondola and croon to the tourists on the Grand Canal Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/11/2004 04:34:42 PM | link | (0) comments
…And then the gentle, subtle, everyday spaces like this:
posted by nina, 8/11/2004 04:31:19 PM | link | (0) comments

two older women next to colorful boats Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/11/2004 04:30:46 PM | link | (0) comments

around the corner from where I am staying... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/11/2004 04:27:43 PM | link | (0) comments
For me, there’s great joy in sitting for a long time contemplating the beauty of this:
posted by nina, 8/11/2004 04:24:58 PM | link | (0) comments

there's a chocolate flavor, a nutty one, and lots of whipped cream Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/11/2004 04:22:05 PM | link | (0) comments

the sun sets late, the dinners start even later... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/11/2004 04:17:31 PM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Pre-travel notes, part 5 

If there is another pre-travel post after this, then I will have missed my bus because I am dangerously close to the time when I should be ON the bus.

My overnight flight from Chicago lands me at CDG airport in Paris from where I surely will miss the connecting flight to Venice. Still, once on the continent, one can manipulate oneself over to the right place in no time. [As usual, I have an interesting array of transport systems ahead of me – from bus to planes to boat and eventually, later in the week, to train and then to car. Have I covered them all?]

This, then, is an announcement of a 24 hour lull in blogging. Most people worry about getting to their destinations in one piece, with suitcase in hand, more or less on schedule. Once there, they worry about getting into the new currency mode and not getting hopelessly lost in strange cities. Me, I worry about enabling my computer and finding a WiFi source and in the alternative, figuring out the local dial-up options. The Internet has taken over my soul!

Ocean” is officially in repose as I make my way over the bigger, bluer, wetter Ocean...
posted by nina, 8/10/2004 08:55:35 AM | link | (0) comments

Pre-travel notes, part 4 


Perhaps sane people would not have chosen to attend a karaoke event on the eve prior to their departure on an extended trip. But I could not resist. For one thing, there were 5 bloggers present. That’s virtually a blogger flood. Then, too, it was a sociology happening and even though I am no longer a sociologist per se, I feel a great attachment to the people in that discipline.

It is late and I am just hours away from my departure, but I have to put in a plug for the misaligned in my previous post Dorotha and JFW – they were the propelling forces behind the karaoke night and I don’t care how sinister and cool they want to appear, they were magnificent karaoke-ists.

So it was all worth it. Except that once home, I realized that I had left my camera back at the Karaoke Kid. I really don’t mind driving back and forth on a night like this, but jeez, can’t I ever be more in control of my possessions when the schedule gets tight?
posted by nina, 8/10/2004 01:11:16 AM | link | (0) comments

two out of the three here are known bloggers Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/10/2004 01:09:59 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, August 09, 2004

Pre-travel notes, part 3 

A poll

I do not have time to figure out how to set up a poll on the blog, so I will just ask: who here (except for Dorotha Harried, who, by her own admission, is aiming for a “cruel” label, read about it here, and JFW who, in comments to Ms. Harried, indicated that "cruel is awesome" and there’s no such thing as “too cruel”), okay, let me start again: who here would find it terrifically funny to hide my passport just to see how long before I convulse into a state of complete desperation and crippling apoplexy?

No one?See! I told you no one would find it funny. You are mud! You know who you are!

posted by nina, 8/09/2004 03:58:13 PM | link | (0) comments

Pre-travel notes, part 2 

Where is the "leisure" part?

Are there people who, on the day prior to a trip, leisurely sit in front of their closet and contemplate which little number to pack for that special special evening during the forthcoming vacation? Or is everyone scrunching sun-dresses into change purses and praying to God that the calamities calling for their immediate and undivided attention will at some point stop and they can start rummaging for important things like a passport? (Did I even check to see if the expiration date was July 2004 or July 2005? It’s one or the other, I’m absolutely certain of it).


I just got an email from my contact in Italy (we are renting a farmhouse from him) informing me that we are traveling to his place during a major holiday and so we can expect everything to be closed that day, including places to eat within a 1000 mile radius it seems. Cloyingly he asks – would I like him to place some of life’s essentials in our refrigerator for our arrival? And maybe ask a friend in town to possibly fit us in that night for a pizza or something?

Did I really forget that we will be making our way to Umbria on August 14th, the worst travel day of the year in Italy? Yes, I really forgot. [To my travel companions: ha ha ha, I regard the joke that we will be spending a week in ‘Slumbria’ as extremely funny. Ha ha ha. It happens to be an undiscovered paradise with great towns and villages within shooting distance. You’ll eat your words yet, all of you. I think.]

Thank you, Signore Bruno. Now if you could also assure me that you really do exist and you do have a farmhouse, that it is legitimate, that you didn’t just take the money and run to Corsica, and that the photos on the Net are those of your place and not some random neighbor’s – then I would feel so much more confident.

I am a trusting sort. Mostly, people making travel deals with me in far away places have not let me down. Mostly.
posted by nina, 8/09/2004 02:37:14 PM | link | (0) comments

Feed the company, starve the infant 

When I posted a photo of a demonstration last Saturday in support of breastfeeding, I noted that farmers were wondering where the issue was. At the time I thought that the protesters were referring to the old problem of promoting the use of formula in economically depressed nations. (In her blog post here, Ann suggested work place accommodation issues that would also justify the protest.) But no, I was wrong. Today’s reading of the Washington Post indicates that at least on the east coast, women are marching in front of Starbucks due to a recent incident whereby a woman nursing her infant was asked to cover herself while inside the café (read about it here). Not surprisingly, therefore, the protest I photographed was taking place right in front of our own Starbucks on the Square.

Starbucks does not have a national policy concerning nursing and so local coffee shops are free to establish guidelines concerning breast-exposure of nursing women. [It should be noted that some states do have laws that bar an establishment from prohibiting or restricting breastfeeding, but most do not and even where such laws exist, private businesses are often exempt from the mandate.]

I have to say that I am very glad that I did not know, back in the days when I nursed my own infants, that I could actually be asked to stop or leave the premises. It never struck me that this is something that anyone would want to restrict. In my experience, women are uniformly discreet in their nursing practices and one would really have to stare hard to get beyond the infant’s head and see even a fragment of the offending (!) piece of flesh. How strange (and sad) that the practice of nursing would be viewed as offensive and in violation of laws against indecent exposure!
posted by nina, 8/09/2004 08:27:16 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Pre-travel notes, part 1 


When taking off on my most recent international trip, I nearly missed the Van Galder bus to Chicago’s O’Hare. The chain of disastrous events that would have ensued as a result of this tardiness was of such great magnitude, that right then and there I promised myself I would never again commit the Folly of Treating the Day of Departure as a Normal Day. I would treat it as a day during which my one and only obligation will be to grab my belongings and speed over to the Union bus stop.

Therefore, packing, blogging, going to my office (forget past sins where I would pause there thinking that, after all, it’s so close to the Union and the bus doesn’t depart until 11:30 am… no no! wrong train of thought! No detours this time!) – all these would have to be done in advance.


Since I am leaving on Tuesday, logic has it that I should open my (new and spiffy) suitcase today and start packing.

But I don’t especially like packing. I regard it as a frustrating experience, one which spotlights my most shameful insecurities and weaknesses. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am not one to pack lots and lots of clothes for all weather options and social situations. In fact, I have been tempted sometimes to just take my summer sun dress (which should be called the beach-to-bar dress, because it is lovely and suitable for both) since I can literally roll it up into a ball and stuff it in my change purse and be done with the whole clothes issue.

Clothes are easy, especially in the summer time (traveling to Poland in December is another matter: if it’s warm, wooly and snuggly, I take it! I can never have enough of the warm and snuggly in those months). But it’s the THINGS that I must take now that drive me insane.

For instance, in the suitcase I must find room for:

books to read recreationally;
books about the historical significance of where I am heading;
books guiding me to the optimal eating establishments;
dictionary type-books;
papers proving my confirmed reservations (this is especially important when traveling to Italy. When hotel proprietors want to close down for le vacanze, they will do so and your only friend then is the piece of paper documenting their prior commitment to providing you with shelter – Italians are respectful of paper, preferably with an official stamp at the bottom, but any paper will do);
cameras (yes, this year it’s cameraS because there’s the big SLR and the little digital);
umbrellas (I’ll surely lose one along the way);
cosmetics (time to look presentable; after all, I’m leaving the borders of the most casual town in the world where people actually go for walks in torn t-shirts and gym shorts -- I’ve seen them!);
the computer (yes, certainly, of course);
sunglasses, extra reading glasses (an accoutrement of the ELDERLY, I am told);
maps (there’s car travel ahead);
laundry detergent (have to wash that beach-to-bar dress each night);
earphones (I have learned that my ears are not the same size as economy class French ears. The earphones on Air France should fit snugly in the ear canal, but for me, they do not. They pop out. Now, on the occasions that I have been upgraded by nice nice super nice Air France crew to business, or when a funding source that is not my own pocket is footing the business class ride, I have found Air France ear phones perfectly comfortable. I have concluded that my ears are thus closer in size and shape to wealthy French ears. This time, however, I am back there with the populace and so I must pack my own earphones);
a tote bag (does anyone besides me remember the agony of carrying portables each day in a torn Gap bag during my Japan travels in spring?)…

Alright, I’ve made my point. There is a lot of STUFF in that suitcase and it frustrates me no end that I may have only one spare dress rolled up in my change purse, yet still look like the classic traveler who has over-packed and is now lugging a heap of unnecessary clothing items all over the country.


I have to note also that I am not in agreement with the saying that “anticipation is even better than the trip itself.” Anticipation may be great after one has just returned from a vacation (my strongest urge to think about planning the next one comes on the return flight of the one in progress), but on the days just before travel, anticipation is tantamount to frantic and bizarre behavior where I run around doing a million odd things without my usual mental clarity or attention to detail.

When Anxiety Mounts…

I can retreat to blogging. I have tomorrow, after all. And if push comes to shove, I can crank in some last minute things into the morning of the departure.
posted by nina, 8/08/2004 05:36:49 PM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Return of the sweet green monster 

Time to replace the suitcase. My trusty dusty broke its handle in Asia and I need a new one. It has to be: light, not too expensive, NOT BLACK! If I see another 26 inch upright roll off the belt, to be snatched by a person who is not the TRUE OWNER , I’ll go mad (okay, okay, MADDER).

Today I found one! It’s green. A steely, almost light-toned green. And on sale. And XXLight. Wow! I’m in love with it, it is like getting a new backback at the beginning of the school year.

But but but, wait a minute. Nostalgia! I once had a green suitcase. I've gone through many 26 inch uprights in my life and I remember a green one some two suitcases ago. Wasn’t it the one that was once ridiculed at the airport (“sweetie, not that one, that one’s GREEN!”), lost and forgotten in some strike of European baggage handlers (now that Poland has a market economy, will baggage handlers strike there as well? During my visits? NO!)? Wasn’t it the one that refused to give up even though it was called the “skinny belonging to ninny?” (Oh, did I not admit that in grad school I was affectionately given the nickname of “ninny”? No, it was NOT a reflection of the smartness thing (see post yesterday). At least, I think not. I mean, would you really call a person with intellectual deficiencies a “ninny?” Of course not! You’d reserve the nickname for those who were thought to be truly BRILLIANT! (Chalk it up as additional evidence..) [btw, the “ninny” stuck. However, if you are a student, you are NOT ALLOWED TO CALL ME THAT EVER! Others? At your own risk.]

Suitcase purchased. Tomorrow, thoughts about packing begin.
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 08:45:20 PM | link | (0) comments

Wait, did we really have those lazy hazy crazy days this year? 

It is the last summer market for me (I will not be in Madison during the next three Saturdays) and so I foraged forever (this is in my “I’m wearing the L’Etoile hat now” capacity) just to get my fill (ten times around the Square, six hours total). Some of the farmers wont be back by the time I return to my buying in September. Kind of sad.

The question asked at each stand was the same: was there even a summer this year?

Ultimately, the market is, of course, all about food. Though I don’t know why I post pictures of potatoes and apricots and crab apples. It befuddles me too. I think, for me, the lure is in the color of it all. So many tones, so many fantastic tones!

Some people have blog rolls, here I go with my market food roll. Last week it was the bees and honey, this week it’s birds and milk. Milk?? Sure enough, today there was a demonstration in favor of breastmilk. As one farmer asked me – who here is against breastmilk??
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 07:59:20 PM | link | (0) comments

The very first local apricots. Of course they're from our state! Why not? Just because we had all rain and little sun this year? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 07:58:36 PM | link | (0) comments

what the heck is so special about a potato? At dawn, in gold, purple and red... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 07:56:21 PM | link | (0) comments

before the sweetly disposed apples come the crabby one Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 07:54:03 PM | link | (0) comments

getting in the mood for Italy Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 07:52:22 PM | link | (0) comments

Capitol Square: our own little St. Mark's-- and they're 'cleaner' than pigeons Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 07:51:36 PM | link | (0) comments

dried flowers are on display; already?? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 07:49:36 PM | link | (0) comments

is it time to buy these for winter use? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 07:47:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Was there a single person on the Square not in agreement with this protest march? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 07:43:45 PM | link | (0) comments

My political commitments are being challenged today 

At the closing luncheon for the Law School's Summer Program (a course of study for foreign attorneys), I spoke to one lawyer who was anxious to return to his home base in Venezuela. Under normal circumstances, he would have liked to stay in the States for a bit, but he tells me he wants to be back in time for next week’s referendum in order to put in his vote to oust the corrupt leadership in his country. I asked what the chances of a success are and he told me 60 – 40.

Would I fly back hurriedly, almost as if attending to a sick family member, simply to cast my vote where the odds where already strongly in favor of a win? Honestly, would I?

Maybe. If I were engaged enough, if the referendum or election significantly changed the political framework, if I wished desperately that damage from the past could be arrested, or even reversed...

Wait a minute. I think that now. I guess no matter where I am in the first week in November, it will be close to a polling booth.
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 12:16:44 AM | link | (0) comments

hey, I am NOT one of the students... I just snuck in on one of the group shots. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 12:14:55 AM | link | (0) comments

the women banded and bonded (wait, I see myself there!) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 12:13:00 AM | link | (0) comments

a last good-bye to an amazing group Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/07/2004 12:10:28 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, August 06, 2004

I dabble in twaddle? 

Dang it all, as if this week didn’t offer enough fretting and worrying to last me a lifetime, here’s a fragment of a message I just got from a prof I know:

Unless they're put in front of me, I do not read blogs as I tend to view them as self-indulgent twaddle.

Self-indulgent. Okay, I guess I just am. Throw me down the tunnel to hell’s doors, I indulge the self in my desire for a creative outlet, for a stab at good, honest writing, for friendship, for community, for all of that – I am guilty!!

But do I really twaddle?
posted by nina, 8/06/2004 05:41:09 PM | link | (0) comments

Some are born smart, some achieve smartness and some have smartness thrust upon them 

The thing about bloggers is that they have such wonderful “take me back to the old days” impulses. Here I am, posting about ancient dusty trunks and days when mail was gold (see earlier post), and fellow bloggers (here and here) are speculating about what can-should-could-might be used as measures of presidential candidates’ smartness.

Why is this a throw back to the old years? Why I remember this discussion! In my first year in law school, and my extended years putzin’ around graduate school, EVERYONE talked about who is and who is not smart. [Now there’s MY marker of smartness: anyone else ready to boast that they ‘wasted’ 6 years on graduate school, to walk away with an MA and an ABD – which, to my knowledge, is an unrecognized by the accreditation chiefs (who does decide these matters anyway?), useless credential – meaning something I can line my bookshelf with, if indeed I had a bookshelf since I may not be smart enough to READ books given my lackluster grad school credential-procurement record*. But I can post all this and remain unfazed because I KNOW I am brilliant. Basis for this? My parents told me! I don’t place much weight on a lot of their claims, but on this one assertion, I’m going to go out on a limb and stick with you, Mom and Dad!]

And let me throw out some more tailored-to-my-own needs markers of slam-dunk geniusness: I got into every law school I ever applied to (all of one)! And, hold on now, I’m on a roll --I was ranked in the 101 percentile for my TOEFL (the test for non-native speakers of English) scores! I swear! I have the paper to prove it! No, I do not understand what that means either unless perhaps, having passed 100 you are to retreat to the beginning, so it’s like back to square zero and one point into the game. But I got into all kinds of cool grad schools with it so it can’t be that dismal. Okay, I must qualify: I did NOT get into one grad school (it shall remain unmentioned – I hate the place! At least twelve students were preferred over ME! It pains me even now to recognize my inferiority) and at least one school on this short list of a mere five was NOT ranked high on the scale of intellectual coolness (has anyone ever even heard of Carleton University in Canada? I thought it might be fun to live up in Ottawa for a while. I had such interesting criteria of selection, ‘elite’ being conspicuously absent I guess.)

I’m digressing. Back to smartness. I love this! I feel young again! Carter was soooo smart, and Kerry – let’s tally up his smartness assets: hmm, there’s ‘Skull and Bones’ (Skull and Bones? My God, the man should be running for president!), BUT IS HE SMART??

Anyway, I wanted to join the discussion and be part of the blogger gang, so here I am with my very own post on whether or not Kerry is smart. My conclusion: YES HE IS! Basis? I don’t know, he just seems smart.

* Immediately after posting this I received the following email:

Client#: 266Email ID: nlcamic@wisc(dot)edu
Dear Sir/Maddam;From our records we understand that you are qualified in your profession andwe are going to offer you a 1 time offer. Our Univsersity can offer you a Pre-Qualified degree.To obtain your degree with valid transcripts follow this link: Sincerly;Pearlie IngramAdministration Office

I am not about degrees, guys! I'm like Kerry! I have a proven record already!
posted by nina, 8/06/2004 03:47:35 PM | link | (0) comments

These days the mail carrier brings only junk mail and bills 

This most definitely is a “how times have changed” type of a post. I feel I ought to be writing it from a rocking chair, positioned next to my steamer trunk of faded memories.

Because, in fact, I do have a large steamer trunk (see photo below) filled with letters from my young adult years --letters sent to me when I returned to live in the States to finish my studies here. Apparently, instead of attending to my studies, I attended to my correspondence because there are literally hundreds, possibly thousands of letters there, dated from the years 1973 – 1977 (end of college, beginning grad school – up until the point when I got married; the cessation of correspondence at that moment is in itself a sad statement about how we treat our friends at moments of transition.)

What should I do with them? I am typically not a keeper of paper. It overwhelms me – there is always too much of it and I can’t remember where and what most of it is. These days I throw out as much as I can. I think I can safely say that I do not regret having discarded 99% of all that is now decomposing in a landfill or being recycled into grocery bags.

But the trunk of letters is another matter. It holds all sorts of personalities in one heap of faded paper. There is a small stack from a good university friend who committed suicide shortly after writing me his last letter. I feel I ought not throw that stack away. And the rest?

It’s the entirety that has me stumped: I pick up any single letter (most are from friends in Poland and other distant places) and it is mildly amusing but not much more than that. Quite a number of my friends were, let’s face it, terrible letter writers. I always longed for the personal statements, the ones that contained some small inkling to what was on their minds, an idea, a revelation, a display of weakness, an uncertainty maybe. I know I asked probing questions that sought to elicit these kinds of musings.

But more often than not there would be chronological accounts of who did what and when, gossipy stories and, especially from men, lengthy descriptions of academic work.

Yet the entirety seems to me to be some kind of testament to the transition that I went through as I slowly relinquished my links to my Polish world and connected more and more to people on this side of the ocean.

And so I can’t get myself to simply put this all in ten garbage bags and lay it out with the trash come Wednesday. Still, all that faded paper, locked in a musty trunk…

[n.b.: Though almost all the letters are addressed to me, occasionally there will be an unsent letter written by me. I’m sure I was waiting a decent amount of time to send the next one and the next one. I had firm ideas about how one ought not respond immediately and with five letters to every one that came in. I have no doubt that I violated my own rule then, just like I violate it all the time now in email.]
posted by nina, 8/06/2004 10:55:59 AM | link | (0) comments

It sailed with me during my first entry into the NY harbor. Really. Kind of a classic way to begin life in the U.S. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/06/2004 10:54:02 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, August 05, 2004

…Off they go to find a broader point of view 

A reader was brilliantly quick at naming the song from yesterday’s post. This one (see post title) may be trickier (go ahead, guess). But it's so fitting!

I spent the better part of the afternoon with Lucy (this is not her real name and she does not read blogs). Lucy may as well be regarded as my alterego. So much of my everyday, I am sure, is odd to her. Just take our appearance: I come in a seersucker skirt to see her (I was in my office later and so it seemed fitting), she’s in purple cords. I haven’t a tattoo on any part of me, she has more tattoos on her arms than I would imagine possible. She is 16 years younger than me. She cooks dinners with a group of people, half of whom I know and they all are much like her and not at all like me, at least at the most basic level of presentation.

Lucy is an exceptionally smart person, though she doesn’t parade this. She studied philosophy and comparative literature, but she doesn’t throw either into the conversation much. Her best friend, Tom (not his name) is a brilliant comparative lit grad, and he is still younger – a mere 23 perhaps?

It may seem odd that Lucy and I are good friends, but we are. I met her when I was baking croissants at L’Etoile. At the time, she was the head baker there as she worked her way to complete her degree. Now she dabbles in cooking in a variety of places around town, most notably, helping Sofia run her East Johnson Street bakery and café (what – you haven’t been to Sofia’s? You are missing Madison’s gem).

There was a reason for today’s longish date with Lucy. She and Tom are heading for Europe this fall, just to get inspired, energized. They plan to roam there for some 3 months and want to meet up with me when I am in Poland in December. They are on a shoestring budget and so the idea of going to the mountain farmhouse I often speak of appeals to them. They wont mind the absence of indoor plumbing.

But I write now about Lucy for another reason. I sometimes wonder if by a hairpin turn, my life could have turned out to be as undefined as hers is now. Having moved between countries makes me a bit of chameleon—I adapt to wherever I am placed. Might I have wondered into a community where no one judges you by the presence or absence of tattoos? I am too wise about life’s trickery to reject the idea completely. It could have been me now, with bold patterns on my arms (Lucy did it with a friend, on an impulse) and a thousand dollars in my pocket to spend on three months in Europe.

I asked her, will she manage? She told me – “I’m taking my puppets with me. Maybe I’ll do shows to lure my way into the hearts of people we meet there.” I don’t think they need puppets. They ooze charm. They’ll manage just fine.
posted by nina, 8/05/2004 05:40:15 PM | link | (0) comments

True fame 

If in academia fame comes from a history of prolific writing and publishing, in the world of food it must come from having products named after you. I read that Capriole Goat Cheeses has named one of their cheeses after Odessa Piper of L’Etoile (read about it here). There’s also a farmer that has named a potato “the Odessa.” In the world of plants, true recognition of your growing talents comes when you have a flower bearing your signature. I know a Madison woman who has a daylily named in her honor.

I’m more likely to have a weed named after me at this point, as I seem to have cultivated them in abundance this summer. There’s a song floating around out there in CD land that was written in my honor, but “Nina” is conspicuously absent from its title so I suppose that doesn’t count. I have to be grateful with what I can get. So, thanks, JFW for at least giving my name Net recognition (here). I know it’s not quite a household word yet, but then neither is the Odessa potato.
posted by nina, 8/05/2004 10:08:05 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

How long ‘til my soul gets it right… 

The last Concert on the Square, a tough day, two wonderful young women who keep me going… (one of them pictured here, helping me along).

Nothing beats an endless drive where you are not the driver but your daughters take charge, with their lovely voices adding to the old tapes from years gone by.

Does anyone else recognize this: how long ‘til my soul gets it right? How long indeed…
posted by nina, 8/04/2004 11:45:35 PM | link | (0) comments

sometimes help comes from those who are younger than you Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/04/2004 11:44:39 PM | link | (0) comments

This day belongs with the trash bags that went out on garbage day 

Might it improve still? Please? Memorable moments from the a.m.:

* Getting up in the morning without much sleep under the belt. It was one of those nights where no one in the household slept. Maybe we had poisonous gasses leaking somewhere and our minds clicked into the self-preservation mode, I don’t know. Mainly, though, no one slept, me included;

* Finding that the first thing on my calendar was an early dental check up during which the hygienist kept telling me that she hated her job (it was only her first month of work, btw) and wished she lived in England;

* Learning from the dentist that some of the cheap dental work that I had done way way back in the years of poverty (grad school) was done incorrectly and there are many who would be oh so willing to fix things and start afresh; yes, that’s indeed what I want – a Fall affair with the dental office;

* Discovering that I had created morning email messes galore, some fixable, some – jury’s still out; understanding that in the future, attempting to write at 4:30 am when one can’t sleep, hasn’t slept, will not sleep is perhaps not a clever idea;

* Getting a call from the “Rejects” Office of the IRS (the name tells you something right off the bat) telling me that I owed hundreds of dollars because I had failed to properly compute some figures on one of their complicated stupid tables inside. Had I done so, I would have correctly concluded that a line on the 1040 should have had something other than a “0” on it;

* Being late for a meeting simply because I was late for a meeting; I have no other good reason to offer.

And so on.

But, as always, the mood is like a bouncing little ping pong ball and so I’m submitting this as counter evidence to the general atrociousness of the day:

* It’s sunny outside, isn’t it? I mean, let’s not be picky here, I need to fill that cup at least to the half-way point;

* My old law school friend whom I last saw in Arizona in February (she now lives in Texas) is here for a few days and the first thing SHE got out of me was a long long whiney walk and talk, where I enumerated all my disgruntlements, one by one. After all, what are friends for. She was a saint, she did not once say “it’s all your fault so quit complaining and get it together.” Instead she said things like “you’re fine, you’re fine, it’s okay, it’s okay..” Wonderful woman, I love her!

* Three of us will be going to the Concert on the Square – it’s the last one of the season and I can sob and bawl to my heart’s content, just like during all previous ones. That’s what one does at these nostalgic-melancholy events, isn’t it?

* There isn’t really a fourth point, but I’m sure one will emerge. It’s only 5 pm after all, the day’s young.
posted by nina, 8/04/2004 04:56:43 PM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Our local paper opts for the cute  

Sure enough, today's headline is “On ferry with Kerry.” As the candidates make their campaign rounds I can hear the cutesiness pick up. Imagine: “Eating sushi with a Bushie” or “Allegheny with a Cheney” “Drinking Rheingold with a Feingold.” One could make a game of this. But what about Edwards?? My mind draws a blank.
posted by nina, 8/03/2004 06:07:38 PM | link | (0) comments

Can I outsource the very idea of over-the-phone computer fixes? 

Day two of computer issues: three far, far away Dell technicians later and one close-by geek and I am still without a diagnosis and without a solution. That is all fine. The local geek has sworn up and down that he knows what needs to be done (by Dell, under warrantee). But how to get there?? Still more steps ahead of me: first I have to find another distant, distant Dell techie to again mislead me about quick fixes by phone and then, at that moment, I have to shout “AHA! Gotcha! It’s not working! Now please, just send me a new hard drive and we’ll call it quits.”

Yeah. That’s the conversation for tonight. After that, it’s back to the geek who can then install the new hard drive and we’ll be coastin’ along.

Money spent so far saving files (without being near a solution): $104
Time spent so far (2 hrs + 3 hrs + 2.5 hrs + 1 hr. + 2 hrs): 10.5 hrs

Expenses ahead (presumably moving us closer to a solution): $200 maybe more
Time still left to handle the techies, geeks and tired Dell employees who’d rather be sleeping in their time zone I’m sure, rather than walking me through irrelevant steps that WONT WORK, damn it: 10 hrs. maybe more.

Anxiety level: marginal disturbance noted, but in reality, I am getting so used to this. I feel almost jovial if truth be told. It is the fourth laptop I have had crash. I know the routines. It’s like taking out the garbage – I’m on automatic pilot now.
posted by nina, 8/03/2004 05:23:55 PM | link | (0) comments

Years of practice 

This afternoon I met an attorney friend for a cup of coffee downtown on the Square. In the time I spent there, I saw many many familiar faces – mostly people from the Court, people with whom I had almost daily contact back in the days when I worked with law students on custody and abuse & neglect cases.

Two years have passed since my last court appearance, but I remember it vividly – down to the clothes my client wore. It was a custody battle and we lost. There wasn’t much chance of our winning since the attorney representing the child’s best interest hated, absolutely hated my client (the mother in the dispute). The judge almost never overrides the opinion of the child’s attorney. Still, I had been convinced that my client could survive the brutal questioning and that she would be seen not as a loser, but simply as a sometimes-down-and-out mom who tried her hardest (she really did), even though she could not always get it together (neither could the dad – let’s just say they both had their issues).

I can’t say I was sorry to stop trying these cases. I felt that after all those years representing parents, many of whom allegedly neglected or even abused their children, I would welcome the break. When parents come to you bewildered, stunned by the callousness of the process, not able to comprehend why their children were being taken away from them, your head can spin from their agony.

But although I do not really miss the Court routines, I do miss speaking on behalf of people who truly needed my help. And I miss sitting with them outside the Court room, waiting for the trial to begin. And meeting their extended families. I miss seeing all that human grit and spirit in the face of stress and chaos. We seem like a pretty whiny lot over at (UW) Bascom Hill by comparison.
posted by nina, 8/03/2004 02:49:48 PM | link | (0) comments

Monday, August 02, 2004

Can a person be happy because they will be a few kilometers closer to their homeland? 

YES! Next week I’m setting out for Europe. I typically do not preannounce on the blog activities that are about to happen, but this time, my head is already over there.

When I was slightly younger I could not have enough of Italy. Before I even finished my senior college thesis, I packed my bags and moved to Italy for a while, renting an apartment in the Dolomite mountains. It was a bittersweet period. I invited lots of people to come join me – but in the end, only my sister did. People think of a million reasons why they can’t just pack their bags and GO. I can never really fully appreciate those reasons, but I understand that others do have them.

Still, during my time there, I grew restless in the mountains. I soon discovered that if I took a long (vomit-inducing – I swear, one time I watched a nun vomit all three hours of the ride) bus ride, followed by a long (but much more pleasant) train ride, I could get to Venice within a day. Thus, during my winter hiatus in the Dolomites, I made the trip to Venice 13 times. I was in love with the incongruity of it all, of life, of building a city on the lagoon, of me being there alone in March, wandering the dark dank drizzly allies, I was mesmerized.

Since then, I’ve gone back to Italy in saner frames of mind. But each time, I feel the pull of the place in ways that defy description. And in spite of everyone’s grunting about Venice these days (Too crowded! Too many tourists! Too few Venitians!”) I am undaunted. Listen, the city was build on a fantasy, the grandest one of them all. How could I not take note of that?
[I’m not just going to Venice. But I am also going to Venice. Oh, I can hardly believe it!]
posted by nina, 8/02/2004 09:24:53 PM | link | (0) comments

my last look at the canals, two years ago Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/02/2004 09:24:04 PM | link | (0) comments

Is it true that France and Poland are bickering about G W Bush, Michael Moore, and the American way?  

I would imagine that it is a given that Poland and France would be at odds about the value of conducting politics in the American Way. That's more or less a certainty.

As to the rest -- the issues of Bush/Kerry and Moore right now loom large in both countires. Consider what the French are saying these days: The IHT reports today (here) that neither the right-of-center (Le Figaro) nor the left-of-center (Liberation and, too, Le Monde) newspapers in France credited Kerry with sufficinetly distancing himself from Bush during the Convention, especially on the question of Iraq (it is ironic that none of the papers have much good at all to say about Bush, mainly due to his recent isolationist foreign policy).

Of course, they should be reminded that Kerry could hardly attack the electability issue if he wore an “I love Fahrenheit 9/11” button instead of an American flag in his lapel from now until the time of the elections. (The French papers, on a continued love fest with Michael Moore, noted that Moore was conspicuously absent from playing a major role in the Convention). The French news media might want to ask the more important question of who, in the next four years, is more likely to pay heed to the European nations who had opposed the military conflict, Bush or Kerry?

In the meantime, Moore's film made its first appearance in Poland last week. Although one major Polish newspaper was reported by the AP and the BBC (read about it here) as positioning itself substantially in opposition to the content of the movie, my reading of the Polish presses reveals a more generous set of responses. One major movie review website gives the film on average of 8 out of 10 stars and other news sources (here, but in Polish) claim that the film begins a new era in the role of cinematography in shaping political discourse.

Interestingly, Moore taped a special opening message to Poles and this is displayed before the showing of the movie. In it he states that “democracy isn’t carried in on the barrel of a gun,” that the “desire for it must be born within a people.” He analogizes here to the historic transformations occurring in Poland in recent decades.

What reaction on the part of the Poles? One of my favorite of the weeklies, „Polityka,” (here, though it is in Polish) is adamant in its belief that Moore’s film is not a simple piece of propaganda. The news weekly applauds Moore’s effort to piece together disparate events and speaks admirably of Moore’s gift of building a brilliant cinematographic argument. I would guess many movie-goers in Poland would agree with this statement. I should note that „Polityka" continues to be one of the more popular news weeklies in the country. Does it represent the voice of the majority? Perhaps it does -- at least of the "Fahrenheit 9/11" movie going majority.
posted by nina, 8/02/2004 05:45:03 PM | link | (0) comments

Then and now 

I read a short little piece in the New Yorker today (here) about New Year’s Resolutions, seven months later.

The thing is, to the naked eye, one could say I have been A+ ahead of myself even, in terms of resolutions: what, with all this healthy living, walking, eating, I am a paragon of organic virtue.

But on the inside – I know better. Not only am I the same old, same old bag of warped goods, carrying with me scars from battles that raged during the first 50 “new years” of my life, I have added some on! Why stay with just fifty years’ worth when I can have fifty one!

So, at least looking at the list in the New Yorker, I can boast my superior command over myself: I don’t smoke (never liked the stuff so I guess I can’t claim great virtue there), I keep my weight under control, I try to be nice to colleagues (last week was the exception – I was just getting back at a grave injustice that befell me!), and I don’t carry around a stick.

Or do I? It’s invisible, but sure enough, I think I do carry a stick. Darn it. I’m not even superficially perfect.
posted by nina, 8/02/2004 03:04:06 PM | link | (0) comments

The nonsensical world of machines 

A computer problem has swallowed me. I no longer exist. This morning I have been but a slave to Dell’s distant instructions, torn between what they say and what I know in my heart to be true: that the computer took my soul and ran with it and neither can ever be retrieved.

(However, the local computer store is having a go at setting things straight. Good-bye distant Dell rep, hello local computer geek.)
posted by nina, 8/02/2004 02:20:11 PM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Queries from an afternoon on the lake 

Q: Why are the reeds bending fiercely in the photo below? Why is the water so rippled?
A: (Yes there is such a thing as a stupid Q.) It was windy, damn it, windy on the lake!
posted by nina, 8/01/2004 08:57:16 PM | link | (0) comments

the winds against the water lilly... can she survive their fierce strength? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/01/2004 08:56:58 PM | link | (0) comments
Q: Must have been wonderful to go sailing, therefore?
A: Yes. Sailing would have been two thumbs up! Paddle boating? Well, that proved to be a bit difficult. And especially so if you thoughtlessly went with the wind for the first leg of the journey, then turned around only to realize that paddling furiously against the wind just kept you virtually standing still.

Q: What would you do if you were stuck in some marshes, battling the wind, far, far away from where you wanted to be?
A: Cry? I don’t know. We* made it back. Hours later, but we made it back. [Pictured below: my last few pushes before the ultimate collapse.]

* Three women, one boat, 6 tired legs.
posted by nina, 8/01/2004 08:52:43 PM | link | (0) comments

are we really standing still? worse, going backwards?? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 8/01/2004 08:52:01 PM | link | (0) comments

This one’s for YOU! 

Today is the birthday of the following people:

Herman Melville (he wrote: “friendship at first sight, like love at first sight, is said to be the only truth…”)
Yves Saint Laurent (arguably the greatest fashion designer of all time, he made women’s pants popular…)
Dom Deluise (he acts, directs, sings, cooks as a chef, writes books…)
Lionel Bart (when he was 6 his teachers told his parents he was a musical genius…)
my daughter (too long! The list of accolades is too long!)

Happy Birthday, S.C.!!
posted by nina, 8/01/2004 08:04:57 AM | link | (0) comments

I'm Nina Camic. I teach law, but also write (here and elsewhere) on a number of non-legal topics. I often cross the ocean, in the stories I tell and the photos I take. My native Poland is a frequent destination.

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