We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Terremoto in Central Italy

I am sure, by now, you have seen the recent news regarding the terrible earthquake that hit the hill towns of Amatrice, Accumoli, Pescara del Tronto and Arquata del Tronto.

This was the third earthquake we've felt since we've lived in Italy, and we've been hundreds of miles from the epicenter each time. I can tell you, the shaking is scary. I can't even imagine what it would be like to be right in the middle of it. 

At around 3:35 am on Wednesday morning we felt the bed move. It moved. Side to side.  We both said, "What was that?"  On occasion, when a large ship passes by our apartment, we feel some vibrations. We're that close to the water and we're talking large cruise ships. This wasn't that kind of vibration. And because we'd felt the shakes of two previous earthquakes, the last one being the large one in Aquila in April of 2009, we already knew what we were experiencing. 

Mike grabbed the flashlight on the night table, focusing the beam on the chandelier above us. It was swinging in an arc of about 10 inches in each direction. That's some pretty good movement. Fortunately, it is not centered over our bed, or I would have been running! It's an old Murano glass chandelier, a bit over 3 feet in height, constructed of quite heavy glass. And it was swinging merrily above us. We both said "Earthquake" at the same moment. 

The Murano glass chandelier in our bedroom

We didn't panic, we could tell the epicenter was far enough from us. After a couple of minutes, the chandelier settled down. 

I then picked up my phone and checked Facebook. Sure enough, a friend in Cannaregio had posted she felt it also.  I have no idea how I would function without Facebook. Can you imagine, an earthquake of 6.2 magnitude hits, and the first thing I do is check Facebook. What is wrong with me?  

 Shortly after the news feeds reported the location and severity.  We went back to sleep. 

As the morning hours ticked by, the news reports worsened. The numbers crept up. The photos were frightening. I couldn't stop looking at  the news, even though I didn't want to watch.

Amatrice, Italy - photo www.telegraph.co.uk

Weird that the town clock stopped ticking, frozen in time, at 3:36 am.  Weird, also,  that this earthquake happened at the same time of day, within minutes, of the one that hit Aquila a few years earlier.  More sad than weird is that Amatrice was preparing for it's big Festa coming up this weekend, the Sagra dell' Amatriciana, the famous spaghetti dish named after this hilltown. Tourists were already in town for the event.

Last night in my English lesson with my student Francesco we discussed the earthquake. He had just returned to Venice 2 days ago after having been on vacation in the same region. Talk about luck. He'd have been right smack in the middle of the earthquake. Much of our lesson was spent fixing his pronunciation of the word. By the end of the hour, he'd moved from "Hearth-quick" to a much better "earthquake".  I hadn't planned for this to be the topic of our lesson. Funny how things just happen. 

I returned home thinking how lucky we all are. We're still here. Our homes are intact. In the blink of an eye, 200 plus people have lost their lives, and thousands are in makeshift tents wondering what happens next.  And this is just another reminder of how precious life is. My mantra over the last nearly 10 years has been this:  Tomorrow isn't guaranteed. All I know for sure is that I have this moment, and it is up to me to make the best of it. 

If there is a lesson for us out of disasters like this, I think it's this.  Make the most of each day. We don't know if we will have tomorrow. Leave with no regrets. And, love. Love well. Tell the people you love that you love them. 

In Italian, I would tell you all " Ti voglio bene".  Used for family and  close acquaintances, this is a step down from the full blown  I love you, "Ti amo". 

In honor of the people of Amatrice, we're making their signature dish this week. We're using Mario Batali's recipe ( http://www.mariobatali.com/recipes/bucatini-allamatriciana/)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces thinly sliced guanciale pancetta, or good bacon
1 red onion, cut lengthwise in half and then into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce
1 pound Bucatini
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.

Meanwhile, in a 10- to 12-inch saute pan, combine the olive oil, guanciale, onion, garlic, and re pepper flakes; set over low heat and cook until the onion is softened and the guanciale has rendered much of its fat, about 12 minutes.
Drain all but 1/4 cup of the fat out of the pan (and set aside to cook you eggs for tomorrow's breakfast). Add the tomato sauce, turn up the heat, and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and allow to bubble for 6 to 7 minutes.

While the sauce simmers, cook the bucatini in the boiling water for about a minute less than the package directions, until still very firm; drain.

Add the pasta to the simmering sauce and toss for about 1 minute to coat. Divide the pasta among four heated bowls and serve immediately, topped with freshly grated pecorino.

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana, photo courtesy lucasardellaejanira.it

During the coming days and months, the people of Amatrice and the surrounding towns affected will need support. The Florentine, a local newspaper in Florence, has compiled an excellent list of  ways we can help, including everything from donating blood to attending events which are making matching donations.  Here's the link. 


Ti Voglio bene.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

What a difference a year makes!

Ciao, tutti!

I'm thinking I need to dedicate this blog to my Italian teacher, Francesca, who works with me tirelessly every week.  

One year ago, I had a conversation on the beach at Lido with the woman I have nicknamed La Contessa. Looking back on that conversation I am mighty embarrassed, because my ability to get a decent conversation out of my mouth was nearly non-existent. I was talking Italian baby talk!

Flash forward to this morning.  

My morning ritual on days when I get to the beach is to set up my chair, spend a few hours enjoying the sun and surf relaxing, then pack up to head home. On my way off the beach I stop for a coffee at the bar at our beach. 

Today, I reversed my routine, stopping first for that coffee.  I carried my cup to my usual table and discovered La Contessa and a group of friends were also having coffee at the next table. I hadn't been there in a few weeks due to a nasty cold, so hadn't seen La Contessa since the last visit. She introduced me to her friends, and we proceeded to get into a lively conversation about a variety of topics. 

Just thinking about the range of topics has me laughing still now, hours after having come back from the beach. La Contessa had recently read a book in Italian called A Brief History of America, or something like that, in which she learned about the settlement at Jamestown, and the war of 1812, and the Civil War. She commented that of all the American presidents, she likes Lincoln. So we talked about Lincoln. And Jamestown. Jamestown, of all things!

The Lido coffee bunch had an assortment of questions for me. Tops on the list, of course, were all things Trump. Seems I can not avoid that topic anywhere these days, although I would love to. I got asked about food in New Orleans, the weather in Seattle, and the mafia in New Jersey.  Cracks me up.

But what amazes me even more than the choice of topics is that I am holding my own in these conversations this year. Not bumbling, but actually getting  information shared, thoughts conveyed, opinions expressed.

Language-wise, it's a whole different year. Karen is happy.

 So, thanks Francesca, for tolerating me, pushing me, encouraging me and never giving up on me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A secret spot in Campo San Giovanni e Paolo

Buongiorno, tutti!

For the last four months, my Wednesday routine includes trotting off to Cannaregio for a 6pm English lesson. My student, Francesco, is a lovely Venetian man who is fairly competent with the English language, however doesn't have much opportunity to keep up with speaking it. Thus, the weekly conversations. We talk for most of the time, spending the other portion reading an excerpt from a newspaper or magazine. Recently, upon suggesting he read a book, he jumped up and pulled a book from his book shelf.  This book:

Venice Ghost stories Alberto Toso Fei The Venice Experience blog

I love this book. In fact, I love all of Alberto Toso Fei's books. If you are a lover of Venice you probably have already discovered his many fascinating books with stories of unique spots and happenings in a Venice of an older time. At any rate, Francesco had never opened the book before. So together we cracked it open,  I selected a short excerpt and he began to read. 

The problem with this book for Francesco is that it is originally written in Italian which has been translated into English.  It's a complicated read because the sentence structure is Italian. What he needs is a book written in English, not translated into it.  But more on that a bit later. 

The story we read describes something that happened in Campo San Giovanni e Paolo, on the northern end of the Castello district.  Francesco, who has Venetian grandparents and has lived in the city as an adult for more than 20 years and also spent much of his childhood here visting his family, did not know this story.  I had read the book years ago so was familiar with the story.  I'm in Campo San Giovanni e Paolo often, but it's been ages since I went to actually look at the site of this particular episode Alberto Toso Fei describes. The other day as I walked through the campo, I took time to search more carefully.  

Campo San Giovanni e Paolo wall sign The Venice Experience blog
Campo San Giovanni e Paolo The Venice Experience blog
Campo San Giovani e Paolo
  Campo San Giovanni e Paolo, named after the Saints John and Paul, is one of the largest and most important campos (neighborhood squares) in the sestiere (district, in Venetian dialect) of Castello.  It's a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Tour groups flock to this campo to see the famous statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, the church of San Giovanni e Paolo, and the magnificent Scuola Grande di San Marco.   The campo is also known as Zanipoli, in dialect for Giovanni e Paolo

Church of San Giovanni e Paolo The Venice Experience blog
Church of San Giovanni e Paolo, built in the 1300s
Since the end of the 1500s the funerals of all Doges took place in this church, and inside you will find the tombs of twenty-five Doges. One of Venice's most historic and impressive churches.

Bartolomeo Colleoni statue The Venice Experience blog
Statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni

Alongside the church you will find the Scuola Grande di San Marco, with it's exquisite marble facade. And it's this building that figures into the  subject of the story.  But before I go on with that, look carefully at the following photos that show some of the detailed carvings decorating the front of the building. 

Scuola Grande di San Marco The Venice Experience blog
Scuola Grande di San Marco, Castello

lion on the front of Scuola Grande di San Marco

close up of a lion on Scuola Grande di San Marco

And here's where the story begins.  The Scuola had been restored in 1495 after having been nearly totally destroyed by a fire. Cespo Pizzigani, a very talented Venetian stonecutter, worked on the designs on the front of the building and became quite famous for his work here.  In 1501, Cespo's wife fell ill. He used all of his resources to find ways to save her but in spite of this she died. In ruins, Cespo ended up spending his days begging at the foot of the bridge on the corner of the Scuola.  

Often, to amuse himself, he'd take a nail and scratch etchings into the marble on the side of the building, mostly of ships that were docked along the canal side. 

One of Cespo Pizzigani's etchings on the Scuola doorway

One night, as Cespo was at the Scuola he witnessed a horrible event.   An angry young man visited his mother who lived near the campo, gets into an altercation, stabs her and rips her heart out, then drops it as he runs away with it in his hand. 
He ran screaming into the canal and drowned.

Rumor has it you can still hear his desperate screams in the campo as he searches for his mothers heart.

Cespo Pizzigani,the stonecutter,  who was sitting in the shadows by the Scuola doorway, made a sketch of the event he witnessed that night.

Look closely. You'll see a man in a turban, holding a heart shaped object in his hand. This etching is on the doorway as you enter the main door of the Scuola Grande di San Marco.

Over the years I've enjoyed tracking down many of these little obscure yet fascinating stories from Venice's past. They make this city come alive for me.

Now back to my student, Francesco. We read a few stories from Fei's book. Fun for me because in addition to helping him with his English, these stories were new to Francesco.  Unfortunately, the language of the book in the English translation is difficult.  So we put that book aside.

I've taken him a copy of a Donna Leon book! Written in English by a native American English speaker, Donna Leon writes mysteries set in Venice.  I'll get Francesco learning about this city yet!

*Story of the man with the heart from Alberto Toso Fei's Venetian Legends and Ghost Stories, A guide to places of mystery in Venice.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Festa del Redentore- 2016

Ciao, tutti!

It's summer, it's hot, and it's festa time. We've had the Festa di San Antonio at San Francesco della Vigna, followed by the Festa di San Pietro at San Pietro di Castello, and coming up this week is the Festa di Beneficenza at the Church of San Giacomo dell'Orio. All big deals every summer, and if you are here in Venice, these are events not to be missed. But... the best of the best is coming up this weekend, Festa del Redentore, otherwise more commonly referred to as simply Redentore.

What's Redentore?

Festa del Redentore 2016 Venice fireworks
Redentore fireworks!

Redentore is a hugely important event for all Venetians.  It's a weekend-long festival that has been held each year since the Church of the Redentore was opened after the horrible plague of 1576.   Remembering the end of the plague when over 50,000 Venetians lost their lives, Venetians make a pilgrimage over a special bridge crossing the Giudecca canal to attend mass. In the early years, they crossed the canal over boats that were lashed together. In modern times,  city engineers construct a temporary pontoon bridge thousands walk across during the weekend. And today, Redentore is the biggest party in town.

Festa del Redentore Venice Redentore church
Crossing the Giudecca canal on the special pontoon bridge

The temporary bridge is floated down the canal in sections about a week before the event begins, and during the week it is placed into position. The other day as I was passing by on the vaporetto I could see portions of the bridge being worked on already.

Festa del Redentore Redentore church Venice
Beginning the Redentore pontoon bridge construction

It's not only the bridge construction that has started early. It seems everyone is abuzz over Redentore. Where are you eating, who are you eating with, what are you bringing? The anticipation for Saturday night's events is running high.  In addition to going to mass at Redentore on that Saturday evening, it's also a tradition that you eat your dinner canal side with family and friends while you wait for the midnight fireworks to begin. Every conceivable square centimeter of land on both sides of the Giudecca and from St. Mark's all the way down to my neighborhood in Sant'Elena are occupied by tables full of Venetians eating, drinking and celebrating.

Reservations required

Yesterday I noticed the first of the reserved spots in place along the Fondamenta by Via Garibaldi.  
You can make reservations ($$$) for a place on a big party boat to drink and dance all night  out in the lagoon to watch the fireworks . You can make a reservation ($$) at many of the rooftop bars for a good viewing post (Hilton, Danieli, Gritti Palace for example).  Or, you can do what the locals do and take your duct tape or masking tape down to the fondamenta and stake out your own space. Reservation = free!  

Festa del Redentore Venice 2016 Fireworks
The masking tape reservation 

Festa del Redentore Venice Fireworks
Choice location near the waterfront reserved!

By Thursday night there won't be any space left that hasn't been put on hold using the tape method. My student Francesco described how he and his friends handle reserving their spot. They go out on Thursday to mark the location. All day Saturday they take 1 hr shifts standing guard to ensure no one else rips up their tape to take the spot over for themselves.  Sorry, I just can't imagine doing guard duty on my Redentore space. But, you gotta do what you gotta do,  I suppose.

This year once again Mike and I will be joining several Lioness families canal side near Via Garibaldi. We're honored and overjoyed to be included. The eating will commence around 7 pm, with course after course after course of delicious local specialties such as stuffed duck breast, sarde and soar (sardines marinated in onions), bovoletti ( tiny snails),  and grilled orata to name just a few. Eating wraps up just about the time the fireworks start, and we're almost too stuffed to waddle back home afterward.

What am I bringing?  Watermelon (anguria) and a cake.

Have you been to Redentore ?  I know summer is a very crowded time here in Venice, but if you have not had the opportunity to experience Redentore, it's worth putting on your list. It's the best fireworks I've ever seen in my life. Italians do several things really well, and fireworks are one of them.

Redentore - right from your own home

You too can enjoy the spectacular Redentore fireworks right along with all of us on Saturday night. Remember, they will begin at midnight, Venice time.

Click here to view live webcam St. Mark's waterfront

P.S.  You might also want to check out my blog "How to enjoy Redentore like a local" for some great insider tips. This blog contains one of my favorite  photos of Redentore from back in the days when the boats were used to cross the canal. Don't miss that one!
Click here to read.

Happy Festa del Redentore, amici!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Venice from inside the boat

Ciao, tutti!

I've very excited to share some of my latest adventures with you.  

Recently I received a GoPro camera as an early birthday gift from a group of fabulous friends so I could record some of my rowing experiences. 

Last week I strapped the camera to my head, got in the boat and went out for the first live test run. 

I filmed our entire exercise session, from getting into the boat to pulling it up out of the water.  The video clips are unedited.(It was my first attempt at this. Just getting them up into YouTube was a learning curve)  But I thought you might enjoy seeing Venice from my perspective in the dragon boat on last Wednesdays row. 

There are 6 clips- with each of the first 5 lasting 12 minutes and the last 5 minutes. Grab a paddle and come on along with me. Or, if you prefer, grab a glass of prosecco instead, and enjoy a bit of Venice with me. 

                                                                           Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 

                                                                            Part 4

Part 5

                                                                        Part 6

Hope you enjoyed this as much as I've enjoyed sharing it with you.

P.S. If anyone has any GoPro tips or tricks, this novice would love to hear them. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Keeping cool in Venice

Seems like in just 2 days the thermostat has jumped 20 some degrees. We're now in the sweltering zone, with both high temps and equally high humidity. 

If you are a tourist in Venice now, I have an essential tip for you that will help you survive these dog days of summer. 

Here's the first part of my tip.....

1. Get yourself a fan. 

That's right. An old fashioned hand fan. Get two or three.  Here's my current fan collection and I usually have two of them with me at any given time. One for each hand. I'm not kidding. 

This one is just a cheap-y, something I picked up in a sidewalk stall somewhere for a couple of bucks. Nothing fancy, on the small side so it slips into any handbag I may be carrying easily. This plastic one, with flowers that look deceivingly like they could be hand painted, handles some not-so-gentle treatment.  Totally tacky, but well worth the 2 bucks.

 This one is my essential Pink accessory, used often, especially when I'm at a Pink Lioness event.  It's also small, like the one above, and only a couple more Euros, but it's paper instead of plastic and not holding up as well. Gets high marks for cuteness, not so much for durability. But hey, it's Pink!

And last but not least, the lace fan I picked up on Burano a few years ago, mostly out of dire necessity as that day was  also a scorcher.  It's larger than the other two, and was much more expensive. Doesn't pack so easily into my handbag due to its size, but it does provide a bit more wind to the face when in use.   I always have the strong feeling I should be wearing a flamenco dancer's dress when I use it.

So, my advice for the day is to purchase a fan at the first kiosk you get to. Pick up one that has scenes of Venice on it if you must, but JUST DO IT.  The other day I saw some with big polka dots on them when they opened up.  One of those just might be joining my fan collection soon.

                                                 Fans, fans, fans. Find one you like?

And the second part of my tip....

2. Use it. Liberally.

 Don't worry about how stupid you will look, everyone around you will be either a) using a fan and looking stupid also or b) flat out jealous that you have a fan and they don't.

After you get the hang of it, you'll be flipping out  that fan with the flick of your wrist, feeling very Scarlet O'Hara-ish. Or is that Mata-hari- ish?  You get the idea. (Yes, I know what you are thinking. Karen-hari- ish).

Keep cool, amici. Get out there and enjoy Venice.

Ciao, tutti!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Two old broads and a boat

Ciao, tutti!

We're officially into summer, and while everyone in Venice is making fast exit plans to head for either the mountains or the beaches for the next 2 months, I'm staying here. Besides my Italian lessons, writing courses, my English student and the usual "stuff" of life, I've picked up a new project. 

 Since even my rowing group The Lionesses will be away, I have been looking for some other opportunities to row for the next few months. My wishes were granted, with one  little, teensy tiny  caveat. The boat offered to me has to be finished being built before it can get in the water. 

So instead of heading off to the beach, I head to the old salt warehouses to go to work. (Think salt mines). Currently we are sanding.

 The salt warehouses are cavernous old storehouses where Venice kept its inventory of salt beginning as far back as the 1400's. Venice was a trading center in those days, and had built up a considerable spice trade selling salt.

 I'm working at the very back of warehouse #5, where it's nice and dark. We turn work lights on so we can see what we're up to back there. Walking into the warehouses is a bit of an eery feeling, but despite the spookiness, I love being in there. Makes me wonder about what went on in there all those years ago. Oh if only these walls could talk!!

I had hoped to try my hand at rowing a canottaggio, what in English we would refer to as crew or skull rowing  The boat we're working on, a whitehall ( caiccio in Italian), has seats for two rowers very similar to the skull boats but is bigger.  According to wikipedia, the whitehall is "considered one of the most refined rowboats of the 19th century". The whitehall, first built in New York City at the foot of Whitehall Street, was used to ferry goods and sailors on and off boats in the New York harbor.  

 Our whitehall,  constructed mostly of mahogany, was built by Marco, an elderly member of the Bucintoro rowing club which is housed in several of the salt warehouses. Isn't she a beauty?

My partner in crime on this project  is Paula, originally a Canadian who spent 30 some years working in Rome and has now transplanted to Venice. She rows Voga Veneto style (standing up just like the gondoliers do) and sails. When she asked if I would like to row the whitehall with her, I didn't think twice. My hand was up in a second. Yes, even if there was some work involved.

I've sanded two afternoons this week. I also rowed one day. My shoulders are currently killing me.  We thought we'd be on to the varnishing by now, however, Sebastiano, the guy who maintains all of Bucintoro's boats, has declared that he wants more sanding done. Sebastiano can be very, hmm, what's the word....demanding?   And so we sand. By hand. With little bits of fine sandpaper. I now have some pretty nicked up knuckles!

In the meantime, Paula and I are making grand plans (in our heads) for early evening rows over to Lido and Malamocco. With some luck, and perhaps a few bribes to Sebastiano so we can speed up and get to the varnishing,  it won't be too long before I will be able to write "two old broads IN a boat".

Oh, to actually be in that boat on the water. Dreaming!!

Photos will be forthcoming as the work progresses. Stay tuned.

(P.S. It's not all work and no play this summer. I'm still sneaking off to the beach for a bit a few mornings each week. )

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Impegnativa, one very important Italian document

Perhaps a better title for this post is The Italian Medical system, part XXX .  Seems I could write on this topic endlessly!  It's a subject I get asked about frequently in emails and in conversations with tourists from almost every country imaginable, but mostly from Americans wanting to hear first hand what I think about the differences between medical services here and back home.

I spent a bit of time this rainy morning over at Ospedale Civile while waiting for an appointment with an ear specialist, and that got me to remembering a previous visit to an ear specialist back about 6 years ago.  It was my famous visit to ex-Ospedale Giustinian, over in Dorsoduro, the afternoon I got lost and locked in the bowels of that huge, dark, scary Venetian building and ran into the worker wearing only his underwear. An afternoon I would like to be able to forget, but unfortunately that image is forever etched in my brain.

Last week when I was making this appointment, I flatly refused any and all possible appointment times offered at Giustinian. No, never again. Trust me. Never again. I'll go anywhere else, even to Mestre on the mainland, but not Giustinian. Thankfully this morning finds me at Ospedale Civile in Campo San Giovanni e Paolo.

I couldn't help but do a re-play of that horrifying afternoon in my head while passing time in the waiting room this morning. When my turn was called, I took my place at the sportello (counter) where the intake nurse processed my paperwork. Finished with all that, I asked if she could help me with one other matter.  I've been having a real run around trying to get appointments for injections in my knee for months now, and since Orthopedics share the same office space here I thought I'd just try my luck one more time. I already had an impegnativa (see photo above) for the injections, but for unknown reasons every time I tried to make the appointments, I was given another reason why they could not make an appointment on this doctor's calendar. It has been months, and still nothing. 

I'd discussed this problem with my regular doctor the week before, and she gave me yet another impegnativa for the injections with the advise to try again at the hospital appointment desk. I did try, but was told only my Orthopedic dr. could give this prescription, and I must wait on him.  Yes, I've been waiting. Months. And now the knee has decided this isn't fun any more.  So today, I explain that I now have 2 impegnativas and still no appointments. My regular doctor had also advised me that if I still didn't get an appointment to go take the matter up with the woman who runs the Office of Public Relations. That woman was my next stop this morning, after the ear dr. finished up with me.

The second secretary in the office, who was listening to my explanation of the multi-impegnativas,  turned from her computer screen to face me and told me to come see her when I had finished up with the ear doctor.

Back in the waiting area, I waited for my turn for the doctor. When my number was called, I was
introduced to a fairly young Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. Instead of asking me what brought me to him this morning, he asks what brought me to Italy. I should have been prepared, as this is a very common question, especially in any medical office. I proceed to give him the brief history of Karen becoming an Italian. Why is this so curious?

Next question from the dr. , " Is it true American doctors are all rich? My friend told me this. "
My response: "Doctors in the US do make more than most doctors in Italy, I am sure of this." He turns to his nurse and begins a fairly lengthy discourse on how medical services here in Italy are free or so inexpensive compared to in the US. He seemed quite unhappy with the whole scenario.

As he is examining me, he relays his family story of how his nonno (grandfather) immigrated after the war, how one uncle ended up in the US, another eventually in Germany. The examination conversation took a few more turns, ending with the doctor writing another impegnativa for yet a different examination. As you may have deduced by now, the impegnativa (see photo above)  is like the Willy Wonka Golden Ticket.  This gets you appointments with specialists; blood tests, x-rays and ekg's etc.; and prescriptions. It's a crucial document.

I remembered to stop by that secretary's desk on my way out. She took both of the impegnativa's for the knee injections, looked them over, hit a few keys on her computer and asked me if next Thursday at noon worked for me.  Absolutely yes. No matter what I might have planned for next Thursday, I will be cancelling. There was no way I'd miss an opportunity to get these shots. I asked her about the other 2 dates. She responded, "Don't worry. Get here on Thursday and we'll work all the rest of that out."  I thanked her profusely. She adds, "I remembered you from when you had your knee operated on. The American woman. "

Yes, the American woman. I must seem like a freak show to these Venetians.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Last night's Venice Night Trail

Venice isn't a city designed for long distance runners. Or even short distance runners. Any runners,  for that matter. It's a walking city. That's how we get around.

However, a local running group, Venice Running Days, in association with the Venice Marathon, organized a 15 k night run through the city. Brilliant idea, to do a run at night when all the streets are empty. The link below is a video of the course mapped out, beginning at the port on the Zattere and winding it's way throughout the city.  Do take a look.

Along the course, somewhere between 10-11 k, the runners would be going right by our house! I noted the event on my calendar and was prepared to watch from my vantage point on the terrace. 

 Yesterday was not the best weather day here in Venice. We had a nasty thunderstorm in the morning, then it cleared up mid-day, with another storm hitting late afternoon. Fortunately for all the race participants, the skies cleared up by night time and the temperature was also perfect for running in shorts and t-shirts. 

I knew the race was slated to begin at 9pm, so I figured the fastest runners might be already at the 10k mark around 9:30. About 9:15 I stepped outside, looked down and noticed a white haired  gentleman on the street below me, dressed in a neon green high visibility vest. He had a flashing light strapped to his arm, and he was waving a lit-up orange wand, similar to something an airport traffic person on the tarmac at an airport would use. No, an aircraft was not coming in for a landing on our sidewalk.  He  was busy practicing his hand motions to direct traffic.  The original race course was set to run past us, straight down the edge of the street to the waterfront, then along the waterfront all the way to the bridge over towards Giardini.  However, with all the rain the path along the waterfront was more like a stream. Obviously someone at race headquarters had decided to change up the route to keep feet dry. 

 The volunteer down on the street practiced his arm motions for 15 minutes or so. Every once in a while he'd say something out loud, as if he were having a conversation with someone.  But there was no one else but him down there. Then I noticed who he was conversing with.  A cat.  The cat, lying   on the sidewalk or walking around a bit,  was keeping the man company as he swung his arm with the wand back and forth. 

The first runner was past our house just a few minutes before 9:30.  Our traffic controller yelled out a cherry "Ciao!" and then proceeded to give directions , " Sinistra, poi destra, poi lungo viale" 
The second runner followed seconds behind, and got the same greeting and instructions. 

In another five minutes  runners started arriving down the street in packs.  Our guy downstairs was swinging his orange wand, and greeted each and every group with the same happy "Ciao!". For some he yelled out "Bravi, Dai!"  (Good, go on!) Every once in a while he'd not only give the directions in Italian, but also in English. "Left-a, right-a, then-a straight-a down-a  da street-a".  This went on for well over an hour, as a couple thousand runners made their way through our little corner of Venice. 

All the runners were wearing head lamps, some had red blinking lights on their backs, some even had shoes with blue lights in the heels.  

While the friendly volunteer downstairs was directing runners, the cat was getting into the action. Every once in a while we'd hear the man yell "No, Milo, vieni qua"  (Come here) or he'd run a few feet from his post and scoot the cat out of the way. He and Milo greeted every runner that past our corner of Sant'Elena. Runners were  yelling back to him "Buona sera" or "Grazie". 

I can only imagine how joyful this event was for the participants.To be able to run through this spectacular city on a clear spring night must have been something so unique and memorable. If only I could run, I am pretty sure I'd have been out there with them. Even from my non-runner perspective,  I know how happy I was looking down at them.  And this guy on our corner made it even more special. 

Photo of runners on the sidewalk straight below our terrace. ( My husband has a fascination with these night time light streams)  Thanks to Mike Henderson for the photos. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sunday on Lake Garda

The shoreline at Toscolana Maderna, Lake Garda

Ciao tutti!  I know, I've been absent for quite some time, and I'd like to thank all of you for the many emails inquiring "What the heck is going on?"  The answer- lots of stuff going on.  I've been studying my rear end off, ramping up both my Italian lessons and writing courses. We've been traveling, AND I've been rowing. My most recent row was this past Sunday, which is the topic of this post. 

I've been to Lake Garda before for several days of relaxation and exploration. I can highly recommend a day trip, or an overnight from Venice. It's a glorious location. Sunday's trip to the lake was hardly relaxation, though. My rowing group, the Pink Lionesses in Venice, were scheduled to compete in a Dragonboat race. A gara (war, in Italian).  Normally, my group rows in Venice-  up and down the Grand Canal, in the smaller canals, and in the lagoon surrounding Venice. Usually at a nice leisurely pace. This dragonboat competition was a distance of 200 meters, at a pace as fast as you can row. 

At 7am we were gathering at Piazzale Roma, which meant I had to be on a 6:13 am vaporetto from Sant'Elena in order to get there in time.  Dragging my paddle, life vest and change of clothes I left home with my eyes barely open, wondering why I get myself into these things in the first place! With everyone present and accounted for at the appointed hour, we loaded all our gear into the cars, divided ourselves up, and set off for Toscolana Maderna, on the west coast of  Lake Garda about 40 km from Brescia. 

Living in Venice, I don't own an automobile. I rarely even ride in one anymore. We use the train and public buses for getting around if we are going out of Venice for any reason.  So the 2- plus hour ride in the car was a treat, especially the pit stop at the Auto grill  along side of the Autostrada.  

With a bit of persistence on the part of our drivers, we found the location of the event just in time. We had about 5 minutes to change clothes and get into the boat. Rowing on a lake is quite different from what we are used to. Even getting into the boat on the shoreline was a bit of challenge for us canal rowers. 

When you are in a competition, there isn't even time to look around. You must be completely focused on the race the entire 200 meters, and focusing on every command your helmsman shouts. Too bad, because the area is stunningly beautiful. Sunday was cloudy, I can only imagine how gorgeous this would be on a sunny afternoon.

Here's my team, Pink Lionesses in Venice, on Lake Garda getting ready for the first match. 

We didn't place well, but we did finish, and that was a grand accomplishment in our opinion.  It was tough rowing. I was wishing (praying) that we would not have to do a second match. My prayers were not answered. The video below is our second match. We're in the middle boat. Actually, we improved our performance the second match, despite much worse conditions. The wind had picked up, the waves were fierce, the boat was rocking and we took on quite a bit of water at the back end, where I happened to be sitting. Before we were two seconds into the boat, just getting into position, we took on a good 5 inches of water into the boat. My partner and I were drenched from head to toe. I was trying to keep my feet out of the water, it was impossible. I remember thinking, "Oh what the hell!".  I put my feet into the swimming pool I was sitting in and rowed like a bat out of hell. 


After our second match, the rest of the event was cancelled due to weather conditions on the lake. We changed clothes, packed up, and headed out to find a restaurant for some food. Lunch was a two hour operation, par for the course for Italians. Lots of pizzas, beer and wine, dolce, the coffee and there was even a grappa or two down at the end of the table.  Eventually we piled back into the cars for the journey back to Venice. Exhausted, still with soaking wet shoes, (did I already mention exhausted?), I arrived back home at 7pm. What an adventure!

Sunday was a grand challenge for me, for two reasons. First, I completed a race I never would have imagined I would do at my age. Never in a million years did I ever think I'd be rowing, let alone competing.  This just goes to show you that you can do anything you set your mind to. Trust me, if I can do this, anyone can. You just have to get up and do it, whatever it is you dream. Just do it.

The second reason Sunday was a challenge is this:  I spoke no English the entire time. 12 hours of non-stop Italian!  Incredible! (Well,  aside from one little mini English lesson at lunch when someone asked me about the f-word and when to use it.)

I can tell you right now, I am not ever going to be a professional dragonboat racer, or racer of any type for that matter.  I wasn't built to be an athlete!  But I wouldn't trade the experiences for anything.

And that was my Sunday. How was yours?

*Special thanks to Pink Lioness Monica Nardini for the group photo and video.

As always, I am so grateful for every one of you who takes the time to read my blogs. Leave a comment and let me know where you are, what you are doing. I love hearing from you. Ciao!